An article from

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

Published by A.Fullarton and Co. - 1848


SALTCOATS, a considerable little town and sea-port, partly in the parish of Ardrossan, and partly in that of Stevenston, Cunningham, Ayrshire. It is 1 mile east of Ardrossan, 4 south-west of Kilwinning, 7 west of Irvine, 13 north-west of Troon, 13 south-south-east of Largs, 14 west of Kilmarnock, 28 south-south-east of Greenock, 32 south-west of Glasgow, and 74 west-north-west of Edinburgh. Its situation is about the middle of the north or northwest side of the long but comparatively slender segmentary indentation of the frith of Clyde, which, in a large sense, is called the bay of Ayr, —on ground low and level, and commanding a fair sea-view only from the very lip of the frith, —in the neighbourhood of sandy bluffs and flat expanses, —and altogether so characterized as to be redeemed from the most irksome tameness only by the prospect, across the waters, of the splendid forms of Arran. In the interior, too, the town has so many one-story houses, and such fields of red tyles along their roofs, and such deformity and dinginess in the edifices of its salt-works, and such a prevalence of the most common village aspect in its streets, as to be hardly rescued from utter unattractiveness by the presence of a few good public buildings. Two United Secession places of worship, and a meeting-house belonging to the Relief, are plain yet sufficiently creditable structures. A Gaelic chapel, erected in 1830, and ecclesiastically declared a sort of parish-church, is a neat little Gothic edifice, with a Saxon doorway and a small belfry. It stands at the west end of the town, looking toward Ardrossan, and is surrounded by an enclosure whose front is decorated with pillars. The town's branch-office of the Ayrshire Banking company is a recent and neat erection. The town-house, begun in 1825, is a two-story building, with a handsome spire; and is arranged, in the ground-floor, into shops, and disposed, in the upper story, into a lock-up-house, a committee-room, a library-room, and a large apartment used both as a public reading-room and as the seat of the justice-of-peace monthly courts. Saltcoats is believed, on the authority of tradition, corroborated by the monumental evidence of con¬siderable heaps of ashes, to have been, at a very early period, the seat of a manufacture of salt. The pris¬tine artisans, it is supposed, were poor persons, who dug up from, very near the surface, as much coal as was needed for their operations, and made use only of little pans and kettles, and formed a kind of squatting community, whose homes were 'cots' on the shore; and who thus originated in their little cluster of 'salt-cots,' both the nucleus and the name of the future town. Saltcoats was of so much note so early as the reign of James V. as to be erected by him into a burgh-of-barony ; and probably it retains no practical trace of its burghal character and privileges simply on account of having, soon after the receipt of them, suffered some severe and almost exterminating reverse. About the year 1660 it had so greatly declined as to have only four houses. But in 1684 Sir Robert Cunningham, the inheritor of the whole parish of Stevenston, and the nephew of the gentleman of the name who had purchased the estate in 1656, commenced a series of operations which soon advanced the decayed village, in common with the district in its vicinity, to a condition of comparative prosperity: he constructed, at what till that time was called the Creek of Saltcoats, a harbour which, for the circumstances of the period, was a work of some magnitude, and which still continues serviceable; he built several large salt-pans, and placed the manufacture of salt on an advantageous footing; and he opened various coal-pits on his property, and made the new harbour a place of large export for coal. The few houses which constituted the village, when his works were completed, were all low thatched cots. The first slated house was built in 1703, and still stands in Quay-street, —an object of some interest to the inhabitants. The salt manufacture, after undergoing various fluctuations, has eventually sustained material and perhaps permanent injury by the repeal of the salt-duties, and the consequent introduction of English rock-salt. Instead of seven salt-pans, which used to be in operation, there are now only two. A magnesia-work, in connection with the salt-pans, was the earliest establishment of its kind in Scotland, and continues to employ a number of workmen, and to prosper. Ship-building has, at various periods, been vigorously conducted ; and during the twenty-six years which ended in 1790, it produced sixty-four vessels of aggregately 7,095 tons burthen, and upwards of £70,000 in value; but it has been singularly fitful, and three or four years ago looked as if it were totally relinquished. Rope-making, too, has been a fluctuating trade; but now seems, on a small scale at least, to be prospering. A brewery of long standing prospers. Six or seven vessels, each of from 20 to 70 or 80 tons, and aggregately employ ingabout fifty persons, go annually to the North Highland herring-fishing. The domestic fishery is comparatively neglected. Much the largest section ol tlie inhabitants are cotton-weavers, in the employment of the Glasgow and the Paisley manufacturers. The fabrics woven are principally gauzes, lappets, shawls, and trimmings. The number of looms, including a very few in Ardrossan, was, in 1828, 662; and, in 1838, 572, —all of the latter, except six, plain. Many females are employed in muslin hand-sewing. The shipping of the town has greatly declined; yet it is, in its statistics, so much mixed up with that of Ardrossan, that it cannot very easily be estimated. The principal commerce is with Ireland, and consists in the exchange of coals for agricultural and dairy produce Saltcoats, in addition to the places of worship already mentioned, has two chapels, the one Independent and the other Baptist; and it has twelve schools, —one of them parochial, one a free-school for females, and the remaining ten private. An annual fair—once a scene of general barter between the Highlands and the Lowlands, but now principally for Highland cows and for pigs and lambs—is held on the last Thursday of May. Population, in 1821, 3,413; in 1831 3,800.  





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