The Monk's Land
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Minishant is a bonnie wee place. Portrait of a Village by Henrietta and Hugh Douglas. Line drawings by Michael Ellis. Strathprint, 146 Broadway Peterborough. First Published 1982. Copyright Permission for display on this site granted by Hugh Douglas. You may view and download chapters of this book for personal research purposes only. No other distribution of this text is authorized. Click here for other books by Hugh Douglas. Cover: Mrs. Margaret Limond, was Minishant postmistress until she died aged 94.

Hugh Douglas.

There is so much evidence of early man in our northern part of Carrick that James Smith claimed in his book Prehistoric Man in Ayrshire that "Maybole is the antiquarian district of Ayrshire". The earliest known habitation is a crannog or lake settlement found at Lochspouts, south of Maybole, when the loch was drained during the last century. It consisted of a house built on piles, together with two small dug-out canoes, weapons, implements and ornaments. Stone Age implements have also been found at Lochlands, near Maybole, and bronze axes unearthed at Lagg in 1846 are in the Museum of National Antiquities in Edinburgh.

Three important historic finds come from close proximity of Minishant - a bronze axe Sin, long and 1 in. wide found at Auchendrane, Pictish forts at Kewnston and Dunree, and a standing stone at Blairston on the High Road to Alloway. Kewnston Tower, on a high hill beside the Doon, and Dunree, obviously an important place since its name means the King's fort, are just two of a series of forts which ring the district; there are others at Dunduff, Trees, Kildoon, Cassington and Guiltreehill.

The standing stone at Blairston is carved with a rough cross, which legend claims is the imprint of the sword of Sir William Wallace, the Scottish patriot. The Rev. William Abercrummie, minister of Maybole at the end of the 17th Century, tells us it is "alleged to have been done by some venerable Churchman who did mediat a peace 'twixt the King of the Picts and Scots and to give more authority to his proposals, did in their sight, by laying a cross upon the stone, imprint that figure theron". Apart from the flight of fancy about the "laying-on" of the cross, the minister was close to the mark: the stone was set up to commemorate a battle or some important event in ancient times, although we have no idea exactly what.

The first written record of the district is found in a charter of about 1195-96 by which Duncan, Earl of Carrick, gave the lands of "Meibothelbeg and Bethoc" to the monks of Melrose. The northern boundary followed the Polnatibber burn from Brown Carrick Hill it its outfall into the river Doon just above Auchendrane. This burn remains the parochial boundary, so that Minishant now lies in 

Maybole parish while the garage, church, Auchendrane and Blackbyres and Brae of Auchendrane farms are in Alloway. From the end of the 12th Century the land on which Minishant stands came under the rule of Melrose Abbey and was called Monklands.

Charters referring to Monklands appear a number of times in Liber de Melrose and Melrose Regality Records as well as in the Protocol Book of James Colville 1545-78 at the time of the Reformation, with local placenames mentioned, but Minishant and Culroy are not among them.

Maybole was excluded from the Earl of Carnick's original charter and given separately by Sir Gilbert Kennedy to the Cistercian Nunnery of North Berwick around 1386. The nuns held it until after the Reformation, although a portion of the revenues was appropriated by the Bishop of Glasgow in the later middle ages. Abercrummie describes Monklands as "ane 100 merkiand of old extent" and states that a chapel subordinate to the church in Maybole stood on the lands of Auchendrane, and that its ruins could still be seen in his time. James Paterson, author of the History of Aryshire, claims that the religious house was on Monkwood ground and that it was from this chapel that Monkwood derived its name. Both authorities are right: Monkwood came into the hands of a branch of the Auchendrane Mures about Abercrummie 's time and only later did it become a separate estate.

This chapel obviously was small and of little importance, maybe little more than a wayside shrine, and it must have been quite overshadowed by Grange, which was the monks' granary in the middle ages. However, it is quite possible that there was some shrine or holy place on high dry ground beside the Polnatibber burn, halfway between the chapel and Grange and the road from Maybole, just about where Minishant now stands. It is even possible that a commanding point like the Knowe could have had a fort or house on it.

The "100 merkiand of old extent" which Abercrummie describes is shown by charter records to take in the 4 lands of Monkwood, 5 lands of Grange, including Kewnston, Mossend, Littleton, Hannayston and Reidston, 2 lands of of Semorway (St. Murray), 2 lands of Beauches (Beoch), half merk lands of Beyond the Moor, 36 shilling lands of Perieston, 13 shillings and 4 pence lands of Knockfenton, 20 shilling lands of Little Smithston, five-and-a-half merk lands of Culnane (Nether Culzean), and the 3 13 shilling and 4 penny lands of Platcorway with the mill of Corway, the mill lands and income, and the Doon fishings.

