Smug and Snug Victorian Village
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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.

Henrietta Douglas

The first Ordnance Survey map (1860) clinched the change of name, although it spelt it Minnyshant. However, the names "Culroy" and "Minishant" remained interchange-able for a decade longer. When Margaret Lamb, who had an inn in the village, erected a tombstone in Maybole Church-yard to the memory of her husband, John Lamb, in 1862, she described herself as "Margaret Lamb, Minnishant". In the 1867 directory her address was given as "Culroy". Still more confusing, in 1867 William Limond of the Post Office was recorded as living at Culroy, not Minishant as one might expect, since the village had its own postmark by then. John Douglas the village joiner, whose workshop was practically next door to the post office, was recorded as living in Minishant. The spelling "Minnishant" remained in use for a while longer and that is how it was printed in the Ayr Advertiser as late as 1878.

The 1860 Ordnance Survey map shows Minishant as it was when my grandparents Robert and Harriet Orr arrived at Monkwood Mains. The district had improved in the first part of the century but my grandmother often described Monkwood Mains in her first Winter there as a cold, wet place which "hungered eight stirks". I'm sure it was, for even after a century of love and attention we still found it a hard place to farm.

It's interesting to look at Minishant on the 1860 Ordnance Survey and to realise how little change there was in the housing until 1938 when the new wooden houses were built.

Culroy, too, is easily recognisable from this map, and is still unchanged, apart from the disappearance of one cottage between the bridge and Kewnston Avenue (the School Road) and another on the High Road facing up the avenue.

The Boyd family ran the smithy through much of the 19th Century and John McCall had a wheelwright's shop on the opposite side of the road. There was a public house beside the smiddy licensed in the name of Mrs. James Boyd in 1851, although both James and his wife, Margaret Sinclair, were dead by that time and their son, John, now was smith in Culroy. It is interesting to note that all three inns in Culroy and Minishant were run by women - Margaret Boyd, Ann Guthrie and Margaret Lamb.

Minishant, Culroy and the surrounding farms grew into a snug little community in the second half of the century, as safe as any Victorian village could be. That didn't mean they didn't feel tremors of shattering events in the outside world. Nicol Fleming, who achieved notoriety as the real villain behind the crash of the City of Glasgow Bank, owned Knockdon, and it was he who built new farm steading there in 1869. When the Glasgow Bank crash came in the 1870s, Knockdon was bought by Alexander (Black Sandy) Cross, another businessman with interests in Glasgow as well as a seeds fertiliser company in Leith. Sir James Ferguson believed that Knockdon was once a monastery with the original Otterden House as the Abbot's residence. Certainly the large and elaborate cellar of Otterden has been dated as being about 800 years old. Both Knockdon and Otterden no doubt were connected with Grange, one of the granaries of Crossraguel Abbey.

In the hands of the Cross family, Knockdon became one of the most modem farms in Ayrshire, with a superb herd of Ayrshire cows, Clydesdale horses and Border Leicester sheep. Theirs was one of the first cattle herds to be Tuberculin Tested, and from the Knockdon dairy came cheese which won trophies all over Britain. It was a great sight to see a string of Knockdon cattle or horses being walked home from local shows with winners' rosettes pinned to their halters.

Up to the 19th Century, Knockdon and Otterden were separate estates, with Otterden and Beoch farm linked. However, Beoch was sold off to Culzean estates and subsequently bought back by a McGill of the Ayr seed firm of McGill & Smith (now Sinclair McGill). Beoch today is part of Sauchrie estate, while Otterden has been incorporated with Knockdon and is still in the hands of the Cross family. The present owner is Derek Cross, a great-nephew of "Black Sandy" who took over from the notorious Nicol Fleming.

Life at the "big hoose" must have been comfortable for the gentry in those days. In 1878 Sir Peter Coats' staff at Auchendrane, according to the census, comprised head housekeeper, six female domestic servants, butler, footman, two grooms, coachman, head gardener and four under-gardeners.

Although the American Civil War brought disaster to the cotton industry in Ayrshire, wool was unaffected and Minishant's prosperity remained secure. The wauk mill, now run by Andrew and James Limond, confidently advertised in the local directory:

Parties having WOOL can have it MANUFACTURED into BLANKETS, TWEEDS, FLANNELS, PLAIDINGS, &c,&c.

James Limond, who was nicknamed "the Drummer", built a new steam-driven mill on the crest of the Knowe behind the two thatch and corrugated tin-roofed cottages which already stood there. The steady thudding of the machinery at work in the steam mill became a regular part of village life. So, too, were heaps of coal dumped on the roadway at the entrance to the bogey line, waiting to be winched up to the furnace room.

