Category Archives: Headstones

Campbells of Dalhanna: Road Builders

Campbells of Dalhanna

The Campbell family have a long association with the lands of Dalhanna (Over Dalhanna) in the lower reaches of Glen Afton in the parish of New Cumnock, legend has it perhaps from the times of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots and numbered among those persecuted in the parish during the Covenanting times.

Dalhanna Farm, New Cumnock

In the Auld Kirkyard, New Cumnock the tombstones of William Campbell and Margaret Young and their family stand side by of that of their son James Campbell and Elizabeth McKnight and their family.

James Campbell & Elizabeth McKnight and William Campbell & Margaret Young

I. William Campbell of Dalhanna (1768-1857)

  • Spouse: Margaret Crawford Young (1773-1858)
  • Children: James (1797), John (1798), William (1799), Elizabeth (1802), Quintin (1804), Jean (1806), Katherine (1808), Robert (1810), Thomas (1812), Marion (1814), Peter (1816), Margaret (1819).

The story of William Campbell, Laird of Dalhanna can be found in the section in thr Heritors of New Cumnock (1833) at New Cumnock History. He married  Margaret Crawford Young, the daughter of the Reverend James Young minister of the parish of over 50 years and remembered as ‘Jamie Goose’ in Robert Burns’ attack on the church “The Kirk’s Alarm”. Together William and Margaret had 12 children,  all named on the family headstone, made up of 7 sons and 5 daughters.


Eldest son James acquired the lands of Dalhanna on his father’s death in 1857  but life on the farm was not for him and  by that time James Campbell had already established himself as a leading road surveyor in the Ayrshire. Before considering James Campbell’s contribution to road network of his time, let’s first consider its development.

Dalhanna Farm and Glen Afton

Turnpike Roads and the Ayr Road Acts

The history and development of the Ayrshire road network is well documented by David McClure in his excellent booklet ‘Tolls and Tacksmen’ [1] and on-line at ‘Old Roads of Scotland’ [2]. Our story of the Ayrshire starts during the turnpike period where tolls were established to meet the costs of building and maintaining roads. An Act of Parliament was necessary to allow a trust to be formed, the first of which applying to Ayrshire was passed in 1767 , some thirty years before James Campbell was born.

The 1767 Ayr Road Act 

McClure explains the provisions of this act and are summarised as follows –

  • named 24 roads with total length of 255 miles,
  • named 135 trustees and their qualifications
  • set tolls which could be applied and permitted the erection of gates, both on turnpike roads and on side roads
  • it permitted the raising of capital by subscription
  • it stipulated that the first meeting should be held on 14th July 1767, with subsequent meetings to be set by adjournment
  • it allowed the conversion of statute labour “for such sums annually as to the said trustees shall seem reasonable” and the appointment of collectors
  • it provide for the setting of milestones.

Road N0.9 of the 24 roads was the road from  ‘Ayr, by Ochiltree, Old Cumnock, New Cumnock, towards Sanquhar so far as the Road within the County of Ayr’

The boundary of New Cumnock -Kirkconnel & Sanquhar road

The 1774  Ayr Road Act 

Provisions of this new act included –

  • named 39 roads with a combined length of 295 miles and the 24 roads brought forward from the previous act  giving a combined total of 63 roads and 550 miles
  • continued with the trustees from the previous act
  • increased the tolls for certain roads in former act and set tolls for new roads
  • it gave preference to the roads contained in the former act
  • as well as milestones it provided for setting up of guide-posts where the roads crossed or joined other roads.

Road No.39 was the road from ‘Dalmellington to New Cumnock’.

Dalmellington Road at Mossmark with junction to Afton Road on left

McClure identified the most active trustees as William Logan of Castlemains, New Cumnock who was in attendance at 129 meetings (including the inaugural meeting 0n 14th July 1767) over the period 1767 to 1805, some 38 years.  Other trustees from New Cumnock included John Logan of Knockshinnoch, William Hyslop of Blackcraig, Thomas Gordon of Earlstoun (Baronet of Afton) , Charles Howatson of Craigdarroch and Adam Crauford Newall of Dalleagles.

The minutes of the general meeting of the trustees in 1782 reveal that ‘the portion of the high road to Dumfries that lay within the parish of New Cumnock was complete.’ The conversion money (i.e. the conversion of statute labour into a tax) for the parish amounted to about £70 per year. Another noteworthy minute involved trustee John Logan of Knockshinnoch (friend of Robert Burns) who was deputed with the great road-builder John Loudon McAdam to go to  Sanquhar for a meeting with Dumfriesshire trustees to consider the appropriate place for McCadam’s Muirkirk to Sanquhar road to cross the county line.

In 1776 George Taylor and Andrew Skinner surveyed the roads of Scotland and the Ayrshire section shows the Ayr to Old Cumnock road (15.2 miles) and then on to New Cumnock (5.1 miles) and from there to Sanquhar (12 miles).

George Taylor and Andrew Skinner (1776)

The 1805  Ayr Road Act 

Further roads were added to the Ayrshire network including the following two relevant to New Cumnock  –

  • ‘A road from the village of Old Cumnock leading past Benston Limework to join the Dalmellington to New Cumnock Road.’
  • ‘A Branch, or other Road, to go off from the Road last described on the Estate of Ochiltree, through Part of that Estate, then through the Lands of Burnockston, and across the Water of Burnock, through another part of the Estate of Ochiltree, all in the said Parish of Ochiltree, till it joins a Road made by the late Earl of Dumfries on his Estate on the March of the Parish of Old Cumnock, leading to the said Earl’s Limework, and the Village of New Cumnock, where it terminates and falls into the great Turnpike Road between Ayr and Dumfries.’
Benston Toll (the tollhouse sat to the left)

The Reverend Matthew Kirkland, minister of the parish of New Cumnock,  writes in the New Statistical Account of the parish in 1832 “There is one turnpike road in the parish and several parish roads in good repair. On the public road there passes daily coach from Glasgow to Carlisle, and from Carlisle to Glasgow.

II. James Campbell of Dalhanna (1797-1871)

  • Spouse : Elizabeth McKnight (1797-1869)
  • Children: Catherine (b.1828), Margaret (b.1829), William (b.1831), Elizabeth (b.1833 d.1836) Jane (b.1835 d.1835), John (b. 1837), Elizabeth (b.1840).

James Campbell was born in April, 1797 at Dalhanna while his future wife Elizabeth Mitchell McKnight was born in September of the same year in the Old Mill farm, the daughter of John McKnight and Katherine Rankine. The McKnight family could trace their time in the mill back to the late 16th century. Within its confines once stood an inn where Elizabeth’s grandparents George McKnight and Betty Mitchell played host to Robert Burns.

The couple moved away from New Cumnock and their first child Catherine was born in 1828 in the neighbouring parish of Ochiltree, where James’ skills as a surveyor were no doubt put to use on the parish and perhaps on the road referred to above in the 1805 Act.

The young family was soon on their travels again and set up home at High Street, Ayr where another daughter Margaret was born the following year. By 1841 the family had grown to five with the addition of three more children William, John and Elizabeth in that order and loss of two in infancy (Elizabeth & Jane).

A flavour of the work carried out by James Campbell can be found in the following extracts from Ayrshire newspapers and local directories.

The Ayr Advertiser , September 12th, 1844

‘CONTRACTORS WANTED: To Raise and Prepare a considerable quantity of PAVING STONES from the lands of South Craig in the Parish of Coylton which are to be carted to Ayr, For particulars application may be made to Mr James Campbell, Road Surveyor or to John Paul, Dean of Guild, Ayr. Ayr, 12th Sept. 1844′

The Ayr Advertiser or West Country Journal, Thursday November 28, 1844

‘ROAD MONEY — AYR DISTRICT: NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN, that the CONVERSION MONEY, in lieu of Statute Labour, for the year 1844 is now under COLLECTION as follows, viz: – For the parish of Tarbolton by Mr ROBERT WALKER, Tarbolton; for the parishes of Coylton, Stair, Ochiltree, Cumnock, New Cumnock and Dalmellington, by Mr JAMES CAMPBELL, Road Surveyor, Ayr; and for the parishes of Newton, Prestwick, Monkton ,St. Evox and Dalrymple by W. BONE, 53 Sandgate Street, Ayr, 25th Nov. 1844′

Directory of Ayr Newton Wallacetown St. Quivox  Prestwick and Monkton

‘Ayr District of Roads and Trustees. — The roads embraced in this district lie in ten parishes of the County — Newton, Monkton, St Quivox, Coylton, Dalrymple, Dalmellington, Ochiltree, Old Cumnock, New Cumnock, and Tarbolton. The turnpike roads are upheld out of the money realised from the let of toll-bars, which, this year, amounted to £3910. The statute or bye-roads on the other hand, are maintained out of the conversion money. The assessment for this purpose, in the parishes stated above, amounts to somewhere between £500 and £600. The conversion money is levied at the rate of 50s. per hundred pounds Scots of valued rent upon tenants of land. Householders are charged 3s., and carters and innkeepers, who let out horses for hire, are assessed in lieu of six days’ statute service —1s, per day for their horses, and 6d. for themselves. Clerk, J, M’Murtrie; Treasurer, William Bone; Surveyor, James Campbell.’

The Campbell family moved to the far end of the High Street, Ayr to Townhead House, presumably in the Townhead district of Ayr with Townhead  Railway Station nearby, which stood a few hundred yards from the modern-day Ayr Station. James Campbell also owned a housed in Afton Bridgend that was rented out.

In 1857 his father William Campbell, the Laird of Dalhanna passed away and James inherited the lands of Dalhanna. There was to be no return to farming for the surveyor and his younger sister Margaret and her husband William Sharp worked  Dalhanna as tenants.

James Campbell fortunes were on the rise and by the 1861 census the family is found at Nursery Hall on the road from Ayr to the small settlement of Whitletts. The property has long since disappeared and would have on sat on what is now the Whitletts. Sadly no postcards or photographs appeared to have survive but the map shows a fair size building with adjoining orchards, gardens or nursery. The property was previously owned by William Campbell Esquire, perhaps a distant relative, who held the lands of Milnquarter, Braehead and Milnacre in the parish.

Nursery Hall, Whitletts

Road Building Brothers

William Campbell (1799-1858) and Thomas Campbell (1812-1884)

The parish of New Cumnock continued to fall under James Campbell’s responsibility as the county’s surveyor. His brothers William and Thomas both worked on the roads. William was ‘a labourer on the turnpike’ and lived at Pathbrae with his wife Janet Park and their children. He was struck down with cholera in 1858, aged 59 years. Thomas was also a labourer on the turnpike and later a roadway surfaceman. He lived with his wife Agnes McMillan at various houses in Afton Bridgend, including for a time in the manse of the Reformed Presbyterian Church and Coupla Brae where he would pass away in 1884, aged 72 years old.


Other ‘Road Surfacemen’ at that time included John Mills who  lived at Afton Bridgend and John Montgomerie a tenant at the Old Mill farm. Montgomerie also farmed at Nether Dalhanna for a time and was clearly known to the Campbells. His son John was killed serving as a sergeant in the Imperial Yeomanry at Boshof, South Africa during the Boer War and is remembered on the family headstone in the Auld Kirkyard.

George Sanderson in ‘New Cumnock  Far and Away’ [3] identifies the change in the nature of the work on road surfaces and in particular the change from the use of water stones & earth to the best blue whinstone; he comments “Samuel Sharp and Tammas Campbell, roadmen of the past, now gave way to a new job description, stone knappers with their long shafted hammers, among them Alex Rorrison, John Blackwood , George Sanderson and Jock McKenzie“.

