Memories of Glengarnock
1945 / 1955
This article has been inspired by the writings of John McFarlane in his excellent account of life in Glengarnocks Raws, I feel it incumbent upon myself to continue the story of this much loved and interesting village and its people.
I was born in the year 1942 and came into this world within the house known as Kirklandhill Cottage at Allans corner. My father John Morrison was a crane man who worked in the steel works and my mother Eliza Morrison (nee Luke) a house wife as were most mothers of the time. My earliest recollections are probably from around the age of five or six when, along with my three elder sisters we lived in a happy, secure, Christian family home. In later years I found out that I had an elder brother David who died in his early teens, but sadly, I have no memory of him in my childhood. As I write this article two of my sisters, Netta and Aileen, are fortunately still of this world and being older than myself have a treasure trove of memories and events that I was too young to remember, sadly my eldest sister Jean passed away a few years ago.
No doubt I will be accused of wearing rose colored glasses as I recall my childhood, as by today’s affluent standards we would be considered impoverished, ill educated and old fashioned. Not many of my generation will agree with that conclusion however, time will be our judge. The weather in the forties and fifties it seemed was different from today, as rainy days were few and far between, or so we thought. This is probably not true for the Garnock was quite often in spate, and down the Station flooded, so it follows we must have had heavy and prolonged rain. The Garnock or the burn as we knew it, was the main play ground for me and my friends swimming (dookin) making rafts, catching minnows (baggy minnins) or building dams, gave us endless days and hours of fun. While various special places like the dicel, the wee path opposite church road, or in front of the red buildings were favorite haunts, as was the pool behind Vale park, below the old slaughter house. The Hill was another area we knew and loved, indeed many of my friends stayed there, and recollections of playing football, rounders and tig where sometimes mothers and fathers joined in are indeed happy memories. As was building bogeys with old pram wheels and racing them through the three railway bridges on Caledonia road. In today’s society it is almost impossible to understand the ethos of those times, when ninety nine per cent of the inhabitants would work for the same employer and every aspect of daily life, including where you lived, was work dependant and determined. The geographic influence of the steelworks was instrumental in the shaping and fashioning of all our lives. Every area not used by the works was put to good use, vegetable plots, fitba parks, boolin greens, plant nurseries, even hen hooses and pigeon lofts appeared on any spare ground. Up the glen to play was a phrase which must have been heard by countless mothers of the time, this was a tree lined banking that stretched from the Garnock bridge at Grays shop in the Janefield building, up the side of the river towards the pit pad iron footbridge. One tree in particular made a great swing and it was there as an eight year old that I fell off breaking an arm and losing most of my teeth, incidentally the swing was a thick rope appropriated from the steelworks, knotted at the bottom and tied to a high branch. Like many other boys in those days, when the chestnut season came around we would search far and wide to find those sought after trophies. The two places I best remember were up the millers knowse by the old water wheel or, if we were really keen, the long trek to the Dipple Road then onwards to Place House where, if the gamekeeper caught us, they were confiscated and we were sent packing with a kick up the backside.
To understand the life and culture of Glengarnock folk in those days is almost impossible to explain as by today’s standards it was unfair and archaic, yet the steel works were to all of us, the focal point of our lives, as essential as the very air we breathed. Indeed as children the scrap mountains around the village were part of our play ground, as was the loch and the miles of railway tracks, and yes accidents did happen. I remember a school friend John Mcghee losing his arm on the line beside the big school. Siberia, as one part of the steelworks was known, held the scrap mountains that stretched from the time office to Rosearden House next to the Hill. At the time of my childhood, only a few years after the end of world war two, much of the debris and scrap was of military origin. I well remember playing with tin hats, rifles and machine guns also an assortment of bayonets. yet to my knowledge none of us ever got hurt and more importantly neither did anyone else.
