North Ayrshire

Neo-Georgian Development, Irvine Harbourside
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Neo-Georgian Development, Irvine Harbourside

Identified as one of Scotland's five New Towns, despite already being an established settlement, the burgh of Irvine is situated 7 miles (11 km) west of Kilmarnock and 12 miles (19 km) north of Ayr in North Ayrshire. It lies within a bowl of coastal land formed between the hills behind Ardrossan to the north and Troon in the south. The town straddles the River Irvine a short distance before it flows into Irvine Bay in the Firth of Clyde. Associated with St. Inan, Irvine was originally a harbour town that received its charter in 1308 from King Robert I (and possibly earlier c.1240 from Alexander II). The Royal Burgh of Irvine functioned as the chief port for Glasgow until the 18th Century when the River Clyde was deepened and Port Glasgow developed. It exported coal and chemicals, while its industries have included shipbuilding, engineering, chemicals, foundries and sawmills. Coal, fire-clay, shale-oil, sand and gravel were all extracted in the vicinity, from localities including Armsheugh, Bourtreehill, Broomlands, Doura, Fergushill, Perceton, Shewalton and Sourlie.

Seagate Castle, to the northwest of the town centre, may have been visited by Queen Mary in 1563. Robert Burns lived in Glasgow Vennel (1781-3) and the town's Burns Club (Wellwood Burns Centre and Museum) is one of the oldest, founded in 1826. Irvine was the birthplace of the author John Galt (1779 - 1839), while the American author and poet Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49) spent five years living at Bridgegate House and attended the old burgh school at Kirkgatehead. The town has also produced two First Ministers of Scotland; namely Jack McConnell (b.1960) and Nicola Sturgeon (b.1970).

Irvine was designated a New Town on 9th November 1966 and was the last of the five created in Scotland. The only New Town sited next to the sea, Irvine was also the only one built around an existing population. The designated area of 5034 ha (12,440 acres) extended northwest to include the neighbouring town of Kilwinning and east to Dreghorn. A masterplan was published in 1967 by architect and town planner Sir Hugh Wilson (1913-85), who had previously designed the New Town of Cumbernauld. The initial masterplan was revised and republished in 1971, taking account of areas with potential mining subsidence, population changes and community feedback, although building had already begun. The existing town centre was retained, adding the innovative Rivergate Shopping Centre, which extends across the River Irvine. This was not a brutalist megastructure like Wilson had imposed on Cumbernauld. Irvine became one of the most successful of the New Towns in providing an attractive place to live with a mixture of large and small businesses, if not the number of people originally anticipated (116,000). The Irvine Harbourside development is particularly successful. The Irvine Development Corporation was wound up in 1996 and responsibility for the town passed to North Ayrshire Council, which has its headquarters in Cunningham House in the town centre.

Irvine Railway Station offers train services to Ayr and Glasgow. The town is also home to the Scottish Maritime Museum and the Portal leisure centre, uniquely crafted onto the rear of the historic Irvine Townhouse. Three other attractions, the Big Idea (2000), a Sea World Centre (1985) and the Magnum Centre (1976), once the largest sports centre in Scotland, have closed.

The Marymass Festival has been organised by the Irvine Carters Society since Mediaeval times, originally a celebration of the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the 15th August, but later also celebrating Mary, Queen of Scots, who the Irvine Carters had supported at the Battle of Langside in 1568. The parish church of Irvine was dedicated to St. Mary as early as 1205 and her image appears on the Seal of the Royal Burgh. Reinvigorated in the 1920s, the festival features a parade of a Marymass Queen, supported by her four Mary's, and a horse race on the Towns Moor.

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