Barony and Castle of Giffen

Barony and Castle of Giffen

The Barony of Giffen and its associated 15th-century castle were in the parish of Beith in the former District of Cunninghame, now North Ayrshire. The site may be spelled Giffen or Giffin and lay within the Lordship of Giffin, which included the baronies of Giffen, Trearne, Hessilhead (Hazlehead), Broadstone, Roughwood and Ramshead; valued at £3788 9s 10d.Robertson, George (1820). A Topographical Description of Ayrshire: More particularly of Cunnighame, etc .... Pub. Cunnighmae Press. Irvine. P. 285. The Barony of Giffen comprised a number of properties, such as Greenhills, Thirdpart, Drumbuie, Nettlehirst and Balgray, covering about half of the parish of BeithLove, Dane (2005). "Lost Ayrshire. Ayrshire's lost Architectural Heritage". Pub. Birlinn. ISBN 1-84158-356-1. P. 12 -13.] It was a hundred merk land, separated from the Barony of Beith, a forty pound land, by the Powgree burn which rises on Cuff hill.Dobie, James (1876). Pont's Cunninghame topographized 1604-1608 with continuations and illustrative notices (1876). Pub. John Tweed. P. 85.] The Lugton Water or the Bungle burn running through Burnhouse may have been the Giffen barony boundary with that of the adjacent barony and lands of Aiket castle.

In another, called "Lines upon the Rogues in Parliament," is the following stanza :-

Upon the death in October 1709 of George Allardyce, Master of the Scottish Mint, John was appointed to the post. He went on to become the MP for Ayr at the 1710 General election, and became one of the Gentleman of the bedchamber to George II, when Prince of Wales. John Montgomerie seems to have been totally uninterested in the affairs of the mint and his personal finances were in some disarray. He at one point proposed an exchange of his post at the mint for a commission in the Foot Guards and ended up with both. He fought in the war against France and was at the disastrous battle of Almanza in Spain. In June 1717 he assigned his salary to a third party, having withdrawn from any active involvement. In 1727 he was appointed as Governor of New York, where he remained until his death on 1 July 1731.Murray, Athol L. (1999). The Scottish Mint after the recoinage, 1709 - 1836. PSAS, 129, P. 861 - 886.] He had a daughter Elizabeth, and upon his death the line of the Montgomerie of Giffen became extinct. He had been forced to sell his estates and it was Sir John Anstruther of the Balcaskie family, who purchased Giffen in 1722, under the burden of liferent as Francis was still living.Millar, A.H. (1885) "The Castles and Mansions of Ayrshire". Reprinted by The Grimsay Press. 2000. ISBN 1-84530-019x. P.84 & 85.

The Montgomerie of Giffen coat of arms was quarterly, first and fourth Montgomery, second and third Eglinton; over all, dividing the quarters, a cross waved "or", and in chief a label of three points of the last.

The Giffen Baron-court

Robert Montgomerie of Giffen was Chamberlain and then Baron-Baillie of the Giffen Baron-court from 1677 - 1681. Another Robert was the Procurator-Fiscal of the same court.Dobie, James (MDCCCXCVI). "Memoir of William Wilson of Crummock." Pub. Privately. P. 179. Robert Montgomerie of Bogston was a factor and Baron-Bailie of the Giffen Barony-court in the late 17th-century.Paterson, James (1863-66). History of the Counties of Ayr and Wigton. V. - III - Cunninghame. J. Stillie. Edinburgh. P.81.]

The armorial bearings of the Barony of Giffen

This coat of arms used to be in the Auld Beith Kirk, in the Giffen loft. The Giffen aisle at the Auld Kirk still stands. The coat of armorial bearings were moved to the new Beith Kirk in 1807. RC is Robert Montgomerie, bother to the murdered Hugh, 4th Earl of Eglinton. JC is for Jean Campbell, his wife, daughter of Sir Matthew Campbell of London. The conjoined MEs either side of the date are for 'Master of Eglintoun', the title which he bore as second son of Hugh, the 3rd Earl, and heir presumptive to his nephew Hugh, the fifth earl; the date is that of his death."The High Church, Beith". An Illustrated Historical Guide. 1983. P. 33.]

