Largs, pp.225-227.

[Gazetteer of Scotland Contents]

   LARGS, a parish in the extreme north-west of Cunningham, Ayrshire; bounded on the north and east by Renfrewshire; on the south-east by Kilbirnie and Dalry; on the south by West Kilbride; and on the west by the frith of Clyde. Its length from Kelly-burn, which forms its boundary on the north, to a point a little south of the village of Fairley, is about 9 miles; its breadth, from the hill of Stake on the east to the village of Largs on the west, is 3¾ miles; and its area is estimated at 19,743 acres. The hills, which begin to rise in the parishes Greenock, Kilmalcolm, Lochwinnoch, Kilbirnie, and Dalry, meet in a kind of general summit at the eastern boundary of Largs, and hem it in so curiously from all the cultivated country to the north, east, and south-east, as to have occasioned the proverbial expression, “Out of the world, and into the Largs.” The uplands gradually descend as they approach the shore; and they terminate in abrupt declivities, some of which are almost perpendicular, as if part of their base had been forcefully dissevered. Yet, though the hills are high, they are but thinly patched with heath, and have a coat of prime pastoral verdure, and, in some instances, exhibit undoubted marks having once been cropped with grain. For a mile from the northern boundary, the uplands form at their base what seems an impregnable bulwark or perpendicular massive breastwork of rock, rising in some places 50 or 60 feet above the road, and seeming to overhang it. When covered with icicles, and lit up by sunshine in winter, this huge natural wall is a gorgeous object, a stupendous cabinet of the richest gems. South of the point where it terminates, a conical mountain, green to the top, contributes feature alike bold and beautiful to the landscape. Farther south, the grounds fall off in gentle gradients, and yield in fine slopes to the course of Noddesdale-water, a considerable stream. Behind village of Largs, the country opens into a beautiful plain, extending nearly a mile from the beach to foot of the mountains. No parish in the west Scotland, and few in the Highlands, can surpass Largs in the beauty and romance of the landscape which stretches along its own area, or is hung out within view of both its uplands and its plains. Its coast-line is almost parallel with that of Bute, and looks right across to that beautiful island, to the entrance of the Kyles of Bute, to Toward-Point in Cowall, to a profusion of fine headlands, and wooded slopes, and broken surfaces coming down thence and from the Larger Cumbray, to kiss the waters of Clyde, and to the magnificent and singularly varied alpine scenery which rises up in the distance, and makes acquaintance with the clouds. About one-sixth of the whole area of the parish is arable; about 1,000 acres of the high grounds are of little value; a fair and even large proportion of the sea-board or low grounds, is frilled and clumped with wood; and the rest of the area is devoted to the pasturage of sheep and black cattle, chiefly for the market of Glasgow. The soil of the arable land in the southern district is light and sandy, producing tolerable crops with little culture, if the season be not unusually dry; and, in the northern district, is a light red earth, lying on rock of the same colour, and inferior to the former for both tillage and pasture. Neither lime nor coals worth working have been discovered in the parish, and cannot be procured nearer than Stevenston, 11 miles from the southern boundary. Gogo-water, 5½ miles in length of course, rises near the eastern limit, and runs westward to the frith immediately south of the village of Largs. Noddesdale-water, 6 miles long, rises near the north-east extremity, and runs south-westward to the frith, at a point just a mile north of the mouth of the Gogo. “Noddesdale,” says Sir John Sinclair’s statist, “is a very impetuous stream. It runs through Mr. Brisbane’s pleasure-grounds, where it has often committed great depredations. Mr. Brisbane has frequently endeavoured to embank it, and has been at great pains and expense in raising mounds of earth to turn its course, but in vain.” Rigghill-burn, rising very near the source of Noddesdale, enters the frith 2½ miles farther north. Kelly-burn, welling up on the northern boundary, traces it for 3½ miles westward to the sea. Rotten-burn, rising on the north-eastern boundary, runs along it for 3½ miles north-westward, and passes into Renfrewshire. The fisheries along the coast are of considerable value, and send their produce to the towns on the Clyde. – Kelburn-house, a seat of the Earl of Glasgow, 1½ mile south-east of the village of Largs, and half-a-mile from the shore, is remarkable for the romantic scenery of a glen a quarter of a mile long, immediately behind it. At the head of the glen is an abrupt, rough, lofty precipice, over