Parish of Kilwinning

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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1791-99: Kilwinning
1834-45: Kilwinning

Kilwining, a town and a parish in Cunninghame district, Ayrshire. The town, standing on the river Garnock, has a station on the Glasgow and South-Western railway, at the junction of the branch to Ardrossan with the line to Ayr, 3½ miles NNW of Irvine, 6 E by N of Ardrossan, and 25½ SW of Glasgow. It took its name from St Winnin or Winning, an Irish evangelist, said to have landed at the mouth of the Garnock in 715, and here to have founded a church, on whose site four centuries later arose a stately abbey. Occupying a gentle rising-ground amid low wooded environs, it presents an antique aspect, and consists of one narrow main street, some by-lanes, and rows of modern houses, with straggling outskirts, whose western extremity is called the Byres, from a belief that the monks there kept their cattle, whilst the eastern is known as Crosshill, as the spot where a cross was erected to meet the eyes of approaching pilgrims to St Winning's shrine. Throughout the surrounding country it bore down to recent times the name of Saigtown or Saint'stown; and a fine spring, a little S of the manse, long held in superstitious repute, is still called St Winning's Well. After the Reformation it lost the prestige and importance conferred on it by its abbey; and, up till the establishment of the neighbouring Eglinton Ironworks (1845), it mainly depended on the weaving of muslins, gauzes, shawls, etc., for the Glasgow and Paisley markets. Kilwining now has a post office, with money order, savings' bank, and railway telegraph departments, branches of the Commercial and Clydesdale Banks, 14 insurance agencies, 2 hotels, a parish church (1100 sittings), a Free church, a U.P. church (600 sittings; restored 1883), an Original Secession church (550 sittings), an Evangelical Union chapel, a public library, a gaslight company, large engineering and fire-clay works, and fairs on the first Monday of February and November. The public school, Tudor in style, was erected in 1875 - 76 at a cost of £8500. The ancient town cross has been restored, but retains its original shaft. Pop. (1841) 2971, (1861) 3921, (1871) 3598, (1881) 3469. Houses (1881) 823 inhabited, 66 vacant, 6 building. The abbey of SS. Winning and Mary was founded between 1140 and 1191, for a colony of Tyronensian Benedictines from Kelso, by Hugh de Morville, lord of Cunninghame, and Lord High Constable of Scotland. Robert I., Hugh de Morville de Menetheth, lord of Arran, Sir William Cunningham of Kilmaurs, Sir John Maxwell of Maxwell, and other opulent and powerful personages, endowed it with very extensive possessions, so that, besides granges and other property, it claimed the tithes and pertinents of 20 parish churches-13 of them in Cunninghame, 2 in Arran, 2 in Argyllshire, and 2 in Dumbartonshire. 'According to the traditionary account of the entire revenue of the monastery, ' says the writer of the Old Statistical Account, n it is asserted that its present annual amount would be at least £20,000 sterling., From Robert II. the monks obtained a charter, erecting all the lands of the barony of Kilwinning into a free regality, with ample jurisdiction; and they received ratifications of this charter from Robert III. and James IV. James IV., when passing the abbey in 1507, made an offering of 14s. to its relics; and Hoveden gravely relates, that a fountain in its vicinity ran blood for eight days and nights in 1184. The last abbot was Gavin Hamilton, a hot opponent of John Knox, and a zealous partisan of Queen Mary, who in 1571 was killed in a skirmish at Restalrig, near Edinburgh. According to tradition, the buildings of the abbey, when entire, covered several acres, and were stately and magnificent; but between 1561 and 1591 all that was strictly monastic was so demolished, that hardly a trace of the foundations of the walls remains. In 1603-after the abbey had been under the commendatorship, first of the family of Glencairn, and next of the family of Raith-its lands and tithes, and various pertinents, were erected into a temporal lordship in favour of Hugh, Earl of Eglinton. The church continued to be in use as the parish church till 1775, when the greater part of it was taken down to make way for the present building. So much of the ruins as remained were afterwards repaired, at very considerable expense, by the then Earl of Eglinton; and a drawing of them made in 1789 is given in Grose's Antiquities. The steeple, a huge square tower, 32 feet square and 103 feet high, in 1814 fell from natural decay. A beautiful new tower, 105 feet high and 28 square, was built at a cost of £2000 in the following year on the same site, and separate from the church. The extant remains, Early English in style, comprise the great western doorway, with mullioned window above; the base of the S wall of the nave, 95 feet long; and the stately gable of the S transept, with three tall graceful lancets (Billings' Antiquities, vol. iii.).

Kilwinning is the reputed cradle of Freemasonry in Scotland. Fraternities of architects were formed on the Continent of Europe, in the 11th and 12th centuries, to carry out the principles of Gothic architecture; and, being favoured with bulls from the Popes of Rome, securing to them peculiar privileges wherever they might go, they called themselves Freemasons. One of these fraternities is said to have come to Scotland to build the priory of Kilwinning; and there to have taken some of the natives into their fellowship, making them partakers of their secrets and their privileges. Such is the current account, on which Mr R. F. Gould, in his exhaustive History of Freemasonry (Edinb. 1883), observes:-' The pretensions of the Kilwinning Lodge to priority over that of Edinburgh, based as they are upon the story which make its institution and the erection of Kilwinning Abbey coeval, are weakened by the fact that the abbey in question was neither the first nor second Gothic structure erected in Scotland. That the lodge was presided over about the year 1286 by James, Lord Steward of Scotland, a few years later by the hero of Bannockburn, and afterwards by the third son of Robert II. (Earl of Buchan) are some of the improbable stories which were propagated during the last century, in order to secure for the lodge the coveted position of being the first on the Grand Lodge Roll, or to give colour to its separate existence as a rival grand lodge. Whatever was the dignity its followers desired for their Alma Mater during the early part of the last century, and however difficult it might then have been to reconcile conflicting claims, we are left in no doubt as to the precedence given to the lodge at Edinburgh in the Statutes of 1599, Kilwinning having positively to take the second place.' The oldest minute-book preserved by the Lodge is a small vellum-bound quarto, and contains accounts of its transactions from 1642 to 1758, but not regularly or continuously.

