Darvel is the most easterly of the settlements that line up along the Irvine Valley, and the youngest. The obvious grid pattern of the roads and the broad and straight Main Street reveal this to have been a planned village, and it grew from almost nothing during the late 1700s and early 1800s.
The land on which it is built was part of the estates of the Campbell Earls of Loudoun, and it was John Campbell, the 4th Earl of Loudoun, who established Darvel in 1752, mostly to provide homes and employment for people displaced from the land by changes in farming methods: and, of course, to provide the estate with an income.
An initial 12 plots or feus were let in 1752. But growth was rapid and by 1780 the population was over 400, and it had risen to 800 by 1819, and still further to 1360 by 1841. Almost everyone in the village was involved in hand loom weaving or in associated textiles in one way or another, including many of the children who should in theory have been attending the parish school.
In 1876 lace making was introduced to the Irvine Valley, and mills began to spring up in Darvel and nearby Newmilns. The valley's products were exported throughout the world, with India providing a particular market for lace, muslin and madras. But markets began to dry up in the early 1900s, and the "home-spun" policy promoted by Ghandi in India in the 1920s simply confirmed the serious decline of the industry in this part of Ayrshire.
Though not its complete demise. Lace is still made in Darvel, and locally made lace curtains hang in almost every window in the village (except, perhaps inevitably, those of the Town Hall).
At the centre of Darvel is Hastings Square. This is overlooked by Darvel Central Church and is home to the war memorial as well as to an interesting structure comprising a stone ball placed just above an irregular stone shaft. Its role is unclear and unexplained, but it is strongly reminiscent of the clack or stone that gave Clackmannan part of its name.
The largest building in Main Street is the Town Hall, and the predominance of one or two-storey cottages combines with the already wide street to give a great sense of openness to Darvel. There has been recent development, but mostly in keeping with the scale of what was already there, and there are side streets still entirely comprising the original single storey weavers' cottages. The Main Street is also home to the Black Bull and the Turf Hotel, both, of course, with lace curtains in their windows.
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