1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ayrshire

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AYRSHIRE, a south-western county of Scotland, bounded N. by Renfrewshire, E. by Lanarkshire and Dumfriesshire, S.E. by Kirkcudbrightshire, S. by Wigtownshire and W. by the Firth of Clyde. It includes off its coast the conspicuous rock of Ailsa Craig, 10 m. W. of Girvan, Lady Island, 3 m. S.W. of Troon, and Horse Island, off Ardrossan. Its area is 724,523 acres or 1142 sq. m., its coast-line being 70 m. long. In former times the shire was divided into the districts of Cunninghame (N. of the Irvine), Kyle (between the Irvine and the Boon), and Carrick (S. of the Doon), and these terms are still occasionally used. Kyle was further divided by the Ayr into King's Kyle on the north and Kyle Stewart. Robert Bruce was earl of Carrick, a title now borne by the prince of Wales. The county is politically divided into North and South Ayrshire, the former comprising Cunninghame and the latter Kyle and Carrick. The surface is generally undulating with a small mountainous tract in the north and a larger one in the south and south-east. The principal hills are Black Craig (2298 ft.), 5 m. south-east of New Cumnock; Enoch (1865 ft.), 5 m. east of Dalmellington; Polmaddie (1750 ft.) 2 m. south-east of Barr; Stake on the confines of Ayrshire and Renfrewshire, and Corsancone (1547 ft.), 3 m. north-east of New Cumnock. None of the rivers is navigable, but their varied and tranquil beauty has made them better known than many more important streams. The six most noted are the Stinchar (c soft), Girvan, Doon, Ayr, Irvine and Garnock. Of these the Ayr is the longest. It rises at Glenbuck, on the border of Lanarkshire, and after a course of some 38 m. falls into the Firth of Clyde at the county town which, with the county, is named from it. The scenery along its banks from Sorn downwards—passing Catrine, Ballochmyle, Barskimming, Sundrum, Auchencruive and Craigie—is remarkably picturesque. The lesser streams are numerous, but Burns's verse has given preeminence to the Afton, the Cessnock and the Lugar. There are many lochs, the largest of which is Loch Doon, 5½ m. long, the source of the river of the same name. From Loch Finlas, about 20 m. south-east of Ayr, the town derives its water-supply. The Nith rises in Ayrshire and a few miles of its early course belong to the county.

Geology.—The greater portion of the hilly region in the south of the county forms part of the Silurian tableland of the south of Scotland. Along its north margin there is a belt of elevated ground consisting mainly of Old Red Sandstone strata, while the tract of fertile low ground is chiefly occupied by younger Palaeozoic rocks. The Silurian belt stretching eastwards from the mouth of Loch Ryan to the Merrick range is composed of grits, greywackes and shales with thin leaves of black shales, containing graptolites of Upper Llandeilo age which are repeated by folding and cover a broad area. Near their northern limit Radiolarian cherts, mudstones and lavas of Arenig age rise from underneath the former along anticlines striking north-east and south-west. In the Ballantrae region there is a remarkable development of volcanic rocks—lavas, tuffs and agglomerates—of Arenig age, their horizon being defined by graptolites occurring in cherty mudstones and black shales interleaved in lavas and agglomerates. These volcanic materials are pierced by serpentine, gabbro and granite. The serpentine forms two belts running inland from near Bennane Head and from Burnfoot, being typically developed on Balhamie Hill near Colmonell. Gabbro appears on the shore north of Lendalfoot, while on the Byne and Grey Hills south of Girvan there are patches of granite and quartz-diorite which seem to pass into more basic varieties. These volcanic and plutonic rocks and Radiolarian cherts are covered unconformably by conglomerates (Bennan Hill near Straiton and Kennedy's Pass) which are associated with limestones of Upper Llandeilo age that have been wrought in the Stinchar valley and at Craighead. South of the river Girvan there is a sequence from Llandeilo—Caradoc to Llandovery—Tarannon strata, excellent sections of which are seen on the shore north of Kennedy's Pass and in Penwhapple Glen near Girvan. Llandovery strata again appear north of the Girvan at Dailly, where they form an inlier surrounded by the Old Red Sandstone and Carboniferous formations. Representatives of Wenlock rocks form a narrow belt near the village of Straiton. Some of the Silurian sediments of the Girvan province are highly fossiliferous, but the order of succession is determined by the graptolites. Near Muirkirk and in the Douglas Water there are inliers of Wenlock, Ludlow and Downtonian rocks, coming to the surface along anticlines truncated by faults and surrounded by Old Red Sandstone and Carboniferous strata. In the south-east of the county there is a part of the large granite mass that stretches from Loch Doon south to Loch Dee, giving rise to wild scenery and bounded by the high ground near the head of the Girvan Water, boulders of which have been distributed over a wide area during the glacial period. Along the northern margin of the uplands the Lower Old Red Sandstone is usually faulted against the Silurian strata, but on Hadyard Hill south of the Girvan valley they rest on the folded and denuded members of the latter system. The three divisions of this formation are well represented. The lower group of conglomerates and sandstones are well displayed on Hadyard Hill and on the tract near Maybole; the middle volcanic series on the shore south of the Heads of Ayr and from the Stinchar valley along the Old Red belt towards Dalmellington and New Cumnock; while the upper group, comprising conglomerates and sandstones, form a well-marked synclinal ford at Corsancone north-east of New Cumnock. The Upper Old Red Sandstone appears as a fringe round the south-west margin of the Carboniferous rocks of the county, and it rises from beneath them on the shore of the Firth of Clyde south of Wemyss Bay. The Carboniferous strata of the central low ground form a great basin traversed by faults, all the subdivisions of the system being represented save the Millstone Grit. Round the north and north-east margin there is a great development of volcanic rocks—lavas, tuffs and agglomerates—belonging to the Calciferous Sandstone series, and passing upwards into the Carboniferous Limestone. The lower limestones of the latter division are typically represented near Dalry and Beith, where in one instance they reach a thickness of over 100 ft. They are followed by the coal-bearing group (Edge coals of Midlothian) which have been wrought in the Dalry and Patna districts and at Dailly. The position of the Millstone Grit is occupied by lavas and tuffs, extending almost continually as a narrow fringe round the northern margin of the Coal Measures from Saltcoats by Kilmaurs to the Crawfordland Water. The workable coals of the true Coal Measures have a wide distribution from Kilwinning by Kilmarnock to Galston and again in the districts of Coylton, Dalmellington, Lugar and Cumnock. These members are overlaid by a set of upper barren red sandstones, probably the equivalents of the red beds of Uddingston, Dalkeith and Wemyss in Fife, visible in the ravines of Lugar near Ochiltree and of Ayr at Catrine. In various parts of the Ayrshire coalfield the coal-seams are rendered useless by intrusive sheets of dolerite as near Kilmarnock and Dalmellington. In the central part of the field there is an oval-shaped area of red sandstones now grouped with the Trias, extending from near Tarbolton to Mauchline, where they are largely worked for building stone. They are underlaid by a volcanic series which forms a continuous belt between the underlying red sandstones of the Coal Measures and the overlying Trias. In the north part of the county, as near Wemyss Bay, the strata are traversed by dykes of dolerite and basalt trending in a north-west direction and probably of Tertiary age.