Critical to the funding of the work carried out on the road networks was the collection of tolls including those strategically positioned to prevent any ‘fly’ detours designed to avoid payment. Trawling through the Census records the following people and places associated with toll-keeping appear.

Turnpike Road

  • Pathhead: Robert McKenzie (1861)
  • Old Mill Toll / School House: Robert McKenzie (1855), Frances & Flora McKenzie (1871)
  •  Gatelochside (Situated on the New Cumnock to Kirkconnel Road between the farms of Blackwood and Polshill ): Agnes Vallance (1841), Elizabeth Richard (1851)

Parish Roads

  • Bowes Cottage (Mansfield Road): Robert Wilson (1851), Marion and Andrew Beattie (1881)
  • Benston Toll: Janet Dunbar (1851), Allan McQuarry (1871), Alexander Boyd (1881)
  • Dalleagles: Andrew Ross (1875), David Turnbull (1881) – also worked as grocer and cow-feeder
T.P. – Toll Point at the Old Mill / Schoolhouse – this area is still known as The Toll

Meanwhile the work of the Ayr District Road Trust continued and the plans for activity during the period March 1863 to March 1864 were proposed by James Campbell, surveyor.

The Ayrshire Express , March 7, 1863

‘AYR ROAD TRUST: STATED MEETING of the TRUSTEES on the TURNPIKE and PARISH ROADS in the DISTRICT of AYR will be held in the Court-House, Ayr on Friday, the 13th March, at Twelve, noon. At this Meeting the Conversion Money will be allocated to all the Parish Roads in the District. The Allocation proposed by Mr Campbell, Road Surveyor, appears from the subjoined Report, prepared an lodged by him  in order of the Trustees. JOHN McMURTIE, Clerk   Ayr 3d March, 1863′

The Report prepared by James Campbell, 25th Feb 1863 covered the parishes of Coylton, Old Cumnock, New Cumnock, Dalmellington, Dalrymple, Monkton, Newton, Ochiltree, Saint Quivox, Tarbolton. It included “an estimate of the probable Expense of Making, Widening, Improving and Repairing the Parish Roads in the District of Ayr, from March 1863 to March 1864.” The extract from the parish of New Cumnock reads –

The Parish of New Cumnock: Sum for allocation £117 5s 3 1/2d

  1. Afton Road / £15
  2. Auchincross Road / £15
  3. Branch from Burnton to Mansfield Road* / £25
  4. Road from Moat to Marchburn Road to the Road from Benston Toll to South Bogg / £5
  5. Road from the Mansfield Road by Midtown to the Cumnock Road** at March £15

* This roads crosses the Nith by a ford. **Cumnock Road is the turnpike road and this is the road from Corsencon to March at the boundary between Ayrshire and Dumfriesshire)

Afton Road with Craigbraneoch Hill and Stayamara in the distance

‘There was a REMIT from the District Trustees to take the Road from the south end of the Afton Road to the separation of Roads to Craigs and Craigdarroch into the list. This road has been formed and slightly metalled. The formation is rather narrow, and the water course are defective. A considerable part on the high side is upon rock. The water courses will not be easily cut in it. Some parts of the high side will require breast walls. Part on the low side has retaining walls without any protection fence. This is dangerous for persons passing along the Road. There are some points of rock that will require to be cut off. The whole Roadway covered 12 feet broad, an 6 inches deep of clean gravel. The water courses cleaned out. In aid of this £92 5s 3 1/2.’


The funding for building and maintaining bridges in Ayrshire was managed by the Bridge Committee.

Ayrshire Express, Saturday 21st February 1863

The Ayrshire Express, April 4, 1863

‘The Stated Meeting of the County Road Trust was held on the Court-house yesterday, at 12 o’clock noon. Present – P.B. Mure Macreadie, J. D. Boswell, Thomas Davidson, Gavin Gemmell, Provost Paterson, Baillie Smith, Robert Robertson and A. Lang. The balance at the credit of the Bridge Fund was ascertained to be £3805 10s 3 1/2d; and it appeared from the pass books containing the account of the Bridge Money, kept by Mr Boswell, that there was in the National Bank of Scotland, at Ayr, on 2d March, £3823 to their credit.’

Mr Boswell, was John Douglas Boswell Esq. of Garallan, Old Cumnock who also owned the lands of South Boig, New Cumnock. Among other things he was the collector of bridge money and  determined how this would be allocated. Sadly this would prove to be his last meeting of the Bridge Committee. He had been in poor health and on travelling from his residence in Ayr to the family estate at Garallan, caught a cold and passed away on 14th April . He lies in the family lair in the kirkyard at Ayr.

Of particular interest in Boswell’s final committee meeting is the allocation of funds to two bridges in the parish of New Cumnock – one small and one large.

  • No 12: Petition by the Most Noble Marquis of Bute and Curators for a Grant to build a Bridge near Dalgig Burn, on the Turnpike Road from the Moat Toll to the Marchburn. £28 16s from new bridge fund
  • No 13: Petition by the Trustees of the Ayr District for additional Grants to re-build and widen the Bridge over the Water of the Nith, on the Turnpike Road from Ayr by Cumnock to the march of the County. £303 15s for widening the bridge from the repair funds, and £604 for repairs from the repairs fund.
Bridge over Dalgig burn

On the motion of Mr Robertson, seconded by the Provost Paterson, it was agreed to transfer the £217 originally given to Afton Bridge for repairs, but which repairs might with perfect safety be laid aside for some time, to the bridge over the Nith at New Cumnock, on the recommendation of the district committee.

Afton Bridge repair funds diverted to the Nith Bridge

The plans for the building a three-arch bridge over the River Nith were quickly progressed and the following advert placed in the Ayrshire Express (18th April 1863)

‘CONTRACTORS WANTED: To BUILD a BRIDGE of THREE ARCHES over the Water of Nith, near New Cumnock on the road from Ayr by Cumnock and New Cumnock to Dumfriesshire. Mr Campbell, Road Surveyor will attend at the Nith Bridge on MONDAY, the 27th current, at 11 o’clock and show the Plans, Sections, and Specifications for the works. Sealed estimates to be lodged by Mr McMurtie Clerk to the Road Trustees, Ayr on or before THURSDAY, 30th current. The Road Trustees do not bind themselves to accept the lowest, or any of the Offers. Security will be required for the due performance of the works. Ayr, 17th April, 1863.’

Nith Bridge with Afton Hotel on the left and original Free Church on the castlehill

The Glasgow to Dumfries and  Carlisle South Western Railway line ran parallel with the River Nith as it cut across the parish of New Cumnock on its way to the Solway Firth. This section of the railway had been completed in 1850 and although it provided competition to the roads, the local traffic from the village to the railway station and back relied heavily on the Nith bridge.

Three-arched Nith Bridge with Arthur Memorial UF Church on the castlehill

NITH BRIDGE FOUNDATION STONE [The Ayrshire Express, 8th August, 1863]

The foundation stone was laid on Thursday 6th August 1863 -“the day was observed as a holiday, being quite a gala day in the parish; and the weather was exceedingly favourable.” The procession left the Castle at one o’clock and the ceremony at the bridge began with some singing followed by a prayer from the parish minister the Reverend Robert Murray. which included the words –

May this bridge, of which we are about to lay the foundation stone, be of great service to this community, and may all who pass over it remember that the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.

The foundation stone was laid and a bottle containing the newspapers of the day and coins of the realm was deposited in the cavity of the stone along  memorial inscribed brass plate.

Nith Bridge, New Cumnock

The Ayrshire Express, November 14, 1863

Ayr Road Trust: The report on the Nith Bridge was read. Provost Campbell made a thorough survey of the work, and found it most substantially executed. The committee had authorised payment of the contract prices. Authority had also been given to Mr Campbell, surveyor, to valuate several pieces of which obstructed the approaches to the bridge, with a view to their purchase. The committee reported that the total outlay was £1475, or less by £125 than the sum of £1600 which by the minutes they were authorized to expend.’

The road to Dalhanna

The three-arch Nith Bridge still stands today over 150 years later a fitting legacy of James Campbell of Dalhanna and his working years as road surveyor with the Ayr District Road Trust. The Old Roads of Scotland web-site [2] provides the following overview of James Campbell, surveyor.

James Campbell

  • Surveyor for the turnpike and statute labour roads in Ayr and Mauchline Districts noted the high cost of maintaining roads in towns due to heavy traffic, pavements, and obtaining road materials.
  • He thought it was more economical to have management of both types of road and that it would be beneficial if revenues could be diverted from particular parishes and particular turnpike roads so that they could be used where most needed.
  • He noted the dissatisfaction with the toll system and felt this could be alleviated if trusts were consolidated and tolls re-sited so that payment only had to be made every 5 or 6 miles. Having to keep separate accounts for each trust led to a great deal of unnecessary work.
  • He thought that having an assessment in place of tolls would be more unfair than tolls, and that it would be difficult to collect a horse assessment.

After retiring from his role as road surveyor James continued to live at Nursery Hall with his wife Elizabeth and son William (civil engineer) and daughter Margaret, both unmarried. Elizabeth passed away in 1869, aged 72 years, while staying with their son John McKnight Campbell (shipbroker) at his home in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow. James passed away two years later, aged 74 years, at his home at Nursery Hall. They rest together in the Campbell lair in the Auld Kirkyard, New Cumnock are also remembered on the McKnight family headstone a few steps away.


McKnight headstone – including Elizabeth wife of James Campbell, Road Surveyor

III. William Campbell of Dalhanna (1831-1914)

Following the death of his father William Campbell, aged 40 years, inherited the lands of Dalhanna. Unmarried William worked as a civil engineer for a time in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He returned to Scotland and lived with his parents at Nursery Hall on the outskirts of Ayr while the farm at Dalhanna continued to be tenanted by his sister Margaret and husband William Sharp.

William followed in his father’s footsteps and worked as a road surveyor; this is his occupation recorded in  the 1875 Valuation Rolls for New Cumnock as the proprietor of Over Dalhanna. It is not clear when he began working in this capacity for the Ayr Road Trust and indeed he later enjoyed an uneasy relationship with the Trust in his endeavour to be admitted as Trustee and this is played out in number of newspaper articles.

He had previously applied to join but withdrew his application in January 1879 only to apply again in July of that year. His application may have been motivated by the Trust’s refusal in March 1879 to accept a petition put forward to the Trust meeting in March.

The Ayrshire Advertiser, or West Country and Galloway Journal,  March 20, 1879

A petition from farmers and others along the Afton road in the New Cumnock district, complaining of the hardship of having to pay a toll when they used only about 70 yards of the turnpike road, and prayed to be relieved from that exaction, was refused

At the same meeting the Surveyor’s recommendation to raise the rate at the Benston toll in the parish of New Cumnock “from 2d to 3d a cart, and other vehicles in proportion was accepted, on the ground that the present revenue was insufficient to maintain the road in the repair“.

Carcow burn bridge & Lochingerroch Farm on the Afton road with Blackcraig hill in the distance

The Ayrshire Advertiser, or West Country and Galloway Journal,  August 7, 1879

William Campbell’s application to join the Trust was also dismissed –

An application by Mr Wm. Campbell of Over Dalhanna to be appointed a Trustee to the roads in the district of Ayr was unanimously dismissed. Mr Campbell’s qualification was, it was explained, sufficient to entitle to him to act as a Trustee for the County, but it was optional on part of the Trustees to appoint him to any district. The dismissal of the application was moved by Col. Campbell of Treesbanks and seconded by Dr Ronald, Ayr.

