Cheapside Street--The Old Tolbooth--The
Low Church of former days and its Associations--The Churchyard--John
Dickie Street--Dunlop Street --The Astronomical Observatory--Langlands
Street--John Finnie Street--The New Theatre--St. Marnock Street--The
Courthouse--Kilmarnock House--Dundonald Road--The Public Park--Waterside
Observing that the
beautiful statue of Sir James Shaw, which adorns the centre of the Cross,
appeared to be intently gazing down Cheapside Street, I took it as a hint
and passed into that short thoroughfare. In front is the massive square
tower of the Low Church. It bears the date 1410, and now stands
prominently out since the old buildings that clustered about its base have
been removed. At the Crown Hotel I pause and muse on other days, for,
according to M’Kay, it was nearly opposite it where the Old Tolbooth
stood. He says--"It was a gloomy-looking structure two storeys high, with
a small ‘bell-house,’ and shops on the ground floor facing the street. The
bell that belonged to it is still used in the present Council-house, and
bears this inscription:-- ‘This bell was gifted by the Earl of Kilmarnock
to the town of Kilmarnock for their Council-house. A.M., Edin., 1711.’
Down a lane at the west end of the building was the Thieves’ Hole, and
above were two dungeon-like apartments called the Tolbooth, at the stair
head of which hung the Juggs, or iron collar, in which petty
delinquents were doomed to stand for a given time exposed to the gaze of
the multitude. The part of the upper flat nearest the Cross formed the
Hall, or Court-house, the entrance to which was by a broad outside stair
faced with a parapet. From the head of this stair the whole of the
market-place was seen; and here, on public occasions, such as Kings’
birthdays, the Bailies and Councillors, accompanied sometimes by the lord
of the manor, would assemble to drink His Majesty’s health and give other
loyal and patriotic toasts. The Old Tolbooth was taken down about the
beginning of the present century."
From the above quotation we
learn that Cheapside, as it is now called, has been a street of
considerable importance. It still remains so, but contains nothing
nowadays worthy of notice, therefore "swith to the Laigh Kirk" I now take
my way. It stands at the end of Cheapside, and about a stone-throw from
the Cross; but, oh, what a change has taken place in its vicinity since
last year! Low Church Lane has all but disappeared, and only a portion of
the Strand is now left, the hand of improvement having swept away the old
buildings that lined these thoroughfares, and their site form a handsome
new street which is named after our late provost. It runs from Bank Street
to John Finnie Street, and doubtless in future years it will be the main
way between the western portion of the town and the Cross. The present Low
Church is a massive, plain building. It was erected in 1802 on the site of
a less commodious edifice that has been rendered classical by the poet
Burns as the scene of The Ordination--a
poem brimful of that biting sarcasm that he so unerringly hurled at the
hypocritical shams of his day. All that now remains of the former
building-and very probably of one anterior to it-is the square tower
already referred to, which has withstood the blast for centuries.
The Low Church of Burns’s
day was the scene of a disgraceful riot at the introduction of a
distasteful minister, and of a melancholy catastrophe that send a wail of
grief and lamentation through the streets of Kilmarnock. The
first-mentioned event took place in 1764, and the facts may be briefly
related as follows: --Upon the death of the Rev. Robert Hall the second
charge became vacant, and the Earl of Glencairn--the then
patron--appointed the Rev. Mr. Lindsay of Cumbray to the office. This
appointment the people of Kilmarnock did not approve of, and they
determined to oppose it, for the following reasons:--In the first place,
they did not consider Mr. Lindsay qualified to be their minister; and
secondly, it was through the influence of his wife, Margaret Lauder, who
had been a governess in the Earl’s family, that he had obtained the
appointment, and not through any merit he possessed as a preacher. In
spite of the opposition to the nomination of Mr. Lindsay, the Earl took
his own way in the matter, and fixed the 12th of July as the
day on which his ordination was to take place. "Time brought the day, the
hour, the man," but it also brought the town’s-people from workshop and
dwelling, who, armed with every obnoxious missile they could lay hand on,
thronged the approaches to the Low Church. The excitement was intense, and
when the patron, the presentee, and other clergymen and gentlemen made
their appearance, they were hooted, jostled, and pelted with mud and filth
to such an extent that it was with the utmost difficulty they gained the
interior of the church; but they were not safe even there, for, to quote
from a metrical account of the tumult that was written at the period by a
poet of some local fame:-- [Burns refers to it as "a scoffing ballad." It
is preserved by M’Kay in his
"History of Kilmarnock," and by James Paterson in "Songs and Ballads of
While Brown was praying, I suppose,
A stane cam shirring near his nose;
Says he, ‘Our wark we now maun close.’
