Benslie or Bensley miner’s row, near Kilwinning

Picture found on the internet and I’m not sure when it was taken, but Benslie Square (sometimes Bensley Square on the census) were purpose built miner’s cottages that were demolished in the 1930s. I suspect the picture was taken not that long before then. They were situated off the B785 east of Kilwinnning, next to Benslie Wood, where there is now a small cul de sac called Benslie Row, and were owned by the coalmaster company Archilbald Finnie and Son. They were built in the early 1840s.

An article written by Chris Hawksworth for Ayrshire Notes volume 41 says about Archilbald Finnie, born 1783 at Kilmarnock, “He had taken over the tack for the Fergushill pits near Kilwinning by 1836, and by 1841 he had started building miners rows at Bensley to accommodate his workers at the expanding Fergushill pits, which were a quarter mile from the rows” and that “The Bensley miners’ rows were expanded in 1857 as Archibald’s mining interests in the Fergushill area flourished. In 1854, he also arranged with the owners of the adjacent Doura mine to work the particular coal seams he had started mining at Auchenwinsey into the Doura estate property”. He encouraged good upkeep of his rows by awarding prizes to the families who had the best-kept cottages, but in 1861 dismissed and evicted those miners who went on strike and made other coal masters agree not to house them. But he also built the Fergushill Church, a school and the Sprinside Institute, and started a savings bank for miners.

A report into miner’s rows produced in 1913 says this about Bensley or Benslie Row: “(Owned by) Messrs. A. Finnie & Son. Benslie is a village about 400 yards further up the main road, belonging to the same colliery company as Fergushill. There are 57 houses in all, stone built, with an earth-closet for every four houses. There are neither washing-houses nor coalhouses. There are two double apartment houses at 1s 6d a week rent; the other double houses are 1s  3d per week. There are 14 single apartment houses at 1s a week rent. All have a small garden in front, but few cultivate them. There is but one pump of spring water, which is said to be good. The paths are unpaved, with the consequent muddy fronts.The village is about 67 years old.”

In the 1861 census my great-grandfather Joseph Strachan was the tenant at 34 Bensley Square. He was a coal miner age 28 with his wife Jean and children Amelia age 6 and Robert age 1. There had been a daughter Margaret Haggerty Strachan born in 1857 but she had died at less than one month old. They hadn’t been there long as son Robert was born at Kenneth’s Row, Kilwinning and they wouldn’t stay there long as their next child, Flora, was born at Lamont’s Row, Kilwinning.

Bensley miners' row, Kilwinning

27 responses to “Benslie or Bensley miner’s row, near Kilwinning

  1. One earth closet for every 4 cottages! And if the cottages had as many people living in them as the croft you posted about a few days ago, there’d have been serious toilet queues.

  2. indeed! Though I expect they didn’t use the closet for a quick pee, or for young children. Probably used it mainly to empty the chamberpots.

  3. Thanks for the information and photo. On the 1861 Census my great grandfather was living with his brother and sister-in-law at No.42!

  4. Oh, they were my great-grandfather’s neighbours! The men no doubt worked at the same mine, too. I hope they were good workmates and neighbours to each other.

  5. Do you know anything about the Hurry or coup and the ruined cottage opposite South Millburn?

    • No more than the information that’s online, I’m afraid. I’ve tended to research how the families lived more than the actual coal mining. Fortunately some industrial architecture has remained, though most has now been demolished.

  6. Lochlainn Mac Néill

    In the 1851 Scotland Census my great great grandfather Alexander McNeill, born on the Isle of Tiree, lived in No 6 Bensley Square with his wife Janet McNeill, nee Campbell and their children Catherine, John, Alexander, William and Lauchlan McNeill. It must have been a tight squeeze!

    • Another neighbour of my ancestors! And another crowded house – they were only of two rooms. I’ve found a family of 11 crammed into one of them, and can’t image how they coped. Coal miners worked long shifts so sleeping was no doubt one in shifts too. And of course, coal miners would need a bath when they got home.

  7. Thanks for the interesting article. I found it of interest as my father, James Frew was born in the Benslie as were his father and grandfather. His great grandfather and great grandfather also lived in the Benslie. My Dad’s Aunt Lizzie lived at the Benslie until it was demolished.

    Was interested in your information on Messrs. A. Finnie & Son. Do you know where I could get some info on the 1861 strike you mentioned?

    Addresses my ancestors lived at included:
    Joseph Frew and Margaret Love-1851 25 Benslie Square
    Peter Frew and Agnes Johnston–1855–24 Benslie Square, 1881- 29 The Square, 1891–22 Stone Row
    Joseph Frew and Elizabeth Arthur Davidson–1911–2 Front Row

    • Our ancestors were neighbours!

      The reference to a strike in 1861 came from issue no. 41 of Ayrshire Notes, which is available online at

      I have two Frews on my family tree:

      Peter Howat born 1844, son of Peter Thomas Howat and Janet Strachan, married Margaret Frew, who I think was the daughter of Francis Frew and Ann Wallace.I haven’t really done any research on them yet, so don’t know anything else about them.

