Old Ayr Harbour and Ayr Pier
Foreign trade through the harbour was always important to the affluent merchants of Ayr. 16th Century exports to Europe included wool, hides, cloth and salted fish with imports of wine, spices, flour, iron and salt. In the mid 17th Century transatlantic trade commenced initially with the West Indies and later with North America. Cargoes of cloth, shoes and qualified labourers were sent out and products of sugar and tobacco brought back from slave plantations.
The customs duties brought in by the 1707 Act of Union had an initial adverse effect on trade and brought about the rise in smuggling. The Industrial Revolution and growth of Empire brought new prosperity but also led to oppression and exploitation of the workforce at home and abroad such as coal export and the slave trade.
Ayr harbour had a major fish market and the harbour was home to a number of fishing vessels. Shipbuilding as a major industry developed in the late eighteenth century. Construction of wooden sailing ships changed to steel steamers by 1883. From then to 1930, 142 vessels and a number of barges were built, first by Samuel B. McKnight and Company, and then from 1902 by the Ailsa Ship Building Company. Ship repair work continued into the 1960s. Today there is no ship building or fishing industry in Ayr.