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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Muirkirk, a town and a parish in the NE of Kyle district, Ayrshire. The town, lying near the right bank of the Ayr, 720 feet above sea-level, has a station, the junction of the Douglasdale branch of the Caledonian with the Muirkirk branch of the Glasgow and South-Western railway, 10¼ miles ENE of Anchinleck, 25¾ E by N ofAyr, 57¾ SSE of Glasgow (only 30 by road), and 49¾ SW of Edinburgh. With-environs bleaker perhaps than those of any other town in Scotland, Leadhills and Wanlockhead alone excepted, it is the seat of an extensive iron manufacture, and was brought into existence through the discovery and smelting of iron ore (1787). A small predecessor or nucleus existed previously under the name of Garan; and the transmutation of this into the town of Muirkirk is noticed as follows in the Old Statistical Account:-'The only village, or rather clachan, as they are commonly called, that deserves the name, lies at a small distance from the church, by the side of the high road, on a rising ground called Garanhill, which therefore gives name to the range of houses that occupy it. They have increased greatly in number since the commencement of the works; and new houses and streets have risen around them. Many houses besides, some of them of a very neat structure, have been built at the works themselves; and others are daily appearing that will, in a short time, greatly exceed in number and elegance those of the old village, formerly, indeed, the only one that the parish could boast.' The place has undergone great fluctuations of prosperity; but, during the last half century, and especially since the formation of the railway, it has been very flourishing, insomuch as to rank among the great seats of the iron manufacture in Scotland. The works of the Eglinton Iron Company have 3 blast furnaces, 10 puddling furnaces, and 2 rolling mills, for the manufacture of pig and malleable iron; and coal-mining and lime-burning are actively carried on. New works for collecting ammonia as a by-product at the furnaces were erected at a large outlay in 1883. Muirkirk has a post office with money order, savings' bank, and telegraph departments, a branch of the Clydesdale Bank, 2 hotels, a gas company, a good library, hiring fairs on the Tuesday after 18 Feb. and the Thursday after 18 Dec., and a cattle and sheep fair on the second Friday in June. The parish church, built in 1812, and renovated in 1883 at a cost of £1700, contains 800 sittings. Other places of worship are a Free church built soon after the Disruption, a U.P. church (1823; 380 sittings), and St Thomas' Roman Catholic church (1856; 250 sittings), which last was enlarged and improved in 1882, when a presbytery also was built at the cost of the Marquess of Bute. Pop. (1861) 2281, (1871) 2376, (1881) 3470, of whom 1861 were males. Houses (1881) 637 inhabited, 32 vacant, 2 building.

The parish, containing also Glenbuck village, formed part of Mauchline parish till 1631, and, then being constituted a separate parish, received, from the situation of its church, the name of Kirk of the Muir, Muirkirk, or Muirkirk of Kyle. It is bounded S by Auchinleck, W by Sorn, and on all other sides by Lanarkshire, viz., N by Avondale, NE by Lesmahagow, and E by Douglas. Its utmost length, from E to W, is 105/8 miles; its utmost breadth, from N to S, is 8 miles; and its area is 47½ square miles or 30,4291/3 acres, of which 200½ are water. Two artificial reservoirs, together covering 121 acres, are noticed under Glenbuck. Issuing from the first of these, and traversing the second, the river Ayr winds 6¾ miles west-south-westward through the interior, then 23/8 miles west-north-westward along the southern boundary. Its principal affluents during this course are Garpel Water, running 4¼ miles north-westward, and Greenock Water, running 95/8 miles south-westward. Along the Ayr, in the extreme W, the surface declines to 567 feet above the sea; and chief elevations to the N of the river are *Burnt Hill (1199 feet), Meanleur Hill (1192), Black Hill (1169), *Goodbush Hill (1556), and *Priesthill Height (1615); to the S, Wood Hill (1234), *Wardlaw Hill (1630), the Steel (1356), and*Cairntable (1944), where asterisks mark those summits that culminate on the confines of the parish. On all sides, then, except the W, or over a sweeping segment of 25 miles, its boundary is a water-shedding line of heights. The interior is a rough and dreary expanse of moorish hills, tame in outline, and clad in dark purple heather, here rising in solitary heights, there forming ridges which run towards almost every point of the compass. Cairntable, on the boundary with Lanarkshire, near the SE extremity, is the highest ground, and commands, on a clear day, an extensive and varied prospect. At most one-sixth of the entire area has ever been regularly or occasionally in tillage; and all the remainder, excepting about 250 acres of plantation, is disposed in sheep-walks -some of them so excellent that Muirkirk black-faced sheep have carried off the first prize at several of the Highland Society's shows and at the Paris Exhibition of 1867. In the 12th century a natural forest extended over a large part, perhaps nearly the whole, of the parish; and has left dreary memorials both in such names as Netherwood and Harwood, now borne by utterly treeless farms, and in long trunks and branches deeply buried in moss. The mountain-ash is almost the only tree that seems to grow spontaneously. It adorns the wildest scenes, and unexpectedly meets the eye by the side of a barren rock and sequestered stream, seen seldom save by the birds of the air or the solitary shepherd and his flock. Coal lies on both sides of the Ayr, at no greater depth than 60 fathoms, in six seams aggregately 30½ feet thick, and severally 3½, 3, 7, 9, 2½, and 5½ It is mined, on the most approved plans and in very large quantities, both for exportation and for local consumpt and manufacture. Ironstone occurs in the coal-field in five workable seams, so thick that three tons of stone are obtained under every square yard of surface. Limestone likewise is plentiful, and is worked with the ironstone and coal. Lead and manganese have been found, but not in such quantity as to repay the cost of mining. The parish is deeply and pathetically associated with martyrs of the Covenant. Of various monuments the most remarkable is that upon Priesthill farm to the 'Christian carrier,' John Brown, who, on 1 May 1685, was shot by Claverhouse, in presence of his wife and family. On the top of Cairntable there are two large cairns. Five proprietors hold each an annual value of £500 and upwards, 9 of between £100 and £500, 6 of from £50 to £100, and 26 of from £20 to £50. Muirkirk is in the presbytery of Ayr and the synod of Glasgow and Ayr; the living is worth £234. Glenbuck public, Muirkirk public, Muirkirk Ironworks, and Wellwood Works schools, with respective accommodation for 288, 317, 365, and 102 children, had (1883) an average attendance of 192, 230, 345, and 92, and grants of £142, 14s. 6d., £194, 7s., £301, 17s. 6d., and £70, 7s. Valuation (1860) £9311, (1884) £24, 056, 1s. 9d., plus £5179 for railway. Pop. (1801) 2560, (1831) 2816, (1861) 3270, (1871) 3253, (1881) 5123.—Ord. Sur., shs. 15, 23, 1864-65.

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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