Everything from coal to candlewax now arrived by train and was delivered from Cassillis Station by horse and cart. The road became less important as a through way from Glasgow to Stranraer, and the toll system was done away with. The tollhouses of both Carcluie and Hogg's Corner have disappeared, although the Rev. Roderick Lawson said the latter was there when he wrote about the origin of its name in his Monthly Newsletter of November 1896.

"One of the landmarks on the way to Minishant is a small cottage at the junction of the road which leads to Cassillis Station, called Hogg's Corner, and some have wondered how it came by that name. In answer, I may mention that one day, shortly after I came to Maybole in 1863, a gentleman called on me and introduced himself as the Rev. David Hogg. He told me that his father had lived in the cottage aforesaid and that he himself had been born in it. He was educated at Kirkmichael, had taught a school for some years in Newton-on-Ayr, and finally became a minister of Kirkmahoe parish, Dumfriesshire, where he then was. He said he was contributing a series of Notabilia of Kirkmichael to one of the Ayr papers, which he might publish in book form some day, and counselled me to write a volume on Maybole, which I was too modest to attempt at the time, but which I have fulfulled since amply enough. Mr. Hogg died in 1879. Before his death he published two books -"The Life and times of Dr. Wightman", and "The Life of Allan Cunningham". His son is now minister of Auchtermuchty, Fifeshire. With these interesting associations connected with it, our humble landmark may well lift up its head a bit".

This house was built into the hillside and its roof was so low that it was possible to step from the field behind it straight on to the roof. My father used to recount how he and the other village boys would creep on to the roof and place a turf on the chimney, then retire to a hiding place and watch the old couple who lived there, flee from the smoke-filled house, cursing those who had perpetrated the trick.

A number of cottages were being enlarged with slate roofs and outshot windows added to turn the attics into bedrooms. This was when the Mill House, in the forefront of this fashion, became nicknamed "the Castle".

Peter Tweedily built Peru Cottage, a house of yellow brick far superior to any other in the village and always looked on by us with breathless admiration. Peru Cottage really looked large and modern beside the other houses and to knock on its door with some message for Miss Lizzie Tweedily (Peter's daughter) from Aunt Bella was to walk up the gates of Paradise. To be invited in was utter bliss.

James Love was master at the schoolroom at Burnside, but he was succeeded in 1857 by John Clark who ran the village school until 1912, by which time he was reckoned to be the oldest schoolmaster in Scotland, giving Minishant the distinction of having the oldest postmistress and oldest teacher in the country during the first decade of the century.

Johnnie Clark, always known as "the Maister", was born at Kirkoswald in 1834, and was a kinsman of Burns' "Souter Johnnie" although, unlike the Souter, he never touched a drop of strong drink. He was a very well educated man having attended the High School in Edinburgh and Glasgow University. His first teaching post was in the Isle of Man, but he had to give it up because of ill health. After a short time in Glasgow he came to Minishant on the 17th of August 1857 - to Burnside, the cottage with a school tacked on to it at the foot of Monkwood Mains road. The schoolroom at Burnside was the focus of life with every-thing from literary club meetings to occasional Sunday services held in it. In 1876, following the reorganisation of Scottish education four years earlier, a new school was built on the crest of the hill between the Low and High Roads, supposedly convenient to both Minishant and Culroy.

The new school was spacious by comparison: it was built of solid stone with the two-roomed school at one end and a schoolmaster's house at the other. A high wall turned it into a kind of fortress from which generations of farmers' sons must have felt there was no escape. There were two playgrounds, one at the front for the boys and another at the rear for the girls. A blast of John Clark's whistle brought the boys into a long carefully-graded line at the front door while the infant teacher marshalled the girls at the back door.

The school comprised the "wee room" in which four classes ranging from five years of age to nine were taught together, and the "big room" for the nine to twelve year olds, separated by a wood and glass partition. In the "big room" Johnnie Clark ruled with what his pupils later described as iron discipline but perhaps the comment made to me by one of his former students is more accurate. "He was a grand teacher", she said, "but he widnae last five meenits in a schule the day".

Maybe not, but I can confirm that even as an old man when he taught me, he was a brilliant teacher, capable of carrying his pupils away into flights of fancy. Whatever he said was law and when he ordered his best boys and girls to be at the school by 8.30 for half an hour's Latin before general lessons started, they obeyed. There they stood, farmers' sons never to see beyond their own midden ends and labourers' daughters who were to marry labourers and labour at a kitchen sink all their lives, ranged round Johnny Clark's desk chanting "Amo, amas, amat..." while he walked up and down between the desks listening to them.

My father was among his early pupils and I was one of his last, and both generations had a high regard for this man who could have done many brilliant things but was content to teach in a small country school. He was a deeply religious man, fanatical about the temperance movement and used to pass the Temperance Leader round us and make us promise not to touch strong liquor. Young Willie McCurdie, the 19th Century Minishant blacksmith's son, was a lifelong abstainer and when his son (another William) asked him in his old age why he didn't take a drink, Willie replied simply, "I promised my school teacher". Alas, the Maister wasn't as successful in that direction with some of his other pupils!

