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


[Vol. I, pages 103–113]

[Transcribed from the original by David Courtney McClure.]

[Name of minister omitted]

Situation, Extent, &c

The parish of Ballantrae is situated in the extremity of the county of Ayr, towards the south, [1] and marches with the shire of Wigton on the south and south–east.  It is nearly ten miles square.  It is bounded on the north and north–east by the parish of Colmonell; on the south and south–east by the parishes of New Luce and Inch, in the shire of Wigton; and by the sea on the west and south–west, having an extent of more than ten miles of sea coast.  The shore, excepting for about two miles opposite to the village [104] of Ballantrae, is in general high and rocky, having a tremendous surf or swell beating against it, when the wind blows from the west and north–west.  Opposite to this coast the sea appears land–locked, for a most spacious bay of nearly 25 or 30 leagues diameter is formed by part of the coast of Galloway, the most part of the two counties of Down and Antrim in Ireland, the east coast of Argyleshire, and part of Dumbartonshire, and by the whole stretch of coast along the shire of Ayr for about 80 miles; all this vast extend of coast is easily discernible by the naked eye in a clear day, together with the islands of Sana, Annan, Lamlash, Bute, and the two small islands of Cumbray [all sic].  About four or five leagues north–west from Ballantrae stands the island of Elsay: it is a most beautiful rock of a conical figure, covered on the top with heath and a little grass.  It is not inhabited by any human creature; but afford refuge to an immense number of sea fowls who breed on it, and is stocked with rabbits and a few goats.  It is the property of the Earl of Cassillis; and is rented at £25 Sterling a year, the tenants paying their rent from the feathers of the different sea fowls, from the solan geese that breed on it, and the rabbit skins.  It affords a fine object all round that coast, and a mark for ships either coming into, or going out of the Frith of Clyde.  There is an old ruinous castle on it, about a third part up the rock, said by Campbell, in his Political Survey of Britain, to have been built by Philip II of Spain, but on what authority is not known.  There are four light–houses, one at the new built harbour of Portpatrick, another at the town of Donaghadee, a third on the Mull of Cantyre, and a fourth on the island of Cambray; and it might be of singular uses to the towns of Air, Irvine, and Saltcoats, and the towns on the west of England, if a fifth light–house was erected on a small low [105] island, called the Lady Isle, in the bay of Air.  The shore all along that part of the coast is flat and sandy; the bay is deep, and the entrance into the harbours strait and difficult.

Surface, Soil, &c

The land in this parish rises with a gradual slop [sic] from the shore to the tops of the mountains, which form part of that extensive range of hills that stretches across the south of Scotland, almost from the Irish sea to theFrith of Forth beyond Edinburgh.  Near the shore the soil in general is a light, dry, hazle [sic] mould, upon a gravel bottom, and for the most part but thin.  The surface is much diversified with heights and hollows, intersected with a great number of little streams of water descending from the hills.  All beyond the mountains is a soft mossy ground covered with heath, and a thin long grass called ling by the country people.  Even below the mountains, heath is the prevailing appearance, excepting where the ground has been in tillage, or immediately upon the shore, where there is some very fine natural grass.  The ground is in general adapted to the breeding and feeding of black cattle and sheep, and is universally applied to that purpose, excepting the grain which the inhabitants raise for their own use.

Population and condition of the People

There are 770 in the parish, and of these about 300 are in the village.  The annual number of births is 18.  The number of deaths cannot be so well ascertained, as it is but of late years that a register of them was kept at all, and even that not accurately, and the marriages still less.  The marriages, as would be expected, from the situation and habits of life of the people in the country, are, in general, prolific.  Instances are to be met with of a woman bearing fourteen children to one husband.  The average of births to each marriage may be taken at six.  The inhabitants are lodged [106] in about 190 dwelling houses, which is a little more than 4 persons to each house.  One hundred and thirteen of the houses are in what is called the country; the other 77 make up the village or town of Ballantrae.  The inhabitants of both town and country enjoy the comforts of society, in proportion to their circumstances, in a superior degree to others in similar conditions of life.  These satisfactions are owing to various causes, all contributing their mite to render them healthy, easy, and contented, and, in general, chearful [sic].

