THE CHAIR BURNS SAT IN

Irvine bookseller William Templeton would invite his young, educated, and sociable friend Robert Burns to sit down for a blether, but Burns also enjoyed browsing the books on the shelves.

The chair

The chair was treasured by Templeton's daughter (Mrs McGavin, d. 1881), then by his niece, then by his great-niece (Margaret Gilroy), who took it with her to Australia in 1909. Her grandson Alex Gilroy donated it to Irvine Burns Club in 2015. It has travelled from Irvine to Maryhill, to Australia, and back!

The books

Burns wrote: "My reading increased [in Irvine], by two stray volumes of 'Pamela' and one of 'Ferdinand Count Fathom' which gave me the idea of novels. Rhyme . . I had given up, but meeting with Fergusson's Scottish Poems, I strung anew my wildly-sounding rustic lyre with emulating vigour."

The poet

Margaret Gilroy put on record (in 1930) that this was "the chair that Burns always used to sit in and, as Mrs McGavin used to tell my mother, many a good laugh and joke he had in it." According to her son, the chair was in a room at the back of the shop, and was "a favourite seat of the poet".

Burns found Irvine a "wonderfully educative place" (Catherine Carswell)

Silk Stockings

Silk stockings given by Robert Burns to William Templeton as a mark of friendship (displayed in 'Wellwood').

A document written by Margaret Gilroy in 1930 (printed below) tells the story behind the stockings. In 1949, her daughter-in-law, on behalf of the family, sent them boxed to Irvine, then visited to formally donate them.

This is to certify that these stockings belong to Robert Burns. Well, the day he went, that was Burns, to Edinburgh to pass his first poem before the Duchess of Argyll in Edinburgh, William Templeton went with him, so after they got back to Mr Templeton’s that night, as he was staying that night as he had to go back to Edinburgh to see if he had passed, as Mr Templeton lived in Irvine, so when he got back Burns said to Templeton, 'Willie, it is lucky to exchange something, so here is my stockings and give me yours' so they were exchanged and never was on a foot after as Mr Templeton prized them and he said before he died that his wife was to prize them and to take care of them. [We do not know to what journey this story relates.]

"Well, Mrs Templeton was a sister of my grandfather. Her name before she married was Nellie Clark [Helen Clark]. My grandfather’s name was James Clark of the Seagate, Irvine. Now when Mrs McGavin, that was the daughter’s name [Janet Templeton], was dying she told my mother [adopted mother, Mrs Elliot] to get them and when she brought them to her she said 'Take care of these stockings for my father’s sake' and after she was gone that I was to get them, so I leave them to my oldest son Francis Clark [Gilroy]..

written by Mrs Margaret Gilroy in 1930


  • Wellwood Burns Centre & Museum
  • 28 Eglinton Street,
  • Irvine, Ayrshire, KA12 8AS

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