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Ramble Round Kilmarnock
Chapter 2


Green Bridge and its environs--London Road--Milldykes--The Irvine, and Struthers’ Steps--Saint Andrew’s Burying -Ground and Church--Glencairn Square and it Associations--High Glencairn Street--King Street--King Street U.P. Church--The Council House.

Taking the Cross again as my starting-point, and  traversing Duke Street, I pass the Corn Exchange and  arrive at Green Bridge. Tradition states that there was a ford in early times at this spot, and a popular anecdote has it that a certain farmer and a female servant crossed it every Sabbath on their way to church--the farmer most ungallantly, for he did so on the back of the maid, it being part of her duty to carry her master across. In course of time the worthy farmer resolved to take Jenny to wife, and finding her acquiescent they repaired to Kilmarnock on foot to get the knot tied. At the ford Jenny bore her wonted burden across in safety, after which they proceeded to the minister and had their wish consummated. Reaching the ford on their way home, Jenny kilted her coats and paddled across, leaving her now husband behind. "Jenny lass," cried he "ye maun carry me owre."--"Na, na," she replied, "when we cam to the toun I was yer servant; noo I’m yer wife an’ yer equal, sae ye can strip yer shoon an’ come awa’."

Looking up the river--if Kilmarnock Water can be designated such--the scene is murkily romantic. The view is terminated by the railway viaduct, and almost beneath the arch that spans the stream the water falls over the weir of the Bark Brae dam and purls along its polluted channel, tainted with extraneous matter. To the right a steep bank clothed with wood rises abruptly from the water edge. On its brow an old-fashioned mansion called Braehead House, the residence of Mr T. B. Andrews, peers from its sylvan retreat, and near to the bridge, some distance below the level of the road, there is a small nursery and a neat bowling green. On the left are the works of Gregory, Thomsons, & Co., and between them and the road is the Town Green, a small piece ground the townspeople have the right of bleaching their clothes on. It was at one time of much greater extent, but the erection of the Academy and other buildings, and the construction of the road over the bridge, have greatly narrowed its limits. Above the house-tops in the distance the Roman Catholic Chapel and Fever Hospital stand prominently out, and more near the gilded, dome-like spire of the High Church is a conspicuous object.

Down the stream the scene still retains a degree of picturesqueness. On the right, surrounded by a playground, stands the Kilmarnock Academy, a plain, unassuming edifice. It was erected in 1807. Many eminent teachers have laboured within it, and not a few natives who were educated in it have distinguished themselves and attained honourable positions. The opposite bank is an almost perpendicular steep. It is studded with trees, and over is summit passes the old line of the road to the town. The houses which line it are primitive in construction and quaint-like in appearance. From Green Bridge I push along London Road, and pass a cluster of old houses at the entrance to Tankard Ha’ Brae. Beyond these, a short walk along this truly pleasing highway brings me to Burnside. Opposite is Elmbank, the beautiful residence of Mr. John Gilmour, coal master; and a little further on I pass the handsome villa of our worthy Provost, Mr Peter Sturrock; then that of Orchardhill, the residence of Mr Gross, procurator-fiscal. From Orchardhill to the Newmill burn there is a  long row of elegant villas, with flower-plots in front and gardens behind. In style of architecture they are very dis-similar, but they are all graceful and neat, and are on the whole very handsome residences. The last two buildings of the range are beautiful specimens of domestic architecture and are equal to any of the merchant princes’ houses in the West End of Glasgow. One is the property of Mr Gavin Anderson, coal master, and the other of Mr Alexander Walker, wine merchant. Others equally palatial are in course of erection. London Road undoubtedly contains the finest houses of any thoroughfare in Kilmarnock.

Crossing Newmill burn, I turn to the right and enter a rural avenue which skirts the trickling streamlet. Strolling by the side of its hedgerows admiring the wide expanse of country that crosses the burnie a little above where it falls into the river. The road over the bridge was and still is a favourite walk of the lads and lasses of the town, and also of older people whose daffin’ days have long since passed away. It is called the Milldykes. It lead to Struthers’ Steps, a romantic spot, where there is a ford and where stepping-stones connect the banks of the river. The scene is well described by Mr David Smith, of Aberdeen, in a poem entitled "Youthful Days." Musing on the haunts of his boyhood he says--

"And now appears another scene:
The Struthers’ Steps, with banks so green,
Stand out before bright and clear,
And bring a flood of memories dear.
Low, nestling close beside the hill
Stands Riccarton’s old famous mill;
The railway bridge lifts high its head
Above the Irvine’s lowly bed;
By Kameshill’s dark and gloomy wood
The river pours its silent flood."

