Personal Recollections ~ Saltcoats
April 26th 1945 was the day I was born, at No. 7 Quay Street Saltcoats, my mother was born in 1911 in the same house and I believe her mother before her, as far as I know the building is still there but is used as a storeroom. It was still there in 2001 when I had my last visit. My mother was Jeanie Black from Saltcoats and my father John (Jackie) Bone from Stevenston. I had two brothers who preceded me at that time, being Kenny, 6 years older and David 1 year older. Coming down from Countess Street you crossed the junction of Dockhead Street and Bradshaw Street into Quay Street and No. 7 was on the right hand side about 50 yards down. There was a pub there at the time and we lived directly above the pub. The close was to the right hand side of the pub in between it and the Chiropodists Salon, which was owned by a Mr. Peter Allwell who lived downstairs behind the salon with his wife and daughter Margaret.
Access to our place was through the close to almost the end, left and up the stairs in a semi-circle, past the communal toilet on the right and back along the passageway to the end where there were two doors on the right and one on the left. At the end of the close was a backyard with a large washhouse and a big boiler for boiling the water, mum would load up the fire underneath with wood and light it up to boil the water on our washday. There was also a great hand wringer with two big rollers for squeezing the water out of the clothes. The house itself consisted of a large room, which was the main part of the house; into the wall was an alcove into which was built a double bed, this was where mum and dad slept. Next to the alcove was the fireplace, which also doubled as a cooker, it had a hotplate for boiling water and there was an oven built into that as well for baking. Off the main room was a small scullery which had a gas stove a small cupboard and a sink, there was no hot water, it all had to be boiled. Mum would bath us kids once a week in the sink using water from a large saucepan of boiled water. There was another room but we never went in there except to sleep.
John and Marilou Bone with friend Colin
There were two other families who lived upstairs besides us, there was the Hughes family who would move out before us and go to live in Mayfield Road, and the Lumsdens who had no children replaced them. Across the passageway lived Archie McCubbin and his wife Mattie with two daughters Margaret and Eileen. They moved away just before us and went to live in Thurso in the North of Scotland
The Second World War would close in Europe some 12 days after I was born though the effects of food rationing would be felt for many years to come. My dad worked in the shipyard in Ardrossan and was not allowed in the forces, as his job working on ships was important, he had two brothers who served in the army and one with the merchant navy.
Mum went to work in Ardeer factory when I was 4 years old, a Mrs Langen who lived in the esplanade cottages used to come and look after us, sometimes she would take us to her place and take us back when mum was home. I can remember she had two daughters one of them was called Marion.
February 1950 and it was time for me to got to school. I remember the first day well. Kyleshill Primary School was the place, mum took me there and I was registered early. Miss Ness and Miss Wilson were the two teachers who were there on that day registering us as we came in. Some kids were crying when they had to leave their mums. Miss Ness’s room was the first room that all kids who went to school had their first lessons in. It was in the Wee Side of the school, as there were two buildings in the school, eight classrooms in the Wee Side and five in the Big Side, the final five classes were spent in the Big Side, this was where the headmaster’s office was and also any administration was done. The headmaster when I went was a Mr. Clark, he retired after a couple of years and Mr. Weir became the headmaster.
On my first day I can remember sitting at the back next to another young boy looking at the kids coming in to be registered and I asked him his name. He said to me "You tell me yours first" I told him mine and he said "My name is Robert Brown" we were to become good friends all the way through primary school. 11 o’clock arrived and we were all given a bottle of milk and a straw, the bottle was one third of a pint and the cap was a little round piece of cardboard which had a perforation in the middle to pop with your finger and put the straw through. I didn’t know how to use a straw, we always had cups at home and this was all new. I can also remember we got a smack on the back of the hand from Miss Wilson if we made that awful noise when you reached the bottom of the bottle, we were told to leave a little bit in there so it wasn’t noisy.
I enjoyed my time at Kyleshill and was always 1st, 2nd or 3rd in the class and No.1 when it came to getting the belt for being mischievous. After a little while I got to know who all the teachers were there. In the Wee Side there was Miss Ness, Miss Wilson, Miss McGarvie, Miss Goldie, Mrs. McMurtrie, Mrs. Shore, Miss Dickie and Miss Miller. The Big Side was Miss Reid, Miss Barclay, Miss Dickson, Miss Kenyon and Mr. Burnett who went on to the public school around 1955, about the time the Wee Side burned down due to the Pringles Garage fire. We must not forget Mr. Sproat the Janitor; he always had a smile for everyone and was always in a good mood. The only time I saw him sombre was on the morning of 6th February 1952, he knocked on the door of Mrs. Shore’s class popped his head round and Said. "Mrs. Shore news has just come in, The King is dead.
