1902 Encyclopedia > Ayr (town), Scotland

Ayr (town)

AYR, the capital of the above county (COUNTY OF AYR, or AYRSHIRE), is situated at the mouth of the river of the same name, and about 40 miles S.S.W. from Glasgow The spot has probably been inhabited from a remote antiquity. Nothing, however, is known of its history till the close of the 13th century, when it was made a royal residence, and soon afterwards a royal burgh, by William the Lion. The charter con-ferring upon it the latter privilege has been preserved, of which a fac-simile will be found in vol. i. of the National Manuscripts of Scotland. During the wars of Scottish independence the possession of Ayr and its castle was, according to tradition, an object of importance to both the contending parties. In Blind Harry's Life of Wallace they are frequently mentioned, and the scene is laid there of one of the patriot's greatest exploits; but the authen-ticity of many of the minstrel-historian's statements is more than doubtful On better authority, the records of the burgh, it is known that early in the 16th century Ayr was a place of considerable influence and trade. The liberality of William the Lion had bestowed upon the cor-poration an extensive grant of lands ; while in addition to the well-endowed church of St John's, it had two monas-teries, each possessed of a fair revenue. When Scotland was overrun by Oliver Cromwell Ayr was selected as the site of one of those forts which he built to command the country. This fortification, termed the citadel, enclosed an area of ten or twelve acres, and included within its nmits the church of St John's, in which the Scottish Parlia-ment on one occasion met, and confirmed the title of Robert Bruce to the throne. The church was converted into a storehouse, the Protector partly indemnifying the inhabitants for this seizure by liberally contributing towards the erection of a new place of worship, now known as the Old Church. Ayr proper lies on thè south bank of the river, and is connected with Newton and Wallacetown on the north by two bridges, the Old and the New, the " Twa Brigs" of Burns. Of late years the town has extended greatly on the Ayr side of the stream. Nearly the whole of Cromwell's Fort is now covered with houses, and to the south, in the direction of the race-course, numerous fine villas have been erected. Ayr possesses several good streets and a number of elegant public and other edifices. The County Buildings, which afford accommodation for the circuit and provincial courts, as well as for the various local authorities, occupy the west side of Wellington Square. Contiguous to these is the jail, a well-regulated establishment, partly used as a penitentiary. The Town's Buildings, near the New Bridge, is a handsome erection, the effect of which is somewhat impaired by the lowness of the site. They contain assembly rooms and a reading-room, and are surmounted by a spire 217 feet high, designed by Hamilton, of Edin-burgh, and considered by many the finest in the west of Scotland. All the Edinburgh and Glasgow banks have branches in Ayr, and some of them have built ornamental structures for their accommodation. Besides the old church already mentioned, there is another parish church called the New, and a number of dissenting places of worship, none of them, however, noteworthy on account of their architecture. The Academy, a large building in a convenient position, includes, or has superseded, the Grammar School of the burgh, the existence of which can be traced back as far as the 13th century. A portion of the tower of St John's Church still remains, but, to the regret of the antiquary, has been completely modernised. The "Wallace Tower" is a Gothic structure in High Street, erected on the site of an old building of the same name taken down in 1835. A niche in front is filled by a statue of the Scottish hero by Thorn, a self-taught sculptor, who executed in a much more successful manner the statues of Tarn o' Shanter and Souter Johnnie, now in the grounds of Burns' Monument. Ayr Hospital is a plain but substantial erection near the Townhead railway station. There are two subscription libraries in the town, and it also supports one weekly and one bi-weekly news-paper. Its religious and charitable societies are numerous. A market is held every Tuesday, and there are five yearly fairs. The Western Meeting takes place in September of every year on Ayr racecourse, a large enclosure in the suburbs, which has been reserved for this purpose for more than a century. Alloway Kirk and Burns' Monument are distant 1\ miles. The principal manufactures of Ayr are leather, carpets, woollen goods, &c. ; and fisheries and shipbuilding are also carried on to a small extent. There are several foundries and engineering establishments. Ayr has a general trade of considerable value. Large quan-tities of timber are imported from Canada and from Norway ; coal and iron are the chief exports. The har-bour occupies both sides of the river from the New Bridge to the sea, and has been built at a very considerable ex-pense in a most substantial manner. The south pier projects some distance into the sea ; on the north side is a large breakwater protecting the entrance, and on the north pier are three lights, two bright and one red from 12 to 35 feet above high water. The depth of water at the bar is about 14 feet at neap and 16 at spring tides. Ex-tensive docks are in the course of formation, which are ex-pected to increase largely the importance of the place as a seaport. Railways converge upon Ayr from the north, east, and south, opening up a connection with all parts of the country. The burgh unites with Irvine, Inveraray, Campbel-town, and Oban in returning a member to Parliament. Pre-vious to 1873, its municipal boundary on the north was the river, but an Act of Parliament was obtained in that year by which this boundary was extended so as to include Newton-on-Ayr and Wallacetown, and made the same as that of the parliamentary burgh. The corporation of Ayr consists of a provost and four bailies, and twelve town councillors. In 1871 the population of the extended burgh was 17,851. Though thus conjoined with Ayr for the parliamentary franchise and municipal government, and forming with it in reality but one town, Newton and Wallacetown were formerly each quite separate. The for-mer is a burgh or barony of very ancient erection. The original charter has been lost; but it is traditionally said to have been granted by King Robert the Bruce in favour of forty-eight of the inhabitants who had distinguished themselves at Bannockburn. Be this as it may, the com-mon property of the burgh is held to be the exclusive property of the freemen, forty-eight in number. The extent of the lots possessed by each varies from six to ten acres, and their value is considerable. Newton has a council, consisting of two bailies, a treasurer, and six coun-cillors, annually elected by the freemen from among their own number; but the powers of the council, though originally extensive, are now very limited. Wallacetown is quoad eivilia a part of the neighbouring parish of St Quivox. About two miles east of Newton is the village of Prest-wick, the headquarters of one of the most flourishing golf clubs in Scotland.

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