Seagate castle, Irvine
Maryborough salt pan houses
weavers' cottages in Crosshill


Culzean coach house
Return to Home page Go to About page Go to list of Articles Go to Bibliography Go to Links page Go to illustrated catalogue of Ayrshire milestones Go to Research Postings Search this site

Copyright notice:  Links to this site are welcomed.  However none of the material on the site may be duplicated in any form.  The copyright of the articles is the property of the authors.  Copyright of the web pages is the property of David McClure.

Old Statistical Account


[Transcribed from the original by David Courtney McClure.]

[Vol. VII, pages 42–51]

(County of Ayr, Presbytery of Irvine, Synod of Glasgow and Ayr.)

By the Reverend Mr John Duncan.

Name, Situation, and Extent

This parish takes its name from a small promontory which terminates in a ridge of romantic rocks running into the sea, about a mile and a half from the town of Saltcoats.  It probably obtained the well known prefix Ard from its conspicuous situation, having the sea on one side, and flat fields on the other; or from the rank of the ancient proprietors, who are said to have had extensive possessions in this country.  It is situated about 18 statute miles from the town of Ayr, and six miles from Irvine.  The different extensions and divisions of the parish are very irregular.  The medium length, from north to south, is six miles or thereby; its greatest breadth about 5, and its least does not exceed three miles.

Surface and Soil

The surface of the parish is a mixture of hilly and flat country, in most places fit for the plough, in others only for pasture.  Though more than nine–tenths of it be arable, and capable of high improvement, yet the far greater part even of the best lands remains in pasture.  [43] Betwixt the Castle of Ardrossan and the limits of the parish, on the east, is a beautiful inclined plane, mostly of very good ground.  Towards the west, the hills are nearer the sea.  About two miles from the coast, a ridge of small hills bound the prospect.  The tops of some of them are planted with large clumps of forest trees, which have a very pleasing effect.  Beyond these the surface is irregular; in some places coarse and marshy; in others dry, fruitful, and pleasant.  The soil is various.  Betwixt the point of Ardrossan and town of Saltcoats, grass and clover grow spontaneously within a very little of flood–mark.  The sand is soon succeeded by a this layer of earth, on a pebbley [sic] bottom.  A little farther from the shore, it is mostly a loamy earth, with a mixture of sand.  On the north–east and north sides of the parish, the soil is, in general, a strong deep clay, capable of bearing great crops when well drained and manured, but apt to produce only bent and other coarse grass when it is neglected.


Though the soil of this parish be, in general, capable of very high improvement; yet, in many places, the state of agriculture, compared with that of other parishes in the same country, is much behind.  Its present state, however, compared with that in the remembrance of some old men, shows that the farmers have not been altogether idle or ignorant.  Forty, even thirty years ago, the land was almost in a state of nature, very low rented, and the parish almost destitute of inclosures.  At that time farmers had very few inducements to ingenuity and activity.  Towns and villages in the neighbourhood were very small, compared to what they are at present; consequently, the consumpt [sic] of the produce much less, and the price of vivres [sic] not above the half, in many instances not above the third of what they now bring.  [44] Low as these were, Ireland was able often to undersell them in the common necessaries of life, meal, butter, cheese, butcher meat, biscuit, &c.

Roads, &c

Besides the want of inclosures, the want of roads may be justly reckoned a great bar to improvements of every kind.  It was not till the year 1779 that a turnpike road was in the whole parish.  At present, all these put together do not much exceed five miles.  The other roads to church and market, to lime and coal, in the winter, and even in a wet summer, are almost impassable.  Besides, so long as the present system of farming was unknown or discredited in this country, labour in the fields was considered as mere drudgery, scarcely fit to procure a decent subsistence.  The sons of farmers, rather than follow the profession of their forefathers, choose to be bred to the sea; and the success of a few fortunate adventurers was sufficient to draw numbers to that line.  Their parents were not averse to the choice.  Hearing of rise of the rents in their neighbourhood, dreading the same rise in their own farms, and insensible to the advantages arising from new improvements, they looked upon bankruptcy and beggary as the certain consequences of continuing farmers.  Such are the probable causes why the state of agriculture is so much behind in this parish.  But, of late years, matters in this respect have taken a very favourable turn, owing, in a great measure, to the laudable example of the residing heritors, gentlemen, and clergy in the neighbourhood, and a few spirited individuals who have made farming their study.  Not only the inclosures about the town of Saltcoats, but some farms in the parish, are making rapid progress to a high state of improvement.  In providing the means, Nature has indeed been very liberal.  The shore abounds with sea–weed, a manure of the best kind for the [45] adjacent soil, particularly for raising barley crops.  The interior part of the parish has, in many places, great abundance of lime and coal, which is wrought at a moderate rate.  With such advantages, and a spirit of ingenuity and application, which is daily gaining ground, there is every reason to hope for a vast increase to the farmer, the proprietor, and the public.

