FROM MONKTON TO AYR--SCENERY--ORANGEFIELD--JAMES
DALRYMPLE--A WORTHY--"THE POW BRIG"--PRESTWICK KIRK AND
BURYING-GROUND--INTERESTING MEMORIALS--PRESTWICK--HISTORICAL NOTES--KINGCAES
WELL AND LAZARHOUSE--AND TRADITION OF KING ROBERT THE BRUCE.
Upon re-entering the
highway, I turned my face towards Ayr. In the distance lay the somewhat
scattered village of Prestwick, with its roofless barn-like church topping
a mound in its vicinity, while westward the heights of Arran towered from
the glistening Frith in all their rugged grandeur. The coast here is
studded with barren sand-hills, and were it not for a few scattered villas
along the shore the scene would be monotonous and dreary in the extreme.
Notwithstanding this, the landscape to the east of the road is verdant and
the soil productive, but there is nothing to engage the attention of the
pedestrian, save the mansion house of Orangefield--a residence already
referred to--which stands a short distance off the road. It was long the
residence of James Dalrymple, the friend and correspondent of Burns, who,
it will be remembered, introduced the bard to his cousin James, fourteenth
Earl of Glencairn, and subscribed for ten copies of the first edition of
his works. Robert Chambers describes him as having been "a warm-hearted,
high pulsed man, enthusiastically given to masonry and an occasional
scribbler of verses," and adds that it was he who furnished Burns with the
pony on which he rod to Edinburgh. From a letter to Gavin Hamilton, we
learn that he stood high in the estimation of the poet, and that he
interested himself in his affairs in the same enthusiastic manner as Mr
Aitken and the few patrons who took notice of his early poetic days. This
stay of struggling genius was the last of the Dalrymples of Orangefield,
for being a fast liver, his requirements swamped his fortune, and the
estates was sold. Since then it has passed through several hands.
A short distance beyond
Orangefield, I paused on a substantial stone bridge which crosses the Pow
Burn, and leaning over the parapet watched the minnows sporting in the
clear shallow stream. By its side stands the very handsome church of the
united parishes of Prestwick and Monkton, which forms a conspicuous object
on the landscape. Near to the same structure stood the humble residence of
Thomas King, a well-known village character who held the office of sexton
in Monkton churchyard for the long period of thirty years. Thomas is now
over eighty, and from the infirmities of age is no longer able to wield
the mattock and spade. When young, however, he was a great pedestrian, and
made long journeys, but the chief event of his life was a visit to London.
The journey being performed under peculiar circumstances, it continued the
subject of gossip in the district for the proverbial nine days, and
afterwards became a theme for the muse of Robert Fisher, a Prestwick bard.
As the verses flow smoothly, and have a homely ring, they are subjoined:--
THE POW BRIG.
I mind when a boy o’ an
Whaur twa bodies leev’d that were wonderful’ douse,
Beside a wee burnie sae cleanly an’ trig,
That wimpled it way ‘neath the Auld Pow Brig.
It was built in a kind o’
An’ had lang stood the beating o’ mony a storm;
Wi’ a bonny wee garden, a coo and a pig,
They leev’d happy as kings at the Auld Pow Brig.
Tam was blythe as a king, tho’ a
king just by name,
Was prood o’ his weans an’ tidy wee dame;
He ance started for London, drove though’t in a gig,
Wi’ the rent o’ the house at the Auld Pow Brig.
His wife was neither to bin nor to
She really imagined that Tam had gane mad;
She vow’d when she got him she’d kame his auld wig,
And learn him to leeve at the Auld Pow Brig.
I mind o’ these scenes, though I
then was but wee,
Aye runnin’ for grozets wi’ ilka bawbee;
And the lads and the lasses dances mony a jig,
In the lang simmer nichts, at the Auld Pow Brig.
But the house is aw’a, and wifie
And puir auld Tam noo is sad and alane;
An’ nocht marks the spot, but the bonnie lea rig,
Whaur stood the wee house at the Auld Pow Brig.
