Nearly two-thirds of the people of Sorn parish live in the village of Catrine; but it is the little village of Sorn with its castle and its church and its community of country folk that is the most characteristic place in the parish. Catrine is but a happy accident; getting house room and water power from the neighbourhood but belonging to an industrial world very different from the rest of Sorn.
The River Ayr on which both Catrine and Sorn are situated runs almost due west through the lower part of the parish in a series of small loops, and just north of it is the highway from the Muirkirk gap which follows the course of the river to Ayr. On the north-east and east boundaries are moors rising to nearly 1,000 feet and hills rising to 1,350 and 1,400 feet, from which the land slopes down gradually till it edges the river with heights of 400 or 500 feet. Down the slopes hurry a series of nine burns all moving in a south-westerly direction, most of them to swell the already considerable waters of the Ayr, but one (the Cessnock) to be deflected by the Mauchline ridge and find its way to the Irvine. South of the river are waste stretches of flat, high moorland on the east side of the parish which form part of Airdsmoss; always damp with the high rainfall, and lacking streams of any size to drain it. Between hill land and moss land are many sheltered holms apt to be broken into, by the violence of the river in times of spate. Catrine and Sorn are built on such holms; to get out of either it is necessary to 'climb a brae'.
There are some 70 farms and 5 small-holdings in Sorn parish. Most of the farms are arable and dairy, ranging from 50 to 200 acres, a few of them sheep farms extending at the largest to 3,000 acres. In agricultural character, Sorn is intermediate between Mauchline, its neighbour on the plain, and Muirkirk, its neighbour on the hills. 96% of Mauchline farmland is cultivated land (crops and grass) and 4% rough pasture: 10% of Muirkirk is cultivated and 90% rough pasture. Sorn has 48% cultivated and 52% rough. The difference is reflected in the fact, that, relatively, Sorn has less than half the cow population of Mauchline, and just exactly half the sheep population of Muirkirk. One special feature is the comparative smallness of the arable farms, the average being about 80 acres: in keeping with this is the fact that the typical herd of Ayrshires consists of 25 to 30 cows. Most farms have milking machines but a number of the farmers prefer hand milking. Within the last half century there has been considerable improvement both in farms and steadings. In one farm on the Muirkirk Road, quoted as typical, 11 acres were drained between 1900 and 1925 and 7 more drained since 1925. In the latter period the byres were gutted out and repaired, a new water supply was piped to the farm, and three new grates and two new boilers were installed. In this particular farm there are no cars and no tractors and the power for working machinery is supplied by two horses. The lighting is still done by oil lamps. On this farm the yield of crops per acre is: oats, 16 cwts. to a ton; hay, 3 to 3.5 tons; potatoes, 10 tons; turnips, 25 tons.
SORN. The old parish centre is a small compact village with approximately 300 inhabitants. Its one street is a line of single storey houses with occasional two-storey houses interspersed, and presents a continuous frontage in which red sandstone predominates. Many of the houses are old and out-of-date, lacking modern sanitary conveniences, but thanks to the good care taken of them by their occupants they maintain a respectable appearance. At either end are new houses built by the County Council. An interesting feature is the three blocks of Swedish wooden houses, fitting into a background of trees. Trees indeed flank the village on both sides and the approaches are made through long avenues of fir woods.
Occupations. At one time there was a considerable industry in the mining of coal, ironstone and limestone, and the remains of thirty old 'gin' pits are still to the fore in the district. Some of the oldest pit workings in Scotland were in Gilmilnscroft, and the story goes that miners from these pits used to be sold to pits in other districts. Within the memory of the older inhabitants there was a wool mill and a flour mill near the village. Now the only local industries are farming and forestry. Those who cannot find employment as estate workers or road-men, or labourers on neighbouring farms, get work in the Catrine mills, or in the pits at Mauchline or Auchinleck, or even find their way to Kilmarnock factories. A number of men are engaged in small crafts: three with the joiner, five with the plumber and three with the blacksmith, besides two boot repairers and two motor hirers. In a working population of 83 men no less than 30 different occupations are represented: and the 51 women workers have 14 occupations (16 of the women work in the Catrine mills and the same number in domestic service). Two of the last remaining mole-catchers in Scotland reside in the village.
