The Statistical Accounts of Scotland, West Kilbride, Ayrshire, Account of 1791-99, Volume 12, Page 404
Number 31, Parish of West Kilbride
(County of Ayr, Synod of Glasgow and Ayr, Presbytery of Irvine)
By the Rev. Mr Arthur Oughterson
Name, Extent, Surface, &cc.
In the Monkish ages, it was very common for religious recluses, to give names to the places where they either chose to fix their solitary residence, or to have their remains consigned after death. From thence, then name of this parish is obviously derived, being compounded of the Gaelic word “Kile”, a burial-place, or the Latin, “Cells,” and Bridget, the name of the titular female Saint of the place. This parish is of moderate extent, stretching, in length, from the mouth of the Frith of Clyde, directly N. along the shore, for above 6 English miles. From the promontory of Portincross, to the remotest island parts over the hills, it is about 3 ½ English miles broad; in other places, between 2 and 3 miles. It is bounded upon the whole of the west by the sea and Frith of Clyde. It comprehends in it, the lesser island of Cumbray, which is separated from the main land by a sound 3 miles over. Upon the most eminent part of this island, a light-house was erected, about a year 1750, which hath proved of great benefit to this trade; but from its too lofty situation, it is often so involved in clouds, as not to be perceptible, or, but very dimly seen. The managers have therefore judged it necessary to erect another upon a lower station, upon which is to be placed a reflecting lamp. This will not be liable to the inconvenience attending the other and will afford a more certain direction to vessels navigating the Frith in the night time. This work is now executing, and soon will be completed.
The whole of this parish is a part of that mountainous track of country, which commencing at the southern boundary of it, continues all the way to Greenock. It therefore presents every where, a broken, unequal surface, rising in many places into high hills, interspersed with a number of romantick rivulets, and some of them green to their very summits. From the tops of these hills, a prospect presents itself, which, for variety and grandeur, is scarcely to be equalled. At one view, the eye takes in the broken land and small sounds formed by the islands of Arran, Bute, the two Cumbrays, and the coasts of Cowal and Cantire; the extensive coast of Carrick, from Ayr to Ballintrae ; a wide expanded Frith, with the rock of Ailsa rising majestic in its very bosom; the stupendous rocks and peak of Goatfield in Arran; while the distant cliffs of Jura are seen just peeping over the whole, in the back ground. Such a landscape is exceedingly rare and has always been particularly pleasing to strangers.
From the vicinity of this district to the sea, the air is generally moist and the climate variable; great quantities of rain falling in the spring and autumn, which proves a considerable hinderance to farming operations. Notwithstanding these circumstances, the inhabitants are for the most part healthy, few diseases being epidemical among them; and many of them live to a great age. An example of uncommon longevity occurred some years ago, of a man in the lesser island of Cumbray, who died in the advance period of 101. The diseases most common, are the rheumatism, and what is called the bastard peripneumony, which most frequently attacks old people. Palsies too, sometimes occur. And here it may be proper to observe, that all the different kinds of nervous diseases, are found to prevail more in countries situated upon the shore, than in inland parts. Whether this is to be ascribed to some peculiar quality in the air, that predisposes to these nervous affections, there being no material difference in the manner of living, the writer will not take upon him to determine. A very malignant species of quinsy, vulgarly called the closing, in some seasons, proves fatal to children of between 3 and 5 years of age. It makes its appearance in the spring and autumn and baffles every remedy. The small-pox, when they are of a virulent kind, carry off a good many; and hitherto, all efforts to introduce inoculation have failed. No arguments can overcome the superstitious opinions of the people, or their dread of the popular odium.
Soil, Agriculture, &cc.
