"ABOUT 100 YEARS AGO"
Reprinted from "The Muirkirk Advertiser" by James Taylor
(NB: This is a reproduction from an old Muirkirk Advertiser)
Below is given to-day a description of Muirkirk Parish of about 100 years ago (possibly round about 1820). This is culled from a gazetteer of Scotland, and we trust may also prove interesting and informative.
MUIRKIRK is a parish in the extreme north-east of Ayrshire, containing the most easterly land in the county. It is bounded on the north and east by Lanarkshire; on the south and south-west by Auchinleck; and on the west and north-west by Sorn and Galston. Its greatest length, from east to west, is 9 miles; its greatest breadth, from Forrestcairn to Stoneyhill, is 8½ miles; and its area is about 58 square miles. On all sides except the west and the north-west, or over a sweeping segment of 25 miles, its boundary is a water-shedding line of summits. The surface of the interior is a rough, broken, dreary expanse of moorish hills, averaging from 800 to 1,000 feet in altitude, tame on outline, darkly heathy in general dress, now rising in solitary heights, and now forming ridges, which run towards almost every point of the compass, slenderly intersected with uninteresting valley grounds, and nearly altogether destitute of either grandeur or any other attraction of landscape. Cairntable, on the boundary with Lanarkshire, near the south-east extremity, is the highest ground, attains an altitude of 1,650 feet above sea level, and commands, on a clear day, an extensive and diversified prospect. About the middle of the eastern boundary, and half-a-mile inland from it, are two artificial lakes, jointly covering 121 acres, cut out at the beginning of the century by Messrs Finlay & Co. of Glasgow, as reservoirs to supply their cotton-works at Catrine. Issuing from the first of these, and traversing the second, the River Ayr runs 8 miles westward through the parish, cutting it into very nearly equal parts. Of numerous independent streams, all of local origin, which join in its progress, the chief on its right bank are Powness, Greenock, and Whitehaugh waters, respectively 3, 9½ and 5 miles long, and on its left are Garpel Water and Poscribeburn, respectively 4 and 2 miles long. The Ayr and the Greenock have a few eels, and abound with blackish coloured trout. Only about one thirtieth of the area of the parish is in the village; about two fifteenths have been ploughed, but cannot fairly be reckoned arable or cultivated ground.; and all the remainder, excepting about 200 acres of plantation, amounting to five-sixths, are either totally waste or wildly pastoral. A natural forest waved its shadow, in the 12th century, over a large part, perhaps nearly the whole, of the surface; and has left dreary memorials both in such names as Netherwood and Harwood, worn by utterly tree-less farms, and in long trunks and branches deeply buried in moss. The mountain-ash is the chief tree which appears to grow spontaneously; it adorns the wildest scenes; and unexpectedly meets the eye by the side of a barren rock or sequestered stream, seldom seen except by the inhabitants of the air or the solitary shepherd and his flock. Coal lies on both sides of the Ayr, at no greater a depth than 60 fathoms, in six seams aggregately 30½ feet thick, and severally 3½, 3, 7, 9, 2½ and 5½; and is mined on the most approved plans and in very large quantities both for exportation and for local consumption and manufacture. Ironstone occurs in the coal-field. in five workable seams, so thick that three tons of stone are obtained are obtained under every square yard of surface. Limestone likewise plentifully occurs, and is worked jointly with the ironstone and coal. Lead and manganese have been found, but not in such quantities as to be remuneratingly worked.
