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Bruce700BIn April 1315, the brothers Robert and Edward Bruce came to Ayr where an army of thousands was mustering. A parliament was held in the town’s parish church of St John the Baptist, and it was agreed that if King Robert should die, the Scottish crown would pass, not to his daughter Marjorie but to his brother Edward. A month later, Edward Bruce sailed from Ayr with a great fleet of ships and launched his bid to drive the English out of Ireland. The Bruce victory at Bannockburn had failed to bring about a peace treaty with England, and now a second front had been opened in the war. At first Edward was successful, and was crowned High King of Ireland, but the adventure ended with his defeat and death in 1318.

An exhibition commemorating these events will be on show in Ayr’s Carnegie Library during July 2015. Jointly produced by the Ulster-Scots Academy, the Ulster-Scots Agency and the Ulster Historical Foundation, it consists of twelve panels telling the story of the Bruce campaigns in Ireland and explaining the family’s Ulster connections.

cats and chicksWant to explore your ancestry, but don’t know where to start? Fascinated by the past and wanting to learn more? Looking for something different to do at the weekend? Well look no further as South Ayrshire’s History Fair is almost upon us and promises to be much more than a trip down memory lane.

In addition to a full programme of informative talks featuring respected guest speakers. Between 9am and 4.30pm a number of stalls will also be attending offering advice and guidance on family history, tracing your roots, exploring local and national history as well as a specialist Scottish bookshop. Admission to the stalls is free.

Here is a list of the stalls so far who have booked for the Fair…

There are still a few places left, so please contact us to book a stall if you haven’t already done so.

Tickets

Tickets for the speaker’s programme start at just £3 per talk up to £10 for the whole day. Tickets are available from Carnegie LibraryTroon Library or at the Walker Halls on the day.

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Troon Library are having an exhibition of photographs of Troon from days gone by.  They would love to involve the local community in this exhibition and would be very appreciative of anyone who can help in lending any photographs to be displayed.  If you can help please contact Annette Simpson at Troon Library on 01292 315352.  Please note photographs must be received by May 20, 2015.

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Arrangements for our 2015 South Ayrshire History & Family History Fair on Saturday 6th June are well underway with the four guest speakers booked.

Whether you’re interested in exploring your family roots or wanting to take a more specialised look at a particular topic, the History Fair – and the guest speakers – will help bring your interest to life.

Our Speakers for the day are:

David Goldie, Senior Lecturer in English, University of Strathclyde
“The White – washing O’Robbie Burns?: Robert Burns in the First World War”

Tom Barclay, Local Studies Librarian, South Ayrshire Council
“ ‘It is a terrible place’: Ayrshire Experiences of Gallipoli”

Fiona Watson, formerly Lecturer at University of Stirling, now with BBC Radio 4 “Making History”
“Robert the Bruce and Ayr: Gateway to the West”

Matt Ritchie, Archaeologist, Forestry Commission Scotland
“Championing the Historic Environment: Protection, Conservation and Presentation on Scotland’s national forest estate”

Stalls

In addition to a full programme of informative talks featuring respected guest speakers. Between 9am and 4.30pm a number of stalls will also be attending offering advice and guidance on family history, tracing your roots, exploring local and national history as well as a specialist Scottish bookshop. Admission to the stalls is free.

Location and Cost

As usual, the Fair will be held in the Walker Halls, Troon, from 10am until 4pm. The cost of the full day conference is £10, £5 for half a day.  Tickets for individual talks are priced at £3 each or £2.50 for 2 or more and will be available from Troon and Carnegie Library during the month prior to the fair.  Tickets will also be available to purchase on the day.

History Fair Enquiries

If you have any enquiries about the History Fair or would like to make a booking please do not hesitate to contact us. Tel: 01292 559318 or 272231  Fax: (01292) 616301 or email: localhistory@south-ayrshire.gov.uk.

On Friday 15 October 1830, Ayr’s fine new municipal buildings were opened with a grand ball and supper in the ballroom within the new edifice. It had been designed in the neoclassical style – inspired by the buildings of Ancient Greece and Rome – by the Glasgow-born architect Thomas Hamilton. His work in Edinburgh in this style had earned him distinction, and he was already well known in Ayr as the designer of the Burns Monument at nearby Alloway. With the demolition in 1825-26 of the old Sandgate Tolbooth and its clock tower, Ayr had been shorn of the monumental structure which had previously symbolised its civic pride. The new building restored that pride in fulsome measure by incorporating a replacement clock tower surmounted by a magnificent steeple 225 feet high.

