An article from

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

Published by A.Fullarton and Co. - 1848


NEWTON-UPON-AYR, a small parish on the coast of Kyle, Ayrshire. It is bounded on the north by Prestwick; on the east by St. Quivox; on the south by the river Ayr, which divides it from the burgh and parish of Ayr; and on the west by the frith of Clyde. It is an oblong, stretching north and south, and broadest at the middle; and it measures 1½ mile in length, and a mile in extreme breadth. The coast is flat, sandy, and of gloomy aspect; yet, at the northern extremity, projects a brief way in an inconsiderable rocky point. The surface of the interior is very nearly a dead level, and lies very slightly above high-water mark. The soil is naturally a barren sand, but has been greatly improved by intermixture with blue shale, fetched up from the coal-mines. Nearly 350 acres are arable ; and about 100 are waste or in pasture. The coal-formation under-stretches the whole parish, but has been much disturbed by the upheaving of trap, and is exhausted in its workable coal-seams. An apparently inexhaustible quarry of good freestone is worked in the north. All the parish, excepting 9 or 10 acres, belongs to the freemen of the burgh of Newton-upon-Ayr. Nearly all its features of interest, as well as the mass of its inhabitants, belong also to the burgh. Population, in 1801, 1,724; in 1831, 4,020. Houses 453. Assessed property, in 1815, not returned. This parish is in the presbytery of Ayr, and synod of Glasgow and Ayr. Patron, Thirteen delegates annually chosen by the freemen of the burgh. Stipend £245;(1) glebe £13 10s. The church was built by the freemen in 1777, and enlarged in 1832. Sittings 1,032. By ecclesiastical census in 1835 and 1836, the population was then 4,037; of whom 2,900 were churchmen, 990 were dissenters, and 87 were nondescripts. The parish was disjoined in 1779 from that of Monkton and Prestwick, by authority of the Commissioners for the plantation of kirks; and the management of all the civil affairs of the church was assigned to the thirteen delegates who wield the patronage. The teinds still belong to Monkton. In 1834, the parish- school was attended by 116 scholars; and three non- parochial schools by 198. Schoolmaster's salary £34 4s. 4½d. with fees.

NEWTON-UPON-AYR, a burgh-of-barony in the above parish, and a suburb of the royal burgh of Ayr, presses on one side on the right bank of the river Ayr, and on another on the frith of Clyde, and lies compactly on a third side with Wallace-town, a conjoint suburb. The principal street is about 2,100 feet long and 80 broad; but is far from being neatly edificed. Three or four streets lie between it and the sea, are regularly planned, and form a new town; but as yet they are only partially built. Three other small streets belong to the old town. The council-house, erected about the commencement of the present century, and the parish-church, are the only public buildings, both very unpretending in architecture, and the former surmounted by an humble steeple. The town, within less than a century and a-half ago, consisted entirely of one-story houses I thatched and of mean appearance. Towering above 1 these, and situated in Garden-street, amidst gardens and trees, stood Newton-castle, the seat of the Baronet Wallace of Craigie, a castellated edifice of the kind common in the later feudal times. The town was, for a long time, dependent chiefly on the collieries, and when they ceased, it remained stationary; but, during the last 40 years, it has sprung into energy under the influence of trade and manufacture. Ship-building and rope and sail-making are the oldest occupations: in 1791, they employed respectively 50 and 10 workmen; and, at the present date, they hold their ancient ground, but have made small if any advance. Four foundries employ about 50 workmen, and produce all sorts of iron and brass machinery and tools. Two salt-pans are little more than a nominal manufacture, and employ only four or five persons. About 400 weavers, and upwards of 600 hand-sewers, work for the warehouses of Glasgow. The finest kind of the famed Ayrshire needle-work is confined to Ayr and its vicinity, and has a large number of its fair workers, chiefly young women, in Newton. The descendants of a colony of fishermen from Pitsligo, and places in its vicinity in Aberdeen-shire, who long were a peculiar race in dress and habits, and conducted an extensive traffic, are now in a comparatively reduced condition, employ themselves chiefly in white fishing, and have no wider market than Ayr and its immediate neighbourhood. Newton possesses a joint interest