Patron, Heritors

The Earl of Eglintoune is patron and proprietor of far the greatest part of the parish.  The valuation of the whole amounts to £2970 of which his Lordship's property makes £2014 10s.  The remaining part of the parish belongs to four residing, and three non–residing heritors.

Ecclesiastical State

The living has never been augmented since 1650, but, on the contrary, has suffered several dilapidations.  It is, communibus annis, about £75 Sterling, exclusive of manse and glebe.  The parish–church is a neat, plain edifice, well finished, and large.  It is situated in the west end of the town of Saltcoats.  The present manse is in a ruinous state, but a plan is agreed on for a new one, to be built soon.  The glebe and garden contain five acres one rood of good ground.


The annual salary paid to the schoolmaster by the parish is £6 3s 4d Sterling.  His other emoluments and fees are very low.  Forty–two years ago, however, the present incumbent accepted this office, after having received a college education, capable of teaching the languages, and the practical parts of geometry, trigonometry, and navigation, in the last of which he has been very successful.  It is much to be regretted, that parish schools must, in all probability, soon [46] be occupied by men of no literature, and that an advantage which Scotland has long had over all other nations should be allowed to dwindle away for want of support.  The parish school–house of Ardrossan is almost in ruins, but about to be rebuilt.  It was the gift of the late Earl of Eglintoune, with a garden to the master.


The country part of the parish, especially towards the coast, is thinly inhabited.  Farms of considerable extent are only used for pasture, and some of them rented by persons who reside at a distance.  The farm–houses which are inhabited amount to 31, (besides 2 or 3 that are uninhabited).  These are occupied by 219 persons, old and young, viz. 31 fathers, heads of families, 29 wives and widows, 23 sons above the age of 16 years, 24 below that age, 27 daughters above the age of 16 years, 26 below that age, 31 male and 28 female servants of different ages.  There are besides, in the country part of the parish, a few subtenants, herds, and cottagers, whose families amount to 105 persons, viz. 20 fathers, heads of families, 23 wives and widows, 4 sons above the age of 16 years, 20 below that age, 13 daughters above 16 years, 22 below that age, besides 3 female servants.  Total amount of the country part of the parish, 324 persons, old and young.


On that part of the town of Saltcoats which stands in the parish of Ardrossan, there are 230 houses, the annual rent of which is computed at £740.  These are occupied by 216 fathers, heads of families, 254 wives and widows, 150 sons above the age of 16 years, 153 below that age, 176 daughters above the age of 16 years, 187 below that age, 24 journeymen and apprentices, who only occasionally reside in the parish, and 34 female servants, making in whole 1194 [47] persons.  This, added to the number in the country, makes the whole amount to 1518 persons.  The average number of births for 10 years is annually 37, deaths 38, marriages 14.  Those who are baptised by dissenting ministers, and those who die at sea, are not included.  The number of dissenters is uncertain.


The inhabitants of Saltcoats are, in general, sober and industrious.  Perhaps no sea–port town in Scotland is more so.  In the whole parish of Ardrossan there are only five public–houses, most of which are indifferently frequented, and none licensed to deal in foreign liquors.  Drunken riots happen very rarely even among the lower orders of the people.  In sobriety and regularity, the better sort are exemplary.


The Ardrossan side of the town of Saltcoats is chiefly occupied by sailors, ship–carpenters, and weavers. [1]   Of the last, besides those employed in working the staples of the country, near 90 are employed in the silk and cotton branches by the Glasgow and Paisley manufacturers.  These have not increased so much as was at first expected.  They have all the inconveniencies [sic] of  distance from the chief seats of manufacture: They are always the first who feel the disadvantages arising from a stagnation of trade, and the last who are benefited by its revival.  A few shoes are made here for exportation.


Some hill tops in the parish are evidently [48] artificial, and very probably contain the remains of the chiefs who fell in battle at the time the Danes and Norwegians [2] [49] afflicted this coast with their ravages.  From one of these mounds, on the top of a small hill near Boydston, bones were lately dug up.

Price of Labour and Provisions

The wages given to domestic servants vary, according to their age, strength, and abilities.  A good plowman receives £4 Sterling; a boy capable of driving a plough or cart, a guinea; female servants from 15s to 35s for half a year's service.  A journeyman mason receives 22d per day in Summer, 20d in Winter; a wright 1s 6d; a ship's carpenter 2s; common labourers from 16d to 1s a day.  There being no market day, or market place, the supply and price of provisions are variable.  The prices are pretty much regulated by the next market town (Irvine), though in general higher.  Great quantities of meal and oats are sometimes imported from the coast of Galloway.  This renders these commodities sometimes cheaper here than in inland towns; but in years of scarcity, such importation ceases, they must be dearer.  In the Winter season, rabbits are sold without the skin at 7d a pair.  In is singular, that in a country so populous and close by the sea, none think of making fishing a business, especially as fish are to be found in great quantities on the coast of Arran, and could never fail of finding a ready market.  The inhabitants of Ayr long laboured under the same inconveniency, till a colony of fishermen from the North settled in that place.  In the course of a few years these have enriched themselves, and continue to supply the town and neighbourhood of Ayr at a moderate rate.  Saltcoats is a still more likely place for a colony of the same profession to succeed; [50] for besides that the country adjacent is equally, perhaps more populous, it is much nearer large towns and villages; Irvine, Stewartown, Kilbarchan, Lochwinnoch, Johnston, Paisley, &c.


