The Ardross-man


March 2016

Wallace in Ayrshire & his violent death

In a post last month, The William Wallace Visitor Centre, I described our plans for opening ‘The William Wallace Visitor Centre’ and some of the artifacts we have managed to secure for it.

I’ve since been doing a little research, particularly as to Wallace’s potential roots in Ayrshire where our Barony St. John buildings are located, and found this amazing article on East Ayrshire Council’s website;

“East Ayrshire played a formative part in William Wallace’s early life, and saw many of his activities. In the medieval period, the Wallace’s held the Barony of Riccarton – an area encompassed by the modern Kilmarnock suburbs of Riccarton, Caprington, Shortlees and Bellfield, along with the surrounding countryside and the village of Hurlford.

Intriguing evidence for Ayrshire as Wallace’s home comes from the seal on the Lubeck Letter (mentionedWallace-seal-320 in my ‘The William Wallace Visitor Centre’ post) sent by Wallace and the dying Sir Andrew Murray to the traders of Lubeck and Hamburg following their victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. Wallace’s seal (shown) describes him in Latin as “William, son of Alan Wallace” (another omen for me? William’s father has the same name as myself 🙂 ).

An ‘Alan Wallace’ is among those Crown tenants of Ayrshire who made their humiliating submission to King Edward I, the Hammer of the Scots, through the infamous Ragman’s Roll of 1296.

There is a local legend that William Wallace was born at a place called Ellerslie near Kilmarnock. An early reference to an Elderslie near Kilmarnock supposedly appeared in the notebooks written by the map maker Timothy Pont in the 1590s. Although the maps have now been lost, a 19th century collection of notes allegedly contains a copy of Pont’s notes, which describes lands on either side of the River Irvine.

On the south side of the river ncraigie castleear Riccarton is Caprington, the notes say. Riccarton and Caprington exist to this day. Due south of there, between Caprington and Craigie Castle the notes refer to a place called Elderslie.”

(This is the same spelling as the Elderslie mentioned in Blind Harry’s famous poem “The Acts and Deeds of Sir William Wallace, Knight of Elderslie”, written around 1470 – perhaps he got it wrong and his Elderslie was not in fact not in Renfrewshire as historians say but in Ayrshire).

“Both Elderslie and Caprington are described as lying within the Barony of Riccarton.

If this Elderslie existed, it is now lost.

East Ayrshire has many place names and sites associated with Wallace and Robert the Bruce – not surprisingly, since Ayrshire was a focal point for the fierce skirmishes, bloody battles and other depredations of the Wars of Independence, which broke out in 1296. This was in no small part due to its strategic importance. The main east-west route from Edinburgh to the Clyde Coast came past Loudoun Hill and along the Irvine Valley, while the main north-south route ran through Cumnock and New Cumnock. These strategic routes crossed at Kilmarnock.

Wallace’s rebellion against Edward I’s rule is understood to have begun when he killed the Sheriff of Lanark in May 1297.”

(I guess the date of his rebellion can be disputed as we know that he took Ardrossan Castle, slaughtering the English garrison, in 1296 and it is unlikely that he would have been named “Guardian of Scotland” after only a few months at war with the English. In fact, he was knighted in 1297 – again unlikely he would have risen so high if he only begun his campaign that same year)

“From Lanark, he ranged throughout Scotland in a campaign of guerrilla warfare. By the very nature of such activity, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where he was and when – but a lot points to him having been active in East Ayrshire. He led a successful ambush of the King’s baggage train at Loudoun Hill in 1297.

Kilmarnock’s Dean Castle has strong Wallace connections. This was the ancestral home of the Boyds, one of whom was with Wallace at the ambush at Loudoun Hill and also at the Battle of Stirling Bridge.

Hunted as an outlaw from 1300 onwards, Wallace continued to resist until his betrayal, capture and execution in 1305.

