« PreviousContinue »
When near the plantation I opened a field gate, held along the side of a tall hedge, and entered a beaten track running zig-zag among the trees. It was an “eerie" place, for the solitude was only broken by the rustling leaves and dry grass under my feet, and the occasional flutter of a startled bird ; but I held on, and soon reached the object of my search, which proved to be a massive pyramidal block of masonry surmounted by an urn, and embellished with Corinthian pillars and emblematic devices. Being void of an inscription, there is nothing to tell its purport, but I afterwards learned that it covers the burying place of the Dalrymples of Orangefield-a now extinct family — and was erected in 1748 to commemorate ex-Governor Macrae, a gentleman whose curious history forms the subject of another chapter.
After examining the pile, I found my way to the verge of the plantation, vaulted a fence, and traversed a field, as it appeared to be the most convenient mode of reaching the highway.
Near its centre, I paused to examine a ruined pigeon-house, which serves in its wrecked state as a shelter for cattle—a circumstance of which I had ample proof, for a cow rushed out as I was about to enter, and nearly upset me in its hurry.
I am not altogether certain as to whether the animal or myself was most frightened, but, if anything, the balance of terror was in my favour—for, in the excitement of the moment, it was mistaken for a sulphurous individual with whom it is not safe to have dealings. However, I soon recovered, and without further adventure reached Monktona humble agricultural village, containing no object of interest beyond its ruined ivy-mantled church and grass-covered burying ground; but if its commercial prosperity had equalled its antiquity, then it would have been a busy place indeed. So early as 1163 the church and village were in existence. In that year the church and lands were, along with the church of Prestwick, gifted to the monastery of Paisley by Walter, the son of Allan, first High Steward of Scotland, and lord of the northern portion of Kyle. Monkton then bore the name of Prestwick, but shortly after coming in the hands of the friars it was termed Prestwick Monachorum. In course of time, however, the name again changed, and it began to be called “Monktoun, from the circumstance, as many suppose, that a religious
house existed in the village. But it is not altogether certain that such was the case, for no reference is made to it in any work on the monastic institutions of Scotland, nor does the oldest inhabitant remember of seeing or hearing of the ruins of any building, which tradition averred the monks occupied. However, it is nevertheless probable that the Abbot of Paisley would have a bevy of the brotherhood stationed in the district to superintend the possessions of the institution and to look after the interests of mother church; for it is a well-known fact that they were well acquainted with agriculrure and the construction and management of corn-mills. There is nothing of interest connected with the village, and the parochial registers (which only date back to the beginning of last century) throw no light upon its history; but it is evident that hard drinking and moral lapses were the besetting sins of the inhabitants somewhat less than a century ago.
This is not at all surprising, however, when it is known that along the whole Ayrshire coast smuggling was extensively carried on, and that Monkton was a noted seat of the contraband trade. The suppression of a traffic fraught as it was with such immoral tendencies, was as great a blessing to the people of Monkton as it was to the inhabitants of every town and village engaged in it. In course of time its pernicious influences were entirely removed, and the villagers of to-day, as a rule, are both sober and industrious. The population last census amounted to 467, but from the appearance of the hamlet one would scarcely think it so large.
The parishes of Monkton and Prestwick have been united since the beginning of the seventeenth century, but the object of the union cannot at this date be ascertained with any degree of certainty.
MONKTON-ITS RUINED CHURCH-A NEPHEW OF ROBERT BURNS—THE
GRAVEYARD AND ITS MEMORIALS—GOVERNOR MACRAE'S GRAVE
CAPTAIN MACRAE”–MUSINGS—THE MANSE—“LANG, LANG SYNE. MONKTON is eight miles from Kilmarnock and four from Ayr, and the weather-beaten thatch-covered buildings which constitute the village line both sides of the highway. Upon entering its street, I was struck by its quaint appearance, and more so by the picturesque, ivy-clad, ruined church which stands in a grass-covered burying place by the wayside. After availing myself of the hospitality which a village inn affords, I turned my attention to it; but although I rugged and tugged at the rusty iron gate guarding the entrance, it refused to yield, and in a quandary I began to look round. The next best apparent means of entering the sacred enclosure was by scaling the wall, and this I was in the act of doing when a villager drew my attention to an avenue a little farther down the road in which she stated a wicket would be found which would open to the touch. Following her directions it was soon discovered, and also the fact that the residence of the parish minister nestled in a secluded nook at the end of the shady path. Passing through the wicket, I reverently trod on the resting places of “the rude forefathers of the hamlet,” and approached the ruined sanctuary adorning the centre of the little Golgotha. The polished ivy clung to the tottering walls, and clasped the stones with its sinewy-like tendrils, as if desirous of binding them together and warding off the assaults of time and decay.
