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Ramble Round Kilmarnock
Chapter XII

From Stewarton to Kilmaurs--The appearance of the Village--The Council House and Juggs--Kilmaurs of the olden time--Its Government and Churches--The Monk’s Well--My Lord’s Place--Jock’s Thorn--Kilmaurs Castle--The Glencairn Family--An Incident

Near Lainshaw Mill the road to Kilmaurs strikes off to the left. After skirting the new railway for about a mile it is finely shaded on each side with trees as it nears Lochridge, a small, well-wooded estate. The mansion is a quaint building of the olden time, embellished with armorial devices and retaining the latticed windows and porched doorway so peculiar to gentlemen’s residences at the beginning of the last century. From Lochridge the road passes over the brown of a height from which the pedestrian has an excellent view of Lainshaw Castle and it policies, the Frith of Clyde, and the vast track of country lying between him and the margin of its shore. The view of the coast continues for a considerable distance and is not lost sight of until the road swoops down to the ancient village of Kilmaurs. When viewing the beautiful scenery as I strayed along this very pleasing road how I wished that some of my readers, whom fate or circumstances have banished from the scenes of their youth, and whose lot in cast in some far distant land, or who in the pursuit of wealth or in the practice of their trades are pent up in some smoke-begrimed city, had been with me; to them it would have been an ever-to-be-remembered ramble.

Upon entering Kilmaurs I found it to consist for the most part of one long straggling street lined with irregularly built tenements, which are most primitive in construction and appearance. In the centre of the street stands the Council House, a church-like erection with a steeple and clock. [On the 28th of August, 1874, the steeple was struck by lightning during the prevalence of a storm. Twelve feet of it was thrown down, but beyond the smashing of the steps in front of the Court House and several panes of glass in its rear no accident occurred.] By the side of the steps leading to the hall door the "Juggs" still dangle at the end of an iron chain. They are in a good state of preservation, and attract more attention than any other relic of antiquity about the place, being often handled and curiously examined by strangers, many of whom seem at a loss to understand what the rusty iron collar could have been used for. The last time they were brought into official requisition was in the case of the woman found guilty of theft. After undergoing her sentence she was laid hold of by a mob and drummed out of the parish. This disgraceful affair occurred in 1812.

Kilmaurs, like many Scottish towns, derives its name from the patron saint of church. The town was erected into a free barony, with power to elect bailies, create burgesses, to hold markets, fairs, and so forth, by King James the Fifth in 1527. From this charter Cuthbert, Earl of Glencairn, as superior, received power to parcel out land in burghal tenements. In November in the above year the Earl and his son granted a charter, and divided equally 240 acres of land amongst forty persons, to be held by them, their heirs, and successors for ever, upon the payment of 80 merks yearly. These individuals were called "telemeters: and had the exclusive privilege "of buying or selling, of brewing or malt-making, and all other arts or trades, as that of shoemakers, skinners carpenters, woolsters, &c." The design of this charter, which is still in existence, seems to have been to lay the foundation of a  manufacturing and commercial population, but the scheme was never successful.. The "telemeters" instead of turning their attention to the arts, devoted their whole energy to agriculture, and Kilmaurs in the course of time became famous for growing the best kail plants in Ayrshire. The only trades that ever obtained a kind of permanency in the place were the manufacture of steel clockwork and cutlery. These were carried on to some extent. The knives manufactured by the cutlers were noted for their sharpness of edge, and this circumstance gave rise to the old saying, "as sharp as a Kilmaurs whittle," which is often applied to persons of acute understanding or quickness of action. Upon one occasion a Kilmaurs clergyman rose to address an audience after a young divine who had concluded a discourse in flowing English. The gentleman, who was somewhat jealous of the rhetoric of his young friend, is reported to have said--"My friends, we have had a great deal of fine English ware among us the day, but aiblins my Kilmaurs whittle will cut as sharply as ony English blade!" The cutlers and steel-workers, tradition states, went to Sheffield and laid the basis of the hardware trade of that town. Be that as it may, the manufactue of hardware has long since departed from Kilmaurs, and nothing but weaving, shoemaking, and other crafts incidental to all rural districts were carried on until a few years back, when bonnet-making was introduced. This industry has given an impetus to the trade of the place, and affords employment to many of the inhabitants. The factories of Mr. Woodrow and Messrs. Laughland & Robertson, are in a prosperous condition, and I trust will form the nucleus of many more establishments of a like nature.

