When Burns came to Irvine . .

- this was, he later wrote, "an important era (in my life)" -
Easy viewing/listening option: Watch the YouTube presentation (4 mins)
Robert Burns came to Irvine as an apprentice flax-dresser and left as an apprentice poet
Lochlea farm

The year was 1781 and Robert Burns was 22 – farming with his father William and brother Gilbert at Lochlea near Tarbolton. 

a field of flax

Flax was being grown, with Government subsidy, and Robert was keen to learn how it was processed to get the fibres for linen.

Where Robert Burns lodged

Why Irvine? He knew a flax-dresser with a workshop in Glasgow Vennel, so he found lodgings nearby, and became his apprentice.

Irvine harbour

Irvine then was the second largest town in Ayrshire and had a busy harbour.
Discover the harbour history

a Missouri heckle of 1835

Flax dressing was dragging bundles of flax through the nails on a 'heckle' to separate the fibres.
Read more about flax

the heckling shop

The work inside the Heckling Shop was dusty and boring, not in the fresh air Robert was used to in his daily work on the farm.

papaver - a cure

He fell ill, and Doctor Fleeming visited him five times in eight days, as the doctor noted in his daybook.
Discover what he prescribed

Burns at window

So Robert took the medicines and sat at his window, wondering what life had in store for him - perhaps only "Poverty & Obscurity".

William Templeton's bookshop

Burns enjoyed dropping in to William Templeton's bookshop on the High Street.
Discover what he read there

the bookshop chair

Often he would sit in this chair in the back shop - a chair which you can see at Wellwood today.
See more about the chair

Robert Fergusson the poet

What really caught Burns' interest in the shop were the Scots poems of Robert Fergusson. 
Read about Fergusson

Captain Richard Brown plaque

Also in Irvine, Robert met the worldly-wise Captain Richard Brown, six years older than himself.
More about Richard Brown

Drukken Steps cairn

One Sunday, Burns and Brown walked by the Drukken Steps, memorialised by this cairn.
Read about the Drukken Steps

Eglinton Woods

And as they walked in Eglinton Woods, Richard told Robert he should publish his poems -encouraging the young poet!

the Hogmanay fire

At Hogmanay, a fire destroyed the Heckling Shop, and Robert's flax work ended - for ever.
Find out who painted the murals

the apprentice poet

Not that it mattered to Robert - he now had a new direction in life - as an apprentice poet.

Robert Burns with John Wilson

Five years later, he prepared manuscripts for printer John Wilson in Kilmarnock.
Read about the manuscripts

Irvine Burns Club

In 1826, twelve men of Irvine formed Irvine Burns Club to celebrate his works and life,
More about Irvine Burns Club

Irvine statue of Burns

and in 1896, John Speirs presented a statue of Robert Burns to the Burgh of Irvine. 
Read about the Irvine statue

Burns trail

Check out our trail of Burns-related places in Irvine - including this 2001 window.
Visit the Burns Trail page

and . . . 

Robert Burns and the Earls of Eglinton - support from the Irvine gentry

The 11th Earl of Eglinton, Archibald Montgomerie (1726-1796) was one of three guarantors (others being John Goudie and John Hamilton) for the printing of the Kilmarnock Edition of 1796 - appropriate in the light of the encouragement to publish given to Burns by Brown while walking in the Earl's grounds! Dr John Moore had been told about Burns by Mrs Dunlop of Dunlop and had encouraged the Earl to support the poet. When Burns published in Edinburgh in 1797, the Earl requested two copies and sent Burns ten guineas (equivalent to 42 copies!) as a gift - Burns told his friend Dr John Mackenzie (founder president of Irvine Burns Club) about this in a letter of January 1787, and wrote to the Earl in February 1787, saying "Your Munificence, my Lord, certainly deserved my very grateful acknowledgements, but your Patronage is a bounty peculiarly suited to my feelings."
'Sodger Hugh' Montgomerie, who became the 12th Earl, is mentioned in 'The Author's Earnest Cry and Prayer', where his readiness with a sword is contrasted with his reticence. Also, a six-line poem praises the Earl's dog, who 'never bit without a reason . . happy for man could he say so'.


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

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