IN PEACE AND WAR
Cove on the Roseneath peninsula – The journey - The Upper Firth and the Lang Dyke – Timber ponds – Port Glasgow – Greenock – By rail to Gourock – Motorboat ferry – Steamers – Traffic control at the piers – Kilcreggan – South Ailey Farm above Cove – The unforgettable view – Walks – High road – Low road – Ferrets – Ducks loose their eggs – Gathering ‘brummles’ - The story of a 'Cow' – Making the jam – ‘Conkers’ – Farming – Livestock – Crops – Ominous developments – The Empire Exhibition – Opening day – Tait’s tower – The narrow gauge railway – Other exhibition highlights – Portents of war – Public transport – Expansion of the tramway system – A growing love of travel – Expanding horizons – Preparations for a new arrival
COVE ON THE ROSNEATH PENINSULA & THE EMPIRE EXHIBITION OF 1938
After returning from Mearnskirk Hospital it was the ideal place for Mum and me to have a weekend holiday before re-starting school. South Ailey farm stood on the 250ft contour line on the hillside above Cove overlooked the mouth of Loch Long, and the accommodation was in part of the upper floor of the farmhouse. When Isabella died in 1937 my father's sister Ina took over the tenancy and continued to share it as holiday accommodation with the extended family. During the three years I went there with my parents it was mainly for summer weekends or longer periods of a week or two.
During the 1920s Dad’s parents William and Isabella had a holiday home at Lochgoilhead. After her husband died in 1926, as Lochgoil was relatively inaccessible except by steamer, Isabella decide to change it for accommodation that was easier to get to. From c1930 she rented accommodation at South Ailey Farm above Cove on the Roseneath Peninsula of West Dumbartonshire. It was reasonably accessible by bus or train and ferry, requiring less than a couple of hours travel and walking time. Between March and October it was occupied intermittently and in turn by most members of her family, so that they and the members could relax occasionally at weekends or for longer periods.
When travelling to Cove it was invariably by Gourock, to cross the firth from the pier there to Kilcreggan by a motor boat ferry service operated by Ritchie's, a family business that may still be active there in boat hiring. There is no recollection of travelling by the alternative route via Dumbarton and the Gareloch at this time to cross over by the ferry at Rhu. Because of the constant movement of ships on the river and Inner Firth of Clyde, whichever mode of transport was chosen it was vital that a fascinated small boy would be able to watch the traffic moving on the river. By road or rail, the way their paths interweaved along the riverside from Bishopton to Gourock was a source of frustration. We travelled mainly by bus, but there are stretches where the railway runs on an embankment between road and river, blocking it off from sight.
Between Langbank and Port Glasgow, where the relatively narrow channel of the river meets the inner firth at the Tail O' the Bank, the best view is from the railway. West of Bishopton, before the M8 motorway was constructed, the old A8 road was narrow and there were sharp bends on this section, three of which were double bends indicated by the then road warning signs as Z bends. The first of these was on the downhill stretch beyond the Convent that overlooked the river at the top of the hill just west of Bishopton. In later cycling days, going down this hill caused irritation in having to brake and loose the momentum gained so as to be able to negotiate the bends safely. The second double bend was at the foot of the hill where the road passed under the railway bow-string bridge west of West Ferry, and the third bend was beyond Langbank.
UPPER FIRTH AND THE LANG DYKE
At the point where the river widens out to become the inner firth there’s a feature which used to intrigue me. The Lang Dyke is something that is not always visible because it is nearly always covered at high tide. It’s a line of large heaped up stones nearly three miles long running straight along the south side of the dredged channel, with up to a dozen navigation light towers interspersed along it. To my young eyes it seemed to constitute a hazard to vessels that might stray only a little way out of the channel. Running west from Longhaugh Point to opposite Langbank, it was constructed in the 1770s at the instigation of John Golborne, the man who made the first successful attempt to deepen the channel sufficiently all the way up to the city to take seagoing ships. A previous attempt to do this by John Smeaton was less successful.
Many lateral dykes, or groynes, of large stones were built out from the riverbanks, spaced out along both shores of much of the channel, traces of which can still be seen. Their function was to confine the ebb and flow of the river to a relatively narrow strip in the centre, which caused a tidal surge as it went back and forth and scoured out, deepened and kept the channel clear of silt to a depth that reduced the need for dredging. At this time many of these dykes were still visible in the Erskine and Bowling area. Up river from Dalmuir, most of the spaces between the dykes on both banks were filled in and the reclaimed land used, at first for farming then for shipbuilding and other industries and more recently for housing. Along the upper reaches the river, the banks themselves had to be protected from erosion and this was done by lining them with stones laid with a flat outer face at a 45º angle. This gave a relatively smooth surface that prevented scouring by storms, tidal surge and the wash of passing ships.
When travelling from Linthouse by road to Gourock, of many interesting features encountered before Langbank, the first for me was of course luxuriating in that unusual form of transport, a journey on a single deck bus that overtook a slower tram before reaching Renfrew. Apart from glancing keenly at the familiar sights when passing Shieldhall, the dock and quays and its railway system, there was the aerodrome to examine in case of catching a rare glimpse of an aeroplane on the ground at the aerodrome. Beyond Renfrew, after crossing the bridge over the former Glasgow & South Western Renfrew Branch, at that time it was an LMS, railway line, we approached the Bascule Bridge over the White Cart River at Inchinnan. Traffic was occasionally delayed here for a short time if the bridge was raised for a boat to pass.
Then with the bus moving again, it was mentally urged on quickly in the hope of catching a glimpse of whatever type of craft had gone past before it passed out of sight. The Bascule Bridge had not been raised for many years until 2007, when a manufacturing company upstream (Babcocks?) had a large heavy load to be moved from their premises to the River Tyne on the north east coast of England. They arranged for the bridge to be refurbished so that it could be opened to allow a large pontoon carrying the load to go down the Cart to the Clyde. Beyond the Bascule Bridge the road curves sharply to the right and crossed another bridge which passed over the Black Cart River. Next, after about a quarter of a mile, there were acres of hothouses on both sides of the road, then farther along at the start of the straight mile there was the Inchinnan SMT bus garage, where there was invariably a good line-up of vehicles to inspect.
Beyond the bus garage, on the left partway along the straight mile there was the India of Inchinnan tyre factory’s art deco office that has been saved by redevelopment, and today is a grade ‘A’ conservation building. Behind the tyre factory, about a mile away there was a vast hanger which dominated the surrounding flat countryside. It had been built in 1919 by shipbuilder William Beardmore of Dalmuir, for construction of the airship R34 by his company. This land became a naval Fleet Air Arm base during the war where Glasgow Airport was later constructed.
The first William Beardmore had set up a large foundry in Parkhead, and his son of the same name had moved into shipbuilding to make use of the products of the forge. Farther on, at the Red Smiddy where today there is a roundabout, a blacksmith’s forge stood about 100 yards from the junction on the A726 road between Paisley and Erskine was examined. It was then in use and among the many tasks under-taken, horses from the surrounding farms were shod. Once past Bishopton, at the point where the road breasts the hill and passes the Convent, the inner firth and surrounding hills came into view, presenting a wonderful sight with plenty to see.
On the downhill stretch of road to where the girder bridge carries the railway line over the road, the bus negotiated the first of the double bends on the now abandoned length of the original road, an overgrown section of which may still be visible on the south side from the M8. Beyond the second pair of bends at the bow-string bridge, with the road now running along above the riverbank there was an excellent but brief view of shipping movements and the Argyll and Dumbartonshire hills, with Dumbarton Rock opposite and Ben Lomond looming in the distance behind. There was always movement on the river, with a constant stream of ships, small and large, from puffers to large cargo ships and the occasional passenger liner passing up and down. From this point I would be striving to catch a glimpse of the main inner firth that was coming into view, to see if there were any big ships in the anchorage beyond the Tail O’ the Bank. From this point the river opened out to become the Upper Firth.
After passing West Ferry and Langbank, there was another much smaller stone arch railway bridge where the road encountered the third double bend. Today, at this point there is a wide skewed under-bridge with the M8 carriageway sweeping through it on gentle curves suitable for high speed, while the old bridge is still visible close to it to the west. Examination of this bridge at close quarters will give some idea of what had to be coped with formerly. No doubt the stones of the slightly skewed old arch will still show scrapes from contact with high vehicles trying to pass through, an event that was occasionally reported in the press.
This was the bridge that caused the height restriction which made it necessary to use single-deck buses on the route. Even they had to negotiate it in bottom gear and keep to the centre of the fairly narrow road. Observant passengers would have their heart in their mouth in case anything travelling too fast came from the opposite direction, round what were two close-set blind sharp corners. Beyond here road travellers were in the wrong place for seeing as the railway embankment hid the river until entering Port Glasgow.
Between Langbank and Port Glasgow, where the slope of the sandy shore was very gradual and extends well out at low water, a curious sight that fascinated and continued to puzzle me for years was best seen from the railway. Over a long distance it was covered with fencing in the form of wooden staves driven in close together in straight lines running out to low water point. These parallel lines were linked at intervals with cross fencing of similar staves that boxed in large sections of the foreshore. Mainly vestigial and bleached looking, with the appearance of having been there for many decades, the staves were best preserved the closer they lay to high-water mark. Only fragments of them were visible farther out where the water was deepest within the tidal reach. Today the shore is reasonably clean, but at this time it was odorous and badly polluted with sewage, thick black oil and industrial effluent and was a place to avoid. It appeared as if the shore had been sectioned off for different owners for some unknown reason who I imagined may have lived close by at one time.
