SMIDDIES, SKILLS AND SCHOOLS
Continuing the story Loans ...
WILLIAM FULLARTON, grandfather of Robert Fullarton who was the Loans blacksmith in 1905, built the two‑storey land to the north on the Irvine Road, in which was situated the Post Office. Robert for his part, was a superb craftsman in every facet of the anvil art, and his skill in shoeing horses was legion.
He was an artist in every sense of the word, and always had a highly interested audience either children who were 'dogging it’ from school; various gentlemen who were unemployed through no fault of their own or the occasional layabout who, in the absence of television, merely enjoyed being entertained.
'Provided that they kept out of his way and did not impede the vital work he tolerated them. But heaven help anyone who broke the unspoken rules, as he did not suffer fools gladly.
The whole atmosphere of a smiddy was some thing to savour, the sights, the sounds and the smells, Loans and Troon being the, focal points at the turn of the century.
In the latter case there was the establishment in the Smiddy Close, in the centre of Portland Street, almost opposite Prince’s Square, run by Bob McLean for many years and later by the tall, very elegant gentleman known as Peter Paterson another immaculate professional. his assistants through the years being Mike Glynn and Alex Gouck.
Whether it was at the place in Robertloan village or at Troon, there was invariably the flat bedded open furnace fed by coke, and air‑induced by bellows, hand propelled.
A container of water was always handy when work on the iron horseshoes, one at a time had been completed to the constant ring of hammer on anvil.
The finished product had to be immersed in the liquid to cool, a sharp blast of steam always filling the adjacent area, causing nearby spectators to jump almost out of their skins on each and every occasion.
The piece de resistance, however, had taken place prior to the cooling process, when the red‑hot iron shoe was picked up by the smiddy, a pair of tongs being used of course.
Then there was the moving over to the animal, whose head was generally held by an employee or by a reliable onlooker. It was now the moment of truth. The craftsman lifted the hoof, placed it between his legs from the rear end laid the hot shoe in position quickly but with great care.
Children used to watch with bated breath. But it in 'no way ' ever hurt the animal there being no actual living tissue adjacent to the hot metal, but it sizzled, fumes filled the air and the odour was priceless.
Once the fit to the foot was considered to be perfect the shoe was nailed carefully into place, and stage one was over. No one ever left, however, until the entire job had been done and the horse taken away.
There is little doubt that such a task, that of working in almost perpetual heat, unrelenting fumes, coupled with the very heavy physical work; must have given such men a thirst worth buying. And the sound of hammer on anvil, coupled with the miscellaneous other tinkling sounds, was akin to that of a mighty orchestra.
Villages such as Loans bred tradesmen of note. The original joiner of this rural spot was Tam Hutcheson who went down to Troon and started a shop opposite the Rev James Fleming's manse. Tam was of a speculative turn of mind, being somewhat of a gambler, and through stress of circumstances, ultimately left for New York.
Latter‑day joiners from the same 'airt', following and prior to the Boer War, were Tom Wilson, Sandy Wallace and John Porter. During the 1880's John Porter could be seen driving about in the area in a gig drawn by a beautiful black mare, all of which he had bought from William Dickie for the sum of two sovereigns. Had his great grand-daughter Margaret been around at that time she would have had no worries about transport. She of course did not appear until later, considerably later.
These tradesmen of the village were all characters in their very individual way, with no end of tales to tell of fights with gaugers, the old house behind the burn being little better than smuggling vaults. All had double walls and double and many a good cargo from the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland had been run under the Loans hearth‑stones. Sometimes the vaults were not, considered safe and the Robertloan midden was often in use for depositing the valuable ankers of brandy.
Dugald McGeachan was the village shoemaker, one of the last of the soutars, a Cumnock man whose hobby was fishing. Never to waste a minute or a penny, he spent his few holidays helping the farmers at harvest time ‑ paid for of course.
This brief history of the early years of the clachan has almost come and gone with hardly a mention of, schools or children, and the latter did exist, even in Loans.
