Ayrshire Towns and Parishes

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New Cumnock




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Notes on the way through Ayrshire - 100 years ago   


South of Old Curnnock. The town of New Cumnock lies widely scattered about the confluence of Nith River, Afton Water, and Moorfoot Burn, five and a half miles south-east of Old Cumnock. It consists of a centre part, called The Castle, on the large round Castle Knowe, in the middle of an elongated plain, and two widely detached wings on the north and south sides of the plain, which is a mile broad and flanked with sloping, cultivated fields, rising to hills, adorned with some belts and round clumps of plantation. The left wing of the town, at the north side of the plain, is called Pathhead. It contains a branch of the Bank of Scotland, some shops, a hotel, and the railway station. The tip of this wing, which extends half-a-mile east, is called Mansfield village. The right wing, at the south side of the plain, is called Afton-Bridgend. It contains a Free Church, a few shops, and an inn. Between it and the Castle, on the west side of the Afton, are the Old Mill and Shelling Hill, by oral tradition the scene of the very old song, "The Mill, Mill, O," a version of which was written down by Burns. Afton Water winded close by the old Mill and Castle in those days. 

"As I cam doon yon water side, An’ by yon Shellin’ Hill, O,

There I spied a bonnie, bonnie lass, An’ a lass I lov’d richt weel, O.

"The mill, mill, O, an’ the kill, kill, 0, An’ the coggin’ o’ Peggy’s wheel, O-

The seek an’ the sieve, an’ a’ she did leave, An’ danced the miller’s reel, O."

Near to the Mill, on the old Mill Road to the Castle, are the Established Church, a hotel, several shops, a large new public school, in the Gothic style; and the Royal Bank, of Grecian order. The Castle spreads over the east brow of the Castle Knowe, and contains about 20 shops; a post office, with money order and savings bank departments; the Castle Inn, and-on the top of the knowe - a Free Church, and the ruin of the first church of the parish, erected in 1650, standing in its richly monumented old Churchyard. The ancient castle from which this, the oldest part of the town, derives its name, has all vanished. About 1780 the hewn stones of its walls were removed to build dwelling houses, and some of them may be traced in the property once belonging to John Burnside; and rebuilt with the same stones by Samuel Gibson. Oral tradition, or perhaps only the sound of the name, connects it with Comyn, Lord of Galloway, whose title to the throne of Scotland was disputed by Bruce, Earl of Carrick. If it signifies Comyn Neck, that is Comyn Castle, it might be built by John Comyn, Justiciar of Galloway, during the minority of Alexander III., about 1250. Records may still exist, though we have been unable to find them. It is likely, however, that they would be destroyed when the Castle and lands passed by violence to Dunbar, at first a competitor for the crown, and a strong enemy of Wallace and the family of Comyn. But supposing the name to be more remote, and of Celtic origin, it will signify - Cum, a glen, and Knock, a castle. Cumlock, or Cum Loch, is a name of the place which has descended by oral tradition side by side with the written name of Cumnock. There are now three small lochs some distance to the west of the Castle. But in wet weather almost the whole plain assumes the character of a loch, nearly surrounding the Castle; and there are evidences, not admitting of a doubt, -that before the wearing down of a trap dyke across the

The most favourably distinguished member of the Dunbar family, who for several centuries continued to possess the lands and live in the Castle of Cumnock, now called New Cumnock, was Gavin, son of Sir James, born here about 1460. In 1488 he was appointed Dean of Moray; in 1503, Archdeacon of St. Andrews, Clerk Register, and Privy Councillor to James IV. ; and in 1518, Bishop of Aberdeen, where he proved himself a most munificent benefactor by completing the building of the Cathedral, erecting a bridge over the Dee, and endowing an hospital. "De Ecclesi Aberdonensis," and "Contora

Mansfield House stands about a mile east of the town, in fine wooded policies, facing the south. It is a seat of the Menteith family. Sir James Stuart Menteith, second Baronet, born 1792, is the author of a geological work on the Snowdon range. Died here in 1870.

