Benslie is a small village in
North Ayrshire, in the parish of Kilwinning, Scotland. Map reference NS 336 429.
This village, previously Benislay (1205),Eglinton Country Park archive.] , Beinslay (Timothy Pont 1604 - 08),Pont, Timothy (1604). "Cuninghamia." Pub. Blaeu in 1654.] Bainsley in 1821 (John Ainslie's map [http://www.nls.uk/maps/index.html/ Maps at the National Library of Scotland. John Ainslie's Map] ] ), Bensley (Groome 1903),Groome, Francis H. (1903). "Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland." Pub. Caxton. London. P. 148. Benslee or Benslee square on the 1860 OS map, is situated next to Benslie wood. The village sits on the B 785 Fergushill Road and on the junction of the road to Montgreenan and Torranyard on the Lochlibo Road. The OS maps show that it was named 'Montgreenan' up until at least 1938, with the name Benslie given to the wood, the old farmhouse on the 'island' created by the three roads and the term Benslie Square. A Mission hall is marked as being at Benslie square on the 1910 OS map. The postal address may have been the direct cause of the name change, preventing confusion with the nearby Montgreenan estate.
Some dwellings were also present at Rosebank or Woodneuk (1858 OS map), situated just before the bridge that crossed the railway at Montgreenan station. A small fire clay was developed here and only a brick tower and bing remain in 2007. The village had a small wooden community hall which was used for indoor bowls and other activities. This building was demolished in the 1980s. A tennis court also existed at one time, next to the community hall. A number of new houses have been constructed since 1990; transforming the size and nature of this rural settlement.Location map
label = Benslie
position = right
lat = 55.65
long = -4.65
caption = Location of Benslie village, Ayrshire
width = 150
A Chapel Hill cottage existed at one time,Eglinton Country Park archive.] suggesting that the chapel existed on the 'hill', possibly within what is now Benslie Wood. A small mound existed in the wood near Wood Neuk Cottage, but this may have been removed during the building of the new houses. The 1774 Ayr Roads Act names a Corsehill Chapel on the Toll Road from Kilwinning to Dreghorn via Milnburn.McClure, David (1994). "Tolls and Tacksmen." Ayr Arch & Nat Hist Soc. Ayrshire Monograph No.13. P. 53. A statement to the effect that a chapel existed in the middle of the 'feature;' has been made, however details are lacking. [ [http://www.ayrshirehistory.org.uk/postings1/bensliewood.htm Benslie wood chapel] ] There is a Lady Acre on the lands of Corsehill.Robertson, William (1889). Historical Tales and Legends of Ayrshire Vol. II. London: Hamilton, Adams & Co. P. 30.]
The local farms include Benslie Fauld, as well as North and South Millburn. A lane connected Laigh Patterton Farm with the old Netherfield farm and Benslie . The exit is preserved between the two modern buildings, Benslie House and Kinnouli, near the old fireclay mine.
Robert Aitken's 1823 map of "The Parishes of Ardrossan, Stevenston and Kilwinning" shows a Backmossfauld farm near the old Netherfield farm. This map also gives East Doura as the name of the farm which was later known as South Millburn.Aitken, Robert (1829). "The Parish Atlas of Ayrshire - Cunninghame." Pub. W. Ballantine. Edinburgh.]
Benslie village Gallery 2007 - 2008
The village from the Fergushill side. Note Benslie Cottage and Roberton in the background. Benslie cottage, a n old farm steading, from which the village took its 'modern' name. 'Roberton' and another old Cottage, Woodside, which previously served as the village Post Office. The old mine manager's house. A mound extends into this house's garden. Looking towards Montgreenan with the new houses on the site of the old Community Hall and tennis court, with the old 'Rosebank' colliery ruins in the background. On a frosty day looking towards Fergushill from Benslie Cottage. Benslie Row on the site of the old miner's rows.
Annick Primary School, now a private house.
