Stevenston Past and Present
These papers were originally delivered as a lecture in the UP Church by the Rev A. Morris Moodie, then published weekly in the The Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald from 27th April 1900.
Stevenston Past and Present - Early Days....By A. M. M.
These papers make little pretence to original research. They are merely an attempt to bring together in accessible form the results arrived at by more competent investigators. The ground, indeed, has been pretty well covered, and not much remains for the gleaner. The harvesting was not arduous.
The Parish of Stevenston can hardly claim to have been for the historian fruitful field. No great names, at least, no names of the first rank, are associated with it. It has not the distinction of its neighbour of Ardrossan in being linked with the history of the great Scottish patriots Wallace and Bruce. It does not seem ever to have had the honour of a visit from Ayrshire's bard, or some hostelry would surely have blazoned it forth to all the world. Ecclesiastically it shines only in the light borrowed from Kilwinning. It has given birth to no great work of literature, though some gratitude is due to William Black, in that he has made the west end of the parish the scene of one of his novels and bestowed. in the memories of Coquette and the Whaup, a literary flavour on the old manse and its precincts.
It is the antiquarian rather than the historian who delights in the Ardeer sand dunes, and it would appear that in these sands, and not in any chartularies, are written the most interesting chronicles of the Parish. What is now a barren waste seems to have been in prehistoric times a populous locality. Ardeer sandhills have yielded thousands of weapons, implements ornaments, fragments of pottery, etc.
The whole district has been most carefully examined by Mr Smith of Monkredding, the distinguished antiquarian and scientist, and he tells us that in Ashgrove Loch the remains of no less than six crannogs have been discovered. One also has been found where the Caledonian Railway crosses the Penny Burn. These crannogs were the dwelling places of primeval man, and in them he has left so many relics of his occupation that we have no difficulty in forming some conception of his manner of life. The chase, it is evident, occupied much of his time, and he had something to hunt, for where the rabbit and the rare fox are now to be found, the deer and the bison wandered. His dress may have been scanty, but, such as it was, it lent itself to ornament, and the brooch which kept the skin he threw over his shoulders in place may still be seen.
He has bequeathed to us some of his pottery, rude, but serviceable enough, doubtless, and remains of the kilns in which it was baked are still in existence. It is even possible for us to see something of the man himself, for on the west side of the great sandhill which bounds the Misk, a crematorium lies open to the gaze of all who care to look and many fragments of bones may be had for the taking. One or two complete tombs have been found, notably at Dubbs in 1832, when a causeway, 18ft, long by 2ft. broad, containing a stone coffin, was laid bare, and at the Pan Brae, not so long ago, where a coffin formed of slabs of stone, was unearthed.
This latter contained an urn and two stone clubs. It is worth noting, by the way, that Pan Brae is said to be a corruption of Pan Wrae, which means Chief's Fort and points to the fact that the hill on which the Established Church now stands, and on which the Church has stood since ever a Church existed, was in the olden time the stronghold of a chief, and it is quite evident that both chief and priest knew what they were doing when they established themselves on the top of the "Pan Brae," for such another site, either for defence or worship, is not afforded by the Parish. If we are to accept the testimony of old maps and the testimony of the maps is but stressed by other considerations, of which more Anon, the Parish in those days, and until within comparatively recent times, had a very different appearance from that to which we are accustomed.
For one thing. Arddyhir, as Pont spells it, was an island, the Garnock flowing not into the Irvine, as it does now, but joining the sea opposite Seabank. The high ground behind Seabank is quite evidently the old coastline, and the map of Scotland in Blaeu's Atlas published at Amsterdam in 1635, but prepared from surveys made about fifty years earlier, show Arden (Ardeer), Castlehill, Bogside, and Bartonholme, on the coast. Within recent years, too, a number of little lochs, or dubbs existed between Kilwinning and Stevenston, the memory of which, at least, has been preserved in the name of the Dubbs farm. Anchors are said to have been found far inland: we are told that Ardeer House now stands on what was favourite anchorage ground, and a little behind the house a sea-washed cave may still be seen.
Tradition holds St. Winning responsible for the change in the course of the Garnock. The story varies somewhat. One version, which is, doubtless, quite as authentic as the others, tells how the saint, when sailing along the coast, dropped anchor at the mouth of the river and cast his fishing line, but all to no purpose, The fish proved shy. The holy man, who seems not at any time to have had the best of tempers, waxed wroth, and the river fled before the outburst of his fury, and hid its head in the bosom of the Irvine. There it has remained till the present day, as all men know, testifying to the truth of the story, and sadly witnessing to the ill-temper of the old saint. There is a rather irreverent rhyme which says -
"When Garnock rins in Garnock's bed.
Then will come back auld Redhead."
The rhymer, it must be confessed, was something wanting in respect for Kilwinning’s patron saint when he designated him as above, but probably some memory of the good man's ill-temper was rankling in his breast, and if he is such an irritable old gentleman it will probably be as well that the Garnock should be encouraged to flow placidly in its present course, rather than that we should be called upon once again to entertain so irascible a holy man.
Not only has the river Garnock changed its course, but the humbler Stevenston Burn has followed its example, frightened, perhaps, by a lesser saint. It flowed at one time between Boglemart and Seabank, and was then quite as troublesome as now, and rather more destructive. Early in the eighteenth century two pits were flooded and lives lost in the one case by the sea and in the other by the burn. The public house is said to have been responsible for the drowning by the sea, as for so much other mischief, for, as the story goes, two men were set to watch at spring tides, but, growing somewhat weary and thirsty on this particular occasion, as men will, they adjourned to a tavern, and the sea, taking advantage of their absence, swept gleefully on to its work of destruction, and wrought havoc and death.
The look of things, therefore, in the olden time was somewhat different from what it is to-day. The Ardeer sandhills seem to have been less in evidence than they are at present, for below the sand there is to be found a rich alluvial soil showing traces of cultivation. The mark of the ploughshare may still be seen, and horse shoes and hazel nuts have been found. An even more remarkable find was a tobacco pipe, which was brought to light during the sinking of a shaft at the Misk. This tobacco pipe was not only brought to light, but it was lighted, and the miners who found it did honour to the relic by each having a whiff in turn. Now, there is no evidence that the ancient inhabitant of these islands, or even the Roman, anticipated Sir Walter Raleigh, and as the knight of courtly memory did not introduce tobacco into England till 1560, it is hardly likely, even granting that bad habits spread rapidly, that smoking would be common in this ilk before the end of the sixteenth or the beginning of the seventeenth century. At that date, therefore, what is now a barren waste must have been good fertile soil, bearing enough, not only, apparently, for man's comfort, but leaving some thing over for the luxury of tobacco.
To-day the sandhills cover nearly a third of the parish, extending to something like 1908 acres out of a total of 3182 acres, but, in these days, they can hardly be said to be unproductive, seeing they are known all the world over as fruitful in something more dread and potent than hazel nuts. That which was despised has become mighty in the earth, and the wastes of Ardeer count for something when the balance of power among the nations is in question.
The pedigree of the parish, if somewhat deficient in the matter of notable names, is by no means scant in the matter of length, and can lay claim to all the honours due to long descent. Back, at all events to the end of the twelfth century, it can be traced, a grant of the parish having been given to Stephen Loccard or Lockhart about 1170, by Richard De Morville, Lord of Cunninghame and Constable of Scotland. The De Morville, though apparently of Anglo-Norman origin - one of them was concerned in the murder of Thomas à Becket - were a powerful family in the Scotland of those days, no less than three members having held the high rank of Constable. One of them, Hugh, founded the Abbey of Kilwinning in 1140, at least so there is reason to believe, though to the murderer of á Becket, that honour has been, by at least one reputable historian, assigned. If so, we must put the founding of the Abbey forward at least half a century. The De Morvilles were ultimately merged in the Balliols, the rivals of the Bruce.