As this quarter abounds so much in hills, the soil, upon the whole must be poor, and in many places wet and springy; but to this general description there are exceptions; and there might be still more, were any justice done to the land, or proper attempts made, with judgement and persevering industry, to overcome or alleviate its natural disadvantages. The 3 following soils are the most common: A very light, dry, sandy soil, with a mixture of good earth; the mossy; and a strong tilly clay. These different soils point out to the intelligent farmers, what method of cultivation they would require. It is agreed, that compost of dung, earth and lime, would suit the first mentioned soil; and that when laid down richly, it would produce excellent crops of clover and other grasses; yet this hath never been sufficiently tried : and until of late years, the farmers in this part of the country, who had adopted the very worst practice of the old husbandry, remained utterly unacquainted with the method of laying down land in this manner. However, nature has done a great deal for them here, by affording a spontaneous manure, which is well adapted to the light land, and, in a great measure, supersedes the necessity of any other, and that is sea-weed, which is thrown in in such vast quantities by the winter gales, that the people have only to be at the pains to lead it out and lay it upon their fields. This manure from its hot stimulating nature, is of quick operation, and when aided by a moist summer, and refreshing showers, throws up bountiful crops. For many years, this was the only manure used for general cultivation; and it was applied to all soils indiscriminately, to which it could be transported; and where this was not practicable, the land was left without any other means of improvement, than what it derived from more rest; any little dung made upon the farm, being used for raising potatoes and bear. The method of management for the outfield land of such farms as lie without the reach of sea-weed, is to let it rest for 4 years; then plough it for a scourging crop of oats; then let it rest as before; next succeed the 2 ploughings; and so in this rotation.
For the other 2 soils mentioned, lime is certainly exceeding proper; but very strong prejudices were long entertained against it. When the present incumbent entered to his charge, there was not an ounce of lime laid upon the land within the parish, and no reasoning could prevail with the farmers to try it: they pleaded their ignorance of its operation, the method of applying it, and the great expense attending the conveyance of it from a distant kiln. But, whether from observing the great advantages arising from it in neighbouring parishes, where it hath been long introduced, or that they are subjected to certain regulations by the late leases, or from the more enterprising spirit of some new proprietors, a mighty change has taken place in the people’s ideas with regard to lime, in consequences of which, vast quantities of it have been laid upon the land within there 3 years; greater indeed, in proportion to the extent of the parish, than any other within the county. This gives ground to hope that a better method of husbandry, though yet in its infancy, will, in a few years, from perseverance and the influence of a laudable example, become more general.1
The crops chiefly raised in this parish, are oats and bear: the quantity produced from an acre, is from 5 to 7 bolls. In strong clean land, flax succeeds well, and for a reason which will hereafter be mentioned, the attention of the people hath been much turned to the cultivation of the plant, and greater quantities of flax are raised in Kilbride, than in any neighbouring district; it is most commonly sown after potatoes. The soil being peculiarly adapted to potatoes, they produce luxuriantly. Whet is seldom sown here, and no attempts hitherto made to introduce it into general practice, have succeeded to expectation. Beans and pease are not much cultivated; for, besides that, the soil in most places is reckoned too light for them; in a climate where the weather and seasons are so variable. They are, not without reason, considered as a hazardous crop. One circumstance, which ought not to be omitted, in describing the state of agriculture in this parish, is, the improved taste some proprietors have discovered of late, in the constructing of steadings, or farm-houses, up on their estates: in place of the old dirty, cold, inconvenient huts, the tenants are now accommodated with clean, substantial, well aired habitations, where equal attention hath been paid to rural elegance and conveniency.
Manufacturers and Fisheries
It hath been already observed, that the people here, are particularly attentive to the raising of flax. The reason of this is, that considerable quantities of coarse linen are made every year, which is the only species of manufacture among them, cultivated to any extent. It employs the female hands during winter, and brings a considerable sum into the place. It is bleached and whitened at home, at some small expense. There is an annual market for it in the month of June, where it is bought up by the linen dealers from Glasgow and Paisley, who export the greatest part of the West Indies. Near 7000 yards of cloth, of this coarse fabric are manufactured yearly, which sells at the rate of 1s. to 15d. the yard. At the medium of 13 ½d, the yard, the sum produced, will amount nearly to 389L 11s. 8d.; which sum, divided among the farmers and housekeepers, enables them to pay off their domestic debts with more ease, and punctuality. Another small branch of manufacture is kelp, of which about 10 tons are made up on an average, yearly, and which sells at 3L. the ton. At some former period , a salt-work was carried on upon the shore, that had been employed in the work; but, from some unknown cause, it was given up. Of late, the silk and cotton branches have been introduced, and employ a competent number of hands. From this circumstance, and the attention paid to the making of linen, the number of weavers must greatly exceed that of any other class of mechanicks. Their numbers are, linen weavers 17, cotton 19, silk 3. The other handicraftsmen are, joiners 2, blacksmiths 3, shoemakers 2, tailors 5.
