The Gallows of Ayr and the Lost Covenanter’s Grave #History #Scotland

Old Mortality 2

The Covenanter Andrew Macgill who was hanged at the end of 1684 or early 1685 had a martyrs’ stone erected over his grave beside Ayr gallows. However, his gravestone has been lost for well over a century…

We know he was buried at the site of gallows, as the inscription to him recorded that:

‘And Incorruption shall forget Disgrace
Design’d by the Interment in this Place’.

His gravestone was erected by the “Continuing” Society people between 1702 and 1714, as part of the inscription on it was recorded in the first edition of Cloud of Witnesses:

‘Upon a stone lying beside the Gallows of Air, upon the Body of Andrew M’gill, who was apprehended by the information of Andrew Tom, who suffered there         November 1684.

Near this abhorred Tree a Sufferer lyes,
Who chus d to fall, that falling Truth might rise
His Station could advance no costly deed,
Save giving of a Life, the LORD did need.
When Christ shall vindicate his Way, he ll cast
The Doom that was pronounc d in such a haste,
And Incorruption shall forget Disgrace
Design d by the Interment in this Place.’

Thomson thought that the loss of the stone ‘is much to be regretted, as the inscription, for vigour and beauty, is not surpassed by any in the “Cloud of Witnesses”.’ (Thomson, MGoS, 312.)

Where were the Gallows and the Gravestone?
According to the Canmore website, the gallows lay on the south side of a later street called Station Bridge and just beyond the west side of the bridge by the modern Ayr Station. Like Glasgow’s Townhead Martyrs and the three men hanged at Wigtown, Macgill was apparently executed at a traditional gallows site outside of the burgh.

Today, the site may be occupied by the Gulf ‘Tam O’ Shanter’ Filling Station, if the Canmore entry is accurate.

Street View of CANMORE site of Gallows and Martyr’s Stone

The single source given in the Canmore entry for the gallows and the lost gravestone is Gibson’s Inscriptions on the tombstones and monuments erected in memory of the Covenanters, (Glasgow, 1881),161-2.

However, Gibson did not give a specific location for the gravestone beyond it having been ‘near’ the ‘present’ station. It is possible that the Canmore site is a general marker near the modern station, rather than specifically marking where the gallows lay.

We need to interrogate where the gallows and grave lay a little deeper.

Macgill’s gravestone does not appear on the first OS survey maps of c.1850s, as a nursery then occupied the present day filling station site.

By that point, the railway line and the nearby Townhead Station had already been constructed. His gravestone is also not recorded on both of the later 6″ and 25″ maps of the second survey.

The name books for the first OS maps were reliable recorders of martyrs’ graves. The fact that they do not record Macgill’s grave probably indicates that the gravestone was lost, either before, or when, the railway line was constructed.

Printed sources back up the evidence of the OS maps. Gibson’s information from 1881 was copied from an earlier published source, Thomson’s updated edition of Cloud of Witnesses in 1871. The latter reported that the gallows lay ‘near the present railway station’ and that Macgill’s stone was ‘the only one that we have been unable to find.’ (Thomson (ed, CW, 588.)

What Thomson meant by the ‘present’ railway station in 1871 was Ayr Townhead Station, which opened in 1856, and was simply renamed as Ayr Station a year later in 1857 after an earlier Ayr Station was closed elsewhere in the town.

Ayr Townhead Station was smaller and lay to the north and up the line from the modern Ayr Station, which was opened in 1886. In other words the ‘present’ station in 1871 was not the modern station.

Map of former Ayr Townhead Station:

Thomson enlisted the help of his fellow Reformed Presbyterian minister, Thomas Halliday Lang, who was born in Shotts in 1834 and was a minister in Ayr from 1860 until his death in 1919. In Thomson’s later Martyr Graves of Scotland, he reported that ‘this monument has disappeared’ and that ‘every effort on the part of a zealous inquirer, the Rev. T. H. Lang of Ayr, has failed to discover what has come over it.’ (Thomson, MGoS, 312.)

As the ‘zealous’ Lang doubtless had excellent connections in the local community as a minister, it appears that what happened to Macgill’s gravestone lay beyond the memories of his parishioners or others that he spoke to. That indicates that the loss of Macgill’s gravestone probably predates the construction of the railway near the gallows site, as the Ayr and Dalmellington Railway was constructed in the early 1850s and Lang was a minister there in 1860. That suggests that Macgill’s stone probably vanished at some point between 1714 and the early Nineteenth Century.

