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Old Statistical Account


[Transcribed from the original by David Courtney McClure.]

Largs [First report]

[Vol. II, pages 360–366]

(County of Ayr)

By the Rev. Mr Gilbert Lang.

Situation, Air, &c

The parish of Largs lies in that division of the shire of Ayr, called Cunningham.  It is the most northerly parish in it; bordering on the shire of Renfrew, at a place, called Kellybridge.  It is pleasantly situated along the firth of Clyde, from north to south; having the islands of Bute and Cumbraes opposite to its shore: beyond which, are seen the lofty mountains of Arran, with their heads often above the clouds.  It is a magnificent prospect; the eye passing over the sea, from island to island, till at last the view is thus nobly terminated.  To the east of the Largs, the land rises into a long range of mountains, which separates it from the parishes of Innerkip, Greenock, Kilmalcolm, Lochwinnoch, Kilbirny, and Dalry; so that it is a very sequestered spot; and hence, perhaps, the common proverbial saying, “Out of Scotland into Largs.”  The air is pure; the water clear and bright; snows generally melt as they fall, seldom lying near the shore.  There are here scarce any fogs, while the rest of the country, forty miles around, is often buried in them: So that this parish [361] has been, by some, called the Montpelier of Scotland.  It has been frequented a good deal of late, in the summer months, by many persons and families, for the sake of health or amusement; and it would be still more, if there were better accommodation.  From Kelly bridge, the parish runs nine miles south, along the shore, to Fairly, where it borders with the parish of Kilbryde [sic].  It may be very properly called, in general, a stripe of land, between the mountains and the sea; and it antient [sic] times, it is probable, the sea covered the lower parts.

Soil, Produce, &c

The soil, upon the whole, is rather light, shallow, and gravellish.  The land does not produce as much corn, as is necessary for the support of the people.  Perhaps it would be better, if there were still less corn, and if grass were more attended to; for the soil, of itself, runs naturally into white clover and daisy: and even the mountains, which are all green, afford excellent pasture for cattle.  There is a practice also, which renders it impossible to have great or rich farms, or good cultivation, in this parish; it being usual to hire almost all the farm horses in it, during winter and spring, among the neighbouring districts; and after the labour among them is over, they are returned home, often in a poor state, to go through the work of their own ill–judging masters.  The saving of fodder, and the making of a little money, is the excuse made for this strange practice.  The soil is light, and the harvests are as early, and even earlier than any in the neighbourhood.  The plough is certainly rather neglected; but there is plenty of butter made, and many black cattle and sheep fattened.


In 1755, there was none who could properly make a return of the state of the population.  In 1756, the [362] present incumbent took a list of examinable persons, or of those above 8 years of age, and found that they amounted to 830.  The number, an. 1790, was 805, of whom 389 were males and 416 females; so that the population has not much varied.  In Dr Webster's report, the number of souls is 1164.  Probably, when the return consisted only of examinable persons, he had certain data upon which he calculated the number of souls.  The population of the country part of the parish has certainly decreased; but the town of Largs, which contains about half the parish, has proportionately increased.  The number of deaths varies considerably in different years; according as the small–pox, or any species of dangerous fever, prevails or not.  In such cases, the number of deaths is above 40; but in ordinary years, between 20 and 30.  Inoculation has been introduced several times; but, notwithstanding its self–evident utility, the least accident tends to discredit it.  The number of births, one year with another, is about 30.

Though the Largs lies conveniently for some species of trade and manufactures, yet the want of coal, and more especially, the tax upon that necessary article, will for ever prevent the very existence of them.  Perhaps Turkey itself cannot afford an instance of a tax more oppressive and more absurd.  Among the trades people, who live in Largs, the weavers are the most numerous, particularly the silk–weavers; being employed by the manufacturers of Paisley, who have been of great benefit to the place. [*]   Fishing has been much less attended to, that it ought to be.  There are several corn–merchants, who buy grain in Bute and Cumbraes; and also import it from the south of Scotland, and from Ireland.

[363] There is no smuggling worth the mention, unless the pitiful and occasional help given to the poor seamen, in their little adventures, can be called such.  The inhabitants, in general, are a quiet, sober, decent, people.  Living chiefly among themselves, they are strangers, so far, perhaps, happy strangers, to the more free and licentious manners of the world around them.

