Ayrshire History

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Records and Functions of the Ayrshire Commissioners of Supply


This paper concerns the records of the Ayrshire Commissioners of Supply 1713 to 1891. Note 1 In accordance with the aims of the conference, it is not intended to present a history, but rather to describe the extant records and the information they contain, with quotations and illustrations. Note 2

Table 1 lists the extant minute books with their reference numbers, all of which were in the County Buildings, until recently under the supervision of Strathclyde Regional Archives and now in the care of South Ayrshire Council. Note 3  [The records are now in the Ayrshire Archive Centre, Ayr.  See Links page for link to web site]. County councils were founded in 1889 and took over most of the responsibilities of the commissioners. 1890 was the last year in which the commissioners laid on the land tax, and their 1891 land tax meeting was concerned with auditing the previous year's collection and making provision for the handover to the new administration. Although there are minutes extending to 1929 concerning the appointment of commissioners to the Joint Standing Committee in which they shared key responsibilities with the county council, the commission of supply as a distinct administrative body was wound up in 1891.

The contents of these volumes reflect the responsibilities and interests of a body which operated as a county forum, dealing with issues ranging from taxation to the success or failure of the harvest. "Land Tax" and "Managing the Valuation Roll" upon which it was levied will be considered first because the commissioners of supply were instituted by Act of Convention in 1667 for the primary purpose of collecting the land tax, a role in which they continued under the Act of Settlement.    Back to top

Land Tax

... In obedience & conforme to ane act of parliament Entituled ane act for granting ane aid to his majesty by a land tax in great Brittain for the service of the year [1716] Do for payment of the Shyres proportion thereof being [£321:15s.:4¾d.] sterling money monethlie the eight moneth imposed by said act of parliament Cast & proportion the same at [£2:0s.:6d.] Scotts upon ilk hundreth pund of valuation within this shyre monethlie And layes upon the said valuation ane shilling four penies Scots monethlie for the Collectors Sallarie & three pennies Scotts per moneth for the Clerks Sallarie Extending in haill the said proportion of cess & Sallarie to Tuo pound tuo shilling one penny scotts ilk moneth which is ffour pund four shilling tuo pennies scotts upon ilk hundreth pund valuation payable at each of the four termes after specified viz. the ffirst day of June ffirst day of September ffirst day of December & ffirst day of March next ...  

This is the standard form followed for laying on the land tax at the annual land tax meeting, normally held on the 30th April or, if that was a Sunday, on the 1st of May. In the first half of the eighteenth century, this meeting was often delayed by the late arrival of the Land Tax Act from London, and sometimes it was July before the commissioners convened to grant ane aid to his majesty. In 1716, the meeting was held on the 15th May. Note the amount of tax levied on Ayrshire: £321:15s.: 4¾d. monthly for eight months, a total of £2574:3s.:2d. Sterling for the whole county for the year.

Diagram 1: In this diagram the pie chart on the left shows the assessment for 1716: apart from the land tax there was £84:14s.:11d. for the service of the collectors and £15:17s.:9½d. for the clerk. From the pie chart on the right, it may be seen that these three amounts were the same 100 years later, though the total levy was up by 18 per cent. The increase came from the amount of £476:16s.:11d. levied for bridges and other uses. Although the land tax remained constant and the rate per £100 Scots of valuation was still the same at the last levying by commissioners in 1890, other taxes were introduced which came to provide the larger part of the government's revenue such as taxes on windows, horses, servants, carriages, property and income. The commissioners were involved to varying degrees in the administration of these other taxes. "Assessed taxes", as they were known collectively, did not have the same central role in the commission of supply as the land tax, and were not reported upon so comprehensively. Interesting information on them is recorded however, such as the names and occupations of the 91 window tax assessors appointed for Ayrshire in 1747 [Diagram 2].Four baillies and one former baillie of Kilmarnock were assessors. The balance was made up by two men from each parish. The two royal burghs in the county, Ayr and Irvine, were responsible for their own assessment. It is apparent that schoolmasters do not predominate, which they did when the roads trustees came to appoint collectors of the conversion money. Here tenant farmers are the biggest grouping. Note however that it was not beneath the dignity of a landowner to serve as an assessor; at least one assessor, Ivie Hair of Rankinston, was a commissioner of supply. William McCrotchart at Blairquhan was probably an overseer to Sir John Whitefoord there. The factor was Robert Ainslie, who worked for the earl of Stair. Taken together the tradesmen - the dyster, malster, mason, mylners, smiths and wrights - constitute the second biggest grouping, while merchants were as well represented as landowners.    Back to top

Managing the Valuation Roll.

