An article from

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

Published by A.Fullarton and Co. - 1848

Kilwinning Town

KILWINNING, the capital of the cognominal parish, and a populous manufacturing village, is pleasantly situated on a gentle rising ground on the right bank of the river Garnock; 2½ miles from the nearest part of the frith of Clyde; 3½ miles north-east of Salt-coats; 2¾ miles north-west of Irvine; and 3¾ miles south of Dairy. The town is ancient, and has a dull, antiquated, dingy appearance; yet borrows sufficient splendour from the loveliness of its environs, and from reminiscences of its historical importance, mid from the beautiful and partially Gothic form of its parish-church, with an elegant modern spire surmounting the tower of its ancient monastery, to be an object of no little interest. It consists principally of one street, winged by some lanes, and of some rows of modern houses; and stretches westward from the river. The approaches to it are shaded with trees, and flanked by beautiful fields. At its east end is a height, called the Crossbill, on which the monks anciently set up what they reckoned the symbol of Christianity, to receive the initiatory homage of the pilgrims who crowded to their shrines. Part of the town is suburban, consisting of an attached or adjacent village called Byres. The ancient seat of monkish indolence and gilded knavery is now the scene of manufacturing industry; and acquires from the humble toils of its busy inhabitants, and especially from the moral enlightenment of a portion of their number, unutterably higher attractions than it ever possessed in the pompous fooleries and rueful grandeur of the cowled fraternity who drew flocks of victims to their sumptuous ecclesiastical palace. The rattle of the loom, and the humble prattle of Christian intelligence, as substitutes for the choral chauntings of the missal, amply compensate by their intrinsic utility all that they lose in poetical effect. In the various departments of silk, woollen, and cotton, the town had, in 1828, 370 looms, and in 1838, 350. In the latter year, 60 of the looms were harness, and 290 plain. Near the end of last century, an extensive tannery, and 3 small factories, 1 for carding cotton, and 2 for spinning it, were established. 'With the exception of a few families, the whole population, not only of the town, but of the landward part of the parish, are of the working-classes, principally hand-loom weavers, shopkeepers, labourers, and colliers. The town has a branch-office of the Commercial Bank of Scotland ; and it has two annual fairs. Nor is the place deficient, proportionately to its bulk, in charitable or friendly institutions. A remarkable fact connected with the town—one which occasions its name to figure prominently to the present day in the proceedings of the gaudy and flaunting associations, so extensively popular in our country, who endeavour to make up by parade and by boasted consciousness of importance, what they want in usefulness and meaning—is, that it was the cradle of free-masonry in Scotland, and, till not very many years ago, was regarded with filial feelings, or with those of nurslings, by all the lodges in the kingdom. The community and conservation of a real or supposed secret—especially considering how unreserved and open benevolence, or true goodness, is in its abstract nature—seems the most questionable of all bonds of union, short of such as are positively criminal, for forming and maintaining voluntary associations; yet it appears, with a numerous proportion of men, to have in most ages possessed peculiar attractions, and to have, in some instances, been preferred to other bonds of union, at the risk even of proscription and suffering. The Eleusinian mysteries attained great respectability among the ancient Greeks, and were protected by law. A class of artificers, held together by the Dionysian mysteries, too, possessed at one time the exclusive privilege of erecting temples and theatres, and were numerous in Syria, Persia, and Western Hindostan. These ancient associations, on account of their ceremonies all having connexion with pagan superstitions, were proscribed by the Christian Roman emperors; yet they are believed to have been secretly continued, under the pretence of ordinary assemblies for amusement, and with a diminished amplitude in the observance of pagan rites. Modern masonry—to the uninitiated, at least, and almost certainly to even the initiated is so obscure in its early history and character, that it neither, on the one hand, can it be distinctly traced to either a connexion with these or other ancient fraternities, or to some comparatively modern outburst of the common tendency of mankind to associate themselves in clubs and select communities ; nor, on the other hand, can it be pronounced to have had for its original object what seems mainly to be its modern one —a pompous and ceremonial species of conviviality, or the maintenance of freer notions, bona fide on the subject of architecture, than the circumstances of an iron age permitted to be public. All that can fully be affirmed is, that, about the time of the crusades, associations of free-masons, whose members had a formal initiation, and distinguished one another by secret signs, appeared numerously in Europe, and acted a conspicuous part, if not in the introduction of the Saracenic, or, as it is usualiy called, the Gothic architecture, at least in the superintendence of most of the magnificent erections in which it was exemplified. Sir Christopher Wren, as quoted by Grose —taking quite as high a flight in positiveness of statement as could be at all safe— says, "The Holy war gave the Christians who had been" in the east "an idea of the Saracen works, which were afterwards by them imitated in the west; and they refined upon it every day, as they proceeded in building churches. The Italians (among which were still some Greek refugees), and with them French, Germans, and Flemings, joined into a fraternity of architects ; procuring papal bulls for their encouragement, and particular privileges. They styled themselves free-masons, and ranged from one nation to another, as they found churches to be built (for very many in those ages were every where in building through piety or emulation). Their government was regular ; and where they fixed near the building in hand, they made a camp of huts. A surveyor governed in chief; every tenth man was called a warden, and overlooked each nine ; the gentlemen in the neighbourhood, either out of charity or commutation of penance, gave the materials and carriages." [Antiquities. Vol. i. Pref. Note in p. 114] One of these fraternities either voluntarily came, or were invited over from the continent, to take part in building the abbey of Kilwinning; and when on the spot, they seem to have communicated their secret, whatever it was, to some of the more respectable natives who had no practical connexion with the art of masonry, and thus to have formed the earliest lodge of Scottish free-masons. But the fraternities on the continent, by holding their meetings with shut doors, by binding themselves under the sanction of an oath to keep all the uninitiated, no matter how princely or prelatical, unacquainted with their mysteries, and especially by fraternizing with the usurping and dangerous military order of Knights Templars, speedily drew upon "themselves such jealousies, anathematizings, proscriptions, and persecutions, as issued in their extinction. The parent national lodges of Kilwinning in Scotland, and York in England, with whatever offshoots they had throughout the country, doubtless shared in the general odium; and though they survived the shock, they continued for ages in obscurity. During the reign of James I., however, Scottish free-masonry walked abroad with the high bearing which has ever since characterized it. That monarch, not long after his return from England, patronized the mother-lodge of Kilwinning; and presided as grand-master till he settled an annual salary, to be paid by every master-mason of Scotland to a grand-master, who should be chosen by the brethren, and approved by the Crown, —who should be nobly born, or a clergyman of high rank and character, —and who should have his deputies in the different towns and counties of Scotland. James II. conferred the office of grand-master on William St. Clair, Earl of Orkney and Caithness, and made it hereditary in the family of his descendants, the Barons of Roslin. Earl William and his successors held their head-courts, or assembled their grand-lodges, in Kilwinning, as the seat of the earliest fraternity. An uncommon spirit for freemasonry becoming diffused, many lodges were formed throughout the kingdom, receiving their charters of erection from the Kilwinning lodge, and combining its name with their own in their distinctive titles. In 1736, William St. Clair of Roslin, obliged to sell his estates, and destitute of an heir, resigned to an assembly of the lodges of Edinburgh and its vicinity, all claim to the grand-mastership, and empowered them, in common with the other lodges of the country, to declare the office elective. On St. Andrews' day of that year, the representatives of about 32 lodges received the resignation, elected William St. Clair himself their grand-master, set an example which has ever since been followed, of testifying respect for the part he acted, and constituted themselves into the grand-lodge of Scotland, —an institution whose influence or power has in a great measure shorn the ancient Kilwinning lodge of its peculiar honours, or at least superseded it in its paramount place among the lodges. Yet, whoever takes any interest in free-masonry, still looks with feelings of pride or veneration to the Kilwinning lodge, and no doubt gives a ready response to the remark of the author of the Beauties of Scotland, "that the humble village of Kilwinning, considered as the spot where this order was preserved while it was extinguished on the continent of Europe, and from which it was to rise from its ashes, and spread to the rising and the setting sun, enjoys a singular degree of importance, which it could scarcely have obtained from any other circumstance." " The records of the Kilwinning lodge," says the Old Statistical Account, " contain a succession of grand-masters, charters of erection to other lodges, as daughters of the mother-lodge, &c. The Earls of Eglintoune have successively patronized this lodge. Some years ago, the present earl made a donation to the fraternity of a piece of ground, for building a new and very elegant lodge; and, with many other gentlemen, anxious to preserve the rights of the very ancient and venerable mother-lodge, liberally contributed to its erection. There is a common seal, expressive of the antiquity of the mother-lodge, and of the emblems of the ancient art of masonry, and by which charters, and all other public deeds of the society, are ratified."

