Kilmarnock (/kɪlˈmɑːrnək/, Scottish Gaelic: Cille Mheàrnaig, "Marnock's church") is a large burgh in East Ayrshire, Scotland, with a population of 46,350,[4] making it the 15th most populated place in Scotland[5][6] and the second largest town in Ayrshire.[7] The River Irvine runs through its eastern section, and the Kilmarnock Water passes through it, giving rise to the name 'Bank Street'.


Clockwise from top-left: View over Kilmarnock from Kilmarnock railway station: Howard Park in the central of Kilmarnock: Statue of Johnnie Walker in Strand Street: The former Royal Bank of Scotland building and Kilmarnock Cross

Coat of Arms of Burgh of Kilmarnock
Location within East Ayrshire
Area27.3 km2 (10.5 sq mi) [2]
Population46,350 (2011 census)
 Density1,698/km2 (4,400/sq mi)
Urban51,020[3](est. 2015)
OS grid referenceNS429381
 Edinburgh56 mi (90 km)
 London335 mi (539 km)
Council area
Lieutenancy area
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode districtKA1-KA3
Dialling code01563
EU ParliamentScotland
UK Parliament
Scottish Parliament

The first collection of work by Scottish poet Robert Burns, Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect, was published in Kilmarnock in 1786 by John Wilson, printer and bookseller and became known as the Kilmarnock Edition. The internationally distributed whisky brand Johnnie Walker originated in the town in the 19th century and until 2012 was still bottled, packaged and distilled in the town at the Johnnie Walker Hill Street plant. Protest and backing from the Scottish Government took place in 2009, after Diageo, the owner of Johnnie Walker announced plans to close the bottling plant in the town after 189 years.[8][9][10][11][12]

The economy of Kilmarnock today is largely dependent on skill force knowledge, with companies such as Vodafone and Teleperformance occupying a large part of the Rowallan Business Park Centre[13] which is also home to Food Partners, a nationwide sandwich franchise.[14] Local property redevelopment and regeneration company, The KLIN Group occupies the former Andrew Barclay Sons & Co. offices in West Langland Street,[15] Wabtec Rail Scotland operate a production factory for locomotives in the town centre[16] and Utopia Computers, one of the UK's fastest growing computer companies[17] also have their headquarters and main site situated in Kilmarnock in High Glencairn Street.[18] The bakery company, Brownings the Bakers, was established in 1945 in Kilmarnock, and today, operates a large production plant at the town's Bonnyton Industrial Estate, with products being distributed across Scotland via chains such as Aldi, Lidl and Scotmid.[19] The local newspaper, the Kilmarnock Standard has main offices in the centre of the town with publications taking place each Thursday per week.

Kilmarnock is home to Kilmarnock Academy, one of only two state schools in the world that have educated two Nobel Prize laureates,[20] Alexander Fleming (born 1881), who became known for his groundbreaking discovery of Penicillin in 1928, alongside John Boyd Orr, 1st Baron Boyd-Orr (born 1880) for his research and work into Nutrition as well as his work as the first Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). He was the co-founder and the first President (1960–1971) of the World Academy of Art and Science (WAAS).[21][22][23]

In recent years, Kilmarnock has been used for musical acts and film locations. Rock band Biffy Clyro were formed in the town in a primary school in the mid-1990s. The 2001 film, Pyaar Ishq Aur Mohabbat (2001) was shot in the town[24] as was Manhunt (2004).[25]


The name Kilmarnock comes from the Gaelic cill (cell), and the name of Saint Marnock or Mernoc who is also remembered in the name of Portmarnock in Ireland and Inchmarnock. It may come from the three Gaelic elements mo, 'my', Ernán (name of the saint) and the diminutive ag, giving Church of My Little Ernán. According to tradition, the saint founded a church there in the 7th century.[26] There are 12 Church of Scotland congregations in the town, plus other denominations. In 2005, the Reverend David W. Lacy, minister of the town's Henderson Church, was elected Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

