WORKING TO SURVIVE!

     

 

THROUGH the years the environment of Troon Harbour and the shipbuilding scene has always been something special, a tiny bustling metropolis within itself.

 

Various aspects of this often emerge from the well‑preserved mental archives of certain older residents whose intimate knowledge of a somewhat distant past, coupled with their immersion in it, often proves to be the meat in any historical sandwich.

 

It is all very well discussing a shipping industry from its foundations, design and tracings, the divisions of work units, aft bodies and forward bodies.

 

But space is at all times needed for the human bodies which actually put into practice the very jingle about which so many of us know so little

 

There was the late and much respected Mr David Young of Wood Road, previously of the legendary Harbour Row, who came to this country from Northern Ireland during the 1890's, eventually to become an employee of the Ailsa Shipyard, and who never tired of talking about days gone by.

 

I was privileged to know him before he died in May 1984, just seven years short of his century, at the reverend age of 93, There was always a welcome on the mat when I arrived, at regular intervals during the last 18 months of his life, and he spoke volumes about the past, which he discussed with knowledge, patience, humour and charm.

 

When he left school in 1904, it was the ambition of most local boys to gain employment in the yard, and he was not to be disappointed. He may have a choice of any one of the following: administration, blacksmith burner, coppersmith, carpenter, craneman, cabinet maker, caulker, canteen staff, driller, draughtsman (ship, design or engineer), electrician, engineer, first‑ aid, gateman, general labourer, joiner, loftsman modeller, plater, plater's helper, plumber, painter polisher, red leader, riveter, millwright, riveter's hauderon, stager, shotblast and ironsorter, shipwright, ship's rigger, tinsmith, turner or welder.

 

DISLIKED

 

His first job was that of a driller there being many punches, with one apprentice at each. He had apparently disliked working with the ratchet as this method took an unbearable length of time and was boring to the extreme, to say the least. But he was ultimately moved to a steam punch, which was more to his liking.

 

Later, the authorities were to introduce machines of the 'air' end 'electric' variety, all in the name of progress, to which he quickly adapted. There was little doubt that he enjoyed every moment of his sojourn in the yard, where he worked for 56 years, eventually retiring at the age of 70, with never an idle nor disinterested moment during his remaining years.

 

He spoke with interest of the days when there was no social security, no national health service, no television, no electric light, no central heating no eight‑hour day, no five‑day week no PAYE no anaesthetic for tooth extraction, few jawboxes (sinks) in the workers houses, radio only in the homes of the few, a gramophone if you were very lucky, no recreation on a Sunday.

 

In fact there was little recreation of any sort for the average working man. Only the truly privileged could afford to golf and shipyard workers were most certainly outwith this category.

 

There had been a bowling club in the village since 1841, it being generally known as the 'working men's club', ultimately to become the Troon Portland Bowling Club, thanks to the patronage of the Fourth Duke. But there was little else, pure survival being the name of the game. To make matters even worse, all holidays were UNPAID.

 

Apart from anything else, the names of two of the local pubs made interesting reading —although Mr David Young was a teetotaller during all of his lifetime - ’Wines and Spirits' - R. Bliss and 'Wines and Spirits' - R. Killen. My mother, Mary Beaton, once received a couple of guineas from a national newspaper in respect of these two spirited items.

 

David Young certainly did not appreciate one particular visit to a chemist's shop at The Cross, actually the FIRST chemist's in Troon, to the year1903 it was owned land conducted by the late Mr Peter Welsh, grandfather of Peter Welsh, one of Troon's retired bank managers himself very much extant.

 

The reason for David’s visit and subsequent discomfort was the extraction of a tooth - WITHOUT ANAESTHETIC. The chemist, Mr Welsh, and his good friend, the late Dr Roxburgh, used to share this arduous task at three pence a tooth: "You'll pull this one and I'll pull the next one," a most excellent roster system thus easing the pressure on these busy professional men.

 

The majority of male adults used to 'take a good bucket' before venturing anywhere near the shop, but David Young, and it goes without saying, was ‘stone cold sober' and thus vulnerable!

 

"Spit out the blood son" said the kindly GP and the lad, seeing only the fire burning merrily to his left spat the lot into the flames, to the ire of Doctor R. who was by no means pleased.

 

The boy hadn't realised that there was a sink behind him for such a purpose. To cut a long story short, he did not return for further treatment. He had suddenly grown long in the tooth.

 

The once little shop at the corner, next to the Unionist Hall, where J. M. Hamilton and Nellie McNab used to sing the 'Crooked Bawbee' to packed audiences had been, strange to say, 'Chapman the Grocer's'. The shop at The Cross was 'Welsh the Chemist's', but they were later to change.

 

Welsh the Chemist's became 'Welsh the Grocer's' and Chapman the Grocer's evolved into "Chapman the Chemist's a most intriguing phenomenon, which only goes to prove that our antecedents most have been the most versatile of people.