Agriculture.—There has been no lack of agricultural enterprise. With a moist climate, and, generally, a rather heavy soil, drainage was necessary for the successful growth of green crops. Up to about 1840, a green crop in the rotation was seldom seen, except on porous river-side land, or on the lighter farms of the lower districts. In the early part of the 19th century lime was a powerful auxiliary in the inland districts, but with repeated applications it gradually became of little avail. Thorough draining gave the next great impetus. Enough had been done to test its efficacy before the announcement of Sir Robert Peel's drainage loan, after which it was rapidly extended throughout the county. Green-crop husbandry, and the liberal use of guano and other manures, made a wonderful change in the county, and immensely increased the amount of produce. Potatoes are now extensively grown, the coast-lands supplying the markets of Scotland and the north of England. Of roots, turnips, carrots and mangolds are widely cultivated, heavy crops being obtained by early sowing and rich manuring. Oats form the bulk of the cereal crop, but wheat and barley are also grown. High farming has developed the land enormously. Dairying has received particular attention. Dunlop cheese was once a well-known product. Part of it was very good; but it was unequal in its general character, and unsaleable in English markets. Dissatisfied with the inferior commercial value of their cheese in comparison with some English varieties, the Ayrshire Agricultural Association brought a Somerset farmer and his wife in 1855 to teach the Cheddar method, and their effort was most successful. Cheddar cheese of first-rate quality is now made in Ayrshire, and the annual cheese show at Kilmarnock is the most important in Scotland. The Ayrshire breed of cows are famous for the quantity and excellence of their milk. Great numbers of cattle, sheep and pigs are raised for the market, and the Ayrshire horse is in high repute.

Other Industries.—Ayrshire is the principal mining county in Scotland and has the second largest coalfield. There is a heavy annual output also of iron ore, pig iron and fire-clay. The chief coal districts are Ayr, Dalmellington, Patna, Maybole, Drongan, Irvine, Coylton, Stevenston, Beith, Kilwinning, Dalry, Kilbirnie, Dreghorn, Kilmarnock, Galston, Hurlford, Muirkirk, Cumnock and New Cumnock. Ironstone occurs chiefly at Patna, Coylton, Dalry, Kilbirnie, Dreghorn and Cumnock, and there are blast furnaces at most of these towns. A valuable whetstone is quarried at Bridge of Stair on the Ayr—the Water-of-Ayr stone. The leading manufactures are important. At Catrine are cotton factories and bleachfields, and at Ayr and Kilmarnock extensive engineering works, and carpet, blanket and woollens, boot and shoe factories. Cotton, woollens, and other fabrics and hosiery are also manufactured at Dalry, Kilbirnie, Kilmaurs, Beith and Stewarton. An extensive trade in chemicals is carried on at Irvine. Near Stevenston works have been erected in the sandhills for the making of dynamite and other explosives. There are large lace curtain factories at Galston, Newmilns and Darvel, and at Beith cabinet-making is a considerable industry. Shipbuilding is conducted at Troon, Ayr, Irvine and Fairlie, which is famous for its yachts. The leading ports are Ardrossan, Ayr, Girvan, Irvine and Troon. Fishing is carried on in the harbours and creeks, which are divided between the fishery districts of Greenock and Ballantrae.