The first school close to the village was most certainly the Darley where it was in existence prior to 1840 when the schoolmaster received something less than £1 29 (sic) a year and he had to be very highly qualified before he was even considered for such a post. The children of Loans were not permitted to attend there until July 19, 1856.
All they had in the way of school accommodation before then was a small room in the village, 15 feet square and no more than six feet nine inches in height. Sixty‑five were on the roll, with an average attendance of 52.
Their only playground was the public road and until the appearance of the School Board in 1873, most pupils had to pay a fee to their master for education, though there were certain arrangements to cover the teaching of the offspring of the poor.
But the average teacher's job was no sinecure during the early 19th century. The teacher was expected to be qualified in English, grammar, writing, arithmetic, geography, history, book – keeping, gardening, Latin, mathematics, with some French and Greek, and, in most cases, was required to act as church treasurer and session clerk; the churchyard also being an additional responsibility it was also required to assemble the children on Sundays for a number of hours, relating the scriptures to them.
Nor were the school hours in any way easy. Even as late as 1846 the Darley school teacher was on duty from eight to 12 and from one until five, in the summer, although, winter hours were slightly shorter.
It was of no surprise when the Dundonald schoolmaster resigned and disappeared in 1822 never to be heard of again. They were certainly most difficult days.
By 1860, teachers salaries were about £50 per year, plus every other type of tote that the incumbents could evolve from their weird and devious imaginations.
It would be true to say that, at the end of a week's work (seven days) there was little left for the country pedagogue to do but sweep up the snow and if there was no snow there was always the flood water to get rid of.
The Darley school fell on hard times in 1860, there being insufficient funds for its upkeep and it remained closed until it was handed over to the Loans schoolchildren in 1866 when they assuredly must have suffered, there being little at any time in the way of heating.
A school was eventually built in the village in 1877. There were, among others, Miss Jessie A. Meikle who resigned in 1891, then came Miss Shaw, Miss Mary Baird and Miss Martha Meikle who was appointed in January. 1898, during the days of the school board which, in most cases, was composed of 15 directors, three clergymen, and six representatives of the Sailors' Society.
It was very much a hierarchy. If you didn't have rank you were nobody. None of these ladies lived to be very fat at on a salary of £53 a year (women then receiving much less than men), although they were probably very happy not to have been employed in Troon in 1884, when the chairman of the Dundonald School Board made a recommendation that the salaries of teachers at Fullarton and Portland Schools be reduced by 20 per cent.
In retracing our steps just a little it is clear that the clachan of Loans was representative of rural life in most parts of southern Scotland. Jobs were scarce.
Male house servants were paid 85 shillings a year, plus a pair of shoes on occasion. Women received £3 for 12 months and shoes sometimes a coarse frock being thrown in, should they have a generous employer. A day labourer gained two shillings per day plus a small spot of ground on which to ruminate.
Admittedly brandy was only 2d a pint, and consumer goods were similarly priced but there were few fat farm‑workers.
All recreation was of a working nature and there were no unions. The lower orders either worked or starved and many starved regardless. Even the contraband trade was better than teaching.
Such, perhaps, were the grass‑roots of social security and National Health, so much taken for granted in the 1980's. Another important date comes to mind ‑ 9‑6‑1887 the Jubilee of Queen Victoria, when each pauper in Loans received the sum of 1s 6d to carry out their own personal celebration.
Loans is not quite the same since such arduous days, but tradition reigns, even yet, and many people still have knowledge of Mid‑Toun Farm, Townhead Farm, and the old name for Crossburn, Scullochmill; of the Wilsons who lived in Robertloan House for centuries, of Bushie Burn and ‘The Loans Common'. But it is still a place of character.
There are many Royal Burghs but, as yet, no Royal villages. Should this ever come to pass, the rural village that we have just discussed would be one of the first to qualify — as that Scottish monarch, Robert the Bruce had occasion to stay there overnight, in the year 1385, during one of his sojourns from Dundonald Castle.