On 9th July 1706 William Gordon of Earlstoun (Kirkcudbrightshire) was created the 1st Baronet of Afton, the barony comprising lands in the parish of New Cumnock inherited by his wife Mary Campbell, heiress of Sir George Campbell of Cessnock.
Generations later the Barony of Afton was held by Catherine Gordon and her husband Alexander Stewart, who began to work the extensive coal measures in the parish. The couple also acquired the lands of Stair on the banks of the River Ayr. It was while living at Stair House that Catherine Gordon Stewart met with Robert Burns and became enchanted and fascinated with his work.
In 1786, a collection of 8 poems of Burns including the ‘The Lass of Ballochmyle’ and ‘Handsome Nell’ were published and are now known as the Stair Manuscript. Five years later in 1791 this was followed by the Afton Manuscript comprising 14 poems among which were his mystical ‘Tam O’Shanter’ and his glorious ‘Sweet Afton’.
‘To Mrs. General Stewart of Afton. The first person of her sex and rank that patronised his humble lays, this manuscript collection of Poems is presented, with the sincerest emotions of grateful respect, by the Author’. Robt. Burns
After the death of her husband Catherine Gordon Stewart vacated the large Stair House and moved to the purpose built Afton Lodge between Tarbolton and Mossblown. She, along with two of her daughters, lies buried in Stair Kirkyard.
In the following century the New Cumnock coalfield began to flourish as several companies sank pits in the parish and built the miner’s rows to house their workers and families. So too did the demand to play and watch association football blossom and teams such as senior side Lanemark (1877) taking their name from Lanemark Coal Company (landlord of their Connel Park pitch) and Afton Lads (1879) named from the Afton pits on the Afton estate emerged.
After the Great War Lanemark FC folded and the football gulf was filled by newly formed junior side New Cumnock United named after New Cumnock Collieries which had by this time owned most of the pits in the parish, including those on the Afton estate). After great success in their early years New Cumnock United fell on hard times and folded in 1928.
Within two years however a new team was formed to take their place, based at Connel Park and for the time being making full use of United’s hamper. But what to call the new team?
The call went out for ideas and it came to past Glenafton Athletic were formed.
Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes!
Flow gently, I’ll sing thee a song in thy praise!
My Mary’s asleep by the murmuring stream —
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream!