Nineteenth 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 6


ABOUT fifty years after the Rev. James Wright wrote about Maybole another Statistical Account of Scotland was published and once again the local minister, the Rev. George Gray, compiled the information on the town and district as it was in 1837. He was Parish Minister from 1828 to 1840 when he was appointed Professor of Hebrew in Glasgow University. He differed from his predecessor in the derivation of the name and gives its meaning as "the heath ground above the marsh or meadow" which is certainly more acceptable than the Rev. Wright's contention that it is a corruption of "maypole".

The 1837 article is much more detailed than the earlier Statistical Account and deals at great length with the geology, zoology and botany of the district and the writer must have given much study to his subject. He also deals with the fossil organic remains found from time to time throughout the parish, giving special mention to the head of an elk which had been found when a loch was drained in the South of the parish. This head was in the possession of Mr. Kennedy of Drummellan at that time and compared favourably in size with a similar specimen in the museum of the Royal Society of Dublin. To anyone interested in these matters a study of the Rev. Gray's article in the New Statistical Account of Scotland will give much information regarding the geology, etc. of the district.

Like the earlier writer the Rev. George Gray laid great stress on the good health and longevity of the townsfolk and pointed out that endemic diseases were very infrequent and never severe. He stated "when the last infliction of the plague in Scotland prevailed throughout the whole country and raged with great virulence in Ayr and other towns it never reached Maybole and none of the inhabitants were affected during the cholera epidemic in the early part of the nineteenth century". This freedom from disease, and the great age of many of the inhabitants, is still common (although in the 1930s there were many diptheria cases) and there are many octogenarians living in the town at the present time. The fact that the town is built on a hillside with good natural drainage and the fresh air of the southern uplands constantly blowing from the south west may have a bearing on the fact that Maybole is one of the healthiest towns in Scotland and its inhabitants have every chance of outliving their alloted three score years and ten.

By the early 19th century many of the old castles in the district had become ruinous but there were still in good preservation the castles of Newark, Greenan, Dunduff, Dunure and Kilhenzie. Newark and Kilhenzie are still in good order but the others have now become derelict and only have a few walls standing to show their former grandeur. In 1837 there were many old ruins of castles such as Bridgend of Doonside, Smithstowne, Brockloch, Sauchrie, Craigskean, Beoch, Garryhorne, Glenayes, and Dalduff, but most of these ruins have long since disappeared and only the names of the farms which were built on or near the sites of the old castles recall them to mind. Within the town boundaries the Rev. Gray mentions the Castle at the bottom of Main Street and the Tolbooth at the top of the street, also the former house of Sir Thomas Kennedy of Culzean, then occupied by a noted townsman Mr. Niven of Kirkbride and now of the Bank of Scotland. He also specially detailed the house in Kirkwynd belonging to Kennedy of Ballemore, the house of the Abbots of Crossraguel at the Garden of Eden (in Crosshill Road) and states that at one time there were twenty eight houses in the town where the principal families of the district resorted to in winter, no doubt taking his information from Abercrummie's article, as most of these houses were reported as ruinous in 1686 and must surely have practically disappeared by 1837. Of modern buildings only the Parish Church is referred to by the Rev. Gray and he states "it is a plain structure with a steeple in the worst possible taste." The steeple seems to have found little favour with anyone as shortly after the church was built in 1808 Bailie Sinclair was discussing it with one of the heritors (the Earl of Cassillis) and remarked that it should have a "knock" in it as a ring had been left on each side in the shape of a clock face, and the heritor replied "A knock in it? It would be better knocked down."

As Maybole was the place where the courts of Justice for Carrick were held many important criminal trials took place in the old tolbooth and punishment by public hanging was frequently inflicted. The public gallows stood in a field at the top of Culzean Road, (traditionally said to be on the site where the late Mr. Cameron, an ironmonger in the town, built his house) and the road is still often called Gallowhill by the locals. The last person to be publicly hanged there, in 1718, was a man, Thomas Nelson from Girvan, who, when quarreling with his neighbour, struck him with a mattock or spade and killed him. There is little doubt but the Minniebolers would turn out in full numbers to witness the spectacle and relish the fact that it was a Girvan man who was meeting his fate that day, as tradition has it that from time immemorial the communities of Maybole and Girvan could never thole each other and every opportunity was taken by a "Minnieboler" to crow over a "Syboe" and vice versa.