Good people hear my ditty.
Puir Taylor Steen, precentor there.
They rave his wig aff ilka hair,
And left the body’s noddle bare.
Good people hear my ditty.
And Bailie Baps he gat a shog,
Outowce the head, wi’ Lambert’s dog,
That laid him senseless as a log.
Good people hear my ditty.
Though meek and gentle Lindsay was,
And had at heart the guid auld cause,
Yet nocht could mak’ the rabble pause.
Good people hear my ditty.
Their fury raise to sic a height,
That here he durst not pass the night,
But aff to Irvin took his flight.
Good people hear my ditty.
Pursued with hisses, yells, and
And mony a shower o’ dirt and stones,
Their wicked rage he sair bemoans.
Good people hear my ditty.
* * * * * * * * *
At e’en Lang Tam, that howkes the
Gaed to the in to pike the banes,
And to gie in the leader’s names.
Good people hear my ditty."
Ten ringleaders of the riot
were apprehended, as the poet states, upon the information of Lang Tam.
They were tried at Ayr. Three were found guilty and sentenced "to be
imprisoned for one month, and whipt through the streets, and to find
caution for keeping the peace and a good behaviour for a twelvemonth." The
other seven were liberated. The Rev. Mr. Lindsay entered on his duties in
the Low Church, but died ten years after, and was succeeded by the Rev.
James Mackinlay. All three are mentioned by Burns in the "Ordination."
From the riot and its
ludicrous incidents I will now turn to a more grave subject, and briefly
refer to the melancholy catastrophe that occurred in the Low Church of
former days. The building, which was incommodious and badly constructed,
had long been unconsidered unsafe--so much so that a popular prophecy
stated that it would one day fall and bury the congregation in its ruins.
This foolish prediction seems to have had some little weight in the public
mind, for upon Sabbath, the 18th of October, 1801, when the
church was unusually crowded a panic was occasioned, some say by a piece
of plaster falling from the ceiling, others by the cracking of a seat in
the gallery. Imagining that the prophecy was about to be fulfilled, and
that the walls of the building were about to collapse, the bulk of the
congregation rushed to the doors, and in their wild haste. Agonizing
screams issued from the struggling mass of human beings in the corridors
that rang through the building, and heightened the terror and dread that
prevailed in the minds of the deluded throng. Unmindful of the fostering
care of the Almighty Being whom they had assembled to worship, many for
the moment discarded all their vaunted trust in Him, and allowed the
brutal instinct of self-preservation to predominate, and sought to gratify
it by throwing down and treading upon the weak and the helpless.
"Then shrieked the timid and stood still the brave."
Many sought refuge by
jumping through the windows into the graveyard, and others in their
despair threw themselves from the gallery into the body of the church, and
heightened the pandemonium by their cries and maniacal actions. Tidings of
the occurrence spread. People flocked to the scene, and the greatest
excitement prevailed among the excited, horror-stricken mob who thronged
every approach to the church. Ladders were procured and the building was
entered by the windows, for the doors, which opened inwardly, had become
shut by the pressure of those who blindly struggled to escape from the
interior. The scene presented was indescribable. Behind the doors and
along the passages the dead, the dying, the maimed, and the mangled, lay
piled together in a trodden mass, and it was with much difficulty they
extricated and borne to the churchyard, where they were laid for
recognition. This in some instances was most difficult, for many of the
bodies were so disfigured that they were unrecognizable, and it was only
by dress and other marks that they were identified. I need not dwell upon
the scenes of anguish in the churchyard, or tell of the agonizing wails of
grief that rent many a bosom that afternoon. Suffice it to say that when
all were got out of the building it was found there were twenty-nine
killed and upwards of eighty injured, many severely. Homes in Kilmarnock
and its vicinity that had resounded in the morning with family glee were
by the going down of the sun abodes of mourning. Parents bewailed
children, children parents, sisters brothers, and brothers sisters, while
relatives ad friends wept and lamented those who in the full vigor of life
had been cut down and gathered into the garner of death. After the
melancholy occurrence the church was taken down and the present one built.
It is possessed of the opposite qualities of its predecessor, being
spacious, comfortable, and well provided with means of egress.
The Low Churchyard contains
several tombstones of peculiar interest, not the least of which are those
to the memory of Tam Samson of elegiac fame, the Rev. John Robertson, and
John Mackinlay, D. D., who, as the handsome new tombstone states, was
"minister of this parish for fifty-four years." The tablet on Mr.
Robertson’s grave is not in the best order, but that to the memory of the
famous Tam, which is railed in, is in excellent condition. On it is
inscribed the following epitaph from the pen of Robert Burns which is
appended to the worthy sportsman’s elegy--
"Tam Samson’s weel-worn clay here
Ye canting zealots spare him!
