The History of Ayr
Ayr is more famed for horse racing and Rabbie Burns but thereís more to the town than that. In 1315 the first Scottish Parliament convened there under Robert The Bruce . All the more remarkable since the English occupied the town for the first decade of the 14th Century. Make no mistake, this picturesque seaside town was once a real power player in Scotland with a bustling port that exported fish and textiles in the Middle Ages, and coal and iron during the Industrial Revolution . Ayr grew throughout the Industrial Revolution without surrendering its identity to the foundry and factory. The paddle steamers that took Glasgow holidaymakers down the River Clyde in the halcyon Victorian summers would make regular visits, and when rail links connected it to Glasgow the townís growth continued apace. Yet somehow, through economic, political and religious revolution, Ayr has remained unchanged in so many ways.
Ayrís history began when King William I built a wooden castle by the River Ayr. It was he who granted the town Royal Burgh status in 1205. Yet, Royal Burgh or not, it was remarkable that Scotlandís first parliament would meet in the town at Saint Johnís Tower, Ayrís oldest building. Not only was the town occupied by the English just a few years earlier, but Ayshire had never been that secure from English attentions. As recently as the 13th Century, it was on the border with England, and when the post-Reformation political fuse was lit by Oliver Cromwell the town would again be controlled by England. Standing stoic while other religious buildings were demolished is Saint Johnís Tower. Built in the 13th Century, the tower has withstood the Wars Of Scottish Independence, has sheltered royalty and nobility, and witnessed first hand Cromwellís fortification of the town in the middle of the 17th Century. Cromwell built a 16-acre garrison for 1000 men at a time when he ruled Scotland from Ayr. Cromwellian politics were hated as Scotlandís sovereignty was ridden roughshod by the firebrand Puritan. Cromwell was never renowned for subtlety. Auld Kirk, by Saint Johnís Tower, was destroyed by Cromwellís men to make way for his citadel. Rebuilt with Cromwellís shilling in 1654, Auld Kirk has been an area for worship since the 13th Century, and is a tranquil reminder of both Ayrís monastic and political importance.
After the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660 , Cromwellís citadel was largely destroyed but remnants of his military rule still stand, with portions of Ayrís Fort Wall still standing as a silent reminder of a time when Scotland, and indeed Britain was thrown into chaos by Cromwell and his army. By the harbour, where most of the Fort Wall is preserved, lies Millerís Folly, a 19th Century corbelled turret built by wealthy merchant John Miller. Ayrís mercantile classes lived well as the town grew. Back in the late 15th Century, James Tait had Loudoun Hall built for him at Boat Vennel, adjacent to the river. In the 16th Century it became the townhouse of the Campbells of Loudon.
Ayrís bridges over the river, Auld Brig and New Brig, are an essential part of the townís history. New Brig was constructed in the 1770s, only to last a century before flooding swept it away. In 1878 they built a new one. Auld Bridge was made in 1470, and its stone construction has seen it untroubled through the centuries. Robert Burns brought the bridges to life in The Brigs Of Ayr just as he did the town of Ayr. It is perhaps his influence more than anyone that make Ayr the place it is today. Certainly, he was Ayrshireís most famous son. The Tam Oí Shanter Inn on High Street takes its name from Burnsí most famous drunk, serves ale in Burnsí memory and has a cornucopia of Burns artifacts.
Burns was born on the 25th January 1759 in Alloway , a small suburban village on the outskirts of Ayr. An unassuming young man who worked on the farm, he became Scotlandís first celebrity of sorts. With a fondness for the female form and an exquisite turn of phrase, Burns is Ayrís own superstar. One can only speculate as to what he would think of generations of Scots all over the globe eating haggis , neeps and tatties to honour his birthday .
Dominating Ayrís skyline is the 225 foot steeple of Town Hall, designed by Thomas Hamilton in 1827. Ayrís history resonates through every brick of its historical buildings. Lady Cathcartís House was the birthplace of John Loudon McAdam , the man to blame for the state of our roads today, in 1756. Wallace Tower was built in honour of William Wallace in 1832. In 1907, Ayr Racecourse opened its gates and would become Scotlandís leading racecourse, hosting the Ayr Gold Cup which has become a highlight in the countryís flat racing calendar. The latterís six furlong sprint is as hurried as Ayr gets these days.
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