The core of the early town appears to have lain around what is now the Laigh Kirk, Kilmarnock (Low Church), although the oldest parts of the current building are no earlier than the 17th century, extending north and northwest. In 1668 the town was largely destroyed by an accidental fire.[27] About 120 families lost most of their possessions and were forced to live destitute in the fields surrounding the town. These tradespeople had no other way of making a living and had already been driven to the edge of poverty by having troops stationed with them as part of the anti-Covenanter measures. Parish churches throughout Scotland collected money for the relief of these homeless citizens.[28]

A comparatively modest settlement until the Industrial Revolution, Kilmarnock extended considerably from around 1800 onwards, requiring the opening of King Street, Portland Street, and Wellington Street.[29] Added later was John Finnie Street, which is regarded as "one of the finest Victorian planned streets in Scotland."[30] The Sandbed Street Bridge is the oldest known surviving bridge in the area.[31]

The Titchfield Street drill hall was completed in 1914.[32]


Political overview

Alan Brown and Willie Coffey, current Members of the UK Parliament and Scottish Parliament for Kilmarnock respectively

Kilmarnock, as part of the Kilmarnock and Loudoun parliamentary constituency, had long been considered a "safe seat" for the Scottish Labour Party, having been represented by a Labour MP since the establishment of the constituency in 1983. However, in the 2015 General Election, for the first time since 1983, the seat changed hands from Labour to the Scottish National Party with the election of Alan Brown. The Member of Parliament for the Kilmarnock and Loudoun constituency area in the Westminster parliament is Kilmarnock-born Alan Brown.[33] Brown defeated Labour candidate Cathy Jamieson with an overwhelming majority with Brown receiving 30,000 votes with Jamieson only receiving 16,363.[34] The member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) for Kilmarnock is Willie Coffey.[33]

In the Scottish Parliament, the town, as part of the Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley constituency, is represented by Willie Coffey who has represented the seat since the 2007 Scottish Parliamentary elections. Similar to the voting pattern shown at UK General Elections, in the Scottish Parliament elections, Kilmarnock had always been seen as a safe seat for Labour with an MSP representing the area since the parliament's re-establishment in 1999.

Kilmarnock is the home of the East Ayrshire Council Chambers and offices situated on the London Road, thus making Kilmarnock the main town within East Ayrshire .[35]

In local council elections, Kilmarnock comprises four wards: Kilmarnock North, Kilmarnock East and Hurlford, Kilmarnock West and Crosshouse and Kilmarnock South.[36]

The leader in East Ayrshire is Douglas Reid of the SNP party, who has been leader since 2007. The chief executive is Fiona Lees.[37] Following the 2017 East Ayrshire Council election, the SNP formed a minority government for East Ayrshire, following the result of a hung council.[38] At present, the Scottish Labour party is the opposition in the East Ayrshire parliament with their leader, Maureen McKay alongside the Scottish Conservative Party, independent councillors and one councillor elected from local campaign group party, The Rubbish Party[38]

Councillors serving Kilmarnock

Ward Councillors Party
Kilmarnock North Helen Coffey Scottish National Party
Ian Grant Scottish Conservative Party
Maureen McKay Scottish Labour Party
Kilmarnock West and Crosshouse Tom Cook Scottish Conservative Party
Ian Linton Scottish National Party
Lillian Jones Scottish Labour Party
Douglas Reid Scottish National Party
Kilmarnock East and Hurlford Jon Herd Scottish Conservative Party
Fiona Campbell Scottish National Party
John Campbell Scottish National Party
Barry Douglas Scottish Labour Party
Kilmarnock South Clare Maitland Scottish National Party
Jim Todd Scottish National Party
John Knapp Scottish Labour Party


The economy of Kilmarnock has historically been centred around heavy manufacturing and goods based services. However in recent years, and in trend with other towns and cities across Scotland, Kilmarnock's economic dependence has shifted from manufacturing and instead become more reliant on skills-based knowledge. Companies such as Vodafone (Teleperformance Call Centre) occupying a large part of the Rowallan Business Park Centre[13] which is also home to Food Partners, a nationwide sandwich franchise.[14] Local property redevelopment and regeneration company, The KLIN Group occupies the former Andrew Barclay Sons & Co. offices in West Langland Street,[15] Wabtec Rail Scotland operate a production factory for locomotives in the town centre[16] and Utopia Computers, one of the UK's fastest growing computer companies[17] also have their headquarters and main site situated in Kilmarnock in High Glencairn Street. Kilmarnock's traditional industries were based around textiles and heavy engineering such as locomotives (Andrew Barclay and Sons) from 1837, and valves (Glenfield and Kennedy), which are still in production. The firm is now trading as Glenfield Valves and still operates a base from Kilmarnock.[39]

