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Old Statistical Account


[Vol. II, pages 84–108]

[Transcribed from the original by David Courtney McClure.]

The first part of the following very interesting paper, was drawn up by the Rev. Mr James Mackinlay, and the second, by the Rev. Mr John Robertson, the Ministers of that parish.


Origin of the Name, Extent, Climate, &c

The parish of Kilmarnock in the county of Ayr and presbytery of Irvine, is, on many accounts, of very considerable importance, and furnishes room for a variety of statistical observations. In regard to extend, it is about nine miles long, and four broad; bounded by Newmills upon the east, by Fenwick and Stewarton upon the north, by Kilmaurs upon the west, and by the river Irvine, which divides it from Riccarton and Galston, upon the south. The name Kilmarnock, or Cellmarnock, is evidently derived from St. Marnock, who is said to have been a bishop or confessor in Scotland. He died, AD 322, and probably was interred here. The appearance of the country is, in general, flat, with a gentle declivity to the south. The soil is deep, strong and fertile, but runs a little into a kind of moss towards the north east. The air, from its [ 85 ] local situation, and the frequent rains which fall in the west of Scotland, is moist and damp, but is far from being unhealthy. The inhabitants are seldom visited with any epidemical distempers; and, it has been observed, that when the neighbouring sea–port towns of Ayr and Irvine are labouring under such disorders, Kilmarnock, though to appearance in a less healthy situation, ahs been happily exempted. The perhaps, may, in some measure be attributed to a rivulet which runs through part of the town; which is not only serviceable to some of the manufactures carried on there, but greatly contributes to the health of the inhabitants. Instances of longevity, therefore are not uncommon. A few years ago, a woman who lived in the town, died at the advanced age of 107. Several now alive, are between 80 and 100; and there is a porter still able to walk about, and carry parcels, whose age is ascertained to be 105.


The return to Dr Webster of the population of Kilmarnock , was 4403 souls. In 1763, it amounted to about 5000. Its present state is as follows.

Total number of souls


Of these males




Souls in the town


Souls in the country


Males in the town


Females in the town


Males in the country


Females in the country


Males in town and country, above 8 years


Females in town and country, above 8 years


[ 86 ] Males in town and country, under 8 years


Females in town and country, under 8 years


Division of the inhabitants according to their religious persuasions.







Established church



The difference between the males and females in the town, must strike the most careless observer. This, however, arises from the wollen [ sic ] and cotton manufactures, which have induced many families, where the females were the most numerous, to come and settle in this place. That difference is not very material in the country part of the parish.

This vast increase of population has arisen from the progress of manufactures, by which means, many families have been led to come from neighbouring parishes to get employment here; and partly, perhaps, from the regular and comfortable mode of living that has been established; which is always found to be peculiarly favourable to the increase of the human species. The annual average of births and deaths cannot, at present, be precisely ascertained, as few, or none of the dissenters enter their children's names in the parish register. By this means, Government is not only deprived of a tax, but an injury may be done to their posterity; who, in case of any dispute, will not have it in their power, from that authentic record, to prove their age, propinquity, or extraction. From the following extract, however, taken from this register, [ 87 ] some idea may be formed of the gradual increase of population in this parish since the Union.


















Kilmarnock is one of the principal manufacturing towns in Ayrshire, and, for many years has carried on a very considerable trade. Manufactures were at first gradually introduced, but of late have made a very rapid progress.

About fifty years ago, the principal trade was carried on by three or four individuals, who bought serges and other woollen articles from private manufactures, and exported them to Holland. When the demand afterwards increased, a company was formed, who erected an woollen factory for different branches of that business, which ever since has continued in a very flourishing state. The shoe trade was introduced about the same time; and now the woollen and shoe trades are the most extensive and important in the district. Several spinning jeanies [ sic ], however, for cotton, have been lately erected, and a carding and spinning machine for coarse wool; all of which seem to do very well.

The following is an account drawn up by the most intelligent manufacturers in the town, of the present annual average value of the different branches carried on in Kilmarnock.