The parish doubtless owes its name to the said Stephen Loccard, though, curiously enough. Dr Wodrow, in the old statistical account, says it is possibly derived from the dedication of the church to St Stephen. There is unmistakable evidence that the church was dedicated not to St Stephen, but to St Monoch or St Monk. In 1210 the lands of Loudoun and Steuinstoun were granted to Duncan Campbell and his spouse Susanna. The original charter is still in possession of the Loudoun family, as is also another bearing date 1318. When Pont visited the parish about 1600 he found it to consist of two parts, Stevenston-Campbell and Stevenston-Cunninghame. The Campbells had for their seat Dowe-calt-hall, which he describes as “Ye possession of George Campbell of Steeinstone, a pretty dwelling, well planted. Of this old mansion house there is today no vestige remaining. It seems, however, to have stood on the high ground, above where Ardeer House now stands.
The Cunninghames were of the Glencairn family, and had Kerila Castle for their seat. The centre of interest in the parish in the olden time was, undoubtedly, this castle, the courtyard of which must have rung almost continually to the beat of horses' hoofs and the tramp of armed men, for the Cunninghames and the Montgomeries hated each other with a perfect hate, and many were the visits with a far other than friendly interest between the families of Kerila and Eglinton. These visits were sometimes exceedingly disastrous both to life and property. Previous to 1488 Kerila Castle was partly burned down by the Montgomeries, but it is doubtless some satisfaction to the good folks of Stevenston to know this, this unneighbourly act did not go unavenged. Some forty years afterwards the Cunninghames took revenge with interest by burning Eglinton Castle down, not in part, but in whole. The Montgomerie - Cunninghame feuds seem to have continued for centuries, and resulted in the death of at least one Earl of Eglinton - Hugh, the fourth Earl, being waylaid near Stewarton and murdered on the 18th April 1586.
After this bloody deed the feud became, if that were possible, more intense and bitter than ever. The Montgomeries sought every opportunity of wreaking vengeance upon their foes, and, among the slain was Alexander, the third son of the Earl of Glencairn, who, in 1571, had become Abbot of Kilwinning. In 1591 he was shot dead at his own gate. This murder probably hastened the destruction of Kilwinning Abbey, which took place about this time, and was the work of the Earl of Glencairn, to whom, indeed, along with the Earls of Arran and Argyle, the task - a labour of love, it is to be feared, of demolishing the monasteries in the West of Scotland had been committed by the Privy Council in 1561. This Earl was called by the Reformers the good Earl, but his goodness was not proof against the temptation to plunder, and the great hall of his castle at Kerila is said to have been decorated with the coats-of-arms of the Scottish nobility taken from the Abbey. The Glencairn title became extinct in 1789.
To Alexander, Earl of Glencairn, the Stevenston end of Saltcoats owes its existence. In 1545 he granted leases for 999 years to nine fishermen in Saltcoats, by which each of them was to have some falls of ground, still called the Nine Yards, in that town, and also pasture for a cow and follower, on the moor betwixt Rough Castle and Sealoch, on condition that they, every spring, in their two boats, carried the Earl's furniture from the creek of Saltcoats to Finlayston, and brought it back again in the fall, when the family returned to their residence at Kerelaw; and, moreover, that each of them gave him yearly half-a-barrel of herrings."
While this apparently marks the beginning of that particular part of Saltcoats with which we have to do, the Ardrossan portion of the town would seem to be of greater antiquity, as it was erected in 1528 by James V. into a Burgh of Barony. All Pont has to say about it is, "Salte-cottes quher salt is made, it belongs to ye Earle of Glencairne," and Saltcoats for long seems to have remained a very inconsiderable place. A hundred years after the granting of this charter there were only four huts for making salt, so, apparently, its early days were marked by decay rather than by prosperity.
The most notable collection of houses in the parish was at Piper Heugh, a village, according to Dr. Wodrow, of fourteen or sixteen houses, the inhabitants of which, according to the same authority, "either manufactured or played on the trump or Jew's harp.” The name given to this little musical instrument, by the way, does not indicate that it had its origin among the Jews. The derivation, in all likelihood, is from the French jeu, a toy, and harp - the toy harp. The probability is that, while the inhabitants of Piper Heugh may have been players, they were more particularly makers, and indeed, in the Commissariat of Glasgow there is recorded the death in 1627 of Agnes Glasgow, spous of John Logane, trump-maker in Stevenstone. It may have been that Piper Heugh had a monopoly of the Jew's Harp trade, as Colinsburgh had of the trade in corkscrews, and Culross of that in girdles. Centralization is not exclusively a modern evil! It was sometimes caused in the days with which we are dealing by the granting of monopolies on the part of the Scottish Parliament to persons or burghs. It would be a rash thing to say that the Jew's Harp was below the notice of the Scottish Parliament, for the rulers of those days turned their attention to very small matters; but on the origin of the monopoly, if such it was, possessed by Piper Heugh, the veil of silence rests.
Dr. Landsborough finds the old hamlet quite an inspiring theme and his description of the place and its product makes quite a purple patch in his statistical account. “The trump," he says, "which they manufactured at Piper Heugh was the Jew's Harp: and from the name of their residence it would appear this little colony possessed the united accomplishments of Jubal and Tubal, being not only artificers in brass and iron, but 'handlers of the harp,' and, it is probable, of the pipe. The voice of these ancient minstrels is silent, - the pipers and harpers, like their woodland village, have passed away: but they seem to have bequeathed the mantle of song to their posterity for the inhabitants of Stevenston are still distinguished for their musical propensities." When the statistical account was written in 1837 there were some remains of the village still standing, but now not a vestige is to be seen, nothing but the clump of trees, in the shade of which the village sheltered.
Stevenston Past and Present - Ecclesiastical..By A. M. M.
The Church, which probably stood where the Established Church to-day stands, was, as has already been said, in pre Reformation times dedicated to St. Monoch or St. Monk The memory of St. Monk is enshrined in the old fair-day which was held on the 30th October, and was popularly known as Sammyneuk's Day - and was "ane of the kirks anext to the Abbacie of Kilwinning of auld, whilk now is dissolved in several personages."
Right royal was the lordship of the Abbot of Kilwinning. To him belonged the teinds and the patronage of Kilwinning, Irvine, Kilmarnock, Loudoun, Dalry. Kilbirnie, Beith, Dunlop, Stewarton, Dreghorn, Stevenston, Ardrossan, and West Kilbride, all in Ayrshire : Dumbarton and Kimaronock, in Dambartonshire; North and South Knapdale, in Argyle; Kilmory and Kilbride, in Arran. It was a goodly heritage and yielded in revenue a sum equal to £20,000 actually at the present day. There was some justification, it is to be feared, for Allan Ramsay's little satire:
"The Monks of Melrose made gude kale
On Fridays when they fasted."
