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Finlayson Arms, Coylton

Rob Close 2002.

The village of Coylton lies approximately 5 to 6 miles east of Ayr, on the A70, Ayr's traditional route to Edinburgh, via the Lang Whang, and to Dumfries, via the Nith Valley. This road is amongst those authorised in the 1767 Ayrshire Road Act, for "repairing and widening", and on which tolls could be applied for the maintenance of the road.[note 1] The improvement of this road through the parish of Coylton had an effect on population distribution; the old village centre, known today as Laigh Coylton, with the ruins of the old parish church and an inn, still functioning, was away from the road: this church was repaired in 1776.[note 2]
By 1806, however, it was recognised that feus alongside the new road might be of value: "it is proposed that certain parts of the lands of Carbiston, either at the village of Coylton, or upon the sides of the road leading from Air to Cumnock, near the farmhouse of North Duchray, as may be considered most eligible, shall be feued for building dwelling-houses, and for gardens to the same".[note3] A few houses seem to have been built near North Duchray at this time, in the area now generally known as Hillhead, and by the 1830s this seems to have been recognised as the village centre, for a new church, to designs of David Bryce, was built at Hillhead, replacing the old church at Laigh Coylton. This church is usually accorded the date 1836, though an advertisement in the Air Advertiser, indicating that the materials of the old church were to be rouped on 11th June 1832, and the pews in the new church let thereafter,[note 4] would indicate that the church was substantially completed and in use by that earlier date.
What is certain, though, is that the pub which today stands opposite Coylton Parish Church was in existence when the church was opened, as the following lease indicates:
"It is contracted and agreed between Captain Robert Cathcart of Carbieston, heritable proprietor and heir of entail, in possession of the estate of Carbieston, of which the piece of ground aftermentioned forms a part, on the one part, and David Dickie in Coylton in the county of Ayr on the other part, that is whereas in or about the year 1818 the said Captain Robert Cathcart, as heir in entail in possession of the said estate of Cathcart, under authority of the statute 10 Geo III, agreed to grant to the said David Dickie a building lease of the small piece of ground aftermentioned for the period of 99 years, at the yearly rent of 13s 6d, to which piece of ground the said David Dickie entered at Martinmas 1818, and has paid the yearly rent thereof since that period, although no regular lease between the said Captain Robert Cathcart and him has ever been executed, and whereas the said Robert Cathcart having lately sold that part of the estate of Carbieston on which the said small piece of ground is situated, it is agreed between the said parties that he the said Robert Cathcart shall grant a lease of the piece of ground herein afterwritten and in the terms after specified in lieu of the lease of the piece of ground under which the said David Dickie has occupied the said piece of ground since 1818, and that for the remainder of the period for which the lease abovementioned was to be granted, and that the said David Dickie shall accept of the said lease in these terms accordingly, wherefore and in implement ... the said Captain Robert Cathcart ... has set and by these presents in tack and assedation lets to the said David Dickie in liferent, and to Margaret Dickie alias Campbell, his daughter, wife of James Campbell in Knockshoggle Holm, and her heirs, assignees and sub-tenants in fee, all and whole that small piece of ground measuring 30 falls or thereby Scotch measure of the farm of Hillhead, part of the estate of Carbieston, lying opposite to the new Church of Coylton bounded by the road from Ayr to Cumnock on the north and by the thorn hedges on the east, south and west parts ... for 87 years from and after ... Martinmas last 1830. ... The said David Dickie obliges him and his foresaids to erect a building along the front of the said ground hereby let facing the said road and to uphold and keep in good order the buildings to be erected by him".[note 5]
Nothing further is presently known of David Dickie, and he or his daughter may still have been the landlord when the minister, Alexander Duncan, wrote of Coylton in 1841: "There are eight houses licensed to sell spirits and ale; a number far greater than necessary. The facility of obtaining ardent spirits, and the immoderate use of them, are undoubtedly among the chief causes of the immorality, disorder, poverty, crime and misery witnessed in many parts of our country."[note 6] Coylton is a scattered parish, and the pub played an important part in church life, as "churchgoers used to stable their horses at the hotel in stables which are now [1960] used as a coal cellar".[note 7]
Margaret Campbell had died by 1844, and the lease had passed to her son, David Campbell, who lived near Kilmarnock: he appears to have had no interest in running an inn, for in that year he assigned the lease to John McGill, the smith at Sundrum Smithy, and his wife, Janet Finlayson.[note 8] The McGills seem to have remained as leaseholders for a number of years, but to have entrusted the management of the inn to sub-tenants. One of these, possibly the first, was Andrew McLennan, who was innkeeper here at the time of the 1851, 1861 and 1871 Censuses.[note 9] Indeed, according to the notice of his death in the Ayr Advertiser, McLennan had been the innkeeper since 1837.[note 10] From the censuses we learn that throughout this period he combined his duties as innkeeper with that of superintendent of roads. McLennan had been baptized on 20th March 1804 in Dalmellington.[note 11] His wife, Isabella Brown, was eight years his junior, and had been born in Ochiltree parish,[note 12] where she and McLennan were married on 13th February 1835.[note 13] They had at least seven children: the eldest, James, was born in Coylton parish about 1838. Andrew McLennan died on 31st January 1882:[note 14] his wife was still living at the pub in 1891, when she is described as "retired innkeeper",[note 15] and continued to live there until her own death on 14th March 1907.[note 16]
