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Barr, Ayrshire


Barr [Strathclyde] 'summit (burr)', although the village is actually down in the valley beneath the summit.

Above from The Dictionary of Scottish Place Names by Mike Darton Page 36

BARR - 1837 - Ayrshire Directory by Pigot and Co

A small neat village, lying on the banks of the rivers Gregg and Stinchar, is distant from Girvan 8 miles, and from Ayr 24. It contains a very neat church (of which the Rev Ebenezer Bradshaw Wallace is the minister), a parochial school-house, and a subscription library. The greatest part of the parish is intersected by the river Gregg; and about a mile from the village are the ruins of the old Kirk Dominae, where there is a hiring fair for servants on the first Saturday after the 26th May.

Barr parish is principally sheep pasture; its extent, twelve miles by nine. The chief landed proprietors of the entire district are the Most Noble the Marquess of Ailsa and Sir James Ferguson.

This transcript was kindly provided by Keith Muirhead from the Sunshine Coast of  Queensland.


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The New Statistical Account

Parish of Barr

Presbytery of Ayr, Synod of Glasgow and Ayr

The Rev. E. B. Wallace, Minister

I.. - Topography and Natural History

Barr was erected into a parish in the year 1653, consisting of the more remote parts of the adjoining parishes of Girvan and Dailly.

Name.- The etymology of the name is uncertain. If conjecture may be allowed, the small village of Barr, where the manse and kirk are built, and which has evidently given its name to the parish, was so called from its inaccessibleness, - being hemmed in on every side by precipitous hills, and approachable only by rugged glens, and across a stream, which, dwindling into a purling rill in summer, rushes with a torrent's fury in winter, and, confining itself to no settled course, passes from side to side of the narrow strath through which it runs, and turns up every vestige of a roadway along its gravelly banks. The parish did, indeed, constitute a strong natural barrier between Galloway on the south and Ayrshire to the north, and was nearly inaccessible  until within the last thirty years.

Extent,&c..- The parish is of a regular oblong figure, and measures, by a recent survey taken by Government, 12 miles by 9; but in any possible way of travelling is not less than 15 or 16 by 10 or 11. It contains of course about 100 square miles. Its boundaries, beginning with the south-east side and proceeding roundward by the east, are Minnigaff in Galloway, Straiton, Dailly, Girvan, and Colmonell, which stretches out a long slender arm, encompassing  a great part of it in the west and south, and pushing itself like a wedge between Barr and Penninngham, till it reaches Minnigaff, already mentioned.

Topographical Appearances.- The parish  is very hilly, with an extensive flat: two ridges line the water of Stinchar, which rises and flows in the parish 14 or 15 miles. A third ridge runs parallel to these on the south-east, and beyond lies the level country consisting wholly of untilled and mossy soil. These ranges rise to a height from 1000 to 1200 or 1400 feet above the level of the sea. A fourth range rises to 2700 feet. It runs in an apposite direction along the banks of the Minnoch, and forms the commencement of that line of almost mountainous elevation from Ayrshire into Galloway.

The natural history of the parish does not furnish any thing remarkable. Palsy is prevalent; but, on the whole, the parish is peculiarly healthy.

There are several lochs varying from 6 to 12 and 15 feet deep, and abounding in two species of trout, of a dark colour, and bright yellow. The two principal streams are the Stinchar and the Minnoch.  The Stinchar flows south-westerly, and passing through Colmonell, empties itself into the sea at Ballantrae, after a course of 25 miles. The Minnoch, after a few miles' run from the highest range southward, loses itself in the Cree, which separates this parish and the county from Galloway. The velocity of these streams is very great. There is one cascade in the former above 30 feet. And on examination I find that there is scarcely one of the hundred burns in the parish that has not its fall of considerable height and  beauty. The lochs are all destitute of wood, and so is the parish in general, with the exception of a little edging of copse on the banks of the Stinchar, and some young plantations of small extent, made by two proprietors within the last thirty years.

