An article from

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

Published by A.Fullarton and Co. - 1848

The Royal Burgh of Irvine

IRVINE, a royal burgh and a sea-port, is pleasantly situated on the right bank of the river Irvine, ¾ of a mile east from the basin, but 2 miles from it along the channel of the river, and a mile in a direct line north-east of the nearest point of the frith of Clyde. The town is 11 miles north of Ayr; 25 south-south-west of Glasgow; 34 south of Greenock; 3 south of Kilwinning; 7 south-east of Saltcoats; 6½ west of Kilmarnock; and 67 distant from Edinburgh. The site of the main body of the town is a rising ground, of a sandy soil, stretching parallel with the river. At a point ¼ of a mile north of Annack water, and the same distance east of Irvine water, is the Townhead or commencement of the Main-street. This thoroughfare stretches from end to end of the town, running about 600 yards in a direction north of west, and then over a further distance of about 500 yards, assuming a more northerly direction. Over its whole length, excepting a small part in the centre mid-distance, it is spacious and airy, and wears an appearance superior to that of the principal street of most Scottish towns of its size. Expanding southward of it, and partly lying between the first 450 yards of it and Irvine river, are the Golf-fields, traced or studded northward on the western side, or the river's bank, by the minister's glebe, the washing-house, the powder-house, chapel wall, or the site of the quondam chapel of St. Mary, and finally, on a swell of the ground, the parish-church. The last of these objects is an oblong edifice 80 feet by 60, built in 1774, surmounted at the north-west end by a very beautiful spire, commodiously fitted up in the interior, and, in all respects, highly creditable to the town. Three hundred yards from the commencement of the Main-street one thoroughfare of very brief length leads off into the Golf-fields, and another 400 yards long, called Cotton-street, leads off in the opposite direction. At the further extremity of the latter street stand the Gas works, and one of the dissenting meeting-houses. Nearly 200 yards down from the debouch of Cotton-street, the Main-street, having already sent off a briefer thoroughfare to the church, sends off one of 220 yards in length to the river; and immediately after it is itself bisected into two thoroughfares by the town-hall and the jail. These buildings are plain and substantial, bearing a marked resemblance to the town-hall of Annan; and, owing to the spaciousness of the street, do not offer by any means such an obstruction to the carriage-way as their very obtrusive position would seem to threaten. About 80 yards below them, the Main-street reaches what may be esteemed the centre of the town. From this point a street of great burghal importance goes off, over a distance of 200 yards, to a bridge communicating across Irvine river with the suburbs and the harbour; and another little built upon, yet having on its north side near its exit the office of Ayr bank, goes off in an opposite direction, pointing the way to Glasgow, and at a distance of 530 yards passing the Gas works, and receiving at an acute angle the termination of Cotton-street. Three other streets complete the grouping of the burgh, —one nearly parallel with Main-street on its east side, but very partially edificed, —another parallel to it on its west side, but compactly edificed over only a brief distance, —and a third, going off from it at a point 200 yards below the centre of the town, diverging at an angle of about 45 degrees, and going down over a distance of 220 yards to the Slaughter-house. All the three dissenting places of worship are neat edifices. A little west of the northern termination of Main-street stands the Academy, built in 1814, at a cost of £2,250, both an honour and an ornament to the town. The town has an excellent news-room and subscription library; branch-offices of the Ayr bank, the Ayrshire bank, and the British Linen company's bank; and several mills whose appearance and machinery surpass those of any others in the county. The bridge which connects the town with its suburbs was built in 1826, and is the most spacious and handsome in Ayrshire. These suburbs consist chiefly of two streets, straight and uniformly edificed, —the one, called Halfway, leading right across the isthmus, formed by the elongated horseshoe bend of the river, to the harbour of the town, —and the other, called Fullarton, running up at a right angle from the bridge, or parallel with the river, and pointing the way to Ayr. These suburbs, though not within the royalty, are comprehended within the parliamentary boundaries; and they were recently erected into a quoad sacra parish, and have a neat new church, with between 800 and 1,000 sittings. On a line with the west end of Halfway, where the river, just before expanding into its basin or estuary, suddenly bends from a southerly to a westerly course, is the pier or harbour, —lined, for about 220 yards, with buildings, and sending out a pierhead upwards of 500 yards into the basin. North of the west end of Halfway is a building-yard, where ship-architecture is conducted to a noticeable extent. The burgh commissioners report very laconically respecting Irvine :— "It has no trade excepting that of coal, which is not increasing. There are many respectable inhabitants in the town, and some villas round it." Yet, so far back as the year 1790, the port had, in strict connection with the town, 51 vessels, aggregately of 3,682 tons, and navigated by 305 sailors, besides other vessels nominally belonging to it, but properly connected with Saltcoats and Largs. In 1837, the vessels had increased in number to 106, aggregately of 11,535 tons. So prosperous, too, have recently been the affairs of the harbour, that though the trustees