Seventeenth Century
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Maybole, Carrick's Capital Facts, Fiction & Folks by James T. Gray, Alloway Publishing, Ayr. First published 1972. Copyright Permission for display on this site granted by David Gray. You may view and download chapters of this book for personal research purposes only. No other distribution of this text is authorized.

The story of this ancient Ayrshire town from its early beginnings in the 12th century through its growth and development until the nineteen sixties. A fascinating record of the history of a town including a wealth of factual information on its outstanding buildings  growth of industry etc., the book also gives an insight into the life of the community and townsfolk themselves.
Table of Contents

Chapter 4


IT was not until the second part of the seventeenth century that a clear and full description of Maybole was written by a member of the community who had great local knowledge of the district. In 1683 the Rev. William Abercrummie became minister of the parish and remained so until his death in 1722. He wrote A Description of Carrick and although it is without date it is believed it was written around 1686. This article has been printed in full in Robertson's Historic Ayrshire, 1891 and some other history books on Scotland and one historian speaks of the author as "the inimitable Abercrummie" and states "the description of the village of Maybole is mighty nicely written" which is complimentary to the writer but nowadays the townspeople take umbrage if the town is described as a "village".

In his lengthy article the Rev. Abercrummie deals very fully with all parishes in the old Kingdom of Carrick and gives a great deal of interesting information regarding the places and people of his time. He devotes quite a lengthy part of his book to the town itself and this is really the first definite description of the township of Maybole. Many of the places he mentions in and around it can still be traced to this day and indeed many are little changed after three hundred years.

He writes of the "Towne of Mayboll" and not "Minniebole" as some writers have suggested and it would seem that by the end of the seventeenth century the old spelling of "Minniebole" had changed to practically its present spelling. He describes the town as lying on sloping ground from East to West, open to the south and well sheltered by a ridge of hills on the north, with one principal Street, built on both sides with houses and "beautified" with two castles, one at each end of the street, the one on the east, or bottom of the street, belonging to the Earl of Cassillis, beyond which was a great new building forming the granaries or yards of the Earl (hence New Yards, now Cassillis Road) and the other at the west end of the principal street, which formerly was the Castle of the Laird of Blairquhan, but by Abercrummie's time it had been converted into the Tolbooth and local jail. 

He describes the Tolbooth as being "adorned with a pyramide and a row of ballesters round it, raised upon the top of the staircase, into which they have mounted a fyne clock." (In the nineteenth century the "pyramide" was blown down and was replaced by a larger "pyramide" with a new clock in it, the former clock having been set into the stonework of the tower).

In the 17th century there were four lanes, or vennals, leading off the principal Street (now High Street), one called the Back Vennal (now John Knox Street) leading down from the Tolbooth to a lower street running from the Kirklands to Welltrees (now Abbot Street and Ladywell road) and one (now School Vennal) leading up from the Tolbooth to the Green which was an open space where the townspeople played football, "gowife" and "byasse bowles" and which formerly was the site of the butts where Minniebolers practised archery and shot at the popinjay. At the bottom, or east end, of the principal street there were the other two lanes, or vennals, one leading down to the church at the old cemetery and called the Kirk Vennal (now Kirkwynd) and the other named the Fore Vennal (now Castle Street) leading up to what is now Kirklandhill Path.

The town of Maybole in the seventeenth century was therefore mainly contained in the rectangle formed by the streets now called Abbot Street, John Knox Street, High Street and Kirkwynd. Abercrummie points out that the lower street was formerly the main, or principal, street of the town and this is understandable when one remembers that the main entry to the town from Ayr was by the Lovers Lane and the Bullock Loaning into Kirkland Street and thence along what was formerly Weaver Vennal to the Welltrees and out of the town to Girvan via Allan's Hill. This was the busy thoroughfare in those days (and indeed up to the nineteenth century) and later there was a tollhouse at Duncanland, when the Redbrae was formed, at the east end of the town and another toll at Welltrees at the west end. The two side vennals (Kirkwynd and John Knox Street) merely led up to a higher street which gradually became the site of new shops etc. as the older properties in the lower Street became out of date, much as Princes Street in the new town of Edinburgh displaced the old High Street in the old town.

In the old principal street below the High Street and in Kirk Vennal there had been many pretty buildings belonging to the gentry of the district and in the winter the gentlemen with their ladies were "wont to resort and divert themselves in converse together at their owne houses". About the beginning of the 17th century there were twenty eight residences of the Carrick lairds in the town but by Abercrummie's time most had become ruinous and only the Castle at the foot of the High Street remained in good repair and was occupied by the Earl of Cassillis and his family. In those days this building was much larger than it is now and was built right across the bottom of the High Street with a great part of its outbuildings on the site now occupied by the Post Office and Public Library. Abercrummie writes of the streets being built up on each side with good freestone houses and remarks that many of them on the lower street (Ladywell Road) had pretty orchards which yielded a store of good fruit.