Social Life. The general standards of behaviour among old and young are reported to be high. Delinquency there is none. The girls are extremely well behaved. While the boys of school age are inclined to be wild, they all settle down quickly once they get to work. Whatever shortcomings there are, are blamed by the old inhabitants on the incoming of an industrial group, during the last twenty or thirty years. This according to them has led to an increase in gambling, swearing, and Communism, and to a falling off in church attendance. But these old inhabitants, as it happens, do not go very regularly to church themselves.
With no bus service and no place of entertainment in the village, the people have to find their own ways of spending their leisure time. Most of them stay at home in the evenings and listen-in or pursue their domestic interests. Between thirty and forty families make use of the County Library service in the school, with crime and 'western' stories first favourites with the men, and love stories with the women; a few of the ex-service men are interested in books of travel. Wireless sets are almost universal. The younger men play cards, and nearly everybody gambles. The most popular form of public entertainment is the whist drive and dance, in which villagers and country people co-operate happily, as indeed they do in all village activities. The greatest difficulty is the lack of adequate hall accommodation. For any function of considerable size two classrooms in the school have to be cleared of their desks and the necessary equipment brought in from three different sources, to be removed again before school meets next day. But the Village Hall Committee which organises social functions has made a goodly sum which will one day go to the building of new premises. There are two inns in the place where darts and bowls are played. But except on Friday and Saturday nights they are not much patronised by Sorn people. There is no general recreation room in the village. The women have a flourishing W.R.I. and the men an active club for which by much hard work they have created suitable meeting rooms from derelict premises. It is rather regrettable that one old-time event, the annual Sorn Race, has been allowed to lapse within the lifetime of the older people. The races were run by the children in the village street; they were begun to the sound of a drum and the turning-point was marked by a man bearing a halberd. There was also a horse race held in a nearby field in which a motley company of country steeds took part. The meal associated with this particular event was one of 'veal and oatmeal'. The drum and halberd used, according to local tradition, were relics of the battle of Drumclog. With a flag associated with the same battle they are now in safe custody in Sorn Castle. There are also memories of ancient prowess in curling and wrestling but the times are not propitious for their revival.
Religion. The only buildings of note are the castle standing on a rock that overhangs the Ayr Water, and the adjoining church with the jougs' at the doorway as a reminder of its ancient authority. The church was built about 1658 after the disjunction of Sorn parish from Mauchline and extended to seat 600 people in 1826. To-day with the decline of the local population and the general lapse from church-going, not much more than a tenth of that number occupy the pews most Sundays. Nevertheless nearly everybody claims some connection with the church, if only for baptisms, weddings and burials, and the church roll stands at 212, of whom about 150 come regularly to the spring and autumn communions. Of the 212 members, 110 are men, and Sorn has therefore the distinction of being the one church in Ayrshire with a majority of male members. There seems to be a growing indifference to religion in the parish. Sabbath observance is increasingly lax; Sunday work or pleasure is no longer considered sinful. In contrast with the practice of the grandparents very few of the Sorn people read their Bible or discuss religious questions. And yet the Christian ideals remain operative in a general sense of fair play and a readiness to help the aged or the unfortunate.
The old county families who occupied the great houses near Sorn in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries have all passed away and have been succeeded by successful businessmen. The ancient castle of Sorn is now tenanted by the widow of a Glasgow shipping agent, whose son, on his appointment as a judge a few years ago, took as his title Lord Sorn. Glenlogan, to the east of the village, is occupied by Mr. J. G. Stephen one of the Linthouse shipbuilders; and Gilmilnscroft to the south is in the possession of Mr. D. Ross, head of a whisky firm. All three men take an active interest in the life of the community, socially, politically and agriculturally.
