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Ramble Round Kilmarnock
Chapter XVI


Loudoun Braes--Newmilns, its appearance, history and trade--The Radical proclivities of the in habitants--The old Tower and incidents associated with it--The Parish Church--Norman Macleod--The Churchyard--Interesting Tombstones commemorative of Nisbet of Hardhill and other Covenanting natives of the Parish who suffered during the Persecution--The Workmensís Institute--"The Lass oí Patieís Mill."

Beyond the site of the old castle the path gradually loses its sylvan beauty and merges into a rough, undulating road which winds over braes that called forth the admiration and awakened the muse of the sweet singer, Tannahill. Since his day they have lost none of their attractions, but appear as verdant and picturesque as they did when he strayed over their heathy summits admiring "Loudounís bonnie woods," and possibly planning the song which has given them a world-wide celebration. Straying onward, viewing the classical scenery and the finely-wooded slopes of Lanfine, which rise abruptly from the vale lying between it and the Loudoun estate, a walk of some two miles brought me to a turn where the hedge-bordered road ran through a glade and shortly afterwards abruptly terminated at a spot called Bore Brae. Newmilns, which lies at his feet in a narrow vale through which the river Irvine winds serpent-like as it passes by the quaint village and through scenery whose magnificence calls forth the admiration of every visitant.

"There as I passíd with careless steps and slow,
The mingling notes came softeníd from below;
The swain responsive as the milk-maid sung,
The sober herd that loved to meet their young,
The noisy geese that gabbled oíer the pool,
The playful children just let loose from school,
The watch-dogís voice that bayed the whispering mind,"

"in sweet confusion" smote my ear as I looked down upon the picturesquely-situated hamlet. No stately building save the Parish Church, which is topped with a beautiful spire, greets the eye, the village being composed nearly wholly of humble, unostentatious buildings, primitive alike in construction and appearance, and totally destitute of architectural beauty. But humble as it is, it has a history which dates back to a very remote period, it having been a place of some little importance when Kilmarnock was an obscure village, and when other towns which surpass it in elegance and importance were almost unknown. A royal charter under the superiority of the Earls of Loudoun was conferred upon it in the reign of James IV., but how it began to be is a matter of uncertainty. Possibly it grew up in the vicinity of grain mills erected on the bank of the river, for its water at this date drives the wheels of not a few as it courses to the sea. [Sir Hugh Campbell of Loudoun had a charter of the lands of Newmilns, with the mill and granary, dated 4th October, 1533. --Patersonís Ayrshire Families.] The inhabitants have always been noted for their Radical proclivities, and not a few of them have suffered for their enthusiasm in the cause of reform. Several suffered death and any underwent imprisonment for standing up in defence of the Solemn League and Covenant during the troublous times of the persecution; and during the Radical period they were so much dreaded by the Government that a detachment of soldiers was placed in the village to keep them in order, it being considered one of the greatest hotbeds of Radicalism in the country. Newmilns of to-day contains a population of 3028. The inhabitants are mostly engaged in muslin-weaving, and the music of the shuttle has a merry echo in its streets, but it is a wretchedly remunerative employment, the industrious workman being able to earn little over a bare subsistence.

Strolling down Bore Brae, I entered the main street of the village, and found it to be broad and respectable, although somewhat rustic in appearance. Partly concealed behind some houses on its north side, I discovered the oldest building in the place, which consists of a massive square tower of some historic interest, being at one time a residence of the Loudoun family [The Master of Loudoun died in March, 1612. His latter will was made at "the Newmylnes, the sevint day of Merche." His lady also died the same month and year. Her latter will was made also at "Newmylnes, the penult day of Merche." They seem thus to have resided at the tower of Newmilns.--Ibid.] and at another the headquarters of Captain Inglis, a notorious scourge of the Covenaters, who, as related in a former chapter, surprised the men who had met in Little Blackwood for devotional purposes.

The writer of the Loudoun article in the Statistical Account in mentioning this tower says--"In one of the expeditions of Inglisís troops in the search of conventicals, eight men who were discovered praying in the Blackwood, near Kilmarnock, were taken prisoners. One of them, it is said, was immediately executed, and the soldiers in mockery kicked his head for a football along the Newmilns public green. Inglis was about to shoot the others when it was suggested to him that it would be prudent to get a written order from Edinburgh for their execution. The seven men in the meantime were confined in the old tower. But while the troop was absent on one of its bloody raids, with the exception of a small guard, a man named Browning, from Lanfine, with others who had been with him at Airdís Moss, got large sledge hammers from the old smithy (still in existence), with which they broke open the prison doors and permitted the Covenanters to escape. John Law (brothers-in-law to Captain Nisbet) was shot in this exploit, and is buried close to the wall of the tower. The dragoons soon went in pursuit of the prisoners, but they had reached the heather, and where no cavalry could pursue them.. The soldiers, however, having ascertained that John Smith of Croonan had given the runaways food went to Smithís house, and meeting him at his own door shot him dead! Within a short period his grave was to be seen in the garden of the old farm-house."

