Stamp Brae or Stank Brae?

Castlehill

Looking down the Castlehill twith Corsencon hill in the distance

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!

OS Map (1895) Courtesy National Libraries of Scotland

OS Map (1895) Courtesy National Library of Scotland

So what could the origins of these names be ?

Stamp Brae

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!

Stank Brae

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.

Free Church Schoolhouse and Andrew Stirling's headstone

Free Church Schoolhouse and Andrew Stirling’s headstone

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.

Castlehill

  • William Scott, Free Church Manse, Minister N.C. Free Church Minister
  • James Wilson, Baker
  • Andrew Stirling, P. School Teacher, retired
  • Peter Thomson, blacksmith

Stankbrae

  • Agnes Dempster, housewife (widow of David Dempster, tailor)
  • Hugh Turnbull, blacksmith
  • John McCartney, Railway porter
  • Agnes Timpany, housewife (widow of Thomas Timpany, miner)
OS Map (1895) Courtesy of National Library of Scotland

OS Map (1895) Courtesy of National Library of Scotland

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!

 

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6 Responses to Stamp Brae or Stank Brae?

  1. Billy Nisbet says:

    My grandparents, Hugh and Agnes Nisbet, lived in the end house furthest up the Stamp Brae for 50 years. That was from around 1900 until around 1950 when they moved to Pathhead. Their address was Castlehill and I can never recall anyone calling it the Stank Brae, although my Granny would pronounce it “The Stemp Brae”.
    My grandfather kept hens on the area above the house and throughout the war our family had always a plentiful supply of fresh eggs. However I can remember my mother preserving eggs in a transparent solution which looked like wallpaper paste These eggs were used for baking which was an every day occurrence in our house and I never relished getting the eggs for her as I had to delve into this goo to get them out!
    My grandfather was an enterprising fellow and in the 1920’s he had a lemonade factory up the Port in the Castle. That was above Hunter’s Bakehouse. He was successful in selling his lemonade all around the area and my father drove his lorry to Dalmellington and as far as Catrine on the other side. He eventually sold his recipes and equipment to the McMichael family who went on to own Curries Lemonade in Auchinleck. The McMichaels were a New Cumnock family.

  2. flowgently says:

    Hello Billy,
    Thanks for posting, the wee hill seems to have been a real hive if activity and brimming with characters. I recall the late Donald McIver talking about the Stank Brae in the context of it being associated with a fortification. He was of course in the minority as there’s little doubt that it is better known as the Stamp Brae, however, the earlier census records do appear to support Donald’s view and although the stamp of horse hooves is a nice thought, it seems unlikely. Regarding McMichaels, I am sure I’ve seen a few headstones carrying that name in the Auld Kirkyard. all the best, Bobby

    • Gina says:

      My Grandad owned the Curries lemonade factory in Auchinleck

    • Dorothy Seaton says:

      Was this the family Mcmichael who had a lemonade factory in Eastriggs? We are doing a small display at THE DEVILS PORRIDGE MUSEUM EASTRIGGS of local aerated water factories and distilleries researched by volunteers. Just found your site while googling Mcmichaels for any information.Thought the family came from New Cumnock but was unaware of any other factories they may have owned. The factory in Eastriggs was started by W & W McMichael who I think we’re cousins in the early 1930’s Great lemonade if they still used your grandfather’s recipes

  3. flowgently says:

    Hello Dorothy, Have you come this link in your search regarding McMichael brothers and Curries

    http://www.workinglives.org.uk/show_item.asp?int_category=2&int_sub_category=4&page=4&int_item_id=45

  4. Billy Nisbet says:

    I have previously had a chat with my good friend Dr Jimmy Begg regarding our grandfathers both having lemonade factories in New Cumnock around the same time in the 1920s. Both of them sold out to the McMichaels. HIs grandfather was called Currie and it is quite a coincidence that the McMichaels took the Currie name for their later business. Perhaps it was the New Cumnock Currie the name came from and not Patna as in the article. Maybe Jimmy could add something.

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