1902 Encyclopedia > County of Ayr (Ayrshire)

County of Ayr, Scotland

AYR, COUNTY OF, or AYRSHIRE, a Scottish county, bounded by Wigtownshire and the stewartry of Kirkcud-bright on the S.; by Kirkcudbright, Dumfries, and Lanark on the E.; and by Renfrewshire on the N. On the W. it has a coast line extending to 70 miles on the Irish Sea and the Firth of Clyde. The county contains 1149 square miles, or 735,262 acres. The middle part, which is the broadest, is about 26 miles across. There are six rivers of some note in Ayrshire—Stinchar, Girvan, Doon, Ayr, Irvine, and Garnock. Of these the Ayr, from which the county and county town take their name, is the largest. It rises at Glenbuck, on the border of Lanarkshire, and, after a course of 33 miles, falls into the Firth of Clyde at the county town. The scenery along its banks from Sorn downwards—passing Catrine, Ballochmyle, Barskimming, Sundrum, Auchencruive, and Craigie—is varied and beautiful. The lesser streams are numerous; and there are many fresh-water lochs, the largest of which is Loch Doon, the source of the river Doon. The southern and eastern parts of the county are hilly, but none of the peaks reaches a height of 2000 feet. In former times the shire was divided into three districts—Carrick, south of the Doon ; Kyle, between the Doon and the Irvine; and Cun-ningham, north of the Irvine. Kyle, again, was divided by the river Ayr into King's Kyle on the south, and Kyle Stewart on the north The county is now politically divided into south and north Ayrshire. The former com-prises Kyle and Carrick, and the latter Cunningham, and each division returns a representative to Parliament. The old divisions, however are still popularly retained. The greater part of Carrick is hilly, and fit only for sheep-walks. The uplands of Kyle are also extensive, but there is a larger proportion of good low-country land in that district. Cunningham is comparatively level, and has a great extent of rich land, though rather heavy in its character. The scenery is not grand in any part of the county, but much of it is picturesque and beautiful. From many of the heights a rich, undulating, well-wooded country may be seen, with the Bay of Ayr, or the Firth of Clyde beyond, and the lofty peaks of Arran, or the Argyllshire hills, in the distance.

There has been no lack of agricultural enterprise in Ayr-shire. With a moist climate, and, generally, a rather heavy soil, draining was necessary for the successful growth of green crops. Up till 1840, or a few years later, a green crop in the rotation was seldom seen, except on porous river-side land, or on the lighter farms of the lower districts. In the early part of the century lime was a powerful auxiliary in the inland districts, but, with repeated applica-tions, it gradually became of little avaiL Thorough drain-ing gave the next great impulse to agriculture. Enough had been done to test its efficacy previous to the announce-ment of Sir Bobert Peel's drainage loan, after which it was rapidly extended throughout the county. Green-crop husbandry, and the liberal use of guano and other auxiliary manures, made a wonderful change on the face of the county, and increased immensely the amount of agricultural produce. Early potatoes are now extensively grown in some localities. The farmers on the coast lands of Girvan and West Kilbride are first in the market, and the next supplies -come from the friable lands about Ayr and St Quivox. A considerable extent of ground is cleared in June for the Glasgow market; and, in dropping seasons, good crops of turnips follow. At the end of July and the beginning of August, great quantities of potatoes are sent to Newcastle, and to the large towns of Lancashire and the West Riding. The mild climate of the Ayrshire coast in spring is favour-able to this kind of cropping, which brings quick returns, and on the whole is profitable. Carrots and mangolds are cultivated more extensively than in any other Scotch county, and, with early sowing and rich manuring, heavy crops are raised. Wheat generally follows green crops in the lower parts of the county, though barley is coming more into use than in former times on light land. The border line for wheat may be drawn at a little over 300 feet; above that height its growth is exceptional. The dairy forms an important department of farm manage-ment in Ayrshire. Dunlop cheese was a well-known pro-duct of Ayrshire dairies a quarter of a century ago. Part of it was very good; but it was unequal in its general character, and unsaleable in English markets. Dissatisfied with the inferior commercial value of their cheese in com-parison with some English varieties, the Ayrshire Agri-cultural Association brought a Somerset farmer and his wife in 1855 to teach the Cheddar method, and their effort has been most successful. Cheddar cheese of first rate quality is now made in Ayrshire and Galloway, and the annual cheese show at Kilmarnock is the most im-portant in the kingdom. The cheese may be more thoroughly fine in a few Somerset dairies, but the aver-age quality of Scotch Cheddar is higher than the English. This great change of an industrial art has brought wealth to the county. It is not too much to say that it has added £2 per cow to the annual value of dairy produce, and there are 45,000 cows in Ayrshire.