Curiosities, Ruins, &c

Entering the parish and the shire at Kelly bridge, upon the shore, along which the road pleasantly lies, the land, to the east of it, which is high, ends abruptly in, what may be called, a perpendicular wall of stone, extending a full mile, at the foot of which is the road, and rising above it in some places, to the height of 50 and 60 feet, seeming to hang over it, and presenting to travellers, the likeness of an impregnable bulwark.  It is a striking object, especially in frosty weather, if the sun happens to shine on it when it is all covered over with icicles.  This mound of rock ends near the house of Kilmorly, which is an old castle, standing on a height, and commanding a noble prospect of the Clyde.  Farther on, are the ruins of another castle, above the road, and seen from it; and higher up, is a mountain rising to a considerable height, in the shape of a cone, and green to the top; on which there is still the vestige of some work of antient times.  Perhaps it might have served for a watch–tower; for it is too narrow for any thing else.  Coming farther south, the high grounds fall off gradually, sloping down to a water at the bottom.  That ground is still called Forgie–brae, originally, Fergus–brae.  Perhaps it got that name from Fergus, King of the Scots, marching up that hill, when he landed from Ireland.  The country now opens into a beautiful plain, extending near a mile from the shore, to the foot of the mountains; where the village of Largs is situated, near the shore, and surrounded [364] with trees.  In the church is an aisle, belonging to the family of Skelmorly, built by Sir Robert Montgomery, more than 160 years ago; which, both for sculpture and painting, does no discredit to those times.  Under ground is a vault; where, among others, the body of Sir Robert lies, in a leaden coffin; on which is the following Latin inscription:

Ipse mihi praemortuus fui, fato funera praeipui, unicum idque caesareum exemplar, inter tot mortales, secutus.

Sir Robert used to descend into the vault at nights, for his devotions; thus burying himself, as it were, alive.  The Caesareum exemplar, is the example of the Emperor, Charles the V, who had his obsequies solemnly performed before he died.


The plain above mentioned extends to the south of the Largs; on which was fought in 1263, in the reign of Alexander the III, the famous battle of Largs, between the Scots and the Danes or Norwegians. [†]   The historians on both sides differ much in their accounts of it.  Without entering into a fruitless controversy on so remote an event, it may be observed, that there has been, from generation to generation, an uninterrupted tradition of a battle fought in that place, between these nations.  The field is still pointed out; cairns of stones were on it, formed, as was said, over pits, into which the bodies of the slain were thrown.  An unhewn stone of granite, ten feet long, once stood on end in that field, erected over the body of a chieftain.  It is now fallen down.  A Danish ax [sic] was found not far from it, and sent by Mr Brisbane of Brisbane to the Antiquarian Society at Edinburgh.  The Earl of Glasgow had another.  If any faith could be given to modern [365] names of places, they would be a proof, at this day, of that battle.  One is called the Killing craig, another the Burly [Ba, Bu ?] gate.  To all which it may be added, that a few years ago, some workmen were employed to carry off stones, larger and better shaped than field stones, from a rising ground, where they were lying in a great heap, and where, it is said, a chapel once stood, in a corner, near the place where the battle was fought.  After taking away a great number, they came at length to three, long, broad, flat, unhewn stones, which were the covers of three deep stone coffins.  Nothing, however, was found in them, except a broken, brown, earthen urn, and a mouldering piece of bone.  The earth and small stones, at the bottom, on the ground, were calcined.

Miscellaneous Observations

Fairly road or rade, may be properly mentioned in this account.  It is a bay that would contain any number of ships, sheltered from every storm, and having firm anchoring ground.

There is a fair, annually held at Largs, every Midsummer.  It is called St Cosme or Come's day.  In former times there was little communication between the Highlands and Lowlands; at the same time, they required articles, with which they could mutually supply each other.  Hence, probably, they agreed to meet one another, in a common place, for the general benefit; and this place was the Largs.  There they made exchanges, and purchased goods, that served them through the whole year.  It might be called, a congress between the Highlands and Lowlands; and occasioned a vast concourse of people, for some days.  The spectacle of boats from all quarters, the crowds of people, the sound of music; ashore, dancing and hilarity, day and night on the green; and farther up, a new street, or town, formed of the stands of merchants, and filled with a press of people, formed altogether an amusing spectacle.  [366] Of late, this congress has decreased much; because there are many shops now through the Highlands; and travelling chapmen frequent almost every part of that country.  However, there is still a respectable concourse of rustic beaux and belles, from east and west, by land and sea.