The Ardrossan and Johnstone Railway - Doura branch
This line began life as a
waggonwaywhich opened in 1831 between Ardrossan and Kilwinning and was known as the Ardrossan and Johnstone Railway.Lewin, Henry Grote (1925). "Early British Railways. A short history of their origin & development 1801-1844". London: The Locomotive Publishing Co Ltd. OCLC 11064369. P. 17 - 18] It was initially built to the Scotch gaugeof RailGauge|54 and was worked by horses.Wishaw] It had a passenger services worked by a carriages which held 24 passengers; 16 inside and 8 outside. Whishaw, Francis  (Reprinted and republished 1969). "The Railways of Great Britain and Ireland practically described and illustrated", 2nd, Newton Abbott: David & Charles (1842 edition - London: John Weale). ISBN 0-7153-4786-1.] The railway was built by the Glasgow, Paisley and Johnstone Canalcompany. It commenced on the west side of Ardrossan harbour. The 3 mile(5 km) long Doura branch left the main line near Stevenston and crossed under the Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock and Ayr Railwayto reach the Doura coalpit.Lewin, Henry Grote (1925). "Early British Railways. A short history of their origin & development 1801-1844". London: The Locomotive Publishing Co Ltd. OCLC 11064369. P. 17 - 18] Whishaw, Francis  (Reprinted and republished 1969). "The Railways of Great Britain and Ireland practically described and illustrated", 2nd, Newton Abbott: David & Charles (1842 edition - London: John Weale). ISBN 0-7153-4786-1.] The 0.5 mile Fergus Hill branch left the Doura branch just after the Lugton Water crossing to reach the Fergus Hill coal pit.Lewin, Henry Grote (1925). "Early British Railways. A short history of their origin & development 1801-1844". London: The Locomotive Publishing Co Ltd. OCLC 11064369. P. 17 - 18] Whishaw, Francis  (Reprinted and republished 1969). "The Railways of Great Britain and Ireland practically described and illustrated", 2nd, Newton Abbott: David & Charles (1842 edition - London: John Weale). ISBN 0-7153-4786-1.]
In 1840 the line was regauged to
standard gaugeand connected with the Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock and Ayr Railwayat Kilwinning station; and in 1854 both lines merged with the new Glasgow and South Western Railway.
The Millburn railway station building
Opposite the old South Millburn farm is a ruined cottage with highly unusual features. The gable ends both held rectangular windows with an elongated vertical axis, not set centrally, but offset towards the front of the building which itself faces South Millburn. These would have given a clear view to anyone within the building of any activity to the sides of the building. The side facing South Millburn may have had at least one similar windows to the gable inserts as shown by a surviving lintel. The side facing the Eglinton estate had a door and a least one normal shaped window with finely worked recycled stone. Only one end of the building had a fireplace. The building was used as a cottage or cottages in the early 20th-century and was later converted for use as a pig sty.Janet McGill (2008) of Auchenwinsey Farm. Oral information..Robert McGill (2008) of Auchenwinsey Farm. Oral information. The old
Ordnance Surveymaps indicate that this building sat just behind and parallel to the horse drawn waggonway, opened in 1834, which ran up to Doura, ending at the coal pit. Later the building had the Perceton / Sourlie freight Branch of the Glasgow and South Western Railwaylocated on its other side. A door was set into the gable end on the Millburn Drive side. The fireplace was set in the gable end, despite the odd position of the windows.Janet McGill (2008) of Auchenwinsey Farm. Oral information.
This building may have been a tramway crossing keeper's cottage, controlling rail traffic crossing the Eglinton Castle estate's Millburn Drive.McClure, David (1994). "Tolls and Tacksmen." Ayr Arch & Nat Hist Soc. Ayrshire Monograph No.13. P. 53.; Millburn drive was also part of the old 1774 Toll Road from Kilwinning to Irvine,McClure, David (1994). "Tolls and Tacksmen." Ayr Arch & Nat Hist Soc. Ayrshire Monograph No.13. P. 53. running across the Redburn at the Drucken Steps and through the Draughtburn Gates.Strawhorn, John (1985). "The History of Irvine." Pub. John Donald. ISBN 0-85976-140-1.]