The parish is deeply and pathetically associated with the martyrly history of the Covenanters. Of various monuments the most remarkably is the tomb-stone of the eminent and devout Scottish worth, John Brown at Priesthill, a hamlet about three miles from Muirkirk. On the top of Cairntable there was anciently, according to tradition, a place of worship, and there are still two large cairns. The villages are GLENBUCK [which see] and Muirkirk, noticed below. The parish is traversed eastward by the turnpike between Ayr and Edinburgh, and southward by the road between Glasgow and Dumfries by way of Strathaven. Population in 1801, 2,560; in 1831, 2,816. Houses 442. Assessed property in 1815, £3,820. Muirkirk is in the Presbytery of Ayr, and synod of Glasgow and Ayr. Patron, the Marquis of Hastings. Stipend, £157 17s 3d; glebe £20. The Parish Church was built in 1813. Sittings 913. An United Secession congregation was established in the village of Muirkirk in 1822; and next year built a place of worship at the cost of £900. Sittings 380 Stipend £71. An independent congregation was established in 1799 or 1800. Their place of worship, also situated in Muirkirk, was originally two dwelling-houses, is let as a school-room during the week, and, along with adjacent ground, was valued in 1836, at probably £50. Sittings 130. According to an ecclesiastical survey made in 1836, the population then consisted of 2,596 churchmen, 320 dissenters, and 33 nondescripts, in all 2,949 persons. Parish schoolmaster's salary £28, with £30 fees, and £5 other emoluments. There are four non-parochial schools, one of them supported by the Ironworks Company. Till 1631 the parish was included in Mauchline. The church erected in it, at its being made independent, was apparently called "The Kirk of the Muir," abbreviatedly Muirkirk, and more formally the Muirkirk of Kyle.
MUIRKIRK, a village near the centre of the cognominal parish on the River Ayr, at the intersection of the Ayr and Edinburgh, and the Glasgow and Dumfries roads, 13 miles south of Strathaven, 14 miles east of Mauchline, 25½ miles north-east by Ayr, 43 miles north-north-west of Dumfries, 30 miles south-east by south of Glasgow, and 51 miles south-west of Edinburgh. The village is of modern date, was brought into existence and nursed by the discovery and smelting of iron-ores, originally bore the name of Garan, from a height on which its earliest houses stood, and is thus noticed in the old statistical account: "The only village, or rather clachan, as they are commonly called that deserves the name, lies at a small distance from the church, by the side of the high road, on a rising ground called Garanhill, which therefore give name to the range of houses that occupy it. They have increased greatly in number since the commencements of the works, and new houses and new streets have risen around them.Many new houses, besides some of them of a very neat structure, have been built at the works themselves, and others are daily appearing that will, in a short time, greatly exceed, in number and elegance, those of the old village, formerly, indeed, the only one that the parish could boast." The place has not had uniform prosperity, and continues to be subject to fluctuations and retrogression; but, on the whole, it flourishes as the seat of a great and very gloomy manufacture of iron, and at present numbers about 2,000 inhabitants, all dependent on the ironworks. These works comprise three large blast furnaces for making pig-iron, an extensive forge for making bar-iron, a foundry, some works for the manufacture of British or coal-tar, and some extensive works for tiles and lime. The pig-iron made here is reckoned by founders soft, easily melted, and of the best quality; and the bar-iron, owing partly to the peculiar mode of working it, and partly to the suitable quality of the coals, is superior to any produced in Britain, and little if at all inferior to the best produced in Sweden. The New Statistical Account says, that the materials consumed in making one ton of pig-iron are 2 tons 12 cwt. of ironstone, 8 tons 12 cwt. of coals, and 19 cwt 3 quarters of lime; and that, in 1837, 400 workmen were employed, and worked eight hours a day during six days in the week. Connected with the iron-works are some canals and railways of limited extent. The village, as a place of residence, can be tolerable only by the hardy and prosaic class who actually inhabit it; its dense envelopment in murky smoke - its deeply dingy or sepulchral tints from coal pits and furnaces - its unmusical and deafening clang of rude vulcan operations - and its environment with a landscape of treeless, heathy, moorland hill, render it to persons of taste and sensitiveness almost the beau ideal of what is disagreeable and dreary. Coals are obtained for private consumption at about 3s 6d or 3s 9d per ton. The village has three friendly societies, two large circulating libraries, two inns, and more than usual proportion of ale-houses, and annuals fares, ill-attended and of inconsiderable importance, in July, August and December."
GLENBUCK is a village in the parish of Muirkirk, district of Kyle, Ayrshire. It stands in a wild and secluded situation among the mountains, near the road between Ayr and Edinburgh. Some iron-works in the vicinity, erected and for some time carried on by an English company, occasioned it being built for the housing of the miners. But the works, having a considerable period ago, been abandoned, the village has been falling into decay. Population 237.
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