Birkmyre is an uncommon surname. There is in Dumfriesshire a small estate with the name of Birkmyre, but this may be a purely descriptive appellation, since 'birk' is good Scots for the common birch and 'myre' could be a bog or moss. Patiently traced, and usually spelt 'Birkmyr', the name turns up in some odd connections- a Michael Birkmyr, who was a presbyter of the Diocese of Glasgow in 1432; an Alexander Birkmyr, who witnessed a legal document in Glasgow in 1485; and Andrew Birkmyr, who was Decanus of Angus in 1517; and then a George Birkmyre, in the modern spelling, who appeared in the course of a legal process at 'the Kirk of Inchynnane' in 1588.
This last reference is specially interesting because there has passed down the line of the Port Glasgow family of Birkmyres a legend to the effect that the founder of their line was a Huguenot, Johannes Berkemeyer, who came to Inchinnan in Renfrewshire in the company of a Scottish soldier of fortune called Rab Tamson, later marrying the latter's sister, Maggie, and eventually settling down as a weaver in Kilbarchan, only a few miles distant from Inchinnan. The grain of probability in this story is supplied by the appearance of a George Birkmyre at the Kirk of Inchynnane in 1588-that is, after the arrival of the Huguenot refugees in this country. But if we accept that reading of history, we have to admit that the Birkmyrs of the earlier Scottish records were certainly not Huguenots, even if an incoming Berkemeyer could conveniently change his surname to the native Birkmyre.
At the same time, the research branch of the Huguenot Society of London declares that Berkemeyer was almost certainly a Huguenot name, though not a common one and, as is apt to happen in ancient records, spelt in various forms. There is also the difficulty that Scotland, unlike England, did not require the Huguenot refugees to register as 'stranger'. Finally, the imperfect state of the Scottish parochial registers would make it well nigh impossible to trace the family tree of a foreigner arriving at Inchinnan in 1560 or thereabouts to the simple weaver who went from the Kilbarchan district to Port Glasgow in 1792.
It is a fascinating puzzle, and the tradition of the family's Huguenot origin cannot be ruled out. It is simple historical fact

that the Protestant refugees were welcomed to Scotland for their traditional skill in weaving. It is also relevant that Henry Birkmyre went to Port Glasgow as a weaver, to assist in the production of sailcloth, and not as a ropespinner.Weaving was a staple village industry over wide areas of West Scotland before the processes of centralisation and mechanisation got to work. To this day one may come across in quite remote parts the shards of derelict small mills and rows of what were once workers' cottages. The trade was followed in the three large Renfrewshire villages of Inchinnan, Kilbarchan and Lochwinnoch as well as in the county town of Paisley and spilled over into Ayrshire. What can now be traced with certainty is a high incidence of Birkmyres in Kilbarchan in particular, that picturesque townlet still wrapped in charm and tradition despite the modernistic pressures about it.

The parish records witness to the marriages of three Birkmyres during the sixth decade of the 18th century.A Henry, a John and another John, the last specifically described as 'Weaver in Kilbarchan'. All married girls with good local names-Janet Craig, Agnes Carruth and Marion Hare. Of such folk was born the first Henry Birkmyre of The Gourock Ropework Company. He was born to Henry Birkmyre and his wife, Jane Craig, on January 12th, 1762. Only nine months previously Marion Hare, the wife of John Birkmyre, had given birth to a daughter christened Agnes. Young Henry and Agnes - full cousins and the bride older than her groom-were married in 1785. The first Family Bible states that young Henry was born in Lochwinnoch, and this may well have been so. Lochwinnoch and Kilbarchan are only five miles apart, and an honest weaver took employment where he could find it. It is still beyond a doubt that the young people who migrated to Port Glasgow in 1792 came thence from Kilbarchan and regarded it as their native place.

A portrait of the old gentleman did survive and hung in the Board Room at Port Glasgow. It is not a major work of art, and his younger descendants are apt to be irreverent in their interpretations of the subject's aspect. The picture is nevertheless a fair enough likeness of a man with a candid, bland expression-the fact of a simple, honest sort of man. The hair over the forehead straggles in a curiously unkempt fashion, but underneath those untidy locks there gleams a shrewd pair of eyes, of such a colour and setting as detached observers see persisting in his descendants to this day.

Birkmyre Family History

Henry Birkmyre

Some of these details were taken from "The Gourock" by George Blake. Written in the 60's I have no reason to think that this part of the text is inaccurate although other parts of the book I have found to be "slightly off the mark."
The family bible that is mentioned was not an unusual thing for a family to have (I own one myself) and it is has been mentioned to me that the Birkmyres was left in Broadstone. When it was discovered it was then handed to the parish priest of the Holy Family which is close by. At this time I have no evidence to support this information. It would seem strange when there is a Birkmyre still living in the area that no attempt was made to return it to a member of the family.

