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


Culzean coach house
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Old Statistical Account


[Transcribed from the original by David Courtney McClure.]

[Vol. II, pages 57–70]

(County of Ayr.)

By the Rev. Mr James Mochrie

Origin of the Name

Colmonell or Calmonell, is presumed to be of Gaelic derivation, as the names of many places in this parish undoubtedly are. [1]   Some, who pretend to knowledge in that language, alledge [sic] the word signifies a turtle dove, or wood pigeon, with which, there is reason to believe, the parish formerly abounded, and still many of these birds harbour in woods on the banks of the river Stinchiar [sic].  Or, if conjecture might take place where no certainty can be obtained, the name may be derived from St Coleman, one of the popish saints.  There is a parish in the presbytery of Kintyre, of nearly the same name, Kilcolmonell; where, as the Gaelic language is better understood, more certain information, as to the etymology and signification of the name, may perhaps be obtained.


Situation and Extent

The parish is situated in that district of the county of Ayr called Carrick.  At the first settlement of presbyteries in Scotland, it was proposed, according to Calderwood's history, to make it the seat of a presbytery; but this not taking place, it was first placed in the presbytery of Ayr, and synod of Glasgow and Ayr; but was afterwards annexed to the presbytery of Stranraer, and synod of Galloway, united to which it now remains.  As Stranraer is very distant, and the presbytery of Ayr, perhaps, at present, too numerous a body, the erection of a new presbytery in Carrick, for the seat of which Girvan or Dailly would be pretty centrical [sic] and commodious, has been suggested.  It was originally of uncommon large extent; but when the parish of Barr was erected, all the lands of Ardmillan, extending three miles along the shore, and about two miles inland, were disjoined from Colmonell, and annexed to Girvan.  A very large parish, however, still remains; its greatest length from west to east, being about fourteen computed miles, and its average breadth about six.

Surface, Soil, and Climate

The surface varies in different parts of the parish.  from the sea, towards the inland parts of the country, it is very hilly for about four miles.  The rest of the parish, though more elevated above the level of the sea, is flat.  The soil is in general thin and light, seldom above the ordinary depth of a plough furrow, mostly upon a tilly bottom, and pretty much encumbered with stones.  The flat land, however, upon the sides of the river, is a loamy soil, mixed with sand of a good depth, and particularly well calculated for fruit trees.  There are seven gardens, or orchards in the parish, all of whom produce apples, pears, plumbs, cherries, and the small fruits in the greatest perfection.  In regard to climate, there are few places in Ayrshire, or in the south west [59] of Scotland, where the air is milder or more wholesome than in the village of Colmonell, and all along the banks of the Stinchar.  The weary and impatient traveller, chilled and benumbed with the pinching cold he has experienced on the adjacent mountains, feels with peculiar pleasure, the genial warmth of the valley into which he descends.  The inhabitants, in general, are not only long lived, but healthy in their old age.  There are a good number upwards of 80, now alive; among whom, there is a woman in the 98 year [sic] of her age, who reaped corn last harvest, and a man about 90, who mowed hay.


Stinchiar is the principal river in the parish.  It has its source in the parish of Barr, about twelve miles above the village of Colmonell.  Its water is most clear and transparent, so that a fish lying at six or eight feet deep in it, can be distinctly seen from its banks.  It produces salmon and trout; but the quantity caught is only sufficient for the consumption of the inhabitants.  Several streams or rivulets, fall into the Stinchiar, particularly the Asshill, the Dusk, the Muick, and the Feoch.


It is universally believed, from traditional authority, that, in former times, there was a continued wood from Knockdolian hill, to the kirk of Barr, and extent of ten miles: and it may be stated, as an additional proof in support of that idea, that, in mossy grounds, large oak trees are often found in that part of the country.  There is also still a great deal of wood in the neighbourhood.  The banks of the Stinchiar are adorned with natural woods, almost the whole length of its passage thro' the parish.  There is also much wood upon the Muick; and for an extent of three miles at least, upon the Dusk.  The timber growing in these woods, is oak, ash, elm, birch; and there are also [60] great quantities of hazle nuts, wild strawberries, and wild apples in them.  These trees grow naturally on banks and steep grounds, which could be turned to any other purpose equally profitable.  The price of wood here twenty or thirty years ago, was a mere trifle, as there was then very little consumption for it in the country, and no good roads to convey it to other places; but now it gives a better price.  Good oak and ash, will fetch from 1s 6d to 2s per cubical foot.  The home consumption is greatly increased, by the building of better houses, and by better implements of husbandry, particularly carts, of which, thirty years ago, there were only two in the parish, but there is scarcely a farmer who has not one, two, three, and some even more in his possession.


