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Marion Paul Aird, 1815-1888

Looking for something else in the mid 19th century Post Office Directories of Kilmarnock I came across an entry for a "Miss M P Aird", who described herself as an 'authoress', living at Kadikoi Place, Kilmarnock.  It seemed to me that there was something unusual, in those un-emancipated days, of a woman writer so describing herself, especially one living at such an address. Who was she, I wondered.  This brief note is a résumé of what I have been able to discover, and also serves to raise two questions.

Marion Aird was born in Glasgow on the 27th November 1815. Her father, David Aird, was a coachman.  Of him we know little, but it is known that Marion Aird came to Kilmarnock as an infant.  Her early years remain obscure.  We know that she had at least one sister, Jeanie, who was married to John Milne, a draper in Kilmarnock, but who died in April 1871, occasioning the poem, "Memorial Lines on my Beloved Sister, Mrs Milne", which appeared in the Kilmarnock Standard of 8th April 1871.  Marion Aird had first come to the notice of the public as a poet in 1838 when some of her verse was published in one of the Kilmarnock newspapers; the same year she dedicated some verses to the Kilmarnock doctor, John Bowring, who acknowledged the compliment at a public dinner.  Her poems began to appear in various publications, particularly those connected with the Kilmarnock printer and publisher, James McKie.  For him she contributed, using the pseudonym Marimonia, 6 pieces to a weekly poetical magazine that ran for 10 issues in 1839.  Further pieces appeared in the annual editions of his "Ayrshire Wreath" in 1843, 1844 and 1845, and in 1846 McKie published the first collection of her work, "Home of the Heart, and other poems, moral and religious", which was, he noted, "very successful".

Further books followed.  "Heart Histories, Violets from the Greenwood, &c. &c." was published in 1853 by the Edinburgh and London publishers, Johnstone & Hunter, and in 1860 James McKie published for her "Sun and Shade".  Finally, a reprint of "Home of the Heart" was published by McKie in 1863.  Thereafter pieces continued to appear in the Kilmarnock Standard, in the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald and elsewhere.  She also circulated among her friends an annual Christmas and New Year poetical leaflet, while the nature and tone of some of these later fugitive pieces can be guessed at from their titles, e.g. "On the Death of Robert Cumming, Esq." in the Kilmarnock Weekly Post in 1863, or "On the Late Deaths from Drowning on our Shores" in the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald in 1860.

It is probably correct to assume that Marion Aird was never particularly wealthy, or that she made much money from her poetry.  On Census Night 1861 she is recorded as a 'lodger' in the household of Margaret Rodger, a 49 year old music teacher, (Aird was 42 at this time, and gives her occupation as 'authoress'), at an address in Kadikoi Place.  She was still at Kadikoi Place 10 years later, but now living on her own.  In 1864, the Kilmarnock Weekly Post noted that a £10 donation to Miss Aird had been made by J N Fleming, who was then tenant of Kilkerran. Her situation was such by June 1874 that McKie, with a Glasgow minister (David Brown of St Enochs), Thomas Cuthbertson, the Town Treasurer, and Thomas Lee, teacher at Kilmarnock Academy, raised a subscription appeal for her, with the result that they were able to secure a small annuity, which enabled her to be spared from total poverty in her final years.  She died on the 30th January 1888, having been ill with liver cancer for the previous 6 months.

Aird's poetry is very much rooted in her deeply held Christian convictions, and if not especially profound nor particularly powerful, it was, as her obituarist in the Kilmarnock Standard noted, "characterised by a fine religious feeling, and occasional felicity of expression".  To the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, she was "if not brilliant .... a pleasant writer", while the Kilmarnock Herald felt that "Miss Aird's great talent ... was in the production of charming little poetical pieces, suitable to the tastes and capacity of Sabbath School children".  She herself, in some introductory remarks to the 1846 edition of "Home of the Heart", with the modesty which affects most authors, comments that her poems were 'written at a common hearth, by a common hand, moving more frequently to the dictates of circumstance than taste - fostered on no classic grounds, - almost the exclusive fruit of self-culture, and not a little self-denial, - unmeasured by the "clockwork tintinnabulation" of prosody, therefore no spirited distillations, analysed in the refining alembic of orthography".