were empowered to levy additional rates from vessels, and a pontage from vehicles to compensate the costs of repairing the harbour and rebuilding the bridge, they had no need to use their new powers as regarded the harbour, but found the old rates sufficient to defray all expenses. Irvine being the nearest port to Kilmarnock, has shared the results of that town's increase in manufacturing productiveness and importance. Besides shipping vast quantities of coals both coastwise and for Ireland, the town, with its dependencies, exports very largely carpeting, tanned leather, rye-grass seed, and tree plants, and also, on a smaller scale, cotton yarn, cotton cloth, herrings, sheep-skins tawed, and other articles; and it imports from Ireland oats, butter, orchard produce, feathers, untanned hides, linen cloth, quilts, limestone, and other articles, and from America timber, staves, and spars, as well as exports to the latter market carpeting, woollen cloth, and articles of leather manufacture. The harbour has a regular custom-house establishment. Across the mouth of the basin—as at the mouth of the river Ayr —is a bar which long very seriously impeded navigation, and which even yet prevents the entrance of vessels of any considerable burden. The depth of water from the quay to the bar is generally from 9 to 11 feet at spring tides; and in high storms, with the wind from the south or south-west, it is sometimes 16 feet. Vessels of larger size than 80 or 100 tons are obliged to take in or deliver part of their cargoes on the outer side of the bar. The dues levied at the port during the 5 years preceding 1832, averaged about £430 a-year. The want of a separate police for the harbour is frequently felt as a great inconvenience. The manufactures of the town are far from being either on the decline or unworthy of notice. About the year 1790, hand-sewing was introduced by a Glasgow manufacturing house, and, at the end of 3 years, employed only about 70 young women; but it has so greatly increased, that of late years one agent alone has repeatedly paid away £8,000 in wages. The weaving of book-muslins, jaconets, and checks, employs many individuals. In 1838, the number of hand-looms alone was 580. The earnings by hand-sewing vary with the fashion of the goods, from 6d. to 1s. 3d. per day. The average clear wages for weaving is 7s. per week. The best paid work in Irvine is book-muslins; 4 ells of a certain fineness of which, paid at 6¼d. per ell, may be worked per day of 14 hours. The weavers of the town, as to their average condition, are on a par with shoemakers and labourers. Many persons are employed in carting coals from the collieries to the harbour ; and most of the population of Halfway and Fullarton—amounting, in 1836, to 2,571 —are connected with the port either as seamen, as ship-carpenters, or in other capacities. In consequence of a fall in the prices procured for coals in Ireland, a reduction of about 7s. 6d. per month was made, not long ago, on the wages of the seamen. The town has manufactories in rope-making, tanning and dressing leather, constructing anchors and cables, distilling whisky, making magnesia, and fabricating various articles of artisanship. The affairs of the burgh are managed by a provost, 2 bailies, a dean-of-guild, a treasurer, and 12 councillors. Municipal constituency in 1840, 178. The corporation-property is considerable—including among other items, 422 acres of arable land, the town's mills, the town-house, with its shops, the public meal-market, shambles and washing-houses —and yielded, in 1832, with town's customs and market-dues, a revenue of £1,497 19s. 7d. The ordinary expenditure is, in general, so much less than the amount of revenue, as to admit of extensive repairs upon the burgh-property, and occasionally of the purchase of additions to the common good. The jurisdiction of the magistrates does not extend to the suburbs; and their patronage is limited to the election of their officers, who draw salaries to the aggregate amount of £115 14s. a-year. The burgh court is the only one in which they preside ; but, no sheriff court being held in the town, it has very important jurisdiction. Affairs of police are managed by the magistrates, and maintained at the cost of the burgh fund. The jail is in use, not only for Irvine itself, and for the populous towns of Salt-coats, Ardrossan, Largs, and the adjacent country, but for the large manufacturing town of Kilmarnock,. —in fact, for nearly all the district of Cunningham ; and it is extremely incommodious and inconvenient. Though Irvine has both burgesses and guild-brethren, the magistrates are not rigid In compelling strangers to enter, and usually allow them to become domesticated before they demand entry dues. In 1832, there were 225 guild-brethren, and 72 burgesses. There are 6 incorporated trades, — shoemakers, coopers, tailors, weavers, hammermen, and squaremen; but they have acknowledged the inutility of their privileges, or demonstrated their impolicy and injurious consequences, more than kindred bodies in most of the towns of Scotland. -Fullarton, or about one-third of the suburban appendage of Irvine, is a burgh-of-barony, and claims a separate jurisdiction of its own, but has no resident magistrate. As the burghal authorities have no power to impose any police-assessment, it is neither lighted, watched, nor cleaned like the rest of the town; and lying in a direct line between the burgh and the harbour, it becomes an easy retreat to delinquents for evading the pursuit or awards of justice. -Irvine unites with Ayr, Rothsay, Inverary, and Campbelltown in returning a member to parliament. Constituency, in 1840, 244. The town has weekly markets on Tuesday and Friday, and annual fairs in January, May, and August. Population, in 1831, 7,034. Of these, 4,518 were within the old royalty, and 2,510 were in Fullarton and Halfway.