Kelburn House

Kelburn, a seat belonging to the Earl of Glasgow, remarkable for the romantic scenery of the glen behind it, is situated in this parish.  The glen begins near the house, and about a quarter of a mile behind it, ends in an abrupt, rough, steep, precipice, over which a water pours down, which then runs through a bottom below, no broader than the water itself.  The ground immediately rises on each side, and ascends mountain–high; at the same time these two heights are very near each other.  The chasm, were it naked, would be tremendous; but art has converted it into a surprising beauty.  Both sides of it are planted, and covered with trees; which have flourished so well, that in some parts, a shade is formed, impervious to the rays of the sun.  The water, in its course, falls, near the house, over another precipice, 50 feet down, into a vast bason [sic], that seems scooped out of both sides of the glen.  A walk goes through the whole, which is properly conducted to humour the ground.  The steepness of the shade, the murmuring of the stream below, the height of the ground on each side, the depth of the precipices, the solemn darkness, so favourable to seriousness and meditation; all together form a scene peculiarly awful.  All which is still heightened, by the appearance of a monument of white marble, erected by the late Countess Dowager of Glasgow, to the memory of her husband: Virtue, holding a lock of her hair in one hand; and in the other, an urn; over which she pensively, and mournfully inclines, lamenting the loss of one of her favourite sons.

Largs [2nd Report] [3]

[Vol. XVII, pages 503–520]

By a Friend to Statistical Inquiries.

Situation, &c

The parish of Largs is situated in the district of Cunninghame, one of the divisions of the county of Ayr, at the northern extremity, about thirty miles due west from Glasgow.  It extends about nine miles from Kelly–burn, which separates it on the north from the parish of Innerkip, in the shire of Renfrew, along the Frith of Clyde, which bounds it on the west, in a line nearly parallel with the Isle of Bute, to the parish of West Kilbride, which bounds it on the south at a little distance from the village of Fairly.  From the village of Largs, it extends about 7 or 8 miles to the hill of Stake, the summit of an extensive range of hills running from Greenock to Kilwinning, and separating the parish of Largs from the adjacent country on the east.  This circumstance, occasioned the common saying among the inhabitants of the inland parishes, “Out of the world, and into the Largs.”

No parish in the west of Scotland, and few in the Highlands, can afford such a variety of beautiful and romantic  [504] scenes.  The hills, which begin to rise in the neighbouring parishes of Greenock, Kilmacolm, Lochwinnoch, Kilbirny, and Dalry, meet in a kind of general summit at the eastern boundary of Largs, from which they gradually descend as they approach the shore, till they terminate at last in a variety of abrupt declivities, some of which are almost perpendicular, as if part of their base had been torn away by force.  Notwithstanding the vast height of these hills, they are covered, during the greater part of the year, with verdure, and afford such excellent pasture for sheep, and some of them for larger cattle, as can hardly be found elsewhere in similar situations.

The quantity of heath, even on the highest hills, is comparatively small; and, from indisputable marks it appear, that some of them have once been cultivated.

Soil, Agriculture, and Produce

The whole extent of the parish of Largs may, from several surveys, none of which are entirely accurate, be estimated at 19'743 acres.  The estate of Brisbane alone, with the feus belonging to it, contains 9,748 acres, 2 falls, and 27 perches.  The arable lands in the parish, consist of about 4200 acres, rather more than one fifth of the whole.  The rest of it is now wholly appropriated to pasture, though a far greater proportion bears evident marks of the plough,  About a thousand acres of the higher grounds are of little value; the rest, however, is excellent for feeding sheep and rearing young cattle.  In the lower grounds a number of cattle are fattened, so as to find a ready market in Greenock and other neighbouring towns.  One stock farm, the property of the Earl of Glasgow, yields very near £500 yearly, neat rent; and several farmers, whose cattle are fed upon the pasture grounds only, make considerable quantities of butter and cheese.

