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Ramble Round Kilmarnock
Chapter XI


From Kilmarnock to Stewarton--The Parish and its Boundaries--The town: its Buildings, Trades and Eminent Charcters--Corsehill Castle and its Traditions--The Parish Church--The late William Cunninghame of Lainshaw--The Churchyard--The Viaduct--Lainshaw Castle--The Murder of Hugh, fourth Earl of Eglinton.

It is delightful on a radiant summer day to stroll along a country road and mark with ecstatic joy the form and features of the landscape, or recline on some gowan-spangled lawn and gaze at the sun through barred fingers. It is a perfect luxury when

"Deep in
The many-bladed grass the vi’let springs,
The lily and the humble primrose grown,
The hare-bell and cowslip knit their heads,
And scented thyme and modest daisy, wrapt
In low obscurity, crowd on the sward,
And send their odours, like the captive’s sighs,
Or prayers of saints, to Heaven upon the breeze."

Ah, how I love the country! I delight to gaze on Earth’s ample page, and adore the Mighty Architect of the Universe through His works.

"I love not man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal,
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal."

I never enjoyed myself or Nature’s beauties to greater advantage than I did when walking between Kilmarnock and "the auld toun o’ Stewarton." My way lay along Kilmaurs road --a road whose scenery for a considerable distance is very tame, so much so that I did not feel myself thoroughly in the country, until I turned into the old Stewarton highway which branches off some miles and a-half from the town. This road--like all old ones--is very undulating, and the pedestrian while traversing if finds himself either climbing a brae or descending one until he attains an elevation from which he gets a glimpse of the greatest bonnet-making town in Scotland, and of a wide expanse of country stretching for miles around him. I might have gone to Stewarton by train on this occasion, as I have done on many others, but I didn’t. Travelling by rail is too speedy for a method for a rambler. He delights to stroll along quietly, feasting his eyes on the landscape, as he listens to the cadence of the lark pouring forth its hymn of praise away up in the sky at the very gate of Heaven. The flowers too--the wild flowers--have a charm, and combine to woo him from the town when he can snatch a holiday.

A five mile walk from town along the hedge-bordered highway brought me to Stewarton, which is situated in a valley on the bank of a steamlet named the Annick. It flows from White Loch in the parish of Mearns, and joins with the Glazart at a place called the "Water-meetings," some three miles below the town. The ground around the town has a fine sloping appearance, and is withal well wooded. It gradually rises from the south-west to the north-east, and ends on the limits of Renfrewshire. From these heights and admirer of the picturesque can witness a splendid panoramic view. On the north is the cloud-capped Benlomond, so beautifully referred to in one of Tannahill’s songs; on the south, in the misty distance, the hills of Dumfries and Kirkcudbrightshire stand prominently out, while the spectator has the bright waters of the Frith of Clyde lying at his feet. Stewarton is situated in the centre of the parish, which is bounded by the parishes of Neilston and Mearns, in Renfrew-shire, on the north-east; Fenwick on the east and south-east; Dreghorn on the south; Irvine and Kilwinning on the west, and Dunlop on the north-west and west. It was erected into a separate lordship in 1283, and vested in the family of James, high steward of Scotland, hence the name "Steward’s-toun." The town of Stewarton contains a population of 3299. It traverses a line of street some three-quarter of a mile long and terminates in a portion of the town called Darlington.

From this long street several smaller ones branch off. The principal building in the place is the Cunninghame Institute. It is situated in Avenue Square, and has an imposing appearance. It was gifted to the town by the late William Cunninghame of Lainshaw, and consists of a reading-room and recreation-room up stairs, and a school-room called "the Academy" on the ground floor. The banking establishments are three in number. The Union is a very fine building, and the Clydesdale and Royal are very chaste in design. There are five places of worship, all of which are well attended. They are as follows:--The Established or Parish Church, of which more hereafter; the Free Church, the United Presbyterian Church, the Wesleyan Methodist Church, and the Congregational Church. It is worthy of note that the last-named place of worship was instituted by the late William Cunninghame of Lainshaw in 1822, and that with the fore-thought and liberality so characteristic of him he has left to the members the commodious and comfortable place of worship, a manse for their clergyman, and a suitable endowment to maintain both.