[ 88 ]

Carpets manufactured

£21,400 0s 0d

Shoes and boots

21,216 0s 0d

Cow, calf, and seal–skins tanned

9,000 0s 0d

Printed calicoes

6,500 0s 0d

Sheep and lamb skins dressed

6,500 0s 0d

Leather gloves

3,500 0s 0d

Cotton cloth

2,251 0 0d


1,670 0 0d


600 0 0d


700 0 0d


396 0 0d

Serges, mancoes, and saddlers cloth, &c

611 0 0d

Saddlery goods for home and foreign sale

600 0 0d


1,200 0 0d

Stockings knit by women

600 0 0d

Tobacco and snuff manufactured

3,700 0 0d

Bar, rod, and cast iron manufactured

1,000 0 0d


506 0 0d

Milled caps and mitts

1,200 0 0d


1,000 0 0d

Cabinet work

2,000 0 0d

Creelman's composition, a substitute for gum arabic in calico printing

700 0 0d

£86,850 0 0d

In these different branches from two or three thousand hands may be employed. There are 56 master shoemakers, who employ 408 men. The number of weavers of different denominations, though considerable, has not been ascertained; but it is reckoned, that 200 of this profession are employed by the manufacturers of Glasgow and Paisley alone. As a manufacturing [ 89 ] town this place has advantages and disadvantages, which it may not be improper briefly to mention. Among the advantages may be reckoned its situation in the midst of a populous and fertile country, where provisions of all kinds are to be had in abundance, and at moderate prices. Coal, so necessary in almost every branch of manufacture, is found close to it in vast abundance, and may be had easier and cheaper than in any other town in the neighbourhood. The town is furnished with a meal–market, plentifully supplied with good and wholesome grain; and always a penny or three halfpence a peck cheaper than in the Glasgow or Paisley markets. Indeed all sorts of provisions, especially meal, butter, eggs, and poultry, are so much cheaper in this part of the country, that they are constantly carried to the Glasgow and Paisley markets, not merely to supply the demands of these populous towns, but to bring greater prices than can be got for them at home. The town is also provided with an excellent market for all sorts of butcher meat, which is reckoned by far the best in the neighbourhood; in so much that many families in Glasgow, at the distance of 21 miles, are supplied from it; induced, partly by the superior quality of the meat, and partly by an addition to the weight of an ounce and a half to the pound. The chief disadvantage under which the place labours, is, its inland situation, being about six or seven miles distant from the sea. This occasions a considerable expence in the land carriage of raw materials, as well as in their exportation, when manufactured. A proposal was made some time ago to have this advantage removed, by a canal from the sea below Troon–point, to the bridge at the south end of Glencairn–street. This undertaking would no doubt be attended with great expence; but as, from all accounts, it is practicable, (the lands through which it would run having no great ascent), if accomplished, it would [ 90 ] certainly render Kilmarnock the most eligible and flourishing manufacturing town in the west of Scotland. [1]

Ecclesiastical State of the Parish

There are in Kilmarnock no less than five places of public worship. First, the parish church, which is collegiate, and continued to be the only place of divine service, until the year 1731. Being then found unable to contain the people of the parish, the Town–Council and inhabitants next erected a handsome new church or chapel, in which the collegiate ministers officiated alternately; until 1763, when, owing to a violent settlement, that took place by order of the General Assembly, the proprietors of houses called a minister of their own, who was ordained by the Presbytery. There is a Burgher seceding meeting–house, erected in 1772; and an Antiburgher one, built in 1775; and finally, there is an old dissenting meeting–house, connected with what is called, the Reformed Presbytery, erected in the neighbourhood of the town, An. 1785. It must be observed, however, that notwithstanding so many divisions, the people in general, of all denominations, live together in the best habits of friendship, as Christians ought to do; and that ecclesiastical rancour, has fortunately given place to the milder dispositions of forbearance, benevolence, and charity.

Patronage and Stipend

The Archbishop of St. Andrews, [ 91 ] as Abbot of Kilwinning, to whom the patronage of Kilmarnock originally belonged, disponed it to Robert Lord Boyd; from one of whose successors it was purchased by an Earl of Glencairn; and from whose family it was lately acquired by Miss Scot of Scotstarvet. There are two established ministers. The living of the first is wholly paid in meal: the quantity is eight chalders, wanting a boll; and, with a glebe of 12 acres, may be worth £120 per annum. The second charge, including a small glebe of 4½ acres, may be calculated at nearly £105.


