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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Irvine, a town and a parish in Cunninghame district, Ayrshire. A seaport and a royal and parliamentary burgh, the town lies on the right bank of the river Irvine, immediately above a northward loop in the river's course, 1 ¼ mile in a direct line E by N of its mouth, but 2¾ miles following the winding of its channel. The parliamentary burgh includes the large suburb of Fullarton, on the left bank of the river, within Dundonald parish; and here stands Irvine Junction on the Glasgow and South-Western railway, 10¾ miles N by W of Ayr, 7½ W of Kilmarnock, 3½ SSE of Kilwinning, 29 ¼ SW of Glasgow, and 77 WSW of Edinburgh. The site of its main body is a rising-ground, with sandy soil, extending parallel to the river; and the site of its suburbs, and of buildings on the outskirts, is low and flat. Sir William Brereton described it in 1634 as ` daintily situate both upon a navigable arm of the sea and in a dainty, pleasant, level champaign country. Excellent good corn there is near unto it, where the ground is enriched or made fruitful with the sea-weed or lime.' The principal street, ¾ mile long, runs through it from end to end, and is mostly spacious and airy, presenting an appearance superior to that of the main street of most of our second-rate towns. Some of the other streets, in whole or in part, are well-built; and the outskirts and environs contain a number of villas. The town has been lighted with gas since 1827, and in 1878 a gravitation water-supply was introduced from a distance of 6 miles at a cost of £40,000. The old Town Hall, in the middle of the High Street, was built in 1745; the new Town Hall, on the E side of the High Street, adjacent to its predecessor's site, is an Italian edifice of 1859, erected at a cost of £4000. It has a fine tower 120 feet high, and contains council chambers, a court hall, a library, and other apartments. The royal Bank (1858) and the Union Bank (1859) are also striking buildings, the latter being in the Venetian variety of the Italian style. A four-arch carriage bridge over the river was built in 1746, and, as widened and improved in 1837, is one of the handsomest bridges in Ayrshire; while the railway viaduct, on the line from Glasgow to Ayr, is an elegant six-arch structure. A magnificent market-cross, in the centre of the town, was taken down in 1694, and used for the erection of the meal market; and two gateways stood formerly at the principal entrances from the country, the one across High Street, the other across Eglinton Street. In 1867 was erected a statue of Lord-Justice-General Boyle, by Sir John Steell, R.S.A. The parish church, built in 1774, on a rising-ground in the Golf-fields, to the S of the foot of High Street, is an oblong edifice, with 1800 sittings and a beautiful spire, which figures conspicuously in a great extent of landscape. Fullarton Established church, built as a chapel of ease in 1836 at a cost of £2000, contains 900 sittings, and in 1874 was raised to quoad sacra status. Other places of worship are Irvine and Fullarton Free churches, both erected soon after the Disruption; two U.P. churches, Trinity (1810; 800 sittings) and Relief (1773; 856 sittings), k Baptist chapel (1839; 600 sittings), and St Mary's new Roman Catholic chapel school (1883; 400 sittings). A pre-Reformation chapel, dedicated to the Virgin, stood on the bank of the river near the parish church; and at the S corner of the churchyard was a monastery of Carmelite or White Friars, founded in the 14th century by Fullarton of Fullarton. Irvine Academy, in an airy situation, a little W of the N end of High Street, is surrounded by an enclosed playground of 2 acres, and, representing a public school of 1572, was erected in 1814 at a cost of £2250. It presents a handsome appearance, contains eight class rooms, with accommodation for 514 scholars, has two bursaries of £42 annual value, and gives education in English, writing, arithmetic, geography, drawing, book-keeping, mathematics Latin, Greek, French, German, and Italian.

