Auld Killie

'A large village and of grate repaire. It hath in it a veekly market, it hath a faire stone bridge over the river Marnock vich glydes hard by the said toune, till it falls into the river Irving. It hath a pretty church from vich ye village castell and lordschipe takes its name… The Lord Boyd is now Lord of it, to quhosse predicessors it hath belonged for maney generations…' -- Timothy Pont, reknowned mapmaker (1609).



Brief History of Kilmarnock

Dean Castle

Town Landmarks

Famous Local People

Killie Links





Brief History of Kilmarnock

Kilmarnock got its name from a monastic cell of St Marnoc probably dating back to the 5th century A.D. It expanded only very slowly for centuries and was for much of its history in the feudal bailiery of Cunninghame. It is thought that the original church in Kilmarnock was set up as a dependency of the monastery in Kilwinning. The feudal lords of Cunninghame saw fit to grant to the Boyd family the lands to the north of the town in the 13th century. Sir Robert Boyd was a follower of the Cunninghame's and fought at the Battle of Largs in 1263 to repel the Viking Invasion. The Boyd's seat of power was Kilmarnock Castle (now called Dean Castle). The man now known as Braveheart, William Wallace was almost certainly born in the 14th century in Riccarton, now part of the present-day Kilmarnock. He was, in fact, the son of Margaret de Crauford and Sir Malcolm Wallace who held the lands of Riccarton. Ellerslie lies between Kilmarnock and the village of Crosshouse.

Tradition has it that Wallace confronted and killed three of a party of English soldiers whilst he was fishing near Riccarton at what was called The Bickering Bush. Kilmarnock and indeed much of Ayrshire has a tradition of fighting for independence and freedom, both political and religious. Robert the Bruce, supported by the Boyd's, fought tenaciously for an independent Scotland and held land in Kilmarnock in the early part of the 14th century.

During the 15th and 16th centuries there were great power struggles among the land lords in and around Kilmarnock. The Craufords, Fitzalans, and Cunninghames along with the Boyds feuding regularly over disputed land. Alexander Cunninghame was created Lord Kilmaurs by James III and was to become Lord Glencairn. It is clear that the Boyd family held great political power in Scotland during the 15th century and held a number of royal appointments at that time.

Kilmarnock remained relatively unimportant during the 16th century, with a number of towns receiving burgh status before it in Ayrshire. Most notable of these were Ayr in 1205, and Kilmaurs in 1527. Kilmarnock was constituted as a burgh, ratified by Parliament, on 5 June 1592 which permitted the election of bailies and other officials to govern the town. It also permitted the holding of 'fairs and mercats' which helped promote trade and some industry in the town. This was especially significant, given Kilmarnock's location on routes from Ayr to Glasgow and Irvine to Edinburgh. The 'Kirktown of Kilmarnock' became ' a free burgh of barony for ever'.

During the next century, Kilmarnock remain a small hamlet with rather primitive buildings and narrow streets, with a population of around 600. It came as no surprise, then, that the whole town was destroyed by fire on 22nd may 1668. However, the town survived the catastrophe and became a centre for weaving and the famous 'Kilmarnock Bonnets'. The town infrastructure also improved with new river-crossings and streets.

In the 18th century, Kilmarnock and the surrounds were a focal point for Covenanting activity and a number of religious skirmishes occurred near the town, resulting in local hangings, notably that of John Nisbet commemorated to this day by a plaque in the town. The people of Kilmarnock were also involved in the Jacobite rebellions of the 18th century with the Earl of Kilmarnock playing a leading role in the Hanoverian cause. The Earl raised an army of townspeople during 1715 to aid the cause against the Jacobites, notably against the famous Rob Roy MacGregor!

With the coming of he 2nd Jacobite Rebellion in 1745, the Earl had changed sides and supported their cause but found the town residents less than enthusiastic about going into battle. To his credit, the earl remained loyal right to the famous Battle of Culloden. For collusion with the Jacobite cause he was sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered in London in 1746, later commuted to beheading. Today, Lady's Walk in the Howard Park Kilmarnock commemorates the grief-stricken walks taken by his young widow, who sadly died but a year after the execution.