The number of heritors in the parish is about 24; but, excepting Colonel Crawfurd of Crawfurdland, no considerable proprietor resides in it. The greater part of the parish is the property of Miss Scot, who has lately made very extensive purchases in this neighbourhood. It is a singular circumstance, in regard to the Crawfurdland family, that its present respectable representative, is the twenty–first, lineally descended from the original stock, without the intervention of even a second brother. The Countess of Loudoun, another proprietor, represents the antient family of the Muirs of Rowallen [ sic ]; from whom the greater part of the sovereigns of Europe are descended; Robert III, King of Scotland, being the son of Robert II by Elizabeth Muir, daughter of Sir Adam Muir, of Rowallen.

State of the Poor

The poor, in such a large and populous parish, it is to be expected, must be very numerous, and would require a considerable sum for their support. The societies and incorporations are of great service in maintaining their indigent and distressed members, and thereby keeping them from being a burden upon the public. They distribute annually, among their poor and afflicted brethren, £180. [ 92 ] The number of poor who are upon the pension list, and receive weekly alms from the Session, is 80, besides others who receive occasional supplies. The contribution, at the church and chapel, annually averages at £100; which, together with the interest of £100, and some occasional donations, is all that is distributed among the poor. From these funds, they can only receive from 6d to 1s each, per week; which, although it may assist them a little, is by no means able to support them in their own houses, even when joined to the profits of any little labour which some of them may have strength to perform. Begging, therefore, is allowed, and is a very great burden upon the inhabitants. The poor, indeed, will never be suitably or permanently provided for, until the proprietors of land agree to assess themselves in a sum that may be adequate to this purpose: and when it is considered, that the greater part of the heritors are non–residing, that they contribute nothing to the maintenance of the poor by their own personal charity, and that the value of their property of greatly increased by the manufactures and population of the place; such a measure, must appear to every humane and benevolent heart, to be highly equitable and proper; and, it is hoped, will be soon carried into effect.


There is an extensive and profitable coal work in the parish, about half a mile to the south west of the town. The mines are rich and abundant, affording coal of different qualities, some fit for export, and some for home consumption. The species that is raised for exportation, is known in this country by the name of Blind–coal. It is of a fine quality, and much esteemed. The quantity of this species annually exported, is 3289 1 / 10 tons, which, at 9s per ton, is £1390 1s 6¾. This immense quantity is carried by land to Irvine, about six miles distance, and from thence exported to different places [ 93 ] in Ireland, as Cork, Dublin, Belfast, Drogheda, Lairn, Donaghadee, Sligo, and indeed into every port where there is a sufficiency of water to carry the smallest craft. It is likewise exported to many of the Highland isles, for the purpose of drying malt and corn, and burning of lime–stone. The fire [indistinct?], or seeing–coal, (so called from the light it gives), is of a rich and caking quality, resembling the English coal. The yearly home consumpt of this species is 52,143 loads, which, at 7d per load, is £1520 16s 9d. The total income from this work, then, is £2910 18s 3¾ per annum, which will proportionably increase with the growing population and advancing manufactures of the town. The number of hands employed in raising the above–mentioned quantities, and in carrying them to the shore, is, at an average, 120.

The Town

The town lies low, and its form is extremely irregular. It is a burgh of barony, governed by two baillies and a council of seventeen. The first charter, erecting it into a burgh, was granted An. 1591, in favour of Thomas Lord Boyd. A second charter was obtained, in 1672, in favour of William, Earl of Kilmarnock, which was ratified in parliament the same year.

In 1700, the Magistrates and Town Council obtained a grant from the Kilmarnock family, of the whole common good, and custom of the burgh, comprehending the common green, shops under the tolbooth, weights and measures, &c. It is in virtue of this grant that the corporation holds its present property, and is considered as an heritor in the parish. There are in the town five incorporated trades; the bonnet makers, skinners, taylors, shoemakers, and weavers; of which, the bonnet makers, incorporated in 1646, is the most antient. These societies are of very great service in [ 94 ] preserving regularity and good order in the different branches of trade in which they are occupied.


There are two public and established schools in the town, besides a number of private ones, which are also found to be necessary for the purpose of educating the numerous children of this place. First, there is a grammar school, for the sole purpose of teaching Latin and other languages. The master has £12 2s if salary, 5s per quarter from each of his scholars, besides a voluntary offering at Candlemass. There is next an English school: the master of which has £10 of salary, 2s 6d per quarter from such as read English, 3s from such as read English and write, and 4s from those who are also taught arithmetic. These schools are flourishing, and well attended. The first, indeed, had, some time ago, fallen into disrepute; but from the attention and ability of the present teacher, is increasing in numbers and celebrity. The other has always been well attended, and, for many years has consisted of more than 100 scholars.

