Fairlie in the 1960s

John Cunningham writes:

This is an extract from my story on my web site. I came to Fairlie in 1960, from St Monans in Fife, to be station master.

There were times when I wondered if I had done the right thing in moving to Fairlie, we were strangers in a strange, for us, place. The village was even smaller than St Monans, we knew nobody, but things gradually improved. Our nearest neighbour, Winnie Hogarth, a war widow, ages with ourselves lived in the end house of a terraced row, just across the street, or rather lane as it was, from us, who became a good friend. We then made very good friends with a couple (Aileen and Bill Miller) whose children were ages with our two. Not only that, I found that I was a lot busier at work than I ever had been at previous stations, having two places to supervise. Fairlie High station which served the village had a frequent train service on the line between Largs and Glasgow St Enoch station and the station was well used both by commuters to Glasgow and day trippers from the city. There was also a small goods yard, where the local coal merchant, Willie Allan, ran his business.

The pier station, of course was only busy on the arrival and departure of the steamers. Just before I took over at Fairlie, the Caledonian Steam Packet Company had put their first 'roll on, roll off' ferry, the Glen Sannox, on the Fairlie/Arran run, in 1957. Before that cars were run on to the ferry over two planks of wood - a precarious business! The passenger train service consisted of two trains in each direction for every Arran ferry, Fairlie Pier from and to Glasgow and Kilmarnock. Many of the trains from Glasgow consisted of two portions, one part for the Pier and one for Largs. Of course at that time the steam trains were still running and an engine would arrive at Fairlie High to await the arrival of the boat train where it was split in two, the front portion going on to Largs, then the other engine was attached to convey the other half to the Pier. It was all quite complicated and a bit laborious. The biggest problem was ensuring that all the passengers were in the correct part of the train; and, on occasions someone, despite our efforts landed up at the wrong destination.

The advent of diesel and later electric trains, cut down on a lot of this work. The Arran ferry wasn't the only steamer service at Fairlie. There was a regular parcels and freight service to Millport, on the Isle of Cumbrae, and, during the summer months there was a Campbeltown service on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays as well as various excursion sailings.

In addition to the parcels traffic by passenger train, Fairlie Pier was the tranship point for freight. Every morning, at 5 am, the freight train arrived, mostly with traffic in containers (which had been specially designed for this job) containing 'sundries' traffic. These containers were off-loaded from the wagons by means of a mobile crane and placed on to trolleys, which were hooked together and towed down the pier on to the steamer, by means of a small Lansing Bagnall tractor. These trolleys, cars, etc. were driven up a ramp, which was dropped down from the side of the vessel, on to a turntable, which allowed the vehicles to be parked in its bowels. The Glen Sannox also had its own wee tractor for towing the trolleys on to the pier. As well as the 'sundries' traffic, there were some peculiar and sometimes awkward loads to be handled plus lots of fertilisers in wagonloads for the farms on Arran. There was also a considerable amount of livestock movement (mainly sheep). As you can imagine, that had problems of its own.

The goods staff consisted of a foreman, a crane driver, a tractor driver and a porter, while on the passenger side there were two shifts of a station foreman and two porters. In the booking office were Jimmy Jones, the senior clerk and Willie Kindness the junior. Jimmy appeared to have very little ambition as he stayed at the pier until he retired, never seeking promotion. Willie, on the other hand was keen to get on. He was interested in the shipping side of things and soon we began to lose him during the summer months while he went and 'did his stint' as Purser on the Maid of the Loch on Loch Lomond. Eventually he got a permanent job with Caledonian McBrayne at Gourock and did quite well for himself in that establishment. The Pier Junction Signal box was manned by two real characters, both first class signalmen, Willie White and 'Sanny' Lewis, completely different in their ways but united in always trying to catch me out on my knowledge of the Rule Book and train signalling regulations.

The staff at Fairlie High station (as it was called then, now, just Fairlie) consisted of the Clerkess, Isa Mackie, junior clerk Dave MacFarlane, two porters, Willie Reid and John (Bobby) Howes and one signalman, John Boyd. The station offices, waiting rooms, etc., on the 'down' platform were lit by electricity, but the station platforms still used paraffin lamps. They were large Tilley type lamps, which were hoisted up the lampposts. It was quite a large part of the porter's duties looking after these lamps, as well as all the signal lamps. On the 'up' platform was a small brick built waiting room, with a small coal burning stove for heating purposes, and woe betide us if there was not a good going fire there on the cold winter mornings. My time was spent between the High station and the pier and as it was at bit over a mile between the two points, I was supplied with a bicycle as a means of transportation. In 1960, when I arrived at Fairlie two large projects were under way. The nuclear power station at Hunterston was being built and most of the traffic originally came via West Kilbride station but the steelwork was delivered from the Pier station, making use of the mobile crane, as did tons and tons of Georgian wired glass, which was used in the construction. I got quite friendly with the foreman of the company doing the glasswork and he gave us glass, cut to size, from his offcuts and breakages to build a greenhouse for the station. We, my porter Stan Gardner and I, grew our own bedding plants developed plots on the embankment on the up platform, and, I am pleased to say that we won prizes for the Best Kept Station Garden competition.