Mr. Clark was never well rewarded for his work: in the 1880s his quarterly salary was 8.1 5s. plus a teaching allowance of 1.15s. I'm sure he was glad of the 12s. 6d. paid to his wife for cleaning the school. It is some measure of the depth of appreciation for the Maister that in 1907, at his jubilee in Minishant, the villagers came to the school and gave him a cheque for 110, a solid silver salver and a gold chain for his wife.

According to the Inspector's Report in 1882 the Maister and a pupil teacher taught nearly 100 pupils. Little wonder the inspector found the standard of the teaching work "weak in all subjects". Gradually numbers fell to 80 in 1883 and 70 in 1888. In 1894 Elizabeth Tweedily, daughter of Peter Tweedily of Peru Cottage, became pupil teacher and she was succeeded by the Maister's son Charles in 1898. Poor Charlie never got on well with his father and abandoned the job. The Maister's daughter, Agnes, was more successful and she taught the "wee room" of Minishant for the whole of her working life.

Johnnie Clark had other interests: he was a founder member of the Ayrshire branch of the Educational Institute of Scotland and found time to be in the grandstand at every football match Ayr played. In the village he presided over much of the social and religious life, organising a Sunday School for 40 years, and persuading Maybole ministers, especially the Rev. Roderick Lawson of the West Church, to come and preach at services in his Bumside schoolroom. Lawson was a useful ally: so too was Sir Peter Coats of the Paisley thread firm, who bought Auchendrane in 1868. The Coats were ardent Baptists and they encouraged the Sunday services at Bumside so they became a regular feature of village life. When Lady Coats died in April 1877, Sir Peter decided to give Minishant a church in her memory. Lady Coats Memorial Church was built on land given by William Paterson of Monkwood and it was an ambitious building for so small a place, seating three hundred people in a village whose population barely touched a hundred. The Church, opened in August 1878, is a tall, elegant building of red sandstone from St. Murray Quarry with long narrow windows set with diamonds of multi-coloured glass and a steeply pitched slate roof. In the vestibule facing the entrance is set a striking marble figure by Sir Noel Paton, representing the risen Christ. To generations of Minishant children this was the image of God that they carried with them through life. Below the figure is the inscription "This church is built to the glory of God, and in memory of Gloriana Mackenzie, the beloved wife of Sir Peter Coats, Auchendrane. She died 21st April 1877. Psalm 84.4". A stained glass circular window above bears the Coats family anchor and the Mackenzie stag's head.

The interior of the church remains virtually untouched today, with high-backed narrow pews leading off two side aisles, and a raised choir box with a harmonium just in front of the pulpit. The church was originally lit by very beautiful paraffin lamps set in pairs on high poles along the middle of the Church. These were removed in the 1930s when electri-city was introduced but the marks of the poles can still be seen. Sir Peter Coats was a Baptist and the village was Presbyterian so he did not give his church of any single denomination, but endowed it to be served by ministers from various churches in the district.

A well cushioned seat at the very back of the church was reserved for Sir Peter and Auchendrane folk and for the Monkwood family, but the rest of the community sat on wooden seats covered only by thin Brussels carpeting which did little to ease the pain of sitting through long sermons.

As he grew older, Sir Peter Coats spent Winters in Algiers for health reasons and there he built a copy of his little church at Minishant. We had a picture of it in the reading room. I wonder if it is still there? Behind the church were a reading room and library, with the church officer's house underneath. The library was exceedingly well endowed with books, and for 75 years periodicals and newspapers were put into the reading room every week.

In the 1880s there was an active Minishant Literary Association which met in the school, not always with the approval of "the Maister". In January 1890, Clark responded to the Association's request for the use of the school for their annual concert with a protest that they had had no meetings all year. The secretary, John Campbell of Low Milton, replied with a very fluent letter in which he said "... the complaint is very incorrect and unfair as I have gone very carefully over my minute book and find that in the last two sessions we have done more literary work than has been done in any session since the Association was formed. I find that during the year 1888 we have had eight debates, four essays and three lectures by members, and in 1889 we had four debates, five essays and two lectures. We have also had a good number of very useful and instructive readings, recitations, etc. In 1888 our meetings were held once a week during the Winter, and in 1889 once a fortnight".

The Literary Association's request was granted. However. William Wilson from Crosshill was refused use of the school. room for a dancing class - shades of Robert Burns' father's disapproval of dancing!