David Wood, poet, a native of the parish, published, about the year 1830, a small volume of poems in the local dialect.

THE VILLAGE OF CONNAL PARK is built near Connal Burn, one mile south-west of Old Mill. Population, 495. 

South Boig Old Steading, close by, on the left side of Connal Burn, consisting of a one-story dwelling-house, milk house, and byre, in a line facing the south, with old trees at the back, is the birthplace of A. C. M‘Michael, poet and essayist. 

The seat of Ardnith stands a little to the west, on the east side of the wooded Tippet Knowe.

CRAIGBANK VILLAGE, one mile farther on the same Dalmellington Road, has a Free Church, a public school, and two or three shops. Bank House is near it, on the left. 

The hamlet of DALLEAGLES, on the same road, four miles from New Cumnock, is pleasantly situate at Dalleagles Burn Bridge. It has a public school, a provision shop, a joiner’s shop, and a smithy. From this name it is believed that a church had been erected here by some French people at a very early date. The name of Marshalmark, a farmhouse near it, leads to the supposition that the eglise was a temporary building for the use of an army sent by Philip of France to assist King John Baliol, Lord of Galloway, or the patriot Sir William Wallace of Black Craig, New Cumnock. 

On the north side of the parish, about three miles north of Dalleagles, is the lofty moorland wild of Corsgailoch, on which there stands a monument to the martyrs - Joseph Wilson, John Humphrey, and John Jamieson-who were hunted down and shot here in 1685. The soldiers left them unburied on the moor; but one of the four who were hunted, having escaped, gave information to their friends in Galloway, who came and buried them on the spot where they fell. The monument was erected in 1838. In excavating its foundation, the bodies of the martyrs were discovered lying in the moss, in the clothes in which they had been shot; and, though they had been buried 153 years, their flesh was still in good preservation. In a field on the farm of Lower Westland, at the foot of the Knipe Hills, three miles east of New Cumnock, stands a monument to the memory of the martyrs, Hair and Corson, who were shot here. On the north side of the Nith from the Knipes, rises the much more striking and beautiful Corsancone Hill.   The River Nith, the Scotch Helicon, rises in the south-west of the parish, flows, first north and then eastward, to the March with Dumfriesshire, just past Corsancone, three and a half miles east of the town, and 12 miles from its source. From there it gradually bends to south-east in its course through Dumfriesshire to the Solway Frith, its entire length being about 53 miles. The Loops o’ Nith, before passing Corsancone, are of singular beauty, but of small extent compared to the sinuosities of the Forth. A small, round cloud of mist has now settled on the top of Parnassus, and an old rhyme says-

"When Corsancone puts on his hat, You may be sure it will be wat."

Afton Water rises in the south, among mountains, at the march with Kirkcudbrightshire.

" There, from the misty heights afar, Sweet Afton murmurs down the glen,

By many a wood and many scaur-, Until it bursts upon the plain "