As a brief, if not entirely representative, of her work, I offer the opening lines from "Statue of Sir James Shaw", which appears in "Heart Histories":


Majestic statue! genius stamps its power,

In lordly dignity and kingly grace,

Upon thy noble form and breathing face,

Revealing all the master-spirit's dower,

That could so mould and picture to the sense

The princely form and mind's benevolence,

And from the rugged block of snowy stone

Warm into life 'Kilmarnock's Whittington'.


Marion Aird's greatest work, however, in the eyes of her contemporaries was the hymn "Had I the Wings of a Dove".  The Kilmarnock Standard felt that "at least one of her pieces is certain to live - the beautiful hymn, 'Had I the Wings of a Dove', which may justly be called a world-wide favourite.  To be the author of a song that is universally sung is a meed of fame that has seldom been attained even by much abler writers".  The Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald noted that this hymn was "familiar as a household word to every Sabbath scholar", the Kilmarnock Herald that "Sabbath school children all over the country know and take delight in singing the words of this beautiful hymn".  Aird herself, in a letter of c.1880 to Colin Rae Brown, a London based poet and a lifelong friend, notes that "it was truly gratifying to learn (lately) that some friends who were travelling in Germany had heard a Princess there playing and singing 'Had I the Wings of a Dove'.  It has now got a world-wide renown and that is something".

Unfortunately, this hymn does not appear in any of the collections of poems, and I have been unable to find it in any of the many hymnbooks that I have looked at.  It cannot have disappeared entirely, and thus my first question is to ask whether anyone out there can supply me with a copy of the words (and music, if appropriate) of "Had I the Wings of a Dove".  It is not, apparently, the same as "Oh for the Wings of a Dove", which appears to have a Classical origin [Mendelssohn].

The second question I wish to pose is not directly related to Marion Aird. Anyone with the name "Robert Close" (streets in Coventry, Billericay and Maida Vale) is destined to have an interest in the names of places and localities, and I have long wondered about the origins of Kadikoi Place. I only recently discovered that Kadiköy is a suburb of Istanbul, on the Asian shore, close to Üsküdar (Florence Nightingale's Scutari). The pub at Kadikoi Place is/was called the Thin Red Line, which also has Crimean War connotations. What the particular connection with Kilmarnock was, if any, I have yet to discover, and any information on this would also be gladly received.

Information on Marion Aird came from a number of sources. The obituaries in the Kilmarnock Standard (4 February 1888), Kilmarnock Herald (3 February 1888) and Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald (3 February 1888) were particular useful. Copies of all four published books can be consulted in the Alexander Wood Memorial Collection in the Local History Library at Ardrossan. My thanks are due, as always, to forbearing friends who endured the telling and retelling of Marion Aird's story, and particularly to David Johnston, who tolerated a ransacking of his collection of hymnbooks.

Rob Close

This article was first published in Ayrshire Notes No. 14 (1998).

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Note concerning Kadikoi Place

From: Hugh McDowall, 31 July, 2002

I have only recently discovered your website, and have found it very interesting. Conratulations!
I refer to the question raised by Rob Close about the origin of the Kilmarnock street-name Kadikoi Place, which he posed in his article on the authoress Marion Aird who lived there in the 19th century. (Ref. Ayrshire Notes No. 14 (1998))

Like him, I too have been intrigued by the origin of the place-name Kadikoi, now, I see, the name of a public house on Bonnyton Road. It was a name that cropped up occasionally in my youth in Kilmarnock, chiefly in conversations between my father and his younger brother, both of whom were brought up in Bonnyton. My father was born in 1894, and his brother in 1901. They did not refer to it as Kadikoi Place, but simply as Kadikoi, as though it were a location rather than a street. Indeed, this is how it is listed in the 1881 census; Marion Aird, authoress, aged 64 years, lived with her 15 years-old servant, Agnes Foden, in Kadikoi No.1, one of 20 households numbering, in total, 90 people at that address.

The Times Atlas of the World, Comprehensive Edition, lists three places with the name Kadikoy, all in Turkey. Two appear to be small towns in European Turkey, and the other is across the Bosphorus, south of Scutari, in Asia Minor. As Rob Close has noted, it was in Scutari that Florence Nightingale set up her hospital during the Crimean War. The Crimean War association is interesting, for there is an Inkerman Place at the start of Bonnyton Road in Kilmarnock, but I do not think the Kadikoi connection is with Turkey.

