I wasn't just wanting to pick up a Killie pie and a Killie bunnet when I was in town (that's the Alexander Brothers singing the Big Kilmarnock Bunnet song above). Another reason I was looking forward to this wee jaunt down to Ayrshire is that one wing of my family comes from down Kilmarnock way and I fancied trying to have a wander around the town to see what it has to offer. The Visit Scotland website isn't exactly bursting with suggestions of what to look out for so I thought I'd start by trying to track down any addresses in town inhabited by my ancestors which are still standing. A few years ago I got quite into tracing the old family tree and found that at the end of the 1700s my great-great-great-great grandfather, a weaver from Paisley, moved to Kilmarnock. His son worked in the town, also as a weaver, but as industrialisation moved on apace his son left that trade and was a coal miner in the local pits. In the 1860s he was living at Back Street, which I found was bulldozed to lay out Portland Street. His wife, an immigrant from Ireland, according to a census of 1861, helped make one of Kilmarnock's famed products which featured in the Alexander Brothers' song, as she was a bonnet knitter. Their son married Lizzie Jane Hay, a domestic servant from nearby Hurlford, so I started there.
|Railway Tavern at Riccarton Road, Hurlford|
|Riccarton Road going under the railway line, Hurlford today|
|Blair Park, Hurlford|
So as there were nothing standing of the places my family used to live in Hurlford maybe I'd have better luck if I headed into Kilmarnock. My great grandfather when he married lived at number 5 East Netherton Street in Kilmarnock in 1906. This house is still standing, no longer a family home, but a dental surgery.
|5 East Netheron Street, Kilmarnock|
Later they moved around the corner to 14 High Glencairn Street, which I was also able to visit, and order some chips and curry sauce from their old front room, as it is now a Chinese takeaway. Underneath the "Ocean Sun" frontage you can clearly see there is a good, solid, old house there. A lot of Kilmarnock seemed to be like that. There are swathes of the town centre flattened as industries have come and gone or brutalised, such as with the concrete monstrosity of a shopping mall which lies beside old buildings at Kilmarnock Cross. The nearby winding streets struggle to show their former handsome selves.
|14 Glencairn Street, Kilmarnock|
|Harland and Wolff shipyard workers, Govan, Glasgow. "Moulders"|
|Climie Place, Kilmarnock|
A lot of this information here I gleaned from previous visits to the archive at the Dick Institute and now a lot of this old archive is stored at the Robert Burns Monument Centre where a statue of Robert Burns looks out over Kay Park.
|Robert Burns Monument, Kilmarnock|
available here. The success of the Kilmarnock Edition of his poems lead the famous son of Ayrshire to abandon his plans to go to Jamaica and continue his writings in Scotland. The Dick Institute (titter, titter) is the town's museum. I found it a bit of a hotch potch, with the library and temporary exhibition space on the ground floor given over to a thing on Jacqueline Wilson. All the olde Kilmarnock stuff I was interested in was a bit of a jumble in one rooms on the first floor, gathering dust, with wobbly display cases and old photographs curling off of their mountings. It was a sad collection of now departed industries from the area, from coal, through to the Saxone shoe factory. They did have a printing press of the type used to produce Burns's work. Here I learnt that the case holding the movable type letters had two drawers to it, the capital letters held in the upper case, the lower case letters held in the....you see where this is going?
|Site of Johnnie Walker's original shop|
Johnnie Walker now has annual sales of 130 million bottles. That must be great for the town, no? Well, no. The distiller Diageo that now owns the brand closed down the Kilmarnock bottling plant in 2012, at that time the biggest employer in town, ending 192 years of association between Kilmarnock and Johnnie Walker's whisky. I went to an old graveyard off Saint Andrew's Street to see if Mr Walker was spinning in his grave - I can confirm that he was, poor chap.
|Johnnie Walker's grave, Kilmarnock|
|A Killie pie at Rugby Park|
|"In memory of John Walker, merchant"|