In the districts of the parish, situated upon the shore, fishing was pursued to an extent that ought not to be overlooked in this account. It appears, from the best information that, at the beginning of this century, upwards if 30 boats, belonging to the place, were employed annually in the herring and cod fishery; each boat had 4 men, when at the herring-fishing. From the month of July to October, they were all occupied in this branch. In the months of February and March, about a dozen of these boats, doubly manned, stretched away to the coasts of Galloway, Ireland and Cantire, in search of cod, ling, and oysters. The number of men employed in these fisheries, when in their most flourishing state, could not be less than 150; and the average sum acquired upon them both, might amount to about 6001, Sterling. For many years, however, this trade was on the decline, and the few boats that remained, when depopulation, to be mentioned in the sequel, took place, were in consequence suppressed; since that time no attention has been paid to it, and the art now seems totally lost.
Rent, Farms, &cc.
The real rent of this parish, is £2528, Sterling. There are about 40 farms in it, which let from £300 to £36. There are 19 heritors, or which, 2 of the greater, and 8 of the lesser, are non-resident. The number of sheep is 2000; the most of them are the small black-faced breed. A few of the English breed have been introduced, and are multiplying fast. The wool of the sheep, whose walk is upon the shore, is of a finer quality than that of those who graze upon the hilly grounds, and sells for at least a third more. The sheep upon the higher walks are laid with tar, those upon the lower are not, which perhaps may be one reason of this difference in the pile of the wool. The average quantity of wool fold off the different walks, is about 625 stones yearly. The pasture in this parish, is remarkably favourable for feeding; and both the mutton and beef fattened upon it, upon account of their superior quality in point of flavour and sweetness, have the preference in every market where they are exposed. Of black cattle, there are about 620; Horses 155; of which, within these 12 years the breed is mightily improved. 2
According to Dr Webster’s report, the population in 1755, was 885. From a pretty accurate account lately taken of the number of inhabitants, it appears to amount to 698, young and old. The average number of births, for the last 10 years being 180; of marriages 50; of deaths 100. There is not the smallest doubt that the population of this parish was much greater about 50 years ago, than it is now. The many vestiges of demolished farmhouses to be seen in different places, and the reports of old men, afford sufficient proofs of depopulation. At a medium calculation, there are 100 families fewer now, than formerly; so reckoning at the rate of 6 to a family, makes the number of inhabitants to have decreased from that period, no less than 600. 3
Ecclesiastical State, Poor, &c.
About 2 years ago, the minister obtained an augmentation to his stipend of 3 chalders of victual, and 20L Scots for communion elements; so the whole living, exclusive of the glebe, which is a very small one, amounts now to 5 chalders of meal, 2 of bear, Linlithgow measure and 420L. Scots; in value, when victual is at a high price, about 126L. Sterling. The Earl of Eglintoune is patron, and titular of the tiends. The manse is but an indifferent one; and though it has received repairs at different times, it is very little mended, but still remains a smoky inconvenient house. It is subjected to a grievance, or, rather a curse which attends most manses, that it stands hard by the village, and part of it projects into the church-yard. The church is built upon a very bad construction. It is a long, narrow, mean looking edifice; low in the walls, and deep roofed. There are few dissenters from the Established Church, in proportion to the number of parishioners; there being about 50 belonging to the 2 common sects of Seceders and Relief, who repair to their several meetings in the neighbouring congregations. – As a proof of the industry, and comfortable situation of the inhabitants, in general, the number of poor is small, there being only 7, at present, upon the pension list of the parish; And, what is much to its credit, there are no wandering beggars belonging to it. There is not an instance in the recollection of anyone living, of a single pauper strolling without the limits of one place. The fund for the maintenance of the poor, is made up mostly from the collections at the church-doors. Of late, it hath received aid from the liberal donations of some generous individuals, to whose bounty, a statistical history, ought to pay the just tribute of encomium.