What purpose did this fencing serve; had it something to do with fishing? Fifty years later the answer was found in a book, A History of Port Glasgow by William F. McArthur (1932). On page 96 he refers to timber ponds constructed along the foreshore east of Newark, which were used from the 18th century until iron and then steel became the main material for ship construction. Vast quantities of timber were required by the shipbuilders of the time, most of which was imported unseasoned from the Baltic, with the seasoning being done by immersion in sea-water seen in the photo above.
That trade had gone on since the early 1700s, and timber measurers, operators who stored it in the ponds until it was required for use had built the enclosures. Beardmore's shipyard at Dalmuir, which closed in 1931, was the last company to use them. Older maps of the river show that some long established shipbuilders also had timber ponds in or adjacent to their yards. When the M8 motorway was extended to Langbank and the new linking A8 extension was built to Port Glasgow it covered most of the upper foreshore, so probably none of the fencing is visible today. The photo was taken looking west and the waters of the river are glimpsed on the right.
Port Glasgow and Greenock had many intriguing sights and vistas, and a journey through them could be just as interesting as the trip to the city centre from Govan described in Part 2 – Journeys into town of the book AGC. Before the A8 bypass was built along the shore here, after passing through the first built-up area on the old road in the first of these towns, near the timber ponds and where it passed again under the railway, there was a brief glimpse of an ancient building standing close to the river. Newark Castle was built between 1450 and 1477 by a branch of the Maxwell family. See p61 of Hugh McDonald’s book DAYS AT THE COAST published in 1857, for an interesting period description of the castle. From the early years of the century until the 1970s it was enclosed on sides by two shipyards, one of which, Ferguson's, was still operating in 2008.
Just beyond the point where the road passes under the railway for the last time, but too late to see anything of the river because of the urban setting, on the side away from the river there was a long narrow single storey building. Writing on the roof in large letters indicated it was another rope-walk of the Gourock Rope Works similar to the one in Helen Street in Govan. Almost opposite the rope-walk, at the riverside there was Ferguson’s shipyard mentioned above with it’s dry-dock. McArthur's book tells us this yard was the first permanent establishment for building ships anywhere on the river, having in 1930 been in existence for about two hundred years. For the rest of the journey by bus, the five miles to Gourock was through a continuous typical industrial/tenement townscape with only brief glimpses of the river. The streets of mainly tenement housing, shops, shipyards and factories were much like Govan, in which glimpses were frequently caught of fascinating sights that always engendered interminable frustrations of the 'if only there was time to explore' kind.
When entering the town, on the left in the next street running parallel with the road there was another long building of vaguely familiar appearance, a three bay shed with roofs that were part slated and part glass covered on either side of the ridges. Its brick walls had spaced out tall narrow windows in the western ends of which there were high pairs of narrow inward opening doors with arched lintels. I used to study it with identification of its purpose hovering on the edge of recognition, and with a strong feeling that it would prove to be of particular interest. But that did not arrive until the 1970s brought redevelopment of the area, when re-alignment of the main road at that time caused it to pass closer to it and permitted a look into the courtyard in front of the shed. It was laid out with tram lines, and the building proved to be the former depot of the Greenock tramway system that had been abandoned in the early ‘30s. No doubt the building had survived by being put to other uses.
On the other side of the road there were views of docks with ships near Garvel Point, mainly small coasters, tugs and puffers, which had a rail connection by an over-bridge that also served shipyards, one of which was Cartsdyke Shipyard. Little of it was visible behind the high red brick wall of what was probably the plater’s shed. On one occasion lifeboats were seen lined up on a flat section of the roof of a tall building with a curtain wall next to the road, awaiting installation on a ship under construction. The place I looked forward to with keenest interest was in the centre of Greenock, where the road passed close to the main harbour. On the left the railway line to Gourock ran past nearby at a high level on stone arches, from which the Victoria Dock tramway descended from at a point a few hundred yards to the east then turned and crossed over the road. This basin, Victoria Harbour, always appeared to be full of tugs, lighters, puffers, and other small ships.
Here, on the rare occasion of making the journey on a weekday, a dock shunting engine hauling a short train of wagons might be encountered. Invariably enveloped in a cloud of white steam with dark streaks of smoke, it held up traffic as it puffed across the road in front of the bus. Here were almost all the things together of greatest interest to me. A little farther on, on the left past the municipal building with its tall tower, another old building of character, the Customs House (c1817) could be glimpsed at the waterside on Customs House Quay. On the main road we then passed under the bridge carrying the railway into the passenger station at Prince's Pier, no sight of which could be gained from the road. Out beyond the harbour there was the ever-busy channel with the bigger ships casting off tugs and going on downriver, or lying at anchor awaiting assistance to be taken upstream.
From here a mile of the main road ran parallel with and higher up from the Esplanade. Passing the ends of each of the short streets lined with villas running between them, the view down over the inner firth was eagerly awaited, to see if there were anything of interest at anchor in a position which had rendered them out of sight from farther upstream. From this point, steamers on passenger services would be visible on journeys to and from Craigendoran and Helensburgh, Prince's Pier, Gourock and points west. There was of course no container terminal which was built in the 1960s on the site of the pier and station. Standing at the water's edge beyond where the western end of the Esplanade rejoins the main road, there was the Royal Ordinance torpedo factory (1910). I was keen to know more about what went on there, but there was nothing to be seen except a group of tall dark industrial buildings, nor could anyone tell me anything about them.
Soon after passing the western end of the esplanade we crossed the Gourock town boundary, with the road skirting Gourock Bay and its many small sailing and rowing craft and motor launches at anchor or moored therein. From here the first view was obtained of the long curve of Gourock pier and station, with in the middle distance perhaps three or four steamers arriving, tied up, or departing. Across the water our intermediate destination Kilcreggan was now visible. At this time Gourock bus terminus was opposite the main entrance to the hotel, pier and rail terminal, the former of which has been demolished. To gain the stance, the bus had to make a sharp left turn round the small park at this location, and wait in the side street at a higher level above the main road until departure time arrived for the return journey.
GOUROCK BY RAIL
Despite Cardonald Station being only a short bus-ride away we seldom travelled by train, because it meant going up to Central Station to catch an ‘express’ that stopped only at Paisley and Greenock. Only all-stations stopping trains halted at Cardonald, and travelling on one of them meant having to endure a seemingly interminable journey. After the stop at Paisley Gilmour Street station the passage through Bishopton tunnel was eagerly awaited. Then entering the Port Glasgow and the Greenock built up areas there were goods yards, sidings and the various industrial branches, and the junction of the line to Wemyss Bay to watch out for.
Beyond the harbour and Greenock Central station, the line entered a second tunnel that was much longer than the one at Bishopton. Although irritated at being deprived of things to look at, the tunnels themselves were of interest, particularly if the train guard forgot to switch on the carriage lights which left us in pitch darkness. Then elation peaked as we emerged from the tunnel and the train coasted into what was becoming the exciting and familiar terminal station at Gourock. On alighting, immediately the smell of the sea was noticed. Then it was a scramble to escape from the clutches of my parents, to duck through one of the pend-type openings in the quayside shed with enticing signs in the form of finger-post boards with the legend TO THE STEAMERS, and on to the pier itself to see the sights. One or other of them would be in pursuit fearful that in my excitement I might get too near the edge and end up in the water.
THE MOTOR BOAT FERRY
In good weather the fifteen minutes trip across the firth was thrilling, but could sometimes be frightening if it was windy and the water rough. Weekend breaks might be cancelled at the last minute should it be considered too stormy to risk it. Journeys in choppy but tolerable weather conditions were few and far between, for if it had been a regular occurrence they would not hold such happy memories for me. Nevertheless, I still recall with startling clarity standing at the top of the steps descending the side of the pier at Kempock Point, to the water level landing stage at its western end with Mum and Dad.
When waiting in a small group of other intending passengers, on the first occasion I looked with disbelieving and frightened eyes at the small motor boat we were supposed to venture out on. As it surged briskly up and down in the swell I wondered how on earth we were going to get on board, and fearful about the coming trip across the open firth, but somehow we managed. Although there was a steamer service that could be used, it was more expensive to travel on them and even they could be uncomfortable in stormy weather.
Once away from the pier, if the heaving of the motorboat was bad enough and if Dad and his sisters were accompanying us, having the family curse in adulthood of being prone to sea-sickness they would be retching over the side before we were halfway across. In the course of these trips nautical terms describing conditions on the water were taken in. Choppy was a wind generated rough sea throwing up white horses when it was strong enough to cause the wave tops to break. Stormy conditions out on the Irish Sea could generate a heavy swell of large waves known as rollers which swept up from the outer firth.
The liveliness of the boat sometimes brought cries of fear from less adventurous passengers or those not used to this form of travel, mainly from women and children, and this fed my terror. But strangely enough, clearly remembered is the moment the fear left me. After enduring a few trips like this, one day during a comparatively gentle crossing I realised that the sensation, formerly fraught with terror, was in fact enjoyable. This enabled me to regard with concern those who were suffering, and never again, apart from one occasion on Loch Goil in the 1960s, experienced fear on a small boat in rough weather.
