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Troon Harbour

Harbour (Period Unassigned)

Site Name Troon Harbour

Classification Harbour (Period Unassigned)

Alternative Name(s) Irvine Bay; Troon Marina; Port Ronnald

Canmore ID 42005

Site Number NS33SW 23

NGR NS 30981 31484

NGR Description Centred NS 30981 31484

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
© Copyright and database right 2017.

Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council South Ayrshire
  • Parish Dundonald (Kyle And Carrick)
  • Former Region Strathclyde
  • Former District Kyle And Carrick
  • Former County Ayrshire

Archaeology Notes

NS33SW 23.00 centred 30981 31484

Harbour [NAT] (at NS 3096 3159)

OS 1:10,000 map, 1986.

Harbour [NAT] (at NS 3085 3168)

OS (GIS) AIB, May 2006.

NS33SW 23.01 NS 3151 3111 Stone Sleeper

NS33SW 23.02 NS 315 311 Junction Box

NS33SW 23.03 NS 3150 3112 Weighbridge

NS33SW 23.04 NS 3078 3175 Steam Crane

NS33SW 23.05 NS 30808 31871 North Pier, Lighthouse [Beacon]

NS33SW 23.06 NS 30809 31873 to NS c. 30741 31688 North Pier

NS33SW 23.07 NS 30866 31779 to NS c. 31360 31283 East Pier

NS33SW 23.08 NS c. 3086 3177 East Pier, Navigation Light [Beacon]

NS33SW 23.09 Centred NS 30740 31655 Ferry Terminal

NS33SW 23.10 NS 30729 31644 Pilot House

NS33SW 23.11 NS 30854 31564 Wet Dock (Fish Dock)

NS33SW 23.12 NS 30821 31525 Fish Market

NS33SW 23.13 NS 30939 31534 Lifeboat Station

NS33SW 23.14 NS 30919 31490 Dry Dock [possibly part of shipyard NS33SW 25]

NS33SW 23.15 NS 30996 31335 Dry Dock [possibly part of shipyard NS33SW 25]

NS33SW 23.16 NS 30908 31663 Outer Harbour

NS33SW 23.17 NS 31254 31208 Inner Harbour [Troon Marina]

NS33SW 23.18 Centred NS 3155 3116 East Pier, watching brief [2001]

NS33SW 23.19 NS 31192 31391 to NS c. 31071 31311 Central Pier (between Inner and Outer Harbours)

NS33SW 23.20 NS 31202 31399 Central Pier, Drawbridge ('Gut Bridge')

NS33SW 23.21 NS 30779 31761 Outer Harbour, South West Quay

For (associated) Ballast Bank (NS 319 312), see NS33SW 21.

For associated cottages (centred NS 30744 31525), see NS33SW 22.

For (incorporated) Troon (Ailsa) Shipyard (centred NS 309 313), see NS33SW 25.

For associated Custom House (NS 30735 31517), see NS33SW 126.


Engineer: William Jessop.

(Undated) information in NMRS.

(Location cited as NS 311 310). Troon Harbour: built 1808 on, for coal shipment, by the 3rd Duke of Portland. Formed by a natural headland, improved by the construction of a W pier, a long E pier, and by quaying the E side of the headland. The basin thus formed is subdivided by two piers into inner and outer basins, and there are two dry docks, now owned by Ailsa Shipbuilding Co. Now used for shipbuilding and breaking, and by small craft. Interesting features are an attractive range of single-storey cottages, and the 'Ballast Bank' [NS33SW 21], composed of earth and shingle ballast from sailing colliers, and acting as a shield from the prevailing wind.

J R Hume 1976.