The town at this date contains a population of 1145. It is governed by two bailies, the election of whom is vested in the burgesses or "telemeters." That body also elects the town treasurer, fiscal, and clerk. The police force consists of one solitary individual, whose situation seems a sinecure, the inhabitants being for the most part sober and industrious. In the matter of church accommodation it is fairly supplied, being possessed of three places of worship which belong to as many different denominations. First, there is the Parish or Established Church, then the United Presbyterian and Free Churches. The U.P. is the finest building in the place, and present a handsome appearance. It is built on the site of a former place of worship of the congregation, and was opened on Sabbath, the 26th March, 1865, the inaugural sermon being preached by the Rev. Professor Eadie of Glasgow. This church was constituted in 1738, and was then the only Antiburgher place of worship in Ayrshire. The rev. and popular David Smeeton was the first minister, and the old meeting-house was often crowded on Sabbath-days by people who had ridden many miles to listen to this earnest and eloquent servant of God. Professor Paxton followed Mr. Smeeton. He was a man of considerable literary talent, and under his care the church prospered. When he removed to Edinburgh he was succeeded by the Rev. Mr. Robertson, who laboured for thirty-six years with a popularity that never varied. After Mr. Robertson came Mr. Christie. He was followed by the Rev. Mr. Taylor, who removed to Bootle, and from thence to New York, where he has had conferred upon him the degree of D. D. The present pastor is the Rev. Andrew Gray. He entered the charge in 1857, and is highly spoken of by the people of Kilmaurs. The Free Church is a plain, unassuming edifice, bearing the date 1854. There is a little of interest connected with it. The Rev. Mr. Maxwell is pastor, and is well known as an earnest and devout minister.

From the Cross I entered Fenwick road. At its corner, next the Council House, stands an old-fashioned building that was at one time the residence of the Rev. Mr. Smeeton, and Antiburgher minister. Since his day it has been stripped of its dignity, and is now converted into a spirit shop. A few yards past it I turned down a rural lane, and soon arrived at a rude bridge spanning the Carmel, the streamlet on whose bank Kilmaurs is situated. Crossing, I was delighted to discover a neat bowling-green, upon which Mr. M’Naught, the parish schoolmaster, and other gentlemen were playing off for a silver medal. Near to the bridge, and at the foot of Place Brae, under a canopy of thorn bushes, is situated a very interesting spring named the Monk’s Well, from which the lieges of Kilmaurs draw their supply of water. This well has two remarkable peculiarities--it never freezes, and although hundreds of pailfuls of its liquid are carried off daily, it ever remains brimful and pours it superfluous water into the river at its brink. How it obtained its name is a matter of conjecture, but possibly it did so from the fact that the monks in connection with the village church drank of its store when they lacked better cheer. There is a tradition in connection with it worth relating. It is as follows:--Once upon a time the lord of the manor--possibly one of the Glencairn family--forbade the inhabitants of the village to draw water. His mandate was law, and when the villagers ceased to come with their pitchers, the well, to the astonishment of all, dried up. At this his lordship waxed wroth, and applied to a dignitary of the church for a solution of the mystery. "Go," said the ecclasiastic, "restore the well to the people, let them come with their pitchers, and it will flow as of yore." This was done, and the well poured forth its waters, and I suppose has never ceased to do so since the wonderful event.

From a lengthy piece of verse on the Monk’s Well, by William C. Lamberton, a Kilmaur poet of some local fame, I make the following extract for the twofold purpose of presenting the reader with a specimen of his poetry and conveying a right idea of the spot which the verses so happily describe.

"The Carmel sweetly murmurs by,
The wild flowers scent the breeze,
The little birds sweet music make
Among the leafy trees.
The footpath by the streamlet’s brink
By many feet is worn,
Down to the little stone-built well
Beneath the spreading thorn.

"And here at twilight’s quiet hour
The village maidens come
With sportive jest and glee to bear
Its priceless treasure home;
Both day and night--by young and old
Its presence is desired,
At feast and fast, when sick or well,
Its water is required.

"And one of fever dying in
A far off land did cry--
‘Oh for a drink from the monk’s well
Once more before I die.
Ne’er summer’s drouth nor winter’s frost
Does hurt this blessed spring,
And in its praise our local bards
Their sweetest notes do sing."

Bidding adieu to the Monk’s Well, I swung myself over a dilapidated paling and began the ascent of Place Brae. Upon its brow stands My Lord’s Place, an old-fashioned and partly ruinous building. With the exception of the mansion-house, which is in an excellent state of preservation, blocks of masonry adjacent to it are much decayed, and at first sight seem the remains of a large building that Time has shattered and almost leveled with the ground. But this is not the case. The seeming ruins are nothing more than the remnant of the walls of an elegant structure which was in course of erection during the lifetime of the Lord Chancellor of Scotland, William, ninth Earl of Glencairn. At the death of his lordship the work was abandoned, and no other member of the family proceeding with it the pile was allowed to become a wreck. Several members of the Glencairn family lived in the old mansion-house, and the last individual of distinction who occupied it was a relative of the Eglinton family. It is a t present occupied by an obliging old lady, who kindly showed me over to the house. From the brow of The Place brae the view is delightfully picturesque. At the foot is the neat bowling-green and the little river winding along. On the rising ground opposite stands the village; in the hollow the church, with a well-wooded background; and beyond a widely diversified landscape, through which runs the railway --a thread of that wondrous iron network that has brought many secluded towns and hamlets into direct communication with the large centres of industry. Taking a last look at the old mansion-house and its surroundings, I musingly strayed in the direction of Jack’s Thorn, a neat farm-steading that tops the neighboring hill to the east. In its immediate vicinity there are many venerable trees. In some places they form clumps, but elsewhere stand in regular rows, forming as it were a carriage drive. These trees, from their seeming age and diversified appearance, doubtless formed part of the "faire park" spoken of by Pont. From Jack’s Thorn I passed down an avenue and entered a field. A pleasant walk over the gowan-spangled grass brought me to the top of a sward-covered circular mound, which tradition affirms to be the site of Kilmaurs Castle, but there is not a vestige of the building remaining. The plough has long since passed over the spot, and cattle lowing stray where the ancient castle stood in all the pomp of family distinction. Pont surveyed the district 266 years ago, and wrote as follows concerning the stronghold:--"The castell is ane ancient, strong building, belonging to the Earl of Glencairne, environed with a faire parke, called Carmell wod, from the vatter of Carmell that runs by it." This, reader , is all that is recorded concerning the castle of Kilmaurs. Its pomp and form are matters of conjecture, and were it not for the fact that several old people in the village remember of sporting among some ruined remnants of masonry which occupied the spot the situation would be unknown.

