Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Statue of Sir James Shaw

Found just off the London Road, opposite the Dick Institute and next to the War Memorial.

The statue was originally sited at The Cross in the centre of the town in 1828 but moved to this location in 1929 owing to the increased usage of motorised vehicles in and around The Cross.

Sir James Shaw, (1764-1843; known in this area, at least, as Jimmy), was born in 1764 in Mosshead Farm at Riccarton in the south of Kilmarnock. He attended Kilmarnock Grammar School before going to America when he was 17. He returned a few years later and then worked in London with his brother. He then became very interested in politics and was eventually elected as MP for the City of London. He was also the first Scotsman to be elected Lord Mayor of London, in 1805. He was given the baronetcy in 1809.

A relation of Robert Burns, Sir James became very popular in Scotland by by raising money for the poet's widow and children.

As the statue, Shaw is sculpted in Carrara marble, depicted in his mayoral robes of office and holding a scroll that represents the 'warrant of precedence' which he obtained in 1806. This was the right of the Lord Mayor of London to take precedence over everyone (except the monarch) in all public processions in the city.

The statue was described in a history of Kilmarnock (by Archibald McKay) as

"... a noble work of art, worthy of the creative genius of the sculptor, Mr. Fillans, and no less worthy of the venerable baronet whom it commemorates, and of whom, we believe, it is a faithful likeness. In symmetry of form it is truly admirable. The mild, benevolent features of Sir James are finely developed ; and, as a whole, it is replete with that seeming animation and intellectual expression which mark the superior powers of the sculptor, and give to the object itself a high and permanent interest."

The sculptor was James Fillians (1808–52) who worked as a handloom weaver in Paisley before training as a stone mason. He was greatly admired for his statue of Sir James Shaw and a banquet was held in his honour.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Reformers' Monument

I walk past this monument several times a week on my way to and from town and became very curious about it, so I did some research!

It’s found at the north end of Kay Park and was the work of Charles Benham Grassby (1834 -1910). Although he originated in Hull, he moved to Scotland around 1864 and worked on important commissions throughout Glasgow and beyond.

Built in 1885, this is a tall Corinthian stone column on a square plinth which actually used to have a graceful 'Statue of Liberty' on the top! Very unfortunately, she blew down and was smashed during a terrible storm in 1936 but was never replaced. (I think this is a great pity and would be a perfect opportunity for a local benefactor to grace it with something new, appropriate to the town)

There were also steps at one time on either side but they were eventually removed.

The monument commemorates a public gathering held in Dean Park on the 7th December, 1816, which was protesting against the voting system in the town.

About 6,000 people (from a population of 13,000) attended to campaign for Parliamentary reform and representation for working class people. Astonishingly, just one man in Kilmarnock was eligible to vote! The whole of the county of Ayrshire had only 156 votes.

Local people, Alexander McLaren, Thomas Baird, John Kennedy, Archibald Craig and John Burt all gave speeches which were afterwards published and sold to raise funds. McLaren and Baird were duly arrested for "wickedly and feloniously printing, selling, publishing and circulating the said tract or statement."

They were imprisoned in Edinburgh for six months and sadly both died shortly after their release. Craig and Kennedy were imprisoned but subsequently released without charge and they emigrated to America. John Burt also left the country but I couldn't find out where he relocated.

In 1885, Lord Rosebery unveiled the monument. The Melbourne Age wrote, "It is only right that posterity should treasure the names of Alexander McLaren and Thomas Baird. These men do not belong to Scotland alone. Wherever the British race is planted in the enjoyment of constitutional liberties, their memory ought to be cherished."

A plaque on one side of the monument reads, "To the memory of Captain Thomas Baird and Alexander McLaren, as also John Burt, John Kennedy, Archibald Craig and other Kilmarnock pioneers of Parliamentary reform who, in the early part of the 19th Century, devoted themselves with unselfish zeal to the cause of the people. Erected by public subscription 1885".