Irvine has a post office, with money order, savings' bank, insurance, and telegraph departments, branches of the Royal, Union, Clydesdale, and British Linen Co.'s Banks, a National Security Savings' Bank (1815), 27 insurance agencies, 2 hotels, a British public house (1881), with hot and cold baths, a Gladstone club (1883), a horticultural society, a literary institute, Good Templar and Orange halls, a fever hospital, and 3 weekly newspapers-the Saturday Herald (1871), the Saturday Times (1873), and the Friday Express (1880). A weekly grain market is held on Monday; fairs are held on the first Tuesday of May and the third Monday of August; and there are May and August race-meetings. Manufacturing industry, both on the town's own enterprise and in connection with Glasgow and Kilmarnock is extensively carried on. Hand-sewing, introduced about 1790, eventually rose to such importance as to employ nearly 2000 females; in the town and neighbourhood, nearly 2000 females; whilst hand-loom weaving, particularly in the departments of book-muslins and checks, engaged 400 weavers and 200 winders. At present employment is afforded by four large chemical works, a dynamite factory, the Irvine Forge Co., and two iron foundries, as well as by ship-building, rope-making, and all the ordinary kinds of artificership. Here also are large grain stores and the workshops of the Glasgow and South-Western railway. The traffic in connection with the railways, and in the interchange of general merchandise for country produce, is considerable. The port now ranks as a creek or sub-port of Troon; but, till a recent period, it was a head port, with full customs establishment, and with jurisdiction from Troon to Largs and round Arran, in 1760 having more vessels than any other port in Scotland, with the exception of Leith and of the Upper Clyde ports, then all comprised in Port Glasgow. The exports are coal, carpeting, tanned leather, tree plants, and miscellaneous articles; the imports are timber, oats, butter, fruits, raw hides, linen cloth, and limestone. The mouth of the harbour was formerly so encumbered by a bar that, notwithstanding extensive operations to clear and deepen the entrance, vessels of over 80 or 100 tons burden were obliged to take in or deliver part of their cargoes outside, although from the bar to the quay there was generally a depth of from 9 to 11 feet at spring tides, and occasionally of 16 during strong southerly or south-westerly winds. A great improvement, however, has been effected by the extension of the wharf in 1873 and other works; and the trade, which had fallen off, has since revived. Irvine is one of the most ancient royal burghs of Scotland, having received a charter from Alexander II. (1214-49). Another, still extant, was granted by King Robert Bruce in 1308 for services rendered during the Wars of the Succession, and has been twelve times renewed and confirmed by subsequent monarchs. For some time the burgh exercised jurisdiction over the whole of Cunninghame, but this it lost by encroachments of the barons; and it now is governed by a provost, 4 bailies, a dean of guild, a treasurer, and 12 councillors. The royal burgh is limited to Irvine proper; the parliamentary, including Fullarton, unites with Avr, Campbeltown, Inveraray, and Oban in sending a member to parliament. A burgh court and a justice of peace court is held every Monday; a sheriff small debt court on the first Thursday of February, April, June, August, October, and December; and a dean of guild court is held as occasion requires. The six incorporated trades-squaremen, hammermen, coopers, tailors, shoemakers, and weavers - early and voluntarily renounced their exclusive privileges, in advance of most similar bodies in Scotland. The corporation property, comprising 422 acres of arable land, the town hall, the town's mills, the meal market, the shambles and washing-houses, etc., yielded a revenue of £1498 in 1832, of £1980 in 1862, of £2939 in 1875, and of £2539 in 1882. The municipal and the parliamentary constituency numbered 1232 and 1009 in 1883, when the annual value of real property within the parliamentary burgh amounted to £32,641, 15s. 2d., against £13, 854 in 1866, £10,424 in 1875, and £25, 941, 13s. in 1882. Pop of parliamentary burgh (1841) 4594, (1851) 7534, (1861) 7060, (1871) 6866, (1881) 8498, of whom 4166 were males and 4508-4299 in 1871 -were in the royal or police burgh. Houses (1881) 1878 inhabited, 252 vacant, 9 building.

The original church belonged till the Reformation to the monks of Kilwinning; later it was served from 1618 to 1640 by David Dickson (1583-1663), hymn-writer and commentator. In 1546 the town suffered much from the plague; in 1640 twelve women were executed at it for the crime of witchcraft; and it bore a considerable share in the struggles of the Covenanters. In 1783, in connection with the Rev. Hugh White, second minister of the Relief congregation, and with several other influential townsfolk, Elizabeth Buchan (1738-91) here founded the fanatical sect of the Buchanites. Expelled in the following year by the magistrates, and pelted out of the town, she was jined at Kilmaurs by 45 of her disciples, and thence proceeded in a kind of exultant march to Closeburn in Dumfriesshire (Joseph Train's Buchanitesfrom First to Last, Edinb. 1846). In Aug. 1839 Irvine was temporarily crowded with strangers, pouring in from sea and highway to witness the fetes of the Eglinton Tournament. Robert Burns was sent hither at midsummer 1781 to learn the trade of a flaxdresser under one Peacock, kinsman to his mother. He had one small room for a lodging, for which he gave a shilling a week; meat he seldom tasted, and his food consisted chiefly of oatmeal and potatoes sent from his father's house. ` As we gave, ' he tells us, ` a welcome carousal to the New Year, the shop took fire, and burned to ashes, and I was left, like a true poet, not worth a sixpence.' The Irvine Burns Club possesses the MS. from which the first edition of his poems was printed. Another poet, James Montgomery (1771-1854), was born in a small back dwelling in the street that leads to the station; the room where his father, a Moravian missionary, preached, is now a bonnet factory. The novelist, John Galt (1779-1839), was born in a house on the site of the Union Bank; and other natives were Robert Blair (1593-1666), a noted Presbyterian divine, and Lord-Justice-General David Boyle (1772-1853). A Viscountcy of Irvine, in the peerage of Scotland, was given in 1661 to Henry, the eldest surviving son of Sir Arthur Ingram of Temple-Newsom in Yorkshire; it became extinct in 1778 at the death of the ninth Viscount. The ruinous Seagate Castle, belonging to the Earls of Eglinton, is supposed to have been the jointure house of the Montgomeries, and to have been built soon after 1361. Dr Hill Burton, however, has a note on ` the Normandish tone of its gateway.. A visit to the spot rather confirmed the notion that some of the features of the building were of the later Norman. There is a round arch, with thinnish rounded mouldings, and small round pillars with square or bevelled bases and capitals, with the tooth or star decoration in the hollows of the mouldings. The doorway has more of an ecclesiastical than a baronial look, although the building it belongs to is baronial' (Hist. Scotl., ii. 98, ed. 1876).