(Location cited as NS 30 31 and NS 31 31). The stretch of coastal sands that extends from Saltcoats [name: NS 245 413] to the mouth of the River Doon [location: NS 323 195] is broken 4.5 miles [7.2km] S of Irvine [name: NS 334 395] by a rocky, angled promontory, which projects to W and NW and forms, between itself and the land, two partially protected bays, the more northerly one which must have been used from time immemorial by seamen otherwise menaced by a long and shelterless lee-shore. What seems to have been the earliest harbour-construction was undertaken by the burgh of Irvine [NS33NW 43] at some date shortly before 1608, when the burgesses petitioned for an impost for 'their new erectit herbere callit the Trune'. In 1609 Irvine was authorised to levy dues on craft `arryvand within thair herbere at the trowne laitlie cost and begit be them'. The next mention comes only in 1793, and applies to the North Bay [name: NS 315 320] as a whole rather than to any particular pier or basin, as it alludes to a safe anchorage, fully protected except from the NW, and capable of improvement to form an excellent harbour. An undated plan of new projected works, by Jessop, marks `Present Harbour' as a small tidal indentation near the SW end of the North Sands. This may correspond with the `miserable and dangerous haven¿ mentioned by a much later local historian, but in any case no more is heard of it in descriptions of the harbour's development.

The improved harbour is described in some detail in the Parliamentary Report of 1847. The bay had been converted by skilful engineering, and the expenditure of a quarter of a million pounds, into the most capacious harbour on the Ayrshire coast. Improvement began in 1808, at the instance of the proprietor, the Duke of Portland, with W Jessop as chief engineer. In 1817, a North Pier [NS33SW 23.06], 230yds [210.4m] long was completed, aligned slightly E of N and giving up to 19ft [5.8m] of water; also an East wall of breakwater [NS33SW 23.07], again 230yds [210.4m] long and aligned northwards in order to exclude sand coming from Irvine Bay. This latter work gave 11ft [3.4m] of water at low tide, was 13ft [4m] wide at the top, and made a convenient quay for steamers. The harbour entrance [location: NS 3084 3181] faced NE, was 300ft [91.5m] wide, and had a depth of 19ft [5.8m] at high springs; both sides of it were lighted. There were two tidal basins, each of 15 acres [6.1ha], the outer one [NS33SW 23.16] giving from 6 to 11ft [1.8 to 3.4m] of water, and the inner one [NS33SW 23.17] drying out; a wet dock [NS33SW 23.11] of 1.75 acres [0.7ha] excavated from solid rock and finished in 1846, which gave 20ft [6.1m] of water at low tide; two graving docks [presumably NS33SW 23.14 and NS33SW 23.15] and three shipbuilding slips. The total length of wharfage was 1500yds [1372m].

The piers were of rubble faced with granite ashlar, and the Report describes the North Pier [NS33SW 23.06] as `colossal¿ in comparison with other Scottish harbour-works. It was 47yds [43m] wide at the base, sloped at 1-in-3 to the surface at low-water level, where it was 30yds [27.4m] thick, and then rose almost vertically for 21ft [6.4m] to quay level, at 10ft [3m] above high water. A description of the construction of its foundations under water, by means of caissons, is given by Aiton. From the quay, a wall rose a further 12ft [3.7m], making a total height of 48ft [14.6m] from the base. An `outer course of stone¿ 7ft [2.1m] thick was added, up to quay-level, in 1846. The depth of water at the pier-head was only secured by the use of the steam-dredge, as the accumulation of sand had reduced its original depth to 6ft [1.8m] only.

Although industrial development has altered the harbour's internal arrangements materially, its main original features can still be clearly identified. The North Pier, in particular, dominates the outermost portion, and possesses a real magnificence, having its sea-wall faced internally with large smooth blocks of black ashlar, precisely squared and coursed, and crossed by a red sandstone belt emphasising the line of the parapet-walk. The walk ends before reaching the S end of the wall, and from its end the belt is continued simply as a decorative feature. It is balanced by a red sandstone coping on the wall-head. In the southern part of the wall, beyond the end of the sandstone belt, the build changes from the large, smoothly-cut blocks to a neat pillow-ashlar. The wharf inside the North Pier, which carries plain, knobbed iron bollards, showed little sign of active use when visited, and the pier-head lighthouse [presumably NS33SW 23.05] had evidently been superseded by a modern light [presumably NS33SW 23.08] mounted on a detached roundel. There were also some signs of reconstruction here, and the two outermost bollards are of a different type from the rest.

