- AYTON, a post-town and parish, in the county of Berwick, 7½ miles (N. W. by N.) from Berwick-on-Tweed, and 47½ (E. by S.) from the city of Edinburgh; containing about 1700 inhabitants. This place, which takes its name from the water of Eye, on the banks of which it is situated, is intimately connected with important transactions of early times. It was formerly dependent on the monastery of Coldingham, as appears from charters belonging to that establishment, upon the settlement of which, between the years 1098 and 1107, under the auspices of King Edgar, that monarch made them several grants, including "Eytun" and "aliam Eytun," the latter being Nether Ayton, on the opposite side of the river. Ayton then belonged to the parish of Coldingham; and it is considered that its church was founded about that time, as a chapel for the neighbouring priory, to which use it was appropriated till the Reformation, when this district was disjoined from Coldingham, and united to Lamberton on the south-east, a short time after which, it was erected into a parish of itself. The Castle of Ayton, a place of great importance in turbulent times, but long since demolished, is supposed to have been founded by a Norman called De Vescie, whose family afterwards changed their name to that of De Eitun, and of whom the Aytons, of Inchdarney, in Fife, are said to be the lineal descendants; this castle was subjected to a siege by Surrey, the famous general of Henry VII., in 1497, and it appears that the village of Ayton sprang up in its vicinity, for the sake of the protection which it afforded. A truce was signed in the church, between the hostile kingdoms, in 1384; and another in 1497, for seven years, after the capture of the castle in July in the same year. The estate of Prenderguest, a distinct and very ancient portion of the parish, in the reign of David I., partly belonged to Swain, priest of Fishwick, on the banks of the Tweed, who afterwards renounced his claim to it in favour of the Coldingham monks.The parish, bounded on the east by the sea, is about four miles in length, and the same in breadth, and contains about 7050 acres, of which 6000 are arable, 250 pasture, and 800 plantation. The surface is most elevated in the southern part, which consists of a sloping range of high land, adorned with beautiful copses, and reaching, at its highest elevation, to about 660 feet above the level of the sea; the ground on the northern side is lower, but has some very fine lofty undulations. The sea-coast extends between two and three miles, and is abrupt and steep, one point, known by the name of Blaiky's, rising to a height of 350 feet; there are one or two caves on the shore, accessible only by sea, and which, it is supposed, were formerly used for smuggling, but are now the resort of marine fowls and shell-fish. At the south-eastern point of the boundary, is a rocky bay, approached, from land, by a deep ravine, at the foot of which stand the little fishing village of Burnmouth, and a singular rock called the Maiden Stone, insulated at high water, and which has been separated from the precipice above by the undermining of the sea. At the north-eastern point of the parish, are two or three islets, called the Harker rocks, over which the sea continually rolls, and when driven by strong east winds, exhibits a lofty and extensive field of sweeping foam. The chief rivers are the Eye and the Ale, the former of which rises in the Lammermoor hills, and after flowing for nearly twelve miles, enters the parish, by a right-angled flexure, on its western side, and at length falls into the sea. The scenery of the valley through which it flows, if viewed from Millerton hill, the old western approach to Ayton, is of singular interest and beauty: the nearer prospect consists of the village, manse, and church, Ayton House, with its beautiful plantations, and the new and commanding house and grounds of Peelwalls; numerous mansions and farm-houses rise, in various parts, on the right, skirted by a range of hill country, and the expansive and rolling sea closes the prospect on the north-east. The Ale rises in Coldingham parish, and, after running two or three miles, forms the north-eastern boundary of this parish, separating it from Coldingham and Eyemouth, for about two miles, when it falls into the Eye at a romantic elevation called the Kip-rock.The soil, in general, is good, consisting, in the southern part, of a fertile loam, and in the northern exhibiting a light earth, with a considerable admixture of gravel in many places; the finest crops, both white and green, are produced, the land being in a high state of cultivation, and every improvement in agriculture has been introduced, among which the most prominent are, a complete system of draining, and the plentiful use of bone-dust, as turnip manure. The rateable annual value of the parish is £12,970. The prevailing rock in the district is the greywacke and greywacke slate, of which formation large supplies of sandstone of good quality are quarried for building. Considerable deposits of coarse alabaster, or gypsum, have been dug up near the hamlet of Burnmouth; and in the vicinity of the Eye are large quantities of coarse gravel, boulders, and rolled blocks under the soil, apparently alluvial, and rounded by the perpetual action of water. The mansion-house of Ayton, which was destroyed by fire a few years since, and is about to be rebuilt by the proprietor, who has just purchased the property for £170,000, was situated on a beautiful acclivity, near the great London road, on the bank of the Eye, and surrounded by extensive