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".

1 comment:

  1. I just love that you give such interesting, detailed history of the places you photograph and research!! How fascinating that only ONE man was eligible to vote! I wonder why? Truly patriots of the country were Baird, and the others and how terrible that they were arrested and imprisoned!! I love history and you gave such an entertaining story of the history of this wonderful monument. I hope somebody puts a nice statue up on top someday!!