Catrine. The story of Catrine begins with the return from India of Sir Claud Alexander in 1786 to take up residence in the estate of Ballochmyle, which had been bought for him by his friends in anticipation of his home-coming. In that year the small piece of alluvial ground between hillside and river to the east of Ballochmyle was occupied only by a smithy, a corn mill and a few houses (one still extant, dated 1746). A year later a twist mill of five-storeys for the spinning of cotton yarn had been built right in the centre of the holm, to be followed in three years by a jeanie' factory. Both got their power from the water which was brought through a covered 'mine' to the twist mill, thence to the factory, and back into the river through an open lade in the main street. In ten years' time, Sir Claud with an extraordinary combination of business genius and philanthropy had created a model community of 1,350 souls. The one flaw in Sir Claud's planning was the placing of the twist mill right in the centre of the only possible road, so that to this day the traffic has to make four right-angle turns to get round the mill. In 1801 the mills were taken over by James Finlay and Co., under whose name they still carry on, and the combination of technical enterprise and social welfare was continued. Under the new management two women were employed in each flat to scrub the floors and whitewash the walls. Workers who were dissatisfied with their overseers were allowed to change to other departments. To ensure a plentiful supply of water for the driving of the machinery, a lake of 120 acres was made at the source of the River Ayr near Glenbuck; and in 1828 great twin wheels of 50 feet diameter and 12 feet breadth were erected in the mill to givc a dnving power of 500 h.p. There have been many changes in the life of Catrine, but the mill still stands, and it was only in 1947 that electricity displaced water power and the hum and vibration of the heavy cogwheels and shafting ceased. The change-over is one of many indications that the enterprise that made and kept Catrine prosperous still exists. It is part of the scheme for expansion of the old business by the erection of new mills to meet the needs of a new age. When the plan is complete there will be up-to-date mills with modern machinery and equipment, carrying through all the processes of spinning, weaving, bleaching and finishing, from the raw cotton to the finished article, and producing cotton and spun rayon goods of every kind. Catrine indeed is the only cotton factory in Scotland to carry through all processes from yarn to finished goods. At present there are some 500 workers, 185 men and double that number of women, and rather more than half of them reside in the village. It is expected that the new mills will find employment for well over 1,000. And as in the past, thought is being given to the workers as much as to the machinery. James Finlay and Co. have recently instituted a remarkable 'Get Together Class' in a schoolroom of their own for workers of all ages. One night a week those who care to attend get lectures on a five years scheme from the heads of the spinning, weaving and bleaching departments, and receive for their attendance each night half-a-crown and a cup of tea. 80 workers take advantage of the opportunity. The more promising of their young people are encouraged to attend courses in the Glasgow Technical College, and plans are being made to have the best go to Manchester to get a science degree in their own business. To link up day school and mill, Mr. James Taylor, the present manager, has provided a special endowment to yield £20 a year for school prizes, and the school has reciprocated by giving some of its courses for the older pupils a cotton bias. While the mill workers still form the bulk of the 2,800 inhabitants, there are two or three other groups in Catrine. Approximately 200 men are engaged in the pits at Mauchline and Auchinleck, some of them descendants of the miners who worked in the pits round Gilmilnscroft, others more recent incomers. There are over 200 employed by two firms of building contractors. 30 are employed in a small knitwear factory, originally a local industry, but recently absorbed by a Glasgow firm. The local Co-operative Society, formed in 1866 in succession to the Catrine Economical Society which goes back to 1840, employs about 25 to 30 people. In addition there is quite a number of small craftsmen: two barbers, two boot repairers, a blacksmith, an electrician, a motor mechanic, two joiners, a painter (with a number of men), a plumber who is also a slater, an upholsterer, a single tailor working in his own house, and two dressmakers. The economic importance of Catrine is indicated by the fact that the Labour Exchange serving Mauchline, Catrine and Sorn is situated there.
Community Life. The manner of its origin has undoubtedly some responsibility for the vigour and uprightness of the typical inhabitant of the village. Among those who were attracted to the mills in their first years were an unusually big number of dissenters. Of the 1,350 people recorded in the first Statistical Account in 1797, 278 were Burgher Seceders and 37 anti-Burgher, who refused to worship in the chapel-of-ease established in 1793 and walked many miles to their own churches every Sunday. The habit of controversy then begun was confirmed in the period of handloom weaving in the early nineteenth century. In 1823 there were no fewer than 158 weavers, spread through every street in the village, and though in course of time the home weavers passed from the scene, the radical attitude of mind, which is still recalled by the 'Radical Brae' and the 'Radical Road', persisted. It showed itself most evidently in the denominational conflicts of the nineteenth century. Many of the Seceders went into the United Presbyterian Church in 1837, with a Catrine man as first minister. When the Disruption came, the great majority of those who worshipped in the Established Church on the hill left it to form a Free Church. Seven years later, those who objected to the Calvinistic doctrines of the Shorter Catechism joined the E.U. (Evangelical Union) in sympathy with the Rev. Dr. Morison, who opened their church. The Established Church was endowed as a quoad sacra church in 1871, and the four churches went their different ways till Free and U.P. came together in 1915 and the E.U. closed its doors in 1925. There was even question of the amalgamation of the remaining two when new ministers had to be appointed recently, but the High Kirk and the Gordon Memorial Church, both Established but carrying on their different ways, have chosen to remain separate. Besides the Presbyterians there are estimated to be about 100 of the Open Brethren and about 15o Catholics. How many have no church connection it is impossible to say but certainly a considerable number, including most of the miners: but even the non-churchgoers join in keeping the village quiet on the Sundays, and are pleased to have their children attend Sunday School and go to the school services in church at Easter and Christmas.