Inns and Alehouses

The number of inns and alehouses in the town is 50, exclusive of spirit shops; and, besides, three or four in the country. These must have a pernicious effect upon the morals of the people; for in proportion as the number of houses of this nature is multiplied, the temptation to intemperance, and the ease and secrecy with which it may be indulged are evidently increased. In justice, however, to the inhabitants of Kilmarnock, it must be observed, notwithstanding the great number of houses of this description, yet that in general they are as sober and industrious, as the people of any town of its size in Scotland: Nay, to their praise, it must likewise be observed, that the ruinous practice of dram–drinking has of late been, in a great measure, laid aside, and the more [ 95 ] salutory and healthful beverage of ale or porter, introduced in its stead. Nor must it be omitted, that to sobriety and industry, they add the amiable virtues of charity and beneficence. This is evident, not only from the large collections made every sunday [ sic ] at the church doors, principally arising from the charity of the middling and industrious part of the community, but also from the extraordinary acts of generosity, which some individuals have performed. In particular, when the poor were in the utmost distress, during winter 1790, and when all that could be afforded from the usual funds, was not able to procure them even the common necessaries of life, an individual, with a delicacy which did him peculiar honour, sent a considerable sum of money, in an anonymous card, to one of the ministers, to be laid out for their relief.

Post–Office and Excise

There is a post–office in the town, for this, and for the neighbouring parishes. The mail–coach from Glasgow to Ayr passes through Kilmarnock, by which letters are brought and sent every day. The postage of a single letter from Edinburgh to this place is 4d and from Glasgow 3d. The post office yields about £400 per annum. The excises on ale, spirits, candles, &c, produce about £1700 more.

Both these branches of revenue are rapidly increasing, with the trade and population of the place.

Antiquities and Curiosities

The only antiquities which seem worthy of notice, are Dean castle, and Soules cross. The former stands about half a mile north–east from the town, and was the residence of the noble, but unfortunate family of Kilmarnock. It is a very antient edifice, but not information can now be obtained of the time when it was built. In 1735, it was entirely consumed by fire. This [ 96 ] accident was occasioned by the inattention of a maid servant, who was preparing some lint for spinning, which unhappily took fire, by which means this noble and ancient structure was laid in ruins. In this situation it still continues; and the hand of time is gradually accomplishing what the fury of the flames had spared. On the top of an arch, and in the centre of the dining–room, as ash tree is at present growing, and has attained some height, which the credulous say, fulfils a prediction emitted in the time of the last persecution. The ruins from the south–west have still a magnificent appearance, and strike the mind with the melancholy idea of fallen grandeur. Soules cross, which gives name to a quarter of the town, is a stone pillar of eight or nine feet high, situated in the north–east part of the town, near the entrance of the new church. It was erected in memory of Lord Soules, and English nobleman, who is said to have been killed on the spot, in 1444, by an arrow from one of the family of Kilmarnock. Some years ago, it was falling into ruins; but the inhabitants of that quarter, from a commendable respect for this piece of antiquity, collected a sum of money among themselves, caused the broken pieces to be put together, and again erected it, with a small gilt vane upon the top, bearing this inscription, L. SOULES, 1444.


Country Part of the Parish

As nearly as can be collected without an actual admeasurement [ sic ], there are about 5900 acres (Scots measure) in the country or landward part of the parish. This is valued in the cess books of the county, at £7025 Scots, and pays the land tax accordingly; but the real rent at present, including what is possessed by proprietors, may be [ 97 ] nearly £5400 Sterling; which is, at an average, above 18s per acre. Some particular farms are let considerably higher, at 25s or 26s, and one at 36s, and small inclosures near the town from 50s to £4 per acre; while those at greater distance from the town, and near the muirs, are sometimes as low as 12s. The rent of the different lands in the parish, however, has lately been brought much nearer a level than formerly, by the good roads that are now made through the whole of it. About 20 years ago, Mr Orr of Barrowfield, who was proprietor of a large estate at a distance from the town, and nearest the muirs, seeing the importance that good roads would be of to his estate, was at a great expence in opening a communication with the high–ways, leading to Glasgow and other towns, as well as in making several other valuable and important improvements; in consequence of which, his property has become as valuable as any in the neighbourhood; and some of the farms on that estate, are amongst the highest rented of any that are in it.

