Kilmaurs is a strikingly attractive village on the A735 some three miles north west of Kilmarnock. As you approach from the south you drive through Kirktoun south of the Carmel Water before climbing into the village between the single storey weavers' cottages of Townend. This opens out into the view above, with the tiny tolbooth dominating an equally tiny market place.
The key to Kilmaurs' origins lies to the south of the Carmel Water. Kilmaurs Place is a substantial T-plan house built in about 1620. It seems to have inherited its name from a much older structure, probably a tower house, that was built close by; and it may be only the latest in a series of grand residential and/or defensive structures on the same site dating back to the 1100s.
In 1413 this was the residence of William Cunningham, Earl of Glencairn, and in that year he established a collegiate church close by. This was probably on the site of a later church built in the 1600s, which in turn now only exists in part as a burial aisle annexed to the 1888 Parish Church.
A little over a century later, in 1527, another Earl of Glencairn established Kilmaurs as a burgh, but ensured that it developed and grew on the far, north bank of the Carmel Water from his home at Kilmaur Place.
As the new burgh grew, the tolbooth came to lie at its heart, serving as meeting place for local worthies and the magistrate, as a collection point for customs dues, and as a place of imprisonment and punishment for miscreants. The tolbooth is still known locally as the jougs after the iron neck ring and chain still attached to the external wall near the tower steps.
At the rear of the tolbooth is a small column surmounted by a stone sphere, sized (and positioned) as if to stand in for a mercat cross. From here there is an excellent view north along the much wider, and less intimate, stretch of Main Street leading uphill to Townhead.
To the east of the tolbooth, looking onto its side wall, is the intriguing Weston Tavern, a free house. A review of this turned up on the online discussion forum for Livingston FC supporters: "The Weston Tavern does a braw bowl of soup wi' crusty bread. It's got a large room through the back and has a real fire."
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