Kilwinning, pp.140-143.

[Gazetteer of Scotland Contents]

   KILWINNING, a parish in the district of Cunningham, Ayrshire. It is bounded on the north by Dalry; on the east by Stewarton; on the south by Irvine and Stevenstone; and on the west by Ardrossan. Its greatest length is about 7 miles; its greatest breadth about 5 miles; and its superficial area 17½ square miles. Along the east and north-east, the surface is hilly; and thence to the south, south-west, and west, it slopes gently down in knolly or waving curves. Many of its heights and hillocks are crowned with plantation, and are agreeable features in a lovely landscape. The southern extremity is beautified by the mansion and part of the pleasure-grounds of EGLINTON-CASTLE: see that article. Three mosses, the largest upwards of 200 acres in extent, and from 12 to 16 feet in depth, occupy separate localities, and furnish supplies of excellent peats. Almost all the rest of the parish is fully enclosed, richly cultivated, and sedulously devoted either to the plough, or more specially to the dairy. The soil, over nearly one-half of the whole surface, is a stiff clay; and over the other half it is a light sandy loam. The climate is exceedingly moist, rains being both frequent and severe, yet it seems not unhealthy, – several persons having lived considerably beyond the age of 80, and one to that of 104, during 40 years preceding the date of the Old Statistical Account. Coal abounds, and is mined in several pits, and exported. Limestone, prime in quality, and plentiful in quantity, occurs in almost every district. Freestone is wrought in several quarries, and is in request beyond local limits as a building material. A chalybeate spring wells up in the vicinity of the town, and has been thought an antidote to nervous complaints. A small lake, called Ash-en-yard or Ashgrove-loch, situated at the south-western extremity, abounds in excellent pikes and perches. Garnock and Lugton-waters intersect the parish, the former south-eastward, and the latter south-westward, making a confluence about a mile below Eglinton-castle; and are well-stored with different sorts of very fine trouts, and with salmon. But the GARNOCK [which see] often does damage by its inundations. Dusk water, which also traverses the parish, issues from a lochlet in the extreme north corner of the parish of Beith, flows ¾ of a mile eastward, and 1¼ mile southward, and then, over a remaining course of 7¼ miles, runs south-westward to the Garnock, 1¾ above the town of Kilwinning. All the streams furnish an opulent amount of water-power for driving machinery; and they have aggregately on their banks a considerable number of small mills. The parish is cut from north to south by the Glasgow and Ayr railway, and by two turnpikes, and from north-east to south-west by the turnpike from Glasgow to Saltcoats. Population, in 1801, 2,700; in 1831, 3,772. Houses 541. Assessed property, in 1815, £13,786. – Kilwinning is in the presbytery of Irvine, and synod of Glasgow and Ayr. Patron, the Earl of Eglinton. Stipend £266 12s.; glebe £14 10s. Unappropriated teinds £781 17s. 10d. The parish-church was built in 1771. Sittings 1,030. A parochial missionary, a licentiate of the Establishment, assists in pastoral superintendence, and in preaching, and receives upwards of £40 salary, from the Earl of Eglinton, the minister, and evening collections. In the town are two dissenting places of worship. The United Secession congregation was established in 1825. Their meeting-house is a plain oblong building, occupied for worship only in the upper part; let in the lower flat as a dwelling-house; and built in 1824 at a cost of nearly £300. Sittings 250. Stipend not less than £80. The Original Seceder congregation was established in 1758. Their present chapel was built in 1825, at a cost of more than £600. Sittings between 500 and 600. Stipend £128, with a house and garden. According to a survey made by the parish-minister in 1835, the population then was 4,111; of whom 2,561 were churchmen, 708 were dissenters, and 842 were persons unconnected with any religious body, – the last class including all persons who were not communicants in some church, except the members of families whose heads were communicants.1 There are 7 schools, conducted by 7 teachers, and attended by a maximum of 390 scholars – Six of the schools are non-parochial; and 2 of that number afford tuition in the classics. Parochial schoolmaster’s salary £37, with fees, and £20 other emoluments. – The parish was anciently a vicarage of the monastery of the town, and derived its name from St. Winning, a Scottish saint of the 8th century. Near the manse is a fountain still called Winning’s well; and on the 1st of February is held a fair, called Winning’s-day fair. Soon after the erection of the abbey, Kilwinning was known, in all the circumjacent country, under the name of Saig-town, thought by some to be a corruption of Saints’-town; and by this name it still is, or very recently was, well known to the inhabitants. Before the Reformation the church of the abbey served as the parish-church; and even when the abbey itself was demolished, the church was allowed to stand, and continued to be used till the erection of the present edifice. 

