In 1509 Cumnock was created a burgh of Barony by King James IV. An important outcome of the Charter was to establish Cumnock as a market town denoted by a Mercat Cross.
In 1703 the original Mercat Cross was replaced by the present Cross as a continuing symbol of Cumnock`s status as a burgh of Barony. The Cross has a plain shaft capped with a cube and ball finial. On the sides of the cube are the arms of the Dumfries Family, a sundial and the legend “1703 repaired in 1778”.
The Cross has stood in various locations over the centuries, from its original position in Townhead Street (cobbles on the street indicate where the cross once stood); to the north – east corner of the square; to near the front door of the parish church; to its present location at the south western corner of the Square. The Cross, a registered ancient monument, was restored again in 1974.
When the street were lit by gas lamps, little concerned with ethical considerations the council fitted a standard gas lantern fitted to it’s crowning orb in the 1880’s but this was removed in 1911.
In 1983 the Council chose as its common seal a device ‘shewing the Old Cross in the Square, with a weaver’s shuttle on the one side and a sheaf of corn on the other.’
One local councillor, James Neil, campaigned for the cross to be moved in 1925 but this had to be dropped after a public outcry led by Dr James McQueen one of the local doctors. CHG member Garry Savage found this poem which describes this in Scots verse and well worth showing as it gives a unique insight into how unpopular this was throughout Cumnock.
To the Cumnock Cross
Auld Cumnock Cross! We ken ye fine,
Your steps are worn by Faither Time;
Wi’ you oor freenship we aye seal,
Nae maitter though the cauld we feel:
On Hogmanay at twal o’clock
We staun below the Auld Kirk nock,
An’ wi’ a hottle in oor haun
We drink tae freenship ower the laun.
It’s no sae very long ago
Oor Bailies said that you maun go;
Since motors no the Kirk go roon,
They couldna hae you in oor toon:
An’ made tae shift you oot your place
As if you had been in disgrace.
They thocht that they couldna be seen,
And clean forgot aboot McQueen.
Oor Doctor, whae we ca’ McQueen –
Nae better doctor could be seen –
He heard the Cross was in a plight;
Says he, “By jings. for you I’ll fight;
Though Bailie’s heids are made o’ wid,
I’ll tak’ frae them a pint o’ bluid;
Tho’ a’ the Bailies should start greetin’,
O’ toonsfolk I will ca’ a meetin’.”
I met him on the meetin’ nicht,
He left his rooms, took tae the richt,
An’ up Munn’s Brae he went wi’ speed,
The sweat was drappin’ aff in beads.
Whaur he was gaun he ne’er let on,
A big, thick stick was in his haun,
His lips were movin’ awfu’ quick
As on the wa’ he tried his stick.
The Toon Hall could haud nae mair
The time the Doctor took the chair;
The Bailies on the platform shook,
They meant McQueen’s big stick tae jouk:
For noo he met them face to face,
An’ saw each ane kept in their place,
An’ telt them that they a’ kent fine
The Cross was built wi’ Benston lime.
He made them leave the Cross alane,
An’ daured them touch a single stane;
He swore that motors must steer clear,
Or else frae him they sune would hear;
An’ sent the Bailies tremblin’ hame –
He daured ony ane tae try again;
The “vandals” were very gled tae get oot,
They thocht McQueen meant bluid, nae doot.
We gie the Doctor a’ oor thanks
For cuttin’ short the Bailie’s pranks;
It didna tak’ him long tae settle
They wadna mak’ the Cross road metal.
An’ may he aye hae time tae spare
Tae view the Auld Cross in the Square;
For though it noo is auld an’ worn,
Tae save the Cross the Doctor’s sworn.