Statistical Account of 1791 for Beith, Ayrshire


THIS parish lies within the county of Ayr, and district of Cunningham; excepting 4 farms which belong to Renfrewshire, on the border of which it is situated . . . The valued rent of that part of the parish which lies in Ayrshire, £6115 14 s. 2d. Scotch; and that of the 4 farms in Renfrewshire, £163 6s. 8d. The real rent is believed to be in some places 6 times, in others, 8 times, and perhaps in others, owing to their vicinity to the town of Beith, the richness of the soil or the high cultivation of the lands, even 12 times the valued rent. There are two circumstances chiefly, which serve to account for the high rent of lands in this neighbourhood. The county is populous and property is greatly subdivided. Beith is surrounded on all sides with considerable villages and town, to the number of 12, within as many miles. The subdivision of property is more remarkable, in this and the neighbouring parishes, than perhaps in any other part of Scotland.

Cheese, Cattle, etc. - The tenants in this parish pay their rents chiefly from their dairy. They almost universally make sweet milk cheese. The method of making this cheese was first introduced into this country by a farmer's wife in the parish of Dunlop, about the beginning of this century; and from this circumstance, it has got the name Dunlop cheese. It is a commodity which has been rising in value for a long time. The present price is 7s. per stone, containing 24 lb English. About 100 cows are kept for the purpose of making cheese. The average produce from each cow, besides what goes to the use of the family, is supposed to be £3/10s. Sterling per annum; and consequently, the quantity of cheese sent to the market annually, from this parish, should bring to the farmers about £3500.

Ecclesiastical State - The Earl of Eglintoun is Patron. . . The old glebe, upon which a part of the village now stands, was exchanged in 1727, by a formal contract between the Earl of Eglintoun, the presbytery of Irvine and the incumbent, for a small farm near the town of Beith, consisting, as mentioned in the contract, of 31 acres 3 roods. It would appear, that the present church was built soon after the reformation. There is a stone wall, with the date 1593 upon it; and there is a coat of arms, coarsely done, upon the front of a gallery, having the date 1596, and marked with the initials of Robert Montgomery of Giffen, a younger son of the Earl of Eglintoun, and his lady, who was of the family of Loudoun. The church is built in the form of a cross. In 1754, one of the ailes was lengthened, so as to admit nearly 100 additional sitters. This was done at the expense of the Kirk Sessions, with the advice and consent of the heritors for the behoof of the poor (Footnote: From an inscription upon a gravestone in the church yard, it appears that Mr. William Maitland was minister here, from 1669 to 1681, when he died at the age of 46. It is said that he was one of those who accepted the indulgence. . . The third minister of Beith, after the revolution was Dr. William Leechman, late principal of the University of Glascow, in 1736; who in 1744, was succeeded by Dr. John Witherspoon, (now President of Princeton College, New Jersey).

Population - About the time of the revolution, or rather earlier, the Kirktown of Beith, as it was then called, is said to have consisted only of 5 dwelling houses, and the minister's manse. Accordingly, the 5 feued houses are mentioned, as a distinct article, in the cess books. In the year 1759, there were about 700 examinable persons in the town, and upwards of 800 in the country part of the parish. . . The number of inhabitants in the country, has continued much the same ever since; but the population of the town increased so rapidly, that, in 1788, it contained nearly 1500 examinable persons. Since that period however, it has rather decreased. From a very accurate enumeration taken lately, the population was found to be as follows:

  Families Males Females Total
In the town 488 797 957 1754
In the country 216 553 565 1118

Births annually taken at an average, in periods of 4 years, since 1759

From 1759 to 1762   57¾
1763 to 1774   60¾ to 61¾
1775 to 1779   72¾
1779 to 1782   87½
1783 to 1786   93¾
In 1787 and 1788   121
1789 and 1790   89

No register of burials is kept in this parish; and therefore, no calculation, to be depended upon, can be made, with regard to the proportion of deaths to births.

