Welcome to Prestwick

The town of Prestwick is situated on Scotland’s Ayrshire coast, two miles north of Ayr. This is an area whose natural beauty (rolling fields, gentle coastline, views over the Firth of Clyde to the Isle of Arran) inspired some of Robert Burns finest verses. Increasingly these views are the first that visitors get of Scotland thanks to the development of Glasgow Prestwick International Airport, which lies just to the north of the town.

Sometime after the last ice age the first few human settlers made their way into Scotland. On the Ayrshire coast the first traces of these peoples are the shells and small stone tools they left behind, the earliest of which have been dated to around 6000 BC. Interesting Mesolithic sites can been found at nearby Heathfield and Monkton. An interesting find on Alloway Street was a Mesolithic polished stone axe head.

While this evidence tells of the ancient settlement of Prestwick, it is doubtful that the town has been continually and permanently inhabited from such times. Indeed the first clues into the origins of the permanent settlement at Prestwick come from around the 8th century AD.

The first clue is the name itself. Prestwick is derived from the old English preosta wik, meaning priests’ place The Northumbrian King Edbert conquered this area around 750 AD and is thought to have granted land to a number of churchmen. Thus, the priests’ place came into being. Putting two and two together it seems that Prestwick as a permanent settlement, even if it was only permanently settled by priests, can be dated to shortly after 750 AD. Still, we could make the assumption that the priests were there to evangelise the local population. If that was the case, it is likely there was a settlement which predated the priests’ arrival.

Over the following centuries Prestwick developed into an important town and was granted the status of ‘burgh.’ It is perhaps a mark of the town’s importance that it is the oldest recorded burgh in Scotland. While Walter Fitzlan’s charter of 1165 AD acknowledges Prestwick as a burgh, a later document suggests that this status had been granted years before. On the 19th of June 1600, James VI affirmed Prestwick’s status as Royal Burgh, adding that it had been a burgh for 617 years. If we can believe this document’s accuracy Prestwick has been a burgh since 983 AD; far longer than any of its competitors.

The oldest building in Prestwick is the ruins of the Church of St Nicholas. It is believed that the church was built in the 12th century at the behest of Walter, High Steward of Scotland. It is a remarkable building, which contains the graves of many prominent Provosts and Freemen of the town. It dedicated to the Patron Saint of the burgh.

Behind St Ninian’s Episcopal Church lies an old medieval well. It takes the name of the Convent Well or Bruce’s Well as it is connected with the 14th century King Robert the Bruce, hero of the Wars of Independence. Here it is said that the king came, suffering from a skin disease, possibly even leprosy, and drank from the waters. As a result, his condition was much improved.

Another of Prestwick’s interesting features from the Medieval period (dated to the 13th century) is the Old Mercat Cross, one of the best preserved in Scotland. It now sits across from the post office, where it was moved in 1963.

Modern Prestwick developed in the 17th and 19th centuries benefiting from its proximity to both Glasgow and Ayr. Glasgow’s emergence as perhaps the world’s premier industrial centre led to the development of much of the west of Scotland, while Ayr’s importance as a port stimulated growth in the Ayrshire economy. Prestwick, being right next door to Ayr, was especially influenced by these developments. Over the last hundred years Prestwick and Ayr have grown into each other.

Another catalyst for growth was golf. Prestwick golf club was formed in the Red Lion Hotel in 1951. Before long the popularity of the sport led to a stream of visitors who came to play on this renowned course. The first Open Golf Championship was played in Prestwick in 1860 on the Old Course. It continued to be played there for the following 12 years. Today there are a number of beautiful courses on which visitors can test their skills.

The most recent major development in Prestwick has been that of the airport. The airfield was developed in 1935 by a couple of airplane enthusiasts, David McIntyre and the Duke of Hamilton, the first men to fly over Mount Everest. It was used as a transit airport during WWI when 250 aircraft were stationed there. It has recently been renamed Glasgow Prestwick International Airport in the wake of its growing status, as one of only three international airports in Scotland. The views of the undulating Ayrshire landscape and out to sea greet many modern travellers arriving in Scotland for the first time. Such travellers would be well advised to take their time in this pleasant and ancient town before taking advantage of the excellent road and rail connections which have developed as a result of the airport’s growth.