Geology.- The geological structure of the parish consists of the slate formation, with a very high inclination. There are large irregular beds of conglomerate; and there is some good limestone on the banks of the lower part of the Stinchar. In the limestone forming part of the bed of the river, some interesting and beautiful specimens of fossil shells have been recently observed. The limestone is occasionally wrought, and slate quarries have been opened, but not with equal success. No ores have been discovered. There are several mineral wells, chiefly chalybeate. One was once in repute, but others elsewhere have risen to fame, and it is forgotten. There is an immense extent of peat, with numerous remains of wood, chiefly birch and hazel. The soil in the holms is sharp and gravelly. A few of them are in good loam, and very productive; that in the hills is nutritious when duly supplied with moisture; but the great bulk of the parish consists of a wet spongy, heathy, unproductive soil, with such grasses, spritbent, &c. as are always found in land of a similar character.


II. - Civil History

From the modern erection of the parish, its civil history is necessarily merged in that of others. A few ancient papers, all referring to its erection, are in the possession of the minister. One of them has the signature of Oliver Cromwell.

The birth-place of the great Viscount Stair is pointed  to in this parish. His mother is said to have been overtaken, when travelling homeward from the north; and the house, believed to be that in which she rested, is still in existence, forming part of the buildings of the farm-steading of Dinmurchy, the property of Sir James Fergusson, Bart. of Kilkerran.

Antiquities.-  There are many monuments and traditions, recording the unjust and merciless sufferings to which the inhabitants of this parish were subjected during the period of persecution, from the Restoration to the happy Revolution. This parish appears to have been particularly obnoxious. One memorial of Roman Catholic days exists in the ruin of a chapel called Kirk Dominae, and in a well close by it, in the rising ground behind, and approached by a regularly built archway. On the site of this chapel, an annual fair is most inconveniently held on a Saturday.

By far the chief land-owner is the Marquis of Ailsa.


III.- Population

From some loose documents, consisting of lists of inhabitants taken by a former minister of the parish, it appears that the population, sixty or seventy years ago, was nearly 800. According to Dr Webster's report, it was 858. It was only 750 when Mr Young wrote the last Statistical Account. Now, it amounts to 941 by the last census. The cause of this recent increase is the general change of habits throughout the kingdom,   producing the erection of villages in various places where there were either none before, or where they were exceedingly small. The village of Barr contains 230 persons, chiefly weavers and trades-people. Formerly it contained much fewer. The country population, on the other hand, has diminished from a different cause, - from the increased size of the farms, but more especially from the improved method of managing stock, by which the same labour is done with fewer hands. There is probably also a greater gathering, both of labourers and of paupers, into villages than formerly; and this arises, I have no doubt, from the circumstance, that servants are no longer a permanent part of a master's family, and maintained by him under his eye, and in a cottage at his door. According to the proportion of births to deaths, there ought to be a great annual increase. The registers are not very exact and faithful, many parents neglecting their duty in the registration of their children; and of deaths there is no register. But I had occasion to keep an account for a short time of births and deaths, when I found there were thirty-seven of the former and only seven of the latter; nor have I any reason to think that this remarkable disproportion varies materially from the annual average. The supernumeraries, beyond the demand for farms and labour, slip off, as they rise up, to towns or other parts of the country, and not a few go abroad; and it is thus the stationary nature of the population is preserved.

The average of persons under 15 years is - 349
betwixt 15 and 30, - 255
30 and 50, - 179
50 and 70, - 116
above 70, - 44
Bachelors and widowers above 50 years of age, - 19
Unmarried women, including widows, above 45, - 47

Number of families


There are no resident nobility, nor gentlemen of independent fortune. There are fourteen proprietors of land yielding  more than L.50 per annum. There is one person fatuous, one insane, two imbecile, and two blind.

IV.- Industry

Agriculture.- On the subject of agriculture, I am sorry to say that little has been done except in the management of stock, but still more sorry to think that not a great deal can be done profitably. Of 60,000 or 70,000 acres, the contents of the parish, not more than 1000 could be brought into an improved state, with repayment of expense and profit to the tenant.

Plantations.- The indigenous trees are ash and alder, and would thrive and be useful, if protected; but they lie open to sheep and cattle, in a neglected state.  The late Lord Alloway, and Mr James Fergusson, Advocate, made some plantations of larch, ash, and oak, which are in a thriving state, and already serviceable, proving what might be done.

