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Saltcoats Old and New

From the Crown of Kyleshill to Parkend.
Volunteer Days.
The Mansion of Seabank.

Chapter 21

In the Seventeen-Twenties there were no houses between Kyleshill and the Harbour. Pits dominated. On the hill lay banked-up mounds of dross for the salt furnaces. Water was carried from the Stannley burn through seabank grounds for the operations of the Kyleshill machine Pit. Up and down the hill the wives and daughters of the miners carried the black loads.

"Sair backs and sair banes;
Trudgin' mony a mile;
Sad is the darg o' women folks
On the weary Hill O' Kyle".

Everything was primitive. Even the sea stones in front of the vanished Sun It went to furnish the furnaces of the Chemical Works. Canal Street abounds in landmarks : Trodden's Gates, the old Station House, the ruined engine-house (the second in Scotland), Canal Bank House and grounds, the grounds of the Archery Club, founded in 1849, Limekilns and Rockvale, the venerable Breery and the "Skipper's Acre" enclosed within the gardens on the north side. There is hardly a trace of the Canal, finished and navigated on 19 September 1772, the first upon which commercial transports floated in Scotland. It came as far as Parkend Cottages, where there was an extensive coat-rea, kept by "Sawners Gemmill", of Stevenston. Prominent in the work of drawing the coal to the harbour for shipment were the late Captain Barclay and John Kelso. William Andrew was about the last to ship coal from the harbour.

The Ropewalk of later days was in the hands of the McDonnells in 1842; and it had then a division for sails and riggings. The old Ropewalk House is still to the fore. It was the scene of a disastrous fire on 20 April 1864.

Rockvale Cottage reminds us that there died there in 1870 Elizabeth Webber, wife of Adam Thomson, a Crimean veteran. She had accompanied her husband through long marches in India and was one of the few surviving persons present at Waterloo.

The east Links was the parade ground of the Volunteering days. The first meeting was held in the Saracen's Hall on 21 February 1860; but from 1859 drilling had been going on in the hall under Sergeant Young. The students of the "goose step" entered with much gravity upon their tasks and the arrival in the town of eighty-five Enfield rifles was hailed with as much jubilation as if the French were waiting in the Bay to receive the contents of their much fondled barrels. The selection of a light grey uniform was itself a subject of excitement and the men chosen to lead the Volunteer ranks were of noble appearance. They were Ensign James Anderson, Tanner; Lieutenant James Baird, manager at Ardeer; and Captain Robert King Barbour, whose fine build and abbreviated name, "King Barbour", led to a singular conclusion on the part of young Saltcoats that he must indeed be a king. The Rev D Ronald acted as chaplain and Dr Mcculloch as Assistant Surgeon; John Bryan, Alex Cumming, Charles Smith and David McNair being full Corporals; with James Baillie and R S Kinnier as Lance Corporals. The Sergeants - drawn from the ranks of prominent tradesmen - were Robert Young, Hugh Mc Donnell Jr, Hugh Stirling and Robert Spence, with John Lockhart in the colours. The last named, afterwards Ensign, made the high-est score of the National match of 1870. The sounds of Andrew Leckie's and Archie Workman's bugles broke the stillness of the neighbourhood in their nighty practices. The first Instructor was Sergeant O'Brien and his successor Sergeant Tolmie.

There was a Cavalry Corps, the eldest son of every man on Lord Eglinton's estate considering himself bound to provide a horse and accoutrements. Quite a brave show was presented when the drills took place on South Beach sands, opposite the pavilion. The Drill Hall of today is the Relief Church that was. It stands close up to the gate of Parkend House.

Parkend House rests upon the old Smelting House of the Cunninghames. The grounds enclose the "Rock Park", the "Beatelha", the Beer Yard (slightly westward), parts of the Townhead given by the Earl of Eglinton to Thomas Campbell of Killyleoch, Provost of Irvine; "the Storehouse", between the town and the house of Seabank, lying to the east of "the road leading Beatelhall". To the north lie the lower dykes of the "Beatelhall" yard; eastwards the enclosures of Seabank. On a plot in front of Parkend House stood the old counting house of the Stevenston Colliery Company, removed in 1884. A barn at the back of the ground is all that is left of the historic "Beatelhall". The Relief Church of 1782 was the scene of the "violent settlements" when the clerical escorts were molested by the hobos. On one of these occasions a little fat clergyman, having tripped and fallen in the rear, was cought by some women and dragged by the coat tails through the mud. The Rev Mr Duncan was going home one evening past the shopends when a street loafer said to his companion, "What will ye gie me to rin aff Wi' the minister's wee wife ?" and picking her up, he ran along Dockhead Street with the frightened little lady struggling in his giant oxters. A yard, which lay near the kirk, gives back a memory of Saltcoats' famous wigmaker, Nathaniel Hodge. Even in his day the doctors and the ministers and the little Aristocracy affected "poudre". Sometimes the ringlets of grand dames, that would have shown piebald by the encroachments of age, were made a uniform grey by Nathaniel's unrivalled art, "The en' o' a candle was gey guid dressin'", says an octogenarian who saw at least some of the remnants of a retreating vogue. "There wis nae bear's grease till Prince Albert's day and then a'body 'oiled their locks' to match the King's; an' at the time o' the Eglinton Tournament the 'big wigs' o' Saltcoats left wee splatches o' pooder wherever they went". John Dunlop, who lived near Kyleshill (father of Mr Dunlop, Ardrossan), drove many to the famous Eglinton Tournament, from which great event everything afterwards dated. Seabank House, which was built by the enterprising Mr Cuninghame in 1708, has an interest all its own as it sits enclosed in the demesne that slopes down towards the Stevenston Road. How gracefully has it been pictured by Dr Landsborough, "Sheltered sweet and cheerful, with its green fields and woody braes, martello-tower and mounted battery". To wander round that ancient bastion, with its guns pointing to command the road to the town, is to walk again in the fairyland of history. Some of the guns bear the royal mark of "Jacobus Rex", suggesting that they are of a period coeval with the days of the earliest Stuarts.