St John's Tower

St. John's Tower, Ayr
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

St. John's Tower, Ayr

A solitary tower lying in a tree-lined park between Eglinton Terrace and Bruce Crescent to the west of Ayr town centre in South Ayrshire, St. John's Tower is all that remains of the town's first parish church, dedicated to St. John the Baptist. This was a large and splendid building, with eight altars each served by its own priest. The tower was added to the west in the 14th or 15th C. and it comprises a square ashlar structure with a cap-house and corbelled-out walkway.

In 1315, Robert the Bruce (1274 - 1329) attended a meeting of Parliament held here at which he and his successors were confirmed as King of Scotland. King James IV (1473 - 1513) is recorded as having paid for masses to be said in the church, and Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-87), had her horses stabled here overnight during a visit to Ayr in 1563. Rev. John Willock (c.1515-85) was the minister here for a time. John Knox (1514-72) probably preached here, his son-in-law Rev. John Welsh served as the minister (1600-06) and Welsh's wife Elizabeth Knox is thought to be buried next to the tower. In 1650, Oliver Cromwell's army established Ayr Citadel with the church at its centre. The troops requisitioned the church as a store and used its tower to keep watch on the surrounding area. In recompense, the garrison commander contributed generously to the cost of a new church, also dedicated to St. John the Baptist, which is now known as the Auld Kirk. The church here was demolished by the Town Council in 1726 but the tower survived. In 1852, the tower and surrounding estate was acquired by John Miller, a gunsmith who had made his fortune in India. He build a Gothic-style house attached to the old tower, which was known as Fort Castle. When he died in 1910, the property was bought by John Crichton-Stuart (4th Marquess of Bute, 1881- 1947) who felt the tower should be restored to its former appearance and engaged local architect James Kennedy Hunter (1863 - 1929) to execute his wishes. The Butes gave the tower to the Burgh of Ayr in 1949. It is now owned by South Ayrshire Council and occasionally open to the public.

A brief history is recorded on a plaque next to the tower, while another plaque nearby was unveiled on the 20th June 2004 by the Very Rev. Findlay Macdonald, a past Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, at a service to mark the 350th anniversary of the Congregation leaving for the new church.

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