A description of the town and parish, printed in the Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland, 1852.
DALRY, a parish, containing a post-town of its own name, near the centre of the district of Cunninghame, Ayrshire.
It is bounded by Kilbirnie, Beith, Kilwinning, Ardrossan, West Kilbride and Largs. Its extreme length, from north to south, is about 10 miles; and its breadth varies from 1½ to 9. It is narrowest in the middle; is nearly dissevered toward the north by the parish of Largs; sends out an arm 3 miles northward from its main body; and is, in consequence, of extremely irregular outline. The surface consists principally of four vales, with their intervening and overshadowing uplands.
The principal vale stretches south-westward along its eastern division, and varies from a mile to ½ a mile in breadth. This vale is watered by the meanderings of the River Garnock, and abounds in fertility and the beauties of agricultural landscape. The other parts of the parish, though well-watered with the Rye, the Caaf and other streams flowing south-eastward and falling into the Garnock, are in general hilly and in some parts, especially toward the north, pretty lofty. Baidland hill, between the Caaf and the Rye, rises 946 feet; and Carwinninghill, to the eastward of the Rye, rises 634 above the level of the sea. At Auchinskich, 2 miles from the village, in a romantic and sylvan dell, is a natural cave, 183 feet in length, and from 5 to 12 in breadth and height, stretching away into the bowels of a precipitous limestone crag, and ceiled and panelled with calcerous incrustations which give it the appearance of Gothic arched work. Coal, at a comparatively inconsiderable depth, is in three places, worked from seams of from 2½ to 5 feet thick.
Limestone abounds in strata of unusual thickness, and in general embosoms numerous petrifactions. Ironstone of excellent quality is plentiful, and has of late years been smelted in extensive furnaces, belonging to four great iron companies: the Ayrshire, the Glengarnock, the Eglinton and the Blair. The iron-works began to get into extensive operation in 1845, and made great changes on the face of the landscape. A public writer in that year remarked: "Were a visitant to clamber to one of the heights and take a panoramic view of the plains below, he would, if he knew the place only a few years ago, be astonished at the change and at the numerous tasks of the busy labourers. The blaze of furnaces, the smoke of coal-pits, the whiter volume emitted by limekilns, and the building of houses, are at intervals seen all over the district.
Since the census in 1841, the parish has received an accession of nearly one thousand. The value of property has been greatly enhanced. The two terms which the late Dr. Smith of Pitcon sold to the Glengarnock Iron Company for about £ 18,000, were in a short time after sold to the Blair Iron Company for £ 35,000. The ironstone is very rich, and the quantity of it will ensure a supply for thirty years at least. Agates have been found in the Rye. In the holm-lands of the parish the soil is a deep alluvial loam; along the base of the hills it is light and dry; in some districts the soil is clayey and retentive; and in others it is reclaimed and cultivated moss.
The principal landowners are Blair of Blair and the Earl of Glasgow; but there are very many others. The yearly value of raw produce was estimated in 1836 at £ 31,345; of which, however, only £ 5,000 was from mines and quarries, which have become so vastlv more productive. Assessed property in 1843, £ 16,313 15s 9d. On the summit of Carwinning-hill are vestiges of an ancient fortification, two acres in area, and formed ofthree concentric circular walls. Near the end of the village is a mound called Court-hill - one of those moats, so common in Scotland, on which justice was administered. Urns and other antiquities have, in various localities, been dug up. In this parish occurred in 1576 a particularly atrocious instance of death at the stake for imputed witchcraft. Dalry was the birthplace of Sir Bryce Blair, who resisted the usurpation of Edward and the home of Captain Thomas Crawford, who captured Dumbarton castle in the reign of Mary. The parish is intersected by the Glasgow and South-Western Railway, and is in other respects well provided with means of communication. Population in 1831, 3739; in 1851, 8865. Houses 1040.