In 1307, a decade after Wallace’s success at Loudoun Hill, Robert Bruce also defeated the King’s forces there in 1307.

It was not until 1312, seven years after Wallace’s death and two years before Bruce’s triumph at the Battle of Bannockburn, that the Scots were able to hold a Parliament. The estates of many of the struggling nation’s prominent noblemen lay in Ayrshire – including not only the Bruces and the Stewards of Scotland, but the Lockharts, Boyds and Crawfords.


There are many local legends about Wallace, their veracity difficult to determine after the passage of so much time. However, myth does have its place in history and many folk tales, the common memory of a people, are based on facts.

One of the earliest legends relates to an incident involving the young William Wallace in the spring of 1292 or thereabouts, at a site known as the Bickering Bush, by the confluence of the Kilmarnock Water with the River Irvine, near Riccarton and Caprington. This is reputed to have been the site of one of his earliest altercations with the King’s men, when he killed two members of a five-strong patrol who had demanded his catch of fish. The bush where he hid the bodies is reputed to have survived into the 19th century.

Several sites in the Riccarton/Caprington area have been suggested for the location of Riccarton Castle, owned by the Wallaces. One possible site is where Riccarton Parish Church now stands, another is in the vicinity of the fire station in Campbell street and a third is about a quarter of a mile west of the present Caprington housing estate.

It is said that Wallace mustered his support at Mauchline, before the ambush at Loudoun Hill.

The former Blackcraig Castle at New Cumnock is said to be where Wallace spent part of the winter of 1297, after agreeing a temporary truce with the enemy.

Pursued by troops, Wallace is said to have made it to Galston and Lockhart’s Tower (rebuilt later in the middle ages and subsequently referred to as Barr Castle – a structure which still stands). He later made his escape from the Tower by leaping from a window on to a nearby tree.

Another legend associated with that location concerns a particular type of handball game played against one of the walls of the Tower, which Wallace ordered his men to play, in order to keep fit during a break in their action against the King’s forces. The game continued to be played by local people up until World War II.

Two ideas relate to the birthplace of William Wallace’s mother whose name, confusingly, appears as either Jean, Joan or Margaret Crawford, Craufurd, de Craufuird or Crawfoord. Some sources suggest that she may have come from Crosshouse, while others think that she was Margaret de Craufuird, who was born at the former Arclowdon Castle, near the later Loudoun Castle, Galston.

wallacescaveNo heroic tale would be complete without a legendary cave associated with the hero’s exploits, as witnessed by the number of Bruce’s Caves and Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Caves. So, legend has it that Wallace hid in Wallace’s Cave, near the present site of Auchinleck House, which was the family home of the writer James Boswell.

Sir William Keith of Galston brought the heart of Robert Bruce back to Scotland from Spain, after an unsuccessful crusade. To this day, the Galston coat of arms incorporates an armoured gauntlet clutching Bruce’s heart.”

What a fascinating article isn’t it?

I think it’s important to explain something that is often glossed over – and that is just how horrific Wallace’s trial and execution were as the term “hung, drawn and quartered” is rarely described. It was the brutality his execution that fuelled Scots to continue in their rebellion until Robert the Bruce’s success in The Battle of Bannock in 1314.

Wallace evaded capture until 5th August 1305 when John de Menteith, a Scottish knight loyal to Edward, turned Wallace over to English soldiers after arranging to meet him at Robroyston near Glasgow.

Wallace was taken to the Tower of London and at his ‘trial’ he famously responded to the treason charge, “I could not be a traWallace_memorialitor to Edward, for I was never his subject.

On 23rd August 1305 (now this is another amazing omen – I was born on 23rd August!!), Wallace was stripped naked and dragged through the city at the heels of a horse to the Elms at Smithfield where he was hanged (until he almost passed out), drawn (first of all, his penis and testicles were removed  to emasculate him, then he was cut open and his intestines and stomach were pulled out and burned in hot oil while still attached to is body) and finally quartered (each quarter was sent to a different area – Stirling, Perth, Berwick and Newcastle – to act as a warning to others who may follow Wallace’s lead). His head was dipped in tar to preserve it and placed on a pike staff at London Bridge for all to celebrate his death.