Following a fire at the Dean Castle in the 1730's, the Boyds left their ancient stronghold for more urban residence of Kilmarnock House in St. Marnock's Street, near Lady's Walk, in the town itself. The House survived until 1935 when it was demolished to make way for a car park - so much for history!

By the late 18th century Kilmarnock was a bustling township and much development was taking place in the town with an expanding population ( nearly 6000 by 1800). Kilmarnock's association with Scotland's national bard, Robert Burns will forever be remembered with the publishing of the poet's first book of Scots poems in 1886. It did wonders also for the printer John Wilson who prospered as a newspaper magnate in the county, producing the original Ayr Advertiser newspaper.

A second parish church, the High Kirk was built just north west of the town centre in 1740. Until then the Laigh ( Low) Church was the town's only church. Major bridge and road developments took place with a new road now linking the town to Riccarton, until then a separate hamlet and now an integral part of Kilmarnock.

Kilmarnock continued to prosper throughout the 19th and early 20th century with considerable expansion of the town and many new streets, one of which was Duke Street, a very fashionable Victorian street now sadly no more following so called town re-development. Many of the town's most attractive dwelling houses were built during the rather affluent late 19th century.

The early part of the 19th century, however, saw Kilmarnock hit by the same problems as many other weaving towns in Scotland and beyond due to the impact of the power looms. Weavers became very active politically and, given their lack of franchise, were driven to political protest t their conditions. It should be remembered that only a minute fraction of the population were permitted to vote at that time ( only one man in Kilmarnock, Major Parker of Assloss!). The Martyr's Monument in Kilmarnock's Kay Park commemorates the town's 19th century activists who fought for political and parliamentary reform.

The arrival of one of the first railways (and certainly the first public railway) in Scotland between Kilmarnock and the harbour at Troon in 1812, funded by the Duke of Portland established the trend of heavy engineering in Kilmarnock. It became a focal point for communication both for road and rail. The line was built to transport coal from Kilmarnock to the port. Part of the route involved the construction of a viaduct at Laigh Milton Mill. This is now acknowledged as the oldest surviving railway viaduct in the world. Locomotive construction and associated heavy engineering continued to thrive. Andrew Barclay built the first locomotive in Kilmarnock in 1859 with Grant Ritchie & Co. and Dick, Kerr & Co. setting up later in the century. Trams, mining engines and pumps were also produced. Hunslet Barclay remain the only locomotive manufacturers in scotland today.

So it was that in the last century, the town became synonymous with many notable products including Johnny Walker whisky, BMK carpets, Saxone shoes and major engineering and locomotive works. In recent years these major employers have declined and many smaller companies established.

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Dean (or Kilmarnock) Castle

The ancestral home of the Boyd family.


 Dean Castle is the ancient stronghold of the Boyd family and is so called from the word dene meaning a hollow, which is where the castle is situated. It stands at the confluence of the Craufordland and Borland streams where the meet to form Kilmarnock Water. The buildings consist of a Medieval Keep , built in 1360 and a Palace, built around 1468. It was almost burned out in a fire in 1738 but was restored by the 8th Lord Howard de Walden. It was subsequently gifted to the town of Kilmarnock by the 9th Lord and today forms part of an attractive Country Park. The Castle now holds collections of arms and armour, tapestries and, most notably, early musical instruments.

The Country Park was established in 1981 and covers some 200 acres. It consists of meadows, woodlands and the Borland and Craufordland Rivers, with a Nature Trail running through most of the Park. Since its inception, a Nature Farm, Riding School and Adventure Playground have been added, making in an attractive venue for family outings as well as historians.

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Famous Local People





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Kilmarnock Links


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Ayrshire Community Towns and Villages

East Ayrshire Family History Society

Kilmaurs Village and Parish Church


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