People

People

Ayr Racecourse around 1910. Saw wartime use as a training base for Newfoundland soldiers and as a military airfield. © South Ayrshire Libraries & Museums
Ayrshire’s population was spread across the full spectrum of social class and economic activity.

According to the 1911 census, the population of Ayrshire was around 268,000. Mining communities accounted for a significant proportion of this figure – the coal and iron ore deposits of Scotland’s industrial central belt extended south-westward into the north and centre of the county. Iron mining and smelting was in decline as local ore deposits were being worked out, but the war would bring a temporary reprieve. Some of Clydeside’s prosperity spilled over into the small shipyards in Ayrshire’s coastal towns. Iron foundries supplied these and other customers such as the locomotive works in Kilmarnock, the county’s industrial centre. Nobel’s extensive explosives plant at Ardeer was a major employer. Many of the area’s Territorial volunteers were workmates in these industries.

Textile manufacture in a number of towns gave employment to many. Some local industries were particularly suited to meet wartime demand – Maybole’s boot factories supplied military footwear, while headgear for Scottish regiments was provided by Stewarton’s speciality of bonnet-making. Close-knit fishing communities could be found in the villages of the rugged Carrick coast, In the seaside towns of north and central Ayrshire holidaymakers from the industrial towns and cities were catered for, the tourist trade being boosted by the area’s close associations with Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns.

Agriculture continued to be important to the county’s economy, particularly the dairy industry, with early potatoes grown along the coast and sheep farmed on the uplands. Heavy taxation had begun the break -up of the great estates, and this process would accelerate after the war, but the old established families of land-owning gentry remained prominent in county society. They had been joined by wealthy industrialists who had been acquiring country seats in an area with good rail communications to Glasgow –others had built villas along the coast. These privileged families – both those with ancient ancestral roots in Ayrshire and the more recent arrivals – provided many officers to the armed forces and paid a heavy price in killed and wounded.

The war brought people to Ayrshire from many lands. Soon after its outbreak refugees from Belgium began to arrive, and more from France would follow. The establishment of combat training facilities saw the arrival of personnel from all over Britain and beyond, including soldiers from Newfoundland and aviators from Canada, Australia, South Africa and, following its entry into the war, the USA. American ground crew also received instruction in maintaining the British aircraft their squadron would be equipped with. The construction of air bases for training at Loch Doon and Turnberry, with their associated infrastructure, brought large numbers of Royal Engineers, Irish labourers, and, in the case of Loch Doon, German POWs. All this activity required administrative staff, who further swelled the numbers of incomers. Many friendships were formed with local people, and after the end of the war many brides left Ayrshire to start a new life far away.