which leaps a brook into a path just wide enough to permit the flow of its waters. From the sides of the path, the ground rapidly ascends, mountain high, forming a chasm which, if naked, would be tremendous, but which is so clothed with trees, and otherwise decorated by art, as to be beautiful. Near the house, the brook leaps over another precipice, 50 feet sheer down, into a vast basin which seems scooped out of both sides of the glen. – Brisbane-house, the seat of Sir T. Brisbane, Bart., 1¾ mile north of Largs, is another fine mansion, surrounded with picturesque grounds. In the house is preserved an oaken chair, dated 1357, and carved on the back with the arms and initials of the Brisbane family. – Skelmorly-castle, 2 miles farther north, the property successively of the Montgomerys of Skelmorly, the Montgomerys of Coylsfield, and the Earls of Eglinton, was built partly in 1502, and partly in 1636. – Knock-castle, built about 350 years ago, but now in ruins, was the property of an ancient family of the name of Fraser, descended from John Fraser, 3d son of Hugh Fraser of Lovat. The circumjacent lands were granted to Fraser in 1402, by Robert Ill., and are now part of the Brisbane estate. – The castle of Fairley [see FAIRLEY], built in 1521, and now belonging to the Earl of Glasgow, was the property of the ancient family of Fairley, said to be descended from a natural son of Robert II., and will be remembered as the scene of the ballad “Hardiknute.” – A small hill called Margaret’s-Law, having been opened in 1772, in search of materials for enclosures, was found to be an artificial accumulation of stones, amounting to 15,000 cart-loads, and having in its centre five stone-coffins with human skulls and bones, and earthen urns, which were believed to have been there since the battle of Largs. The grand antiquities of the parish are memorials of this battle, fought on the 2d October, 1263, between Haco of Norway, and Alexander Ill. of Scotland. Haco, to enforce his claims on the sovereignty of the Hebrides, sailed up the frith of Clyde with a numerous fleet and army, and anchored in the sound between the coast and the Cumbrays. Alexander had used every stratagem to gain time, and at length lay encamped, with about 1,500 well-appointed cavalry, and a numerous host of inferior soldiery, on the heights behind Largs overlooking the sea. On the night preceding the 2d October, Haco suffered fearful damage from a powerful storm blowing right up the frith and sound upon his fleet, and, in the morning, was obliged, while most of his forces were either drowned or struggling for the preservation of his remaining ships, to effect an embarrassed landing with a dispirited band only about 900 in number. Instantly confronted with the fresh and strong force of Alexander, part of the Norwegian little army was driven back into the sea, and part retired sword in hand, and fighting all the way, to a place a little below Kelburn. A few more of the Norwegians having landed, the apparently overpowering force of Alexander was resisted in a continuous fight, till the cloud of night sheltered Haco’s little shattered remnant, and allowed them to withdraw to their ships. Haco got leave from the Scottish king peacefully to inter his numerous followers who had fallen; and, in a few days afterwards, he collected the relics of his fleet, and sailed away to Orkney, there to die in December under the pressure of his sorrow. The chief scene of the contest is supposed to have been a large plain southward of the village of Largs, still presenting a recumbent stone 10 feet long, which once stood upright, and is believed to have been placed over the grave of a chieftain; and vestiges of cairns and tumuli formed, as is said, over pits into which the bodies of the slain were thrown. Within the parish of Dalry, immediately beyond the south-east boundary of Largs, is a farm called Camphill, where the Scottish army are said to have encamped previous to the engagement. Between that place and the village of Largs, is Routdon-burn, having on its bank a cairn in which a stone-coffin was found, and supposed to have received its name of Routdon or Routdane, from having been the place where a detachment of Haco’s army were routed. Some way down the burn is Burly-gate; nearer the sea, in the Earl of Glasgow’s plantations, is Killing-craig; and farther to the south is Kepping-burn, where, it is said, a number of the fleeing Norwegians were met by Sir Robert Boyd, ancestor of the Earls of Kilmarnock, afterwards the tried friend of Robert Bruce, and put to the sword. – The parish has only three lines of road, one along the shore, and one north-westward, and one westward, from the village of Largs. At the southern extremity of the parish stands the village of FAIRLEY: which see. Population, in 1801, 1,361; in 1831, 2,848. Houses 393. Assessed property, in 1815, £6,259. 

