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. XIV, pages 51–66]

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

By the Rev. Mr William Boyd.

Name, Extent, Soil, Climate, &c

Fenwick was erected into a new parish in the year 1642, formerly being part of the parish of Kilmarnock; for this reason, it went at first by the name of New Kilmarnock.  But, for some time past, it has been known by the name of Fenwick, from a small village of that name.  If wick  means the same with vicus, the meaning may be, the village near the fen or bog.  Wick, I believe, in some places, meant an angle or corner.  This would be descriptive of its situation, lying at the corner of what certainly once was a bog, and is still partly so.  The parish church stands at the distance of 4¼ miles from Kilmarnock, near the great [52] road which runs through that town from Glasgow to Ayr, and almost at an equal distance from these two places.  The parish is about 9 miles long from E to W, and 6 miles broad.  When the disjunction took place, it was considered as the moorland part of the parish of Kilmarnock, and the soil in every part is mossy.  In the lower part of the parish, however, the lands are tolerable good; and, in favourable seasons, yield not unfruitful crops of oats and bear, the only grain that is sown here; when there is an open winter, as it is called, and the following summer is dry and warm, the crops are the best.  Long continued frost in winter, and rainy summers, are exceedingly hurtful.  The corns, in many parts of the parish, are seldom fully ripened, and seldom yield meal for corn.  This depends, however, much on their situation, either near the moors, or downward towards Kilmarnock or Dreghorn, where the lands are the best.  The air is far from being unhealthy.  We cannot be said to have any diseases peculiar to the place.  From their situation, the grounds must be damp, and the air moist, but no bad effects follow.  Some years ago, a fever prevailed in the village of Fenwick, but did not extend much farther.  For many years, the small pox had not been in the parish but in a few scattered families.  About the beginning of the last year, 1792, they began to make their appearance.  They went through every corner of the bounds, and the numbers that had them were great; but they were very favourable.  It was half a year before one died, and only 3 died in all.  It is almost unnecessary to add, that they all had them in the natural way.  The prejudices against inoculation are great.  Some even deem it a sin to give children any thing by way of preparation.

Rivulets, Surface, Fuel, &c

Two considerable rivulets, or waters, as they are called here, run through the parish from E to W.  Both have their sources in the moor–grounds towards Eaglesham.  They unite a little below Crawfordland Castle, in the parish of Kilmarnock, run through that town before it joins the water of Irvine, and Irvine are emptied into the sea.  They abound with trouts, and afford entertainment to those who are fond of fishing; and would be still more plentiful, were they not greatly destroyed in the dry months by the hand.  Salmon never come this way; which is owing, probably, to the waters being rendered hurtful to them by the works carried on in Kilmarnock.  They very seldom do any harm to either grass or corn.  On their banks, there is not a bush.  This parish, though high above the level of the sea, is not mountainous.  To look at Fenwick, from Craigie hills in Kyle, it appears a large plain.  The ascent from Kilmarnock, Kilmaurs and Dreghorn, is very gradual.  At many spots, almost indeed from every farm and every house, the prospect is most extensive towards Kyle, Carrick, the Frith of Clyde, and the Island of Arran, with the tops of the hills in Argyleshire.  From the 2 waters already mentioned, the lands have a N or a S exposure.  The surface is green, and produces tolerable grass.  Though in some places there are large proportions of black heath, where the peats are cut, or grounds covered with heath and bent.  The most common fuel is peat.  What coal is made use of is brought from Loudoun, from Kilmarnock, and from Kilmaurs, at the distance of about 5 miles from the church, and rather to more above it.  In the farmers houses, very few coals are used.  Formerly every tradesman had his [54] peat stack.  But now they think it more profitable to use coals, than to spend time in summer at the moss, and have only a few for summer use.

Trades, Live–Stock, &c

Besides the village here called Fenwick–town, there is another, called, from its situation, the Kirk–town.  The last stands, for the most part, upon the glebe, and contains about 42 families; the situation is wet.  The other contains about 36 families; the situation is dry.  The prevailing trades in the Kirk–town are shoemakers; in Fenwick–town weavers.  The last is increasing in houses and inhabitants; and, if trade continues, will increase.  Here also it is thought that a bleachfield might be set up with considerable advantage.  All the other inhabitants of the parish are farmers, who plough so much of their lands, and keep horses or cows and sheep in proportion to their farms.  At present, there may be in the parish 270 horses, many of them high priced; 2000 black cattle; and, in the moor farms, 2300 sheep, of the small moorland kind, black faced and black legged.  In other parts of the parish, some sheep, from 6 to 8, of a larger kind, for the benefit of finer wool for family use.  There are made butter–cheeses, after the Dunlop manner, or what is known by the general name of sweetmilk–cheese.  And, in the season, they sell calves for the butcher, at very considerable prices, bought up for the Glasgow market, besides what goes to Kilmarnock and Stewarton for the Irvine market.  Butter and cheese have both risen of late very considerably in their value, and the sale is always good, when trade is good in Glasgow and Paisley.  Though the corn crops are considerable, yet the soil is [55] better adapted to pasture than to tillage, and might be made much more valuable.


