History of Eglinton - A Time Line of the Eglinton Estate
After 568 years of Montgomerie tenure, the 560 hectares (1,400 acres) that remained in the family ownership were sold to Robert Howie of Dunlop for £24,000. Many of the estate buildings were ruinous, but much of the landscape was undamaged. Agriculture efficiency and urban expansion were to transform the estate that had been one of the most admired in Scotland.
Timber extraction on a massive scale was the first task of Robert Howie & Sons on their purchase of Eglinton in 1948. The establishment and improvement of pastures culminated in the building of Eglinton Park Farm near the top of Belvedere Hill. The policies of Eglinton Castle had become a substantial dairy farm. Twenty years later, the town of Irvine was already spreading into the farmland. This expansion was augmented by the designation of Irvine New Town. Large parts of the Estate were designated for development and major roads bisected the area. The construction of the B7080 from Eglinton Interchange to Hill roundabout required the demolition of Eglinton Mains Farm. Housing spread northward towards the castle.
Although the Irvine New Town Plan had designated the environs of Eglinton Castle as parkland it was not until 1981 that Irvine Development Corporation began to redevelop the land. Five years later the Countryside Commission for Scotland registered 400 hectares (1,000 acres) of Ayrshire as Eglinton Country Park.
The farms on the periphery of the Castle policies has been sold to sitting tenants at the time of the dissolution of the Montgomeries' lands. Eglinton Kennels, North Millburn and Auchenwincie lie within the Country Park boundary but remain in private ownership.
In 1958, Archibald William Alexander, 17th Earl of Eglinton, opened the new food processing establishment in the 18th century stables. The restoration and conversion of the building was at the heart of an operation which saved the core of the Eglinton Estate from obliteration. Robert Wilson & Sons (Est. 1849) Limited had been founded as a bacon curing company in Dunlop, Ayrshire. When it opened, the Eglinton factory was one of the 14 in Scotland, England and Ireland. The factory ceased operation in 1997.
As well as employment there were also charitable works, notably through the Clement Wilson Foundation. Established in 1965, its aims were the extension of training for industry and the Church, the assistance of aged, infirm and handicapped people and the preservation and beautification of historic properties. The model for the latter was Eglinton where the dangerous ruin of the Castle was made safe and the sad disarray of its grounds was remedied by landscaping. The 20 hectares (50 acres) now known as the Clement Wilson Gardens were gifted to Cunninghame District Council in 1976 and are now managed by North Ayrshire Council.
Eglinton Country Park, which was officially opened in 1986, was established to offer to its visitors an extensive area of landscape in which they could enjoy some of their leisure time, without hindrance, in the countryside. It was hoped that the Country Park would satisfy some of the demand for the great outdoors and thus play its part in reducing the pressures on Scotland's more vulnerable open areas. It was also intended that the development and interpretation of the Country Park, would help everyone to appreciate the value of the countryside and the need to protect it.
The identification of the heartland of the Eglinton Estate for these purposes was no accident. Although much of its historic landscape had been destroyed, the 400 hectares contained many assets. The realisation of these assets, especially those of historical and natural value, forms the basis of the development and interpretation of Eglinton Country Park. It is a place with a long and distinguished past that, with the understanding and appreciation of all who enjoy it, will have a long and distinguished future.
For more information on the history please download a copy of our Landscape of the Knights booklet (PDF, 5.6Mb).