The method and architecture of the 'build' shows that it was constructed by or for the Earl of Eglinton to be in keeping with other buildings on the estate. It was built with re-cycled stone (See gallery); as were many of the estate structures, the stone mainly coming from the old Kilwinning Abbey site. Well made recycled stone is mixed with poorly worked stone and bricks.
The building is not close enough to the road to have acted as a toll house and may have served as a station of sorts, especially as it lay close to the holm where the
Eglinton Tournamentwas held in 1839. The line was used to transport visitors to the tournament.Anstruther, Ian (1963),"The Knight and the Umbrella: An Account of the Eglinton Tournament — 1839", Geoffrey Bles Ltd, London.] Early stations were very basic in construction and often only had a single room with a ticket office and a ladies waiting room, to which model Millburn conforms.
Millburn cottage gallery - 2007
The gable end of a building at Millburn. Note the very unusual elongated window set towards the front of the house and the old bricked up doorway. Details of the blocked up door and chimney flu. Benslie facing Gable end detail. Elongated window on the Auchenwinsey gable end. Window lintel from the South Millburn facing wall. The side of the building facing Benslie Wood. The highly unusual elongated window in the 'Auchenwinsey' facing end of the ruined building. The pig pens within the old 'cottage'. Pig pens view. Detail of the high quality stonework on window facing towards Eglinton Country Park. Re-used stones in the gable end wall. The cottage from the Sourlie branch trackbed.
The 1774 Toll Road
The Drucken Steps were stepping stones on the course of the old Toll Road which ran from the west end of Irvine through the Eglinton policies to Kilwinning via Milnburn or Millburn;McClure, David (1994). "Tolls and Tacksmen." Ayr Arch & Nat Hist Soc. Ayrshire Monograph No.13. P. 53. crossing the Redburn near Knadgerhill.
The site of the Drucken Steps on the 1774 Toll road to Milnburn via Hygenhouse.McClure, David (1994). "Tolls and Tacksmen." Ayr Arch & Nat Hist Soc. Ayrshire Monograph No.13. P. 53.
The old well at the Draughtburn gate. A gardener, William Mullin once lived here.Eglinton Country Park archive.]
Ruins at the Draughtburn Gate.
The course of the toll road from Daughtburn Bridge.
The Minutes of the Turnpike Trust of 27 may 1780 state that the road to the Dowra Coal Works had for more than 13 years been totally neglected, not one penny of Statute Money or repair of any kind have been expended. In the Winter Season and during wet weather the road was impassible, even for travelling on horseback, nor could carriages of any kind pass along it. [http://oldroadsofscotland.com/turnpike%20era.htm The Turnpike Era.] ]
A number of Miner's houses once existed at nearby North Fergushill, a shown by the various OS maps of the late 20th-century. Benslie itself was made up of 57 stone built miners houses, owned by A. Finnie and Son. Coalmasters. In 1913 the village was said to be 67 years old. [http://www.ayrshirehistory.org.uk/Bibliography/monos/amr4.htm Benslie Miner's Rows] ] The population was 318 in 1881.Groome, Francis H. (1903). "Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland." Pub. Caxton. London. P. 148. At first the houses only existed at the 'Square' and then later the village was extended towards the road which runs up passed the church. A number of coal pits were in the area as shown by the first edition OS map, one pit being close to the 'Millburn Cottage' opposite South Millburn.
The coup for the 'old' miner's rows or village was just to the right of the entrance to Millburn Drive and was excavated circa 2006 by enthusiasts who retrieved many bottles and other items from the 'heyday' of the miner's rows.McGill, Robert, North Millburn Farm. Oral communication. 2007. ] The original 4 foot 6 inches waggonway ran along one side of this coup and a small stone fronted 'dock' or loading platform wall still stands.