   The village of LARGS is beautifully and salubriously situated on the coast, 8½ miles from Innerkip, 9 from Kilbirnie, and 13½ from Saltcoats. It is built upon a large deposit of gravel, that must at one time have formed part of the channel of the frith. Its appearance is neat and cheerful, and, in connexion with the scenery around it, is eminently beautiful. The place is a favourite retreat during the summer months, of families from Glasgow, Greenock, and other towns, for ruralizing and sea-bathing; and is, in all respects, worthy of the abundant patronage it enjoys. Numerous pleasant and even handsome buildings line its little streets, built and arranged in a style to afford equal accommodation and comfort to visiters chary of their enjoyments. Smiling villas struggle away from its ends, or surmount knolly heights in its vicinity. A handsome parish-church lifts conspicuously into view an ornamental spire. A quay, sufficiently good for speedy and safe landing of passengers and goods, is overlooked, after a considerable intermediate esplanade, by a fine terrace, or single-sided street. All the very rich and extensive marine and land prospect, noticed in our account of the parish, is hung out before it. An air so pure surrounds it as to have enabled it stoutly to compete with Rothesay the fame of being the Montpellier of the west of Scotland. An elegant suite of baths – four of them modelled after those at Seafield between Leith and Portobello, and one of them a vapour-bath – was built in 1816 by public subscription. Connected with the baths are a reading-room and library; and in other parts of the town are circulating libraries. Four or five steam-boats touch daily in summer, and one or two daily in winter, on their way between Glasgow and intermediate places on the one side, and Millport, Ardrossan, and Ayr, on the other; and they have access at all states of the tide, the depth of water almost at the very shore being several fathoms. A large part of the inhabitants depend mainly on rents, and perquisites, and profits drawn from summer visiters; a few are maintained by the fisheries; and a considerable number act as the poor subordinates of the Glasgow manufacturers. In 1838, there were in the town and its vicinity 150 hand-looms, all plain, and employed in cotton fabrics. There is also, we understand, a small manufactory of tartan. The place has a branch-office of the Western bank of Scotland, and several benevolent and religious institutions. A weekly market is held on Thursday; and annual fairs are held on the 1st Tuesday of February, the 2d Tuesday of June, the 3d Tuesday of July, and the 4th Tuesday of October. The June fair falls on St. Columba’s day, vulgarly called Colm’s day; and, though now of very diminished importance, was anciently the rendezvous of Highlanders and Lowlanders for the mutual exchange of their commodities, and exhibited probably more grotesque moral scenes than any which can now be witnessed in Scotland. Hucksters in the Highland clachans, and pedlers among the Highland wastes, rubbed the edge off the fair’s importance, and steam-boat intercommunication has all but wholly demolished it. Yet the statist in the Old Statistical Account, writing not quite half-a-century ago, says:- “This fair is famous over the west of Scotland, and continues from Monday to Thursday. Great numbers of people, from 40 to 50 miles round, resort to it, some for business, and some for pleasure. Upwards of 100 boats are often to be seen, on this occasion, riding in the bay. The whole week is a kind of jubilee to the inhabitants, and a scene of diversion to others. Such a vast multitude cannot be accommodated with beds; and the Highlanders, in particular, do not seem to think such accommodation necessary. They spend the whole night in rustic sports, carousing and dancing on the green to the sound of the bagpipe, Every one who chooses is allowed to join in this, which forms their principal amusement.” At each end of the village is a moat, the supposed seat of feudal courts of justice. On a small holm at Outterwards, on Noddesdale-water, were discovered the foundations of several small buildings, huts or cottages, said to have been the retreat of numbers of the inhabitants from a visit of the plague which, in 1644, desolated the village. On the north side of the parish-church is an aisle of singular character, built, in 1636, by Sir Robert Montgomery of Skelmorly. It is richly and tastefully carved, and forms an arch and two compartments, supported by 18 pillars of the Corinthian order, surmounted with cherubim. Above the arch is a small pyramid, finished at top with a globe. On the roof are painted the twelve signs of the zodiac, several views of the mansion of Skelmorly, and the figure of a lady, a member of the Skelmorly family, receiving a mortal kick from a horse. ln various parts are also texts of Scripture and escutcheons. Below is a vault, to which Sir Robert usually repaired at night for devotion and meditation, – in a sense burying himself alive. Two leaden coffins, containing the remains of Sir Robert and his lady, Margaret Douglas, daughter of an ancestor of the Dukes of Queensberry, occupy separate niches. On Sir Robert’s is inscribed, – 