Since the amount of land tax paid by each landowner was determined by the value of their estates in the county, managing the valuation roll was an important component of the work of the commissioners. The records of disjunctions or of apportioning valuations within estates constitute a substantial portion of the minutes. Valuations determined more than liability to land tax. There were valuation thresholds for commissioners of supply, freeholders, roads trustees and for commissions in the army, navy and internal defence forces. Disjunctions may be divided into three broad groups, based on the information which is recorded.

Wester Bagray at £46 valuation disjoined ...

Being represented that the ffourty shilling land of old extent of Wester Bagray lying in the barrony of Riccartoun & Sheriffdome of Air is Disposed by the lord and lady polwarths in favor of Mr John Guthrie minister of the gospel at Ratho by disposition dated the last of July [1714] and is thereby valued at ffourty six pund Scotts It is desyred the same may be disjoined from the article of Cessnock in the said parish & stated by it self in the cess books att the said valuation which the said commissioners ordain to be done. [1723]

This is an example of the first group, where the apportionment of valuation, presumably agreed upon between the parties, is declared to the commissioners, who ratify it. A brief record such as this is common in the first minute book, covering the period 1713 to 1758.  The second group comprises detailed considerations of disjunctions, where investigations have been made and witnesses examined. The practice was to allocate the valuation in proportion to established rental values. The second minute book, which covers only a few months from 21st March to 4th October 1774, is largely taken up with reports of this kind, because many important landowners wanted to have separate valuations for the different farms which made up their estates. These disjunctions may have concerned the creation of nominal or fictitious votes by establishing individuals as freeholders while true ownership remained with a principal landowner. Lands belonging to the earls of Cassillis, Eglinton and Loudoun all feature in this book.    Back to top

A petition by the Rt. Hon. Alexander Boswell.

Another who petitioned for such an itemised valuation at that time was Lord Auchinleck, Alexander Boswell of Auchinleck, father of James Boswell - the diarist and biographer of Dr Johnson.

... a Petition by the Right Honourable Alexander Boswell Esquire of Auchenleck one of the Senators of the College of Justice Humbly Shewing That the petitioner Stood heritably infeft and Seased in Sundry Lands and Baronies lying in the parishes of Auchenleck Sorn Mauchline and Ochiltree and Shire of Ayr that a Great part of Said Lands and Baroneys Stood valued in the Valuation books of the County in an irregular manner being Comprehended in General Articles without Distinguishing the different lands which made up such Cumulo Valuations.

The reporting of this occupied almost seven pages of the minute book in June 1774. Seventeen farmers, a miller and a smith Compeared, were Solemnly Sworn and Interrogate and Deponed evidence consisting of their rents. For instance the annual rent of William Jamieson, tenant of the farm of Craighead consisted of £7:16s. 0d. Sterling, two bolls of meal worth 12s. each, 2 hens worth 6d. each and 2 chickens worth 3d. each, equivalent to a total rent of £9:1s.:6d. Other witnesses gave valuations of the lands retained by Auchenleck for his own use, such as the park in front of the house. Later the reports become brief again; though witnesses had been examined as in the case of Auchinleck, only a summary of the new valuation was recorded for inclusion in the valuation book.    Back to top

Bridge money.

Table 2 summarises the annual amount of bridge money from 1715 to 1827. From 1767, the Ayrshire roads trustees became responsible for both turnpike and parish roads in the county, but until 1830 the commissioners of supply continued to levy money for bridges and other uses and to manage the resulting fund. Note 4  Bridge assessments continued until 1st May 1882. From 1827 the assessment included a levy on lands in the parishes of Irvine and Ayr not entered in the valuation roll. From 1830 the assessment was made jointly with the roads trustees during or following the land tax meeting, and the roads trustees took over managing the funds and awarding grants.The £79:8s.:11¾d. Sterling raised in 1715 was for repairs to the bridge over the Doon at Alloway and to the bridge over the Ayr at Barskimming. We know the first as the Old Bridge of Doon.