Climate, Diseases, &c

Their local situation, a high, open, and dry soil, with upwards of 10 miles of sea coast, exposed to the salubrious breezed of the western ocean, together with their rural employments, renders the inhabitants uncommonly healthy.  Epidemical distempers, excepting the common disorders incident to children, are unknown.  Deaths, except from particular accidents, are confined to infancy and old age.  There are a greater number to be met with in this parish dying above 80 years of age than in most others.  It is to be lamented that innoculation [sic] for the small–pox is not more practised.  There are very few families through the country part of the parish, but what have a piece of ground along with their house and yard, that enable them to keep one or more cows, and two or three sheep.  The young of their cows, when a year old, sells for 30s or 50s which pays two–thirds of their rent.  With the produce of their little piece of ground, furnishing bread and potatoes, and the milk of a cow, together with their own work, they are enabled to live comfortably, to clothe and educate their children decently, and to assist in setting them out in the world.  The inhabitants of the village, which lies close upon the shore, enjoy advantages peculiar to their situation.


Rent, Produce, &c

The valued rent of the parish is £3551 1s 6d Scots.  It is believed that the real rent, including fisheries, is not much short of £2000 Sterling.  The rent of arable land is from one to two guineas an acre, and of pasture, in its natural state, 10s and 12s an acre.  The farms are of very unequal rent and extent, being from £10 to £115 a year.  About 12,000 sheep, 3000 black cattle, a few scores of goats, and perhaps 200 horses, are kept in the parish; and 600 or 800 acres of the ground may be employed in tillage.  Almost the only crop is oats, with an acre or two of barley to a family, some pease, and generally as many potatoes as serve the family twice a day for 7 or 8 months in the year.  few or no cottagers are now employed by the farmers of this parish in agriculture, nor have been for a long while past.  A cottager's benefit, (as it is called) is commonly from £10 to £15 a year; the wages of a hired servant is from £6 to £7 a year.  Farmers who have grazing farms, upon which they do not reside themselves, are obliged to employ cottagers to take care of the stock upon them; and it is considered as so desirable a situation, that those farmers who have occasion for married herds to take care of their stock, have it generally in their power to make a choice.  The black cattle are of a small handsome kind: The cows, when fattened, weigh from 18 to 27 stone.  The sheep, when killed of the common open pasture, at 2 and 3 years old, weigh from 30 to 50 lb.  The chief staple commodity is raising young cattle and sheep.  The young cattle are for the most part sold to the grazier when half sums, that is, when two years and a half old, and are changed from hand to hand till they are four or five years old, whin they are sent up to St. Faith and Hampton fairs in England, and make part of what are called the fine Scots galloways.  The sheep are sold at two and three years old, to supply the [108] demands of the mercantile and manufacturing towns through Lanark, Renfrew, and Airshires.

The wool of the sheep on those farms that lie between the tops of the mountains and the sea is generally very good, and of the short carding wool; what is beyond them is more coarse and shaggy.  It sells from 7s 6d to 10s 6d per stone of 17 lb Scots weight, equal to 25½ lb English weight; the average price through the whole being 9s for 25½ lb which is nearly 4¼ per lb.  This shews the propriety of the farmers paying more attention to their wool than is generally done; and it is believed that there are few situations more favourable to an improvement in that article than the first mentioned class of farms in this parish.  Both the soil and the climate are favourable.  The soil is light, dry, and kindly, affording firm footing, a dry bed, and proper nourishment to the sheep; the cool refreshing breezed from the sea during the summer, prevent the bad effects of immoderate heat upon the new shorn wool; and the ground during the winter season is very seldom entirely covered with snow above two days together.  If the farmers would take the trouble to introduce, from time to time, some good wooled [sic] rams, and gradually cut off any coarse wooled ewes that may be in their flocks, it is possible to improve their wool to such a degree, as that instead of the very best of it being now sold at 10s 0d it might be sold at nearly three times the price.  This would nearly double the profits of their sheep on the whole, and at almost no trouble or expence; and it is perhaps the most beneficial of all improvements that they ever have it in their power to make upon their farms.