From a very remote period the staple trade of Stewarton has been the manufacture of bonnets. So early as the twelfth century knitted bonnets were made at Bloak and Cutstraw. When the trade was in a primitive condition they were made in farm-houses, and once a year sold at fairs in the neighbourhood. It was then the custom for females to spin the yarn in their spare time, and to while away the hours of the long winter nights knitting it into bonnets. But as time sped on, and as civilization advanced, the trade got into the hands of families, or rather a small community, who monopolised it, and framed laws to protect and retain it in their own hands. Some of these laws were curious. For instance, all privileges were carefully guarded, and no outsider was allowed to work at the trade. A son of a bonnet-maker was allowed to marry whom he pleased, but a daughter was denied that privilege, and compelled to choose a husband in the trade. These laws at this day are null and void, and bonnet-makers and bonnet-knitters are married and given in marriage to all classes of the community. The bonnets made fifty years ago were principally those substantial head-dresses known as the "Rab Rorison," or braid Scotch bonnet. Now the manufacture consists of "Glengries" and "Balmorals." Large quantities of these are exported, and vast numbers supplied to the army and navy.

The next craft of importance to bonnet-making is that of spindle-making. This branch of industry was established by one of his ancestors some hundred and twenty years ago. The spindles manufactured are used for machinery in mills, and are made of steel. Like Kilmaurs, Stewarton at one time was famous for its hardware.

Among the men of note of whom Stewarton can boast may be mentioned Dr. Robert Watt, the compiler of the Bibliotheca Britannica, a standard work of great merit; also David Dale, the celebrated cotton-spinner, who was born in 1739 in a room of that house situated in the Cross, at the right hand corner of Rigg Street. His father was a grocer, and could only afford to give him a limited education. Notwithstanding this, by persistent energy he became one of the first merchants and manufacturers in Scotland. For a series of years he held the office of magistrate in Glasgow, and also officiated as pastor of an Independent Church in that city. His charity was extensive, and many in his native town partook of his bounty long after his death. He died in March, 1806, leaving £100,000. David Dale was father-in-law to Robert Owen, the advocate of Socialism and the founder of Co-operation.

John Gilmour, a poet of great promise, who died while pursuing his studies at college, must not be omitted. After his death a small volume of "Poetical Remains" was published by his parents. From that work I make the following extract:

"STEWARTON.

"O how I love thee, lovely village, where
Our ‘bonnet manufacture; boasts its rise;
For winding Annick, tuneless streamlet, there
Received me oft o’er head, and ears, and eyes:
Aye! there I loved to have my boyish frame,
While moments passed unheeded as they came.

"Unsung, alas! though Annick’s water flow,
Flow thou with them, my unpretending strain;
Else may my bosom never, never know
The raptures of celestrial song again!
For there, in boyhood’s first unconscious glow,
My lot was cast among the madcap train:
But certes, far the meanest slave, I ween,
To carol in rude lays my native scene."