The Old Bridge of Doon - an old inconvenient crazy bridge

This was one of the bridges in existence in 1713, at the time of the earliest extant minute of the commissioners. In 1715 William Cochran of Ochiltree obtained an estimate of £1140 Scots (£95 Sterling) for repairs to the bridge. When the completed work was inspected in 1717, it was reported that the same is repaired & nothing seen quarrelable therein and payment to the masons William Wilson and John Smith was authorised.  Further work was carried out on a number of occasions during the eighteenth century.

In 1810 the surveyor Charles Abercrombie examined it and give in his report. He doubted the value of continuing to repair the old bridge, saying but I am much afraid there would be found no man hardy enough to undertake this work except the bridge was completely centered, this would lead to many hundred pounds Expence and after all an old inconvenient crazy bridge for the money. Of the age of the bridge he said No man will say or require me to say or point out the period of its existence - this impossible; But it is plain from the state it is now in that no portion of confidence can be placed on it. Note 5 

Upon considering his report, the commissioners decided that they should apply to parliament for an act to permit the levying of pontage, in order to finance rebuilding the bridge. Their legal adviser in London, Mr Mundell, estimated that such an application would cost between £300 and £400. This discouraged them from proceeding with the project of a parliamentary bill, and in April 1811 repairs costing £500 were authorised.  As with all old bridges, what we see today has undergone substantial repair or rebuilding on many occasions.    Back to top

The Old Bridge of Barskimming.

The other bridge mentioned in 1715 was that at Barskimming. It too was often in need of repair and improvement, for instance in 1776 by building a new arch seven foot lower and two foot wider than the former arch, by which instead of a dangerous and almost impassable bridge, the public had got a safe bridge and of easy passage as any in the country ... at a cost of £212:13s.: 2d.

The amount of bridge money was small, when it is considered that this represents all the public money available to erect and maintain bridges throughout the seventh largest county in Scotland. In 1758, when the bridge money was £79:8s.:11¾d., it was almost accounted for by repairs to four bridges. It is not surprising that repairs were delayed until the situation of a bridge was desperate. A bridge over Carmel Water allowed £20 that year was described as being Ruinous and useless.

New bridges erected by the commissioners included Howfoord Bridge over the River Ayr near Ballochmyle, contracted for in 1751 at a cost of £137 Sterling. One repair to this bridge in 1773 was recorded in the minutes of the roads trustees as follows: Sir John Whitefoord represented to the Meeting That part of the ledges of the Howfoord bridge had been thrown down by some Carriages having passed the same And he had given orders immediately for repairing the ledges and that on this occasion James Armour Meason had discovered a poolling at the north arbrothment which if not attended to immediately will endanger the bridge .... Note 6

The mason was the same James Armour who was to become in 1786 a reluctant father-in-law to Robert Burns. Many years later the poet described Armour as a pretty considerable architect in Ayrshire. Note 7  Armour built the Low Bridge of Doon with his father-in-law, Adam Smith, in 1772. Since this falls within the period covered by the missing volume of minutes, we have no record of its cost, but the masons are recorded on an engraved stone from the bridge, set into the wall of Doonfoot Stores. The inscription reads: This Bridge of Greenan was built by the Earl of Cassillis, Anno. Dom. 1772 - Masons Adam Smith and James Armour. The present bridge was built for the roads trustees in 1861.    Back to top

The commissioners were also responsible for the bridge over the Stinchar at Ballantrae. Building was commenced sometime after April 1773, and in 1777 it was projected to be completed by the following year. The difficulties encountered by the masons in forming the piers or "land stools" of the bridge were described as follows:

... the north side land stool was founded on a rock, but they on trying the middle and south land stools could find no rock, and were obliged to dig down ten foot of loose gravel in the channel of the water till they found a clay, where they laid wooden frames to found on. This was done at great expense and after employing thirty men a day for several weeks for pumping the water it was found necessary to employ Mr Heatly the engineer for erecting a machine to draw the water, which drew four tons in six minutes ...

