question, it depends on who you ask. Some place the date of its
founding as early as 1140, while the 17th
Century historian Timothy Pont states that he had studied the Abbey’s
charter which gave the date as 1191. Unfortunately, the charter of
the Abbey has been lost, so we have no accurate records to consult.
Since then, the date of 1188 seems to be popular, in fact the Old
Parish Church celebrated the 800th Anniversary in 1988. The founders
were an Anglo-Norman family named de Morville, some say specifically
Hugh de Morville, as he was High Constable of Scotland. Some claim it
was his son Richard. Others say it was his other son, also
confusingly called Hugh. The truth is, we don’t know for sure.
likely, the abbey was designed and built by Italian and French
mason-monks, assisted by local ‘free’ masons. Being a Freemason
meant that, as a skilled worker, you could travel freely without the
need to obtain permission from any local Lord. These foreign
craftsmen would have brought their practices and customs with them
and would have applied them in Scotland in order to protect their
jobs and skills. They would have had a hand in all aspects of the
building, and many of them would have had skills other than just
of medieval abbeys were not usually credited by name, as the
buildings were for the glory of God, not an individual person. No
doubt some of the monks were also skilled in architecture.
well as the Continent, they came from Kelso Abbey in the Borders.
They were members of the Tironensian Benedictine order, originating
from Tiron in France. Unlike some other orders, they wore grey
Protestant Reformation began in the early 16th Century as an uprising
against the excesses and corruption of the established Roman church.
It spread gradually throughout Europe, and led to the creation of
many different forms of Christian worship which are still active
Abbey fell into ruin, not in one outburst of destructive rioting, but
bit by bit over many, many years. Various local Earls did some damage
in the early 1500s, but stronger action took place in 1559, when the
Earl of Glencairn led a raid during which pictures, books, vestments,
and all other images and idols were said to have been taken to the
Abbey Green and burned. Since there was no system of rebuilding or
preservation, wind and weather took their toll, and the site became a
source of free building material for use elsewhere in the town and
district over many generations. Evidence shows that the Earls of
Eglinton were particularly enthusiastic ‘recyclers’!
town’s ancient name was Segdoune, possibly coming from Sanctoun,
meaning ‘Saint’s town’. It was the first recorded name of a
settlement here, probably in the Corsehill area, which itself comes
hill, or hill of the cross.
town is now named after Saint Winning. Historians and writers
disagree about his origins: some say he came from Ireland, some say
Wales, some even say he was Scottish, so his name also appears
variously as Vinnen, Wynnyng and Finnan. Still more historians state
that a church of Saint Winin existed at Corsehill in the 7th century.
Winin, or maybe Winning, Wissing or Wyssyn may be corruptions of the
name Uinniau, better known as Ninian, so take your pick. What is not
in dispute is that a Holy man arrived via the River Garnock and set
up his church or cell here, hence the ‘kil’
prefix in the town’s name.
Timothy Pont wrote that the Saint was dead and buried in Kilwinning
by 579, whilst other sources say he didn’t even arrive until 715.
We don’t know precisely when the town changed its name.
ruins are all that remain of what was actually a large Georgian
mansion, commissioned by the 12th Earl, and completed in 1802 by the
Edinburgh architect John Paterson on the site of a much earlier
castle. In other words, it was a stately home. Sitting in about 1400
acres of land with about 10 miles of roads, it was a magnificent
building, second only to Culzean Castle. The central saloon was 36
feet wide (11m) and about 100 feet high (30m). The grounds also had a
stable block, a deer park, an enormous bowling green said to be one
of the finest in Britain, a cricket pitch, tennis courts, croquet
lawn, squash court, a rackets hall (the oldest surviving court in the
world and the oldest indoor sports building in Scotland), curling
pond, fish pond, ice houses, gardens, greenhouses, and a private gas
works. At its peak, the estate would have employed more than 400
people. In 1901, it was recorded that Eglinton had the most important
collection of species trees in southern Scotland.
on-going costs of keeping the Eglinton empire afloat were enormous.
Unsuccessful business projects, the poor condition of the Castle, the
effects on the job market of the First World War and death duties all
had impacts on the family finances. The Castle was abandoned in 1925,
was de-roofed and had the windows removed, thus avoiding tax. 1,960
items were auctioned off, raising £7004 and some change. During the
early part of the last War, the Army and Navy used it for target
practice, destroying two of the four towers, and a vehicle
maintenance depot for future European troop landings was established
in the grounds. Around 1973, the ruins were rationalised and made
safe, resulting in what we see today.