Carpets manufactured in Kilmarnock were internationally known for their quality and intricacy since the late 19th century. Carpets were made by Blackwood & Morton in Kilmarnock from the early 20th century. Many locations around the world chose to install BMK carpets. The RMS Titanic was carpeted using carpets manufactured by Stoddard Carpets, the parent company and successor to BMK, which operated from its base in Kilmarnock with carpets also being manufactured at the plant in the town[40] Carpet-making finally ceased in Kilmarnock in early 2005 following the closure of Stoddard Carpets and at this time, Stoddard Carpets was the oldest carpet manufacturing company still in operation at that time in Scotland.[40][41][42]

Archibald Finnie and his family lived at Springhill House (now a nursing home) near the Grange Academy. They owned many coal mines, pits and other companies in Springside and other places. John Finnie Street is named after one of the family. Shoes were also a major product for some time: Saxone had a factory in the town on the site where the Galleon Leisure Centre now stands and was the largest shoe production factory in operation in Scotland with a staff base of 1,000 employees at the plants peak[43]. Kilmarnock had one of the earliest tram railways in the world, running to Troon over the (recently restored) Laigh Milton viaduct. The Glasgow and South Western Railway set up their works here, producing nearly 400 locomotives by the time it was absorbed by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway in 1923. Some work continued, but heavy repairs were sent to St. Rollox. Locomotive repairs finished in 1952, and the works closed in 1959. Nevertheless, locomotives are still made by Hunslet-Barclay (now Wabtec), as well as the maintenance of existing diesel and electric multiple units. From 1949 self-propelled combine harvesters were built in Kilmarnock in a large Massey-Harris factory on the outskirts of the town. It later became Massey-Ferguson, and closed in 1978. Glenfield and Kennedy still survives, albeit with a fraction of its former workforce, which at its height numbered in the thousands.

Kilmarnock is the original home of Scotch whisky brand Johnnie Walker which was originally known as Walker's Kilmarnock Whisky when the brand first started trading from the town in the mid-1800s. The Johnnie Walker brand is a legacy left by John ‘Johnnie’ Walker after he started to sell whisky in his grocer’s shop in Ayrshire, Scotland. In 1908, when James Stevenson was the managing director, there was a re-branding of sorts. The whisky was renamed from Walker's Kilmarnock Whiskies to Johnnie Walker Whisky. In addition, the slogan, "Born 1820 – Still going Strong!" was created, along with the Striding Man, a figure used in their advertisements to this day.

In 2009, to much public backlash as well as backlash from the Scottish Government, First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond and local MP and MSP Cathy Jamieson and Willie Coffey, the owner of Johnnie Walker, Diageo, decided to close the bottling plant, originally by the end of 2011, ending the link between the whisky brand and the town. [44] [45] In September 2009, Diageo confirmed the plant in Kilmarnock would close, despite local protests.[46] Production of Johnnie Walker in Kilmarnock ceased during March 2012, after 192 years. It is now made at a new Diageo bottling plant in the eastern coast of Scotland in Leven, Fife.[47] Over the years, Kilmarnock has been the home to other well-known companies, Andrew Barclay Sons & Co.,[48] and Saxone Shoes.[49] Saxone Shoes was bought by the British Sears group and became defunct when Sears sold it to Stylo. Andrew Barclay Son's & Co still manufactures in the town but is now owned by Wabtec (Wabtec Rail Scotland).[50]


The textile and manufacturing sectors across Scotland suffered significant decline in the post-war period and in particular from the 1960s, in the face of greater foreign competition. Kilmarnock was no exception, with the closure or significant reduction of many of its traditional large employers: Glenfield and Kennedy, Massey Ferguson, BMK and Saxone. Although significant attempts have been made to halt this decline and attract new employers, Kilmarnock saw a continuing net loss of jobs in the five years to 2005. Although traditionally a main shopping area for most of the surrounding districts, patterns have changed over the last 20 years; traditional centres such as Ayr have been joined by new developments at Braehead and East Kilbride. This difficult economic climate is most visible in the town centre, the eastern part of which has been extensively redeveloped, with important historic buildings such as King Street Church and the town hall being demolished and Duke Street (the link from Kilmarnock Cross to the Palace Theatre and out to the London Road) built over.

