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Ramble Round Kilmarnock
Chapter XIV


From Kilmarnock to Grouger--The Ruins of Tammie Raeburn’s Cottage--His self-imposed vow, personal appearance, courtship, witticisms, etc.--Grougar Row--Loudoun Kirk--The Queir--Lady Flora Hastings--Her melancholy death--The character of her Poems--Janet Little, the poetical correspondent of Robert Burns--George Palmer--An obscure Covenanter--A relic of Loudoun Kirk.

One Saturday morning while aimlessly straying through the town I resolved to retire from its noise and bustle for a space and seek the quietude of the country. For this purpose I crossed Green Bridge, and after a short walk arrived at Holehouse road. Turning into it, I entered the first road on the right and held onward. This road--as the reader in all probability is aware--runs between Kilmarnock and Loudoun Kirk, and is one of the good old undulating sort that winds over heights and hollows in such a manner that the pedestrian meets with a good deal of ups and downs while traversing it. Any little toil, however, that I encountered during my walk was amply repaid by the extensive and beautiful views obtained of the valley of the Irvine, and of the ever-memorable district,

"Where Loudoun Hill rears high its conic form,
And bares its rocky bosom to the storm."

From Bonnyhill, where the view is exceptionally fine, a lengthy walk brought me to the Irvine, at a point where it sweeps round a curve and tears along its channel through some beautiful scenery from which it emerges triumphantly, and passes placidly on it way to the sea. From the margin of the river the road diverges and becomes somewhat steep for a short distance. Along it, on the brow of a hill, a little off the highway, stands the beautiful villa of Mr. John Murray, factor for Grougar, and in the hollow behind, concealed from view, the ruin of the humble cottage of Tammie Raeburn, the Ayrshire Hermit. Being anxious to visit what was at one time the residence of a peculiarly interesting personage, I climbed over a field gate and alighted in a kind of roadway which runs along the side of a hedge and terminates in a small holm. Rounding a turn of the path the roofless, ruinous domicile suddenly came into view--a circumstance that caused me to pause and ruminate upon the changed scene before me. Where now, I asked myself, are the swains and braw lasses who made this hollow ring with their laughter and doffing glee forty years ago? Some are removed far from the place of their nativity, others slumber in the lethe of death, and the few living are wrinkled with care and fast hastening to "the bourned from whence no traveller returns." I found two gables of the cottage entire, but the back and front walls much broken down, and the interior strewed with the debris out of which grew tall nettles and rank weeds. The tresseled ivy twined fantastically about one of the gables, and clutched the tottering stones with its tendrils, as if anxious to hold the fabric together. The eccentric Thomas Raeburn, whose memory gives to the ruin of a kind of interest, died on the 23rd of June, 1843, in the 74th year of his age, after spending the greater part of his life in the fulfilment of a foolish self-im posed vow which he rigorously kept until the day of his death. He now sleeps in Stewarton Kirkyard, but his name and personal appearance will long be spoken of, and numerous anecdotes of him will form the subject of many a story at firesides in town and country. Raeburn inherited the house and a few acres of land, which constituted his farm, from his father. Curiously enough the small property was surrounded by that of other people, and there was no direct road into it save one through a field belonging to a neighbour. This the neighbour closed, and forbade Raeburn to use it; but Raeburn, imagining that "use and won’t" constituted a right to continue what had been a privilege, went to law, lost the case, and was mulcted in heavy expenses. The result of the trial so preyed upon his mind that he became morose and gloomy, for he believed that justice had not been meted out, and that the judge had dealt harshly with him. In this frame of mind he took a solemn vow upon himself that he would never shave his beard, cut his hair, or renew his clothing until he received his rights. In course of time he became an odd-looking personage. His hair grew long and matted, and his beard, which was unkempt, hung in long tangled masses down his breast. His clothes, too, in course of time lost their identity, and became so patched and darned that it was ultimately a matter of difficulty to discover an original piece of any garment. Naturally enough such a peculiar individual attracted many visitors from all parts of the country, but more so from Kilmarnock--a favourite rural walk with young people of both sexes being from the town to Tammie’s residence and back. He was of a parsimonious, money-loving disposition, lived sparingly, and drank nothing but water when bacchanalian cheer was not supplied to him gratis or procured without making a call on his purse. Tammie was never married, although in early life he had a desire of being so to the daughter of a neighbouring farmer who had attracted his attention at church. Peeps at her charms during the hours of divine service did not satisfy the would-be suitor long, for he resolved to call at the farm and offer the maiden his hand and heart. With this object in view he dressed himself in his Sunday clothes one fine day and set out to her residence, fully sensible of the delicate nature of his mission. With a palpitating heart he knocked at the door. It was opened by his affianced, who enquiringly looked, as if anxious to ascertain his business. Tammie stared at her, but not a word could he utter. Ultimately, by a prodigious effort, he managed to stammer out--"Could ye tell me the road to Finnick?" The nymph gave the required information, and so ended the only courtship that he was ever known to engage it. After this event an old woman kept house for him, and managed his dairy, for he kept several cows and was famed for making cheese of an excellent quality. Tammie welcomed visitors of all grades to his residence, and was ever ready to crack a joke, and that as often as possible at their expense; but these were mostly tame and childish, savouring more of catches than witticisms. For instance, upon being asked if his clock was with the town, he replied in a self-satisfied manner--’No, it’s twa mile an’ a half aff it." If a visitor asked to light his pipe, he was generously told by the "hermit" that "There’s no as muckle fire in the house as was licht a pipe, but ye may licht yer tobacco." Upon being asked if he was ever drunk, he replied--"There’s naebody wi’ a throat big enough to swallow the like o’me." Tammie had a strange influence over the feathered tribe. Often for the gratification of visitors he would go into his garden and cry "Bobbie, bobbie;" then place a small piece of bread between his lips and stand still until a robin would alight upon his beard, take the morsel from his mouth, and fly off to a neighbouring bough with the prize. To accommodate visitors he dealt in lemonade and ginger-beer, and occasionally in a more stimulating beverage. This infringement of the excise law, however, did not go unpunished, for upon one occasion he was convicted and fined in twenty-five pounds. Raeburn has passed away. The wealth he so avariciously scraped together was divided amongst his relations, the trees of his orchard have been cut down, and his bit farm is now included in the estate of Grougar. His parsimony would not allow him to enjoy life, and he, I have no doubt, assumed eccentricities with a desire to appear odd, and ultimately because it brought in the bawbees.