Even on calm days a ‘heave’ could be experienced when a ship steamed past ahead of the motorboat. Depending on its size and speed, the wash it set up sometimes had to be treated with care by the man steering our boat. He watched to see if for safety's sake he needed to reduce speed and head straight into it or it could be disregarded. As a child I was unaffected by seasickness during these crossings, but in later years I found it could affect me on a long voyage. That new found confidence allowed me to take more interest in the surrounding water and landscapes, and the constantly changing shipping scene all around. It enabled me to recognise the numerous small villages with and without piers spread out along the shores of the firth and adjacent lochs that were visible from our destination.
What was particularly fascinating when viewed from the water or the Roseneath Peninsula, was the long river frontage of the towns we had passed through on the south bank to the east. On weekdays there were the sights and sounds of industrial activity, including ship building, of the movements of ships, vehicles and trains, and clouds of smoke and steam from many tall chimneys drifting in a breeze. Despite its grimy industrial appearance, or perhaps because of it, I found there was something incredibly attractive and cosmopolitan about the area which was enhanced by the proximity of salt water. I longed for a time when it would be possible to explore it, but when the opportunity did come, by 1950 the main sources of interest were starting to disappear.
At busy time the service to Kilcreggan was conducted by two motor launches, and standing on Gourock Pier itself, if we had to wait for the ferry there was time to study the main means of passenger travel around the Firth, the steamers. All had on the outer side of each paddle sponson where depending on the state of the tide passengers boarded and disembarked via the gangway, there was a tall slim frame of varnished wood facing the pier. Strips with the names of towns and villages in white or gold lettering where the boat was due to call were slipped into the frame. Along with Dunoon, such places as Blairmore, Strone, Kilmun, Sandbank, Ardnadam, Kirn and Hunter’s Quay, soon became known to me. All of them except Kilmun, were visible from South Ailey, and were pointed out and identified by adults. Other small villages, some with romantic sounding names were Garelochhead, Mambeg, Rahane, Shandon, Clynder, Rosneath, Rhu, Arrochar, Carrick Castle, Lochgoilhead and Innellan. Farther away were Wemyss Bay, Largs, Fairlie, Rothesay, Craigmore, Port Bannatyne, Tighnabruaich, Inveraray, Campbeltown and others.
Although the names of these places became known to me, most were unknown until I became more acquainted with the region through travel during the war, and in later decades by cycle, motor cycle and car. Almost every Town and village, large or small, some only tiny settlements of a few houses, had a pier. The only exception in this part of the Firth was Ardentinny, where passengers had to disembark into a rowing boat and were ferried to a tiny jetty projecting from the shore. There were other places without piers lying farther afield where passengers had to disembark this way. Now, because road access is so much easier only a small number of the larger piers have survived. They were built in the days when the main mode of transport was by horse or walking, the roads were poor or non existent, and travel was difficult and time consuming.
Because of their propulsion systems passenger service boats were called steamers. They were once operated by a number of companies, but by the nineteen thirties intense competition had caused company closures, take-overs and mergers which reduced them to two or three. The only survivor today is Cal-Mac, the Caledonian Steam Packet Co. Ltd. that in the 1970s had merged with MacBraynes. In the 1930s certain vessels with a striking livery were known as railway steamers, the boats of which were operated by the LNER (London and North Eastern Railway Co. Ltd) from their pier at Craigendoran.
|Paddle steamer WAVERLY 1950s|
A few names of boats of the original companies I used to see are recalled here: Lucy Ashton, Kenilworth, Marmion, Jeannie Deans, Talisman, Duchess of Montrose, Duchess of Hamilton, and of course the predecessor of the currently preserved Waverley (above). The Marchioness of Lorne, a Caley boat, operated the Gourock to Dunoon, Kirn, Blairmore, Cove and Kilcreggan circuit at the time being written about. With one or two exceptions each boat was distinctive, and their lines, one or two funnels and smart company liveries made them immediately recognisable, and like railway engine spotters, this generated a legion of steamer watchers, each having their favourites. Adult family members talked knowledgeably about them with the ability to recognise individual boats at a glance, even from a distance, and a little of this knowledge has stayed with me.
The previous Waverly was lost in 1940 during the evacuation from Dunkirk. The one in the image above is the 1947 replacement. It still operates on the Clyde with excursion traffic during the summer months, and for a couple of weeks it goes round the coast of Britain once each season visiting ports as far away as the Thames with Port of Registration GLASGOW on its stern.
STEAMER TRAFFIC CONTROL AT PIERS
Referring to the photograph below of the pier at Kirn with it’s thin elevated single-face signalling post in the 1930s, the system can be seen to have comprised of the small tower with a horizontal row of three black discs with small round windows in the center. In operation, the signals behind each window controlled up to three steamers approacing the pier. Blank signals indicated the pier was closed and a white or illuminated signal showed it was open. To aoid competition and dangerous behaviour between captains, when more than one steamer was approaching, the horizontal position of the signal indicated which steamer had permission to dock. The signals were set by sliding boards, painted black and white, and controlled by cords, raised to show white and lowered to show black. They were interlocked so that raising a white signal locked the others down, or black which stopped more than one boat approaching. During late season and winter darkness a light shone through the signals showing red or white. The piers were council or privately owned and a pier keeper was on duty on each to collect fees and guide strangers.
As it was more open to the prevailing south west wind, the arrival of the motor boat at Kilcreggan pier could sometimes be the most difficult part of the journey. However, we all survived these hazards over the three years I went there without seeing an accident, so perhaps the dangers were magnified by pre-adolescent perception. Because of work commitments of the men of the families, the journeys most frequently occurred on a Saturday afternoon, although the women might travel earlier with the children. On arrival at Kilcreggan, the village shop opposite the pier was visited to pick up the heavier grocery items, which saved having to carry them all the way from Govan. Then there was the mile-and-a-half uphill walk to the farm.
Three routes could be taken from Kilcreggan to South Ailey Farm, by low, middle or high roads. The low road along the shore line could be traversed round Barron’s Point to below the farm from where a side road climbed up Hamlet Hill. It passed through a wooded area near Craigrowney Castle and some villas, steep at first, then with the slope easing it become a farm track with a field on the left and a golf course on the right. It then continued on through the farm steading before joining the high road. However convenient it might appear, that was the route least used as it was longest and had the steep final ascent. The second route was by a lane that passed up the side of the Kilcreggan shop; it was used most as it was the shortest with an easier gradient. It too was steep for a short distance, but it lead on to the middle road that climbed diagonally to the left on a more direct line and at an easier angle. This was the way favoured by adults who were generally carrying food, paraffin oil for lighting, cooking and other necessities.
After following a contour for some distance, at the point where the golf course was encountered, this time on the left, the gradient became steeper again and turned sharply right and went up to join the high road. However, near this bend it was possible to take a short-cut by a stile, which enabled walkers to climb over the dyke onto the course itself and pass across the links. Here there were grazing sheep and clumps of gorse bushes that in spring were a mass of yellow flowers, then from here you could go in near enough a straight line a short distance to the farm. The risk of flying golf balls, and complaints from players about trespassing do not figure in my memory.
The third option allowed a more or less straight climb to be undertaken up on to the high road from the pier which was less steep than Hamlet Hill, but this meant covering extra ground, so it was used on occasion only by the younger adults with a desire for exercise. As height was gained, the view over the firth and the surrounding hills became a magnet for me. I found it difficult to take my eyes off the ever present fascinating vista, and wanted to do nothing more than stand and gaze at it for ever. However, weather conditions rarely allow the most attractive aspect, a glimpse to be caught of the horizon on the outer firth. The above are three sections from a 1959 map and steamer timetable.
SOUTH AILEY FARM
The outlook from the farm was to the south-west with at that time an uninterrupted view over most of the Firth. The sweep ranged from Ashton west of Gourock, round 200 degrees north to Ardentinny on the other side of the Loch Long. Most of the inner firth and the land masses on either side were laid out like a relief map from below the tops of the surrounding hills. A night time feature almost as fascinating was the spread of lights. Of particular significance were the lighthouses, with the Cloch dominating. Then much farther away beyond Innellan on the Cowal coast there was Toward light. It was slightly obscured but its flashes were visible, and there was another one farther out on Cumbrae.
Seen from this vantage point in daytime, on the waterfront at Ashton there was a large building of peculiar appearance which caused endless fascination and puzzlement. It resembled nothing more than the fascia and keyboard of a giant musical instrument like a low upright piano, a piano accordion lying on its side, or an organ. Situated on the esplanade west of Gourock, a close-up view of that building was less meaningful on the infrequent occasions when we passed through Ashton. I wondered constantly what it was. A couple of decades were to pass before it was identified as the Cragburn, a then newly built dance hall that may still exist but probably not used for its original purpose. If it is still there it is probably a bingo hall.
Below the farm the gradual slope which became steeper lower down, produced the odd effect of hiding the steamer Marchioness of Lorne from watchers above as she steamed past close to the shore when travelling between Cove and Kilcreggan. Sometimes a time check was required, and a rough guide would be if the times of the steamers in their daily progression was known, they could give an approximation. But to catch a glimpse of the Marchioness on the near leg of her circuit, it was necessary to watch from an upstairs window a particular spot on the close-too land horizon, to catch a glimpse of the top of her mast and funnel as she passed below.