[505] The soil of the arable grounds is of two kinds; that on the south of the Nodesdale water, comprehending Lord Glasgow's estate, and great part of Mr Brisbane's, is light and sandy, producing tolerable crops with little culture, if the season be not immoderately dry, whereas, that on the north side is a light red kind of earth lying on rocky foundations of the same colour, and inferior to the former, both for pasture and tillage.

Neither lime nor coals, worth working, have been discovered in the parish, and cannot be obtained from any place nearer than Stevenson [sic], which is about 11 miles distant from the south end of the parish.  Lime, therefore, as it can only be procured at great expence, is but little used.  The most common manure is a mixture of sea–weed and dung, or dung itself, where sea–weed cannot be obtained.

The fields thus improved, and after lying five or six years in pasture, yield tolerable crops; and though the quantity of oats and barley, produced by these means, is, in general less, than in some of the neighbouring parishes, the meal is generally equal; a quarter of oats yielding generally 20 pecks of meal, sometimes more.  The great obstacle to any considerable improvements in agriculture is a species of traffic in horses peculiar to this parish.

Farmers, mechanics, and even servants, who can afford to buy a horse, are engaged in it.  Some individuals have from 10 to a dozen of horses, some of them worth £15 or £20 for the purpose of hiring them to the farmers in the neighbouring parishes, from 20 to 30 miles round.  They are usually let out from a guinea to 40s according to their quality, from the first of February, sometimes to the 24th of March, but most commonly to the 10th of April, when they are all returned.  Previous to this period, there are few horses in the whole parish; but after it there are so many in [506] every part of it as are sufficient for the purpose of plowing, harrowing, and performing all the operations of husbandry in two or three weeks.  They are afterwards either turned loose into the higher grounds, or let out for hire during the summer season.

Another practice, which operates as an obstacle to agriculture, is that of importing oats from Ireland and the adjacent islands, and manufacturing them at home.  This supplies the inhabitants with plenty.  The surplus finds a ready market in Greenock, and the refuse contributes to feed the horses.

Unless the former of these practices, which is, in some measure, encouraged by the latter, be abandoned, considerable improvements in agriculture can hardly be expected, and the nature of the soil can scarcely admit of great improvements.

The arable grounds yield, in general, tolerable crops of oats and barley; they rival every other in producing great quantities of potatoes, and of the best quality.  The orchards are, indeed, inferior; but their gardens, in general, superior to most in the same latitude.

An attempt to reclaim some of the lands in the north end of the parish, which are covered with heath, might be worth the experiment, as they are not so high as to preclude all hopes of success.

The old Scotch plough is generally uses.  Mr Hill at Kelburn uses the chain–plough, with Small's improved mouldboard.


Largs, though an extensive parish, does not contain a great proportion of arable ground.  It has no commerce, except a share in the coasting trade.  It contains but few inhabitants.  According to an accurate calculation made [507] lately, there are,





in the village of Largs








Country parts








Number of females more than males





In the year 1756, the inhabitants were said to have been 1164.  There has since been a decrease, owing to several small farms being comprehended in greater ones, and a number evacuated to enlarge the plantations at Kelburn.

From accurate information, 51 persons have left the parish since 1791, more than have settled in it during that period.

In the village of Largs, there are,


























2 [4]


In the village of Fairly, [508]


















Air and Climate

As the parish lies near the sea, and is surrounded by very high hills, it has generally its full proportion of rain, which is very serviceable to the light sandy soil, of which the greatest part of the parish consists.

The air at Largs is commonly pure.  The thick fogs which often surround Glasgow, Paisley, and the adjacent country, frequently cover the hills, but seldom visit the low countries.  In time of frost, this circumstance is peculiarly remarkable, while in other places the air is thick and hazy, here the sky is clear and serene.  Many of the sickly inhabitants of Glasgow and Paisley have felt sensible advantages from the air of Largs; some of them have been entirely recovered, and yet the parish affords, comparatively few instances of longevity.

The chief old persons in it are,



William Crawford


James Martin, Largs


Robert Adam, Kipping–burn


Alexander Hair, Outer–wards



In 1754, James Hendry died at Tourgill, aged 103 years.  But if the inhabitants of Largs do not live longer than those [509] of other parishes, they certainly enjoy better health.  Medical assistance is seldom necessary, unless for those who have been infected elsewhere.