If honest worth in heaven rise,
Ye’ll mend ere ye win near him."
These three stones are
situated at the north-west corner of the church. The two clergymen lie
side by side, and the "weel-worn clay" of Mr Samson rests at the head of
their graves, all three being buried in close proximity, which is a
remarkable coincidence, seeing that they are all mentioned in the first
verse of Tam’s elegy in the following order--
"Has auld Kilmarnock seen the Deil?
Or great Mackinlay thrawn his heel?
Or Robertson again grown weel,
To preach and read?
‘Na, waur than a’! cries ilka chiel,
‘Tam Samson’s dead.’"
Want of space compels me to
omit noticing this old church-yard at any great length, therefore I will
briefly refer to stones commemorating local heroes who suffered for
"Christ and the Covenanted Work of Reformation," and pass on my way. The
first of these stands at the back of the church, near the gravel walk, and
bears the following inscription:-- "Here lie the heads of John Ross and
John Shields, who suffered at Edinburgh, Dec. 27th, 1666, and
had their heads set up in Kilmarnock.
"Our persecutors mad with wrath and
In Edinburgh members some do be, some here;
Yet instantly united they shall be,
And witness’ gainst this nation’s perjury."
(See "Cloud of Witnesses.")
These men were spies from
the ranks of the Covenanters, and when apprehended they were found in the
possession of arms, and to be in the town for the purpose of conveying
intelligence of the movements of the King’s troops to their confederates.
Either crime at the period was a capital offence. Ross was a native of
Mauchline, and Shields was a cottar on the estate of Nether Pollock. The
next stone stands about the centre of the churchyard and is elaborately
carved. On the top is a pistol, cross swords, and flags, the stems of
which pass behind a scroll on which is graven "Solemn League and
Covenant." One flag bears the inscription "God and our Country," and the
other the device of a crown. The inscription is as follows:--"Here lies
John Nisbet, who was taken by Major Balfour’s party, and suffered at
Kilmarnock, 14th April, 1683, for adhering to the word of God
and our Covenants.--Rev. xii and II. Renewed by public contribution A. D.,
"Come, reader, see, here pleasant
His blood doth pierce the high and lofty skies;
Kilmarnock did his latter hour perceive,
And Christ his soul to heaven did receive.
Yet bloody Torrence did his body raise
And buried it into another place;
Saying ‘Shall rebels lye in graves with me!-
We’ll bury him where evil does be.’"
For the account of Nisbet’s
accusation and execution I refer the reader back to the notice of the
The next and last stone to
the memory of the martyrs is indented into the churchyard wall nearly
opposite the old manse. On the top is an open book with the inscription,
"Psalm XLIV., 17. Rev. ii., 10." Beneath is the following: --"Erected
1823. Repaired 1846. Sacred to the memory of Thomas Findlay, John
Cuthberston, William Brown, Robert and James Anderson (natives of this
parish), who were taken prisoners at Bothwell, June 22nd, 1679,
sentenced to transportation for life, and drowned on their passage near
the Orkney Isles. Also, John Findlay, who suffered martyrdom 15th
Dec., 1682, in the Grassmarket, Edinburgh."
"Peace to the church! when foes her
Peace to each noble martyr’s honored shade!
They, with undaunted courage, truth, and zeal,
Contended for the church and country’s weal;
We share the fruits, we drop the grateful tear,
And peaceful altars o’er their ashes rear."
The first-first named five
were, as the stones states, transported for life for their share in the
battle of Bothwell Bridge. America was the country assigned them, and
they, with 245 others who had been found guilty of the same offence,
were--after undergoing much hardship and ill-usage--put on board of a
vessel at Leith and confined under hatches. They received brutal usage at
the hand of the captain and crew, but this had a sudden termination, for a
storm arose and dashed the vessel against the rocks of Darness, near
Orkney, and laid her a total wreck. Fifty escaped and 200 were drowned.
The last named (John Findlay) who suffered martyrdom seems to have been
the tenant of Muirside and to have been a man of sterling worth, and,
according to the light he had, of great piety. The charges brought against
him were, 1st. Keeping company with the persecuted people of
God. 2nd. For refusing to call Bishop Sharp’s death murder, and
the battle of Bothwell Bridge rebellion. 3rd. For giving food
and shelter to the Covenanters. His last speech and testimony is given at
length in "The Cloud of Witnesses." He considered himself greatly honored
by the laying down of his life for the cause he loved so well. The Laigh
Kirkyard, as it is called, was at one time of much greater extent.