This parish is in the presbytery of Irvine and synod of Glasgow and Ayr. Patron, Blair of Blair. Stipend, £ 231 l0s 6d; glebe, £ 24. Unappropriated teinds, £ 575 9s l0d. Schoolmaster's salary, £ 32 15s 9d, with £ 65 fees. The parish church was built in 1771, and contains 941 sittings. There are in the town and in Kersland barony two other places of worship connected with the Establishment. There is a Free Church, whose receipts in 1853 amounted to £ 119 9s 1d. There is a United Presbyterian Church, with 508 sittings, and an attendance of 350. There is a Roman Catholic chapel, with an attendance of about 300. There are two Assembly schools at Burnsideplace and Kersland barony, a subscription school at Blairmains, a school at Blair iron-work, a Free Church school, a female school of industry, and two private adventure schools. Before the Reformation, the church of Dalry belonged to the monastery of Kilwinning, and was served by a vicar. On a rising ground to the east of the Garnock, about a mile from the present village, formerly stood a chapel, vestiges of which have not long ago disappeared. At a greater distance from the village are still some ruins of another ancient chapel.
The Town of Dalry is beautifully situated on a rising ground on the right bank of the Garnock, immediately below the confluence of the Rye with that river, and not far above the confluence of the Caaf. It commands an extensive view to the south and the northeast; and, owing to the peculiar nature of its site, and the liability to inundation of the mountain streams by which its environs on three sides are washed, it has sometimes the appearance of lifting its head from a lake, and being seated on an island. It is 16 miles from Paisley, 14 from Kilmarnock, 5 from Beith and 9 from Saltcoats. Of no higher origin than the beginning of the 17th century, and long existing as a mere hamlet, it has eventually attained considerable prosperity.
There are five streets, three of which converge and form a sort of square or open area near the centre of the town. The streets indicate the want of police, yet are in a better condition than those of some other towns. There are many well-built houses and some excellent shops. The principal manufacture is weaving, which employs about 500 individuals. But there are also a woollen carding and spinning-mill and a considerable variety of artificers' work. A gas-work was established so long ago as 1834. The town has an Office of the Western Bank, a savings bank, four insurance offices, a free Gardener's lodge, and several libraries and friendly societies. The principal inns are the White Hart, the King's Arms and the Blair Arms. Six fairs are held, or entitled to be held, in the year; but they are little more than nominal - the largest on the last day of July. Population in 1836, about 2000; in 1851, 2706. Houses, 240.
But a town is not only about buildings; it is also about the people. St. Margaret's Church was built on its present site in 1608, having previously occupied a site at Lynn and a hamlet grew around it. The first house was the old manse, a wall of which has been preserved. Cottages were built at the Kirk Close for the beadle, grave-digger, bell-ringer and gardiner, the site then being known as the Kirk Orchard. By 1700 there were about 30 houses round the Church and a population of 100.
By the middle of the century silk weaving had boomed due to an affinity with Paisley and the parish had almost 2000 inhabitants. Later cotton weaving replaced silk weaving and there were 60 weaving looms in the Kirk Close. Travel was by 4-horse stage with two daily runs to Glasgow.
It was a period of relative prosperity for the community. The people were well nourished and healthy. The ladies were considered to be the best dressed in the County with the plaid or shawl part of everyday apparel. Education had great importance, and by 1800 there were nine schools in the parish. The people were unanimously Presbyterian from a covenanting stock. There was a strong sense of values and crime was practically unknown.
Once, a poaching group entered the district but were quickly got rid of and the community freed from what was described as "this nevarious practice". Such was the health of the people that there were several octogenarians in the community. The few who were unable to work were assisted by the town's "Poor Fund". Despite their staunch background, the male population consumed a considerable quantity of alcohol and it appears that, when a boy left school, it was part of his test of manhood to "haud a guid bucket". The black spot in those tranquil days was the cholera epidemic of 1831 which decimated the population. The source of this scourge was found to be an artesian well in Kirk Close.
However, by 1840 there were vast social changes. Feudal jurisdiction had been abolished around 1747. Many wealthy families had been ruined due to gambling, drink and collapse of the Ayr bank in 1772. Power of the local heritors was still further reduced by the 1832 Reform Act. The industrial revolution came and weaving gave way to coal and iron-stone mining. There were 33 pits in the parish and the population increased to 11,000. With the potato famine raging in Ireland, there was a large influx of immigrants and at one time 10% of the population had been born in Ireland.