And as Minishant has appeared on the map, Monklands has disappeared from it, although there is a reference to the Barony of Monkland belonging to the Earl of Cassillis as late as 1763, in a map detailing the lands as being the Dunure shore farms of Largs, Genoch, Lagg, Dalduff, Knockraer (now part of Lagg farm) and Corrifintoch (part of Perryston). This suggests that Monklands once stretched from Cassiliis right across Brown Carrick Hill to the Heads of Ayr, and the Armstrongs show a place called Monkland midway between Newark and the Heads of Ayr.

While Monklands was cultivated by the monks of Melrose and brought revenue to them and to the nuns of North Berwick, the real power - political and military power -lay in the hands of the great Carrick family, the Kennedys. John Kennedy of Dunure acquired Cassillis from Marjory de Montgomerie at the end of the 14th Century, while junior branches of the family held little forts on the Carrick foot-hills to guard the Carrick and Kennedy frontier - Sauchrie, Craigskean, Beoch, Knockdon, Brockloch, Garryhorn and Smithson were all among them.
Cassillis was the great house of the district. Tradition says it was to have been built on the site of Dunree fort on one of the series of small hillocks called the Downans, but this is a fairy camp and every stone the builders set on the castle walls during the day was pulled down in the night. A new site had to be found beside the river Doon for the castle and Cassillis Downans was left to the fairy folk. When Robert Burns came to write his poem Hallowe'en he remembered those haunted hillocks around Cassillis:

Upon that night, when fairies light
On Casillis Downans dance,
Or owre the lays, the splendid blaze
On sprightly coursers prance.

The wee folk allowed the fort to be built beside the river Doon, a grim square tower with walls nearly 16 feet thick in places to resist Campbells, Mures or other marauders from the Kyle side of the debated border.

From Cassillis, whose name means simply a fort or castle, the "kings of Carrick" ruled for three centuries, and harsh and grim rule it was. There was a great vaulted cellar underneath where a large quantity of human bones was found when the castle was enlarged in 1830, evidence of what happened to some of their enemies.

Beside the house for centuries stood what Chambers' Pictures of Scotland describes as a "splendid and most umbrageous plane" tree known as the Dule Tree and this was the tree from which legend says Johnny Faa the King of the Gypsies was hanged by an outraged Earl of Cassillis, whose wife had eloped with Faa. The story, as given by Chambers, relates that the Countess was Lady Jean Hamilton, daughter of the first Earl of Haddington, who married the sixth Earl of Cassillis. Sir John Faa of Dunbar, her lover before she married the Earl, came to Cassillis disguised as a gypsy, when the Earl was away, and took the Countess away with him. The Earl returned unexpectedly and captured the lovers at a flight of steps leading down to the river Doon, just below the castle, ever after known as the Gypsies' Steps. Johnny Faa was hanged from the Dule Tree with the Countess compelled to watch from a window of the castle. For the rest of her life, Lady Jean was imprisoned in the Castle of Maybole.

James T. Gray, the best authority on the Kennedys, points out in his book Maybole - Carrick's Capital that the Earl in question and his wife were happily married according to all the evidence available. However, he does not dismiss the Johnny Faa legend, saying:

"There may be some grounds for believing that the story is founded upon a reality, however, and that the main features of the tragedy are based on some incident in history long before Lady Jean's time as there is a well-known old ballad of 'Johnny Faa' with many versions which tells the story of a noble knight who loved a lady before she married another and who disguised himself as a gypsy and captured his lady love when her husband was away from his castle. This ballad was sung all over Scotland at one time but differed slightly from district to district. Some versions start 'The gypsies cam' to our gude lord's yett', others 'The gypsies cam' tae Cassillis yett'. It is therefore natural to associate the ballad with Cassillis and an easy step to link the name of Lady Jean with Johnnie Faa who was by no means an imaginary character. He was in fact the head of the Egyptians, or Gypsies, in Scotland and he was granted a letter under the Privy Seal from James V, dated 15th February 1540, establishing his authority over all the gypsies in Scotland and calling on all sheriffs in the country to 'assist him in executione of justice upoun his company and folkis'


"Tradition has it that Johnnie Faa and his men did from time to time stay in the district and it is said he had a camp near Culroy. Taking the fact that Johnnie Faa did at some time live near Culroy, within a mile or two of Cassillis, it is understandable that the ballad of Johnnie Faa should be linked with the name of a lady of that house".

The gypsies cam' tae Cassillis yett,
and O, but they sang sweetly;
They sang sae sweet and sae very complete,
That doon cam 'oor fair lady.

