On 3 March 1960 a US military aircraft landed at Prestwick Airport for refuelling en route from Germany to the United States, and an unassuming US Army sergeant at the end of his period of national service disembarked for a two hour stopover. As a result, Prestwick Airport has become a place of pilgrimage: for the sergeant in question was Elvis Presley, and this was the only time he set foot on UK soil.
Actually, for many people Prestwick Airport, or to give it its more formal title, Glasgow Prestwick Airport, is all that many people ever get to see of Prestwick. The "Glasgow" was inserted into the name to reflect the fact that the airport is just 27 miles from the centre of Glasgow: and though 20 miles further away than Glasgow's own airport it does serve a large part of the central belt of Scotland and beyond.
But Prestwick is more than just the home of an airport trying to claim an attachment to somewhere larger. And it is also, despite the way the two now run together on the map, more than just a suburb of Ayr.
Prestwick's distinct origins go back at least as far as 1163 when a church was recorded as being in use here. Today the ivy covered ruin of Prestwick Old Parish Church stands on slightly higher ground to the east of the golf course and railway line, and it is quite possible that this stands on the site of, perhaps even including part of the structure of, the 1163 church.
Prestwick became a burgh at the very early date of 1170, which meant it was able to hold markets, something signified by the display of a mercat cross. The mercat cross on show today (in the latest of a series of locations it has occupied) in front of the Post Office dates back to 1777, probably replacing an earlier wooden one. By the time the current mercat cross was constructed, Prestwick was already a thriving industrial centre, with locally mined coal being used to evaporate sea water to produce salt.
At the south end of Prestwick's main beach, two Salt Pan Houses still stand which date back to 1760. The salters lived on the first floor, and the vaults on the ground floor housed the salt pans. Today the area surrounding the Salt Pan Houses forms part of the St Nicholas Golf Course.
And it is golf which helped form the Prestwick you see today. Prestwick Golf Club was formed in 1851 in the town's Red Lion Inn. The original members tempted Old Tom Morris to come to Prestwick from St Andrews to lay out a course for them. This he did, and the first Open Championship was held over its original 12 holes in October 1860. Prestwick also hosted the next 11 Open Championships. In all, Prestwick hosted the Open 24 times before it last did so, in 1925.
The golf courses in and around the town helped establish Prestwick as a popular resort within easy reach of Glasgow, and this in turn generated much of the genteel development that you see along the seafront today. This includes the famous Cafe Mancini, which sells its award winning ice cream alongside a range of snacks and drinks.
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