- 1) BEITH, a parish, chiefly in the district of Cunninghame, county of Ayr, but partly in the Upper ward of the county of Renfrew, 18 miles (W. S. W.) from Glasgow; including the villages of Gateside, Northbar, and Burnhouse, and containing 5795 inhabitants. This place is supposed to have taken its name from a Celtic term signifying "birch," and many parts of the district are referred to, as still bearing names formed partly with the word wood, such as Roughwood, Woodside, Threepwood, and others. The locality consisted, in ancient times, of the two great divisions called the barony of Beith, and the lordship of Giffen, the latter being the more extensive, and the two districts being divided from each other by the Powgree, a stream falling into the Garnock near the south end of Kilbirnie loch. The barony was given by Richard de Moreville, the son and successor of Hugh de Moreville, constable of Scotland, and lord of Cunninghame, to the abbey of Kilwinning; and his wife Avicia de Lancaster, gave the lands of Beith, Bath, and Threepwood, also to the abbey; which conveyances were made in the 12th century. This religious establishment erected a chapel here, afterwards the church of Beith, the monks enjoying the tithes and revenues, and finding a curate to do the duty; but, about the period of the Reformation, the abbot and chapter feued out the lands in the barony for small feuduties, which, with the other temporalities of the church, passed to Hugh, fifth earl of Eglinton, who was created lord of erection of the monastery. The lordship of Giffen was given by the family of the de Morevilles, to Walter de Mulcaster, the donation comprehending the whole of the lands to the south and west of the Powgree; and the ruins of a chapel founded by the monastery of Kilwinning, and dedicated to St. Bridget, are still to be seen on a part of this property.2) BEITH, at the beginning of the last century, was only a small village, consisting of a few houses in the vicinity of the church, but has since grown into a thriving manufacturing town, with a large and industrious population; it is situated on an eminence, in the midst of a district abounding with beautiful scenery, and is well lighted with gas, supplied by a company established in 1831, with a capital of £1600. The town contains a subscription library, with 400 volumes; and two circulating libraries. The population, which also comprises several respectable and wealthy merchants, and persons engaged in various kinds of traffic, is, to a great extent, composed of hand-loom weavers; and about 200 persons resident in the parish, are regularly engaged in the manufacture of flax thread. A mill for spinning flax, lately erected at North-bar, two miles from the town, affords employment to eighty hands; the proprietor has built several houses, and has commenced feus, so that a considerable village may be expected shortly to arise on this spot. At Roughbank, is an establishment of the same description, but on a smaller scale, and also a mill for making potato-flour, occupying about fourteen persons; and at Knows, an establishment has been formed, containing forty steamlooms, furnishing employment to thirty persons: there are two bleachfields at Threepwood, in the north-eastern part of the parish; and in the town, the tanning and currying of leather are pursued to a good extent. Many persons carry on a large traffic in grain, and the enterprising spirit of the inhabitants has left untouched scarcely any article of profitable speculation. Beith is a post-town, and there are two arrivals and departures daily; also a daily dispatch of letters to the neighbouring towns of Dalry, Kilbirnie, and Lochwinnoch: the great line of road from Glasgow to Portpatrick passes through the town, and the Glasgow and Ayrshire railway crosses the western extremity of the parish, and has one of its principal stations here. The marketable produce is usually sent for sale to Glasgow and Paisley; a weekly market, however, of ancient date, is held on Friday, and fairs are held, chiefly for horses, on the first Friday in the months of January, February, May, and November, old style. A festival, also, called vulgarly Tenant's day, attended by a great concourse of people, and celebrated for its show of horses, is held yearly on the 18th of August (O. S.), in honour of St. Inan, from which name, with the last letter of the word saint, the present appellation has been formed, by corrupt usage. Inan flourished about the year 839, and, though resident chiefly at Irvine, occasionally remained for a time at this place, where he has left memorials in the name applied to the cleft in a rock, still called St. Inan's chair, and in the name of a well, called St. Inan's well. A fair called the "Trades' race," was formerly held, in June, when the trades assembled, and went in order through the town, with music and flags, but this has been given up; there is, however, an annual dinner among the merchants, who were united as a society previously to the year 1727, and the whole of whom meet for conviviality on the anniversary, and