Carleton hill rises with a very steep ascent and is situated so near the sea, on the bay of that name, that at full tide, there is little more than room for the traveller to pass, without being in danger from the rocks that threaten to tumble upon him.  It rises 518 yards above the level of the sea.  Knockdaw and Knocknormon are equally high, but being farther removed from the shore, and standing near more elevated grounds, they do not so much strike the eye of the traveller.  But the most remarkable is Knockdolian, whose height is 650 yards above the level of the sea; and as it rises in a conical shape, it is both a most beautiful object to the traveller by land, and of singular service, as a conspicuous land–mark, to vessels at sea, when they enter to Firth of Clyde.

Number of Farms, &c

The lowest rent paid for any farm in the parish, is £7; the highest about £200.

The number of farms may amount to


of ploughs (chiefly of the light Scottish sort)


The [61] number of horses


of black cattle


of sheep



The wool is in general coarse, the carcase [sic] being principally attended to.  Upon an average it takes about 12 fleeces to the stone, which sells at from 10s to 12s.  Little or no attention is given to have sheep with fine wool, thought there are some in the district.

To the north of the Stinchiar, and along the shore, there is a great deal of land fir for fattening both sheep and black cattle, and to that use several farmers appropriate their ground.  But the breeding of cattle is a more general object in this part of the country.  It is supposed, that nearly one fifth part of the parish is arable land, or capable of being made so.  Agriculture, however, has been less attended to, as within these twenty or thirty years, the price of sheep and black cattle has been more than doubled, whereas the value of corn has continued nearly the same.  Such encouragement also is given to importation of Irish grain, as tends greatly to depress the husbandry of this neighbourhood.


The valued rent of the parish is £5945 Scots; the real about £3000 Sterling.  Within these twenty years past, the rent has been doubled, almost universally, and in some instances, more than trebled.  A farm in the vicinity of the village of Colmonell, paid, twenty years ago, £25 sterling.  The possessor, at the expiry of his lease, went out a beggar.  It was let on a new lease at £80 sterling, and is evidently now a lucrative bargain.  It was too large for the former tenant to manage with propriety.  His successor made several subsetts [sic], but reserved to himself a good portion of the land, with a very small share of the rent.  All his subtenants have made [62] money upon their respective possessions.  This is mentioned to prove the hazard of putting too much improveable [sic] land, in the hands of one person.  The rent per acre varies; but in the near neighbourhood of the village, there are some single acres let to tradesmen, from 20s to 40s per acre.


Oats, pease, bear, or barley, and potatoes, are in general the crops in the parish.  Of oats there is usually given from seven to eight Winchester bushels per Scots acre of seed, and the crop yields, from three to four returns on ordinary land.  But when the ground has been rested for some years, and enriched with dung and lime, from six to nine returns may be expected.  The oats in the fertile parts of the country, will yield from eight to nine stone of meal per boll.  But the oats, in the upper or muir grounds, which includes by far the greatest part of the parish, is of a much inferior quality.  The boll will not yield above six stone of meal and seldom above three seeds are reaped.  In these hilly grounds, little bear is sown, or pease; but some rye, which answers much better than any other crop.  Where the land is in any tolerable good heart, four bushels of barley is reckoned sufficient seed for an acre.  Of common bear a larger allowance is requisite.  The barley will weigh from forty–eight to fifty pound per bushel.  The common bear weighs less, by eight, ten or twelve pounds.  The season for sowing corn and pease, is any time in the month of April, when the ground is dry, and in proper condition to receive the seed: that of bear and barley about Whitsunday.  Harvest usually commences about the middle of August; and is generally over by the end of September.  In 1782, when much damage was sustained in other places by an early frost, the crops upon Stinchiar were generally cut down before it appeared.  Great quantities of potatoes are raised in the parish, and answer very well, even in the wildest parts, where other [63] crops do not.  They are the chief means of subsistence to the poorest classes of people, for at least three quarters of the year.  No one who has land in his possession, refuses a potatoe [sic] rigg to a poor person; and very often they have both land and dung given them, for nothing.  They have lately got into the method of setting potatoes with the plough.  The ground is plowed [sic] twice or thrice, and perfectly cleaned of weeds: It is then dunged, the dung is plowed in, and the land is harrowed.  The plowman then begins at one side of the field, and makes a furrow.  A number of people follow him dropping in the seed, so that the row is set as soon as the furrow is drawn.  As he returns with the plough, he covers the potatoes with a light furrow, and follows the same plan, till the whole field is gone over.  The seed potatoes are set at six or eight inches, and the rows are placed at three feet distance from each other.  To dung the whole field is judged better for the land, and for the crop that is to follow, than to lay the dung only in the furrow, when the potatoes are set.  Besides the work is much more expeditiously carried on.  The distance of the row admits a horse and plow to lay up the earth to the potatoes, so often as may be necessary.  A crop of wheat has been tried after the potatoes set in this manner, and has turned out very well.