Near to the bridge that crosses Newmill burn the Irvine takes one of its fantastically abrupt turns, after which it pursues a tolerably straight course until it passes the village of Riccarton. Here also the Newmill lade enters the river, and the mill itself is seen in the distance looking picturesque beneath the shade of some tall trees. Straying along the river bank, I pass the Small-Pox Hospital, and after a short walk arrive at the foot of Welbeck Street. Here stands a large print-work name the Defiance; it was at one time a busy place, but it has long stood inactive, and it is only occasionally of late that the quiet which pervades its interior is broken by the busy clatter of blocks. Near to the Defiance stands the recently-erected bonnet yarn mills of Messrs Douglas, Reyburn, & Co. They are somewhat extensive, and contain wonder-working machinery of the most approved description. There are also adjacent the skin-works of Messrs Adam Crooks & Son, and the tweed weaving factory of Messrs Hannah & Company. Passing up Welbeck Street, I arrive at Robertson Place, or, as it is more commonly called, "the Newton;" but as it contains nothing of interest I turn to the left and enter what is termed Richardland Road. Richardland Road is the new name of what formed part of the Milldykes. Beyond its entrance there are as yet no buildings. It sill retains its hedges and much of its original rusticity. When about half-way through this quiet thorough-fare, I arrive at Saint Andrew’s Burying-Ground. It is a small place, and has long been inadequate to the wants of the population; but at present a fine new Cemetery is in  course of formation on the farm of Holehouse, in the vicinity of London Road. Saint Andrew’s Burying-Ground was opened in 1837, and from that date until now (1875) over nineteen thousand interments have taken place in it. I might state how the sextons have managed to crowd a number nearly equal to the entire present population of the town into such a small area, but the subject is a disagreeable one, and therefore I decline. I this burying-ground there are several neat monuments and many handsome head-stones, but none commemorating any very remarkable individual. There is a stone to the memory of Thomas Hendrie, who was sexton in Saint Andrew’s for thirty-five years. He died in April, 1874, at the ripe age of seventy-five. A relative of his kindly allowed me to examine the graveyard books, and I find that during the time he held office he buried no less that than 17,605 bodies. He delighted to speak of his "yard," and nothing gave him greater pleasure than to recount incidents of his life as a gravedigger. Often have I listened to him with a kind of shudder, but although some-what eccentric on this point the was nevertheless a decent, honest old man. He used to boast of the quality of the earth in Saint Andrew’s, and declare that it was so dry that it was fit for Queen Victoria to lie in. I have heard it said that he carried a sample of it in his vest pocket, but I rather think he was too sensible a man for that.

Adjoining Saint Andrew’s Burying-Ground is Saint Andrew’s Established Church (the Rev. Thomas Martin’s). It was built in 1841, and is a plain square block, with a belfry. Near to it Milldykes merges into Bentinck Street, opposite East Netherton. The houses in East Netherton are mostly thatched cottages. It is a very old street, and was at one time almost entirely occupied by weavers. Carpets were woven in it, and in reference to this Burns in his "Ordination," when speaking of the Rev. Mr Roberson, says--

"Or, nae reflection on you lair,
You may commence a shaver;
Or to the Netherton repair,
And turn a carpet weaver."

Turning down Bentinck Street, I pass Kay School, a Gothic building similar to the one already noticed in Wellington Street. It is surrounded by a spacious playground. In 1872 Bentinck Street was extended to East Shaw Street. This was a much-needed improvement, for it cleared away an unsightly old printwork, and opened what yet will become a handsome thoroughfare.

Arriving in East Shaw Street, I turn down in Glencairn Square. East Shaw Street has not an elegant appearance; the houses are, with few exceptions, one-storyed and covered with thatch. Environed with pleasant grounds, in this neighborhood is Shawbank, the handsome villa of Mr James Wilson, Irvin, and beyond it there is a fine view of an extensive tack of open country. There also stands the hydraulic engineering works of the Glenfield Iron Company; they employ about one hundred and fifty hands , and carry on a large export trade.