The Ayrshire Advertiser, or West Country and Galloway Journal,  September 18, 1879

Nevertheless, William Campbell attended the meeting of Ayr Road Trust at the County Buildings in September where the newspaper report refer to him as the “ex-surveyor”. It proved to be a heated meeting. Colonel Campbell moved that Mr Campbell be asked to withdraw, but he refused to do so and stated his case

‘By the Ayrshire Roads Act, I am entitled to vote on the question of maintaining the roads in the County. I may also mention another thing which Mr Shaw (Clerk), will be aware, that independent of any motion, by the minutes of the general meeting, I am entitled to sit as a trustee in the parish of New Cumnock.‘ The heated discussion continued and the Chairman moved that the meeting proceeds to buisness and leaves Mr Campbell’s name of the sederunt which was met with applause and seconded by Dr Ronald. There was then an exchange of words between Colonel Hay Boyd of Townend and William Campbell. “What are you making such a noise about?” demanded the Colonel. “I am not making a noise about anything“, replied Campbell , “I want to talk about my right to act as a Trustee.”  The Chairman instructed the Clerk to proceed to business and the matter was then dropped.  Mr Campbell, maintained his place at the table, and occasionally took part in the conversation on the different subjects discussed.

The Glasgow Herald, November 15, 1879

The newspaper report of November’s meeting of the Ayr Road Trust was accompanied with the sub-heading ‘A Scene’ with William Campbell’s right to attend the meeting was grabbing the headlines again.

Mr William Campbell (the late road surveyor) objected to a portion of the minutes in so far as they related to the erection of a bridge over the Nith and that he objected to the bridge being made of wood instead of iron.”

The Clerk asked Mr Campbell to put his objection in writing before the Chairman (General Burnett of Gadgirth) challenged his right to attend the meeting. Back and forth went argument and counter-argument until the exasperated Chairman exclaimed “You have no right to speak, sir, and if you do you will be turned out the room” forcing Provost Steele to interject “with all respect to the chairman, he did not think the meeting would support such a line of action.” Mr Campbell in deference to some of his friends decide to retire but he had to tell the meeting and the chairman that he had to be there.

The Ayrshire Advertiser, or West Country and Galloway Journal, November 27, 1879

Undeterred William Campbell penned a letter to the Editor of The Ayrshire Advertiser, or West Country and Galloway Journal

“Sir -Having been prevented at the meeting of the above Trust, held on Friday 14th, from explaining how I claimed to be a member of the Trust in so far as the Parish of New Cumnock is concerned. I will feel obliged by your granting me space to show that I claimed nothing but what I was fair and legally entitled to.”

Campbell proceeds to the specific Clause of the Ayrshire Roads Act drawing particular attention to the statement “provided always that the Heritors of each Parish who are Trustees under this Act shall be Trustees of their respective parishes.

Campbell explains I consider this latter part of the clause

“justifies me in attending any meetings, wherever held, at which business regarding the Parish Roads in New Cumnock is taken up, and not, as the Clerk (Mr. C. G. Shaw) states, only those which are held in the Parish of New Cumnock, where a meeting of the Parish Roads Trustees has not been held during the currency of the present Act, which came into force in 1847. It is even doubtful if such a meeting has been held in the parish within the memory of oldest inhabitant. I may also give the opinion of the Clerk (Mr. Wm Pollock) of the General Road Trust for the County, and that is – I am entitled to be present at all meetings of the Ayr District Road Trust at which business affecting the Parish Roads in New Cumnock is taken up, and my experience is that business affecting them may be brought up by any member.”

Campbell then expanded on the matter of the bridge over the Water of Nith, on a New Cumnock parish road, that he had been prevented from discussing at the Trust meeting last week. He explains

“A bridge there is much-needed, and I merely wished to say that if, instead of erecting a wooden foot-bridge, a grant from the bridge funds had been applied for to build a bridge with stone abutments and iron girders and of a width suitable for the traffic of district, three-fifths of the cost might have been obtained, and the proprietors benefited would no doubt have contributed handsomely.”

From the Ha’Runnel : Bridge over River Nith in foreground with Glen Afton in the distance

The Ayr Advertiser, or West Country and Galloway Journal, December 18, 1879

County of Ayr Road Trust: The TRUSTEES will hold a STATED GENERAL MEETING within the COUNTY BUILDINGS, at AYR, on FRIDAY the 2d of January next, at Noon. The meeting will dispose of the following matters: namely,

  1. A motion, of which notice was given by MR JAMES INGLIS McDERMENT Eldest, Bailie of the Burgh of Newton-on-Ayr, at the last Stated General Meeting of the Trustees, that the Resolution of the Trustees at their Stated General Meeting held on the 1st August last, refusing an application of William Campbell of Over Dalhanna, Nurseryhall, Ayr to be appointed a Road Trustee for the District of Ayr and on the Parish Roads in the Parishes of that District, be revoked and that Mr Campbell be appointed in terms of his application.
  2. An appeal by the said Mr WILLIAM CAMPBELL against the proceedings of a meeting of the Road Trustees for the District of Ayr, held on the 14th November last, in so far as his acting as a Trustee for the Parish Roads in the Parish of New Cumnock is concerned.
  3. Applications for the Authority to Pay Grants of Bridge Money

William Pollock, Clerk / Ayr, 16th December, 1879.

The new decade began with good news for the New Cumnock landowner. 

The Glasgow Herald, 3rd January 1880

On the motion of Mr McDerment and seconded by General Burnett of Gadgirth, William Campbell, late road surveyor, was unanimously appointed a Trustee for the Ayr District.

His appointment went through unanimously, the motion being seconded by Burnett of Gadgirth who had threatened to have Campbell ejected from the meeting back in mid-November, perhaps in an attempt to building some bridges, metaphorically speaking!

William Campbell continued to represent the parish of New Cumnock for many years. He moved from Nursery Hall and lived with his spinster sister Margaret at Stewart Villa in the Hawkhill district of Ayr, on the Whitletts Road.

The Ayr Advertiser, or West Country and Galloway Journal, February 8, 1879

County of Ayr Road Trust:  The first meeting of the Trustees appointed under the Roads and Bridges Act of 1878 was held in the Court House, Ayr, on Tuesday last. The meeting was the largest of the kind we have seen in Ayr, both the area and the gallery of the Court House being filled.

The New Cumnock representatives that day were –

  • William Campbell of Dalhanna
  • James Craig of Craigdarroch
  • Alexander Hazle of Blackcraig
  • William Howat, Burnfoot
  • William Hyslop of Bank
  • Hugh C McKerrow, Muirfoot
  • John Picken, Mansfield Mains
Bout Burn Bridge, Afton Road with Blackcraig Hill

Perhaps by that time, or soon after, Campbell and other landed proprietors in New Cumnock had been successful in their application for funds to build an iron bridge with stone abutments over the River Nith. It is fitting that after James Campbell had been a driving force to improve the Nith Bridge on the turnpike road through the town of New Cumnock, that his eldest son William Campbell had been a driving force in building of the Nith Bridge on the parish road from Connel Park to Old Cumnock.

Bridge over the Nith on the parish road from Connel Park to Old Cumnock

William Campbell died in 1914, aged 83 years old, at his home at Stewart Villa. His sister Margaret Crawford Young Campbell had passed away at their home three years beforehand and both lie together in the family lair in the Auld Kirkyard, New Cumnock. William’s younger, and only, brother John McKnight Campbell had passed away in 1906 and his story will follow. It was John’s son James Campbell that fell heir to the lands of Dalhanna. Born in Glasgow in 1866 , he would marry Grace Bryson from the parish of Sorn, his father had acquired the lands of Daldorch in that parish. This family moved to County Durham where John became a very successful iron merchant and the Campbell of Dalhanna’s links with New Cumnock were now entirely that off absentee landlord, the tenants farmers at Dalhanna had not been a member of that family for over forty years.

The road to Dalhanna Farm road

Dalhanna Farm continues to nestle on the lower slopes of Dalhanna hill a few hundred yards from the Afton Water in glorious Glen Afton.


Following in the footsteps of James Campbell and his son William as road surveyors in the district of Ayr was surveyor Allan Stevenson, born in Tarbolton. His father John Stevenson later worked on Garallan Estate, Cumnock for a time before moving to Sorn and then returning to Changue in Cumnock where the well known Stevensons Dairy Farm emerged.

Muifoot Burn Bridge, Mansfield Road

Allan Stevenson was appointed as the first secretary of the Road Surveyors Association of Scotland in 1884 and held the post for 25 years. He became a prominent architect in the county and his contributions in New Cumnock listed in the Dictionary of Architects [4]  are as follows – the Muirfoot Burn Bridge on the Mansfield Road (plans, 1875), West Polquhirter Bridge (plans, 1880), Afton Bridge (additionss & alterations, 1882), New Cumnock Town Hall (1888), Afton Cemetery (plans, 1901) and Glen Afton Sanatorium (site architect, 1904; extensions, 1908, 1915).  Another of Stevenson’s contribution worthy of note in the context of the Campells of Dalhanna is the additions and alterations made in 1921 to former Campbell residence of Nursery Hall, Whitletts, then owned by William Baird & Company. 

You can read more about Allan Stevenson at the Dictionary of Scottish Architects project


[1]  David McLure (1994), Tolls and Tacksmen. 18th century Roads in the County of John Loudoun McAdam. Ayrshire Monographs No. 13. Ayr Arch & Nat Hist Soc.

[2]’Old Roads of Scotland web-site’, Gerald Cummins at

[3] George Sanderson (1992), New Cumnock Far and Away, Geddes (Irvine)

[4] Dictionary of Scottish Architects project

National Library of Scotland

Scotland’s People

Scotland’s Places 

The British Newspapers Archives

The Callan Family: Grocers and Engine-keepers

When strolling  through the Auld Kirkyard at New Cumnock take time to pay your respects to the Callan family. But what is their story?


10 DEC 1864 AGED 30 YEARS

This branch of the Callan family’s connection with New Cumnock began with John Callan and his wife Mary Hunter setting up home at Grieve Hill, the small miners’ row attached to the Mansfield Colliery. John, from Durisdeer, Dumfriesshire was the son of Archibald Callan, a lead-miner and Isabella Meggat. His wife Mary was the daughter of John Hunter, an agricultural labourer in Morton, Dumfriesshire and Isabella Somerville.

The family appear in the 1841 Census records as coal miner John and Mary at Grieve hill along with their six children – Archibald (b. 1823) and Tibby (b.1827), both born at Sanquhar, Dumfriesshire along with the New Cumnock born trio of John (b.1836), Mary (b.1838) and Jane (b.1840).


Mansfield Colliery with the small row of houses at Grieve hill.

Two years later following the great schism (‘The Disruption’) in the Church of Scotland many of the parishioners in New Cumnock left the Established Church to join the Free Church of Scotland.  John was a member of the Free Church committee that quickly set out to build a new church on the castle-hill, the foundation stone being laid on 29th August 1843.

By the time of the next census of 1851 John had established himself as a grocer based at the Castle. He was one of four grocers in New Cumnock listed in the Ayrshire Directory of that year, the others being Mrs.Brown, Castle along with William Aird and Hugh McKerrow both at Pathhead. Youngest son John (16) found work as a shoemaker’s apprentice while eldest son Archibald (27) remained at Grieve Hill working at the colliery on the hill as an engine keeper.

John Callan relocated his grocer’s to Mansfield Village and set up home at Pathhead where his bachelor son Archibald, returned to the family home, now working as a coal miner, presumably at the nearby Pathhead pits.

Meanwhile youngest son John had not only left the family home but had left New Cumnock and moved to the Newton and Wallacetoun district of Ayr (in the parish of St. Quivox) where he followed in the steps of his elder brother Archie and worked as an engine keeper at the nearby coal pits.


A: junction of George Street & Content Street B: Coal Pits and Tram Road

John lived at Content Street, on the north side of the River Ayr and in 1858 he married Carluke-born Margaret Robertson, dressmaker who lived at the High Street, south of the river. She was the daughter John Robertson, underground pit manager (possibly at the same pit at where John worked) and Janet Murray.

John and Margaret set up home at George Street, just round the corner from Content Street, where sons John (b.1859) and James Robertson (b.1861) were born. It is under this address which John Callan, engine-keeper appears in the Ayrshire Directory (1861). [N.B. in the 1861 census the family address in given as Youngs Land, parish of St. Quivox]. When third son Archibald is born the following year, the address is given as Whitletts, St.Quivox.

Soon after John returned to New Cumnock with his family during a time of significant developments in the New Cumnock coalfield. John Hyslop of Bank had formed the Bank Coal Company in 1860 and three years later he established a branch line from the major Glasgow & South Western Railway line to the Bank pits.


A: Junction at main G&SWR line (Glasgow- Dumfries), B: Bank House and coalfields. 1: Pathhead, 2: Mansfield, 3: Castle, 4: Connelburn

This line cut across the New Cumnock – Dalmellington road at Connelburn where it was necessary to set up gates and a level crossing as well as a gatehouse. It was here that John Callan, engine-keeper set up home and that his young wife Margaret probably managed the closing and opening of the gates.


Gatehouse at the level crossing of mineral railway to the Bank

Sadly, John was struck down by fever for several months before dying of dropsy at the age of 30 years old. His death certificate refers to the gatehouse as the Railway Cottage, while his headstone in the Auld Kirkyard at New Cumnock records the local name of Gatehouse, Connelburn.


The gatehouse would have stood behind the gate on the right.

Margaret (27) moved the family to Maryhill, Glasgow and lived with her sister Barbara Robertson, a grocer and provision merchant. Through time, and in Callan tradition, son John found employment as an engineer-turner and son Archibald entered the grocery trade; while middle son James worked as a clerk in the local gasworks.

Back at New Cumnock the Callan family moved to Pathbrae where John and son Archibald also owned and rented out some of the adjacent properties. In 1873 Mary passed away and was laid to rest in the family plot at the Auld Kirkyard. The following year 73 year old John married his housekeeper Margaret (57) and moves to nearby Pathhead, where the Callan family again own and rent out adjacent properties – son Archibald with a number in Polquheys Road.


1: Pathbrae 2: Polquheys Road

John passed away in 1886, aged 79 years and his name alongside that of and ‘Merchant, Pathhead’ is  carved on the family headstone. Archibald passed away at Polquheys Road, Pathhead in 1897 aged 73 years and rests along with his brother , father and mother in the Auld Kirkyard.  John Callan’s second wife, Margaret Patrick died in 1900, aged 81 years and presumably is buried in the Afton Cemetery.


Maps ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’

Gibson & Lees and Letters & Shoe Leather

Headstones off John Gibson and John Lees

Headstones of John Gibson and John Lees, Auld Kirk, New Cumnock

The headstones of John Gibson, John Lees and their families can be found in the Auld Kirkyard, New Cumnock. Although, there is no information on either stone to suggest any connection between these two men, they raised their families in New Cumnock as work colleagues and friends.

John Gibson: The Early Years


Burns Street, Tarbolton and Tarbolton Church

John Gibson was born on 29th June 1855 at Tarbolton, Ayrshire the fifth child of William Gibson and Agnes Oliver. His father was an agricultural labourer and the family lived at 11 Burns Street a stone’s throw from Tarbolton kirk. As a 15 year old he began learning his trade as a shoemaker’s apprentice, living at Smithfield farm on the outskirts of the village.


Ordnance Survey Map (1896): Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

It is unclear when John moved to New Cumnock, however in 1881 he was residing as a boarder at Mains Avenue, New Cumnock working as rural letter carrier. Mains Avenue, now known as Castlemains Avenue, then comprised two semi-detached dwellings on the road from Afton Bridgend to Castlemains Farm. The letter ‘P’ can be seen at one of the dwellings in the Ordnance Survey map and this symbol was often used to indicate, amongst other things, ‘small-scale Post Office’. At that time Cumnock-born Mary Kerr was the post-mistress at the main Post Office in the Castle. A young widow, aged 35 years, she lived there with her two young children, both of whom had been born at Ontario, Canada.

In 1884, John Gibson married local girl Margaret Stewart McCartney. Her father John McCartney had moved to New Cumnock from Argyll and worked as an agricultural labourer at Merkland farm where he met and later married Janet Steele, daughter of the farmer Robert Steele and Flora Vass. John McCartney then moved from Merkland to the Castlehill (Stank Brae) and worked as a railway porter. The marriage was conducted by the Free Church minister George Anderson and the witnesses to the marriage were Margaret’s sister Flora and John Lees, a friend and colleague of John.

John Lees – The Early Years

John was born on 27th September 1863 the first child of James Lees, farm servant at Dalmaca Toll, Coylton and his wife Mary Brown. Siblings Euphemia and David were born before the family moved to New Cumnock to live at the Bank Cottage, where in 1869 , another sister Margaret was born.

The cottages stood at the road-end to the grand Bank House, home to William Hyslop, head of the New Bank Coal Company and his wife Margaret Gibson, who coincidentally had been born at Dalmaca Toll, some seven years before John Lees.

Bank Glen, New Cumnock

Bank Glen, New Cumnock

As the New Cumnock coal-field developed and the Bank Cottages had become part of the developing Bank Glen community the Lees family now lived in the Bank Glen row. James Lees  now laboured at the pit-head rather than on the land as a ploughman.  By 1881 the Lees family had grown to include children Jane, Andrew, James and William, while John, now aged 17 was working as a shoemaker’s apprentice, probably to shoemaker George Houston, who also resided at one of the Bank Cottages.


Ordnance Survey Map (1857): Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland. B: Bank Cottages , S: Stepends

The Lees family moved to Stepends cottage, owned by the Bank estate, on the bank of the Connel Burn. To supplement his income from shoe-making John Lees had also taken to delivering the mail as a post runner .

Nether Linn

Nether Linn, Mansfield, New Cumnock

On 28th November 1890, John Lees married Elizabeth (Bessie) Milligan, daughter of Anthony Milligan and Jane Gemmell. Bessie had been born at Pathhead, New Cumnock before the family moved to Brandley farm near the Glendyne Burn, Sanquhar. The family returned to New Cumnock and lived at Linn (also known as Nether Linn) on the Mansfield estate where her father was coachman to the Stuart-Menteth family, baronets of Closeburn and Mansfield.  The couple were married at Linn farm and set up home at Pathhead.

Gibson & Lees Boot & Shoemakers

It’s difficult to say for certain when exactly John Gibson and John Lees entered into their business partnership. In 1891 both recorded the same occupation, more or less,  in the census of that year, Gibson a ‘rural postman & shoemaker’ and Lees a ‘rural letter carrier & postman and shoemaker. The combination of these two jobs was not uncommon in New Cumnock as witnessed by George Sanderson in “New Cumnock Far and Away” [1] through identifying George McKnight, John Stevenson and William Barbour as others that walked the length and breadth of the parish delivering the mail while no doubt wearing out their shoe-leather.


Ordnance Survey Map (1896): Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

In 1892 John Gibson was appointed post-master [2] and he, his wife Maggie and their three young children, William,  John and Jessie lived at the Castle, the main thoroughfare through the growing town.  The post-office (indicated by P.O. in the map above) was located a few hundred yards away on the opposite side of the road from the kirk-port, the entrance to the Auld Kirk and Kirkyard.


Thomas Kirkland’ shop with Post Office to the left

Thomas Kirkland’s Drapery.

Thomas Kirkland owned this building which housed the Kirkland home and drapery, the Post Office and  a bakery along with the home of John Wilson and his family, baker at that time.


In 1893 the name of Gibson & Lees appeared in the ‘Ayrshire, Dumfriesshire, Wigtownshire, and Kirkcudbrightshire Business Directory'[3] under the list of Boot and Shoe Makers –

  • Cowan, William,
  • Gibson Thomas
  • Gibson & Lees
  • Gordon, John
  • Logan, William

A few years later the name of John Currie had replaced that of William Cowan, while John Gibson was also listed as Bookseller & Stationer.

Tragedy struck the Gibson family in 1894 when John’s wife Maggie died of pneumonia at the young age of 31 years old, a month after the birth of their fourth child James. Sister-in-law Flora McCartney took over the task of house-keeper and her telegraphist skills honed when she had worked at the Railway Station would later be put to use in the Post Office.

New Cumnock to Newcumnock

On the subject of telegrams George Sanderson [2] relates how in 1902 –

‘there was a strong movement in the Post Office to have the official name of New Cumnock changed to Newcumnock. This it was claimed would avoid confusion with Cumnock and it was jocularly pointed out would save a coin every time a person was sending a telegram; one word instead of two and payment was a penny a word.’

post office henderson

Post Office, Henderson Building, Castle , New Cumnock

The following year the post office relocated along the road to the Henderson Buildings, owned by grocer James Henderson, where  eldest son William Gibson earned his crust as a telegraph clerk.  The Scottish Post Office Directory of 1903 [4] provided details of the post office at the Castle and the Bank.


Population, 1891, 4,419, and 1901 was 5,367, of which 2,005 are in the town.

  • Post, T. & M. O. O. & S. B. ; John Gibson, postmaster (Railway Sub-Office. Letters should have R.S.O. Ayrshire added to them). Deliveries, 6 a.m. & 4.45 & 7 p.m. ; dispatches, 9.20 a.m. & 1, 6.10 & 9.30 p.m. Office opened from 9 till 10 on Sundays for callers’ letters
  • Post, M. O., T., T. M. O., E. D. & P. P. Office, S. B. & Annuity & Insurance Office, Bank ; James Shankland, sub- postmaster. (Letters should have ” New Cumnock R.S.O. Ayrshire ” added to them.). Dispatches, 12.20 & 7.55 p.m.


Bank Post Office ‘For : Money Order Savings Bank, Parcel Post & Telegraph and Insurance and Annuity Business’

The post-office at the Bank was set up in one of the Bank Cottages, where the Lees family had lived. Sub-postmaster James Shankland and his family lived at Stepends (where the Lees family had also once resided) including his daughter Grace, a telegraphist and young son James, a telegraph message boy.

The Directory also recorded John Gibson as a “stationer and china dealer” and a close look at the post office shop window in the Henderson buildings (above) reveals a fine display of fine china; while Gibson & Lees were still one of the established  boot-makers in the town.

Postcards were popular means of communication

Postcards were popular means of communication and many were published by John Gibson

John Lees and his wife Bessie were still living at Pathhead at this time. Their daughter Jane had died in infancy in 1894 and since then the family had grown to six with four children Mary, Anthony, James and John.

Sadly John Gibson’s health deteriorated and his sister-in-law Flora McCartney took up the position of postmistress and in February 1905, he passed away at his home in the Castle, aged 49 years old. George Sanderson [1] gives a brief insight into his social life in the town –

“like other merchants his ‘free time’ was taken up by community life: amateur dramatics, his own choral association, member of the band and held all the posts at the bowling green. On his death the post office was employing 12 persons full time”.