The crops produced in the parish, are of late years, more than sufficient for the maintenance of the inhabitants.  The towns of Girvan and Ballantrae, have received the surplus.  It is only of late years, that the farmers have had any encouragement to raise more grain than was necessary for the consumption of the neighbourhood; remote from any good market, and no cart road by which it could be conveyed to a distance.


While the making and repairing of roads depended only upon the statute–labour, nothing to purpose either was, or could be, done in this part of the country.  An [64] act was therefore applied for, and obtained, to convert the statute–labour into money.  The conversion is at the rate of 25 shillings sterling for each £100 Scots of valued rent.  In the act, the several roads that were judged most necessary, were described: One by the shore from Girvan to Ballantrae, and thence to the confines of the county, by Glenap.  This one is already formed, and has lately received some improvements; but there are still some arduous and difficult pulls in it, which are hardly to be avoided.  The other from Girvan, by the village of Colmonell.  Upon the credit of the act money was borrowed, and the work was begun.  But it was soon found, that any sum which could be raised on that fund, would be very inadequate to the purpose.  Some assistance having been obtained from Government, the work was gradually carried on through the parish of Ballantrae.  But a difference of opinion as to the direction of these two roads, in the parish of Colmonell, having taken place, and engineer was employed to make a particular survey of the whole country, and to draw out the plan of a road, which should be, on the whole, the least expensive and exceptionable.  The plan he formed was universally approved of; and will be completed in the course of the year 1791.


Whatever progress may have been made in other places, yet in the parish of Colmonell improvements are still in their infancy.  Till of late, there were very few inclosures indeed; but now the farmers are all striving with one another who shall have their grounds first inclosed.  In some instances, the proprietor inclosed the ground, and charges the tenant six per cent or upwards, of interest for the expence he lays out.  Sometimes, however, the tenant himself is at the expence; the proprietor being obliged to refund him the value of the dykes at the expiration of the lease, if he then [65] quits the possession of his farm.  There are few in the lower part of the parish, who have not their arable and meadow lands separated by dykes from their pasture; and many have their whole farms inclosed and divided.  The practice of inclosing is gradually extending itself over the parish; and is judged to be the most profitable species of improvement, that the nature of the country in general will admit of.  The dykes are commonly built with dry stone, and are usually about five feet high, about two feet wide at the foundation, and ten or twelve inches at the top.  But this practice of inclosing, together with the increase of rents, has occasioned the dismission [sic] of herds and cottagers; and, of consequence, has materially affected the population of the district.  Many persons of that description lived in the parish; and their services were particularly necessary while the ground was open.  They had from their masters a house and yard, a small piece of land, grass for one or more cows, &c, the value of which was accounted trifling, while the rents were low: But when they came to be doubled or trebled, the farmer began to calculate the cost, and to estimate what the grass of every cow was worth, &c, and thus they were spurred on to inclose their grounds, that they might not have occasion for such a burden in future.  But however profitable this expedient might be to the farmer himself, it has evidently proved inimical to the population, and perhaps to the real improvement, of the country.  About twenty years ago there was hardly a tenant who had not one or more of these cottagers on his farm, whereas now there are very few of them in the whole parish.  The cottages were the nurseries of servants; but their inhabitants have now been removed to towns, and having bred up their children to other employments, farm servants have become exceedingly scarce throughout the whole country.

[66] In the lower parts of the parish, the improvement of arable land has of late years been principally carried on by lime, which turns out to exceedingly good account.  There is great plenty of good limestone; but coals lie at the distance of fourteen miles.


There are several remains of antient buildings in this parish.  The castles of Carleton, Knockdaw, Kirkhill, Craigneil, Pinwhirry [sic], Kildonan, &c, and also a number of cairns, or large heaps of stones in different places, which are certainly antient enough; but for what purpose they were collected, is not certainly known.


There are seventeen proprietors of land, only two of whom reside in the parish.


A tan–work was set up about a twelve–month ago; it is at present on a small scale, but will probably be enlarged.  An woolen [sic] manufacture would be the most proper one for this part of the country.  There are in the parish 24 weavers, 7 of whom reside in the village; 13 shoemakers, 13 taylors, 7 wrights, 10 masons, 5 blacksmiths, 5 millers, and 2 clothiers, all employed in working for the neighbourhood.  There are also 5 corn mills, a barley mill, and a lint mill.