   The abbey of Kilwinning was founded in 1140, for a colony of Tyronensian monks from Kelso, by Hugh de Morville, lord of Cunningham, and Lord High Constable of Scotland, and dedicated, like a church which preceded it, to St. Winning. Robert I., Hugh de Morville, John de Meneleth, the lord of Arran, Sir William Cunningham of Kilmaurs, Sir John Maxwell of Maxwell, and other opulent and powerful personages, endowed it with very extensive possessions. Besides granges and other property, the abbey claimed the proprietorship of the tithes and pertinents of 20 parish-churches, – 13 of them in Cunningham, 2 in Arran, 2 in Argyleshire, and 2 in Dumbartonshire. “According to the traditionary account of the entire revenue of the monastery,” says the statist in the Old Account, “it is asserted that its present annual amount would be at least £20,000 sterling.” From Robert II. the monks obtained a charter, erecting all the lands of the barony of Kilwinning into a free regality, with ample jurisdiction; and they received ratifications of this charter from Robert III. and James IV. The monks appear to have been unusually expert in the chicanery of priestcraft, and to have enthralled the judgments and superstitious feelings of men in the dark ages of their influence, fully more than most of their contemporaries. They made so juggling a use of some pretended relics as, on the credulous faith of their virtues, to draw many offerings; and they, at the same time, made such an exhibition to the public eye of shallow austerities, as to win for themselves the credit of being superhuman in character. James IV., when passing their place in 1507, made an offering of 14 shillings to their relics. Hoveden, thoroughly gulled with their base legends, gravely relates, that a fountain in the vicinity of their monastery ran blood for eight days and nights, in the year 1184. The last abbot was Gavin Hamilton, of the family of Rosslock, a hot opponent of John Knox, and a zealous partizan of Queen Mary. In 1538, he succeeded James Bethune, archbishop of Glasgow, as abbot; and in 1571, was killed in a skirmish in the Canongate of Edinburgh. According to tradition, the buildings of the abbey, when entire, covered several acres, and were stately and magnificent. In 1560, Alexander, Earl of Glencairn, one of the most active and distinguished promoters of the Reformation, acting by order of the States-general of Scotland, almost destroyed them, leaving only the church and a steeple, and so totally demolished what was strictly monastic, that all traces of even the foundations of the walls have long ago utterly disappeared. In 1603 – after the abbey had been under the commendatorship, first of the family of Glencairn, and next of the family of Raith – its lands and titles, and various pertinents, were erected into a temporal lordship in favour of Hugh, Earl of Eglinton. Towards the close of last century, the ruins which remained were repaired, at very considerable expense, by the Earl of Eglinton of the period; and, from a drawing of them, made in 1789, they are exhibited in Grose’s Antiquities. 

   KILWINNING, the capital of the cognominal parish, and a populous manufacturing village, is pleasantly situated on a gentle rising ground on the right bank of the river Garnock; 2½ miles from the nearest part of the frith of Clyde; 3½ miles north-east of Saltcoats; 2¾ miles north-west of Irvine; and 3¾ miles south of Dalry. The town is ancient, and has a dull, antiquated, dingy appearance; yet borrows sufficient splendour from the loveliness of its environs, and from reminiscences of its historical importance, and from the beautiful and partially Gothic form of its parish-church, with an elegant modern spire surmounting the tower of its ancient monastery, to be an object of no little interest. It consists principally of one street, winged by some lanes, and of some rows of modern houses; and stretches westward from the river. The approaches to it are shaded with trees, and flanked by beautiful fields. At its east end is a height, called the Crosshill, on which the monks anciently set up what they reckoned the symbol of Christianity, to receive the initiatory homage of the pilgrims who crowded to their shrines. Part of the town is suburban, consisting of an attached or adjacent village called Byres. The ancient seat of monkish indolence and gilded knavery is now the scene of manufacturing industry; and acquires from the humble toils of its busy inhabitants, and especially from the moral enlightenment of a portion of their number, unutterably higher attractions than it ever possessed in the pompous fooleries and rueful grandeur of the cowled fraternity who drew flocks of victims to their sumptuous ecclesiastical palace. The rattle of the loom, and the humble prattle of Christian intelligence, as substitutes for the choral chauntings of the missal, amply compensate by their intrinsic utility all that they lose in poetical effect. In the various departments of silk, woollen, and cotton, the town had, in 1828, 370 looms, and in 1838, 350. In the latter year, 60 of the looms were harness, and 290 plain. Near the end of last century, an extensive tannery, and 3 small factories, 1 for carding cotton, and 2 for spinning it, were established. With the exception of a few families, the whole population, not only of the town, but of the landward part of the parish, are of the working-classes, principally hand-loom weavers, shopkeepers, labourers, and colliers. The town has a branch-office of the Commercial Bank of Scotland; and it has two annual fairs. Nor is the place deficient, proportionately to its bulk, in charitable or friendly institutions. 