Doura coal pits
Dr. Duguid states in the late 18th century that the Doura pits had not been worked since the time of Queen Mary, possibly Mary Queen of Scots (1542 - 1587), when they had supplied coal to the
Palace of Holyroodand Edinburgh Castle.Service, John (Editor) (1887). "The Life & Recollections of Doctor Duguid of Kilwinning." Pub. Young J. Pentland. P. 117.] He was the doctor for the pit and recalls that when the pit was drained, William Ralston, the ganger, found the old workmens tools and their bones at the coal face. In Duguid's time another disaster took place after heavy frosts had loosened the pit soil and the pit supports gave way. Pate Brogildy from the Redboiler survived, however he later had his arm ripped off at the shoulder blade by the fly-wheel of the pit steam engine. He survived as the twisting motion of the 'amputation' had sealed the arteries. Willie Forgisal (Fergushill?) of Torranyard had his leg amputated above the knee. James Jamphrey from Corsehill was killed instantly.Service, John (Editor) (1887). "The Life & Recollections of Doctor Duguid of Kilwinning." Pub. Young J. Pentland. P. 138 - 139.]
Benslie wood and the Baroque deer park or garden
Baroque' or 'Celtic Cross' feature is what is now known as Benslie Wood, part of the extensive Eglinton Castle historic landscape, located outside of the formal 'Pleasure Gardens' on Benslie farm. General Roy's Military Survey of Scotland 1747 - 52.] Much of this landscape feature's outline survives except on the Benslie village side of the present wood, with the present road cutting through the extreme edge of the feature. The 'outline' is formed from linear earth banks which contain a quantity of stone and shows signs of being originally planted up with beech and sycamore trees as evidenced from the remains of old tree stumps or surviving old tree specimens. With no evidence of a boundary wall, it is possible that a pale existed to make the enclosure stockproof. The linear bank is mostly curved, except for short sections where 'right angle' bends were required to form the desired 'baroque' shape. It may have had a pale or fence on top of it to make it stockproof, in addition to the boundary ditch. Considerable skill would have been necessary to accurately lay out this complex shape. A cross-shape and peripheral 'path' network appears to have been created of which no definite sign remains. The extensive earth movements associated with the 'rig and furrow' works appear to pre-date the feature, the same works being visible in the surrounding fields as well.Janet McGill (2008) of Auchenwinsey Farm. Oral information. The position of the older holly trees is suggestive of their being in lines as if they are the remains of an internal 'hedge' planting. These old holly trees were a feature of the wood as far back as the 1930s.Janet McGill (2008) of Auchenwinsey Farm. Oral information. Rackham has shown that holly trees can live for three to four hundred years and therefore the old hollies could date from 1747. A few show clear signs of long predating the birch trees, their present stunted growth only occurring once the birch trees were mature and cast significant shade. Rackham, Oliver (1976) "Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape." Pub. J.M.Dent & Sons Ltd. ISBN 0-460-04183-5. P. 27.] Holly is fairly resistant to cattle and deer, indeed it was deliberately planted because its foliage was cut as iron rations for deer and other stock in winter.Rackham, Oliver (1976) "Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape." Pub. J.M.Dent & Sons Ltd. ISBN 0-460-04183-5. P. 158.]
The 1747 Roy's map is a 'snapshot' in time and does not necessarily represent the completed feature. It does not appear as an extension of the extensive Eglinton 'pleasure gardens', however it does appear to align with the large rond-point still known as 'The Circle'. As a feature it is unlikely that the entire 'baroque' shape could be seen from any nearby location, but it may have been discernible from the upper areas of the castle. The original feature appears to have had open launds, delineated by sycamore and beech planting on the outer boundary and possibly the aforementioned holly planting in the interior.
In 1775 Andrew Armstrong's, "A new map of Ayrshire..." shows a circular woodland on the borders of the Doura estate, open apart from what appears to be a single tree in its centre.The name 'fauld' may hold a clue to the purpose or use of this landscape feature as this is
Scotsfor an area manured by sheep, cattle or possibly deer.Warrack, Alexander Edit. "Chambers" Scots Dictionary. Pub. W. & R. Chambers, Edinburgh.] At this time the main estate 'pleasure gardens' did not include a deer park.