Tradition states that it extended down to the brink of the river, and
excavations that have from time to time been made in its neighbourhood
prove that where streets are now formed and buildings erected has at one
time been part of God’s Acre, but at what period history saith not. I was
much interest in some excavations that were made during the formation of
John Dickie Street. Human skulls and bones, and, in many instances, entire
skeletons, were exhumed. These remains-which were carefully collected and
buried in the graveyard--were no sheep shanks, but many bones were of
surprising size and thickness. One thighbone that I lifted and examined
would have served me for a walking stick, and a skull I had in my hand
appeared to have belonged to some one with a head. It was unusually
large, finely formed, and the region of the intelligent organs well
developed. One sight I will not readily forget was that of a skeleton over
six feet long imbedded in clay beneath the sure-face of what had been Low
Church Lane. A labourer carefully removed the clay with his spade from
about it, collected the bones, and had them removed to the graveyard. The
sight impressed me very much, and even as I write I think I see the
grinning skull-grinning as if the remnant of all that was mortal resented
being disturbed. At one time these bones had formed the framework of some
one’s idol, which possibly had been laid there by loving friends who long
"Have been ordained
the same cold bed,
The same dark night, the same long sleep."
But a truce to this
moralizing. To judge by the bones that I saw exhumed, men are
degenerating--yes, degenerating in natural worth--and if they continue,
doubtless they will arrive back at what some people would have us believe
was the starting-point, viz., Darwin’s ape; for the brawny brose and
porridge fed Scotchmen of yore, who seemingly were possessed of greater
physical qualifications and greater power of endurance than is generally
met with in the men of to-day, have passed away, and a generation who have
fallen off in stature and bodily strength now occupy their places. But I
am beginning to moralize again.
Leaving the churchyard, I
pass up John Dickie Street, and stop to view the remnant of Low Church
Lane. It is meagre indeed, and consists of a few old biggins facing the
wall at the back of the churchyard. The first of these is a two-storeyed
venerable building, with a mansion-like appearance, that has had a narrow
escape of being pulled down, for the new street passes alongside its
gable. This is called "the Manse." It is now occupied by tenants, but in
the olden time it was a clerical residence of some note. The last clergyman
who lived in it was the Rev. Robert Jaffray, first minister of Gallows-knowe
Church. He died in 1814. At the north-west corner of the churchyard, facing
College Wynd, stands a tumble-down-like old house that is said to have
been at one time a college; if so, it must have been of small dimensions,
but from the name of the wynd it is reasonable to infer that it is only a
remnant of some education establishment whose history is swallowed up in
the oblivious past.
Reaching the top of John
Dickie Street, I cross John Finnie Street ad enter Dunlop Street. It is a
short, narrow street. On my left is the office of the Parochial Board, and
set on a hill on my right, with sloping gardens in front, are three
handsome mansions that overlook the town. The centre one with the
niche--which is doubtless waiting for a statue of Burns--is the residence
of Mr. James M’Kie, the well-known publisher. Passing Grange Street, at
the corner of which is the extensive carpet factory of Hugh Wilson & Son,
I begin to climb Park Street--or "the Wee Gas Braw" as it is more commonly
called--and arrive at Morton Place. Situated n a back court, and towering
over the house-tops, is a square block of masonry seventy feet high. It is
the Astronomical Observatory. It was built in 1818 by the late Thomas
Morton, who was born at Mauchline in 1783, and died at Kilmarnock in 1862.
Mr. Morton was a famed constructor of telescopes and other optical
instruments, and was also an ingenious machinist. He conferred a great
boon on carpet manufacturers by inventing the "barrel" machine for carpet
manufacture, and by improving other pieces of mechanism in connection with
the trade. The Observatory is now the property of Mr. Thomas Lee, F.R.A.S.
Passing along Langlands Street, I pass, the Academy of Mr. Rose, and enter
West Langlands Street. In it are situated the principal workshops of the
town, viz., the extensive engineering establishment of Messrs. Barclay &
Son, also that of Messrs. M’Culloch, and Allan Andrews & Co. Beyond these
are the workshops of the South-Western Railway Co., in whose service over
600 men are employed. Near to the railway workshops is Bonnyton Square,
which consists of a series of blocks of substantial dwelling-houses
erected by the Company for the accommodation of their workmen. The
buildings are finely situated, and command a view of a wide range of
country. Besides a large saw mill, the gas work is situated in this
street. It belonged to a joint-stock company that was formed in 1822, but
it is now the property of the town, being lately purchased by the
Turning down Langlands
Brae, I have on my left the Railway Station. Vast improvements are going
on at it; old buildings have been pulled down, and new premises erected.
