The Abbey site is unusual in that the three buildings have separate owners: the Parish Church is owned by the Church of Scotland, the Abbey ruins are in the care of Historic Environment Scotland and the tower is owned by North Ayrshire Council, who refurbished it as a visitor centre in 1995.
The tower is staffed by members of Kilwinning Heritage who run the museum that is housed there. Visitors are invited to climb the 143 steps to the roof for fine views of the town, stopping off to look at the clock and bells on the way.
Today, the tower, along with the Abbey’s surviving South Transept, is an iconic image of the town of Kilwinning. Its size and shape means it can be seen for miles around and the people of the town are rightly proud of it and the traditions it represents.
The Clock Tower
The clock tower was built on the foundations of a medieval tower which collapsed in 1814.
The foundation stone was laid with full masonic honours on 21st December 1814. Most of the town of Kilwinning turned out to hear bands playing and to see the masons and archers parading in full uniform. Cannons were fired from Eglinton and Ardrossan Castles as a salute.
The clock tower was completed in November 1816 at a cost of £1520, which had been raised by public subscription.
The Earl and Countess of Eglinton donated £386 to the project.
The chosen architect was Glasgow-based David Hamilton (1768-1843). Another local project of his was the first Tournament Bridge at Eglinton Castle.
Known as the Father of Glasgow architecture, he became a prolific designer for Glasgow’s commercial premises, townhouses and theatres. The Royal Exchange in Glasgow, now the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art, is regarded by many as his masterpiece.
The simple square design of the Abbey Clock Tower must have been a fairly easy project for Hamilton. The only decoration on the tower appears to be the “merry monks” at each side of
the main door.
John Connell of Dalgarven was appointed as builder and John Wylie of Corsehill as inspector.
The work was completed on 12th November 1816, when Wylie declared himself satisfied with the construction.
Connell received £1475 for material and labour; Wylie’s fee was £10. For drawing up all the
plans, architect David Hamilton received the grand sum of £17!
Kilwinning Abbey Tower at Kilwinning Heritage