The present clock tower was built in 1816 on the
foundations of the original medieval abbey tower. It was designed by
David Hamilton and contains the original clock mechanism, built by James
also 1816. It is run
as a small
museum of local history and heritage. Most of the exhibits are on the
ground floor which is the only part of the building accessible to
Volunteer guides will accompany you up the winding stone staircase to see the exhibits on the first floor, the original clock mechanism on the second, and the bells on the third. Your reward for climbing the 143 steps in total is to reach the roof, for stunning views of the town and surroundings, the immediate Ayrshire coastline and the islands of Arran and Ailsa Craig.
A wide variety of items is on display; descriptions of the origins of the Abbey; medieval carved stonework; photographs of old Kilwinning; a model of Eglinton Castle in its heyday; an illustration of the Kilwinning connection with Robert Burns; information about ‘The Bard of the Yukon’, poet Robert Service who spent some of his youth in the town, and much more.
A display of items relating to the Papingo Shoot, held annually by the Ancient Society of Kilwinning Archers, the oldest archery organisation in the world dating back to 1483, includes antique Papingo targets, arrows and bows, one of which is unique in the world. Papingo is the same word as popinjay or pigeon. In this case, and in common with most other European countries, target practice meant using a live bird attached to the end of a pole. Later the live bird was replaced with a wooden model, or ‘papingo’ with detachable wings. On display are antique wooden birds, dated to the late 1800s.
Three shoots are held at the Tower each year, with the Papingo placed at the top of the Tower, and archers shooting at it from below. The overall winner is the first archer to “ding doon the doo”, or knock the pigeon off its perch! It is the only competition of its type in the world. The magnificent Silver Arrow Trophy, dating from 1724, is on permanent display in Kilwinning Library.
For a stunning 360-degree, Virtual Reality tour of the Abbey grounds and dizzying views from the top of the Tower, visit photographer John Peterson’s site. (You need to have Flashplayer installed for this to work.)
Visit the Heritage Centre Free Entry
Mid-May to mid-September Friday, Saturday & Sunday 1-3. Other openings to be arranged.
Please check our Facebook page for details. Climb the 143 steps for stunning views from the roof. Under 16’s must be accompanied by an adult.
Free online talks
We continue our series of FREE talks via Zoom. All welcome. Tuesday 18 May 7.00-8.00pm Place Names of Ayrshire: Languages and History Professor Thomas Clancy of Glasgow University:
"This talk about the place-names of North Ayrshire (which will also range into the former district of Cunninghame) will look at the many different languages which have contributed throughout history to the landscape, and which are still to be seen in the names today. I will look at some of the earliest names, and the earliest records of names, as well as touching on the origin and meaning of North Ayrshire's town names."
Thomas Clancy has been the Professor of Celtic in the University of Glasgow since 2005, and has taught there for even longer. He is Director of the Survey of Scottish Place-Names, and has led a number of place-names projects in recent years, most recently in Galloway, and one which has just started in the East Ayrshire Coalfields.