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McClymont and Dunlop
Water-powered Sawmills on the Girvan

For much of the nineteenth century and in the early years of the twentieth, this partnership was involved in the operation of water-powered sawmills on the Water of Girvan.

The McClymonts were the family which farmed at Balsaggart in the parish of Kirkmichael, and they require no unravelling. There was John McClymont, born about 1800 and died probably between 1861 and 1871; and his son Charles Dalrymple Fergusson McClymont, born 1840 and still at Balsaggart in 1891. The entry for John in the 1851 census describes his dual interests: Farmer of 410 acres employing 20 labourers and woodmerchant firm of 2 employing 22 men.  [Note]    Back to top

The Dunlops are quite another matter, with a profusion of related and unrelated (in any meaningful sense) Dunlops abounding in the parishes of Kirkmichael and Dailly. The first so far found with a sawmilling connection was James Dunlop (c.1770-1846), henceforth James I. He farmed at Knockroon, Kirkmichael parish, and died at Kirkmichael sawmill. His wife was Agnes McClymont (c.1776-1860); her relationship to John McClymont has not been established. Their offspring included William I (c.1804-1885), James II (c.1806-1889), Marion I (c.1813-?) and probably Robert (c.1802-?).

The eldest son William I farmed first at Knockroon, where he is found in both the 1851 and 1861 censuses, and then at Kileekie, also in Kirkmichael parish, where he was in 1871 and 1881. He in turn had a son James III (c.1837-?) and a son William II (c.1845-1877), as well as daughters Agnes, Jessie, Marion II and Elizabeth II. This branch had no further connection with the operation of the sawmills.

James II farmed first at Merkland, where he was in 1851 and 1861, and then at Threave, 1871 and 1881, both farms in Kirkmichael parish. The 1851 census records his sawmill interests in similar terms to McClymont's: Farmer of 160 acres employs 3 women indoors and 5 men out. Also one of a firm of woodmerchants employing 22. Though his acreage was less than half that of his partner John McClymont, he was still a substantial man. He married Elizabeth Andrew from nearby Rowanston farm (where the same family still farms today). Their children were James IV (c.1834-1894), Agnes (c.1842-?), Elizabeth (c.1845-?), William III (c.1847-?) and David (c.1849-1908).

James IV, eldest son of James  II, appears to have played no part in the running of the sawmills. He outlived his father by only 5 years, and in the 1891 census was recorded as being unmarried and living on private means with his brother William III at Kilkerran sawmills. He died three years later at Threave. The second son, William III, went into the sawmill business. In 1871 he was still at Threave, was elsewhere unfound in 1881, and in 1891 he was living at Kilkerran sawmills, described as Wood Merchant.

The last son of this generation, David, was in 1891 at Threave, but died in 1908 at Nether Mains Farm, Kilwinning.

William III and his wife Annie (c.1845-?), from Muirkirk, had four children: James V (c.1876-1960), Minnie (c.1879), William IV (c.1880-?), Francis (c.1884-?) and Jane Ann (c.1888-?). James V worked at the sawmills, but left in 1909 after his marriage for Dobbingston Farm in Dailly parish. William III was followed at Kilkerran sawmill for a time by his son Francis, and when he left the property was described as 'ruinous'. About 1832 James V moved to Garnaburn Farm in Colmonell which was subsequently farmed by his son William V; his son James VI is there today - great, great, great grandson of James  I.

The woodmerchant partnership of McClymont and Dunlop was thus represented through the generations on the McClymont side by John and Charles Dalrymple Fergusson; and for the Dunlops by James I, James II, William III and Francis.  Back to top

Map showing the locations of the three sawmills

The interests of the partners extended to three sawmills on the Water of Girvan: Kirkmichael, Kilkerran and Dailly, the sites of which are shown on the sketch map above. All of these mills were shown on the first Ordnance Survey maps, surveyed about 1856, on 6" sheets 45, 51 and 50 respectively. None appear on Johnston's 1828 map of the county. Some other mills are marked on the latter, but the omission of these three may reflect no more than the space for detail being limited, rather than confirming they did not exist at the time. We can, however, be quite sure from the Old Statistical Account that none of them was built as early as 1790, and from their absence from Aiton's 1811 account of agriculture in Ayrshire, in which he described the timber plantations in the Girvan valley without referring to a single sawmill, we may safely deduce that they were erected at a later date. That they were required is not in doubt. He wrote that "the strath of the water of Girvan, from Straiton to the sea, is highly ornamented with extensive plantations, to which very considerable additions are made every year. There are about 800 acres of woods and plantations on the estate of Kilkerran, and Sir Hugh Hamilton Dalrymple is adding 100 acres yearly to those at Bargeny [sic]".