Nor were their problems over when the piers were completed by the end of July 1776, for the water began immediately to undermine them, and it was necessary to fence and fortify them with whinstones.

The cost of this bridge exceeded £756, making it by far the most expensive built by the Ayrshire commissioners in the eighteenth century. Note 8  Part of the finance was contributed by subscribers including Sir John Cathcart of Carleton, John Hamilton of Bargany and Archibald Crauford of Ardmillan, all substantial landowners in Carrick. Interpretation on site today states in 1770 stones from Ardstincher Castle were used to build a 3-arched bridge. However, apart from giving a later date, the minutes of the commissioners record that the stones were brought by boat from a quarry at Culzean and were hewn on site. This bridge proved costly to maintain, as the river repeatedly threatened to undermine its piers or to open a new channel to the south.

The inscription on the bridge is indecipherable; if anyone knows where a record of the text is to be found, I would be delighted to hear from them.

In April 1801, Hugh Hamilton of Pinmore, convener of the commissioners' finance committee, obtained a grant of £257 to erect a bridge over the River Stinchar about halfway between Pinmore and Daljarrock, on the turnpike road described in the 1774 Ayr Roads Act thus: The road from the Balloch by the Barr till it joins the road from Girvan by Colmonell to the confines of the county towards Stranraer. The engraving on an oval stone in the centre of the each face reads:  This Bridge was Erected by Hugh Hamilton of Pinmore in the Year of Our Lord 1802. Builders, Gilbt. McClymont, Robt. Carswell & Alexr. Jerdan.  Here, as elsewhere, the inscription conveys an impression of benefaction, which is not in this case warranted.    Back to top

Rogue money

Rogue Money was introduced by the Disarming Act of 1725, which allowed the freeholders of a county to levy a rate for Rogue or Prosecution Money.  Rogues were not invented by the Act however, and the commissioners incurred expenses of this nature in earlier years. The first record in the minutes of the Ayrshire commissioners relating to the cost of offenders occurs in 1714 when a rate of 2d. on each £100 of valuation, raising £1:6s.:5¾d. Sterling, was levied for the cost of maintaining a prisoner in the tolbooth of Ayr. In the following year 2s. was levied to pay the expenses of James Dalrymple sheriff clerk debursed by him in the affairs of the shire by order of the Justices of the peace and Commissioners of Supply ...

Under this heading we may also consider the expenses James Gardner, sheriff clerk depute, incurred at the time of the 1715 rebellion anent the militia and baggage horss during the late rebellion Extending to ane hundreth ffyftie fyve pund ten shilling Scotts besydes his pains & trouble ...

Of course, in common with most of Scotland, Ayr county and royal burgh were firmly Hanoverian in 1715 and 1745. On the occasion of the later rebellion, the town made a reluctant contribution to the coffers of the Young Pretender. Fearful of the rebels' early successes, the burgh council despatched James Hunter and Elias Cathcart, two of its magistrates, to Edinburgh with £172:3s.:3d. Sterling, being financial aid demanded for his Highness's use under pain of military occupation. Note 9  On the other hand the collectors of supply, Thomas Boyd of Pitcon and John Hutchison of Sanquhar, took care that the land tax did not fall into Jacobite hands, as we find in 1746, when it was minuted that they were to be repaid their Expences when obliged to go abroad the time of the Rebellion to prevent paying any of the Land Tax to the Rebels who had made Three Several Demands for the same under pain of Military Execution.    Back to top

Ayrshire Deputation to Congratulate the Duke of Cumberland, 1746

  ... on the Success he has already had against the Rebels, & to assure him of their Zeal Loyalty & firm affection to the Royal Family, & of their detestation & abhorrence of all such attempts as the present unnatural Rebellion and to beg his Royal Highness to represent to his Majesty the readiness of the Gentlemen of this County to hazard their Lives & Fortunes in support of his Majesties Person & Government and of the Religion Laws & Liberties of the Country.

