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A Brief History of

Muirkirk, East Ayrshire

The small town of Muirkirk, East Ayrshire, in SW Scotland lies on the main A70 trunk road to Edinburgh, some twenty-four miles inland from the seaside resort of Ayr.
Entering Muirkirk by this route from the West, the traveller will see on the right, the "Covenanting Heritage lay-by", which gives further information and most certainly warrants a visit.

Heritage Lay-by
Covenanting Heritage Lay-by

Muirkirk Heritage Park
The heritage display pictured above has transformed the site of the former
Co-op Buildings at the corner of Main Street and Glasgow Road


 
Reference to the area now recognised as Muirkirk can be traced back as far as 1176 in writings by the Monks of Melrose.
The area was part of what had been known as the "Forest of Selkirk". This forest land had, centuries previously, covered the area from Selkirk, in the East,
(no surprises there then!) Westward to the "Castle of Ayr".

Kames Colliery
Kames Colliery, mid 1960s

   
   
Muirkirk Ironworks
Ironworks frontage, mid 1960s
In the mid 17th century, a few extremely crude dwellings sited to the south of what was then no more than a rough track, between Ayr and Edinburgh, constituted a settlement known as "Garan".
In later years, the spelling of Garan became Garron. Whether this change was through education or was simply a "corruption" is debatable. What is known however is that "Garron" relates to horses and there used to be stables at the foot of present day Garronhill. This serves to reinforce the belief that Garronhill is Muirkirk's earliest street.
   
 
 

Garronhill

With the establishment of it's Church (or Kirk), the area took the name "The Moor Kirk of Kyle" referring to the Kirk on the Moor - which leads us very nicely to the present day name of Muirkirk. (Well, I mean, the "Moor Kirk of Kyle"....come on!....that's too much of a mouthful!)

 

Points worthy of Historic Note include:
  • Muirkirk to this day has the reputation of being rather colder weather wise than more coastal districts. In 1740 however, Muirkirk lost almost a third of it's (then) 600 inhabitants, the result of positively arctic conditions which affected most of Northern Europe.
  • In 1787, the first ironworks in Ayrshire was set up in Muirkirk by James Ewing & Co. When at its peak, the works employed in the order of 1,000 people. Production at the works ceased in 1923, although the exact reason is uncertain. Shortage of material does not appear to have been the cause. This understandably had a devastating effect on the community
    The elaborate frontage
    (the "Castle" as it was known locally) remained until it's eventual demolition in 1968.
  • In 1799, what was to become known as the "Kames Colliery" came into being. One of a considerable number of mines in the Muirkirk area, "Kames" was the sole surviving pit by the mid 1920's. It's gates closed for the last time in 1968.
  • In 1848, the Glasgow & South Western Railway Co. completed a line from Auchinleck to Muirkirk. This proved to be of great benefit to industry in the area, affording greater volume of transport potential than traditional modes of the time. However, the "Muirkirk Branch Line", in common with many others, was also to close in the mid 1960's under the axe of the infamous Dr Beeching. The last passenger service from Muirkirk Station was on 5th October 1964.
  • Muirkirk was the first town in Britain to have gas lighting, following establishment of the "Muirkirk Coke & Gaslight Co." in 1859. As a bitter irony, of all the towns and villages in Britain to use "Town Gas", it was the last in Britain to become part of the "*Natural Gas" network, upon closure of the gas works in 1977. This was marked in a news item on TV in 1977.

    *there are still places not connected to the Gas Network - but these use a Propane tank system. It was pointed out to me that the above information was misleading. Hopefully the minor alteration will clarify matters.

    In my youth, I visited a family friend on occasion. He worked as a Stoker in Muirkirk Gas works. I can remember how I enjoyed drinking the delicious tooth-tinglingly cold spring water in the furnace shed!

Central SMT Lodekka

  • Central S.M.T. used to have an "Outstation" in Muirkirk. It was actually a sub-depot of Carluke in Lanarkshire and was built c1933. It employed ten people and was sited across the main road from the filling station visible in the background image on this page.

    Three buses were allocated to Muirkirk around this time, 3 Bristol Lodekka double deckers. The first Leopard to arrive at Muirkirk was reg. no. KGM 675F, fleet no T75. (Photo below)
    That was
    in 1968, taking the fleet to 2 double deckers and 1 single.
    (How's that for useless information?)


    Prior to O.M.O. (One Man Operated) service, the staff comprised 5 drivers and 5 conductress/conductors, although this figure did vary periodically for different reasons.
    My dad drove with Central between the years 1959 - 1970.
    (Central's services from Muirkirk were to / from West Calder and Strathaven) Examples of buses from the 60's (and many more besides) can be seen at the Scottish Vintage Bus Museum at Lathalmond nr Dunfermline. You will find a link to their web site on my "Favourite Links" page, P10.
    In addition to that, I wholeheartedly recommend the link to Central SMT - an excellent website about the company, set up by an enthusiast.)

Dad in new Leopard T75, outside Muirkirk Depot


 

I remember as a boy (now THERE'S a good memory for you!) regular walks with my dad on fair nights were past Macadam's Stone, (P7) heading towards the old Sanquhar Brig (P8) or sometimes turning westward from Macadam's Stone and walking to Tibbie's Brig (P9)

In those days, we lived in "Stitt Place", just to the left of the background image used on this page.
Stitt Place for the most part, comprised flat roofed, pre-fabricated single level housing which extended to the street running behind and parallel called "Pagan Walk" named after local poetess Isabel or "Tibbie" Pagan (c1741 - 1820).

Built after the end of the Second World War, these "prefabs" were intended as temporary accomodation.
Many of these homes however, were still occupied until 1971. A lengthy existence indeed for so-called "temporary" accomodation!

Some of my abiding memories of the prefabricated housing include the flat roof which invariably leaked in heavy rain, the metal window frames which were always cold to the touch, the perpetual condensation on the interior faces of the external walls on anything other than a hot summer's day and, in winter, the icicles hanging from the window sills.

(I mean on the INSIDE!)
Brrrrrrr!

I can recall winter months from the early 1960s, my mother wakening me for school, her breath visible in clouds as soon as she entered "the boys' bedroom. Oh yes, my breath too - as soon as I removed the blankets which were covering my face! I also remeber at least two occasions of her setting fire to a full "Household Box" of matches on returning a partially extinguished match (used to light the obligatory gas heater) to the box. No lasting damage was caused but the stench of burning sulphur lives on..............that and the fact that all the windows had to be thrown wide open to clear the air sort of defeated the purpose of using the matches in the first place!

On a brighter note however, the sun does indeed still shine in Muirkirk from time to time - as the background image used here demonstrates!



 

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Stuart Thomson


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Last updated 7th June 2005

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