The National Commercial Directory 1837 of Pigot and Co. has an entry for "McClement & Dunlop, saw etc mill" in the parish of Kirkmichael as well as "James Henry, miller", the latter probably at Aitkenhead. There is no sawmill in Kirkoswald parish (the location of the Kilkerran mill) and in Dailly no sawmill but entries for "Hugh McClelland, miller" and "John Currie, sawyer" (though a sawyer does not imply a sawmill).  Back to top

Map showing location of Kirkmichael Sawmill

Turning to the New Statistical Account, the minister of Kirkmichael has given a clear account of the sawmill: "There is a large saw-mill on the Girvan Water, erected by the enterprise of Mr John McLymont in Balsaggart, and its operations are conducted under the judicious management of Mr James Dunlop. It has brought wood on the adjoining properties to a ready market. Attached to this is a bone-mill, which, from the extended use of this manure, has been no less serviceable to the public at large, than it has been convenient to this neighbourhood." This suggests that the mill was erected by the current generation, supporting the conclusion that it was erected sometime between 1811 and 1837. According to the rent roll of the estate of Kirkmichael for the year 1832-33 (Ayrshire Archives ATD 60/4/3/8), John McClymont and James Dunlop were then tenants of the waulkmill; there is not an entry for the sawmill, which was perhaps part of the subjects comprehended by the item 'waulkmill'.

The woodmerchant firm of McClymont and Dunlop must have been a well-established concern by 1840, when the two partners were presented with pocket-watches by their employees. Dunlop's bore this inscription: "Mr James Dunlop. From his workmen as a mark of their esteem for his conduct as a man and A MASTER. 1840." The story is told by Dunlops' descendants that he was given a silver watch, while John McClymont, the senior partner, received a gold one. James Dunlop was so upset by this discrimination that he went out and bought himself a gold watch. The inscribed silver one has nonetheless survived.

The site of the Kirkmichael sawmill was a short distance downstream from the Aitkenhead cornmill, on the right bank of the river and between it and the road, just upstream of Waulk Mill Bridge [see map]. The legend, rather indistinct in this reproduction of the original OS map, is: "Kirkmichael Mill (Sawing)". None of the mill and associated buildings, including Sawmill Cottage, remain, though the house marked 'A' on the map survives and is now called 'Sawmill Cottage'.

From the valuation rolls, McClymont & Dunlop were tenants here in 1855-6 and in 1860-1, and the annual rent or value was £30. By 1865-6 the sawmill had passed into the hands of Charles Stewart, and the rent or value had fallen to £27. In 1883-4 the tenant was Thomas Ritchie, and the rent or value was £18. The sawmill cottage appears in census records: in 1851 it accommodated the household of Robert Dunlop (b.1801/2), a wright or shaftmaker, his wife Marion (b.1819/20), and their six children. In 1861 it held two households: John Roy, a carter, with his wife and four children; and Marion Dunlop and her eldest daughter Agnes. It may be that production at Kirkmichael sawmill ceased with the departure of McClymont and Dunlop between 1860-1 and 1865-6. None of those subsequently associated with it have been found described as 'miller', 'sawmiller', or 'sawyer'.  Back to top

Map showing the location of Kilkerran Sawmill

Kilkerran sawmill lay on the line of the turnpike which ran from Crosshill to Dailly and thence to Girvan. However, until the erection of Hamilton Bridge (still known to some locally as 'Sawmill Bridge') in 1825, the road kept to the east of the river at this point - the old road can be seen on the sketchmap (see Ronald Brash, "An Early Nineteenth Century Ayrshire Bypass" in Ayrshire Notes 3 (1992)). It is probable that the sawmill was not built before the bridge and the opening of the new line of road, though it may have been much later (see below).

Like the Kirkmichael sawmill it was on the right bank of the river, between it and the road. It survives as a substantial stone ruin, all timbers removed, with the stone-faced lade and an iron axle-bed confirming its purpose. Trees have surrounded and invaded the building, and one grows out of the wall overlooking the lade. The site of the millpond on the opposite side of the road can be distinguished, although it has been drained and is overgrown.

