The West of Scotland: Pt 3 – Irvine, North Ayrshire

We soon arrived in the town of Irvine, up in North Ayrshire, our main destination for our road trip which had already seen us explore the towns of Thornhill and Sanquhar in Dumfries & Galloway…

Irvine (ur-vine) :

Status: North Ayrshire Council Area (historically Ayrshire), Town, Scotland

Date: 08/11/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Irvine Courthouse, Irvine War Memorial, Hill Street, Old Parish Church, Trinity Church, Rivergate Shopping Centre, River Irvine, Fullarton Free Church, Trinity Church Bells, The Carrick, Trinity Mirror etc

Irvine 1

Our exploration began outside the stunning Court House Building, designed by James Ingram (Died 1879, Architect from Kilmarnock) in the 1850’s. Completed in 1859, it features 2 lower storeys, which support the 120 ft tower above it. The Court House is located on “High Street” the main road through Irvine, coming off the A78 which acts as a bypass for the town heading towards Kilwinning and Saltcoats.

According to the listing on the British Listed Buildings website for the Courthouse, it also contains a Council Chamber, suggesting that the building is a joint Courthouse and Town Hall. Despite this, I assume the Council no longer meets here as on the North Ayrshire Council website they give their address as Cunninghame House instead.

Looking West from the Town Hall, you can see the main town centre, which continues up the High Street to Eglinton Street via the pedestrianised areas. There are a number of Listed Buildings around here, starting with the buildings sat opposite the Town Hall slightly to the North.

In the foreground is Number 65 High Street, currently inhabited by an estate agents called “Taylor & Henderson”. This 2 storey building dates back to the 19th century, and is carved out of stunning sandstone and Ashlar. Already today we had seen the great use of Red Ashlar in Thornhill and Sanquhar, and the different Ashlars are very common materials in Scotland.

The next building along is Number 69 High Street, the local RBS Building, which has a date stone near the top of the building on the right hand side. It was quite hard to read, but it’s possible it read 1656, or 1856, with the latter being the most likely judging by the dates on the surrounding buildings. Numbers 71,73 & 75 are all covered under one listing, and lie on the other side of the RBS. They too date to the late 19th Century, backing up the 1856 theory for the RBS.

On the other side of the road, on the 2nd picture, you can see the tall, grey stone building to the left of the shorter modern white building. This is listed collectively as Numbers 82 – 106 High Street, and dates to the early 20th Century, not long after the previous buildings. It stands 3 storeys high, and has been incorporated into the more modern shop front beneath it.

Irvine 4

To the right of the Courthouse, back South along the high street, you will find the towns War Memorial. Looking at old photographs of the town, there used to be a building where it now sits, and the Memorial itself was in the centre of the road directly in front of the Courthouse.

The towns landscape has changed quite a lot since the Memorial was erected in 1920. It stands in memory of all the soldiers from the town who lost their lives in World War I, and new panels were later added to honour those from World War II.

Irvine 5

What I like about Irvine is some of the back streets, of which this is a great example. It appears almost medieval, with the cobbled street through the centre, and the clustered, 2 storey houses on either side. It’s a shame that this type of layout is rarely seen throughout the UK today except for the South of England, as it’s a really great use of space and quite aesthetically interesting.

This street is called “Hill Street” and is located off “Kirkgate”, a road which leaves the High Street due West directly in front of the Courthouse building. This area is a little cul de sac, and there are a few things of interest.

Irvine 6

The main feature of note in the cul de sac is “Irvine Old Parish Church”, located in the centre of a large Churchyard to the East of High Street.  A Church has existed here for centuries, since at least the 9th century. It is believed that the present Church is the 3rd, and dates back to 1774. It replaces the previous incarnation which was in a dangerous state of disrepair. The Clock face on the tower is a slightly newer addition, having been installed in 1803. The Tower is Octagonal, which is a common feature throughout Scotland, not just on Churches but also on the old Tollbooths, such as the one in Sanquhar which we saw earlier in the day.

The Church here was closely linked with local government arrangements in Irvine, when the town was it’s own burgh between 1372 and 1975. Many of the more important members of the Burgh Council were also members of the Church, whose backing was a great help to many projects. One such example can be found on the Churches official website:

“When gas lighting was to be installed in Bank Street, the Town Council requested a loan of £80 from the church which, with many councillors also on the Kirk Session, was agreed .”

This shows the degree of co-operation that was enabled by the same people representing both sides, and it allowed them to make quicker decisions and get the ball rolling without significant opposition.

Irvine 7

Looking back up the cul de sac, we could see the spire of Trinity Church, located next to the main shopping centre in town, but more on them in a moment. The cul de sac has some stunning buildings, and every single building shown here to the left is a listed building. One of my favourites is the 1st full building from the left, with the columns around the entrance. This is listed as “45 & 47 Kirkgate”, a stunning 19th century house crafted out of sandstone Ashlar.

The quality of buildings in Irvine is truly stunning, as the rest of the buildings on the row all look immaculate, and compliment the area well.

Irvine 8

We kept moving, and wandered down between the houses to the riverside. The River Irvine flows through the town, and underneath the Rivergate Shopping Centre, which rather uniquely is built on a bridge. The River begins its journey high in the Lanarkshire Hills, before passing into Ayrshire and through Irvine town centre. From here it snakes its way round past the harbour, and out into the Firth of Clyde, between the mainland and the Isle of Arran, completing its 26 mile journey.