As a cyclist and although he worked a good deal of overtime, in summer my father cycled a lot in his free time and spent more of it at Cove than Mum and I. He and other male family members cycled along the north bank of the river to Rhu on the Gareloch and crossed on the ferry which at that time operated across the Narrows to Rosneath, from where it was about twenty minutes cycling time to the farm. Stories are recalled of them stopping work early around 5.30pm on Glasgow Fair Friday holiday week-ends, and pedalling furiously down through Helensburgh to catch the last crossing. If it was missed it meant a ten mile detour round the head of the loch. He was a member of the youth hostel organisation (SYHA), and I seem to remember there was a hostel in the Cove area (which may have been Craigrowney Castle) where he &/or others stayed on occasion if the accommodation at the farm was fully occupied.
From what is recalled of the accommodation at South Ailey, it does not seem sufficient for the five or six people that were present on some occasions. Now, I am not sure if the details of the number and layout of rooms in my memory are correct. After entering the south west facing front door of the house and going to the rear, the stairs ascended away from the rear up to a landing off which there were five doors. The second door on the left led into a room with a dormer type window that looked out to that superb view, which served as a visitor’s sitting room and main bedroom. Old pre-prismatic binoculars with a magnification of only something like x 5 were always to hand lying on the window ledge. But they were still a revelation in what could be seen, and I longed for a pair of my own.
A middle door on the landing faced the stairs and led into a tiny room, large cupboard would be a better description, with a small arched dormer window in which there was a single bed and not much else. On the right the fourth door led into a bed/sitting room, and fifth was the kitchen. About midway in size between the other rooms, the kitchen seemed to be to the rear of the building but I do not remember there being a window. What light there was in daytime came through a skylight. There was a sink, a wooden table and hard chairs, a cupboard and, there being no gas or electricity, a large free-standing two burner paraffin stove on which all cooking and heating of water was done. This completed the accommodation. Lighting the paraffin lamps in the evenings was a ritual event, and the small amount of light the smell they gave off had a romance of their own. In the apartments on the upper floor to the front and the kitchen to the rear there was restricted headroom caused by the dormer angle of the roof. The first door not described here was retained for use by the farmer’s family. Strangely I have no recollection of any toilet facilities which may have been a hut in the garden.
South Ailey, with its spectacular land and waterscape view was, for me looking at it with the rose tinted vision of pre-teens, idyllic. It could have been described on a warm day in high summer with a gentle breeze and good visibility as a heavenly vision. Within sight at that time there were more of the features of life that were coming to mean so much to me, not least of which was the shipping activity. Most memorable was the sight of vessels moving down the channel and going off into the distance past Cumbrae until they were tiny dots on the outer firth. If a big ship went out and visibility was very good, its plume of dark smoke could still be seen with the glasses after it went over the horizon.
Under these same conditions, tantalising glimpses might be obtained of smudges of smoke appearing at the very limit of visibility, approaching ever closer and bringing with it the hope of seeing a big one, perhaps one of the liners of the Donaldson Line returning from Canada. If the wind was from a southerly direction, the view of whatever kind of vessel was producing the smoke might remain hidden until it had passed Dunoon and began the turn at Cloch Point, because it was obscured by the cloud being blown directly towards the observer. With only two brief return visits there in later years, these sights remain unforgettable.
Among the features of life cherished is a view with a seascape horizon holding the promise of travel to far away lands, which at that time produced a powerful longing to see beyond the most distant point of vision. In its ultimate form, that fascination with visual distance eventually manifested itself in an interest in astronomy. In previous years on journeys to Aberdeen and Dundee vistas over the North Sea were encountered, and on other visits to the seaside, awareness of these stirrings was felt.
The description of the view in the previous paragraph and the longing it generated remains, in spite of the fact that when seen from the Roseneath Peninsula, only at its best a tiny segment of the Irish Sea horizon is visible. But seen from an elevation well above sea level, be it only two or three hundred feet, the difference in the whole perspective is quite breathtaking. Unconnected in time with the foregoing because it was learned much later in life is the fact that had it been known then, would have given an additional surge to my feelings. It is that there is a location on the Peninsula on the west side of Barron’s Point from which a compass longitude bearing extended in a straight line down the Firth, the Irish Sea and St. George’s Channel, can be continued on to the Bay of Biscay without touching land until the north coast of Spain is reached.
Exercises indulged in by visitors to South Ailey were basic in rural and seaside activities. There were long walks in the Coulport direction by the high road and return along the shore road, or towards Rosneath by the same variation of route, or spending time playing or lounging in the farm garden or down on the shore if the weather was suitable. Between Cove and Kilcreggan and lying near high-water mark, Tu-Tank-Amun, or the Tut-Tut rock, as it was variously known, was a low rugged boulder chiselled by weather, the action of the sea or perhaps the hand of man. A corner pointing towards the water had been painted in bright colours by an unknown artist to highlight its shape which in outline suggested the features of a caricature of a man, and seemed to go by these names.
It was always an attraction, an object of curiosity for me, and seemed to me somehow to be connected, in name anyway, with ancient Egyptian art. It was perhaps first done after 1922 when Howard Carter discovered the tomb containing Tu-Tank-Amun’s mummy. I know nothing of its origins but the paint seemed to be freshly touched up each season. During a visit to the area in 1990 to see the cruise liner QEII when she made her first call at the container terminal at Greenock on a cruise, a brief but unsuccessful search was made to find it. However, I must have looked in the wrong area, because later mentioning it to another visitor assurance was given that it is still there.
Although the broad waterway was busy with craft of all sizes at this time, porpoises were occasionally sighted. Their behaviour used to puzzle me, because judging by their appearance at and above the surface they seemed to swim in vertical loops. Popping up and showing their backs with its funny bent-over-backwards tipped fin at the top of each loop, gave the impression they were performing continuous loops underwater. They were in fact travelling along just below the surface and coming up frequently to breathe. Sometimes they performed spectacular displays by leaping high out of the water and landing flat with a splash that threw up plumes of spray.
A walk along the high road at dusk on warm summer evenings would involve an encounter with bats which swooped silently over our heads, seemingly intent on attacking us and creating panic among the women and us children. Much later, seeing bats elsewhere and in tv natural history programmes, it was realised they were feeding on night-time flying insects that were taking advantage of the warmth from the sun rising from the road, and the women had no need to fear getting them caught in their hair. Apart from the familiar noises made by farm animals, night-time sounds first heard but not identified till later, were owl, fox, oyster-catcher, lapwing, known in Scotland as the peesweep, and much other wildlife, not much of which will be found there now. A favourite walk after dark was to go east along the high road to see the lights of the towns strung along the south bank of the Inner Firth. This was sometimes enhanced by illuminated ships lying at anchor.
A clear recollection retained is of walking as one of a group of family members along the shore road in the Coulport direction, with the intention of picnicking, when a decision was taken by one of the adults to buy bottles of soft drinks. A cousin, a girl a few years older than me, was detailed by her father to go back along the road to a shop we had passed, what seemed to be but a few hundred yards away but was now out of sight past Knockderry Castle, to fetch two or three bottles. She seemed somehow reluctant to obey her dad and some harsh words were spoken before she went off, while the rest of us walked on slowly. We carried on for a half-mile or so and there was no sign of her catching up, so the adults decided we should retrace our steps and have a picnic wherever we met her.
After we had walked back well past the castle where she had left us, we could see a little way along the shoreline with still no shop in sight, it was realised that it was considerably farther back than had been thought. As we walked on we could see in the distance the shop in question, in Cove actually, and the poor girl, still a tiny figure in the distance, struggling along carrying loose in her arms the bottles which was almost too heavy for her. Her dad had his leg pulled about it while she received much sympathy from the others.
Rabbit meat was a relatively common mealtime dish during the war years when anything palatable was made use of for food. While I enjoyed it then, with a growing appetite and short of protein, it is difficult to say whether it would be relished now as it has a rather strong flavour. One disconcerting fact about eating rabbit meat bagged with a shotgun was that you had to watch out for lead pellets in the meat. There was an occasion when an aunt complained bitterly while cutting up carcass in preparation for cooking because pellets had caused her knife to loose its cutting edge. My cousin got up to something by going out at night in the company of another lad, the son of a neighbouring farmer. They went up on to the moor in the centre of the peninsula, but whatever it was they were after, that too is beyond my recollection now. It might have been hares, game birds, partridge, pheasant or grouse.
Another older cousin in his late teens was knowledgeable about country life. One of his interests was that he had a ferret, much to the dismay of the other adults who were wary of a rat-like animal with such a fierce reputation. But rabbits for the pot were plentiful as the advent of the disease myxomatosis was still about fifteen years in the future. When out walking mornings and evenings it was interesting to rattle the fence bordering a field with a stick. Rabbits usually remain in their burrows during the day, feeding mainly at dawn and dusk, and fence rattling was done then to see how many would be startled into movement; any loud noise would make them run about. Uncultivated areas around the farm were riddled with their burrows, and the farmer would have been glad to be rid of them. Rabbit then was regarded much as chicken is today because it was cheap, and as an uncle had a shotgun it was served up occasionally at meal times during these week-end holidays because it cost nothing. Between that and the ferret and snares we could have had rabbit stew anytime.
DUCKS LOOSE THEIR EGGS
An amusing event occurred during a game of hide-and-seek in the farm garden when a nest was discovered under one of the clumps of bushes in front of the house. Chickens everywhere were free range, and on creeping under the thick outer cover of a large bush that may have been a rhododendron when looking for a hiding place, I discovered an open space in the gloom around the trunk under an umbrella of branches and foliage. Lying on the ground in this place of concealment and shelter was a vestigial nest of twigs and dried grass, holding a clutch of what looked like unusually large eggs.