This plaque stands in a wall of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in Smithfield, London near to the site of Wallace’s execution.

Victorian graffiti

I spent some time having a look around some of the church’s pews today and found some more graffiti including this foot rest with the initials of a member of the congregation engraved into it.


Presumably, they always sat in the same seat and even went to the trouble of marking their footrest. 🙂

Benjamin Thomson seems to want to take up the whole of his pew seat with his name sprawling a good ten inches across the hand rest while another pew was covered in graffiti – many names illegible to me – although one name stands out more than the rest, John Kean

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Another peculiarity is that on three of the ground floor pews facing the church organ is carved the name Jas. McMurtrie DSC01710

The name appears to be stamped into the wooden handrails of the pews and I initially thought perhaps it signified the makers of the pews? But then why is the name not stamped in all the pews? Were these three rows simply reserved for the McMurtie family?

Lots of questions – so if anyone has any information about this or knows any of the people who have carved their name with pride into the church pews, I’d appreciate it if you contacted me. 🙂

This bit of Victorian graffiti looks like a date May 20 1863 ….


and it’s strange to realise that on the very day someone was carving this date into the wood, the English newspaper, Worcestershire Chronicle, ran an article about Giuseppe Garibaldi, the famous Italian General, politician and nationalist who played a large role in the history of Italy (and for whom Garibaldi biscuits were invented in 1864). They printed “Garibaldi is better; his rheumatic pains have left him; his wounded foot now reduced to the same size as his sound one, and his physicians say he will not be lame.

And it turns out that 1863 was a big year for world changing events –

  • Sixteen countries meeting in Geneva signed ‘The Resolutions of the Geneva International Conference‘ agreeing to form the International Red Cross and paving the way (in 1864) for what is known today as simply The Geneva Convention.
  • Alanson Crane patented the world’s first fire extinguisher.
  • The Football Association was formed in London (the Scottish Football Association not being formed until 1873).
  • Shamefully, British forces continued their annihilation of the Maoris in the New Zealand Wars.HMS_Orpheus
  • The flagship of the Royal Navy in Australia, HMS Orpheus, sank attempting to take soldiers to Manukau Harbour in New Zealand, with the loss of 189 lives. This became the worst maritime tragedy to occur in New Zealand waters.
  • President Lincoln proclaimed that the final Thursday in November would henceforth be known in the United States as Thanksgiving Day.

But more importantly…..

  • In 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery and proclaiming the freedom of 3.1 million of America’s 4 million slaves, with the rest being freed as Union armies advanced through Confederate states.

Specifically in May 1863, there were two major events of the American Civil War taking place;

The first of these was the death of the Confederate General, ‘Stonewall’ Jackson on the 10th May 1863 after being mistakenly shot by one of his own men during the Battle of Chancellorsville, which was a major battle of the American Civil War.

The second important event of May 1863 was the North’s attack on Vicksburg. On the 20th May, the very day our graffiti was being carved, General Grant’s men dug themselves in around Vicksburg while Union warships patrolled the River Mississippi around Vicksburg to hinder any Confederate use of the river.

No doubt the American Civil War would have been the topic of conversation for many of the church’s congregation as just a week prior on May 14th the Union government had been putting pressure on Great Britain not to sell naval boats to the South.

With all these connections to a time gone by, I’m tempted to keep parts of the pews, especially those including dates, for prosperity. Any ideas what I could use them for or turn them into?

Flushed with success

Here are the finished toilet facilities in the Barony St. John hall building. 🙂

The broketoilet6n skylight windows in the roof above all the toilets have been slated over and the ceilings insulated and lowered.