Communications.—The Glasgow & South-Western railway owns most of the lines within the shire, its system serving all the industrial towns, ports and seaside resorts. Its trunk line via Girvan to Stranraer commands the shortest sea passage to Belfast and the north of Ireland, and its main line via Kilmarnock communicates with Dumfries and Carlisle and so with England. The Lanarkshire & Ayrshire branch of the Caledonian railway company also serves a part of the county. For passenger steamer traffic Ardrossan is the principal port, there being services to Arran and Belfast and, during the season, to Douglas in the Isle of Man. Millport, on Great Cumbrae, is reached by steamer from Fairlie.

Population and Administration.—The population of Ayrshire in 1891 was 226,386, and in 1901, 254,468, or 223 to the sq. m. In 1901 the number of persons speaking Gaelic only was 17. The chief towns, with populations in 1901 are: Ardrossan (6077), Auchinleck (2168), Ayr (29,101), Beith (4963), Cumnock (3088), Dalry (5316), Darvel (3070), Galston (4876), Girvan (4024), Hurlford (4601), Irvine (9618), Kilbirnie (4571), Kilmarnock (35,091), Kilwinning (4440), Largs (3246), Maybole (5892), Muirkirk (3892), Newmilns (4467), Saltcoats (8120), Stevenston (6554), Stewarton (2858), Troon (4764). The county returns two members to parliament, who represent North and South Ayrshire respectively. Ayr (the county town) and Irvine are royal burghs and belong to the Ayr group of parliamentary burghs, and Kilmarnock is a parliamentary burgh of the Kilmarnock group. Under the county council special water districts, drainage districts, and lighting and scavenging districts have been formed. The county forms a sheriffdom, and there are resident sheriffs-substitute at Ayr and Kilmarnock, who sit also at Irvine, Beith, Cumnock and Girvan. The shire is under school-board jurisdiction, but there are a considerable number of voluntary schools, besides secondary schools at Ayr, Irvine, Kilmarnock and Beith, while Kilmarnock Dairy School is a part of the West of Scotland Agricultural College established in 1899. In addition to grants earned by the schools, the county and borough councils expend a good deal of money upon secondary and technical education, towards which contributions are also made by the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College and the Kilmarnock Dairy School. The technical classes, subsidized at various local centres, embrace instruction in agriculture, mining, engineering, plumbing, gardening, and various science and art subjects.

History.—Traces of Roman occupation are found in Ayrshire. At the time of Agricola's campaigns the country was held by the Damnonii, and their town of Vandogara has been identified with a site at Loudoun Hill near Darvel, where a serious encounter with the Scots took place. On the withdrawal of the Romans, Ayrshire formed part of the kingdom of Strathclyde and ultimately passed under the sway of the Northumbrian kings. Save for occasional intertribal troubles, as that in which the Scottish king Alpin was slain at Dalmellington in the 9th century, the annals are silent until the battle of Largs in 1263, when the pretensions of Haakon of Norway to the sovereignty of the Isles were crushed by the Scots under Alexander III. A generation later William Wallace conducted a vigorous campaign in the shire. He surprised the English garrison at Ardrossan, and burned the barns of Ayr in which the forces of Edward I. were lodged. Robert Bruce is alleged to have been born at Turnberry Castle, some 12 m. S.W. of Ayr. In 1307 he defeated the English at Loudoun Hill. Cromwell paid the county a hurried visit, during which he demolished the castle of Ardrossan and is said to have utilized the stones in rearing a fort at Ayr. Between 1660 and 1688 the sympathies of the county were almost wholly with the Covenanters, who suffered one of their heaviest reverses at Airds Moss—a morass between the Ayr and Lugar,—their leader, Richard Cameron, being killed (20th of July 1680). The county was dragooned and the Highland host ravaged wherever it went. The Hanoverian succession excited no active hostility if it evoked no enthusiasm. Antiquarian remains include cairns in Galston, Sorn and other localities; a road supposed to be a work of the Romans, which extended from Ayr, through Dalrymple and Dalmellington, towards the Solway; camps attributed to the Norwegians or Danes on the hills of Knockgeorgan and Dundonald; and the castles of Loch Doon, Turnberry, Dundonald, Portencross, Ardrossan and Dunure. There are ruins of celebrated abbeys at Kilwinning and Crossraguel, and of Alloway's haunted church, famous from their associations.

See[edit]

  • James Paterson, "History of the County of Ayr." Transactions of Ayrshire and Galloway Archaeological Associations, Edinburgh, 1879-1900.
  • John Smith, Prehistoric Man in Ayrshire (London, 1895).
  • William Robertson, History of Ayrshire (Edinburgh, 1894).
  • Archibald Sturrock, "On the Agriculture of Ayrshire," Transactions of Highland and Agricultural Society.
  • D. Landsborough, Contributions to Local History (Kilmarnock, 1878).