Antiquities, Remarkable, Occurrences, &c.
This article would afford abundant matter for the antiquary and inquisitive naturalift; but we must abridge as much as possible. We begin with the island of Little Cumbrae. This island is about a mile in length, and half a mile in breadth. It lies in the parallel direction to Bute, from S.W. to N.E. The strata of the rock of which it is composed, are distinctly marked by nature. Viewed at a distance, they seem to lie nearly horizontal; but, upon a nearer approach, they appear to incline to an angle of some elevation. They begin from the water’s edge, receding backwards from, and rising one above another to the top, like the steps of a stair. Upon the south side, are a few dwelling-houses, and an old Gothic castle, situated directly opposite to another of the same kind upon the main land. Concerning the antiquity of this castle, nothing can now be learned, and no date or inscription, from which it might be ascertained, has ever been discovered. It seems to have been a place of some strength. It is surrounded by a rampart and a sosse, over which has been a drawbridge. It was surprised and burned by Cromwell’s soldiers. The island was then in the possession of the family of Eglintoune, which it has continued to be ever since. In this island, are no fewer than 7 caves. 4
There are yet to be seen, the ruins of a very ancient chapel, or place of worship, said to have been dedicated to Saint Vey, who lies buried near it; probably, it was a dependency of I. Colm Kill.
Proceeding to the main land, we meet with another old castle called Portencross, directly opposite, as has been observed, to the one upon the Little Isle. Of the history of this, we are able to trace almost as little as the other; but, form its appearance, it bears visible marks of great antiquity. It stands upon rocks to close to the sea, that the waves dash against its defaced walls, and at the very entrance of the inlet or creek that forms the port. It seems to have been a royal hunting seat, one of those places to which the Court retired, to enjoy the diversion of fishing and the chase.5
Hitherto, no satisfying account has been given of the origin of the name of this place. In the common language of the country, it is called Pencross, which is just a corruption of its proper ancient name, we may have only conjecture. And, upon a subject to uncertain, we may be allowed to hazard one, just as tenable as any other, in the note below. 6
The next object of attention in this quarter, is the precipice called Ardneel bank, which lies a little to the northward of Portincross, and forms the promontory or extreme point of land above mentioned. The name is of Gaelic original, and signifies a high point, or Neel’s high point. It is truly a noble precipice. A small plain is interjected between it and the water’s edge, from which it rises abruptly to the height of more than 230 feet perpendicular. As we approach it upon the South side, we meet with a vast mound of curious heterogeneous matter, which, if there was any vestige of a crater nigh it, one might be ready to pronounce of the volcanic kind. But as there is every reason to conclude, that, not only the plain between the precipice and the water, but the inland valley which runs along the back of it, have once been occupied by the sea, and the precipice itself formed into an island, another theory occurs, namely, that this mound has, at some period, been thrown up by the influx and eddy of the tide, and must have been collecting there for ages; but being at last left dry by the retiring of the sea, through length of time, it is consolidated into a firm compacted mass. As we advance, the rock, composed of different kinds of stone, growns more steep and elevated. At bottom, it is finely skirted with natural shrubbery; farther up, its aged front is adorned with an endless variety of plants, such as hoar-hound, wild thyme, capillus veneris, &c. Toward the summit, it is lined with a thick covering of moss, which gives it a very venerable and grotesque appearance; and here, the whole terminates in 3 distinct cliffs, which, from their exact similarity in figure and altitude, have, time immemorial obtained the appellation of the Three Sisters. In this sequestered scene, where there is so much of the grand and the beautiful, a person given to contemplation, and who loves solitude, may enjoy a walk to great advantage; he will have an opportunity of tracing nature, in some of her more striking features of awfulness and majesty.