Henry Birkmyre 1st
of Kilbarchan

In 1792 Henry Birkmyre 1st joined the Gourock Rope Works Company.
Born in Lochwinnoch in 1762 he came from Kilbarchen to Port Glasgow and in 1814 having worked in the factory and made the position as foreman he was then made a partner in the firm.
Henry was married to his full cousin Agnes Birkmyre (B:12/04/1761) of Kilbarchen.She was the daughter of John Birkmyre and Marion Hare.
Henry died at the age of 82 on 1/5/1844. His wife died on 18/09/1849 at the age of 88.

One of their children William (1st) was born in 1802. He was to be the one that followed in his father foot steps and was trained and pointed in the right direction from a young age. He was sent to Glasgow at the age of 14 to observe and learn from the merchants. By the age of 19 he was off to America where he spent three years making connections which would prove usefull to him in the furture.

He returned to Port Glasgow in 1823 and went to work at the Gourock Rope Works as works manager.
He was married to Margaret Aitken .

William greatly improved the fortunes of the company, in all aspects he laid down the foundation for the sucess that was to follow.
He died at the age of 59 on 8/01/1862 at the family home Ashgrove in Port Glasgow. Situatedat the bottomof the clune Brae where Asgrove Lane is today.  Margaret died in Broom Lodge in Kilmacolm 20/6/1883 at the age of 79. She had at this time one female unmarried servent/domestic help from Port Glasgow Miss Mary Moody.

William Birkmyre I

On reading The Gourock, by George Blake it states that Adam Birkmyre never married. On looking at other documents including details taken from old news papers and grave stones it mentions his "wife" Isabella Aitken. She is detailed as this on the grave stone they share and although they might never have married in the death notice she is given the title of his wife. She did die at Shalott. I believe there was no children from this relationship.


William Birkmyre provided the town with much needed recreational ground in the form of Birkmyre Park in Port Glasgow. In 1895 he bought ground near Glenpark House and turned it into a park providing a bowling green and swings for the children. This park was like many things in the town, situated on a hill and offered open views across the water in what would have been a very rural setting at the time before houses started to be built up around it.The park was opened on 13th July 1895.
After spending some time in India he became the MP for the Burgh of Ayr . He took little to do with the company and concentrated more on his political career.


This brother was responsible it is believed for all the foreign travel and overseas development of the family business. He is not mentioned in the family 'books' for the company.He was a generous benefactor to Kilmacolm and donated to them Birkmyre Park in the middle of the town. He also paid for reading rooms and the library in Kilmacolm.St Jame's Church which still stands on the way into the village was given money towards a bell. His initial gift was to be a set of bells but this was thought to have too much of a "Catholic" assosiation. It was communicated to Adam that they would rather have a single bell in keeping more with the Presbyterian tradition. "Very well" he was to shout "they will have the loudest bloody bell in Kilmacolm!" and by all accounts it is!

Shallott in Kilmacolm which is now part of St Columba's School. Adam died in Switzerland while on holiday on the 22nd May 1906

He died at the hotle de Louvre et de la Paix, Marseilles on 19th April 1900.

There is a large collection of letters that were sent to him (nearly 100) held at the McMasters Library in Canada. The album contains these letter and two photographs and have been pasted into a book.


John Birkmyre was one of the third generation to be involved with Port Glasgow and the Gourock Rope Works.He was described as the quietest of the brothers and was responsible for the gift to the town of the Broadstone Jubilee Hospital. An initial contribution of £10.000 rose until the final figure of £40,000.The hospital was formally opened by Lady Alice Shaw Stewart on October 24th 1907, and on the day a set of two gold master keys were presented to the to Mr Birkmyre and his wife as a mark of the towns appreciation and to celebrate their Golden Wedding.

He was also involved in the running of The Bouverie Street Sunday School, this was a job that was to take up 48 years of his life and he only stopped this, the year before his death. Every year he opened up the grounds of his home for the children of the school to have their annual summer picnic.

Not wanting to be left out Mrs J Birkmyre was also in the habit of donating money and time. She on one occasion donated £1.804 to the Hamilton church which they used to install a church organ in 1900.
Throughout the books I have read I have never once seen this lady referred to as anything other than Mrs John Birkmyre of Broadstone.

This would have been the grounds of Broadstone House which later became Broadstone Hospital and is now being redeveloped and turned into flats, with additional new homes being built on the surrounding land.

This page last modified on Friday, April 02, 2010

John married Helen MacLarty (born c1832) who lived in Scarlow Street  the daughter of  Malcolm MacLarty and Helen Thompson on 29th November 1853


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