When the alterations are complete, a station worthy of the town will be
At the top of West George
Street I turn to the right and enter John Finnie Street. This street was
opened up about ten years ago by the liberality of a native whose name it
bears. It is fast assuming importance, and bids fair in an architectural
point of view to be the finest thoroughfare in town. In runs from the foot
of Langlands Brae to Saint Marnock Street, is broad and straight, and
fully a quarter of a mile in length. A short distance along it on the left
stands the New Theatre, a building that far surpasses anything of the kind
in the West of Scotland. It is just completed, licensed, and opened under
the management of Mr. William Glover, of the Theatre-Royal, Glasgow. The
interior is commodious, beautifully fitted up, and seated for twelve
hundred. Externally it is of large proportions. The front--which is
Corinthian and elaborately ornamental-is gracefully chaste. It may not be
inappropriate to refer to former theatres in Kilmarnock, for the drama has
had several unsuccessful struggles to gain a footing in the town, not the
least of which was the attempt in "Back Causeway" somewhere about thirty
years ago. This theatre--or at least the stabling that was converted into
such--was a rude affair of the kind; yet nevertheless the proprietors did
their best to awaken a theatrical taste in the townspeople by engaging
such actors as Edmund Kean, G. V. Brookes, Charles Vernon, and others; but
they did not meet with the encouragement that their efforts merited, and
after struggling for some years they had to give up for want of support.
Shortly after its close a Mr. Scott erected a wooden theatre near to where
the railway arch now crosses Portland Street. He also secured good talent
but his exertions proved futile, and like his predecessors he had to
relinquish the attempt. Its successor--a wooden one also--was opened by a
Mr. Bostock at the top of Langlands Brae. For a time large audiences were
attracted, but gradually, in spite of stars and puffs, the interest waned
and it collapsed. Shortly it was followed by another of a higher class,
which was conducted by Mr. Edmund Glover. It was a neat wooden erection,
and occupied nearly the same spot as the last-mentioned. Success attended
it for some considerable time, but gradually the audience thinned, and
after struggling for two or three winters it was taken down. The next
effort worthy of notice was made by the late John Simpson and Mr. Bostock
in the theatre under the railway arch in Back Street, but the expense of
the erection was so great that Mr. Bostock grew terrified, disappeared,
and left Simpson to wrestle with the concern as best he might. For several
years Simpson struggled with adverse circumstances, tried many
attractions, not the least of which was his engagements of Sire William
Don, Mr. Parry, Mr. Mortimer Murdoch, G. V. Brookes, Mr. Christdale, and
others, but all would not do; the Puritan spirit was too strong in Kilmarnock,
support was denied, and as a last effort, after a chequered career, he
dropped the price to "the low charge of one penny," but even at that
figure it would not do, and John gave up in despair, having reached a
state beyond bankruptcy. Since then -between six and seven years
ago--various theatrical companies have visited the town, but now it is
possessed of a theatre more worthy of support, it remains to be seen
whether the Puritan spirit of "Auld Killie" be sufficiently relaxed to
give it the encouragement it deserves. Old John Simpson, the leading
spirit in the theatre under the railway arch, was a well known character,
and is still spoken of with respect. He was a shoemaker to trade, but
discarded the last to tread the boards, "the profession" being more
congenial to his nature. He was a fair actor, and as such a favourite with
the people of Kilmarnock, and nothing gave the juveniles more pleasure
than to see him killed in piece, he having a way of his own of dying that
gave universal satisfaction. Once when playing "Burke and Hare," and when
simulating death on the gallows, he would have done so in earnest had it
not been noticed that the prop under his feet had given way, and that he
was black in the face. He was of a congenial nature, and whether in
prosperity or adversity had always a kind word for everybody. When the
playgoing inhabitants denied him their support he traveled the country
with a booth, and in it "played many parts;" but having met with an
accident whereby he lost the sight of an eye, and age and infirmity
beginning to tell on him, he came to Kilmarnock, and by the kindness of a
few friends was admitted into the Infirmary, where after a short illness
the curtain of death fell and closed the last scene of his eventful life
on 21st December, 1873.
Passing along John Finnie
Street, the next building worthy of notice is that destined for the office
of Archibald Finnie & Son, coalmasters. It is in the ornate Corinthian
style of architecture, and for beauty of design and sculptured
embellishment there is nothing, with the exception of the Corn Exchange,
to equal it in town. It stands opposite the opening in front of the Union
Bank, and attracts universal attention. The Union Bank, although situated
in Bank Street, faces John Finnie Street. It is of recent erection, large,
and very ornamental, and forms a fine background to the short street that
connects both thoroughfares.
Arriving at the termination
of John Finnie Street I pause and look around me. In front is Dundonald
Road; to the right, Portland Road; and to the left Saint Marnock Street.
