Ayrshire Towns and Parishes

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 Ardrossan 1846

ARDROSSAN, a parish, in the district of Cunninghame, county of Ayr; including the thriving town of Ardrossan, and the greater part of Saltcoats, 74 miles (W. S. W.) from Edinburgh; and containing 4947 inhabitants. This place derives its name, of Celtic origin, from the situation of its ancient baronial castle on a small promontory. Little is known of its earlier history; and of its ancient proprietors, not much further notice occurs than that Sir Fergus de Ardrossan accompanied Edward Bruce, in his expedition into Ireland, in 1316, and was one of the Scottish barons who, in 1320, signed a memorial to the pope, complaining of the aggressions of Edward I. of England. The castle, during the time of Baliol, being occupied by the English, was surprised and taken by William Wallace, who, arriving in the night with a few of his followers, set fire to the few houses situated around the base of the hill on which it stood, and on the garrison going out to extinguish the flames, rushed into the castle, made themselves masters of the gates, and put all the English to the sword, as they unsuspectingly returned. The castle appears to have been inhabited till the time of Cromwell, who is said to have thrown down its walls, and to have not only demolished it, but carried away the materials, for the erection of the fort which he built at Ayr. On the death of the last Baron Ardrossan, without issue male, the estate passed, by marriage with his heiress, to the Montgomerie family, its present proprietors.

The town is beautifully situated on the shore of the Frith of Clyde, and owes its rise to the fostering patronage of the late Earl of Eglinton, by whom it was originally built, and by whom the harbour to which it owes its importance was originally constructed, chiefly at his own expense. It consists of various spacious and regularly-formed streets, intersecting each other at right angles, and containing houses uniformly and handsomely built, and is much frequented, during the season; the town is lighted, and has a good supply of water. Lodging-houses have been built, for the reception of the company who resort hither for bathing, and a spacious hotel has been erected, containing ten public rooms, and a proportionate number of sleeping rooms, with hot and cold baths. The public baths, for which a handsome building has been erected, were originally established, on the tontine principle, by the late Earl of Eglinton, after whose decease they were suspended for a time, till, in 1833, they were purchased by the present proprietor, by whom the buildings have been enlarged, and put into a state of complete repair. The baths are of marble, with convenient dressing-rooms attached to each; they are under excellent management, and hot, cold, shower, and vapour baths are prepared on the shortest notice. Connected with the establishment, are numerous lodging-rooms, which are fully occupied during the season; there is also a bath gratuitously appropriated to the use of the poor.

In the immediate neighbourhood of the town are several villas, pleasantly situated, commanding good views of the Frith; and around the margin of the bay, a crescent has been laid out, forming a splendid addition to the appearance of the town. The pavilion, the marine villa of the Earl of Eglinton, is an elegant seat, occasionally the residence of his lordship; there are many agreeable walks in the environs, and between this and Saltcoats, is a fine sandy beach, about three-quarters of a mile in length, which is a favourite promenade. There are about sixty looms in the town, employed in the weaving of shawls and heavier articles, and lighter articles of silk and cotton, and in Saltcoats nearly 450; many of the females are also engaged in working muslin. Fairs are held in July, and on the fourth Thursday in November, for cattle and various kinds of merchandise; facility of communication is afforded by excellent roads to all the neighbouring towns.

The harbour, according to the primary plan, as projected by the late Earl of Eglinton, will very shortly be one of the finest harbours of Scotland. In the original undertaking, his lordship was joined by several gentlemen of the county, and others, who became shareholders; but the sums expended on the works having greatly exceeded the amount of the subscriptions, the subsequent expense was borne solely by Lord Eglinton, who spent little less than 100,000 in the prosecution of the undertaking. After his decease, however, the works were suspended, and the harbour remained in an unfinished state till 1844, when the works were resumed, and the construction of docks was proceeded with, in the most spirited manner, by the present earl. The harbour is easy of access, and screened from adverse winds, and, during rough weather, is frequently crowded with vessels which run in for safety; it has from twelve to twenty feet depth of water. The exports are, iron and coal, and general goods from Glasgow; and the imports, timber from America, corn, cattle and provisions from Ireland, and goods from the manufacturing districts of England. Many vessels in the coal trade, both from Irvine and Saltcoats, put in here, to complete their cargoes; the number of vessels which arrived at the quay in 1837, was 1963, of the aggregate burthen of 108,549 tons, and the number of men, 10,110. Ship-building is pursued on a considerable scale. Fishing is carried on to a moderate extent; salmon are taken in the Frith, by the bag-net, and forwarded to the Glasgow, Paisley, and Kilmarnock markets; few white-fish are taken, but several boats are employed in the herring-fishery, and some few in the cod and ling fishery, on the coast of Barra. In the formation of the harbour, it was the hope of Lord Eglinton, to render it the chief harbour of Glasgow, as, from the favourable nature of its position, it might supersede entirely the circuitous navigation of the river Clyde; and in this view, in order to unite Ardrossan with that town, he commenced the formation of a canal, which, during his lifetime, was completed merely from Glasgow to Johnstone, in the county of Renfrew. In 1827, an act was obtained for laying down a railway from the harbour, to join the canal at Johnstone, which was, however, effected only for about six miles, to Kilwinning, from which a branch of about four miles extended to the Eglinton collieries; this part of the work was completed in 1832, and in 1840, an act was passed, separating the management of the railroad from that of the canal, and incorporating the proprietors, with a capital of 80,000. At Kilwinning, the Ardrossan railway joins the Glasgow and Ayr line.