In the 1830s the main industry was still weaving, as the manufacture of boots and shoes, which was to make Maybole so well-known throughout the country, had not yet been introduced. Wages had not increased for years and a common pay was 7/- per week for six days of anything up to fourteen hours per day. While it was mainly male labour, quite a number of women and young boys also worked on the looms and the street known as Weavers Vennal resounded all day long to the clack of the machines which were usually housed in a room with a clay floor a little under the level of the ground. These weaving shops, as they were called, were dark and damp and most weavers were badly affected with rheumatism in their later years. By this time the cloth agents had a great hold over the weavers and some had started to keep shops to supply provisions, etc. to the weavers. Many would get goods on credit and be indebted to the agents who would then supply the wool at their own price and the truck system became rife in the town. Finally the conditions of the weavers became so depressed, while the agents prospered, that the truck system and the arduous work in hand weaving became intolerable and gradually weaving died out and the other manufactures of boot and shoe making and the making of agricultural implements was introduced into the town about the middle of the 19th century.

With the new prosperity from the new trades however, idleness and drinking, which had been checked for half a century, became rife again, and many alehouses did a roaring trade on Saturday nights and carousals often lasted until Sunday mornings. It was quite common for men who received their wages on a Saturday to go straight to a public house and not leave it until every penny was spent and there was nothing to take home to the wives and families who had to fall back on the charity of their more temperate neighbours. It is strange to record the squalor and poverty of the bad times of the weaving industry and to find that increase in trade and better days did not improve, but indeed even make worse, the lot of many wives trying to keep a house and family together.

Although the influx of prosperity to the town did not improve the conditions of many of the inhabitants it undoubtedly increased the trade of the shopkeepers and also benefited the farmers in the district. The price of farm land and farm rents rose considerably in the parish about this period and the average rent for farm land was around 1 per acre. The first part of the 19th century was the most flourishing period in the town's history and the gross average weekly payment to all the workers was in the region of 600, which was a considerable sum in those days to be divided among a community of around 4,000 persons, the population having more than doubled in a short period, mainly due to the large influx of Irish weavers who came to the town about that time.

With the increase in population and the new flood of prosperity many small shops and businesses were started and a list of the shopkeepers, etc. makes interesting reading. About the middle of the century the businesses carried on in the town were as follows:

  3 Hotels (Kings Arms, Sun Inn, Dunnering Inn).
12 Public Houses (selling spirits as well as ales).
30 Ales Houses. (For sale of ale only).
13 Carpenters shops.
  3 Chemists.
  4 Blacksmiths.
  2 Watchmakers.
  4 Bakers.
11 Shoemakers.
  2 Dyers.
  5 Butchers.
  9 Drapers.
16 Milliners.
  1 Ladies Staymaker.
 1 Wigmaker.
 6 Doctors.
11 Tailors.
13 General Merchants. (Grocers, etc.)
 4 Nailmakers.
 3 Tinsmiths.
 6 Lawyers.

(No mention is made of stonemasons, plasterers or builders but there must have been some such tradesmen in the town at this period). When this list is compared with a list of the shops and businesses in the town a little over a hundred years later, when there are numerous empty shops in the streets and much fewer tradespeople to supply the needs of a population of around 5,000, it shows how Maybole must have been a thriving and industrious town in days now past. Then difficulty of transport to Ayr made it necessary for the town to be self supporting and all merchandise was bought locally. Easy transport to Ayr and Glasgow has killed the need for local tradespeople and in the 1960's few, if any, suits, hats, etc. are purchased from local shopkeepers and grocers and butchers and chemists are the main local suppliers nowadays. It will be noticed from the list of merchants in the mid nineteenth century that the womenfolk, as usual, were well catered for and there were sixteen milliners and a staymaker to meet the fashions of the times. The local people must also have been rather litigious as it needed six lawyers to deal with their affairs. Much property was being bought and sold then and the old deeds of many houses have strange descriptions, many being recorded as bounded by "a middenheid" on the adjoining property or by somebody's byre or stable wall and this does not make it easy nowadays to trace such boundaries when old property is being transferred to new owners.