The town expanded with tenements and miners' rows being built with a resultant depopulation of the countryside. The Glasgow and South-Western Railway was built between Glasgow and Ayr, with a branch at Dalry for Kilmarnock. As the town grew it was stated that not enough local enterprise was shown for it to become a burgh. It was claimed that the coal-owners and iron-masters exploited resources, but did nothing socially in return, an accusation not made against the landowners. The coal owners worked the richest seams, and then abandoned them, the legacy being a sad litter of bings.
The miners were practically serfs owned by their masters. They were poorly paid for a difficult, dangerous job and were segregated in miners' rows. Graphic description of the miner's life is given by Dalry's Arthur Wilson in his "Lays and Tales of the Mines." The collier's wife and children had to assist him in his labours, with children harnessed by chain or belt to a wagon. There is a story of a child being born down a pit and being carried to the surface in its mother's apron.
William Wylie in his "Ayrshire Streams" 1850, paints a vivid picture of life in the Borestone mining community, near Dalry. This attack on the Irish immigrant is scathing. "Too often has the presence of the people from the sister isle acted prejudicially on the native population. They have eaten up our public charities, crowded the calendar of crime to fill our prisons and destroyed the character of Scottish villages. Shadows have darkened into sullen gloomy clouds. Subsisting on the coarsest diet and paucity of apparel, the Irish offer their labour at a lower rate than the Scot". He describes conditions in the hovels by the roadside: "Filth fills the atmosphere with a miasma sufficient to pollute the breezes from the hills. Heaps of ashes and pools of water stagnate at the doors where half-clad, stunted children play around." He talks of vagrancy, pestilence and disease. Wylie's plaint was cultural, social and economic. Not once did he mention religious difference; nor did he appear to have much understanding of the conditions from which these people had fled.
Many of the immigrants were Ulstermen descended from those Scots who took part in the 1606 Colonisation of Ulster, a political move by James I by planting Scots in the wilderness that Antrim then was to provide a bastion against the Spanish threat through Ireland. Thousands more joined them in the reign of Charles II during the persecution of the Covenantors for their rejection of Episcopacy. The famine was not selective regarding creed. Nor did Wylie mention the willingness of the coal-owners to ship the "Cheap Labour" over. Strawhorne and Boyd in the "Statistical Account" speak of clashes between Irish Catholics and Ulster Orangemen.
Inter-marriage, however, seems to have been a great leveller, and from these evolved the indigenous miner of whom Arthur Wilson speaks: "I belong to a breed of hardy mongrel creatures (Scots-lrish) whose menfolk, women and children, have burrowed like rats in the black bowels of the earth. I am a miner, son of a miner, grandson of a miner, and great-grandson of a miner. As a child I sat by the hearthstone and listened to stories of pits and pitmen stories of sweat and grime and callous mistreatment; stories of disaster, of death and of heroism: stories of strikes, coercion, intimidation and victimisation; stories of want of suffering and of sin. From the age of thirteen I had first-hand experience with the misery that had been associated with the winning of coal down through the ages."
This is the background of the majority of Dalry's townspeople. They came from the poor and oppressed, children of the storm and a loyalty was engendered among them, and though renowned for a pithy, witty, philosophy, this loyalty was to become the strongest in the character of the miner. There were strong religious convictions and more churches were built, two of which, St. Andrews and West Parish, have now gone.
General dissatisfaction saw the start of the Labour and Co-operative Movements in 1880. The woollen and textile trades flourished alongside mining. Fireclay was discovered by John Smith and firebricks were produced. Crushed slag from the old bings made building bricks. There were oilskin works, dyeworks, spinning mills, and a creamery.
