The Dalgarven Mill

FEATURE by Willard Manus

Ayrshire, Scotland – Next time you’re on the A 737 motorway, bound from Glasgow to Largs or Greenock (and the ferries to the islands),make a slight diversion near Kilwinning and visit the Dalgarven Mill Museum of Country Life and Costume. It will enable you to take a giant step back into Scottish history. The Museum is housed in an old (but freshly restored) building which once housed one of the most important and productive water mills in Scotland. Its lineage dates back to 1200 A.D. when Tironesian monks dwelled in a monastery on the banks of the River Garnock, followed soon after by the construction of a mill which produced vast amounts of flour and oatmeal.

Over the centuries, the mill passed through a succession of owners, one of whom built an adjoining garden in 1850. The garden is now open to the public and features a flower-strewn riverside walk through one of the loveliest corners of Ayrshire. Most visitors, however, will be drawn to the mill. Rebuilt after a disastrous fire in 1851, it is one of the few working water-wheels in Scotland, though it is not yet producing the meal that is the essence of porridge and oatcakes. Three floors of the mill have been turned into a nifty little museum of rural life. On display are dresses, suits, shoes, furs, hats and textiles dating to 1775, plus a remarkable collection of farm machinery, memorabilia, furniture and tools. Some rooms have been turned into realistic replicas of family life in the Victorian era, when there were hundreds of grain and flour mills in Aryshire–-and when most of the local farmers and workers were little better than indentured servants whose lives consisted of “hard work, godliness and honest poverty.”

One of the best things about the Dalgarven Mill is that it is still managed by the Fergusons, the family that bought the property in 1883. Grandson Robert (and his wife Moira and children Gavin and Caroline) also operate a small but charming café specializing in local dishes. The Fergusons could not have amassed eight hundred years of Ayrshire history without the financial help of the European Regional Development Fund, Scottish Museums Council, and various other charitable and civic organizations.

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