Stewarton is possessed of few antiquities. The parish contains the ruins of three castles, viz., that of Robertland, and those of Auchinharvie and Corsehill. The latter is situated in a field on the Dunlop road, a short distance from the town. After strolling through the streets I paid it a visit, and found it to consist principally of a portion of a wall bearing unmistakeable evidence of recent construction or repair. Beside it there are some slight remains of foundations, but nothing to interest the visitor. The building seems to have been a place of note in feudal times, little being known regarding it beyond that it was the residence of Cuninghames of Corsehill, the first of whom was a son of the fourth Earl of Glencairn. Near to the ruin the Corsehill burn meanders on it way to the Annick, and the new line of railway between Kilmarnock and Glasgow passes close by. What history has omitted to record regarding Corsehill Castle gossip has not failed to supply, and even superstition has taken advantage of the mystery-shrouded wreck of a baronial age to people it with the supernatural beings. What urchin in its vicinity has not heard of the untold wealth hid away in a dark chamber under the foundation, and of the man who was startled, and almost petrified with terror while digging to discover it by hearing a sepulchral voice calling to him from the depths of the pile to "dig no more in ruined Ravenscraig." I daresay there are few Steartonians who have not heard of the famous Fanny Howie, and of the hair-bristling sight she witnessed in the vicinity of the ruin when driving home from the fair one night at the solemn hour of twelve. When passing along the road her horse suddenly stopped, and although reminded by several sharp cuts of Fanny’s whip that it was to move forward, it heeded not the lash, but stood with drooping ears and dilated nostrils as immoveable as a statue. This unusual conduct astonished the fair Fanny, and she looked around for the cause. To her horror she witnessed a funeral procession crossing the road a little in advance of her. The hearse, with its nodding plumes, was drawn by four headless steeds, the driver was headless also, and every spectral form in the procession was in the same condition. Rivetted by fear to her seat, Fanny watched the ghostly crew glide noiselessly past. With an effort she overcame the terror which paralysed her, and said, "In God’s name what does this mean?" There was no reply; the mention of the sacred name was sufficient; the vision vanished, and Fanny proceeded homeward. I rather think that Fanny, like the "wee wifikie" in the old song, had gat a "wee bit drapikie," for it is the case that those who imbibe spirits generally see them.

After lingering about the ruin for some time I found my way to the Cross, and leisurely strolled along Lainshaw Street until I arrived at the Parish Church. Turning down the little lane leading to it I found the gate of the church-yard open. On entering, a strange feeling of sadness pervaded my mind, for the sight of the grass-covered mounds awakened sad collections of near ones and dear ones who have crossed the threshold of death, and gone to a better and happier state of existence. The church stands in the graveyard, and is an old-fashioned, odd-looking structure, with a belfry and clock. The belfry seems to be an addition, for it bears the date of 1696 and the motto "Over, fork over." Originally the building must have been very small, for it has undergone many alterations. The Corsehill and Lainshaw aisles were added in or about the year 1650, and in 1825 it was widened on the north side. Internally the church is very neat, and contains two galleries. Under the Corsehill and Lainshaw aisles are the burying vaults of the respective families. That of Corsehill was closed in 1871. On the wall opposite the pulpit there is a handsome white marble tablet bordered with black. It bears a profile of the deceased and the following inscription:--"William Cuninghame of Lainshaw departed this life 6th November, 1849, aged 73 years. Author of many works on the chronology and fulfilment of prophecy. He was a devout student, a zealous expounder of the Word of God, a laborious and successful instructor of youth, and lived daily ‘looking for that blessed hope and glorious appearing of the Great God and our Saviour, Jesus Christ.’" The late William Cuninghame of Lainshaw was a philanthropist in the strictest sense of the word. He went about "continually doing good." The whole of his life was devoted to increasing knowledge among and bettering the condition of his fellow-men. During his life he was beloved by the people of Stewarton, and deeply regretted when death closed his useful career. When a boy Mr Cuninghame was of a very pious turn of mind, and the convictions he then formed became settled principles when he reached manhood. Previous to his succession to Lainshaw he was in the Civil Service of the East India Company of Bengal. During his stay in India he became acquainted with the celebrated Dr. Carey, of Serampore, and other eminent Christians, and assisted them in their missionary labours. He often spoke of the spiritual comfort and strength that he derived from these acquaintanceships. While in India he wrote some letters on the Evidences of Christianity under the signature of "An Enquirer." These masterly epistles were afterwards published collectively for the benefit of the Serampore Mission. In 1804 he returned to his native country and took possession of his property at Stewarton, and resided upon it up to the day of his death. He was a devout Millenarian, and strongly believe in Christ’s personal reign upon the earth--in fact, he daily expected His advent, and wrote several works in support of the doctrine. He also longed for the restoration of Israel, and did all in his power the purse, pen, and voice to promote Christianity among the Jews. As an author, an expositor of prophecy, and a critic on Scriptural chronology he is well know, and will long live in the works he published. He died unmarried and was succeeded by his brother.