Certainly by 1881, and probably before then, the management of the inn had passed to Matthew Leggat, who was 38 in 1881, and had been born in Kirkoswald.[note 17] He describes himself as "innkeeper and railway surfaceman", which appears to indicate that trade at the inn remained below a level sufficient to support the tenant by itself. Leggat's wife, Sarah Stevenson, came from the parish of Straiton, and they also had at least seven children.[note 18] The places of their births tell us something of Leggat's career prior to coming to Coylton. The eldest child was born in Straiton parish, though this may be accounted for by the tradition of the wife returning home for her first confinement. From c.1863 to c.1873 the family had lived at Waterside in the Doon Valley, where Leggat had presumably worked for the Dalmellington Ironworks. In 1875 they were living at Maryport in Cumberland, but moved to Coylton later that year.
Matthew Leggat died, of an epileptic fit, on 24th September 1888:[note 19] his widow, Sarah, is recorded as "innkeeper" in the 1891 Census,[note 20] and remained so into the early 1900s. One of Matthew and Sarah's sons, Robert, achieved some prominence in the Glasgow business community, as proprietor of Robert Leggat & Co., oil merchants in Glasgow. He was also a director and chairman of Ayr United Football Club, and a founder member of Coylton Bowling Club.[note 21] In 1938 he gave the address to the annual reunion of Coyltonians. In this address, Bob Leggat recounted his first impression of Coylton, after the family moved from Maryport:
"My first recollection of Culton is of its strange inhabitants and of the still stranger language which they used. My new home was frequented from early morn till the latest at nights by innumerable boisterous men who used to address my elder sisters as 'colleens' and they used to call me a 'broth of a boy'. It will be remembered by many of you here tonight, that it was at that time that the railway was being cut through to the new colliery of the Dalmellington Iron Company at 'Meedaheid', and those wild men, whom I took to be natives of Culton, were the Irish navvies engaged on that important contract".[note 22] Leggat's recollections give us a vivid insight into the life of a village inn in the 1870s: he had to make a solemn vow to his mother "never tae tell ma' schule chums or my playmates that I ever saw or heard their faithers in oor hoose, and never tae come ower ootside wi' onything that I ever saw or heard inside".[note 23] Sundays were, to the young Leggat, the dullest days: the blinds in the front windows - opposite the church - were lowered and remained so until church service was over, "at one o'clock or half past one, according to the dreichness o' the meenister".[note 24] Favoured farmers' wives and daughters would have the use of the pub kitchen to make final adjustments to their dress, while the farmers attended to putting the horses into the stables at the back, and betook themselves of a glass of beer before or - behind the lowered blinds - during the service. Saturday nights were busy with the miners, and Tuesdays were notable for the passage of carriers and farmers to and from the Ayr market. The carriers, from Cumnock, Auchinleck, Ochiltree, Drongan, &c., would "ca' at the inn on their road to the market, in the early oors o' the mornin' an' they wud help themsels tae oatcake and cheese fae a basket that was aye hingin fae yin o' the juists in the kitchen", while the farmers, returning from market, would call in on their way home: young Bob Leggat had lots of friends on a Tuesday, for he and his school friends were in demand to hold the reins of the farmers' horses while they were inside.[note 25] Mrs Leggat also built a hall behind the inn, for the Free Gardeners, who met there every Saturday night.
Sarah Leggat was succeeded in the tenancy by John Strachan, a miner, and in the 1920s Strachan also became owner of the property. On the death of John McGill and his wife, the main lease had passed to their two sons, Doctor John Finlayson McGill, of Coylebank, Coylton, and Doctor James Finlayson McGill, of Harthill, Lanarkshire.[note 26] James McGill died on 6th May 1900,[note 27] and his share passed to his niece - John F McGill's daughter, Janet Finlayson McGill, who was the wife of William Sloan, farmer. John F McGill died on 9th March 1909,[note 28] when his half share also passed to Mrs Sloan. In 1909 the Sloans were farming at Maneight, on the New Cumnock to Dalmellington Road, but by 1920 they had moved to Ifferdale, Saddell, Kintyre.[note 29]
In 1909 the original lease was renounced by Janet Sloan,[note 30] and a new lease for 99 years from Martinmas 1908 made out in her favour by the Dalmellington Iron Company, who had succeeded to the feudal superiority.[note 31] The new lease describes the property as being 38.66 poles of ground. In 1921 this lease was assigned by Mrs Sloan to John Strachan,[note 32] who immediately used it as security for a £500 loan from Turner's Ayr & Newton Breweries Ltd.[note 33] In 1928 ownership passed from Strachan, who was then described as 'wine and spirit merchant, Finlayson Arms', to Isabella Gray or Ochiltree,[note 34] the widow of John Ochiltree, who had been a cashier in Gray's Carpet Works in Newton upon Ayr.[note 35] Mrs Ochiltree's background, however, was in the licensed trade, as her mother, Mrs Ritchie, had started the first licensed restaurant in Ayr, at the Kyle Hotel, where Mrs Ochiltree was licensee for a number of years before moving to Coylton.[note 36] Mrs Ochiltree was assisted in the management of the pub by one of her daughters, Bessie Montgomerie; after Isabella died, aged 80, in 1953,[note 37] Bessie was joined in running the Finlayson Arms by her youngest sister, Jean. Jean married, c.1957, Ian Thomson, and at approximately the same time, Bessie took on the management of the Toll Bar, Drongan, before moving to an off-licence in Beresford Terrace, Ayr. The Thomsons ran the Finlayson Arms for a few years, but in 1960 they sold it to Thomas and Elizabeth Reid, from Helensburgh.[note 38] By 1965 ownership had passed to Arthur and Ann Thomson. In 1981 it was owned by J and G Earl, and in 1988 by Murdo and Catherine Munro.