grounds. It was a fine ancient edifice, and formed a commanding object of attraction, being the first on the line of road after crossing the border. The house of Prenderguest is a modern building of superior construction; and at Peelwalls, is an elegant residence, lately built of the celebrated stone from the quarries of Killala, in Fifeshire, and situated in grounds which vie with the mansion in beauty and grandeur. Gunsgreen House, standing by the sea-side and harbour of Eyemouth, is a fine mansion, erected by a wealthy smuggler, who caused many concealments to be constructed in the house, and under the grounds, for the purpose of carrying on his contraband traffic. A new and elegant seat was also recently erected on the estate of Netherbyres, with an approach from the north side, by means of a suspension bridge over the Eye, by which, with many other improvements, this ancient and valuable property has been rendered more attractive.The village of Ayton contains about 700 persons, and the village of Burnmouth a third of that number; at the former, a cattle-market, recently established, takes place monthly, and is well supported, and fairs have long been held twice a year, but, at present, are not of much importance. Numerous buildings have been erected upon the new line of the London road, under leases granted by the proprietor, and have improved the village very considerably. There are several manufactories, of which the principal is a paper-mill, where pasteboards and coloured papers are chiefly prepared, by new and greatly improved machinery, the drying process being effected by the application of the paper round large cylinders heated by steam; about £800 a year are paid to the workmen, and the excise duties amount to upwards of £3000 per annum. A tannery, which is, at present, on a small scale, but progressively increasing, was commenced in the village, a few years since, and produces annually several hundreds of pounds worth of very superior leather; and at Gunsgreen, is a distillery, yielding about 1500 gallons of aqua weekly, chiefly derived from potatoes, 6000 cwt. of which have sometimes been consumed in two months. Kelp, also, has occasionally been manufactured on the shore, at Burnmouth; but the return is too small to induce the inhabitants to prosecute it with vigour. A harbour has been lately constructed at Burnmouth, of sandstone found in the parish, as a security against the violence of the sea, at a cost of £1600, defrayed, three-fourths by the commissioners for fisheries, and one-fourth by the fishermen. Large quantities of white fish and occasionally of red, of very fine quality, are taken in this part, and cod, ling, and herrings are cured for distant markets; lobsters are sometimes sent to London, and periwinkles, with which the rocks abound, are likewise made an article of trade, for the use of those fishmongers who convert them into sauce. There is the greatest facility of communication; the great London road, and the North-British railway, just constructed, intersecting the parish; and there is another road crossing the London nearly at right angles, and leading from Eyemouth into the interior of the county.The ecclesiastical affairs are subject to the presbytery of Chirnside and synod of Merse and Teviotdale; the patronage is possessed by the Crown, and the minister's stipend is £218, with a glebe valued at £35 per annum, and a manse on the bank of the Eye, erected at the close of the last century. The church, which is conveniently situated about half a mile from the village, in a romantic and sweetly secluded spot, near the Eye, commanding a fine view of Ayton House, consists partly of the walls of the ancient church, built about the 12th century, by the monks of Coldingham, and which was of very considerable dimensions. The old south transept is still entire, shrouded with mantling ivy, and converted into a burying-place for the Ayton family; the gable of the chancel is also remaining, but its side walls have been removed, for the sake of the sandstone material, which appears to have been cut from the quarry at Greystonlees. The present building was repaired and enlarged, twenty years since, and contains 456 sittings. There are two places of worship belonging to the Associate Synod; and also a parochial school, in which are taught the usual branches of education, with the classics, mathematics, and French if required, and the master of which has a salary of £34. 4., and a good house and garden, with fees, &c., to the amount of £84 a year. On the highest point of the southern extremity of the parish, is the round camp of Drumaw, or Habchester, which, before recent mutilations by the plough, was a fine specimen of ancient British encampments. It commands an extensive prospect both by sea and land, and from its situation on the northern side of the hill, and its use for observation and defence, it is thought to have been constructed by South Britons, in order to watch the movements, and repel the attacks, of their northern neighbours. There are remains of other camps in the vicinity, all of which, in process of time, yielded to the more efficient and permanent defence of castles, of which the remains are still visible in many parts. The Castle of Ayton, as well as the British encampment before noticed, was situated near the Roman road which extended from the wall of Severus, and, after crossing the country at Newcastle, terminated at the Roman camp near St. Abbs Head in this district.
A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. Samuel Lewis. 1856.
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