Dr. Landsborough, enumerating the ministers of the Parish, says "the first name we have been able to discover is Mr Stephen Wilkynsoane curate of Steynatoune in 1547," and Dr. Scott begins his list also with Wilkynsoane. In the Obit Book of St. John the Baptist, Ayr, however, we find the obit of Dr. Duncan Pethede, formerly rector of Ayr, and Mr Richard Pethede, canon of Ross, vicar of Stevenston, in the diocese of Glasgow : which same Mr Duncan died the 10th day of the month of January, 1449; which Mr Richard, before his own death, founded an obit and anniversary in the Parish Church of Ayr, for the safety of the soul of the said late Mr Duncan his uncle, the soul of the founder himself, and the souls of their mothers, fathers, ancestors, and successors, and for the souls of all faithful Christiana.
"Mr Richard was exceedingly careful that his anniversary should be observed properly, and, apparently, he had not faith overmuch in his brother-clergymen, for he enjoins that the chaplains shall celebrate his obit in surplices and not in albs, “if otherwise appearing they shall be considered as absent," and the absentee was to receive no part of the nine shillings which was left to recompense the celebrants. "Moreover, sixpence of the said sum shall be given to the parish chaplain if he serves on the said anniversary in a surplice and says placebe and dirige, and shall have rung the bells reverently : and. if otherwise not: twelvepence for wax on the day of the death; twopence to the chaplain ringing the bell through the streets."
It is quite evident that the parishioners of Stevenston were under the charge of a careful man when Mr Richard Pethede was responsible for their spiritual oversight. We have a glimpse of the parish in a letter written by Regent Murray to The General Assembly of 1569: Marrover at our coming at Aberdeen there came ane named Porterfield, minister provydit of before to the viccarage of Ardrossane, and required also of us that he micht have the viccarage of Steinsone, seeing both was ane matter meine aneuch to sustaine him, and because the kirks war ueir, he micht discharge the cure of both. Mr Porterfield does not seem to have been successful in his suit A list of the ministers of the Parish was compiled by the late Dr. Scott of the Free Church, Saltcoats, from which it would appear that the last Popish vicar and the first Protestant minister was James Walcar, who conformed in 1562 and died in 1569.
The churchyard is exceedingly barren in records of the past, probably due to the fact that the erection of each new church has necessitated the further levelling of the top of the hill. The soil and debris would in all likelihood be simply thrown down the slope, and the old stones have been covered up. There is little remaining to us, therefore, from a former time; but of one of the ministers, John Bell, who died in 1641, and was succeeded, it is interesting to note, by his son, there are some relics. At the back of the minister s pew there is a piece of oak, bearing, in raised characters, the letters "M.I.B., IB, 1641," being his initials and those of his wife. In addition the remains of a monument to his memory have been built into one of the shelters erected at the gates of the church for the elders who stand at the plate. It bears the following verse, the exact appropriateness of which of the heading at all events, it is somewhat difficult to understand :-
THE CHILDLES MOTHERS RESOLUTION,
Strength to my tryal hath my Lord made eaven, Oh to bedew His feet. That tears were given, His will's my weel. In Him my soule content Nor greevs to goe, nor give what he hath lent.
Though it is evident that a church must have existed in the parish as far back as the middle of the fifteenth century, yet it cannot be said that its ecclesiastical history is specially noteworthy. Unfortunately there are no records in existence prior to 1700. The present church was built in 1832, and owes its existence to the energy of Dr Landsborough. The church which preceded it was erected in 1670, an aisle being added to it by the parishioners living in Saltcoats in 1744.
Stevenston seems to have been without a minister from 1695 till 1700. In that year William Reid was ordained, and entered on a ministry of no less than forty-two years. He was succeeded by Robert Findlay, who only remained a few months, being removed to Galston. He became a professor in Glasgow University, and died sixty-seven years after leaving the parish. His successor was Thomas M'Kinlay, whose ministry was very short, though he left a widow behind him who lived till 1824, dying at the long age of ninety-three. In 1759 James Wodrow, son of the Church Historian, became minister of the parish, and he held office till 1810. In 1811 David Landsborough was ordained to the charge, which he held till the ever-memorable Disruption in 1843 The good people of Stevenston then, as now, seem to have taken only a very calm and dispassionate interest in affairs ecclesiastical. There appears to have been no disputed settlements in the parish, though the parishioners shared in the excitement attending the settlement of one, Mr Duncan, to the parish of Ardrossan, in 1789.
This Mr. Duncan had been presented to the living by the Earl of Eglinton, though Mr Steven, who had been assistant to the former minister, was-the-chosen of the Kirk Session.He made a valiant effort to take possession of his charge and "arrived at Stevenston, we are informed," with three coaches, six horsemen, and sixteen or eighteen clubmen, with a smith, and great forehammers to break open the kirk doors," which he apparently took for granted would be closed against him. His courage, how-ever, waned when he got the length of Finlay's brae, and, fearing violence, he ignominiously turned and fled. Ultimately the good man was ordained in Irvine, and plucking up heart after his ordination to make another effort, he sallied forth again with his friends, but got no further than Stevenston, where he stopped and gave the people the benefit of the sermon he had prepared for the malcontents of the sister parish. Mr Duncan's persistence was, in course of time, rewarded; he was allowed to enter into possession, and remained minister of Ardrossan for some thirty years.
Even the Disruption and the events leading up to it failed to excite a great deal of interest. Dr. Landsborough complains that few attended the meetings he convened at this troublous period. "The attendance," says the Doctor," was disheartening." The Church was declared vacant by the Presbytery of Irvine before Dr. Landsborough returned from the first Free Church General Assembly, the reverend brethren who remained within the pale of the Established Church showing what was surely an unrighteous zeal in getting rid of their old comrades. The apathy with regard to the Disruption movement had been so marked that it was not expected many would come out, the surprise and gratification, therefore, of Dr. Landsborough, was all the greater when he found, on the first Sabbath morning after his return, that the Freemasons Hall, where he was to preach, was too small to contain the audience which had assembled. Another hall had to be secured, and in this the Rev. Gilbert Laing preached.
This large following was not, as it afterwards proved, the result merely of a passing interest in the peculiar circumstances in which Dr. Landsborough was placed, the new church, which was erected in Saltcoats owing to the difficulty of getting a suitable site in Stevenston, being quite crowded after it was opened. It was found that a church in Saltcoats was not altogether suitable for the people in Stevenston, And, a site having been granted by Mr Warner, a church was built and opened on the first Sabbath of February, 1845. Since the erection of the new church in 1887, this old church has been known as the Woodside Hall. With Dr. Landsborough, four elders of the session of Stevenston came out at the Disruption.
These were Andrew Fulton, Stevenston; Duncan Fullerton, Thomas Shaw, and William Laidlaw, Saltcoats. The Stevenston congregation thought they had the best right to the services of their old minister, but, as he himself says, "the greater part in the Saltcoats church had been my congregation also in the Parish Church, and I had a dwelling house there (Rockvale House). I gave it the preference.” The congregation in Stevenston, therefore, called the Rev. James White, who had been the minister of a congregation in Hull, and he was ordained the first Free Church minister on the 16th February, 1847.
His successors have been the Rev. Jas. Treadwell (1866-1876), the Rev. Joseph Forrest (1876-1885), and the present minister, the Rev. John Livingstone, ordained 1885. The ministers of the Established Church since the Disruption have been the Revs. Messrs Cruickshanks and Graham and the Rev. R. J. Kyd. The Rev. A. Morris Moodie was in 1892 ordained as the first United Presbyterian minister, work having been begun some years earlier by the local Presbytery of that Church to meet the needs of the new town coming into existence in the Ardeer end of the parish. The Rev. Dr Landsborough, who lived for eleven years after the Disruption, dying of cholera on the 12th of September, 1854, was a man of no ordinary ability, and rose high above the average character.