   A remarkable fact connected with the town – one which occasions its name to figure prominently to the present day in the proceedings of the gaudy and flaunting associations, so extensively popular in our country, who endeavour to make up by parade and by boasted consciousness of importance, what they want in usefulness and meaning – is, that it was the cradle of free-masonry in Scotland, and, till not very many years ago, was regarded with filial feelings, or with those of nurslings, by all the lodges in the kingdom. The community and conservation of a real or supposed secret; – especially considering how unreserved and open benevolence, or true goodness, is in its abstract nature – seems the most questionable of all bonds of union, short of such as are positively criminal, for forming and maintaining voluntary associations; yet it appears, with a numerous proportion of men, to have in most ages possessed peculiar attractions, and to have, in some instances, been preferred to other bonds of union, at the risk even of proscription and suffering. The Eleusinian mysteries attained great respectability among the ancient Greeks, and were protected by law. A class of artificers, held together by the Dionysian mysteries, too, possessed at one time the exclusive privilege of erecting temples and theatres, and were numerous in Syria, Persia, and Western Hindostan. These ancient associations, on account of their ceremonies all having connexion with pagan superstitions, were proscribed by the Christian Roman emperors; yet they are believed to have been secretly continued, under the pretence of ordinary assemblies for amusement, and with a diminished amplitude in the observance of pagan rites. Modern masonry – to the uninitiated, at least, and almost certainly to even the initiated – is so obscure in its early history and character, that it neither, on the one hand, can it be distinctly traced to either a connexion with these or other ancient fraternities, or to some comparatively modern outburst of the common tendency of mankind to associate themselves in clubs and select communities; nor, on the other hand, can it be pronounced to have had for its original object what seems mainly to be its modern one – a pompous and ceremonial species of conviviality, or the maintenance of freer notions, bona fide on the subject of architecture, than the circumstances of an iron age permitted to be public. All that can fully be affirmed is, that, about the time of the crusades, associations of free-masons, whose members had a formal initiation, and distinguished one another by secret signs, appeared numerously in Europe, and acted a conspicuous part, if not in the introduction of the Saracenic, or, as it is usually called, the Gothic architecture, at least in the superintendence of most of the magnificent erections in which it was exemplified. Sir Christopher Wren, as quoted by Grose – taking quite as high a flight in positiveness of statement as could be at all safe says, “The Holy war gave the Christians who had been” in the east “an idea of the Saracen works, which were afterwards by them imitated in the west; and they refined upon it every day, as they proceeded in building churches. The Italians (among which were still some Greek refugees), and with them French, Germans, and Flemings, joined into a fraternity of architects; procuring papal bulls for their encouragement, and particular privileges. They styled themselves free-masons, and ranged from one nation to another, as they found churches to be built (for very many in those ages were every where in building through piety or emulation). Their government was regular; and where they fixed near the building in hand, they made a camp of huts. A surveyor governed in chief; every tenth man was called a warden, and overlooked each nine; the gentlemen in the neighbourhood, either out of charity or commutation of penance, gave the materials and carriages.” [Antiquities. Vol. i. Pref. Note in p. 114.] One of these fraternities either voluntarily came, or were invited over from the continent, to take part in building the abbey of Kilwinning; and when on the spot, they seem to have communicated their secret, whatever it was, to some of the more respectable natives who had no practical connexion with the art of masonry, and thus to have formed the earliest lodge of Scottish free-masons. But the fraternities on the continent, by holding their meetings with shut doors, by binding themselves under the sanction of an oath to keep all the uninitiated, no matter how princely or prelatical, unacquainted with their mysteries, and especially by fraternizing with the usurping and dangerous military order of Knights Templars, speedily drew upon themselves such jealousies, anathematizings, proscriptions, and persecutions, as issued in their extinction. The parent national lodges of Kilwinning in Scotland, and York in England, with whatever offshoots they had throughout the country, doubtless shared in the general odium; and though they survived the shock, they continued for ages in obscurity. During the reign of James I., however, Scottish free-masonry walked abroad with the high bearing which has ever since characterized it. That monarch, not long after his return from England, patronized the mother-lodge of Kilwinning; and presided as grand-master till he settled an annual salary, to be paid by every master-mason of Scotland to a grand-master, who should be chosen by the brethren, and approved by the Crown, – who should be nobly born, or a clergyman of high rank and character, – and who should have his deputies in the different towns and counties of Scotland. James II. conferred the office of grandmaster on William St. Clair, Earl of Orkney and Caithness, and made it hereditary in the family of his descendants, the Barons of Roslin. Earl William and his successors held their head-courts, or assembled their grand-lodges, in Kilwinning, as the seat of the earliest fraternity. An uncommon spirit for free-masonry becoming diffused, many lodges were formed throughout the kingdom, receiving their charters of erection from the Kilwinning lodge, and combining its name with their own in their distinctive titles. In 1736, William St. Clair of Roslin, obliged to sell his estates, and destitute of an heir, resigned to an assembly of the lodges of Edinburgh and its vicinity, all claim to the grand-mastership, and empowered them, in common with the other lodges of the country, to declare the office elective. On St. Andrews’-day of that year, the representatives of about 32 lodges received the resignation, elected William St. Clair himself their grand-master, set an example which has ever since been followed, of testifying respect for the part he acted, and constituted themselves into the grand-lodge of Scotland, – an institution whose influence or power has in a great measure shorn the ancient Kilwinning lodge of its peculiar honours, or at least superseded it in its paramount place among the lodges. Yet, whoever takes any interest in free-masonry, still looks with feelings of pride or veneration to the Kilwinning lodge, and no doubt gives a ready response to the remark of the author of the Beauties of Scotland, “that the humble village of Kilwinning, considered as the spot where this order was preserved while it was extinguished on the continent of Europe, and from which it was to rise from its ashes, and spread to the rising and the setting sun, enjoys a singular degree of importance, which it could scarcely have obtained from any other circumstance.” “The records of the Kilwinning lodge,” says the Old Statistical Account, “contain a succession of grand-masters, charters of erection to other lodges, as daughters of the mother-lodge, &c. The Earls of Eglintoune have successively patronized this lodge. Some years ago, the present earl made a donation to the fraternity of a piece of ground, for building a new and very elegant lodge; and, with many other gentlemen, anxious to preserve the rights of the very ancient and venerable mother-lodge, liberally contributed to its erection. There is a common seal, expressive of the antiquity of the mother-lodge, and of the emblems of the ancient art of masonry and by which charters, and all other public deeds of the society, are ratified.” 

