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John Fulton

In 1918, a committee was formed to build a public hall and library to celebrate the memory of John Fulton, the builder of the famous Orrery. Led by William Brown of the Schoolhouse in Fenwick they sought to raise £1,200 to buy and equip what had been the Guthrie Memorial Church. The Guthrie Memorial Church (1843) had been set up as a splinter from the Orr Memorial United Secession Church, the scene of the famous visit by Frederick Douglass. The original church bell of the Church remains in the safekeeping of East Ayrshire Council.

Over the next two years, they received subscriptions from all over the world, one of the first being from the Hon (later Sir) George Fowlds in New Zealand, who had married Fulton’s niece. Indeed, judging from the large number of subscriptions from New Zealand, it would seem that George played a very active part in the fundraising.

By the end of 1919, they had achieved their aim, and took possession of the Hall, which was opened in 1920. The Hall remains the public meeting hall for the village, and is now managed by East Ayrshire Council.

John Fulton was born in Fenwick and became a shoemaker by trade. His father was a subscribing member to the library set up in the village by the Fenwick Weavers and from this library, young John developed a love for both astronomy and instrument making. There is a story that John, determined to build an orrery, a working model of the Sun and the planets, “borrowed” his grandmother’s candlesticks, melted them down and used the brass for the model. However he obtained the metal, John went on to build two larger orreries, the last of which can still be seen today in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery. We are assured by the Astronomer Royal that the Orrery still works and it is still as accurate as when John Fulton made it in the 1830s.

John was eventually appointed instrument maker to King William IV and moved to London. On his retiral he returned to Fenwick and is buried in the Fenwick Kirk graveyard.