The beginnings of the town of Prestwick

Prestwick is the oldest burgh in the shire of Ayr, and is also the oldest recorded baronial burgh in Scotland. The Burgh dates back to 983 CE according to some records, it’s name comes from the Old English for, priest’s farm: preost meaning “priest” and wit meaning “farm”. A religious house was built and established within the boundaries of farmland.

Centuries of Kings, from Robert the Bruce to James VI have used the coastal paths in and around Prestwick. Legend has it that Robert the Bruce was cured of leprosy using the waters of a well beside the St. Ninians Church, after being exhausted and unable to travel with this ailment. Tired from fighting he chose to hide out, and legend has it he wearily sank to the ground sticking his sword into the sand beside him and fell asleep.

When he awoke, fresh water had sprung up from the sand from where his sword was buried, and after drinking the water for several days his strength returned and his ailments improved. He showed his gratitude by granting a build of an eight bed sanctuary for lepers, known as Lazar House.

The town grew up around the old church of St.Nicholas, the ruins of which still stand amid the tumbling and decaying gravestones on the little green hill at the foot of Kirk Street. The ruin dates back to the 12th century, when it was built and endowed by the High Steward of Scotland, Walter Fitz-Alan, but legend has it that there was an earlier place of worship, dating back to the early Christian arrivals.

The nearby village of Monkton named after monks living in the town, who were trained in the use of arms and were warriors who fought in the "Holy Land". A small stone in the old churchyard may mark the resting place of a Knights Templar, and the old burgh records also contain reference to the Templars. Several streets in Prestwick also carry their name, such as Templerigg Street and Templeton Crescent.

Prestwick Cross

As Prestwick was the main trading burgh of the Bailey of Kyle-Stewart, its mercat cross (the Scots name for a market cross, where historically the right to hold markets or fairs was granted) was the centre to which all inhabitants of the Bailey had to bring their merchandise, pay their customs and check their weights and measures. It was also here where the proclamations and public floggings were carried out.

The original formation date of the cross remains unknown, but the first mention of it in the Burgh Records occurs in 1473 CE. It still stands today at a place known as Prestwick Cross and is one of the few remaining in the South-West, and of these is one of the best preserved. The Cross was formerly sited in front of the Freeman’s Hall, which was originally used as a meeting place for the Freemen to discuss town business, but at a later date was used as a school before being converted into a jail.

The long narrow windows of the cells, now filled in, can be seen from the outside. It is said that the prisoners got their food and drink passed into them by friends through their windows. The towns Burgh council took over the building in 1906.

 

Prestwick Cross, 1910

A view from the southern side of the Prestwick mercat cross, in which the Red Lion Hotel is still clearly visible.

Prestwick's golf heritage

One of Prestwick’s famous patrons was "old Tom Morris", who was invited to establish and design a links golf course in and around the dunes of Prestwick shoreline by Prestwick’s gentry.

As a result, Morris founded “Prestwick Golf Club”, and while maintaining the golf course he also established a golf equipment business selling gutties (golf balls) and clubs. He was a strong influence, with the inaugural “Open Golf Championship” in 1860 along with James Fairlie also striking the first shot in this event and being four times champion in 1861,1862,1864 and 1867.

The two cottages neighbouring the Freeman’s Hall were let to him by the Freemen of the town, one for dwelling the other his business both these cottages were straight across the road from the Red Lion Hostelry which was the original Club House for Prestwick Golf Club.

 

The inaugural 1860 Open Championship was won by Willie Park Sr. over Old Tom Morris

There were eight players who were in the first Open Championship. The pairings were Tom Morris, Sr. (Prestwick) and Robert Andrew (Perth), Willie Park Sr. (Musselburgh) and Alexander Smith (Bruntsfield), William Steel (Bruntsfield) and Charlie Hunter (Prestwick St Nicholas), George Daniel Brown (Blackheath) and Andrew Strath (St Andrews).

Transport in Prestwick

Having been a Burgh for over a thousand years, it remained a village until the railway arrived in the 1840s, when the landed gentry from around Glasgow descended on Prestwick to build large houses along the shoreline and surrounding areas.

Prestwick International Airport as it is known today was originally planned by Prestwick Burgh Council to become a golf course in the early 1930s. The first men to fly over Everest in 1933, the Duke of Hamilton and Group Captain D.F. McIntyre, saw the potential of the future Prestwick airfield and formed Scottish Aviation Ltd there in 1935.

By the start of the war in 1939, Scottish Aviation Ltd had trained approximately 1,300 pilots and nearly 2,000 navigators. The first transatlantic flight arrived in Prestwick from Gander, Newfoundland on the 29th November 1940. From 1941,  Prestwick became Britain’s first transatlantic airport, equipped with a new concrete runway.

After the war, Prestwick airfield became a civil airport for international traffic, its past history and fog-free weather a distinct advantage. Prestwick International Airport would later have a new terminal building opened by the Queen Mother in 1964.

 



An early view of the Scottish Aviation facility in Prestwick, before it was used for civil aviation.

The original Prestwick Airport terminal building and control tower.

To this day, Prestwick is commuter town of nearly 15000, with a strong business and community sector. The town recently received the accolade of top Scottish town, and second within the UK in the Government's Great British High Street Awards.

 

  • "Salt Pan" houses

    The remnants of the old salt industry can be seen at the south end of the town at the “Salt Pan” houses, which can be found within the St. Nicholas Golf Club on the shorefront.

  • Prestwick, Main street

    An image of Prestwick Main street from the early 1900s.

  • Prestwick Airport reception

    The reception lounge of Prestwick Airport in the mid-20th Century.

  • Prestwick, Main street

    Prestwick Main street in the early 1900s - complete with tram.