Suggested Meaning:at the back of the moss
First element:Scots moss ‘marsh, bog, tract of soft wet land’
Second element:Scots back
Blaeu Coila (1654):Moshouse?
OS Names Book (1855-57):Mossback
Location:Ordnance Survey (1892-1960)
Earlier Forms
Moshouse (1654)


1. Moshouse, situated between 2. Powhois (High Polquheys) and 3.Nether PowhouB (Low Polquheys) may or may not be the forerunner of Mossback, however it does indicate the presence of a moss, a stretch of marshy ground, in the vicinity.

Map 1: Moshouse | Reproduced with permission of the National Library of Scotland


The Ordnance Survey Name Book (1855-57) entry for Mossback reads –

The remains of an old house on Polquheys farm and close to Polquheys Burn.

N.B. It is interesting to note that that reference to Polquheys Burn which was formerly the name of the burn (and before that just Polquheys since pol- ‘burn’) . At some point the burn was renamed Muirfoot Burn after Muirfoot farm close to where the burn meets the River Nith [2] Indeed Polquheys Burn does not have a dedicated entry in the Name Book while there is an entry for Muirfoot Burn.

The Ordnance Survey map shows Mossback ruins to the east of High Polquheys on the north bank of Muirfoot Burn, while south of the burn a stretch of moss is marked.

Map 2: Mosback and High Polquheys | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Scots moss ‘marsh, bog, tract of soft wet land’

One of the definitions for moss given in the Dictionary of the Scots Language [1] reads ‘a marsh, bog, a tract of soft wet ground‘ and also notes it is ‘frequently found in collocation moss and muir’. In its journey from its source to its confluence with the River Nith the Muirfoot (Polquheys) Burn flows past moss (Mossback) and muir (Muirfoot).

There are almost 20 named mosses in New Cumnock and probably just as many unnamed including the one at Mossback, reflecting the upland nature of the parish.

Scots back ‘at the back of’

Mossback coming from the southerly direction sits at the far end or the back of the stretch of the marsh land’

Mossback would originally have housed agricultural labourers, along with their families, that worked on the Polquheys farms. However, in the 1841 Census there were two branches of the Houston family, 11 people in all, living at Mossback headed by brothers George and Alexander who worked as coal miners at Mansfield Colliery, a mile or so to the east of Mossback. By the 1851 Census George and his expanding family had moved to Mansfield Cottage but tragically he and a colleague were killed as they were being hauled up a shaft when a fall of stone sent them crashing to the bottom.

Map 3: Mossback (Ruin) | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Today some of the remains of Mosshouse can be found at the back of the moss.

Photos (Robert Guthrie)


[1] Dictionary of the Scots Language | moss
[2] New Cumnock Place-Name | Muirfoot (in progress)
Reproduced with the Permission of the National Library of Scotland
Map 1 | Blaeu Coilia Provincia (1654) | Moshouse
Map 2 |OS Map (1892-1960) |Mossback
Map 3 |OS Map (1855-1882) |Mossback
Ordnance Survey Name Books
By Permission of Scotland’s Places
Ayrshire OS Name Books (1855-57) Vol. 49 |Mossback (ruins)