Ayr, a royal, municipal and police burgh and seaport, and county town of Ayrshire, Scotland, at the mouth of the river Ayr, 41&FRAC12; m. S.S.W. of Glasgow by the Glasgow & South-Western railway. Pop. (1891) 24,944; (1901) 29,101. It is situated on a fine bay and its beautiful sands attract thousands of summer visitors. Ayr proper lies on the south bank of the river, which is crossed by three bridges, besides the railway viaduct - the Victoria Bridge (erected in 1898) and the famous "Twa Brigs" of Burns. The Auld Brig is said to date from the reign of Alexander III. (d. 1286). The New Brig was built in 1788, mainly owing to the efforts of Provost Ballantyne. The prophecy which Burns put into the mouth of the venerable structure came true in 1877, when the newer bridge yielded to floods and had to be rebuilt (1879); and the older structure itself was closed for public safety in 1904. The town has extended greatly on the southern side of the stream, where, in the direction of the racecourse, there are now numerous fine villas. The county buildings, designed after the temple of Isis in Rome, accommodate the circuit and provincial courts and various local authorities. The handsome town buildings, surmounted by a fine spire 226 ft. high, contain assembly and reading rooms.
Of the schools the most notable is the Academy (rebuilt in 1880), which in 1764 superseded the grammar school of the burgh, which existed in the 13th century. The Gothic Wallace Tower in High Street stands on the site of an old building of the same name taken down in 1835, from which were transferred the clock and bells of the Dungeon steeple. A niche in front is filled by a statue of the Scottish hero by James Thorn (1802-1850), a self-taught sculptor. There are statues of Burns, the 13th earl of Eglinton, General Smith Neill and Sir William Wallace. The Carnegie free library was established in 1893. The charitable institutions include the county hospital, district asylum, a deaf and dumb home, the Kyle combination poor-house, St John's refuge and industrial schools for boys and girls. The Ayr Advertiser first appeared on 5th of August 1803, and was the earliest newspaper published in Ayrshire. In the suburbs is a racecourse where the Western Meeting is held in September of every year. The principal manufactures include leather, carpets, woollen goods, flannels, blankets, lace, boots and shoes; and fisheries and shipbuilding are also carried on. There are several foundries, engineering establishments and saw mills.
Large quantities of timber are imported from Canada and Norway; coal, iron, manufactured goods and agricultural produce are the chief exports. The harbour, with wet and slip dock, occupies both sides of the river from the New Bridge to the sea, and is protected on the south by a pier projecting some distance into the sea, and on the north by a breakwater with a commodious dry dock. There are esplanades to the south and north of the harbour. The town is governed by a provost and council, and unites with Irvine, Inveraray, Campbeltown and Oban in returning one member to parliament.
In 1873 the municipal boundary was extended northwards beyond the river so as to include Newton-upon-Ayr and Wallace Town, formerly separate. Newton is a burgh or barony of very ancient creation, the charter of which is traditionally said to have been granted by Robert Bruce in favour of forty-eight of the inhabitants who had distinguished themselves at Bannockburn. The suburb is now almost wholly occupied with manufactures, the chief of which are chemicals, boots and shoes, carpets and lace. It is on the Glasgow & South-Western railway, and has a harbour and dock from which coal and goods are the main exports. About 3 m. north of Ayr is Prestwick, a popular watering-place and the headquarters of one of the most flourishing golf clubs in Scotland. The outstanding attraction of Ayr, however, is the pleasant suburb of Alloway, 2&FRAC12; m. to the south, with which there is frequent communication by electric cars. The "auld clay biggin" in which Robert Burns was born on the 25th of January 1759, has been completely repaired and is now the property of the Ayr Burns's Monument trustees. In the kitchen is the box bed in which the poet was born, and many of the articles of furniture belonged to his family.
Adjoining the cottage is a museum of Burnsiana. The "auld haunted kirk," though roofless, is otherwise in a fair state of preservation, despite relic-hunters who have removed all the woodwork. In the churchyard is the grave of William Burness, the poet's father. Not far distant, on a conspicuous position close by the banks of the Doon, stands the Grecian monument to Burns, in the grounds of which is the grotto containing Thorn's figures of Tam o' Shanter and Souter Johnnie.
Nothing is known of the history of Ayr till the close of the 12th century, when it was made a royal residence, and soon afterwards a royal burgh, by William the Lion. During the wars of Scottish independence the possession of Ayr and its castle was an object of importance to both the contending parties, and the town was the scene of many of Wallace's exploits. In 1315 the Scottish parliament met in the church of St John to confirm the succession of Edward Bruce to the throne. Early in the 16th century it was a place of considerable influence and trade. The liberality of William the Lion had bestowed upon the corporation an extensive grant of lands; while in addition to the well-endowed church of St John, it had two monasteries, each possessed of a fair revenue. When Scotland was overrun by Cromwell, Ayr was selected as the site of one of the forts which he built to command the country. This fortification, termed the citadel, enclosed an area of ten or twelve acres, and included within its limits the church of St John, which was converted into a storehouse, the Protector partly indemnifying the inhabitants by contributing £150 towards the erection of a new place of worship, now known as the Old Church. A portion of the tower of St John's church remains, but has been completely modernized.
The site of the fort is now nearly covered with houses, the barracks being in Fort Green.