The first settlers to Carrick were Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, they would have had fairly meagre lives with survival the only goal in this post-Ice Age landscape. Architectural remains of this era cannot be found, simply because they would not have had the time or resources to build great structures in the first place. The landscape would have more closely resembled Iceland today, rather than South West Scotland as we know it.
The Neolithic or New Stone Age saw the beginning of farming as plants and animals were introduced from mainland Europe. At this time new technologies were developed such as pottery, tools and weaponry. Unlike their Mesolithic ancestors traces of the Neolithic Age can be found throughout Carrick:
Hill forts at Kildoon by Maybole
Hadyard Hill and Dowhill near Girvan see Dowhill Walking trail
Dinvin by Pinmore, (One of the best preserved in Scotland)see Pinmore Walking Trail
Though little is known about these pagan times in Carrick, their standing stones remain in places such as Lyonstone farm near Maybole, Turnberry and at Garleffin, just south of Ballantrae.
Early saints, mainly Irish, as well as St Ninian from Whithorn would have been the main driving forces behind bringing and spreading Christianity in Carrick. Traces of these saints can be found through place names with Ninian commemorated at Killantringan as Ninian was also known in Scotland as Ringan.
While others can be found at:
Auchenblane - field of Blane
Balkissock - town of Kessog or Cessoc
Ballantrae - Cuthbert, the Parish was previously known as Kirkcudbright- Innertig – the church of St Cuthbert at the mouth of the River Tig
Colmonell - Colman Elo
Crossraguel - Riaghail
Kilbride and Kirkbride - Bridget
Kildonan - Donnan
Kilhenzie - Cainneach Mocu Dalon
Kilkerran - Ciaran
Killochan - Onchú
Kilphin - Finnén
Kilwhannel - possibly Connel
Crossraguel Abbey is a place where various parts of the Carrick story come together. It was founded about 1244 by Duncan, the first earl of Carrick who invited monks of the Cluniac order from Paisley Abbey to build this new daughter house of Cluny.
Named after the abbey of Cluny in central France, Paisley and Crossraguel were the only Cluniac monasteries established in Scotland although a priory on the Isle of May was Cluniac for the first 80 years of existence.
Crossraguel is halfway between Paisley Abbey and Whithorn; a deliberate act by the Cluniacs whose mission was to encourage pilgrimage. James IV made numerous pilgrimages to Whithorn from Paisley.
Crossraguel was intended as a place where the Opus Dei, or ‘Work of God‘, was carried out. However, in the early years a power struggle between Paisley and Crossraguel meant it probably did not function properly until after the 13th century.
Then came the Wars of Independence with England after 1296. By this date Robert Bruce, the future King Robert I, was Earl of Carrick. (Earl Duncan’s granddaughter had married Bruce’s father, and Bruce is believed to have been born at nearby Turnberry Castle.) The monks of Crossraguel remained loyal to their new patron throughout the bitter conflict. As a result, the abbey buildings were severely damaged.
James VI sought to take ownership of the abbey in 1602 as a residence for his son, Prince Henry. However, the Prince died in 1612 at the age of 18 and the plan never came to fruition. Around the time of the king’s claim, John Bryce the last Monk had past away. After the 1560 Reformation, monastic life had been allowed to slowly fade away probably due to the protection of the 4th and 5th Earls of Cassillis
After 1560, only the nave was used as a parish church and the rest of the buildings either fell into decay or were dismantled by people taking away building materials for their own homes.
The Great Debate – Reformation in Carrick
Until the 16th Century, Scotland as with the rest of Europe was piously a Catholic nation. However after the government approved the reformation of the church to Protestantism many followers of both the new and the old faith campaigned and debated to show theirs was the true faith of God.
Quntin Kennedy took over the abbacy at Crossraguel Abbey after his uncle Abbot William Kennedy died in 1547. In 1562 he had a three day debate with John Knox, leader of the Scottish Reformation. Each man pitted his wits and their faith against each other. The great controversy, which took place in the house of the Provost of the College Kirk of Maybole, ended inconclusively, with each man claiming victory.