The Gents toilets have changed completely from this damp and mould ridden spectacle….

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To this bright, modern and classy facility…..

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The Ladies toilet looked cramped and damp….

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And now looks like this….

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And the toilet for people with disabilities has changed from this eyesore….

toilet7   toilet8

To this…..

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Many thanks to Paul Marchetti and his team from P&M Property Contractors for the fantastic job they have done and a big “Thank You” once again to the Asda Foundation for their £10,000 grant which enabled us to not only transform these facilities but also damp-proof course, insulate and rebuild the rooms in their entirety.




How little has changed….

I came across these photos the other day showing the Barony St. John in 1902 and again in 2006 – and very little has changed (except cars replace horse and cart and whereas nowadays the sea is kept back with a sea wall, back in 1902 you can see where the shore line came right over to where the promenade gardens are now).


Wallace’s Sword

DSC01396The sculptor of the famous “The Spirit of Wallace” statue, Tom Church (pictured), was showing me around his work shop when I saw this magnificent red sandstone monolith with a massive 12 foot long stainless steel broadsword attached and the words “Wha wi hae Wallace bled, wha Bruce has aften led” carved around it.

The words mean “Scots, who have with Wallace bled, Scots, whom Bruce has often led” and are taken from a patriotic song written in 1793 by Rabbie Burns, “Scots Wha Hae”.

The song was the unofficial national anthem for Scotland for centuries and is written as though King Robert the Bruce is giving a speech to his troops before the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. The tune to which the lyrics are written is actually a far older traditional Scottish tune “Hey Tuttie Tatie” which according to legend was played on the bagpipes by Bruce’s army at the Battle of Bannockburn.

Now, the bottom half of this fantastic monolith is a small ‘cave’ with a replica ‘Stone of Destiny’ in it and the head of Robert Bruce, King of Scotland, looking at a spider;

The story of Bruce and the spider is taken from a poem written in the early 19th Century by Bernard Barton. It tells the legendary story of how Bruce, after six successive defeats by the English armies, took refuge in a cave and saw a spider trying to spin his web from side of the cave to the other. No matter how many times the spider failed, he tried again until he eventually succeeded giving rise to the popular saying “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.”

Bruce went on to win his seventh battle against the English at Bannockburn and gained Scotland’s independence.

And The Stone of Destiny?

Well, the stone is just a plain, oblong block of red sandstone with chisel marks on its flat top. It measures 65cm x 40cm and 27cm deep and was originally used as part of the crowning ceremonies of the Scots kings of Dalriada in the west of Scotland (now called Argyll).

When Kenneth I, the 36th King of Dalriada united the Scots and Pictish kingdoms and moved his capital to Scone from western Scotland around 840AD, the Stone of Destiny was moved there too. All future Scottish kings have since been crowned on  the Stone of Destiny atop Moot Hill at Scone Palace in Perthshire.

So where did this magical or mythical stone originate from and why was it held in such high regard by royalty?

One legend dates back to biblical times and states that it is the Stone of Jacob taken by Jacob while in Haran (Genesis 28:10–22).

The stone was brought from Syria to Egypt by King Gathelus, who then fled to Spain following the defeat of the Egyptian army. A descendant of Gathelus brought the stone to Ireland, and was crowned on it as King of Ireland. And from Ireland, the stone moved with the invading Scots (actually Irish people called ‘Scots’) to Argyll.

The Stone of Destiny remained at Scone until it was forcibly removed by the English King, Edward I (“Longshanks” or the “Hammer of the Scots”) after his Scottish victories in 1296 and it was taken to Westminster Abbey in London.

The current Coronation Chair was made to house the stone in 1301 and it was first used at the coronation of Edward II, and thereafter to crown every subsequent king and queen of England.

The Stone of Destiny now resides in Edinburgh Castle and is on display there with the Scottish crown jewels.

