town and former burgh in East Ayrshire, Scotland, UK

Kilmarnock (Scottish Gaelic: Cill Mheàrnaig; locally known as Killie) is a large burgh in East Ayrshire, Scotland, with 44,170 people.[2] It is roughly between Glasgow and Ayr, and is the second largest town in Ayrshire.[3] The River Irvine runs through its eastern section, and the Kilmarnock Water passes through it, giving rise to the name 'Bank Street'.[4]


Former Royal Bank of Scotland building in King Street, Kilmarnock, 2012
Population44,734 (2001 Census)
OS grid referenceNS429381
Council area
Lieutenancy area
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode districtKA1-KA3
Dialling code01563
UK Parliament
Scottish Parliament
List of places



The name comes from the Gaelic cill (cell), and the name of Saint Marnoch or Mernoc who is also remembered in the name of Portmarnock in Ireland, and Inchmarnock. It may come from the three Gaelic elements mo, 'my', Ernán (name of the saint) and the diminutive ag, giving Church of My Little Ernán. Some people think that the saint founded a church there in the 7th century. There are 12 Church of Scotland congregations in the town, plus other denominations. In 2005, the Reverend David W. Lacy, minister of the town's Henderson Church, was elected Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

The core of the early town appears to have lain around what is now the Laigh Kirk (Low Church), although the oldest parts of the current building are no earlier than the 17th century, extending north and northwest. A comparatively modest settlement until the industrial revolution, Kilmarnock extended considerably from around 1800 onwards. This resulted in formal, planned developments such as King Street, Portland Street, Saint Marnock Street, and latterly John Finnie Street; the latter often suggested as one of the finest Victorian planned streets in Scotland.



Areas of Kilmarnock include:

  • Altonhill
  • Annanhill
  • Barnweill
  • Beansburn
  • Bellfield
  • Bonnyton
  • Caprington
  • Fisher Grange
  • Gargieston
  • Gosforth
  • Grange Estate
  • Hillhead
  • Howard Grange
  • Loanhead
  • Longpark
  • Kenton
  • Kirkstyle
  • New Farm Loch
  • Onthank
  • Riccarton
  • Shortlees
  • Southcraig
  • Townholm
  • Wardneuk
  • Wellpark


Map of Kilmarnock town centre in 1819.
Kilmarnock Cross in 1849.

Kilmarnock's traditional industries were based around textiles and heavy engineering: e.g. locomotives (Andrew Barclay and Sons) from 1837 through 1970, and valves (Glenfield and Kennedy), which are still in production[source?]; and carpets (manufactured by BMK) from the early 1900s.

The carpets manufactured in Kilmarnock were internationally known for their quality and intricacy since the late 1800s.[source?] Many locations around the world chose to install BMK carpets. Famously, RMS Titanic was carpeted using carpets manufactured by Stoddard Carpets, the parent company and successor to BMK.[source?] Primarily due to a move by the UK market towards laminated and hard-wood flooring, but also partially due to a long decline in the industry in the area as well as cheaper, but noticeably less hard-wearing foreign competition, carpet-making finally ceased in Kilmarnock in early 2005.

Archibald Finnie and his family lived at Springhill House (now a nursing home) near the Grange Academy. They owned many coal mines, pits and other companies in Springside and other places. John Finnie Street is named after one of the family. Shoes were also a major product for some time, with Saxone having a factory in the town on the site of where the Galleon leisure centre is now.

Kilmarnock had one of the earliest tram railways in the world, running to Troon over the (recently restored) Laigh Milton viaduct. The Glasgow and South Western Railway also set up their works here, producing nearly 400 locomotives by the time it was absorbed by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway in 1923. Some work continued, but heavy repairs were sent to St. Rollox. Locomotive repairs finished in 1952, and the works closed in 1959. Nevertheless locomotives are still made by Hunslett-Barclay, as well as the maintenance of existing diesel and electric multiple units.

From 1946 tractors were also built in Kilmarnock, with a large Massey-Harris factory present on the outskirts of the town. It later became Massey-Ferguson, before closing in 1980. Glenfield and Kennedy still survives albeit with a fraction of its former workforce, which at its height numbered in the thousands. Kilmarnock however is still home to the world famous Johnnie Walker's brand Scotch whisky. On the outskirts of the town is Scotland's first privately run prison, HM Prison Kilmarnock.


Portland Street, 2006.
Dean Castle Gatehouse.
The September 11th memorial plaque at the Dean Castle.

The textile and manufacturing sectors across Scotland suffered significant decline in the postwar period, and in particular from the 1960s, in the face of greater foreign competition. Kilmarnock was no exception, with the closure or significant reduction of many of its traditional large employers: Glenfield and Kennedy, Massey Ferguson, BMK, and Saxone. Although significant attempts have been made to halt this decline and attract new employers, Kilmarnock saw a continuing net loss of jobs in the five years to 2005.

