A timeline of significant periods and dates in the evolution of West Kilbride
Scroll down to get a list of significant periods, ages, years and dates in the evolution of our village and area.
Our earliest visible time period is around 16,000 BC when the ice age melted and deposited huge rocks on our beaches. As the glaciers melted, compression of the land lessened and the land rose to an average of about 46 feet giving us the familiar raised beach of Seamill.
During the ice age, the glaciers moved across the meltwater between the land mass and the ice, lifting rich fertile soil from the north east of Scotland and bringing it to the the south west. When the ice melted, the soil landed in our area in abundance and we now are blessed to have incredible growing fields such as the Ayrshire potatoes that grow on the raised beaches, and the fertile fields that supported the ecclesiastical lands in the centre of our village throughout the difficult times of the late medieval and Napoleonic wars.
To get a sense of all of this in one view, go to the medieval area of Boydstone which is near the modern day Rowantree Restaurant (you can park your car in public car parks along the beach front). Looking north along the beach front when the tide is out you will see the huge rocks deposited by the glaciers when the ice melted. Then look to your right and you can see how the land rises up suddenly in a cliff. This means you are standing on the raised beach of the Mesolithic times.
To the west of us, on Blackshaw (the black woods) Estate, there is a great deal of evidence supporting some kind of Neolithic settlement. On a huge outcrop of rock lie mysterious cup and ring markings and other stone markings. The rod at the bottom of this 1991 is measured in feet.
The picture below shows a large rock, lying separately from the cup and ring markings. The red, almost paint, colour is actually lichen growing in the grooves of a carving left by neolithic man. As an indication of scale, my house keys are lying on top of the rock to the left.
More information and images on the Blackshaw Cup and Ring Markings can be found by clicking here.
Various other stone age items have been recovered in and around the village including small hammers, flints and a used flour grinding stone which I found myself on Law Hill in the 1990’s.
There have been reports of considerable stone age finds in gardens at Portencross, but I have not seen these. If anyone is aware of any such things, please do let me know and we shall certainly publish photographs if allowed.
The Bronze Age
Several Bronze Age settlements have been identified in the West Kilbride area – at Hunterston, opposite the entrance to the Seamill Hydro, at Glenfoot and Auldhill at Portencross. A great many carved funerary cists have been discovered, some of which now lie in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
West Kilbride is particularly rich in malachite copper ore which is relatively easy to reduce to the base metal. It then can be fixed with 10% tin to make Bronze. Tin was brought up the west coast from Cornwall in ships in the early Bronze Age when the 90% copper was in extremely high demand to make high status weapons, jewellery and other ornaments. Some small bronze deposits have been found in Seamill but nothing significant. It is hard to believe that with all the coastal Bronze Age settlements that have been found, no significant Bronze ware has yet been unearthed such as a recent hoard that was discovered at Lochwinnoch. Here in West Kilbride we live half in hope and half in expectation of great discoveries yet to come.
For many years a huge number of Bronze Age “fish traps” have appeared in the archaeological record all along our coast. These were reckoned to be fashioned rock bays or pools that would entrap fish when the tide went out. Many of these have been tested recently (2014, COMRIE Project – Hunterston Sands) and found to not be correctly positioned to fulfil such a function and so we must treat such descriptions as dubious.
From the Roman writings of Tacitus, we know that General Agricola was in Ayrshire with his armies in the Summer of 82 AD. His original plan was to conquer Ireland and he sent naval scouting expeditions up the west coast. Roman remains have been recently discovered on Arran. Apparently the scouting expeditions found our coast and weather treacherous and so plans of conquests west were cancelled and the armies were sent up the east coast instead.
In 1966, renowned archaeologist Frank Newell wrote a paper in which he proposed that an old drivers route might connect with a proposed Roman pier on the north of the Hunterston Estate. He suggested that this might have been the setting off place for the naval scouts of Agricola. The “Roman Road” was then named Via Avondale and a great deal of local interest was sparked.
It is true that several Roman finds have been made in the area – Roman coins of diverse periods, a brooch at Crosbie, and a sword was found in the sea off Portencross. Several sites were proposed for Forts but the small quantity of finds did not seem to match the proposition that 30,000 Roman troops were stationed here.
In 2014, the Hunterston Sands archaeological investigation found the “Roman” Pier to actually be a 17th Century folly built by the Hunters – probably for smuggling purposes as it was named “Brigurd Point” (Brigand). This then meant the road theory had no real basis in fact and the Roman invasion of West Kilbride (beyond the usual scouting and trading activity) was even less likely.