Archery is practised to the present hour at Kilwinning, as an elegant and manly amusement. Though the town, in this particular, exhibits only a taste which is possessed in common with it by Edinburgh, Musselburgh, Kelso, Peebles, St. Andrews, Irvine, and other places, yet it outvies them all in the antiquity of its company of archers, and in the principle of utility, or of compliance with regal acts for regulating the military system of the state, on which they were originally associated. The company are known, though imperfectly, and only by tradition, to have existed prior to the year 1488; and from that year downward, they are authenticated by documents. Originally enrolled by royal authority, they appear to have been encouraged by the inmates of the abbey; and they, in consequence, instituted customs which easily secured their surviving the discontinuance or of archery as the principal art of war. Once a-year, generally in the month of June, they make a grand exhibition. The principal shooting is at a parrot, anciently called the papingo, and well known under that name in heraldry, but now called the popinjay. This used to be constructed of wood ; but in recent years has consisted of feathers worked up into the semblance of a parrot; and is suspended by a string to the top of a pole, and placed 120 feet high, on the steeple of the monastery. The archer who shoots down this mark is called "the Captain of the popinjay;" he is master of the ceremonies of the succeeding year; he sends cards of invitation to the ladies, and gives them a ball and supper; and he transmits the honours to posterity by attaching to the badge of them, which was temporarily in his possession, a medal with suitable devices. The badge received and transmitted is now, and since 1723 has been, a silver arrow; but from 148S to 1688, it was a piece of vari-coloured taffeta called a 'benn,' and worn as a sash; and from the latter date till 1723, it was a piece of silver-plate. Every person acquainted with the national novels of Scotland, will recognize the Kilwinning festival, though tictioned to be on a different arena, in the opening scene of Old Mortality, when young Milnwood achieves the honours of captain of the popinjay, and becomes bound to do the honours of the Howff. Another kind of shooting is practised for prizes at butts, point-blank distance, about 26 yards. The prize, in this case, is some useful or ornamental piece of plate, given annually to the company by the senior surviving archer. -The town is governed by a baron-bailie. Population between 2,000 and 3,000.  




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