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The History of Largs

The word 'Largs' probably derives from the Gaelic word 'learg' meaning a grassy slope. There has been activity in the area dating back to the Neolithic era and the Burial Chamber in Douglas Park dates from around 3000BC. The remains of the vitrified fort on Knock Hill date to the Iron Age or around 500BC. There is also evidence of the Romans in Largs with Roman Baths unearthed in 1820.

Largs was a centre for handloom weaving and fishing with over 50 boats. It grew as a seaside resort with visitors arriving by steamboat prior to the railway being extended from Fairlie in 1885. In fact the first summer visitors to Largs were the Reids who in 1782 traveled from Glasgow by various means including farm carts taking 2 days to arrive.

Fairlie was an important sheltered harbour as far back as the 16th Century used by fishing boats and merchant ships. Fairlie Castle part way up the Fairlie Glen was built in 1521 and was the seat of the Fairlies until the 18th Century. The town began to grow with the coming of the railway in 1880. A station at Fairlie pier opened the way for boat trains from Kilmarnock and Glasgow bringing tourists to meet the cruise ships to Arran and Cumbrae. The station is no longer operational although the main Fairlie station is still active on the line to Largs.

Fairlie was famous for its yachts produced by four generations of the Fife family. Famous racing yachts include the Marquess of Ailsa's Bloodhound (winner of the 1909 Prince of Wales Cup). The yard closed in 1980.


The Vikings:

The Pencil monument at Largs commemorates the Battle of Largs where the Scots repelled the troops of King Haco of Norway in 1263. This was the culmination of a series of raids on the West Coast of Scotland in an attempt to recapture land the Vikings had lost in their battle against Alexander III. In 1263 a fleet of 160 long ships approached Largs only to be caught in a storm and attacked by the Scots on the shore at Largs. Although not a major battle it was the beginning of the end of Viking domination. The Pencil was built in 1912 and can be seen from miles around Largs. For more information on the Vikings in Scotland visit the Vikingar centre in Largs.


The Boyles have owned the Kelburn lands since 1140. It is the home of the Chief of the Boyle Clan and Earls of Glasgow (since 1703). The Kelburn Castle Tower House dates from 1581 with additions in 1692-1722 and 1879. In the grounds is a monument to the 3rd Lord Glasgow designed by Robert Adam in 1775. In 1850 a wall was constructed around the estate in order to give work to the local poor. The grounds also have the tallest Monterey Pine in Scotland and a weeping larch covering half an acre. The New Zealand Garden recalls the 7th Earl's Governorship of the colony. You can find out more about Kelburn and the history of the estate and family at the Kelburn website.

Other Historical Facts:

Knock Castle (private) was built for Robert Steele a Greenock industrialist to a design by Thomas Rochead in 1853 (the same architect of the Wallace Monument at Stirling).

Near the bridge over the Noddsdale at the North end of Largs is the gatehouse to the former Netherhall House. This was once the home of Lord Kelvin famous Glasgow scientist who was most well known for his Kelvin temperature scale based on absolute zero. He is buried in Westminster Abbey beside Sir Isaac Newton.

The Vikingar centre at Barrfields was once the base for Flying Boats during World War II.

The Brisbanes of Brisbane were important landowners in Largs and Brisbane Glen is named after Thomas Brisbane. General Sir Thomas MacDougall Brisbane was a keen astronomer with his own observatory near Largs. He was Governor of Australia, 1821-26 and gave his name to the Australian City of Brisbane. There is a slab roofed burial aisle for the Brisbanes dating from 1634 in the Old Churchyard just off the Main Street. More elaborate is the Skelmorlie Aisle, a remnant of the former Parish Church. This elaborately carved tomb was built for the Montgomeries of Skelmorlie in 1636. There is a magnificent painted timber ceiling. This is located near to the Largs and District Historical Society’s Museum where you can learn more about the history of the area. Largs Museum is located just off Main Street in Kirkgate House. The Museum is run by volunteers from the Largs and District Historical Society. The collection includes relics from Largs' past and items related to the town's links with Australia. You can also view items of Mauchline Ware. The museum is located next to the gates of the old kirkyard.

The book Ayrshire and Arran An Illustrated Architectural Guide by Rob Close is worth having if you are investigating the castles and houses in Ayrshire.