However, there are obvious problems in the evidence: If nobody knew what happened to the stone, which had presumably been a local landmark, then how did Lang or Thomson’s informers know that it had been located ‘near’ the ‘present’ station? Where the stone lay and its fate are separate issues, but it is a puzzle that people knew roughly where it lay, but not what happened to it.

Also what did Thomson define as a location ‘near’ Ayr Townhead Station?

A Second Source
It is fortunate that we have second reference to the location of the gallows that predates Thomson’s 1871 work. According to Paterson, writing in his History of the Counties of Ayr and Wigton in 1863:

‘The “common place of execution” in 1730 was near the Nether Milns. It was subsequently changed to the “Gallows Knowe,” in the common, now the site of Mr Heron of Dalmore’s villa. Latterly, executions were effected in front of the steeple [of the Tolbooth].’ (Paterson, History, I, 180.)

The ‘common place of execution’ lay near the Nether Milns, aka., Nether Mill, which were corn mills that lay by the Mill Dam across the River Ayr.

Map of the Nether Milns

The ‘Nether Mill’ appears on Wood’s map of 1818 as sitting on ‘Town Property’ beyond the Poor House and a quarry. On the first OS map it appears as ‘Ayr Mills (Corn)’ with a bleaching green beyond them on the burgh boundary. The Nether Milns lay a short distance to the east of Ayr Townhead Station, with a quarry in between them.

Ayr Gallows.JPG

We can make some educated guesses from that information.

The gallows were ‘near’ the Nether Milns in 1730 and were probably the place where Macgill was executed and buried in 1685.

The gallows probably lay close to the burgh boundary. Similar examples of boundary gallows sites can be found at the Gallowlee, which lay close to the Edinburgh’s boundary with Leith, Dumbarton’s gallows and those at Wigtown.

Ayr’s gallows were later moved to the far side of the Burrowfield/Common to ‘The Knowe’, aka. ‘Gallows Knowe’, which was also on the boundary of the burgh’s lands. (For ‘The Knowe’, see Pagan, Annals of Ayr in olden times, 49.)

A boundary location symbolised the rejection of the condemned by the community. In that respect it was akin to a suicide’s grave, i.e., those who were buried out with the community of the parish churchyard often at the edge of the parish. It is worth noting that quite a number of the militant Covenanters of the 1680 remained buried outside of graveyards, especially if they had no connection with that parish and had committed treason or violence. It appears that the ministers of Ayr did not want Macgill in their graveyard and he was buried as a outcast at the gallows.

Macgill was from Arecleoch in Ballantrae parish and not from Ayr parish. The erection of the gravestone to him between 1702 and 1714 was in part a denial of his outcast status. It said that he deserved to be remembered.

The gallows were also probably in a prominent location, as they were a symbol of civic pride and head-burgh status in the Seventeenth Century.

It is possible that the gallows lay where the “Old Quarry” is marked on the first OS map, which presumably removed some rocky feature from the relatively flat landscape. The quarry had been levelled and completely obliterated, and the plan of entire area radically altered by the second OS survey in the 1880s.

It is possible that the gallows and gravestone lay beyond the Nether Milns and close to the burgh boundary where the road to Sanquhar and Dumfries ran.

There is a further twist in the tale.

A Gallows or a Dule Tree?
From the limited evidence of Cloud of Witnesses’ description of the gravestone, it is possible that Macgill was hanged on a Dule Tree, rather than a gallows. The record in Cloud is not clear on that point. On the one hand, it describes his gravestone as ‘lying beside the Gallows of Air’. However, on the other hand, the poetic inscription from the gravestone erected before 1714 records that ‘near this abhorred tree a sufferer lyes’. Was it a Dule Tree?

Ayrshire has, or may have had, several Dule Trees, apparently at Cessnock Castle near Galston, Cassillis Castle, Kilkerran, Blairquhan and Bargany. It is possible that one lay ‘near’ Ayr Townhead Station and the Nether Milns. However, Dule Trees are often associated with baronial power, rather than burghs.

To read about what happened to Andrew Macgill, see here.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in full without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine


~ by drmarkjardine on February 2, 2019.

2 Responses to “The Gallows of Ayr and the Lost Covenanter’s Grave #History #Scotland”

  1. Unrelated to this post – I’m working on learning the details of David Farrie, of whom I’m a descendant, and discovered your blog. There was mention on a few different posts here of a forth coming post that would detail the events surrounding Oct 10, 1681. I’m just curious if that post exists. And also what primary source could you point me toward to learn of those details. Thanks!

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