The two last-named are parallel and form a splendid line of street that
merges into Irvine Road. At the corner of Dun-Donald and Portland Roads is
Trinity Episcopal Church and Parsonage. The present minister is the Rev.
A. G. Creighton. The church was enlarged last year, and a square tower yet
in an unfinished state was then added. Its style of architecture is early
English, and altogether it is a very neat place of worship. It was erected
in 1857. Opposite it in Portland Road stands what is termed Portland Road
U.P. Church (the Rev. George F. James’s). It is an elegant structure, and
is what may be termed Byzntine in style. It was erected in 1859 by
the congregation of Gallows Knowe Church, who desired to have their place
of worship more central. Besides these churches, Portland Road contains
very many handsome villas and substantial houses of the first order. At it
extremity is Springhill, the beautiful residence of Mr. Archibald Finnie.
It stand on a slight eminence and present an imposing, appearance, with
its green lawns and finely planted grounds. Behind Springhill,
salubriously situated near Irving Roads, stands Grange Terrace. It also
overlooks the town and consists of a row of substantial houses. Kilmarnock
is stretching to the east and the west, and before many years pass away it
will assume a degree of compactness that will remove the reproach so long
cast upon it of being straggling and irregular.
But to return. At the
corner of John Finnie and Saint Marnock Streets stand the Court House and
Prison. The former is a massive building in the Grecian order of
architecture. It was erected in 1852, and consists of a centre and two
wings. The façade fronts Saint Marnock Street and is very imposing. By its
side there is a neat flower plot inside an iron railing, in which stands a
piece of ordnance in all the indolence of peace. In the hall of the Court
House Sheriff Courts are held, and the offices of the Procurator Fiscal
and Sheriff Clerk are situated within the building. The prison is behind,
and connected with the Court House, and to it is attached the
dwelling-house of Mr. Geddes, the governor, and an exercise court for the
prisoners. Crime is not heavy in the burgh, but nevertheless this
institution never lacks inmates, and never shall so long as the sale of
intoxicating liquors is sanctioned by the Government. On the opposite side
of Saint Marnock Street, and a little farther down than the Court House,
stands Saint Marnock’s Church (the Rev. John Thomson’s). It was erected in
1836, and like the other churches in its neighbourhood is a very handsome
building. From its front rises a massive square wing Gothically
ornamented, symmetrical, and chaste in design. It became a Parish Church
in 1862, and is well attended.
Opposite Saint Marnock’s
Church, and next to the Court House, stand on old-fashioned manor house,
with a small garden before it. Its doors, windows, and general
construction speak of former times. It is called Kilmarnock House. After
the destruction of Dean Castle by a fire in 1735, it was the residence of
William, fourth Earl of Kilmarnock. It is supposed to have been built
towards the close of the seventh century. Its policies were extensive and
well wooded, and a portion of a shady avenue still remains a sad momento
of the fallen house of Boyd. The unfortunate Earl--as the fourth Earl of
Kilmarnock is generally called--left the threshold of this mansion in 1745
to join the standard of Prince Charlie, never more to enter its baronial
shade. What induced him to allow himself to be drawn into the vortex of a
hopeless civil war I know not, nor does any writer I have consulted throw
any light upon the subject, although several have formed conjectures. The
Kilmarnock people were opposed to the house of Stuart, and the Earl was
never suspected of entertaining revolutionary principles, for he had been
always friendly to the house of Hanover, and took a deep interest in the
affairs and prosperity of the town, and up to the very hour of his
departure retained his seat in the Council. The quiet, unostentatious life
that he led in Kilmarnock formed a strange prelude to his brief career of
adventure while following Prince Charlie and to his tragic and melancholy
end. Space forbids me going to any great length into the Earl’s
history after he left Kilmarnock, but perhaps a brief account of what he
passed through may not be uninteresting to the reader. Upon his arrival at
the Prince’s quarters he met with a cordial reception from the young
adventurer, and was at once "made Colonel of the Guards and promoted
to the degree of a General." At the battle of Falkirk, which was fought on
the 17th of January, 1746, he distinguished himself, and by his
bravery materially assisted the arms of the Prince in winning that
victory, and in every other engagement evinced great courage. But the end
came--the melancholy end. It was on the 16th April; the scene
Culloden Moor, a few miles eastward of Inverness. There the Duke of
Cumberland, accomplished by twelve thousand men, encountered the Prince’s
army, which amounted to half that number, and was principally composed of
starving, dispirited Highlanders. The battle commenced; The Prince’s
little army fought bravely; but, to quote from
Chambers’s History of the Rebellion,
"Notwithstanding that the three files of the front line of the English
poured forth their incessant fire of musketry--notwithstanding that the
cannon, now loaded with grape-shot, swept the field as with a
hailstorm--notwithstanding the flank fire of Wolfe’s regiment--onward,
