The main thoroughfare through the village of New Cumnock is known as Castle, named after Cumnock Castle, the ancient seat of the barons of Cumnock, which once stood here on a hill overlooking the meeting place of the Afton Water and River Nith.
The small street running off the main road and past the the site of Cumnock Castle is today known formally as Castlehill.
However, it has not always been the case, and for many locals it is was and still is known as the Stamp Brae, while a minority consider it as the Stank Brae!
So what could the origins of these names be ?
In 1650 the parish of Cumnock was sub-divided into the new parishes of Old Cumnock and New Cumnock. A new parish church was built and completed in 1659 to serve the parish of New Cumnock, adjacent to the site of Cumnock Castle (shown in the map above a Black Bog Castle!). This church was replaced in 1833 by a new parish church, several hundred yards to the south, and soon fell into ruin and has been known as the Auld Kirk ever since.
Nevertheless, the kirkyard continued to serve as the burial place and was accessed via the kirkport but this too,by 1870s, had fallen into disrepair. A new entrance on the north side of the kirkyard, was created and this was accessed via the Castlehill. [ George Sanderson, ‘New Cumnock Far and Away‘, 1992]
Tradition has it when the horses hauled the hearse up the hill they would stop and stamp their hooves and the name Stamp Brae was born, ironically from carrying the dead!
The Scots word ‘stank’ is still in common use in the parish and typically refers to a ditch or drain. For example if someone placed a bet on one of the aforementioned hearse horses to win the Grand National they would be squandering their money or “throwin’ it doun the stank!”
However, another Old Scots meaning of the work stank is moat, the defensive ditch around a fortification, like the moat shown in the map above. The Stank Brae , running past the castle moat.
So what is the name of the brae – Stamp or Stank?
Ask the teacher !
In 1843, from a great schism in the Established Church of Scotland emerged the Free Church of Scotland and soon after the Free Church in New Cumnock stood on the Castlehill and alongside the Free Church manse and the Free Church school and schoolhouse.
As part of the Auld Kirk and Village Heritage Trail project, pupils from New Cumnock Primary School researched a number of parishioners laid to rest in Auld Kirkyard, including Andrew Stirling, teacher at the Free Church at the school.
Andrew’s headstone records he was ‘a teacher in New Cumnock for 44 years’ and ‘Died at Castlehill’. The stone gives his address. More information was gleaned about Andrew by searching through the Census Records and those of 1891 reveal some interesting addresses.
- William Scott, Free Church Manse, Minister N.C. Free Church Minister
- James Wilson, Baker
- Andrew Stirling, P. School Teacher, retired
- Peter Thomson, blacksmith
- Agnes Dempster, housewife (widow of David Dempster, tailor)
- Hugh Turnbull, blacksmith
- John McCartney, Railway porter
- Agnes Timpany, housewife (widow of Thomas Timpany, miner)
In 1891 the address of the four houses at what we now know as Castlehill was the Stankbrae while the address of those on top of the hill was Castlehill. Perhaps the name Stank became unpopular, for obvious reasons, and was subtly changed to Stamp!