“lpse mihi præmortuus fui; Fato funera, 

 Præripui, Unicum, idque Cæsarium 

 Exemplar, inter tot mortales secutus.” 

This obviously alludes to the emperor Charles V., who had his obsequies performed before his death; and may be translated, “I predeceased myself; I anticipated my destined funeral; alone, among all mortals, following the example of Cæsar.” Sir James, a successor of Sir Robert, displayed a moral eccentricity of another kind: he first acted a distinguished part among the presbyterians at the Revolution, and afterwards became an ultra-jacobite, and plotted for the restoration of the Stuarts. – The village has no charter whatever to regulate its government, and is not a burgh either of barony or of regality. No means are possessed for the administration of law but such as proceed from the sheriff’s authority, whose court is at Ayr, 30 miles distant; from the acting and authority of justices of the peace resident in the town and neighbourhood; and from the baron-bailie appointed by the superior, who now rarely interferes. The justices hold a court monthly, which has a clerk and fiscal, where cases of small debt and breaches of the peace are tried; but they cannot dispense with written papers in even the most petty cases, nor punish delinquents summarily, as in police-courts, – so that even a trivial assault cannot be prosecuted for, but at an expense of several pounds. Population of the village and suburbs, in 1831, 2,045. – Largs is in the presbytery of Greenock, and synod of Glasgow and Ayr. Patron, the Earl of Eglinton. Stipend £246 5s. 11d.; glebe £36 8s. Unappropriated teinds £688 17s. 5d. The church was built in 1812, and enlarged in 1833. Sittings 1,268. – There are two dissenting meeting-houses, both situated in the village of Largs. The United Secession congregation was established in 1780; built their first meeting-house in 1781, and rebuilt it in 1826, with manse and offices, at a cost of £1,340. Sittings 690. Stipend £130. – The Relief congregation was established in 1833. Meeting-house built in 1838, at a cost of £550. Sittings 460. – There is a small Roman Catholic congregation in the town. – An ecclesiastical survey in 1837-8, showed the population of the quoad sacra parish then to be 2,140 churchmen, 820 dissenters, 11 nondescripts, – in all 2,971. – The south end of the parish is included in the quoad sacra parish of FAIRLEY: which see. The parochial school was attended in 1834, by only three scholars, and eleven private schools by a maximum of 433. Parish schoolmaster’s salary £25 13s. 3½d., with £1 10s. 6d. fees, and the interest of £175 4s. 8d. other emoluments. – The district of Cunningham appears to have anciently formed two distinct territories, – the southern and larger one called Cunningham, and the northern and smaller one called Largs. On the death of Alan, lord of Galloway, in 1234, the lordship of Largs was inherited by his daughter Devergilla; from her it passed to her son John Baliol, the competitor for the Scottish crown; and on his forfeiture, it was conferred by Robert Bruce on his son-in-law, Walter, the steward of Scotland. Hitherto the church had been a rectory; but now it was given by Walter to the monks of Paisley, and it continued with them till the Reformation. In 1587, the tithes and patronage, in common with the other property of the monks, were erected into a temporal lordship, with the title of Lord Paisley, in favour of Lord Claud Hamilton. In 1621, they were inherited by James, Earl of Abercorn; and in the reign of Charles I., they passed to Sir Robert Montgomery of Skelmorly. The church was dedicated to St. Columba.

6 thoughts on “Largs, pp.225-227.

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