"The Auld Kirk o’ Stewarton," it is said, at on time passed through an ordeal which no other church in Scotland or any other part of the globe ever did. It seems that some bonnet-makers had been preeing the barley bree rather freely in a "public" in the vicinity of the sacred edifice. Among other matters that engaged the attention of the worthies was the fact that the kirk did not stand due east and west. They agreed that it was altogether wrong and a disgrace to the town. The more they imbibed the more they waxed eloquent upon the subject. Ultimately they agreed to turn the building round and set it right. For this purpose four of them repaired to the churchyard to shift it. Being satisfied of their ability for the task, each man laid hold of a corner and lifted with might and main. After pulling and tugging three of them announced that it would do. "Na, na, haud on a wee," cried the fourth; "lift again, lads, ye’ve set it down on my coat-tail." Being unable to rise from the sitting posture he was in he fully believed it to be the case, but it was nothing more than the tail of his coat that had got under the heel of his boot. This story is laughingly told by Stewartonians. They all aver that the bonnet-makers shifted the church to their own satisfaction.

The churchyard is small and irregular in shape. One portion is separated by an iron railing, and seems to be reserved for the aristocracy of Stewarton parish. While straying through the tall grass reading the brief records on the tombstones, I observed the sexton busy throwing up spadefuls of damp, clayey soil on the side of a grave he was preparing to receive a tenant. Going up, I looked into the pit, and saw a strange-looking old man, with a low-crowned hat, and spectacles on nose, laboriously digging at the stubborn earth, and so deeply engrossed in his work that he did not seem to be aware of my presence. Thinking of the grave-digging scene in Hamlet, I was about to ask, "Whose grave is this?" when the old gentleman looked up, adjusted his "specks," and took my measure. "You are busy," said I, by way of introduction. "Oh, yes," he replied, "but this is no an ill ane; it’s no sae very deep, and it’s no sae lang since it was houkit. You see," he continued, "I’m no sae far aff being doon," and, as if to prove the truth of the statement, he drew the soil off the lid of a coffin under his feet, and displayed the mountings, which appeared as fresh as though deposited in the mould the day before. "Who is to be buried there?" I asked. "Davie Currie, poor fellow," he replied. "This is his wife’s coffin; she was buried about sax months’ syne, and Davie, poor lad, wished to be buried beside her. Do you kne," he contined, "that ther’s mair o’ the name o’Currie an’ Picken buried in this yard than o’ ony ither.--Auld stanes? O yes; there’s ane yont yonder ‘mang the grass; gin ye look, I think ye’ll find the date o’ 1410, or thereabout’s on’t." Leaving him to scoop out poor Davie’s narrow bed, I found the relic, but the inscription was entirely gone, and athe date all but illegible. Near to it I met with another in the same condition, and found it dated 1413. Many old stones are elaborately carved. A few bear rude representations of shears and implements used in the bonnet trade. Near to the back gate there is a large tablet with a long list of names. The inscription concludes thus-- "And on the left side lies John Gilmour (late student of moral philosophy) who died 14th April, 1828. Aged 18 years." This is the resting place of the youthful poet already referred to.

While straying through the old churchyard, in the direction of the gate, with solemn thoughts crowding on my mind, the following lines of Macaulay struck me forcibly:--

"Dost thou among these hillocks stray
O’er some dear idol’s tomb to moan?
Know that thy foot is on the clay
Of hearts once wretched as thy own.
How many a father’s anxious schemes,
How many rapturous thoughts of lovers,
How many a mother’s cherished dreams
The swelling turf before thee covers!