When Quntin died it saw the end of seven generations of Kennedy family control over the abbey. Queen Mary appointed Allan Stewart to take control, but Gilbert Kennedy 4th Earl of Cassillis and self-styled “King of Carrick” did not welcome this. Gilbert kidnapped Stewart of Cardonald from Crossraguel and took him to Dunure Castle where he roasted him on a spit, until after three gruelling days he finally signed the abbey property over to the Earl. Stewart appealed to Privy Council and Kennedy was ordered to return control of the abbey to the Commendator, Allan Stewart.
Farming - Pre1750
As with much of the rest of Scotland, Carrick’s main trade was farming. Agriculture up until 1750 was characterised by short leases, leaving no incentive to farmers to make long term improvements or developments to land or buildings. This continuous attempt to grow on the land depleted the health of the soil and created a subsistence style of farming which kept tenants at best just above starvation. Farm buildings were meagre arrangements of heather thatched roofs supported by clay walls.
Farming – Post 1750
By the last quarter of the 18th Century, agricultural improvement became a focus for many. A major improvement was the introduction of long leases normally 19 years and often with renewal at the same rent guaranteed so that the farmer could stay long enough to enjoy the benefit of his labour. The improvements did not stop there; the introduction of turnips for feeding cattle and potatoes for feeding people; the use of grass seed to improve pasture and the use of lime and dung to improve the soil, enclosing fields to stop cattle damaging land when wet or when growing crops. These and many other improvements created a farming renaissance and helped move Carrick and Scotland’s farming industry from a hard impoverished struggle to the productive market-driven agriculture.
Not all of the big economic booms in Carrick were completely legal and above board. Displaying long stretches of coastline with secluded bays leading to hidden valleys, Carrick was a perfect spot for smuggling to flourish, and in the 18th century it did.
Before the Treaty of the Union was established in 1707, the crown controlled the import and export taxes in Scotland. They enforced these taxes using customs and excise officers; this along with the monopoly held by the English East Indian Company resulted in the increase of smuggling contraband all along the British and Irish coastlines. The high prices and taxes along with the high demand for goods combined with anti-Union feeling in Scotland helped fuel this trade to massive economic growth, which everyone from the old and young to the poor and rich getting involved.
The range of goods smuggled was vast as any import subject to taxes could be a profitable smuggle. The supply chain began with the producers of the goods in their country of origin who would sell to middlemen who in turn would sell to the smugglers legally outside of British territory. The smugglers then transported their tax free goods by boats known as wherries to the shore landing on moonless nights with large groups ready to distribute the contraband to a whole host of hiding places. It is from here that they would later be delivered to the customer.
Although much of Carrick’s coastline is rocky there are some beaches such as Culzean Bay and near the mouth of Lady Burn that smugglers often used as landing places.
By the end of the 18th Century most of the Maybole and many of the Girvan townsfolk had given up farming and branched out into the weaving trade. In Carrick weaving was a family trade with looms set up in the downstairs of dwellings whilst the family lived in the rooms above.
Though it was usually just the men who worked the looms, the women and children were always kept busy washing, cairding and spinning the wool for the looms.
Originally only blankets and rough clothes were produced, but gradually weavers from Ireland came into Maybole and cotton looms were set up. Soon Maybole weavers prospered selling their produce to Glasgow merchants who in turn sold it throughout the country.
However, this boom was not to last for Carrick as the weavers did not adapt with the times. The weavers mainly worked for themselves in their own home selling their produce to merchants and would not combine with other weavers to set up mills. The result of this was a disastrous decline of trade in the area as large mills in the rest of the country with massive economies of scale began to produce much cheaper cloth undercutting the Carrick weavers.
Maybole Boot and Shoe Industry (1838 – 1969)
As the weaving trade declined unemployment grew and labour became cheap. Around the mid 19th century, spotting this unused resource some small shoemakers decided to build boot and shoe-making factories and employ and retrain all the unemployed weavers.