Almost 100 years before the Battle of Largs, the historical parish of Dalry (Dalrigh) was being formed during the reign of David I. The feudal system of government had spread from England following the Norman Conquest of 1066. After the murder of Thomas à Beckett in 1170 by four English barons, one of these Hugh de Morville, fled to Scotland, as he had association with King David. He was made High Constable of Scotland and given lands in Cunninghame. De Morville bequeathed some of the lands to the Boyles of Kelburne, to William De Blair whose name appears in 1205, to William Kerr who is entered in the Ragman Roll of 1291, and to Walter de Lynne who was a relative of his own. Years later, for his services to Robert Bruce, a Robert Boyd was given the Barony of Dalry or Pitcon which later fell into the hands of Boyles of Kelburne, Earls of Glasgow. Thus, in the 15th century, Dalry Parish consisted of the 5 baronies of Kelburne, Pitcon, Blair, Kersland and Lynn.
The first Church was built on the grounds of Lynne and was later referred to by a post-reformation writer as a "Romish Chapel." The village itself was little more than a hamlet which developed round the site of the present parish church to a village of five streets and a hundred inhabitants at the beginning of the 17th Century. The most romantic, mystical and obscure of the original baronies is that of Lynne. In an old document it is described as "240 acres of arable land on the left bank of the Caaf approaches to the town of Dalry". It was long possessed by a family of the same name, or of that ilk, related to the De Morvilles, "A little ancient family in Cunninghame, but lately extinct."
Historical references can be found: "Over Lynn is Johne Lynns de eoden". Patricus de Lynne, a Scot, received a safe conduct from Henry VI to pass from England to Scotland. In 1495, Johne of Lynne is a witness to the execution of a summons against Craufurd of that ilk. In 1532, "John Lyn de Croftfute[?]" sold forty-shilling land of the old extent of Lyn in the dominion of Kilmarnock, bailliary of Cunningham to "Thome Boyd", brother of Robert Boyd of Kilmarnock.* Thomas Boid de Lynne appoints John Farnlye de edeon, and Thomas Boid, his son, as his executors (1547). "John Linn of that ilk" occurs in the testament of Marione Murchland, spouse to Robert Wilson in Lyn.
In the testament of Jeane Flemyng, spouse to John Conynghame, Minister of Godis Word at Dalry Kirk, who deceist in March 1611, among the debtis awardit by the deid is an item to John Lynne of that ilk. The same John Lynne is again mentioned in 1614, where he is referred to as superior of Hileis in DaIry, on granting a precept by which his seal is fixed in favour of Robert Hunter of Hunterston. This is the last known historical reference to the family.
It was believed that there was a curse surrounding the family, many of whom were supposed to have been gifted with second sight. In Pierce's "Relics of Ancient Poetry" there is a much admired poem called the "Heir of Lynne" and in Robertson's "Tales of Ayrshire" there is a ghost story of premonition and second sight "The Wraith of Lord Lynne" in which Lady Lynne foresaw the death of her son. There was much folklore and tales of witches, fairies and elves inhabiting the Lynn Glen. The last remnants of the family simply vanished, some say to Sweden, and it has been claimed that Jenny Lind the "Swedish Nightingale" is descended from that family. Robertson describes the family as "A beloved aristocracy that came, lingered a while, and vanished." The property was parcelled out into lots among a number of heritors which in 1820 amounted to 16. On Upper Lynn above High Lynn Farm, the ruins of the old manorial place is now nothing more than a mound with some old cottage ruins near it. Much of the property for a time belonged to the Boyd family, but by 1874 belonged to John Crichton.
The Dalry "witch", Bessie Dunlop, who was tragically burned at the stake in Edinburgh, was the spouse of one "Jack o' Linn." During the "persecution times" of Charles II when the Covenantors were being hounded throughout south-west Scotland for their refusal to accept Episcopacy in the Kirk, Alexander Peden preached to the people from the natural pulpit of Pinnioch Point, now more often referred to as Peden's Point. The glen is an attractive spot that has long been enjoyed by the townspeople. The falls, the cataract, the massive boulders and sheltered picnic spots all contribute to its beauty. The native birch, hazel and rowan have been joined by beech and sycamore planted by the Monks of olden times. Ruins of old mills and dwellings can still be seen in the Glen.
* Thanks to Loretta Layman for additional material relating to the 1532 transaction.