THE Ayr Advertiser celebrates its 220th birthday today.

Scotland’s oldest weekly newspaper was first published on August 5, 1803 – and with the exception of two weeks in the 1926 General Strike, the paper has appeared every week since then.

Without the initiative and enterprise of two brothers, John and Peter Wilson, the Advertiser would not be around today.

Both men were printers - and John had earned himself a place in history 17 years earlier by publishing Robert Burns' poems and songs in the Kilmarnock Edition.

On August 5 1803, their printing press was transferred to premises near the bottom of the High Street in Ayr, where they began to publish the “Air Advertiser”, as it was known for the first edition.

After a successful six years, Peter Wilson sold up his stake in the paper to the Rev Hamilton, while brother John continued his work on the paper until his death in May 1821.

Ayr Advertiser: The earliest surviving copy of our newspaper - issue 5 from 1803The earliest surviving copy of our newspaper - issue 5 from 1803 (Image: Newsquest)

The layout of the paper became standardised with the first issues, and varied very little for the first 50 years.

On the front page appeared the public notices and advertisements, with the middle pages devoted to national and foreign news with a synopsis of reports in the 'London Gazette'.

Unlike today, for its first 100 years the Ayr Advertiser was very much a national newspaper with a local flavour.

With the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century, the paper recorded the stirring and dangerous years of the conflict. Unemployment, poverty and famine were to follow and the Advertiser was sympathetic towards the distressed and advocated reform to help reduce the plight of the local people.

And the Advertiser was always on hand to triumph one of Ayr’s favourite sons: Rabbie Burns.

Burns was only seven years dead when the Advertiser began its life - and the paper has maintained a strong association with the ploughman poet ever since.

Ayr Advertiser: The Advertiser team celebrated 200 years of publishing in 2003The Advertiser team celebrated 200 years of publishing in 2003 (Image: Newsquest)

One of the biggest stories carried during the paper’s first 50 years was the arrival of railway to the town. Throughout 1839, week after week, the Advertiser reported on shareholders' meetings, the cutting of the line and the progress of setting up a management structure.

On July 18, 1839, we reported the opening of the Glasgow to Ayrshire railway.

The newspaper has had many owners over the years and is now in the capable hands of Newsquest, part of the Gannett publishing empire.