Business boomed and by 1883 there were eight large shoe factories with 1,184 employees producing 12,360 pairs of boots a week. Soon after all across Britain shops were opened named “The Maybole Shoe Shop” selling the factory produce direct to the customer.
Employment level stayed high in Maybole as almost all of the townspeople worked in the Boot and Shoe industry until 1907 when the largest employer Ladywell Factory had to close down. Imitating the end of the weaving trade large numbers of the Maybole men were unemployed, some even emigrated to Canada to find work.
As before the cause of failure was the inability to move with the times as other boot and shore makers modernised their production lines using machinery. Some of the smaller pioneering factories in Maybole did however evolve and install machinery, the other larger factories were soon to follow suit.
The period of both the World Wars saw an economic boom for the boot making industry so the town was fully employed over both these periods. However, the time between them saw the Wellington boot take over as the farmers’ first choice of footwear rather than the leather boots Maybole produced. In this post World War 1 and pre World War 2 period factories closed and employment rates were once again down.
Once again the Second World War boosted employment for Maybole in the short term, but once again when the war ended the industry decreased as unemployment increased.
Only one company Lees & Co. continued to produce boots and was dynamic enough to survive. They modernised their factory and began producing other products, resulting in them being the only large employer in Maybole until 1962. It was in June that year that due to a fire the factory was destroyed seeing the end of Lees & Co and the final nail in the coffin for the shoe making industry in Maybole.
A hundred years of shoe making had put Maybole on the map and recognised throughout Britain as the old song tells:
"Go where you will through Scotia's land,
You'll see our boots on every hand,
It's Maybole on which Scotsmen stand,
This auld toon o' Maybole".
Carrick, Ayrshire 1889
With Cunninghame in the North, Kyle in the Centre and Carrick in the South separated by the River Irvine, Ayr and Doon, the three ancient divisions were combined to create Ayrshire. The main reorganisation took place during the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1889. This Act established a uniform system of county councils and town councils in Scotland and restructured many of Scotland’s counties.
Carrick is a place steeped in history and is the bed that holds many of the roots for some of Scotland’s most famous historical figures. Two Carrick mothers each bore a son, Robert, but both could not be more dissimilar in background, time, direction or achievements. The two however, were both to become famous historical figures in their own right, and certainly the two most famous Robert’s Scotland has ever produced
Robert the Bruce, (1274 -1329)
King of Scots, Earl of Carrick
Where Wallace was to fail in the struggle against English domination, Bruce was to succeed.
Robert I, known as Robert the Bruce, was the king of Scots who secured Scotland's independence from England.
However, none of this may have happened if it was not for the strong will of a widow….
Turnberry Castle previously a stronghold for the Lords of Galloway had passed to the Earls of Carrick and in 1271 was inhabited by Marjorie, the widow countess of Carrick.
As legend has it, Marjorie held the visiting knight Robert de Brus of Annadale captive until he agreed to marry her. Their first-born son believed to have been born in the castle was to become Robert the Bruce.
Born 11 July 1274 into a noble Scottish family
Robert the Bruce gained distant Scottish royal lineage through his father’s
side while his mother’s Gaelic ancestry bestowed upon him the earldom of
Carrick. Though it is not definite The Bruce was born in Turnberry Castle it is
definite that he spent much of his early life there. It is believed that he was
baptised at Kirkoswald and that his baptismal font can still be found to this day in the graveyard at Kirkoswald Parish Church.
In a succession dispute in 1290 – 1292 Bruce’s grandfather laid claim to Scotland’s throne but Edward I king of England ruled against him in favour of John Balliol. Refusing to back Balliol as king The Bruce and his father supported Edward I’s invasion of Scotland in 1296 to force Balliol to abdicate leaving Edward to rule over Scotland as another province of England.
Following this Bruce supported William Wallace’s uprising, however when Wallace was defeated, Bruce’s lands were not confiscated. Then in 1298 Bruce became a guardian of Scotland along with John Comyn, Balliol’s nephew.
As rivals for the throne, Comyn and Bruce met in 1306 at a church in Dumfries where an intense argument ensued and peaked with Bruce stabbing Comyn.