Entering Glencairn Square, I pause to look about me before turning my face toward the Cross. The square is spacious, but the building in it, with two or three exceptions, are thatched, low-roofed, dingy dwellings. Four streets branch off it, viz., High Glencairn Street, Low Glencairn Street, and East and West Shaw Streets. These streets are parallel to each other. High and Low Glencairn streets form part of the main artery of the town. Intersecting Glencairn Square, the thoroughfare passes through the adjacent village of Riccarton and on to Ayr. In Low Glencairn Street are situated the works of the Water Meter Company; they employ about one hundred and thirty hands, and carry on an extensive business in the manufacture of meters alone. At the foot of the same street are the Holm Foundry and the engineering works of Messrs Barclays & Co. At the foot of West Shaw Street is the carpet and rug factory of Mr John Wilson. The works, which are pretty expansive, are situated near the Kilmarnock Water, and close to the residence of the proprietor.

Glencairn Square, and also the handsome line of street--nearly three-quarters of a mile in length--that passes through it, were opened up in 1765 by William, thirteenth Earl of Glencairn, who acquired the lands and superiority of Kilmarnock in 1749. Upon his acquisition this nobleman did much to improve the town, and none of the many schemes he entered into for the purpose have been more beneficial to the community than his doing away with the tortuous narrow path which connected Kilmarnock with Riccarton, and opening a highway that has been compared by an eminent topographist to Leith Walk.

In April 1800, many of the houses in Glencairn Square were destroyed by fire. AT that date a malt-house stood next door to the old school-house in East Shaw Street, and by the overheating of one of its kilns the place took fire. Tongues of flame shot through the roof, which like those in its vicinity was covered with thatch, and rendered combustible by continuous dry weather seized upon the school, lapped up every thing flammable, gathered into a huge mass of fire, voraciously leaped from roof to roof, rounded the corner of the square, and passed down Low Glencairn Street on its course of devastation; nor was it stayed until it had left thirty-five dwellings a smoking mass of ruins, and rendered nearly eight families homeless and destitute who two hours previous had not dreamt of danger or misfortune. [A landlord of one of the burned houses in Low Glencairn Street wished to get rid of an obnoxious tenant, but failing to give him notice to quit at the proper time the individual refused to give up the house. This of course, caused a dispute between the parties; but the landlord had his revenge, for when the flames laid hold of the building he thrust his head into the door of the house, and in the most sarcastic manner cried, "Sit still noo, John; sit still and be d---d to ye."]

An appeal that was made to the public for subscriptions to aid the sufferers from the calamitous catastrophe was liberally responded to, and they were aided to tide over what would have been to many of them absolute ruin. Many of the weavers and shoemakers of the Holm were zealous Radicals, and in the year 1819 they were so persuaded that nothing but physical force would ever compel the  Government to listen to the cry of the people, that they collected all the swords, guns, pistols, and pikes they could lay hand on, it the expectation that a general rising would take place. The men of the Holm quarter, however, were not the only individuals engaged in those warlike preparations, for nearly the whole of Kilmarnock, and a great portion of the people of the West of Scotland, were affected with the same mania. An assimilation of opinions naturally draw men together, and the Radicals of the Holm met during meal-times and spare house in the evenings in Glencairn Square to take into consideration and discuss the affairs of the nation. These meetings were the origin of what was known in after years as the "the Holm Parliament;" and no man was more respected in them than the late worthy James, or, as he was generally called, ‘Colonel" Osborne. He was looked to as a kind of authority in matters of politics, and was generally the principal speaker. The reason he was daubed "Colonel" was that he was appointed commander of a party of Radicals who attended a county meeting at Ayr in November, 1819. They met in Glencairn Square, and having been put in marching order by the "Colonel" he cast his eye along the line, and with a flourish of his staff and in a voice of thunder gave the word "March." The procession, which was preceded by two females bearing a cap of Liberty on a pole, moved forward to the strains of music, and passed through Riccarton with banners flying.

On the morning of the 14th April, 1820, when the Edinburgh Yeomanry Cavalry invaded the town, Glencairn Square presented an unusual appearance. Members of the corps rode up and down it and the adjoining streets with drawn sabres, and would allow no one to leave their houses until a search for suspected persons had been completed. The enthusiasm of the Radicals was on the wane that morning, for there was a general scramble amongst them to gain Caprington Woods or any other place of concealment.

