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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Burns Cottage, Alloway

The 'Auld Cleg Biggin' as the poet himself described his birthplace, was put up by his father, William Burnes, on seven and a half acres of ground purchased from Dr Alexander Campbell of Ayr in 1756. In it, Robert Burns was born on 25th January 1759. A few days later, an alarming incident befell the baby and his mother: an incident best described in a letter by Gilbert Burns first printed in Dr Currie's edition of 1803:

'When my father built his "clay biggin" — Robert spelt it "cley" — he put in two stone jambs, as they are called and a lintel, carrying up the chimney in his clay gable. The consequence was, that as the gable subsided, the jambs remaining firm, threw it off its centre; and, one very stormy morning, when my brother was 9 or 10 days old, a little before daylight, a part of the gable fell out, and the rest appeared so shattered, that my mother, with the young poet, had to be carried through the storm to a neighbour's house, where they remained a week till their own dwelling was adjusted.

Robert himself, in his song 'There was a lad was born in Kyle', refers to the incident:

"Our Monarch's hindmost year but ane
Was five and twenty days begun,
'Twas then a blast o' Janwar win'
Blew hansel in on Robin...."

Burns spent the first 7 years of his life in this 'but and ben', which the worthy schoolmaster John Murdoch described as 'with the exception of a little straw, literally a tabernacle of clay', until the family moved to Mount Oliphant in 1766. Murdoch, who was writing retrospectively, added: 'In this cottage, of which I myself was at times an inhabitant, I really believe there dwelt a larger portion of content than in any Palace in Europe. "The Cotter's Saturday Night" will give some idea of the temper and manners that prevailed there.'

Old Burnes thereafter let the cottage to various tenants until 1781, when it and the ground were bought by the Incorporation of Shoemakers in Ayr for £160. That body let both land and the buildings, and shortly before 1800, their first tenant turned the place into an ale house. It remained an ale house until 1881, when it was acquired by the Alloway Burns Monument Trustees, who pulled down the additional buildings added by the Incorporation of Shoemakers, and restored the 'Auld Cley Biggin' to its original proportions.

It is now the most important of the Burns Museums and contains not only many domestic relics of the poet's life, but virtually a complete collection of all editions of his work.

Buy the Burns Encyclopedia online
Home | Introduction | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

Robert Burns Store

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Complete Burns Songs

linn recordings of burns Linn Records have completed their landmark recording of all 368 Burns songs, available as individual CDs or a 12 volume presentation box set. We have full details. Click here...


Burns Music & Recordings
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Burns Chess Sets

Burns Chess SetsUnique collectors' pieces based on Burns' life and works. (The ideal gift for your Burns Supper guests!) Click here...

Scotweb Store

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