During the early part of the 19th century great strides were made in the forming of new roads into the town and William Niven, the "leader" of the council, and described by a local worthy as "Lord God o' Maybole and master o' a' the 'lime kilns roon aboot," was responsible for a great deal of improvements to the local streets. Many were just lanes with gutters down the centre, as in the Foul Vennal (now Castle Street) and William Niven urged that such streets be paved and new streets formed. There were thirty tollhouses in Maybole District and four of these were within the town or on its boundaries. The rights to levy tolls were rouped publicly in May each year and the rents offered in 1840 were as follows:

Duncanland Toll (at foot of Redbrae)  200
Ladyland Toll (end of Whitehall) 88
Gardenrose Toll (at Station Bridge on Culzean Rd.)  41
Welltrees Toll (foot of Welltrees Street) 220

The rents show that the greatest volume of traffic was by the high road from Ayr entering the town by Duncanland Toll and by the road over Allan's Hill from Girvan which entered the town at Welltrees. The rouping of the toll charges was a lucrative business for the local authorities in these days as the total rental of all tolls in 1840 amounted to 2,625, the highest rent of 335 being offered for the toll rights at Bridgemill near Crosshill and the lowest of 10 for the toll at Ladycross at the junction of the road from the Howmuir and the Crossroads above the town. The income from these toll rents mostly went towards the upkeep of the roads in the district.

In the years between the 1790 and 1837 Statistical Accounts great improvements were made in the farming industry in the district. Before 1790 there was hardly a fence on a farm and the houses were mere huts with thatched roofs and with gables generally built of turf. By 1837 the farm houses were nearly all solid stone built houses with slated roofs and the fields had been fenced off with hedges. The improvements were carried out by farseeing landlords who improved the value of their holdings by building good houses, draining the land and planting hedges for shelter and as boundaries. This was a good investment as is shown by the agricultural rental of the parish. In 1736 the total agricultural rental was 172, in 1785 it was 346 and by 1819 this had increased to 2,157. In the late 18th century the crops were poor, being mainly oats and barley with a few peas and beans, but forty years later the ground, having been drained, produced good crops of wheat and other agricultural produce.

Mr. McJanet, the farmer in Drumshang, was one of the most progressive agriculturists in the parish and carried out many experiments in reclaiming moorland on his farm and in the 1830's the Highland Society awarded him a gold medal for bringing into cultivation the greatest extent of waste land in Scotland within the shortest time. Stock had also improved and where formerly the cattle were mainly Galloways the Ayrshire Dairy Cow became the predominant farm animal and has remained the favourite breed to this day in the district. It is interesting to note that the model Ayrshire cow painted by Mr. Shiels in the 1830's for the Edinburgh University Agricultural Museum was one of the herd owned by Mr. Finlay of Lyonstone Farm.

An agricultural market was held in Maybole every Thursday but, from being a thriving market where stock and grain was originally sold, it gradually dwindled until only butter, eggs, cheese and a few minor articles of country produce were finally offered for sale, as with the improvement of the road to Ayr, the farmers preferred to take their produce to the larger market there and the Maybole market became defunct. In 1837 it was estimated that the annual cash value of agricultural produce in Maybole Parish amounted to 47,202, a very considerable sum in those days. Fairs were held in the town for generations in the months of February, May, August and November where farm servants were "fee'd" and goods of every description were sold and it was at one of these fairs in 1756 that Robert Burns' father and mother met for the first time at a booth near the foot of the High Street. The traditional site of the meeting is commemorated by a bust of the poet on the top of the gable of a shop at the bottom of the street.