"The Holm Parliament" continued its standings in Glencairn Square for fifty-two years, but time cooled the enthusiasm and silvered the hair of many of its members, and death and removals to other districts so thinned its numbers that it gradually dissolved. The "Colonel" continued a prominent speaker of the "Parliament," and lived to see many political changes; and when age and infirmities began to tell him he was considerately accommodated with a chair, and the knights of the shuttle, and the awl crowded round him and fought with voice and gesture the battles of the House of Commons over again. The "Colonel" remained a Radical to the end of the chapter, and died in March, 1859, aged seventy-eight.

From the Square I pass up High Glencairn Street and arrive at East and West Netheron Streets. In West Netherton stands the extensive power-loom factory of Messrs T. & J. Ferguson. AT the Nethertons Titchfield Street begins, but like Glencairn Street, it possesses few modern buildings/ Behind is the village of Riccarton, and beyond it the romantic hills of Craigie. In front, and looking as if it blocked up the thoroughfare, stand the Relief, or--beg its pardon--King Street United Presbyterian Church, with its tapering spire. On my right is the Balleon Braw, a row of old thatched cottages that stand above the level of the road. Opposite is the neat mansion of Ex-Provost Dickie, with a lamp in front of it, on top of which is the "loupin’ hand." Mr. Dickie filled the civic chair for thirteen years, and for a long period has taken a deep interest in the welfare of the town. Upon his retirement from the Provostship he was presented with a handsome testimonial by the member of the Council and other friends. Passing onward, a sharp walk bring me to the entrance of King Street. Branching off to the right is Fowlds and Saint Andrew Streets. In the first-named is Free Saint Andrew’s Church, a large, gloomy-like building. Beyond it is the Meeting-House of the Original Seceders, and farther on, on the same side, is the Baptist Chapel. It is of recent erection, and is a neat little place of worship. The second-named street is undergoing a transformation. Building are springing up rapidly, and  new streets are being formed off it in the direction of the Newton. A short distance up King Street I pause before the Presbyterian Church referred to above. It stands at the corner of Saint Marnock Street, and is a beautiful building of a mixed kind of architecture. From the centre of its front towers a graceful spire, one hundred and twenty-six feet in height, which gives to the whole structure an imposing appearance. This church is well attended, and internally it is commodious and neatly fitted up. It was erected in 1832. The present minister is the Rev. Alexander Brown. There is little of importance connected with the history of its congregation. Its founders were a few individuals who left the Parish Church of Riccarton, in 1798, because the patron denied them the choice of a minister. Erecting a meeting-house in the village, at the top of New Street, they worshipped in it until the year 1814, when they removed to Kilmarnock, having built a church on the spot that the present building occupies. The reason of the change was that their numbers had greatly increased, and the augmentation coming principally from Kilmarnock they considered it prudent to have their place of worship more central. The congregation after its removal rapidly increased, and the new church becoming too small it was pulled down, hence the erection of this commodious building.

I now pass up King Street, which is the principal business thoroughfare of the town. It is broad, well paved, and regularly built, and is line on either side with large and roomy shops. On my right I pass the Post-Office, a miserable-looking place of the kind, and anything but a credit to town of the size and importance of Kilmarnock. Higher up on the same side, and near to the entrance of the Cross, stands the Council House. It is built on the top of the arch through which the Kilmarnock Water flows on its way through the town. It was erected in 1805, and is a plain, graceful building of two storeys. The ground floor is occupied by shops; the upper floor contains the Town Hall, Town Clerks’ Office, and a waiting room. The hall is small, and only capable of seating little over two hundred individuals. In it are held the Police and Justice of Peace Courts. The walls are decorated with beautiful portraits in oil. One is that of Sir James Shaw in his Lord Mayor’s robes; another that of Sir John Dunlop of Dunlop, the first M. P. for the Kilmarnock District of Burghs; a full length of the late Earl of Eglinton, and a well-executed likeness of the poet Burns by Willaim Tannock, after Nasmyth’s celebrated picture. Leisurely strolling along the street, I once more enter the Cross, and again make it my starting-point.


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