"Here for the living and the dead,
The weepers and the friends they weep,
Hath been ordained the same cold bed,
The same dark night, the same long sleep.
Here learn that glory and disgrace.
Wisdom and folly pass away,
That mirth hath its appointed place,
That sorrow is but for a day."

At the gate I bade farewell to the little Golgotha, passed into the highway, and turned my face toward Kilmarnock, with the intention of lingering a few hours about Kilmaurs and it neighbourhood to note and muse upon its antiquities. At the end of the town the viaduct crosses the road and spans a kind of glen through which the Annick flows. It is a stupendous erection and consists of ten arches. It is 540 feet long, each arch 50 feet wide and 80 feet high--that is, from the bed of the river. It took two years to construct it, and during its erection two men lost their lives--one by falling from the parapet into the river bed.

Adjacent to the viaduct is the entrance to Lainshaw Castle, which is at present occupied by Sheriff Anderson. It "consists of a large square tower, with a lesser one of a different style and a number of building of more recent date connecting them together, and a large and elegant modern addition." The whole overlooks the Annick, and fronts a handsome park containing trees of great size and beauty. The scene throughout the estate is picturesque, and sufficient to thrill the soul of the most indifferent admirer of Nature’s beauties. Ancient Lainshaw belong to the Montgomeries; but that family be- coming extinct the estate passed into the hands of William Cunninghame of Bridgehouse, who acquired it by purchase in 1779. The only thing that makes Lainshaw Castle historically interesting is the murder of Hugh, fourth Earl of Eglinton, which was perpetrated on the 19th of April, 1586. It seems that a feud existed between the Cuninghames of Robertland and the Montgomeries of Eglinton. The vassals of the latter, headed by the Earl, invaded the territory of the first-named and burned their castle. In revenge for this blazing deed the Earl was waylaid by the Cuninghames and shot dead. The whole incident is narrated in "Robertson’s Ayshire Families" in the following graphic manner:--"The good Earl, apprehending no danger from any quarter, set out from his own house of Eglinton towards Stirling, where the court then remained, in a quiet and peaceable manner, having one in his retinue but his own domestics, and called at the Langshaw [close to the village of Stewarton], where he staid son long as to dine. How the wicked crew, his murderers, got notice of his being there I cannot say. It is reported, but I cannot aver for a truth, that the Lady Langshw, Margaret Cuninghame, who was a daughter of the house of Aiket (others say it was a servant, who was a Cuninghame), went up to the battlement of the house and hung over a white table napkin as a signal to the Cuninghames, most of whom lived within sight of the house of Langshaw, which was a sign agreed should be given when the Earl of Eglinton was there. Upon that the Cuninghames assembled to the number of thirty-four persons or thereby in a warlike manner, as if they had been to attack or to defend themselves from an enemy; and concealed themselves in a low ground near the bridge of Annick, where they knew the Earl had to pass, secure as he apprehended from any danger--when, alas! all of a sudden the whole bloody gang set upon the Earl and his small company, some of whom they hewed to pieces, and John Cuninghame of Clonbeith came up with a pistol and shot the Earl dead on the spot. The horror of the fact struck everybody with amazement and consternation, and all the country ran to arms, either on the one side of the quarrel or the other, so that for some time there was a scene of bloodshed and murder in the west that had never been known before." Tradition has it that the Earl after being shot rode a considerable distance and fell dead off his horse at the ford of the river. The path along which he rode was known as the "Weeping Path," and the scene of his death is said to be Bridgend. The road at Lainshaw Castle gate crosses a bridge, and dives under a  canopy of foliage which excludes the sunshine and darkens the path. The scene was so lovely that I leaned on the parapet and looked around enraptured.

By the side of the Annick, and under the shade of the viaduct, stands Lainshaw Mill. On the top of its chimney there is a dwarfish rowan tree growing, which is some fifty years old. It is a curiosity in it way and attracts universal attention. After a chat with the miller about his mill and the affairs of the neighbourhood, staff in hand, I sped on to Kilmaurs.


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