One other thing that sticks in my mind is that when Easter and Christmas came around they used to make us learn hymns and march us down to the Landsborough Church at the top of Bradshaw Street and sing them in there,
Just a few doors down from us and before the braes was a close which housed Howie’s bakehouse at the back, I would go down there and watch the men bake the bread and make the cakes. They didn’t seem to mind us kids just standing and watching, they knew who we were anyway. I was always fascinated how the men could pick up a large bread board full of pies, cakes and bread, then balance it on their head and head off up to their shop in Countess Street. Round on the braes there were no flats at that time, going up and beyond the back door of Woolworth’s there was a two-storey building, which jutted out at right angles. The bottom of the building I only knew as the Old Men’s Club, it had window on three sides you could look in and all I ever saw was old men. There were two families upstairs; I remember them being the Donnelly’s and the other the Dallas’s. Lots of families I remember were the Andersons who lived opposite the braes, farther down were Jimmy Dickie, John Ronald, Sandy Hindmarsh who lived up round the corner. Sandy was one you kept in with for his father had a wee motorboat called the Snipe and Sandy sometimes took us out in it.
Growing up in Saltcoats was probably best described as easy for a small boy, the town centre was just around the corner, the harbour was up the road and there were lots of families in Quay Street and the adjacent area who new each other and their children all played together on the braes, at the harbour, the swimming pool and the rocks down the back of the harbour. When the tide was out we would go down to the harbour where we could turn over rocks and look for small crabs, the big boys who went fishing would dig for rag worms in the sand to use as bait.
There was a fairground, which took over a large part of the braes during the summer months, it would open on the last Thursday in May and be completely gone before the end of August. Glasgow fair fortnight was sometime in July and the place was buzzing with people. Sometimes there would be as many as fifty or more buses parked on the braes with day-trippers who came "Doon the Waater" for the day, plus the many more who came in by train and S.M.T bus. Every three or four years just as the fair was about to leave a circus would arrive on the braes, usually up the far end on the grass behind Robertson’s the Ham curers. Along with every other boy in the town we would try and sneak in under the canvas to watch the show for free. I actually managed it once and it was brilliant to watch.
In my third class at Kyleshill Miss McGarvie announced that wee Margaret Morrison would be leaving us to go to Hong Kong with her family. There was a big map of the world on the wall and we were shown where Hong Kong was. That moment never left me as I realised how big the world was and I wanted to see it. A couple of years later Christine McIntyre who was also in my class and lived on the High Road, departed for Canada. At that time all the Wee Side was gathered in the assembly hall on the Big Side where Mr. Weir introduced us to a Mr. Potto and another man who were schoolteachers from some island in the Pacific. That was the first time in real life I had seen another human being that was not white. Mr. Potto went on to explain how the children on his island would finish school at twelve O’clock and run down the beach and jump into the warm water, or go climbing on the coconut trees, this was also all the year round as they had no winter. The die was cast; I knew I would leave Saltcoats when I grew up.
November 1951, mum told us we would be moving out of Quay Street in a few weeks time, we were going to a new house, which was still being built. A few weeks later mum took us for a walk up Raise Street, right into Gladstone Road then left up over the Caley Railway and up Kinnear Road, a right turn at the bottom of Old Raise Road put us into Auchenharvie Road. Away along at the far end on the left was a solitary building, which had just been completed, there was a workmen’s hut just outside our front door. Mum proceeded to clean the place from top to bottom, as we would be moving in next week. On the 13th December we left Quay Street for the last time to go to school and headed for 66 Auchenharvie Road on the way home. There was no short cut down Craigs Place onto Miller Road at that time, as Craigs Place hadn’t been built then.
Harry Kirk and his sister Margaret lived next door to us at No.64, the Quinns, John, Bernard and Liam were at No. 68. As the houses were built, there were 82 in all in Auchenharvie Road. There were scores of kids who all got to know each other, not only from Auchenharvie Road, but Mayfield Road, Mayfield Place, Nelson road, the High Road and Craigs Place. We chopped and changed our friends like the seasons of the year. The Auchenharvie Academy now stands on what was the Auchenharvie Estate, there were lots of trees and it was known as the forest. It was bounded on one side by the Caley Railway and Cunningham Road, the road to Stevenston on another which had a wall all the way along and it carried on right along into Stevenston. This was where we all played as kids. On the other side of the Stevenston Road was a swamp, I believe this has been drained and is now a golf course. Not too many kids ventured into the forest in the dark as you never knew what lurked in there. There was many a time we had to run and hide in there at night from an irate parent who’s tumshies we were pinching or had upset in some other way.