Outlawed by Edward and excommunicated by the Pope, Bruce was crowned King of Scots on the 27th March at Scone.
A year later Bruce was thrown out by Edward’s army and forced to flee. With his wife and daughters imprisoned and brothers executed the Bruce spent the winter in hiding.
On his return the Bruce began a very successful guerrilla war against the English. His most famous victory came at the Battle of Bannockburn in June 1314 where he defeated and sent homeward Edward II’s army, a much larger force than his own. From this victory The Bruce re-established an independent Scottish monarch. Even after this and the Scottish capture of Berwick in 1318, Edward II refused to give up the claim of England being the overlord of Scotland.
After freeing Scotland of Edward II’s rule through the battle of Bannockburn Bruce’s forces aided Ireland in 1315 in their fight to free the country from English ownership. This was headed by Robert the Bruce’s Brother Edward who was even crowned by the Irish as the High King of Ireland in 1316. This second front against the English resulted in a disaster as the country was blighted by famine and the Bruce’s brother was slain in 1318
Two years later a letter was sent to the Pope declaring Robert the Bruce as the rightful king of Scotland. This was known as the Declaration of Arbroath. Four years following this, the Pope lifted The Bruce’s excommunication and Robert received papal recognition as king of an independent Scotland.
In 1327, the English removed Edward II in favour of his son and peace was made with Scotland. This included a total renunciation of all English claims to ownership over Scotland. Robert died on 7 June 1329. He was buried at Dunfermline. He requested that his heart be taken to the Holy Land, but it only got as far as Spain. It was returned to Scotland and buried in Melrose Abbey.
Robert Burns (1759 – 1796)
Robert Burns was the eldest of the seven children William Burness, a poor tenant farmer, and Agnes Broun brought up.
William Burnes was born in Dunnottar and became a gardener. He had to leave his native county in search of work and arrived in Ayrshire in 1750 where he met Agnes Broun at the Maybole fair in 1756.
Agnes Broun the eldest of five siblings was born in Kirkoswald and was only 10 when her mother passed away leaving her to look after her family for two years. Her parents and other family members are buried at the old Church in Kirkoswald. In 1757 she married William Burnes in Maybole and the marriage was blessed with their first-born son Robert on the 25th January 1759
While he spent much of his youth working on his father’s farm he was also well read. Burns gained some schooling at the Dalrymple Parish School just outside of Carrick in 1772, but it was his father, who even in close to poverty conditions, recognised the importance of education and insisted on a tutor for Robert and his brother Gilbert.
Though at 17 he spent some time living in Kirkoswald where he gained more schooling, by the time he was 15 Robert had become the main worker of the farm. To find some relief to his circumstances began to write, it was then that Burns wrote his first verse, “My Handsome Nell”.
In 1784, his father died leaving Robert and his brother to become partners in the farm. However, Robert was less interested in the hard graft of farming and more compelled to the romanticism of poetry and planned to escape to the more exotic climates of the West Indies.
Burns’ first child was born in 1785 by his mother’s servant Elizabeth Paton while he was in the process of courting Jean Armour.
To create the funds for this planned voyage Burns published his poetry. In a volume called the “Kilmarnock Edition” he published his first collection called “Poems – Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect”. The success of his work made him reconsider his plans to leave Scotland.
Jean became pregnant with twins by Burns in 1786, yet her father forbad her from marrying him.
After moving round the country and following his success he eventually arrived in the capital and plunged into the realm of Edinburgh’s high society. Eagerly anticipated by the illustrious social circles, writers and artists, Burns went from local hero to national celebrity in weeks.
Jean Armour's father eventually allowed her to marry him, now that he was no longer a lowly wordsmith. Jean and Robert went on to have nine children in total though only three survived infancy.
Over the following 18 months he spent much of his time in Edinburgh arranging the publication of a second edition of poems.
