Born Kilwinning 1929
The general area
Personal Recollections ~ Ardeer Villas
A POTTED HISTORY OF NOBEL'S VILLAS (ARDEER VILLAS) 1930 to 1954
As remembered by by Bill Cunningham with the help of Annie and Jimmy Urquhart
and Jackie Eaglesham who for the last 50 years has lived in California, U S A.
I moved to Ardeer Villas as a one year old in 1930. My father was a policeman and was transferred from Kilwinning to Ardeer Factory. Ayrshire Constabulary was responsible for the security and policing of the factory. As it turned out my mother, who had been happy in a new house, No 1 Smith Crescent, Kilwinning, was extremely disappointed in the ''new'' house, No 19 Nobel's Villas. The accommodation comprised two rooms, a kitchen/living room with an inset bed, a ''jawbox'' ( a sink located under the window and close to the bed ), and a range for heating and cooking. This was a cast iron open fire unit with oven and hot plates that required black leading to keep it in reasonable condition.
There was a bedroom with cast iron grate (fireplace) but no bathroom and no inside toilet! The toilet was a dry one down the outside stair and across the drying green. My mother refused to unpack her kist (clothes chest ) until assurance had been given that changes were going to be made. It would probably be 1932 when inside toilets were installed in the back row houses although it is possible that the ''large'' back row block, which had four flats with two bedrooms, was already fitted with inside toilets.
As Ardeer Villas no longer exists I will try to give some idea of where it was situated and what the general area was like in the early 1930s. The rough sketch of the general area might be of some help. At the east end of Caledonian Road, Stevenston, the road turned south and became Lundholm Road, or in these days better known as Dynamite Road. Ardeer Golf Clubhouse was at the corner where the roads met and the golf course was to the east of Dynamite Road. Apart from a large two storey red brick building at the beginning of Dynamite Road and two, two storey sandstone houses about 200 yards further up the road, all being on the golf course side, there were no other buildings fronting on to the road until you came to Ardeer Villas.
Although there were no buildings on the west side of the road not far off was the ' Old Square 'and' Rabbit Row ( Raw !)'. The 'Old Square' was a series of single storey terraced houses, formed into a sort of square, housing a hundred or so families that originally provided the labour force for the iron works. The iron works which was in production during the late 1800s and early 1900s was on the shore side of the 'Old Square' and the remains of some of the buildings plus two of the tall brick chimneys were still there in the early 1930s. I did witness the chimneys being brought down, this before I was school-age. As an aside, associated with the 'Old Square' was a public house known as the 'Store', a kind of grocery / hardware shop and the ' Tin Kirk' It could be assumed. that the pub and shop were originally owned by the iron works' company; however the 'Tin Kirk', which had corrugated outer walls and roof, thus the name , was affiliated to the High Kirk at Stevenston Cross.
Further up the road was a row of two storey semi detached houses with two or three single storey bungalow types, this was the 'Rabbit Row', officially known as Ardeer Cottages. Some of the people who stayed in these houses worked in Ardeer Factory, some worked in Ardeer Foundry and some at the 'Slag Hill', Shanks and McEwans' crushing plant. The slag was the waste material from the 'Iron Works'. Opposite the south end of the 'Rabbit Row', Dynamite Road, which had been gradually sloping upwards for most of the way, reached its crest and sloped quite steeply down towards Ardeer Factory. Ardeer Villas was at the bottom of the hill. I will try to describe the then Ardeer Villas set up.
At the bottom of the hill on the main road to the factory at the start of the Villas a single track road to the left lead to the ''back lane''. Between the main road, the single track road and the ''back lane'' was the Works Manager's house, a large two storey house with a large lawn and garden enclosed by a high brick wall on two sides and bounded by high hedges on the main road and single track road . Across the main road and opposite the big house was a large walled garden which provided for the Works Manager and his family. The Works Manager's name was Mr Cross and I do remember that he always wore a soft hat with a very wide brim, stetson like. Beyond the Works Manager's house and garden and beside the main road going towards the factory was the ''village green'', a sort of square area of grass with a red Post Office pillar box situated on the main road side. To the factory side of it and fronting on to the main road was a terrace block of four two storey houses.
