Saltcoats Old and New
"Scotland's Quaintest Burgh". It's lost links and landmarks restored.
By P. Charles Carragher Published By Arch'd Wallace 1909 This edition: Deirdre Gallagher 1986
Contributed by George Gallagher ~ Saltcoats
The fact that Saltcoats has not played any romantic part in the Scottish history book, or "contributed to the stirring annals of conflict and the deeds of Kings", does not disqualify it from proper recognition in the chronicles of history-haunted Ayrshire. In the past its glory has suffered an undeserved abridgement by reason of its geographical position between the two towns which, resting upon its wings, are yet absolutely dissociated from it in character, quaintness and charm. The present volumes claims to be the first to do justice to the town's picturesque individuality, or to give to its fascinating story the exclusive treatment it as so long demanded. Historical- features, hitherto undealt with, are introduced; and many old landmarks are drawn from obscurity to light for the first time. The book covers, in brief compass, the long period of the town transformation from moor land to barley rigs; from pasture to pavement; the unique and old-fashioned features of Saltcoats being emphasised with the object of justifying the designation, of which it cannot readily be dispossessed, "Scotland's quaintest Burgh".
The wonderful memories of old townspeople and the remarkable retrospective vision of John Welsh, Scotland's oldest postman, have greatly aided the writer in giving glimpses of features and folk half a century ago. Who can say that Saltcoats is arid literary soil or unworthy of such a compendium? The town which gave birth to a lady skipper; which was the native place of the Clyde captains and their crews; which produced the Allans of the Allan Line; the Smiths of the City Line; the workmen who went to Belfast to extend the linen and flax trade; the Ritchies, with Robert Rankine Ritchie at their head, who sent sloops and schooners to the herring industries; which was the fons et origo of the Scottish Temperance movement and which has sent forth a host of distinguished men in the ranks of commerce, of literature, of navigation, renders any apology for its chronicle unnecessary. And what town in the kingdom can claim to have given the equerry of an Emperor? Alexander Gamble, who rode through the barricades behind Napoleon the Third; who was all but torn from his horse when the gates of the Tuilleries were about to be closed on the excited crowds; who was in the thick of Magenta and Solferina; who held the champing horses of "the little Emperor" when the treaty of Villafranca was being signed; and who watched him die at Chiselhurst, first saw the light in Saltcoats in 1817.
The author has endeavoured to clarify for posterity what hitherto has been vague impressions of the Pre-Reformations of Saltcoats. He could (had it fallen within his scope) have made extended reference to the remains of the town's Convent Holmbyres, between the Caaf Water and the Monoch or Caddell Burn; To the "Nunnery Croft" and other ancient vestiges, and the graveyard on Ardrossan Hill, where the early villagers of Saltcoats lie. Although Stevenston can claim the cell of its patron, St Monoch, Saltcoats is blest with no particular sanctification any more than Ardrossan, at all events, none that is authorised in the Canonical Calendar. It has not even the visible distinction of it's neighbours, Ardrossan, the mark of the devil's hoof, or red ruin upon which it could have been implanted. The Harbour reef, so far as protruding beyond the ancient Quay, has certainly the impression of pre-historic feet; but the monastic records of the West point to these being the prints of saints, not devils. No better prelude for this book could be found than the words of Miss Muir, of Kilmarnock, authoress of lyrics and poems, who's people belonged to Saltcoats and who penned this tribute to its charm.
A song for the old, old town
That sits beside the sea,
With quaint old buildings worn and brown,
All clustered curiously.
Scattered with scarce a care,
Close by old ocean's bed,
Gable and frontage mingling there,
As vagrant fancy led.
But the seaport town, with it's clusters brown
Has a charm around it shed.
For a spirit haunts the town
And the quay so strangely still,
Where seamen once strode up and down,
And good ships sailed at will.
Where'er our lot is cast,
We may hear them far away
Sending their echoes of the past
Through the voices of to-day.
And the quiet quay where they float so free
Is a pleasant spot to stray.