Several years ago Channel 4 Television screened a series of weekly programmes on the Crimean War. In these they described the extreme difficulties the British faced in supplying their troops, dug in on the high ground south of Sebastopol, from their base at the seaport of Balaklava. To relieve the situation, a British civil engineering contractor offered to build a railway on the long incline up which the supplies had to be transported. This offer was accepted, and the first railway ever built for military purposes was completed in a very short time. The book that accompanied the television programmes showed the route of this railway, which stretched several miles. There was one intermediate stopping place between Balaklava and the front - at a village called Kadikoï. As I recall, the book contained a photograph of this forlorn place.

Why was this place-name chosen for a location in Kilmarnock? Did it have something to do with the fact that the Glasgow & South Western Railway Company established its works at Bonnyton in 1856, immediately after the Crimean War ended? Was the Crimean Kadikoï the camp for the civilian labour that constructed and operated the railway serving Lord Raglan's army? Was the Kilmarnock Kadikoi built by the G&SWR to house its workers? Were some of G&SWR's employees involved with the Crimean railway enterprise? Intriguing questions to which, unfortunately, I have no answers.

I have found mention of Kadikoï in the 13th Edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, in the entry dealing with the Crimean War. I have transcribed in full below the account of the action in the battle of Balaklava, culminating in the epic charge of the Light Brigade celebrated in Tennyson's famous poem, in which it occurs.

"Balaklava - A long line of works on the upland secured the siege corps from interference, and the Balklava lines themselves were strong, but the low Vorontsov ridge between the two was weakly held, and here the Russian commander hoped to sever the line of communications. On the 25th of October Liprandi's corps carried its slight redoubts at the first rush. But the British cavalry stationed at the foot of the upland was situated on their flank, and as the Russian cavalry moved towards Kadikoï, the "Heavy Brigade" under General Scarlett charged home with such effect that Menshikov's troopers only rallied behind their field batteries near Traktir bridge. At the same time some of the Russian squadrons, coming upon the British 93rd regiment outside the Balaklava lines, were completely broken by the steady volleys of the "thin red line." The Light Brigade" of British cavalry, farther north, had hitherto remained inactive, even when the Russians, broken by the "Heavies," fled across their front. The cavalry commander, Lord Lucan, now received orders to prevent the withdrawal of the guns taken by Liprandi. The aide-de-camp who carried the order was killed by the first shell, and the whole question of responsibility for what followed is wrapped in obscurity. Lord Cardigan led the Light Brigade straight at the Russian field batteries, behind which the enemy's squadrons had reformed. From the guns in front, on the Fedukhin heights, and on the captured ridge to their right, the advancing squadrons at once met a deadly converging fire, but the gallant troopers nevertheless reached the guns and cut down the artillerymen. Small parties even charged the cavalry behind, and at least two unbroken squadrons struck out right and left with success, but the combat could only end in one way. The 4th Chasseurs d'Afrique relieved the British left by a dashing charge. The "Heavies" made as if to advance, but came under such a storm of fire that they were withdrawn. By twos and threes the gallant survivors of the "Light Brigade" made their way back. Two-thirds of its numbers were left on the field, and the day closed with the Russians still in possession of the Vorontsov ridge."

The contractors who built the railway for the British army were Peto and Brassey. Here, for your interest, is an extract of what the 13th Edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica has to say about the former.

"PETO, SIR SAMUEL MORTON, Bart. (1809-1889), English contractor. Peto entered into partnership with Edward Ladd Betts (1815-1872), and between 1846 and 1872 Messrs Peto & Betts carried out many large railway contracts at home and abroad, notably the more important portions of the South-Eastern and of the London Chatham & Dover lines, and, in conjunction with Thomas Brassey, the Grand Trunk railway of Canada, and the London, Tilbury & Southend railway. In 1854-1855 Peto and Brassey constructed a railway in the Crimea between Balaklava and the British entrenchments before Sebastopol, charging the British government only the actual out-of-pocket expenses, and for his services in this matter Peto was in 1855 made a baronet. Peto entered parliament as a Liberal in 1847, and, with a few years interval, continued there till 1868, when, his firm having been compelled to suspend payment in the financial crisis of 1866, he was forced to resign his seat, though both Mr Disraeli and Mr Gladstone publicly eulogized his personal character."

Thomas Brassey (1805-1870) was an even more eminent contractor who built railways in Britain, Europe, India, Canada, Australia and South America. He received decorations for his work from the French, Italians and Austrians.

I hope this information helps to shed a little light on the question posed in Rob Close's article.

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