History of Kilwinning


"This ancient Burgh of Regality stands on a gently rising ground on the right bank of the Garnock, which passes the town at the east end. A great many of the houses are of one storey, and being thatched, give the town a dull, antiquated appearance, which yet borrows sufficient splendour from the loveliness of its environs, from reminiscences of its historical importance, and from the remains of its fine old Abbey. The old town is said by some authorities to have been situated on the opposite side of the river from the Abbey, and it comprised Bridgend, Pathfoot, and Corsehill."

"It doubtless owed its origin to the settlement in that place of saintly pioneers. That there existed a religious house at this place, in the early part of the seventh century, is a generally accepted truth; the holy father of the church being Saint Winning; after whom, in olden times, the town was called by the name of Sagtoun, or Saint's town. 'It is affirmed', wrote Pont, about the year 1608, 'that ye towne and place quher this Abbey of Kilwinnin standes was formerly named Segdoune, as the foundatione of the said monastarey bears record'. In the calendar of Scots saints, the date assigned to St. Winning is 715. His festival was celebrated on 21st January, on which day (0ld Style) a fair is still held in Kilwinning, and called St. Winning's Day. The town now retains the name of this saint as the church or cell of Winning."

"Under the government of the abbots and monks, Kilwinning became a place of considerable note, although little of importance regarding its early history has been handed down to posterity, unless what the town derived from its connection with the monastery. The records of the Regality Court from 1620 to 1651 are preserved in the General Register House, Edinburgh. Kilwinning has gained renown as the cradle of Freemasonry in Scotland. Fraternities of architects were formed on the continent of Europe in the eleventh and twelfth centuries to carry out the principles of Gothic Architecture, and being favoured with bulls from the Popes of Rome securing to them peculiar privileges wherever they might go, called themselves free-masons."

"One of these fraternities came to Scotland to build the Abbey of Kilwinning , and there they took some of the natives into their fellowship, making them partakers of their secrets and privileges. What the secrets were, and some of the privileges, is not known, but the fraternities which sprang up in Scotland, together with all those on the Continent and in England, soon passed from their original character into one of mere haughty, exclusive consociation, with little or no reference to any purposes of architecture."

"In this new character Scottish Freemasonry sank suddenly into obscurity, and even into odium, but it eventually revived, and in the reign of James I, it rose to the power and popularity which have ever since characterised it. That monarch, not long after his page from England, patronised the Mother Lodge of Kilwinning, and presided as Grand Master till he settled an annual salary to be paid by every Master Mason of Scotland to a Grand Master, who should be chosen by the brethren and approved of by the Crown, who should be nobly horn, or a clergyman of high rank and character, and who should have his deputies in the different towns and counties of Scotland. James II conferred the office of Grand Master on William St. Clair, Earl of Orkney and Caithness, and made it hereditary in the family of his descendants, the Barons of Roslin. Earl William and his successors held their head courts or assembled their Grand Lodges in Kilwinning, as the seat of the earliest fraternity."

"In 1736 William St. Clair of Roslin resigned all claim to the Grand Mastership, and in the same year the representatives of about thirty-two Lodges convened together and constituted themselves into the Grand Lodge of Scotland, electing the Earl of Roslin as Grand Master. This change in a great measure deprived the ancient Kilwinning Lodge of its peculiar honours as the first and principal Lodge in Scotland. By all interested in Freemasonry, however, the Mother Lodge of Kilwinning is still looked upon with feelings of pride and veneration."

"Kilwinning is noted, also, for its practice of Archery, anciently enjoined by Acts of the Scottish Parliament upon the young men of every parish. Its company of archers are known, though imperfectly and only by tradition, to have existed prior to the year 1482, but from that year downward they are authenticated by documents. Originally enrolled by royal authority, they appear to have been encouraged by the inmates of the Abbey; and they, in consequence, instituted customs which easily secured their surviving the discontinuance of Archery as the principal art of war."

"Once a year, generally in the month of June, they make a grand exhibition. The principal shooting is at a parrot, anciently called the Papingo, and well known under that name in Heraldry, but now called the Popinjay. The prize shot for at the game of Papingo, in former times, was a piece of fine Persian Taffetie, valued at not less than twenty pound (Scots), and which they termed a 'berm'. The person who gained the same, by shooting down the Papingo on the day appointed for that effect, had the said Berm tied about his waist as a badge of honour, and was thereupon denominated Captain, and made a parade through the town, attended by the former Captains and the rest of the archers. The sport fell into desuetude for some years, and was revived about 1688, the prize being changed to a piece of silver plate, which was given annually to the company by the senior surviving archer. Sir Walter Scott has given a good description of the Popinjay in the opening scene of "Old Mortality," and a glowing description of the festivities connected with the Boy's Papingo was written fully thirty years ago by Mr Manson, a gifted native of Kilwinning."

"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.