A considerable quantity of potatoes is raised, but mostly for the use of the family.  The flax that is sown is also mostly for family use, little being sold; and to sow for the premiums, granted for that purpose, is not known.  The lease oblige [sic] the tenant to lime a certain proportion of the land before ploughing; but they all complain, that though it rises to the appearance of a good crop, yet the corn either falls down and rots, or does not fully ripen, from the lateness of the soil.  Very little is laid down in grass for hay; their chief dependence for fodder being on the straw of their oats and bear, and their bog–hay, which is often a laborious and tedious work.  Rains here are much more frequent than in the parishes farther down in the same district.  The farmers begin to labour, as soon as the weather in the spring will permit, though, from the wetness of the soil, they must be later than those who live in the drier lands farther down the country. [1]

It is but a piece of justice due the people of this parish to observe, that they are remarkably industrious and attentive to their harvest–work; by which means, they have often [56] the start of their neighbours, whose limits and climate would be much more favourable.  When they cut down their corns, they set them up in single sheaves, which is called gaiting; by this means, if any think wet, may soon dry.  They let them stand thus for some days, but always with attention to the state of the weather.  If there is the appearance of rain, they set all hands to work, even at midnight, and put them up in what are called Huts, built in the form of a rick of hay, and covered with two of the largest and the wettest sheaves, called Houtings.  They make their huts larger or smaller, according as the sheaves are wet or dried.  They keep the dryness they take, even in very bad weather, except the houtings, which are necessarily exposed; and, if well built, hardly any weather spoils them.  In this state they stand till the weather is good; and whenever a favourable opportunity offers, they are taken down, and exposed to the drought, if it be necessary; what is dry is taken in, and what is unfit for the barn or barn–yard is hutted again.  It is only when they need much work that there is any loss of corn; for the most part very little.  Last season (1792), the advantage was great.  We had, generally, all in the barn or yard, when others, who might, from more favourable circumstances, been thought to have been far before us, had a great deal to cut down, and the whole of their crops in the field for weeks after us.


There are no woods in the parish.  Indeed very little timber of any kind; some few trees about several of the farm houses, and some young trees about the 2 villages, excepted.  All the timber that is necessary for almost any purpose is brought at the [57] distance of several miles; mostly from the woods at Loudoun Castle.  It is to be regretted, that this has not been more attended to.  In every farm, some part might be planted, without either hurting the grass grounds or the corn fields, which, if enclosed, and taken care of for a few years, would be of profit to the proprietor, for shelter to the cattle, and conveniency of the tenant.  Mr Forbes, merchant in Kilmarncok, who lately purchased some lands, has the honour of being the first who has done any thing in this way.  But it is to be hoped, that his example will be followed by others.

Population, &c

According to Dr Webster's report, the population then was 113.  The number of families, including the 2 villages, is about 244.  The average number in each family will be 5, or rather more.  Of these, the great majority are of the class called Burgher–Seceders, who left the Establishment at the settlement of the present incumbent.  Also a considerable number of Antiburghers, of old standing; and those who call themselves the Reformed Presbytery, or those who adhere to the covenanted work of Reformation, whose minister, as he resides in the parish of Kilmarnock, preaches in this parish every fifth Sabbath.  It is said, that, in the last century, the Quakers began to make some converts, but nothing of that kind is now known. [2]