Owing to a circumstance formerly mentioned, there are probably more horses in this parish than in most others of the same extent.  As they are continually changing their pastures, and frequently their owners, it is impossible to calculate their number with precision.  From the most accurate and authentic information, there are at present in the parish,




black cattle




The sheep are mostly of the Golloway [sic] breed.  A few of the larger kind of English sheep have been lately tried, and have turned to good account.

The wool is generally sold to the people of Kilmarnock from 6s to 12s per stone, and about 570 stone is sold annually.

It may be added, that some horses and black cattle are fed in Kelburn parks after the first stock is removed.

Roads, &c

The great road from Glasgow to Port–Patrick runs through the whole extent of the parish.  Formerly, it went over some high roads towards the north end of it; but, about five years ago, a new road was made from Skelmurly [sic] to Largs, along the shore.  The expence of this is defrayed by a toll at Kelly–bridge, rented at £72 15s.  The conversion of statute labour is £47 10s.  The roads is kept [sic] in good repair; there are bridges upon it, three of which are lately built.

[510] The rest of the parish, however, is in great want of roads.  There is no private road, of any great extent, kept in even tolerable repair, except the road to Brisbane, which was made, and is still kept in repair at the proprietor's expence, though it is the only communication with the upper end of the parish where it joins Kilmacolm.

It is proposed to make two new roads; one over the hills, so as to communicate with Kilbirny on the east, and Dalry on the south ease, and another through to Kilmacolm on the north east.  These improvements, which have been often talked of, but never executed, would add considerably to the value of the lands, and convenience of the inhabitants, by opening a communication with many parts of the adjacent country, at present, in a great measure, inaccessible, except by foot passengers, or horses accustomed to the roads.  On the south and north of the village of Largs are two large rivulets or burns.  The water of Nodesdale to the north, and Gogo to the south.

Nodesdale is a very impetuous stream.  It runs through Mr Brisbane's pleasure grounds, where it has often committed great depradations.  Mr Brisbane has frequently endeavoured to imbank it, and has been at great pains and expence in raising mounds of earth to turn its course, but in vain.

As soon as the heavy rains come, it overcomes all obstructions, and, running with unusual impetuosity through a light and gravely [sic] soil, has, in the course of a few years, destroyed many acres of land to the proprietor.


The salmon caught on the coast are of the best quality.  Since the fishermen came from the north country great quantities have been caught, which are mostly sold at Greenock and Port–Glasgow.  The salmon fishing is at present rented at £27.  Mr Brisbane's proportion is £20.  The rest is Lord Glasgow's and Colonel Montgomery's.

[511] It would produce much more profit were they not dispersed in so many places, and at such a distance from each other.

Mackerel, haddocks, whitings, and cod, are caught on every bank in large quantities.  A single boat, with four or five hands, has been known to take twenty stone of them in a day.  In 1793, when a number of boats were employed, it is computed, that, for the space of a month, they took, at an average, 18 stone every day.

They are sold, at the village of Largs, from 1s 6d to 2s per stone; and, when carried to Paisley and the neighbouring towns, they bring at the rate of 3s 4d.

Considerable quantities of herrings were formerly taken on this coast, and smaller quantities are still taken at a little distance from it.


The proprietors in this parish are, the Earl of Glasgow, Thomas Brisbane of Brisbane, Colonel Hugh Montgomery of Skelmurly, William Blair of Blair, and Thomas King of Blackhouse, besides William Wilson of Hailley, and Daniel Fraser of Hangenheugh, who hold of the family of Brisbane, and thirteen feuers upon the estate of Brisbane.

Of the more considerable proprietors, Mr Brisbane of Brisbane is the only residing one.

There have been few changes of property in this parish.  The lands of Kelburn have been in possession of the Earl of Glasgow's ancestors upwards of 500 years.

Colonel Montgomery's ancestor was a second son of Alexander Lord Montgomery, who lived in 1440.  They continued, in a direct male line, till the eldest daughter, and heiress of Sir Robert Montgomery of Skelmurly, married Alexander Montgomery of Colsfield [sic].  She was mother to the present proprietor.

[512] Mr Brisbane of Brisbane, chief of that name, of an ancient family in Renfrewshire, has had some of the land he now possesses, belonging to the estate, upwards of 200 years.