The Catrine people, says one reporter, are 'home-abiding' in the evenings, and a great many of them are keen readers. Books indeed are in the tradition of the place. The Catrine Book Society founded in 1814, the Catrine Philosophical Society (1826), and the Catrine New Public Library (1832) came together in the Catrine United Public Library in 1849; and this Library after fifty years found permanent housing in the
A. M. Brown Institute, which to-day provides an excellent library service with a changing supplement of books from the County Library. There are in addition two subscription libraries in the village. With all this reading goes a wide range of other interests: in discussion, in drama, in music, in voluntary associations of various kinds. Singing in particular is a heritage and there have always been one or two successful choirs. Catrine is fortunate in having no less than five halls for the conduct of its community life and it makes good use of them. And just as a reminder that all Catrine people are not bookworms, it has to be added that there are five public-houses, also well used but without any manifest intemperance.
Education. Provision for the pre-school child is limited both in Sorn and Catrine. Once a month there is a clinic for mothers and infants in the Brown Institute in Catrine, conducted by one of the County medical staff. The district nurse has the main responsibility for routine pre- and post-natal care. But apart from the provision of milk and the protective foods, nothing else is done for young children. Catrine, which could do well with a nursery school has none. There are 70 children between the ages of 5 and 12, attending the primary school in Sorn. In Catrine there are 350 children of the same age: over 300 go to the Junior Secondary School in the village where in the post-primary classes instruction has a technical bias in the case of the boys and a domestic bias in the case of girls; between 30 and 40 Roman Catholic children go by bus to Birnieknowe; while those who wish to take the full secondary course and have the necessary ability, to the number of over a dozen a year, find their way to Cumnock Academy. Those seeking continued education on leaving school get it in Catrine or Kilmarnock. There is no Parents' Association in either Catrine or Sorn, but there is plenty of friendly consultation with the teachers. Most people are keenly interested in their children and the Catrine headmaster reports that many of them look forward to the periodical issue of the school report card. There is no lack of youth organisations in Catrine-Boy Scouts, Cubs, Girls' Training Corps, Cadets, besides a Girls' Association and a Girls' Guildry in connection with the churches. Sorn has a Girls' Training Corps and the prospect of a Boys' Club.
There are two annual events in the Catrine year. The first is the Cattle Show held on the second Saturday of May. The 1949 event was the sixty-fifth, and in respect of number and quality of entries it was one of the most successful within living memory. The second is Carnival Week, first held in June 1946 as part of the victory celebrations, and subsequently continued to everybody's satisfaction.
The erection of the new mills, now in process, will make considerable changes in Catrine. Catrine, with the mill demolished that has stood at the end of the main street and has deflected all traffic for over a hundred and fifty years, will look a very different place. It will be less interesting perhaps, but more convenient. With the advent of more workers the housing situation, already serious, will become acute. Messrs. Finlay have been buying up various houses in prospect but unless this means that families not connected with the mill are to be squeezed out it does not affect the need for more houses. Where are new houses to be placed? Every corner of the narrow fiat on the river side is already occupied. The three housing schemes provided by the County Council which have been the main recent additions to the existing houses, have already had to spread out so far from the village as to make shopping difficult for the housewives, and to reduce community amenities for their families. Any further building away from the village can only result in the making of two Catrines. With better transport Sorn might take some of the extra population to the advantage of both villages.
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