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Kilbirnie Ayrshire Scotland

Updated on June 6, 2010

Kilbirnie Cross

From an old postcard. This building used to be the Library with the sweet shop on the corner.
From an old postcard. This building used to be the Library with the sweet shop on the corner.

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.


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      ex kilbirnie guy 2 years ago

      I think the teacher the lady from. St Brennans crescent was taught by is Mrs cadell she had a daughter called ailsa she was my teacher at one time and a very nice person


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      Laura Hindmarch nee Crawford 2 years ago

      Don't know if you are still reading comments from this post but I am pretty sure Margaret Crawford is my aunt. She was born in 55 in kilbirnie and lived in Borestone Ave for a time. She is still alive and well in Spain. My dad, Hamish, loved your article, he was born in 1950 and remembers it well. He also says they were related to the Salvation Army Brennan's - his gran's cousin I think. As they say - it's a small world!

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      agnes burling 2 years ago

      to the first letter was almost to tee my grand mother lived in prefab and we used to nock the peas out of the garden my mother was always on me not to touch them. my grand mother would tell us about the rats used to walk over them when they where asleep and if you moved they would bite they where as big as a small dog . We only visited her i lived in stevenston now living in coffs harbour australia moved in 68.

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      andreaa muir 3 years ago

      I lived in the prefabs until I was six or so then moved to the new housing s theme which they built there called Sunderland court does anyone have any old photos of the prefabs hanging around if so you can email on

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      margo brennan 3 years ago

      I remember glengarnock primary school in 1978 I was in primary six we would get triangle milk with clear straw every morning.the janitor let us ring the bell and we went into our clock room to hang our jackets up,then into class miss McCulloch we were no long in till she flung the duster at Brian Whiteside fur talking to his pal ian shaw whit a memory.even going into the wee shop at glengarnock it wiz called the smith shop I used to buy a whopper memories will never leave u xxx

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      john allan 5 years ago

      i know most of you people and it was great to hear from you. the sweetie shop under the library which is the knox institute was run by the muir sisters. i am one of the twin allans and still keep in touch with the lawsons from the pre fabs.

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      john.allan 5 years ago

      great to see all your comments, i am one of the twin allans and i can relate to most of you people on the site. i remember john brandon i worked with john in millers bakery. stuart irvine get in touch, all you kilbirnie folk should get onto kilbirnie folk history. i have just completed the poem co-op knock and a cd is available if you type in on google sae dear tae me john.allan.

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      Ajay 5 years ago

      I remember John had a bad time of it their it's true what they say about outsiders he never had a chance

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      Denise 6 years ago

      Can anyone tell me if today Jan 2012, the ruins of the Kilbirnie Castle still stand. Our family Crawford descends from the early Crawfurds and my son is visiting Glasgow in March this year. He has been led to believe the ruins are now gone and it's housing??? Denise

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      Carroll orr 6 years ago

      My family left kilbirnie about 1749. So it was fun to read about the town .

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      Diane Jeffrey 6 years ago

      I am researching for a quiz on Kilbirnie for a Ladeside (Junior Football) day. I loved reading the memories. I have lived in Kilbirnie since the early 70s with my mum being a local girl. I remember the exictment of moving from the old Ladyland school to the brand new Moorpark Primary. My best memory is of changing into plymmies because of the carpets!

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      stewart angus 6 years ago

      gday from australia lived in kilbirnie until 1967 before moving down under . i will be back for my first visit in early july.i will spend a couple of days in and around kilbirnie and try and rekindle some old memories, i was only 7 when i left.we did live in the prefabs before moving to stockbridge crescent.cant realy remember too many old friends as i was quite young and a lot of years have past since.if any body can remember the angus,s of kilbirnie can u please let me know and help me remember .

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      Lorraine Dolan 6 years ago

      I from Kilbirnie, left for Perth Australia 1965, My mum is Christobel Hunter and my Dad William Dolan. I remember vaguely the lady ( above comments) Connie Wilson, I think you babysat sat my brother and I a couple of times? I remember my mum use to mention your name. We use to live in HIgh Street. I last visited Kilbirnie 1985, I'm sure its changed alot again since then.

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      Ian Biggar 6 years ago

      My Grandparents, George & Anne Biggar lived in the prefabs, in fact the first one on the right as you came down Central Avenue. I spent some happy childhood days there between 1964-67. They had to move as the prefabs were being demolished and they moved to Baroney Terrace. It was never quite the same.

      Central Avenue was quiet and you could play on te road on your bike without causing too much worry. The garden was big, as described above and full of colourful flowers.

      My mate was Brian Tipping, with whom I had some great times. 45 plus years ago, surely not!