with Ayr in the harbour of that town, has a railway to it from the coal-mines in the parish of St. Quivox, and exports nearly all the coals, the traffic in which constitutes the chief part of the harbour's trade. Improvements which to a great extent have been made on the harbour have not been completed on the Newton side. A wooden lighthouse, inelegant but useful, was erected on the north side in 1827, to supply the place of one which was built in 1790, and undermined by the encroachments of the sea. Newton-upon-Ayr has so curious a burgh-constitution that a pretty full digest of the account of it in the Report of the Commissioners on Municipal corporations cannot fail to gratify. The date of the erection of the burgh is not known. Its origin is traditionally ascribed to a grant by Robert the Bruce, in favour of 48 of the inhabitants, who had distinguished themselves in his service at Bannock-burn in 1314. No satisfactory evidence of this can be referred to; but it is matter of history that Robert was at the parliament held at Ayr, 26th April, 1315, when the crown of Scotland was settled on him and his descendants; and it appears certain that the erection of the burgh of Newton must have occurred some time between 1208-14 and 1440. King James VI. granted a new charter to the burgh in 1595, proceeding upon the narrative, inter alia, of certain ancient writings and title-deeds having been exhibited to his Majesty and his treasurer, 'quibus antiqua fundatio erectio et libertas dicti burgi clare et lucido testantur, quamvis occasione bellorum pestis temporumq. turbulentorum intra regnum n'rum pro tempore occurentium, antiqui evidenti litere et infeomenta dicti burgi, destructa combusta et consumpta fuisse.' After the clause granting of new, and erecting the burgh, there is in the charter the following clause: 'Cum potestate etiam et plenaria libertate dictis burgensibus et inhabitantibus dicti burgi ac eoruin successoribus, eor. terras communes acras et particatas ejusdem partiendi ac dividenli, et easdem in feudifirmam assedationem seu rentale aut alias prout eis magis videbitur expediens et commodius, burgensibus ac liberis civibus et incolis ejusdem burgi et nullis aliis assedandi et locandi.' The number of burgesses amongst whom this partition was made competent is not mentioned in this charter, but minutes or entries in the old records have been exhibited by the present magistrates, to establish that they then amounted to 48. In 1600, King James VI. granted another charter, narrating that the erection of the burgh of Newton was beyond the memory of man, and that the lands and others therein mentioned had been given and disponed 'burgensibus liberis et inhabitantibus ejusdem eorum heredibus et successoribus, de quibus ultra hominum memoriam in possessione extiterunt.' It then ratifies and confirms the charter of 1595, 'cum integris contentis privilegiis et immunitatibus in eodem specificatis;' and all other prior rights granted 'prefato burgo de Newtoun de Air burgensibus et inhabitantibus ejusd. eorumq. predecessoribus heredibus et successoribus quibuscunq.' There is then a disposition of new of the burgh and its pertinents 'prefato burgo ac balivis consulibus burgensibus et liberis incolis ejusdem eorumq. successoribus in proprietate et hereditate,' with all the privileges and immunities in the use or possession of the burgesses and inhabitants, and their predecessors in times past. And there is a revocation of all rights to others prejudicial to the grant in this charter, on the narrative, 'Ac nos inde volentes burgenses et inhabitantes dicti burgi eorumq. heredes aut successores nullatenus ledi nec prejudicari in eorum t'riis prediis possessionibus privilegiis et libertatibus ejusdem ipsis eorumq. predecessoribus per nos nrosq. nobilissimos progenitores temporibus preteritis concessis et confectis, sed ut eadem cum prefato burgo burgensibus et liberis ejusdem eorumq. heredibus et successoribus pro perpetuo tempore futuro absq. ullo obstaculo seu impedimento remanebunt.' After the grant of the lands and others to the burgesses, and their heirs and successors, this charter of 1600 proceeds to confer on them the power of electing bailies, treasurer, burgess councillors, and other officers necessary for the government of the burgh, and also the usual privileges of trade, and of holding fairs and markets; and, generally, the privileges and powers conferred by a grant of burgh, especially in regard to jurisdiction." From records of their own which have, from a very ancient period, been kept by the freemen, the following points were sought to be established, —that prior to the date of the