The Patna Twins: From the Ganges to the Doon River.

© Pippa Virdee 2021

In late-summer I went to Ayr – of Robert Burns fame; a seemingly random but ultimately delightful choice determined by the compulsions of the Pandemic year. After going to Alloway with its Burns Cottage (and ‘cottage industry’ of Burns Tourism), I started exploring the region and came across a place called Patna! To the Indian and historian in me, the connections and curiosities thereof were irresistible, that is a village of a few thousand souls and the Indian city of some millions carrying the same name. From Ayr, the smaller Patna  – by the river Doon – is located about 10 miles away; the other, bigger Patna – capital of the state of Bihar and sprawled by the banks of the mighty Ganga River – is some 8000 km away [].

Patna, or ancient Patliputra, was the capital of the Mauryan (4th-2nd c. BC) Empire and its short-lived successor, Shunga dynasty, and remained a prominent place under the Gupta (4th-6th c. AD) Empire and its eastern successor, Pala kingdom. From the 13th century, it emerged as a provincial seat under the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire. In-between and not far, was Sasaram, where the soldier-administrator Sher Shah Suri (1470s-1540s) had his brief imperial reign. Afterwards, for the Sikhs, Patna emerged a great place of pilgrimage, for it was there that the 10th and last Guru, Gobind Singh was born in 1666. With the decline of the Mughal rule, Patna came under the influence of the Nawabs of Bengal and thereafter the English East India Company from 1765. Trading factories had been started in Patna – as early as the 1620s-30s by the Dutch East India Company, the Portuguese too had traded there even earlier, given its location by a navigable river, proximity to the Bay of Bengal and production of textile around. This thriving fortune was taxed by the British, following their victory over the Nawab of Bengal in the Battle of Buxar of 1764, and Patna (and Bihar) – along with the rest of Bengal – passed into (mal)administration of the Company. The region had begun the journey towards its colonization, during which time many Europeans, including the Scots were attracted by the east as a ‘career’, whereby hands the thread connecting the two Patna(s); as can be read below:

The Scottish Patna “was founded in the early years of the 19th century by William Fullarton, whose family had a close connection with the Bihar State. Fullarton’s uncle, William Fullarton, in 1745, was in the service of the East India Company as surgeon at Fort William, Calcutta [now Kolkata]. After a mixed career as soldier and surgeon, he returned eventually to Scotland in 1770 where he bought the estate of Goldring (later Rosemount), near Kilmarnock. He died in 1805 with no family. This William Fullarton had a brother, Major General John Fullarton, of Skeldon. General Fullarton was also in the service of the East India Company and died in India in 1804. He was succeeded by his second son, William, then aged 24”. (Moore, Gently Flows the Doon, 1972)

Source: Donald Reid, Yesterday’s Patna and The Lost Villages of Doon Valley, 2005

The Patna in East Ayrshire is among the many villages in the Doon Valley, which have been associated with a history of coal, ironstone, and limestone mining. Hence, it once also had a thriving railway station on the Glasgow & South Western branch railway between Ayr and Dalmellington. The station opened in 1856, moved location slightly in 1897, and eventually its passenger service ended in 1964, as part of the brutal Beeching cuts. Coal continued to be carried but even this has now declined and the track lays unused. Indeed, there is an air of a place that once was proud, prosperous, and prolific. Today, it is a sleepy village of barely 1000 families with population declining and unemployment increasing, with which the following words are difficult to square: 

It was in the early 1800s when William Fullarton, an enterprising young man, began mining for coal and limestone on the banks of the Doon. He built houses nearby to accommodate his workers and he decided to call the hamlet Patna after the city in India where his father and uncle had such close associations. William Fullarton later sold the estate at Skeldon and moved to Ayr where he had a successful career in local politics, twice becoming Provost, around 1823-1825 and 1830-1834. He died in 1835 at the age of 60 and is buried in the cemetery of Ayr Auld Kirk. Fullarton proved himself to be a kindly benefactor to Patna. He built the first house in the village to house the manager of his coal mines. This, with offices attached, was to become known to later generations as Patna House.

Donald Reid, Yesterday’s Patna and the Lost Villages of Doon Valley. 2005
Source: Donald Reid, Yesterday’s Patna and The Lost Villages of Doon Valley, 2005

Fullarton is remembered kindly, having created many local amenities for the small and then-growing area. Mining led to home and hearth, work and schools and the stream – a crucial water source – saw the building of the Patna “Auld Brig” in 1805, which functions as a gateway into the village, adding character to it. By 1837, there was a Church building, which is now known as the United Free Church Hall and serves as another reminder of that age. As for the following twentieth century, it has left in its wake the two, ubiquitous, war memorials and a cemetery. There is the obligatory “local” and the imperative “clinic”, but otherwise few streets, some houses and a bus-service connects Patna’s past to its present. As for its bigger “cousin”, once in a while, a visitor comes, like in 2012 [] and in 2018 []. 

With my sincerest thanks to David Rarity of Patna, who took the time to share his memories and material collected over the years on the history of Patna.


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