On 21st March 1905 the Co-partnership of Gibson and Lees was dissolved and the following ‘Notice of Dissolution’ appeared in the Edinburgh Gazette, 20th June 1905 [5]

‘The subscriber Mr John Lees will carry on the Business in his own name, and has arranged with the Trustees of the late Mr. Gibson to pay all debts due by, and collect all outstanding accounts due to, the late Firm.’

  • William Young, Solicitor, New Cumnock witness
  • Bella Dick, Saleswoman, New Cumnock, witness
  • FLORA McCARTNEY and JAMES MOODIE Executors of late Mr Gibson
  • James McFarlane, Flesher, New Cumnock, witness
  • James Henderson, Merchant, New Cumnock, witness

New Cumnock , 13th June 1905.

Gibson Family

Flora McCartney, was appointed legal guardian of her Gibson nephews and nieces and continued in the role of postmistress at the Castle for a period before William Gibson eventually followed in his father’s foot steps as post master in New Cumnock.

William Gibson (postcard)

William Gibson (postcard)

William later lived at Afton Place, between the mill cottages and the bridge over the Afton, next to the premises of William Aird, joiner who in 1915 married Flora McCartney.

Afton Place

‘Afton Place’ and Mataura, New Cumnock

Lees Family

Following the dissolution of the Gibson & Lees business John Lees continued to serve as a postman and established a shoe shop at the Castle in a building owned by draper Alexander Gold.  In the postcard below the Gold building is on the bottom right and at that time housed three shops – James Tweedie, hairdresser (the traditional striped pole can be seen above the barber’s shop entrance), John Lees, shoemaker in the middle and Anderson & Gold, drapers at the near side. The three storey building at the top of the hill is the Henderson building that housed the post office.


Tweedie (Barber), Lees (shoes) and Anderson & Gold (draper)

By this time Lees family had moved from Pathhead to live in the Castle and named their house ‘Glendyne’, in honour no doubt of Glendyne Burn, Sanquhar where Bessie Lees (nee Milligan) had lived as a youngster.



 In 1923 John Lees, aged 60, retired as a postman and as a civil servant having served 25 years at the time of his retirement was recognised with the award of the Imperial Service Medal, courtesy of King George V. The occasion recorded in the London Gazette [6]

Whitehall, 2nd November 1923

His Majesty the KING has been pleased to award the Imperial Service Medal to the following Officers –

  • Lees, John, Postman, New Cumnock, Sub-Office, Cumnock

George Sanderson [2] gives a flavour of the miles covered and the shoe-leather worn by letter-carrier and shoe-maker John Lees –

‘it was estimated he covered a quarter of a million miles. That included twice a week to Barbreck in New Cumnock but getting close to Muirkirk. His return journey was no light hearted affairs, householders on his route were allowed to hand him letters or parcels for posting, up to seven pounds in weight.’

John continued to work in his shoe shop, the building now owned by John Trotter, draper who had also replaced Anderson & Gold in the shop next door. It was now John Lees & Son, with eldest son Anthony Milligan Lees following in his father’s footsteps;  Anthony living at Mataura Villa a next door neighbour of William Gibson in Afton Place – Gibson & Lees together again!

Sadly, Anthony died as a young man, aged 35 years in 1930 and his mother Bessie passed away four years later aged 70 years old. In 1948, John Lees passed away peacefully at home in ‘Glendyne’ at the grand old age of 84 years.

The family business passed to son John and ‘John Lees & Son’ shoe shop continued to operate from the Trotters Building with Peter Turnbull, barber and John Trotter, draper as neighbours.


John Lees shutting up shop


Returning full circle to the Auld Kirkyard with Billy Lees, grandson of John Lees ‘rural letter-carrier and shoemaker’ helping to clear up the kirkyard as part of the Auld Kirk and Village Heritage Trail project’.

Billy Lees at the Auld Kirk

Billy Lees at the Auld Kirk


  • [1] George Sanderson ‘New Cumnock Far and Away’
  • [2] George Sanderson ‘New Cumnock Long Ago and Faraway’
  • [3] Ayrshire, Dumfriesshire, Wigtownshire, and Kirkcudbrightshire Business Directory (1893)
  • [4] Scottish Post Office Directory (1903)
  • [5] Edinburgh Gazette, 20th June 1905
  • [6] London Gazette, 9th November 1923

Scotland’s People

National Library of Scotland

Andrew Gibson – Burns, Lapraik and the Irish Football Association

Howard Gibson from Victoria, Australia a descendant of Andrew Gibson ( surgeon in New Cumnock ) recently visited the Auld Kirkyard at New Cumnock and I had the pleasure of joining him in seeking out some of his ancestors family lairs.

  • See a previous blog on the Gibson family here


Howard also visited Burns Monument Centre (BMC) , Kilmarnock to continue his family research where he unearthed a connection with a family of the name Lapraik. This name of course rang bells with the staff at BMC, and a possible connection with John Lapraik, poet friend of Robert Burns and subject of three epistles by the bard.

The research that followed was not to disappoint!


  • John Lapraik (1727-1807)

John Lapraik was born at Laigh Dalfram in the parish of Muirkirk, Ayrshire a few miles west of the village. A man of considerable means he later fell on hard times and was all but ruined by the financial crisis of 1772 with the collapse of the Ayr Bank . Six years later he was struggling to pay his creditors, including ‘George Crawford of Brochloch’  (N.B. this may be Brochloch, New Cumnock) and three years later was in ruin following the collapse of the Ayr Bank. Lapraik spent some time in debtor’s prison before returning to Muirkirk where he leased the land and mill of Muirsmill, near Nether Wellwood.

John Lapraik was also a keen poet and some of his work became known to Robert Burns. The two poets struck up a friendship, meeting first at Mauchline and the bard then visiting his acquaintance at Muirsmill.

In the ‘Poets of Ayrshire'(1910) editor John McIntosh writes –

“these meetings, together with the success of Burns’s Kilmarnock volume, doubtless had a good deal to do with stimulating Lapraik to continue writing verse; indeed he professes that it never occurred to him to trouble the world with his ‘dull, insipid, thowless, rhyme‘.”

‘Till Burns’s muse, wi’ friendly blast
First tooted up his fame,
And sounded loud through a’ the wast,
His lang forgotten name.

Copyright Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Lapraik Cairn – Copyright Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

  •  A cairn to the memory of John Lapraik

The on-line Burns Encyclopedia entry for John Lapraik, puts the Murikirk bard’s poetic skills to one side and celebrates

Lapraik’s real importance, however, is that his friendship with Burns stimulated the poet to write two of his best verse epistles to Lapraik. The first, dated 1st April 1785, follows the usual pattern of the 18th Century verse epistle form — a scene setting followed by a bouquet of fulsome compliment to the recipient, the main matter of the epistle, then a concluding section celebrating the pleasures of friendship and conviviality.

In the ‘First Epistle to John Lapraik‘, Burns sets out his poetic creed

“I am nae poet, in a sense,
But just a rhymer, like, by chance,
An’ hae to learning nae pretence;
Yet, what the matter?
Whene’er my muse does on me glance,
I jingle at her…
“Gie me ae spark o’ Nature’s fire,
That’s a’ the learning I desire;
Then, tho’ I drudge thro’ dub an’ mire
At pleugh or cart,
My muse, tho’ hamely in attire,
May touch my heart.”

A further two epistles to John Lapraik were penned by Burns, the Second (21st April 1785) and the Third  (13th September 1785).

John Lapraik married Margaret Rankin of Adambhill, Tarbolton and sadly she died giving birth to their fifth child. A few years later John married Janet Anderson from the nearby farm of Lightshaw and together they had nine of a family. John Lapraik died in 1807, aged 80 years, and lies buried in the kirkyard at Kirkgreen, Muirkirk.

  • Thomas Lapraik (1771- )

Thomas Lapraik was born at Dalfram in 1771 and was the fourth child of John Lapraik and Janet Anderson.  He was the shepherd on the farm and married Elizabeth Hood and it is through their daughter Janet that emerges the Lapraik connection to New Cumnock and the Gibson family.

  • Janet Lapraik (1810-1901)

Janet was born on 24th May 1810 at Coltburn, Muirkirk (Colt Burn is a small tributary of the Garpel Burn). In 1841, Janet is working at Polquhirter , New Cumnock at the farm of William McTurk and Margaret Arthur ( sister of the Arthur brothers of Wellhill).

Also living at Polquhirter was agricultural labourer David Murdoch .  The two marry and together have two children. However by 1851, Janet is widowed and living at Liggate, New Cumnock with her son John (5) and daughter Elizabeth (3) and her mother Elizabeth, now in her eighties. In 1864, Janet Murdoch (nee Lapraik) marries William Kennedy Gibson, a druggist in New Cumnock.

  • William Kennedy Gibson (1820-1870)

William Kennedy Gibson was born in New Cumnock the eldest son of Andrew Gibson , surgeon and Ann Kennedy, probably at Nith Bridgend in the house that later became the Afton Hotel. ( See blog entry Afton Hotel and the Auld Kirkyard).

afton hotel

As a young man he worked as an agricultural labourer at Merkland, New Cumnock farmed by Andrew Black, who had previously lived at Mossback near High Polquheys where Andrew and his wife Isabella Wood raised their family of daughters – Elizabeth (1816), Jean Gibson (1819) and Janet Campbell (1820) .

Ruins of the well-named Mossback with High Polquheys in the distance

Ruins of the well-named Mossback with High Polquheys in the distance

The Black family moved to Merkland overlooking the River Nith and here in the 1841 Census Records we find widow Isabella and her daughters Jean , Janet and Christian (1826) and farm labourer 20 year old William Gibson.

Merkland Farm and River Nith, New Cumnock

Merkland Farm and River Nith, New Cumnock

William married Janet Black (by coincidence their names appear in the same page of the baptismal register of the parish church of New Cumnock, 1820 ) and together they had seven children – Andrew (1841) , Isabella (1843), Peter (1846), Michael (1849), Ann (1850), Ann Kennedy (1851) and Willimina (1854). The family had settled at Pathhead where William earned a living as a general labourer, grocer and later a wood forester.

His wife Janet died of tuberculosis in 1859, aged 37 years and was buried in the Auld Kirkyard, New Cumnock presumably alongside her father Andrew Black. Janet’s mother Isabella  died 10 years later at the grand old age of 95 years and lies in the Black family lair.

A widower of five years William Gibson married Janet Lapraik, the widow of David Murdoch,  at the Free Church, New Cumnock on 26th April 1864, but sadly six years later he passed away. There is no record of his burial in the Auld Kirkyard, but he probably lies in the Gibson / Black plot alongside his first wife Janet Black .

Gibson lair (erect stone) and Black lair (flat stone) Courtesy of Howard Gibson.

Gibson lair (erect stone) and Black lair (flat stone) Courtesy of Howard Gibson.

Janet Lapraik, now a widow for the second time,  and her daughter Elizabeth Murdoch lived at Castle, New Cumnock and worked as dressmakers for many years in the town. Janet died at her home in New Cumnock, aged 90 years,  on 27th February 1901 and her daughter Elizabeth passed away four years later, aged 57 years Ayr District Asylum, Ayr.

Janet, the grand-daughter of John Lapraik, friend of Robert Burns, is buried in the Auld Kirkyard alongside her first husband David Murdoch and their daughter Elizabeth. Here too lies her mother Elizabeth Hood, who died aged 88 years, and a niece Georgina Lapraik, aged 6 years. Sadly, the headstone, rests recumbent within the ruins of the Auld Kirk.