Crossing the road, I
entered the unenclosed common, and directed my steps to the old church of
Prestwick and soon arrived at the burying-ground by which it is surrounded
Seeing a group of children playing at "hide and seek" among the grave
stones, I vaulted the low wall and began to explore this rugged unkept
place of burial, for it is sterile and bleak in appearance, being
unadorned with shrubbery and totally exposed to the chill sea breeze.
The roofless sanctuary in
it centre has no feature of interest, but notwithstanding this great
antiquity is ascribed to it. It was dedicated to Saint Nicholas, and
granted along with Monkton Church to the Monastery of Paisley by Walter,
the son of Allan, the first High Stewart of Scotland. After the Parishes
of Prestwick and Monkton were united it fell into disrepute, for the
minister of the latter place of worship only preached in it every third
Sabbath. This arrangement the Court of Teinds brought to a close by
erecting the commodious church noticed above. Upon its completion,
Prestwick Church, like its sister fabric in Monkton, was gutted and
unroofed, and left like a gaunt skeleton to battle with the
elements, and as such its bare walls remain a prominent object on the
landscape, and are seen to advantage from road, rail, and sea.
When wandering among the
graves I deciphered many a stony page, read many a holy text and disjoined
couplet containing sage advices and moral lessons, but cannot say that any
curious or remarkable inscription came under my notice. One stone,
announcing that it is "IN MEMORY OF CAPTAIN JOHN BOGG OF THE BRIG MERCUARY
OF GREENOCK, WHO WAS LOST OF AYR THE 3RD OF NOVEMBER, 1807,"
tells a woeful tale of the sea--a tale whose incidents are by far too
often repeated in this era of rotten ships. Many stones to the memory of
Prestwick freemen stud the sandy soil, but the most interesting to be met
with art those which are said to cover the graves of Knights Templar. They
are weather-worn and decayed, but bear no inscription, save a rude tracing
of something resembling a cross. In the records of the Burgh of’ Prestwick
repeated mention is made of Templar lands, and of sums of money derived
from them which were paid yearly to a person named "Sanct John of Irvine."
From this it is probable not only that knight of the order were at one
time located in the district, but also that the tradition has some
foundation in fact.
From the Churchyard I
passed up a respectable, closely-built street, and soon arrived in
Prestwick Cross, which is situated on the highway between Prestwick Cross,
which is situated on the highway between Kilmarnock and Ayr.
Prestwick, or the Priest’s
Village, as the name signifies, is a pleasant little place, with a Council
House, and very many substantial houses and neat villas of recent
erection. Although situated on the highway within two and a half miles of
the county town, and close to a line of railway, it has little to boast of
in the way of trade, and in the meantime is only famous for the excellent
quality of its kail plants. Its future, however, is promising, for it is
gradually growing in importance as a fashionable watering place. Like
Monkton it owes its origin to its church or other religious house erected
in its vicinity, but as what time it sprang into existence is unknown.
The charter erecting it
into a burgh or barony--which was renewed by James VI. at Holyrood, 19th
June, 600--expressly states that it was known as a free burgh or barony
617 years previous to that date. Now this borders on the fabulous, for it
brings its erection back to the year 983, a period "far beyond the epoch
of record," as Chalmers shrewdly remarks. "The lands of the burgh," says
the same writer, "extend to about 1000 Scots acres, and are divided among
thirty-six freemen or barons, [*In
the olden times a freeman was a vassal in earnest. By a statue dated
October, 1561, it was enacted that "ylk freman of this burgh (Prestwick)
at has hors, at thai haf ryden geyr with ane sadly, brydyll, gak, steyl
bannet, and ane slot staf, or ane pow ax, suerd, and buckler."]
as they are called, each of whom possesses a lot of arable land, and a
right of pasturing a certain number of sheep and cattle upon the common.
