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Ramble Round Kilmarnock
Chapter XIII

Kilmaurs continued--The old Church--Its appearance and history--An Anecdote of the Rev. Hugh Thomson--The Glencairn Isle and Monument--The appearance of the Vault when opened--A Ghastly Keepsake--The Rev. George Paxton--"Wee Miller"--"The Double Suicide"--The Old Manse--Covenanting Relics--A Stroll along Crosshouse Road--The Estate of Plann--Bushbie Castle--The Tumuliiat Greenhill Farm--Home again.

At the foot of the village of Kilmaur, in the centre of a small graveyard, stands its old Parish Church--a Gothic structure of considerable antiquity. Finding the gate of the little burying place open I entered and stood for a few moments leaning on my staff surveying the grass-covered mounds were

"Servants, masters, small and great,
Partake the same repose;
And where in peace the ashes mix
Of those who once were foes."

Stoical indeed must the man be who unmoved can stray through an old churchyard without musing upon the apparent end of life, or cherishing a passing thought upon the layers of fellow-mortals who moulder beneath his feet.

"Like leaves on trees the race of man is found,
Now green in youth, now withering to the ground;
Another race the following spring supplies;
They fall successive and successive rise."

The church upon near inspection appears to be a quaint old building which has received several additions. According to the author of Caledonia it was dedicated to a Scottish saint named Maure, who is said to have died in 899, and who was commemorated on the 2nd of November. "So early as 1170," says Paterson, "Robertus filii Wernebaldi granted the church of Kilmaurs, in the township of Cunninghame, with half a caracute of land, to the monks of Kelso. This charter was confirmed by Richard Morville, Great Constable of Scotland; and Lord of Cuninghame, the superior; also by Engleram, Bishop of Glasgow, who died in 1174.…. The monks enjoyed the rectorial revenues, and a vicarage was established to serve the cure. In Bagimont’s Roll, as it stood in the reign of James V., the vicarage of Kilmaurs, in the deanry of Cunninghame, was taxed at £2 13 s. 4d., being a tenth of the estimated value. The interior of the church is in keeping with its exterior, being plain and of a peculiar shape. It contains nothing of interest. In the wall there is a stone slab to the memory of Hugh Thomson of Hill, minister of the gospel at Kilmaurs, his wife, and twelve children. Mr. Thomson died in 1731. "He was a person of great muscular strength," says the writer of the Kilmaurs article in the Statistical Account. "We have heard that, being in Kilmarnock on a market day, he approached a stand on which a blacksmith had exposed to sale horse-shoes and other hardware articles of his own manufacture. Mr. Thomson, wishing to purchase some of the horse-shoes, asked the price of them, and on being told, said by way of joke--’So much for these. I could twist them with my fingers.’ ‘Twist them, then,’ said the smith, ‘and you shall have the price of your own making.’ Mr. Thomson took one of them up and twisted it almost with as much ease as Samson broke the green withes with which he was bound. The blacksmith stood aghast; and thinking his customer no cannie, he gave him the shoes on very reasonable terms, and was right glad to see his back turned." Separated from the church by a narrow passage stands the Glencairn Isle--a dungeon-like building with an iron gate, and a small barred window, through which the light of day streams and dimly illumines the interior. Under the window there is a brass plate bearing the following inscription:-- "This ancient burying place of the Glencairn family, which had fallen into ruins, has been restore by Dame Charlotte Montgomery Cunninghame, in memory of her beloved husband, Sir Thomas Montgomery Cunninghame, 8th Baronet of Corsehil, and descendant of Andrew, 2nd son of the 4th Earl of Glencairn. He passed to his rest 30th August, 1870."