The Darien Affair

The Darien Company was an attempt by the Scots, led by William Paterson (the founder of the Bank of England), in the 1690s to set up a trading colony in America in the late 1690s, however the opposition from England and elsewhere was so great that the attempt failed with huge losses and great financial implications for the country and for individuals. Half of the whole circulating capital of Scotland was subscribed and mostly lost, although the Act of Union in 1707 made provision for a degree of compensation to be paid to the Darien subscribers. In Cunninghame some examples of losses are Frances Montgomerie of Giffin (£1000), Major James Cunninghame of Aiket (£200), Sir William Cunninghame of Cunninghamhead (£1000), and James Thomson of Hill in Kilmaurs (£100). In modern terms a thousand pounds loss in the 17th century must have been a devastating blow to the family finances.Dobie, James (1876). Pont's Cunninghame topographized 1604-1608 with continuations and illustrative notices (1876). Pub. John Tweed.]

Giffen Mill

Location map
label = Giffen Castle
position = right
lat = 55.74
long = -4.52
mark =
caption = The Location of Giffen Castle
width = 150

The old feudal or barony mill, also known as Barmill, Barrmill or Baroil is at Map reference: NS 3699 5133. The remains visible today are early 19th-century. It was a three-storey, four-bay rubble building on a rectangular plan, now gutted and the upper part used as a store until recently. The substantial miller's house is still occupied and is in good condition. On General Roy's survey of 1747 - 55 Giffin Mill is present with a cluster of buildings nearby. The mill pond and lade are clearly marked on the 1858 OS map and a sand pit is marked nearby. The 1923 - 4 the OS map no longer marks the mill or its lade and mill pond.

Giffen would have been the thirled [] A Guide to Local History Terminology] mill of the barony, thirlage being the feudal law by which the laird {lord) of Giffen could force all those vassals or suckeners [ A Guide to Local History Terminology] living on his lands to bring their grain to his mill to be ground. Additionally the suckeners had to carry out repairs on the mill, maintain the lade and weir as well as conveying new millstones to the site.Gauldie, Enid (1981). The Scottish Miller 1700 - 1900. Pub. John Donald. ISBN 0-85976-067-7.] Ferguson, Robert (2005). "A Miller's Tale. The Life and Times of Dalgarven Mill." ISBN 0-9550935-0-3.]

Under thirlage the suckeners had to convey new millstones to their thirled mill, sometimes over significant distances, in this case they probably came from West Kilbride. The width of some of the first roads was determined by the requirement to have at least two people on either side of a new grindstone being transported, with a wooden axle called a 'mill-wand' passed through the hole in the centre.

As has already been mentioned, the miller's house had two carved stones from Giffen Castle built into its walls and a further one built into the gable end wall of the mill itself. In 2006 / 2007 the miller's house was renovated, however the other carved stones were not found during the re-roughcasting; they had been on the front.Porterfield, S. (1925). "Rambles Round Beith." P. 36.] The 'Eagle' on the mill gable end is still in situ (see photograph).

Giffen Mill Gallery 2007

Greenhills hamlet

This small settlement is shown on General Roy's survey of 1747 - 55, under the name of 'Greenhill' in the singular and has two buildings indicated where the old school is situated. A smithy stood at the crossroads on the Borestone farm side of the hamlet. This hamlet is named after the artificial mound, a Moot, Law or Justice hill that once stood here.