The present wood is largely composed of
Silver Birchtrees which have grown naturally. The wood was felled in the 1940s by a foundry owner in Kilwinning and the ground was regularly burned until about forty years ago to keep it clear of brambles, trees, etc.Janet McGill (2008) of Auchenwinsey Farm. Oral information. Downy birch, oak, sycamore and willow are also present. An unusually predominant presence of hollytrees, especially old holly trees, has already been remarked upon and may reflect a feature of the planting of the original ' Baroque' feature.
The 'Baroque' or 'Celtic cross' layout is said to be similar to that which existed at the Optagon Park,
AlloaEstate, Clackmannanshire; which in turn was modelled after the Dutch taste and based upon Hampton Court, the favourite home of King William; a Dutchman.Swan, Adam (1987). "Clackmannan and the Ochils." Pub. Scottish Academic press. ISBN 07073-0513-6 19.] It is possible that this area was incomplete when mapped by Roy in the 1750s.
Mr. Robert McGill of North Millburn Farm recalls that local lore has it that after a 'plague' in the 19th-century a large number of people from the local miner's rows were buried in a mass grave in Benslie Wood.McGill, Robert, North Millburn Farm. Oral communication. 2007. ] Another local tradition is that the bodies were buried in the nether fields of Soth Millburn, close to the old Doura coal pit.Janet McGill (2008) of Auchenwinsey Farm. Oral information.
The wood was created on the lands of the old Benslie farm, however a small wood existed before and a remnant of this wood survived until recently in the area now occupied by Benslie House and Kinnouli. [http://www.nls.uk/maps/index.html/ Maps at the National Library of Scotland. John Ainslie's Map] ] ) John Thomson's Atlas of Scotland, 1832, shows Benslie Wood, bisected by a road, but without the characteristic shape.
Baroque Deer park / Benslie Wood gallery
Benslie wood on the site of the old
Baroquefeature. The 'park' outline where it diverges from the hedge bordering Fergushill Road. A 'right angle' turn on the 'Doura' side of the wood. A double 'right angle' turn on the 'Doura' side of the wood. A view in the wood with birch and holly on the 'rigs' of the drainage system. A view of the 'rig & furrow' style drainage and the dominant planted birch composition of the woodland.
The Benslie wood mound
Moot hillusually existed within each barony in feudal times, such as the surviving 'Court Hill' near Beithand the now destroyed example at Greenhills near Barmillin the Barony of Giffen. Fergushillwas a barony, as was Montgreenan. It is not known where the moot hills were for these. A fair sized mound is shown on several OS maps as existing within Benslie Wood close behind Wood Neuk cottage and therefore to the rear of the modern houses facing onto the road to Montgreenan.
The purpose of this mound is unknown, however it would have been a prominent feature if the hill was not afforested and it could have served as the moot hill for the barony or it may be a plausible candidate for the site of the old chapel.
An irregularly shaped raised area of ground runs down from near Benslie Fauld farm into the garden of Wood Neuk.
Fergushill church in Benslie was built to serve the local rural and mining communities of Doura,
Fergushill, and Montgreenan . [http://guide.visitscotland.com/vs/guide/5,en,SCH1/objectId,INF51999Svs,curr,GBP,season,at1,selectedEntry,home/home.html Fergushill Church] It was consecrated on Sunday, 3 November 1879and the first minister was then Rev. William McAlpine.Ker, Rev. William Lee (1900) "Kilwinnning". Pub. A.W.Cross, Kilwinning. P. 153.] It got its name from the Fergushill Mission which was based at Fergushill school which had closed in 1950. The old school master's house (See photograph) is still in existence at the junction of the road to Seven Acres Mill.Ker, Rev. William Lee (1900) "Kilwinnning". Pub. A.W.Cross, Kilwinning. P. 151.] The church had its spire blown down in a gale in 1968, also damaging the roof; the building was repaired in 1969.Ness, J. A. (1969 - 70). Landmarks of Kilwynnyng. Privately produced.