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In this early image of Ayr Town Buildings based on Thomas Hamilton’s original drawings (with adjacent buildings omitted) Triton can be seen perched on top of the steeple.

The next week’s edition of the Ayr Advertiser contained a description of the building, including the soaring spire, ‘being, it is believed, higher than any steeple in Scotland’ and ‘surmounted by a gigantic figure of Triton’. The huge gilded copper figure of fish-tailed Triton, an Ancient Greek god of the sea with the power to calm the waves, was mounted so as to revolve freely on top of the steeple. He acted as a highly visible weather vane, providing valuable assistance to the town’s mariners at a time when steamships were still in their infancy and seafaring depended mostly on the wind. However, the elevation of the sea god to serve as an appropriately classical protector of Ayr’s maritime commerce seems to have met with considerable disapproval from the inhabitants. This may have been partly on aesthetic grounds, but also partly due to concerns about his potential for attracting lightning. Indeed, devout churchgoers may have felt that having a pagan deity presiding over the town was positively inviting such a manifestation of divine wrath, and that what came to pass a few years later was only to be expected.

The Triton weather vane on the steeple of Ayr Town Buildings as depicted in Thomas Hamilton’s original plans of 1827.

The Triton weather vane on the steeple of Ayr Town Buildings as depicted in Thomas Hamilton’s original plans of 1827.

Around four o’clock in the morning of Thursday 28 January 1836, following several days of strong gales, a heavy thunderstorm coming up from the south west passed over Ayr. It was publication day for the Ayr Advertiser, and when the newspaper went on sale that afternoon it reported the storm in terms of the way in which electricity was then believed to act, commencing as follows:

‘We regret much to say that the elegant Steeple on our Town’s Buildings, which is the chief ornament of our town, has been considerably damaged by the lightning. It was built, by the advice of eminent architects, without a conductor; but an iron rod, on the upper end of which the triton revolves, seems to have received the electric fluid, which passed down the building, dislodging some ornamental slabs, and causing one or two visible cracks and chinks in the spire.’

One large stone slab had smashed through the roof of the ballroom, and the shock effect of the lightning strike had broken all the windows in the vicinity. During the morning, crowds gathered in the streets to see if the steeple would collapse, and an emergency meeting of the Town Council resolved that an immediate inspection should be made ‘by a person properly qualified’.

The talented and versatile rector of Ayr Academy, Dr John Memes, who bravely ascended the Town Buildings steeple to assess the lightning damage.

The talented and versatile rector of Ayr Academy, Dr John Memes, who bravely ascended the Town Buildings steeple to assess the lightning damage.

The qualified person who stepped forward to perform this task was the learned and energetic Dr John Memes, rector of Ayr Academy 1826-1844. He had acquired a detailed knowledge of an impressively wide range of subjects, including architecture. The spire incorporated the usual attachments for steeplejacks’ ladders, and the intrepid Dr Memes ascended its exterior along with a builder and a joiner. He reported to the Council that the lightning appeared to have struck the outside of the steeple about 25 feet from its top, and that the stability of the building was not affected.

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Although Triton has departed, the gryphons of classical mythology still guard the Town Hall steeple.

The Council summoned Thomas Hamilton to Ayr, and on arrival he inspected the steeple inside and out. He concurred with Dr Memes in concluding that ‘the cloud which contained the electric fluid had passed across the town lower than the summit of the spire’ and that the lightning had struck the outside of it some way down from the top, below the point where the iron rod supporting the figure of Triton terminated. Triton himself showed no sign of having received a lightning strike. Hamilton was confident that it would not be necessary to dismantle any part of the building, although he could not be certain of this until summer arrived and scaffolding could be erected to permit further inspection and repairs. This would also be an opportunity for the removal of Triton – Hamilton was informed that although the sea god had been exonerated of the charge of drawing down a lightning strike, his dislodgement would be in accordance with ‘the public taste’.

The Town Hall steeple dominates this photograph of Ayr’s Sandgate taken around 1888.

The Town Hall steeple dominates this photograph of Ayr’s Sandgate taken around 1888.

When good weather eventually arrived, the necessary repairs were carried out, and Triton was brought down from his lofty perch. He was eventually replaced by a more austere weather vane of Hamilton’s design. It would not be until the late 1850s that a lightning conductor would be fitted to the steeple. An 1881 extension of the building included a concert hall (rebuilt after a fire in 1897) and the whole structure is now better known as Ayr Town Hall.