The classic I remember most was a Mr. Rennie who lived at No. 76 between the Montgomery’s and the Shedden’s. He was an Englishman and he had two sons and he hated every other kid in the street except his own. His front door knocker was always being given laldy by some one or other, he always came out and started the shouting and swearing. One day he gave John McDonald a cuff on the ear for something he didn’t do. It was time to get even. My father had a hut up the back of the garden where he kept his motorbike and he had a paraffin heater in there with some paraffin kept in a can. I got some in the bottom of a milk bottle and we hid it at John’s house till it got dark. Later on we tied a black thread onto old Rennie’s doorknocker and hid in Alan Dunn’s close across the street then gave his knocker a bang. Sure enough he came out so we knew he was home, he looked around for a bit did his usual muttering and went back inside. We gave it a few minutes and then I put a newspaper soaked in paraffin on his doorstep dropped a match on it and ran back across the road as John gave the knocker a severe banging. Sure enough out dashed Rennie this time and found the flames on his doorstep, he got angry and started stamping on the paper with his slippers, only after he had got the flames out did he realise that there was something in the newspaper, a big fresh dog shite that we had collected in the forest earlier. He went nuts, pulled the slipper off and threw it on his lawn and started the swearing, at that point we couldn’t contain ourselves and burst out laughing, he heard us and made a beeline for Alan Dunn’s close. That was it; we went down Alan’s back yard over the fence and into the forest with Rennie in hot pursuit, fortunately we knew which way to run and he finished up falling over and swearing even more. We decided to shout at him and call him a silly old buggar, "I’ll get you bastards" was his reply, and we went through the trees and over the hills and finished up at the end of Kerr Avenue, walked along to Kinnear Road where we made our way back up to Auchenharvie. When we got back along Rennie was waiting and he had grabbed every kid in the street that night, we were no exception. He threatened us about what had happened, we played innocent and said we were at our mate Davy Murphy’s at Old Raise Road all night. We never told any of the other kids about it in case one of them shopped us and we would have been in big trouble.
Saltcoats Swimming Pool
This was the scene of many an hour of enjoyment. The Pool opened on the 15th of May every year and closed on the 15th of September, much of my summer holidays was spent there as I could swim from an early age. I can remember at 13 years old in 1958 mum let me head off to the pool on opening day at six in the morning to queue up for the No. 1 season ticket which cost 4/- (four shillings) I got No.7. The following year I was down there at 5 in the morning and still only got No.5 I didn’t go any more after that. The big chute was great and I could swim all the way between the catwalks underwater. The rafts were good fun too, especially if you got twenty of you on them and it would submerge. Lying upstairs in the sun was also good and you could look over onto Willie Bond’s boating pond at all the holidaymakers going round in circles in wee motorboats. Who will forget the wire baskets with a number on them and the wee rubber band with the same matching number you gave in to the kiosk get your clothes back out. The tea room was something out of the old colonial days, I could just picture the Colonel and his lady sitting there sipping afternoon tea. The cost of a normal ticket was 3d Monday to Friday and 4d on Saturday and Sunday. There was also a clubhouse just behind the big chute where the boys who had a season ticket could join for another shilling. This enabled you to go straight in and leave your clothes on a hanger or the bench without having to queue up for a basket. Mr Hamilton was the only bath master I can recall and he had the water temperature displayed on a little wooden model of a thermometer outside his office. The coldest temperature I can remember was 48 Fahrenheit one day and the warmest 64-Fahrenheit. There were also the midnight bathing sessions under floodlights which went from 10.00 p.m. till 12.00 p.m. No season tickets allowed for this, everyone had to pay.
The Glasgow Fair and the Fair
This was a time when an enterprising young lad could make a coupla bob for himself. It was down to the station with your trace (a trace for those who don’t know was two sets of wheels usually purloined off an old pram, with a small plank of wood in between, the front set had a piece of string which you held onto as you steered with hand and feet while your mate pushed you.) You waited for the first train to come in and as the families came out you approached and said, "Carry your cases mister"? Every time was a winner; there were not enough traces to cover everyone and if you hurried back you would get another who was waiting. The destination might be Windmill Street and you put the cases on the trace and pulled them along to the destination. The most common tip was 2/- or half a crown, sometimes you got 4/- and at worst 1/-. The rich people took a taxi, the only problem was there was only one taxi in Saltcoats at that time and that was owned by Bulldog Drummond (who incidentally had the distinction of having the phone number Ardrossan Saltcoats 1) There were trains running all day on the Saturday and you could quite easily make a couple of quid. This would be spent on lemonade, sweets and many other things a young boy needed. I needed a slug pistol, which cost me 19/11for a Diana model 2 in that bike shop on the corner of Raise Street and Glencairn Street. I also bought a rifle, which was a Diana model 16; I hid them both in some old rags under the back of my dads hut so he couldn’t find them, there was no such thing as plastic bags in those days. Many a window got a rattle from a slug pellet and many an irate tenant never found out who it was as we were so far away.