Rest of Land.- The value of the arable land is not more than L.1 per acre; a summer's grass for a cow costs L.2, 5s; and the grazing for a ewe for a year, 4s.  Wool costs 8s. 6d. a stone; lint, 10s. per stone; oats from L.1 to L.1, 4s. per quarter; barley, L.1, 10s.; and potatoes, 7s. per boll of 8 bushels.

Live-Stock.- The universal breed of sheep is the black-faced. Considerable attention is paid to their improvement; and it is doubtful if much more can be done to insure this end. White-faced, to any considerable extent, are found not to answer. The cattle reared are of the Galloway breed. A few Highlanders are brought in, kept a year, and then sold out again with advantage. A few dairy establishments of the Ayrshire breed of cows have been recently introduced and are expected to succeed.

Husbandry.- The system of husbandry pursued in the dry holming-ground is the four-shift. On the upland ground, two or three successive crops of oats are taken with good liming. The land is then sown down, and pastured four, five, or six years, sometimes to the end of the lease. Surface-draining has been carried to a great extent, and with good effects; and march-fences, in several instances, have been erected; but little more has been done, from a conviction that the tenant cannot be repaid. The leases are generally for nineteen years.

Farm-Buildings.- The farm-buildings are very indifferent; the dwelling-houses not suitable, except in a few cases of recent erection; and the offices inconvenient, and often dirty. Much might be done both for the comfort and benefit of the tenant, and ultimately for the advantage of the landlord; but one great and serious obstacle is, that the bulk of the land is entailed, and the proprietor naturally looks only to present returns, whilst the farmer submits to inconveniences, and wishes to gain as much as he can, or, as often happens in present times, escape by losing as little as possible during his lease. There may be also, in some instances, a want of intelligence to perceive, and a want of enterprise on the part of the farmer to pursue. his own real interest, when attended with an immediate outlay, and only a prospective gain.

Produce.- The average amount of raw produce in this extensive parish is as follows:-


Grain of all kinds, 400 acres at L.5 per acre L. 2000
Potatoes 150 acres at L. 10 per acre 1500
Hay of all kinds 2000
Flax 20
Land in pasture, 1125 acres of  sheep, at L. 4 per score 4500
1060 cattle at L. 1, 3s. a head 1325

Total yearly value of raw produce

L. 11,355

V.- Parochial Economy.

Market-Town.- The nearest market-town is Girvan, seven miles distant from the village of Barr, The post-office is also there. But a penny-post has been established lately on alternate days. There are only twenty-five miles of turnpike road in this large parish, and no public carriage. There are three small bridges, and few fences.

Ecclesiastical State.- The parish church was built at a remote period. It is conveniently situated, and in tolerable repair. It contains 390 sittings: a central seat is reserved for the poor, sufficient to accommodate 8. The manse was built in 1804, and it is a good substantial house. The glebe may be estimated at L. 18 per annum; and the stipend is 15 chalders, half meal, half barley, with L. 8, 6s. 8d. for communion elements. There is no chapel of any kind, missionary, nor catechist. The average attendance at church is good, but very variable, in consequence of population being much scattered. On a fine day, summer or winter, there are not many empty seats, - on a bad day, there may not be 100 people present. The average is probably 250; and  the communicants above 300, nearly the whole adult population. There was a religious Association for some years, but it has fallen asleep. There are now four annual collections for the four schemes of the General Assembly, yielding from L.3 to L. 4 each.

Education.- There is only one parochial school, and no other regular school; but in the remote parts of the parish, in the winter months, it is common for families to unite together, as convenience permits, and employ a teacher; it is thus chiefly that the children are taught; and, considering the insufficiency of the means, it is surprising how well and how generally the education of the young is advanced. Maternal care and assiduity are the chief substitutes for better opportunities. The parochial school-master enjoys the maximum salary, with legal accommodation, and fees charged from 1s. and 1s. 6d. a month, according to the branches taught, which are all ordinary ones, with Latin occasionally, - and amounting to about L. 15 per annum. So far as known, there is not one person between six and fifteen years of age who cannot read, and very few who cannot also write. Inability to do one or the other is felt as a degradation.

Library.- A parish library was instituted a few years ago, and proceeds slowly but progressively. It now contains 160 volumes. The reading disposition, however, is limited to a few.

