Robert Burns - where it began
It was a day that Scotland’s
National Poet, Robert Burns, himself would have been proud of. It was a day of glorious sunshine
when thousands of people turned up to witness the recreation of the
first meeting of Burns’ parents in Maybole. Hundreds entered into the spirit
of the occasion by dressing up in 18th century costume to
make the day so memorable.
The High Street was closed to
traffic for a short time as Agnes Broun took her place at a booth at
the foot of the street and William Burnes slowly meandered towards
her for that historic first occasion. Early in the 18th
century, a William Rennie or Rainie, who was a baker in Ayr, decided
to start a business in Maybole and he and his wife set up a small
bakery in the town.
Their daughter Agnes married
Gilbert Brown, and the couple set up house at Whitestone Cottage at
Culzean where their daughter Agnes Broun was born on 17th
March, 1732. Shortly afterwards the family
moved to Craigenton Farm and young Agnes lived there until she was
about 12 years of age. Agnes was the eldest of the family
and only 10 when her mother died in 1742. For two years she took
over the running of her father's house until her father married
again. Agnes was sent off to stay with her grandmother, Mrs. Rennie,
in Maybole, where she lived for the next thirteen years.
Her granny was a hard taskmaster
and soon had Agnes spinning and ploughing. When she was older Agnes
became friendly with a William Nelson and they became engaged to be
married. The engagement dragged on for seven years, which proved too
much of a strain on William and in 1756 he became involved with
another local girl and Agnes broke off her engagement.
So she was unattached when she
attended the Market Fair in Maybole.
Burnes, born in 1721 in Kincardineshire, trained as a gardener
before moving to Edinburgh. He moved to Ayrshire, working first for
the Laird of Fairlie, then to Carrick for employment near Maybole
before moving back to the Ayr/Alloway area.
William had been courting a girl
at Alloway Mill and it is believed he had written a letter to her
proposing marriage but had not plucked up enough courage to send it
Then, one day in the summer of
1756, he visited Maybole to attend the Market Fair and met a girl
who lived in the town. It is that day that the people of
Maybole were remembering last Saturday. After meeting Agnes, William got
rid off the letter to the Alloway Mill lass, and after a few months'
courtship the couple became engaged and were married on the 15th
William and Agnes were not to know
their chance meeting at the foot of Maybole High Street was the real
beginning of the immortal story of Robert Burns.
Young piper Scott Barrie then
played as the couple made their way to the Market Cross in the
middle of the High Street. Pupils of St Cuthbert’s Primary had made
arches of roses and they accompanied Agnes and William up the
The Charter of 14th November 1516
granted the right to the townspeople of Maybole to hold a town
market each Thursday and public fairs at Lammas and to have a Market
Cross set up forever. The old town cross, erected about this time,
stood in the centre of the High Street until it was removed in 1773
as it was causing obstruction to traffic which had increased
considerably in the second part of the eighteenth century.
The procession then made its way
to the Town Hall where Angus Middleton, President of the Robert
Burns World Federation paid tribute to everyone involved in ensuring
the event happened. He also said he, too, like Rabbie, had an eye
for a pretty woman and handed a red rose to Agnes.
Around the Town Hall there were a
number of stall including, lace making, weaving, flowers, herbs and
potions, jams and baskets, fruit and vegetables, yarns and wool,
quilting, wood burning, calligraphy, knitting, jewellery, home
baking, old books, face painting.
In the Town Hall garden there were
old style children’s games and 18th century school
lessons. As well as entertainment in the
hall, the Greenside was a busy place and between the two venues
there were singers, fiddlers, buskers, storytellers, Scottish
country dancing, maypole dancing, and smugglers all adding to what
was a brilliant day.
In addition Maybole Castle was
open and over 200 people took the opportunity to visit a historical
display there. The day was brought to a close
with Angus Middleton, William and Agnes leading everyone in singing
“Auld Lang Syne” accompanied by Scott Barrie on the pipes.
The event was organised by a
partnership of May-Tag Ltd, Maybole Community Council, Maybole
Community Association and Maybole Historical Society. The organisers
are grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund for their support and
would like to thank everyone who helped in any way.
Special thanks to project
co-ordinator Ellen Hawkes and her team of workers, June Dunlop for
her tremendous support in making so many costumes, May-Tag staff,
Angus Middleton, Sgt William Gilmour and his staff, Transport
Scotland, local businesses, stall holders, artistes, and those who
entered into the spirit of the project by dressing up.