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Saltcoats Old and New

From the Town Cross to te Old Post Office:
Memories of the Floods

Chapter 14

The Crown Inn has been long an interesting feature of the Town Cross of Saltcoats and the house immediately beyond it (the one-time residence of Captain Crawford) dates from 1783. The Royal Hotel opposite stands on Mrs Oliphant's fine house and garden of other days. Hamilton's Buildings arose in 1875 on the site of the ancient Hay Weigh House. They derive their name from the late Alexander Hamilton, who was well known as a judge at the agricultural shows. A high wall enclosed the weighing space to which an iron barred gate gave admittance. Men met at the junction of the roads to discuss more than the price of oats. Many a time was this spot the centre of loud agitation and demonstration. No longer do the people burn witches here. They found, some years ago, a more congenial pastime in burning effigies. Archie McKillop's weaving shop, in 1823, stood next Hamilton's. In the sixties a space thereabouts was occupied as a "stedyard". It became a bakery.

Beyond the Crown Hotel the old forestairs have vanished; so has the quaint house of tailor Henry and other "biggins", from the windows of which people had to be taken to save them from being overtaken by the flood. Somewhere between the new Trinity Church and McBride's flowed the historic water-runner, which, crossing the street, pored itself out in the bosom of the Braes. McBride's was a dairy farm and keen memories have pictured to us those not very far back days when the cows might have been seen moving across the thoroughfare about milking time. Gilbert Gordon, manufacturer's agent, had his place immediately below the Bank. Andrew McBride's, on which the Bank was built, was a twostorey thatch adjoining (formerly Sandy McKinnon's), but long previously known as Kirsty Nicoll's, a place to enjoy a tumbler o' guid milk wi' a cinder in 't". "The one house with the straw top was very ancient. Up to the time of its demolition it forced itself into the middle of the street, its large window having been once the attraction of the children of Saltcoats. That window had in its day formed a casket of delectable dainties and more than children glanced at its contents as they passed by. The weavers came there to obtain their necessaries; the tailors, sometimes their cloth, the guid-wives of Saltcoats their eggs. It was said to have been at on time the prettiest house in Saltcoats.

The old building was taken down at the end of the sixties when the present elegant structure was erected to the plans of Mr Wallace, architect, the Bank entering into possession in July 1872. When the fortunes of the City of Glasgow Bank were at an end it became, as it now is, the headquarter of the Bank of Scotland. The City of Glasgow Bank had been previously carried on across the way in the building that is now Fullerton's. Until 1858 Fullerton's was the chief agency for the supply of newspapers, which came to the town three times a week, "The minister aye gettin' the first read".

Two old-fashioned houses stood near the water-runner to the north of the Bank buildings. The occupant of one of these used to relate how he jumped out of bed on morning to find himself up to the middle in water. The "burn" (the primeval drainage system) had swollen and the back drench of the sea had placed the streets in flood. Dockhead Street was like a street in Venice and he had to hail a passing boat to escape from his own house. The old houses referred to are now submerged in the Trinity Church. Trinity Church had its origin in the old Relief Church at Parkhead, where, after the stirring days of sectarian war, it pursued its even tenor under the name of the East U P Church. Its transition to Dockhead Street as the Trinity Church recalls the fact that the new home was built for its esteemed and popular minister, the Rev George Philp, who from the day of his reception in September 1864, when, standing at the gate of the church he was publicly acclaimed, merited the compliment to his services which this transference represented.

The quaint little house with the crowstep gable still clinging to the narrow part of the thoroughfare (Dunlop's Hairdressing Emporium) was the Post Office between 1862 and 1884, when John Grimwoood acted as Postmaster and Inspector of Poor. It recalls one most memorable occasion about twentyfour years ago when the waters flowed into Dockhead Street and overran the adjacent streets and the Dockhead was alive with floating craft; cradles, eggboxes and miscellaneous variety of materials appearing on the surface of the water. Dr Wallace, driving home that day from the country over Bradshaw, found his horse immersed almost up to the neck in water and had to take to the higher lands. The Post Office officials found themselves imprisoned in the flood and had to betake themselves - letters, bags and stamping paraphernalia - to an upper floor. From that upper window the mail bags had to be handed out to John Welsh, the postman, who was left to make his way through the alarming current as best he could and so maintain the tradition of "prompt delivery". The little building in which this took place was, in the Forties, the possession of Grace Rose. The Post Office under George Fullerton. now postmaster, Port Glasgow and his sister, Miss Fullerton, was transferred to near the Dockhead entrance. The Dockhead Street has a singular history. It was built over the primitive beach and has its foundation on the wrack, tangle and kelpshore thrown up from the sea and which at one time was claimed as a perquisite of the lordly lessors. During recent excavations ashes were found and these were said to be the remains of the salt fires of the primeval salters; but less enthusiastic antiquarians declare them to be the refuse of the more recent salt works drifted in from the Pans.