Soil and Mode of Inclosing

There is not much difference of soil throughout the parish. In general, it is a strong rich soil, consisting of clay, with a mixture of sand, and near the muirs some moss. there are some fine holms along the side of the Irvine , consisting of sand and fine loam, brought down by the river and left on its banks after floods. It is a great detriment to the grounds in this parish, as well as in the greater part of Ayrshire, that the bottom is a strong till, almost impenetrable by water; reaching, in general, 30 or 40 fathoms deep, or even more, while the soil on the surface, is little more than a foot, merely what the plow has repeatedly turned up to the influence of the weather. The consequence of this is, that the autumnal rains, which fall peculiarly heavy in the western parts of the kingdom, having no [ 98 ] longer the heat of the sun, as in summer, to exhale them, lie and stagnate on the surface of the ground, during the whole winter; which greatly injures it, and, for a time, ever destroys its vegetative powers. The bad effects of this circumstance, however, are now not nearly so much, nor so generally felt as formerly. This, in a great measure, is owing to the numberless drains made by the ditches, which have been drawn, in all directions, for inclosing the grounds. For the common, or rather universal method of inclosing in this fertile part of the country, where stones are scarce, is by ditches, with hawthorn hedges planted in the sides, or on the top of the banks. This method was little known, and still less practised, till about 35 or 40 years. Before that period, no inclosure was to be seen, except, perhaps, one or two about a gentleman's seat, in all the wide, extended, and beautiful plain of Cunninghame. Hence, at the end of harvest, when the crop was carried from the fields into the barn–yard, the whole country had the appearance of a wild and dreary common, and nothing was to be seen, but here and there, a poor, bare, and homely hut, where the farmer and his family were lodged. The cattle too, were then allowed to wander about at pleasure through all the neighbouring fields, till the grass began to rise in the spring, and miserably poached all the arable ground, now saturated with the water that lay on the surface. To such a degree was this mischief done, by the ranging of the cattle in search of food, when none was to be found, that, in many places, it destroyed all prospect of any crop, worth the labour of the husbandman, for the ensuing year; and, in some instances, for many years to come. But now the scene is completely altered, and infinitely to the better. There is, at this time, scarcely a single farm, in all that wide–extended plain, that is not inclosed with ditch and hedge, and most of them with numbers of intermediate ones, to separate the fields from each [ 99 ] other. By this means, the farmers have it in their power to confine the cattle, through the winter, to the fields where they can do least harm by poaching; the water is mostly drained from the surface; and the ground is, in some degree, sheltered by the hedges from the severity of the winter cold and storms. This, along with the other improvements made upon the soil, has rendered the grounds much more productive and fruitful that ever they were in any former period, probably 3 or 4 times at least. In consequence, however, of this method of inclosure with thorn hedges, sheep are nearly banished from this country; nor is there any individual who can venture to keep any considerable number of them, at least, of the wilder sorts; though the larger or tamer breeds might perhaps be tried to advantage.


From the nature of the soil in general through this parish, it is better calculated for producing grain, than feeding black cattle. In consequence of this, the improvements are principally directed to the meliorating of the soil, and preparing it for the plough. As no marle of any kind has as yet been found, the manures made use of, are only the dung collected in the town, or at the different farms, together with coal–ashes and lime. Some small quantities of horn shavings also have occasionally been brought from Ireland, and raise good crops for two or three years, without injuring the soil. The ashes do well enough for a year or two, upon a sandy soil, but are prejudicial where there is clay; and it is only near the town where these can be had; so that, all that the farmer has to depend on, is the dung made on his own farm, and lime. Of the last, there is some in the higher parts of the parish; but the greater part of what is used, is brought from the neighbourhood, at the distance of a few miles. Fifty bolls of shells, or 100 bolls of slaked lime is commonly laid on, per acre, [ 100 ] when ground is to be broke up by the plow, and has not been lately limed before; but rather less (perhaps 70 or 80) if it has. But some have gone much farther; and, when the ground was a very strong clay, and had never been limed before, they have found it greatly to their advantage. One hundred and fifty or two hundred bolls have been used in this case. The usual method, in this parish, is, to spread the lime on the ground, in the beginning of the winter before the field is broken up. But some judge it better to have it spread on the ground so long before, that it may remain on it for two winters and a summer; by which means, it becomes better incorporated with the soil; is not so apt to sink into the bottom of the furrow made by the plow; nor so ready to hurt the ensuing crop, if it should chance to turn out a dry season after it is plowed down. It is, however, a general persuasion, that land ought, if possible, to be limed and dunged alternately, in order to receive the full benefit of lime as a manure; for if repeatedly limed, without a sufficient quantity of dung, and plowed often, it is gradually exhausted, and becomes, almost, a caput mortuum.