None of these can sell their freeholds but to the community, who have a
right to sell them again to whom they please. The magistrates have power
to regulate the police of the burgh, and a jurisdiction over the freemen
for enforcing the recovery of small debts. Though they have the power of
committing a freeman to prison, they cannot lock the doors upon him; but
if he comes out of the prison without proper liberation by the
magistrates, he loses his freedom or baronship in the burgh." By the
renewed charter the freemen were privileged to elect annually a provost,
two bailies, a treasurer, and several councillors, to grant franchises to
several trades, and to hold a weekly market, as also a fair on the 6th
of December, the feast of St. Nicholas, the patron of the burgh.
The records extends as far
back as 1470, and throw considerable light upon the history of the place,
and more especially upon privileges enjoyed by freemen, but lengthy
extracts would be out of place here.
The original number of
freemen is still kept up, but the freeholds have decreased, and at this
date do not exceed 700 acres. It is almost needless to add that the
privileges so long enjoyed with immunity are now valuable only on account
of their antiquity.
The cottages skirting the
highway have a remarkably tidy appearance, and look so snug with their
gardens and flower-plots that town folk are almost tempted to break the
tenth commandment by coveting their neighbor’s house. The good people of
Prestwick, however, render the violation unnecessary by offering to let
apartments for a given term, as numerous little cards peering from the
folds of snow-white window curtains testified. The locality, if not the
most picturesque, has at the least the advantage of being salubrious, for
the children were rompish and rosy, and every countenance beamed with
health. Reaching new Prestwick, which is just a continuation of the old
village, I was thoughtlessly pushing onward when the words "Kingcase
Cottage" caught my eye. Surely, said I, the ruins of the lazarhouse and
the well, whose waters were as potent to cure leprosy, must be at hand.
Turning into a rugged unkept road on my right, I tapped with my stick at
the door of a humble cottage. After some delay a woman made her
appearance, and with the frankness of an old acquaintance informed
me that the well and the "pickle ruins," as she termed the remains, lay on
the brae face behind her dwelling; but lest I should not conveniently find
them, she singled out a boy from a group engrossed in a game of marbles to
be my guide. He proved a nimble chap, for he darted round the corner of
the house and led the way up a steep wire-fenced path until he came to an
opening. "There," said he, pointing to an old well and a pile of stones
lying in a field to the west. "There, there it’s," and before I could
either tender thanks or offer a gratuity, darted off at the top of his
speed to continue the game of "knuckle down." Finding myself alone I
approached the well, which is about a stone-throw from the path referred
to , and found it enclosed with rude masonry. Stepping down to its brink I
drew a drinking cup from my coat pocket, and lifting a dripping bumper of
the pure liquid, heroically drank to the memory of King Robert the Bruce,
for tradition tells how that monarch was cured of a leprous disease by
imbibing its waters. The draught proved cool and of excellent quality, but
the flavour was greatly enhanced by the addition of a little brandy and a
snack of bread and cheese.
From the well a dozen paces
brought me to the "pickle ruins," or, in other words, the meager remnant
of Kingcase Hospital. As a ruin it is of no interest, and only consists of
a portion of a side wall and some loose masonry, amongst which dock-weeds
and long grass luxuriantly flourish. Finding nothing worthy of attention I
sat down on a portion of the grass-covered foundation and began to gaze
from the elevated position upon the village and fertile district beyond.
No tree or shrub adorns the site of this ancient institution or relieves
the monotony of the scene in its immediate vicinity. The soil all around
is composed of dry loose sand, upon which it is difficult to walk; but,
notwithstanding its barren appearance, a great portion is under
cultivation and excellent crops are raised upon it, as was evident from
the fine grain waving in more than one field on the occasion of my visit.
