An article from

'The Topographical, Statistical, and Historical Gazetteer of Scotland'

Published by A.Fullarton and Co. - 1848


CUNNINGHAM, the northern district of Ayrshire; bounded on the east by Renfrewshire; on the north and west by the frith of Clyde; and, on the south, separated from Kyle by the river Irvine. Its length from north to south may be about 18 miles; its breadth from east to west 12 miles. It includes the following parishes: Ardrossan, Beith, Dalry, Dreghorn, part of Dunlop, Fenwick, Irvine, Kilbirnie, West Kilbride, Kilmarnock, Kilmaurs, Kilwinning, Largs, Loudoun, Stevenston, and Stewarton. The total number of inhabited houses in the district in 1831, was 7,602; of families 13,047. Of these, 2,212 families were employed in agriculture, and 7,457, in trade, manufactures, and handicrafts. The total population was 63,453. Cunningham is pleasantly diversified with hill and dale; but cannot be said to have any mountains. It is watered by numerous streams, the "chief of which are the Annock, Caaf, Garnock, Irvine, and Rye: which see. In it are several populous towns and villages: as Ardrossan, Beith, Dalry, Irvine, Kilwinning, Largs, Saltcoats, Stewarton, etc.: which see. The whole district abounds with coal, limestone, and freestone. It is, however, mostly in the hands of great proprietors, and is, of consequence, ornamented with few seats. Eglinton castle and Kelburne are the chief: which see. - This district is celebrated for its dairy husbandry, which has reached greater perfection here than in any other quarter of Scotland. Full milk cheese was first begun to be made in the parishes of Beith, Dunlop, Stewarton, and others, soon after the middle of last century. It was made in the parish of Kilmarnock about the year 1756 and became common in Cunningham by about 1770. Some traditional accounts, however, represent it as of much earlier introduction into the dairies of this district [See article Dunlop] The question of the origin of this famous kind of cheese is still matter of keen dispute. About the year 1760, the cows in the district of Cunningham were not superior to those now in Bute, Arran, or Kintyre. They were poor ill-shaped starvelings, which, when fattened, did not weigh more than from 13 to 15 stones, county weight. But, about 1750, the Earl of Marchmont purchased from the Bishop of Durham, six cows and a bull of the Teeswater breed, all of them flecked brown and white, and considerably heavier than the Ayrshire cows at that period. Bruce Campbell, Esq., of Milnriggs - who was then factor on his Lordship's estate in Ayrshire brought some of that breed to his byres at Sornbeg, and from these many calves were reared in that part of Ayrshire. John Dunlop, Esq., about the same time, brought some cows of an improved breed to his estate of Dunlop: and the Earls of London and Eglinton, Mr.Orr of Barrowfield, and others, all procured such cows, and placed them on their estates in Cunningham. These were at that time called Dutch cows, and they were of the same colour as those brought to Sornbeg. The dairy-breed on the Clyde have the colour, and partly the shape of the Ayrshire breed, and are upon the whole a handsome species of stock; but they are too round in the chest, too heavy in the fore-quarters, and far less capacious in their hinder parts, than the improved Ayrshire breed. They are well-fitted for the grazier, but inferior to the Cunningham breed for milkers The district of Cunningham was, until the abolition of feudal jurisdiction, a bailiewick under the Earl of Eglinton. Many of its leading families, such as those of Eglinton, Glencairn, and London, took a leading part in the affairs of the kingdom during its most agitated times. The ancient family of De Morville, the constables of Scotland, were at one time proprietors of almost all the district. It was to Hugh de Morville the church owed the celebrated abbey of Kilwinning, which was endowed so amply by him and others of bis family as to have a yearly revenue equal to 20,000 of our present money. Yet it is singular that there is no certainty as to their place of residence in this district. Mr. George Robertson, in his 'Genealogical Account of the Principal Families in Ayrshire, more particularly in Cunningham,' [Irvine: 2 vols.] gives the names of two places supposed to have been their residence, Glengarnock castle, in the parish of Kilbirnie, and Southannan in Largs, now in Kilbride. Glengarnock appears to have been one of the most ancient buildings in the district, and its ruins show that it has been one of the most extensive, and far beyond what the proprietor of the small barony of Glengarnock would have reared for himself. When

"The castle-gates were barr'd,

And o'er the gloomy portal arch,

Tuning; his footsteps to a march,

The warder kept his guard,"

he could see from the tower the greater part of Cunningham lying below him, and would have a view of the frith of Clyde, thus overlooking the movements of foreign as well as internal enemies. The fact, however, cannot be ascertained with certainty, and we may place it along with that assertion which makes Glengarnock the residence of Hardyknute.  





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