Provosts of Ayr
History of Provosts in Scotland
Historically the Provost was the chief magistrate (or convener) of a Scottish burgh
council. The post of Provost generally is the equivalent of a mayor in other parts
of the UK. Various titles were used over the centuries for Provost and it was not
until 1900 that legislation standardised the governing body of a town council as
the ‘Provost, Magistrate and Councillors’. In 1975 the title ‘Lord Provost’ was
reserved only for the cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee. The word
Provost comes from the French ‘Prevot’ which was applied in pre-revolutionary
times to the head of a branch of public service. It, in turn, comes from the Latin
‘Praepositus’ in the Roman Empire.
The origins of the office of Provost are now obscure and it is not possible to state
with any accuracy when the office first came into being in the form as we know it
today. In medieval times the responsible first citizen was known variously as Prepositus,
Alderman or Provost. The earliest known record of Prepositi for the Burgh of Ayr
was Symon Colynson and Ade Petyt in 1327. Thereafter the person in office was known
as Alderman until 1415 when the first person actually described as Provost was Nicholas
Armonial Insignia and Regalia
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, only a few of Scotland’s ancient burghs,
including Edinburgh and Aberdeen had Provost’s chains of office. The number steadily
increased during the century, especially during the prosperous reign of Queen Victoria.
The reign also saw local government reforms which resulted in many new burghs coming
into existence, as more and more growing towns won the right to govern themselves.
South Ayrshire consists of 5 former Burghs Ayr, Troon, Girvan, Maybole and Prestwick
each of which all had their own Provost.
Both Kyle and Carrick District Council and its successor in 1996, South Ayrshire
Council, having retained the title of Provost for their civic heads, continued the
tradition by providing them with chains of office.
Chains of office can be traced back over 1,000 years as they were originally used
to keep the office holder’s seal (usually with its armorial bearings) securely on
a chain. Over time chains became more elaborate and costly with their popularity
increasing from the 14th century onwards. They were used as a symbol of office originally
by livery companies, statesmen and sheriffs then later by provosts and baillies.
Their current style and usage evolved in the early 19th century.
South Ayrshire Council’s Provost’s chain was purchased in 1996 on the formation
of the new Council and depicts the Council’s armorial bearings which were matriculated
that year. Each chain link is engraved with the name of the Provost and the term
of office each has served.
It comprises the shield of the former Kyle and Carrick District Council (1975-1996)
which shows the chequered band of Kyle and the red chevron of Carrick now with a
coronet to represent a unitary authority.
The monarch’s eldest son usually holds the title of Earl of Carrick and it is currently
held by Prince Charles in direct line from King Robert the Bruce whose mother was
Mary, Countess of Carrick.
The left hand support is a blue dolphin that appears on the Burgh of Maybole Coat
of Arms which was, in turn, derived from the Coat of Arms of the Marquis of Ailsa,
whose family built Culzean Castle.
The right hand support is a blue lion which alludes to King Robert I, Earl of Carrick
before he became King. The original Arms of the Bruce family showed a blue lion
on a silver background before they assumed the Arms of the Lords of Annandale.
The Motto “Ne’er forget the People” was chosen from responses to a public competition
and is from the poem “Does Haughty Gaul Invasion Threat” by Robert Burns.
Dress has always been used to denote status, and during the Middle Ages the quality
of a person’s robes was an indication of their rank. Red was the royal colour, and
civic heads often wore red velvet robes, trimmed with fur, to show that within their
community they were the monarch’s representative. After they passed out of use as
everyday dress, robes continued to be worn by members of the clergy and the legal
and academic professions, and by many dignitaries, including civic leaders, on ceremonial
occasions. In Scotland, the wearing of robes by the Lord Provost of Edinburgh was
given Royal approval during the early seventeenth century. However, it was not until
the late nineteenth century that the wearing of robes, usually accompanied by a
cocked hat, became common among Scottish Provosts, and many town councils did not
acquire them until the twentieth century.
Chain donated May 1897 by the 6th Duke of Portland.