Naturally the reverend writer dealt fully with the local church at the foot of the Kirkwynd and describes it as "very capacious, well furnished and with seats below and lofts and galleries above, the principal gallery being that belonging to the Earl of Cassillis." At the east end of the aisle there was a Session Loft well adorned with two rows of seats for the accommodation of the people who were to be catechised. The school was formed in the east end of the church and only separated from it by a wooden partition. This is the same church which the Rev. James Wright wrote so disparagingly about a hundred years later and which finally became so ruinous it was abandoned and a new church built in 1808 in Cassillis Road.

Abercrummie points out that Carrick was a Bailliarie and belonged heritably to the Earl of Cassillis who exercised his power by depute and could appoint his own clerk. The Courts of Justice were held every Thursday in Maybole and the court dealt with all manner of crimes. The townspeople even in those days seem to have been inveterate poachers and it is recorded that the fines for taking fish in the close season gave a good revenue to the courts but "made a constant tax on the townspeople". 

In the whole of Carrick there was no other town than Maybole in the seventeenth century and although it was not a Royal Burgh, neither was it merely an ordinary Burgh of Barony, for it had a charter from the King erecting it into a burgh with a town council of seventeen persons with full powers to manage the common concerns of the town and with the right to elect from among the councillors, two Bailies, a Clerk and a Treasurer and the town council also had the privilege of creating Burgesses. The Earl of Cassillis, as Superior, and in accordance with the Charter, had the right to appoint the Bailies but the council in the seventeenth century disputed this right and tried to appoint their own Bailies. After much argument the Earl's right was confirmed and it was not until two centuries later that the rights of burgh privileges became outdated and the affairs of the town were dealt with by Police Commissioners who blythely dealt with matters to their own satisfaction and paid no attention to the Superior's claim.

Abercrummie was an observant and knowledgeable country parson and his description of the district in his day is interesting. He states "the land is more suitable for pasturage than crops" and this is true to this day and undoubtedly the good grazing land in Carrick produced the famous Ayrshire breed of cattle which is now world famous. In the seventeenth century the district was self supporting and indeed exported agricultural produce to surrounding areas and great droves of cattle were sent to English markets, as well as to markets throughout Scotland. The Carrick cattle were much sought after as "the special quality of the beefe that pasture in the moore countrey have flesh that is very sweet and pleasant and the fat of them keeps soft lyke that of pork." There were plenty of farmyard poultry such as "hens, capons, ducks, geese and turkeys and an abundance of partridge, black cocks, plover, etc." and all these were so cheap that "the very poorest of the people eat them in their season at easie rates, besyde other sea fowles, which are brought from Ailra (Ailsa Craig) of the bigness of ducks and the taste of solangees". From Maidens and Dunure the fishing boats provided "ling, cod, haddowes, whytings, herrings and makrell" while the Rivers Doon, Girvan, and Stinchar provided such an abundance of salmon that the local people could not dispose of them all and many were sold to other districts around Carrick. The lochs were full of trout, pike and eels and when one reads Abercrummie's description of these natural products which were available to the "very poorest of the people at easie rates" the "bad old days" do not seem to have applied very much in the district, at least with regard to food supplies. It must be remembered that the town was small in these days with comparatively few inhabitants and the people in the district were mainly farmers in a small way who grew much of their own food and it was not until the eighteenth century with the growth of the weaving trade, when the townspeople gave up their crofting to produce blankets, etc., and the great influx of Irish vagrants enlarged the population, that poverty and want became rife in the town as reported by the later writers in the Statistical Accounts of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

This seventeenth century article is the first full description of Maybole and the district of Carrick and the Rev. Abercrummie spared no pains in detailing the interesting items which he had observed and learned from the local inhabitants of his day. He describes many prehistoric remains throughout the district, the many wells and springs in the town, the various great families of Carrick with their country mansions and "nyne churches all built of good freestone and covered with skleits", and the orchards with their terraces laden with peaches, apricots, cherries and other fruits. He even gives an interesting item of news regarding a jackdaw and magpie who paired together at Ardmillan near Girvan, built their nest, and raised their fledglings who resembled the jackdaw more than the magpie, and the whole article is well worth reading by those interested in the early history of the old Kingdom of Carrick.

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