Leaving the shattered hermitage I crossed a stubble field and strolled up the river bank. Passing Milton Mill I regained the highway, and after a brisk walk arrived at Grougar Row--a collection of miner’s dwellings remarkable for nothing save the number of rosy-cheeked children sporting in front of them as happy and as frolicsome as fairies. It is somewhat curious that wherever working people are located bairns are plentiful. Were they a source of wealth, as they are said to be in some parts of the globe, how well off many a poor man would be. Beyond the Row, stately trees line the road for some considerable distance, and render the walk a pleasant one. I enjoyed it immensely, and arrived at Loudoun Kirkyard well satisfied with the scene through which I passed. The gate was locked, and by the long rank grass that grew about the entrance it was evident that it had not been opened for some time. In a dilemma I eyed the wall, but abandoned the idea of climbing by the turning into a side road where I observed a cottage. Passing it I stopped before the entrance to a neat garden where roses and flowers of various hues luxuriantly bloomed, and beautified the spot. Venturing within the flowery threshold, I was met by a motherly middle-aged woman, who kindly directed me through the garden to a little wicket which opened into the churchyard. This lady afterwards proved to be the occupant of the cottage, and the daughter of the late James Nisbet, who was sexton of Loudoun churchyard for a long series of years, and on that account is invaluable to the visitor, as she is well versed in the antiquities of the burial place and the lore of the district. The ancient place of sepulture is surrounded by a wall and a row of sombre trees, through which the passing wind soughs as if mournfully sighing for the oblivious dead moldering beneath their shade. Its interior is unadorned with shrubbery, and the headstones and monuments are few and scattered, but in the absence of pompous decoration, Nature has spread a grassy coverlet over the spot, and on the occasion of my visit it was decked with gowans, butter-cups, and a variety of wild flowers, which she scatters so profusely over hill and dale. In the centre stands a meagre remnant of Loudoun Kirk, consisting of one gable and a portion called the "queir," which has been used as the Loudoun family sepulchre from a very early date. The kirk was erected in 1451 by a donation to the monks of Kilwinning by the lady of Sir John Campbell. The queir has a very ancient appearance, and is embellished with the Loudoun family arms and other curious devices. In the back wall there is a small grated window which I looked through until my eyes became accustomed to the internal gloom and reveiled to me the outline of several coffins on the floor, whose mountings glistened in the faint light and whose appearance caused a strange shudder to thrill my frame. These encasements were all renewed some years ago, the old ones having become so decayed that they had fallen to pieces. Within the queir rests the mortal remains of the gifted but unfortunate Lady Flora Hastings. When one of the ladies of the bed-chamber to H.R.H. the Duchess of Kent, a most cruel and unmerited slander was raised against her, which so preyed upon her mind and wounded her feelings that she died of a broken heart in Buckingham Palace in July, 1839. Nearly the whole nation at the time deeply sympathised with her, and greatly deplored her untimely end. By her request her remains were conveyed to Loudoun and depositied alongside those of generations of her ancestors. The body was followed to its last resting place by her mother (the Dowager Marchioness), her sisters and brothers, and other relations of her family, and also by many parishioners who felt a deep commiseration for her. The mother survived her favourite daughter for little over a year, and it is believed that the melancholy circumstances which accelerated her daughter’s death hastened her own. Lady Flora was an accomplished poetess, and shortly after her decease her poems, which are distinguished by much purity of thought, sweetness and grace, were collected and published. An able reviewer has said that "such a deep love for the beautiful, the exalted, and the holy reigns throughout them all, that it is impossible to repel the conviction that her actions accorded with her words, and that her words gave but the utterance to the calm and sinless feelings of her heart."