More recently Portland Street, which formed the northerly part of the main shopping area, lay abandoned for many years due to a decline in retail trade and in the face of possible comprehensive redevelopment. The street has now been redeveloped, but has not yet regained its former degree of popularity, with a Gala Bingo and a J D Wetherspoon's taking up much of one side of the street and the rest largely occupied by chain stores. In 2004, the Rough Guide to Scotland described the town as "shabby and depressed, saddled with some terrible shopping centres and a grim one-way system".[51] The town, however, contains several parks such as Howard Park, Dean Park and Kay Park, and residential areas including London Road, Dundonald Road, McLelland Drive and Howard Park Drive. The town also boasts a collection of gift shops, cafes, bars and restaurants within the very desirable Bank Street area. There are retail parks at Queen's Drive and Glencairn Square.

According to the local press in November 2007, the new SNP council have drawn up a Top Ten Hit List on 'eyesore' buildings in the town and their owners, and have revealed plans to crack down hard on property owners who have left their buildings fall into disrepair. Action is being taken to do something with each of these sites. Many of the buildings in disrepair are irreplaceable listed buildings such as the former ABC cinema (previously the King's Theatre) on Titchfield Street.[52] Plans to improve the derelict building at the top of John Finnie Street that was destroyed by a fire in the late 1980s have been submitted to include a council office retaining the original façade. Work is estimated to be completed in 2012. A four-star hotel recently opened next to Rugby Park, the home of Kilmarnock F.C., and new restaurants, such as Merchants and the Jefferson Restaurant, have opened in the town centre.

Regeneration activities have been discussed for Kilmarnock town centre; in early 2006, an application to Historic Scotland's Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme was successful, and in July 2006 an application under the Heritage Lottery Fund's Townscape Heritage Initiative Scheme was pending. Work has finished on a quality housing development on the site of the former Kilmarnock Infirmary, north of the town centre. In the past there have been major efforts to improve the quality of life for residents in the town's worst housing estates, especially in parts of Shortlees, Longpark and Onthank. Much new quality housing has been constructed on the northern fringes of the town for commuters. With a journey time of 20 minutes from Kilmarnock to Glasgow (roughly half that of the existing train service), the M77 motorway, an upgrade in 2005 of the A77, has transformed the journey between Glasgow and Kilmarnock. Recent house price increases have reflected this.[53]


In 1812, the Kilmarnock and Troon Railway opened, mainly to carry coal from the area to the harbour at Troon, but also carrying passengers. In 1904, Kilmarnock built its own tramway system, the Kilmarnock Corporation Tramways. An electric power station was built on the south bank of the River Irvine at Riccarton. Overhead power lines and tram lines were laid. With continued upgrading and expansion, the tram network at its peak went from Ayr Road in Riccarton at its southerly point, to Knockinlaw Road in Beansburn in the north.

At Kilmarnock Cross, the line had an easterly spur that stretched along London Road, through Crookedholm and terminating at Hurlford. There had been proposed extensions along Portland Road, up John Finnie Street, West Langlands Street and eventually towards Crosshouse, but by this time, increasing costs and the far more flexible motor bus had made inroads and the trams ceased operation in 1926 during the General Strike. The council decided not to restart the service and the infrastructure was soon dismantled. Today the town is served by Kilmarnock railway station, which operates services from the town to all major locations in Scotland connecting with Stranraer for the ferries to the Port of Belfast as well as Larne Harbour in Northern Ireland and as far as Carlisle and Newcastle in England.