Against the eastern wall stands a handsome mural monument, erected by James, the seventh Earl of Glencairn, in the year 1600. This beautiful specimen of ancient architecture contains with a recess formed by receding columns--which are surmounted by an entablature and some beautiful scroll work--full-sized half-length figures of the Earl and Countess clad in armour. They stand in the attitude of prayer, with folded hands and open books before them. Beneath on a lower level are the figures of two boys and six girls which represent their family. They also have folded hands and books before them, and a devotional appearance. Behind the figures of the adults there is a tablet containing a semi-faded inscription, now quite unreadable. Upon one of the columns "NOTHING SHURER THAN DEATH, BE THEREFOR SOBER THAT AND WATCH IN PRAYER" is still legible. It was long believed that this monument commemorated William, 9th Earl of Glencairn, who died Lord Chancellor of Scotland; but this was fallacious, because it was erected forty-four years before his death. Some years ago when the aisle was undergoing repair, the vault was opened, and the bones ad dust of generations of the Glencairn family were seem lying confusedly upon the damp floor amongst rotten coffins which had fallen to pieces and scattered their contents. Amongst the skulls there was one with a reddish hue supposed to be that of the Chancellor. A tradition states that his lady, Margaret Montgomery, was so strongly attached to him that she had his corpse decapitated and the head embalmed. The ghastly trophy was kept in her bedroom and when she died it was--in accordance with a wish she expressed--placed in her coffin and buried with her. Both aisle and monument are much decayed. At no distant date the dust of the once lords of the manor will mingle with that of their meanest hind in the lap of mother earth. Nature heeds not the "storied urn" or the obsequies of the wealthy. She makes no distinction between the loutish clown in his nameless grass-covered grave and the earl in his vault. They sleep equally sound, and possibly when the dead wakes at

"The trumpet’s ring,
The thrust of a poor man’s arm will go
Thro’ the heart of the proudest king."

With such thoughts as these crowding on my mind I left the aisle and began to stray through the ancient burying ground. One portion lately added has quite a modern appearance, lairs being laid off and new tombstones erected. But as I love to stray "in the winding ways of hoar antiquity," I turned my attention to the grassy hillocks, beneath which

"The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep,"

and discovered that the oldest stone is the memory of a William Coningham, and dated 1634; also, many others curiously carved, which form antiquarian objects of interest. Among the mementoes of departed worth met with while wandering through the tangled grass, space only permit me to mention two, and a nameless grave in the south corner. The first of these is a monumental tablet commemorative of the wife and family of the Rev. George Paxton. This is the inscription:--"To the memory of Mrs. Eliz. Armstrong, who died 25th August, 1799, in the 37th year of her age. This stone is erected by her affectionate husband, the Rev. George Paxton. Also, to the memory of their beloved children, Martha Paxton, who died 16th Dec., 1792, aged 4 months; and William Paxton, who died 8th Oct., 1799, aged 3 years.

‘Insatiate archer! could not one suffice?
Thy shaft flew thrice, and thrice my peace was slain.’"

George Paxton was minister of the Sucession Church of Kilmaurs from 1789 to 1807. He then removed to Edinburgh, and rose to be Professor of Divinity to the General Associate Synod. He was the author of the "Villagers and other poems," and was known as a scholar and masterly prose writer.

The next is the memory of the Rev. Alexander Miller. He was the author of the Kilmaurs article in the old Statistical Account, and was the "Wee Miller" to whom Burns refers in his "Holy Fair."

"Wee Miller neist the guard relives,
And orthodoxy raibles,
Through in his heart he weel believes
And thinks it auld wife’s fables.
But faith! the birkie wants a manse,
So cannily he hums them,
Although his carnal wit and sense,
Like hafflins ways o’ercomes him
At times that day."

The inscription is as follows:--"Erected by Jas. Boswell Miller in affectionate remembrance of his father, the Rev. Alex. Miller, minister of this parish, who died 25th December, 1804, deeply regretted by all who could appreciate his worth as an intelligent diving, dutiful son, watchful father, and a faithful friend.

I will now refer to the obscure grave in the south corner. There the bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Baker repose in the unbroken slumber of death. They committed suicide by drowning themselves in the Irvine, near Wet Bridge, on the 24th, October 1844. The circumstance at the time was spoken of as "the double suicide," and being so romantic and unprecedented it caused a great sensation throughout the country. When found the bodies were tied together with handkerchiefs, and in such a manner that it was evident each had assisted the other in effecting their object, and that they had lain down in the water, for it was only some three feet deep. The remains of the faithful pair were conveyed to Kilmaurs, and placed in the Parish Church to await identification. The circumstances noised abroad, and thousands clocked to view the corpses, but no one identified them.

