Kilbirnie Ayrshire Scotland
My memories of Kilbirnie
Kilbirnie, Ayrshire, Scotland 1955 – 1965
My earliest memories of Kilbirnie all centre around the prefab where we lived. A simple, bungalow type house with garden all around. I remember the steps down from the pavement level into the front garden and the rickety old fence at the back which separated us from a lane and fields. Today such an amount of land with one small house would cost the earth. I had my own strip of garden under my bedroom window and grew peas mainly. I also managed to eat most of them, carefully leaving the pods hanging. Mum was always disappointed in the crop! My parents rented and I remember them longing for a bigger, better and more modern, council home to bring up their small family.
The prefab was one of a small estate of similar homes and handy for school and local shops. From an early age I could walk safely to my school by following the lane from the back garden, under a (railway?) bridge and straight along to class. Part way along this lane there was a ‘bing’, basically a great, big, mucky heap where we kids would play, and get very dirty, usually on the way home. The schools, wee school at first and then ‘the grey school’ later were on opposite sides of quite a busy road (I think the Beith Road?) School dinners were in a hall nearby, awful soup with a half slice of bread I can still smell it today. The puddings were always good though. I enjoyed school but I find it hard to remember many names. I know my teacher had a daughter named Ailsa, (this was unusual and stuck with me), and the names Anne Bone and Margaret Crawford have stuck with me too, though why I can’t say. Perhaps if they ever read this they will contact me and I’ll discover if we were enemies or friends! All my life I have been lazy regarding names and the remembering of.
From No 55, where we lived, if you turned right at the top of the steps up to the pavement and then took a left you could walk to the ‘garden city’ as it was called via Central Avenue. There were a couple of shops and a church and access into the PublicPark, a great place when I was a child with all the usual swings and stuff. A favourite game involved ‘setting up home or sometimes a shop’ within the enormous roots of the trees growing along the edge between the housing scheme known as the Fudstone and the park itself. The park now houses a swimming pool but I think there is still a fair amount of open space there yet. Another ‘game’ we played involved scaring the wotsit out of each other in the cemetery behind the church. Further along the (Beith?) road is the present day cemetery but immediately behind the church was, and still is I presume, a much older graveyard. There was one tomb in particular which was very creepy. All jolly good fun we felt, though looking back I’m not so sure. I find churchyards creepy to this day.
From the ‘garden city’ you could walk uphill for a bit and end up in the high street proper. On the way I would get my comic, and a sweet if I was lucky, at a small newsagent on the right which, in my memory at least was just there, all by itself.
In the town proper were the usual variety of small shops, library, cinema etc. A grey type of place, grey stone walls, grey windows, grey pavements, grey roads and grey people for the most part. The ‘supermarket’ of the time was I think a Co-op and the library was in a corner building, across the road and upstairs, directly opposite the cinema. Visits to the library were always on a Saturday with my Dad. We would go and change the books from the previous week and then visit the sweet shop on the corner, under the library. My love of reading started then. I was introduced to books early and have a passion for them now. I had read most of the accepted classic childrens stories long before we left Kilbirnie, when I was about ten. I can remember those visits so vividly, the smell of the books and the agony of having to choose only one.
Dad, Mum, my sister and myself would each have a quarter of sweets for the coming Saturday evening. My favourites were coconut cream, Dad liked Russian caramels, Mum usually wanted peppermint or chewing nuts, which had no nuts in them, I remember I always found that strange! My sister usually had chocolate, she was four years younger than me and not much more than a baby at this time. We would stand on the bridge by the library and look over at the water, Dad chatting to practically everyone who went by. Then back home for tea and the coming pleasure of a whole bag of sweets which didn’t have to be shared with anyone. I remember once I chose peppermints just like Mum’s. Dad tried very hard to convince me I didn’t really want them. I insisted. The lady behind the counter also tried to dissuade me. No I wanted them, the green ones! I ate the lot and was sick as a dog. I haven’t been able to eat mints ever since, even toothpaste makes me feel ill these days.
