muirkirk in the hills of ayrshire - from the muirkirk enterprise group

   

Muirkirk Heritage

The village of Muirkirk is a historical Covenanter town located on the eastern edge of Ayrshire, Scotland.

From the tiny settlement of Garan, through the Moor Kirk o' Kyle, over time Muirkirk has been:-

  • a centre of Christianity
    with the Convenanters, helping ensure religious and social freedom for Scotland's people;
  • a major coaching halt
    on the main road south from Glasgow;
  • a place of poetry
    with Tibbie Pagan and John Lapriak, visited by Rabbie Burns;
  • a centre of strategic industry
    with rail connections serving iron and coal production.

Muirkirk was the first town in Britain to have gas lighting, and the last place in Britain to have it's own gas works. In Muirkirk "Tar McAdam" pioneered road surfacing methods used throughout the world today.

From an early 1900s guide to Ayrshire

"With environs bleaker perhaps than those of any other town in southern Scotland, Muirkirk is the seat of an extensive iron manufacture and was brought into existence through the discovery and smelting of iron ore in 1787. The place has undergone great fluctuations of prosperity, but since about 1830 and especially since the formation of the railway, it has been flourishing as to rank among the great seats of the iron manufacture in Scotland. The works of the Eglinton Iron Company have several blast furnaces and rolling mills; coal mining and lime-burning are actively carried on. New works for collecting ammonia as a by-product at the furnaces were erected at a large outlay in 1883. In 1894 a drainage scheme estimated to cost 1,100 was begun. Muirkirk has a post office, a branch of the Clydesdale Bank, 2 hotels, a gas company and fairs on the Tuesday after 18th February for hiring shepherds and the Thursday nearest 21st December, when shepherds meet to restore sheep which have strayed from their owners. Muirkirk black faced sheep have carried off the first prize at several of the Highland Society's shows and at the Paris exhibition of 1867."

From A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland (1846)

MUIRKIRK, a parish, in the district of Kyle, county of Ayr, 10 miles (W. by S.) from Douglas; containing, with the village of Glenbuck, 3125 inhabitants. The origin and history of this place are both involved in obscurity and uncertainty; little more of it is known than that, previously to the year 1626, it formed part of the parish of Mauchline, and as such was included in the barony of the earls of Loudoun. An attempt has been made to deduce the history of some transactions connected with the place, from the existence of various stones in different parts; but they are neither inscribed with any characters tending to explain the cause of their erection, nor are they of sufficient magnitude to warrant the opinion of their being monuments of commemoration. The parish, which is situated on the river Ayr, is about eight miles in length from east to west, and seven miles broad from north to south; and comprises about 30,000 acres. Not more than 5000 are in cultivation, and of these only 1000 are under tillage; 250 are woodland and plantations; and the remainder is now in a state of nature, though a very considerable portion might be rendered fertile, and brought into cultivation, at a moderate expense. The surface is very irregular; it is tolerably level near the banks of the rivers, but in other parts rises abruptly into lofty eminences. The highest of these is the hill of Cairntable, which has an elevation of 1650 feet above the level of the sea, and is crowned by two large cairns; it is chiefly composed of breccia, and for many years afforded a supply of millstones for the use of the parish. The higher grounds are clothed with a kind of dark-coloured heath that gives a cheerless aspect to the scenery, which is increased by the want of timber. The river Ayr has its source in this parish, in a spot where two artificial lakes have been formed by the Catrine Company, as reservoirs for the supply of their cotton-works, and which cover about 120 acres of ground. From these the river issues, receiving in its course through the parish numerous tributary streams from the hills, of which the chief are the Garpel, Greenoch, and Whitehaugh; and thus augmented, it pursues its course, for about thirty miles, and falls into the Frith of Clyde at Ayr. There are springs affording an ample supply of excellent water, and also some which have a petrifying property.

The soil is various, consisting of sand, gravel, loam, clay, and peat-moss, which last is found in some parts twenty feet in depth: the crops are, grain of all kinds, potatoes, and turnips. The rotation system of husbandry has been generally adopted, and the state of agriculture is improved; hundreds of acres, also, have been tile-drained; but much remains to be done, and the abundance of lime and coal in the parish afford every facility of improvement. The plantations are chiefly spruce, larch, and Scotch fir. Surface-draining has been practised on some of the farms, with very beneficial results, by the tenants at their own expense; it has been done, however, only on a very limited scale. The farm-houses are substantial and commodious, especially those of more recent erection; but very few of the lands are inclosed, and those only with stone dykes. Several of the dairy-farms are well managed; the cows are of the Cunninghame breed, and a considerable number of young cattle of the same breed are annually reared, to the improvement of which adequate attention is paid. The sheep, whereof great numbers are fed, are the black-faced, which seem to be well adapted to the quality of the pastures. The woods appear to have been almost destroyed, though from old documents it is clear that this was a forest towards the close of the 12th century; and from the numerous trees found imbedded in the mosses, and from some detached portions of trees still found in various parts, it is evident that the parish formerly abounded with timber. Wellwood, the property of the Duke of Portland, is an ancient mansion beautifully situated on the banks of the Ayr, and embosomed in thriving plantations. The rateable annual value of the parish is 6179.