existing charters, the territorial possessions of the burgh were enjoyed by the individual freemen patrimonially, each having in old times had his own " daill" given to him, at the periodical partition of the lands, "according to the auld ordour used and wont," —that the right of a freeman was heritable as well as patrimonial, inasmuch as sons, —whom failing, sons-in-law, —were entitled to succeed to the right on the father's demise, and to enter to the freedom in his stead, —that the number of freemen entitled to "daills" of the common property was limited, and in 1604, the date of the first daill after the existing charters, the limitation was held and understood to be precisely 48, which is said to have been agreeable to the established law and custom, — and that this ancient heritable and patrimonial right of the 48 freemen to have each his "daill" of the common property was subjected, in 1604, to the burden of paying a very large debt which had been contracted on the lands. The state of possession, from the earliest period till the present, is alleged to have been conformable with this patrimonial and heritable character of the right. The casting of the "daills" is regularly recorded; and, except between 1604 and 1771, even the particular lots and names are mentioned. A cast which took place in 1771, was, with the view of remedying evils which resulted from the short duration of former casts, ordained to continue 57 years. At the expiration of that cast in 1828, a surpassingly bold one was made, ordaining the continuance of the lots to be for 999 years. Till the date of this remarkable resolution, the patrimonial rights were never the subject of separate personal titles, and the record in the community books of the entrance of a freeman, and of the right which that entrance gave him to a share of the common property, constituted the only title to his "daill;" but, in 1833, the community resolved that the magistrates and council should grant feu-rights, for payment of an illusory feu-duty to such of the freemen as should choose to hold their possessions by charter and sasine. —The community have, from the operation of various causes, had vacancies in their number, and have uniformly wielded the power of disposing of them by sale. Non-residence in burgh incurred, in early times, a forfeiture of right; the operation of the original law of succession, which admitted only sons or sons-in-law, produced, while it was in force, many vacancies for want of proper heirs ; and the commission of crimes or misdemeanors, and the non-payment of the proportion of the original debt, have always been understood to incur a nullification of rights. Admissions to the vacancies occasioned by these means are regularly entered in the minute-books, and were procured by a money-payment, which latterly was ordained to be £30. The rights of sons and sons-in-law to succeed to their fathers freedom was recognised in the earliest times; and in the minutes of date 16th December, 1680, in appointing a new cast, it was ordained, "the said daills to be this day casten and dewydit by lot to those who lineallie succeed to the samyn, according to the former acts, and the antiquitie of freemen and burgesses, as the several acts of the said toune do prescrive." But subsequently the right was extended to the widows of freemen; and rules were drawn up, and have been uniformly observed, by which daughters as well as sons, and collaterals as well as descendants, have been admitted to the succession. Few instances of sales of the rights of freemen occurred till within the last half century. The value of the right, indeed, was comparatively trifling till the discovery of a rich seam of coal in the lands, about the year 1765. Since that date the right of freedom has become a valuable property, and the list of transferences that have taken place within the last 40 years shows about 30 freedoms that have passed into the possession of singular successors, the price varying, at different dates, from £70 to £500. The mode of transference, from the peculiarity of the right, has necessarily been peculiar. The freeman wishing to dispose of his right renounces it in favour of the community, at a fixed price, to be given out of new by them to the purchaser. It was at one time customary for the community to purchase rights of freedom to be disposed of by public roup to the highest bidder. In these cases, the renunciation by the freeman ceding his right was in favour of the community ad remanentiam. But, in other cases, the renunciation was the mere form by which the right of the person with whom the old freeman had transacted was completed. The