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      stewart angus 6 years ago

      lived at 33 stockbridge crescent until 1967 then moved to australia coming back in jully for the first time since. i was only 7 when i left so dont remember too much the river across from our house and the adjoining farm land was my playground cant wait

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      Frances Gorman 7 years ago

      I have been to Kilbirnie foir times over the past 22 years, my last trip being two years ago in 2009 with my father.

      My father, Michael Gornan, was born in Kilbirnie in 1934 and grew up there. Dad was very sad to see the High Street as there were lots of empty shops all boarded up. It was always good to go and see the places I had heard about as a child. Myh father was always fond of telling us about his hometown.

      His favourite story was that he "walked 5 miles to school in the snow with no shoes and old socks for gloves". We did eventually learn that he actually lived across the road from the school he went to.

      Sadly my father passed away last Monday but the memories and stories of Kilbirnie of Kilbirnie will ive on in his children.

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      Heather Graham (now Dickie) 7 years ago

      I think I might be just a little older than most of your contributors as I lived in Kilbirnie from 1945-1968 before moving to southern England and since 2004 have been semi-retired in Cyprus.

      What a great laugh I had reading all those very familiar stories - I recognised all those places and still in my dreams everything is as already remembered by others ...Grey!!! Everything, except of course the weather in summer then all I can remember is endless sun (and that can't be right! I lived in a prefab - so modern - my poor mother dragged us all down to explore as soon as she got word of this brand new detached abode allocated to us in about 1947. We had been sharing with Granny in Dennyholme Road when the war finished & dad came back from the Middle East. My brother was due to be born that year & so we were well overcrowded in Granny's little mill house. A proper electric cooker (not an old temperamental range) and best of all ... a fridge - almost unheard of except by the toffs on the Largs Road perhaps! A few years later one of these prefabs burned down, totally flattened in less than a half hour - that shook us all up a bit, but I think my dad thought it was divine retribution as he had rightly or wrongly heard that this belonged to the family who had pinched his dung heap from the garden - various members of the family taking turns at the wheelbarrow one Saturday when we had all gone to Largs for a paddle at the Pencil & an ice cream from Nardinis!

      Didn't everybody have jammy pieces & a bottle of Struthers or Iron-Bru on an awayday then? There was 2 picture houses - one was the George just across from the main gate of the public park with a newsagent called Golders next door - bit of a flea-pit in comparison with the Radio, both however did have something in common, the overpowering smell of disinfectant - it was a waste of time using perfume for after some 3 hours inside we all came out smelling of disinfectant & smoke!

      The Planton (I think it started off as "the planting") was the jungle area leading to the public park & was opposite the garden city on the Dalry Road held half the kids from the prefabs & the garden city. Great tall sloped trees with extensive branches providing Tarzan like knotted swings, lovely nettles and thorny bushes underneath everywhere ... no mention of elf & safety then as we scuttled up some 20 feet & fell off the end of the rope on a regular basis! Place Castle I think it was called, near the golf course, I think was home to the Crawford family many years ago and that may well be the special burial memorial in the old cemetery which spooked many of us. There's him & her bodies outlined in stone inside what looks like a cavern. If I'm wrong,blame my old Granny. Anyway, we used it for our old sweetie wrappers so that they didn't litter the grounds.

      The public park came into it's own in the winter - there was more fun to be had with a gigantic icy slide on the tarmaced path on the hill leading to St Brigets school.

      Most of the boys wore tackety boots in winter & flew down the whole length of it trying to impress the girls by staying on their feet... it didn't always work (no E&S yet again!).

      There was terrific scope for entertainment in the area, including swimming in the Garnock at the outlet of the cooling pipe for the Steelworks ... reasonably warmish water which was a real novelty. In the same area,alongside the rail line at the steelworks was mountains of spent ammunition, guns, bayonets, parts of tanks - everything left over from the war had been sent to Kilbirnie for smelting in the steelworks .. what a playground.. it was a mountain of possibilities with bayonet fights & everything else the imagination could cope with!

      Alas, it seems strange that these memories always prevail more fondly when you have actually left the area behind. I have returned to Kilbirnie on many occasions over the years as my husband's brother still lives there (on the same site as the old prefabs occupied!). It changed so much in many ways since we left of course, but then so did we. We knew most people who lived in the area then & most families worked very hard in the mills, the networks, the steelworks, the mines, etc. Factory horns blared over the whole town telling the workers that they should be on the road to work or should stop for mid-day meals. No need for watches. Very friendly, very hard-working folk who all enjoyed the Gala in the public park held annually with families enjoying egg & spoon races, sack races, mums & dads racing, highland dancing & local pipe bands. A real community at that time.

      I know the names of most of my classmates (The school panto mugshots help) as I went to St. Bridgets in 1949 & left in 1959 for the big city - Glasgow, to continue my education. It would be nice to hear from any of them ... they know who they are!