At a meeting in 1746, the commissioners were eager to record their support. They were probably wise to make sure that the Hanoverian army advancing north was in no doubt about their sympathies.  In 1747 there was a further Accompt of the Deputy Collectors Expenses the time of the Rebellion ... amounting to ffifteen pounds Sterling ... , which was ordered to be paid out of the bridge money.

Although they chose that fund, the minutes indicate that rogue money was being levied as early as 1742, having been authorised since 1725. It was not until 1751 that the amount was recorded [Table 3]. Then and in subsequent years, the minute books include a record of the freeholders' Michaelmas head court in so far as concerns the levying of rogue money. Freeholders may be regarded as a sub-set of commissioners, owning land with a minimum valuation of £400 Scots as compared to the minimum of £100 for commissioners. The freeholders' duties in this matter did not extend beyond determining the rate at which it was to be levied. Collection and management of the fund were responsibilities of the commissioners of supply. This at times led to indecision, as in 1786 to 1788 when moves to increase the annual rate from 6s. Scots to 12s. were shuffled between them.    Back to top

The 1832 Representation of the People in Scotland Act [Reform Act] transferred responsibility for levying the tax to the commissioners of supply. From 1841 a joint Rogue Money and Police Force Assessment was made, which combined a rate on the valuation of land with an assessment on householders. Rogue money was ended by the 1868 Reform Act, by which money for criminal prosecutions was included in the county general assessment.

At times the minutes include details of rogue money expenditure, for instance in 1784 when John Ballantine was awarded £40 costs in connection with the conviction of a robber named William Cuningham, executed in Carlisle the previous September.

The 1784 minutes also record that Incendiary letters were sent to John Walkinshaw Craufurd of Craufurdland, that a house was burnt down on his estate (though it is unlikely that the letters were literally incendiary) and that the costs of his prosecution of the offenders before the Court of Justiciary were upwards of £230 sterling. He was awarded £50 out of the rogue money.    Back to top

In 1785 the Heritors, Ministers and other Inhabitants of Stevenstoun and Saltcoats petitioned the commissioners concerning Edward Young a Negroe from Virginia landed at Ayr in the Month of June 1783 with a Mr McAdam who they reported had become violently disturbed. They had been obliged to bind him and to have him lodged in the tolbooth at Irvine by favour of the magistrates there. They wanted the commissioners to indemnify them for their considerable costs and to arrange to have him lodged in the Glasgow Madhouse. Having investigated the matter, the commissioners reported that the manager of the madhouse required the sum of £15 a year besides security to pay any further expense incurred which is too great a sum to be granted out of the Rogue Money of this Shire, now all expended, and they left the problem to the heritors, ministers and other inhabitants of the two parishes. The record does not suggest that anyone thought the Mr McAdam who had brought the unfortunate man to this country in June 1783 should have any responsibility in the matter. One McAdam who returned to Ayr in June 1783 from America was John Loudon McAdam, who later made his name as a road engineer. Whether or not it was he who brought Young to these shores is a matter for speculation.  Back to top

Special Constables and Battons

Keeping the peace in the county was the concern of the commissioners. In 1798 they decided that the expence of making and Qualifying special Constables and furnishing Battons should be met out of the rogue money.

During the time of the wars with revolutionary and Napoleonic France the lieutenancy was active, and some of the meetings recorded in the minutes were called at the behest of the Lord Lieutenant, Hugh Montgomerie, 12th Earl of Eglinton. Such meetings generally differed from commission of supply meetings in that the forum was widened to include peers.

Sir Henry Raeburn's portrait of the earl hangs above one of the two curving stairways of the County Buildings in Ayr. Hugh Montgomerie was the sodger Hugh of Burns' poem The Author's Earnest Cry and Prayer. His father, Alexander, was one of the commissioners who had in 1746 determined that an Ayrshire deputation should congratulate the Duke of Cumberland on his success against the Jacobites. The portrait, depicting Hugh resplendent in highland dress leading his men into battle, is a striking example of the incorporation of the cult of tartan, bagpipes and clans into the national identity. Note 10    Back to top