Knowing our own house number before and after the alterations I can only assume that the terraced block had Nos 1 to 4 assigned and the Works Manager's house had no number or one in the twenties. No 4, which I think was nearest the ''village green'', was occupied by the Watts, Mr and Mrs Watts a son Sammy and a daughter May. I do not know what position Mr Watt held in the factory but I was reliably informed by the late Jimmy Urquhart that the son was one of the first to ride a bicycle backwards sitting on the handlebars and was able to perform ''wheelies''. Mr and Mrs Sandford stayed in No 3. Mr Sandford was the Inspector of Police at Ardeer. I know that my mother was very grateful for all the support she got from them during my father's illness, necessitating an operation at the Western Infirmary, Glasgow, and afterwards during his recuperation. Their grandson, Tommy Sandford, who lived in New Street, Stevenston, became a school friend during my primary school days.
No 4 housed the Norwoods. I don't know what Mr Norwood did in the factory but I am almost sure it would be on the management side. The Norwoods had three sons and a daughter, Tommy, Ernie, Bobbie and Florrie, all much older than me. In fact my earliest recollection was of grown-ups. Tommy and Ernie were joiners in Ardeer Factory, Bobbie worked too but I think his job was outwith the factory, Florrie was the housekeeper. The three Norwood sons were all good golfers and members of Ardeer Golf Club. Part of the golf course was adjacent to the Villas.
The Morrells lived in No 1. Mr Morrell was the ''ambulance man'' for the factory, I suppose he would be called senior nurse nowadays. The Morrells had two children, son George and a daughter. Maisie (McCartney) McLelland told me that George's sister was called Molly - George was my best friend in my early years. The family moved to Glasgow, Mr Morrell taking up some other job. I think this was just after I started primary school at Ardeer Public School. The school catered for primary aged children living on the Ardeer side of the main Ardrossan to Glasgow railway line. I have been told by Jackie Eaglesham that a family called Fraser lived next to the Norwoods. It is possible that they were in No 1 before the Morrells. As I have already explained the house numbers might seem a bit odd but it is the only numbering system that seems possible when I take into account our house number before and after the alterations, ie. No19 and No13 respectively.
Behind the four terraced houses was the first back row block which was occupied by four families, two families upstairs and two families downstairs. This block had house numbers, 5, 6, 7 and 8. The next three blocks each housed four families. The last block in the back row was a bit larger than half the first block and had a gable wall opposite our outside stair. I should add that the first back row block was nearest the factory. The sketch ''Before alterations'' will be of some help. The families in the first block were the Turners who were upstairs in No 5. In addition to Willie, son of George and Fanny Turner, there was daughter May the eldest and another two sons Peter and George. Peter became the Post Master in Bo'ness. Willie Turner became a glassblower in Research Department of Ardeer Factory and in my time in Ardeer was in charge of the glassblowing department. In No 7 were the Fergusons and downstairs in No 6 the Andersons and in No 8 the Hughes. Mr Turner, Mr Ferguson and Mr Anderson were policemen and Mr Hughes (known as Trick Hughes) a fireman.
There were four sons and two daughters in the Ferguson family, Willie, Dougie, Ann, Jake, Alex and Nettie. Dougie was a blacksmith in the factory and was a foreman in my time. Jackie worked in Blasting Department as a senior operator in the mixing and cartridging sections and was there when I was a plant engineer in the same department. In fact Jake was one of the first group of Nobel's supervisors to go to Kafironda Explosives' Factory in Zambia and was directly involved in commissioning, production and training. I was another secondee from Nobel's to Kafironda but that is outwith this ''history''. Mr and Mrs Anderson had two of a family a daughter Peggy and a son. My reliable source, Jackie Eaglesham, cannot remember his name but informs me that his nickname was 'Fiddle' and that sadly he was killed during the war while serving in the army. My recollection of Mr Hughes was of a man near retirement age with a wee dog, a smooth haired terrier, who went for ''long'' walks to the sandhills (an area where Blackpowder manufacture was to be located ).
I cannot remember a Hughes' family as such but do recall, after having my memory jolted by Jackie, that two grandsons Sam and Ian came back from Canada to live in No 8. The next block with house numbers 9, 10, 11 and 12 was substantially larger than the preceding one or the following two, each house having two bedrooms and I think inside toilets. The Dawsons occupied No 9, an upstairs flat nearest the first block. Mr Dawson was a policeman. The family comprised his wife, a daughter, Jenny, and a son, Lancelot. Jenny, who was a very close friend of my mother, worked all her days in one or other of T.C. Banks grocer's shops in Stevenston, one at Stevenston Cross the other on New Street opposite Moorpark Road West. Lancelot joined the police force and became an Inspector in the Ayrshire Constabulary. I cannot recall the name of the family who lived downstairs in No 10 at this time. Mr and Mrs Porter lived in No 11, there was no family and Mr Porter was in the police.