About two years ago, the part of the late James Bannyton [sic] of Kelly, lying in this parish, was sold, after having been upwards of 300 years in the family.  The small property of Hailley, the possession of Mr William Wilson, has belonged to his forefathers since 1516, as appears by a seisine of Alexander Master of Semple to James Wilson.


























2 [5]

Valuation, &c

The valuation of this parish is £3810 Scotch.  The real value is about £3500 Sterling.

The value of land has risen considerably of late.

In 1754, the parks of Kelburn rented – £149 6s 3d.  In the year 1794 – £471 5s 0d.

There is a small inclosure, called Fairley Mill Park, containing about 9 acres, 2 of which are very bad pasture; it gives £41 yearly rent.

Hangenheugh and Routdonburn, feu from Brisbane estate, rented in 1762 at £9.  In 1794, at £52.

Likewise the small property of Hailley was, in 1764, rented at £9; yields, in 1794, £60 per annum to the proprietor, in setting it out in small lots to the inhabitants of the village of Largs for potatoes.

Church, &c

The church is an old building, erected before the Reformation, but at what period is uncertain.  In the north side is an aile [sic], containing an elegant monument, belonging to Colonel Montgomery of Skelmurly.  It forms an arch and two compartments, supported by 18 pillars, of the Corinthian order, surmounted with cherubims.  Above the arch is a small pyramid, finished at top with a globe.  It [513] is very richly carved, and with great taste, considering the time in which it was built, namely, in 1636.

On the roof of the aile are painted the 12 signs of the zodiac, and several views of the house of Skelmurly; with the premature death of a lady of the family, who was killed by the kick of a horse.

It is likewise adorned with several texts of Scripture, and various escutcheons of the different members of than ancient family.

Below is a vault, built by Sir Robert Montgomery, who, becoming serious in the after part of his life, repaired hither at night for devotional exercise; by these means burying himself as it were alive.

There are two niches in the walls for coffins; and Sir Robert himself, with his lady, Margaret Douglas, daughter to Sir James Douglas of Drumlanrig, ancestor to the Duke of Queensberry, lie in two leaden coffins.

Sir died in 1624.  On Sir Robert's is the following inscription:

Ipse mitre praemortives fui: Fato funera,

Praeripui.  Unicum, idque Caesarium

Exemplar inter tot mortales secutus.

This plainly alludes to the Emperor Charles V, who had his funeral obsequies performed before his death.

Colonel Montgomery, the lineal descendent of Sir Robert, is patron; the Reverend Mr Stephen Rowan, minister.

At the Revolution and establishment of the Church of Scotland, in 1689, Mr John Wilson was settled.  He died in 1699, aged 44.  He was succeeded, in 1701, by Mr Andrew Cummin, who died in 1762, aged 88, in the 61st year of his ministry.  Upon his death followed Mr Gilbert Lang, who had been settled as his assistant and successor from 1756.

[514] He died in 1791, in the 66th year of his age.  His successor is the present incumbent.

The stipend is 8 chalders, besides half a chalder for communion elements, commuted for money according to the fiars of the College of Glasgow.

The glebe is 7 acres and a half, arable, but no grass, with a good manse, situated at about a quarter of a mile north of the church.  The poors funds are £1032 besides the weekly collections, which are, at an average, about £40 per annum.

On the roll there are 20 people, who receive from one guinea yearly to £4; three weekly pensioners, at 2s 6d per week; besides 21 poor, who receive small sums, as their exigencies require.

John Morrice of Craig, Esq, who was born in this parish, and acquired an opulent fortune in the West Indies, left £50 to the poor in 1788.

The late Countess–Dowager of Glasgow, with that humanity and goodness which so eminently distinguished her character, when she left this parish in 1775, upon the death of her Lord, ordered £10 per annum to be distributed at the discretion of the minister.

The funds of the parish school are liberal.  Mr Hannibal Hall, surgeon at Dublin, a native of this parish, left to the school £175.  The master's salary is about £20.  He has from 60 to 70 scholars, from whom he receives quarterly,

For reading

1s 6d

For writing

2s 0d


2s 6d


3s 0d


The present schoolmaster is Mr John Macqueen.  There are likewise two smaller schools at the south and north ends of the parish, at the village of Fairley, and at Skelmurly.