annually choose a president. A kind of fair, likewise, is held in July, called the "Cadgers' race," when the carters ride in procession through the town. A baronbailie and an officer were formerly appointed by the Earl of Eglinton, who had considerable property in the parish; but nothing of this kind has taken place for many years, and the town has no particular local government. The town-house was built by subscription, in 1817; the lower part consists of two shops, and the upper part of a large hall, in which are held the justice-of-peace courts, the sheriff small-debt circuit courts, and various public meetings; it is also used as a public reading-room. The lower part of the building contains a lock-up house, for the custody of prisoners intended to be sent to Ayr, and for the punishment of minor offenders.The parish is in the form of a triangle, and is bounded on the west by Kilbirnie loch. It measures at its greatest length, from south-east to south-west, four miles, and comprises 11,060 acres, of which 500 are in Renfrewshire; about 320 acres are uncultivated, 100 in plantations, and the remainder is pasture and tillage. The surface is considerably varied, throughout, with undulations, without presenting any remarkable elevations, the highest point, called Cuff hill, being only 652 feet above the sea; but from this eminence, as well as from some of the uplands, extensive and beautiful views are obtained of the surrounding country, amply compensating for the general uniformity of the local scenery. The hill is supposed to take its name from the word Coifi, or Cuifi, the appellation of the chief priest of the Druids, and to have been a principal seat of the worship of that ancient order; the fair of St. Inan, also, in later times, was held here, and from the top may be seen the mountain ranges of Galloway and Carrick, the expansive estuary of the Clyde, the outline of the Perthshire hills, and the majestic Ben-Lomond. The surface gently slopes from the north-eastern quarter, the vicinity of Cuff hill, and is lowest at Kilbirnie loch, being here only ninety feet above the sea; and from this sheet of water, a stream flows northward, through Lochwinnoch, to the river Clyde, along a valley in which runs the line of railway to Glasgow. At Blaeloch-head is a small lake; and in different parts are several streams, the two principal being the river Lugton, rising in Lochlibo, and falling into the Garnock below Eglinton Castle, and the Dusk, which rises at Threepwood, and joins the Garnock at Dalgarvan, below Dalry. The lands present a great variety of soil, but in general are fertile, and tolerably well cultivated; the chief crop is oats, but large portions are in pasture, and about 900 milch cows, mostly of the Ayrshire breed, besides young cattle, are grazed on the different grounds. Cheese is consequently a leading article of traffic, and is purchased of the tenants by cheese-merchants, for the Glasgow market; milk is also disposed of, to some extent, in the surrounding villages, and large quantities of rye-grass seed are shipped to England, by merchants residing in the town. The farms are of small size, varying from 50 to 100 acres; and fully two-thirds of the rent are made by the sale of the cheese, which is of excellent quality, and brings the highest price at market. The rateable annual value of the parish is £15,140. The chief mineral deposits are coal and limestone, which are wrought extensively; clay-ironstone is also found, and good brickclay, used at manufactories here for making drain-tiles; ironstone exists in several parts, and a freestone quarry is in operation. Plantations are rare, especially those of an ornamental kind, except in the vicinity of the mansions, among which is Caldwell House, at the eastern extremity of the parish, a large and elegant modern structure, surrounded by a spacious park, richly ornamented with trees, including some of great stature and beauty. The parish is in the presbytery of Irvine and synod of Glasgow and Ayr, and in the patronage of the Earl of Eglinton; the minister's stipend is £251. 5. 11., with a manse, and a glebe valued at £130 per annum. The church, commenced in 1807, and opened for public worship in 1810, is a plain edifice, with a tower and clock, and accommodates 1254 persons; it was erected at a cost of £2790, and the bell, which has a very fine tone, was the gift of Robert Shedden, Esq., of London, a native of Beith. There are places of worship for members of the Free Church, the Associate Synod, and the Relief persuasion. The parochial school affords instruction in the usual branches; the master has a salary of £26, with fees, and a substantial residence: there are also schools at Hazlehead and other places. A savings' bank was formed in 1834, and two societies have been partly endowed, for the relief of the poor. Alexander Montgomerie, one of the earlier Scottish poets, and of some celebrity, was born in the parish.
A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. Samuel Lewis. 1856.
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