No minister was ever more faithful of him, as of his Master, it was true that he went about continually doing good. He was ever kind and conciliatory, but unflinching in his defence of principle, and not slow, as we have seen, to make large sacrifices in the cause of truth. His interests, too, were wide and varied. He was an ardent lover of nature, deeply versed in the lore of hedgerow and shore and on intimate terms with many other leading saran's of his time. He published "A Popular History of British Zoophytes," and “A Popular History of British Seaweeds." He wrote a poem on Arran, and later on, a work entitled ‘Excursions to Arran,' which shows the most intimate acquaintance both with the scenery and with the natural history of the island. In addition he wrote the "Statistical Account of Stevenston," which is of great interest if only because of the exceedingly careful manner in which the natural productions of the parish are dealt with.
It was indeed, well for Stevenston that its spiritual interests were being cared for at such a critical period as that of the Disruption by a man of the type and tone of Dr Landsborough. The Free Churches of Saltcoats and Stevenston were, it must be noted, not the first dissenting churches in the parish, for the Relief Church was erected in 1782, and the Secession Church was formed in 1790. As early as 1739, indeed, there were scceders in Saltcoats, and in that year they applied to the Presbytery for supply of sermon, which was granted them for a few months.
Dr Wodrow tells us that in 1781 there were in the parish 80 families connected with the Relief Church, 14 families belonging to the Burghers and Anti-Burghers, and I Cameronian family. In 1781 the Relief Church came into existence in Saltcoats. The Burgher congregation was formed in 1790 the Anti-Burgher in 1793. The formation of the Burgher congregation had its origin in the enforced settlement of Mr Duncan, to which reference has been made. The Anti-Burgher congregation sprang into existence through separation from the Kilwinning congregation after the death of Mr Jamieson. But the history of these congregations belong: rather to the records of the Burgh of Saltcoats than to those of the Parish of Stevenston.
It is perhaps worth while noting that, in spite of the strong feeling on matters ecclesiastical that existed in the beginning of the century, we find very commendable spirit of brotherhood as between the Established Church people and these Seceders, a spirit of brotherhood which is not always in evidence in what we are pleased to call these more enlightened days. When the New Parish Church was building in 1832, the congregation was accommodated in the Bell Acre, the Masonic Lodge, and the Secession Church, Saltcoats, and we find the heritors, at A meeting held in the month of January, 1834, agreeing to give £5 for the use of the Bell Acre, £10 for the use of the Masonic Lodge, and £10 was to be invested is to be presented to Mr Elles, "for the friendly and handsome manner in which he had accommodated the parishioners."
Bound up with the Ecclesiastical history of the parish is the Educational, though, as far back as the records go, the parochial school seems to have had several competitors. The attendance at the parochial school in the end of last century was only fifty, so it would appear that the bulk of the children must have attended the other schools in the parish, of which there were sometimes two and sometimes three. The schoolmaster's salary was only £5 yearly, though, of course, this would be supplemented by fees, and, probably, by other emoluments. The schoolmaster of those days, however, had only a sorry pittance at the best. Even the Rector of Irvine Academy had only £18. Happily, the authorities were awakened to a sense of their duty, and in 1803 we find the heritors meeting to consider an act for making provision for the parochial schoolmaster. The result of their deliberations was that the school master's salary was increased to some £23 12s 31, with two bolls of meal: not a princely sum by any manner of means, but it seems to have been a very considerable advance on the salary formerly paid.
When the New Statistical Account was written in 1832 there were no less than five schools in the parish - one parochial, at which the attendance was 163 ; one subscription, having on the roll 130; and three others. It is rather curious to find that, according to Dr Landsborough's account, certain branches of learning which we regard today as very elementary and essential to the poorest education were looked upon a luxuries for the few. He specifies that in the case of the parochial school, while all were learning English, only 41 were learning writing, 17 arithmetic and 8 grammar, Arithmetic was apparently held in light esteem; while as for grammar, it seems by the many to have been treated with contempt. The number who aspired to anything more than the three R's was very limited, 6 taking Latin and 4 mathematics. The teacher's salary was by this time very respectable, indeed, being given at £93 4s 6d.
In the course of time, two of the schools ceased to exist, and at the passing of the Education Act there were only three in the parish--the parochial school, that in connection with the Ironworks, which had a name and fame beyond the bounds of the parish, and one at Kyleshill. After the passing of the Act, the present large school, which stands in New Street, was built, to meet the needs of the whole village, and the parochial schoolmaster Mr Lithgow, who only retired the other day. was appointed headmaster. While it has been several times enlarged, it is again too small to meet the increasing needs of the district. The number of children on the roll being 1100, increased accommodation is imperatively demanded.
Stevenston Past and Present - Industrial Part I..By A. M. M.
The most interesting portion of the history of the Parish is undoubtedly, that dealing with its industrial development. It has not, it is true, made the immense strides which have been made by other districts in the West of Scotland, still it has, in large measure, shared in the general prosperity of the country, and, during later years especially, has probably more than kept pace with the industrial advance which has been the outstanding characteristic of our age.
The story of the rise and progress of its industries, too, possesses one or two features of special interest. In the middle of the seventeenth century the population of the parish was very meagre, at the beginning of the eighteenth century it was still less than 400, in 1755 it was 1412, by 1795 it had risen to 2425, in 1843-44 it was 3791, for ten years it was stationary. On since then, with the exception of a few years in the late sixties, when it went back, there has been a continuous increase, till now the population is over 7000. The valuation of the parish in Cromwell's time was £1206 Scots, equivalent to £100 10s sterling. So late as 1793 the rental was only £1107 sterling. The assessable rental in 1850 was £7506, by 1897-98 it had more than trebled, while the gross rental was £33,967. To-day it is over £35 000, and, happily, there is every appearance of a continuation of the rapid expansion of the last few years.
With the exception of a little salt-making and fishing in the Saltcoats end of the parish, and a little weaving, the population in the beginning of the eighteenth century must have been dependent upon agriculture. The local Dames point to the old occupation of the people, for "Cowrodden" still comes more trippingly to the tongues of the old residenters than does the modern New Street, which by the way, is certainly not an improvement, and "Boglemart" derives its name, Mr Smith of Monkridding suggests, from the Gaelic Be, a cow, and means cattle market. It is not likely to have been much of a cattle-market, but here is what, in the olden time, would be an open space, the good folks of Stevenston and neighbourhood would buy and sell their cows.
With reference to the nomenclature of the parish, there is one other name of some interest, the name of the prettiest spot within the parish boundaries, viz., Brackleheugh, which sometimes appears in the very objectionable form "Breakplough." "Brakleheagh," it would seem, is a corruption of " Brackenheugh, "and heugh is Scotch for a hollow dell, so the word means the bracken. covered dell : and though cottagers' gardens with their potatoes and cabbages have ousted the brackens, bracken-covered it was within the memory of some of the older folks. " Brackle" is simply a corruption, for the sake of euphony, of "bracken."
For the same reason, probably Bo-mart has become Boglemart. The inhabitants of Stevenston, even in the olden time, were almost exclusively engaged in agricultural pursuits; and so, indeed, we should expect from the name of that part of Ayrshire in which it is situated, for what does "Cunninghame" mean, coming as it does from the Gaelic Cuinneng, a milk pail or churn, but the milk and butter country? What says the old rhyme :
Kyle for a man,
Carrick for a coo,
Cunninghame for butter and cheese,
And Galloway for 'oo.
