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The Fenwick Improvement of Knowledge Society


THE Editor of the Scottish Historical Review has to thank Mr. Hugh Fulton, Pollokshields, Glasgow, for the opportunity to print the following crisp, concise and racy record of winter-night debates in the village of Fenwick, in Ayrshire, in the years between the Reform Act and the repeal of the Corn Laws. The minute book of the little debating Society of young men in Fenwick belongs to Mr. Fulton, and its significance was indicated to the writer of this note by Mr. William Gemmill, Writer, Glasgow, who shares with Mr. Fulton a keen ancestral interest in Fenwick and its Reform debates. Accordingly there is now printed verbatim et literatim the text of the curious little minute book. It is six inches by four inches, in several handwritings, often ill spelt, and worse punctuated, but always brisk and entertaining, instructively disclosing a decisive and robust mentality among the young artisans of the Ayrshire village, situated about four miles from Kilmarnock. The parish, eight miles in extreme length, and from two to five miles broad, had, in 1831, a population of 2018. The almost coterminous villages of Fenwick and Low Fenwick, best known as Laigh Fenwick from which probably the membership of 'The Fenwick Improvement of Knowledge Society' was mainly recruited, can hardly have contained more than 500 inhabitants, whose prevalent industry was weaving.

It is perhaps not surprising that, in the generation which followed Burns, we should find in an Ayrshire village, sympathy alike with liberty and literature, yet the intensity of feeling manifest throughout, argues the existence of dominating inspirations in the minds of the leaders of the coterie which, from 1834 until 1842, discuss so many attractive and important themes. The minutes are a remarkable interpretation of their time, and could hardly have better conveyed than they have done, what these village politicians and social critics thought and said and sang.

GEO NEILSON.

You can read these notes here in pdf formet | The second instalment can be read here


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