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The Crawfurds of Kilbirnie

The name of Crawfurd came to this district after the re-building of the original 1127 church in 1470, and the reason was the failure of the male line of Barclay who had held the lordship from early times, long enough for their origins to be lost in the mists of legend. A Barclay is named as a witness to the Charter of Kilwinning Abbey in 1140.

The principal seat of the Barclays was Ardrossan and the Kilbirnie family was a branch. In 1357 Sir Hugh Barclay is mentioned in a legal document. His son Hugh was knighted by Robert II. This Hugh had two sons, David who succeeded him, and Archibald, the first of the Barclays of Ladyland. The two estates adjoined each other, and the Ladyland branch was to continue for some two centuries.

The Kilbirnie line was continued in David Barclay, but no reason has survived why he was granted the whole estate of Kilbirnie plus the half of Ladyland by James I. His son John inherited the enlarged property.

John died in 1470, the year when the church was rebuilt, and without male issue. This was the end of the Barclay of Kilbirnie dynasty, for the estate passed to his only daughter Marjory who married Malcolm Crawfurd of Greenock. This is the point in history when the family of Crawfurd of Kilbirnie was established.

A great deal of tangible evidence exists from the time that John Crawfurd inherited the estate in 1622. He was the eldest son of John Crawfurd of Kilbirnie and Margaret, daughter of John Blair. He married Mary Cunningham, daughter of James, Earl of Glencairn. By this time the estate had built up considerable wealth, and he was able in 1627 to extend the old keep that had been the family home for generations. The style of building was more domestic than warlike, for the development of artillery had made such building useless, and even in its ruinous state shows it must have been a comfortable and imposing place.

He was succeeded by his eldest son, another John, who was knighted by Charles I in 1642. He celebrated the event by commissioning the building of the Aisle that bears his name; the date of its building is seen on the gable nearest the road. The internal style of the Gallery supports the theory that the craftsmen who carved it were brought from the Continent.

By his second wife, Magdalene, daughter of Lord Carnegie, he had two daughters, Anne and Margaret. The elder, Anne, married Sir Alexander Stewart of Blackhall and continued his line.

Margaret married The Honourable Patrick Lindsay, the second son of John, 14th Earl of Crawfurd and Ist of Lindsay, and the estate was settled on the heirs of this union, on condition that he adopted the name, title and Arms of Kilbirnie. This document was dated 31st July 1662.

Overseas visitors to the church frequently lay claim to descent from Sir John Crawfurd, but the above history shows the claim to be incorrect, for any legitimate claimant could and would have asserted his claim long ago to the Barony, and there is no suggestion that there even was any natural issue. The name continued by Patrick’s adoption of it, but the blood line was diluted by Margaret’s marriage into another family.

The heir, and eldest son to whom the estate was entailed, was born on 12th May 1669. The custom of entailing the estate on the eldest son secured the financial standing of the estate, rather than breaking it up into small farms and properties. Younger siblings had to take their chance, so to speak. Girls might marry well, but younger sons had to look to such professions as the Army, Church or Law.

This heir, was another John, unsurprisingly enough. He was educated at Irvine and later at the University of St. Andrews. He took part in the political life of the country and supported the party that brought William and Mary to the throne in 1688. Today we would find this strange, for he was only nineteen years old; but it would not have raised an eyebrow at the time, for then there was no entry into the political scene for the unenfranchised mass of the population, so competition was within a very limited class. Further, he was one of the representatives for Ayrshire from 1693 until 1703. He supported the move towards the Union of the Parliaments which took place in 1707, so presumably he was one of "the parcel of rogues in a nation". Apart from sharing the bounty which was dispensed in varying amounts of cash, Queen Anne created him, in 1703, Viscount Garnock of Mount Crawfurd. This fanciful title, since no such Mount existed, he later had changed to "Garnock", which river did exist.

It was on his directions that the Armorial bearings of his ancestors were placed on the front of the Crawfurd Gallery.

He married Margaret Stewart, the daughter of James, the first Earl of Bute, and between them produced five sons and three daughters.

The eldest of the family, Patrick, became the second Viscount on the death of his father in 1709, at the age of 40.

Before his death Lord Garnock made provision for the younger members of his family. The two older sons were to receive the sum of 12000 merks, Scottish money, and the others who were all minors, varying lesser sums. Merks had been officially abolished at the Union, but in any case had by that time decreased in value to be worth thirteen and a half pence of English money. In the event the settlement was not forthcoming. John and James who had attained their majority, were empowered in 1723 to adjudicate their brother’s estate on behalf of themselves and the younger members of the family. Periodically thereafter they received money from the estate, but when John died in 1734 and James in 1745, the funds remained unpaid.

The second Viscount married Margaret Home of Kello in Berwickshire by whom he had five children, the eldest of whom, John, became the third viscount on his father’s death in 1735, but died himself in 1738 in his seventeenth year, unmarried, to be succeeded by his brother George who was nine years of age.

This, the fourth Viscount finished his education at St. Andrews University, and he was there in 1745 when his uncle James, mentioned above, died.

Two years later the Viscount was serving as a lieutenant in Drumlanrig’s Regiment.

When John, the eighteenth Earl of Crawfurd and fourth of Lindsay died, George inherited the title. The late Earl was burdened with heavy debts, but the new was well advised and guarded himself legally against involving his own assets. He was able to pay off the debt by careful management, and added to the family estate by several purchases. He married in 1755 at the age of 26, Jean Hamilton the eldest daughter of Robert Hamilton of Bourtreehill, and as she was also her father's heiress he increased his property.

It was only some eighteen months later that Kilbirnie House was totally destroyed by fire. The Earl was personally able to save his infant daughter, Jean who later became the Countess of Eglinton and who died childless at the age of 21. There was no loss of life in the disaster, but the family had to take shelter, first in the Manse and later at Bourtreehill.

So complete was the destruction that no attempt was made to rebuild the mansion, although some of the other buildings were kept for a shooting lodge. The principal seat of the family was established later at Crawfurd Priory in Fife. Thereafter any regular connection with Kilbirnie came to an end.

The 20th Earl, was the last of the male line, and rose to the rank of major-general in the Army. He died unmarried in January 1808, and was succeeded in the estates by his only surviving sister Lady Mary Lindsay Crawfurd. Lady Mary successfully defended her property in the case which became famously known as the "Claim by John Lindsay Crawfurd to the Titles and Estates of Crawfurd and Lindsay".

"The Family Tree of the First Viscount Crawfurd"