Robes donated 1942 by Sir Alexander Walker grandson of John (Johnnie) Walker, Kilmarnock
Chain donated June 1897 by Mr James McLennan, wealthy Glasgow wine and spirit merchant
born in Coylton and who resided some time in Ayr. Robes: On 21st May 1923 it was
recommended at a meeting of Ayr Town Council’s Provost’s Committee that official
robes for the Provost be provided. This was approved by a majority vote at the next
full council meeting on 11th June.
Chain and Robes probably acquired during the term of office of Alexander Telfer
Chain donated 1934 by Mr John Edgar, property agent and former postman who was a
prominent member of the Town Council 1919-1924. Robes purchased by Town Council
Chain and robes purchased 1948 with cash donations from various individuals particularly
Mr A W Berkley (chain) and Mr J F Crichton (robes).
Provost’s Lamp posts
The first lampposts in Ayr were erected in 1747 using oil lamps, with gas being
introduced in 1826. As a compliment to the then Provost, lampposts with the Royal
Burgh Coat-of-Arms showing on the glass plates were placed outside the residence
of the Provost of Ayr in 1854. This tradition continues with South Ayrshire Council
still erecting special lamp posts outside the home of the Provost.
Kirkin ‘O The Council/The Auld Kirk Bible
After each new Council is elected a Service is held in Ayr Auld Kirk called the
‘Kirkin ‘O The Council’ whereby an Act of Commitment is taken by the Council and
the congregation and the newly elected Provost adds their signature in a bible which
contains the names of those elected to the post under South Ayrshire, Kyle and Carrick,
Ayr County Council and the Burgh of Ayr.
The Bible was acquired by the Church possibly during the Provostship of Hugh Miller
(1841-1855) and the tradition, which is what it has become, reflects the long association
and partnership that exists between the Church and the Council; together they have
achieved much for the people of Ayrshire, including the establishment of the very
first hospital over 400 years ago.
No one knows why the names are recorded in a Bible, possibly the people who started
the practice all those years ago were following the old Scots tradition of recording
births, deaths and marriages in the Family Bible. Whatever the reason was in the
beginning for the signing of the Bible, today it acts as a reminder of the spiritual
values that link the various communities and people of South Ayrshire together;
a common desire for peace, justice and opportunity for all.
Provosts who have signed The Auld Kirk Bible
1841 – 1855 Hugh Miller
1855 – 1861 Primrose William Kennedy
1861 – 1864 Andrew Paterson
1864 – 1873 John MacNeillie
1873 – 1876 Robert Goudie
1876 – 1882 Thomas Steele
1882 – 1888 William Kilpatrick
1888 – 1891 James Murray Ferguson
1891 – 1894 Robert Shankland
1894 – 1897 Hugh Douglas Willock
1897 – 1903 Thomas Templeton
1903 – 1909 William Allan
1909 – 1912 James Shaw Hunter
1912 – 1918 John Mitchell
1918 – 1922 John M Mathie-Morton
1922 – 1924 Donald McDonald
1924 – 1927 James Robertson Gould
1927 – 1930 John S Stewart
1930 – 1933 Thomas Wilson
1933 – 1936 Thomas Galloway
1936 – 1940 James Wills
1940 – 1943 Robert Bowman
1943 – 1949 Thomas Murray
1949 – 1952 James Smith
1952 – 1955 Adam Hart
1955 – 1958 William Anderson
1958 – 1961 William Sidney Lanham
1961 – 1964 William Cowan
1964 – 1967 Charles O’Halloran
1967 – 1970 Alexander S Handyside
1970 – 1973 Donald McLean
1973 – 1975 Campbell Howie
1975 – 1980 Alexander Paton
1980 – 1984 James Boyle
1984 – 1988 Gibson T Macdonald
1988 – 1992 Daniel MacNeill
1992 – 1996 Gibson T Macdonald
1996 – 1998 Robert Campbell
1998 – 2003 Elizabeth A Foulkes
2003 – 2006 Gordon S McKenzie
2006 - 2012 Winifred D Sloan
2012 - Present Helen Moonie