The estate of Hunterston comprising Hunterston and Campbeltoun, two conterminous properties which retaining their distinctive names and rights, have been for centuries incorporated, is situated on the coast to the westward of Southannan. It is the only portion of the parish of Kilbride, which from its earliest division in the twelfth century has remained unalienated, and is the seat of the Hunters of Hunterston, or of that Ilk, a family of great antiquity.
Although the tower fortalice and manor place of Huntarstoune" are repeatedly named in the writs of the period, Bleau inadvertently failed to indicate them correctly in the map which he engraved for Pont about ad 1600. "Kamello" however is to be found in the position which Campbelton should occupy and the diligent topographer of Cuninghame duly caters "Kammeltounc" in his "Alphabett", and records that "Huntarstoune belongs to Robert Huntar laird thereof".
The surname of Venator or Huntar is of early Norman origin. Professor Innes tells us that "the use of fixed surnames arose in France about the year 1000, came into England about sixty years later with the Norman Conquest, and reached us in Scotland, speaking roundly about the year 1100". Sixteen years afterwards that is to say in 1116 we find in our Cartularies the name of William Venator as a witness with Hugh de Morville to an inquisition by David Prince of Cumbria; and this is noteworthy when we recall that "the race of Stuart already first of Scotch families in opulence and power were distinguished by no surnames for several generations after the Norman Conquest".
Surnames deseriptive of personal peculiarities and of callings or occupations, were not general until the thirteenth century and it would appear therefore that the designation of Venator which originated in the eleventh century must have been derived from the office of the first of the name who bore it. Renowned moreover as were the Normans for profieiency in venatic pursuits, and common to all as were the sports of the chase a special application must necessarily have been given to this appellative, and it is evident that the surnames of Grosvenor and of Venator were conferred distinctively on Le Gros Veneur, the holder par eminence of an hereditary office.
In the early charters the name assumes many forms of spelling and is recorded as Huntr, Huntar, or Huntare but in all the more recent documents it is written Hunter, according to the present mode of orthography. It matters little whether the designation Hunter of that Ilk arose from the family having assumed the name of the lands they acquired, or conferred their own upon them there is evidence enough in the writings of our best genealogists and in the expression "of that Ilk" itself, that the name of the property and the proprietor were the same Bellenden explains of that Ilk to mean that he who is thus designed "has a title the same with his surname".
Sprung from the same source descended, from a common ancestor two families of the name whilst acknowledging the identity of origin contested for some centuries the honour of precedence that of which we treat and Hunter of Polmood in Tweddale now extinct. But it is noteworthy that the rival house was invariably designated of Polmood and was never styled of that Ilk a distinction accorded as we have stated to the Ayrshire family.
In his notice of the Polmood branch Sir James Dalrymple satirically alludes to a copy of a charter "carried about" in his day by its representative, and alleged to have been granted by Malcolm Canmore in the first year of his reign (ad 1057) to Norman Hunter, the earliest of the name on record. A copy of this spurious document is inserted by Pennecuick in his History of Tweeddale and the too eredulous doctor does not appear to have entertained a doubt of its authenticity, but Armstrong who wrote more recently (ad 1775), interested himself in ascertaining the genuineness of this charter and pronounced its existence to be purely mythical. Professor Innes affirms that Scotland had no charters of any description so early as the reign of Malcolm Canmore even in the reigns of his sons, he says, none were granted to lay men, these first appearing in the time of David I.
This however is rather a hasty conclusion in the face of the fact that the monks of the Priory of St Andrews had a grant or charter of the lands of Kyrkness from Macbeth and his wife Gruoch, some years prior to the reign of Malcolm Canmore. The non existence of crown records and private charter chests, earlier than the twelfth or thirteenth centuries does not warrant us in the belief that no such thing as charters existed.