Without considering the rights of ownership and thinking that something of value had been found, I picked up a couple and took them in triumph into the house and upstairs. Proudly, I presented them to the grownups and stood waiting for their expressions of amazement, and the praise that was sure to follow and expecting to be sent down for the others. The eggs were taken from me and examined with a close scrutiny, then someone said scornfully, 'They’re nae use, they're duck’s eggs'. The window was opened and my precious eggs were thrown back down into the bushes. It was hard lines on the poor duck.
All the items of attire referred to above were necessary regardless of the weather, as bramble bushes are nearly always in dense clumps along roadside verges. Where the verge was wide the clumps could be extensive and inaccessible in the centre. This was where the best berries were generally to be found, and it was mainly to tackle them that wearing heavy clothing was essential. The walking sticks were used to bring fruit laden branches towards pickers, for bramble bushes are vicious at close quarters with their sharp hooked thorns that catch and cling to and tear clothing and exposed skin. Oilskins gave good protection, but despite these precautions everybody suffered to some degree, and the scars of this seasonal encounter were visible on hands for days after.
Autumn is bramble gathering time for jam making, and expeditions were organised around the September weekend holiday for as many as could be accommodated at South Ailey to gather the berries. During daylight hours and between meals, groups headed off from the farm to scour roadside clumps of bushes, each member carrying a basket lined with greaseproof paper, or a milk or biscuit tin and clad in oil-skins, boots and hat, regardless of weather conditions. A final item of equipment, a walking stick with a crook handle, a selection of which was always available standing in a tub behind the front door of the house, was essential to get access to the centre of the thicker clumps. In those days, in country districts men habitually carried a stick when out walking and of course we younger ones liked to copy them.
THE STORY OF A ‘COW’
Awareness of us to the animal appeared to heighten its aggressive behaviour, and it started to snort, paw the ground and shake its head and move about in an increasingly threatening way without actually heading towards us. We then became thoroughly alarmed, and to shouts of 'It’s a bull, get out quick' from our companions, we had to find a place free from bushes quickly where we could get up. I remember my father hoisting me up and placing his hand on my seat and almost throwing me into the arms of the others, then coming flying over himself spurred on by the sound of hoof-beats. The moral from that tale, engraved in my memory, is that it would be prudent to assume that a single cow in a field you are about to venture into isn't a cow!
On one occasion when berry picking, another hazard encountered was a lone ’cow' in a field into which Dad and I ventured. This incident occurred on the high road north between South and North Ailey farms. The road here was above the level of the field by about four or five feet, so that on the other side of the wall here bordering the road the ground was lower. The adults gave the animal a cursory glance and someone said 'Ach, its jist a coo, you’ll be all right’. So, to get access to the bushes that had grown over the wall, Dad and I climbed in and began working our way along, keeping level with the pickers on the road. After a bit we were made aware by companions overlooking the field, that the cow, which had been on the far side, had moved closer, somehow was bigger and looked different from others we had seen, and was behaving in a distinctly hostile way.
MAKING THE JAM
The women usually remained behind at the farm busy with preparations for making the jam. But something causing doubt on this point is how did they manage it on a paraffin cooker having the efficiency less than that of gas or electric? However, the stove was a large stove-enamelled cast iron unit, with a pair of round adjustable wick burners set side by side on top of individual fuel tanks that were enclosed within the sheet-iron panelling of the frame. The burners sat on a shelf low down, and each burner had a tall chimney, or cylinder, which created a draught and funnelled the heat up to grills on the cooking surface of the stove.
The condition of the wick had to be watched through small heat resistant discoloured mica windows in each chimney. At the front of the unit there were two large opening-out doors with heat-proof glass windows which allowed a check to be kept on the level of the flame. However large and efficient it might seem, it is doubtful if it would have been up to the job of making much jam. When required, cooking meals at South Ailey was supplemented by using primus stoves, which were always taken with us on these weekends. Dad and another uncle, who was also a cyclist, each had one for brewing up on 'runs'. The Primuses were too unstable to use for the large jelly-pan.
As far as making the jam was concerned, what is more likely is that my aunt made hers on her stove while others carried their pickings home with them. If they were picked in damp weather, the condition of the berries would deteriorate quickly. Picked dry and handled carefully, quantities of the fruit could be taken home to Govan, and would last overnight in reasonable condition before being cooked. But in wet weather, and the time of year meant this was more likely, the fruit did not travel well or last long. It became a soggy mass of pulp. And worse, there being no refrigerators, if the autumn weather was mild it could show traces of mould even after lying for one overnight.
A deep quart milk-can holding about 2 to 3 lbs., an ideal quantity for a batch of jam, was a convenient but not really suitable means of transportation. Best by far, but awkward to carry, was a large flat biscuit or sweetie tin, so that the weight of the quantity above on the lower layers wasn't great enough to squash them. The milk-can tended to produce pulp in the bottom that succumbed to the mould quickly.
Making the jam filled the house with a lovely fruity smell, so that the wait to taste it was almost unbearable for an adolescent appetite. Then having it spread on buttered bread, of a texture and taste never encountered now, on plain (not pan) new bread of a soft lightness that made me ravenous. Ideally it was preferable to have bread bought early in the day, that was so fresh as to retain enough heat from the baker’s oven to melt the butter, which seemed to enhance the taste. However, the end product wasn't always jam. For a change sometimes jelly was made, and to do this the boiled pulp was poured into a jelly bag and left suspended over a large bowl to strain. But this could sometimes be a frustrating business.
After cooking for the time required with the sugar and the setting agent added, and after testing the occasional drop on a saucer, when it was judged that it would set properly, straining the liquid into a large bowl became urgent as it had to be ladled into jars before it started to set. To help speed up the straining caused Mum turn the jelly-bag cone, winding it up to squeeze the juice through. But this was a practice frowned on by more skilled jam makers, because it was reputed to force through undesirable elements present in the pulp that affected the taste.
The jelly bag was a large cone made from a closed mesh felt like material with an opening about a foot across and a rounded tip, the mouth being held open by a flat wooden strip made into a ring over which the edge of the opening was secured. The bag was suspended by two tapes forming loops with the ends fixed at four points round the circumference. A stick was passed through them to suspend the bag to achieve the height necessary. With the bowl on the floor, my Mother used two kitchen chairs with the ends of the stick supported between them. When as much of the hot jelly liquid as possible had been squeezed out, it had to be transferred quickly from the bowl with a cup or a ladle into jars that were filled to their necks and set aside to cool overnight. Then the contents were tested for set and taste.
When ready the jam or jelly was covered with a thin round disc of grease-proof paper to reduce to a minimum the area open to the air that could be contaminated with mould. Another larger disc of white stiffer paper was placed over the top of the jar and pressed down round the outside. It was then tucked in under the jar's slightly protruding lip and held in place with an elastic band or tied tight with string. Then a label was stuck on the jar with details of the contents and date. A disadvantage of home-made jam or jelly then which seems to have been overcome in modern times, was the strict injunction accompanied by threats of retribution. 'Don't use a knife to take the jelly out of the jar because that makes it runny; use a spoon'. The appearance of the jelly pan and strainer bag was redolent of autumn.
In my experience the labour of gathering brambles was of much time and effort by many people to gather enough to make it worth while to process them. But an event at a later date showed us up as amateurs. In the autumn of 1940 our visits to Cove ended. The South Ailey accommodation had been requisitioned by the War Department to house service personnel, members of anti-aircraft and searchlight batteries positioned nearby, and travel to the area was restricted by the authorities. The artillery was to protect the anchorage. While there was good berry-picking in other areas, they were generally less accessible because of remoteness. Also, a general shortage of preserves due to the war and rationing, meant that so many other people were gathering them they became scarce over an ever expanding circle of countryside round the city.
After a year or two it became impossible to find enough within a reasonable distance, although Dad and I sometimes used our bikes to go farther afield. Nearby prime gathering areas were so hotly contested among the jam making fraternity that the stage was reached when the berries were spoiled by being picked before they were ripe. This state of affairs made it necessary to travel ever farther afield if we were to have any home made jam. Then a friend of the family with a holiday home in a camp on Canada Hill above Rothesay on the island of Bute happened to say he saw plenty on his weekend visits there. Bute was too remote for the normal squads of day trip pickers from the city, and he offered to gather some for Mum at the end of his next visit the following weekend.
When he went away my parents were sceptical of the idea that this man, friend though he was, thought he could gather enough to make it worthwhile getting the jelly pan out, 'On his own too!'. They thought he was being over-confident in his picking ability. However, the friend must have been experienced because he turned up the following Sunday evening with a tin full of big juicy berries, which he said he had gathered himself, for which we were all suitably grateful and a bit mystified at our own inefficiency. When the operation with the jelly pan began, it was found there was enough to make two batches.
Although sugar and jam were strictly rationed then, enough of the former could be bought to make jam at home by accepting sugar pound for pound (weight) instead of factory produced jam. The friend was of course rewarded with a couple of jars of the finished product. A daunting aspect of making jam at home was that you could see what else went into the jelly-pan as well as fruit. If the pre-processed fruit was studied closely, quite quickly movements were observed which, on still closer inspection, proved to be squads of tiny insects having their fill before they too were cooked.