   Archery is practised to the present hour at Kilwinning, as an elegant and manly amusement. Though the town, in this particular, exhibits only a taste which is possessed in common with it by Edinburgh, Musselburgh, Kelso, Peebles, St. Andrews, Irvine, and other places, yet it outvies them all in the antiquity of its company of archers, and in the principle of utility, or of compliance with regal acts for regulating the military system of the state, on which they were originally associated. The company are known, though imperfectly, and only by tradition, to have existed prior to the year 1488; and from that year downward, they are authenticated by documents. Originally enrolled by royal authority, they appear to have been encouraged by the inmates of the abbey; and they, in consequence, instituted customs which easily secured their surviving the discontinuance of of archery as the principal art of war. Once a-year, generally in the month of June, they make a grand exhibition. The principal shooting is at a parrot, anciently called the papingo, and well known under that name in heraldry, but now called the popinjay. This used to be constructed of wood; but in recent years has consisted of feathers worked up into the semblance of a parrot; and is suspended by a string to the top of a pole, and placed 120 feet high, on the steeple of the monastery. The archer who shoots down this mark is called “the Captain of the popinjay;” he is master of the ceremonies of the succeeding year; he sends cards of invitation to the ladies, and gives them a ball and supper; and he transmits the honours to posterity by attaching to the badge of them, which was temporarily in his possession, a medal with suitable devices. The badge received and transmitted is now, and since 1723 has been, a silver arrow; but from 1488 to 1688, it was a piece of vari-coloured taffeta called a ‘benn,’ and worn as a sash; and from the latter date till 1723, it was a piece of silver-plate. Every person acquainted with the national novels of Scotland, will recognize the Kilwinning festival, though fictioned to be on a different arena, in the opening scene of Old Mortality, when young Milnwood achieves the honours of captain of the popinjay, and becomes bound to do the honours of the Howff. Another kind of shooting is practised for prizes at butts, point-blank distance, about 26 yards. The prize, in this case, is some useful or ornamental piece of plate, given annually to the company by the senior surviving archer. – The town is governed by a baron-bailie. Population between 2,000 and 3,000.

1  A survey made at the same time by some dissenters, stated the population to be 4,135; of which 3,115 were churchmen, and 1,020 were dissenters.

2 thoughts on “Kilwinning, pp.140-143.

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