THE CONDITION OF AGRICULTURE IN THE PARISH
It is to be feared that in those days the people were very poor and rather squalid, for agriculture in Scotland, almost up to the end of the eighteenth century, was in a very backward condition, and the accounts which have come down to us of the state of the cultivation and the condition of the husbandmen's dwellings present a far from agreeable picture. We are told that the roads were bad and the farm houses little better than hovels, while the cattle were starving and the people wretched. Drainage seems to have been practically unknown, and the crops were very poor. Even in 1820, Robertson, writing of the farmers' houses in Cunninghame, says:- " They consisted almost uniformly of one extended row of low, thatch-roofed houses, including the butt and benn dwelling of the farmer, the cow byre, and the stable for the horses, without interruption.... The midden or dunghill (the right hand of the good farmer) is still too great a favourite to be removed out of view." Nothing could be more eloquent of than the fact that as late as 1770 the best land let for 2, 6d per acre. In the end of the century, however, much greater attention began to be given to the cultivation of the soil, and improvement was very rapid. In 1799 land was let at £2 per acre, and by 1812 grass parks, which thirteen or fourteen years before could be had for half-a-crown the acre, were worth £10.
It is, perhaps of interest to notice that Robert Reid Cunninghame introduced rabbits in 1777, by way of utilising, in some measure, the moor land on his estate. He imported some 30 pairs from the Little Cumbrae, and very soon they became source of profit, 6000 being killed every year, and tenpence a pair being got for them.
In very early times there was one industry in which at least a few people in the parish were interested - that of salt making. Salt-making seems to have been one of the earliest of Scottish industries, and one to which considerable attention was paid. David I, according to Mr Cochran Patrick, granted to the monks of Kelso a salt-work on the northern shore of the Forth, and bestowed similar gifts upon other monastic communities. The same writer tells us that in 1536 the price of salt was fixed by Royal Commissioners along with the Provost of Edinburgh; and the magistrates in all coast towns were empowered to settle at what rate imported salt was to be sold.
This article of commerce seems, indeed, often to have engaged the attention of the Scottish Parliament, and was the subject of great variety of enactments. We know that Saltcoats (under the name of Saltcottis) existed as far back as 1484, so it is evident that the inhabitants of the district turned their attention to it at a very early period. The name is by some derived from the practice of the women carrying the salt in their outer petticoat to the neighbouring towns and villages, but the more likely derivation is from Salt-cottes, or cottages, the "cottes" being the huts of the salt-makers. It was an industry of some little value, but was carried on in a very primitive style till the days of Robert Cunninghame, under whom, as we shall see later, it was greatly developed. Weaving, too, doubtless, to some slight extent occupied the Beges, but the population was sparse, and there was little to do
TILL THE ADVENT OF THE CUNNINGHAMS
It was in 1656 that the Barony of Stevenston was purchased by Sir Robert Cunninghame, physician to Charles II. for Scotland. In his person the old Glencairn family resumed their connection with the parish, for he was descended from Edward, the fourth son of the first Earl of Glencairn. He was a man of some note, was much employed at the Court, and was present at the battle of Worcester, where he was taken prisoner. He was confined in the Tower of London, but not for long. On the Restoration in 1660 he was reinstated in his office as physician to the King. He died in 1674, and his son and daughter only surviving him for a short time, the estates passed to his nephew, Robert Cunninghame.
To his enterprise and energy the prosperity of the parish was, in the first instance, due. He bored for coal, and in 1678 began mining operations at the deep shank in the "little holm" to the east of the church, and erected a water-wheel to draw the water out of that pit. He put down several shafts, and on the west side of the parish he drove a level mine for a mile and a half through his own coalfield and part of Lord Eglinton's, which laid the upper part of several of the seams dry. The working of coal commenced, in Britain about the end of the 10th century. The first charter to the inhabitants of Newcastle to dig for coal is dated 1239, while a charter for the same purpose was given to the Abbey of Dunfermline in 1291.
Mining in those days was carried on in a very primitive fashion, and even from some of Robert Cunninghame's pits, notably from the one at the Townhead of Saltcoats, the coal was brought up on the backs of the wives and daughters of the colliers. The "Wand House" reminds us still of the arduous work of those poor women, for it derives its name from the fact that in the marshy ground in which it stands the wands, or willows, for the making of the coal-creels were grown. The method commonly adopted, however, for the raising of the coal was by horse-gins, and two of these, drawn by sixteen horses, were erected by Robert Cunninghame.
The Stevenston mines, which work no less than twelve seams of coal, form the northern limit on the West Coast of the great coalfield of Scotland. Fifeness is the northern limit on the East Coast, while the southern limit on the West Coast is at Girvan, and on the East Coast North Berwick. The Stevenston field is cut into three parts by two galls or dikes, the Caponcraig Gall, which is composed of whinstone and is 20 yards thick, and the Piperheugh Gall or Step, of no great thickness. The new industry of coal mining led to the development of the old industry of salt making, salt pans being erected to utilise the dross from the pits. Not only so, but the erection of a harbour at Saltcoats was begun in the year 1684. It was no easy task, and was not completed till 1700. The expense was necessarily very great, and to assist Robert Cunninghame in what was a work of public utility the Scottish Parliament made a grant in 1686 of the excise on ale and beer used in the parish of Stevenston for a period of twenty years. In 1693 he obtained, in addition, the excise on all "retailed brandy and aquavite used in the parishes of Stevenston and Ardrossan," for this right, however, he had to pay a yearly sum of £468.
It is evident that then as now there was too much "brandy and aquavite used in the parishes; but it is not without interest to notice that the Scottish Parliament, which was in the habit of making these grants, anticipated, in some measure, the schemes of some modern temperance reformers who would turn to account, perhaps wisely, the drinking proclivities of the people by expending the money raised on works for the public benefit. There was this fundamental difference, of course, that these old grants did not eliminate private gain, which is the object of temperance reformers of the Gothenburg school.
In spite of the assistance given him by Parliament, Mr Cunninghame's various enterprises involved an expenditure beyond his income, and he suffered the fate of so many pioneers, only sowing that others might reap. The result was that he had to dispose of part of his estate. In 1685 Kerila was sold to John Hamilton, Esq., of Grange, and in 1707 Dowe Calthall, or Ducattchall, and Ardeer were sold to the Rev. Patrick Warner, of Irvine. Of the Hamilton family, the most notable scion was General Hamilton, the famous American statesman, the framer of the American constitution, and the reputed author of that notable document "Washington's Farewell Address." He was the great-grandson of the Hamilton who purchased Kerila.
The Hamiltons came of an ancient stock, being connected with the ducal house of Hamilton. Their seat of Grange was situated near Kilmarnock, and "Kerila" was changed to "Grange” when it came into possession of the Hamiltons. The modern mansion house was erected previous to 1790 by Alexander Hamilton. On his death the estate was sold to Gavin Fullerton, West Indian Merchant, who wisely restored the old Dame, and the estate is now known as Kerelaw.