During this time my pals and I were eagerly searching around the local parks and woodlands farther afield for horse chestnuts for the usual game of conkers, but others seemed to get to the windfalls before us. Our berry gathering friend heard about it and again promised to bring back some from Rothesay next time he was there, where he said there were plenty lying about. This promise he also kept, for he turned up carrying a brown paper bag with enough to keep our street's group of urchins supplied until the conkers season ended.
So far in the story of South Ailey no mention has been made of the farm itself as a working unit. But it was there, operating in conditions of the period before the use of tractors and other mechanical powered equipment became the norm. All haulage and fieldwork; ploughing, harrowing, hoeing, reaping, rolling, and gathering in the hay etc. was done by horses and carts and other horse-hauled implements. Volunteers to help with the work from our group of adults during a holiday break were welcomed. As the season progressed the crops of corn or rye were cut with the reaper, raked into long rows to dry and bound into sheaves, or stooks as they were called on Scotland. These were assembled into clumps of three or four stooks and lined up in well spread out rows like a regiment of diminutive camouflaged soldiers, to await the visit of the threshing machine.
In another field, mown hay was gathered in the same way into rows by the rake cart which was turned occasionally to dry off. When ready it was gathered in and built using pitchforks into a row of ricks (haystacks) with inverted-bowl shaped pointed tops near the gate of the field. A low flat-bed cart was used to transport the hay to a storage barn close to the farm. With the rear of the cart resting on the ground close to the rick and aided by its slope, a wire rope or a chain was looped round the stook near the ground to haul it on board by sliding using the cart's hand operated winch. At the barn the hay was stacked inside until it was full, with the remainder rebuilt into the tall ricks with vertical sides and a thatched conical top. Finally, a tarpaulin and/or netting, weighted with stones that dangled all round the sides, was put over the top of the ricks to protection them from the weather.
The cattle were brought into the byre from the fields twice daily for milking, after which the churns (below) were taken by cart down to Kilcreggan pier and put on board a steamer bound for a creamery in Greenock, or to Craigendoran for onward transportation to Dumbarton. Chickens roamed the farmyard and the dung-heap, and egg laying hens could be heard 'clocking' in the hen-house, and the crowing of the cock sometimes disturbed our sleep in the early mornings. Farm buildings were usually constructed round three sides of a square, often with the dung-heap located within near the byre but as far away from the house as possible. There was a duck-pond with resident ducks, no doubt including the originator of the eggs I found. As was normal around all farms, there were the usual fierce dogs that barked loudly, frightening the life out of timid individuals like me. The flocks of sheep on the golf course and higher up on the moor were likely to have been part of the farm's livestock, but we never saw them near the farm as this would only happen in the spring for shearing or shelter during a severe winter.
A fond memory is of a visit to the byre with its walls white-washed inside and out, to see cows tethered in stalls head to the wall feeding on straw from a raised troughs there. Milking was done by women sitting on stools, each attending to one beast at a time, one of whom was the farmer's wife. Initially, that experience generated a feeling of being almost overwhelmed by the stench of the animals and the dung, which set me wondering about the quality of the milk we consumed. Then later, seeing the place after the beasts had been returned to pasture, and being amazed at the transformation effected by the hosing and brushing it was given. It had been turned into quite a sweet smelling place with the ‘sharn’ as dung was called in Scotland consigned to the dung heap.
The milk was collected in pails that were then emptied into the churns, large forty gallon round metal containers, which stood about three feet tall, then narrowed to a six-inch diameter extended neck into which a mushroom shaped metal lid was inserted. I don’t think the milk was treated in any way against disease by pasteurisation until after this time, which would have been done at the creamery.
After the seeds were sown in spring some fields had dumb sentinels called scarecrows, known as tattie-bogles in Scotland, were set up to scare off the birds that would feed on the seeds or young plants. The image of fields with one of these immobile but vaguely lifelike figures are one of many associated with the countryside at this time. They usually had a turnip for a head that always had a hat, were dressed with cast-off clothing stuffed with hay or other suitable material, and were supported by bits of timber fixed in cruciform to hold the arms outstretched. They weren't all that efficient, as was illustrated by a drawing in a children’s book of the time depicting a crow perched on the arm of a bogle. The modern bird-scarer, a device which makes loud bangs at regular intervals, seems to be as efficient at annoying the neighbours as scaring the birds. Of South Ailey’s human occupants, the only recollection retained is a faint memory of the farmer John Kerr and his wife.
Presently we became aware of the sound of aircraft, and were amazed and not a little alarmed to see coming towards us from the east, three sinister looking heavy bombers in dark camouflage on which no markings or insignia were visible. They were flying in formation and were probably Ansons, Hampdens or American Hudsons. As they passed over the ships they turned towards us and flew low overhead. During the seconds of closest proximity at about 500 ft., with the sound of their engines beating on us with almost physical violence, we literally cringed with apprehension at the impression that we were about to be attacked. However, they flew on up Loch Long and we lost sight of them as they passed over the high ground.
The last visit to South Ailey in that era was in the early summer of 1940 in the dark days of the war more than seventy years before this time of writing, and the final event recalled there was of an ominous nature. Standing in the garden in front of the farmhouse on a bright day with my father and an uncle, we were looking out over that portion of the anchorage on the inner firth within sight. It was crammed with assembled shipping preparing to form a convoy, mostly merchant ships, or cargo boats as they were then known with many dressed in wartime camouflage paint, and naval grey escorts
THE EMPIRE EXHIBITION – BELLAHOUSTON PARK 1938
The hospital seen below opened in the north-west corner of the park in 1915 to take care of soldiers wounded in the fighting in WWI, but it had closed and the site was cleared for the exhibition. The 1988 Garden Festival on the site of the former Prince's Dock and Plantation, Mavisbank and General Terminus Quays, was considered to have been a gigantic spectacle that was regarded as the local event of the century. But the Empire Exhibition in Bellahouston Park during the 1938 summer of wet weather, in the view of people who had visited both, was better. The Garden Festival aimed at an attendance of around three million visitors, and that figure was actually achieved. But the Empire exhibition had attracted over twelve million to a display area that covered almost the entire park, an area half as large again as that of the Festival site. There are enduring structures of stone and brick surviving from the Exhibition, but little other than photographs remains of the Festival. The clump of trees seen in the bottom right hand corner of the aerial photo below are on the drumlin, a hill of boulder clay that was left behind when the glaciers of the last ice age melted about ten thousand years ago.
|Bellahouston Park 1930|
|Christmas at the hospital 1917|
One of the buildings of the Exhibition, the substantial Palace Of Art can be seen in the park today, but twenty odd years after the Garden Festival, other than a few show houses does any of it still exist? After seven decades, masonry simulating a ship's prow and part of a restaurant are still visible at the western end of the ridge in the park with a commemorative plaque. Also, the Palace of Engineering was dismantled and the materials transported to Prestwick Airport, where it was re-built and used as headquarters for Scottish Aviation (now part of British Aerospace). It can still be seen today in good condition on the north east side of the airport runway.
While my single visit to the Festival was interesting, despite having been staged at a time of deep gloom and apprehension due to the international situation because it was obvious that war would not be long in coming, the Exhibition was superior in nearly every way. A comprehensive description of both events can be obtained from the internet, photographs, films and books. As the Exhibition was located quite near us we were subjected to the full impact of its presence, and I wonder now if there would have been visits other than the one with the school if we had lived outwith the city. Most of the observations set down here are personal recollections.
The Empire Exhibition was opened on 3rd May 1938 by new the King, George VI accompanied by Queen Elizabeth. As it was nearby and provided the ideal location for the proceedings to be witnessed by a large number of people, the opening ceremony was performed in Ibrox Park (below).
The royal party toured the exhibition then departed heading west to open a factory in Hillington Estate which may have been for Rolls Royce to build the aero engines. They then boarded the royal train at Hillington station to visit and probably stay at the residence of a member of the nobility in Renfrewshire. Leaving Bellahouston, part of the route they were to take on was along Mosspark Drive, so Mum, still the inveterate ‘royals’ watcher, took me along to look for a vantage point to see them. From a number of possible locations along the route she chose the gusset at the corner of the Drive and Paisley Road West.
We saw them passing along the Drive at Paisley Road West on the way to Hillington. The recollection is clear of standing beside her and looking through the railings which overlooked the then vacant triangular grassy plot at the junction. They travelled in an open limousine, or perhaps one with an open rear section, and were clearly visible from this slight elevation from where we could look over the heads of the crowd of spectators ranged along the pavement edge in the north side of the Drive. It seems likely the route along Bellahouston Drive would have been chosen because it passed through the housing scheme of Mosspark, with its comparatively new houses, neatly laid out gardens and stretches of tree lined streets, rather than the more mundane Paisley Road West. This showpiece Corporation housing development had been completed in 1925.
Entry to the Exhibition was similar in terms of relative money value when compared with that for the Festival, but as money was scarce in the 1930s it is remarkable that so many local people were able to visit it. Three visits are recalled, the first of which was as part of a family group that included grandparents Mary and Joe Chambers. It was early in the season probably on an evening during the first week that may have been later on opening day. We walked up Craigton Road and Jura Street as part of a continuous stream of people from Govan district going to and returning from the park. Most were like us intending simply to look in from outside. After walking along Paisley Road West taking in the spectacle that by comparison was similar in attraction to having a Disneyland Park planted in Glasgow, when Granda Joe said, in his east coast dialect, 'Let's gae in, c'mon an eh'll treat ye a'. With a surge of excitement in we went, for me it really was like going into wonderland.