This parish, it hath been observed before, abounds with hills; it may indeed be called a system of them. The names of some of them are Gaelic. The most remarkable are, the Tarbet Hill, the Law, the Auld Hill, and the Comb or Camb, which signifies crooked. They have all been used as signal posts in the times of the Danish invasions. By fires from their tops, the alarm was soon given of the appearance of an enemy. Upon the Auld hill, there are the remains of a circular building, which it is likely, was occupied as a watch tower. At the foot of the second, stands another Gothic castle, which takes its name from the hill, the Law, it is one of the completest of the kind to be seen anywhere. It was formerly one of the seats of the Kilmarnock family, who had large possessions in this part of the country; but at what time it was built, no account can be given; but from its appearance, it must be much more modern, than any of the other two already described. The last mentioned hill, is famed for affording fine millstones are in such high repute, as to be demanded from places at the distance of 80 miles; they are dispersed through the Highlands and islands, and some of them exported to Ireland, to America, and the West Indies.
There are no rivers in this parish, but a number of smaller firearms or burns, which, after heavy rains, sometimes come down in vast torrents from the hills. One of these, near the northern boundary of the parish, taking its course through a romantic glen, called the Glen of Southannan, is remarkable for a series of beautiful cataracts, which diminish gradually as the stream approaches the sea. The largest of these falls at the head of the glen, is indeed a striking piece of nature’s work. The whole stream issuing with a rapid current from between a high hills, precipitates over a rock from the height of 50 feet, into a deep and awful chasm, the bottom of which, is formed into a capacious sphere, as if it had been hollowed our with a chisel, and resembling a baton tumbled upon its side; over t, the rocks at top, project with threatening majesty. The wildness of the scene is much increased by the fine natural wood that encircles the abyss, where the oak, the hazle, the birch, seem to vie with each other, in displaying their mingled verdure.
Near to this spot, are the ruins of the fine house of Southannan, formerly the residence of the family of Semple, now the property of my Lord Eglintoune. It is built in the Italian taste; a Lord Semple, who resided some time in Italy, in the reign of James the Sixth, brought the model of it from that country. A beautiful green hill, of a secondary order to the Comb, but attached to it, rises with a bold and sudden swell behind the house, from thence we look down upon upon the dismantled fabric of a once splendid dwelling, hiding, as it were, its deformity, among a number of very fine old elms, beeches and ashes, whole venerable boughs, now bending to the earth, bespeak their age; and over the tops of the trees and the ruins, an expanded sheet of water, which at full sea, seems to come in contact with them. Viewed from this point, the landscape is abundantly charming and diversified. A few paces in front, are the remains of a small chapel; the font yet entire.
Dr. Robert Simpson, late professor of mathematics in the University of Glasgow, whose celebrity in his profession, reflects honour upon the spot that gave him birth, was a native of this place. He long enjoyed a pretty considerable estate in it, which he inherited form his ancestors, but which is now, by purchase, gone out of the family, into the hands of another proprietor. In the obscure retreat, he spent the first years of his life, a period he often recollected with pleasure. At Glasgow, he received the rudiments of that knowledge, which afterward raised him to so much eminence among men of letters. In his Euclid, his Conic-Sections, and other mathematical works, he has left a monument of genius and intellectual ability.
Quod non imber edax, non impotens aquilo
Possit diruere, aut innumerabilis
Annorum feries, et fuga temporum.
Character of the People, Manners, &c.
It may well be accounted a fortunate circumstance for the inhabitants of this place, that their sequestered situation has hitherto secured them from the incroaching influence of that corruption, which in other places of more business and resort, has produced so great a change in the morals of the people. They, on the contrary, have uniformly supported a character for industry, sobriety and decent conduct. The oldest man living, does not recollect an instance of one convicted of a capital crime. Their festive meetings are conducted with much cheerfulness and rural gaiety, but without riot. Their punctuality in paying their debts, at two terms in the year, is now grown into local usage. They are uncommonly regular in their attendance upon public worship; and at church, exhibit a very decent appearance, from the neatness of the dress, and attention to the sacred service. In their behaviour, especially to their superiors, and to strangers, there is an affability and discretion, that distinguishes it remarkably from the morose and sullen rusticity of some of the more inland peasants. In fine, in their labours, their amusements, and the general tenor of their conversation, one may readily recognise the happiness, contentment and comfortable independence, of an honest and peaceable people.