Kilwinning is also remarkable for its continuation to the present time, almost uninterruptedly, of that practice of archery which was anciently enjoined by acts of the Scots parliament on the young men of every parish. Its company of archers is known, though imperfectly, and only by tradition, to have existed prior to 1488; but from that year downward, they are authenticated by documents. Originally enrolled by royal authority, they appear to have been encouraged by the inmates of the abbey; and they, in consequence, instituted customs which easily secured their surviving the discontinuance of archery as the principal art of war. Once a year, in the mouth of July, they make a grand exhibition. The principal shooting is at a parrot, anciently called the papingo, and well known under that name in heraldry, but now called the popinjay. This used to be constructed of wood; but in recent years has consisted of feathers worked up into the semblance of a parrot; and is suspended by a string to the top of a pole, and placed 120 feet high, on the steeple of the town. The archer who shoots down this mark is called ' the Captain of the Popinjay; ' and is master of the ceremonies of the succeeding year. Every person acquainted with Sir Walter Scott's novels, will recognise the Kilwinning festival, transferred to a different arena, in the opening scene of Old Mortality, when young Milnwood achieves the honours of Captain of the Popinjay, and becomes bound to do the honours of the Howff. Another kind of shooting is practised for prizes at butts, point-blank distance, about 26 yards. The prize, in this case, is some useful or ornamental piece of plate, given annually to the company by the senior surviving archer.

The parish of Kilwinning, containing also the villages of Fergushill, Doura, Dalgarven, Bensley, and Eglinton Ironworks, is bounded N by Dalry, NE by Beith, E by Stewarton, SE and S by Irvine, SW by Stevenston, and W by Ardrossan. Its utmost length, from NNE to SSW, is 57/8 miles; its utmost breadth is 5¼ miles; and its area is 11, 069 acres, of which 79½ are water. The river Garnock here winds 6½ miles southward, first 15/8 mile along the Dalry border, next 41/8 miles through the interior, and lastly ¾ mile along the Irvine border. Caaf Water, its affluent, runs 1 mile eastward along the northern boundary; and Lugton Water, after tracing 33/8 miles of the boundary with Stewarton, meanders 41/8 miles south-westward through the interior till it falls into the Garnock at a point 1 mile SSE of the town. A triangular lake, called Ashenyard or Ashgrove Loch (½ x ¼ mile) lies at the meeting-point with Stevenston and Ardrossan. The land surface slopes gradually upward from the SW to the NE, and, including flat tracts along the Garnock and Lugton Water, is diversified by gentle undulations, but nowhere exceeds 310 feet above sea-level. It exhibits great wealth of wood and culture; and commands, from numerous vantage-grounds, exquisite views of the eastern seaboards, the wide waters, and the western mountain screens of the Firth of Clyde. The rocks throughout are carboniferous, with intersections of trap dyke. Good building sandstone is quarried; limestone, ironstone, and coal are largely worked; and clay is used for making tiles and bricks. The soil of nearly one-half of the cultivated lands is a stiff clay, and that of most of the remainder is a light sandy loam. From one-fourth to one-third of the entire area is under the plough; a good many hundreds of acres are under wood; a considerable aggregate in the upper district is moss; and all the rest of the land is disposed in field pasture, subordinate to the dairy. Distinguished persons connected with the parish have been the Earls of Eglinton, the abbot Gavin Hamilton, and the ministers John Glassford, Principal Baillie, James Fergusson, Professor Meldrum, Principal George Chalmers, and Professor William Ritchie. Eglinton Castle, noticed separately, is the chief mansion, others being Ashgrove and Moutgreenan; and, besides the Earl of Eglinton, 6 lesser proprietors hold each an annual value of £500 and upwards, 24 of between £100 and £500, 24 of from £50 to £100, and 55 of from £20 to £50. Kilwinning is in the presbytery of Irvine and synod of Glasgow and Ayr; the living is worth £495. An Established chapel of ease, containing 500 sittings, was built at Fergushill in 1880. Auchentiber public, Fergushill public, Kilwinning public, and Eglinton Ironworks school, with respective accommodation for 110, 237, 700, and 330 children, had (1881) an average attendance of 73, 170, 437, and 324, and grants of £59, 15s., £141, 1s., £382, 7s. 6d., and £283, 13s. Valuation (1860) £23,367, (1883) £31,337, 1s., plus £8536 for railways. Pop. (1801) 2700, (1831) 3772, (1861) 7717, (1871) 7375, (1881) 7037.—Ord. Sur., sh. 22, 1865. See Robert Wylie's History of the Mother Lodge, Kilwinning, with] Notes on the Abbey (Glasg. 1878), and the Rev. W. Lee Ker's Kilwinning Abbey (Ardrossan, 1883).

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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