However though his fame was exponential his finances were not. He attempted to farm again but no fruits came of his labour so to make an income, he became an exciseman. Even though his fortune was down, he continued to write whilst collecting taxes, contributing songs to the likes of James Johnston's "Scot's Musical Museum" and George Thomson's "Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs." In all, more than 400 of Burns' songs are still in existence.
In his final years, he created great poetic masterpieces such as The Lea Rig, Red Red Rose and Tam o’Shanter.
Thought to be one of the greatest narrative poems in the language, Burns wrote Tam o' Shanter to accompany Captain Grose's drawing of Alloway Kirk in his collection Antiquities of Scotland.
The story tells of Tam o’Shanter who stayed to long at a public house and witnessed a disturbing vision on his way home. The themes and imagery that Burns deployed drew heavily on the folklore of witchcraft.
Tam o’Shanter was based on Douglas Graham of Shanter, who was buried in Kirkoswald churchyard close to the final resting place of Burns’s grandparents
At the age of 37, Robert Burns died of heart disease; the funeral was on the same day his wife Jean gave birth to his last child, Maxwell.
The day he was buried over 10,000 mourners came to pay their respects to the “Ploughman Poet”. His popularity was not to diminish after he passed for now, every year on the day of his birth Scots both home and abroad celebrate his life and poetic gifts to the world with a traditional Burns Supper.
Sawney Bean Legend
Though Carrick is a region that hosted many great noble, intellectual, entrepreneurial and poetic historical figures, not all have shared such inspiring attributes. A far more dark and brutal tale is the legend of Sawney Bean.
Sawney Bean was born in the late 14th century, in a small village near Edinburgh. He left his village with a women just as viciously twisted as he was. Having no way to make a living they made their home in a sea cave on the Carrick coast near Ballantrae. They supported themselves by robbing and murdering travellers and locals, feasting on their victim’s pickled and salted flesh……
As the years went by their gruesome family incestuously grew to a tribe of 46 sons, daughters and grandchildren, responsible for the disappearance of hundreds of people. So many folk were murdered, that the Bean family, with their appetites fully catered for, discarded unwanted limbs to the sea.
These stray body parts often washed up on local and distant beaches to the distress of coastal communities.
The areas reputation eventually gained the attention of the authorities and in such suspicious times, many innocent people were executed for the family’s crimes. Most of the time the unlucky traveller was last seen at an inn or lodgings, and with suspicion often landed at the door of those who had seen the victim last, lots of innkeepers were found guilty and executed. So many in fact that it resulted in many innkeepers fleeing to less dangerous parts, and the area became shunned and depopulated.
Sawney’s family had continued to multiply and began attacking much larger groups, it was estimated that in their 25 years of horrific attacks they murdered over a thousand people including children. The cave chosen to house their gruesome family and grisly ways was well hidden, the tide passed right into the mouth of the cave which went almost a mile into the cliffs.
Their reign of terror may have continued if it was not for a chance encounter. A band of barbaric Beans when returning from a local fair on horseback ambushed a couple. The husband fought back intensely with pistol and sword, holding his ground just long enough that fortunately 30 more folk from the fair came along the route forcing Sawney’s clan to retreat. His wife was not so fortunate, losing her balance as the attack ensued she was quickly butchered. Her husband could only watch as his beloved was torn inside out and feasted on by a group of the tribe’s females.
Horrified the man and the group informed magistrates at Glasgow of the attack who told King James. The King was so shocked by the tale he took personal charge, with bloodhounds and a band of 400 men he made for Carrick to begin the hunt.
The king’s men would have missed the well-hidden cave if it was not for the bloodhounds’ keen noses’ picking up the sent of flesh. Inside the men found a horrific scene with dried body parts hanging from the ceiling, pickled limbs in barrels and piles of stolen money and possessions previously owned by Sawney’s victims. The family made no attempt to escape and was brought to Edinburgh in chains.
The gore of this legend does not end there, so horrified by the Beans crimes the people decided to give them an even more gruesome punishment. The execution was slow, the men’s arms and legs were cut off leaving them to bleed to death while the women were burned alive bringing to an end the Sawney Bean reign of terror from a Carrick Cave.