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Saltcoats Old and New

"The Revolution":
Municipal Metamorphosis:
Transformation of "saltland" into a Burgh

Chapter 17

After long and weary endeavour, the proposals for transforming the "town or village" of Saltcoats into a Burgh were formally adopted in 1885. This was called "the peaceful revolution" and it had taken thirty years to accomplish. It was in 1851 that the thought of creating the enviable status first occurred to the aspiring townspeople. There was a short and sharp conflict of two years, with a vigorous opposition which manifested disfavour in the form of a "Death's Head and Cross Bones" demonstration. A question of enfranchisement suggesting disqualification of all who had rents below ten pounds led to the trite battle-cry of "no Votes, No Burgh". The Sheriff ordered a new Electoral list and this, regarded as a victory by the opposition, was celebrated y a general illumination. In 1865 and again in 1884, the strife was renewed and the proposals defeated by organised opposition. Times and manners changed within twelve months. At a meeting in the Town Hall on 22 May 1885, at which Sheriff-Substitute Hall, Kilmarnock, presided, Mr Mc Isaac of Parkend moved a simple adoption of the Burgh Statues; William Bryden seconded; there was no opposition; and the old Baronial Burgh of Saltcoats attained its long cherished desire.

The following memorials of the Burgh fall to be recorded:-
On 29 June 1885, James Campbell was appointed Clerk to the Commissioners, an office which he held until his death on 8th August 1906. The first Medical Officer was Dr J R Brown, on whose death in July 1896, Dr C R Macdonald succeeded. The office of Procurator Fiscal first fell on 17 August 1885, to Thomas Kirkhope, who resigned in 1887. The appointment devolved upon James Gray, Writer, Ardrossan. On his death in November 1894, Thomas Smith was appointed.

The first Sanitary Inspector was Boyd Miller, appointed on 28 July 1885 and to the Surveyors office a few months later. He resigned both offices on 23 April 1891, when James Miller Jnr, succeeded him as Sanitary Inspector and Surveyor. Hugh Thomson had both offices from 28 April 1892 to 13 January 1896. Ultimately David Robertson was appointed to the offices on 20 December 1897 following upon the resignation of James Miller Jnr, who had then been twice in office.

The first Treasurer of the Burgh was James McIsaac of Parkhead, who discharged the duties gratuitously. He was appointed on 14 September 1885 and reigned in May 1891. Andrew Armour, the first salaried Treasurer, died in October 1897, when the duties fell to William Alan, Banker, who was Treasurer from 22 November 1891 and resigned on 22 February 1898. Archibald Ritchie followed him and held office until his death in 1906. John Miller, present Chamberlain of the Burgh, was appointed on 18 September 1906.
Joseph Gillies, Irvine, holds office as Veterinary Inspector

In appointing as Town Clerk of the newly-formed Burgh the late James Campbell, a just tribute was paid to his long and active interest in the town and his enthusiastic and loyal efforts for its welfare during practically a lifetime. He had taken part in every movement of public importance and his wise and prudent counsels had gone far to leave its administration and shape its destinies. He was the author of a "History of the Burgh Cess or Stent", published in 1890 and of a "Digest of the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act 1892". He died suddenly while engaged in official duties. He was succeeded by his son, James Campbell, who had been appointed Town Clerk Depute on 26 August 1902 and received his commission to the higher office on 27 August 1906. On 26 December 1906, William Mathieson was appointed Depute Town Clerk, which office he still holds.

The following have been Provosts since the formation of the Burgh :
John g Halkett, elected June 1885 - in office 1 year
Jas McIsaac elected July 1886 - in office 9 years 4 months
John Smith Jnr, elected Nov. 1895 - in office 4 years
Alex Guthrie, elected Nov. 1899 - in office 4 years 8 months
Robt. Blakely, elected Aug. 1904 - in office 2 years 3 months
David Donaldson, elected Nov. 1906 - the present Chief Magistrate

The following have been Magistrates :-
Dr Kinnier T Miller, Joiner
James Fullerton P W Hunter
James Campbell Hezekiah Arnott
Thomas Glen John Ross
Edward Miller Alex S Miller
Robert Duncan John Christie
Thomas Miler, Builder Wm MacGavin
John Smith, jun James Miller Jnr

Thomas Miller, Builder and A S Millar received appointments as Police-Judges.

The longest to hold office under the Burghal administration is Thomas Miller, Builder, who has been a Bailie for the long term of 11 years and a-half, Police-Judge for 3 years an Councillor for 18 years. He was six times elected and was Councillor from 1888 to 1906 continuously.

The following is the present constitution :

Provost Donaldson Councillor Blakely
Bailie Christie Councillor Thomson
Bailie James Miller Jnr Councillor Arnott
Judge A S Millar Councillor Auld
Councillor James Fulton

The Seal of the Burgh is one of curious and appropriate interest and only adopted after long and serious consideration of the local features it was intended to symbolise the chief impression being of the old Salt Pans, so significant of its staple industry.

That part of the building which is now the Council Room comprises the Tolbooth, a narrow cell lit only by a small circular aperture through which the poor inmates, in the fashion of that older time, let down a string to receive the charitable offerings of friends. The gloomy place of incarceration has been well preserved and its heavy door still holds the great iron bolt of ancient shape and huge lock which kept the prisoner secure in days when men were violent and less considerate of life than they are now. When there were no police in Saltcoats an affray was by no means a light one. An esteemed survivor of these old days says, "There was only what was called a beadle, good for nothing in a fight scene of turmoil". Special constables were sworn in and had a baton assigned to them as a badge of office. John Banks, the saddler, of Quay Street, who was a man of fearless integrity and fine impressive figure, was a special constable. "Amongst the notorious houses of the town", his relative tells the writer, "and the character that frequented them, the quarrels that took place bordered sometimes on murder". The appearance of the stalwart Banks quelled every such riot on the instant. On one occasion he took two giant combatants - Highlanders they were - and banged their heads together with as much imperturbability as if they were fighting schoolboys. Constables' duty was no sinecure when strange ships were in the harbour and foreign sailors ran amuck.

The Public Hall adjoining the Steeple, which, with its fluted pilasters and projecting balcony, presents a fairly imposing appearance, was designed by Howie & Walton, of Glasgow and opened on 20 October 1892. It rests upon the border line of the parishes of Stevenston and Ardrossan, with part of its bulk in each and beneath it is the fabric of the old parish school. On the pinnacle of the steeple spire, some 100 feet from the ground, the town proudly displays the symbol of its vanished trade - a sloop - which, taking the place of a weather-cock, yields its iron-rigged figure to every breeze and turns daintily on its iron-supporting rod. A unique feature of the Town Hall is that the keeper is a lady - Miss Hamilton - whose capacity for management and genial courtesies make her popular amongst townspeople and visiting strangers.