The Fullertons were a branch of the Fullertons of Kirkmichael, in Arran, a very ancient family, who hold their charter from "guid King Robert the Bruce," and are hereditary crowners in the Island of Arran. The Rev. Patrick Warner, who purchased Ardeer, was, for a time, minister in the East Indies, but returned to Scotland in 1677. He was associated with John Welsh in various field preachings in Galloway, and, after the battle of Bothwell, was compelled to retire to Holland. He returned to Scotland before 1681, and, again taking part in conventicle meetings, was thrown at first into prison but ultimately allowed to proceed to Holland. In 1687, on the issue of the Indulgence of King James, he returned to Scotland, and was ordained minister of Irvine in 1688, where he held office for about twenty years. He resigned in 1709, and retired to his house of Ardeer, where he lived till the year 1722, being then the oldest minister of the Church of Scotland.
He married one of the daughters of the Rev. William Guthrie of Fenwick. Mr Cunninghame built Seabank in 1708. He died in 1715. He seems to have been a man not only of great energy and enterprise, but, at the same time, of devout character, and was held in high esteem for his kindness and benevolence. After his death the coal-mining and salt-making under went many vicissitudes. The pits and salt pans were at first let to the shipmasters of Saltcoats at a yearly rental of £250. They began operations with some degree of energy, and having assumed Provost M Taggart of Irvine as a partner, they commissioned him to purchase a steam-engine for the pumping of water out of the pits. The engine was accordingly purchased in London and set up in 1719, the second one in Scotland. Only some five years before this the steam engine, or fire-engine, as it was commonly called, was used for the first time at Newcastle. Unfortunately the engine was a failure, and the engineer decamped one night.
Another engineer was got from Newcastle, and the shipmasters, disheartened by finding that he was equally unsuccessful in his pumping operations, offered him the lease on the same terms on which they held it themselves. He took over the works in conjunction with an English company and carried them on till 1728, when his enterprise ended in bankruptcy. Another company, having its headquarters in Falmouth, attempted to carry them on, but with no better success, and, in three years, they too failed Not till 1770 did the tide turn. In that year they came into possession of Robert Reid Cunninghame, who was the son of Anna Cunninghame and John Reid, second son of the minister of the parish.
It is of some interest to note that Miss Lesley Baillie, to whom was addressed Burns' ballad, "Bonnie Lesley," -
" O saw ye bonnie Lesley,
As she gaed ower the Border!
She's gane, like Alexander,
To spread her conquests farther,"
was a grand-daughter of Anna Cunninghame and John Reid, their daughter, married to Robert Baillie of Mayville, being her mother. Robert Reid Cunninghame possessed, to quote Robertson, "a due portion of the spirit of his maternal great grandfather," and prosecuted his schemes with judgment, perseverance, and with success. The parish, under his regime, entered upon a new era of prosperity.
Stevenston Past and Present - Industrial Part II..By A. M. M.
ROBERT Reid Cunninghame pushed forward the work of mining with great energy. He entered into co partnary with Mr Warner, and together they proceeded to develop the workings. They set themselves, first of all, to connect the coal field with Saltcoats harbour by means of a canal; and this canal, which was finished and navigated on the 19th September, 1772, was the first upon which any business was done in Scotland.
It was 2 and 1/4 miles long, and the water was 4 feet deep, the boats navigating it being 12 to 15 tons burden. Branch canals were made to the different shafts, and the transit of the coal thus became comparatively easy and expeditious. The terminus of the canal was at the Saltcoats end of what is now known as Canal Street, and from this terminus the coal was at first carted to the harbour, but later on, a line of rails was laid down, and waggons took the place of carts. Two canals were also made to connect the Misk Colliery with the Garnock. The shaft at the Mirk was sunk in 1778 to work the first and fourth seams. Messrs Cunninghame & Warner found the task of sinking shafts made exceedingly arduous by the immense depth of sand they required to penetrate. The difficulty we may estimate from the fact that from three to four hundred men were employed day and night digging out the sand.
So troublesome and costly did this work of sinking shafts through the sand prove, that a solution of the difficulty was sought by making an underground canal to connect the Eastern and Western Collieries. This canal was actually carried some 200 yards, but the coal beginning to degenerate, it was abandoned. In spite of the heritage of failure into which he entered, and the difficulties he was called upon to encounter, Mr Cunningham's enterprise was crowned with success. The canal alone effected a saving of about £1000 a year. The output at the Western Colliery was increased to 13 000 tons per annum, while at the Misk 10.000 tons were raised. The profits of what but a little while before had involved several men in bankruptcy became considerable, and rapidly rose from £2000 to £6000 per annum.
The coal was for the most part exported to Ireland, and though on this side the Channel it did not cost the shipmaster more than 6s per ton, it was rather an expensive commodity by the time it reached the consumer's hands in Dublin, costing him something like 20s a ton, for not only had the captain his freight to get and the various middlemen their profits, but the British Government exacted a duty of ls 2d per chaldron of 2000 lbs. before it left these shores, while the Irish Parliament claimed 8d per ton when it was landed, and the Lord Mayor of Dublin stepped in and demanded another ls 2d a ton to pave his streets withal. The trade flourished in spite of these many burdens, and the Parish flourished with it.
In Saltcoats three shipbuilding yards were set up between 1775 and 1790, and no less than 61 vessels, of the value of £70,000, were turned out during these years. To the port 41 vessels,with a registered tonnage of 4300 tons, belonged. These vessels were largely engaged in the foreign trade, and even the fishermen went to Newfoundland; three vessels being employed in the fishing there in the years 1788, '89,90 Unfortunately, the enterprise of these fishermen was not rewarded, the fishing proving a failure.
SALTCOATS BECAME A BUSY PLACE, importing hemp from St Petersburg, iron from Gottenburg timber from Mimel, and possessing a ropework, brewery, and for a short time, a distillery. There were a large number of seamen connected with the port, and during the Crimean War, 200 Saltcoats men served in the Navy. At this date, too, it was becoming known as a health resort, for Dr. Wodrow tells us that some 500 visitors resided in it during the summer months, This period of prosperity was marked by a rapid increase in the population, which rose during the eight years 1783 - 91 from 1884 to 2423. The century close well for Stevenston. Wages were good, miners receiving from 2s 6d to 3s per day, carpenters 2s, labourers 1s, while domestic servants were paid £3 a year, and farm servants £14 14. Food was by no means expensive, eggs costing from 3d to 4d a dozen, butcher meat 4d to 6d per lb., butter 7d to 10d per lb, the Ayrshire lb being, it must be noted, 24 ounces. Salmon was 3d the English lb.
But even these prices were a considerable advance on the prices of a few years before, and Dr Wodrow is found lamenting the increased cost of living. Eggs and butter, he says, had doubled in price, while salmon was more than triple what it used to be. And there was some reason for the wail of the Doctor, for when Mrs Mackinlay came as mistress to the manse in 1751, the leg of beef was only 5s. Salmon was 1d the Ayrshire lb., eggs were 1d the dozen, meal was 6d a pack, coal was 4s 7d the ton of 24 cwts. She paid her servant 13s 4d and a new apron in the half year. The tailor she called in to make her husband's clericals got 4d a day and his meals. A little went a long way. Things were still somewhat primitive.
THERE WAS NOT A CARPET IN STEVENSTON when she came to it. She was the first to have one, and, good house wife that she was, made it out of the remnants left by the tailor. The village of those days shared ants left by the tailor. The village of those days shared in the general prosperity which came to Scotland in the end of last and beginning of the present century, and was not by any means a sleepy hollow. Coal-mining, as we have seen, had been largely developed, but the villagers had not all their eggs in one basket. Weaving gave employment to a considerable number. There were some 200 weavers, 45 of whom were silk weavers, while a number of the women were engaged in tambour work and flowering.
Of the character of the people, Dr. Wodrow gives no very flattering account. He says he cannot give a favourable testimony of the improvement of the people in mind and morals, but the Doctor finds that the blame is for the most part, to be laid at the door, not of the old residenters, but of those who have come into the village. The constant influx of unknown persons from distant parishes, less under the restraints either of religion or character than the native inhabitants, is an unfavourable circumstance in the way of example. "The manner of life," he goes on to say, "both of the sailors and miners, furnishes some temptation to drunkenness and intemperance, and leads to habits of these vices.”
The high wages of the miners are too often immediately dissipated : little laid up for the maintenance of their families, whose education is too much neglected. The temptation is much increased by the cheapness of spirituous liquors and the number of inns and houses for selling spirits. Of these there are no less than 18 in Stevenston town, 16 in Saltcoats." Over against these strictures of the parish minister, it is right to note the fact that a book published in Dalry in 1803 and bearing the title, "A Treatise Concerning the New Birth," had no less than 28 subscribers in the village, which shows that there was a very fair proportion of the people interested in things spiritual. It is ominous, however that there were only 30 children at the parochial school.
The closing years of the old century and the opening years of the new marked, for the time being, the high water mark of the prosperity of the parish. The tide ebbed somewhat. After 1810 local industry began to show signs of declining. The shipbuilding yards in Saltcoats were closed. Two coal pits, during 1812-15, were sunk near the spot where the Gaelic Free Church now stands, but were abandoned.
The weaving trade was very depressed, and there was much distress among the weavers. We are told that in one of the shops in Saltcoats a stumpart (a measure = 1 peck) stood full of weavers' wedding rings, which had been given in exchange for goods. Meal was 5s a peck. In 1926 there came new trouble in the form of an extremely hot summer. The character of this year may be gathered from the fact that it was ever afterwards known as
THE YEAR OF THE SHORT CORN AND SANDY MEAL.
No rain fell for four months, the corn was so short that it could not be cut, and had to be pulled up by the roots. The farmers' carts coming from the mills were intercepted and compelled to give the meal into the shops that it might be sold. Relief works were started, and do these Saltcoats spent no less a sum than £1500, a large sum for the Saltcoats of those days. For a few years after this the weaving trade improved, but wages were never so good, and to very long afterwards the application of steam to Weaving wrought havoc with the handloom weavers. In 1837 the distress amongst the weavers, which seems to have been almost chronic, was particularly bad, and we find forty. four of them applying to the heritors for relief.
The heritors were cautious men and, while granting assistance, were careful to see that their charity was not abused. One of the conditions under which relief was granted was that no one who kept a dog should receive assistance, presumably on the principle that a man who was able to keep a dog was able to keep himself, or, mayhap, some of the poor fellows were eking out a livelihood by helping themselves occasionally to a rabbit or hare from the heritors' lands and those good men took this means of squaring accounts with the poachers.
Weaving as a staple industry was doomed to pass away in Stevenston as in so many other parts of the country, though one cannot help expressing a regret that some individual did not apply steam and start a factory. In that case we of to-day might have been the citizens of a great manufacturing centre. A year or two ago the click clack of the shuttle could be heard in one or two of the old thatch-roofed houses, but it is heard no longer, and there are to be found only four old weavers, who now rest from their labours and dream dreams of a past no more to return.
While the weavers were badly off, the coal miners were doing well. In 1832 their wages were five shillings a day. The output of coal was rapidly increasing, and in 1835 40.859 tons were raised. With the exception of a few years after the closing of the pits in the east end of the parish, the history of this industry is one of continuous development - a development which of late years, through the application of improved methods of working, has been exceedingly rapid. The industries peculiar to the Saltcoats end of the parish have, however, passed away entirely. The repeal of the duty on salt struck a fatal blow at the salt trade, and
THE RISE OF ARDROSSAN LED TO THE DECLINE OF SALTCOATS as a port. Extensive chemical works for the manufacture of Magnesia and Epsom Salts were erected in 1802, but, with the passing of the salt trade, this industry also came to an end. Saltcoats, as an industrial centre, ceased to be, but the loss in this respect has been far more than compensated for by the growth of the town in favour as a summer resort. Dr. Wodrow's 500 strangers having grown into a goodly number. It has also reaped its share of the gain accruing to its neighbours of Ardrossan and Stevenston through their industrial growth, reaped, perhaps, of the advantages without sharing - favoured town ! -in the disadvantages. The parish, happily, is no longer dependent upon one industry.
During the last fifty years, ironworks of considerable size and foundries employing many men have been established. The quarry, unhappily now closed, long supplied the finest stone certainly the finest in certain respects of any on the west coast of Scotland, and the name of Ardeer is known wherever roads are to be made, stone quarried, coal mined, war waged - and surely this includes every corner of the earth - the largest explosives factory in the world being located on its sand hills. This factory has clothed with a unique interest one of nature's most naked spots, ‘that which was last has become first,’ and what was but a few years ago a solitary waste has become one of the "most picturesque places in the world."
Stevenston Past and Present - Industrial Part III..By A. M. M.
ALFRED NOBEL, to whose genius the prosperity of the parish in these later years is largely due, was born at Stockholm on the 21st October, 1833, and died at San Remo on the 10th December, 1896 He was the most notable member of a notable family. His father, Emmanuel Nobel, laid the submarine mine in the harbour of Kronstadt, and he had several brothers all of whom were distinguished for their devotion to scientific pursuits - one of them, Robert, being well known as having developed the immense oil trade of Baku in Southern Russia.
The properties of nitre. glycerine as an explosive were discovered as far back as 1847 by Sobrero an Italian, but it was manufactured for the first time on a commercial scale by Alfred Nobel in 1862. In 1864, the factory which he had established was blown up. His youngest brother was killed, and the manufacture was for a time prohibited by the Swedish Government. Works were again, however, erected at Winterviken, near Stockholm, and Krümmel, on the Elbe, in 1865. Nobel's Blasting Oil, as the product of these works was called, was very sensitive to shock or blow, and very dangerous to handle. Many accidents followed its use, and its employment in some countries was forbidden.
It was so in the case of our own country after a very bad accident at Newcastle. Nobel tried to overcome the difficulty of dealing with it as a liquid, first by mixing it with gunpowder, and then by adding fluid, which rendered it non explosive, so that it could be safely transported, the added liquid being removed after its arrival. In 1866, however, he invented dynamite, made by mixing nitro-glycerine oil with porous absorbing material; and this, he found, solved the difficulty both of transportation and employment, the mixture being comparatively insensible to shock, and capable of being properly exploded by means of a detonator and fuse. The discovery of dynamite marks an epoch in the history of civilization, for it entirely revolutionised the science of blasting and made it possible to execute the great engineering works of our times, and brought about that prodigious development of the mining industry of the world which we have witnessed during the last twenty-five years.
Not only have nitroglycerin compounds been used for purposes of blasting, but, employed first during the Franco-Prussian war with great effect, and so brought before the notice of the military authorities, they have come to play an exceedingly important part in warfare. The compounds are now many. In 1875 Nobel patented Blasting Gelatine, which is half as strong Again as Dynamite. In 1888 he patented Ballistite or smokeless powder. And his original discovery, in different modifications, appears in a great variety of forms.