Rob Close 2002.

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Notes

1. See David McClure, Tolls and Tacksmen, Ayr, 1994.
2. John Strawhorn, ed., Ayrshire at the Time of Burns, Ayr, 1959, 260.
3. Air Advertiser, 20th March 1806, 4b.
4. Air Advertiser, 7th June 1832, 1b
5. National Archives of Scotland [NAS], RS 91/1067, ff 58-60.
6. New Statistical Account of Scotland, vol.V, Ayr-Bute, Edinburgh, 1845, 665.
7. Ayr Advertiser, 22nd September 1960, 6a.
8. NAS, RS 91/1067, f 62.
9. South Ayrshire Libraries [SAL], Census Enumerators' Returns. The entries are as follows: for 1851, Registration District 583 [Coylton], Enumeration District 4, Entry No.13; for 1861, Registration District 583, Enumeration District 4, Entry No. 2 in Hillhead section; and for 1871, Registration District 583, Enumeration District 4, Entry No. 54..
10. Ayr Advertiser, 2nd February 1882, 8f, which states that he had been an innkeeper for 45 years.
11. SAL, OPR 586/1, Dalmellington, Births and Marriages 1641-1822. His surname is given as 'McClewanen'.
12. She was christened on 10th October 1813. [International Genealogical Index [IGI]]
13. SAL, OPR 609/4, Ochiltree, Births Marriages and Deaths 1819-1854. On this occasion Andrew's surname is rendered as 'McLownan'.
14. New Register House [NRH], Register of Deaths 1882, District 583 [Coylton], Entry No. 4. This entry also records that McLennan's parents had been James McLennan, a weaver, and his wife Barbara Gemmell.
15. SAL, Census Enumerators' Returns for 1891, Registration District 583, Enumeration District 5, Entry No. 103.
16. NRH, Register of Deaths 1907, District 583/1 [Coylton], Entry No. 4. Her parents are recorded as William Brown, corn miller, and his wife Margaret Stoddart. See also Ayr Advertiser, 21st March 1907, 8f.
17. SAL, Census Enumerators' Returns for 1881, Registration District 583, Enumeration District 5, Entry No. 15. His birth, on 15th February 1831, at Woodhead, Kirkoswald, is recorded in SAL, OPR 601/3, Kirkoswald, Births 1820-1854, and his parents named as James Leggat, general labourer, and his wife Catherine Brown.
18. They were married in Straiton on 15th February 1861. [IGI]
19. NRH, Register of Deaths 1888, District 583, Entry No. 57. See also Ayr Advertiser, 27th September 1888, 8e.
20. SAL, Census Enumerators' Returns for 1891, Registration District 583, Enumeration District 5, Entry no. 104.
21. Robert Leggat died on 10th October 1941. See his obituary in Ayrshire Post, 17th October 1941, 3a.
22. Ayrshire Post, 14th January 1938, 8a.
23. ibid, 8a.
24. ibid, 8b.
25. ibid, 8b.
26. NAS, RS 91/1067, f 68.
27. Ayr Advertiser, 10th May 1900, 8f. He was 71.
28. Ayr Advertiser, 11th March 1909, 8f. He was 82. A brief obituary in the same edition of the paper, page 4g, states that he did medical work for the Dalmellington Iron Company, the Annbank Coal Company, and others.
29. Information derived from Valuation Rolls.
30. NAS, RS 91/1579, f 61.
31. NAS, RS 91/1580, f 132.
32. NAS, RS 91/2132, f 46.
33. ibid, f. 47.
34. NAS, RS 91/2456, f 80.
35. Ayrshire Post, 15th May 1953, 9c.
36. ibid, 9c.
37. ibid, 9c. See also NRH, Register of Deaths 1953, District 583/1 [Coylton], Entry No. 8, which names Mrs Ochiltree's parents as John Gray, contractor, and his wife Isabella Ross.
38.` Ayr Advertiser, 22nd September 1960, 6a.

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