Adam Brown Todd, journalist, author and poet, was born at a farm near Mauchline in 1822. The Mauchline Old Parish Register records the event as follows: –
Todd, Matthew, farmer, Craighall and Mary Gibb, spouses, their son born 6th and baptised 18th February (1822) named Adam Brown
Adam Brown Todd – in The poetical works of A. B. Todd with autobiography and portrait – gives the location of Craighall as roughly 2 miles from Mauchline. The place was known locally as Backhill and was a small farm in 1822 – but by 1906 formed part of the larger farm of Boghead. Adam’s father, Matthew, came to Craighall at Whitsunday 1795 and there all his 8 sons and 7 daughters were born. Adam lists himself as the 7th son and 14th child and says that they were of healthy stock as the youngest child was 21 before there was a death in the family. However, before Adam’s birth, the mother of the first 10 children had died and Matthew Todd had married Mary Gibb 2 years after his first wife’s death.
Mary Gibb was the daughter of James Gibb of Auchmillan, Mauchline – one of whose ancestors – according to the Chartulary of Melrose – received the lands from the monks on 20th February 1555. One of a large family, Mary Gibb was born August 1779. Adam describes her as instilling in him a love of nature, poetry and religion. He describes his father as a native of Fenwick who was pious, honest and industrious with an interest in the covenanting struggle of the 17th century – knowing every page of some of the books written on the subject. His father was a friend of Robert Burns and John Howie of Lochgoin – author of The Scots Worthies.
After 31 years at Craighall, Matthew Todd and his family moved at Whitsunday 1826 to the farm of Barrshouse on the Gilmilnscroft Estate near the village of Sorn. Then at Whitsunday 1831 they removed to a cottage at East Montgarswood in Sorn Parish where Matthew was to be a farm manager for Henry RICHMOND. From Montgarswood, Matthew Todd – then over 60 – walked nearly every Sunday to Kilmarnock (at least 11 miles away) to hear Adam Brown of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. At Whitsunday 1834 the family moved to Castlehill in the upper part of Kilmarnock Parish, a little more than 2 miles from Galston. Castlehill was sub-let from John Campbell of Sornbeg. The next move was to Low Molemount near Galston where Adam Brown Todd started working at tileworks during the summer months. Matthew Todd died in December 1850 at the age of 82 in Adam Brown Todd’s house at Wellhill Tileworks in New Cumnock. Mary Gibb died in 1861 also aged 82. In 1906, Adam described her death as “the sorest blow I ever had or have ever got”
Adam Brown Todd was educated firstly at the parish school at Sorn. The schoolmaster at the time being “good old Adam SMITH, a little man of stern aspect, very lame, one leg being drawn up and much bent at the knee”. From East Montgarswood, Adam attended an “adventure school” at Bridgend kept by James Begg, who had previously been a stonemason – during the summer Adam herded cows for Mr Richmond. From Castlehill, Adam went to Paikshole School and was taught by John Brown, a self-educated teacher. After the family moved to Low Molemount, Adam attended Barr School in Galston – where the master was H. W. Kilgour – and he made rapid progress “in learning and in love for polite literature”.
Adam Brown Todd spent most of his young manhood working on farms around Fenwick and at tileworks at Galston and Newmilns, while still attending school in the winter months. After a summer in Galloway, Adam moved to the New Cumnock area in 1844 as assistant manager of a tileworks, in which trade he continued for several years. It was about this time that he had his first verses published in the Ayr Advertiser, and he also began contributing to the Kilmarnock Journal (published by Matthew Wilson). In 1846 he published a collection of poems The Hermit of Westmoreland, the Covenanter’s Revenge, and other poems. In old age he said of it “I am now so very much ashamed of it that could I gather in every copy of it still in existence I would commit them all to the flames”.
He continued to write for several Ayrshire newspapers including the Ayr Observer, the Ayr Advertiser and the Ayrshire Post (in which he published two novels in serial form). In June 1863 – aged 41 – he married Ann McCulloch . Also in 1863, he moved to Old Cumnock and was appointed editor of the Cumnock Express. He remained in Cumnock till his death and this is where his literary career really began. In taking over the Cumnock Express which was a weekly paper Adam “saw that it was necessary to report local matters very fully and at much greater length than imperial affairs or foreign news, for these were being seen and read daily in the city newspapers”
After he undertook “pilgrimages to covenanting shrines” he wrote Homes, Haunts and Battlefields of the Covenanters in 1886, with a second volume two years later. These works testified to Adam’s lifelong interest in the religious struggles of the 17th century,. Adam also contributed to The Thistle, an Ayrshire magazine published by Mr Jones, Kilmarnock, and wrote sketches of Archibald McKay and J. K. Muir, both of Kilmarnock. He contributed 25 biographical sketches for Modern Scottish poets. He also played a leading part in the erection of the memorial to Alexander Peden in Cumnock. Adam’s last book, the Poetical Works of A. B. Todd, which also contained his autobiography, appeared in 1906. In this work he says “two of the most remarkable events of my life have been my having occupied the chair at the celebrations of the centenary of the birth of Robert Burns by Cumnock Burns Club, and my occupying the chair again in the centenary year of his death – thirty-seven years after, and that too at the same place – the hall of the Dumfries Arms Hotel, Cumnock”.
In 1903 Adam celebrated his diamond jubilee as a journalist – and was still contributing to Cumnock Express and Ayr Observer. Adam Brown Todd died 31st January 1915, aged 93 and is buried beside Ann McCulloch and 2 granddaughters in Cumnock New Cemetery. His house Breezyhill Cottage still stands at the top of Glaisnock Street, Cumnock.
For more information see The poetical works of A. B. Todd with autobiography and portrait. Oliphant, Anderson and Ferrier. Edinburgh. 1906.