The men are, in their stature, generally above the middle size, stout and well made, and make hardy husbandmen and sailors. And this leads us to observe, that perhaps no country parish in Scotland, has afforded so many men to the sea, as West Kilbride. From a calculation made in the year 1782, it appeared that upwards of 63 men were employed in the service of the Navy, or aboard trading vessels, and some of them were in every action fought at sea, during the late war. At present, the number is considerably less, upon account of the great encouragement, of late years, held out to manufacturers, which induced many young men, who would otherwise have gone to sea, to become weavers; the wages and pay of a seaman, being so much below what can easily be earned by the commonest manufacturer. What a pity is it, that these brave and useful men, from whose toils and dangers, their country acquires so much wealth and glory, are not more adequately rewarded! This change in the inclinations of the young men, which determines them to prefer the manufacturing to the seafaring line, may indeed be more gainful to individuals, but, in a moral view, promises no advantage to the community; as there is some reason to dread, that the ingenious, frank, and manly character of the tar, may, in time, give place to the petulance and effeminacy, the turbulent, factious, and fanatical spirit, which experience has proved to be but too generally attached to people who follow the more domestic occupations.
We already took notice, that one capital hinderance to the progress of agricultural improvements, in this part of the country, is the duty on coals; the sepealing of this duty, therefore, will be a most productive mean of promoting those improvements. It will facilitate the procuring of lime, without which, nothing effectual can be done; and when joined to the additional advantage of an excellent road, which the people now enjoy, the great road leading from Greenock to Port-Patrick, puffing through the whole length of the parish, will give a spirit to the exertions of the husbandman hitherto unknown. It will secure the good effect of the example of those more industrious and enterprising farmers, who have already done a great deal, under all the disadvantages of driving lime from a distance. And it will render the more lazy and obstinate ones inexcusable, when every cause of complaint, arising from the great expense of this article shall be removed. 7 This measure may likewise be of great benefit to some proprietors, in another respect, as it will probably induce them to erect salt-works, a branch of manufacture that might be pursued here with profit; as this part of the Frith, being not liable to be affected with freshes from large rivers, the water, from its strong marine impregnation, promises to be productive.
1 The prejudices of the people are not the only hinderance to the progress of agricultural improvements in this parish. One local disadvantage, which it labours under, must have contributed much to retard them, and that is neither coal nor lime-stone to be found within itself, though pains have been taken to discover them, and attempts made to sink pits for that purpose. And what renders the only expedient, for supplying this defect, more embarrassing is, the duty upon the coals carried coast ways, and even to places within the precincts of the same port, and where the coal works are situated. This hath discouraged farmers form bringing lime-stone by water from Arran, and the greater Cumbray, where it is to be had in abundance, because, though it might be procured from these places, at no great charge, there is no coal to burn it with, but what must be fetched at an extraordinary expense. The barbarous policy of this law, must appear evident to every person; it hath taken the death of agriculture, wherever its baleful influence hath extended. It must give pleasure to every lover of his country, to observe, that it is now become an object of attention to a virtuous Legislature, who, listening at length to the voice of justice and humanity, have judged it expedient to take it off. In this event, gentlemen, whose estates are situated upon the shore, will be induced to erect straw-kilns. The farmer will have lime afforded him at a moderate rate. A vigorous cultivation will take place. The quantity of grain will be increased and the country assume a new fate.
2 For some years past, the prices of labour and provisions have been gradually increasing. The wages of an artist have risen from 15d. to 18d. and 22d., and of a common labourer from 1s, to 15d. and 18d. a day. A sheep, which formerly might have been bought for 10s., now brings 16s. and 20s. A lamb cannot be purchased for much below the old price of a sheep. Butter has advanced from 6d. to 9d. and 11d. the pound: And all other articles in proportion. The cause of this rise is easily to be assigned, from the rapid increase of luxury; the different mode of living introduced into every rank; the great demand for hands to be employed in the various branches of manufacturers; and of course the vast influx of people from the country to the great towns, where they immediately find work and good encouragement, which necessarily creates an increasing demand, and a ready market for every article of life.
