‘Shanter Farm and Bay, Carrick’ by David Octavius Hill, from the 1840 publication ‘The Land of Burns’.

This image encapsulates the themes of all of the talks at the 2016 South Ayrshire History & Family History Fair at the Walker Halls, Troon on Saturday 4th June.

In one of his illustrations for the 1840 publication ‘The Land of Burns’, the artist and pioneer photographer David Octavius Hill imagined the farmer and smuggler Douglas Graham and his companions about to set off from the coast of Carrick. Their horses carry casks of smuggled brandy. The Fair’s first talk at 10am will be ‘The Smuggling Coast from Stranraer to Girvan’ by Frances Wilkins, a leading authority on this subject.

The scene is located at the ancient standing stone now on the edge of Turnberry Golf Course, with Maidens Bay in the background, and two of the day’s talks are about early human activity – ‘Ayrshire before History’, about the county’s early sites and their archaeology, by Tom Barclay of South Ayrshire Council Libraries at 11am, and ‘A Founder’s Workshop from the Bronze Age? Excavations from the shadow of Hunterston’ by archaeologist Thomas Rees at 3pm.

On foot and speaking with the smugglers is the teenage Robert Burns, taking time off from his school classes at Kirkoswald. (He is unlikely to have been so well-dressed at that time.) It is claimed that he later based his best-known character Tam o’Shanter on Douglas Graham. The 2pm talk is by Professor Chris Whatley and is ‘Men at War: securing Burns’ memory in the West of Scotland c.1859 – c. 1896’, about the race between towns in the region to have a statue of Burns.


The ancient standing stone overlooking Maidens Bay.

History Fair

Fascinated by the past and wanting to learn more? Looking for something different to do at the weekend? Join us at this year’s South Ayrshire’s History Fair on Saturday 4 June 2016 at the Walker Halls in Troon.

We have a full programme of informative talks featuring respected guest speakers. Tickets start at just £3 per talk up to £10 for the whole day and are available from Carnegie LibraryTroon Library or at the Walker Halls on the day.

Our speakers for the day are

Frances Wilkins, Lecturer and scholar, author of 30 titles on Scottish smuggling and the Scottish slave trade

Tom Barclay, Local Studies Librarian, South Ayrshire Council

Chris Whatley, Emeritus Professor of Scottish History, University of Dundee

Thomas Rees, Rathmell Archaeology Ltd.


9.00am – Registration

9.45am – Councillor Bill Grant

Chairman – Dauvit Broun

10.00am  “The Smuggling Coast from Stranraer to Girvan” Frances Wilkins

11.00am  “Ayrshire before history: a personal view of early sites and their archaeology”  Tom Barclay


2.00pm  “Men at War: securing Burns’ memory in the West of Scotland, c 1859-c1896 (the race between the towns of the region to have a statue of Robert Burns)” Chris Whatley

3.00pm  “A Founder’s Workshop from the Bronze Age? Excavations from the shadow of Hunterston”  Thomas Rees

Booking Forms
Booking forms are available online to print off and post to us.

Download and print our History Fair Leaflet (pdf)


In addition to the talks, 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.

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.

Jean Inness
South Ayrshire History Fair,
Library HQ, John Pollock Centre, Mainholm Road,
Ayr KA8 0QD
Tel: 01292 559318 or 272231 Fax: 01292 616301
Email: localhistory@south-ayrshire.gov.uk or jean.inness@south-ayrshire.gov.uk

This exhibition, on display at Rozelle House from 25th March to 23rd May, provides a glimpse into sport in Ayrshire, now and in the past. How did these sports start? Who played and where?

Why were these sports chosen? The exhibition team chose these five based on prior contacts and knowledge. Each to us seems to be particularly Scottish and they are strong locally. They appear on the international scene and in the consciousness of Scotland. We could have chosen others.

The five sports are curling, football, golf, ice hockey and rugby. The exhibition team have worked with individuals, organisations and sport clubs to be able to show this unique and diverse group of artefacts and images. Our grateful thanks to everyone who helped and loaned artefacts.


Curling’s origins are not well understood. Stones, channel stanes and ‘loofies’ exist from the early 16th Century and it is recorded throughout the 17th Century. From the 18th Century onwards it is a popular and flourishing sport. In Ayrshire, Robert Burns creates an image in verse of curling which is readily recognisable today.


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Ayr & Alloway Curlers at Rozelle Curling Pond


The game has changed a great deal, though. In the past, the vanquished often provided the dinner and drinks after the match.

In curling players meet as equals on the ice in a spirit of boisterous yet sociable competition, often lubricated by a generous tot of whisky. In an agrarian society it was played during the fallow season when Scotland’s farmers and shepherds were free to pursue it at will.

From the mid-19th Century, the birth of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club and a growth in dedicated curling ponds, such as at Rozelle, began the process of regularising curling and transforming it into the sport we know today.


