GIRVAN TOWN COUNCIL MINUTE BOOK. 1785—1836.
THE above is the title of an old MS. volume
now before me. Its ink is as faded as the events it records, but all through
it we see how important the incidents were to the actors. The first page
sets forth the Charter of the "Village of Girvan," in Latin, with an English
Translation following, and there is a certain evident awe-struck feeling in
the writer as he narrates the preliminary meeting, summoned by proclamation
"in the Church of Girvan after Divine Service in the afternoon" said meeting
to be held "in the house of William Ross, vintner, on the 6th day of
But time went on, and perhaps the most
touching event recorded in the volume is when the spirit of Reform prompted
the townspeople in 1823 to petition Sir Hew D. Hamilton of Bargany, the
town's superior, to grant them more liberty in the election of their
municipal rulers. Sir Hew regarded the petition as reasonable, but the old
magistrates stood on their dignity, and would not yield. And there is a
certain pathos in the way they at last surrendered their offices to Sir Hew,
"wishing most sincerely that those upon whom it hereafter devolves, may
perform their several duties more to the satisfaction of all the worthy
inhabitants of Girvan than it would appear they had done."
Many of the entries refer to the admission of
burgesses, and not a few of the discussions were about the amount to be
charged for this privilege. Occasionally, however, some were admitted free.
Among these were David Dale, Esq., of Glasgow, founder of New Lanark and
Blantyre Mills; Spencer Boyd, Esq. of Penkill; Sir Andrew Cathcart of
Carleton; Thomas Kennedy, Esq. of Dunure; and Robert Paterson, Esq., of
Glasgow, which latter gentleman "at a time when work in the manufacturing
line could not be procured from any other... sent webs to the unemployed
weavers of Girvan. As also, a number of old soldiers, and sailors of the
navy, who were admitted free "as having deserved well of their country."
The Council were always hard up for funds,
and were constantly devising new methods of "raising the wind" by
customs-duties, and otherwise. One of the most curious of these was a tax of
sixpence a day on "Quack doctors," or people who sell medicine in the
street, as also 2/6 a day on "Stage-doctors" if these were permitted by the
magistrates to exhibit.
In 1788, a certain Hugh C------ was fined in
8/ for "breach of the Sabbath," although what the said breach consisted in
is not stated.
Shortly after, 6/ is charged against the town
for "advertising Bargany's birthday," and 1/ is charged for " attempting to
poind Jean Sloan," who seems however to have baffled them.
In 1789, the old Jail, familiarly called
"Stumpy," was built by public subscription, for lodging ill-doers in.
In 1792, 9/1 is charged as "Expenses at Lord
Duncan's victory" (Camperdown); Lord Duncan being the laird of Bargany's
Regularly, in the burgh accounts, we find
"Expenses at the King's Birthday," and on one occasion this sum was as high
as £2 13 10. Extra whisky and powder were, I suppose, used that
There are frequent charges for "warning carts
for military baggage," as well as "coal and candle for guardroom," and
"up-put for soldiers on march." On one occasion we find "carts for conveying
sick soldiers on march." Poor fellows! their mode of conveyance was not the
smoothest, I fancy.
In 1825 (April 22nd), the foundation stone of
the present Town's Buildings was laid with masonic honours. Thereafter, the
Council and their friends "sat down to dinner in the King's Arms, and spent
the evening in the utmost hilarity and decorum." Especially the decorum—Who
In 1831, on the occasion of a Riot, £3 was
voted for Doctors' fees in attending those who had been hurt; £4 was given
for broken windows; £2 9 8 for powder and shot; while next year
50 stand of arms were petitioned for and obtained from one of the Government
In 1833, the town was lighted by oil lamps,
provided by private subscription, and a number of pump-wells were sunk in
various parts of the town for the use of the burgesses.
In 1834, a motion was carried to the effect
that "it would improve and beautify the town" to have the names of the
streets put up at the corners.
The office of Junior Bailie often went
a-begging in those early days, and several persons paid a fine of 10/6
rather than accept it. On one occasion, Sir Hew himself had to provide a
person willing to take the thankless office.
The Town Officer on one occasion so far
forgot his dignity as to steal three ducks. He pleaded that he was so drunk
at the time that he did not know what he was doing. The magistrates,
however, could not accept this plea, and imprisoned him for a day in his own
"Stumpy," deprived him of his burgess-ship, and dismissed him from the
At the beginning of the book is inscribed the
code of laws of the new burgh; and as some of these are primitive enough,
and give a glimpse into bygone manners and customs, a few may be quoted. For
instance, it is statuted and enacted that no person within the burgh shall
presume to buy more cheese, butter, or fresh fish in the market than will
stock themselves, until the town be served, under the penalty of 2/. It is
further enacted and ordained that all insufficient saddles or shoes, or
whatever belongs to these trades, that are brought to the market or fair of
Girvan, be visited by persons appointed by the magistrates, and in case they
find any such insufficient work, they are to represent the same to the
magistrates, that the delinquents may be punished. It is also statuted and
ordained that no inhabitant within the burgh shall go through any of the
inhabitants' gardens without liberty asked and given, and shall not allow
their cocks and hens to trespass on their neighbours' yards. It is likewise
decreed that no person within the burgh shall draw their own stack or stacks
without acquainting some two of their neighbours; that none of the
inhabitants shall let any rooms or houses to idle and infamous persons, or
who lie under bad characters, or have no trades to live by; and that none of
the inhabitants shall lodge or entertain in their houses sturdy or idle
beggars or vagabonds, or sell them meat or drink, under the penalty of 8/4.
Notice, too, is taken of several people who do keep horses and cows in the
burgh, and who cannot demonstrate that they have wherewith to maintain them;
of several others who keep their ashpits before the door, and thereby
encumber the street; and of others who wash their foul clothes in the burn
that runs through the town; and notice is given to all such that these
practices cannot be tolerated in the new burgh any longer!