East Ayrshire

A town in the Cunninghame district of East Ayrshire, Kilmarnock lies on the Kilmarnock Water and River Irvine, 12 miles (19 km) northeast of Ayr. Said to have been established in the 7th Century by the Irish missionary Mernoc or St. Ernan, Kilmarnock developed in Mediaeval times around the Laigh Kirk. Nearby Dean Castle, built c.1300 by the Earls of Kilmarnock, later fell into the hands of the Boyd family to whom Kilmarnock was chartered as a burgh in 1591 by King James VI. The town expanded in association with the manufacture of knives, clothes and bonnets (Kilmarnock cowls) and by the mid-18th century was regarded as the leading centre for woollens in Scotland. The Old High Kirk was built in 1732 to meet the needs of an expanding population. Coal mining, iron-founding, engineering, malting, whisky blending and the manufacture of shoes, carpets and railway locomotives later became important. In 1820 a licensed grocery was established by John Walker whose company adopted the whisky brand name Johnnie Walker in 1907. Having eventually been acquired through merger by the multi-national Diageo in 1997, the blending and bottling plant was closed in 2012, ending a 192-year link with Kilmarnock and bringing protests and unemployment. The Saxone Shoe Company was bankrupt by the early 1980s and the Galleon Sports Centre now occupies the site of their works. There were many collieries including Bogside, Bonnyton, Caprington, Grange and Woodhill. Engineering, packaging, spinning and baking are still important industries. Andrew Barclay and Company were important railway locomotive manufacturers, established in Kilmarnock in 1840, building steam and, later, diesel engines. The company became Wabtec Rail Scotland in 2011 and still represents an important employer in the town, refurbishing diesel and electrical multiple units at their Caledonia Works.

The Killie Pie is a savoury beef delicacy developed by a local bakery for Kilmarnock Football Club and now favoured by football fans across the country. Sport and leisure facilities in the town include the Ayrshire Athletics Arena, Galleon Centre, Rugby Park and several golf clubs.

A terrible flood on 14th July 1852 caused much damage, although no loss of life. It ran through the town centre at a depth of more than 1.2m (4 feet) when the Kilmarnock Water burst its banks. The town centre around John Finnie Street and Bank Street was designated as an Outstanding Conservation Area in 1984.

Places of interest include Kay Park with its monument to Robert Burns (1879), the Laigh Kirk, the Palace Theatre and Grand Hall, the Dick Institute and Dean Castle. The first edition of the poetic works of Robert Burns was published in 1786 in Kilmarnock which was the birthplace of a number of poets and authors including John Goldie (1717 - 1809), Gavin Turnbull (1758 - 1801), James Thomson (1775 - 1832), George Campbell (1761 - 1818), Alexander Smith (1829-67), John Kennedy (1789 - 1833) and William McIlvanney (1936 - 2015). Kilmarnock Burns Club was founded in 1808. Others born in Kilmarnock were the instrument-maker Thomas Morton (1783 - 1862), artists James Tannock (1784 - 1863) and William Tannock, coal baron Archibald Hood (1823 - 1902), medical missionary David Landsborough (1870 - 1957), gardener and broadcaster Jim McColl (b.1935), London politician Sir Robin Wales (b.1955) and the musician Jim Prime (b.1960).

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