Tradition states that only one soldier played football with the martyrís head, and that shortly afterwards he fell from the top of the tower into the court below and broke his neck --a fit consummation certainly to a heartless villainís life. Set into the gable of an old thatched house near the tower there is a tablet to the memory of the man who was shot when assisting to set the prisoners at liberty. It bears the following inscription:--"Renewed in 1822. Here lies John Law, who was shot at Newmilns, at the relieving of eight of Christís prisoners who were taken at a meeting for prayer at Little Blackwood, in the parish of Kilmarnock, in April, 1685, by Captain Inglis and his party, for their adherence, to the Word of God and Scotlandís covenanted work of Reformation.

"Cause I Christís prisoners relieved
I of my life was soon bereaved,
By cruel enemies with rage,
In that encounter did engage;
The martyrís honour and his crown
Bestowed on me! O high renown!
That I should not only believe,
But for Christís cause my life should give."

The old tower at this epoch of civil and religious liberty is untenanted, but its rooms are occasionally made to ring by the Newmilns Brass Band, who use it to practice in. It has also been used as the village jail, and at one time pigeons were kept in it, which circumstances gave to it the name of "the dookit," a term by which it is locally spoken of.

From the tower I passed over the Parish Church, a handsome building with a beautiful spire. It stands in an old burying-ground, and occupies the site of a former and much smaller place of worship, which a wag states was thrown though the windows of the new erection. I gained admittance to the burying-ground by a side door, and to the church by the kindness of an elderly woman who was engaged dusting out the sanctuary. Internally it is commodious and neatly fitted-up, and contains a beautiful white marble monumental tablet with bears the following inscription:--"In memory of Norman Macleod, D. D., one of Her Majestyís Chaplains for Scotland, and Dean of the Knights of the Order of the Thistle. Ordained to the charge of the Parish of Loudoun, 15th March, 1838; translated to Dalkeith, 15th December, 1843; and to Barony Parish, Glasgow, 17th July, 1851. Moderator of General Assembly in 1869. Died 16th June, 1872. ĎBlessed are the dead which die in the Lord. They rest from their labours, and their works do follow them.í" Norman Macleod was too popular as a preacher, an author, and an editor to render any remarks of mine necessary, but I cannot refrain from stating that he was the most liberal-minded clergyman I ever knew; good words flowed from his lips, and what left his pen will from a valuable addition to the literature of our country.

The churchyard, although small and unkept, contains several interesting tombstones which commemorate martyrs to the cause of liberty. The first I met with bore the following inscription:--"To the memory of John Nisbet of Hardhill, who suffered martyrdom at the Grassmarket, Edinburgh, 4th December, 1685. Animated by a spirit to which genuine religion alone could give birth, the pure flame of civil and religious liberty alone could keep alive. He manfully struggled for a series of years to stem the tide of national degeneracy, and liberate his country from the tyrannical aggressions of the perjured house of Stewart. His conduct in arms at Pentland, Drumclog, and Bothwell Bridge, in opposition to prelatic encroachments and in defence of Scotlandís Covenanted Reformation, is recorded in the annals of those oppressive times. His remains lie at Edinburgh, but the inhabitants of his native parish, and friends to the cause for which he fought and died, have caused this stone to be erected."

John Nisbet of Hardhill--an account of whose capture is given in a former chapter--was born in Newmilns about the year 1627. When Claverhouse was advancing the Covenanting army at Drumclog, a message was dispatched to Hardhill to apprise him of the fact and induce him to join the little band. Although he had suffered much from prelatic persecution he hesitated not a moment, but mounted a horse and rode with all possible speed to the scene of action, merely stopping on his way through Darvel to induce John Morton, the village blacksmith, to accompany him and assist with his brawny arm to discomfort the foe. Both arrived on the field in time to be of immense service to the Covenanters, for they fell into their ranks in time to take part in the successful charge which decided the fate of the battle. In the thick of the fight, the smith encountered a dragoon who was entangled in the trappings of his wounded horse, and was about to dispatch him, but being moved by the manís piteous appeal for mercy, he disarmed him and led him from the field a prisoner. Many of the Coventers, however, were not so humane, for they demanded that the dragoon should be put to death, on the ground that he was an enemy to their cause. This the smith strongly objected to, and declared that whoever touched a hair on his head he would cut down, for having given the man quarter, he would defend his life at the risk of his own. None feeling inclined to cross swords with the resolute champion, he was allowed to have his own way, but was expelled the fold, and ever after looked on with suspicion. To the left of the stone to the memory of John Nisbet, there is another which states that it was "Erected September 1829 by the Parishioners of Loudoun in testimony of their deep admiration of the noble struggle in defence of the civil and religious liberties of their country against the despotic and persecuting measures of the house of Stuart, maintained by the undernamed martyrs belonging to this parish, who suffered and died for their devotedness to the Covenanted work of Reformation:--

MATTHEW PATON, shoemaker in Newmilns, who was talem at Pentland, and executed at Glasgow, Decr. 19th, 1666.
DAVID WOOD, taken at the battle of Bothwell Bridge, and executed at Magus-muir, Nov. 25th, 1679.
JOHN NISBET, in Glen, executed at Kilmarnock, April 14th, 1683; and
JAMES NISBET, in Highside, executed at Glasgow, June 11th, 1684.
ĎThese are they who came out of great tribulation. Rev. vii. 11.í"

Matthew Paton was tried along with three others who had been taken prisoner with him, and in spite of every plea set up on their behalf all four were put to death. Wodrow says "they were executed that day. The men were most cheerful, and had much of a sense of the Divine love upon them, and a great deal of peace in their suffering."