 

The town was then a very thriving flooded community just as the harbour area was an undoubted hive of Industry and as long as anyone then living could remember, there had been a ropeworks and a sail maker's. They were run by James Currie of J. and J. Currie, who had made sails here for almost 100 years.

 

And at one time there were 100 men in full employment, which speaks volumes for the vast number of ships requiring canvas, carefully sewn by hand with sail needles, which required the aid of a plamp‑grip and needle‑butt, every inch of the twine used being bees waxed ‑ but these craftsmen were workers, not drones.

 

MONOPOLY

 

There is little wonder that Troon was a popular port as apart from the needs of the sea‑going trade, ship building and coal.

 

Many of the huge square‑rigged four‑masters carried well over 50,000 square feet of canvas, and where then were sails there was rope. This vital profession declined only towards the end of the century with the monopoly imposed by steam and steel, speed being essential to the carrying trade.

 

But there was much more to the port than what we have already discussed. Little mention has yet been made of the indispensable Lifeboat Service whose first boat here was the 'Mary Sinclair', dating from 1871.

 

 Scarcely a word has been said about the sawmill which entered the lists in 1888. Likewise it would app­ear that the shipbreakers of Troon (instituted 1904) have been suffered in silence, but ail of these, and more, will be dealt with later.

 

In the year 1918, the sailmaking loft and the rope works were taken over by the Bailies, Alex and Jane (nee Young), along with this ships chandlers, and although they did not continue the business of sail‑making, for obvious reasons, they retained the ropeworks as a going concern.

 

There had previously been a ropeworks at the southern shore area of Bank Street during the early years of the 19th century, which 'fell by the wayside'.

 

Ropeworks number two found a home in North Shore then known as the Front Shore, but it lasted only until the 1850's, ropeworks number three finding some permanency opposite the wet dock, J and J Currie having been the owners throughout until the Bailies took over.

  

REMEMBERS

 

Jane of that ilk was a sister of Mr David Young so he did know what he was talking about. Mrs Ellen Young of Logan Drive still remembers the shop that her parent conducted from their home Harbour Row before they took over the Chandler's in 1918.

 

Post‑war, the dock was a very busy place with regular visits by the Baron fleet, the Glen fleet and there were always Swedish ships sailing in, loaded to the gunwales with saltfish. There was also the Kelly fleet from Belfast calling in for bunkers and the Clyde puffers were never far away.

 

Alex and Jane also had sheds between the two inhabited three‑storey sections of the harbour building (demolished in 1956), where they stored petrol, paraffin and tar, and the ships chandler's was reasonably profitable business.

 

Anything needed by the seafarers was stocked clothing, bedding, food of all kinds in addition to oils paint, needles and anchors. But long hours were worked and they earned every penny by the sweat of their brow.

 

Alex Bailie was undoubtedly a very astute business­man, having a considerable number of irons in the fire soon going into shipping during the early 1920's. Initially he bought the MV Alexandrina, then he was to become the owner of a puffer fleet, the 'Hafton', the  'Elim' and the 'Advance', the latter being tiller controlled. At that time it was a hard life on the puffers, caused in part by low freight charges (two shillings and sixpence per ton for coal to Whiting Bay) low wages, long hours and little comfort for the crew at sea or in port.

 

Of the three the 'Hafton' was the most comfortable as her wheel was on top of the engine room casing with a canvas dodger to protect the helmsman from the worst of the weather and she was slightly larger than the other two.

 

Mr Baille participated in shipbreaking as well. In 1924 when the steamer 'Marjorie Seed' was wrecked on the Lady Isle, he purchased the wreck and, along with David Gush, broke her up and shipped the scrap to Troon on the 'Halfton'

 

Some years later he purchased the MacBrayne paddle steamer, the 'Chevalier', which ran ashore in Loch Fyne. After re‑floating her he had her brought to Troon where she was broken up at the Limestone Quay, the paddle sponsors being removed to permit passage through the Gut, Bridge, then in the basin at the Cross Breakwater.

 

At both berths the 'Hafton' was used as a scrap barge. During her service with Alex Bailie it had as its skipper, that well‑known Troon citizen, Willie Young - one time coxswain of Troon Lifeboat (1956‑1968), and keeper of the light on Lady Isle.

 

In 1942, that is, after her husband's death, Mrs Jane Baille, gave up the shop and the puffers. It was October, 1983, before that lady passed on into waters of a more spiritual nature, aged 95. Never in her life did she have an idle moment.

 

Next week: "The Legend of Harbour Row".

 

 

A photograph taken in 1925 of Alex and Jane Baillie (nee Young) of Puffer Fleet and Ship's Chandler's fame, with children of the then Seamen's Bethel that used to be wishing the site of the present Marina and was situated close to the Look‑Out. (Loaned by Mrs Ellen Young, of Logan Drive, Troon).

 

 

 

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