"O, ill befa’ the raven wing
That brake her harp o’ gouden string!
The dove-like harp whose siller lays
Pour’d music sweet on Loudon braes."

From the queir I turned my attention to the little burying-place and the unassuming memorials it contains. Near to its door the oldest stone in the yard is to be met with. It is embellished with Masonic emblems, and is to the memory of "Matho Fultun, maister mason--ane richt honest man who died in the year of God 1632." There are some verses in its centre which are most difficult to make out, but the gist of them is that Matho went to his grave as to his bed, with the intention of rising at the resurrection. The stone is very curious, and well worth the attention of those who are expert at deciphering semi-obliterated in scriptions. A few yards from this, and near to the ivy-mantled gable of the auld Kirk, a plain slab marks the spot where lie the remains of Janet Little, the celebrated poetical correspondent of Robert Burns. It bears the following inscription:--"In memory of John Richmond, who died August 10, 1819, aged 78 years; and Janet Little, his spouse, who died March 15, 1818, aged 54 years, and five of their children." Janet Little, authoress of a poetical work which never gained any great or lasting popularity, spent her early years about Ecclefechan, and came to serve in the capacity of a domestic servant in the family of Mrs Henrie, a daughter of Mrs Dunlop of Dunlop, the distinguished friend of the poet Burns, who rented Loudoun Castle during the years 1788-89. While in their service, she met with a volume of the bard’s poems, and seemingly was so enraptured with its contents that she conceived a partiality for the author and wrote him a poetical address, which she forwarded along with a letter of explanation. A few verses from it may not be out of place:--

"Fair fa’ the honest rustic swain,
The pride o’ a’ our Scottish plain;
Thour gi’es us joy to hear thy strain,
And notes sae sweet;
Old Ramsay’s shade revived again
In thee we greet.

"Lov’d Thalia, that delightfu’ muse,
Seem’d long shut up in a recluse;
To all she did her aid refuse
Since Allan’s day;
‘Till Burns arose, then did she chuse
To grace thy lay.

"To hear thy sang all ranks desire,
Sae weel you strike the dormant lyre
Apollo with poetic fire
Thy breast does warm;
An’ critics silently admire
Thy art to charm.

"Caesar and Luath weel can speak--
‘Tis pity o’er their gabs should steek,
But into human nature keek,
And knots unravel;
To hear their lectures once a week
Nine miles I travel."