David Findlay belonged to Newmilns. Happening to be in Lanark when the Covenanting army passed through, he very foolishly spoke of the circumstance upon his return to his native village. The fact coming to the ears of Dalziel, he had Findlay brought before him, and because he was unable to answer certain questions as to who he saw, to the surprise of every one the tyrant ordered him to be shot. The wretched man pleaded hard with the lieutenant for one night to prepare for eternity, but that was denied him, for when Dalziel heard of the request he told the officer that he would teach him to obey without scruple, and "so," says Wodrow, "the man was shot dead, stripped naked, and left upon the spot."

James Wood when taken prisoner carried no arms, but because he would not call the rising at Bothwell rebellion, and Bishop Sharpís death murder, he was sentenced to be hanged.

John Nisbet was executed in the Cross of Kilmarnock. The circumstances of this death have been narrated in a former chapter.

James Nisbet was noted for his piety and for his enmity to the apostasy of the time. When attending the funeral of John Richmond of Knowe, who was executed in Glasgow for his adherence to the Covenanted work of Reformation, he was taken prisoner, but although no definite charge could be brought against him yet the subtile questions of his persecutors so entangled him that his answers became unsatisfactory, and he was found guilty of rebellion and sentenced to death. In the "Cloud of Witnesses" the following note appended to his testimony:--"This martyr was so inhumanly treated and constantly watched that it was with much difficulty he got anything written, and that only a line now and then." He was executed at Howgatehead, a place in the vicinity of Glasgow at the period, but long since included within its limits. I remember when a mere youth of tracing the old Howgate, and with some degree of certainty indicating the situation of the gallows, and of spelling out the almost defaced words on a slab behind which this and other two martyrs lay buried. In fact, at this date, after having my own experience of toils and cares, anxieties and troubles, joys, sorrows, and reverses, I can distinctly remember the inscription, for then as now a martyrís grave, an auld kirkyard, or an ivy-mantled ruin, suited my poetic temperament, and possessed a charm for me that few others experienced. in 1862, the old slab, which was indented into a wall in Castle Street, a little beyond the corner of Garngad Hill, was removed and substituted by a beautiful tablet of polished granite, which was subscribed for by the citizens of Glasgow. It bears the following inscription, which is somewhat similar to that on the original stone:--"The dead yet speaketh. Behind this stone lyes James Nisbet, who suffered martyrdom at this place, June 5th, 1684. Also James Lawson and Alexander Wood, who suffered martyrdom, October 24, 1684, for their adherence to the Word of God and Scotlandís Covenanted work of Reformation." At its base is a drinking fountain, above which is inscribed the words, "Drink and think."

Among the many stones which the churchyard of Newmilns contains there are only two besides those already noticed which may be said to be of interest to the visitor. The one marks the spot where the dust of John Gebbie reposes, and the other where that of John Morton mingles with kindred earth. Gebbie fought at Drumclog, and was carried off the field mortally wounded, and like the mighty Nelson died with the shouts of victory ringing in his ears. Morton was tenant of Broomhill, a farm in the parish of Loudoun, and was shot by Claverhouse at the same engagement.

From the churchyard I regained the main street of the village and stopped before the Working Menís Institute, a very handsome two-storeyed building which was presented some years ago to the inhabitants by Miss Brown of Lanfine, a lady who takes a deep interest in the welfare of the working classes in the neighbourhood of her estate.

After straying through the village, and spending an hour in the house of an esteemed friend whose hospitality will not readily be forgotten, I turned my face towards Kilmarnock. Near to the western extremity of the village I passed a curious old bridge which crosses the Irvine and gives access to the terminus of the Galston branch of the South-Western Railway, and a little beyond it stopped and looked over to the scene of Ramsayís popular song, "The Lass oí Patieís Mill." A mill of modern appearance occupies the site of the erection which graced the bank of the Irvine in Ramsayís day, but the field wherein the rustic beauty was making hay when she attracted the attention of the Earl of Loudou is still pointed out, and although one hundred and fifty years have passed since the event the stranger still stops by the brink of the steam and enquires for the song-hallowed scene. The story of the song is well known. The poet and the Earl of Loudoun were riding the comely appearance of the "lass" would form a fit subject for Allanís muse. At the suggestion the bard lagged behind, composed the ditty, and produced it the same afternoon at dinner.


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