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Field Visit

Date February 1991 - November 1991

Event ID 1086424

Category Recording

Type Field Visit


The Ironworks at Muirkirk was established in 1787, a year after the founding of a Tarworks at Kames (NS62NE 16.0). As a by-product of the manufacturing process, the Tarworks produced large quantities of coke and this acted as an added incentive to the ironmasters. Coal, limestone, ironstone and iron ore were all to be found in abundance in the area, and the cheapness of the minerals more than offset the disadvantages posed by the remoteness of this part of Ayrshire. Good communication routes were necessary to distribute the minerals and finished goods across the country, and several new roads were constructed prior to the arrival of the railway in the 1840's. The quality of the iron produced at Muirkirk was a key factor in the success of the Ironworks throughout the 19th century, allowing the Ironworks to survive changes in ownership and many periods of recession. With the exhaustion of the blackband ironstone seams in 1901, the fate of the Ironworks was sealed, and while imported iron ore from Spain sustained operations until 1915, the ironworks finally closed in 1923. Coal continued to be mined at Kames until 1968, the same year in which the remains of the Ironworks were demolished.

Nothing can now be seen on the site of the Ironworks, but the layout and details of the structures have been recorded on the early editions of the OS maps, and likewise on several estate plans and illustrations.

The earliest of these, a set of four estate plans (SRO, RHP 3675/1-4), date from 1796-1802, and show the location of two blast furnaces a short distance to the W of the canal basin (NS72NW 7). By 1837, three were in operation (NSA 1845).

A sketch of the Ironworks, dating to around 1840, provides a three dimensional view looking S across the River Ayr (Butt, Donnachie and Hume 1968). Each building and its function is indicated - the furnaces, the forges, the rolling mill, the ironstone kiln and the coking oven - and they can all be identified on the 1st ed OS 25-inch map (Ayrshire, Sheet xxxi.5, 1856) dating from about fifteen years later. The four furnaces occupy the N part of the site and are set side-by-side in a row, with the Gothic-style crenallated furnace set at the W end. To the E, an embankment retained a large reservoir which was fed by an outflow from the canal basin. To the SE of the row of furnaces lay the forges, powered by water led from a sluice in the NW bank of the canal basin. Just beyond the terminal of the canal basin lay the bank of kilns. The sketch also shows a horse pulling a barge along the canal, while two strings of horse-drawn trolleys can be seen on the tramroads. The short row of cottages built to the S of the Ironworks (NS 6973 2660), and the rows at Linkieburn and Linkieburn Square to the SW, all of which were built to house the miners, are visible in the distance (centred NS 6960 2640; see also NS72NW 11.02).

By the time the 1st ed OS map was surveyed (Ayrshire, Sheet xxxi.5, 1856) the railway had arrived (NS62NE 32) and several sidings linked the furnaces and the forges with the main line to the E. This railway was a branch of the Glasgow and South Western Railway and linked the Ironworks at Muirkirk with the port of Ayr to the W. The bank of five kilns, annotated as limekilns, is shown with a tramway connection which crossed the railway by a bridge, and brought the limestone down from the mines and quarries at Bankend (NS72NW 11.00).

By the date of publication of the 2nd ed OS 25-inch map the Ironworks had undergone several changes (Ayrshire, Sheet xxxi.5, 1896). The Caledonian Railway had opened a new branch linking Muirkirk with Lanark (NS72NW 6) and William Baird and Company, owners of the Ironworks, had constructed two mineral railways providing them with a direct link into their mineral fields which lay to the E and W. Within the complex of the Ironworks itself, the lower reservoir had been demolished and a range of buildings constructed on the site. These buildings were part of the chemical works, built in 1883 to utilise the waste gases generated in the furnaces; one of the buildings is identified as a gasometer on the map. A rail connection from the site, crossed the River Ayr to the Gasworks (NS62NW 13), the latter having been built in 1880 to provide lighting in the miners' rows to the S. A row of six furnaces were in operation, compared with the three shown on the 1st ed OS map, and the boiler house remained in use. The limekilns which lay in the S half of the area, however, had fallen out of use and are annotated as such on the map.

Visited by RCAHMS (ARW, SPH), February-November 1991.

NMRS MS 731/6.

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