Near to Janet’s grave, there is a handsome monument erected by the parishioners of Loudoun as a tribute to the memory of their late pastor, the Rev. James Allan, who died 1st June, 1864; and at a short distance from it a stone, unassuming in appearance, to the memory of Margaret Reid (spouse to John Campbell, smith, Alton), who died December, 27th, 1821, aged 65 years. It bears the following reminder to the passer by:--

"Time was I was as thou art now,
Looking o’er the dead as thou dost me;
Ere long thou’lt lie as low as I,
And others stand and look o’er thee."

Upon reading these rude lines I leaned on my staff and mused, "for other feet will tread the street a hundred years to come," and we will rest from our labours forgotten." In life death is feared, and its approach dreaded, because of its mystery; but could we penetrate the gloom of the grave, perchance we would hail the dread spectre with as much joy as the tempest-tossed mariner does the sight of his native shore.

In the vicinity of the last named stone, there is a very handsome one of recent erection bearing the following inscription:--"Erected by Helen Fulton, in memory of her husband, George Palmer, who died 26th May, 1874, aged 77 years. He was teacher of the Free School, Kilmarnock, for 31 years. His duties, discharged with conscientious diligence, gained the entire approbation of its directors. He was a man of rare abilities, breathed the very spirit of the Gospel, live its life, and his end was peace." The name of George Palmer will be familiar to many elderly natives of Kilmarnock, and on this account the sleeper ‘neath the green turf deserves more than a passing notice. Born of parents who belonged to that class designated "the industrious poor," he was early apprenticed to the loom, and continued at it until well up in manhood. Being possessed of a fine intellect, he thirsted after knowledge and gradually acquired an education that fitted him for a better position. During the Radical years he zealously entered into politics, and being gifted with a calm, discriminating mind, and power of language, he soon became a leading spirit amongst those who were infected with similar opinions. To be a Radical, especially an intelligent one, was to be a marked man, and the subject of this notice began to be looked upon as a dangerous individual by the authorities, and with many others, was apprehended on the night of the 14th of April, 1820, when a regiment of Yeomanry Calvary invaded Kilmarnock. When made prisoners, Bailie Porteous, who accompanied the captors, searched his house, and when rummaging through his desk, remarked, "George, you are a beautiful writer." Perhaps this incident had something to do with his future prosperity, for it was this veritable Bailie who introduced him to the Free School. After suffering three months’ imprisonment in Ayr Jail, he was discharged without a trial, and returned home to abandon politics for matters of a more profitable nature. Shortly afterwards he received the appointment to the Free School, and after labouring init for thirty years was granted by the directors a retiring salary, which he enjoyed for nearly twenty years. Mr Palmer was the author of several school manuals, and contributed to the local papers. For a long period he was an elder in the King Street Church. When he retired from public life he settled in Galston, and became a member, and ultimately an elder, in the church of the Rev. Mr Matthewson. He fought the good fight, and closed a life of usefulness at a ripe old age. Besides the stones noticed here at random, there are several others both ancient and modern that will prove very interesting to the visitor. One near the little gate that I noticed when leaving the churchyard I can- not omit. It bears the device of a cross and crown, and the following inscription:--"Here lies Thomas Flemming of Loudoun Hill, who, for his appearance in arms in his own defence, and in the defence of the Gospel, according to the obligations of our National Covenant and agreeable to the Word of God, was shot in an encounter at Drumclog, 1st June, 1679, by bloody Graham of Claverhouse." Nothing seems to be known of Thomas Flemming further than what the inscription tells. His name does not occur in Wodrow or any other work I have met with.

When leaving the secluded burying place, Mrs Semple, the occupant of the cottage already mentioned, showed me a relic of Loudoun Kirk in the shape of a moderately-sized bell, which, tradition states, was sent from Holland as a present to the parishioners by James second Earl of Loudoun, eldest son of the Lord Chancellor. It was anciently the custom to toll this bell in front of funeral possessions on their way to the churchyard; but it has been discontinued, and the relic is now a curiosity. The words "Loudoun Kirk" is cast upon it in raised letters.


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