Till of late years there were few roads through the shire of Air that were barely passable.  About the year 1774 an act of Parliament was obtained, commuting the statute labour for an annual payment, at the rate of 25s for every £100 Scots of valued rent.  Through the interior, more populous, and arable parts of the country the roads were soon made; and by the assistance of government and a toll, one good road has been made through this parish: But it is little more than a road of communication.  The parish wants cross roads in different directions, in order to enable them to lead lime in carts, of which there is plenty within half a mile of the extremity of the parish: It is sold at the moderate price of 7½d a boll or 2 Winchester bushels, and 70 or 80 of these bolls are found perfectly sufficient for an acre of this thin, light, dry soil.  Some small experiments have been made in liming, which have succeeded to the utmost expectation.  There are perhaps from 10 to 12,000 acres of land in the parish that could be limed, and made fit for sock and scythe; and the successful attempts of individuals, it is to be hoped, will in time encourage the generality to follow the example.


A pretty considerable river, named Ardstinchar, runs for about 25 miles through the country, and empties itself into the sea at the village of Ballantrae; but it is rapid and shallow, and can only admit of small boats.  At the mouth of this river there is a considerable salmon fishery, which yields a rent of above £80 a year.  The salmon are thought as good as any in Scotland, and sell upon the spot at 1½ d [fraction indistinct] the lb, and it is but very lately they were more than 1d.  About 20 years ago there were great shoals of excellent herrings that came upon the coast at the end of harvest and beginning of winter, since that time they appear only in [110] the spring, about a league off; and though they are then far from being food, they are sold to the country people in the neighbourhood from 20d to 2s a hundred.  There were formerly great quantities of haddocks and whitings at the same season, but for a few years past the prevailing fishery is cod, with some skate and ling.  The cod and ling is sold from 4d or 6d; the skate from 1d to 1s a piece, according to their size and qualities; smaller fish, as haddocks, &c from 6d to 1s a dozen.

Price of Provisions

Though the price of provisions is greatly increased within these 20 years, it cannot yet be said to be high.  Beef, mutton, lamb, and pork, (of which last there is a great deal more reared than used in the parish) formerly sold at 2s or 3s a stone, now sells at 3s or 4s a stone; hens 6d; chickens 2d; eggs 2d a dozen; skimmed milk cheese 4s a stone, Scots weight (24 oz to the lb); butter 10s 8d ditto, of which there is not a great deal sold, as the practice of smearing their sheep with tar and butter before the winter sets in universally prevails over all the country.


The living of Ballantrae is £500 Scots of money and three chalders of victual, with a house and glebe worth £12 or £14 Sterling yearly.  The present incumbent was ordained in 1771, and is the third minister from the Revolution.  His two predecessors each enjoyed the office about 40 years.  He is married, and has a son and a daughter.  The church is at the north–west extremity of the parish, in the village of Ballantrae, it was built in 1604, and the manse in 1736, and the repairs upon the manse and offices since that time has cost the heritors little more than £20 Sterling.



There is an excellent establishment of a free school at Ballantrae, for educating the poor.  A native of the parish, about 40 or 50 years ago, left £400, the interest of which sum was appointed to run on, till there was a sufficient sum to build a school–house, and a dwelling–house for the master, and from henceforward to pay the schoolmaster; and whoever should be appointed to the office, was to be bound to keep and leave the school and house in repair.  Accordingly a good house was built, and a large garden set off.  The patron of the parish is patron of the school; and by the deed he is entitled to present two–thirds of the scholars, and the kirk–session the other third.  The master of this school is also chosen parish schoolmaster, the salary of which is about £6 Sterling a year: he is also the session clerk and precentor for the time.  All which offices, and the perquisites of them, together with the value of the house and garden, makes the place worth rather more than £40 Sterling yearly.  The consequence of this is, that there is generally a well qualified schoolmaster, who is able to teach the languages, and the several branches of education fitting for business.  From the nature of the school, and its situation in a country place, the number of the scholars varies according to the season of the year.  In summer, when many of the poor scholars and country lads retire to herding and laborious work, the number of scholars do not exceed 25 or 30.  In winter there are frequently upwards of 50 attending the school.