Every intelligent farmer, in this district, is now sensible, that, a proper rotation of crops is of the utmost importance in husbandry; and that the ground, with the same manure, will continue in equal, or even in better heart, for at least double the time, under a rotation properly calculated for the soil, than what it will do under a constant succession of any one crop. The same method, however, does not suit all different soils; and, perhaps, the rotation that is most proper for each different soil, has not been so much attended to any where as it ought to have been, and is yet, in a great measure, left unascertained. But the proprietors of land, in this part of the country, have, almost universally, adopted a plan of [ 101 ] letting their grounds, which, in a great measure, prevents the tenants from making use of any rotation. In their leases, they bind the farmer to plow only three years, and then to keep the ground for six years in grass. The leases are in general for 19 years, so that a farmer has it only in his power, during that term to have two breaks of his farm, together with what he can plow in the last year of his lease. This plan is attended with great disadvantages to the proprietor, to the tenant, and to the public. Under such a restriction, the whole efforts of the tenant to meliorate his ground, are confined to the first break. Then he limes and dungs to the utmost of his power; and, more especially, endeavours to lay down his fields as richly as possible, in order that he may have good returns during the course of the second break, without being at farther expence for manure, at a period of the lease when he cannot receive the full benefit of it. The consequence of this is, that the greater part of the grounds are reduced to a very poor state, before the end of the lease. The tenant again, when he has brought his grounds to a state in which they could more easily than at first be rendered more productive, is restrained in his exertions, because he cannot reap the full benefit arising from them, but must probably leave it to another, or pay a higher rent for it himself, that he would otherwise have done, and thus his interest is materially hurt; while the public suffers likewise, as more grain would undoubtedly have been raised, had the farmer had equal encouragement, to exert himself as much, in the latter part of the lease, as he found it for his interest to do in the former. Besides, the term of tillage is too short to allow any proper rotation of crops. The ground is sown with oats when first broke up, and every one knows that the second year after breaking up, affords the best crop of oats. These two years, therefore, the ground must be sown with the same species of grain, to enable the farmer to pay his rent, [ 102 ] and he can only make a change to another in the last year of that break. Thus, they are nearly deprived of the power of observing any regular rotation; and every one must see the disadvantage that this must prove to all concerned. The only reason given for this restraint is, to put it out of the power of the farmer to run out his grounds at the end of the lease. But though he cannot, in consequence of this restriction, over–plow them; yet, by doing little or nothing, during the last break, he leaves them in a condition, poor enough to be highly detrimental to the interest of the proprietor, whilst it proves an effectual check to the genius of the farmer, and prevents his trying many useful and important experiments, by which, both tenant and landlord, and indeed the public at large, would be benefited. Perhaps it might be more expedient to let leases upon one or more lives, leaving the period of their termination uncertain; or the tenants might be allowed to plow as much for four years, as they could properly manure the third year, which would be a great encouragement to their exertions. [2]

[ 103 ]


There may be about 30 acres in the parish planted annually with potatoes, which yield, at an average, about 30 bolls per acre, and may be worth from 8s to 10s per boll. The principal part of this crop is raised on spots adjacent to the town, by the inhabitants of Kilmarnock. Every tradesman takes as much ground for 3d or 4d per fall, as he can properly manure, and plants the potatoes with the spade. This, together with the hoeing and dressing them through the summer, and digging them up in the autumn, affords a healthful and agreeable exercise to the trades people, who are so much necessarily confined to their houses; and the produce makes a considerable part of their provision for 3 or 4 months at the end of autumn, and the beginning of winter; which, exclusive of the value of their labour, they have at a pretty reasonable rate. After potatoes, it has now become a pretty general practice to sow wheat, which usually makes a very good return. Little wheat indeed is raised in any other manner; though some of the farmers have tried it after fallow, and when the season answers, have had very good crops. Yet here it must always prove very precarious, owing to the great autumnal rains, which the soil, in most places, does not quickly enough drain [ 104 ] off; joined to the alternate frosts and thaws, which take place in the spring, by which it is sometimes raised almost wholly out of the ground, before it is possible, from the wetness of the soil, to have it rolled to advantage.

