© 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 
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
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
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.
1. See David McClure, Tolls and Tacksmen, Ayr, 1994.
2. John Strawhorn, ed., Ayrshire at the Time of Burns, Ayr, 1959,
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,
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
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
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
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,
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.