[58] In the parish, there are 46 weavers' looms, of which 14 are muslin–looms; and, I believe, there will soon be more.  There are 16 shoemakers; 5 tailors, and their apprentices; 3 wrights' shops; 3 coopers; and 1 flaxdresser.  We have 9 masons, and 2 maltmen.  It is now more common for the sons of farmers to be bound apprentices to some of these trades than formerly.  Many have learned the trades here, have gone to towns, and have succeeded well.  Some few have gone abroad.  We cannot be said to have any manufactures.  One man may deal, to the extent of about £200 a year, in buying and manufacturing coarse yarn into what is called brown linens, in flax–seed, and in giving out flax to be spun by the women of the parish.  Some of the shoemakers work for the export trade carried on by the merchants of Kilmarnock.  In ordinary seasons, more meal is made in the parish than the inhabitants consume; considerable quantities go E to Paisley, Glasgow, and the places adjacent, as the people have friends or connexions [sic].  Many, or most of the farmers, fatten their own winter meat.  A few fat cattle are killed for their use before harvest, and a few more are killed after it.  But there is no market for butcher–meat.  We get that from Kilmarnock.  The meal is always 1 penny, and sometimes more, the peck, cheaper here than in the Glasgow and Paisley markets.


The language is that which is common in the Low Country of Scotland.  The names of places are sometimes taken from their local situation.  Many are plainly Gaelic, and many more, perhaps, from the same, whose meaning, from corruptions in pronunciation and spelling, is forgotten and lost. [3]


The moor grounds are stocked with plenty of moor–fowls, and are much frequented at the season.  The curlew and lap–wing are also in abundance.  The [60] only birds of passage are the cuckoo and the swallow.  Hares are also in great numbers, were they not destroyed by poachers of different descriptions.  And even game–keepers may be game–destroyers.

Mineral, &c

On the N side of the barony of Pothelly, there is a free–stone quarry not much wrought, and a thin seam of coal, both at the banks of the waters which separate this parish from that of Stewarton.  In the barony of Thowallan, there are 2 lime–stone quarries, both much used.  Colonel Crawford has also free–stone and lime stone in has lands, and the appearance of coal.  But all the attempts to get a workable mine have hitherto, from whatever cause it may have arisen, proved unsuccessful.  The lime stones in the quarry at Ginforth, in the barony of Rowallan, are replete with seashells, and other remains of the ancient inhabitants of the ocean.  But they are so firmly united with the stone, that they cannot be separated from it without being greatly mutilated.  Near to the King's Well, in the same barony, is to be found what is called the Scotch–gale, a species of the myrtle.

Ecclesiastical State, &c

None of the greater heritors reside in the parish; all the inhabitants are farmers or tradesmen, and all upon the same footing as to rank and education.

The first minister of this parish was Mr William Guthrie, justly famous in his time.  He was ordained in 1644, ejected in 1662, and died in the north in 1665.  He was great grandfather to the late Lord President of the Court of Session, Sir Thomas Miller, to 2 respectable clergymen now in Ayrshire, and to the venerable and [61] learned Mr John Warner of Kilbarchan, in Renfrewshire.

Lord Glasgow is patron of the parish.  The church was built in 1643, and is still in the same condition as at first, by far too large for the parish; and, from its not being plastered, cold and uncomfortable in winter, the snow often lying in it some inches deep.  The manse was built in 1783; an excellent house, as all the new manses in Ayrshire are, though the situation, in the middle of the Kirk–town, is not so convenient.  The stipend is 84 bolls and 4 pecks of meal, and £28 some odd shilling Sterling, in money.  The glebe is about 6 acres, besides a large garden, and the ground upon which the greatest part of the Kirk–town stands, the inhabitants of which have been in use to get a new lease from each minister during his incumbency.  They pay about 4d the fall. [4]

Character of the People, Poor, &c

In every place, a diversity of characters is to be met with; and we are not without our share of the unruly and regardless.  But the people, in general, are sober and industrious.  Some few have enlisted into the army.  In their circumstances, the people are, upon the whole, easy, and [62] have reason to be contented.  There is not a beggar in the parish.  Only four are at present on the poor's list, though some few more get help occasionally.  They are supported by collections at the church–doors, and from the remains of a considerable stock, which, indeed, is now very inconsiderable, from the bankruptcy of a trading company, to whom the greatest part of it had been lent in the time of the last incumbent.  The Seceders, so far as I know, never give any thing.

Roads, &c

We are well accommodated with good roads.  The great road from Glasgow to Ayr, by Kilmarnock, runs through the parish for more than 7 miles.  We have good roads also to Loudoun, Gulstin [sic], to Irvine by Kilmaurs; and the road to Stewarton is made as far as this parish goes.  But as it is not yet finished, it is not of the advantage it would otherwise be as a thorough–fare.  Both roads and bridges are now made, and kept in repair from the statute–work, commuted at, I believe, 3d Sterling upon £1 Scots valuation.