Although traditionally a main shopping area for most of the surrounding districts, patterns have changed over the last 20 years; traditional centres such as Ayr have been joined by new developments at Braehead and East Kilbride.

This difficult economic climate is most visible in the town centre, the eastern part of which has been extensively redeveloped, with important historic buildings such as King Street Church and the Town Hall being demolished, and Duke Street (the link from Kilmarnock Cross to the Palace Theatre and out to the London Road) built over.

More recently Portland Street, which formed the northerly part of the main shopping area, lay abandoned for many years due to a decline in retail trade and in the face of possible comprehensive redevelopment. The street has now been redeveloped, but has not yet regained its former degree of popularity, with a Gala Bingo and a J.D. Wetherspoons taking up much of one side of the street and the rest largely occupied by chain stores.

In 2004, the Rough Guide to Scotland described the town as "shabby and depressed, saddled with some terrible shopping centres and a grim one-way system".[source?] The town, however, contains several parks such as Howard Park, Dean Park, and Kay Park, and residential areas including London Road, Dundonald Road, McLelland Drive, and Howard Park Drive. The town also boasts a collection of gift shops, cafes, bars, and restaurants within the very desirable Bank Street area, whilst offering retail options within its retail parks at Queen's Drive and Glencairn Square.

According to the local press in November 2007, the new SNP council have drawn up a Top Ten Hit List on 'eyesore' buildings in the town, and their owners and have revealed plans to crack down hard on property owners who have left their buildings fall into disrepair. A plan of action is being carried out to get something done with each of these sites. Many of the buildings in disrepair are irreplaceable listed buildings such as the former ABC cinema (previously the King's Theatre) on Titchfield Street.[source?]

Dean Castle Palace.

A four-star hotel recently opened next to Rugby Park, the home of Kilmarnock F.C., and new restaurants, such as Merchants and the award winning Jefferson Restaurant have opened in the town centre.

Regeneration activities have been discussed for Kilmarnock town centre; in early 2006, an application to Historic Scotland's Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme was successful, and as of July 2006 an application under the Heritage Lottery Fund's Townscape Heritage Initiative Scheme was pending. Work has pretty much finished on a quality housing development on the gapsite of the former Kilmarnock Infirmary north of the town centre.[source?]

In the past there have been major efforts to improve the quality of life for residents in the town's worst housing estates, especially in parts of Shortlees, Longpark and Onthank. Though the physical rehabilitation of housing in these areas has partly tackled the underlying problems of social exclusion, Onthank is arguably that most successful area of regeneration in question.[source?]

Much new quality housing has been constructed on the northern fringes of the town, in order to service the demand for commuter housing. With a journey time of 20 minutes from Kilmarnock to Glasgow (roughly half that of the existing train service), the M77 motorway has transformed the link between Glasgow and Kilmarnock. The upgrading of the A77 route to Glasgow to the M77 motorway in 2005 has made Kilmarnock more accessible for commuters, and recent house price increases have reflected this.[5]




View from Kilmarnock railway station onto John Finnie Street.
The Kilmarnock railway viaduct.
The partial 'suspension' bridge over the Dean Ford, at the Kilmarnock Water.

In 1812, the famous Kilmarnock and Troon Railway opened, mainly to carry coal from the area to the harbour at Troon, but also carrying passengers.

In 1904, Kilmarnock had its own tramway system built. The name of the company was Kilmarnock Corporation Tramways. An electric power station was built in the south bank of the River Irvine at Riccarton. Overhead power lines and tram lines were laid. With continued upgrading and expansion, the tram network at its peak went from Ayr Road in Riccarton at its southerly point, to Knockinlaw Road in Beansburn in the North. At Kilmarnock Cross, the line had an easterly spur that stretched along London Road, through Crookedholm and finally terminating at Hurlford. There had been proposed extensions along Portland Road, up John Finnie Street, West Langlands Street and eventually towards Crosshouse, but by this time, increasing costs and the far more flexible motor bus had made inroads and the trams ceased operation in 1926 during the General Strike. The council decided not to restart the service and the infrastructure was soon dismantled. Today the town is served by Kilmarnock railway station.

Kilmarnock has excellent road links to Glasgow with the M77 motorway now extending as far as Fenwick.

Kilmarnock is on the main road between Edinburgh, Livingston, South Lanarkshire, and Ayrshire (Irvine).



Kilmarnock has 17 schools; 13 primary and four secondary. There is also a college in the town, Kilmarnock College, formerly Kilmarnock Technical College. The schools are managed by East Ayrshire Council.