The two senior Ayrshire football clubs are Ayr United FC and Kilmarnock FC. Many interesting and intriguing artefacts and photographs are on show here. The Kilmarnock Charity Cup is here reunited with its plinth for the first time in 100 years!


Spot the ball!

Ayr United or ‘The Honest Men’ play at Somerset Park. Probably Ayr’s most famous manager is Ally MacLeod who took charge in 1966. He guided Ayr back to the top division and took them to a Scottish and a league cup semi-final. He moved to Aberdeen FC in 1975 and appointed manager of the national team in 1977.

Kilmarnock Football Club, the oldest professional club in Scotland, were Scottish League Division 1 champions in 1964/65, Scottish Cup winners 1919/1920 and 1997 and League Cup winners in 2012. Commonly known as ‘Killie’, they play home games at Rugby Park.

Along with the two professional clubs in Ayrshire there are 24 Junior football clubs who compete in their own leagues and play for the Scottish Junior Cup every year.


Golf is known to have been played in Scotland since at least 1457, when golf and football were banned as distractions from archery practice.

The earliest known equipment was long-nosed woods, crude irons and featherie balls. Play was often on common land, especially seaside links. These have evolved, and the rules with them, to the high tech equipment used today. Examples of historical equipment, some associated with key players, are on show.

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Girvan Golf Club

Within South Ayrshire are three Open Championship courses. Prestwick Golf Club founded the Open Championship and ran it until 1870. Prestwick no longer hosts the Open, but remains a major golfing venue. Troon hosted its first Open Championship in 1923 and Turnberry in 1977.

The rise of the railways in Britain was key to the growth of golf. In 1910 the route from Glasgow to Ayr was dubbed ‘The Golfers’ Line’ by Rail and Travel Monthly – it served 14 links courses.

Ice Hockey

An exclusive pastime of the wealthy in the 19th Century, British ice hockey became an extremely popular spectator sport through the 1930s and 1950s. In Britain, the sport has had several periods of boom and bust. Glory days were triggered by the national team’s Olympic triumph in 1936. Bust came in the early 1960s, when the sport almost died. There was a period of struggle, before regaining popular appeal over the last 40 years in an era of new arenas and European competition.

The story of ice hockey in Ayr is equally varied. Ice Hockey’s sense of community is important. Still a minority sport in the UK, it is very much a major sport in localised areas, like Ayr.

The first Ayrshire team was Doonside, with their first match at Crossmyloof in 1929. Ayr’s first ice rink opened in 1939. It closed in 1972, but the sport continued at the Limekiln Road Rink. In 1996 ‘The Centrum’ rink opened to a capacity crowd, but this was not to last. The Ayr Scottish Eagles relocated to Glasgow’s Braehead Arena in 2002, leaving Ayr without a hockey team. Sadly ‘The Centrum’ closed in 2004 and now the sport is kept alive in Ayr by the commitment of the junior and recreational players back at the Limekiln Road Rink.


Ayr Rugby F.C. began on the evening of Wednesday 22nd September 1897, at a meeting in the Kings Arms Hotel, High Street, Ayr. A Secretary, Treasurer and Captain were appointed, along with a Selection Committee. Northfield Park was settled on as the playing fields.

The inaugural match took place on Monday 27th September 1897 versus Glasgow Second XV of Clydesdale. The final score of 0-8 to the visitors was deemed ‘a satisfactory start’.

The sport became quickly established and just 4 weeks later a Second XV was formed.

From that site, and from that time of only 162 members, the Club has grown in both strength and accolades. They were League Winners 2008 – 2009, 2012 – 2013, Cup Winners 2010, 2011 & 2013 and Bill McLaren Shield Winners 2013.

Since 2011 they have offered a Rugby Academy, which works to support and develop the talent within the youth teams. Ayr Ladies was formed in 2012 and now competes in the BT Women’s National League Division 1.

Photographs taken of the King’s Arms Hotel and the views across the river from its rear. The hotel was near the foot of the High Street and was demolished in 1925. This hotel along with the Black Bull Hotel in River Street survived from the 18th century. After demolition F W Woolworth appeared in its place. The original hotel was renewed in 1833 by its owner William Noble after a fire.

In 1820 there were over thirty carriers transporting goods to and from Ayr by horse and cart. A four-horse passenger coach left twice daily from the Kings Arms for Kilmarnock and Glasgow alternating each month with the Black Bull across the river.

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Due to it’s popularity our Picturing the Past exhibition at Ayr’s Carnegie Library has been extended until the end of February 2016.

The bygone days of the town and its people are celebrated in this exhibition of images from the library service’s photographic collection. Special features include Gray’s carpet factory and Daniel Wyllie’s chemical works.

Carnegie Library, 12 Main Street, Ayr KA8 8EB

The exhibition is on display in the Non-Fiction Lending Department.