From the apparel in which the bodies were attired it was evident that the deceased had moved in superior society. This set the inventive imagination of many at work, and all kinds of stores and suppositions were circulated, but the facts of the case when known amounted to this:--"The ill-fated pair came to Kilmarnock about a week before the sad event and put up at the Commercial Hotel. One evening they called for their bill, and when the gentleman paid it he remarked in an off-hand manner that they were going for a walk. They left but never returned, and the next heard of them was that they had committed suicide. It was supposed they came from England, and that unfortunate business speculations and a dread of poverty had caused the committal of the rash act. They now rest from their troubled unknown, and I may say almost forgotten. Near to the churchyard, and in a garden at the back of it, stand some slight remains of an old monastic building which was supposed to be in conjunction with the church at one period. Sir Hugh de Morvile is said to have resided in it while engaged building a portion of the Kilwinning Abbey in the twelfth century, and it is affirmed that it was occupied so late as 1630. It is now in ruinous condition, and occupied by swine, who seem to have a greater taste for clean straw and good will than antiquities.

Leaving the churchyard and all its melancholy associations, I walked towards the village, and having crossed a little bridge spanning the Carmel, stopped before an old building on the left, which is said to have been a manse at one period. It is antique in appearance, and presently occupied by families in poor circumstances. Above one of its windows in rude character is


Tradition states that the man who built this house did so with stones which he purloined during the night from a neighbouring quarry, and that being discovered he consented to the above inscription being graven above his window rather than be prosecuted for theft.

From the old manse to the Council House the main artery of the village is most primitive in appearance, the houses being for the most part thatched, low-roofed tenements, but notwithstanding this they have a cosy, bien look about them, which is greatly enhanced by the kail-yards and flower-pots which is greatly enhanced by the kail-yards and flower-pots at their back doors.

Although Kilmaurs does not contain a stone to the memory of one man who laid down his life for the Covenant, yet it possessed of relics of that period. These consist of a drum and flag which are said to have passed through the battles of Drumclog and Bothwell, and to have been carried by a detachment of the villagers who marched to the roll of the first and fought round the second on the memorable fields.

The drum is in the possession of Mr. David Smith, and is in every way similar to the one in the possession of the Howies of Lochgoin, an account of which the reader will find in page 129.

The flag is in the possession of Mr. Robert Haper. Unfortunately it is in tatters, and in an attempt to preserve it, it has been in a great measure destroyed. The following inscription is still legible:--"Drumbloc, 1679; Bothwell, 1679. Kilmaurs for the Presbyterian interest of Christ, Reformation in Church and State, agreeable to the Word of God and our Sworn Covenants."

Upon reaching the Cross I stepped into an inn to partake of refreshments before starting on my homeward journey. Having done so, and indulged in a chat with the cheerful landlord, I took my leave, and staff in hand turned into the road leading to Crosshouse. Passing the station of the new line of railway which has brought Kilmaurs into something like direct communication with the outer world, and which doubtless will yet be the means of introducing a larger measure of trade and commercial enterprise into its sluggish system, I pushed onward and soon left the old village behind. Straying along the hedge-bordered highway, amusing myself from time to time by knocking the tops off thistles with  swinging blows of my stick, I stopped occasionally to survey the landscape and fields of yellow grain all ripe for the sickle that waved in the cool afternoon breeze. The sickle? well that is hardly correct in this era of wonder-working machinery, for the reaping machine is now universally used, and in fact I heard its click, clicking sound, and saw it at work in several fields where rakers and binders were busy "stooking" the golden-eared treasure as it fell before the advancing juggernaut. I did not meet with anything calling for special notice in this road until I arrived at the handsome bridge which spans the old line of railway. I lingered on it for some time and watched the trains glide along like things of life, and their engines vomiting forth clouds of smoke and steam which floated away in flakey, fleecy clouds and melted into nothingless. From the west parapet I looked down upon Crosshouse station and over a wide expanse of country through which the railway runs into dim perspective.

To the south of the railway is the estate of Plann, and on some rising ground near the bridge the extensive fire-clay works of John McKnight & Son. The estate is the property of the senior partner, who has been very successful in his mining operations. Some years ago, while sinking a pit in  the vicinity of the mansion-house, a seam of ironstone of a very high quality was discovered somewhat accidentally, and contrary to the expectation of the most eminent geologists. When the discovery was mad known many who are deeply interested and engaged in geological studies came and carried away specimens of the ore, with a skeptical feeling that would scarce admit the fact that ironstone is in the locality. The coal is of a first-class kind, while the fire-clay contains properties which enable it to withstand intense heat, and it is pronounced to compare favourably with the most celebrated clays of a fire-resisting nature by the eminent R. Carter Moffat and the well-known Robert A. Tatlock, F.R.C.E., F.C.S.

