- GIRVAN, a busy sea-port, market-town, and parish, in the district of Carrick, county of Ayr, 29 miles (N. N. E.) from Stranraer, and 97 (S. W. by W.) from Edinburgh; containing 8000 inhabitants. Girvan is supposed to have derived its name from the river on which it is situated, and which, on account of the rapidity of its course, was called the Griffan, from two Celtic words descriptive of its character. Few circumstances of historical importance are connected with the place, and its origin and early history are not distinctly recorded. The town is beautifully seated at the mouth of the river, which here discharges its waters into a spacious bay; and commands an extensive and interesting view of the sea, the rock of Ailsa, the mull and promontory of Cantyre, the islands of Sanda, Arran, and Little Cumbray, part of the Isle of Bute, and the coast of Ireland in the distance. It appears to have risen into note from the grant of a charter to Thomas Boyd, of Ballochtoul, which was recited and confirmed to Sir Archibald Muir, of Thornton, provost of Edinburgh, in 1696, by William III., who bestowed on it all the privileges of a burgh of barony; and from the advantage of its situation on the coast, and in a large manufacturing district, it gradually increased in population and extent, and ultimately became the seat of trade and manufacturing industry. The number of inhabitants has been greatly augmented since the introduction of cotton-weaving by the settlement of numerous weavers from Ireland, for whom many small houses have been built in the town and suburbs. A public library is maintained by subscription, and two circulating libraries have been recently established, which are well supported; there is also a library belonging to the agricultural society of the district. Not less than 2000 looms are employed in weaving cotton for the Glasgow and Paisley manufacturers, who have agents settled here for conducting that business; and many of the inhabitants are engaged in the several trades connected with the port, and requisite for the supply of the neighbourhood with various articles of merchandise.The Girvan is frequented by salmon, and a considerable fishery was formerly carried on, under the protection of the charter, by the proprietors on both sides of the river; but it has been greatly diminished by laying down stake-nets. The bay abounds with white-fish of every kind, the chief of which are cod, haddock, whiting, mackerel, soles, flounders, turbot, and lobsters; but, not withstanding, very little attention was paid to this valuable fishery till of late, when some steps were taken to render it more available to the trade of the place. A considerable business is also carried on in the shipping of grain, of which about 1200 bolls of wheat are sent off quarterly, on the average; and the trade of the town would be much extended by the construction of a rail-road from the collieries in the district. The harbour, till recently, was in a totally unimproved condition, admitting only vessels of very small burthen; but a quay, though at present only on a small scale, has been constructed, which has much facilitated the exportation of potatoes and coal; and when further improvements have been made, the harbour will be one of the most commodious on this part of the coast. There are at present upwards of twenty vessels belonging to Girvan, of from 100 to 300 tons' burthen; and ship-building is carried on with spirit. Branch banks have been established, and also a post-office: the market, which is amply supplied with provisions of all kinds, is regularly held, once a week; and fairs, to which black-cattle are brought for sale, are held on the last Mondays in April and October, chiefly for the hiring of servants. Facility of intercourse with all places of importance in the district is afforded by excellent roads, of which that from Glasgow to Portpatrick passes along the west side of the parish for nearly nine miles; and there are good inland roads traversing the parish in all directions. The burgh, under its charter, is governed by two bailies and a council of twelve burgesses, assisted by a town-clerk, treasurer, and other officers; four of the council retire annually, but are capable of re-election by the majority of the burgesses; and the bailies are annually elected by the council. The other officers of the corporation are appointed by the magistrates; the senior bailie is, by virtue of his office, a member of the council, and the junior bailie takes the office of senior magistrate for the ensuing year. The jurisdiction extends over the whole of the burgh and the barony of Ballochtoul; and a bailie's court is held weekly, on Wednesday, in the town-hall, for the determination of civil pleas to the amount of £2, and for the trial of petty offences, which are generally punished by the imposition of fines not exceeding £1, and with imprisonment for non-payment. The average number of civil cases appears for some years to have been gradually diminishing, and at present is under fifty. All persons wishing to carry on trade must enter as freemen, for which a fee of £2 on admission is paid to the common fund. The police is under the management of the