Friendly Society.- A Friendly Society, for aid to the sick, was established in 1819, and has been of undoubted advantage, both in furnishing relief, and in fostering the spirit of independence.

Savings Bank.- A savings bank was also begun at the same time, and has proved of considerable benefit to servants and labourers, for whom it is exclusively designed. It has suffered, however, from the pressure of the times within the last two or three years, and the sum now deposited does not exceed L. 150.

Poor and Parochial Funds.- The poor are very sedulously attended to, and well provided for, partly by the session, and partly by the charitable and humane. Their average number is 18, including children. Of this number, however, not more than six or eight names appear on the session-roll; and the allowance to them is very variable, running from 2s. 6d. to 6s. or 8s. a month, and sometimes, when an attendant is to be employed, 15s. or 16s. a month. The collections to meet these and other usual demands amount to about L. 26 a-year, with L. 25 from the absent heritors, of voluntary contribution; and mortcloth-money and penalties, amounting to about L. 2 more; and seats in the church, yielding L. 10 more. One donation of L. 50 was recently made by a lady anonymously. The gifts of the session are never bestowed but as a help or partial support. The pauper is made to understand that he must look to friends if he have them, and to the parish at large; and the parishioners at large having the same understanding, give at their door, or send assistance, according to disposition or ability. There is some   reluctance, in the first instance, to be enrolled in the list of paupers; but the feeling rapidly dies away, when the person has once stooped to the name; and friends and relatives are similarly affected. It is hard to say, however, whether the disposition among the poor to ask for parochial relief is advancing or decreasing.

Fair.- There is an annual fair which was originally designed for country business, but, from changes in habits of the people, it has now no very assignable object, and continues more from use and wont than for any distinct purpose.

Inns.- There are 4 inns in the village, and 1 in a remote part of the parish.

Fuel.- Fuel is not a very expensive article. Peat is abundant, and used in all the distant and higher parts of the parish, whilst the village and neighbourhood consume coal obtained at a moderate expense, on the water of Girvan, eight miles, and costing 6s. 6d. a single horse cart, including carriage.

Miscellaneous Observations.

On this head it may be stated, that the parish has undergone little alteration since the last Statistical Account was drawn up, further than it has advanced with the rest of the country,  though not to the same degree, in the general cultivation of mind and manners. The farmer is now a man of greater intelligence and larger capital than formerly. He receives a better education, and has more time for reading, reflection, and that intercourse of life which sharpens the understanding. One important improvement to this and all similar pastoral parishes consists in the cultivation and training of a good breed of sheep-dogs. By this means, the writer is credibly informed, that the same work in gathering and separating flocks of sheep can be more effectually done, and with less injury to the sheep, by one man and a good dog, than by many men and many dogs, whom it was formerly. about forty or fifty years ago, the custom to assemble on all great gatherings. This improvement is of more consequence than can be easily calculated, being to the store-farmer what the thrashing-machine is to the agricultural, or the steam-engine to the manufacturer.

In some respects, this has been a neglected and ill-used parish. It is in extreme want of roads, and the conversion-money is by no means judiciously and properly applied. By increased facilities of communication for the obtaining of lime and soil; and by an increase of plantations for the raising of wood  for home use, much advantage would undoubtedly accrue to the tenantry, and the proprietors  themselves ultimately;   but it is feared the law of entail places a complete negative upon the distant prospective good.

The lower classes do not labour under any grievances, but such as are incidental to their lot and to humanity. The want of regular occupation in winter is a hardship almost unavoidable; their own ignorance and folly often prove a greater and almost equally irremediable evil, - especially their indisposition to work except at a wage which the profits of farming will not allow. The great spring, however, to human industry and the true vital principle of happiness and comfort is religion, and much has been done and is doing to secure this grand element, and to make the heart feel the power of personal godliness, the great softener of human ills and promoter of human good. Much might yet be done by an improvement of the school system, especially the establishment of a school library, the reading of books to be allowed as premiums, and by a large supply gratis, or cheap, of school-books to children whose parents often feel the burden of procuring the material of education more than the payment of the school fees,

September 1837.


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Copyright 1999 W. F Couperthwaite. Neither this page nor any of its contents may be reproduced without prior consent of the author. Last updated 14 September 2000