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Places of Interest about Girvan
Some Girvan Notabilia


REGARDING Knockushion Street, Abercrombie, the old Carrick topographer, writes:—"At Girvan, there is one spot that is not to be passed without observation, which is called Knock-Oshin, upon which the Head-courts of this Jurisdiction are kept and held; and all the vassals compear there, and seem to retain something of the ancient custom of our nation: that the king's vassals were convened in the field like a rendezvous of soldiers, rather than in a house for ceremony and attendance." This, of course, takes us a long way back, probably to the time of the Bruces, as I find in one of the old charters of Killochan a clause stipulating that the Baron shall make to the Earl of Carrick "three suits yearly at our Court of Girvan."

The old Brig of Girwand stood a short way above the present railway bridge, and mention is made in the Historie of the Kenncdyis of a certain feudal fight that took place there towards the close of the 16th Century. About a hundred years after, the bridge seems to have been swept away; for we find the Presbytery of Ayr (March, 1696) writing a letter to Lord Bargany respecting the rebuilding of it. His lordship, however, appears to have been dilatory, as, five years later, we find the Presbytery again writing him and urging him to put on a ferry-boat until the bridge should be constructed. It is commonly said that the Presbytery assigned as a reason for their urgency the fact "that many lives had been lost by persons going to church attempting to ford the river when flooded." But after an investigation of the Presbytery books, I find that there was no such statement made. It was merely urged on the ground "that the parishioners might have easy access to the church."

In the Churchyard may still be seen the site of the first Parish Church of Girvan, which does not seem to have been a very large one. It has apparently been about 50 feet long, by 28 wide, and would accommodate perhaps about 500 persons. There is a small mouldering tombstone to the memory of "Mr Samuel Stewart, who died Jan. 25, 1711, in the 79th year of his age, having been minister of Girvan 20 years." There is also one to the memory of Fergus M'Alexander, first minister of Barr, who died Feb. 15, 1689. The Rev. Peter M'Master of Girvan likewise rests here, Mr Thomas M'Kechnie, who founded the M'Kechnie Institute, Dr Fergus Robertson, and many others. I should suppose that in that little half acre of ground there now lie sleeping 20,000 persons.

The Parish Church in my boyish days stood at the head of Hamilton Street. It no longer exists, having been taken down in 1883, and a much handsomer church erected close by. The old church was built in 1780, and I have no doubt was considered a handsome edifice then, and a great improvement on the parallelogram that did duty for a church in the churchyard. But times change, and the old church, before it was removed, had become an eyesore, both externally and internally. I can well remember the earthen floor, the narrow pews guiltless of paint, the old pulpit with a precentor's desk in front, putting one in mind of the bow of a two-decker, and which, when I was latterly permitted to preach in it, I found to be so deep that I had to place one stool on the top of another to make myself visible. I can remember, too, the last minister of it remarking to some members of Presbytery who were visiting it— "The state of this church speaks for itself."—"Yes," was the reply, "it is of age, and has a full right to do so."

The Market Cross used to stand in front of the Parish Church, at the head of the "Kirk Brae." It was simply a rude block of stone, and there is a minute in the Council Records regarding the placing of it.

The Sanctuary Stone is said to have stood in High Street, and was a place of refuge for insolvent debtors to flee to in the olden times, when persecuted by their creditors.

Our Steeple was built in 1827, and Sir Hew Hamilton of Bargany, a few years after, presented the lieges with what the Town Records call "an excellent Steeple Clock." Wishing to have an impartial verdict on our steeple's appearance, I asked my friend, Mr James A. Morris, Architect, to write a few judicious sentences which I might quote here, and this he has done in the following fashion:— " Girvan Steeple is a sturdy, solid-looking building, typical of a seaport town, and well suited to withstand the storms to which it is exposed. For three stages it rises four-square and plain. Its fourth stage is plain also, but of reduced size, and richer in character, being ornamented by the Town-Clock, angle pilasters, a pediment, and a broken frieze. From this stage rises the octagon, with a battle-mented parapet, and further pierced by four louvred openings, behind which hangs the steeple bell. Still continuing the vertical octagon in the first few feet of the lead-covered roof, it breaks into a low, tapering spire, crowned in its turn by an old-fashioned vane, which points the 'Airt o' the wind' to the Girvan folks. The whole tower and spire is somewhat heavy in character, but solid and well-built throughout. 'Strong and honest' seems to be its motto, and, innocent alike of modern pretentiousness and offensive affectation, it has been content to stand quietly fulfilling its duty, till it has become almost a part of the human life of the town." I have merely to add to this kindly testimonial, that strangers are apt to air their wit by calling our steeple "Stumpy"; but "Stumpy," I may remind them, was the local sobriquet given to an entirely different building, which has bequeathed its name not to the steeple, but to the "Lazy Corner" beside it.

The old Wooden Bridge is a feature of Girvan architecture second only in familiarity to the Steeple; and I can well remember the fearful joy I used to have in crossing it when a spate was on, as it was never very firm at the best; and the frequent holes in the footway used to remind me of the Bridge of human life in the vision of Mirza, through which passengers were continually dropping into the river to be seen no more.

