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Saltcoats Old and New

Helen Morial's Hedge
Jean Morial's Lane

Chapter 19

The house and yard of Elizabeth Mitchell, which in later days belonged to Captain Hooks, lay alongside the house of Robert Watt and at the beginning of the century belonged to William Blackwood, tike-waiter in Saltcoats. Robert Watt's house now lies buried below the Royal Bank. In the shady hollow, beneath Kyleshill Bridge, lay a series of ancient cottages with, from the rising ground, an alternative descent by a long straggled series of steps or a deep slope. These formed a quaint feature by day and at night the rush-light from the Window unless closely barred and shuttered presented a feature of older Saltcoats quite in keeping with the picturesque environment of the rocky height under which they sheltered. In front of the houses lay the ascending road to the Flush Riggs and the Moor. To the south was "the road to Kyleshill", which became a street. John How, weaver and cloth merchant, had his possession to the west. Northwards was a lane (which in the Sixties gained the distinction of the "Roading"), involving an ancient part known as "Willie Auld's Rigg". The western division of the singular cluster within the shadow of the Vennel was bordered on the west by a thorn hedge which had been put up by one of the Morials and dedicated for ever afterwards to a daughter of that proud and interesting family. Until well into the Fifties it received amongst the villagers a no more pretentious name than that of "Helen Morial's Hedge". On higher ground lay the plot which had been at one time Mathie Auld's and afterwards known to the world by the familiar title of "Roadman's". Roadman's little enclosure lay to the west of the road that led from the Kyle Street to the Goathouse and it had a connection with the village life as early as 1719, when it was owned by John Cunningham.

This homely territory, remarkably encircled by so many domestic and other interests, dated from before 1700. One authority on the Flush Green remembers the successor, in name at least, of John Deane, "of the state of New Jersey, : who came after Sandy Dunlop. John Duncan, sailor, had his interest there in 1847, in which year Dan Mc Alister became owner of all. Then came the days of change.

In 1864 the Ardrossan and Johnstone Railway drew its iron way across the little cots. Away went the home of the Vicars. The Knights of the pickaxe and the shovel drove their way through the back greens and front patches that had been the early glory of the Flush Brow. The pioneers of progress broke down the intervening thorns and rose bushes and clinging "sweet-william", as they marked the rustic way across to the higher flights. Locomotives came panting through the once rural territory, pursuing their remorseless way into what had been the pride of the Morials, the immortal Hedge that was Helen's, of which not a shadow now remains, but which a sympathetic posterity must acknowledge as a tender and interesting landmark of the life of the villagers of Saltcoats and the simplicity and romantic realness of those who dwelt in its then undisturbed serenity. It crossed where the railway lies now, almost at the point which became afterwards known as "Tam McWhirter's Gates". Robert Roadman's house lay at the corner going from Kyleshill.

There stood there until later days another of the many places of refreshment upon which Saltcoats seems to have prided itself. It was a "Treacle-Ale" shop. There came the young apprentices of the weaving trade to "hansel" their advancement to the status of Journeyman; and many a merry evening has been spent in that attractive corner. The Morials who had shown such affectionate interest in the lanes and by-ways of the village, had bestowed upon the little pathway out of the town at the extremity of their possession, the name of "Jean Morial's Lane". The name has disappeared from public memory and usage, but the place itself, unlike Helen's Hedge, remains, for the pathway blossomed out, as the days went by, into a street, which is now "Nine Yard Street". Here we stand upon the borders of the "Town Head Mailling", at one time entirely occupied by Robert Auld and continue by Michael auld and his family. A century or more ago the lowing of Michael Auld's "Kye" were the only sounds that broke the silence of that beautiful neighbourhood. The odd-looking triangle formed by Nine Yard Street falls to be accounted for in this way. Before the bridge came, the gardens extended in their sweet spaciousness down to the very water edge. It was in 1840 that the possessor of ground at the corner sold property to the Kyleshill Road trustees, who then threw their bridge across the gardens. When the Aulds leased the ground of Nine Yard Street a provision was make that three feet of ground should be left "through the yards". No road came that way and the stage-coach trundled past the foot of the yards close to the sea. Out of this little ribbon of pathway evolved the public road now leading to Stevenston. Eastward lay a piece of ground called the "Beer yard". The great space near the sea, partially covered by the stately houses beyond the Mission Coast Home, was called "Thomas Reid's Bigg yard". Widow Dunlop, the ancestress of the first captain of the first vessel of Saltcoats, lived near by on the brow of the hill. At the eastern corner of the Reid's yard was Archie Wilson's "public", the first halting place for a stranger; the waters came close up to the door. Sometimes a drouthy pilgrim would come out of the Inn to walk upon the creamy foam of the advancing water. Sometimes a lodger awoke to find his table an island and the bed he lay in a peninsula. Between the higher ground and Kyleshill, which in these days was not much more than a grass covered rock, there existed no obstruction and if one had thrown a stone down that rocky decline it would have splashed into the sea without interruption.

Before 1839 the top of Kyleshill formed a stretch of waste ground with such greenery as is still visible at that part. In that year it had become necessary to relieve the congestion at the Town's School by forming a new school at Kyleshill. Old Kyleshill School was built in 1839, chiefly through the exertions of the Rev Dr Landsborough (who was then minister of Stevenston Church) and the late William Brown of Parkend. It was known as Kyeshill Subscription School. It was taken over by the School Board of Stevenston after the passing of the Scottish Education Act of 1872. George Tait, the present master, was appointed in November, 1876. When he took charge of the school, along with Ex-baillie Duncan as a pupil teacher, the number of pupils was only 64; but within three years the average rose to 179, while the accommodation provided was for only 120. It was finally agreed to build a new school to accommodate 300. The old building was vacated in September, 1885. Since then the school has been enlarged twice. Many successful pupils have received their early education at Kyleshill; one of the most distinguished being John McInnes, Lecturer in Latin in Victoria College, Manchester.