D5: McKnight family (farmer, inn-keeper)
Inscription John McKnight, Farmer
IN MEMORY OF
WIFE OF JOHN McKNIGHT FARMER OLD MILL
WHO DIED 10 FEB 1805 AGED 39
JOHN McKNIGHT 02 AUG 1836 AGED 70
AND THEIR CHILDREN
JANET MURRAY 20 OCT 1835 AGED 30
WILHELMINA DIED AT AUCHINLECK MINIGAFF
31 JAN 1847 AGED 53
MARY WIFE OF JAMES CAMPBELL DIED AT AYR
06 FEB 1847 AGED 40
GEORGE DIED AT AUCHINLECK MINIGAFF
9 APRIL 1840(8) AGED 46
JAMES RANKINE DIED AT ? CANADA
22 JULY 1866, AGED 61
ELIZABETH WIFE OF JAMES CAMPBELL
ROAD SURVEYOR DIED 15 OCT 1869 AGED 72
Inscription William McKnight, Innkeeper
LATE IN CASTLE INN
FOR 27 YEARS
WHO DIED 01 SEP 1831, AGED 63
AGNES CRICHTON HIS WIFE
DIED 19 OCT 1859, 84
SON WILLIAM DIED DUMFRIES 23 FEB 1831,
5 CHILDREN DIED IN INFANCY
DAUGHTER ELIZABETH DIED MONTREAL
29 SEP 1842, AGED 43
DAUGHTER AGNES DIED GLASGOW
30 JAN 1844, AGED 38
GRANDSON WILLIAM SCOTT 04 JAN 1857, AGED 16
CATHERINE RANKINE McKNIGHT
THEIR DAUGHTER WHO DIED AT CUMNOCK
7TH JANUARY 1892, AGED 84 YEARS
AGNES CRICHTON McLEOD
THEIR GRANDDAUGHTER WHO DIED
CAMDEN COTTAGE OLD CUMNOCK
8TH SEPTEMBER 1917
AGED 75 YEARS
Prior to the division of the parish of Cumnock into the parishes of New Cumnock and Old Cumnock in 1650 the Old Mill, the chief mill of the barons of Cumnock, was known as the ‘Mylne of Cumnock’. A sluice upstream diverted water from the Afton Water by way of a mill-lead (or lade) to fill the mill-pond in preparation for turning the water wheel and the millstones. The mill-lead then run in front of the Old Mill farm and later behind the back of the castle before draining into the River Nith.
A corn-mill or meal-mill it sat at the foot of the Shilling hill, a name given to a hill where the grain was shilled by throwing it in the air to blow the husks off. In 1893, the ‘auld meal mill’ burned down, on the eve of Burns’ night! In 1735 a new mill had been built on the other side of the road and functioned for many years before being pulled down in the late 1960’s and the mill-pond filled in preparation for new housing.
The earliest recorded miller is a John McNacht who in 1608 was set upon by the Craufurds of Auchincross and forced to hand over £20 – a small fortune – for fear of his life. His descendant, John McNaught was one of the many parishioners interrogated during Covenanting times of the late 17th century. A third John McKnight lived at the Old Mill Farm in the early 18th century. His eldest son George and family were tenants when Robert Burns stayed overnight at the inn within the farm building. The inn was the meeting place of the local heritors (landowners) from 1781 and in 1786 the renowned New Cumnock Herds’ Fair held their first meeting
I. George McKnight (b.1733 d.31.01 1797) and Elizabeth Mitchell
Children: Margaret (b.1764 ), John (b.1766), William (b.1768), Jean (b.1771), George (b.1773), Euphame (b.1775), James (b.1778), Betty (b.1780)
George married Betty Mitchell and together they had eight children. Betty kept an inn within the farm and it was the meeting place of the local heritors (landowners) from 1781 and in 1786 it was here that the renowned New Cumnock Herds’ Fair met for the first time. Betty kept the inn in the Old Mill that was frequentd by Robert Burns on a number of occasions, the most notable in wild January evening in 1789.
On the wintry evening of 10th January 1789 Robert Burns was ejected from the shelter of a Sanquhar inn to make way for the funeral party of Mrs Oswald. He was forced to face the elements and ride 12 miles on his horse Pegasus to New Cumnock and seek shelter in the inn at the Old Mill farm. He writes ‘Suffice to say , that when a good fire at New Cumnock had so far recovered my frozen sinews, I sat down and wrote the inclosed Ode -sacred to the memory of Mrs Oswald of Auchincruive’.
The scathing ode begins with the haunting lines –
‘Dweller in yon dungeon darkRobert Burns
Hangman of creation mark’
Sadly it was on a wild January evening in 1797 ( a year after Burns died) that George McKnight met his death. The report in the Caledonian Mercury of Saturday February 4th, 1797 reads –
‘Monday night last, one George McNaught, a miller in the parish of New Cumnock, while going into the mill, was, through, the tempestousness of the weather, forced a little of the path, and falling into the mill-dam, was drowned. His body was taken out the next morning’
Eldest son John succeeded to the Old Mill on his father’s death while brother William would follow in his mother’s footsteps as an innkeeper.