Gray's Carpet Factory 1920s

Gray’s Carpet Factory 1920s


December 2015 – January 2016

The bygone days of the town and its people are celebrated in this exhibition of images from the library service’s photographic collection. Special features include Gray’s carpet factory and Daniel Wyllie’s chemical works.

Carnegie Library, 12 Main Street, Ayr KA8 8EB

The exhibition is on display in the Non-Fiction Lending Department.

On a ledge of rock jutting out high on a cave wall, four figures lie motionless, hoping to remain unseen in their hiding place. The setting is Ayrshire’s rocky Carrick coast in the early 1600s, and the fugitives are young Launce Kennedy of Kirrieoch, his friend the schoolmaster of Maybole, and the two daughters of the Laird of Culzean. Escaping by boat after the rescue of the older girl from her abductors, and pursued through night and mist by hostile vessels, they have sought refuge in a cave at the foot of the sea-cliffs of Bennane Head. Now they realise that in evading their pursuers they have only stumbled into much greater peril.


The cave of Sawney Bean as depicted in one of the illustrations by Seymour Lucas to the 1896 first edition of S. R. Crockett’s The Grey Man

Flaming torches light up the cave, and the four on the ledge peer down to see that a rabble of men, women and children have entered, ragged and dishevelled, some carrying sacks. They set a fire, and its light reveals rows of human limbs, shrunken and smoke-blackened, hanging from the ceiling. There are vats in which parts of boiled torsos are visible, and the sacks which have just been brought in are full of freshly-butchered body parts. Then a huge hulking figure fills the entrance, silencing the jabbering horde with a voice like a beast’s growl. It has become shockingly clear that the tales of a creature – part man, part monster – who haunts the vicinity of the headland are true. Travellers who have mysteriously vanished from the lonely road which passes nearby have met a terrible fate. This is the abode of Sawney Bean and his cannibal family!


Illustrator Mary Byfield engraved this imagining of the cave of Sawney Bean for an 1825 ‘penny dreadful’

Sawney himself approaches the rough steps hewn in the rock which lead up to the ledge. It is from here that he presides over the feasting, and now the intruders must be discovered. Launce draws his knife and turns to his sweetheart, the younger girl Nell. She understands, and keeps her eyes fixed on his as she bares her neck to receive the mercy blow. Her sister Marjorie already has a blade in her hand, ready to take her own life.

Suddenly an ear-splitting, mind-numbing unearthly howl fills the cavern. The schoolmaster is an enthusiastic performer on his set of Highland bagpipes, which he happens to have with him. Keeping to the shadows, he has stealthily risen to his feet and made ready. Now the skirling pibroch he unleashes, amplified by a hollow behind the ledge, echoes round the rocky walls. The cannibals flee in terror without a backward glance, never doubting for a second that all the demons of Hell have come to claim them. Hard on their heels follow Launce and his companions, and in the confusion they emerge unseen from the cave and slip away into the darkness. The secret of the cannibals’ lair has been discovered, and it will not be long before retribution will overtake them. An expedition led by the king himself will result in their capture and summary execution.


Sawney Bean as he appears in an 18th century broadsheet

This is an episode from a work of fiction, The Grey Man by Samuel Rutherford Crockett, published in 1896. The tale of ‘Sawney’ (Sandy – Alexander) Bean first appears in broadsheets printed in England in the early years of the 18th century. It was subsequently included in collections of accounts of executions, murders, pirate attacks and other gruesome stories which proved highly popular and went through many reprints. Daniel Defoe, who would become best known for his novel Robinson Crusoe, is thought to have been significantly involved in the writing and collection of such tales. Defoe was in Scotland as a government spy and propagandist at the time of the 1707 parliamentary union, and it has been suggested that he was Sawney’s creator. The remote cave which becomes the cannibal’s lair is given a vague location somewhere in the south west of Scotland.


Journalist, pamphleteer and novelist Daniel Defoe has been proposed as the source of the Sawney Bean legend

Sceptics who question whether Sawney ever existed point out that a great deal had been written about the history, legends and folklore of south west Scotland in general and Carrick in particular before 1896, and that not one word about him is to be found in any of it. When S. R. Crockett set out to write a novel based on the Carrick bloodfeuds of the 1600s, he decided to weave the legend of Sawney Bean into the plot, and this meant pinning down the hitherto vague location of his cave to the coast between Girvan and Ballantrae.

Regardless of the complete lack of historical evidence for Sawney’s existence, and the likelihood that it was Crockett who brought him to Carrick in his 1896 novel, his tale has gone on to achieve world-wide notoriety, and is now an established part of the folklore of the area in which Crockett located it. Present-day Ordnance Survey maps designate a deep cleft in the cliffs on the edge of the little bay of Balcreuchan Port, which seems to the best fit for Crockett’s description, as ‘Sawney Bean’s Cave’.