It was probably the first time my parents had seen anything like this, but Mary and Joe may have visited previous exhibitions in Kelvingrove in 1901 and 1911 which had been equally grand if perhaps on a smaller scale. Inside the park we walked about in the pleasantly mild spring evening looking at the multitude of interesting sights, while I resolved, while disregarding the impossible financial outlay, to explore it as much as possible over the coming months if I could persuade someone to take me. On that visit I undoubtedly suffered from over exposure to fascinating sights which, were they encountered singly, would have been so fixed in my memory as to be recallable today. With a few exceptions they are hazy impressions made difficult to disentangle for description.
The second visit was with St. Constantine’s Primary School on a day of heavy rain, when all the children were transported from Craigton Road to Jura Street by a few specially laid on trams. The occasion was a bit of a disaster for me. After a short time in the park I became separated from the others, and after looking about unsuccessfully with rising panic it seemed the best thing to do would be to make my own way home. This I did, but later realised that I should have looked for an official and reported my predicament, as there would have been a system in operation to reunit me with the school party.
Arriving home long before the expected time caused a sensation, and on telling the story of what had occurred there were expressions of disbelief at how I had been so practical. To tell the truth the weather was so wet we had all quickly become soaked, and I was grateful for the opportunity to get home for a change of clothes. I had a few pennies in my pocket and one of them enabled me to take a number 7 tram back from Jura Street to Crossloan Road and walk to Linthouse from there. In contrast to what would have happened if a similar situation should occur today, there's no recollection that the school authorities noticed my absence.
The main highlight of any visit was to take a lift to the top of the tower which was named after its designer. The tower had viewing platforms on three levels at the top for which different charges were in force according to which one you took the lift to. Although photographs and illustrations appear to suggest there were four levels, what looks like the top platform is actually a roof over the topmost one. It was again Granda Joe who took me up on another visit. There's no memory of there being the almost permanent queue for the lifts as there was for the Clydesdale Bank Tower at the Festival.
On this, the third visit, we went up to the highest level, but because I suffer from agoraphobia (fear of heights) I did not enjoy the experience. It affected me so much that standing with my back firmly pressed against the rear wall I could only look out over the city at the fascinating view, between the legs of spectators who crowded the heavy wire mesh railing. With a height of 250ft Tait's tower was taller than the Clydesdale Tower at the Garden Festival. In addition, as it stood on top of the ridge it had about a hundred and fifty feet of a start, so that its top must have been something like 400ft above the level of the surrounding land. In my collection of memorabilia there is an official folder with strip photographs which show interesting though not very clear panoramic views all around taken from the top of the tower.
THE NARROW GAUGE RAILWAY
The amusement park occupied a large area in the south east corner at Dumbreck Road and Mosspark Boulevard and the railway was laid out in it. Two locomotives were constructed to a scale of about one tenth full size, but the line covered a much smaller area than the one at the Festival. The Exhibition line was a few hundred yards of single track, with a return loop at either end and a passing loop in the centre, with about five minutes running time from end to end. Needless to say in the eyes of a seven year old budding railway enthusiast it was the last word in technical sophistication. I wanted to spend all of each visit on it or to simply stand by to watch at it. During the summer there was even a collision after the telephone signalling system developed a fault. The trains met head-on on a single track section and a number of people were slightly injured.
The locomotiveswere coal-fired, steam propelled scale models built to the standards of the time, which might be thought somewhat lower than similar professionally built models of the present day such as those at the Festival. But having seen a good photograph of them being delivered from the manufacturers and on the web site, it appears they were as good in the details and finish as might be expected today. However, some of that detail, which seemed currently to be made of plastic would have then been metal. As models of contemporary locomotives such as my prized possession the late lamented tin-plate model, they were fair representations of two of the then latest express passenger engines, 4-6-0 Stanier Pacifics of the LMS named Princess Elizabeth and Princes Margaret.
OTHER EXHIBITION HIGHLIGHTS
There is little recollection of the other exhibits in the park, so it will be apparent that most of my attention was absorbed by the railway and the tower. Much of the rest was in the nature of trade displays and crafts by indigenous people from countries of what was then known as the 'Empire'. An odd attraction was the crazy house, an extremely oddly constructed small building that looked as if it had been put up by builders who were drunk or suffering from the DTs (delirium tremens). But the strangest thing about it was the laughing sailor, a full size dummy dressed in naval uniform that was perched on the roof of the porch. It rocked around in a most lifelike way while gales of laughter came from an unseen source.
Bob Crampsey's book about the exhibition, which, along with other accounts, assisted in recalling some of the details set down here, stated that late in the season after rocking about for a few months the sailors head fell off, and falling narrowly missed hitting a woman. Giant candy lollipops were on sale for a shilling, at a time when my pocket money was a half-penny a day. A shilling then was roughly equivalent in value to about £2 today. The lollipop was of fruit rock type candy, and must have been six inches in diameter and a quarter inch thick; enough to keep any child sookin' for a week. I wasn't fortunate enough to be treated to one, but a few acquaintances were, much to the envy of the rest of the group.
PORTENTS OF WAR
Despite the excitement generated by the spectacle there was the constant apprehension of war, ominous dark clouds of which were looming up. Talk of war, the certainty that it would happen and it would affect all of us, was dominant in the media. Although it was almost a year after the exhibition closed in October before it actually began, the impression was that we were already living in a war situation, and the exhibition itself, despite the gaiety, excitement and interest it generated, wasn't free from the signs.
One portent was the installation of searchlight batteries, one of which was mounted on top of the tower which, along with others deployed round its base, were used to advantage as the seasons advanced and darkness came in earlier. The crews of the lights on the ground scanned aimlessly around the sky to advertise the exhibition's presence, but a unit on top of the tower began to pick out features in the surrounding town and landscape, illuminating them with a brilliant finger of light. After a time it was observed that they were often directed at the same spot to the north-west. Granda Joe who had retired from work at this time, said they would be illuminating what was to be the biggest ship in the world, the liner Queen Elizabeth, which was at that time fitting out in the basin at John Brown’s shipyard in Clydebank where he had worked.
In a more ominous but nevertheless spectacular development, aeroplanes, RAF Hawker Hinds from the 602 City of Glasgow Squadron based at Renfrew aerodrome, slow lumbering biplanes of the time, began flying round the exhibition in the evenings. Below is a excellent painting by Dougald Cameron who piloted one of the planes. The searchlight batteries were of course set up to find the aeroplanes aloft during darkness so the Hinds were illuminated by the lights. Initially, the beams had to search around to find them, then the others immediately converged to bathe it in a brilliant pool of light. In an age when a plane in the sky still drew all eyes this display made a powerful impression. In addition to advertising the Exhibition, the intention was probably to train and display the skill of the searchlight operators and show off the aircraft. A single illuminated plane was a remarkable sight until they began arriving in flights of three or more, and perhaps up to half-a-dozen, which created a sensation with everyone for miles around looking on open-mouthed.
That display was deceptive. Under wartime conditions enemy planes would not obligingly linger in the vicinity of searchlights, or fly around at the convenient low height of under a thousand feet, indeed low enough for them to be illuminated by the street lights never mind the bright lights of the Exhibition itself. They certainly would not do so at a slow speed and make wide stately turns, making it easy for the searchlights to catch and follow them. A later development was more sinister when anti-aircraft guns were brought in to practise with blank ammunition. I was standing in Hutton Drive in Linthouse on a particular evening, watching the flight of planes clearly visible above the roof ridge of the terrace in St. Kenneth Drive, with each one was dazzlingly illuminated. This scene was accompanied by the sound of the guns which were to be the main audible feature of air raids during the coming war. The exhibition closed on 29th October, and 602 Squadron was equipped with Spitfires in May 1939.
PUBLIC TRANSPORT - EXPANSION OF THE TRAMWAY SYSTEM FOR THE EXHIBITION
Day trips by train to Glasgow could be undertaken by visitors from as far away as London, which allowed about four hours at the exhibition although it meant a very early departure from the south and a late return. Existing tram services were augmented and new ones added to cater for the large numbers of visitors. Additions were made to the track with junctions being added to the existing network to give greater flexibility. The first change in our district was made in Govan Road at Golspie Street. A second double junction seen below was installed here that allowed a special service from the Renfrew direction to join the number 7 tram route and turn into Golspie Street and proceed up to Bellahouston. At the other end of this branch, at Jura Street, a completely new two-way double junction was installed giving access to Paisley Road West in both directions.
Other changes were made in the not quite completed loop of track round Bellahouston Park itself, on what was part of the number 3 service through Pollokshields. This section ran for three-quarters of a mile along reserved ballasted track between Dumbreck Road and Mosspark Boulevard to the end of the line near Corkerhill Road. This line was extended round into the latter road and down the hill, also on reserved track but with a cobbled surface bounded on each side by a narrow island pavement, to Paisley Road West where yet another two-way double junction was installed. The short stretch of Corkerhill Road between the Boulevard and Paisley Road West laid out at that time as a wide dual carriageway, remained like this until the late 1960s long after the trams ceased running and the track lifted. Houses were then built on the site of the west (north bound) roadway while the other one reverted to two-way traffic.