freedoms are said to have been, in some instances, attached and sold by creditors; and the freemen, as the heritable possessors ot their respective lots, have been held liable for the proportion of teinds payable from their lands. The freemen, in addition to the property divided by daills, have, at various times, obtained, out of the common property of the burgh, steadings of ground for building- to be held in feu for payment of a feu-duty, and have had them laid off into 48 lots, in the same manner as the duills. A considerable tract of the burgh property remains undivided and possessed in common; and in the year 1831-2, it yielded £134 16s. of rental. The coal revenue, and the rent of the common moor, have invariably been divided among the 48 freemen. The other revenues are received by the treasurer, and disbursed under the direction | of the community at their discretion; the amount; has always been annually exhausted in improving file lands, and in defraying expenses of management; and any surplus which remained of the funds divided among the freemen has likewise been usually employed in the improvement of lands. A large amount of the common fund, however, was employed in building a church at the epoch of the erection of the parish. The revenue of the burgh, for the year preceding Michaelmas 1832, was stated to be £436 12s. 6d.; the expenditure for the same year £347 5s.; and the debts then due by the burgh £1,300. Poor's stent is the only assessment by the magistrates and council; it is levied from all houses above £2, by a collector named by the council, and is distributed by the kirk-session; and (luring 10 years preceding 1833, it amounted to 4d. per pound of real rent. The cess levied is very trifling. The council of the burgh consists of two bailies, one treasurer, and six councillors, who are annually elected by the burgesses. They possess all the jurisdiction in point of law, which burghs-of-barony, independent of the superior, prior to 1748, are entitled to claim. But they have been accustomed to exercise jurisdiction only in processes of sequestration for rent and petty breaches of the peace. Even this limited jurisdiction has not extended to above six cases annually since 1820. There are no incorporated trades within the burgh enjoying exclusive privileges. But the freemen annually, at the Beltan (May-day) Court held by them, enact, that no unfreeinan shall trade or manufacture within the bounds of the burgh without leave. The law, however, has not been enforced for 40 years, all persons being permitted to trade without licence or fees of any sort. The magistrates and council have no patronage; but the office-bearers of the burgh, viz., clerk, treasurer, and officer, are appointed by the community of freemen, and such of their eldest sons as are entered as young freemen. The magistrates and treasurer get £5 per annum each, and the clerk £10 yearly, the officer £5 5s. The only fees paid to the clerk and officers consist of 2s. 6d. on the entry of every freeman. "It is impossible," say the Commissioners, "to close this account of the burgh of Newton-upon-Ayr without observing that the rights of the community, as regards the property originally conferred upon this burgh, have, by the successive encroachments of the freemen, been placed upon a very peculiar footing; and it well deserves being considered whether some steps should not be taken for vindicating the public interests against such encroachments, and still more for the prevention of similar encroachments in future. In so far as the freemen have lately directed their efforts to the conversion of a temporary title of possession, nowise incompatible with the eventual resumption of the subjects when required for the public service of the burgh, —into a permanent feudal right, which is intended to divest the burgh for ever of all interest in their own estate, —the Commissioners think it may be questioned whether every such usurpation be not illegal, and at variance with the chartered rights of the community." Newton is comprehended within the parliamentary boundaries of Ayr. No actual list of the £10 proprietors or occupiers has been furnished; but, in 1833, there were 218 occupants of £5 yearly and upwards, -about 100 of whom were computed to have tenements at or above £10. The population of the town, according to the New Statistical Account written in 1837 was then 3.768.

{1 Consisting of £60 from the burgh, modified by decree of the Court-of-teinds; £90 from the exchequer; and a gratuity of £95 from the burgh since 1833, and depending upon the letting of the seats.}  





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