The Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland

Francis H Groome, 1896

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 Southwestern railway, 10 1/4 miles ENE of Auchinleck, 25 3/4 E by N of Ayr, 57 3/4 SSE of Glasgow (only 30 by road), and 49 3/4 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 several blast furnaces 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. In 1894 a drainage scheme, estimated to cost £1100, was begun.

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. for hiring shepherds and the Thursday nearest 21 Dec.when shepherds meet to restore sheep that have strayed from their owners. Baird's Institute, the gift of J.G.A. Baird M.P., and errected in 1887, consists of reading-room, recreation room, library etc., and cost over £2000.

The parish church, built in 1812, and renovated in 1883 at a cost of £1700, and repaired in 1893 contains 800 sittings. Other places of worship are a Free church built soon after the Disruption, a U.P. church (1823), an E.U. church and St Thomas' Roman Catholic church (1856) 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, (1891) 3329.

The parish, containing also GLENBUCK village, formed part of Mauchline parish till 1631, and, then being consituted a separate parish, received, from the situation of its church, the namke of Kirk of the Muirk, 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 utomost length, from E to W, is 10 5/8 miles; its utmost breadth, from N to S is 8 miles; and its area is 47 1/2 square miles or 30,429 1/8 acres, of which 200 1/2 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 6 3/4 miles west-south-westward along the southern boundary. its principal affluents during this course are GARPEL WATER, running 4 1/4 miles north-westward, and Greenock Water, running 9 5/8 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 Hil (1234), *Wardlaw Hill (1630), the Steel (1356), and CAIRTABLE (1944), where asterisks mark those summits the 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 clead 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, hear 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 such 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 sae 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 30 1/2 feet thick, and severally 3 1/2, 3, 7, 9, 2 1/2, and 5 1/2. It is mined, n 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 schemes, 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. A Martyrs' Monument was errected in the New Cemetery in 1887; and upon Priesthill far is one 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 the Cairntable thre are two large cairns.

Among the principal proprietors are the Earl of Home, John G.A. Baird, M.P. and Charles Howatson, Esq. of Glenbuck, who in 1893 added to his property the estate of Tardoes at the price of £11000.

Giving off Glenbuck quoad sacra parish, Muirkirk is in the presbytery of Ayr and the synod of Glasgow and Ayr; the living is worth £194.

Furnace Road, Glenbuck, Muirkirk, and Wellwood public schools, and St Thomas' Roman Catholic school, with respective accomodation for 479, 284, 329, 57, and 190 children, have an average attendance of about 355,235, 230, 15, and 60, and grants amounting to nearly £325, £245, £230, £30, and £55. There is an evening school in Main Street with an average attendance of over 50. Pop. (1881) 5123, (1891) 5165, of whom 3966 were in Muirkirk ecclesiastical parish, and 1199 in Glenbuck quoad sacra parish. - Ord. Sur., shs. 15, 23 1864-65.

"Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland" (1896) by Francis H Groome

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