Ayrshire Image

1.  Court

2.   Plan

3.  Prison 

Ayr Courthouse, Ayr Gaol and Ayr County Buildings

1.   Ayr Sheriff Court from Wellington Square Gardens.

Date: ca 2000
Photographer: Unknown 

2.  Plan of the County Buildings, Courthouse and Gaol in Ayr, 1855

Date: 1855
Reproduced from a town plan in the collections of the National library of Scotland

Ayr prison viewed from the shore. (Block G in the plan below.)

Date: 1901
Photographer: Unknown

Ayr Courthouse, Ayr Gaol and Ayr County Buildings

Ayr County Building were built on the site of the Ayr Prison during the 1930's.  They are situated on the seaward side of Ayr Sheriff Court, a building dating from 1822.

The nineteenth century encompassed a number of significant reforms relating to municipal governance, the jurisdiction of the Scottish legal system and also prisons. Prior to these developments burgh judicial functions, as well as civic, administrative and penal, were commonly housed in a single building – the tolbooth or town-house.

In the 19th century, court houses, with their attached prison accommodation, began to be separated from the business of day to day administration carried on in town hall buildings.   Sheriff Court accommodation of the early nineteenth century was often constructed within county buildings which comprised both judicial and regional governmental functions.

The plan forms of early nineteenth century county buildings at Perth, Ayr and Lanark show large county hall or county chambers in one wing with sheriff chambers or justiciary halls in the opposite wing. The plans of these buildings are usually symmetrical in form and show the separation of spaces purpose built for their county or judicial function.

The original County Buildings were constructed between 1818 and 1822 (architect, Robert Wallace). They included administrative offices, the Sheriff Court and, at the western end, the County Gaol. In 1929 the prison was demolished and work began on a large extension to the Courthouse using designs by Alexander Mair. The foundation stone of the new structure was laid on 10 July 1931 by the Duke of York (later King George VI), accompanied by his wife (the late Queen Mother). The remains of the original building were thereafter devoted to Sheriff Court functions.

The main entrance on the west front is surmounted by a carved Coat of arms with the Motto of the County 'God Schaw The Richt'.  The Hall also contains the War Memorial and the portraits of Col. John Ferrier Hamilton of Cairnhill and Archibald William Montgomerie, 13th Earl of Eglinton.

A small number of portraits relating to Ayrshire County Council are displayed within the premises, mainly on the main staircase and in the upper floor corridor. 

The portraits on the north stair are George, 4th Earl of Glasgow and C.G. Shaw, while on the south are those of Rt. Hon. Sir James Ferguson, 6th Baronet of Kilkerran and Hugh Montgomerie, 12th Earl of Eglinton.

The portraits on the first floor are of Lieut. Col. W.K. Hamilton-Campbell of Netherplace, John Hamilton of Sundrum, Mrs Peter Simpson, Skelmorlie, Col. H.R. Wallace of Busbie and James E. Shaw.

Works from the South Ayrshire Collections are displayed in the committee rooms together with artifacts relating to Strathclyde Region (Ayr Division) and South Ayrshire Council.  Occasional temporary exhibitions are presented within the County Hall.

[Text based on material published by South Ayrshire Council, Ayrshire Archaeological and Natural History Society and the Scottish Courts Administration.]