The manse, later named 'Janburrow' is now a private house and stands at the entrance to the old
Montgreenan railway stationdrive. Opposite is Burnbrae cottage, built as the Montgreenan Estate factor's house in 1846. 'Janburrow' is derived from the lady named Janet who came from Burrowland farm and lived in the old manse for many years after a Mrs Reid, the previous owner, had died.
Fergushill church gallery
Fergushill church at Benslie.
The interior. Memorial to William MacAlpine.
Janburrow, Fergushill church's old manse near Montgreenan.
Doura Hall was a 17th-century building located on the road up to Doura Mains farm. It had been the intention of the Lairds of
Corsehillto build a new house at the 'Dowrie', nothing was done, however plans of the proposed buildings have survived. It was lived in by Sir Walter Montgomerie-Cunninghame in the 1780s after he lost Lainshaw House. James Boswell described it as a poor building. It was demolished in the 19th-century and appeared on the 1910 25 inch to the mile OS map. A Dovecote hill and orchard brae are further reminders of this estate, owned by the Cunninghames of Corsehill. South Millburn is marked as East Doura on the 1910 OS map. A smithy was located at the Doura hamlet in the late 18th-century.
In 1775 Andrew Armstrong's, "A new map of Ayrshire..." shows the 'Dowrey' mansion house and wooded policies of Doura. John Ainslie's 1821 "Map of the Southern Part of Scotland" uses the name 'Dourey'.
Micro history, traditions and wildlife
Plagues were an occurrence in the 18th and 19th-centuries with outbreaks of
Small poxin 1791, Cholerain 1832 and Scarlet feverin 1837. Sentinels were placed at points on the roads to stop anyone entering or leaving the effected areas.James Ness papers. North Ayrshire Local & family history centre, Irvine.The name 'Benslie' exists as a surname. [http://www.linkpendium.com/genealogy/USA/sur/surc-B/surc-Ben/sur-Benslie/ Benslie genealogical site.] ] It is not known if any connection exists with the village.
British Telecom2006/7 'Phone Book' has Benslie with the spelling 'Bensley' and even Bensley Cottage (Sic) is recorded as being in Montgreenan.
Houses existed at the end of Millburn Drive and mid-way along. On the left when facing Millburn Lodge; where it joins Fergushill Road, was the railway hut used by the railway employee who controlled the level crossing gates which permitted freight trains to cross the drive.Janet McGill (2008) of Auchenwinsey Farm. Oral information.
A rare visitor, the
Ivory Gull, was photographed at Laigh Patterton Farm, in Jan 2007. [http://images.google.co.uk/imgres?imgurl=http://www.the-soc.org.uk/images/gallery2007/ivorygull-benslie-jan07b-s.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.the-soc.org.uk/photos-winter0607.htm&h=120&w=160&sz=6&hl=en&start=5&sig2=sz1tMyI3vlngraLdp9PPrg&tbnid=Wmb7DTuFWc3CIM:&tbnh=74&tbnw=98&ei=pLraR6y5E4-Y0QSd1fC7Cg&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dbenslie%26gbv%3D2%26hl%3Den%26client%3Dfirefox-a%26rls%3Dorg.mozilla:en-US:official%26sa%3DG Ivory Gull] ]
Eglinton Country Park
Montgreenan railway station
* [http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/102930 A photograph of Benslie wood from the B 785]
* [http://www.ayrshirehistory.org.uk/postings1/bensliewood.htm Ayrshire History & Benslie Wood.]
* [http://www.benslie.european-map-graphics.co.uk/ A map of Benslie.]
* [http://www.nls.uk/maps/index.html/ Maps at the National Library of Scotland.]
* [http://www.old-maps.co.uk/ 1860 OS Maps.]
* [http://geo.nls.uk/roy/ General Roy's Military Survey of Scotland 1747 - 52.]
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