3 The reason for this, may be here assigned. About the time above mentioned, some gentlemen of very considerable property in the parish, adopted the idea of grazing, as being better suited to the soil than ploughing, because, from the lightness of it, it naturally runs into grass. In consequence, whole baronies and large tracks of land, formerly planted thick with families, were thrown waste, to make way for this new mode of management; and numbers of these small farms being conjoined, continued to be occupied by one tenant, while the former occupiers ejected from their little possessions, were obliged to remove to other places in quest of bread, and thus carried away from that where they were born, and many of them reared to manhood, the fruits of their labour and their numbers. We may conceive reasons existing at that time, which might induce proprietors to adopt this practice. The principles of husbandry were not then so well understood; proper attention could not therefore be paid to the land, to work and manage it so as to render it duly productive. The farmers, in those times, had neither the industry nor the enterprising spirit which characterises their successors. There was not the same demand for the produce of a farm, which, at that earlier period, did not bring one-third of the price it does now; consequently, one powerful encouragement to agricultural executions was wanting. The master had his rent paid with less trouble.
But all these reasons taken together, will not compensate the local evils produced by this mode of management: for in the first place, it introduced a spirit of engrossing and monopolizing farms, which, as it diminishes the population, has ever been deemed pernicious to the interests of a country. Secondly, it enriched a few individuals, at the expense of numbers, who were cast out of bread. Thirdly, it gave an immediate check to the progress of agriculture. The old husbandry, even with all its defects was better than none. The object of the monopolizer, being to rear cattle only, he paid little regard to ploughing; of course, the quantity of grain was diminished. The land was neglected and suffered to run into a state of absolute wilderness; so that whole tracks of it are now covered with furze; and, from certain stations, the country presents nothing to the eye, but the bleak appearance of a forest. The consequence, upon the whole, has been, that when, in other places, farming, in its present improved forms, had made considerable advances, in this parish it had made none. In the last place, as has been observed before, it gave the finishing hand to the destruction of the fishery. Gentlemen it would appear, are now sensible to these evils, at least, in as far as the interests of agriculture have been affected by them; and it seems to be their wish to have their estates re-peopled , and they have put their tenants upon such a footing, by the late leases, as to make it their interest to clear and cultivate the land; from which the most beneficial effects may be expected.
4 Two of them only are very remarkable. One of these, is a square room of 31 feet, so high in the roof, that a person may stand upright, and seems to be the work of art. The other, which is the largest of the whole, penetrates so far, as never yet to have been explored. The certainty of meeting with dams and roepheitick air, renders such an attempt dangerous, if not impracticable. Concerning the use of these caves, tradition conveys nothing certain, and the legendary tales of superstition respecting them, are too ridiculous to deserve notice.
5 What leads to this conjecture, is, that there is full extant in the possession of Robert Hunter, Esq. of Hunterston, a charter of seasin, signed by Robert the Second at this castle, in the 1374, being the 4th year of his reign, vesting the family of Hunterston, in the property of certain parts of the lands of Ardneel; and to which deed, the names of several nobles who attended the King in that excursion, and composed part of his court, are appended as witnesses.
6 The promontory, near to which, this port and castle are situated, is the extreme point of land directly West from Edinburgh. To this day, the track on a line of road, can be distinctly traced through the country, leading from the capital to this port. From this circumstance, as well as from the very name, we conclude it must have been a place of some consequence. In these barbarous and remote times, there could be no trade carried on in it, to give it that consequence. Neither can it be imagined, there was so much communication between the Highlands and the main land, as that this place might be converted into a mere ferry port, for the convenience of passengers, who we may believe, would hardly be induced, either from profit or curiosity, to visit these inhospitable regions.