The parish of Irvine is bounded N by Kilwinning, NE by Stewarton, E by Dreghorn, S by Dreghorn and Dundonald, and W by the Firth of Clyde and Stevenston. Its utmost length, from NE to SW, is 4 7/8 miles; its utmost breadth is 3¾ miles; and its area is 4191 ¼ acres, of which 182½ are foreshore and 78¾ water. The river Irvine curves 3 1/8 miles west-by-northward on or close to all the Dundonald border; Annick Water, its affluent, winds 7 miles south-westward along all the boundary with Dreghorn; and Garnock Water flows 3¾ miles southward along that with Kilwinning and Stevenston, till it falls into the Irvine just above the latter's influx to the Firth of Clyde. The south-western district is low and flat; the north-eastern ascends very gradually till it attains 183 feet above sea-level near Muirhead, whence a beautiful view is obtained of an extensive seaboard, of a great reach of the Firth of Clyde, and of the mountains of Arran and parts of Argyllshire. The rocks are carboniferous, and abound in seams of coal and in good building stone. The soil of the SW district is partly a light loam, but mostly of a sandy character, and yields heavy grain and green crops; that of the NE is mainly a stiffish clay. With the exception of some 300 acres of drifting sand, the entire parish is capable of cultivation; only a very small portion of it is let exclusively for pasture; but a considerable aggregate, including part of Eglinton Park and numerous clumps of plantation on the north-eastern eminences, is under wood. Stane Castle, near Bourtreehill, the remains, it is said, of an ancient nunnery, is the chief antiquity. The only mansion is Bourtreehill, 2 miles E of the town; its owner, Geoffrey-Dominick-Augustus-Frederick Guthrie, second Baron Oranmore and Browne since 1836 (b. 1819; suc. 1860), holds 2720 acres in the shire, valued at £4737 per annum. Three other proprietors hold each an annual value of £500 and upwards, 19 of between £100 and £500, 35 of from £50 to £100, and 50 of from £20 to £50. Irvine is the seat of a presbytery in the synod of Glasgow and Ayr; the living is worth £550. Five public schools-Bank Street, Fullarton, Loudoun Street, the Industrial, and Annick Lodge-with respective accommodation for 500, 206, 312, 294, and 165 children, had (1881) an average attendance of 286, 207, 311, 286, and 95, and grants of £204, 12s., £180, 13s., £288, 6s. 6d., £249, 7s. 6d., and £82, 17s. Valuation, inclusive of burgh, (1860) £16, 059, (1883) £46,264. Pop. (1801) 4584, (1831) 5200, (1861) 5695, (1871) 5875, (1881) 6013.—Ord. Sur., sh. 22, 1865.

The presbytery of Irvine comprehends the old parishes of Ardrossan, Beith, Dalry, Dreghorn, Dunlop, Fenwick, Irvine, Kilbirnie, West Kilbride, Kilmarnock-Laigh, Kilmarnock-High, Kilmaurs, Kilwinning, Loudoun, Stevenston, and Stewarton; the quoad sacra parishes of New Ardrossan, Crosshouse, Hurlford, Kilmarnock-St Andrews, and Kilmarnock-St Marnoch's; and the chapelries of Dalry-West, Kersland, Fergushill, and Saltcoats. Pop. (1871) 96, 695, (1881) 100, 244, of whom 13,326 were communicants of the Church of Scotland in 1878.- The Free Church also has a presbytery of Irvine, with 5 churches in Kilmarnock, 2 in Kilbirnie, 2 in Saltcoats, and 20 in Ardrossan, Beith, Catrine, Dalry, Darvel, Duulop, Fenwick, Fullarton, Galston, Hurlford, Irvine, Kilmaurs, Kilwinning, Loudoun, Mauchline, Muirkirk, Perceton, Stevenston, Stewarton, and West Kilbride, which 29 churches together had 7323 members in 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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