History of Millport

The Short Version

Sometime around 500AD the Cumbrae Isles were part of the Kingdom of Strathclyde and they were referred to as “The Isles of the Virgins” in the Annals of Ulster in 714AD.

They became the property of the King of Norway in 1093 but Alexander the Third defeated the Norse King Haco at the Battle of Largs in 1263 and many of the dead from that final battle were buried on Cumbrae along with their weapons. Centuries of feuding over these islands ended three years later at the Treaty of Perth. In 1539 the island was divided into a number of small baronies whose names survive to the present day. Kames was a small village.Brechoch (Breakough today) and Penmachrie were baronies whereas Balloch, Portrye and Figgitoch were holdings from the Crown. Balleykellet (Ballykillet farm today) was the largest.

By the 1850’s the island’s ownership was divided between Earl of Glasgow in the east and the Marquis of Bute in the west. By the start of the twentieth century Bute estate had become the feudal landlord of almost the whole island. These feudal links persisted with the Marquess having final say over developments on most of the island till 1999. At this point the present Marquess, who prefers to be called simply Johnny Bute, put the island up for sale allowing tenants to acquire land which had been held in feudal tenure by his family for 800 years. The only exception to this sale of land was Garrison House in the centre of town and its surrounding grounds. It was held by Millport Town Council on a 99 year lease which started in 1947. After some years of neglect the Garrison House was destroyed by a fierce fire in 2001.

As a result of heroic efforts by the local community along with support from The Heritage Lottery and other funders the Garrison was returned to its former glory in a £5.5m scheme which was completed in Feb 2008. The Garrison originally housed the crew of a revenue cutter the Royal George. The first vessel ‘The King’s Boat’ in 1634 was established to deal with smuggling. Smuggling was rife and well supported by islanders. At one point church communion had to be postponed when the appropriate wine had not been smuggled ashore in time. The ‘Royal George’ Revenue Cutter was of 250 tons and had a crew of 60 men. Officers gave their names to streets in Millport, Crawford and Ritchie were Captain and Mate respectively.

Millport took its name from the grain mill at the top of Cardiff Street. Unquestionably the best and most authoritative text on Millport history is that written by J.R.D. Campbell ‘Millport and the Cumbraes, a history and guide’ published in 1975 by Cunninghame District Council, printed by Gilmour and Lawrence Ltd, Glasgow G3 8EL.

In the 20th century, Millport became a tourist destination with thousands of families taking the “Doon the Water” trip from Glasgow, Greenock and other Clyde towns. Some would stay in Millport throughout the summer with fathers taking the boat to join their families at the weekend. At this time there were hundreds of pleasure steamers linking all the Clyde costs towns. Today, the paddle steamer Waverley (last seagoing paddle steamer in the world) continues this tradition with regular visits to Millport in the summer months.

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