The Tolmeys occupied No 12. Again another policeman as head of the house and as well as his wife there were three sons and a daughter, Ian , Allan, Jenny and Norman. Allan and Ian were electricians in the factory and Norman a joiner. Norman was called up during the war and served in the Scots Guards. The house numbers for the third block were, upstairs 13 and 15, downstairs 14 and 16. Mr Urquhart, a factory joiner, his wife, five daughters and two sons, Mary, Rita, Peggy, Bella, Jackie, Jimmy and Betty lived in No 13. Both sons were employed in the factory, Jackie became a foreman in Blasting Department and Jimmy a joiner mainly in the explosive area. Jimmy who was highly regarded as a very skilled tradesman in the explosive industry was another secondee to Kafironda and was in such demand that when his secondment was over he was persuaded to go to A.E.&C.I. in South Africa from where he retired before returning to this area.
I am at a loss as to who was downstairs in No 14 but do think that the Stevenson family were occupants prior to the housing alterations. Mr Stevenson was a fireman and as regards the family I will go into more detail when I write on the ''upgraded'' Villas. Mr and Mrs Blair stayed in No15. I cannot remember them with a family but that is not to say that an older family did not exist. Mr Blair was a factory fireman. No 16 had the Paiges, I have no idea what Mr Paige did in the factory but do know that they had two sons Ronnie and Jim and a daughter Madge. In ''our'' block the Barracloughs were in No17, the Farquharsons in No 18, ourselves in No19 and the McMahons in No20. My father and Mr Farquharson were policemen but as to what occupation Mr Barraclough had I am at a loss.
The Barracloughs had a son and possibly other family but why the memory of the son, Steve I think sticks, was his preoccupation with wireless ( radio ) and always seeming to be in the large shed in their garden working on something ''electrical''. I have the distinct impression that Willie Boyd , who stayed in No22 with his family , was a friend of Steve and was also a wireless enthusiast. Below in No 18 lived Mr and Mrs Farquharson with two daughters, Mae and ?, and a son Andrew. The daughters were old enough to be friendly with my mother and indeed did visit us a good number of times after they were married and had moved to England. Andrew joined the army prior to the outbreak of war and visited us on many occasions too ; tragically he was killed during the early days of the war in or near Edinburgh . He was an army dispatchrider and was fatally injured in a motorcycle accident.
The McMahons had five children, James, Annie (Jackie Eaglesham's mother), John, Mary (Molly) and Joe. Mr McMahon was employed in Ardeer Factory as a messroom keeper, a job he was given following a serious and incapacitating accident. All of the McMahon family had gone to America and when Jackie's mother, Annie, died his father and Uncle John brought him back to live with his grandparents. The end block, flat Nos 21 and 22, is a bit of a mystery to me although the bottom flat was occupied by the Boyds until they moved to No 4. Mr Boyd was the head gardener for Ardeer Factory. There were two sons Willie and Jim and I remember sitting outside No22 with Jim who was a year or two older than me and who was extremely ill . Jim died not long after this in No 4 and I am almost certain now that he had been suffering from leukaemia . This was my first funeral and a very sad occasion it was. Willie Boyd joined the Royal Navy before the war started and was trained as a wireless operator, no doubt his experience with Steve Barraclough was a factor . I remember being told of him taking the morse message wishing him a happy birthday from his folks while stationed at a land base somewhere in West Africa. It is possible that the Firemaster for Ardeer Factory occupied No 22 and this could have been Mr Bird.
Moving further up the main road towards the factory there were two large semi-detached houses on the left hand side of the road. These houses were separated from No 1 Nobel's Villas by a stretch of grass approximately 150 yards long . This bit of grass had dirt tracks at either end and a single dirt road running diagonally through it connecting with garages at the rear of the semi-detached houses . In these days traffic was light and football could be played there. Although the general housing area is referred to as Ardeer Villas the correct postal address for the group of houses Nos 1 to 22 was Nobel's Villas. The semi-detached houses and the bungalow further up on the right hand side had Sandhills as the postal address.
The first house, No 1 Sandhills, had the McDowells as occupants. Mr McDowell held a senior management post in Ardeer Factory, I have an inkling that it was to do with ''Shipping Department''. As I remember there were two parts to the family, two girls quite a bit older than me, Bunty and Peggy, and a younger family two girls, Renee and Moira, and a son Ian. I was a bit older than the younger family. If my memory serves me right Peggy won International honours in athletics, track events, and hockey. I have no recollection of the families who lived in the next three houses at this time but do know that Mr Thomas, the factory chauffeur, Mrs Thomas and son Freddie occupied the bungalow. I say son reservedly as Jackie thinks that Freddie was a nephew.