[515] The greater number of the inhabitants are of the Established Church.  About 50 families are Burghers; and, to the honour of both parties, they live together in mutual amity, without exhibiting, in almost any instance, the smallest alienation of affection on account of different religious sentiments.


There are several castles, and houses of considerable antiquity, in the parish.  Skelmurly castle was built in 1502, and had a new addition in 1636.

The old castle of Knock was built above 300 years ago.  It was the property of an ancient family, of the name of Fraser, descended from John Fraser, third son of Hugh Fraser of Lovat, and his wife Isabel, daughter to Sir David Weems of Weems.  They had a grant of these lands from King Robert III in 1402.  It is now in ruins, and belongs to Mr Brisbane of Brisbane.  The castle of Fairley, formerly possessed by the ancient family of Fairley, said to be descended from a natural son of King Robert II, is now also in ruins.  It was built in 1521, and is now the property of the Earl of Glasgow.  The old part of Kilburn–house was built in 1581.

In Brisbane–house is an old chair, made of oak, dated 1357.  The arms of the family are carved on the back, which are,

Sable, acheveron, cheque or and gules between three cushions of the second, with the initials of J. B. and E. H.  This chair, being still in excellent preservation, may serve for many centuries to show the name and family of Brisbane to succeeding generations.

There are two moats, or mounds of earth, at each end of the village of Largs, of that kind called Law–hills, at the distance of four miles up the water of Nodesdale, at a place called Tourgill.

[516] There is one of a similar appearance, but much larger; it is now generally thought to be natural.

On the top of the Knock–hill is the vestige of a small camp, with three regular entrenchments.  Above Hailley, and directly opposite to the camp just mentioned, about the distance of three miles, are the remains of an ancient fortification, which is still called the Castle–hill.

There are likewise several tumuli in the parish, generally believed to have been raised after the battle of Largs, over the bodies of the slain.  This battle was fought in the reign of King Alexander III in 1263, between the Scots and Norwegians.  The Scotch army was commanded by Alexander Stewart, grandfather to the first Monarch of that family.  The Norwegians or Danes, under Haco their King, were routed with great slaughter, and many of them taken prisoners.  Haco himself escaped, with great difficulty, to his ships.

The field of battle is still shown.  A large plain, to the southward of the village of Largs, is supposed to have been the scene of action.  Cairns of stones were on it, formed, it was said, over pits, into which the bodies of the slain were thrown.  A course granite stone, about 10 feet high, stood in the centre of this field, supposed to be erected over the body of a chieftain.  It has now fallen down.

The Earl of Glasgow and Mr Brisbane had, each of them, Danish axes found in the field.  Mr Brisbane presented one of them to the Society of Antiquarians for Scotland.

Mr Wilson of Hailley, having occasion for stones to inclose part of his grounds in the year 1772, opened a small hill, called Margaret's Law, supposed to be natural, but found to be a collection of stones, containing upwards of 15,000 cart loads; in the centre of which were discovered five stone coffins, two of them containing five sculls [sic] each, [517] with other human bones, and several earthen urns.  It is generally believed they had been there since the battle of Largs.  The name Hailley seems to give countenance to this conjecture, being derived from the old Saxon work hadil, a grave.

In the parish of Dalry, on the south–east boundary of Largs, is a farm, called Camp–hill, where the Scotch army is said to have been encamped previous to the engagement.

Between that and the village of Largs is Routdonburn, supposed to derive its name from a detachment of Haco's army being routed there; and Don is a contraction for Dane.  What renders this more probable is, that, on the bank of the Routdonburn, is a large cairn of stones; upon removing part of which, lately, a stone coffin was found.  Between that and the sea is Burly–gate; a little lower, in the Earl of Glasgow's plantations, is Killing–craig; and farther southward is Kipping–burn, where, it is said, a number of the flying Danes were met by Sir Robert Boyd, ancestor to the Earl of Kilmarnock, afterwards the friend and confident of the famous King Robert Bruce, and put to the sword.

These names are a kind of confirmation of a battle having happened at this place.

Miscellaneous Remarks

The inhabitants of this parish are, in general, sober, industrious, and economical.  Though they enjoy very few conveniencies for making money, many of them are possessed of considerable sums.

Almost all of them study to provide for futurity; and thus they are enable to make the most of their situation.  Accordingly, they are in general richer than many in the adjacent parishes, whose advantages are greater.