13th Earl of Eglinton staged an authentic Medieval Tournament over
three days in August 1839 in the grounds of Eglinton Castle, complete
with Knights on horseback in full armour and all their servants,
feasting, jousting, and a Queen of Beauty. Friends of the Earl, the
cream of the gentry of the day, played the parts of the Knights. They
had been disappointed by the lack of pageantry of Queen Victoria’s
coronation the year before, so it was intended to be a colourful and
no-expense-spared party: indeed, it has been estimated that the event
cost the Earl today’s equivalent of £2 MILLION (about $3.5
free, the extravagant event attracted an estimated 100,000 spectators
from all over the UK, the US and Europe, and it benefitted from the
recent completion of the first public railway lines in Ayrshire.
Unfortunately, torrential rain ruined much of the event, creating
huge cleaning bills for the Earl, and earning the Tournament an
infamous place in history. However, some good weather on the third
day meant that some jousting and pageantry went ahead, and that at
least met with some success. Contrary to popular opinion, the
Tournament did not directly cause the downfall and bankruptcy of the
Eglintons, but it didn’t help. An excellent book, ‘The Knight and
the Umbrella’ by Ian Anstruther, is on sale in the visitor centre
at Eglinton, and tells the whole fascinating story of the event.
cinema in Almswall Road was inspirationally called Kilwinning Picture
House when it opened in 1915. In those days, it also had Vaudeville
presentations before the main feature, live singing and dancing, or
what today we would call ‘Variety’. Films were also shown in the
nearby Temperance Hall, now the Orange Social Club. Latterly, the
cinema was named The Kingsway. The ‘balcony’ was merely a raised
area two steps up from the stalls behind a wooden barrier! The floor
from the front to the back was sloping, with no steps.
closing in the 60s, it became a social club, then a disco called
Flicks. In the early 80s, it caught fire in the middle of the night,
and burned to the ground. Fortunately, there were no casualties, but
the cause was never discovered. The site is now Boots pharmacy.
the end of the 18th Century, many new inventions and innovations led
to the increasing mechanisation of cotton manufacture. In the 1840s,
about half the population was involved in weaving. Within fifty years
or so, this had fallen to less than ten percent. The Cotton House was
a large, three-storey building near to the corner of Dalry Road, a
manufacturing and residential facility to supply muslin to Paisley
and Glasgow merchants. When demolished in 1900, it was found to have
been built largely from robbed Abbey stone. In 1966, a piece of
stonework, allegedly from the tomb of Richard de Morville, was found
in the remains of the garden wall, but its whereabouts are unknown.
was built by Major Hugh Buntine around 1681. He had distinguished
himself in 1645 in Border skirmishes during the English Civil War.
Oliver Cromwell rewarded him by making him ‘Muster-Master of the
Horse’ for Scotland. In 1670, he bought a huge estate which
included Law Castle in West Kilbride. A velvet nightcap which
belonged to him is in the Burrell Collection.
the building was in Greenfoot, between Kyleswell Street and Abbot’s
Walk. It was a large and imposing house, being occupied right up
until the 1940s. It is said that inside was a flight of steps leading
down to the main sewer for the Abbey’s latrines, a possible source
of all those daft stories about secret tunnels under the Abbey.
of the last occupants of the house was Robert Stevenson Shanks. For a
bet, he pushed a wheelbarrow to London and back, claiming he would
return in time to see ‘The Buffs’ – Kilwinning Rangers – win
the Scottish Cup. On May 29th 1909, at Rugby Park, Kilmarnock, The
Buffs beat Strathclyde 1-0 in the Final. Robert completed his round
trip by wheeling his barrow into the ground, to the further cheers of
the large crowd. The house was demolished in 1956.
a few. Over the generations, a selection includes: Andrew
born 1968, novelist; Bernard,
of Kilwinning, Abbot of Arbroath and reputed to have drafted the
Declaration of Arbroath. Died 1331; Colin
born 1952, actor. Moved to Australia aged ten;
born 1953, musician. Moved to Australia 1967, formed the band ‘Men
born 1952, Labour politician and former UK Defence Secretary;
born 1936, jazz saxophonist, moved to Canada 1964; Gordon
born 1954, footballer, played for Kilmarnock and Rangers. Former
Chief Executive of the SFA; Henry
shipbuilder, born 1775, moved to US, known by some as the ‘Father
of the US Navy’; Mikey
born 1974, blind radio producer and DJ, runner-up on ‘Big Brother’
born 1959, classical composer; Julie
born 1980, described as ‘the best woman footballer in the
born 1967, Labour MP; Neil
born 1985, footballer, played for Kilmarnock, Clyde and Dunfermline
born 1961, former BBC weather presenter;
born 1743, author and confidante of the French Royal Court of Marie
born 1874, poet, ‘The Bard of The Yukon’; James
born 1823, State Premier, Victoria, Australia.
born 1976, singer in rock band Idlewild.