Backtracking a bit, across the main road from the '' football field '' was one side of the ''Slag Hill''. As already mentioned this was the slag tip for the iron works that had been situated near Ardeer shore. Shanks and McEwan operated a crushing plant at the Slag Hill site, converting the slag into road-metal. In retrospect Shanks and McEwan must have owned or leased the whole of the foreshore of Ardeer beach as the company built a holiday camp there, complete with chipshop! Extra welcome pennies were earned by Ardeer schoolboys, particularly at the Glasgow Fair, transporting holidaymakers luggage from Stevenston Railway Station to the ''Beach Camp'' in home made two wheeled bogies. This was prior to 1939.
Alterations to the back row houses not including the large block were made in 1935/36. The sketch ''After alterations'' will be of some help. This meant that the first, third and fourth blocks were converted from four family houses into two flats, an upstairs flat and a downstairs flat. Each flat had a kitchen, a living room, two bedrooms, a bathroom and separate toilet. This meant a change to house numbers in the back row, our flat becoming No 13. Villas personnel changes occurred during and after this period and I will attempt to put these in some sort of order. When Mr Cross retired the family moved from the Villas and I do not remember the house being occupied until it was used by the L.D.V., later known as the Home Guard. After the war Mr and Mrs Galloway and their son and daughter were resident. Mr Galloway was the Catering Manager for Nobel Division, ie. Ardeer Factory and all outside factories.
The Boyds moved into No 4 when the Watts moved away, this would be around 1935/36. Mr Boyd, head gardener, took up the head gardener/ groundsman's job at Irvine Central Hospital prior to it opening and moved to a house in the hospital grounds. I do not recall who were the next occupants of No 4. Mr Sandford retired from the police before the war and the new Inspector of Police at Ardeer Factory was Mr Lyon. With his appointment Mr and Mrs Lyon, daughter Mary and sons Tom and Peter moved into No 3. Tom and Peter worked in the factory, Tom as a fitter and Peter as an electrician. The Norwoods or some of the family still resided at No 2. Again I cannot remember who followed them at No 2. When the Morrells moved Mr Tucker took over as the senior ambulance man for the factory and occupied No 1 with his wife and two daughters, Pamela and Wendy.
The McCartneys moved into the ''new'' flat, No 5, just after the conversion. The family comprised Mr McCartney, a police sergeant, his wife and three daughters, Maisie, Peggy and Nan, a fourth daughter, Wilma, was added to the family at the Villas. The flat below, No 6, was occupied for some time by a family(?) prior to Mr and Mrs Bell and daughter Margaret moving in. Mr Bell was a factory chauffeur. Upstairs in the large block, No 7, lived the Shaws, Mr Shaw, a policeman, his wife and two daughters, Patricia and Evelyn. Evelyn was born when the Shaws were at the Villas and Patricia must have been pretty new when the family moved into No 7. Downstairs in No 8 were the Somervilles, Mr Somerville a policeman, his wife and son, John Freeland. After schooling and an apprenticeship in the factory John became an electrician and not long after marrying emigrated to Canada. The Porters occupied No 9 until Mr Porter's retirement from the police during the war years . Mr Thomson his wife, son and daughter became the occupiers. Mr Thomson was in the police.
Mr and Mrs Whitefield, son Gavin and daughter Margaret stayed in No 10. Mr Whitefield was in the police and had fixing radios as a hobby, Gavin was a first class golfer, a county player, and after graduating from university, Glasgow I think, became a schoolteacher and was in charge of a school somewhere in England. Information I got some years back was that Gavin had sadly died, he was four years my junior. The Blairs were resident in No 11 and on Mr Blair's retirement towards the end of the war the house was occupied by Mr and Mrs Johnston their son and two daughters. Mr Johnston was in charge of the factory gardens. As already mentioned Mr Stevenson his wife and family lived in No 12. Mr Stevenson was a fireman. They had three sons, Robert, Jeffery and David, and also a daughter Myra who was born while the family were Villas residents. The three sons were apprenticed in Ardeer Factory, Robert becoming a painter/ glazier, Jeffrey a plumber and David a sailmaker.
We the Cunninghams lived in No 13, still with its outside stair! I left the Villas in 1954 after graduating in Mechanical Engineering, spending two years National Service in the R.A.F. and getting married. My father and mother moved to Kilwinning after he retired from the police, although he did in reality retain his job at the factory ''gate'' as Mr Ashcroft, Works Manager, and Dr Richardson, Director, asked him to stay on due to his knowledge of visitors and their names. What this meant was a change of badge! My father finally retired in 1965 aged 65. I think it worthy of note that my father won the King's Police Medal for action he took during one of the nights of the Clydebank blitz when Ardeer Factory was also bombed. I have been unable to get the citation but believe he fought fires in the Potassium Nitrate store immediately after the adjacent Barium Nitrate manufacturing unit had received a direct hit. My son David has his medal.