Kilmaurs Castle was the baronial residence of the Cuninghames of Kilmaurs, Earls of Glencairn. The surname, it will be observed, is territorial, and was originally assumed from the bailery of that name, and alludes, according to Van Bassen, to the following circumstance:--"One son of Friskin assisted Malcolm (afterwards Malcol Canmore), after the murder of his father, King Duncan, in making his escape from the tyranny of Macbeth; and being hotly pursued, took refuge in a barn, where Friskin concealed him by forking straw over him, by command in the words of the motto, ‘Over, fork over.’ The pursuit being over, the prince made his escape to England, accompanied by his faithful preserver. The prince was no sooner in possession of his kingdom than he rewarded his preserver with the Thanedom of Cuninghame, from which he and his posterity took their name, and grained the shake-fork as the armorial figure, and said motto, to perpetuate the memory of his happy escape. Doctors differ on many subjects, and so do historians. Sir G. M’Kenzie affirms that the shake-fork and motto were assumed by the noble house of Glencairn owing to their having the office of master of horse in the king’s stables. I have no doubt that the arms of the family, an argent, a shake-fork, and sable, with the motto, "over, for over," have reference to some circumstance connected with the family history, but leave the reader to draw his own conclusion. The first of the family upon record is one Warnebaldus de Cunninghame, who flourished in the reign of Edgar and Alexander I. (The latter reigned from 1107 to 1124.) This Warnebaldus is assumed to have been in possession of the land of Kilmaurs, and possibly the castle may have been built by him, but this is merely conjecture. After Warnebaldus there follows a long list of

"Knights that wight and worthie were,"

but I will not weary the reader by a recital of their numerous virtues, warlike exploits, and doughty deeds, but simply state that the last of the male line of the main stem of the great Cunninghame family was John, fifteenth Earl of Glencairn, who died unmarried in 1796. He succeeded his brother James, the early and indulgent patron of Robert Burns, the ploughman poet. What Scotchman who has read the "Lament" for this Earl of Glencairn can ever forget the soul-stirring effusion?--especially the last two stanzas, for in them the bard pours forth his grief in the bitterness of his soul.

"Oh! why has worth so short a date?
While villains ripen gray with time;
Must thou--the noble, generous, great,
Fall in hold manhood’s hardy prime’
Why did I live to see that day?
A day to me so full of woe!
Oh! had I met the mortal shaft
Which laid my benefactor low!

"The bridegroom may forget the bride,
Was made his wedded wife yestreen’
The monarch may forget the crown
That on his head an hour has been;
The mother may forget the child
That smiles saw sweetly on her knee;
But I’ll remember thee, Glencairn,
And a’ that thou hast don for me!"

Leaving the site of Kilmaurs Castle I struck through a field, and after a brisk walk arrived at a low hedge, which I cleared with a bound, and landed in a secluded road minus my hat, which flew off during my brief suspension between heaven and earth. There was no help for it; back I had to go to recover my new "felt," which I did at the risk of tearing my unmentionables into ribbons. Moving in the direction of the village, I arrived in Kilmaurs road, turning the corner just in time to see a young gentleman imprint a kiss on the rosy lips of a rather good-looking young lady whose waist the left arm of the happy fellow encircled. She did not seem averse to the situation; but oh! when she discovered that they had been caught in the act,

"Here face it reddened like the rose, then pale as ony lily"

she hurriedly drew down her veil to hide her confusion. Smilingly I passed, for I thought of my own doffing days, and how the young lady might have chided her lover with the following stanza of an old song:--

"Behave yourself’ before folk,
Behave yourse’ before folk,
Oh! dinna be sae rude to me
As kiss me sae before folk.
It wadna gie me muckle pain,
Gin we were seen an’ heard by nane,
To take a kiss or grant you ane,
But guidsake no before folk."

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