History of Prestwick


"The name Prestwick signifies 'The Village of the Priest'. The origin of this burgh belongs to a very early period of Scottish history. The charter de novo granted by James VI, a copy of which is in the possession of the freemen, is dated 19th June 1600, and assumes that Prestwick was known to have been a Free Burgh of Barony for upwards of 600 years before the date of renewal, which would carry it back to the reign of Kenneth III. From the time that the Stewarts obtained possession of this, division of Kyle, Prestwick became the juridical seat of the barony or bailiwick of Kyle-Stewart, whilst the burgh of Ayr remained as the seat of authority in Kyle-Regis, the residuary portion of the original district."

"The burgh of Prestwick is governed by a Chancellor or Provost, two Bailies, a Treasurer, Clerk, and other inferior officers, all of whom are elected once every two years. The Bailies are ex-officio Justices of the Peace for the county. The burgh lands, extending originally to about 700 acres, are distributed into lots among thirty-six freemen; they do not, however, remain in perpetuity, but are drawn for in a new distribution every nineteen years. About 150 acres of the burgh lands have been alienated and the average yearly rental about fifty years ago did not exceed £8 10s or thereby. Freemen have not power to sell their lots or the baronial rights belonging to them without the consent of the Corporation; and females succeed equally with males to the inheritance of the freeholds. Widows were, however, forbidden to marry 'ane unfreman without advice of the town' under pain of forfeiting their freedom. A freeman may, for an offence, be sent to prison, but not locked up; and if he should cross the threshold of his prison without being liberated by the judicial sentence of the Magistrates, he forfeits all his property and Corporation privileges. These are some of the peculiarities of this ancient barony, certain of which, however, have fallen wholly into disuse."

"The burgesses have had the good taste to preserve the ancient Market Cross, which stands near the Tolbooth or Town-house. It is not known when the original Town-house was built, but the charter granted power to the burgesses 'of building, holding, and having within the said burgh a Court Hall and Market Cross, and weekly market on Tuesday, together with one Fair once in the year upon St. Nicholas-day, and continuing for the space of two days'. The fee for being installed a burgess was originally 5s, but in 1477 it was enacted that 'no free person be made in time coming under the sum of six nobles, but at the will of the Laird of Adamtoun ourman of the towne, but freemen airs, which shall extend to 40s at the least."

"Some little insight can be had into the customs of the early inhabitants from the burgh records. It would appear from these highly interesting documents that in the year 1470 ale was an indispensable and much prized commodity in the burgh - 'Gef ony woman that is a man's wife is found a rebeller in the said burgh, she shall for the first tyme pay a galoun of ale and a laife, for ye next tyme twa galouns of ale and twa laifes, for ye third tyme three galouns of ale and three laifes, and for the fourth tyme to be expelit ye toune for evermair'. From the same source we learn that from March till September was a close time in the burgh for swine, geese, cocks and hens, and if any of these animals were found to destroy and waste the seed sown upon the lands in the said burgh 'they were forfeited to the persons who suffered damage by them'. The sowing of pease was made compulsory under the penalty of 'a galloun of ale and ane laife to the community and the bailies."

"Such an indispensable commodity as the ale could not be trafficked in without due restriction, and by way of maintaining the quality and regulating the price of same, two officials were appointed to visit the places where the ale was brewed and sold. Having asked leave to see the ale, they proceeded to pree it, and for this purpose to 'fill a cap of quhat pechar' they pleased, and after being satisfied as to the quality, they priced the ale by the somewhat antiquated mode of chalking upon a door as many scores 'as the galloun sal be salde of ye said aile'. The price thus fixed was binding on the salesman, who if he kept not to the statutory figure ran the risk of having his ale escheated to the Bailies and the community. What a glorious time the old Bailies of Prestwick must have enjoyed over their coups of ale, bitter enough to those who transgressed the burghal laws, but none the less sweet to the dignitaries of the said burgh."

"The gathering of wreck seems to have formed one of the chief occupations of the early inhabitants of this burgh, as very frequent mention of it is made in the records. In 1499 the district suffered from a plague, and the authorities, deeming it an unwelcome importation to the otherwise healthy burgh, took the curious method for preventing its spread of appointing the sergeant and two men with him nightly after supper and before supper, and likewise in the morning before folk-rise, to 'search the town for strangers and harboured folk until the plague cease, and especially until Yule'. This must have been a close time in the little burgh for 'gangrel bodies'."

"Of modern Prestwick we have little to say except that as a watering-place it maintains a healthy rivalry with others of the Ayrshire sea-board, although this is perhaps as much due to its excellent golf links as to the ordinary attractions of a coasting place - one of its great drawbacks being the total lack of boating facilities."

"Ayrshire Nights Entertainment: A Descriptive Guide to the History, Traditions, Antiquities of the County of Ayr" by John MacIntosh of Galston, Ayrshire, published in 1894, by John Menzies & Co. of Kilmarnock, Dunlop and Drennan.