Farms and Farm–Houses

The extent of the farms are in general, from 50 to 100 acres. At a medium about 70. It is but of late that the landlords have begun to pay any attention to the farm houses on their estates. In general, however, a stranger still views, with concern, the poor and mean–looking huts, in which the farmers are condemned to dwell, throughout all this country. Their habitation, and that of their cattle, are generally under the same roof, and only separated from one another by partitions. Scarcely any of them have an upper story, so that the whole family are obliged to sleep upon the groung, on a damp soil, where the floor is not so much as paved with stone or flags, and where there is not even a fire place to draw off the moist and stagnant air. This must be attended with the worst consequences to the health of the people; whereas, were better and more comfortable houses provided for the tenants, it would be a great inducement to them to pay better rents for their farms, and it would even be a means of enabling them to do so, by giving them a greater security for their health, and rendering them better able attend to their business. Every house, therefore, ought to have as much of it raised to a second story, as would furnish the whole family with sufficient room to sleep above stairs, with vents in every sleeping apartment, in which fires might be put, occasionally, and, which, at any rate, would act as ventilators, and, by keeping up the circulation of fresh air, would render consumptive complaints, at present so fatal, must [ sic – much?] less frequent.

Thatching with Straw and Mortar

There is nothing that [ 105 ] would be more desirable, than to discover some method of covering the roofs of farm–houses, so as to render them cheap and comfortable. A slate roof is too expensive in many parts of the country, from the difficulty of getting either the timber, or the slate. Tile roofs do not last, and common thatching is of very short duration, is more liable to the danger of fire, affords shelter and encouragement to vermin, and is very apt to be destroyed by violent winds. But there is a mode of thatching with straw and mortar, introduced into the neighbourhood of Kilmarnock, about 22 years ago, in consequence of a receipt given by the late Mr Macdowal of Garthland, which is, in many respects, preferable to every other, for the northern parts of the island. The thatching is carried on in the usual manner; only mortar, very well prepared, and mixed with cut straw, is thinly spread over the strata of thatch, with a large trowel made for the purpose. One expert thatcher will require two men to serve him with straw, one to prepare the mortar, and a fourth to carry it up. If the work is properly done, it will make a covering which will last 40 or 50 years; and, when it begins to fail, it can easily be repaired. Sometimes clay is used instead of mortar, and answers nearly as well. As it makes a most excellent roof, the timbers ought to be good, and the spars straight, and neatly put on, that there may be no heights and hollows in it. Such a roof will stand in the most exposed situation, against the most violent winds; gives no shelter to vermin; is not near so much in danger of fire; and though a little more expensive at first than the common thatch, yet does much more than compensate for that circumstance, by its being so extremely durable.


Timber is very scarce in this part of the country, except about gentlemens houses. It is commonly reckoned not to be for the interest of the proprietor to plant forest [ 106 ] timber, where land can be let for 18s or 20s per acre. But though this may be the case with respect to the planting of large fields of arable ground, yet hedge–rows, or belts of planting, are well worth their room, from the shelter that they afford; and there are in every farm, even in the best cultivated grounds, many spots which the plow cannot reach, which, with a little attention and expence, might be planted, to the great ornament of the country, and to the great advantage of all concerned. Wherever such spots are to be found, they ought to be inclosed and planted by the proprietors, and the care of them intrusted to the tenant, who should be allowed to deduct yearly from his rent, (if the trees are properly taken care of) a certain sum according to the extent of the ground planted, and the rent paid for the farm. Besides, he ought to be permitted to make all such farm utensils as he needed, from these spots; only taking care to replace them when cut down, if they were not of a sort that sprouted again from the root. This would prove a very important acquisition to the tenant; and, besides the benefit the ground would derive from the additional shelter, the proprietor would in time be more than compensated, by the timber that would remain on his estate after all the demands of the farmer had been answered.