Irvine was officially designated as a new town in the 1960’s, and many new developments sprung up, such as the Rivergate Shopping Centre, and this series of 5 large tower blocks. Unusually for what is commonly known as a brutalist design, I don’t find the blocks to be too aesthetically lacking, and they strike quite a pose here, offering a great view along the river and to the various nearby Churches.

Irvine 9

So this is the Rivergate Shopping Centre, a large portion of which is suspended above the river on large concrete piles, turning it into a bridge. This view was taken from the South bank of the river, after we had wandered through the centre and emerged on the other side, crossing the river in the process. You can see the spire of Trinity Church, located round at the North end of the building.

Despite its rather brutal modernism, due to the overcast nature of the day it did blend in rather well with the rest of the town, probably helped by the fact that its not often you can go shopping and gaze down at the river flowing underneath you at the same time. I presume the centre opened in the 1970’s, as there are records indicating that a previous road bridge which used to cross the river here was demolished during that decade.

There are a number of important buildings surrounding it on this side, with the HQ of North Ayrshire Council Cunninghame House located directly across the Car Park, and the towns train station sat just over the road to the West. The Station opened in 1839, and regular trains run from here to both Ayr and Glasgow, via Paisley and Prestwick.

Irvine 10

Interestingly, there is a large Church at either end of the Shopping Centre, with Trinity Church to the North, and here on the Southern side you will find “Fullarton Free Church”. Fullarton as an area was once separate from Irvine, and was established as its own royal burgh. In 1881 Fullarton became part of the burgh of Irvine, and remains an area of the town today.

The area didn’t fare well after New Town status was given to Irvine, as vast swathes of Fullerton were demolished to allow the new housing, apartments and shopping centre to be built here. Fullarton Church is one of the few notable buildings to survive, and dates back to 1844. By it’s condition I would imagine it is no longer in use, the doors are boarded up and it looks generally dilapidated, however it’s a stunning piece of architecture and I hope it’s preserved for the future.

Irvine 11

Moving back through the shopping centre to the North side of the river, we emerged into a large open square which marks the North entrance to the shopping centre.

In the centre of the square is a large reflective funnel, called the “Trinity Mirror” after the nearby Church. Erected in 2013, this 30 ft sculpture was designed by Peter McCaughey, and apparently uses the exact dimensions used on the Churches tower. It also features a series of acrostics around the base. All of the words are mirrored, so you can only read them by looking into the mirror itself. Together the passages all form a code, and passers by are challenged to try and crack it. Sadly we didn’t have time to stay and figure it out, but its an interesting, albeit very expensive, new piece of public art.

The square itself is pedestrianised, and leads Northwards from the entrance to the shopping centre towards the High Street and the pedestrianised streets. As we explored the rest of the square, we came across one of the 3 Trinity Church bells which now sits atop stone plinths outside the Church itself.

Irvine 14

So here we are at last at Trinity Church, one of the overriding landmarks on the Irvine Skyline. Originally the congregation had begun meeting up over in Cotton Row, which I understand has now been renamed to Ballot Road, around 1809, as a local Burgher Church. By 1847 it had been transformed into a United Presbyterian Church, and in 1863 they were gifted the land that their new Church would soon be built on.

The architect for the project was called Frederick Thomas Pilkington (1832 – 1898, Scottish Architect) who also designed various others Churches throughout Scotland, including the Capital city of Edinburgh. The Irvine Church was completed in late 1869, with a magnificent tower that stood 170 ft high. Unfortunately it was too heavy and had to be reduced by the end of 1870. It remained in regular use until 1966, when it ceased being used as a place of worship, but it remains an important landmark in the area. A recent turn of events is that a lease has been put up for sale on the Church, which comes with planning permission allowing the new owner to transform the building into use as a Public House or Restaurant. Its a unique opportunity and a great way to guarantee the buildings future.

Irvine 15

Our last stop was “The Carrick”, a beautiful old pub that has stood here since 1719. It was later renamed after a ship with the same name, which is the oldest surviving clipper ship in the world. It was launched as the “City of Adelaide” from Sunderland in County Durham in 1864, and was used as a cargo ship between Britain and Australia until 1923 when she was transferred to the Royal Navy and became a training ship based here in Irvine, with the new name of HMS Carrick. She was eventually decommissioned and transferred to Glasgow for a number of years, and then back to Irvine where she was partly restored in the Scottish Maritime Museum, located in the town. Now residing in Adelaide, the ship is to be preserved as an important part of history.

Irvine is an interesting place to explore, and despite being reasonably small, tucked away between the larger towns of Ayr and Kilmarnock, it is actually a very important part of Scotland’s heritage. At one point it is thought that it was also an ancient capital of Scotland, and one of the earliest. Edinburgh wasn’t officially given the title of capital until 1633. Later Irvine was also classed as the Military Capital of Scotland due to the presence of the “Lord High Constable” which was the highest rank of the Scottish Army after the King/Queen.

I really enjoyed finding out about the town, and its in a great location on the Ayrshire coast, with regular transport links to nearby major towns and cities. There are also a number of local airports, with Glasgow Prestwick and Glasgow International all reasonably close, offering internal UK flights as well as International ones. Local buses also connect the town to the rest of Ayrshire, and there is plenty to explore down by the docks, although the bad weather sadly meant we couldn’t really head down that far. Irvine is a fascinating place, but we had one more stop to go, the town of Troon, near Ayr…


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