The substrata are chiefly coal, ironstone, and limestone. The coal formation is part of the great coal-field of the country; the seam at present worked is about twenty-five feet in thickness, though in other parts nearly forty feet. The ironstone is found in belts about six inches thick; and the limestone, which is of good quality, is extensively quarried. Iron-ore, lead, and manganese have also been found; the two former were worked for some time, but the working was not productive, and it was consequently discontinued. The iron-works in this parish, which are very extensive, were erected in 1787, and have since been carried on with great spirit by the proprietors. The works consist of four blast-furnaces for the manufacture of pig-iron, an extensive foundry, and a rolling-mill for bar-iron; two of the furnaces are at present in use, and these afford employment to about 400 men, who are constantly engaged. The bar-iron is of excellent quality, and superior to that of most other forges: until a very recent year it was beaten into bars instead of being formed by rollers, as in other works. There were formerly some iron-works established at Glenbuck by an English company; but they were abandoned many years since. The village of Muirkirk has greatly increased since the opening of the works in its neighbourhood; it is inhabited chiefly by persons employed in the collieries and limestone-quarries, and in the iron-works. Two circulating libraries, containing large and well-assorted collections of volumes, are supported by subscription. Fairs are held in February and December; but they are not well attended. A branch bank has been established; and facility of intercourse with Strathaven, the nearest market-town, and with other places in the neighbourhood, is maintained by good roads which pass through the parish. Muirkirk is in the presbytery of Ayr and synod of Glasgow and Ayr, and patronage of the Marquess of Hastings: the minister's stipend is 157. 17. 3., with a manse, and a glebe valued at 20 per annum. The church, erected about the year 1813, is a neat and substantial edifice adapted for a congregation of 913 persons, and is conveniently situated nearly in the centre of the parish. There are places of worship for Burghers, the United Secession, and Independents. The parochial school affords instruction to about seventy children; the master has a salary of 28 per annum, with 30 fees, and a house and garden. There are three friendly societies, the Muirkirk, the St. Thomas's, and the St. Andrew's masonic lodges, all established for many years, and which have contributed very materially to diminish the number of applicants for parochial relief, and to keep alive a spirit of independence among the poor. Some of the springs in the parish are slightly impregnated with iron, sulphur, and other minerals. According to tradition, there was anciently a religious establishment on the summit of Cairntable; but of what order, or when or by whom founded, nothing is recorded.

From the Pigot Directory of 1837

MUIRKIRK
Is a thriving and considerable village, the capital of the parish of its name, in the district of Kyle; 50 miles wsw from Edinburgh, 30 s from Glasgow, 26 e by n from Ayr, 24 se from Kilmarnock, and 16 nw from Sanquhar; situate near the right bank of the water of Ayr, at the junction of the roads leading from Glasgow to Dumfries, and from Edinburgh to Ayr; and in a district rude and bleak, the land being but partially reclaimed from its original mossy and moorish character; another considerable portion is, however, profitably employed in grazing and pasture, and in 1835, the black-faced sheep fed in this parish carried the Highland Society's prize. Though nature has not here been bountiful to the farmer, or encouraged the labours of the agriculturist, she has been abundantly kind to the miner, for coal, iron and limestone are liberally dispensed throughout the territory. At the "Muirkirk Iron Company's works are three blast furnaces, constantly in operation, for the manufacture of pig-iron; the malleable description is also produced here, both in rolled and hammered state. There are, besides, extensive tile and lime works, belonging to the Duke of Portland, who, with Lord Douglas and the Hon. Colonel Catheart, are the principal proprietors of the land in this parish. Its length is nine miles, by an average breadth of about six; bounded on the north-east by Douglas, on the east by Kirkconnel, on the south by Cumnock, and on the west by Loudon. In the village are two libraries, which are well conducted, and the like number of good Inns - the "Black Bull" and the "Masons Arms". Fairs are held in the months of July, August, and December. Post Office, Adam McCaul, Post Master - The English and south letters arrive (from Douglas) every afternoon at half past one, and are despatched every morning at half past eight - Letters from Kilmarnock arrive every morning at half past eight, and are despatched every afternoon at half past one.

Today little evidence remains of Muirkirk's industrial past, but the community is active in ensuring that knowledge of the vilage heritage is preserved for future generations.

Heritage Links

Audio Trail

Covenanters

Heritage Layby

Muirkirk Memories

Heritage Locations

Glenbuck Furnace, c.1796
(NS 750295).

Muirkirk Canal

Muirkirk Ironworks, 1786
(NS 697268).

McAdam Cairn, 1931,
on site of tar works, 1786
(NS 695256).

Gas Works (NS 695270).

Tramway embankment, c.1805
(NS 695265).

Old Muirkirk and Glenbuck from Stenlake Publishing
The "Old" series of books from Stenlake Publishing contain pictures from bygone times. in "Old MUIRKIRK and Glenbuck" David Pettigrew illustrates the Muirkirk story with rare photographs of the pits, rows and shops that once thrived here. A photograph of the Glenbuck Cherrypickers and the story of the famous Shankly brothers is included. More information can be found on the Stenlake Publishing website