Lugar, Ayrshire


Early History

There was some form of settlement in the Lugar area, as far back as 1000 BC. While excavations took place for the Ironworks around 1845, workmen unearthed a small urn, which contained bones, indicating that some form of burial cairn had existed there. Also, from the Lugar area, a battle-axe was found which dated from around 1000 BC. Two stone axe-hammers were found in the gravel bank of the Lugar Water, these are believed to date from the early Bronze Age Period. From a similar period is the Rocking Stone at Bello Path, near Lugar. Here a large boulder of some tons in weight was set on top of 2 others. The exact purpose of the stone is not known but no doubt its location was extremely significant to Bronze Age people.

Covenanting Times

Another period of historical significance to the Lugar area, was the Covenanting struggle of the 17th century. Charles I tried to impose Episcopacy on the Scots. This was seen as unacceptable and the National Covenant was signed in Edinburgh in 1638. Things settled down between 1657-60 but when Charles II was put back on the throne things became worse. He reintroduced Episcopacy and those Ministers who would not conform, were ousted from their charges. A Covenanter was shot at Bello Path in 1680 and later John MacGeachan a farmer from Meikle Auchingibbert; Old Cumnock was wounded at Bello Path and was buried there after his death - 3 weeks later.


The most significant event in the Lugar area, concerning the Covenanters, was the battle of Airds Moss, which took place on 22nd July 1680. Airds Moss is not far from the village of Lugar and is located within the same Parish. On the day of the battle, a party of Government Troops was on the Cumnock-Muirkirk Road, when they spotted a group of Covenanters. There were around 112 Government men, with a smaller number of Covenanters. The battle was very short-lived - 9 covenanters were killed - 5 taken prisoner and the remainder escaped. Some 28 Government Troops were killed in this skirmish. The bodies of the Covenanters were buried where they fell and a memorial now marks the site. Of the 5 prisoners - 2 died of their wounds - and the remaining three were later hanged in Edinburgh. It was during this skirmish that Richard Cameron and his brother Michael were killed. Richard Cameron's name was adopted as the name of the famous Cameronian Regiment. With the Glorious Revolution in late 1689 and the replacement of King Charles with William and Mary - Presbyterianism was again recognised as the religion of Scotland.

William Murdoch

One of the most notable sons of Lugar was the inventor William Murdoch, who was born at Bello Mill on the 21st August 1754. Between 1759 and 1767 Murdoch was educated at School in Cumnock and followed on by training as a millwright. William Murdoch began experimenting with gas from coal to form light around 1777. His first experiments took place in a cave below the Mill-House overlooking the River Lugar. It was in 1777 that Murdoch left the Lugar area to work for James Watt and Matthew Boulton at their Soho Foundry near Birmingham. Murdoch had many inventions but was always interested in vehicular propulsion by steam. He built a prototype engine in 1784 but never pursued the project commercially, although he did build a steam carriage in which he travelled on the firm's business.

Murdoch became the first man to put the idea of producing gas lighting from coal to practical use. In 1792 he installed gas lighting at the Company's Offices as well as lighting his home by this method. He spent the remainder of his life in England and died at the age of 85 years. His remains were interred beside his old friends James Watt and Matthew Boulton. In August 1985, Cumnock & Doon Valley DC who proposed a museum at Lugar to commemorate Murdoch, commissioned a survey. The design proposals incorporated the ruined Bello Mill in a plan to provide exhibition space, small audio/visual theatre and a shop in a see-through building. The elaborate plans and a model of the proposed museum can be seen at the Baird Institute in Cumnock.

The Ironworks and Mines

If we look at the growth of communities such as Lugar in Ayrshire, they are much tied up with the arrival of industrialisation. In the West of Scotland, the beginning of rapid industrialisation can be traces back to the end of the 18th century. Communities would grow and develop around the clusters of pits and collieries, which opened up.

It is interesting to look at statistics to realise the very sudden growth of communities. In a period of 30 years between 1811 and 1841 - the population of Scotland increased by 45% from 1.8 million to 2.6 million. If we focus on a mining area - over the same period of time - for example the population growth is even more phenomenal. In Monklands, there were collieries and ironworks and between 1811 and 1841 the population increased by 265% - almost 6 times more rapid than the general figure for Scotland.

William Baird & Company was just one firm who offered employment to this extraordinary influx of people. By 1854 workforce of the Bairds in Lanarkshire and Ayrshire amounted to 5,000 men.

Bairds and Lugar

The first developments at the Lugar Ironworks were made 1845, when John Wilson of the Dundyvan Ironworks at Coatbridge, joined with James and Colin Dunlop to begin working the local ironstone and establish the works at Lugar. By 1846 the original Iron Furnaces had been erected Craigston, where previously there had been nothing but a small country farm. Small mineral railways transported coal and ironstone from the pits to the Ironworks. The Ironworks took a turn for the worse in the years to follow - in May 1856 - Wilson sold his interests at Lugar to the Bairds of Gartsherrie. The price was £61,100 for the Ironworks, Min and Miner's houses.

