According to ancient records it
would appear that Fairlie developed as a fishing village, as it had
a good, sheltered anchorage which was fully used in the 16th century.
Weaving also began to help the prosperity of the village as the demand
for Paisley shawls increased. The cottages below Fairlie Castle (Burnfoot)
were known as Weaver's Row. A little further North was the "middle
row" (Ferry Row), where the fishermen and ferrymen lived. The
remains of the old ferry quay can still be seen. This became known
as Knox's Rocks as Knox White, an old Fairlie worthy, hired boats
in this area in the 20s and 30s. Still
further north was "north row", an indeterminate group of
modest dwellings (the Bay Street area). The families kept pigs and
hens, grew fruit and vegetables - the more affluent had a cow - other
necessities of life were obtained from peddlers, who travelled the
countryside. An occasional visit to Largs (by foot) especially to
Hyndman's market or to Colm's (Columba's) Day fair. A
turnpike road was built from Greenock to Stranraer in the 18th century
and merchants and master mariners began to move into Fairlie. The
channel between Fairlie and Cumbrae (Fairlie Roads) was a popular
anchorage for merchant shipping, mainly to avoid the dangers of press-gangs
at Greenock and the customs could be easier avoided at Fairlie.
The old cottages, in time, were improved and some
enlarged, new buildings were erected.
Some of the originals are Rockhaven (the Ferry House), Fairlie Lodge,
Beach House, Allanbank, Fairlie Cottage and part of Brookside.
It was in the late 18th century that John Fife came from Kilbirnie
to set up business as a cartwright in Fairlie, leading to the famous
Fifes of Fairlie. Another character,
Peter Peterson, arrived in Fairlie from Glasgow, where his business
was. He seemed to be lawyer, banker and estate agent, and was the
first commuter to live in Fairlie, realising that he could have the
best of both worlds. He set up a bank in the village and the good
people at that time made good use of it. Unfortunately he absconded
with all the money, leaving many debts behind. A story, published
in the local paper at the time, said that he had committed suicide
and that his body was buried at low water mark and covered with large
stones. It was believed at that time, that suicides would never be
at rest and might walk from their graves, unless weighed down.
Other 'new' residents soon arrived,
a Mr C.S.Parker, his brother-in-law, Mr Tennant and his friend Professor
Milne and around 1820 Fairlie House, Fairlie Craig and the Creich
were built. The new residents, who were fairly affluent, instigated
and raised money for the building of a church and a school, and in
1834 the work of building Fairlie Parish Church was completed. At
first it was a 'Chapel-of-Ease', an off-set of the Parish of Largs
to 'ease' its membership. (See Out of the Past -St Paul's Church of
Scotland, Fairlie, by Alexander Watson M.A.). A Church school was
also built,and in 1843, at the Disruption, the then minister, Rev
John Gemmel, signed the Deed of Demission, In 1844 the Free Church
(St Margarets) was built with the money raised by public subscription.
The two churches flourished side by side until 1968 when circumstances
arose to facilitate the union, as it was recognised that what separated
the churches was much less important than the shared common beliefs.
St Margarets became the Church Hall after the union in 1968 and has
since been sold , St Pauls reverted to its old name of Fairlie Parish
Church. ( St Margarets has since been sold and is now a dwelling house).
Around the latter part of the
19th century, Fairlie was still quite a small place, and it was only
after the coming of the railway which was opened to traffic in 1880,
that it began to grow. Bungalows at the South end of the village proliferated
in the 20s and 30s, housing many of the employees of I.C.I.'s Explosives
complex at Ardeer, Stevenston. A small council development grew up at
the North end of the village. This progress was halted during the war
years, but the advent of the Atomic Power Station at Hunterston , the
NATO Boom Defence Depot in the 60s and the Ore Terminal in the 70s encouraged
growth. Since 1960 Fairlie has just about doubled itself population
wise. The Railway Pier station was opened in 1882, and became an important
part of life in Fairlie, serving the Isle of Arran and the Cumbrae,
as well as being a stop for many cruise steamers. One of the first 'drive-on,
drive-off' ferries, the Glen Sannox, commenced in 1957 serving the Isle
of Arran. Boat trains ran to and from Glasgow and Kilmarnock and a freight
service also ran daily.