Secondary schools


Primary schools

  • Saint Andrews R.C. Primary
  • Mount Carmel R.C. Primary
  • Loanhead Primary
Founded c.1903 at Elmbank Drive. Around 120 pupils, aged 4-11, are educated under the direction of the headteacher Mrs Smith who succeeded Mrs Jan Cuningham.
  • Hillhead Primary
  • Kirkstyle Primary
Fairly new, on top of a Coal Mine at Carron Avenue. Headteacher Dianne McKinnon who succeeded Elizabeth Devlin after she retired in July.
  • Bellfield Primary
  • Shortlees Primary
  • Silverwood Primary
  • New Farm Primary
  • Annanhill Primary
  • Gargieston Primary
  • Onthank Primary


The Dean Ford over the Kilmarnock Water at the Dean Country Park.

The town is host to a football club named Kilmarnock F.C., the oldest professional club in Scotland. Their home ground is the curiously named Rugby Park. The reason for the name of the ground is that when founded, the club played both football and rugby. The club has the largest supporter base of any team outside Scotland's four major cities. Rugby Park was also one of the first football grounds in Scotland to have floodlights installed. In recent years the stadium has been modernised, firstly to bring it in line with the all-seating regulations, then rebuilt totally to make a new ground. It has also hosted international football matches as well as music concerts, the most recent one was when Elton John performed here in June 2005. Derek Olgavie is also a regular appearance in the Palace Theatre.

The town also regularly plays host to professional wrestling shows, promoted by the British Championship Wrestling promotion.

There are two golf courses in the town, Annanhill Golf Course and Caprington Golf Course, which has both an 18 hole course and a nine hole course. Both these courses are council owned and run by East Ayrshire Council.

The local leisure complexes include the Galleon Centre: with a 25 metre swimming pool, baby pool, ice rink, squash courts, sauna, gym, games hall, bar area, bowling green and the New Northwest Centre (formerly the Hunter Centre) which contains an up-to-date community gym and various local medical facilities.

A leisurely stroll around the town will reveal many fine buildings. Kilmarnock boasts a large number of listed buildings. The Dick Institute, opened in April 1901, was severely damaged by fire only eight years after it opened. Some of the museums collections were lost in the fire. It reopened two years after the fire in 1911. The Dick Institute was used as an Auxiliary Hospital in 1917 during World War One.It is now shared by the Arts and Museums Service, and the Libraries, Registration and Information Service. The two Art Galleries and three Museum Galleries house permanent and temporary displays of Fine Art, Contemporary Art and Craft, Local and Industrial History and Natural Sciences. The Lending Library, Audio Library, Junior Library, Reference Library, and Learning Centre are all housed on the ground floor.



The first collection of work by Scottish poet Robert Burns, Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect was published here in 1786. It was published at the current site of the Burn's Mall, dedicated to his work. This edition is known as the Kilmarnock Edition.

Two areas of Kilmarnock, Ellerslie and Riccarton, are associated with William Wallace and his father. Claims have been made that this is the true origin of his birthplace, and recently these have been largely substantiated. The claim that Wallace was born in Elderslie near Paisley no longer seems tenable.[source?]

John Bowring, renowned polyglot and fourth governor of Hong Kong, was Member of Parliament for Kilmarnock in 1835.

In the castle of Kilmarnock, Dean Castle, there is an exhibition of armour and weapons, and the Van Raalte collection of musical instruments.

Notable people


Twin towns


Kilmarnock - as part of East Ayrshire Council - is twinned with five European cites and has received awards from the Council of Europe for its work in twinning.[15]


  1. Kilmarnock Archived 2015-10-18 at the Wayback Machine at Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba
  2. Brinkhoff (2007).
  3. "Mid-2006 Population Estimates for Localities in Scotland". Archived from the original on 2008-11-08. Retrieved 2008-10-01.
  4. Smellie (1898).
  5. "Huge rise in Scots house prices". Retrieved 2008-05-01.
  6. "Architecture Kilmarnock". Retrieved 2008-05-08.
  7. "Dean Castle". Retrieved 2008-05-08.
  8. "Kay Park". Archived from the original on 2008-07-20. Retrieved 2008-05-08.
  9. "Kilmarnock Football Club roots". Archived from the original on 2008-04-03. Retrieved 2008-05-08.
  10. "Lady's Walk - Howard Park". Archived from the original on 2006-06-20. Retrieved 2008-05-08.
  11. "Sandbed Street Bridge - The oldest surviving bridge in Kilmarnock" (PDF). Archived from the original on 2011-06-03. Retrieved 2008-05-08.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  12. "The Palace Theatre, Kilmarnock". Retrieved 2008-05-13.
  13. Literary Encyclopedia: William McIlvanney
  14. Who's Who in Glasgow in 1909: WILLIAM FINDLAY [ebook chapter] / George Eyre-Todd, 1909
  15. "Town Twinning". East Ayrshire Council. Archived from the original on 2008-08-28. Retrieved 2008-09-16. East Ayrshire is twinned with five European towns...In September 1980 Kilmarnock & Loudoun District Council (now part of East Ayrshire Council) was presented with the Council of Europe Flag of Honour; this was followed in August 1989 by the Plaque of Honour which is second only to the Europe Prize itself. Both are now kept within the council's offices in Kilmarnock.



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