Resting place of Janet Lapraik (foreground)

Resting place of Janet Lapraik (foreground)

However, the connection with Robert Burns, does not end there.


  •  Andrew Gibson (1841-1931)

Andrew Gibson, the eldest son of William Gibson and Janet Black, was 18 years old in 1859 when his mother died. He and a younger brother Peter worked as clerks at the nearby railway station and lived with their grandmother Isabella Black at Pathhead, next door to their widowed father and three sisters.


Afton Buildings on left at entrance to Railway station, New Cumnock

Andrew eventually moved to Glasgow (although it is unclear if he did so before 1864 when his father married Janet Murdoch nee Lapraik) to work as a shipping clerk for G. & J. Burns , pioneers in providing steamer  services between Scotland and Ireland, at their Jamaica Street office in the city. He lived in lodgings at Nicholson Street in the Gorbals at the home of Duncan Brown and his wife Margaret and in 1869 he married the daughter of the house Mary Brown. The couple set up home in nearby Langside Road and together the couple had five children Margaret (1871), Jessie (1872), Annie (1875) , William (1876) and Duncan (1879).

Andrew progressed in the company and in the late 1880’s he moved to Belfast as a steamship agent for the G. & J. Burns . Neal Garnham in ‘Association Football and Society in Pre-partition Ireland’ summed up Gibson’s impact in his new life in Belfast.

Over the next three decades he established himself a secure place in the city’s commercial, intellectual and sporting elites. By 1910 Andrew Gibson was the Belfast agent for both the Burns and Cunard lines. He was also the Governor of the Belfast Library and Society for Promoting Knowledge, colloquially as the Linen Hall Library. In fact in 1901 he has been responsible for providing the library with a collection of works by and on Robert Burns that was unrivalled in the world. He was also regarded as an authority on the Irish poet Thomas Moore, and had been elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries in Ireland. Under the auspices of the Linen Hall he also became involved in the 1903 Belfast Harp Festival, and joined the Irish Folk Song Society. On the sporting front Gibson served for three years as the president of the Belfast Bowling Club and as early as 1892 was both president of the Cliftonville Football Club and vice-president of the Irish Football Association.’

Andrew Gibson was a great,almost fanatical,  collector of the works of Robert Burns as well as those of fellow Scot’s poet Allan Ramsay and the celebrate Irish poet Thomas Moore.

‘The Oxford History of the Irish Book, Volume IV, The Irish Book in English’ , 1800-1891. Edited by James H. Murphy’ captures Andrew Gibson’s aspirations as a collector –

“He particularly wished to acquire every edition of Burns he could accrue and went to great lengths to do is. His Burns collection received international attention when over 300 of his texts were lent to the Burns Exhibition in Glasgow in 1896. It was said that the Burns poetry books included 728 distinct editions, running to over 1,000 volumes with a further 1,000 volumes relating to materials dedicated to Burns.”

The Burns Exhibition was held in the Galleries of The Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow from 15th July to 31st October, 1896 – the centenary year of the death of Robert Burns,

The Burns Exhibition Catalogue 1896

The Burns Exhibition Catalogue 1896

Two of the many Burns’ editions lent by Andrew Gibson – Glasgow (278) and Belfast (714)

  •  278. Poems ascribed to Robert Burns, the Ayrshire bard, not contained in any edition of his works hitherto published.Glasgow, printed by Chapman & Lang, for Thomas Stewart, bookseller and stationer. [8vo., fours.] 1801
  • 714 Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect. By Robert Burns.
    Belfast : printed and sold by James Magee, no. 9, Bridge-street. [i2mo.] mdcclxxxvii

In a remarkable twist of fate on marrying William Kennedy Gibson, Janet Lapraik the grand-daughter of John Lapraik,  became step-mother to his seven children from his first marriage to Janet Black, including Andrew Gibson who became renowned for its collections of the works of Robert Burns.


Courtesy Linen Hall Library Belfast

This week on Thursday 22nd January 2015, The Inaugural Andrew Gibson Memorial Lecture will be held in the Linen Hall Library, Belfast . Presented in association with the Ulster Scots Agency, John Killen, Librarian, Linen Hall Library.

Check out the Linen Hall Library web-site

Andrew Gibson , born New Cumnock, Ayrshire.


William Kennedy  Gibson  (1876-1949)

WK Gibson

Courtesy of NIFG

Andrew Gibson’s eldest son William Kennedy Gibson born in Glasgow on 1st October 1876 made a name for himself on the football fields of Ireland and beyond. He features prominently in the excellent Northern Ireland Footballing Greats (NIFG) blog. Please check it out here .

As a schoolboy he played made his debut in 1892/93 season with local side Cliftonville, where his father was the club President for a period. He made his international debut for Ireland the following  season in a British Championship match  while still a 17 year old.  Willie scored a later equaliser in a 2-2 draw against England, the first time Ireland had avoided defeat against the English side – and became only one of three players to score for Ireland before their 18th birthday.

In February 1898, ‘Willie’ was honoured by captaining Ireland in the match against Wales at Llandudno and to add to the sense of occasion a 1-0 victory gave the Irish a first win on ‘foreign’ soil. He went on to make 14 caps for his country.


WK Gibson

While playing for Cliftonville (1892/93-1901/02) he scored 35 goals and won two Irish Cup Winners medals (1987, 1901) and the Country Antrim Shield (1898).  Willie Gibson also made one appearance for Sunderland in a 3-0 league  win over Bury at Roker Park, Jimmy Millar from Annbank scoring a hat-trick. Sunderland were crowned English Champions, leading to some contemporary sources claiming William Kennedy Gibson as Ireland’s first English title winner. There were seven other Scots in the Sunderland side that day. Missing however, was winger Colin McLatchie, who had made 25 league appearances for the Roker Park side and born in the miners rows of the parish of New Cumnock, birthplace of Andrew Gibson the great collector of the work of Burns . In a neat closing touch, in 1973, the son of Colin McLatchie, another Colin, was in the President of the New Cumnock Burns Club!




  • Howard Gibson, Victoria, Australia
  • Burns Monument Centre, Kilmarnock
  • ‘Lapraik web-site here
  • Poets of Ayrshire'(1910) editor John McIntosh
  • On-line Burns Encyclopedia
  • Neal Garnham ‘Association Football and Society in Pre-partition Ireland'(2004)
  • The Oxford History of the Irish Book, Volume IV, The Irish Book in English’ , 1800-1891. Edited by James H. Murphy
  • The Burns Exhibition Catalogue (1896)
  • Linen Hall Library web-site
  • Northern Ireland Footballing Greats (NIFG) blog .

Mother of the Cameronian Dreamer

At the top wall of the Auld Kirkyard near the Kirkport entrance is the family plot of John Lammie and his wife Margaret Lammie who lived at Sunnyside farm, New Cumnock. Margaret was the mother of the celebrated poet James Hyslop. His best known work ‘The Cameronian’s Dream’ was inspired by the loss of Richard Cameron and his band of Covenanters at Airdsmoss.

Lammie Family Lair (Robert Guthrie)

 Erected by
His wife who died 20th March
1845 aged 66 years; also
Who died in Feb 1823
Also the above JOHN LAMMIE
Who died 30th Nov 1852 aged 74
years. ROBERT LAMMIE their son
who died in June 1862 aged 45 years
MARY LAMMIE their daughter
Who died 12th April 1864, aged 45 years

JOHN LAMMIE (1780-1852) and MARGARET LAMMIE (1779-1845)

This branch of the Lammie family feature in ‘The Man’s the Gowd’ by Dr. James Begg [1], a fantastic account of his forebears, including his great-grandfather Andrew Lammie, younger brother of John Lammie, and their parents Andrew Lammie and Marrion Taylor.

A search of the Old Parish records of New Cumnock [2] reveal the baptisms of four of Andrew and Marrion’s children in the parish, three at Clocklowie, William (1763), Christian (1769), Ellison (1772),  and John (1780) at nearby Lethans. Some 9 years later son Andrew was born at Dalblair [1].

Maps courtesy of National Library of Scotland
Maps courtesy of National Library of Scotland
D=Dalblair, L=Lethans, C=Clocklowie, A=Auchitinch

John Lammie later lived at Auchtitench, a few miles north-east of Lethans, on the Auchinleck side of the New Cumnock parish boundary.

Meanwhile his future wife Margaret Lammie, a second cousin [1], had given birth to a son James Hyslop at Damhead, Kirkconnel, the home of her parents George Lammie, a weaver, and Mary Thompson. The Kirkconnel Kirk Session Minutes of 17th April 1798 revealed the father –

“Margaret Lambie confessed she was with child and that the father of her child was William Hyslop in Little Carco, being further interrogated she likewise confessed that the guilt was committed in October last in the Barn of Little Carco and in the evening she being then serving there.”

Kirkconnel Kirk Session Minutes 1798

In “Poems / by James Hyslop;  ; with a sketch of his life and notes on his poems by Peter Mearns” [4],  Mearns quotes from a letter by Mr. Alexander Muir of Paisley (1841) and gives an insight to how John and Margaret Lammie met.

He says: — “A few years after the birth of the poet, Margaret Lammie, his mother, was married to Mr. John Lammie, of Auchtitinch, in the parish of Auchinleck, Ayrshire. Though the place of his (John Lammie’s) birth is in the parish of Auchinleck* , it is fully sixteen miles from the Parish Kirk, and is situated in a wild and mountainous part of the country, at the head of Glenmuir Water. Spango also flows from the same hill, and after a run of ten miles it is joined by the Wanlock, when it takes the name of the Crawick. Kirkconnel being only seven miles from Auchtitinch, the Lammies used to attend the Parish Church there; and it was in that church that John first saw the beautiful Peggy. I have no hesitation in saying that her regular attendance there made as deep an impression on the mind of John Lammie as her lovely face and bewitching smile.  A few years after John and Margaret were married, he became shepherd to David Limond, Esq., at Dalblair (on Glenmuir Water), where he has resided up till the present time. He has a family of five sons and three daughters, each of whom loved the poet like a brother. John Lammie also paid great attention to him; and, from my own knowledge, I can say that he loved him like his own son. When residing at Wellwood, Hyslop made his mother’s house at Dalblair his home, it being only four or five miles distant. There is not a happier family than Mr. Lammie’s in the whole parish in which he lives; and a couple more respected by their master and neighbours than he and his wife could not be found, I believe, in any parish. Mrs. Lammie still retains traces of that personal beauty on account of which she was much admired in her early years. I have pleasure in thus dwelling on this subject, as I once lived with this happy family, and was ‘loved as one of her own,’ as the poet’s mother expressed it”

* John Lammie was born in the parish of New Cumnock

JAMES HYSLOP (1798-1827)

James Hyslop, doubtless was well versed in the traditions of the Covenanters, perhaps at his grandfather’s George Lammie’s knee who for 65 years was an elder at Kirkconnel parish church. It was while, working as a shepherd that James would encounter the grave of Richard Cameron ‘The Lion of the Covenant” and eight of his followers that were killed on 22nd July 1680 by government troops at the Battle of Airsmoss.

Airdsmoss, Grave of Richard Cameron and eight of his followers (Robert Guthrie)

The setting inspired the young shepherd-poet’s best known work “The Cameronian’ s Dream” which he composed some years later, at which time he was a shepherd in the Crawick valley in the parish of Sanquhar, initially at Corsebank and later Carco.


In a dream of the night I was wafted away
To the moorland of mist where the martyrs lay;
Where Cameron’s sword and his Bible are seen,
Engraved on the stone where the heather grows green.