onward west the headlong Highlanders, flinging themselves into, rather
than rushing upon, the lines of the enemy, which, indeed, they did not see
for smoke till involved among the weapons…Almost every man in their front
rank, chief and gentleman, fell before the deadly weapons which they had
braved; and, although the enemy gave way, it was not till every bayonet
was bent and bloody with the strife." At the close of the battle, when the
army of the Prince had been defeated and the remnant were seeking safety
in flight, the account states that "the Earl of Kilmarnock, being
half-blinded with smoke and snow, mistook a party of Dragoons for the
Pretender’s horse, and was accordingly taken. He was soon after led along
the lines of the British Infantry, in which his son, then a young man,
held the commission of ensign. The Earl had lost his hat in the strife,
and his long hair was flying in disorder around his head and over his
face. The soldiers stood mute in their lines, beholding the unfortunate
nobleman. Among the rest stood Lord Kilmarnock, compelled by his situation
to witness, without the power of alleviating, the humiliation of his
father. When the Earl came past the place where his son stood, the youth,
unable to bear any longer that his father’s head should be exposed to the
storm, stepped out of the ranks, without regard to discipline, and taking
off his hat, placed it over his father's disordered and wind-beaten locks.
He then returned to his place, without having uttered a word, while
scarcely an eye that saw his filial affection but confession its merits by
a tear." With the Earl the scene had now changed--the Stuarts’ star had
set--the Prince was now a fugitive and he a prisoner. He was consigned to
the tower of London, in due time was tried and convicted of high treason,
and sentenced to be beheaded. He met his doom with resignation, and
suffered on Tower Hill, London, on the 18th of August, 1746.
Kilmarnock House is now converted into an Industrial Ragged School, and in
it many poor children who have lost their parents, and other who would
otherwise become waifs of society, find a home.
No portion of Kilmarnock
has undergone a greater transformation of late years than that in the
vicinity of Kilmarnock House. Forty years ago the old building was
surrounded by venerable trees, and stood in all its baronial dignity as if
waiting for those who would nevermore return. Then the Kilmarnock Water
flowed along its unconfined channel in greater placidity, and where Saint
Marnock Street now crosses it, a rickety old wooden bridge connected both
its banks. The place was strictly rural, trees waved their verdant boughs,
and birds sported among the foliage in all the consciousness of security.
But a change has taken place. The town has grown into proportions that has
swallowed up the Baron’s pleasure grounds. The axe has been laid to the
trees, and where Nature’s carpet was spread, handsome streets have been
formed and buildings reared; and where once the melody of birds was heard
comes the rattling sound of wheels, and the busy hum of domestic life.
I now enter Dundonald Road;
but before proceeding farther, I may state that the portion of the highway
from Saint Marnock Street to Pointhouse Toll is of recent construction.
The old road to the spot indicated was tortuously crooked, buy by doing
away with it and continuing the highway in a straight line through what
was known as Ward’s Park [It was
in Ward’s Park where Fastern’s E’en Races were held. These races were
"discontinued by the Magistrates and Council about 1831, after having been
observed annually for five centuries."],
the present handsome thoroughfare was the result. A long range of graceful
residences and beautiful villas are now erected on it, and altogether it
has a handsome appearance.
Passing on my way, I pause
before Winton Place Evangelical Union Church (the Rev. William
Bathgate’s). It is a neat building in the early English Gothic style, and
has a fine appearance from the road. It was erected in 1860 by the members
of Clerk’s Lane Church, the majority of whom removed to it, and left those
who adhered to the old building to form a new congregation. From Winton
Place to the entrance of the Public Park every building is so chastely
neat in design that the eye rest with delight upon the whole; and to avoid
giving prominence to any one in particular, I add no more to what has been
already stated regarding them.
Entering what is at present
dignified with the name of a Public Park, I find it thronged with youths
engaged in sports and pastimes. Here, a little band with bats and wickets
are busy at cricket; there, another deeply engrossed in the game of
rounders, and not a few are engaged in the more laborious game of
football; while groups, not otherwise employed,
"Scour awa’ in lang
And worrie ither in diversion."
Stretch along the top of a
bank, and overlooking the park, is a belt of tall trees. They consist of
two rows, and seem at some period to have lined the sides of a drive. A
solemnity pervades the spot; and no wonder, for there is a sorrowful table
connected with it. The place is called "The Lady’s Walk." It at one time
extended down to Kilmarnock House, and not the Lady of the unfortunate
Earl of Kilmarnock, who is said to have died of a broken heart, wandered
and mourned the sad fate of her lord. A little poem on "The Lady’s Walk,"
by one Aston Carle, an actor, that appeared in the
some time ago, is so good, and describes the place and incident so
faithfully, that I may be pardoned for presenting it to my readers.
