National Gazetteer, 1868


Ayr - Extract from National Gazetteer, 1868


"AYR, a parish, market town, municipal and parliamentary burgh, and the county town of Ayrshire, Scotland, 75 miles to the S.W. of Edinburgh by road, or 86 miles by the Glasgow and South Western railway, on which it is a station. It occupies a nearly central position in the county, lying on the coast of the beautiful bay of Ayr, on the southern bank and near the mouth of the Ayr Water. The parish comprises the ancient parish of Alloway, which was united with it in 1690. Although a Roman station existed here, and subsequently a small village, the town is considered to have been founded by William the Lion, at the close of the 12th century. In 1202 it was constituted a royal burgh by the same monarch. The old church, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, was probably built about the same time. In 1230, a monastery was founded for monks of the Dominican order, or Black Friars, by Alexander II. The townspeople themselves founded another house for the Franciscans, or Grey Friars, in 1472. This house possessed a wonder-working statue of the Virgin. No remains of either of these monasteries are now to be seen. A small castle was erected at Ayr by William the Lion, which was burnt by Robert Bruce in 1298, after the defeat at Falkirk, that the English might not have possession of it. It was afterwards rebuilt by the English. In 1315, a parliament, or meeting of the barons and higher clergy, was assembled by Bruce in the old church of St. John, for the purpose of settling the succession to the throne. A great fort was erected in the 17th century by Cromwell, inclosing the church and a space of about 18 acres. It was surrounded by a moat, formed by the river Ayr and the sea, and was approached by a drawbridge. A new church was built for the use of the inhabitants in 1654, for which Cromwell granted 1,000 marks. The town of Ayr is in form nearly a parallelogram, consisting of 2,091 houses, inhabited, according to the census of 1861, by 4,307 separate families. It is clean, well paved, and lighted with gas. The harbour, which is formed by two piers running out as far as low-water mark, extends up the river to about the middle of the length of the town. Close to the end of the quay is the new bridge, and a short distance higher up the river is the "auld brig." The latter is supposed to have been erected in the second half of the 13th century. It is very narrow, and consists of four low arches. It connects the burgh of Newton with Ayr, and is now open only to foot-passengers. The new bridge was built in 1788. Close to its Newton end is the goods railway-station, the passenger-station being at the head of High Street. The principal street is High Street, parallel with the river; from one end of which another broad street called Sandgate runs down to the new bridge. At the southern termination of this street is Wellington Square, one side of which consists of the county buildings, designed after the temple of Isis, at Rome, and containing a large hall, court-rooms, and offices. The county gaol, a large and convenient edifice, stands behind these buildings. The Town's New Buildings stand at the junction of High Street with the Sandgate, and are surmounted with a handsome spire rising to the height of 226 feet. In High Street is the Wallace Tower, a modern structure, 115 feet in height, with a statue of the hero in front. It is on the site of an old building in which Wallace is said to have been imprisoned, and the dungeon bells are placed in the spire. Not far from the Fish market, which is opposite the old bridge, is a handsome new edifice for business purposes, called Winton Buildings. To the north-west of the town is the Academy, which ranks as one of the best in Scotland. It is governed by a body of directors incorporated by royal charter, and is well attended. Ayr has a mechanics' institution, several banks and libraries, a dispensary, and various charitable institutions. The chief trade of the place is now in the shipping and the fisheries. The woollen and cotton manufactures, embroidery of muslin, carpet-making, tanning, and nail and shoe-making, are carried on extensively. The bar at the mouth of the harbour admits only of small vessels entering it. Between 40 and 50 vessels belong to the port, most of which are engaged in the coasting trade, a few only visiting the colonies and foreign ports. The principal exports are coal, iron, whetstones, &c.; and the imports timber, hides, tallow, slates, hemp, &c. Two lighthouses, about 280 yards apart, mark the entrance to the harbour. Girvan is a subport to Ayr. There is constant communication by steam with Glasgow and the coast towns. The government of the burgh is vested in a provost, two bailies, thirteen councillors, &c. Its revenue is about £2,800, and its population, in 1861, 18,571, of whom 2,970 are returned as children between the ages of five and fifteen attending school. It is contributory with. Oban, Irvine, Inverary, and Campbelltown, in sending one representative to parliament. Three newspapers are published, called the Ayr Advertiser, Ayr Observer, and the Ayrshire Express. Races take place once a year on a course which is about a mile and one-fifth in circuit. The Caledonian Hunt meet occasionally near this course. Ayr is the seat of a presbytery in the synod of Glasgow and Ayr. There are two livings, of which the first charge is of the value of £178, and in the patronage of the crown; the second, value £283, is in the gift of the corporation. The old kirk, built in 1654, on the site of the Grey Friars monastery, is near High Street. The new kirk is in Fort Street. There is an Episcopal church, two belonging to the Free Church, two to the United Presbyterians, and five others for Roman Catholics, Independents, Wesleyans, Reformed Presbyterians, and Moravians. A portion of the ancient tower of the parish church is still standing, and has been converted into part of a dwelling-house. The birthplace of Burns, a two-roomed cottage, stands about a mile and a half from the town. Close by are the "Brig o' Doon" and the remains of Alloway kirk. The monument to the memory of the poet stands on an eminence near the kirk, and on the banks of the Doon. It is formed of freestone; its style of architecture is Grecian; it is 60 feet high, and contains a bust and portrait of Burns, and several interesting relics. Ayr was the birthplace of the eminent scholar and philosopher of the 9th century, Johannes Scotus, or, as he was named from his native place, Erigena. Among other distinguished natives are John Loudon M'Adam, the great road-maker, born in 1756; and David Cathcart, Lord Alloway, a distinguished judge, born in 1764. Dr. Thomas Jackson, Professor of Natural Philosophy in the University of St. Andrew's, was for some time at the head of Ayr Academy. The parish contains some traces of a Roman road. The moat of Alloway, a very ancient work, may still be traced. In the neighbourhood of the town, and along the banks of the river, as it winds through the fertile sheltered valley surrounding the town, are many handsome villas and charming grounds. Among them are Castle Hill, Belmont Cottage, Rozelle, Doonholm, Cambus Doon, Newark Castle, and Mount Charles. The market days are Tuesday and Friday. Fairs are held in January, June, September, and October."

"CRAIGIE, a village in the parish and county of Ayr, Scotland, adjoining the town of Ayr."

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