Originally posted on South Ayrshire Arts Partnership:

People from all over the west of Scotland and beyond will soon be able to see The Great Tapestry of Scotland when it comes to Ayr Town Hall. One of the UK’s largest ever community arts projects, and the longest embroidered tapestry in the world, it is a spectacle not to be missed at the free exhibition from Easter Saturday on 4 April to 31 May 2015. 

The brainchild of acclaimed author, Alexander McCall Smith, the tapestry traces the history of Scotland from the formation of our landscape millions of years ago, across every peak of Scotland’s history, into the 21st century. Naturally three of Ayrshire’s greatest heroes, William Wallace, Robert the Bruce and Robert Burns, have their own dedicated panels of the tapestry.

James Knox, Chairman of Ayr Renaissance, who was responsible for bringing the tapestry to Ayr said: “This is a great moment in the regeneration of…

View original 424 more words

A remarkable discovery was made recently in a house in South Queensferry when a box containing old documents was investigated. The contents included early issues of the Ayr Advertiser, and the finder kindly posted them to the Advertiser office. One of them has turned out to be the earliest known surviving issue. The Advertiser was founded by the Wilson brothers, John and Peter. John Wilson began his printing business in Kilmarnock, and he is famous as the printer of the 1786 Kilmarnock Edition of the poems of Robert Burns. In 1790, he moved his business to Ayr, where his brother Peter had a bookshop, and they went into partnership.

The upper part of the front page of issue no. 5. The spelling of its place of publication as Air was continued until the issue of 28 March 1839, when it was changed to Ayr.

The upper part of the front page of issue no. 5. The spelling of its place of publication as Air was continued until the issue of 28 March 1839, when it was changed to Ayr.

In 1803 the brothers launched Ayrshire’s first newspaper, the weekly ‘Air’ Advertiser. The first issue was published on Thursday August 5, but the earliest copies have disappeared. It was reported in a 1903 centenary article that during the newspaper’s early years, a retiring partner took the oldest file copies away with him. The remaining early file copies are now in the care of South Ayrshire Council’s library service, beginning with issue no. 17 of November 24, 1803. This was the earliest known surviving copy until the recent discovery, which includes issue no.5 of September 1. It too is now in the safekeeping of South Ayrshire Libraries. The four pages of issue no. 5 are mainly taken up by national and international news, and in particular the invasion threat from France. A peace treaty signed in 1802 had broken down in May 1803 when war was resumed, and Napoleon had now assembled a large army and an invasion fleet in preparation for a crossing of the English Channel. It must have been this threat, and local public demand for information about the latest developments, that resulted in the launch of the Advertiser at this time.

The Ayr Races of 1803 are cancelled due to Napoleon’s threatened invasion of Britain. Lower case s is used only at the end of words and in proper names. Otherwise, the ‘long s’ is used, which is very similar to the letter f. The older types of font which included the long s were going out of use at this time, but were still being used by some local newspapers.

The Ayr Races of 1803 are cancelled due to Napoleon’s threatened invasion of Britain. Lower case s is used only at the end of words and in proper names. Otherwise, the ‘long s’ is used, which is very similar to the letter f. The older types of font which included the long s were going out of use at this time, but were still being used by some local newspapers.

The Ayrshire Militia had been called up, and volunteer home guard units were assembling. Several of the local news items refer to this activity. The season’s Ayr Races (on the old racecourse at Seafield) were reported to have been entirely postponed as almost every nobleman and gentleman was on duty with some military unit. Colonel Oswald of Auchincruive had already assembled and trained the Ayrshire Yeomanry volunteer cavalry regiment. Legislation providing for the payment of a hardship allowance to families of Scottish militiamen on active service was summarised, with details of how this could be claimed. Four (anonymous) poems were included, all calculated to stir up patriotic fervour and strengthen determination to resist any French invaders.

The Lord Lieutenant of Ayrshire, responsible for raising the county’s home defence forces, was Hugh Montgomerie, 12th Earl of Eglinton. The commander of the Ayrshire Yeomanry was Richard Alexander Oswald of Auchincruive.

The Lord Lieutenant of Ayrshire, responsible for raising the county’s home defence forces, was Hugh Montgomerie, 12th Earl of Eglinton. The commander of the Ayrshire Yeomanry was Richard Alexander Oswald of Auchincruive.

Naval activity and shipping movements received much attention – Ayr merchants and others with an interest in seaborne trade would have made up an important part of the newspaper’s readership. The threat of a French invasion receded with the arrival of stormy weather in the autumn, and it was finally ended by Admiral Lord Nelson’s decisive victory over the French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar in 1805.

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