A. John McKnight (b.1766 d.1836) and Katrine Rankine (b.1770 d.1809)
Children: William (b.1793) , Elizabeth (b.1797), Jennet Murray (b.1799), George (b.1802), James Ranken (b.1805), Mary (b.1806)
John McKnight married Katrine Rankine of Burnton farm and together they had six children born at the Old Mill farm, including Elizabeth McKnight who married James Campbell of Dalhanna . James was the eldest son of William Campbell and Margaret Crawford Young, the daughter of the Reverend James Young, and would as a road surveyor would play a major role in developing the local road network, including in 1863 the building of the Nith Bridge.
John was the last of the McKnights that farmed in the Old Mill farm. He was one of only four people in New Cumnock that was subject to the clock tax of 1789, no doubt the time piece kept in the inn within the farm . One of the other four paying clock tax was innkeeper John Crichton, father of his brother William’s wife Agnes Crichton – time gentleman please!
B. William McKnight (1768-1831) and Agnes Crichton (1775-1859)
Children: Margaret (b.1793), George (b.1794), Betty (b.1799), Jean (b.1800), Eppie (b.1802), Agnes (b.1805), Catherine (b.1807), Susanna (b.1809), Jenny (b.1810), William (b.1814), Mary (b.1818), John (b.1819)
William McKnight married Agnes Crichton daughter of John Crichton (innkeeper). In 1804, they moved to the established Castle Inn, which earned much of its custom from families attending the original parish church (now known as the Auld Kirk) for christenings, weddings, funerals and church-services (2 per Sunday) – located behind their backyard. William and Agnes had twelve of a family and in 1831 William died after 27 years at the Castle Inn.
The church was in a poor state of repair by this time and in 1833 a new church, the current parish church was erected. Eager not to lose the church trade the McKnight family had the Crown Inn built next to the new church and in 1837 widow Agnes was established as the Innkeeper with her daughter Catherine as her assistant. Additional trade was gleaned from the Glasgow-Carlisle coaches which stopped here every day at noon with son, George McKnight looking after the horses working as a hostler. Agnes died in 1859, aged 84. Her daughter Catherine took over as Innkeeper and was still in the Crown Hotel in 1881, aged 74. On retiring she lived in Camden Cottage, Glaisnock Street, Cumnock where she passed away in 1892 and was laid to rest in the McKnight family lair in the Auld Kirkyard.
Auld Kirkyard Map
McKnight family lairs including brothers John and William. Alongside is the family lair of their brother George McKnight of Polshill farm.
Chris Rollie ‘Robert Burns & New Cumnock’ (1996)
- OS 25 inch Scotland, 1892-1949
- Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
I. George McKnight (b.1733 d.31.01 1797) and Elizabeth Mitchell
Children: John (b.1766 ), William (b.1768), Robert (b.1740), George b.(1740), Elspeth (b.1742)
These dates appear to be incorrect as George McKnight could not have had a son in 1740 or daughter in 1742 if he was born in 1733. I believe Elspeth was born in 1779 and married William Herbert born in 1810.
hi Ailistair, thank you for pointing out the mistakes – I think even in New Cumnock this seems a young age to be a dad. Its not the dates that are wrong ive mixed up some another McKnight family’s children i.e. those of JOHN McKNIGHT & JEAN RANKEN who has daughter ELSPETH bapt. in New Cumnock 24/10/1742.
I have bow updated the page
George McKnight & Betty Mitchell had a daughter Euphame born in 1776 – I wonder if this is your Elspeth?
George’s son William McKnight also has a daughter name Eppie (b1802) and I have come across family trees were she is also referred to as Elspeth.and Effie
Yes it is quite young even for New Cumnock. I happened to look this up again as doing some family research into the Herbert family. The Elspeth I mentioned married a George Herbert and I’ve been tracing the Herbert family from there. Elspeth McKnight died in New Cumnock on 23.9.1847 age 72 so that would be about right. Thanks….
This is very interesting. The reason why I say that is I am related to this family. I found this our vis ancestry.com, it would be fantastic if I could one day visit the site.
Thank you for such an interesting read, William and Agnes were my 5x great grandparents.
Hello Jennifer, thank you for visiting the site and I’m glad you found it interesting. kind regards, Bobby
Flowgently, thank you for such an interesting read, William and Agnes are my 4x great grandparents via their daughter Susan(nah) b. 1809 d.1885 who married John Reid.
Thank you for getting in touch David and I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I’m glad to say that the Castle Inn has been saved and is currently under renovation., kind regards, Bobby
Hi Bobby, thank you for your reply. The article prompted me to visit New Cumnock about 2 years ago when I identified the Castle Inn, but was sad to see that the former Crown Hotel had been demolished. Do you know when the Crown closed and has the site been redeveloped ?
Hi David, the Crown had been closed for some time. I think it was as far back as 2006 that East Ayrshire first proposed the demolition, however it was 2016 before the demolition went ahead. Yes, there are well developed plans for social housing on the site. However, New Cumnock had suffered severe flooding in 2015 / 2016 with the Afton Water bursting its banks and a lot of construction was halted until the flood prevention scheme was completed. The scheme is progressing so hopefully we’ll say progress at the Crown site soon. all the best, Bobby