Burgh of Kilmarnock

Since the very earliest times Kilmarnock has played a prominent part in the history of Ayrshire and Scotland. Its roots in fact run so deep that they are now lost in the mists of obscurity, but it is accepted as a place of great antiquity. The town derives its name from Saint Mernoc, or Marnock, a follower of the Irish Saint Columba. Saint Marnock is supposed to have taken up residence in the vicinity. The Celtic word "kil" signifies the cell, the church of the burial place of Saint Marnock, and tradition has it that the cell of Saint Marnock stood near the present site of the Laigh Kirk, that his sanctity and teachings drew men to the area, and that the original village of Kilmarnock grouped itself on the west bank of the Kilmarnock Water at the point now occupied by the Cross and its immediate surroundings. The early residents of Kilmarnock served the local countryside.
In the year 1124, King David 1st ascended to the throne of Scotland. David had spent his youth at the court of Henry 1st, the Norman King of England. When he returned to Scotland he brought north with him, ambitious young knights as his supporters. The names of some of these men would become part of Scotland's story - Balliol, Bruce and Stewart (Fitz-Allan). It is likely that the lordship of Kilmarnock was created at this time. During King David's long reign the first Scottish burghs were created. A town which became a burgh gained the right to hold regular markets and the ability to regulate local trade. 

Kilmarnock remained little more than a small town for the next few centuries, but with the establishment of the feudal system the town became the dependant centre providing for the needs of peace and war, manufacturing in addition to agricultural produce, metal and leather goods, spinning and weaving. In the following centuries the Boyds (the first record of the Boyd family was in 1263 following the Battle of Largs) and the people of Kilmarnock are mentioned as playing a great part in the forays against the English. In the year 1315 King Robert the Bruce awarded the lands of Kilmarnock to Sir Robert Boyd in recognition of his part in the defeat of Edward II at the Battle of Bannockburn. Kilmarnock Castle, which is now better known as Dean Castle was to become the stronghold of the Boyds for the next 400 years. As a result of his fealty to the crown, the sixth Lord of Kilmarnock, Thomas Boyd was instrumental in having the town made a Burgh of Barony in 1591 by James VI. The town had gained the key to its future growth and prosperity. The map-maker Timothy Pont, writing in the early 17th century, described the town as a 'large village of grate repair'. The small town consisted of low houses arranged around a stone bridge crossing the river Marnock. At the town's centre stood a church and a market cross. 

In 1661 the eighth Lord Boyd was created Earl of Kilmarnock, and in 1672 he obtained, from Charles II, a second charter conferring fresh rights and privileges on the town. Much of the small town was rebuilt following a violent fire in 1688, and it was about this time that the people of Kilmarnock began to develop their own special skills and characteristics. By the beginning of the eighteenth century the trade of the town was considered to be more extensive than that of any other town in the county. Its position on the road between Glasgow and London brought it, when coach routes were established, in closer contact with the outer world, and laid the foundations for its trade and manufactures and its future prosperity. William Boyd, the 3rd Earl of Kilmarnock, passed legislation at this time to protect the town's blossoming trade, "The said Baylies to hold and affix courts within the bounds of the said town, with power to make and create burgesses of the burgh of Kilmarnock, debarring all others from merchandising, trade or mechanisme, except them that shall receive burgess tickets for that effect". 

When the poet Robert Burns moved to Mossgeil, a farm not far from Mauchline, he became a frequent visitor to Kilmarnock, making many friends and coming to know the local characters. The town Burns knew would have still resembled, in some respects, the community described by writers in the previous century. But 18th century Kilmarnock was very much part of the modern world of ideas and literature. In a building near the centre of Kilmarnock known as the Star Close, a printing press was set up. It was here in 1786 that the  first edition of Robert Burns' poetic works went into print. For this reason, Kilmarnock lies at the very heart of the poet's story. 

During the 19th century, burghs which had been set up for commercial purposes - to hold markets and set trading standards - were given responsibility for a range of other services to the community. They were beginning to resemble the local authorities with which we are familiar today. By this time Kilmarnock was a Parliamentary Burgh, electing its own Member of Parliament. In 1871 the boundaries of the town were extended to include Riccarton and Beansburn and the enlarged Town Council was given responsibility for water and gas supplies. The town had planning powers vested in the Dean of Guild Court and was now running its own police force. The town was described by the historian Archibald McKay in 1880,"Many beautiful and imposing villas and cottages have been built within the last few years throughout the Burgh. All of which give ample evidence of a prevailing taste for the elegancies and refinements of life." 

A huge programme of reconstruction has been changing the face of Kilmarnock over the last half century or so. Four extensive housing schemes have been built on the outskirts of the town. An ambitious programme has provided a new town centre, well served by road, car parks and bus services. All in all, Kilmarnock to-day is a thriving progressive town in which the citizens take a real pride. 
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