The only ruins within the parish is the remains of an old church at the north–east extremity of the parish; it seems to have been formerly the parish church, and deserted for the present one, as being more commodious for the inhabitants; it is called Kirkcudbright.  And a large [112] old castle or dwelling adjoining to the village, and situated upon a high rock; it is now within the minister's grass glebe.  About a century ago it belonged to the Lords of Bargeny.  There are no vestiges about it to discover when it was built, or by whom inhabited.  The minister has been told, that the present Lord Hailes takes notice of it in some of his tracts upon antiquities.

Miscellaneous Observations

The inhabitants labour under disadvantages.  Their situation might be meliorated.  For the common occasions of life there are weavers, tailors, shoemakers, &c.  There is no manufactures in the parish to increase the capital stock and promote circulation.  Manufactures in carpeting, stockings, bonnets, and sheep skins might probably be established with advantage.  They have plenty of peat and turf for fuel; but coals are at the distance of 15 or 16 miles by land, and when brought by sea are subject to a duty of 3s 4d a ton.  The circumstances of the people have been increasing since the year 1782.  That season of scarcity, instead of affecting them in the manner it did other parts of Scotland, rather tended to better them.  There was an excessive growth of grass in the summer of that year, and the crops in this parish and to the southward are in general early.  That year they were reaped before the frost and the snow set in.  The great plenty of hay made the cattle sell to advantage, and the almost entire loss of the crops in the inland counties, occasioned the inhabitants of these counties to come to the south and west for seed for the ensuing season.  This gave them an idea of a corn trade, which, together with the increasing demand for live cattle since that period, and consequent rise in their price, has made a great alteration for the better in the farmers circumstances, and given a spirit of [113] improvement and demand for farms in a tenfold degree to what it used to be.

The shore abound with plenty of fine broad leaved rich sea–weed or wreck [sic] for manure; but there is very little of it used for kelp on the coast of this parish.  The animals are those common to the west of Scotland, hares, foxes, rabbits, polecats, wild cats, grouse, partridges, plovers, wild ducks, and wild geese.  The migratory kind observed are the woodcock, cuckoo, starling, swallow, &c.  Among the migratory animals may be mentioned the sailfish, which appears upon this coast the first or second week of June, and continues for three or four weeks.  They measure from 20 to 30 feet long.  The people of the village kill them with harpoons for the oil, which is made of the liver.  The liver of a good fish will yield from 40 to 50 gallons of oil, which they sell to tanners, &c, and use part of it themselves to burn in place of candles.

There are several mineral springs in the parish, which have been found beneficial in scorbutic and other cutaneous diseases, and in complaints of the stomach arising from acidity and want of digestion.

There is no person in the parish connected with the law, not even a constable of sheriff's officer, nor has there been any in the memory of the oldest inhabitant.  There is no justice of peace in the parish, nor within many miles of it; and the sheriff's court is at the distance of 36 miles.  There is no surgeon or physician within a dozen miles, and it is doubtful whether half a dozen such parishes would give bread to one.

[1]           Both the parish of Ballantrae, and the neighbouring parish of Colmonell, were originally connected with the presbytery of Ayr, and synod of Glasgow and Ayr; but were disjoined a little time after the Revolution, on account of their great distance from the seat of Presbytery, and annexed to the presbytery of Stranraer and synod of Galloway.  The parish takes its name from the village of Ballantrae, which is evidently of Gaelic original [sic], and signifies, in that language, the town upon or above the shore; alluding to its situation on a gentle ascent immediately from the shore: And this may be the reason why, though only a village, it always obtains the name of “town of Ballantrae,” while other villages through the country, not in similar situations, are generally called Clachans.



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