Compared with the shooglie motion of the older trams, the not long introduced modern Coronations ‘cars gave a ride of what seemed like Rolls Royce quality. Running on twin double axle bogies instead of the older two axle rigid frame truck, these and the service alterations made a significant improvement in the flexibility, comfort and carrying capacity of the tram services. Apart from increasing the frequency of existing services, additional routes were introduced for the duration of the exhibition. One carried spectators from the city all the way round the park, except of course for the short trackless section in Dumbreck Road between Nithsdale Road and Paisley Road West.
Some of the older trams were withdrawn from service and rebuilt and adapted for advertising. Decorated with lights, posters and slogans, they trundled round the streets having been set up as brilliant mobile advertising hoardings. That was an unprecedented innovation, as up to then no adverts were permitted on any Corporation vehicles. After the Exhibition closed a few of the older vehicles destined for the scrap yard were retained for this purpose and were seen occasionally. But the subjects advertised were confined to mainly civic services, such as displaying information about exhibitions in municipal halls.
A GROWING LOVE OF TRAVEL
Around this time I developed an urge to get to know more about regions outwith where I lived. The desire to travel was developing and I longed to be able go exploring, to go anywhere with anyone willing to take me. From an early age I went for walks with Mum and Dad and most frequently Granda, and on summer evening and weekends occasionally the three of us went on bus runs. There were the trips in summer to ILP social gatherings, holiday journeys to Cove, Aberdeen, Arbroath and Dundee, Stranraer, Rothesay, Ayr and other place. All of which I found so interesting that they produced a powerful desire for more.
There were further expeditions during holidays to distant places. From Aberdeen in 1935 we travelled to Lossiemouth to see the then Prime Minister Ramsay McDonald’s house ‘The Hillocks’ (below left) and to Inverness to visited Loch Ness, but the monster failed to appear. From Stranraer we went on a day trip to Portrush. But the greatest desire to travel to England and abroad wasn't achieved until serving the (mandatory at that time) eighteen months National Service from March 1949. A further manifestation was that as travel experience grew, an overall picture of places visited and passed through was retained. This enabled their locations in relation to each other to be visualised, rather like having a great expanding map being built up in my mind.
Then the craving took off in the ultimate but unexpected direction. Visits to the local library caused an interest in astronomy to developed, and among the tiny range of magazines of the time, tiny compared with what is available today, I noticed in Dick’s newsagents shop in Kennedar Drive a copy of Astounding Science Fiction magazine which came out monthly, and pestered my parents to buy it for me without success. Popular science fiction, then in its early infancy, was regarded in much the same way as soft porn is today. Indeed much SF contained elements of this to boost sales, which made it into something to be avoided by staid readers who knew nothing about astronomy but who might otherwise have found it to their liking. The converse of that will also be true; anyone looking for porn might have been attracted to SF.
Amazing Stories, a much better quality magazine, was discovered at a later date. In 1939 some old copies of Astounding were acquired and kept for a number of years. How this came about I have no idea now as they cost something like 6d a copy, so that I would have had to save my meagre pocket money for two weeks to have enough for one issue, and this was beyond me. But it was Amazing I cherished beyond any other reading material which in the very early days of SF became the best of its kind.
When Dad became aware of my interested in what to him was an arcane subject, he displayed an attitude of indifference towards astronomy and was scornful of science fiction and the very idea of space travel. He regarded the latter in the same light as astrology saying it could never happen, a view held by most people, even by some who were involved with the subject. I had never before and for a long time after had thought much about it, and it seemed that few people were aware of it or bothered to imagine that one day people might go into space. The most virulent critics of the idea were certain leading astronomers, among them the most severe in his condemnation of the idea was an Astronomer Royal, Richard Wooley. When asked in the year before the first Sputnik was launched what he thought of the possibility of man travelling to other planets, made the announcement which showed him to be extremely short-sighted. 'Talk of space travel is utter bilge’. No-one in my circle of acquaintances within or outwith the family knew anything about it or showed the slightest interest in the subject. I used to get funny looks from other people I tried to question in an effort to learn more about it, quickly finding I was on my own. It was many years later before anyone with a similar interest was encountered.
Realising I would have to find out about astronomy myself through reading was the impetus which spurred me to visit the local library more often, in the course of which I discovered the Just William books by Richmal Cromption. At first the books on astronomy encountered were of no help because Elderpark Library had only one or two on the subject, and they were serious tomes that weren't written for children. However, one book, which happened to be by a previous Astronomer Royal, Sir James Jeans, I carried home and read from cover to cover with little understanding, but it generated a desire to know more and learn as much as possible about the subject.
The section of the library with a few books on the subject was searched for any written for the layman in terms I could understand, but there were none. The craving did not begin to be properly satisfied until near the end of the war, when the V2 rockets began arriving from space in southern England. There were descriptions of the weapon and much speculation in the press which served to increase further my interest in the subject. The fact that in flight the rocket climbed to a height of around fifty miles meant they were the first man-made objects to rise above the atmosphere.
In that book by Jeans another item of information was comprehended after much re-reading and pondering. It defined and explained something which came to represent for me the absolute limit of travel, even if only by the spaceship of the mind, astro distances, which really fired up my interest in the subject. These distances are measured by something called light years, and postulated what might happen to an object travelling at the speed of light, 182.000 miles per second. No other piece of knowledge has given such a surge to my interest in any subject since I made that discovery. People who knew of this secondary obsession used to ask if I hadn't at any time considered taking up the subject seriously as a career move. But it required the ability with mathematics, geometry, and trigonometry I did not possessed.
Would the reader consider it possible to be able to see light actually travelling? It could be stated that every instant your eyes are open you see light moving, but what is meant here is to see the actual photons moving. An experience when watching searchlights in action during the war produced a phenomenon, the explanation for which did not surface until much later, and will be found in a description of searchlights in part 5 in my wartime reminiscences.
The craving for travel received a boost when maps were discovered. A gift of a small cheap mounted globe of the world about nine inches in diameter further contributed to that knowledge. But after asking Mum to point out the street where we lived on it, it was astounding to find our country indicated by so insignificant a spot that the name Scotland across it was in letters so tiny they were illegible. A map of the world hung in every school classroom, on which the red bits were pointed out with a marked degree of awe as THE BRITISH EMPIRE. This was accompanied by a recital with all the boastful connotations of the sun never setting on lands belonging to Britain which used to produce in me a feeling of guilty pride. It made me wonder what the people who lived in these countries thought about this. Despite the classroom maps, at that time teachers made no serious efforts to encourage pupils to take an interest in geography, far less astronomy. Perhaps it was considered then to be too advanced for primary school pupils, but I was for ever getting into trouble for failing to pay attention to lessons when trying to study from my desk the map that hung on the wall at the back of the classroom.
Reaching the stage of acquiring a map of the locality I was able to fill in the gaps in the pictures in my mind of the immediate topography. This mental map or topographical awareness expanded as travel experiences grew, so that eventually there was no difficulty in forming a picture of any area around Scotland I travelled to, and adding and correlating it with existing knowledge. While books are an excellent source of knowledge, a well detailed map can be just as interesting, and as I grew into my teen’s, hours were spent studying any of good quality with plenty of detail I could get my hands on. The British Ordinance Survey maps were discovered in the early 1950s and they were found to be the best source of this information.
Soon the subject progressed beyond the scope for travel and began to take in regions farther afield, countries and continents. This facility was to benefit most from the war. As the various campaigns in Europe to begin with then spread around the world, they were always accompanied in the press by copious maps, and all that information I soaked up like a sponge. Aside from press archives, an example of the kind of thing I mean was used extensively in the six volumes of Winston Churchill's 'The Second World War'. Some unusual place names from this time have always stayed with me, such as Taganrog, a town in what is now the Crimea, The Arakan, a region in Burma, now Mayanmar, and Antananarive, capital city of the island of Madagascar now known as Tananarivo. Also, among the islands scattered around the Pacific Ocean there were interesting names like Guadalcanal, Saipan and Eniwetok etc.
PREPARATIONS FOR A NEW ARRIVAL
Towards the end of November 1937 my mother's sister had her first baby, a daughter. About the time Moira was due, a pram that was to be delivered from Linthouse to the house of my aunt and uncle who, after their marriage in February lived in Renfrew. The pram was too bulky to be taken by bus or tram, so it was arranged that Mum and I would walk the three miles from Linthouse to Renfrew pushing it on an evening shortly before the event, and we set off in the dark in crisp frosty weather. Passing Shieldhall Dock I complained of feeling tired, so Mum suggested I get into the pram which was of the large deep bodied style of the time and able to take my few stones weight of seven years. At first I thought she was joking, but while she regarded it with amusement, further discussion indicated she was in earnest. I was nevertheless reluctant to try it in case we met anyone. However, eventually she convinced me that it was unlikely, and anyway there were no street lighting until we reached the first houses in Glebe Street on the outskirts of Renfrew. With only infrequent traffic including trams and the pram’s hood up no-one would notice. I climbed in and made myself as comfortable as possible.
While the position was a bit cramped, lying on my back I was able to watch the stars in a segment of sky which stood out clearly in the then darker firmament in that age of far less light pollution. A hypnotic sensation was generated, and by the time we reached the outskirts I was almost asleep. Their house would soon be having visits from the local Renfrew Green Lady, as the District Nurses were known because of their uniform, to attend to the new arrival. During the next year or two my uncle and aunt moved from Renfrew to 16 Skipness Drive, to a low down tenement house just two closes away from us.