The Glencairn Aisle and Monument


Completion Date:


Building owner/client:

Clan Cunningham

Architect or lead designer:

Graciella Ainsworth

Local Authority Area:

East Ayrshire

Nominating Body:

Glencairn Aisle Preservation Group and Clan Cunningham International

Project Description

We aim to preserve and restore the Glencairn Aisle and its AD1600 ‘glorious tomb’ monument to the Cunningham Earls of Glencairn who were based in Kilmaurs. This is Scotland’s oldest post Reformation memorial and associated crypt. We wished to reconnect this largely forgotten site with the locals from Kilmaurs, the people of Ayrshire and Scotland. The building lies hidden behind the bulk of the kirk and invisible from the main road due to the height of the churchyard wall. Even some locals who have lived in the village all of their lives were unaware of the existence of the aisle and its historic monument.

The building is physically attached to the Church of Scotland’s St Maurs-Glencairn Kirk. A local preservation group was set up and we work closely through Zoom calls with Clan Cunningham International, the Cunningham family and the kirk minister. We researched and posted a detailed Wikipedia article ‘The Glencairn Aisle and Monument’ and a Wikimedia photograph gallery and published 500 copies of our ‘History of the Glencairn Aisle’ booklet and then issued these without a charge to visitors on guided tours, the local primary school, local library, Ayrshire history societies, Community Council, local councillors, local shops, the Church Monument Society, etc.

We set up a Facebook group that has regular posts on our events, history of the Cunninghams, and general news with 328 members at present. We have a visitor book to record those who attend and to collect their experiences. We have given guided tours to 200 visitors all told on 12 open days and candle lit evenings, local primary school puil’s tour, Kilmaurs Walking Festival, Clan Cunningham members, the kirk congregation, Robert Burns World Federation president and president elect, local historians, etc. We have worked with a local artist who has produced bespoke paintings, etc. that have been sold in her shop and at our events with a percentage going to our funds. A ‘Glencairn Aisle’ lecture series throughout North and East Ayrshire has raised funds through fees and donations.

We worked with our partners to identify the preservation priorities for the AD 1600 mural monument to James and Margaret Cunningham, 7th Earl and Countess of Glencairn and employed the award winning ‘Graciela Ainsworth Sculpture Conservation’ to carry out the preservation and restoration work that was undertaken in July 2022. We employed a Building Surveyor who inspected the aisle and monument as well as confirming, as was suspected, that at the least the top two courses of ashlar stone on the west and the east side of the aisle are noticeably poorer quality 1846 replacements for ‘robbed’ stone taken by the cobblers and others in the village to act as whetstones to sharpen their leather knives or as building material.

We have worked with the Kilmaurs Community Council on a series of history interpretation boards that cover the aisle and the other significant historical sites of interest in Kilmaurs.

Supporting Statement

Community involvement, benefit and impact; The open days were well received and attended. Our Facebook page has increased community involvement in addition to our YouTube videos, primary school links, walking festival, special tours, etc. More are planned for 2023. We supplied booklets to every teacher in the local primary school. We have helped with family history enquiries which resulted from our work.

Build design and quality; Our contractors are leaders in their field and carried out our requirements as agreed together with some changes as directed by new priorities uncovered following their closer inspection of the monument.

Preservation or enhancement of the local built environment; Our contractors completed the work of restoring the head of the countess, removed cementaceous repairs and removed rusting fixtures that were damaging the stonework of the monument.

Achievements of the project. The aisle and monument are now appreciated and valued by locals and many others throughout Ayrshire and Scotland. Our 500 history booklets, Wikipedia article, YouTube videos, Facebook group, etc. have helped develop an appreciation of the history of Kilmaurs and of the role the Cunningham family have played in it. Our booklet was positively reviewed by the Church Monuments Society and we received several donations from their members. Clan Cunningham International have worked with us to produce an expanded US version of the booklet which has been used by them at several 'Clan Gatherings' throughout America, resulting in donations that have made our project works possible. We have made links with the old Cunningham castle of Chateau de Cherveux and proposals for an informal town twinning have been made by them to Kilmaurs Community Council. The lecture series resulted in greater awareness of the aisle and monument in addition to significant funding for the aisle projects.