Although the cotton market slumped in the 1860s because of the American Civil War, the introduction of steam power to many processes ensured that the industries survived. When heavy engineering came to the area in the mid-19th century the local economy was newly stimulated.
Companies such as Glenfield and Kennedy (water valves) and Andrew Barclay (railway locomotives) came into being. The first railway in Scotland - the Kilmarnock to Troon plateway - had recently been built, and the railways expanded throughout the region in the mid-to-late 1800s.
In the south, the upper Doon Valley began to change rapidly when the Dalmellington Iron Company came into existence. The mining of ironstone and coal developed on a big scale and displaced the area's previous major industries such as weaving and agriculture.
Populations were rising quickly, industry was healthy well into the 20th century. However, the area did suffer from the interwar depression. The Dalmellington Iron Company stopped making iron in 1921 owing to the same lack of demand that caused other ironworks to close in the post-war slump. Heavy unemployment ensued.
There were ironworks at Lugar, Muirkirk, Hurlford (Portland Iron Works) and Galston (Cessnock Iron Works).
Dunaskin Heritage Centre closed several years ago, though part of the site of the former ironworks is now occupied by the Scottish Industrial Railway Centre.
The mining industry in East Ayrshire has a long history and played an important role in the Industrial Revolution.
In addition to its industrial production, the coal industry played an important part in the personal development of such famous persons as:
- Andrew Fisher, Prime Minister of Australia in the early years of this century
- Keir Hardie, founder of the British Labour Party
- Bill Shankly, Liverpool Football Club’s most famous manager
Ironworks and brickworks
Within what is now East Ayrshire there were ironworks at Lugar, Muirkirk, Hurlford (Portland iron works) and Galston (Cessnock iron works).
Dunaskin Heritage Centre (now closed) at Waterside near Dalmellington, occupied the site of a 19th century iron and brick works. Many early features remain, and part of this site is now occupied by the Scottish Industrial Railway Centre.
Muirkirk also contained an important ironworks, of which little trace now remains.
At Darvel, Newmilns and Galston the Victorian industrialist Alexander Morton mechanised the hand weaving industry and introduced the ideas of William Morris. Textile designs produced included some by famous designers of the Arts and Crafts Movement. There is a monument to Morton at the roadside between Darvel and Newmilns.
In Newmilns and Darvel high quality lace is still produced using Victorian machines, so that Scottish lace from East Ayrshire is a unique product.
Calico printing and shawl making
The almost forgotten industry of calico-printing, and the closely related shawl manufacture, was at one time a major industry in Kilmarnock, though, due to changes in fashion, it had all but died out by the beginning of the 20th century.
Historic weavers' cottages accommodate the Cathcartston Visitor Centre at Cathcartston, recreating life in the Ayrshire weaving communities as it was lived about 1840.
Fenwick is a charming example of an Ayrshire weaving village, containing many of the typical low-roofed weavers' cottages.
Catrine - the Catrine Mill was destroyed by fire but the Voes, a series of ponds where river water was dammed and released to power the great mill wheels, have been renovated.
Woollen Tam O'Shanter bonnets have been manufactured at Stewarton since the 16th century. The town is still called the "Bonnet Toun".
The first co-operative?
The Fenwick Weavers Society may have been the first co-operative. It was founded in 1761 to promote and maintain high standards in the craft, and soon became involved in the bulk purchase of oatmeal for resale to its members.