East of the great North Pier and of the promontory whose line it carries forward, there lie the two main basins, protected on their opposite NE side by the long straight E breakwater, evidently once lighted and equipped as wharfage but now no longer in use. These basins are separated by a pier which projects from the SW, leaving a passage between them at its NE end. The map of 1858 marks a drawbridge [NS33SW 23.20] crossing this passage, which is now open. On the SW side of the Outer Basin [NS33SW 23.16], towards its southern end, entry is obtained to a large wet dock [NS33SW 23.11] with bollards similar to those on the North Pier, and beyond this a small dry dock [NS33SW 23.14]. The basin [NS33SW 23.17] inside the cross-pier is now devoted to yachts, as the Troon Marina.

The seaward side of the promontory, S and SE of the root of the great North Pier, is flanked by a belt of made ground [location: centred NS 3084 3181], perhaps representing material dug out in the formation of the docks. The belt extends to, and encroaches on, a small bay marked on the maps as Port Ronnald [name: NS 312 308], which now contains nothing but a long concrete slipway. SE of this slip, however, there can be seen an interesting survival ¿ the so-called Ballast bank [NS33SW 21], a dump of ballast discharged from coal ships returning from Ireland. It takes the form of a long grass-covered mound, flattened at the top and revetted as necessary at the base. The `casting' of ballast inside harbours tended to block berths and fairways, and measures to control it in the Firth of Forth were taken by the Privy Council in the 1620's. The ballasting of fishing boats also needed regulation.

In 1841, fifteen vessels were owned in Troon, the trade consisting largely in the export of coal and the import of timber. Coal exports reached a high figure (130,000 tons in 1846) thanks to the railway from Kilmarnock, which had been opened in 1811.

At least three authorities remark on the large amount of smuggling that had formerly gone on at Troon, the last [J Paterson] dating the final phase of the trade to within living memory of 1847. He records that large armed vessels would discharge their cargoes in the bay, being met by accomplices who distributed the contraband goods as far as Glasgow and Edinburgh. The parish minister believed that smuggling was `nearly annihilated' by the ending of the Isle of Man¿s sovereign status, although previously `the Troone was found to be a very convenient station' for smuggling craft.

A Graham 1984.

This extensive harbour sees a mixture of commercial (dry cargo), ferry, fishing and recreational use. Besides the marina [NS33SW 23.17], there is a dedicated timber berth (NS33SW 23.21, on the S side of the entrance), and a fish dock (NS33SW 23.11, to the SE). The ferry terminals apparently operate both conventional and catamaran (`Sea-Cat¿) ferries to Northern Ireland.

Visited by RCAHMS (RJCM), 29 May 2006.

Graham also notes Port Ronnald at cited location NS 312 308. This is presumably on account of its being a 'Port' place-name.

Information from RCAHMS (RJCM), 30 June 2006.


Construction (1808 - 1827)

Troon Harbour was built as part of Duke of Portland's coal business taking coal from his Kilmarnock mines via the railway be built (Kilmarnock and Troon, 1808) to this harbour for shipping to the markets.

Project (2007)

This project was undertaken to input site information listed in 'Civil engineering heritage: Scotland - Lowlands and Borders' by R Paxton and J Shipway, 2007.

Publication Account (2007)

From 1808 the Duke of Portland developed a good natural harbour to the north-east of the rock promontory curving about a mile into the bay from which Troon derives its name. Piers were built into deep water enclosing the harbour and within two decades an inner dock, two dry docks, a lighthouse at the inner end of the pier (1827) and large storehouses had been built. This work was at first under the direction of Jessop but was mostly carried out under the superintendence of John Wilson, the Duke’s surveyor. The plan (Paxton and Shipway, 280) shows the harbour with its breakwater as it was in the 1850s, basically in its present form. The

harbour continued to flourish into the 20th century.

The Ballast Bank to the south west was created by the build-up of earth and shingle from the sailing colliers where it acted as ballast. After a period of decline Troon harbour is once again a busy port having close links with Ireland through the Sea-Cat Ferry, which provides the fastest sea crossing between Scotland and Belfast. The inner harbour is now a marina.

R Paxton and J Shipway 2007.

Reproduced from 'Civil Engineering heritage: Scotland - Lowlands and Borders' with kind permission of Thomas Telford Publishers.


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