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Places of Interest about Girvan
Girvan Town Council Minute Book, with Illustration


THE above is the title of an old MS. volume now before me. Its ink is as faded as the events it records, but all through it we see how important the incidents were to the actors. The first page sets forth the Charter of the "Village of Girvan," in Latin, with an English Translation following, and there is a certain evident awe-struck feeling in the writer as he narrates the preliminary meeting, summoned by proclamation "in the Church of Girvan after Divine Service in the afternoon" said meeting to be held "in the house of William Ross, vintner, on the 6th day of October, 1785."

But time went on, and perhaps the most touching event recorded in the volume is when the spirit of Reform prompted the townspeople in 1823 to petition Sir Hew D. Hamilton of Bargany, the town's superior, to grant them more liberty in the election of their municipal rulers. Sir Hew regarded the petition as reasonable, but the old magistrates stood on their dignity, and would not yield. And there is a certain pathos in the way they at last surrendered their offices to Sir Hew, "wishing most sincerely that those upon whom it hereafter devolves, may perform their several duties more to the satisfaction of all the worthy inhabitants of Girvan than it would appear they had done."

Many of the entries refer to the admission of burgesses, and not a few of the discussions were about the amount to be charged for this privilege. Occasionally, however, some were admitted free. Among these were David Dale, Esq., of Glasgow, founder of New Lanark and Blantyre Mills; Spencer Boyd, Esq. of Penkill; Sir Andrew Cathcart of Carleton; Thomas Kennedy, Esq. of Dunure; and Robert Paterson, Esq., of Glasgow, which latter gentleman "at a time when work in the manufacturing line could not be procured from any other... sent webs to the unemployed weavers of Girvan. As also, a number of old soldiers, and sailors of the navy, who were admitted free "as having deserved well of their country."

The Council were always hard up for funds, and were constantly devising new methods of "raising the wind" by customs-duties, and otherwise. One of the most curious of these was a tax of sixpence a day on "Quack doctors," or people who sell medicine in the street, as also 2/6 a day on "Stage-doctors" if these were permitted by the magistrates to exhibit.

In 1788, a certain Hugh C------ was fined in 8/ for "breach of the Sabbath," although what the said breach consisted in is not stated.

Shortly after, 6/ is charged against the town for "advertising Bargany's birthday," and 1/ is charged for " attempting to poind Jean Sloan," who seems however to have baffled them.

In 1789, the old Jail, familiarly called "Stumpy," was built by public subscription, for lodging ill-doers in.

In 1792, 9/1 is charged as "Expenses at Lord Duncan's victory" (Camperdown); Lord Duncan being the laird of Bargany's father-in-law.

Regularly, in the burgh accounts, we find "Expenses at the King's Birthday," and on one occasion this sum was as high as 2  13  10. Extra whisky and powder were, I suppose, used that day.

There are frequent charges for "warning carts for military baggage," as well as "coal and candle for guardroom," and "up-put for soldiers on march." On one occasion we find "carts for conveying sick soldiers on march." Poor fellows! their mode of conveyance was not the smoothest, I fancy.

In 1825 (April 22nd), the foundation stone of the present Town's Buildings was laid with masonic honours. Thereafter, the Council and their friends "sat down to dinner in the King's Arms, and spent the evening in the utmost hilarity and decorum." Especially the decorum—Who doubts ii?

In 1831, on the occasion of a Riot, 3 was voted for Doctors' fees in attending those who had been hurt; 4 was given for broken windows; 2  9  8 for powder and shot; while next year 50 stand of arms were petitioned for and obtained from one of the Government stores.

In 1833, the town was lighted by oil lamps, provided by private subscription, and a number of pump-wells were sunk in various parts of the town for the use of the burgesses.

In 1834, a motion was carried to the effect that "it would improve and beautify the town" to have the names of the streets put up at the corners.

The office of Junior Bailie often went a-begging in those early days, and several persons paid a fine of 10/6 rather than accept it. On one occasion, Sir Hew himself had to provide a person willing to take the thankless office.

The Town Officer on one occasion so far forgot his dignity as to steal three ducks. He pleaded that he was so drunk at the time that he did not know what he was doing. The magistrates, however, could not accept this plea, and imprisoned him for a day in his own "Stumpy," deprived him of his burgess-ship, and dismissed him from the town's service.

At the beginning of the book is inscribed the code of laws of the new burgh; and as some of these are primitive enough, and give a glimpse into bygone manners and customs, a few may be quoted. For instance, it is statuted and enacted that no person within the burgh shall presume to buy more cheese, butter, or fresh fish in the market than will stock themselves, until the town be served, under the penalty of 2/. It is further enacted and ordained that all insufficient saddles or shoes, or whatever belongs to these trades, that are brought to the market or fair of Girvan, be visited by persons appointed by the magistrates, and in case they find any such insufficient work, they are to represent the same to the magistrates, that the delinquents may be punished. It is also statuted and ordained that no inhabitant within the burgh shall go through any of the inhabitants' gardens without liberty asked and given, and shall not allow their cocks and hens to trespass on their neighbours' yards. It is likewise decreed that no person within the burgh shall draw their own stack or stacks without acquainting some two of their neighbours; that none of the inhabitants shall let any rooms or houses to idle and infamous persons, or who lie under bad characters, or have no trades to live by; and that none of the inhabitants shall lodge or entertain in their houses sturdy or idle beggars or vagabonds, or sell them meat or drink, under the penalty of 8/4. Notice, too, is taken of several people who do keep horses and cows in the burgh, and who cannot demonstrate that they have wherewith to maintain them; of several others who keep their ashpits before the door, and thereby encumber the street; and of others who wash their foul clothes in the burn that runs through the town; and notice is given to all such that these practices cannot be tolerated in the new burgh any longer!

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