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      Sam Spencer 7 years ago

      Hey Thank you for the memories i wont have bee around your era as i am only 17 at the moment but i was born in Paisley But brought up for the first 3-4 years of my life my dad still lives in the house on Milton Road number 55 it is a seriously Beautiful place and really want to get back up there to live. I am now in thirsk in North Yorkshire but even though none ofmy family are from kilburnie or even scotland for that matter wemoved up there as my dad was stationed close to there in the army and then got a job at loganair and has now set his own business there. Kilbirnie has always been so kind and like i said even though we weren't from around there with the exception of me we where welcomed by most people there and still have very fond memories. As our house was right in front of the burn that travels through kilbirnie we used to go down to that in the summer and try and catch the minnows and play garden bowls with our next door neighbours even though they where about 35 -40 then when i was only a wee-one. I still think of kilbirnie because forme it'shome and will always be that and i have to say what a beautiful home it is too return to!!

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      Ann 7 years ago

      Thanks for a most enjoyable trip down memory lane. We left Kibirnie in 1980 but it will always be with me. I grew up in the fifties, spent the first two years of my life in the prefabs..I know my mum loved it.I remember her telling me that she and my dad spent the whole day putting up wallpaper only to find it all lying on the floor the next morning....condensation!

      Spending the whole summer down the burn playing Robin Hood, picnics to the castle,midge bites and stinging nettles.......a wonderful childhood!!!

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      stephanie 7 years ago

      does any1 remember john aitken?

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      Maggyann 7 years ago

      Hi people.

      Thank you for commenting on my memories of Kilbirnie.

      To John Brennan

      I think we may be sort of related in a round about way then. Did your family move up into I think Borestone Avenue? I think that was where my 'boxing grandpa' lived with some of the Brennans. I remember the name Hugh Brennan, Agnes...

      Salvation Army etc.

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      John Brennan 7 years ago

      My Granny Brennan (nee Milliken) lived in the Prefabs (St Brennan's Crescent) with my Uncle William and Uncle Hugh. All passed on I have a picture of them at their front door.

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      Carol Huizenga 7 years ago

      My twin brother and I visited Kilbirnie in 1963 with our Godfather who was from Scotland. His sister's name was Maggie and I was penpals with her daughter Bettie. Does anyone know where Bettie is living now?

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      margaret simpson(hodgart) 7 years ago

      kilbirnie will always be in my thoughts as I have so many good memories of when I was young.I left kilbirnie in 1971 to come to New-Zealand.I used to sneak up to the garnock river for a swim and get a hiding when I got back from mum as I was not allowed to go there.Used to walk to Kilbirnie Castle with friends and take a picnic which was piece of bread and jam,bottle of lemonade and pinch a couple of spuds from the pantry,we would build a fire and throw the spuds in to cook,best spuds I have ever tasted covered in black soot and ash.I think I was with connie and avril the day MR Brennan took the science class up the Largs road by the golf coarse.I was home in kilbirnie last year but sadly not long enough to catch up with all the changes but hopefuly I will catch up and have a good look around when I go back next year 2011.Only my brother and his wife living there now.I could go on and on as have so many memories.Best Wishes to anyone who remembers me and my family.

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      connie montgomery [wilson] 7 years ago

      kilbirnie is always in my thoughts left 45 years ago for melbourne australia. milton was whare i lived before preefab glengarnock. going up to kilbirnie castle picknick garnock river i learned to swim. blue bell glen near glengarnock castle also up the larges road near jocks burn. getting caught by mr brennan science teacher avril and i had skip his class only to see him come with the class up to glengarnock castle. could go on so much memories regards to anyone who remembers me connie 2010

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      Maggyann 7 years ago

      Hi thanks for the comments.

      I am not going to swear on the bible but I think we lived at number 16 Coldgreen. I do know we were at 55 St Brennans Cres before that.

      LZ we may have been in the same class then though I don't remember if I was actually in class with Ann and/or Margaret but the names have certainly stuck with me.

      I have been thinking I should maybe do another bit about some memories of Kilbirnie but finding time is like looking for hen's teeth at the moment.

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      LZ 7 years ago

      Also lived in prefabs and moved to Coldgreen Ave and the names you mentioned were also girls in my class lived in #19 not the noisy neighbours I hope haha now living in Boston MA visit Kilbirnie every year very built up now lot of new houses

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      Iain 8 years ago

      Just been reading your memories of Kilbirnie. I went to Glengarnock School '62 - '69 and lived in the Fudstone Scheme. Nice to hear your thoughts but it might be worthwhile coming back for a visit.

      Jessie Richmond's sweetie shop wasn't directly under the library, but round the corner in main street, it's a florist's now. The paper shop at holmhead is still there and you are correct abot the road to Beith.

      Happy days, eh?

      All the best.