Church, &c

An inscription upon a stone above the old church door bears date 1591.  The church was taken down and built new from the foundation in 1772.  It is in good repair; but not being in a centrical situation, it has been customary for the minister of Colmonell once a month to perform divine service at a place called Barrhill, five miles distant from it.  The manse was built in 1762; and has since been repaired.  The stipend amounts to 99 bolls, 1 firlot of victual, [67] £213 6s Scots, in money, and 30 merks for communion elements.  The glebe consists of eight acres pasture and arable, worth 20s the acre.


The return to Dr Webster, about 40 years ago, was 1814 souls.  There are now only about 1100 in the parish; all of whom are of the established church, excepting 56 Seceders of the Antiburgher denomination, and 6 Cameronians.  No authentic account can be given of births, deaths, and marriages, as no full record of them has been kept here, since Government imposed a duty upon them, which few of the parishioners chuse [sic] to pay; and the parish clerk is forbid to record any for whom the duty is not paid.  The population has been gradually decreasing for these 30 years past; partly owing to the union of farms; but principally to the dismission of cottagers.  There is now often but one family, where formerly there were three or four.  In the village there are 34 dwelling houses, all thatched, except the manse; 4 shopkeepers, who supply the neighbourhood with grocery, hardware, &c, 2 inns, with very indifferent accommodation for so frequented a road, as this is likely to become; and 4 public houses, for the lower ranks of people; particularly during the four great fairs, which are held here the first Monday of every quarter, at which a good deal of common country business is transacted.


There is an established schoolmaster at the church, with a school–house, sufficiently large, and a dwelling house for the master: but the extent of the parish renders it impossible for him to be useful to a fourth part of the inhabitants.  It is very usual, therefore, for three or four farmers in the country to join in hiring a private teacher, to instruct their [68] children.  The school–master's salary is 2 merks from each £100 Scots of valuation.  there is also a small farm, which was mortified to the heritors and kirk–session, for the benefit of the school, the yearly rent of which is £16 sterling; one half whereof goes to the schoolmaster, and the other half to poor boys in the parish, of a particular description.


Their meeting house for public worship is within a quarter of a mile of the village.  Their congregation, though collected from the parishes of Ballantrae, Girvan, Barr and Colmonell, is after all but small.  They have never been able to make any great accession to their interest in Carrick, owing very much to the prudence and moderation, with which the settlement of ministers, on the establishment, in this part of the country, has been conducted; and example which ought to be imitated, by all who wish well to society, and to the interests of religion.


There are few common beggars, or persons totally destitute, belonging to the parish, but a considerable number of people who require occasional supplies.  The number upon the list at present is 24.  The only fund for their relief arises from the collections made at the church doors, and the interest of a small sum saved in the course of some years.  The money annually distributed, on an average of three years, ending 1790, was £20 14s sterling.

Miscellaneous Observations

The inhabitants, in general, are sober and industrious.  They pay a proper regard to their religious duties, and, in particular, are attentive to the dictates of justice, humanity, and charity to their brethren.  A number of them, though they have received but a very common [69] and ordinary education, yet possess a degree of judgement and knowledge, both in spiritual and temporal matters, exceeded by few.  They enjoy life very happily, and are seemingly pleased with their situation.  Till of late years, their dwelling houses were very uncomfortable; but now they are making great improvements in them, particularly when they receive any assistance from their landlords to excite, or enable them.  One great bar to improvement is the shortness of leases.  They are seldom given for more than nineteen years; and, in many cases, (where the lands are strictly entailed) cannot be granted for a greater length of time.  This affords but little scope, and less encouragement, to extensive or expensive exertions.

Another disadvantage is, the want of more cross roads for the purpose of carrying manure, &c, particularly one up the river Dusk, to join the shire of Ayr to that of Wigton, and the stewartry [sic] of Kirkcudbright. [2]

The last great bar to improvement is, the custom universally prevailing through the country, of landlords binding [70] their tenants to carry all their grindable grain to particular mills, or to pay a stipulated multure, which frequently is as high as the tenth part carried to the mill; in some cases it is even higher, and they are besides obliged to perform indefinite mill–services, according to what is called use and want.

[1]           As Dagarroch, Dalreoch, Bellickmurrie, Knockdolian, &c.

[2]           In the planning, and the laying out of the public roads, very great improvements have taken place, in this neighbourhood.  The road from Girvan, down the north side of the water of Stinchiar, by the village of Colmonell, and thence by the southside of Knockdolian hill, to the bridge of Ballantrae, is in a line of sixteen English miles, through a hilly country, and yet so conducted that there is not a single pull in the whole of it; whilst, at the same time, it is carried through a most beautiful country, diversified with wood and water, hill and glen, and every species of scenery, that can delight the eye of a traveller.



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