The Moot or Justice hill

This artificial mound or Moot hill was the site where proclamations of the Giffen Castle Baronial Court's judgements were made. For serious crimes the men were hung here and women were drowned a pit which would have been nearby. This situation, known as the feudal Barony right of 'pit and gallows' [] A Guide to Local History Terminology] existed at many other sites, such as at Beith, Kilmarnock, Aiket, Ardrossan, and Dalry. Often the mounds were wooded and a Dule Tree may have been used as the gallows. Brehons or Judges administered justice from 'Court Hills', especially in the highlands. Auchenmade had a "Law hill" mound nearby, possibly destroyed by the railway. The 'Green hill' stood near to Greenhill farm.Dobie, James (1876). Pont's Cunninghame topographized 1604-1608 with continuations and illustrative notices (1876). Pub. John Tweed. P.163.] No sign of the Moot hill seems to survive, however a bridge near to Greenhill is marked as 'Tappethillock', meaning a flat-topped hillock, which may refer to it.

Borestone farm and the Bore stane

In 1876 Dobie recorded that the Bore Stone or Stane was a large sandstone about 11 1/2 inches in diameter, situated on the farm of Borestone to which it gave name (Name Book 1856). It had a circular opening in which it is said the flagstaff of the lordship or barony used to be erected when vassals from the neighbourhood were summoned to battle; at this position it would have been visible to all parts of the barony and beyond.Dobie, James (1876). Pont's Cunninghame topographized 1604-1608 with continuations and illustrative notices (1876). Pub. John Tweed. P.163.] Smith, John (1895). "Prehistoric Man in Ayrshire". Pub. Elliot Stock. P. 83.] but it is more likely to be a natural cavity caused by weathering. The farmer, Mr Craig, was not sure in 1895 if the stone was genuine, we will never know as the Bore Stone was broken up in about 1950 according to Mrs Greyside of Borestone Farm. It was at map reference: NS 3742 5054.

Thirdpart and the Hessilhead feud

Thirdpart was an 8s. land, part of the Giffen Barony and in 1663 feud to John Wilson by the Earl of Eglinton. It remained in that family until at least 1876. James Wilson of Thirdpart was a notable local eccentric who wrote and published poems on such topics as the 'Trearne Cattle Shows', the 'Fall of Giffin Castle' and the 'Misfortunes of a clocking-hen'. James died in 1838.Dobie, James (1876). Pont's Cunninghame topographized 1604-1608 with continuations and illustrative notices (1876). Pub. John Tweed. P. 376.] William Wilson who lived here in 1837 was a brick and tile maker. A small mansion had been present here, occupied in the 1570s by John Montgomerie of Scotstoun, a near relative of the Laird of Hessilhead.Dobie, James (1876). Pont's Cunninghame topographized 1604-1608 with continuations and illustrative notices (1876). Pub. John Tweed. P. 196.] A dreadful series of incidents occurred in the locality, starting on 19 July 1576 when the Lady of Hessilhead slapped one Robert Kent, servant to Gabriel, brother of John Montgomerie, for some grave offence given. The servant complained to his master and Gabriel went to his brother at the old Thirdpart mansion for advice. John advised him to seek revenge and therefore the next morning Gabriel and Robert gained entry into Hessilhead castle where they found the lady alone, upon which they grabbed her by the hair, pulled her onto the floor, kicked her in the bowels, and bruised her shamefully. Gabriel intended to shoot the Laird, however the whole household was now awake and the two only just managed to escape by stealing a horse and locking the castle gate from the outside. The Laird, [ A Guide to Local History Terminology] Hew Montgomerie, hastened to Thirdpart where John and Gabriel came out with pistols and drawn swords and attacked Hew Montgomerie, injuring him on various parts of his body and leaving him for dead. He was rescued by some neighbours who took him to Hessilhead castle where he recovered from his wounds. Soon afterwards Hessilhead men, including one named Giffen, killed Gabriel after setting up an ambush for him. On the 26th August John, Kent and another brother, Walter, went to try and kill the Laird, but could not find him. Amazingly the results of the various court cases was that no one was found guilty of any of the offences, most likely because honour had been satisfied on both sides.Dobie, James (1876). Pont's Cunninghame topographized 1604-1608 with continuations and illustrative notices (1876). Pub. John Tweed. P. 196 - 198.] Robertson, William (1889) "The Lady of Hessilhead outraged, and Gabriel Montgomerie of Thirdpart slain." in "Historical Tales and Legends of Ayrshire." Pub. Hamilton, Adams & Co. P. 273 - 287.

