HISTORY OF THE JEAN ARMOUR HOUSES.
But och I backward cast my e'e
on prospects drear
An' forward, tho' I canna see
I guess an' fear.
The Jean Armour Burns Houses first came into existence in Mauchline in 1915 using the Burns House where Jean Armour and Burns first started married life together. It later became evident that the rooms in this original house were no longer suitable as dwelling places for the lady residents. The Glasgow and District Burns Association purchased part of the land of Mossgiel Farm ( part of the very field in which Burns turned up the Mouse ) and then built the current houses which were officially opened by Mrs. Myer Galpern, the Lady Provost of Glasgow, on 20th June 1959, the bicentenary year. This was an immense achievement and one of which the Association was rightly proud but owning the houses always placed a great responsibility on the Glasgow Association, not just to maintain the fabric of the buildings but also to improve the living conditions of the residents. Gentlemen now occupy the Houses as well. The upkeep of the Houses was derived from donations, from the support of Burns Clubs, and from collections at Burns Suppers. The Association can be justly proud of its past achievements. These Houses are a visible proof to the outside world that Burnsians are a caring breed. These red brick houses on Historic Mossgiel give shelter, comfort, and companionship to the occupants in a Lasting, Living, Memorial to Robert Burns. Proof that he touched the hearts of mankind.
The proprietrix of Burns House in Castle Street, Mauchline, was a Miss Miller, the local postmistress, who let it to various tenants. For many years the house and its several relics were shown with pride by the tenants to any interested visitors on an informal basis. Latterly, however, the house had been in a delapidated condition and had, in fact, been standing empty for some time. In 1911 a local society expressed some interesting in purchasing it but the deal had fallen through. At the beginning of 1915 the proprietrix placed the property on the market, and this came to the attention of the Glasgow Association of Burns Clubs and Kindred Societies which called a meeting of club delegates. Charles Rennie Cowie, President of Partick Burns Club, attended this meeting and subseqently, with other members of the Association, paid a visit to Mauchline to inspect the house. Later they were taken up the hill by Thomas Killin and shown round the National Burns Memorial and Cottage Homes. The asking price does not seem to have been recorded, but the upshot was that Mr. Cowie very generously put up the money not only to buy the house but also to carry out the immediate repairs. This enabled the Association to expedite their plans, and on 28th August 1915 the Burns House at Mauchline was formally inaugurated amid a large gathering of Burnsians. The bedroom of Robert and Jean was restored to that state of pristine simplicity in which they had begun their wedded life, while the adjoining apartment was fitted out as a museum of Burns relics; the two Burns rooms were thereafter open daily to visitors at an admission price of twopence. Following the example of the Glasgow Mauchline Society, the Glasgow Association of Burns Clubs converted the four remaining rooms to accommodate deserving elderly people. An endowment fund, for the maintenance of the house and the care of its aged tenants, was initiated by a cheque for £25 from Lord Rosebery and donations by the Rosebery and Sandyford clubs. The restoration work was carried out under the direction of Ninian MacWhannell, FRIBA. The original plan of the Glasgow Burns Association was limited to the acquisition and utilisation of the Burns House, but its members soon found that an extension was desirable, if not inevitable. The former Back Causeway (now Castle Street) held other houses that merited the special attention of Burnsians. One of these, adjoining the poet's house, was long known as the Doctor's Shop, and local tradition had it that Dr. John Mackenzie, medical adviser, patron and friend of Burns, either resided or had his surgery there. Like the Burns House, this building had suffered from neglect and was severely damaged by fire about the time that the Association acquired Burns House. The Association began negotiations with the proprietor and, again through the munificence of Mr. Cowie, closed the deal at Whitsunday l9l6. Wartime conditions, however, delayed any further action until 1919 when Ninian MacWhannell again undertook to supervise the work of restoration. The Mackenzie house was converted into units for four elderly people and this enabled the museum portion of the Burns House to be expanded. The formal opening of the Mackenzie extension of Burns House took place on l2th April l919. Simultaneously a memorial to Gavin Hamilton, the Mauchline writer, notary and friend of Burns, was unveiled by Charles Cowie and handed over to the Glasgow and District Burns Association which agreed to accept custody.
The third phase of the Association's scheme for combining historic preservation with a work of practical charity was completed on 24th May l924 when the house across the street, known as Auld Nanse Tinnock's, was inaugurated. Like the others, it was the gift of Charles Cowie. Agnes Tannock, Tunnock or Tinnock (the spellings varied according to the phonetic rendering of assorted scribes) was the widow of John Weir of Mauchline and herself died in 1808. She was immortalised by Burns who described her as 'a worthy old Hostess' and referred to her in several of his poems and letters. It is in connection with The Holy Fair that she is best remembered, Nanse Tinnock's being one of the change-houses referred to in the latter part of that poem. At the inauguration the President of the Association, Thomas Killin, called on James C.Ewing to present Mrs. Cowie with a ceremonial key to the house, a gift from the architect and the contractors, and enclosed in a box made of wood from the rafters of the house. Regrettably, Charles Cowie himself never lived to see his dream fulfilled, but his unbounded generosity was commemorated by a tablet bearing his portrait in bronze. Jeffrey Hunter paid tribute to Mr. Cowie, a successful businessman who had a lifelong interest in Burns. Incidentally, he amassed a large collection of Burns books and manuscripts which was acquired from his daughter-in-law by the Mitchel Library, Glasgow in the 1960s. Over the ensuing years the Glasgow and District Burns Association continued to maintain the three properties, providing accommodation free of rent and rates. As its contribution to the bicentenary celebrations in 1959 the Association raised funds for the construction of several houses on land at Mossgiel Farm. Over £15,000 was raised and this enabled the building of ten splendid houses to be completed in time for the opening ceremony, on 20th June 1959, performed by Mrs. Myer Galpern. It was a proud moment for Neil Campbell, the President of the Burns Federation and for many years the Treasurer of the Glasgow and District Burns Association. It was noted that some regret had been expressed from time to time that Jean Armour lacked any form of memorial, in contrast with other heroines of the Burns canon; but in the Jean Armour Burns Houses she had the most fitting memorial of all. The ten houses and Common Room were provided for the accommodation of elderly ladies and over the ensuing years were maintained by the Association, which never lost sight of its intention to double their number. In addition, however, rapidly rising standards of living meant that the houses were no longer as modern as they might be, and consequently the Association formed a two-pronged scheme, to expand the project and, at the same time, to modernise the existing properties. This was a task over which Neil Campbell and Andrew Stenhouse laboured for many years. Fortunately a large injection of funds was provided in 1977 by a legacy, amounting to almost £35,000 from the estate of the late Robert Paterson but building costs escalated at such a pace that the original plans had to be modified. In the end some £56,000 was expended on modernising the existing homes and building a new house for a couple to act as caretakers of the property.