at New Cumnock, eight miles distant. Its upper course is gentle, through an open moorland valley, past Mounthraw Burn and Shepherd’s House, to Castle William Falls, one mile and a half. Castle William is a protuberance of loose rocks, resembling the ruins of a castle, but not presenting anything in the shape of walls or mortar. How it got the name of William no one really knows, there being no record; but oral tradition says it was a residence of Sir William Wallace or some of his guards when, during his Protectorate, the head-quarters of his Government was Black Craig. For another mile and a half below this, the Afton descends rapidly among boulders between rocky banks, mostly covered with bent and sprit, to Craigdarroch and the Craigs Shepherds’ Houses, in the bottom of a vast glen, where it is joined by the Craigs Burn, also from the south. In the fork between it and the Craigs Burn is the Stey-Amoury Hill or Craig, rising (part of it sheer perpendicular) to a great height- its apparently overhanging, black, frowning face looking down the glen, daring the stranger to go near it. The name of this hill, we think, shows plainly that it was here where Wallace had his Armoury. A mile farther down the Afton, at the mouth of this great cleft, is the Shepherd’s House of Black Craig, supposed to occupy the site of Wallace’s dwelling of "Black Craig;" but it seems too far from the Armoury, and would be the proper place to have guards stationed, if his own residence was at the Craigs Shepherd’s House, immediately below the Armoury Craig, and within the fork. As Henry the Minstrel calls Wallace’s place the "Black Rock," as well as the "Black Crag," the description applies exactly to the Armoury Craig, and not to Black Craig Hill, which is a mountain of prodigious size, rising on the east side of the Afton and the Craigs Burn to a height of 2298 feet. Though there is hardly any vegetation on its Afton front, it aspect is blue-gray, and it appears to have acquired the name of Black Craig by thousands of people at a great distance, who never were up the glen, mistaking it for its famous little black sister, the Stey-Armoury, shut in from view between it and Craigdarroch Hill. Henry says that, in 1297, Wallace 

" To ye Black Crag in Cumno past agayne. Hys househald set with men off mekill mayne.

Thre monethis thar he duellyt in gud rest."

And again- " In Cumno syne till hys duellyng went he."

And at a later date, apparently after the hero’s return from France, he says-

" And Wallace past in Cumno with blithe will, At the Black Rock, quhar he was wont to be. Apon that sted a rayal hous held he."

This appears to have been the only home which the national hero ever bad of his own; and, of all the scenes in the Land of Wallace, this, his head-quarters, is far the most romantic. As there is no evidence to the contrary, we must take it for granted that most of his seven years of comparative obscurity, from July 22, 1298 - when he retired from the position he had won as Commander-in-Chief and Guardian of the kingdom, in favour of Comyn, whose place it was by inheritance rather than fitness - until August, 1305, when he was betrayed into the hands of Edward, and executed, were spent here, with the exception of a visit which he made to Philip, King of France, in 1303.   Near to the Craigs, some 40 gold coins and upwards of 140 silver coins, of James V., were laid bare by a shepherd’s foot, March 1882 But we must hasten down this classic stream through another of its famous scenes. Northward of Black Craig Hill, on each side of the glen the hills spread out wider and less steep. We pass at intervals five "clear winding rills," and enter planted and natural woods - fir - trees, rowantrees, hazels, hawthorns, sloethorns, birks, bramble-berry bushes, briers and other coppice-wood, primroses and mayflowers-clover-scented banks and green valley holms, and join the concert of shilfowls, blackbirds, doves, and mavises, that all seem to sing the same song in their own tongue:-

" How lofty, sweet Afton, thy neighbouring, hills, Far mark‘d with the courses of clear winding rills : There daily I wonder as noon rises high, My flocks and my Mary’s sweet cot in my eye.

" How pleasant thy banks and green valleys below, where wild in the woodlands the primroses blow : There oft as mild evening sweeps over the lea, The sweet-scented birk shades my Mary and me.

" Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes, Flow gently, sweet river, the theme of my lays ; ‘My Mary’s asleep by thy murmuring stream, Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream."

On emerging from a mile of woods, we are soon at the Park Ford of the ancient Dumfries Road, made by the Romans in their fruitless attempt to conquer Scotland. Here is a scaur showing the crop of a coal seam. New Cumnock contains a large and rich coal basin. As a field for the geological student it is exceptionally instructive, as almost every coal seam to be met with in Scotland is here represented; and their aggregate thickness appears to be upwards of 80 feet. Those belonging to the lower section, and having an aggregate of about 36 feet in thickness, extending over a very small area, have been mostly worked out, as also some of the finer seams in the upper section. But there is still a great store of splendid coal. Limestone, with and without fossil remains, is abundant. Ironstone, lead, and antimony have been worked on a small scale. Freestone is quarried at Coalburn and other places, and a fine potter’s clay is got at Bentstone. The surface, where suitable has been cultivated with great energy by a big and hardy race. Farming is on the dairy system, and the females are widely famed as cheese makers. The parish is about 12 miles in length, and from the head of Cameron Syke south to the head of Afton Water its breadth is 10 miles. The farmhouse of Brockloch is near its centre. Area, 48,O96 acres. Population in 1755, 1497; in 1871, 3434; in 1881, 3781.

"Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes,
Flow gently, I'll sing thee a song in thy praise;
My Mary's asleep by thy murmuring stream,
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream..........."


1791-99 and 1845 Statistical Accounts


Some Monumental Inscriptions


Map of New Cumnock today

This Link takes you to the MULTIMAP website where you will find a map of the town and the surrounding area as it is today. You can zoom in and out and move around in all directions.


StreetMap of New Cumnock

This Link takes you to the STREET website where you will find a street map of the town as it is today. You can zoom in and out and move around in all directions.


Old Maps of Ayrshire Place Names

This link goes directly to the OLD MAPS website for an Ayrshire Index to detailed old maps of most Ayrshire Towns around 1860. You can explore out to all sides by using the arrows at the top of the page. These maps are ideal for finding the locations of areas such as farms.



New Cumnock is a large parish to the east of Ayrshire which separated from the older parish of Old Cumnock in 1657. The straggling village of New Cumnock lies at the confluence of the Rivers Nith and Afton and on the A76 road. The higher areas of the parish include the beautiful and largely undiscovered Glen Afton. Like Old Cumnock, the lower area is associated with the former coal mining industry. The parish also includes the villages of Craigbank and Afton Bridgend...>




New Cumnock Web Sites




  The McRae Family from New Cumnock

Great information on the McRae family from many locations


   Tartan Tammy

Old and present day pictures of New Cumnock


McRae from New Cumnock to New Jersey

John McRae of New Cumnock served as teacher and headmaster in the Parish of New Cumnock at the Dalleagles School. The schoolhouse was the home of his family and the birthplace of his three children: Jane b.1870; John Hair b.1874; and, George Drennan b.1877. John's wife, Hannah Drenna


The History of the Parish of New Cumnock

The history of the Parish of New Cumnock - the meanings behind the place-names, early settlers, the Wars of Independence, the Covenanters, Robert Burns and Glenafton Athletic,



New Cumnock Books,  CD-Rom and Videos


Cumnock and New Cumnock in Old Picture Postcards
John C M Laurenson

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Old New Cumnock
Donald McIver

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A Stroll through the Historic Past of New Cumnock

Donald McIver  [ mciver@tiscali.co.uk ]

Fantastic new book about New Cumnock's past.   96 pages of facts, maps and old photographs

Available direct from the Author for £5 plus £1.50 p&p to UK


Back to the Fields   (Video)

Back to the Fields is a rich and thought provoking journey through the history of a small and seemingly insignificant mining town called New Cumnock in Ayrshire, South West Scotland. It is commonly thought of as a place you drive through to get to somewhere more important.  However, using a variety of local archive material and personal accounts of the long and varied history of the town, we hope to show that even in the most unlikely of places there are heart-felt, emotional and fascinating stories to be told.

On sale now on VHS-PAL and VHS-NTSC - UK Residents (PAL) £14.99 inc p&p - USA/Canada Residents (NTSC) $24.99(USD) inc p&p  Send cheques only made payable to 'Being There Productions' and send to Being There Productions PO BOX 8123, Cumnock, Ayrshire, KA5 5YD  Scotland  - www.beingthere.fsnet.co.uk  - info@beingthere.fsnet.co.uk




New Cumnock Maps


Pathfinder Map 0481 (NS61/71): New Cumnock & Kirkconnel
Ordnance Survey

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Ayrshire Books


Help needed to source old pictures, postcards or photographs, interesting articles or the history of New Cumnock. If you would like to help please contact me by email at address below







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