Climate, Diseases, etc. - There are several persons, both in the town and the country, above 80 years of age, but none so old as 90. The climate does not appear to be very favourable to longevity. Owing to the elevated situation of the country, and its vicinity to the western ocean, we have frequent rains and storms; and the air contains a greater degree of moisture, than in places removed to a considerable distance from the Atlantic. There is frequently a good deal of sickness in the village. The diseases most common are fevers and consumption; the croup and small pox sometimes prove fatal to children. The people, in general, are averse to inoculation. No remarkable instance of longevity is known to have occurred amongst those who have resided in the parish. A native, however, of this place, named Matthew Tait, died upon the 19th of January last, in the parish of Auchinleck, at the very advanced age of 123 years. According to his own account, he was born at the farm of Willieyards, but left the parish when young, and inlisted in the army. He served as a private soldier, at the taking of Gibraltar by the British in 1704. His name is not found in our register; but it is known, that there was a family of the name Tait, at Willieyards, more than a century ago, and some of their relations still live in the parish.

Trade and Manufactures - About the time of the union of the two kingdoms, a trade in linen cloth was introduced into this place, which became so considerable, that the Beith markets were frequented by merchants from the neighbouring towns on every week. Many houses, soon after this, were built on the glebe, upon tack rights granted by the minister for half a merk Scotch, of rent per fall; and, when the Glebe was afterwards exchanged, the Earl of Eglintoun became bound to grant feu rights to the holders of these tack rights, upon equitable conditions, particularly specified. About the year 1730, the linen business, which had greatly declined, was succeeded by a considerable trade in linen yarn. The Beith merchants purchased the yarn made in the country around, and sold it to Paisley and Glasgow manufacturers. This trade, when carried to its greatest extent, about the year 1760, is supposed to have amounted to £16000 Sterling yearly; and though it has been upon the decline, linen yarn is still a considerable article of merchandise. The demand for this commodity encouraged the farmers to raise great quantities of flax. About 60 hhds. [hundred-weights] of flax feed were sold in this town annually. From 1777 to 1789, the manufacture of silk guaze was carried on to a great extent in this place, particularly by the Messrs. Fultons of Paisley. They employed at one time 170 looms. Considerable quantities were also, at the same time, manufactured by persons in the employment of other companies. This business has also greatly failed.

Present state of Trade and Manufactures in the parish of Beith.

Number of Extensive Works Number of Persons Employed
Candle works 2   In Spinning Cotton. 50
Licensed Distillers 3   In Making Thread 63
Tobacco Manufacturing Company 1   In Weaving Muslin 70
Tan-Work 1   In Weaving Silk Gauze 44
Malt Work 1   In Country Work 32
Corn Mills 1      
Lint Mills 1      
Wauk Mills 1      
      In All 259
      Besides many females employed in sewing and tambouring muslin 18
Number of Artificers, etc.   Number of Merchants
Masons 22   Cloth merchants 9
Housecarpenters 21   Grocers 18
Sadlers 2   Yarn Merchants 11
Shoemakers 29   Bookseller 1
Smiths 15      
Coopers 4   In All 39
Bakers 4      
Taylors 13   Number of Persons in other Professions or Situations of Life  
Flax Dressers 6   Bankers 2
Watchmaker 1   Surgeons 2
Barbers 2   Druggist 1
Butchers 6   Justices of the Peace 2
Hatter     Keepers of licensed public houses 17
      Carriers and Carters 24
      Dyke Builders 56
      Day Labourers 20
In All 126   In All 124

Beith has 3 principal fairs annually, and a weekly market. There is often a fine show of horses in Beith markets, especially on the 30th of August, St. Tennant's Day, (supposed to be a corruption for St. Anthony's Day) and on several Friday's in the beginning of the spring. It is obvious from the above statement, tha the population of the town of Beith increased with its trade; and that the present decrease in the number of its inhabitants, is owing chiefly to the decline of the silk manufacture, and to the extensive cotton works erected in the neighbouhood, particularly in the parish of Lochwinnoch, and at the town of Johnstone, in the parish of Paisley.

