Personal Recollections – Stevenston
My name is Sandy Wilson I was born in 1932 at the Hayocks house lodge. My father worked for the Macgregors who had changed the name of the estate to Ardchoille when they bought it from the previous owners - it is their clan rallying call.
I remember my mother leaving me with Miss Boyd the head of the primary school. She was very kind and reassuring. The year would be 1937. Roses sweetie shop was across the road - she would bring over a tray of penny treats that could be passed through the railings. Slate pencils were sharpened on the corner of the building making groves that I recollect still there in the sixties.
Shops in the new street: The post office, blin Jock the barber and Archie Leach’s general store - he had the most enormous belly! A great source of amusement to us. The sign painter, Bogy Rowe would renew his sign above his house with the most colorful three-dimensional paintings. I think the technique was called deceiving the eyes or ‘Trompe le oiel’. Nowadays he would be regarded as an artistic genius.
New Street led on to Stevenston Cross. Pubs within a few hundred yards of each other were the Cross Keys, The Douglas Arms, The White Hart, The Champion Shell and The Thistle and Rose. All had their loyal customers. Saturday night would see men staggering around having spent most of their wages on drink - the wife and weans would have to make do with what was left!
All of the primary teachers at the primary school were female who I recall with affection. The secondary teachers were all men, who I despised. They would resort to the belt at the slightest excuse. It was during the war and they were preoccupied by events and could not get rid of us quickly enough. I learned more in a couple of years after school than I ever did in it.
An example being the great Ayrshire feud between the Cunninghams and the Montgomeries. There we sat - not a mile from the ruins of Kerelaw Castle and nearby Eglinton. Bands of armed horsemen rampaged across each other's lands burning houses and slaughtering cattle and any peasants who got in the way. This went on for decades. It is strange why a film or a tv serious has not been made. It would make Outlander look like a fairy tale. Not a word of this was related to us in school. Instead we were bored rigid with English history. Local social and industrial heritage was ignored
The area was littered with flooded mine workings. Some would have been worked out, but many had to be abandoned. Miners worked up to their waist in water. Many times, old workings would be breached. No accurate plans were kept - it would have cost too much. People were housed in ‘raws’ or squares, earthen floors prevailed as were communal latrines. It was no wonder that cholera erupted from time to time. Infant mortality from diphtheria, scarlet fever and many other diseases and chronic malnutrition were shocking.
Iron was also produced at Ardeer. Conditions were as near to hell as can be imagined. Operated over twenty-four hours - slag was simply dumped on the beach. Effects on the environment was not considered. Not content with the profits from the iron, the iron masters operated a company store, whereby workers could obtain basic goods docked against their wages. It was very easy to get into debt. Bread -‘line breed’ was - baked by local bakers to a price dictated by the company. Inferior flour was used, but it was sold at the same price as a loaf at any town bakers. I was told you could recognize it by the gray colour and it was only available in the company store.
The cross was where men would stand around. Some would be unemployed, but there were men on crutches or had missing limbs. Some would be coughing their lungs up and many had facial scars. It was explained to us by our parents that they were the result of (the Great War). They probably received a few shillings of a pension. Local worthies would sit around dispensing wisdom - much of which, was greatly exaggerated. Two names I recall - being Sanny Wylie and Dunne Maxwell what they did not know - they invented!
The mill at Stevenston was no longer working but the millstones and machinery were still there. I think a Mr Grossert was the last miller before the mill lade and the dam were silted up. A little up the hill was Begbies Dairy - it would have been a small dairy
farm at one time - but the land had all been built on. They now bought in milk in churns and sold it locally. Stevenston Burn ran through Kerelaw grounds at this point. It was quite clean, small brown trout could be seen but they were impossible to catch! A gang of us built a ‘dooker’. I don't think any of the present computer age boys would have the slightest idea what I am talking about?
One day we came over and the burn was covered with dead eels. Some were quite large, and many minnows. Obviously, something very toxic had been put in the water by accident or design. My father thought it could have come from the water works at Greenhead. The burn never recovered as far as I know.
Ashgrove Loch was a great place for boys. There were lots of ‘blaeberries’. They dyed the inside of your mouth blue. Tatties would be roasted in a fire, usually eaten half raw!
The whole day could be spent there and no one would be concerned. A vagrant that we called auld Nick lived in the ruins of Hillerhurst lime kiln. He was Irish and had a bad leg. He walked with a blackthorn stick that he would use if you got in his way! He would get ‘foo’ from time to time - where he got the money was a mystery. I remember an occasion when my father and Jonny Harvie the gardener pulled him out of the sheugh and put him in a barrow and took him up to his howff.
John Kildee another Irishman operated a bauxite quarry at Ashgrove. He was totally different. He was six-foot-tall and ramrod straight. He rode a huge old upright bike that had a double crossbar. It must have been a ton weight. He was ex Irish guards and saluted everyone. He called my mother ‘mistress’ and she said he was a proper gentleman. He and my father would talk for ages at the front gate. I think they both had been in the Mesopotamian campaign during the war.
In the grounds of Ardeer house there was an old mine shaft. It had a single brick wall around it. If you jumped up you could ‘sclim’ up and sit astride it. If a stone was thrown down it would be several seconds later a splash could be heard. God knows how deep it was. There was a beam spanning it and it was covered in moss and slimy. I remember a boy a bit older- he would be about fourteen or fifteen - in the forties, dreeping down onto it and crawling over to the other side and being pulled up. If he had fallen off he would never have been seen again. He was called Tucker. I think it was a nickname. Does anyone know who Tucker was? I still get nightmares about him.
Country boys would follow Borlands Mill. It was pulled by steam traction engine. When it got to the farm - if you were lucky you could get a job stacking bales or storing chaff. I was a bit bigger than my mates and got to carry bags of corn into the barn. They each weighed twelve stone. When I told my father what I had been doing he was furious and got on his bike and confronted the farmer who I will not name. Seemingly it was a man’s job. I got seven shillings I thought it was great.
I could work a Clydesdale horse, scuffing potatoes or work a pair on the digger. I still have a soft spot for them.
Tinkers would set up camp up the old road. The men repaired pots and pans and the women who would have a baby on their back. They would gather rags. They got a reputation for thieving - probably unjustified.
The Clelands had a large tomato farm at Hayocks. They sold direct to the public. Long queues would form because tomatoes were not on the ration and they were restricted to two pounds per person. Of course, another member of the family would just go round again.
Ardeer was raided by the Luftwaffe and some damage was done. It was said that because the factory had been built on sand dunes, a lot of the bombs did not go off. I don't think production was affected very much.
Just across a couple of fields from our house at Hawkhill there was an anti-aircraft battery. It was one of earliest radar-controlled units I was told. I can't remember any planes being shot down. Some boys got a hold of ammunition - how it was obtained is a mystery. Ships damaged on convoys were brought in to Ardrossan for repair. Perhaps it came from them?
A boy appeared one day with a live shell. A hole was dug in the ash playground, a nail propped up with clay was placed on the detonator and a brick was dropped on it. After several attempts it went off with a hell of a bang! Fortunately, the shell case just split open - otherwise someone could have been killed. Jock Ross the janny came over but everyone pleaded ignorance!
I find it astonishing that I can remember events from the forties but what I did last week can be a mystery. If this goes on The Three Towns website people of a great age may find it interesting.