It was Eglinton who summoned a meeting in 1801 to discuss the police of the county. There was a Sett of Banditti in the part of the county where Eglintone resided. Those named were Thomas, Robert and John Barclay, masons in Stewarton; Robert Brown, a weaver there; John Currie, bonnet maker there, and John Snodgrass, portioner in Lugtonrigg. It was resolved that the Lord Lieutenant would apply to have troops stationed at Stewarton and Beith. At their subsequent land tax meeting on 30th April 1801 the commissioners offered a reward of £50 for the apprehension of the gang and awarded £10 compensation to Hugh Thomson, messenger in Kilmarnock, whom they had assaulted and maltreated. In 1802 the minutes record that the Barclays had been caught, convicted and sentenced to transportation. £26:5s.:0d. of the reward was ordered to be paid to John Wyllie, procurator fiscal for Renfrew. However, the sentence cannot have been carried out with any haste, because in August the following year John Barclay escaped from Ayr jail.

In 1801 the commissioners heard the case of Alexander Vallance, a merchant in Strathaven, whose meal was seized by a mob in Newmilns. Later that year they discussed the problem of vagrant beggars. There was at the time a severe grain shortage.    Back to top

In about 1814, Ayrshire became the first county in Scotland to have a paid head constable when the commissioners appointed Angus Gunn, an enterprising and active young man at a salary of £80 a year. Note 11 When the highway robber John Worthington was returned to the county for execution on 17th February 1815, he was placed into the charge of Gunn at Flockside on the county line for the remainder of his journey to the scaffold at Symington toll-bar. Note 12  By 1823, Gunn's salary had risen to £106. Some time between May 1826 and April 1827 Gunn was assaulted in Mauchline, following which he resigned his position due to ill health. Out of concern for the helpless situation of Mr Gunn and his young family, he was awarded an aliment of 15s. a week or £39 a year, reduced in 1832 to 10s. a week.

When a new police force was established in 1857, the commissioners determined the rules for pay and clothing. They were also responsible for erecting a building in Charlotte Street in 1858 to house the new force, a role in which it continued until the opening of the present headquarters in King Street in 1975. Until recently, the old building housed offices belonging to Strathclyde Regional Council roads department, and it now performs a similar function for South Ayrshire Council.    Back to top

Loyal addresses etc.

Meetings of the commission of supply, or sometimes of the lieutenancy, provided a forum for public demonstrations of loyalty, usually less dramatic than the deputation during the '45 rebellion. Accessions to the throne, births and marriages of the royal family were the subject of respectful congratulations. They likewise congratulated George III on the failure of four assassination attempts in 1786, 1795, 1800 and 1803. One address in 1784 from the noblemen, gentlemen, justices of the peace, commissioners of supply and heritors of the County of Ayr ... on the present state of the nation was drawn up by James Boswell of Auchinleck. Note 13

Commissioners debated and took positions on economic and political issues affecting them: the malt tax in 1724; weights and measures, 1725. In 1734 they were agreed on the necessity of having ane correction or work house in either Ayr or Kilmarnock. In 1751 they united in opposing the Clergy's Scheme of Augmentation, holding then as later to the view which was said to be often on the lips of Alexander Boswell of Auchinleck, that a poor Church was a pure Church. Note 14

From 1779 until after 1815, civil defence duties assumed greater importance, with the meetings and activities of the lieutenancy and the commission of supply overlapping and often barely distinguishable. The sederunts are largely the same whether the clerk describes the attendees as commissioners alone, or as noblemen, gentlemen, commissioners of supply, justices of peace, proprietors of land, freeholders, landholders, heritors, the Lord Lieutenant, deputy lieutenants, magistrates of royal burghs, magistrates of burghs, magistrates of towns, clergy and roads trustees. In 1782 they discussed the Fencibles Bill and set up an internal defence committee. There was then a return to consideration of more peaceful matters, the most threatening incident being the burning of Mr Herron's barn in 1786. From 1793 however, the wars with France determined much of the business before them.    Back to top

Resolution on the present State of the Nation, January 1793

Resolutions of the County on the present State of the Nation [including] ... That the British Constitution is the most perfect System of Government and the best adapted to human happiness and the Prosperity of a State, of any that has ever appeared upon Earth.