The Paton Family lived below us in No 14. Mr and Mrs Paton were quite a bit older than my parents and in fact if Mr Paton was not retired then he must have been close to retirement age. The tenancy of the house was in Archie Paton's name. He was the Transport Manager for the factory looking after cars and distribution vehicles. Other members of the family were Jimmy, Robert, Bunty, Meg and Jean. All had jobs outwith the factory apart from Bunty who acted as housekeeper. There was a brother older than Archie and he was employed by a railway company in the Argentine. When Archie married the Paton family, as was, moved to a house in Station Square, Stevenston. The ''new'' Paton family, wife Ella and daughter Grace joined Archie, and some time after a son was born. Archie and family moved to England when he was made manager of the Fisherwick Depot.
At this time George Lyons took over as Transport Manager and moved in to No 14 accompanied by his wife and son George. Young George graduated in a branch of engineering and married Evelyn Shaw of No 7. The last block in the back row was made into one house for the Firemaster. Initially and for most if not all the wartime period Mr Bird was Firemaster and stayed in No 15 with his wife and daughter Dolly. Dolly married and she and her husband, Dick Downie, stayed with Mr and Mrs Bird for some time. Following Mr Bird's retirement Mr Kirk became Firemaster and with his wife and two sons occupied No15. During my last few years at the Villas the McCartneys the Shaws and the Whitefields moved to other parts due to retirement. Hugh Clark, policeman, his wife son Hugh and daughter Betty moved into No5. Dougie Hood, policeman, his wife and daughter Alma moved into No7 and Willie Mitchell his wife sons Billy and John and a daughter whose name escapes me moved into No10.
Moving to the Sandhill houses, No 1 had the Hornels as occupants. Mr Hornel was the manager in charge of Blasting Department and had a wife and two children, a son and daughter. The Hornels moved to the Gomia Factory in India where Mr Hornel was Works Manager. The Hallidays moved into No 1. Mr and Mrs Halliday had two sons, Walter and Billy. Mr Halliday had a job in the Division Office, and his sons were employed there after finishing school. After the Hallidays were the Tobins, Tommy his wife and eventually a family. Tommy was the manager in charge of nitroglycerine production and during my spell as a plant engineer in Blasting Department I had the privilege of working with him. I should explain that Tommy Tobin was a world authority on nitroglycerine and its manufacture.
Next door in No 2 lived Mr and Mrs Crerar, their son Jim and daughter Elizabeth. Mr Crerar was the General Labour Foreman in the factory. Jim qualified as an engineer and moved to a job in the south of England. Mr Shearer lived with the Crerars. He followed Mr Tucker as senior ambulance man. The Works Engineer, Mr Golder his wife, sons John and Ted, and daughter Marion lived in No 3. John qualified as an engineer and was employed in Ardeer Factory this was after military service. Ted after a spell in the Royal Navy attended the Commercial College in Glasgow around the time I was at the Royal Technical College. Marion also attended a college in Glasgow, the ''Dough'' school I think, and obtained a qualification. I cannot remember who followed the Golders in No 3. I have no recollection of the families who occupied No 4 but John Nicolson emailed to say his father, Dr Jim Nicolson a research chemist at Ardeer, his wife Margaret and family of five, John, Elizabeth, Peter, James and David occupied No4 Sandhills from 1945 to 1951. It is still unclear who lived in No4 before and after the Nicolsons although the name Wilkie figures with a position in Sales and or Distribution Departments. After Mr Thomas retired as factory chauffeur I don't remember the bungalow being occupied. In time it did become a Dental Surgery with a Mr Scott the Dentist, I know because I had some treatment there!
Sadly Ardeer Villas no longer exists , the buildings were demolished to make way for part of the Nylon plant which I.C.I. in its wisdom decided to build next to the existing Nobel's Explosives Factory. The Nylon plant took in all the available ground to the east of Lundholm Road which included Ardeer Golf Club and course which to my mind was very regrettable. I recently went up ''Dynamite Road'' only to find the road closed off at the top of the hill leading down to where the Villas used to be. I apologise for probable omissions and for possible incorrect family details and movements but this is how I, with the help of Annie , Jimmy and Jackie remember things.
Bill Cunningham ~ Ayrshire, Scotland.