We now believe that some Romans, or some who traded with Romans, came to West Kilbride, but evidence beyond this is somewhat thin.
In the 7th Century the caves at north Portencross were occupied by aesthetic monks from the Irish diaspora. The caves are about 60 feet high to protect from wild animals, and inserted into the rock horizontally like a coffin shape. Animal bones and other cooking debris have been discovered in the caves.
The Norse-Gaelic Scoti
From about the 9th century to the 12th Century, our area was very much a part of the western Irish Gaelic-Norse Kingdom of Dal Riata. From this era comes the Hunterston Brooch (pictured) which was found on Goldenberry Hill, Portencross in the 19th Century.
The brooch was originally manufactured around 700AD but it was modified around 900AD to include viking runes, before it was lost.
As part of the Kingdom of Dal Riata, as the Scoti tribes we were under the overlordship of the Norwegian King. During this period a dirt track was probably formed (possibly taking over a bronze age track) which was called the “Haef Weg” (Scaldic meaning “The way to the Sea”). This stretched from Portencross through our current Main Street and out of the village towards Glasgow.
By the mid 12th Century we were under the control of Somerled, King of Mann and Lord of the Aisles. He strengthened his grip on the west coast of Scotland between 1153 and 1164 when he was mysteriously killed and beheaded at the battle of Renfrew.
Following the defeat of Somerled, there was a succession crisis with his children. Our area remained under the control of Ragnavald, the son of Somerled. His attention was focussed in fighting with his siblings and maintaining control of the Isles, and consequently the Norman invasion took hold forcing the Scoti into subjugation.
Kilwinning Abbey was founded around 1180 but the area all down the west coast remained fiercely Gaelic-Norse. Control by the Normans was gradually increased by implementing feudal overlordship of conquered lands.
In 1263, King Hakon IV of Norway decided to campaign on the West Coast of Scotland to restore his lands. He assembled a major fleet, anchored it at Cumbrae, and prepared to invade the mainland to fight the Norman Anglo Saxon invasion. However, a few ships were blown adrift in a storm and landed at Largs. A small number of vikingrs were then involved in a minor battle with the overwhelming armies of the King of the Scots (a title now taken by the supreme commander). The battle in itself was not decisive, but in wintering north, King Hakon died shortly thereafter ending direct viking rule of the west.
To the east of the Kilbride Burn, the lands of Law Hill, Tarbert Hill and all the way to Ardrossan were the lands of the Norman de Rosses.
To the west of the Burn, including the Crosbie estate, the highly strategic lands remained in the direct control of the Earl of Arran (often times who was also the King of the Scots or a direct relative).
Foundation of Kilbride
In 1337, Sir John Menteith, Earl of Arran granted lands on Arran and lands in our area to Kilwinning Abbey. The combined “Parish” was called Kilbride and the church that serviced the Parish was dedicated to St Bridget and was based near to de Menteith’s household to the north of Lamlash.
Shown left is the remains of the 14th Century Chapel to St Bridget that gave West Kilbride it’s name.
It was not until the Reformation in 1560 and the elevation of the ecclesiastical Barony in 1567 that the village of Kilbride finally separated from the original chapel on Arran and became it’s own Parish.
The Royal Wedding
Robert Stewart, Earl of Arran and as grandson of the Bruce was heir to the throne. He was feudal overlord of Portencross and Crosbie. In 1355 he married Euphemia de Ross and received as her dowry the lands of West Kilbride to the east of the Kilbride Burn. This now meant in terms of our area, Robert was our feudal overlord including all the lands of our current postcode (except technically for the ecclesiastical lands in the centre of the village).
Building Portencross Castle
Sometime between 1355 and 1371, Robert Stewart built Portencross and Cumbrae Castles as guards against further invasion up the Clyde as had happened in the past at Renfrew and Largs. A number of Royal Charters were signed at Portencross Castle.
On the 22nd February 1371, Robert Stewart ascended the throne of the King of the Scots.
In 1374, lands of Ardneil and Portencross were given to the Hunter family. Ardneil being the old Gaelic for the “height of Neill”. Ardneil became known as the town of the Hunters and over the years the whole lands have become recognised as Hunterston.
A charter signed by Robert II on 2 May 1374 has survived that confirmed a grant of land to William Hunter “..for his faithful service rendered and to be rendered to us in return for a silver penny payable to the Sovereign at Hunterston on the Feast of Pentecost”.
It is suggested by the Hunters that their presence at “Hunters toune” stretched back much earlier than 1374, but no evidence has been found as yet. The Normans did not extend to our area until well into the 14th Century following the building of Ayr castle in 1297.