Alfred Nobel was a many-sided man, interested not only in scientific pursuits, but widely read in literature, and not merely a lover of poetry but a poet himself. Nor were his scientific studies narrowed down to the subject of explosives. At the time of his death he was deeply interested in trying to find substitutes for aluminium, silk, and india- rubber. To work Nobel's patents, then, the
BRITISH DYNAMITE COMPANY WAS FORMED IN 1870, and, happily for Stevenston, the Ardeer Sand. hills, on which it was supposed the Glasgow Corporation had an eye for a sewage farm, were saved from that ignominious fate, and chosen as the site of their factory. Work was not begun till 1873, and many difficulties had to be over-come in the beginning of the enterprise. Still, the expansion was very rapid, and the story of its development has few parallels in the annals of industry. Originally the capital of the British Dynamite Company - in 1877, the name was changed to that of Nobel's Explosives Company - was £24,000, and of this only £16.000 was money actually paid. No additional capital has been subscribed since, but by a stroke of the pen" it has grown from £2,000, first, to £210,000, then, on the formation of Nobels, to £240,000, then, on the formation of Nobels Trust Company, to £600 000. The capital of the Trust is now £3,000,000.
The factory covers an area of 710 acres, and gives employment, on an average to 1200 men, women, and young persons. Some idea of the rapidity with which expansion has taken place will be gathered from the fact that during the last fifteen years the factory has trebled in size. Stevenston is sometimes commiserated on having such a volcano as this huge explosive work is deemed to be, in its midst. Congratulation, not Commiseration! Accidents have happened, as was inevitable from the nature of the employment, and the shadow of death has fallen across the heart of the community time and again, but after all, the accidents have been few, not many, and the loss of life is hardly, if at all, greater than that in any work of the same size, so completely has the dread monstre of a few years ago been subdued and harnessed by the genius of Nobel and his associates to the service of man,
The later years of the century have been good years for the parish. A considerable variety of industries have made it their home. The increase of the population has been rapid. During the decade 1881-91 it grew from 5694 to 6209, and the census to be taken shortly will show a much larger increase daring the ten years now running. The Glasgow and South-Western Railway, opened in 1840. has been supplemented by the Lanarkshire and Ayrshire Railway. The drainage has been greatly improved, and an abundant water supply introduced. The poor-rate, which at one time was abnormally high, has fallen considerably, and the number of poor on the roll has by no means kept pace with the increase of population. These things are good. Other things are not. Dr Landsborough was "grieved and ashamed” that the sum spent in the parish on ardent spirits was £4125 per annum. An immensely greater sum is doubtless spent today, and we have reason still to be "grieved and ashamed”
There is at the same time a healthy tone in the community on this subject of intemperance, and the erection of a hall, which is in contemplation dedicated to the case of temperance, will do something, it is to be hoped, still further to heal this sore. The parish has not been lacking in men of public spirit who have earnestly sought its weal: and Mr Donaldson, who not long honourably identified himself with the life of the community, has kindly supplied the following note on
THE MEN OF THE GENERATION WHICH IS PASSING AWAY :-
"Familiar in the memory of the older people there must be the names of a few persons now deceased who within the last thirty years figured prominently in the life of Stevenston. Gavin Fullerton of Kerelaw, the first chairman of the School Board after the passing of the Education Act now in force. He was a shrewd, capable man in all business matters, free of narrowness and ever ready to give a helping hand when the circumstances of the community required it. Mr Lockhart, farmer, Mayfield, was known to young and old as a man of strong individuality and considerable force of character. Not less familiar was the farmer of Broom, Alan Wilson, long connected with Parochial and School Boards. There was also, Dr Howe of Huilerhirat, a gifted man, somewhat of a recluse, and a lover of book-lore. Occasionally he emerged from his retirement, when an election or other important local matter came afoot.
Last, I might mention one more recently deceased, who, although occupying but a humble position in the community, was fully as well known as any who could be named. I refer to "Old Gemmell," he was generally called, village politician, Parochial and School Board member, a man who made the affairs of the district his chief study. Dearly did he love an occasion for the exercise cf his oratorical gifts, and especially when it led to a difference of opinion in the form of an argument. On such as occasion, when a debate waxed warm, he might be heard saying to those round about him, "It's graund, it's graund !" When the question of water supply was being discussed Mr Gemmell we fall of it. Not a meeting did he miss, and many a speech did he make on the street and at the meeting places. It was sometimes difficult to restrain him. The fear of critics never touched him. He said what he had to say, and was not over particular about the words be used. One little incident may be related as showing the interest he took in the then vexed water question. He was hurrying along the street as fast as his lameness would permit, when an acquaintance met him, to whom he unburdened his mind of the ideas he entertained on the subject, and, producing a bottle from his pocket, he said - "Look, this is a sample o' the water they were talkin' aboot, but," replacing it in his pocket, "I must hurry awa' hame, for ye see there's no eneuch inflammable or consumable substance in it to oxidize the animalculæ, and they'll ha'e it a' drucken afore I get hame."
We may, with some reason, hope that we are not yet at the end, but rather only at the beginning of our industrial development; that the rapid growth of the last few years will be maintained, and that, with increasing prosperity, we shall witness disappearance of what is old, unsightly, and unhealthy, and the springing into existence of that which will not only be good to look upon, but conduce to physical and moral well-being. We have made great strides in this direction, but we have still great strides to take, though it is a matter for satisfaction that the health of the parish compares very favourably with that of neighbouring parishes. Robertson, in 1820, was unkind enough to speak of Stevenston's "old, vile, narrow street, which no pains will ever make commodious." The street is still, doubtless, narrow, but even Robertson could hardly call it 'vile' to-day, and ‘pains' have done something, not only for its improvement, but for the general improvement of the village. One step is imperative that 'village’ become 'town.' Dr. Wodrow, in the end of last century, said: "Were the town of Saltcoats and environs erected into a corporation, as Port Glasgow lately was, besides the suppression of small crimes, it would no longer give shelter to great ones. Men of wealth, virtue, and ability would be happy to exert themselves for the common good; the inhabitants, in general, would be taught to respect, and find themselves happy under lawful authority; and in proportion, as the the increases in riches and population, it would also increase in virtue and respectability." Somewhat quaintly put, these words are true, and quite as true for the end of the nineteenth us for the end of the eighteenth century, and more true, it may be, for the Stevenston of today than for the Saltcoats of a hundred years ago.
Much, certainly has been done within the last few years for the orderly government of rural communities, and orderly government of rural communities, and County Councils and Parish Councils, have brought great store of good to the many hitherto neglected parts of the county. But Stevenston has ceased to be a rural community, its population warrants its erection into a burgh, and the one thing that will develop an adequate measure of public spirit and preserve and foster the amenities of the district, is a local authority with full self-administrative power, Dr Wodrow's hope for Saltcoats has been realised, and we know that his prediction has been more than fulfilled.
Stevenston has possibilities that only require protecting and fostering to make it a town second to few on the west coast of Ayrshire, and it ought to be made a matter of duty on the part of all who live within its boundaries, and who, in anywise, are gainers thereby, to do their best for its advance not merely in the things that make for commercial prosperity, but for righteousness. More highly favoured than many commercial communities in the possession of mineral wealth, a unique and valuable industry, a splendid railway service with the commercial heart of Scotland a beautiful seaboard, and rich agricultural district in the immediate neighbourhood. Stevenston has within itself elements which, under wise and enlightened guidance, might lead almost to greatness. It is, perhaps, necessary, above all, to bear in mind that in the case of every community, great or small, righteousness alone exalts, and that to the community, as well as to the individual, the promise is given: Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all things shall be added unto you.