From the bridge a short walk brought me to Knockentiber, a row of old houses at present occupied by miners. Near to it stands the ruins of Busbie Castle, once the residence of a family named Mowat, who alienated their lands somewhere about 1630. Being somewhat curious, I went to inspect the pile, and found it situated in a garden a short distance from Crosshouse road. It seems to have been a fortified feudal mansion of three storeys. Round the architraves there is a sculptured cable which winds fantastically round the walls. The wreck is in a most ricketty and seemingly unsafe condition--so much so, indeed, that I would not be surprised to hear of it being blown down during a storm. Little is known regarding it. It is supposed to have been built by a David Mowat, who received a grant of the lands from Robert III. somewhere around 1390. His descendants seemingly never attained distinction. If we are to believe the indefatigable Wodrow, the last of the Mowats who dwelt in the castle was not an over scrupulous observer of the Sabbath, for he profaned the hold day by having great gathering at his house, and by playing at football and other games. "Mr. Welsh took the liberty to write several prudent and civil letters to the gentleman, desiring him to suppress the profanation of the Lord’s day at his house. The gentleman not loving to be received a Puritan, alighted all, and would not amend. In a little time after, Mr. Welsh, riding that way, came to his gate, and called for the gentleman, who, coming out, invited Mr. Welsh in, which he declined, and told him was come to him with a heavy message from God, which was, that because he had slighted the advice given him for the Lord, and would not restrain the profanation of the Sabbath in his lands and beside his house, therefore, the Lord would cast him out of his house and lands and none of his posterity should ever enjoy them. This was visibly fulfilled; and though the gentleman was in very good circumstances at the time, yet from that day forth all things went cross, and he fell into one difficulty after another until he was compelled to sell his estate; and when he was giving the purchaser possession of it, hw said with tears before his wife and children, ‘Now, Mr. Welsh is a true prophet.’" This is Wodrow’s account of the vacuation of the castle and land, and no doubt he penned it in good faith, and believed every word of it. Paterson say, that "in 1661, Hugh, Earl of Eglinton, was served heir to his predecessor in the lands of Busbie, Knockentiber, and Robertown. It had been in their possession, however, some years previously. Among the Eglinton papers there is a receipt for the rents of Robertown and Busbie for crop 1638, amounting to one thousand four scoir seventeen punids, threttein shillings, four pennies. The Mowats of Busbie," he adds, "are now wholly extinct, and the name in Ayrshire is rare." From inspecting the castle I returned to Knockentiber, and took the nearest road home, which is an old and hilly one. Descending a pretty steep brae I arrived at the Carmel, crossed a neat bridge, and sped onward. On my left, near the bank of the stream, I observed, on some rising ground, a circular mound which wakened my curiosity to such an extent that I determined to visit it, and for that purpose introduced myself to the tenant of the farm of Greenhill. The mound is situated at the back of the farm-house, on the top of a steep bank, and there is nothing about it externally to excite interest. At first I conjectured the eminence to be a justice mound, but upon enquiry this proved fallacious, for there is good authority for supposing that it is an ancient barrow or tumulus, beneath which the dead of some forgotten conflict lie buried. Some years ago several stone coffins were discovered in a field on the farm of Waterpark in the parish of Kilmaurs. The newspaper account of the discovery, from which I quote, goes on to say:--"These graves have been found within the circuit of one of three large barrows or tumuli, situated on either bank of the Carmel water; the tumulus to which they pertain being, as already stated, upon Waterpark Farm, and others being situated upon Greenhill farm--the most remarkable of three, indeed, being close to Greenhill farmhouse. The surface being now pared from the Waterpark Cairn, it present the usual aggregation  of stones piled over the forgotten dead of ancient times." After chatting sometime with the occupants of the farm, I resumed my homeward journey, and sped on my way, up hill and down dale, until I came within sight of the town, and as I stood on the high ground looking down into the valley where it nestles, the following lines of M’Queen of Barkip came to mind:--

"There stands the town--populous and dense,
The monstrous, moving, and promiscuous mass
Of all that’s evil and of all that’s good.
There vice and virtue, ignorance and pride,
Learning, humility, justice, and gross fraud,
Stern avarice and sympathy benign
Dwell with each other ‘neath one common roof;
And there, too, wealth and deepest misery
Rush side by side, like two twin sister streams.
Meet, mix and mingle, and yet, strange to tell,
Break not each other’s surface, but remain
Like oil and water pour’d in the same glass,
Distinctly separate as they ne’er had met."

Passing Bonnyton Square, I soon gained Portland Street, and mingled with the jostling throng.

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