William Simson was born in the neighbouring parish of Ochiltree in 1758, the eldest son of the farmer at Tenpoundland. He moved with his family to New Cumnock when he was 14 years old, where he received instructions in the classics from a Mr Ferguson ‘ an enthusiastic teacher who had sometimes as many as twenty-four scholars learning Latin in a village which not so long before had not even a school’ [ William Boyd].
Being lame of foot and a life on the land was not for Simson. Initially, he aspired to join the ministry, but at an early age turned his attention to ‘teaching the young idea how to shoot’, [John MacIntosh] influenced perhaps by his New Cumnock school-master. He studied at Glasgow University where he passed the full Arts course with credit and from there in 1780 he returned to his native Ochiltree to take on the role of school-master.
Simson also became known as a minor poet ‘writing pieces of passable merit, but was possessed of a natural shyness and a diffidence which could not permit him to sanction the publication of any of his musings’. It was through his poetry, by means of epistolary correspondence, that he would come to the the notice of Robert Burns .
‘The two poets, together with James Tennant of Glenconner, were wont to have frequent meetings in the inn at Ochiltree, when wit sparkled more brightly than the village ale, and the sature was sometimes equally bitter‘ [ John MacIntosh].
In 1788, William Simson was promoted to the grammar school,at Cumnock in the parish of Old Cumnock, where he remained until his death in 1815. He is buried in the cemetery on the Barrhill and his tombstone carries the following epitaph by the local poet and one time resident of Wellhill, New Cumnock, Mr. A.B. Todd.
In Burns woke equal love,
And death which wrenched the ties on earth
Has knit them now above
© Copyright Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
‘The Poets Of Ayrshire’ John MacIntosh, 1910
‘Education in Ayshire through Seven Centuries’, William Boyd