The town was humming with holidaymakers and so was the fair, this was also a chance to make a few bob. In the amusement arcades the penny slot machines used to play up and people would bang on the side of them. When there were so many people the attendant couldn’t see what was going on everywhere, there was one particular machine if you banged it on the top left side a ball would come out and you got a free go. If you won you turned the handle and got a penny and another free go. There were all sorts of ways we could make a few bob in the arcades.
Who could forget the Waltzer and the Jungle Ride? Blaring out the latest in music and attracting all the teenage girls to go on and scream their heads off. I can remember Elvis singing "All Shook Up" Connie Frances with "Lipstick On Your Collar" and many many more. When we were about 10, John Macdonald and I would walk round the side of the Waltzer where the girls were standing on the walkway above, we would kook up and squirt a water pistol up their skirts on to the back of their legs, that made them scream all the more. One day a lassie ran down after us and caught me and I got a right cuff on the ear, needless to say I gave that one away. There was the Ghost train, the Hobby Horses, the Rockets that turned you upside down. Fortune Tellers, Rifle Ranges and all sorts of side shows from Roll a Penny to stick 3 cards with 3 darts to win. The list goes on.
The Sea Queen
I did play a part in the Sea Queen Pageant. Ruby Soden was elected Queen that year and I was the Town Drummer. Many rehearsals were held upstairs in the hall adjacent to the balcony of the Countess cinema, where the Bingo was played at night. I was to lead the parade with the Ardrossan Pipe Band directly behind me all the way from the Public School along Argyle and Gladstone roads, down Guthrie Brae along Canal Street over the railway bridge then Bradshaw, Dockhead and Hamilton Streets a left turn at the Melbourne Café down to the seafront and along to the Pavilion. The Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald reported that John Bone the town drummer did a wonderful job of leading the parade all the way. I can reveal this was not so, it was pouring with rain that day and the official car I was in along with a few others was waiting at the Public School. As I was about to go the driver told me to wait for a bit and not get too wet, he repeated this several times as I was about to go. They must have got fed up waiting, for the parade went off without me and I travelled in an official car all the way to the Pavilion where it was still raining and the ceremony had to be held inside. Poor James (Pimi) Wight, he was the Queen’s Champion and had to ride all the way on a horse soaked to the skin. A good time was had by all despite the weather, my dad used to tease me I looked better with the false beard on.
There were a number of Picture Houses in the towns during my time. Ardrossan had the Lyric, Saltcoats had the Regal, The La Scala and the Countess and Stevenston had the Grange and the De Luxe. I was only ever in the De Luxe a few times before it closed and the Grange was to follow soon after. The La Scala used to have a Saturday morning matinee, which was around 10.30. There were always kids movies on and of course there was the serial, I can remember Flash Gordon, which was shown in 15 weekly parts, this was to keep you going for the full 15 weeks, who said marketing was only a recent idea? The Saturday morning faded away and then it became the Saturday afternoon at the Regal, at 2.00 p.m. you got in for a tanner (sixpence for those not in the know) two and a half pence in today’s money. The normal weekly movie was shown and if it was X rated then it was substituted with a kid’s movie. The countess was good for the cheap seats were down the front and that’s where you could get up to all sorts of mischief away from the usherettes. The one good memory from the matinees was that when the bad good guy was in trouble and the cavalry was seen riding to the rescue the whole picture house erupted in an enormous cheer. The baddis always lost in the movies in those days.
November 1960 the Pavilion became the Pavilion Bowl, a six-lane bowling alley the first in Scotland and the third in the U.K. The first being in London and the second in Brighton. An American owned it a Mr. Norman E. MacLean who had married a local widow in the town. Friday night was the opening and this was reserved for the dignitaries, I think I was working and couldn’t make it. The Golden Ball was rolled to signify the official opening and the man who rolled it was Eric Caldow a full back for Glasgow Rangers. Saturday morning it was open to the public and I had my first game on the Sunday and was hooked. Many a time I won the 50 cigarettes for the highest score of the week and sold them to my dad for more money to go bowling with. I played in the Saturday morning junior league and this was for a shilling, which was a third of the normal price. It did close some years later but I was not in Saltcoats then and don’t know when that was. I do remember having some wonderful games with Chalmers Roberts, who ran the Melbourne Café, he was an excellent bowler. I did hear he passed away some years ago.