As I remember it, Kilbirnie was a town where everyone knew everyone else. Generations of some families never left the place. Walking along the street could take forever as Dad had to stop and chat with almost every second person we passed. He was a Kilbirnie boy. It was also one of those places where if you were an ‘outsider’ you stayed an outsider. My Mum was tolerated but she was from Paisley so never really fitted in except with other Mums in the same position.
Another regular weekly visit was to the red brick Salvation Army hall for Sunday School. Remembered more for the day trips in summer than anything else. In my adult life I still find the sound of a Salvation Army band will drag me round corners and up and down streets till I track down its source. My family, on both sides as they say, were Salvation Army. My Dad in the band as were my Grandad and others.
Employment in the area was mainly from ‘the mill’ and the Glengarnock Steel works. I think the working population went to one or the other. My Dad was in the steel works. The mill was I think for rope but don’t quote me because I can’t remember and to be honest as a child I wasn’t really interested. I know the steel works have long gone but I think there is still a mill there, though again what it does I can’t say.
Summers were long and hot, aren’t they always in memory? We, as a family would go for walks along the country lanes and pick blackberries. Sometimes we would go to the other side of town, way along behind the cinema to where there was a burn (small sort of river). We would have a picnic and splash about in the water. Sadly I can’t remember the name of the place but I can remember all the fun I had there.
I’m not sure exactly what age I was when Mum and Dad finally did get the bigger house. Coldgreen Avenue in the Fudstone. I hated it there. Much further to school and so built up all around with all the houses the same. I also remember we had the most awful neighbours and were often disturbed in the early hours by shouting and other noise. This part of the Fudstone scheme was new, we were the first to live in our house, and it was mainly families who moved in so there were plenty of playmates. We played statues and war games, went off for picnics by the burn, usually jam sandwiches and home made ginger wine, and chewed on what we called ‘sour leaves’. Lord knows what they actually were but they didn’t do us any harm. We played with dandilion clocks, made daisy chains and told the weather using some weedy thing which had to be broken in two and then put back together. Then you held it upside down, if it fell apart it would rain if not the sun would be back again tomorrow. We were known by all the adults and it wasn’t just your Mum who would give you a slap if you were naughty. Go home and tell your Mum that Mary’s Mum had slapped you and you’d just as likely get another for ‘deserving it’.
I remember we used to go into Kilbirnie town by a new route, going over a rickety little bridge onto the Largs Road and walking to the right. Before reaching the town we would visit a real old fashioned butcher where Mum would buy meat. I loved that shop for some reason. I think it was the tiles with a picture of a bull or cow in the middle that fascinated me. The Largs road swung down into Kilbirnie centre just a bit past the butchers and there we would be at the shops.
I don’t think Mum and Dad were as happy as they expected to be in the new house and we eventually left Kilbirnie for Edinburgh. I still have relatives living in Kilbirnie but I have not been back for many years. Dad went off to train as a lighthouse keeper and my sister, self and Mum went to Edinburgh which I loathed. I wanted so much to go back to Kilbirnie, even back to Coldgreen Avenue! I’ve only made it back twice since then.
I believe the town is very rundown these days, the cinema gone, the prefabs long gone and a tightly packed estate built in their place. The closure of the steel works probably started the rot and, as these things do, caused the town to go downhill. Apparently it is no longer the quiet, comfortable little place of my memories but then maybe it never was.
Though it was a town with a working class population it had, as most places do, its ‘posh’ areas. Bungalows along the Largs road and more on the road out towards Lochwinnoch. I’m sure they are still there though whether they are still ‘posh’ I wouldn’t like to say.
I always mean to go back for a visit just to look and see if I recognise anything. I’ve been advised that I shouldn’t, it would be better to remember it as I do than to see it now. Not everything improves as the years pass apparently.