The yearly rent of the parish, including the value of the lands in the possession of the proprietors may be about £4000 Sterling.  The valued rent is above £5000 Scots. [5]

Miscellaneous Observations

A considerable part of the lower end of the parish is enclosed with hedges and [63] ditches.  But the hedges are not well taken care of.  The cattle are allowed to wander through them, by which means they are rendered partly, at least, useless as fences.  We are much more expensive in dress than 10 years ago.  There are 4 ale and whisky houses in the parish, besides the stage at King's Well.  The quantities of whisky made use of are amazing; those houses ought to be more attended to, their numbers lessened, as the effects they produce are destructive both to the health, and the morals of the people.  We have 2 toll–bars, besides 1 side–bar; at 2 of them whisky is also sold, not always for the good of the neighbours.  In the year 1782, the heritors built a new school–house, and house for the schoolmaster.  His salary is 6 bolls of meal, and 40 merks a year; he has also 10s for being session–clerk, and 2s 6d for every proclamation in order to marriage.  The school wages have never been raised, as in all the parishes in the neighbourhood; only 1s 2d the quarter for reading English.  The number of scholars may be about 40.

Far up in the moor grounds of the barony of Rowallan, there is a farm called Serdgoin.  It is entirely a sheep farm.  It has been possessed for many successive generations by a family of the name of Howie.  The tradition of the family is, that the first who settled there was a refugee from the persecution of the Waldenses.  There is no doubt, but they have resided there for some [64] hundred years.  The place is exceedingly remote.  And it is not likely that any, at that time, would have taken up their residence there, had they not considered it as a place where they were not in danger of being molested.  The master of the family has been a John Howie for many generations, till within these few months, that both father and son – both Johns died. [6]

Improvements may be said to be only in their infancy here; here the tenant goes on in the same old way that his father did before him.  They are beginning, however, to be at more pains with their farms in many respects, and it is to be hoped, that the success of some may stir up others.  There are hundreds of acres which will not be touched till the country is every where in a higher state of cultivation than it is at present.  But there are few farms where, with a little expense, much might not be added, if not to the corn fields, at least to the meadow and grass grounds.  But the farmer uses the meadow which his predecessors have made ready for him, and never thinks of adding any to it, how easily soever it may be done.  Some years ago, they began to work some of the bent ground, as it is called, which never had been ploughed before.  The corns, where it [65] had been limed, were luxuriant, but more straw than corn.  Some sowed it the last year that it was in tillage with grass seeds, and the crop was good.  But they erred in allowing the cattle to pasture on it too soon.  The roots of the grass were broken, the best of the soil trodden down, and almost the whole reduced to the same state in which it was before.  There is one, however, who is to be excepted, as not having followed the general practice.  And if he who makes three blades of grass grow where only one was produced before, deserves well of his country, his name ought to be mentioned, as his example may be followed by those whose grounds are like his.  Robert Brown bought a small farm in this parish, about 12 or 14 years ago.  It had been managed in the ordinary way, part in grass, and part in tillage.  But there were 6 or 7 acres to which nothing had been done, and to which he wished to do something.  His great object was fodder for his cattle in winter.  He hired men to dig part of it with the spade, and to form it into ridges; he afterward limed it, and sowed it with oats.  He had more corn than he expected, and the straw was plentiful.  This encouraged him to go on; he dressed the first over again, and all that remained in the same way, sowed it with oats and grass seeds.  The crop was as good as could have been expected; and, for the 2 last years, the hay that was produced would have sold for £20 Sterling.  Before he did any thing to it, to use his own words, an acre would not have grazed a sheep.  He thinks that it will never be fit for the plough.  In this, he may be mistaken.  But he never allows any of his cattle to pasture upon it, being sensible, that even for grass it would greatly hurt it, both by breaking the roots, and the sward, as it is called, [66] before it is well fastened together.  Some have followed his example in part, but only in part, and therefore their attempts have not been attended with the same success.

They have lately marred the lands, in the way in which they cut the peats, by a large hole, 20 or 30 feet square, and so many feet deep, being made in a plain field, because it suited their present convenience, without ever attending to the consequences.  This is far, however, from being the case with all.  They work, or they oblige other to work, the peat bink [sic], with order and regularity.

Perhaps it would be of advantage, to give longer leases, even though the rent were to rise at certain intervals, or to engage to give the tenant a certain sum for every acre of ground which he had improved, if it was done in a sufficient manner, whether for meadow, or corn grounds.  In a few years, the lands might be made much more valuable.  But those who have been long accustomed to a certain mode of labour, and never saw better, are apt to think, that it is impossible to make things better.