The number of poor have greatly increased of late years.  They have as yet no other source of supply than voluntary contributions; and consequently, the stock formerly made up of the overplus of this is rapidly upon the decline.  In the year 1741, five stated pensioners received 5s per month; in 1751, thirteen received 14s 2d; in 1761, twelve received 14s 11d; in 1771, eleven received 14s 6d; in 1781, eleven received 15s 6d; in 1791, the monthly pensions in whole 50s.  Besides the stated pensioners, some poor receive occasionally small sums to aid them in paying house rents.  Poor children are taught to read.


To render the trade of Saltcoats regular, permanent, and productive; to maintain good order and comfort to the inhabitants; and to invite strangers to settle in a place so healthful and pleasant, various improvements, of no very costly nature, are absolutely necessary, and without which there is much reason to fear its decline.  The present Harbour is by far too small for the number of ships, and might at no great expence be made one of the best of its size in Britain. [3]   There is no magistracy, or any established police in Saltcoats, though the number of inhabitants exceeds 2200 persons; and of consequence, the virtuous and inoffensive part of the community must frequently pocket injuries, because their poverty puts it out of their power to see redress in a distant and expensive court.  Vagrants and [51] sturdy beggars may pilfer and oppress almost with impunity: in no place are them more clamorous and impertinent.  Last winter, a murder was committed on the body of a poor woman, who resided in town.  The horrid deed was perpetrated in the fields, at no great distance.  After the discovery, the supposed murderer with the greatest composure returned to town, where he lodged all night, and effected his escape next day, before the justices could begin a precognition; and every attempt since that time to apprehend him has proved fruitless.

Were the town of Saltcoats and environs erected into a corporation, as Port–Glasgow lately was, besides the suppression of small crimes, it would no longer give shelter to great ones.  Men of wealth, virtue, and ability would be happy to exert themselves for the common good; the inhabitants in general would be taught to respect, and find themselves happy, under lawful authority; and in proportion as the town increases in riches and population, it would also increase in virtue and respectability.


[1]           For a more particular account of the trade of Saltcoats, see the statistical account of Stevenston by the Reverend James Wodrow.  In that parish the harbour, and nearly one half of the town are situated.

[2]           Two hills are remarkable for a tradition in the country concerning them.  The first is situated on the northern extremity of the parish, called Knockgeorgan.  It is accessible only on one side; and, from its central situation, there is a most extensive prospect of the inland country, the Frith of Clyde, and Western isles.  The vestiges of an ancient camp are very easily traced on this hill, particularly the ramparts and gateways, and in the middle an artificial mound, from whence in times of distress, or when a Danish fleet was seen advancing towards the shore, signals of alarm were made.  The other is on the eastern extremity of the same ridge of hills, called Round–hill, the top of which is entirely a piece of art, 28 yards in length, and 18 yards broad, and seems to have been constructed for a similar purpose with the former.  From these two hills, by smoke in the day, and by flame at night, signals were communicated from hill to hill till the whole inland country was alarmed.  That hill tops, in convenient situations, were used for this purpose, is evident often from their names.  For example, Lowdown, situated on the extremity of Ayrshire to the east, signifies the Hill of flame.  Betwixt Round–hill and Lowdown the country is almost a plain upwards of 20 miles.  Not far from Round–hill is a small farm, called Tower–lodge, where it is said the centinel [sic] who had this charge constantly resided.  It was originally a gift of the Crown, and to this day pays no cess, teind, or any other public burden.

             The Castle of Ardrossan is of unknown antiquity, and seems, from what is full standing, to have been originally a huge building.  Its walls were entire when Cromwell visited this part of the country, and fixed his head quarters at the county town.  The usurper had rendered himself very unpopular by occupying the church of Ayr as an armoury; and, to conciliate the minds of the people to his measures, he beautified the town, by building the fort and rampaart, which are yet standing.  For this purpose, he threw down the walls of the Castle of Ardrossan, and carried the stones in boats over the sea, so little were quarries known in these days, in which the county of Ayr almost every where abounds!  The Earl of Eglintoune at that time resided in the small island of Cumbray [sic], and must have seen with much pain a place of such strength and beauty belonging to him laid in ruins.  After the restoration, the fort of Ayr [49] and ground about, were granted to this noble family in reward for their loyalty, and by way of compensation for the demolition of the Castle of Ardrossan.

[3]           See Statistical Account of Stevenston.





back to top
Return to Home page Go to About page Go to list of Articles Go to Bibliography Go to Links page Go to illustrated catalogue of Ayrshire milestones Go to Research Postings Search this site