History and Description


History and Description, 1868


"AYR, a maritime county of Scotland, situated on the south-west coast along the Firth of Clyde. In form it approaches a crescent, concave towards the west, having the greatest breadth in the centre, and terminating northward and southward in comparative points. It is bounded on the N. and N.E. by Renfrewshire: on the E. by Lanarkshire and Dumfriesshire: on the S.E. by the county of Kirkcudbright: on the S. by the county of Wigton: and on the W. by the Firth of Clyde. It lies between 55° and 55° 50' N. lat. and between 4° and 5° W. long., extending in length in a straight line from the northern to the southern extremity, about 60 miles, and in breadth at the broadest part about 25 miles. It has a coast line of about 66 miles, and comprises an area of 1,045 square miles, or of 668,800 acres, although some have estimated its extent at as much as 1,600 square miles. The coast in the central part is low, level, and sandy, but towards the north and south becomes lofty and rocky. Good harbours are rare, and the shore has the reputation of being dangerous. There are, however, two excellent harbours, with docks, at Ardrossan and Troon, the properties respectively of the Earl of Eglinton and the Duke of Portland. Several small islands lie off the coast. At the north, Little Cumbray; Horse island, off Ardrossan; Lady island, off Troon; and the island rock of Ailsa Craig, off Girvan. Ayrshire was, in ancient times, divided into three districts:- Cunningham, Kyle, and Carrick, which are still popularly recognised, although they have ceased to exist in the eye of the law. Cunningham is that part of the county which is north of the river Irvine; Kyle, viz., King's Kyle and Kyle Stewart, which is again subdivided by the river Ayr into two sections, is that part which is between the Irvine and the Doon; and Carrick, that part which lies to the south of the Doon. These districts are named and characterised in a pithy manner in a popular local rhyme: "Kyle Kyle for a man, Carrick for a cow, Cunningham for butter and cheese, And Galloway for woo'." In the earliest period to which our knowledge at present extends, this part of Scotland was occupied by the Damnii, a powerful Celtic tribe. Scots from Ireland, who had effected a settlement in the peninsula of Cantyre, subsequently passed into this county. These races amalgamated with each other, and were afterwards subject to Saxon invaders from Northumbria. From the 9th century, when the Pictish kingdom was broken up by King Kenneth, till the close of the 11th century, this county formed part of the kingdom of Scotland, and remained subject to Celtic usages and laws. At the commencement of the 12th century a great change took place. After the accession of Edgar, Anglo-Norman settlers thronged into the land, castles grew up for the baron, and towns for the trader, churches for all. Among the settlers of this period were Hugh Morville, with a host of vassals the families of Roses, Montgomerys, Campbells, Boyds, Kennedies, &c. Laws, customs, in fact, almost everything changed. Yet the old language, the Gaelic, held its ground, and for five hundred years was not utterly rooted out. The history of the centuries during which feudalism was the prevailing system would be little more than a story of feuds between the chiefs and leading families, and of oppression and misery towards the lower orders. It is no matter for surprise that visions of political liberties and of social justice should fascinate them and make them, as they were, zealous adherents of the Covenant in the 17th century. For it they were ready to fight, for it to die, and many are the spots in secluded moors and mosses which are consecrated by the memory of the noble army of martyrs of those days. The men of Ayrshire heartily accepted the revolution which placed the Prince of Orange on the throne of Great Britain, and would have no money remuneration for their armed attendance upon the estates at Edinburgh. Ayrshire is cut off from the neighbouring parts of Scotland by ranges of lofty hills along its western border, and Carrick the southern district, is wholly mountainous. Narrow plains stretch along the coast, and Cunningham, the northern district, is level and very fertile. Generally the surface of the county rises towards the east and the south. The hills have not a great elevation: not one of them attaining the height of 2,000 feet. The loftiest among them is Knockdolian, in the parish of Colmonell, near the south coast, which has an elevation of 1,950 feet. Others are, Cairntable, in Muirkirk, on the eastern side of the county, 1,650 feet; Blackside End, in Soria, 1,560 feet; Ailsa Craig, off Girvan, 1,098 feet. The prevailing rocks are granite and limestone. With these are associated freestone, red sandstone, pudding-stone, &c. Coal is abundant and of many varieties. Large quantities of the curious "blind coal" are exported. At Dalmore, on the Ayr, is obtained the whetstone, known by the name of "Water o' Ayr stone." Ironstone is found, and large iron works are established in several places. At Kilbride, mill stones are quarried. Copper, lead, and other metals exist in small quantities. This county has no great river, but many short streams. The principal of these are the Irvine, which receives the Garnock, and has a course of about 20 miles; the Ayr, which receives the Lugar, almost divides the county into two equal parts, and is about 35 miles in length; the Doon, the "bonnie Doon" of the poet; the Girvan, and the Stinchar. There are several small lakes; the chief is Loch Doon. Trout abound in many of the rivers. Formerly forests covered a great part of Ayrshire: there are now few tracts of woodland left. The climate is damp, but mild. The soil of the level districts on the coast is mostly