magistrates; and sixty of the inhabitants are annually appointed constables for the preservation of the peace. The town-hall is a neat building; and attached to it is a prison for petty offenders in default of payment of their fines, and for the temporary confinement of others previously to their being sent to the gaol of Ayr.The parish, situated on the coast, is nine miles in length, and extends about four miles in mean breadth, though of very irregular form, varying from two to seven miles. It is bounded on the west for nearly the whole of its length, by the sea, and comprises about 19,000 acres, of which, with the exception of a small portion of woodland and plantation, the greater part is arable land and moorland pasture, and the remainder waste. The surface, which in no part is very level, is diagonally intersected by a boldly elevated ridge, of which the highest point is 1200, and the mean height 900, feet above the level of the sea. The lands are watered by three rivers, of which the Girvan is the principal; the Lendal, a comparatively small stream, falls into the sea at Carleton bay, and the Assel, after flowing through the parish, falls into the Stinchar in the parish of Colmonell. There are also two lakes; but, though of great depth, they only cover a very inconsiderable portion of ground. The soil is generally fertile, and in the lower lands well adapted for the growth of wheat; in the higher parts the lands are coarse, and comparatively unproductive. The crops are, wheat, oats, barley, and bear, potatoes, beans, peas, and many acres of turnips for the sheep; the system of husbandry is improved, and draining has been practised on the lands requiring it, recently to a great extent. Sea-weed, found in abundance on the shore, is very generally used as manure, though not altogether to the exclusion of lime: the farm houses and offices in the parish have been almost all rebuilt within the last fifty years, and are in general substantial and commodious; and some, of more recent erection, are inferior to none in this part of the country. Great attention is paid to live stock, though from a greater quantity of land having been improved and rendered arable, the number of cattle pastured has proportionally diminished. The dairy-farms are well managed; the cows are of the Ayrshire breed, and about 500 are kept on the several farms, and 300 head of young cattle pastured every year. The sheep are chiefly of the larger black-faced breed, with a few of the Cheviot; 2200 are annually reared, and about 400 bought in and fed on turnips for the markets. The rateable annual value of the parish is £12,845.There is very little natural wood, and the plantations are on a limited scale. The substrata are mostly limestone, red freestone, whinstone of a bluish colour, and graystone in detached masses; the limestone has been extensively quarried for the supply of the neighbouring district. Copper has been found on some of the lands; and it is thought that there are abundant veins of ore at Ardmillan. Indeed, attempts have been made to ascertain the fact, but upon too inefficient a scale to warrant any just conclusion: what ore was obtained was found to be of rich quality, and in searching for it several beautiful specimens of asbestos were discovered. Along the coast, the rocks are chiefly of the conglomerate kind; and huge masses are seen, piled upon each other, and in some instances so nicely poised on the slender props which sustain their prodigious weight as to fill the beholder with fearful apprehensions. The parish is in the presbytery of Ayr and synod of Glasgow and Ayr; patron, the Crown. The minister's stipend is £269. 12., with a manse, and a glebe valued at £12 per annum. The church, situated in the centre of the town, and close to the Glasgow and Portpatrick road, was erected about the year 1780, when the population was scarcely a fourth of the present number; it is adapted for a congregation of 850 persons, but is altogether inadequate to the wants of the parishioners. There are places of worship for Burghers, Wesleyan Methodists, the Free Church, and Seceders from the Free Church. The parochial school is well conducted; the master has a salary of £34, with £50 fees, and an allowance of £20 in lieu of a house and garden. He also receives the interest of £1000 bequeathed by Mrs. Crauford, of Ardmillan, for the education of forty children without fees, of whom ten are taught church music by the precentor of the church, to whom she left £12 per annum for that purpose. Another school is supported by subscription, for teaching children to read the scriptures, and for instructing them in their catechism. A savings' bank has been established, and some benevolent societies have contributed to diminish the number of applications for parochial aid. Vestiges remain of numerous small circular camps; and there were formerly many cairns, but most have been destroyed to furnish materials for fences: on removing one of these, a stone coffin of thin slabs was found, and an urn of earthenware, rudely ornamented, containing ashes.
A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. Samuel Lewis. 1856.
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