Hessilhead was the home of Alexander Montgomerie (1545 - 1611), master poet and songster in the court of King James VI. He is best remembered for his poem, "The Cherrie and the slae."Shire, Helena M. (1960) Alexander Montgomerie. A selection from his songs and poems. Pub. The Saltire Society.

Bank of Giffin

In 1858 a farm known as 'Bank of Giffen' stood below the whinstone ridge which is close to what is now the old railway line across the road from Thirdpart farm; it is shown as abandoned in 1911. General Roy's map of 1747 - 55 marks its as 'Bank' only. Some ruins of the farm are still visible today (2007).


General Roy's survey of 1747 - 55 shows only the farm of High Barr. A village grew up here due to the employment provided by the several limestone quarries that were present at one time, the Dockra Ironstone pit that was located near the railway line down from Dockra quarry in 1912, and other local industries.

The village (co-ordinates 55 43' 45.2" N | 04 36' 3.8" W) that developed had a population of 300 in 1876 and 600 in 1951, when the threadmaking industry had just ceased, although the workers still lived in company houses and were transported daily to the threadmaking factory at Kilbirnie. The limestone works was still active, but it too closed in 1972. The whinstone quarries of Messrs. King & Co. employed a considerable number of men in 1951, but even then the quarries were almost worked out.Strawhorn, John and Boyd, William (1951). The Third Statistical Account of Scotland. Ayrshire. Pub. P. 407.] Giffen coal pit (No 1) lay close to Bankhead Moss as shown on the 1897 OS map, closing not long afterwards as the following OS maps cease showing it. The 1912 OS map marks the quoiting ground which was located in what is now the park, close to the old railway embankment; a mission hall is also shown, located just the other side of the railway bridge over the Beith branchline. In 2006 a new housing estate was created on the site of the old Barrmill railway station and goods yard.

Giffen, Beith, or Nettlehirst limeworks

Giffen Limeworks dated from the mid to late 19th-century and later. They were Probably the last traditional limeworks to work in Scotland, closing in 1972. A substantial amount remains, with a bank of two single-draw rubble kilns, reinforced with buttresses and with old rails, and heightened in brick. Covered conveyors linked the segmental-arched draw holes with a wood-framed, corrugated-iron crushing and bagging mill. The works were at map reference: NS 3645 5073.

The Local railways

At NS 356 5111 was Giffenmill Viaduct, opened 1903 by the Lanarkshire and Ayrshire Railway. A 7-span viaduct, with semi-circular concrete arches, it became disused in 1950 and was demolished in 2006. It was also known as the Barr Mill or Dusk Water viaduct. The nearby Gree Viaduct stood until its demolition in early 2008. The local station opened on 3 September 1888 and was known as Kilbirnie Junction, however it was renamed Giffen on 1 October 1889. [Butt, R. V. J. (1995). The Directory of Railway Stations. Patrick Stephens Ltd, Sparkford.] Giffen closed in 1932, but it had three platforms, a small station building, and at one point at least seven members of staff. The platforms still survive (2007), but the line running through the station serving DMC Beith is no longer in use (2007).

Barrmill railway station served the village of Barrmill and was originally part of the Glasgow, Barrhead and Kilmarnock Joint Railway branch from Lugton to Beith. It was the only intermediate station on the route, opening on 26 June 1873, and closing permanently to passengers on 5 November 1962. It was a single platformed station. Freight services continued on the line until 1964. On the 1897 OS map a tramway is shown running down to Barrmill station from quarries at Dockra.