And she cam' tripping' doon the stair
Wi' a' her maids before her;
As sune as they saw her weel-faured face
They cuist the glamour ower her.

"O, come wi' me' says Johnnie Faa,
"O, come wi' me, my deane,
For I vow and I swear by the hilt o' my sword,
That your lord shall nae mair come near ye".

And when oor Lord cam' hame at e'en,
And speered for his fair-ladye,
The tarie she cried, and the ither replied,
"She's awa' wi' the gypsy laddie".

"Gae saddle to me the black, black steed,
Gae saddle and mak' him ready,
Before that I either eat or sleep,
I'll gae seek my fair ladye ".

And we were fifteen well-made men,
Although we werna bonny,
And we were a'put doon but ane,
For a fair young, wanton ladye

The Dule tree was blown down in a great storm during the winter of 1939-40 and, alas, when the rings on its trunk were counted, it was found to be only about 200 years old -too young to be the tree from which Faa was hanged. A new Dule tree, grown from a cutting taken from the old one, now stands on the original site.

If the Cassisslis Kennedys were turbulent, they were well matched by their neighbours on the other side of the Polnatibber burn, the Mures of Auchendrane. Auchendrane looked northwards spiritually towards Kyle, but their house stood on the Carrick side of the river Doon, giving them a toehold in the Kennedy kingdom which added edge to the feud between the two families.

Like Cassillis, Auchendrane dates back before the 14th Century, when it belonged to Robert Brown, who support-ed the wrong side in Robert the Bruce's War of Independence, and had his lands forfeited and given by Bruce to Henry Annan. Soon the Mures, a branch of the Rowallan family, took hold of Auchendrane, and for two centuries Mures and Kennedys faced one another across the Polnatibber burn. Monklands, lying between the two great houses, was at times as hotly contested as any part of the Anglo-Scottish Border.

The Records of Regality of Melrose contain occasional references to the parcelling out of Monklands. In 1528 Thomas Kennedy of Knockreoche and his wife, Janet Corre, paid 40, plus 67 marks a year, for a 19-year tack of Grange, Monkwood, St. Murray, Beyond the Mure and Corway mill with its lands and multures. James Colville's Protocol Book recorded in 1546 that Alexander Kennedy was laying claim to the lordship of Monklands for his wife, Margaret, who also claimed ownership of Mekill (High) Smithston.

Such quarrels were nothing to what was to follow when the Reformation brought a generation of land-grabbing which set Kennedy against Kennedy and refuelled the fires of Mure feuds. It is almost impossible to follow exactly the twisting events which set Kennedy of Cassillis against Kennedy of Bargany and drew the Mures into the vortex of feud until the Auchendrane family was ruined. The story is better read in fictional form in Sir Walter Scott's Ayrshire Tragedy, or the late 19th Century Galloway novelist, S.R. Crockett's Grey Man, both of which catch its spirit. The final feud began in 1570 with the roasting of Alan Stewart, Commendator of Crossraguel Abbey, before a fire in the Black Vault of Dunure Castle by the Earl of Cassillis to persuade the Abbot to sign away his rights to the abbey lands. In retaliation Kennedy of Bargany, whose wife was related to the roasted Abbot, seized Dunure Castle and was given Monklands when the barony was separated from the Nunnery of North Berwick in 1597.

The feud reached its climax towards the end of 1601 when Bargany, a headstrong, aggressive young man, tried to waylay the Earl of Cassillis at Daljarrock, near Pinwherry. Cassillis heard of the plot in time to change his route, but not surprisingly, the "King of Carrick" was "hevelly offendit and avowed to be equal with Bargany". 

Only a week later Bargany rode through Cassillis' territory to Ayr accompanied by the men who had tried to murder the Earl at Daljarrock. Cassillis gathered a force and lay in wait to see if Bargany would dare to return by way of Maybole. Bargany learned of the danger, but hired 80 armed men in Ayr and set out for home along the old High Road to Maybole in a snowstorm on the 11th of December. Cassillis met him at Ladycross, near Brockloch, and after some shouting, shots were fired and the Ayr men fled leaving Bargany at the mercy of his enemies. One of Bargany's former followers, now riding with Cassillis, struck Bargany in the throat with a lance and the "Battle of Lady-cross" was over. Bargany was carried away and died in Ayr some days later. Naturally uproar followed and Bargany's widow took the matter to the Privy Council in Edinburgh, but they decided that Bargany had deliberately invaded Cassillis' territory and absolved the "King of Carrick" from blame. In fact the view in Edinburgh was that the Earl of Cassillis had rendered the King a good service by ridding him of a turbulent enemy.