The Doune Burn is a spring of excellent water at the south end of the town, rising about 30 feet behind the wall through which it issues. In days when Girvan was not so well supplied with water as it is now, the Doune Burn was of prime importance, and was much frequented. Like all natural springs, the water is cooler and fresher than that brought in pipes, and it is still largely used, especially in hot weather. A friend has measured the flow of water for me, and found it to be a little over 9 gallons per minute, and this is never perceptibly diminished.

The M'Kechnie Library and Reading Room in Dalrymple Street was opened in December, 1888, from a Bequest of ^6,500 left for this object by Mr Thomas M'Kechnie, Merchant. The Library, to which was added the Books of the old Mechanics' Library, contains upwards of 5,000 volumes, very well chosen, and is open to readers at a fee of 5/ per annum. There are also two well supplied Reading Rooms connected with it, a Billiard Room, and a house for the Librarian. The building itself cost about j£>7»°oo. In addition to this gift to the town, Mr M'Kechnie left ^2,000 to Glasgow University for two Girvan bursaries, and ^t,ooo for the poor.

The Parish Church and Hall were built in 1884, at a cost of £5,000, of which the congregation subscribed £1,600. The number of sittings is 900. Mr M'Kechnie's trustees supplied the organ and a stained-glass window, while the congregation erected another stained-glass window in memory of the Rev. William Corson. The height of its handsome spire is 150 feet.

The South Church was built in 1842, and contains 680 sittings; the Free Church was built in 1857, and contains 400 sittings; the U.P. Church was built in 1870, and contains the same number. There is also a Methodist Church and an Episcopal Church. The Assembly Room was formerly occupied by Dr WaddelPs congregation, and the Union Hall by the Reformed Presbyterians.

The Parish School was built in 1832, but has since been enlarged. The Burgh School was built in 1875, at a cost of £3,000. There is also an Infant School on the Green, and the Doune School at the south end of the town.

The seal of the town consists of a ship in full sail, with the motto, "Ever sailing, never sinking." As I was ignorant of the origin of this seal, I wrote to Mr Balfour Paul, Lyon-King-at-arms, Edinburgh, and received the following reply:—"The seal is in no sense heraldic. It is evidently a mere device adopted by the Burgh itself, but never registered in our books. It is practically unblazonable, but might be described as a three-masted ship in full sail, pennons flying, on a sea proper." So much for the seal; as for the motto, I suppose the less said the better. If a ship is ever sailing, there is no use in adding that it is never sinking. It strikes me that if the device is to be retained, the town authorities should adopt another motto."

An interesting spot to visit in the neighbourhood of Girvan is the Dowhill above Glendoune. It was formerly a British Fort, and the ditch surrounding it may still be traced. A hundred years ago, this ditch was said to be twelve feet in depth, although now it is much less. Paterson, in his history, says that the enclosed space on the summit is an acre and a half, but this would require to be divided by two, to approach the truth.

Alexander Ross's Stone stands at the "Sheddings of the Road" on the north end of the town, and was erected at the spot where a constable was shot, in 1831, while attempting to prevent a procession of Orangemen from entering the town.

Chafiel Donan stands in ruins about a mile and a half north of the town. It is very small, and with the exception of a holy water font at the door, and a tiny sacristy behind, there is nothing of note remaining.

Ballochtoul Castle, a former seat of the Boyds, used to stand to the right of the Avenue, betwixt two large trees which may still be seen there.

The Bride's Bed, a shelving rock on the lace of the Byne Hill; and the Seven Sisters, a large boulder split into fragments on the Saugh hill, are both of them subjects of local tradition devoutly believed by the young.

On the slope of the Saugh hill, used to stand in the Covenanting times a small church built of turf and wood, regarding the destruction of which there is a curious story told by Wodrow. It appears that at a Parliamentary Commission held at Ayr in these old times, the landed proprietors were first called on to deliver up their arms. Then, Lord Cassillis, as Bailie of Carrick, was ordered to pull down this meeting house at the Sandhill Well as well as another. Lord Cassillis first begged for an escort of soldiers, and when this was refused, he desired that he might have some of his own arms back "in case of a rabble of the country people, or a tumultuary crowd, were it but of women, in defence of their meeting house, might hinder or affront him" This shews the spirit of the Carrick peasantry, and throws a curious side light on our gentry, when even my lord of Cassillis was afraid of the vengeful hands of his country-women.

Hugh Miller, the Geologist, who was often in this district, drew attention to the fossils of Mullochs Quarry near Dalquharran, where he found the remains of " more trilobites, shells, and corals than he had at one time supposed all the Greywacke deposits of the south of Scotland could have furnished." He also noticed the limestone quarries of Craighead where a broad dike of greenstone had been quarried out of the rock for road metal, "leaving, for several hundred feet together, the yawning rent in the earth's surface which it had so lately filled, with its corresponding angles and its answering protuberances and inflections, existing, as it must have existed, when first torn asunder by the convulsions to which it owed its origin." This is well worth visiting; and when at Craighead the visitor shall not fail to see the magnificent prospect that is obtainable from the top of the hill


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