A Bit of History

as we follow the procession to the Moor  -  by Neil Stirrat

Townhead First of all we visit the Porthead Tavern (now rebuilt), which was at one time, as the name suggests, the East Port of the Old Burgh. Immediately across the road is a gent's hairdresser's shop that is separated by a close from The Seven-Day Adventist Church. Look up this close and see the door that the Rev. David Dickson passed through as he walked up Frews Close to enter the church grounds through what was known as Dickson’s gate. This barber's shop used to be the manse of the Old Parish Church.

The Townhouse

Heading towards the Townhouse and passing the entrance to the Volunteer Rooms, we pass the site where the statue of the Lord Chief Justice David Boyle (‘The Black Man’) stood at the edge of the road. Whilst waiting for the Marymass Queen to emerge from the Townhouse, glance aloft at the Tower, and there you will see the weather vane is a Galleon. This relic previously stood pride of place on the tower of the Old Tolbuith, which was erected in the middle of High Street opposite the Royal Bank of Scotland. As we drop our gaze we see six unidentified masks (of Greek gods?) above the windows at ground floor level. In front of the platform where the crowning ceremony takes place, you will see a large circle composed of paving blocks. This was the site of the Old Mercat Cross, and later by the War Memorial that was removed to its present site adjacent the Townhouse. The War Memorial is believed to have been styled on the Mercat Cross.

The High Street

With the crowning of the Queen complete, and at the invitation of the Captain of the Carters, we proceed towards Irvine Moor. As we approach the Cross, look at the building above the jewellers' shop and you will see several windows blocked off. These date back to the time when even daylight was taxed. If you go into the Eglinton Arms for refreshment, look up the lantern above the entrance, there you will see a lady associated with the Eglinton Family who decapitated her kidnapper, and is holding the severed head in her hand. This is the crest to the Eglinton coat of arms. On the other side of the street you will see one of the windows on the gable of the building above Shorts bakers shop, that was liable to pay the unjust Window Tax. This prevented the adjacent building blocking off the daylight.

The Bank of Scotland building houses the bust of the author John Galt, who was born a little further up the street where Mackay had a shop. The section of the pavement between Seagate and Castle St was known as Bachelors Walk. The first house in Bachelors Walk built in off the building line was the site of the Elephant Inn. where students and tutors from Glasgow University sought refuge from a plague of smallpox in the city. When we reach Castle St we can proceed to the Moor via Academy Road or carry on out Kilwinning Road.

via Academy Road

If you go via Academy Road you will pass Stewarthall, one of the oldest surviving buildings opposite the old school gates. Cross over the footbridge and proceed approximately fifty yards, and on your left you will see the Gallows Stone into which the gibbet was inserted. Say "hello" to Rabbie on the way past before witnessing the oldest race meeting in the world.

via Kilwinning Road

Should you decide to carry on via Kilwinning Rd. and you are visiting Irvine after along spell away, you will notice the Academy Annexe and St Mary's School has been demolished, and the convent has been replaced by a housing estate. You will be unaware that you have just crossed the Ministers Caste as you enter the Moor. This was a ditch which assisted in the draining of Scotts Loch, and passed through the convent grounds before discharging into the river.

The Moor

As you enter the Moor look at the gate posts and you will see the remnants of the hinges that supported the tollgates, as this was the main route to Kilwinning in days of yore. The little cottage adjacent was the Toll House.

On Irvine Moor itself you will see large concrete slabs – these were the bases of Nissan Huts used by the military during the war. One absentee this year is the Fever Hospital that was demolished recently – Irvine's first hospital, used by the Red Cross for treating the wounded soldiers during the 1914-18 War.

As we in Irvine say, "Murmuss! Ah've seen it hunners a times".


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