Campbell wasn't the only man in Minishant able to use words. When one of the gardeners at Auchendrane was asked by Lady Coats to cut some flowers one day, he asked her solemnly, "Shall I cut them promiscuously or otherwise, your Ladyship?" Her Ladyship answered simply, "Other-wise will do, Wilson". The same gardener's daughter, Jenny Duncan, inherited her father's love of words but didn't always manage to use them in the right context. Her neighbour, Lizzie Tweedily, often recounted how Jenny rushed to her door one day to tell her that a sheep which had been missing for days had been found stuck in a hedge, half-starved. "Declare tae God, Miss Tweedily", she cried, "it wis the maist emancipated sheep ye ever saw". Another time, while complaining about a village boy who swore a lot, she said, "Declare tae God, Miss Tweedily, that man's the damndest swearer". Sometimes Jenny hit the nail on the head as when a lad from the village returned from a holiday in England speaking with a splendid fitted-on English accent. Mrs. Duncan as usual rushed with the news to Miss Tweedily. "D'ye ken", she cried, "ah declare tae God ye'd think he had cut his lip on a English chanty (chamberpot)".

The focus of less formal social life in the village was Willie McCurdie's blacksmith's shop, a favourite meeting place for the boys. The smiddy had the great advantage that it was always warm and on winter evenings the young men of the district gathered there to argue, talk or plan pranks. 

The blacksmith himself was sometimes involved in these: Jimmy Harvey, who succeeded Willie McCurdie as smith, once boasted that he could beg his way from end to end of the village without being recognised. He dressed up as a tinker and with a baby in his arms (my husband's brother, borrowed without permission I've no doubt), he went from house to house, all the way to Jenny Duncan's, third from last in the village. Jenny opened her door and, before he could say a word, cried, "Jimmy Harvey, get awa' oot o' this. I ken ye fine".

A favourite pastime in the smiddy was making treacle toffee with a jar of treacle drawn from the barrel which in those days was kept to make up cattle feed at every farm. The toffee, once boiled, was poured out and cooled in one of the big, shallow milk bynes in which the cream set in dairies. When hard, it was shared out. On one occasion my father for a trick grabbed the byne of toffee and raced away up the village with it, pursued by the other boys. Once out of sight, he put the byne of toffee into the Stank and set it sailing downstream. Back through the village he walked empty-handed, past the boys, and retrieved the toffee at the bridge on Monkwood Mains farm road.

The older boys produced plays for the entertainment of their friends too, and my father once appeared in "The Gentle Shepherd" in Midton barn. He must have been very young at the time for he played a female part.

The stable, too, was popular, no doubt because it was warm. There was nowhere more comfortable on a farm in the old days than a stable full of horses. The musty warmth enveloped you as you entered and the muffled, gentle snuffling of the horses was comforting and soothing. My father was a marvellous mimic and had such a retentive memory that he could climb into a hay heck in the stable on Sunday afternoon and recite the sermon the minister had delivered in the kirk that morning.

If leisure was enjoyed to the full it was hard earned, for work on the farms was backbreaking and long. The Ayrshire cow had developed in the 19th Century into one of the finest breeds in the world - we thought it was the finest -and every farm had a dairy of thirty or more milch cows which had to be milked by hand at five in the morning and again at five at night. Those who were too young to milk carried pails or fed hens and calves. The milk was put into ten gallon cans, and carted to Cassillis Station to catch the train to Ayr or Glasgow, and surplus was set to cream to make butter while the whey was used for cheese for sale in Ayr market each Tuesday. "Ca'ing the kim" to make butter and turning the heavy "chissets" (cheese moulds) over to mature the cheese was backbreaking, but it was considered women's or even children's work. In the meantime, the men were out in the fields ploughing, sowing, weeding or harvesting, according to the season and although new implements were becoming more common, their work was hard too. Often implements were shared, a practice which continued past the first half of the present century. We had the only mechanical potato digger so it went round the district to all the farms in turn and we borrowed a reaper or a drill-making machine in return. At busy times like harvest the farmers also shared labour - "neeboring" it was called -and threshing the grain was a communal affair with every farm in the district lending a couple of men. The great lumbering threshing mill was pulled along the road and driven by steam power, and as soon as it arrived the children were sent to tell the "neebors" that "faither'll be thrashin' corn the morn". There really was no need to send word around. "Neeboring" was confined to a set group of farms and you never asked for help from any farm outside your own circle. It was an unwritten, but strict, rule.

Farms in the Minishant district were mixed, each with a good herd of cows and plenty of cropping - oats, mashlam (oats and beans), potatoes, turnips, kail and so on - which added up to self-sufficiency. There was no need to bring in expensively transported pre-packed goods: the community could provide all the basics of life for itself. Even Willie McCurdie, the blacksmith, did more than shoe horses; he was a noted ploughmaker in his day, as were the Beggs who succeeded the Boyds at Culroy. No wonder in the time leading up to the First World War ours was a sunny little world of its own.