The modest building appears to have been dedicated to Saint Cuthbert, but when or by whom it was erected is unknown. Blind Harry mentions it in his metrical biography
of Wallace as the building in which the hero had a wonderful vision, which he narrates with considerable minuteness.
In making mention of Monkton church, Chalmers, the celebrated antiquary, says :—“In 1227 Walter, the Bishop of Glasgow, made an ordinance respecting all the churches belonging to the monks of Paisley, within his diocese, whereby it was settled that the vicar of the Church of Saint Cuthbert should have, in the name of vicarage, six chalders of meal yearly, with the alterages..
In Bagimont's roll, as it stood in the reign of James V., the vicarage of Monkton was taxed £4, being a tenth of the estimated value.” At the Reformation, when church property was very liberally sliced up and divided, Lord Claud Hamilton, the commendator of Paisley, obtained a grant of the patronage of Monkton Church and its tithes, along with other property which belonged to the monks. The old bell hanging in the western gable of the ruin is not only a curiosity, but evidences the Romish origin of the structure. It bears the following in raised letters:—“SANCTE CUTHBERTI ORA PRO NOBIS” (Saint Cuthbert pray for us), but no date. Although this relic has done duty for many centuries, it has not rested from its labours, but may be heard any Lord's day summoning the villagers to the house of prayer.
After the parishes of Monkton and Prestwick were united, Monkton church was looked upon as the parish church proper, but the clergyman of the united parishes preached every third Sabbath in that of Prestwick. In 1834 both churches were suppressed by the Court of Tiends, and authority granted for the erection of a new church equally distant from both places. When this was done the structures were gutted and unroofed, and left to the mercy of the elements.
The Rev. Thomas Burns, son of Gilbert, the poet's brother, was the last clergyman who officiated in the old church of Monkton. He was tutor to Sir Hew Dalrymple of North Berwick, and afterwards minister of Ballantrae. For a series of years he so ably discharged the ministerial duties of Monkton that the parishioners still remember and speak of him with the utmost respect. He came out at the Disruption, and was for some time minister of Portobello Free Church. In conjunction with Captain Cargill and others,
he projected a Free Church settlement in Otago, New Zealand, and sailed from Greenock in the end of 1847 as minister of the first body of settlers. He afterwards became minister of the Scottish Church in Dunedin, and died there in the 75th year of his age, on the 23rd January, 1871, leaving a widow with one son and six daughters.
From the ruin I turned my attention to the heaving turf around it, and while wandering among the long grass here and there " Read auld names on auld
stanes Grown grey in the auld kirkyard." The majority of the unassuming memorials are comparatively modern, and merely record the fact that the sleeper lived and died—but what of that?
" Can storied urn or animated bust
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath ?
Or flattery soothe the dull cold ear of death ?" Two stones with semi-obliterated inscriptions bear date 1608, but the most ancient has the following in yet legible characters :-“HERE LYS YIN VARY HONRIBLE MON, Davit BLAIR OF ADMONTOUN, SPOUS TO MARGET HAMILTOUN, QUO DECESIT, SEP., 1577.” This relic was discovered buried several feet beneath the sward. It is now reared against the back gable of the old church, and forms not the least of the many curious objects to be met with in its vicinity.
When strolling through the tangled grass I stood on the hard turf which covers the dust of the once affluent and somewhat famous James Macrae, a favourite of fortune, who, from a state of the most abject poverty, rose to the high position of Governor of the Presidency of Madras. No stone marks his resting place, nor was there at any time anything to protect his grave from desecration. It is situated close to a tombstone to the memory of an individual named Bryden and within a dozen paces of the manse offices, and about the same distance from the wicket which serves as a back entrance to this obscure place of sepulture. Some years ago a sexton met with the defunct Governor's coffin when scooping out a grave, and plundered it of its leaden casing, but in justice to the callous individual it may be stated that the silver plate