Alloway and Southern Ayrshire FAMILY HISTORY SOCIETY Robert Burns Cottage, Alloway, Ayr
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Wednesday, 12 January 2011

14 Dec 2010 - "The Franco–Scottish Wine Trade" & Social Evening

For our pre-Christmas event, we repeated last year’s successful format of a two course supper at the Horizon Hotel, Ayr.  A good turn-out of thirty local members all seemed to enjoy their meal and a more leisurely chat with fellow-members than is possible at monthly meetings.  Supper was followed by a short presentation on “The Franco–Scottish Wine Trade” by our guest and good friend, Mr Tom Barclay of the Local History Department in the Carnegie Library.

The topic was of particular interest to us all as Ayr was one of the relatively few Scottish ports to be heavily involved in the French Wine trade over the centuries.  From medieval times, Tom told us, fine wine was drunk at the Scottish court and in ecclesiastical circles.  When the Auld Alliance between France and Scotland was strong, Scottish merchants and Scottish ships were shown preference in the wine ports of the Bay of Biscay and one can imagine how that went down with other nationalities involved in the trade.  Ships would leave Scottish ports in the autumn arriving in time for the new vintage in the Bordeaux area and return fully laden before the New Year.  A frequent cargo was also salt needed by the Scots to salt and preserve herring which would then find their way back to France and the Low Countries.  By the late fifteenth century, Loudon Hall, by the old Boat Vennel, had three vaulted chambers on the ground floor for the storage of trade goods such as these.

The Union of the Crowns in 1603 meant that from then on, foreign policy was decided in London and inevitably the fortunes of the Franco-Scottish wine trade fluctuated according to whether or not England and France were at war with each other as happened when, in defence of the Huguenots in La Rochelle, Charles I declared war on France.  It seems, though, that in spite of all the fluctuations besetting this trade, the claret trade continued unabated and between 1682 and 1686 10,000 gallons of claret were landed in Ayr annually.  Moreover, Ayr Burgess Records show that in the late seventeenth century 15 French residents in Ayr were made burgesses of the town.  French wine duties also affected the trade, though many seem to have got round the tax by insisting that the wine or brandy was Spanish or Portuguese. 

Tom closed his presentation by reminding us that, after the crash of the Bank of Douglas Heron and Co. in 1792, the premises were sold, eventually becoming the Whighams of Ayr wine-merchant, and reminding us of the fascination to be found in exploring local as well as family history.

Sheila Dinwoodie

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