‘Twas a dream of those ages of darkness and blood,
When the minister’s home was the mountain and wood;
When in Wellwood’s dark moorlands the standard of Zion,
All bloody and torn, ‘mong the heather was lying.

It was morning; and summer’s young sun, from the east.
Lay in loving repose on the green mountain’s breast.
On Wardlaw and Cairn-Table the clear shining dew
Glistened sheen ‘mong the heath-bells and mountain flowers blue.

And far up in heaven in the white sunny cloud,
The song of the lark was melodious and loud;
And in Glenmuir’s wild solitudes, lengthened and deep,
Was the whistling of plovers and the bleating of sheep.

And Wellwood’s sweet valley breathed music and gladness;
The fresh meadow blooms hung in beauty and redness;
Its daughters were happy to hail the returning,
And drink the delights of green July’s bright morning.

But ah! there were hearts cherished far other feelings,
Illumed by the light of prophetic revealings,
Who drank from this scenery of beauty but sorrow,
For they knew that their blood would bedew it to-morrow.

‘Twas the few faithful ones who, with Cameron, were lying
Concealed ‘mong the mist, where the heath-fowl was crying;
For the horsemen of Earlshall around them were hovering,
And their bridle-reins rang through the thin misty covering.

Their faces grew pale, and their swords were unsheathed,
But the vengeance that darkened their brows was unbreathed;
With eyes raised to Heaven, in meek resignation,
They sang their last song to the God of Salvation.

The hills with the deep mournful music were ringing,
The curlew and plover in concert were singing;
But the melody died ‘midst derision and laughter,
As the hosts of ungodly rushed on to the slaughter.

Though in mist and in darkness and fire they were shrouded,
Yet the souls of the righteous stood calm and unclouded;
Their dark eyes flashed lightning, as, proud and unbending,
They stood like the rock which the thunder is rending.

The muskets were flashing; the blue swords were gleaming;
The helmets were cleft, and the red blood was streaming;
The heavens grew dark, and the thunder was rolling,
When in Wellwood’s dark moorlands the mighty were falling.

When the righteous had fallen, and the combat had ended,
A chariot of fire through the dark cloud descended.
The drivers were angels on horses of whiteness,
And its burning wheels turned upon axles of brightness.

A seraph unfolded its doors bright and shining.
All dazzling like gold of the seventh refining;
And the souls that came forth out of great tribulation
Have mounted the chariot and steeds of salvation.

On the arch of the rainbow the chariot is gliding;
Through the paths of the thunder the horsemen are riding.
Glide swiftly, bright spirits, the prize is before ye,
A crown never fading, a kingdom of glory!

While at Sanquhar, Hyslop had opened an evening school ‘for the instruction of his humble pastoral associates’ [4] marking the beginning of a career in teaching which took him to Greenock and then to Edinburgh.

James Hyslop Memorial Sanquhar (Robert Guthrie)

In 1821 he was appointed the schoolmaster on board HMS Doris (frigate) which was about to set sail for South America, returning some three years later.

After a spell teaching in London he was back to sea serving as a schoolmaster on the HMS Tweed (man-of-war) bound for the  Mediterranean and then onto the Cape of Good Hope. The ship anchored at Cape Verde and while resting on the island of St. Jago, James Hyslop, along with a number of shipmates were seized by fever, and he died on 4th November 1827, aged 29 years.

James Hyslop  was buried at sea with full military honours.

When the “Tweed” reached the Cape of Good Hope, a communication was sent to Mr. Hyslop’s mother announcing her son’s death, and intimating the high esteem in which he was held by all on board, and the faithful and affectionate manner in which he discharged his duties as tutor. Among his papers a few scraps of poetry were found, but the only complete piece was a copy of the “Scottish National Melody.” [4]


Sunnyside ruins lies behind restored outbuilding (Robert Guthrie)

John Lammie and Margaret Lammie would be at Dalblair when they received the news of the death of James Hyslop. It is unclear when the family moved to Sunnyside farm near Lanehead in the parish of New Cumnock, but it must have been some time before 1845, when Margaret passed away and was laid to rest in the Auld Kirkyard.  John,  died seven years later, now a retired farmer, aged 72 years old .

Map Courtest f National Library of Scotland
Map Courtesy of National Library of Scotland

Other members of the Lammie family

  • George died in 1832 and his name was doubtless added to the headstone in his memory at the time it was erected following his mother’s death.
  • Robert worked as a grocer and lived in the parish schoolhouse at Afton Bridgend where his sister Mary supported him as housekeeper. After Robert’s death in 1862, Mary returned to Sunnyside earning some money from hand-sewing, only to pass away two years later. Brother and sister are buried in the family lair.
  • William – born in 1802, unable to uncover any more information
  • Andrew married Agnes Campbell and was a shepherd on Dalleagles hill and may later have worked at High Polquheys
  • Marion married Robert Baird and was at Polquheys
  • John moved to Glentrool, Wigtonshire
  • David married (1)  Isabella McMichael and (2) Jane Gall. He died aged 84 years at Hillend, near Corsencon. He lies buried in the Auld Kirkyard with Isabella and Jean.
  •  Thomson took over the reins at Sunnyside and here he raised a large family with his wife Jean McKnight. The family later moved to Cambusnethan, Lanarkshire. However daughter Margaret soon returned to New Cumnock after marrying local merchant Thomas Kirkland – both lie at rest in New Cumnock Auld Kirkyard.

Margaret Lambie (Lammie) and Thomas Kirkland
Margaret Lambie (Lammie) and Thomas Kirkland  (Robert Guthrie)


[1] James Alexander Begg ‘The Man’s the Gowd” (2012) by Dr. James Begg [1],

[2] Scotland’s People  Births. Marriages, Deaths, Census Records

[3] Scotland’s People  Kirkconnel Kirk Session Minutes 1798

[4] Peter Mearns  “Poems / by James Hyslop;  ; with a sketch of his life and notes on his poems (1887)   On-line here

[5] Charles Rogers  in  “Modern Scottish Minstrel” (1855-157) On-line here

Maps reproduced by permission of National Library of Scotland


Mansfield and Pathhead Collieries and the Auld Kirkyard

ROBERT KERR (1803-1864), Mansfield Colliery

Robert Kerr was born in 1803 at Sanquhar the son of James Kerr (coal-agent) and Mary Milligan. He married Elizabeth Barrie and together they had four sons and two daughters, all born in Kirkconnel, where Robert worked as a coal banker (1841 Ancestry Census).

Kind permission of National Library of Scotland (Ordnance Survey 1843-1882)

Kind permission of National Library of Scotland (Ordnance Survey 1843-1882)

By 1851, Robert is the manager at Mansfield coalworks in New Cumnock and the family living at Mansfield Colliery. Two of his sons also worked at the colliery, John as a coal salesman and Robert as the engine-keeper. The colliery was on Grieve hill on Mansfield estate, owned at that time by Sir James Stuart-Menteth, Baronet of Closeburn and Mansfield.

In 1858, Robert Kerr entered into a partnership with James Gray of the neighbouring Pathhead Colliery, to operate the collieries and limeworks operated by the Stuart-Menteth family.

As the coal-master Robert, lived in the small miners’ row on Grieve hill adjacent to the colliery, along with his wife Elizabeth,  son Samuel (engineer) and daughter Mary (house maid).  Robert died here, in 1864, aged 62 years. He is buried in the Auld Kirkyard of New Cumnock alongside his wife Elizabeth and sons Robert, Samuel.

 coalmaster:RobertKerrHis Son died 6th March
1857 aged 22 years
Also the above
Who died at Mansfield Colliery
11th March 1864 aged 62 years
Who died 29th January 1870
Aged 29 years
His Son JAMES KERR who died
At Kirkconnel 29th November
1882 aged 55 years
Who died at Kirkconnel 5th January 1890
Aged 86 years

ARCHIBALD GRAY (1791-1857), Pathhead Colliery

Archibald Gray was born in Parkhead, Glasgow the son of a coal-miner and like his father he would later work in the mines. He married Jean Robertson and together they had a large family . At aged 50 years old he was working in the pits at Rutherglen and 10 years later in 1851, he had progressed to be the coal-master at Drakemire in Dalry, Ayrshire. Here he established Archibald Gray and Company to operate mines at Court Hill, Dalry and Pathhead, New Cumnock.

Pathhead Colliery  (Courtesy of National Library of Scotland)

Pathhead Colliery (Courtesy of National Library of Scotland)

In 1856, Pathhead Colliery was valued at £260 and was the largest undertaking in the district . One of the pits was situatedon the banks of Muirfoot Burn which effectively marked the boundary between Pathhead to west and Mansfield village to the east.

The following year Archibald Gray died at the family home in Dalry and he is buried at Tollcross cemetery, Glasgow. One of his sons, also Archibald, made his name as the manager at Glengarnock Iron Works, Kilbirnie.

JAMES GRAY (1823-1904), Pathhead Colliery

Archibald’s son James Gray moved from Dalry to manage the Pathhead Colliery. He and his wife Margaret Galloway set up home at Pathbrae  leading down to the Mansfield Road where in 1855 the first of their New Cumnock born children arrived.

James entered into partnership in 1858 with  Robert Kerr (see above) to work the collieries and lime works of the Stuart-Menteth family, until the partnership dissolved following Kerr’s death six years later.

Pathhead Colliery and Oil Works (Courtesy National Library of Scotland)

Pathhead Colliery and Oil Works (Courtesy National Library of Scotland)

James Gray continued to develop the coal reserves on the Cumnock side of Pathhead, below Rottenyard farm and established a branch line to the main Glasgow and South Western Railway.

Pathhead Colliery (Courtesy of National Library of Scotland)

Pathhead Colliery (Courtesy of National Library of Scotland)

Around 1866 an Oil Works was established by Messrs Brown and Co adjacent to Patthead Colliery (  to extract shale oil from the rich seam of cannel coal at Pathhead. However this appears to have been a short-lived enterprise and the plant abandoned.

Riverside House, Lugar Street, Cumnock

Riverside House, Lugar Street, Cumnock

James established a new family home at Riverside House, on the banks of the Lugar Water, at 1 Lugar Street, Cumnock.  The Gray family is found there in the Census Records from 1881 through to 1901;  including son James (pit clerk) and Archibald (colliery manager).

In his retirement James served on the School Board of New Cumnock and a Justice of the Peace in Cumnock. Five of his children had died in their early years and are buried in the Auld Kirkyard, New Cumnock.


James Gray’s children , headstone at Auld Kirkyard, New Cumnock

James Gray died at Cumnock in 1904, aged 81 in lies in Cumnock Cemetery alongside his wife Margaret and some of their children.


The Pathhead Colliery was acquired by the Polquhairn Coal Company (who also operated a colliery at Coylton) the following year and was abandoned some 20 years later.

New Cumnock Primary School Presentation

New Cumnock Primary School Presentation

It was a great pleasure to hand over an Ipad containing the interactive New Cumnock Auld Kirkyard and Village Heritage Trail application to Mary Smith , Head Teacher at New Cumnock Primary School and a number of the pupils that participated in the project.

New Cumnock Primary School Presentation

New Cumnock Primary School Presentation

To make the day extra-special Neil Harris and his partner Viv from Australia paid a visit to thank the school for the work they had carried out in the Auld Kirkyard and their research into Neil’s great great great great grandfather Ivie Campbell of Dalgig and present them with gifts from Australia. They also kindly presented the School and Bobby Guthrie with a copy of their family history book ‘The Rowan Family” – Ivie Campbell’s daughter Thomina  Campbell married Alexander Rowan and six of their seven children emigrated to Australia.