The major holding company was William Baird & Company the name used in Lanarkshire. In Ayrshire the Bairds operated under the name Eglinton Iron Company. The name Eglinton was used until 1892 when all works embraced single name "William Baird and Company Limited".

The Ironworks came to a standstill in 1857 and remaining dormant until 1864. Some of the surrounding mines remained although the Ironworks were closed. The mid 1860's were years of strong demand for coal and pig iron, due to rapid growth, as the Industrial Revolution developed. For William Baird & Company, Lugar became a place of expansion. William Baird decided to move the location of the Ironworks at Lugar to the top of the hill. Work began on the relocation around 1864.

The new site proved to be more suitable for the furnaces as there was room for expansion. Two of the furnaces were operational by December 1865. Business boomed and by 1880, all 5 furnaces were operational, making Lugar the most modern plant of its time. To supply the needs of the works new pits were sunk, all around the Lugar area. The mid 1860's were a period of industrial unrest because of long hours and low wages. As a result, the company required additional labour from outside the West of Scotland. Initially Cornish miners and their families were brought to Ayrshire. This continued well into the 1880's. Groups of Irish workers were also brought into Ayrshire at this time.

The Ironstone pits around Lugar closed in 1881 and after that date ironstone was imported from Spain where Bairds owned iron-ore mines in the North and South of the country. There were workers with the appropriate skills in Spain, so Spanish workers were brought across to work in the Lugar Cumnock area.

Living Conditions

Following the erection of the new ironworks at Lugar, Baird required to build homes for the vast number of employees, which came to wotk there. The population of the parish rose from 1,700 in 1841 to 3,700 in 1851 an inrease of 2,000 in ten years. One of the most economical means of house building was the rows, where may of the homes could be built without the need for expensive gables.

By 1860, 7 rows of houses had been erected at Lugar:

Craigstonholm Row7 homes
Store Row15 homes
Back Row24 homes
Bellowholm Row (2 rows)23 homes
Peesweep Row (2 rows)27 homes

By 1898, around 2000 men were employed by Bairds, either at the Ironworks or in the mines which supplied it.

Later History

During the First World War, there was a desperate need for workers in the ironstone mining industry to fill the gaps left behind by the men who had gone into the fighting services. At this time many Spaniards came to Scotland with their families to work in the smelting furnaces at Lugar. The families would sail over - usually in coal boats to Ardrossan.

The company - now known as Bairds and Dalmellington Ltd. - provided houses for the Spanish families in the miners rows at Lugar. The wage at this time was around 10 shillings per week. Coal and rent would be deducted by the Company before the wages were given. Families also had to buy their supplies and provisions from the store owned by the Company. Mobile shops were prevented from coming to families in the rows to ensure that wages were spent at the company store. Times were hard for the families in this community. In 1918 there was theworld-wide serious flu epidemic struck Ayrshire and a number of miners sadly died as a result.

Further periods of industrial unrest meant that more workers were needed from abroad. In 1926 - during the General Strike - workers in Ayrshire had been on strike for around 8 months. Rather than give in to the demands of the striking workforce - the owners brought in more workers from abroad to keep the pits open and the blast furnaces in operation.

Large amounts of iron-ore were being imported from Spain at this time, so the decision was made to bring more Spaniards to Lugar to operate the blast furnaces. At the of the strike - the local men decided to page to work - with no increase in pay or additional benefits and most of the Spanish families returned home. The Lugar Ironworks did not survive long after the General Strike. It was also proving unprofitable to bring the iron-ore form Spain for conversion. The furnaces closed down in 1928 and many of the former employees found new jobs in the coalmines.

The Church

In 1866, when the old Ironworks had been cleared away, Bairds converted an old building into a Church in which the workforce could worship. The Church opened in 1867 to serve the inhabitants of the village of Lugar.

The School

A school was built at Lugar by the Bairds, at which the children of the ironworkers could be taught. The School was built at the top of Peesweep Brae and an additional wing added to cope with the population of 302 children.

Lugar Institute

In 1892, William Weir, a senior partner in Bairds, gifted the Lugar Institute to the community of Lugar. The Institute contained a large hall which could seat 350, a library, a billiards room, a reading room. There was also a skittle alley. Even more unusually - there was an indoor heated swimming pool. It was 50 ft by 24ft and 6ft deep - heated by water released from the Ironworks. Villagers could use the facilities by paying an annual subscription of half-a-crown (= £0.125). The Institute at Lugar continued in use - up until the post war years - but its decline had set in. The swimming pool was no longer used and covered up to make a dance hall. The billiard tables were in poor condition and the library out of date. By 1965 the Institute had closed and is now bearded up.

Modern Lugar

Work began on the demolition of most of the miners' rows in 1958 and continued until 1961. Today many of the homes are replaced by modern local authority housing. The former Ironworks was converted to make offices and workshops for the National Coal Board; today the building is used by East Ayrshire Council. Today the population of the village of Lugar is scarcely 1000 people. There are few facilities in the village - with only the Church surviving.

"Auchinleck Parish Lugar a brief history" reproduced from The Journal of the East Ayrshire Familiy Histoy Society Issue No 5 August 1999 with permission.