[1]           The following is the time when one farmer began to cut down his corns; and from his situation, it may be reckoned nearly the average of the parish:



14th September


20th September


24th August


1st October


7th October


16th September


3d September


12th September


5th October


26th September


7th September




[2]           What may be the number of marriages, births and deaths, cannot at present be ascertained, no register, for some years past, being kept.  The tax to government is the pretext for not registering their children; but that they may not pay the parish schoolmaster's dues, may be, with some, an additional reason.  I can only say, that the people generally marry; and being sober and healthy, have children.  The births, for some years past, [58] have exceeded, I am persuaded, the deaths; and perhaps there never were in the parish more children and young persons, that at present.  There are many who live to an advanced age.  One of Lord Glasgow's tenants, near 90, comes to church almost every Sabbath, through a bad road; and in the year 1784, Matthew Mowat, the bellman, died, aged above 90.  He had the charge of the parish bell for above 80 years.  His father and he had held the office from the time that the parish was erected, till then.

[3]           There is a house, the principal stage for travellers between Glasgow and Kilmarnock, called the King's well.  Tradition says, that it got this name on the following occasion.  One of the James's came W to settle some disputes at a place called Pothelly–hall, where are the vestiges, and no more, of an old tower.  At the spot where the house now stands, his horse drank out of a well, afterward called the King's Well, and also went into a quagmire, which still is known by the name of the King's Stable.  On that occasion, he is said to have caused to be hanged 13 of them who were in fault, upon an hawthorn tree, which is still pointed out, and, indeed, has the appearance of being very old.  It stands single in a field of one of the farms above Pothelly–hall.  Pothelly–hall, at that time, was inhabited by a family of the name of Cochrane, a branch of the family of Dundonald.  They had confined the prisoners in a vault, till his majesty came.  Being very hungry, as even kings will be, in a country thinly inhabited, and ill supplied with provisions, it is said, that he went into an house, not far from Pothelly–hall, and sat down.  The gude–wife gave him bread and milk, the best fare which she probably had.  After he had made his breakfast, she told him, that her husband was one of his prisoners, and that it would be hard to hang a man, after having eat his breakfast sitting in his arm chair.  When he came to the place, he called first for that man, and desired him to go home, and be a better bairn, before he proceeded to judge the rest.  Another tradition says, that the King's Well got its name from the things having happened there when his Majesty was on his way to attend the marriage of one of his own relations at Sorn Castle, some miles farther S; and that he should have said, from the difficulties which he met in passing through such bad roads, “that if he were to play a trick on the devil, he would send him to a bridal at Sorn.”

[4]           Prices, Wages, &c.  The only fowls reared, are hens, and a few ducks.  The price of a hen is from 1s to 1s 4d or 1s 6d; ducks sell for 1s 8d or 2s the pair.  A labourer's wages are about 10d or 1s a day, and his meat; a mason's 1s 8d; a tailor's 8d or 9d; men–servants are from £3 10s to £4 the half year, and a maid–servant's from 30s to 35s or 40s, with some perquisites.  They have been raised almost one–third within these 10 years.  The farmers work their lands either by their own families, or hired servants.  Work done by cottagers is not known.  The tenants in Crawfordland estate lead some coals; in the other lands, there is no service–work whatever.

[5]           In this late soil, the year 1782 was very hurtful.  The snow fell before all the corns were cut down.  The greatest part were in the fields, and greatly destroyed by the frosts.  Few, if any, preserved seed for next year.  The meal of course was bad, some very bad.  The only relief which we, [63] and many of our neighbours had, was in the white pease, which, from the price that took place at that time, were disposed of, and considerable quantities of them came W.  It ought not to be omitted here, that Lord Glasgow gave a donation, at that needful season, to all the parishes where his different estates are.  To this parish, he sent 20 guineas, to be given to such poor as were not upon the ordinary funds.

[6]           The family were much distressed during the troubles in the reigns of Charles and James, in the last century.  They preserve here the colours that belonged to this parish, when the convenanters took arms, and which they had with them at the battle of Bothwell Bridge, with the sword of a Captain Paton of this parish, and some other things, which are considered as precious relicks [sic] of them who were engaged in that good work.  There are 3 or 4 of what are called martyr–stones, erected to the memory of those who were shot to death in this place.  And there is a cove called Duntonlove, in which, it is said, that they hid themselves at times from the enemy.  It does not appear to me ever to have been of much use for that purpose, though, indeed, from the lapse of a century, its appearance may be much changed.





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