The town had a post office and was the half way posting station for the stage coaches which passed daily through the town from Glasgow to Portpatrick which was then the main port for traffic to Ireland. The passengers on these stage coaches stayed overnight in one of the local coaching inns and continued their journey the following day, and the yards of the Sun Inn, the Dunnering Inn and the Kings Arms must have been exciting places on the arrival and departure of the stage coaches which would be one of the daily highlights in the town, when no doubt the locals would gather to discuss and criticise the travellers from the far away city of Glasgow who were brave enough to face the trials and hardship of a visit to Ireland. There were also two stage coaches stationed in the town which ran twice a week to and from Ayr leaving at 7 p.m. and returning twelve hours later, and one coach ran twice a week to Girvan.

The Rev. George Gray naturally dealt at length in his article with the ecclesiastical state of the town and parish and gave very accurate details of the various churches and their membership. Taking the total population of the town and parish at 6,362 persons he gave the membership of the various religious factions as:

Established Church 5,033
United Secession  548
Roman Catholics 355
English Church 214
Methodists  104
Relief Church  54
Reformed Presbyterians  44
Anti Burghers 10

The balancing of his figures would point to the conclusion that Maybole in the 1830s housed no atheists or agnostics and it may be thought the writer was a little optimistic about the beliefs of the townspeople of that time. Churchgoing on Sundays was not much better than it is today and the average attendance at communion in the Parish Church was 1,300. The Roman Catholics and Episcopalians only attended their services very occasionally, when a minister of these persuasions could come from Ayr, there being no local priest or Episcopal Minister in the town. The ten Anti-burghers however were solid and strong in their belief and met each Sunday in different houses of their members when, unless illness intervened, there was always a full attendance of the whole flock.

All denominations, (except the Catholics) combined to form a society called the Maybole Association, and collections were taken from time to time in the parish church, the Secession meeting house and other places of worship throughout the town towards the cost of purchasing Bibles and Testaments from the Ayr and Edinburgh Bible Societies for distribution among the poor. A Tract Society was also in operation for a few years and many religious articles were printed for distribution among the townsfolk. The "Carrick Class", composed of all ministers in Carrick, met regularly to discuss the affairs of the church and many proposals were made that this Carrick Class be erected into a presbytery but the proposals never came to fruition. The members gathered in the different manses throughout Carrick in Strict rotation, on the second Tuesday of each alternate month at 1 p.m. and the host read an essay on any subject of his own choice which was criticised, or applauded, by the other ministers.

The meeting was closed by prayer and all the ministers spent the rest of the afternoon and evening with the host minister and his family in social enjoyment and members from a distance invariably stayed the night. No wonder manses in the old days were built so large when it was often necessary to entertain and house visiting clergymen from throughout the district. These meetings of the "Carrick Class" brought together all the clergy and established kindly relationship, unbroken by difference of party, and Carrick has always been noted for its tolerant religious out-look.

Schooling was an important issue about the same period and in Maybole and district there were thirteen schools, of which one was the parish school, one supported by subscription, two free schools and the remaining nine private, or unendowed, schools. Reading, writing and arithmetic were taught in all schools while in the parish school and three of the others, Latin, French and Greek were also taught, as was geography. The parish schoolmaster in 1837 was John Inglis, who was also a preacher of the Gospel, and his annual salary amounted to approximately 130 which was much higher than the stipend of 100 paid to Rev. Mr. Thomson who was minister in the United Secession Church. The other schoolmasters and school-mistresses depended largely on the school fees paid by the scholars, or on subscription from local people, and on a whole their average salary amounted to about 80 to 100 per annum. Maybole was always interested in the schooling of its young people and most townspeople could read and write at a time when the majority of the Scottish people were illiterate and could only make a mark on documents and this is proved by nearly all old deeds of property in the town being signed by the people concerned and few, if any deeds, are in existence from the eighteenth century onwards where a seller or purchaser has made his cross instead of signing his name in full.

It can be taken from a perusal of the old Statistical Account of 1837 and other writings that most of the nineteenth century was indeed a prosperous period for the old town (with some bad patches) and this prosperity continued until the decline of the boot and shoe trade in the town in the early part of the twentieth century.

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