      Thomas Laught Strachan born about 1843, son of Andrew Strachan and Elizabeth Howat, married Janet Frew, also daughter of Francis Frew and Ann Wallace. Thomas and Janet migrated to USA.

      • Hi Judy

        Thank you for your reply. I have been trolling through the online issues of Ayrshire Notes.

        Of my great grandparents (Joseph Frew and Elizabeth Arthur Davidson) seven children, four immigrated to Vancouver, Canada just before and after World War One. Several years ago we had a reunion of their descendents. I researched our family history for the event. Found the history of mining in Ayrshire quite interesting. Also visited Benslie several years ago when I was in Scotland.

      • Glad Ayrshire Notes proved interesting. I’ve quite a few on the family tree who migrated to Canada, including Vancouver, plus plenty who went to USA. How lovely to have a reunion!

      • Alastair Stevely

        Hi Judy, we must be connected, Peter Thomas Howat & Janet Strachan are my GGG Grandparents.

        Alastair Stevely

  8. We built our house in Benslie Row when the land became available in 1996. It was a special place with views for miles across beautiful countryside. We stayed there until we emigrated to Australia in 2008. I was ( and still am) fascinated with the history of the place. The posts in this website are some of the best I have read.

    • Oh wow! How wonderful – and I can imagine the view would be amazing. Such a rich history in that area, and I must visit the site when I’m next in Ayrshire. Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you enjoy the blog.

  9. Hi Judy, I loved reading about the history of Bensley as we are living in Janburrow house, just along the road, its beautiful 🙂
    Thank you, Jackie x

    • Thanks Jackie – and lucky you living where you do. I find Benslie/Bensley Row fascinating, as they’re the only old miner’s cottages left standing. Must have been a desirable place for a miner to live, hence so many of my family moving there and staying put when they were built.

  10. Thanks for interesting history Judy. I had never heard the area referred to as Benslie – just Fergushill or Montgreenan. Jackie my great grandfather was the Rev.William McAlpine so my grandmother was brought up at the manse. I think she told me that the house was extended to accommodate the family!

    • Hi Rosalind. It seems to have been known as Benslie Row when the coal miners were living there, but the pit must have closed a long time ago now. Your great grandfather would have baptised, married and buried a great many of my ancestors! And they certainly went in for large families in those days. I cannot imagine how my ancestors coped with so many children in a two room miner’s cottage.

      Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment.

  11. Chris Hawksworth

    Rosalind, your are correct in thinking the house was extended when it became a manse. It was originally built in about 1882 for a Mr Watson with two windows either side of the front door and two upstairs. An additional pair of rooms were built to the left of the house. It is still possible to see the join in the brickwork. The house was bought by the Glasgow and South Western Railway as a stationmasters house in 1884 for £255. Plans of the original building are kept at the National Records of Scotland in edinburgh.

  12. That is so weird Chris that the house sold then for £255 and it has just went up for sale a couple of weeks ago at £255.000, I am still living in it and will be very sad to leave.

  13. Rita Stephensen

    Hi Judy. My Great Great Grand Father Richard Finnie lived with his Family at 27 Square in the 1881 census. He migrated to Australia and died in Maryborough Queensland in 1928. I find this all so interesting. Dont think they are any relations to the Finnies that owned the Fergusehill Mine. Lamont is also in my research. Rita Stephensen

    • Hi Rita and thanks for stopping by and posting a comment. I have several Finnies on my tree. In 1861 John Finnie married Agnes Strachan at Hurlford – she was the daughter of my gggg uncle and aunt Peter Strachan and Mary Monroe. It was the second marriage for both John Finnie and Agnes Strachan, and sadly John Finnie died in the 1870s. They had one child, Hugh Finnie born in Tarbolton in 1862. Both John Finnie and his son Hugh were coal miners.

  14. Hello,

    Interesting, my grand mother was Ellen Frew, my male ancestors were all Francis Frew.The furthest back ancestor was Francis Frew B.1747 Annick Lodge, Irvine, Ayrshire. His father was William Frew B. 1722, Irvine.
    My G.Grand father Robert Banks was great friends of the Finnie sister of the Craig Estate, Crosshouse, Kilmarnock.
    There are still Strachan’s living in Dreghorn probably distant relatives of yours Judy.
    My father and his brothers and sisters went to the Doura School as children
    and spoke about Fergushill.

    Enjoyed reading your postings.


  15. Pauline McLean

    What interesting reading, thanks to everyone for your contribution!
    We have recently moved to Benslie (May 2015) and bought Woodbeuk Cottage which we believe was originally the old mine managers cottage. We’d love to hear any history on the cottage as we intend being here for a very long time, God willing. Unfortunately we don’t have any history to add to Judy’s very interesting history as we hail from Glasgow but have always had an affinity with Ayrshire and it took us 3 years to find the right house in the right location and a beautiful location it is.

  16. margaret jamieson nee brown

    hi i am looking for william brown who lived in the benslie his wifes maiden name is campbell can you tell where they are buried thankyou

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