A recent development has been the regeneration of Kilmarnock Railway Station under the umbrella of the Kilmarnock Railway Station Heritage Trust. Additions to the station facilities include a Scottish gift shop,[54] a vegan deli and an Active Travel HUB where members of the public can access advice on travelling more sustainability. The HUB also offers led walks and cycle rides.

Kilmarnock has road links to Glasgow through the M77 motorway from Fenwick to its junction with the M8 at the Kingston Bridge. A south side motorway connects this point to the M74 near Calderpark when the latest phase of development is complete, eliminating some of the heavy traffic formerly travelling on the A71 through Hurlford, Galston, Newmilns, Darvel and Strathaven to join the M74 at Stonehouse. Stagecoach Group is the main transport provider in the town; it operates bus services to most major towns in the west of Scotland.

As an early market town, Kilmarnock lies on the intersection of 3 main roads: the A71 which runs from Edinburgh to Irvine, the A76 from Dumfries, and the A77/M77 from Stranraer to Glasgow.

Education and learning

Flowerbank Early Childhood Centre is a standalone early years centre operated by East Ayrshire Council, providing 0-5 educational provision
Loanhead Primary School dates back to 1905 and provides primary schooling in the town centre area of the town
Kilmarnock Academy is one of only two schools, the other being Eton College, to have educated two Nobel laureatesAlexander Fleming, discoverer of Penicillin, and John Boyd Orr, 1st Baron Boyd-Orr

Kilmarnock has one college, thirteen primary schools, three secondary schools and eleven nursery schools. There is also a college in the town, Ayrshire College previously known as Kilmarnock College[55] and prior to that Kilmarnock Technical College. The schools are managed by East Ayrshire Council.

The town's oldest secondary school Kilmarnock Academy dates back to the 1600s. The school in its present-day serves as a comprehensive school, which of three in Kilmarnock. It can trace its history back to the local burgh school founded in the 1630s and the first school to bear the name was established in 1807. Next to the school is the "Old Tech," formerly Kilmarnock Technical School, which opened in 1910 as part of the Academy. It is also listed, but is no longer part of the school; it was closed in 1997 due to a reduction in student numbers, caused by a restructuring of educational resources in the area. The building remained closed, and reopened in 2006 as luxury housing, due to its prime location directly next to the Dick Institute, the town's primary library and museum, and the centre of town. In the art department at the school, there is a war memorial in memory of those who lost their lives in World War 1.[56] Kilmarnock Academy is one of the few schools in the world to have educated two Nobel laureates: Alexander Fleming and John Boyd Orr (although only for four months, whereas his primary and secondary school career was at West Kilbride Public School).[57]

St Joseph's Academy was founded in 1955 in its present location, built on what were the outskirts of Kilmarnock at the time. The adjacent New Farm Loch estate eventually grew and enveloped the school. The school comprised an extended single building, housing most of the subjects taught within. Due to a lack of space, an additional building, commonly referred to as 'A' Block, was erected in the 1970s. As the school was constructed on what was essentially fields, the St Joseph's campus included a large playing field, comprising a red blaes hockey pitch, running tracks, and space for 4 grass football pitches. St. Conval's High School was later annexed to St. Joseph's in October 1998 and became known as St. Joseph's Cumnock. In 2004 St. Joseph's Cumnock Campus was closed due to falling attendance figures, and the town's Catholic children now attend the new St. Joseph's Academy campus in Kilmarnock, which now serves the entire Secondary Catholic population of East Ayrshire. In the early 21st century, a programme was initiated by central government to upgrade secondary schools throughout the country using a mixture of public and private money. St Joseph's was one of the schools selected for demolition and reconstruction, along with nearby Grange Academy. In 2008, the rebuilt St Joseph's was opened, including the new St Andrew's Primary – an amalgamation of the former feeder St Columba's and St Matthew's Primaries.

In recent times, East Ayrshire Council have demolished some of the town's oldest schools, such as the Grange Academy along with St. Josephs Academy, which have fallen into a state of disrepair and some of which have been hindered by falling pupil intakes. In September 2008, the new Grange Campus was completed and incorporated Grange Academy, Annanhill Primary, and Park School. The opening of the campus was delayed from August. The old Grange Academy and Annanhill Primary School buildings have been demolished.

Early Childhood Centres

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