The manufactures of Ayrshire have attained considerable importance. The cotton works at Catrine are extensive, and have been a long time established. The site was chosen with the view of utilising the water power of the river Ayr, and steam is still merely an auxiliary. At Kilmar-nock and Ayr there are extensive engineering establish-ments, and large carpet works; and other fabrics are manufactured in those towns and at Dairy, Kilbirnie, Beith, and Stewarton. Until the last three or four years, Irvine was a back-going place, but it has received an impulse from the erection of large chemical works. The situation is very suitable for chemical manufactures, as the soil is poor and sandy, and the liquid refuse of chemical works is easily carried into the sea, without causing the nuisance which is inevitable in a large town. The Eglinton Chemical Com-pany are most extensive manufacturers of bichromate of potash—a substance which is used at dyeworks as an oxidising agent; and another company is largely engaged in the alkali trade, and in the extraction of copper from burnt pyrites ore. On the coast, between Irvine and Ardrossan, works have been erected on the sandhills for the manufacture of dynamite, which is now well known as one of the most powerful explosive agents. It is much used for blasting under water, and large quantities of it are sent to America for blowing up the roots of trees in the reclamation of land.

The iron trade of Ayrshire has risen to great import-ance. The manufacture has long been carried on at Muir-kirk, although the iron had to be carted long distances to Ayr and Glasgow before the introduction of railways. Immense fields of ironstone have been opened up within the last quarter of a century; and there are now 33 furnaces in blast within the county, producing about 330,000 tons per annum The works are all connected with the Glasgow and South-Western Bailway. The whole manufacture of iron in Ayrshire is in the hands of three great companies, namely, William Baird & Com-pany, the Dalmeliington Iron Company, and Merry & Cunningham. Haematite of good quality is raised in Sorn and Muirkirk, and discoveries of it have been made in Carrick. The coal-fields are of great extent, and limestone exists in large quantities. A valuable whetstone quarry is worked at Bridge of Stair on the Ayr.

The old harbours of the county were at Ayr, Irvine, and Saltcoats. The latter is now neglected, and its place is supplied by the more important harbour of Ardrossan. The works at Ardrossan were carried through by the private enterprise of the last two earls of Eglinton. They were begun in the early part of this century, with the expecta-tion of making Ardrossan an important shipping port for Glasgow, in connection with a canal, which, however, was never carried further than from Glasgow to Johnstone. The works were designed by Telford. The pier was finished in 1811, and the docks were completed by the late earl. The harbour of Troon was likewise the work of an enterprising nobleman. It was formed by the late duke of Portland, who connected it with Kilmarnock by a rail-way, which was among the earliest in the country. Troon has an extensive shipping business, as the outlet for the great coal-fields of the Kilmarnock district.


ment have been obtained, _which sanction harbour improve-ments at Irvine and Girvan, and a large wet-dock is in course of formation at Ayr. The dock at Ayr is important, as Ayr is the natural outlet for the great coal-fields up the river, and for the ironworks at Dalmellington, Lugar, and Muirkirk, as well as the fields which are being developed on the railways, called the Ayrshire lines, between Cum-nock and the river Doon.

The Glasgow, Kilmarnock, and Ayr Railway was parti-ally opened in 1840, and soon after completed. A con-nection was made a few years later from the Ayr line at Kilwinning to Ardrossan, and an extension from Kilmar-nock to Cumnock, with a branch to Muirkirk. Extensions followed from Cumnock to Dumfries and Carlisle, and from Ayr to Dalmellington, and to Maybole and Girvan ; and the Troon Railway was acquired from the duke of Portland, as a connecting link of what is now the Glasgow and South-Western Railway system. Other important branches have been made, and a trunk line is now in course of formation between Girvan and Stranraer, which will give a connection between Glasgow and Ayrshire and the north of Ireland by the shortest sea passage. Ayr-shire is thus well supplied with railways.

The antiquities of Ayrshire are not of much note. There are cairns in Galston, Sorn, and other localities; a road, supposed to be a work of the Romans, which extended from Ayr, through Dalrymple and Dalmellington, towards the Solway; camps, attributed to the Norwegians or Danes, on the hills of Knockgeorgan and Dundonald; and the castles of Loch Doon, Turnberry, Dundonald, Porten-cross, Ardrossan, &c There are interesting remains of the celebrated abbeys of Kilwinning and Crossraguel; and the ruins of the little church of Alloway, amid the lovely scenery near the birthplace of Burns, have become more famous from their associations than many great works of architectural genius.

The rural population of Ayrshire is decreasing, but the mining population has increased, and the towns are grow-ing. At the last census there were 27,132 inhabited houses, and the population reached 200,745. The county valuation last year amounted to £1,178,183, 5s. 10d., being an increase of more than £50,000 from the previous year. The amount for Kyle was £446,874, 18s. 5d.; for Cunningham, £411,504, Is. 6d.; for Carrick, £177,168, 10s. 3d.; for the burgh of Ayr, £63,273, 16s. 6d.; for Kil-marnock, £63,202, 19s.; and for Irvine, £16,159, 0s. 2d.

SEE ALSO: Ayr (town), Scotland

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