But with regard to the top part of this sculpture – the giant red sandstone monolith adorned with the wonderful 12 foot long broadsword – wouldn’t this be wonderful situated on the wall either side of the main staircases at the front entrance to the church building?

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I can picture the walls behind it draped with tartan and a beautiful red carpet leading from the front door towards the monolith and on up the stairs either side of it.

This would be a fantastic focal point for the entrance to our Centre, particularly for brides getting married here.

It would certainly add another “Wow” factor to the place.

What do YOU think?


I arrived into my daily grind of cleaning, painting and decorating the Barony St John hall building and, as usual, checked around the church building to make sure all was safe and sound but…..


Another part of the ceiling at the front door to the church had collapsed during the night. 😦

Now, the architects and builders I am working with keep assuring me that this is nothing to worry about as it will all be fixed as part of the on going project but it does get me down to see yet another piece of this iconic old building collapse. 😦

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The Spirit of Wallace

As I mentioned in my last post, “The William Wallace Visitor Centre“, I’m hoping to transform the courtyard area between Barony St. John church and hall into a glass entrance area which will house a cafe and a visitor centre highlighting William Wallace and his connection with Ardrossan.

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Down through the ages, Wallace has had many faces (obviously there were no cameras in the 13th Century and only the very wealthy had their portrait painted so depictions of Wallace have varied greatly) as can be seen above.

The more famous depictions can be seen in the bronze statue at the entrance gates to Edinburgh Castle (left) and the stained glass portrait in The Wallace aa9988862a622b4b3d32ca5d0491a6329bafcb6bMonument in Stirling (right). Braveheart_edinburghcastle

But in more recent times, the blockbuster movie “Braveheart” brought yet another vision of William Wallace to life.666766-william_wallace_large

I had been explaining the Wallace connection to my two young children and, after watching the film, promised to take them to The Wallace Monument to see his sword (which is on display there) and the statue of him at the base of the Monument.

Imagine their disappointment (and mine) when we discovered that the statue was no longer there.

A quick chat with the staff at the Monument and we discovered that the ‘Freedom’ statue had been taken away by it’s sculptor Tom Church in 2008.

Not one to keep my kids disappointed, I found Tom’s number and gave him a call. He informed me that the statue was in his work yard in Brechin and agreed for us to visit.

Apparently, the statue had spent the first 3 years of its life at Brechin Castle before being placed at the foot of The Wallace Monument in Stirling from 1997 until 2008. During this time there were up to 10 coaches per day arriving with tourists eager to photograph the statue (this excludes those coaches arriving to allow passengers access to the Monument).

1304748_6248a448Now, it has to be said, some people felt inspired as the statue encompassed the true spirit of Wallace as seen in the movie ‘Braveheart’, others felt it was too much of a Mel Gibson lookalike statue and only worthy of ridicule, and others felt it was simply a reflection of the many faces given to Wallace down through the ages.

Whatever the reason for wanting your photo taken with the statue, it is world renowned and attracted tourists by their droves – in fact, it still draws in coaches of Japanese tourists to the sculptor’s workshop where it currently resides.

Tom asked about my project and then made me a wonderful offer – he would give me the statue to put on display in our Visitor Centre. 🙂

Although the press nicknamed the sculpture the ‘Freedom’ statue, it was actually named “Spirit of Wallace” by the sculptor because it was meant to represent the ghost of William Wallace coming out of Scotland through the iconic film “Braveheart”. The back of the sculpture (seldom seen by tourists) has a map of Scotland engraved into it and this whole artwork seems a very fitting addition to our William Wallace Visitor Centre particularly when you connect the “Spirit of Wallace” statue with the ghost of Wallace which is said to roam the nearby castle.

We propose to encase the statue in glass near the front of the extended glass entrance so it can be seen from the main road. This will also help highlight the as yet unseen rear of the statue and the map of Scotland which will be painted in gold.

Now if this doesn’t add yet another “Wow” factor to the whole project, nothing will.

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