Steam-boats sail four times a week to Fleetwood in Lancashire, and furnish the most rapid means of communication between this part of Scotland and the manufacturing districts of England; there are also steamers to Belfast, Londonderry, Glasgow, and other places.

The parish is bounded on the south and south-west by the Frith of Clyde, and comprises about 5520 Scottish acres, of which 1250 are arable, 2350 meadow and pasture, 1800 hilly pasture, and about 150 woodland and plantations. The surface is agreeably diversified with tracts of level land, and gentle undulations rising into hills of different elevation, which increase in height towards the coast; the highest of them is called Knock-Georgan, and is 700 feet above the sea, commanding a rich prospect. Of the others, only one has an elevation of 400 feet; several of them are ornamented with clumps of trees, and add much to the beauty of the scenery. The shore is generally level, and indented with bays of various dimensions, of which that of Ardrossan is very picturesque; it is about three-quarters of a mile in length, and to the north of it, is another fine bay, of larger size; the coast here becomes rocky and irregular, and ridges of shelving rocks extend for a considerable length. Nearly opposite the harbour, and about a mile from the shore, is Horse Isle, containing about twelve acres, on which a beacon tower was erected by the late
Earl of Eglinton, for the benefit of vessels approaching the harbour, and which it has been in contemplation to convert into a light-house. The chief rivulets are, the Stanley and Monfode burns, which descend from the higher lands, and, after flowing through the parish, fall into the Frith; and the Munnock or Caddel burn, a more copious stream, which intersects the upper part of the parish, and falls into the river Caaf, which separates it from the parish of Dalry. The soil, towards the coast, is light and sandy, and in the higher grounds a tenacious clay, occasionally intermixed with loam; it has been rendered generally fertile by long cultivation, and a judicious use of seaweed and lime for manure. The principal crops are, oats, wheat, potatoes, and turnips; the system of agriculture is in a very advanced state; the lands are well drained and inclosed, and great improvements have been made, and much unprofitable land reclaimed, under the auspices of the Agricultural Society, which holds its meetings here in November. Great attention is paid to the management of the dairies; and about 10,000 stone of cheese, of good quality, are annually produced, which supply the neighbouring markets. The cows are generally of the Cunninghame or Ayrshire breed. The rateable annual value of the parish is 11,775. The substrata are, limestone, freestone, and coal; the last was formerly wrought in the northern part of the parish, and in the vicinity of Saltcoats, but the workings have been, for some time, discontinued. There are three limestone quarries in the upper part of the parish; the freestone is found both of a red and white colour, and there is an extensive quarry of the former, close to the town of Ardrossan, from which was raised the stone for building the town and forming the quay. Near the town are also various kinds of whinstone, of which whole rocks have been blasted with gunpowder, and used in the formation of the breakwater. There are several strata of ironstone near the public baths, varying from two inches to nearly five feet in thickness, but, from their situation, the working of them has not been thought likely to repay the expense; a variety of fossil shells is found in several parts, and it is generally supposed that the sea has considerably receded from this part of the coast.

The parish is in the presbytery of Irvine and synod of Glasgow and Ayr; the minister's stipend is 261. 1.3., with a manse, and a glebe valued at 20 per annum; patron, the Earl of Eglinton. The old church, which was situated on the Castle-hill, at Ardrossan, was destroyed by a storm, in 1691, and another erected on a site about half a mile further from the coast; and this church, also, being so much shaken by a storm, in 1773, as to be considered unsafe, was taken down, and the present church built, in the town of Saltcoats, in 1774; it is a substantial edifice, adapted for a congregation of 840 persons. A Gaelic church has likewise been erected in Saltcoats, for the accommodation of the numerous Highland families resident there, at an expense of 1000, and is a neat edifice, for 750 persons; another church was built in 1844, at Ardrossan. There is a place of worship for members of the United Secession.

The parochial school, situated in the town of Saltcoats, is well conducted; the master has a salary of 34. 4. 4., and 25 from fees, with a house and garden. Of the ancient castle of Ardrossan, some small fragments only are remaining; on the lands of Monfode, are the remains of a baronial castle, much dilapidated, formerly the residence of a family of that name.

On Knock-Georgan, are the remains of a Danish camp; and on one of the other hills in the parish, is an artificial mound, of rectangular form, sixteen yards long, nine yards wide, and the same in height, with sloping banks, concerning which nothing authentic is recorded. Dr. Robert Simpson, professor of mathematics in the university of Glasgow, was a heritor of this parish, where he was accustomed to reside during the vacations, on his estate of Knockewart.


From:   A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland (1846)








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