Entertainment, Radio, Television and Comic Books
So much to be said on this subject, one could write a book on the programmes from our era, I will have a go at a few but keep it short as I’m sure there will be many more who will add to what I will write. Television was only one channel to begin with and then there were two, the BBC and ITV. Sunday Night at the London Palladium was the favourite, it opened with the Tiller girls who were 16 scantily clad young ladies with sequinned costumes and long legs who could kick them high in the air to music and do several different formations. Probably the forerunners of today’s cheerleaders. My father was a keen fan of theirs along with most other fathers in our street. The compere came on introduced an act or two then a competition with members of the audience; the star of the show was on last. What’s my line, who can remember that? There were four members of the panel; the ones I remember were Barbara Kelly, Gilbert Harding, Eunice Gayson, Bernard Braden and Lady Isobel Barnett. Eamon Andrews was in the chair. Crackerjack was a good kids programme. Who can remember the Grove Family? A forerunner of Coronation Street, another was Life with the Lyons. Scotland had its own "One o’clock Gang" with Larry Marshall, Jimmy Nairn, Charlie Sym and the lovely Dorothy Paul. On the radio there was Dan Dare, The Billy Cotton Band Show. Who can forget the Ovaltenies singing? Comics we had were the Dandy and the Beano along with the Beezer, these we swapped at the end of the week with the Quinns next door for the Tiger and the Topper. Radio Luxembourg was the in radio station for teenagers, Jimmy Saville was the top D.J. at the time. This grew in popularity in the early sixties with the advent of the transistor radio. Who would ever have thought you could make a portable radio to carry around the streets with you? They’ll be putting a man on the moon next.
As I mentioned earlier as a kid I loved school and was a sponge for knowledge, I read a lot of books on many subjects and was keen to grow up and learn more. The time came for the 11+ exam, which determined what sort of Secondary Education you were going to have. There were 5 grades A, B, C, D, and E. The A, B, and C went to Ardrossan Academy and the D, and E went to Saltcoats Junior secondary (known as the public). Exam day came and all were nervous except me, I felt it was my divine right to pass with an A and go on to learn another language at the Academy. When the exams were over everyone seemed to think they were hard, I thought they were easy and was confident, as I had answered every question. A few weeks later we were given our grades but not our results, I had made it with an A and was over the moon. Dad asked me if I was going to be a Doctor or a Lawyer, I didn’t know and I didn’t care, I had got my A and was going to the Academy, that was all that mattered at that moment and I wasn’t thinking about work, that was years in the future. I was expecting to be the Dux Boy for my year but I didn’t get it. I was very deflated when it went to some one else; I didn’t turn up for the presentation of prizes at the Countess on the last day. Sour Grapes I guess.
September came and it was off to the Academy, I was put into class 1A1 where I had to learn Latin as well as French. From there on I went downhill, education was different and I could not grasp the concept of Latin. After the first exam I came 36th out of a class of 41 with very dismal results in all subjects except a few. Dad wasn’t very impressed. He sat me down and asked what had gone wrong. I told him it was the Latin that was getting to me, a subject in which I scored 11 out of 100. He went to see the Rector, Mr. McFarlane and asked what could be done. I was moved out of 1A1 and put into 1C1 where I joined a few of my mates from the Lifebuoys who were Freddie Keen and Johnny McKee. Life became much better and I rose to 16th in the next exam. I decided then only to do well in the subjects that I liked. These being French, Geography, Engineering and Technical Drawing and of course Maths in which I had no equal. The rest I didn’t care about, as I could not see History, Shakespeare or a few other subjects that I considered irrelevant as being any use to me when it was time for me to go and join the workforce and begin to travel.
I eventually did leave and of course did travel, some time after I left school I realised that there was more to education than just the few subjects I had liked. I went back to further education during my twenties and thirties for a number of years to gain the qualifications I could so easily have gained when I was younger. I’ve decided I now don’t need to learn anymore for my career, just knowledge for pleasure now. As for the travelling, I’m still on the move and visit at least somewhere new once every year. My final trip will be in two parts, half my ashes will be sprinkled in Saltcoats Harbour not far from where it all began in Quay Street and the other half will be going to a wee island in the Pacific to be buried not far from where Mr. Potto talked about all those years ago.
John Bone ~ Queensland, Australia