The most probable account, therefore of the matter, seems to be that this was the place where they took boat to go over to the celebrated monastery of I. Colm Kill, the most ancient foundation of the kind in Scotland, and which, it is well known, was, for many ages, the burial place of our Scottish Kings. And, as this monastery was established long before any other in this country, it may be supposed, that, in that period of the gloomy reign of superstition, many pilgrimages were made to it. Hence, the name Portincross, being composed of Portus and Crucis; from this port, was the nearest and most direct passage over to the royal cemetery, and from it too, the pious travellers took their departure to do penance, or make their offerings at the sacred place. What corroborates this conjecture somewhat, is, that at Lochransa in the North end of the Arran, there is an old castle, where tradition reports, the companies passing to the western isles (whether these funeral and pilgrimage processions, is uncertain), were wont to stop and refresh; and then, as may be concluded, crossing over the narrow Isthmus of Cantire, and again taking boat, after sailing through the sound between Islay and Jura, were immediately at Iona, the object of their destination. This port and castle have become full more remarkable, from an occurrence that happened near them, and which deserves to be taken notice of here, namely the loss of one of the Spanish ships, that composed the famous Armada, intended for the conquest of England, in the year 1588, in consequence of their dispersion by a storm after the action with the English fleet. She sunk in about 10 fathom water, at no great distance from the shore. It is difficult to assign a reason for the accident; the probability is, that coming up the Frith, with easy weather, and all sail up, and ports open, a sudden gust from the land, which often happens in narrow seas, had overset her. An attempt was made some more than 50 years ago, by means of a diving machine, to examine her situation, and whether it was possible to weigh her, or to recover what was most valuable belonging to her. The diver reported that from the size of her guns, she appeared to be a capital ship; and a very large chest was perceived fixed upon deck. The operation succeeded so far, that some fine brass guns were brought up, and a smaller iron one, which still lies on the beach. This piece of ordnance, has undergone many inspection, and various opinions have been formed about the weight of its shot. To judge form the calibre of it, in its present corroded state, it seems to have been a 14 or 16 pounder. A second attempt was to have been made, with a new and more complete apparatus, when, it is probable, much more of the wreck would have been recovered, but the death of one of the undertakers unfortunately put an end to the scheme.
Within the very same place where the Spanish ship went down, a fine vessel belonging to Glasgow, the richest that ever was fitted out from this country, and the property of Glasford and Company, was also lost, in the spring of the year 1770. This disaster was occasioned, not by the stress of weather, but through the inadvertency of the ship’s company, in allowing the vessel to drift too far in during the night, ere the lighthouse was perceived, and in endeavouring to put her about, the masted stays, and went upon the rocks.
7 Another thing of great importance to be attended to is, the reviving and restoring the fisheries. As farming and fishing cannot conveniently and effectually be carried on together, the last ought to be put upon such a footing, and such encouragement given, as to render it worth any person’s while to pursue it as a separate branch. In order to this, as it is absolutely requisite to have some proper station, to which boats may have easy access upon all occasions and may lie in safety; and also proper habitations for the accommodation of the fishers and their families. Upon a bleak and open coast, such as this, and where there is so much foul ground, a stable and regular fishing can never take place without these provisions. Hitherto, this shore has afforded nothing of the kind. The port of Portincross does not answer the purpose, the entrance of it is so environed with rocks, that boats can only take it in easy weather, and they must be drawn up without the reach of an impetuous surge which drives in with every gale. A little to the northward of the old port, between it, and a place called the Throughlet, the entrance to the precipice above decribed, nature points out a spot, which by the hand of the art and industry, might be formed into an excellent fishing station. There is a fine natural inlet, upon which there is always sufficient depth of water, and which could be easily widened to the design; within, a spacious bason might be scooped out, where boats and smacks of all dimensions might enter and lie in the most perfect security in all weathers. Around this place, is a great deal of barren land, which at present yields but indifferent pasture. This might be profitably laid out in steadings and gardens for the convenience of those employed in the fishing. The execution of this scheme, no doubt, would be attended with considerable expense; bit if it is practicable, what can men of property do with their money that is better? are they not to be blamed for neglecting undertakings, where they might lay it out with advantage, and do essential service to their country?
If fishing was considered as an object, 80 years ago, when the price of fish of all kinds was low; and even under all the disadvantages arising from the want of a convenient harbour: much more would it be an object now, when the prices are advanced in a four, fix, and tenfold proportion, and when every encouragement was given that the nature of the business requires.