Although by appearances and longevity this was a more substantial mill than that at Kirkmichael, it merits no mention in the New Statistical Account. Perhaps this salient of Kirkoswald parish was too remote to comment upon its mill; at any rate, it is not mentioned in the minister's parochial account. It may simply have been that the mill was not constructed until about 1850, too late for his account but in time for the Ordnance Survey.  [Update (4th March 2000)]    Back to top

The record in the valuation rolls is clear: 1855-6, "Kilkerran Sawmills, tenant, Messrs. McClymont & Dunlop, sawmills, Dailly"; yearly rent or value, £50. Similar entries, in some cases identifying the partners' respective farms of Balsaggart and Threave, exist for 1860-1, 1865-6, 1870-1, 1875-6, 1883-4, 1885-6, 1886-7, and 1889-90; from 1883-4 the yearly rent or value is £54:11:0. The partnership may have been dissolved about 1890, for the entry in 1890-1 is: "Sawmills, Kilkerran, tenant Wm. Dunlop, Sawmiller", and again in 1892-3.

'Kilkerran Sawmill' appears in census records, invariably with two households whose heads' occupations suggest a dependence on or connection with the mill. Thus in 1851 there is Samuel Dougherty (b. 1825/6; Docherty in later censuses), a carter, and James Paterson, a sawyer with a wife and four children. Docherty came from Kirkmichael, the Patersons from Peeblesshire. Docherty, his job title on occasion more specifically 'wood carter', occurs in the censuses to 1881 inclusive. Paterson's widow appears in 1871; in 1881 that family's place is taken by Alexander McIlwraith, a 'wood sawyer', his wife and seven children.

The McClymonts of course lived at Balsaggart and the Dunlops at Threave; so it was until 1891, when the households at Kilkerran sawmill included that of William III Dunlop, described as 'Wood merchant', his wife Annie and five children, together with his brother James IV and nephew Richard Buchan. As in previous censuses, a second household was recorded there in 1891: that of William Caldwell, a carter, his wife and two children the elder of which, a son, was also a carter.

A sepia photograph of about 1892 [photo], taken by Edwin I Walker, Rose Bank, Cockermouth, 'Photographic Artist and Portrait Painter', shows five men standing at the open door of the infeed end of the Kilkerran sawmill (the end facing the cottage). On the right is James V Dunlop, aged about 15, his hand resting on a circular saw bench. The bearded man seated might be his father William.

Shortly after this was taken, the young man went as apprentice to one of the constituent firms of what a few years later became Glenfield and Kennedy. A set of his drawing instruments survives, together with receipts for their purchase in 1892 at a cost of 17 shillings. From Post Office directories of Kilmarnock, the supplier Thomas Robertson was : either the engineer at 8 Dundonald Road, Kilmarnock; or the draughtsman at 22 Craigie Road, Riccarton, by 1895-7 at 11 Nursery Street, Kilmarnock. The same Robertson also gave Dunlop instruction in 1892 at 5 shillings a quarter.

James V Dunlop later returned to the mill; another photograph, too faded from long exposure to sunlight in a frame to reproduce here and dated about 1908, shows three men at the same place; on the back are the names 'Jas. Dunlop, Duncan Docherty, Thos. Gallagher'. Duncan Docherty, a carter, was in 1908-9 a resident at the sawmill house.

The Dunlops' connection with sawmilling in the Girvan valley was almost at an end. When James V married in 1909, he left to take up the other occupation of his family: farming; first at Dobbingston Farm at Dailly, and then, over the watershed and into the valley of the Stinchar, at Colmonell. His father William III was tenant of Kilkerran sawmill until 1910-1. In the following year he was succeeded by his son Francis (Frank) who may have kept the mill going for a few years, but by 1920-1 he had departed and the mill was described as ruinous. Thomas McFarlane was tenant in 1927-8 and presumably engaged in sawmilling (the annual rent or value was £160:14:0, whereas it was £nil when ruinous) though it was probably no longer water-powered.

The mill was later abandoned and its timber and machinery were used in a new, steampowered mill located at NS 297046, on the upper road that runs the length of the valley and opposite the short crossroad linking it to the lower road. Parts of this building, including a small chimney, can still be seen.  Back to top

Map showing the location of Dailly Sawmill

The New Statistical Account contains a good summary of the mills in the parish of Dailly: "Modern Buildings - The buildings in the parish ... are two flour-mills, which go by water, two saw-mills, under wooden erections at the two collieries, impelled by the steam-engines there, a third saw-mill, in a different quarter, driven by water, and a brick-work connected with the colliery at Dalquharran". That water-powered sawmill in a different quarter is the one shown in the above map. It lay close to the village of New Dailly, on the left bank of the Water of Girvan.