"At Kilcase, which is now
called Kincase or Kingcase, on the coast of Kyle, in the Parish of
Prestwick," says Chalmers, "there was founded an hospital for leprous
persons, which was dedicated to St. Ninian. Tradition relates that the
founder of this establishment was King Robert Bruce, who was himself
afflicated with leprosy, the result of hard fare, hard living, and hard
work. This hospital was endowed with lands of Robertloan, which is
now called Loans, in Dundonald parish, with the land of Sheles and
Spital Sheles, in Kyle-Stewart, and with other lands which cannot now be
specified. As the foundation charter of this hospital does not exist, it
cannot be ascertained what number of person were originally maintained in
it. It appears, however, to have been governed by a guardian or prior, and
it had a chaplain. In the reign of James II., Wallace of Newton acquired
the lands of Spittal Sheles which belonged to this hospital, as the name
implies, and the hereditary keeper of governor of the hospital and lands
belonging to it. In 1515-16 all these were resigned by Hugh Wallace of
Newton in favour of his brother Adam. After the whole property of this
hospital was thus granted away, the only revenue that remained to it was
the feu-duties payable from the lands, in this manner granted in fee-farm;
and these, amounting to 64 bolls of meal and 8 merks (Scots) of money,
with 16 thrives of straw for thatching the hospital, are still paid. For
more than two centuries past this diminished revenue has been shared among
eight objects of charity in equal shares of eight bolls of meal and one
merk (Scotch) to each. The leprosy having long disappeared, the persons
who are now admitted to the benefit of this charity are such as labour
under diseases which are considered incurable, or such as are in indigent
circumstances. The right of appointing these belonged to the family of
Wallace of Craigie for a long time, and was purchased about 1790 [in 1787]
by the Burgh of Ayr, which still retains this patronage. The old hospital,
which existed in the better days of this charity, has long been in ruins.
In the description of Kyle by Robert Gordon, in the reign of Charles I.,
he mentions the chapel of this establishment, and says that the persons
admitted to the charity were then lodged in huts or cottages in the
Reference is repeatedly
made to Kingcase Hospital in the record of the Burgh of Prestwick. From
thee it is evident that leprosy was much dreaded, every precaution being
taken to keep the inmates apart from the general community, and fines and
imprisonment were in many case inflicted upon persons brought before the
"burro court" for visiting the institution.
When the building became
ruinous is not exactly known. From the following entry in the
above-mentioned records it appears to have been tenanted so late as
1740:--"24th May, 1740.--William Alexander, in King’s-case,
applys for the liberty of a yeard as now inclosed by their allowance
formerly, and a piece of ground for the house he presently possesses
southward to the Coall road. The freemen allow the same during his life,
and allow the same to Elizabeth Shearer, his spouse, in case she survive
him, and live in the hospital of Kingcase altenarly; for which they agreed
to pay two shilling sterline yearly."
There is popular juvenile
tradition connected with Kingcase well, which states that King Robert the
Bruce when afflicted with leprosy wandered about the country. When
skulking in the neighborhood of the then very small village, it avers, he
thrust the shaft of his spear into the sand and lay down beside it to rest
his weary limbs. Having slept some time he rose to resume his wandering,
but when he withdrew his weapon to his surprise a stream of pure
water issued from the indentation. Kneeling, he drank copiously, and
shortly thereafter became whole. Attributing the cure to its benefits, he
built and endowed the hospital, and also as a mark of royal favour erected
the village into a burgh, and endowed it with the track of land lying
between the Pow Burn and the river Ayr.
The tradition may be take
for what it is worth, as also the popular idea that the hospital was
founded by Bruce; but it just probable that it existed before his day, for
Blind Harry tells how Sir William Wallace and his uncle, Sir Ranald
Crawford, made a halt at it when on their way to Ayr to attend "the Black
From the ruin, the
tradition-hallowed well, I returned to the wire-fenced path and followed
it course to the highway.
From New Prestwick to Ayr
the roads runs in an almost straight line, studded here and there with
neat cottages and comfortable, capacious mansions. Numerous pedestrians
and vehicles passed and re-passed, and several pleasure-seekers from
Kilmarnock drove along in holiday glee, and at Tam o’ Shanter speed.
Holding on the even tenor of my way, I soon reached the outskirts of Ayr,
and at "Tam’s Brig" stopped to dust my travel-stained boots and apparel
before entering Newton. The bridge referred to crosses a lie of railway,
and from it one commands a fine view of the county town and its environs.
But here I will take leave of the reader, and devote next chapter to a
descriptive and historical sketch of the town of Ayr.