Irvine is a very ancient royal burgh. A charter of the supposed date of 1308 is still extant, granted by King Robert Bruce in consequence of the services of the inhabitants in the wars of the succession. Twelve renewals and confirmations of their rights by successive monarchs, evince the importance which the burgh continued to maintain down to 1641, when all their immunities were formally ratified by parliament. From a charter granted by Robert II., it appears to have once had jurisdiction over the whole of Cunningham; but it could not long maintain its ascendency against encroachments on the part of neighbouring barons. Its armorial bearings are a lion rampant-guardant, having a sword in one of his forepaws, and a sceptre in the other, with the motto, "Tandem bona causa triumphat;" and these are sculptured over the entry to the council-chamber in the town-hall. -In August, 1839, Irvine became temporarily crowded with an influx of strangers, pouring in from sea and highway to witness the fooleries of the Eglinton tournament. -The town is distinguished as the birth-place of James Montgomery, the poet, and Gait, the novelist. Montgomery's father long officiated as minister in the little chapel, still known as 'the Moravian kirk;' and the poet was born in a house near it, on the north side of the entrance to an alley, called Braid close. Gait's natal spot was a neat two-story house, on the south side of the Main-street, near its northern termination. Burns' name, too - how different in its moral associations from the odoriferous one of Montgomery! —is connected in a degree with the town; for here —though in what precise locality is disputed —the bard tried to establish himself as a flax-dresser, and suffered a severe reverse in the burning of his shop—Irvine, at one time, gave the title of Viscount, in the Scottish peerage, to an English family who had no property in its vicinity. The first Viscount Irvine, was Henry, the eldest surviving son of Sir Arthur Ingram of Temple Newsom, neur Leeds, and received the title in 1661. Charles, the 9th and last Viscount, died in 1778.





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