John Mure of Auchendrane, who was present at the Ladycross skirmish, took revenge for Bargany's death by arranging the murder of Cassillis' uncle, Sir Thomas Kennedy of Culzean and a poor student who was witness to Sir Thomas's murder. Mure and his son were brought to trial in 1611 and executed, and once again the Auchendrane lands were forfeited to the Crown.

In Monklands power changed from Bargany to Kennedy of Ardmillan and in turn to Kennedy of Grange, and in the more peaceful times which followed, the countryside prospered so that a new mill was needed beside the river Doon in the 17th Century. This new mill, built between Monkwood and Cassillis sometime before 1620, is commonly known as Monkwood Mill, but its proper name is still New Mills of Monkwood.

The string of Kennedy strongholds along the Brown Carrick foothills was no longer needed for defence and Sauchrie, rebuilt in the 17th Century, came into the hands of a branch of the Chalmers family of Gadgirth on the river Ayr. John Chalmers was one of the Guardians nominated in the will of Hew Kennedy, Provost of Ayr, in 1623, and he was Cautioner to the Will of Christian Kennedy who died at Sauchrie in 1638. The Chalmers family held Sauchrie until the beginning of the 18th Century when the estate passed to the Wallaces, merchants in Ayr.

In spite of this apparent prosperity, it would seem that Monklands remained comparatively poor in the 17th Century and so missed the worst excesses of the Highland Host, the rabble of men from the North brought into Ayrshire in the 1670s to quell the rebellious, defiant Covenanters. The Earl of Cassillis had 1,500 Highlanders billeted on his estates, mainly around Kirkoswald, and they robbed and plundered more or less at will. Perhaps Monklands was fortunate to be hilly, boggy and poor, with little worth taking.

After the Highland Host left and peace was restored to Ayrshire, Auchendrane was handed back to John Mure, a descendant of the two Mures who were hanged in 1611. Mure quickly restored the estate to order so that Abercrummie could describe Auchendrane at the end of the century as "ane high tower, with laigh buildings, surrounded with good orchards and gardens, parks and good corn fields".

At Cassillis, too, Abercrummie found peace and plenty, so that he could write of large gardens "which yield good store of apricocks, peaches, cherries and all other fruits and herbage that this kingdome produces".

Mure added Monkwood to his lands, but he died, leaving the life rent of Monkwood and a great burden of debts to his wife. Mure's son, a boy at the time of his father's death, was sent to board with Provost John Mure of Ayr while he was being educated in the town, and this resulted in a law-suit in which the Provost claimed 20 a year for the boy's board and lodgings, although it appears he charged other boys only 10. Young Mure inherited nothing but poverty when his mother died, but he married Barbara Barclay of Perceton, who took a life rent of "the lands of Monkwood &c., the new mylne upon the water of Doon, called the new milnes of Doon" on 12th July 1697. Their son, another Robert, was baptised at Ayr on 30th August 1698, and after that nothing more is heard of the Mures of Monkwood until another Maybole minister, the Rev. George Gray, compiling the New Statistical Account of his parish a century later, recalled their end. He wrote, "The last of the family of the Mures long ago died in circumstances of the greatest poverty. The judgments of Heaven had, indeed, in their awe been visibly and carefully displayed".

Monkwood passed to the Hutchisons, a family of Ayr merchants, and then through the female Hutchison line to James Ferguson of Bank, near Ayr. As the Mure star waned the Kennedy one rose, although this meant the 10th Earl of Cassillis followed the fashion current in the latter part of the 18th Century of abandoning his grim, uncomfortable old fortress in favour of a magnificent new castle, created by Robert Adam at Culzean on the cliffs to the south of Maybole between 1777 and 1790.

Culzean was a manifestation of the new Scotland which was now emerging. The Reformation was followed by two centuries of religious and political upheaval up to the suppression of the last Jacobite rising in 1746. Peace brought a brief Golden Age but soon the country was in the throes of the twin revolutions of agriculture and industry which brough that insecurity and turbulence which shaped Robert Burns' life so sharply.
In Monklands change was needed, for this landscape was neither sweet nor prosperous. The Rev. George Gray, Parish Minister in Maybole, recalled the countryside in the last part of the 18th Century when he compiled his Statistical Account of 1837. "Within the last 40 years" he wrote, "There was scarcely a hedge, the greater part of the land was in pasture and the only crops were oats, bere, and a few peas or beans".

By then the Mures had gone, leaving Auchendrane in ruins, strangers occupied Monkwood, Cassillis was forsaken by the Kennedy chief for the Adam magnificence of Culzean Castle, and a great emptiness lay over the country.

But change had already begun.