Poor - The funds for supporting the poor are the weekly collections at the church door; the hire of the mortcloths; the rent of the poor's aile; the feats of which are let yearly by roup; the rent of a small farm, purchased with the poor's money in 1695 and a small proportion of the dues of proclamations of marriages. The average amount of these funds, from Whitsunday annually, appears, by the register, to be as follows:

    Collections   Mortcloth   Seat Rents   Farm Rent
From 1757 to 1770   £28/11s/0d   £6/6s/10d   £8/3s/0d   £6/0s/9d
From 1770 to 1780   £36/5s/8d   £5/16s/5d   £11/9s/6d   £9/10s/0d
From 1780 to 1790   £41/1s/4d   £8/15s/4d   £15/2s/10d   £15/0s/0d
Total for 34 years   £105/18s/12d   £20/18s/9d   £35/15s/6d   £30/10s/9d

The collection last year amounted to upwards of £41 and it is still upon the increase, though we have dissenters, and though the population of the town has begun to decline. Besides the distributions, which these funds enable the Session to make to the poor, they sometimes receive a temporary assistance from occasional charities.

Charitable Societies - There are three charitable societies in Beith; two of those commenced in 1772. One of them has £220 of stock and the other £370. The third commences in 1784, and its funds amount to £300. The advantage of these institutions has already been sensibly felt, by those of the poor who are entitled to their charity. The funds of these societies, are deposited in the public banks for security. In 1782 and 1783, the funds of the two first mentioned societies, together with the £40. furnished by the Kirk Session, were employed under the direction of a Committee, in purchasing grain and meal for the use of the inhabitants. Since charitable societies are evidently of great utility to the poor, it is a pity they should labour under any disadvantage, tending to check the ardour of that benevolence, to which they owe their existence. They certainly deserve every encouragement from the friends of mankind, and are even entitled to the countenance of government, and the protection of law.

School - In the parish school, the following branches are taught, Latin, Greek, French, English, Writing, Arithmetic, Bookkeeping and the practical branches of the Mathematics. The number of scholars, for some years past, has been from 60 to 90. The schoolmaster's salary is £11, subject to deduction of £3 to be divided equally among the teachers of three small schools in the country, who are chosen by the people in the neighbourhood, and are entitled to this encouragement upon their keeping school, for 4 months in the year. There are also two private schools in the town which are well attended.

Dissenters - There are two dissenting meetings in the town of Beith; one of them, which is attended by the class of Seceders, called Anti-burghers, commenced above 30 years ago. The first minister ordained to this charge soon after renounced his connection with that society, and embraced the communion of the Established Church. He published at Edinburgh in 1764, the reasons which induced him to this measure, under the title of A Farewell address to the Associate Congregation of Beith, by John Laidly, A.M. It must be mentioned to the honour of this congregation, that they co-operate, as far as their weekly collections can allow them, with the Established Church in supporting the poor of the parish. . . . The other dissenting meeting is connected with the society, who are called Relief. It commenced about 9 years ago.

Antiquities - Before the Reformation, there were 2 chapels for public worship in this parish; one where the present church now stands (whereof a small fragment of the wall is still to be seen) and the other upon the lands of Treehorn, one end of which remains entire. This chapel, with two acres of land adjoining to it, belonged to the monastery of Kilwinning, as appears from a charter under the great seal in the possession of the proprietor, dated in the year 1594.

There were formerly several castles, or square towers in the parish. All of them have been razed to the foundation but one, which forms at present a stately ruin. It was anciently the seat of the Montgomeries of Giffen.

Fuel, Minerals, etc - Both peats and coals are used for fuel, but chiefly the latter. Peats are always used in drying corn and for the purposes of the dairy. The extent of moss is very considerable. Coals are found in many parts of the parish, but have never been wrought with great success. We are plentifully supplied with that useful commodity, from the neighbouring parishes of Dalry, Lochwinnoch and Kilbirnie; and this appears to be the principal reason why proper efforts have not been made to turn our own coal to greater advantage. We have abundance of whin stone, and tree stone is found very frequently, but of an inferior quality. There is, however, a remarkable species of tree stone near the west end of this parish. It lies in horizontal laminae, or flakes, to a considerable depth and these are from 2 to 6 inches thick, and from 3 to 4 to 5 feet square. It does not receive the same polish as other freestone, but it is very firm contexture, and greatly valued on account of its strength. It is used chiefly for pavements and for bridges over small rivulets. It bears the weight of the heaviest carriages. The limestone in this parish in inexhaustible: besides the great quantities annually burnt by the farmers upon their own lands, for manure, there are 2 public lime-works, which have a regular and extensive sale. Several beds of stone marle have been found lately, and many rich veins of iron stone.