On this as on many other occasions they communicated their feelings on the state of the nation to the government in the form of a set of resolutions. Here they declared their support for the present constitution and their detestation of seditious writings such as the pamphlets of Thomas Paine. Now of course we don't have to go to the commissioners' minute books to find such declarations, because they were published as advertisements in the newspapers as the conveners and lord lieutenants of the various counties vied with each other to produce the most fervent statements of loyalty.

Other issues they discussed convey the flavour of the times: manning of the navy and internal defence, 1793; voluntary assessment for internal defence, 1794, and raising troops the same year; scarcity of wheat, 1795 - the risk of internal unrest was heightened by poor harvests; stocks of grain, 1796; transportation of troops, 1797; the militia, and the establishment of a military camp near Ayr for the protection of the coast, 1797; the national debt, and the Aid and Contribution Tax, 1798 - wars were not cheap; the relief of the poor and the police of the county, 1800; a subscription for the relief of the Russian sufferers, 1813; an address to the Prince Regent on the recent victories, 1814.

Sometimes their concerns are entirely local. There is nothing of the debate leading to the 1832 Reform Act, although the member of parliament for Ayr Burghs, Thomas Francis Kennedy of Dunure, was a supporter of parliamentary reform in the face of the hostility of most other Scottish MPs. Note 15  When the 1831 Reform Bill was thrown out by the Commons, parliament was dissolved, and in the resulting election the defeat of the Whig candidate for Ayrshire, Richard Oswald of Auchincruive, by the Tory William Blair of Blair was greeted by rioting in the streets. Note 16  It was the riot and the damage it caused that appeared in the minutes of the commissioners; not the election or the underlying political issue. Perhaps this was too divisive for the commissioners, who included in their number the 73 freemen who had voted for Blair and the 36 who had preferred Oswald.    Back to top

Index of Ayrshire Commissioners of Supply

With the interest generated by land tax meetings and an average attendance of 40 over the period of the minutes, the sederunts are a useful record of involvement in county affairs. From these, the author has compiled an index of Ayrshire commissioners of supply containing about 1300 names. Such an index can be a useful complement to other sources.

Principal Officers of Ayrshire Commissioners of Supply

The principal officers of the commission were appointed or continued in office at the annual land tax meetings [Diagram 3]. Note 17  The office of convener was unpaid but carried considerable status. Clerks were invariably lawyers (writers) practising in Ayr. Collectors were often landowners qualified to be commissioners. Sums for the salaries of the clerk and collectors were levied along with the land tax, as we have seen above, raising £15 17s 9½d Sterling for the clerk and £42 7s 5½d Sterling for each of the collectors. The paid positions were keenly sought and land tax meetings at which vacancies were to be filled attracted high attendances. In 1726, the deaths of both the collectors brought an attendance of 76, higher by 29 than any preceding meeting within the span of the extant records. James Boswell records in his journal on Wednesday 30th April 1777, with reference to his cousin John Boswell: Was engaged to go to Ayr to support Knockroon in case an attempt should be made to turn him out from being Clerk of Supply. Note 18  In 1786, Bruce Campbell and William Logan (sheriff substitute and formerly of Castlemains Note 19) both wrote to William Forbes of Callendar (an Ayrshire commissioner by virtue of landholdings in the county) soliciting his support for their applications for the post left vacant by the death of William Logan of Camlarg. Note 20   In 1832 the attendance of 118 was the highest of all Ayrshire land tax meetings in the extant records, drawn by a contested election for a new collector. The candidates were Mr Neill of Barnweill and John Douglas Boswell, who won with 61 votes to 53.    Back to top

County Buildings

We have already seen some tangible evidence of the work of the commissioners in the shape of surviving bridges. It is appropriate that we conclude with their grandest construction, the former county buildings, now the sheriff court house [Diagram 4].