"A wild, weird look has the ‘Lady’s
And the trees are stripped and old;
They solemn bend in mute-like talk,
In the twilight grey and cold.
Each gaunt and rugged sinewy root
Starts up along the way--
Memento sad of the lady’s foot
That erst did mournful stray.
Ghost-like the boughs loom in the
And, skeleton-like, they meet;
The very pathway, white and dry,
Curves like a winding-sheet.
The rustling leaves that autumn
In wither’d hillocks lie,
And the chilly wind soughs just behind
Like the lady’s tearful sigh.
Heavily rolls the evening mist,
And the rising night winds throb
By root and shoot, just where they list,
Till they sound like the lady’s sob.
And the nightly shadows come and go,
And the gaunt trees bow and wave,
Like weeping mourners, to and fro
Over a dear one’s grave.
Then this is the far-famed "Lady’s
And walketh she there to-night?
Holdeth her spirit silent talk
With that moon so sickly white?
I hear n sound but the rushing bound
Of the swelled and foaming river,
That seems to say: I cannot stay,
But must on for ever and ever."
Near to the close of the
Lady’s Walk I come to a piece of ground between it and Dundonald Road,
enclosed within a paling, and planted with shrubs and young trees. In this
spot a number of people lie buried who fell victims to cholera during the
prevalence of the epidemic in 1832. At the termination of the walk a
couple of cannon are stationed, partly for ornament and partly to teach
the Artillery Volunteers how to use such weapons. From their site a fine
view of the town, of the village of Riccarton, and a wide expanse of
country, is obtainable. I now cross the Public Park and arrive in the foot
road that skirts the Kilmarnock Water. The stream here is both shallow and
filthy in appearance, and abounding in sewage. Turning in the direction of
the town, I pass the Cattle Market, enter Water-side Street--a row of
old-fashioned houses--and after a short walk arrive in Saint Marnock
Street. Turning to the right, I cross the bridge and enter Sandbed Street,
which runs along the side of the river from Saint Marnock Street to
Cheapside Street. It is narrow and not over-cleanly, and its appearance is
anything but heightened by the sewer-like stream that flows below its
level. Many of the houses that line it are tall, dingy, tenant-crowded
blocks, but as its extremity is neared a few buildings still stand whose
old walls and thatch-covered roofs speak of other days. Sandbed Street is
a very old thoroughfare. It at one time formed part of the main road
to Ayr, and along it the stage-coaches and other vehicles used to rattle
as they passed through the town; but, like every other place in its
vicinity, it is much changed, so much so that scarce a vestige of its
early appearance is now left. Arriving at the Old bridge, at the top of
Sandbed, I pause to view the unsavory scene, and mentally compare the past
with the present. At the north-east side of this bridge the "Thieves’
Hole" was situate. It was, as already stated, attached to the Tolbooth,
and is associated with the name of "bloody Dalziel." When stationed in
Kilmarnock, in 1667, it is recorded that he and his soldiery perpetrated
many atrocities amongst the inhabitants, and that he consigned numbers of
them to the "Thieves Hole," "where they could not move themselves night or
day, but were obliged constantly to stand upright." An old building, once
an inn, that stood close to the bridge and near to where Victoria Place
now stands, tradition affirmed to have been that in which the tyrant
resided, and from which he issued his colours.
Crossing the bridge, I
enter Cheapside, turn to the right, and once more arrive in the Cross.
After having traversed the principal streets and many of the byeways of "Killie"
in the course of my three excursions, what is to be learned from them?
Simply this, that Kilmarnock of to-day is almost entirely a modern town.
Its principal streets, as we have seen, have been opened up and built on,
and all that constitutes its superiority over what it was a former times
has been accomplished within the recollection of people still living. Its
remarkable extension of late years may be attributed to various caus Simply this, that Kilmarnock of to-day is almost entirely a modern town.
Its principal streets, as we have seen, have been opened up and built on,
and all that constitutes its superiority over what it was a former times
has been accomplished within the recollection of people still living. Its
remarkable extension of late years may be attributed to various causes,
not the least of which has been the utilisation of the resources of a
district teeming with mineral and agricultural wealth, and of its being
blessed with a manufacturing and commercially enterprising people. But,
reader, I will now ask you to accompany me in
"My wandering by hill and dale
Round Killie’s auld dear sheltered vale."
and I will do what I can to
entertain you by the way.