Glengarnock had two schools, the wee school and Grays school, these served the primary education needs of the village and along with the Hebron Hall (Christian Brethren) and the Church of Scotland on Church Road, they gave us all the guidance we would need for the rest of our lives, how wonderfully simplistic. The wee school is where we got our first taste of education aged five, it stood where the present primary school stands on Grahamston Avenue, the building itself was two long weatherboard huts sitting side by side stained dark with countless coats of creosote. The centre portion being joined and this served as the assembly and gym hall. When you consider that kids attended the wee school from the Longbar, Garden City, the Hill and the Station, and cars were almost unheard of, its not surprising there weren’t many obese kids. The headmistress Miss Arnott was a Saltcoats lady, whose sole purpose in life was to prepare us for the big school. With hindsight she was more like a surrogate mother than a teacher, as she took it as a personal failure if any of us let her down by not being ready to move on to the big school. Once again the steelworks mentality was apparent, as the vast majority of the pupils had parents who knew each other through their employment and therefore a pride and camaraderie was fostered. After three carefree happy years we were deemed ready to move across the road to the big school, or Grays school to give it its proper name, here our education would begin in earnest. Mr Mclean (Darkie) was the headmaster, his staff included Miss Riddit (Aggie), Miss Thomson, Mr Mckenzie (Tourie), Mrs Clark, Miss Logan and Mrs Pennycook, I also vaguely remember Beth Berry and Teenie Weir and our janitor Geordie Law. From the very start we were reminded daily, that we must work hard, as the qualifying exam was only three years away. The tawse or belt as it is now known, although rarely used, made sure we behaved and worked hard. I should also add that class sizes were all thirty plus in those days, and I can still hear the monotone chanting of times tables that filled the air every morning.
Around this time, the late forties and early fifties, Ayr County Council made the momentous decision that good quality public housing should be built to house the many families that still lived in sub standard accommodation around the steelworks. Land had been purchased to the north of Kilbirnie and the building of Milton Scheme commenced. This decision although both necessary and right, would inevitably lead to the demise of Glengarnock as a self sufficient village, and the infrastructure of schools; churches and shops would enter a time of terminal decline. My early life was spent in those turbulent years and it is only now, with sadness, I realize the village was fragmenting and dying before my eyes, but with the optimism of youth I did not see it. My personal world was to implode in the month of December 1952 when my father was tragically killed at work in the steelworks, and in the same month my aunt and uncle sadly passed away, life would never be the same again. It was shortly after this time the evidence of the population exodus became really apparent, the many shops in the Main Street at the Station, one by one closed their doors for the last time, even the Co-op which previously had draper’s, fruit, chemist’s, butcher’s, grocers and shoe shops began to close these departments. As a young boy I could not understand all of this, or why suddenly, the mass of workers which appeared through the bridges to Allan’s corner at each shift change, suddenly was no more. The Fudston Scheme was also now being built, and the pace of change really became apparent as people moved from tenements and private lets to ultra modern council houses in Kilbirnie. In recent years I have on occasion attended funerals in Kilbirnie cemetery, the new cemetery as I knew it.. When I see the hundreds of grave stones it is a sobering thought to remember I played there as a boy, when it was a hay field. Glengarnock though, like its people, is a great survivor and although the steelworks no longer dominates its skyline, and the lace works are no more, its name proudly lives on, for, as the saying goes, they can take the people out of Glengarnock, but they cannot take Glengarnock out of its people. I should know, for after fifty years away it still feels like home to me.
Ian A Morrison
Glengarnock And Me.
The Raws are but a memory noo
An the Corn Parks juist a name
The Hill, and Railway Cottages
Are a’ gone, whit a shame
The furnaces and soakers
And the mill flair an rail bank
Hiv passed in tae the mists o’ time
As oor village wept and sank
The sky nae longer turns tae rid
An the slag hill grows nae mair
Whilst the wee pugs ance sae common
Are noo extinct, no’ there
The bogie lines a’ choked wi weed
And the loading banks long gone
Glengarnock, though will live again
As a new day, sterts tae dawn.
Allans Corner Residents
End Close ( Now Demolished ) Mr Walker, Mrs Morgan, Mrs Tipping, Mrs Duffield.
Second Close. Mrs Mcpherson, Mr Vann, Mrs Cochrane, Miss Bulloch.
Third Close. Mrs Hunter, Mrs Milligan, Mrs Floyd, Mrs Nelson.
Fourth Close Mr Dickie, Miss Hamilton, Mrs Brennan, Mr Miller, ( Jacky Clark )
Mrs Morrison, Mrs Frue
Shop Allans Corner
End Close Upstairs and Down Mrs Cook
Middle Close. Mrs Mclean, William Cook, Mrs Blair, Mrs Campbell
End Close (steelworks end) Mrs Duffield (Mr Milligan) Mrs Peden
Mr Mrs Mclean (Alister and Ellen)
Sgnt Balantyne Mr Dickie Mr Reid.
Barony Church Manse