As noted above, no sawmill is listed in the 1837 directory cited. The valuation roll entries never refer to the partnership of McClymont and Dunlop, though it has already been observed that the entries for Kilkerran sawmill give the address of the partnership as "Sawmills, Dailly". It also appears that the Dailly entries relate to a farm, "Mill of Dailly", of which the sawmill formed part (although there was no household there and so no census records). Thus the entry for 1855-6 is: "Mill of Dailly, James Dunlop, miller, tenant of Dailly Mills". The yearly rent or value was £110. There are similar entries in 1860-1, 1865-6 and 1870-1. In the 1875-6 roll James Dunlop was particularised by his farm in Kirkmichael parish, Threave, and the yearly rent or value had fallen to £84:7:5.

By 1883-4, the partners in McClymont and Dunlop, either together or singly, had ceased to operate this mill. The new tenants were Adam Wilson and his sons William, Gilbert, David and James, described as 'sawmillers'. The history of this firm of timber merchants, "Adam Wilson & Sons Ltd", was researched by John McChesney and published by the company in 1980. The transfer marks the end of any interest in the mill for the purposes of the present article, though it will be noted in passing that the Wilsons were tenants of Dailly sawmill a full ten years before the time according to company records.  Back to top

One of Ayrshire Archives' recent accessions is a box of records relating to Dalquharran Colliery (Acc. no. 135). This is as yet uncatalogued, but the following evidence of purchases from McClymont and Dunlop was found in the "Wood Report from August 1st 1851 to the 30th thereof": "20 feet of small Elm at 1/- per foot, £1:0:0; 70 feet of small Beech at 6d per foot, £1:15:0; 96 feet of small Ash at 1/- per foot, £4:16:0; a small lot of Limetree at 5:6; 20 scotch fir trees at 9d each, 15:0; 9 feet of larch paling at 1/- per foot, 9:0; 27 dozen of larch paling at 7:6 per dozen, £10:2:6; 29 feet of small oak at 1:3 per foot, £1:16:3; for sawing wood for a new fence beside Dailly as per acct., £3:12:1".

The list of timber supplied for the most part agrees with the description in the Dailly parochial account contained in the New Statistical Account: "The trees planted are generally oak, ash, plane, and elm, with such proportion of Scotch larch and spruce firs, as fills the ground for an early crop. The indigenous trees are chiefly oak, ash, and birch. The woods of the first and last are remarkably well pruned and thinned each year. The felling of the Scotch and larch firs takes place at about fifteen years growth, to give room to the hard wood and spruce firs".

The sawmilling and woodmerchant business of McClymont and Dunlop was a significant commercial operation in the Girvan valley from about 1832 to about 1890, at one time having three active mills: Kirkmichael, Kilkerran and Dailly. Kilkerran sawmill continued under the sole ownership of William III Dunlop until 1910, and then under his son Francis until operations ceased ten years later.  Back to top

Note added for publication in Scottish Local History Journal, Vol.47, Winter 1999:
At the time of publication of this article in Ayrshire Notes No.16 (Spring 1999), I had been unable to find any record of the deaths of the McClymonts.  I have since discovered that they were interred in Kirk Wynd graveyard, Maybole.  Among those recorded there are: James McClymont, late in Auchalton, died Balsaggart 23rd July 1829, aged 75; John McClymont, Balsaggart [who established Kirkmichael sawmill] died 1st August 1867, aged 66; and his son Charles Dalrymple Fergusson McClymont, died 4th January 1895, aged 55.  The earliest member of the family buried there, so far as can be told from the gravestone inscriptions, was "John McClymont in Achalton", died 1st November 1714, aged 69.  This information is taken from Pre-1855 Gravestone Inscriptions in Carrick Ayrshire, (Scottish Genealogy Society, 1988).  Back to text


This research began with a cycle ride down the Girvan valley, when I glimpsed the ruined Kilkerran sawmill through the trees and wondered what it was. Later I chanced to meet William Sturgeon, whose local knowledge led me to James Dunlop in Colmonell, grandson of the last James Dunlop at the mill, who is keeping both family traditions going with a sawmill on his farm. He provided some family history and allowed me to copy the photograph reproduced above, and then sent me to his cousin Robert Dunlop who showed me the watch, drawing instruments and receipts already described. Manuscript and published sources are identified in the text. The trawl through the valuation records was a bit haphazard. For those who do not know, those before 1892-3 have to be inspected at the NAS; they are stored outside the building and have to be requested in advance, which advance requests are limited to ten volumes.

David McClure

This article was first published in Ayrshire Notes No. 16 (1999).

For some interesting technical illustrations of water-powered sawmills, see Alexander Robertson, Water Power Sawmills in Newfoundland (1999, 2005) . [Link correct on 10th February 2008]

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