The children had loads of questions about Australia with wildlife top of their lists. Kangaroos, koalas, snakes and scary spiders. Young Euan (middle, back row) and I took the opportunity to tell our Australian visitos about the deadly Scottish midgies that tried to devour us when clearing up the ivy leaves from the Auld Kirkyard!

Neil and Vic hand over gifts to grateful pupils

Neil and Viv hand over gifts to grateful pupils

The children gave a traditional warm Scottish welcome to their guests with a fantastic accordion solos, an elegant and energetic dancing display of ‘The Gay Gordons’ and perfect rendition by the choir of Robert Burns ‘The Diel’s Awa’ with the Exciseman”.

Goodbye wave

A Goodbye wave from New Cumnock Primary School

New Cumnock Auld Kirk and Village Heritage Trail Interactive Application

The application has been developed for use on an Ipad with designed by Muse Design.

From the opening screen the user can choose to

  • visit the New Cumnock Timelineor
  • take the Discovery Quiz

Opening Screen

Opening Screen

New Cumnock Timeline

interactive Timeline

Interactive Timeline

The Interactive Timeline has ‘lollipops’ and the user can scroll back and forth  along the timeline. the a person of their interest. The lollipops are colour coded

  • Orange: Ministers
  • Magenta: Discovery – 10 families studied by New Cumnock Primary School
  • Green:  Soldiers
  • Blue – New Cumnock History – text boxes of key events of that year


  • Clicking on the lollipop brings up the Minister selected with a photo of the headstone and supporting text.



  • Scroll to the right for more text and the inscription on the headstone.


  • Clicking on the headstone enlarges the size of the image.




  • Clicking on the lollipop brings up the Minister selected with a photo of the headstone and supporting text.


  • Scroll to the right for more text and the inscription on the headstone.


  • Clicking on the headstone enlarges the size of the image.



  • The Discovery Trail includes 10 family lairs and there is a timeline lollipop for each member of the family selected. The family members appear in order of ‘oldest’ to ‘youngest’ from top to bottom.


  • Any member of the family can be selected by clicking on the small circles on the right


  • Any member of the family can be selected by clicking on the small circles on the right


  • The bottom screen contains a series of images and scrolling to the right gives the headstone inscriptions


  • Clicking on the image enlarges the size of the image.



Over 80 questions on Ministers, Soldiers and Discovery Trail have been prepared. The Quiz, against the clock, consists of 10 questions randomly selected and can be taken time and again, with a fresh set of 10 questions.


Auld Kirkyard Ribbon Cutting


Auld Kirkyard , Castlehill

Auld Kirkyard , Castlehill

Members of the ‘Improving New Cumnock group’ marked the completion of the work carried out in the Auld Kirkyard and Village Heritage Trail with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Auld Kirkyard gates on Sunday.

Project Leader Bobby Guthrie led the vote of thanks to those that had come along and those engaged in the project including our young citizens from New Cumnock Primary School and those ‘young at heart’ from Improving New Cumnock, New Cumnock History Club and New Cumnock Parish Church. He also expressed the team’s gratitude to the project funders – The Heritage Lottery Fund, Barr Environmental Ltd and East Ayrshire Council and then celebrated the project’s achievements –

We have preserved the ruin of the Auld Kirk which was built as a new church in 1659 and is responsible for putting the ‘new’ in New Cumnock. We have restored and cleaned many headstones, including several remembering fallen soldiers from the Great War, we have added several memorial plaques and we have replaced the kirkyard gates. We have also built a heritage trail with 10 information panels at places of interest throughout the village and produced Village Heritage Trail and Auld Kirkyard Trail Leaflets. ’

Rev Helen Cuthbert

Rev Helen Cuthbert

The Reverend Helen Cuthbert then led a short service at the Auld Kirkyard gates, including reading an excellent poem she had composed to mark the event, before with the support of Ian Howat, Chair of Improving New Cumnock, cut the ceremonial ribbon.

Auld Kirk and Kirkyard

Auld Kirk and Kirkyard

Auld Kirkyard Names, Stanes and Stories

Murray, Hunter, Dick and McKnight,
A’ guid New Cumnock names , that’s right,
A’ buried here aneath these stanes,
That we’ve scoored oot wi’ muckle pains,
But pains well worth the time and treasure
For what lies here is beyond measure.

Dear stanes: some clear and ithers faded,
By win’, rain, time their words degraded,
Some staunin’ stracht like sodgers ranked,
Some bo’ed like ‘aul yins’ frail and lank.
A wheen o’ life-times markit here,
Some quate, some causin’ sic a steer,
But a’ to daith and dust surrendered,
A’ noo’ time’s rollin’ stream has ended.

So whit dae mean? Ah hear ye say,
Whit guid are these stanes in oor day?
Well, michty me, dae ye no’ ken?
They tell our story – now and then,
Fur there’s still sodgers in oor toon,
Teachers, grocers, e’en fermers wannerin’ roon,
There’s still we bairnies, an’ aul’ men,
Mithers, faimlies, but noo’ adays less than ten.
An’ there’s still a Kirk –lies just o’er there,
Though its roof’s in slightly better repair,
Ministers tae are in the land o’ the leevin’
An’ some o’thaim are even – weemin!
New Cumnock’s story goes oan and we’re proud tae tell it,
Wi’ the help of these stanes, oor history to interpret.
So thanks to all those who for this day have strivvin’
Tis Heritage Trail I open wi’ the cuttin’ o’ this ribbon.

Rev Helen Cuthbert and Ian Howat

Rev Helen Cuthbert and Ian Howat

Thank you.

My Collier laddie

In 1833 a new parish church was erected to serve the growing population of New Cumnock and the original church ceased to function in that role and then quickly as the Auld Kirk it soon fell into ruin. The kirkyard continued to be the final resting place of parishioners for some considerable time after and with space at a premium, the ground within the walls of the Auld Kirk was put to good use.

Headstones within the Auld Kirk walls

Headstones within the Auld Kirk walls

One of the headstones within the ruin is that of George Brown, who in December 1846 ‘lost his life in the Mansfield Coalworks‘. Although the early coal barons had been working the coal measures across the parish of New Cumnock since the late 18th century George Brown’s death is thus far the earliest recorded mining fatality in the parish that has been found.

Three generations of the Brown Family - Thomas, George and Elizabeth

Three generations of the Brown Family – Thomas, George and Elizabeth

Fatal Accident – New Cumnock, 22d Dec 1846 –

At Mansfield Colliery, in the neighbourhood of New Cumnock, this day, one of the workmen, named George Brown, was in the act of undermining that portion of the seam he meant to take down for the day’s “dark,” when it unexpectedly gave way, and crushed the unfortunate man to eternity in a moment. The deceased was a sober, inoffensive, individual, and in the prime of life. He has left a wife and small family to lament their irreparable loss. [Dumfries and Galloway Standard 23 December 1846]

Kind permission of National Library of Scotland (Ordnance Survey 1843-1882)

Kind permission of National Library of Scotland (Ordnance Survey 1843-1882)

In the 1841 Census, George (30) ,his wife Margaret Millar (25) are found at Mounthope. a mile of so to the south of Mansfield Colliery with their New Cumnock born children Thomas (5), John Millar (3) & William (1).  A year later, a daughter Elizabeth was born and three years after that another daughter, Jean saw the light of day at Mounthope.

At this time George is working as a Tile Manufacturer, likely at the clay pits in the Mansfield land , along with three other young men also living at Mounthope – John Williamson, James McGilvery and George Porter.

Five years later, he is working as a carter at Mansfield when he loses his life on 22nd December 1846, his tombstone recording that he was 42 years old, indicating he was born in 1804, which differs slightly from that of 1811 as suggested by the census information. This latter date is nearer the mark for he was born on 12th July 1810 at Perth, the son of Thomas Brown , weaver and Jean Miller.

His parents moved the family to New Cumnock and in the 1841 Census Thomas (78), Jean (68) and daughter Margaret (25) are found at High Linn in the upper reaches of the Mansfield Burn, where the elderly Thomas is working as a bower. It was here in 1836 that Thomas junior had been born.

High Linn on the upper reaches of Mansfield Burn

High Linn on the upper reaches of Mansfield Burn with Corsencon Hill in the background

Thomas Brown, died on the 10th August 1846, aged 83 years and was buried within the ruins of the Auld Kirk. Four months later his son George was killed at Mansfield Colliery, aged 36 years (and not 42 years as recorded on the stone) and was laid to rest with his father, leaving behind his wife Margaret and five children aged between 1 and 10 years old. George’s daughter Elizabeth moved away from the parish and worked as a dairymaid in Hutton, Dumfriesshire. Sadly she died at the young age of 25 years old and lies here in the Auld Kirk with her father and grandfather.

Resting place of Perthshire weaver and his son an Ayrshire collier

Resting place of a Perthshire weaver and his son an Ayrshire collier

It is fitting that George Brown, the first recorded mining fatality in the parish that we know of, lies within the ruins of the Auld Kirk which  ceased to function as a church at the time New Cumnock’s transformation to a mining community took hold.

Auld Kirkyard connections with Canadian Forces

Today on Armistice Day the words of the epic war poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ are close to mind, written by John Alexander McCrae , a Canadian with strong roots in New Cumnock. His great great grandfather Ivie Campbell lies in the Auld Kirkyard.

The names of two other New Cumnockians, Alexander Sloan and Robert Paterson, both of whom emigrated to Canada  and were lost in the Great War whilst serving in the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Forces are also remembered on family headstones.

Ivie Campbell

Ivie Campbell

Ivie Campbell

Ivie Campbell was born in 1754 at the farm of Garclaugh and later turned Dalgig into a prize-winning farm.  One of his sons, William,  farmed at Maneight where his daughter Jean Campbell was born in 1814 on Christmas Day.



Jean married Thomas McCrae of Kells, Kirkcudbrightshire and the couple along with  their young family emigrated to Canada. One of their grandsons John Alexander McCrae served as a surgeon in the Canadian artillery in the Great War. The death of an acquaintance inspired him to write the epic war poem ‘In Flanders Field’.

John McCrae

John McCrae

In Flanders Field

‘In Flanders fields, the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.’

John McRae, died of pneumonia on 28th January 1918.

Read more about his New Cumnock roots here

Private Alexander  Sloan

  • 49th Canadian Infantry Regiment Alberta

Sloan family headstone

Sloan family headstone

In a remarkable coincidence some 70 years after the birth of Jean Campbell at Maneight, brothers Alexander,William and John Sloan were born in the same farmhouse.

Alexander emigrated to Canada where he found work as a bank clerk . On 15 July 1915 at Edmonton, Alberta, he signed up to serve in the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Forces. Some 15 months later he was killed in action on 9th October 1916 at the Battle of the Somme, aged 25 years.

His younger brother William was killed in action at  Macedonia on 25th April 1917 and elder brother John was awarded the Military Medal.

Alexander and William fell on foreign fields and both are remembered on the family headstone here in the Auld Kirkyard.

Sergeant Robert Paterson

  • 29th Canadian Infantry British Columbia Regiment    

Robert Paterson

Robert Paterson

Robert was born on 6th February 1879 at Coalcreoch farm, the son of Gavin Paterson and Mary Mitchell. He served in the Ayrshire Yeomanry before emigrating to Canada.

On the 11th November 1914 (99 years ago today) at Vancouver, British Columbia he signed up to serve in the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Forces.

Robert died of shrapnel wounds in a casualty clearing station in France, on 6th April, 1918, aged 39 years.