Giffen, Greenhills, and Barrmill Gallery 2007


This village or hamlet lies on the Uplawmoor road to Glasgow. A Crossroads Inn is marked on John Thomson's map of 1828 and in 1858 it had two inns at the crossroads, the Burnhouse Inn and the Waggoners Inn, no longer shown on the 1911 OS. What is now the Burnhouse Manor hotel was present as a private house as marked on the 1858 OS map and as the Manor House in 1911.


Limekilns are a common feature of farms in the area, such as Thirdpart, Foreside, Nettlehirst and the Greenhills hamlet; the necessary limestone was quarried extensively in the neighbourhood. Limekilns came into regular use about the 18th-century. Large limestone blocks were used for building but the smaller pieces were burnt, using coal dug in the parish"Topographical Dictionary of Scotland" (1846). Pps. 467 – 89] to produce lime which was a useful commodity in various ways: it could be spread on the fields to reduce acidity, for lime-mortar in buildings or for lime-washing on farm buildings and was even regarded as cleansing agent.

Additional evidence from maps

The 1858 OS map shows the spelling as 'Giffen' and indicates the presence of a small whinstone quarry at the bottom of the brae that runs towards Burnhouse. This quarry expanded over the years and eventually destroyed the site of the castle on the Giffen craigs. The castle ruins are clearly marked in 1858, but not afterwards.

The Pondery Geocache

A Geocache is located at Pondery Hill in the Pencot and Bowertrapping Community Woodland. A GPS will be required to locate it. The co-ordinates are N 55° 42.264 W 004° 39.709 British Grid: NS 32841 48866.

Local history and traditions

The "Ayrshire Directory 1837 by Pigot & Co" comments, a year before Giffen castle collapsed, on "...the stately ruined castle of the Montgomeries." The same publication also lists a Land Surveyor named John Giffin and a John Giffen who was associated with the schools.

A small hoard of 16th-century coins was found on 7th March 1958 by A Wilson and A M Raeside when ploughing convert|250|yd southwest of Mains of Giffen. The coins had been placed in the bronze container of a small nest of weights, 1 1/2 inches in diameter. This box, and 12 of the 19 coins were retained by the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland (NMAS). All Scottish, they dated between 1558 (a billon "nonsunt" of Mary) and 1574 (a half-merk [] A Guide to Local History Terminology] of James VI). The coins are mostly half and quarter-merks of James VI; they were probably hidden in the later 1570s. R B K Stevenson, R.B.K.(1960); Proc Soc Antiq Scot 1961. ]

Drumbuie was part of the barony of Giffen and was feud out to various local millers and farmers in the 17th-century.Dobie, James (1876). Pont's Cunninghame topographized 1604-1608 with continuations and illustrative notices (1876). Pub. John Tweed. P.125.] Records show that a William Giffen was appointed councillor in 1710 at Corsehill. Trearne house was used by a small boarding school called Gresham House until it was demolished in 1954.

The Lugton Ridges were part of the Barony of Giffen and one was also known as Deepstone.Dobie, James D. (ed Dobie, J.S.) (1876). "Cunninghame, Topographized by Timothy Pont" 1604–1608, with continuations and illustrative notices. Pub. John Tweed, Glasgow. P. 318.]

The Dusk Water which powered Giffen mill joins the River Garnock at Dalgarven and one of Ayrshire's most interesting natural curiosities, Cleeves Cove cave system is situated in the Dusk Glen, downstream of Giffen, near Cleeves farm.

The herb 'Dusky Cranesbill' is a rare garden escape. It grows in the vicinity of Thirdpart.

In the 1830s 40 locals died from Cholera and were buried in a triangular plot at the base of Jamesil Hill. The tradition is that the disease was passed on from a group of gipsies that local boys had gone out to meet..Porterfield, S. (1925). "Rambles Round Beith." P. 35.]

ee also

*Clan Montgomery
*Eglinton Country Park The Earls of Eglinton.


External links

* [ RCAHMS Canmore site]
* [ A Guide to Local History Terminology]
* [ General Roy's maps.]
* [ Burnhouse Manor hotel]

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