North Ayrshire Heritage Trails
North Ayrshire Heritage Trails

North Ayrshire Heritage Trails

Irvine Cross

North Ayrshire Heritage Trails

North Ayrshire Heritage Trails

Cunninghame House from the Low Green.

North Ayrshire Heritage Trails

North Ayrshire Heritage Trails

Low Green, Irvine, birthplace of George Henry.

Irvine - Explore a medieval New Town

Lord David Boyle, Lord Justice General, 1772 - 1853

An Irvine born man who became Scotland's top law officer, David was part of the Boyle family of Shewalton and grandson of John Boyle 2nd Earl of Glasgow. He was born on 28 July 1772 at the Parterre (the Shewalton town house) in Irvine's High Street. After attending the old burgh school at Kirkgatehead he matriculated at the University of St Andrews in 1787 (aged just 14) and the University of Glasgow in 1789.

He became an Advocate in 1793, Solicitor General for Scotland in 1807and Member of Parliament for Ayrshire in 1808. In 1811 he was appointed a Senator of the College of Justice and a Lord of Justiciary, sitting as Lord Boyle. Later in that year he also became Lord Justice Clerk. After becoming Lord Rector of the University of Glasgow in 1815 he was made a Privy Councillor in 1820 and then Lord Justice General and Constant President of the Court of Session in 1841.

Back home in Irvine he succeeded to the Shewalton estate in 1837 when his brother John died and changed his official title to Lord Shewalton.

His first marriage was at Annick Lodge in 1804 to Elizabeth Montgomerie, niece of Hugh Montgomerie, 12th Earl of Eglinton, and they went on to have eleven children. Their eldest son Patrick became an Advocate himself in 1829 and Patrick's son David became the seventh Earl of Glasgow in 1890.

Boyle married again in 1827 at Edinburgh to Katherine Smythe, daughter of a fellow Judge. They had three sons and a daughter together, the eldest, George, took holy orders in England and became Dean of Salisbury Cathedral in 1880.

David Boyle was the judge who sentenced William Burke to be executed for murder. In 1828 Burke and his accomplice, William Hare, murdered 16 people in Edinburgh in 10 months and sold their bodies to a surgeon for dissection. The murders were a sensation in their day and are still topical today.

Boyle was also part of a commission that sentenced two leaders in the Scottish Radical War to be executed for treason. John Baird and Andrew Hardie were hung at Stirling on 8 September 1820 and then beheaded. This made Boyle very unpopular amongst many in Scotland.

He retired from the bench in 1852 and was offered a Baronetcy which he declined. David Boyle died at Shewalton on 4 February 1853 and is buried in Dundonald Churchyard.

The Statues

Shortly after David Boyle died his friends and ex-colleagues met on 7 March 1853 in Trades Hall, Glasgow, to take steps in commissioning a statue of him. It was chaired by the Duke of Buccleuch and raised £810. Among the subscribers were the Lord Justice General, Sir Thomas Brisbane and the Earl of Glasgow. John Steell was chosen as the sculptor and the marble statue was installed in Parliament Hall, Edinburgh.

Meanwhile, the people of Irvine decided they would like a statue too to go with their new Town House. Again John Steell was chosen as the sculptor and in 1867 the bronze statue of David Boyle was erected on the pavement at the Parterre across from the Town House.

Over the years weathering and pollution darkened the metal and the statue acquired the nickname the "Black Man". Indeed Irvine mothers would threaten their unruly children to behave better or the Black Man would get them.

In 1929 it was agreed by the council to make the High Street pavements narrower for better traffic flow. The Black Man would have to be moved. This decision caused some debate in the town as David Boyle was still a divisive figure because of his part in the executions of Baird and Hardie. One councillor even publically called for the statue to be re-erected upside down.

Several sites were considered including Bridgegate and Fullarton Parish Church where he had been a member of the congregation. But eventually it was moved to spare council land on Castle Street.

Useful websites

Statue of David Boyle in Irvine before it was moved to Castle Street.
Statue of David Boyle at the Faculty of Advocates, Parliament Hall, Edinburgh. Image courtesy of Faculty of Advocates.

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