The first reference to the erection of county buildings in the minutes of the commissioners occurred on 30th April 1803 when, despite the war with France, there was time to consider a proposal to build publick offices for the different Records. It was not until 1815 however, that a parliamentary bill was drafted for the project. This provided for £27,000 to be raised from the county by assessment, and appointed 17 commissioners of the county buildings, including the members of parliament for Ayrshire and for Ayr Burghs, the others all commissioners of supply. Vacancies as they occurred were to be filled by appointment by the commissioners of supply. Thus although the construction and subsequent maintenance of the county buildings was the responsibility of a distinct body, its membership was always determined by the commissioners of supply.

Diagram 4 shows the County Buildings as they appear in the 1855 and 1960 OS maps. The County buildings erected by the commissioners of supply contained the county hall and justiciary court. This building is now occupied by the sheriff court, and the present county buildings are on the site of the former gaol.

Of the edifice erected by the commisioners, I could not equal Rob Close's description so I will quote from it: County Buildings, 1818-1822, [architect] Robert Wallace. A dramatic classical court-house, with its huge eleven-bay frontispiece, and scowling four-columned Ionic portico, brings the full majesty of the law to bear on the Square: .... Note 21

David McClure

This article was published in Scottish Local History Journal Vol.39 (1997).    Back to top

  1. A previous version of this paper was presented on 27th April 1996 at a conference of the Scottish Local History Forum, in association with the Ayrshire Federation of Local History Societies, entitled Old Records - New Discoveries.    Back to text

  2. Further information about commissioners of supply in general and Ayrshire commissioners of supply in particular will be found in:  Anne E. Whetstone, Scottish County Government in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (1981); Thomas Hamilton, The Ayrshire Commissioners of Supply in Ayrshire Collections Vol.1 (Ayrshire Archæological and Natural History Society, 1950); and Charles Edward Shaw, Ayrshire 1745-1950 (1953).    Back to text

  3. References to these minute books have been omitted since the dates given in the text are sufficient to enable relevant passages to be found.  Other sources have been documented in footnotes.    Back to text

  4. David McClure, Tolls and Tacksmen (Ayrshire Monographs No. 13) (Ayrshire Archæological and Natural History Society, 1994).    Back to text

  5. Charles Abercrombie was active as far afield as Aberdeenshire.  See: Thomas Day, The Construction and Maintenance of the Aberdeenshire - Inverurie Turnpike Road, 1795-1866:  A case study in Review of Scottish Culture 9.    Back to text

  6. CO3/5/1, 29th October 1773. 

  7. Letter from Robert Burns to James Burness dated 9th February 1789.     Back to text

  8. More costly bridges were built elsewhere.  For instance, the bridge erected over the River North Esk near Montrose in 1770 to 1775 cost £6,500 Sterling (according to the inscription on the bridge).     Back to text

  9. John Strawhorn, History of Ayr (1989), p.90.    Back to text

  10. He raised both the West Country Fencibles and the Royal Glasgow Regiment.  Postings of the former under his command included Fort George and Inverness.    Back to text

  11. The first according to Whetstone, op. cit. p.92.    Back to text

  12. David McClure, A Hanging at Symington Toll in Ayrshire Notes No.9 (1995).    Back to text

  13. David McClure and Rob Close, James Boswell's Address to the King in Ayrshire Notes No.15 (1998).    Back to text

  14. Henry Grey Graham, Social Life of Scotland in the Eighteenth Century (1909 edn.), p.362.    Back to text

  15. Michael Dyer, Men of property and Intelligence:  The Scottish Electoral System prior to 1884 (1996), p.23.    Back to text

  16. John Strawhorn, op. cit., p.155.    Back to text

  17. David McClure, Principal Officers of Ayrshire Commissioners of Supply in Ayrshire Notes No.11 (1996).    Back to text

  18. Boswell in Extremes, 1776-1778, ed. Charles McC. Weis and Frederick A. Pottle (1970).    Back to text

  19. David McClure, William Logan of Castlemains in Ayrshire Notes No.5 (1993).    Back to text

  20. Forbes of Callendar Muniments GD171/235/12 (14th June 1786) and GD171/235/13 (20th June 1786).  These letters were consulted in the Scottish Record Office but may now be in Callendar House, Falkirk.    Back to text

  21. Rob Close, Ayrshire and Arran;  An Illustrated Architectural Guide (Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, 1992), p.22.    Back to text    Back to top