Each of the Houses were given names of prominent people or clubs which made the Houses possible although this list does not demean the efforts of the many others who gave of their time and prosperity to make the dream come true.
1 The Glasgow Haggis Centenary
2 James T Picken
3 Andrew Stenhouse
4 W G McAulay
5 Robert Robb
W. Page Burgess Common Room
6 J Kevin McDowal
7 A Neil Campbell
8 William Black
9 Samuel Black
10 The Royalty Burns Club
11 R Dickson Johnston
Sadly, Neil Campbell died only months before the new scheme was completed and the houses formally reopened on 20th September 1980. Neil Campbell acted as Treasurer to the Association for 45 years. This great philanthropic work - the Jean Armour Burns Houses - has owed a very great deal to the generosity and selflessness of individuals like Charles Cowie and Robert Paterson, to the hard work and dedication of men like Thomas Killin and Neil Campbell, and to the continuing interest and support over many years from the Association and individual clubs in Glasgow.
Here is a brief history of the three original properties in Mauchline.
Mauchline is a very important centre in the Burns Trail as this was the setting for his most formative years. The Glasgow and District Burns Association owned and maintained three properties within the village. These houses were purchased, repaired, and gifted by Charles Rennie Cowie in 1915 and are a valuable asset in keeping Burns' memory alive. Two of these three properties were the original occupancies of the elderly ladies who not only sat rent free but were in receipt of annual grants of money from the Association, prior to the opening of the new Jean Armour Burns Houses. At that time (1994) the properties were found to be in urgent need of major restorations and plans were made to save the buildings not only from further deterioration but also to bring them up to the highest possible standards. Nine years on and £500,000 spent, the keys of the buildings were handed over to East Ayrshire Council on 4th March 2003 for future safekeeping and professional museum input. These buildings now constitute a major part of the Burns Heritage Trail. Burns House is an important stop on the trail because it was here, in February 1788, Robert Burns and Jean Armour lived after their marriage. Major structural and renovation work has been completed on these houses which are now an interesting museum with many artefacts and original scripts of Burns works. The museum also contains examples of Mauchline Box Ware and of course curling stones which are made exclusively in the village.
Dr MACKENZIES HOUSE : Dr John MacKenzie became a warm friend and brother mason to Burns and is mentioned in several lines, the most notable of which is The Holy Fair in which he is personified as 'Commonsense'. When Burns left for Edinburgh MacKenzie had already sent letters of recommendation to eminent people there. Burns wrote frequently while he was in Edinburgh and on the poet's return, he rented a room in MacKenzie's house for Jean Armour and himself, where the second twins were born.
NANSE TINNOCKS TAVERN said to date from 1712 and was an ale house in Burns' time. It is mentioned in the poem The Author's Earnest Cry and Prayer. It is also identified as the change-house of The Holy Fair.
A number of items were donated to the museum
Charles Rennie Cowie a photograph of a pencil drawing of the Burns house at Dumfries, by John Wilson, 1803. A pencil drawing of the Cowgate, Mauchline, by John Wilson, 1803, and others. Mr J. C. Ewing of Glasgow, Editor of the Burns Chronicle donated a silver watch which belonged to the poet, and a pair of razors used by the Bard. Mr R Edmiston, Glasgow, donated a plaster model of Robert Burns by W.G. Stevenson, R.S.A. Photogravure –Auld Brig of Ayr, 1907, three volumes of the Edinburgh Edition1, a second edition 1787, a third edition, London 1787, and three enlarged copies of the Edinburgh edition 1797, in two volumes. Mr T. Yule, Edinburgh, W.S. painting in oils of DR. McKenzie M.D. by James Douglas, 1885, from the original by James Tannock. Miss Isabella Mc Lennan, Hillhead of Coylton. A pair of silver buckles for knee breeches, worn by Wm. Brown, Miller at Traboch Mill, who sat for James Thom, Sculptor, for his figure of Tam o’ Shanter. Mr William Crosbie, Reading, Address to the diel, by Robert Burns, Illustrated by Thomas Landseer, 1830, Cabinet of the Scottish Muses, Edinburgh, 1608. Of paramount importance is the Armour family Bible, which contains the record of the marriage of James Armour and Mary Smith, and the register of their sons and daughters.
The birth of their second child is thus recorded---
We had a daughter born Feby. 26th 1765, called Jean. Jean became the wife of Robert Burns.