The plague visited Largs in 1644, and carried off great numbers; among others, Mr Alexander Smith, then minister of the parish.

[518] There is a tradition, that, before his death, he asserted that he should be the last who would die of that disease, which happened accordingly. [6]

At the Outterwards, a farm in the north–east extremity of Brisbane estate, on a small holm, lying on the water of Nodesdale, were discovered the foundations of several small buildings, said to be the remains of huts, to which the inhabitants of the village of Largs, and adjacent country, retired to avoid the infection.  There is in Largs a weekly market on Thursdays, and four annual fairs, the most remarkable of which is St Columba's day, vulgarly called Comb's day, which is held on the second Tuesday of June.

[519] This fair is famous over the west of Scotland, and continues from Monday to Thursday.  Great numbers of people, from 40 or 50 miles round, resort to it, some for business, and some for pleasure.  Upwards of 100 boats are often to be seen, on this occasion, riding in the Bay.

The whole week is a kind of jubilee to the inhabitants, and a scene of diversion to others.

Such a vast multitude cannot be accommodated with beds; and the Highlanders, in particular, do not seem to think such accommodation necessary.  They spend the whole night in rustic sports, carousing and dancing on the green to the sound of the bagpipe.  Every one who chooses is allowed to join in this, which forms their principal amusement.

The candidates for the dance are generally so numerous, that it is kept up without intermission during the whole time of the fair.

This was formerly the general meeting place of Highlanders and Lowlanders, for the purpose of exchanging commodities which each of them could spare for others of greater utility.

Since shops have been opened, and pedlars have visited the different islands, this fair has gradually decreased; it is still, however, better frequented than any in the country.  Few scenes can afford objects more worthy of attention to the philosopher, who wishes to contemplate human nature in its simplest and most undisguised forms, or to the benevolent man, who rejoices to see that a great part of human happiness belongs to the virtuous poor.


Fairley road is one of the most convenient in the Frith of Clyde.  Vessels of any burthen may ride in it at all seasons, and loose from it with any wind.

Opposite the village of Largs, the water is several fathoms deep almost at the very shore.  The inhabitants have generally a taste for the sea; and many of them have money, which might be employed to good purpose in trade.

All circumstances contribute to render Largs proper for a sea–port town.  The only obstacles are, the want of a harbour, and good roads through the country, to facilitate the conveyance of goods by land.  Were these to be removed, some kind of manufacture to be established, and an act of Parliament procured for the roads, levying harbour dues, &c, the numbers and wealth of the inhabitants would at once be increased; and this would operated as a stimulus to the improvement of the soil.  A place possessing so many beauties and natural advantages, with the addition of trade and manufactures, would have inducements not only to retain the number of inhabitants, but to allure others to settle there.  If the parish, however, has not the advantage of more opulent districts, in trade, manufactures, and commerce, it is entirely free of the vices which luxury introduces; and, in this troublesome and distracted period, the inhabitants, with the exception of a few individuals, may be truly said both to fear God and honour their King.


[*]           The trades–people are nearly as follows: 66 weavers, 29 carpenters, 10 shoemakers, 7 taylors, 5 smiths, 5 coopers, 4 masons.

[†]           The famous poem of Hardiknute alludes to this battle.

[3]           The Statistical Account of Largs, printed in the II volume, being rather short and defective, the valuable addition to it, herewith printed, was sent by an intelligent and respectable friend to this great undertaking.

[4]           There are to Packets to Glasgow belonging to Largs.

[5]           There are to Packets to Glasgow belonging to Largs.

[6]           His tomb is still to be seen, about half a mile above Brisbane house, with the following inscription on a plain stone, in which, it is said, there is an allusion to the forementioned tradition, round the edge,  Here lyeth the Reverend Alexander Smith, minister of Largs, a faithful minister of the gospel, remived by the pestilence 1644.


             Conditus in

             Tumulo hoc jacco


             Senexque; nempe

             Annis juvenis

             Sed pietate

             Senex, Divins

             Eloguio, caeles

             tia dogmata

             Vide abstersi

             Tenebras, meno

             tibus ore tonans


             Haesil animo

             Per vera malo

             rum colluvies

             Verbis improbae

             Facto meis.





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