The earlier grants of the crown have come down to us mainly through the medium of the church and these of course refer almost solely to ecclesiastical gifts. But it is not thence to be inferred that lay grants were not also given That a species of feudalism prevailed in Scotland long previous to the advent of the Normans, is pretty generally admitted. But be this as it may, it is certain that Norman Hunter could not have been born until some years after the decease of the monarch of whose pretended rhyming charter, Pennccuick inserts the subjoined alleged copy
"I, Malcolm Canmore, King, the first of my reign, give to thee, Norman Hunter of Polmood", the Hope up and down above the earth to heaven and below the earth to hell, as free to thee and thine as ever God gave it to me and mine; and that for a Bow and a Broad Arrow when I come to hunt in Yarrow "
Pennecuick who was a zealous partizan of the Polmood family, proceeds to record in an ecstasy of perfect faith that "the broad arrow is still in the house and the bow has been seen by several persons". They were doubtless as ancient as the charter; but be this as it may, Polmood was held by the Hunters from a considerably remote period and so ancient and so honourable a family needed not such questionable aid to inerease its widely and justly admitted antiquity.
Chambers in his History of Peebleshire after recording the extinction of this family in 1689, in the person of Robert Hunter of Polmood, the last legitimate representative gives an interesting account of the fortunes of his natural son George of the stranger in blood but of the same name who in 1765 succeeded to the designation and to the property and of the long and fiercely contested litigation of which the estate was the subject.
The records of the Lyon Office afford strong heraldic evidence of the common origin of the Hunters of Hunterston and of Polmood the ancient arms of the former as "Praefectus Venatorum Regiorum in Cuninghame", being on three hunting horns vert and of the latter are three hunting horns. The earliest example of these bearings now extant is to be found at Melrose Abbey where on a shield carved at the base of a now ruined niche on the fifth buttress from the south transept are sculptured the arms of Abbot Andrew Hunter.
These consist of two Abbots erosiers in saltire, with a stringed hunting horn below the heads of the crosiers on each side and what appears to have been overlooked, possibly from the decaying surface of the stone one also in base. It also displays a rose in the chief middle point, and a mason's mallet, Scoltice, Mell", on the base point of the shield a device for the name of Melrose his initials (A.D) are on the shield, one on each side below the hunting horns and two draped figures of angels and not mermaids as they have been deseribed, carry the shield between them supporting it with their hands on each side the raised wings of the angels being distinctly seen running back on the sides of the sculpture, and something like tho remains of a crown is placed under the point of the shield thus supporting it on the buttress below.
This Abbot Andrew Hunter was confessor to James II and filled many important offices from 1448 to 1460. He held the office of Lord High Treasurer of Scotland from 1449 till 1453.
Crawfurd the author of the "Peerage of Scotland", in noticing the rival families observes that they are both repute ancient officers of State. "The family of the south is styled Hunter of Polmood of whom nothing has been seen and that in the west is designed Hunter of that Ilk or Hunterston whose writs have very carefully perused. This family from charters appears to have had at least a part the estate they still possess in Cunninghame while the Morvilles were Lords of that country as far back as the reign King Alexander II".
The learned author of the "Historical Notes to Pont" above referred to endorses Crawfurd's statement in the following words, "This family would appear to have had possession at least of tho original territory of Hunter's-toun proper as early as the days of the De Morvilles, and it would seem at least probable that these lands were originally held in connection with an office relating to the chase in the semi regal establishment of the district, and he truly remarks in a further notice of the house of Hunterston, that "it is certainly pleasing to find that this very ancient family have ever continued in possession of this their original little territory through direct hereditary succession down to the present time a period of perhaps at least eight centuries whilst most of the principal barons and great landholders under De Morville have long utterly disappeared and have been forgotten in their wide domains and proud feudal prerogatives".
The first of the family of whom as it has been stated authentic record exists was Norman Hunter who lived between ad 1080-1165. Armstrong supposses him to have followed the Norman Conqueror to England but to have fled from the arbitrary oppressions of his successors, and to have sought shelter in Scotland; but he would rather appear to have been one of the many who passing over to England subsequent to the Conquest came northward in the train of David the First who was then Prince of Cumberland.
Hunters of Hunterston, or, of that Ilk ... (Detailed History)
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Hunter Clan of Ayrshire
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