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Burns statue square.JPG
Ayr War Memorial in Burns Statue Square
Grid reference: NS338214
Location: 55°27’31"N, 4°37’47"W
Population: 46,050
Post town: Ayr
Postcode: KA6-KA8
Dialling code: 01292
Local Government
Council: South Ayrshire
Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock

Ayr is a town and port situated on the Firth of Clyde. It is the county town of Ayrshire and with a population of around 46,000 is its largest town. Ayr became a royal burgh in 1205.

To the north of Ayr is the adjoining town of Prestwick, famous for its golf and its aviation industry as home of Glasgow Prestwick International Airport. Other neighbouring settlements include Alloway, known for its associations with the poet Robert Burns.


Wallace Tower

Dark Ages

Ayr is the subject of a poem by sixth century British poet Taliesin, who wrote of a victory at Aeron by his patron King Urien of Rheged.

Middle Ages

In 1197, a castle was built by the River Ayr. Shortly afterwards, in 1205, King William the Lion created a burgh at Ayr. On April 26, 1315, the first Parliament of Scotland was held in Ayr by Robert The Bruce at St.John's Tower by the sea.

In the 13th century, friars came to Ayr. In 1230, Dominican friars arrived in Ayr. A black legend tells that the English invited some prominent Scots to a meeting at Ayr at the end of the 13th century, but they then captured and hanged them. In revenge, William Wallace set fire to some barns where English soldiers were staying and burned them to death. However, Ayr was in English hands from 1301 to 1312.

During the 14th century Ayr flourished. A new settlement grew up across the River Ayr at Newton. While in the 13th century, the houses in Ayr were made of wood, some richer citizens began rebuilding their houses in stone in the 15th century. The Tolbooth was built in the early 15th century, and in the late 15th century the Auld Brig was rebuilt.

Later, the town was used as a base and fortress for some of Cromwell's men. Cromwell built a huge wall around certain areas of the town, most of which can still be seen today. St John's Tower, in that area, was originally part of a massive church, but the church was knocked down, and the tower was used to practise on, and is now protected by the "Friends Of Saint Johns Tower" (FROST) residents of the "Fort Area" nearby.

In the 16th century, Ayr remained a busy port. Wool, fish and hides were exported from Ayr, while wine and salt were imported. The population of Ayr continued to grow. This was despite outbreaks of plague. Like all Scottish towns, Ayr suffered from epidemics in the 16th and 17th centuries. The plague struck in 1545, 1585, 1587, 1597, 1601, 1606, and 1647. Fortunately, the 1647 outbreak was the last.

By the middle of the 17th century, the population of Ayr was probably more than 2,000 and it continued to grow. By the middle of the 18th century, it was probably around 4,000.

In 1760, Sir Thomas Wallace created a new settlement which he called Wallacetoun.

During the late 17th and 18th centuries, the textile industry in Ayr flourished. Both wool and linen were made in Ayr and a shoemaking industry prospered. Some of Ayr's buildings date from this era. Ayr's oldest house, Loudon Hall, was first mentioned in 1534, when it belonged to the Sheriff of Ayrshire. Then in 1652, Oliver Cromwell's men built a fort in Ayr, which incorporated the Church of St John, the Baptist. In 1654, Cromwell gave money to build another Kirk, the Auld Kirk, to replace it. New Bridge was built in 1788 and later rebuilt in 1878.

Modern era

In the 19th century, much of Scotland was transformed by the industrial revolution. However, Ayr remained a county town and did not become a major manufacturing centre. There were iron foundries and shipbuilders in Ayr, and the port continued to flourish, with large amounts of coal being exported.

Despite its failure to industrialise, Ayr grew rapidly. In 1801 the population of Ayr parish was almost 5,500. Over the river, Newton had a population of a little over 1,700. By the standards of the time, Ayr was a fair-sized town, and it soon grew much larger. By 1851 the population of Ayr was 21,000. By the end of the 19th century, it was 31,000.

There were a number of improvements to Ayr in the 19th century. From 1826 the streets were lit by gas. After 1842, Ayr had a water supply, and in the late 19th century, sewers were dug. Meanwhile, the Burns monument was erected in 1823. The Town Buildings were erected in 1830. Wallace Tower was rebuilt in 1834. Then in 1893 the Carnegie Library was built. In the 19th century, Ayr developed as a holiday town. It was helped by the railway to Glasgow, which opened in 1840 and which made it easier for tourists to reach Ayr.

From 1870 until 1880 there were noted improvements to Ayr’s beach and tourist venues with organised entertainment, the sea wall, flattening of the Low Green, ice cream huts and pleasure cruises. In 1902 the Attractions Committee added shelters, lavatory accommodation, bathing machines, and permission was granted for boating, ice cream vendors, and automatic sweetmeat vending machines. In 1911 a new Pavilion opened for summer variety shows. All of these contributed to Ayr becoming one of the prime tourist spots outside of Glasgow.

In the 20th century, Ayr continued to slowly grow. By 1951 its population was 44,000. In the 1920s and 1930s, the first council houses were built in Ayr. Many more were built after 1945. Ayr remained a holiday and market town rather than a manufacturing centre. However, Ayr remains a busy port. From 1901, electric trams ran in the streets of Ayr, but they stopped in 1931.

In 1910 the Auld Brig was repaired, and in 1911 a pavilion was built. McAdam's Monument was built in 1936. Craigie College was founded in 1965. Ayr By-pass was built in 1971.

Ayr has a sandy beach with an esplanade. This is very popular with joggers and day-trippers.


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