light. A large part of the interior has a stiff clay soil. About half the surface of the county is under cultivation. A large extent of the eastern part consists of moor and moss. Progress and improvement have been rapid during the last hundred years,-improvement in dwellings, in methods of cultivation, in drainage, in conditions of tenure, modes of living, breed of cattle, and means of intercommunication. In this course of improvement a noble and energetic lady had the honour and happiness of leading the way-Margaret, Countess of Loudoun, who, in 1757, came as a widow to reside in Sorn Castle. By her superior knowledge, patient teaching, and persevering example, she at length aroused nobles, gentry, and people to vigorous efforts on sound principles for the better cultivation of their lands. Oats form the principal crop, but wheat, barley, peas, beans, &c., are also commonly grown. Much attention is paid to the rearing of cattle, and to the dairy. Dunlop cheese is in high estimation. Ayrshire is sometimes called the Cheshire of Scotland. Many important manufactures are carried on in the county. Its natural advantages, in stone for building material, coal, iron, means of communication, &c., are very great. The cotton manufacture employs the largest number of hands. There are factories at Catrine, Kilbirnie, Galston, and Riccarton, in which about 9,000 persons are engaged. The weaving of muslin employs nearly 2,000, mostly women and girls. The silk, woollen, and cloth manufactures are also established here, but on a comparatively small scale. Other branches of industry are carpet-making, bleaching, tanning, embroidering, &c. The county is subdivided into 44 parishes, two of which, Ayr and Irvine, are royal and parliamentary boroughs; and four, viz., Girvan, Dalmellington, Newton-on-Ayr, and Newmilns, are burghs of barony. The other principal towns are Galston, Troon, Kilmarnock, Beith, Saltcoats, Ardrossan (the two latter being ports), Largs (a watering-place in the north), Stewarton, and Maybole. Its population, according to the census of 1861, is 198,959 distributed into 43,394 separate families, occupying 25,868 houses. One member is returned to parliament for the county, and one for the towns of Ayr and Irvine, in conjunction with Inverary, Campbelltown, and Oban, in Argyllshire. Kilmarnock is contributory with four burghs in Renfrewshire and Dumbartonshire in returning one representative. The local government is vested in a lord-lieutenant, a vice-lieutenant (with between 40 and 50 deputies), sheriff and substitutes. Ayrshire possesses not a few interesting remains of ancient times. At Soria, on Ayr Water, is an immense cairn, measuring above 80 yards in circumference. There is another at Galston, 60 yards round. At Dundonald, south of the river Irvine, there are two ancient encampments,-one of which consists of two circular earthworks, the outer one surrounding an area of 10 acres; the other work is similar, but smaller, and has only a single bank. Ardrossan, further north, has some remains of a camp. Among the ruins of religious houses, the finest are those of the abbey of Crossraguel, in the parish of Kirk-Oswald not far from Maybole. This abbey has stood above 600 years, and is still the best preserved in the west of Scotland. Besides the church walls, above 160 feet in length, there are parts of the choir, abbot's house, &c. Little remains of the once fine abbey of Kilwinning, founded above 700 years ago. The bare walls are still standing of the haunted kirk "of Alloway, to which the poet has given a longer existence by his song than the mason by his handicraft. Ruins of castles, erected in the days of baronial power and oppression, are numerous. Turnberry Castle, seat of the lords of Carrick and through them of Robert Bruce, stood on a hill by the coast in the parish of Kirk-Oswald. The remains are insignificant, but spread over an acre. Loch Doon Castle is on an island in the lake of that name; it was the last to yield to Edward III. Dundonald Castle was a royal seat, in which Robert II., the first of the Stuarts, resided, and where he died. Others are at Dunure, Auchinleck, Thomaston, &c. The principal seats of the nobility and gentry are the following:-Fullarton House, the seat of the Duke of Portland; Culzean Castle, of the Marquis of Ailsa; Loudoun Castle, of the Marquis of Hastings; Eglinton Castle, of the Earl of Eglinton, to whom belongs also Skemorlie Castle; Kelburne House, of the Earl of Glasgow; Blanefield, of Blane, Bart.; Brisbane House, of General Sir T. M. Brisbane, Bart.; Blairquhan Castle, of Sir D. Hunter Blair, Bart.; Bargeny, of the Duchesse de Coigny; Auchencruive, of Oswald, Esq.; Ballockmyle, of Colonel Alexander; Dumfries House, of the Marquis of Bute; Auchenleck, of Lady Boswell; Soria Castle, of Somervell, Esq., &c. &c. The Glasgow and South Western railway, which has rendered unnecessary the completion of the canal projected in 1806, enters the county in the north, and runs along the coast by Troon to Ayr and to Givan, sending off branch lines to Ardrossan, Kilmarnock, and Dalmellington. A continuation of this line to Stranraer is projected. The Glasgow, Dumfries, and Carlisle branch line also intersects the county, from Dalry, passing by Kilmarnock, Mauchline, Auchinleck, and Old and New Cumnock, with branch lines to Irvine, Troon, Newmilns, and Muirkirk. Good roads have been formed connecting all the principal towns. Robert Burns, with whose life and songs all parts of the county have memorable association, was a native of Ayrshire. Rock and river, castle and bridge, kirk and cottage, he has touched them all and made them poetic for ever, and his monument stands amidst scenes which he loved so well."

Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)
Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003