There is another method by which a very important addition might be made to the quantity of timber in the country. Every farm–house ought to have a large plot of ground, containing from one to two acres adjacent to it, for stacking the corn in winter, for grass to any favourite milk cow, for a kitchen garden, &c. It should be laid out on no uniform plan, but the figure of it varied every where, so as to suit the situation of the house, and the form of the fields around it. If any rivulet runs near the house, it should be carried up through it, for the conveniency of washing and bleaching, and of watering the plot. But, what is of still more importance, the [ 107 ] drainings from the stables and dunghill should be conducted over it; by which means three or four rich crops of grass would be raised in a season. Round this spot, some rows of trees should be planted, of such kinds as are proper for farm utensils, for covering the houses, &c. Should this be done properly, the yard alone would supply much more than ever the farm would need; the tenant would always have timber at hand for all he wanted, and be at no farther expence but that of cutting down the trees, and making his utensils; by which means he might always have them good in their kinds, and in perfect order at very little expence; the country would be highly beautified and adorned, while the tenant would after all reap more benefit from the ground thus employed, that from any other part of the farm of equal extent. A few fruit trees might be planted in one of the corners of this plot, and would seldom fail, in such a situation, to produce a valuable crop. The forest trees, which are reckoned most proper for general use, are the ash, the elm, the larix, and above all, the Huntingdon willow. From the top of one of these willows, when it comes to the size of a tree, and has been formerly cut over, there may be cut again, once in 16 or 20 years, for country purposes, as much as is equal in value to 8s or 10s. They grow rapidly in almost all soils, and are peculiarly excellent for the roofs of farm–houses, thatched in the manner before described. If they are allowed to grow to a sufficient age without being cut over, they make excellent household furniture, take a fine polish, are very light, and last long.

If these plans were generally followed, it would complete, in the space of a few years, the improved appearance of this part of the country, and add greatly to the comfort and happiness of its inhabitants. The plain of Cunninghame, of which this parish makes a part, when viewed from the high grounds of Kyle, lies in the form of a large and beautiful amphitheatre, [ 108 ] above 20 miles in diameter, and is esteemed by all who have viewed it, as naturally one of the most delightful vallies [ sic ] to be found in Great Britain. But the principal part of it being the property of some great landlords, there are, of consequence, but few gentlemens houses in it. It is, therefore, the more necessary, that it should be ornamented with neat and good looking farm–houses, and with a considerable number of groves, and plantations of trees, in order to give it a thriving and prosperous appearance. It is to be hoped, that this will soon be brought about; and, perhaps, no objects are better intitled to the attention of a public–spirited society, (could one be constituted for the purpose) than to encourage the planting of forest timber, to improve the accommodation of our husbandmen, who are justly to be accounted not the least valuable part of the community.

[1] This canal is certainly one of the most desirable that can be made in Scotland . Troon–bay is one of the best harbours in the western parts of the kingdom, with deep water, and every other advantage. Perhaps the canal, instead of stopping at Kilmarnock , ought to be extended to Glasgow , which is only 21 miles farther.

[2] At the commencement of improvements in this part of the country, the sowing of what is called bear pease, or giving a crop of pease the same pains, manure, and attention, that is usually bestowed on a crop of barley, was found the best mode of bringing in poor, weedy, or worn–out ground. The method practised was as follows: In the beginning of winter, or as early in the spring as possible, the ridges were plowed and gathered; and then, as soon as the oatseed was sown, the ground was well harrowed, the solid crowns of the ridges were turned out by the plow. About 40 or 50 bolls of lime, and about as many carts of dung, or perhaps rather more of both, if the land was very poor and stiff, were then led out and spread upon each acre; this was plowed down, and then sown with a late kind of small gray pea, which runs out to a great length, and continues lengthening and flowering till the end of the season. They [ 103 ] were generally sown about the end of April, or beginning of May. In consequence of the particular nature of the pea, and the late season of sowing, there there [ sic ] were little pease produced, but there was a complete and close covering given to the ground by the straw, which lying upon it all the season, cleaned and meliorated the soil to a surprising degree; and they scarce ever failed to have, from what was before the poorest ground, two excellent crops of oats, in the two succeeding years; and the land, after it had rested 6 years, was in very good order at the next break. This practice is now mostly given up, as the ground has all been brought in, but it was considered as the best method of improving a poor soil.



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