After the power station had been in commission for a time, the radioactive waste was required to be disposed of. It had been kept under water on site, but, eventually, it was required to be sent to Sellafield for processing. A 50-ton overhead gantry crane was erected at Fairlie High station to handle the huge lead lined steel 'flasks' containing the radioactive material. These were loaded, at regular intervals, on to special low bogie wagons and conveyed by freight train under intensive safety conditions. This original nuclear power station is now (1987) time expired and has been decommissioned. Another (Hunterston B) had been built and has still quite a few years to run.

The other project was the construction of a NATO Boom Defence base, right next to Fairlie Pier. This, I think, was to be a base to provide a defence against any future enemy underwater boats from gaining access up the Firth of Clyde. The place was fully equipped to cope with an emergency, living quarters for permanent staff was provided for such an occasion. All the Boom Defence equipment was stored and maintained there, huge chain-link nets, outsize anchors, mooring buoys etc. and had new pier built to accommodate the Boom Defence vessels. The depot was built on land on which at one time were the engine sheds and sidings, as the Pier station had been the terminus for several years before the line was extended to Largs. The people of Largs were not at all pleased not to get the railway to their town, but the Earl of Glasgow at that time owned most of the land between Fairlie and Largs and would not allow the Railway Company to build a line on his land, Eventually the Railway people had to reclaim land from the sea and as a result a large part of that line runs right next to the sea, or perhaps to be more accurate, the Firth of Clyde.

Before, during and immediately after World War II, the old engine sheds were used as a storage place for various small craft during the winter months, there had also been a kippering kiln, used at the height of the herring-fishing season in days gone by.

Gradually we settled down in Fairlie and began to make a few friends, mainly, as I have mentioned, through the boys' school friends and our Church connections. It was a completely different life style from that at St Monans. I was kept busy at my work at the station and the pier and eventually Elspeth got a part time job in the Post Office. I, as usual, got involved in Church work, became Sunday School Superintendent and later Covenant Convenor and then Treasurer.

All this was very rewarding and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I also became a member of the Conservative & Unionist Committee and had some very happy times in that service. The Conservative Christmas Ball was the social event of the year. There was always a waiting list for tickets as the accommodation was limited in the Fairlieburne Hotel, until a year or two later, when an extension was built, with a lovely dance floor. During the winter there was a dance there just about every month, the Bankers, the Young Farmers, the Police to name but a few. We went to them all with our friends, John and Ann Downie, Bob and Ann McMath, Norman and Ella Hooper, Monty and Elsie Muir. Apart from the dances, we used to visit each other in turn for, perhaps a musical evening, a games evening or just for a get together, as well as going out occasionally for a meal. Happy days indeed!!

Unfortunately the Fairlieburne Hotel no longer exists. A number of years ago it changed hands, and after a few more changes it was sold to a developer who demolished it and built flats. I now live in a flat, facing southwest, overlooking the site of the old Fairlieburne Hotel and have a magnificent view across the water to Arran and the Cumbraes, and we also have some of the most beautiful sunsets, which are quite out of this world.


Add a comment

Jean Doull says

I have printed this, it was lovely to read. I was in Fairlie July 2007 and will be there again June/July 2009. My mother was born and brought up in Kelburn Place: Jane Doull, her father was William Campbell Doull, a market gardener, worked at Skelmorlie Castle. She had a sister Daisy, there were others.
She left Fairlie 1944. Her school friend still lives in the same house in Kelburn Place, amazing, there is also Doulls Largs/Skelmorlie/Irvine.
My mum lived in Australia for 23 years but retured to England, yes can you believe it! And has been back 3 years now, she is 83, she has very vidid/fresh memories of Fairlie.
Loved your story, Jean Doull, Brisbane Australia.

Gary Ablett says

I have been told that my mother was born there in 1918. My grandmother (with her 4 children) was sent there from London in her late pregnancy to be away from the bombings. My grandfather was a mechanic on the biplanes. Their name was Kellythorne.
Gary Ablett gablett@scu.edu.au

Dawn Martin says

My grandparents lived in Fairlie and so did I for a short while. Am looking to reconnect with childhood friends. My grandfather was Herbert Charles Andrews and I was Dawn Andrews, now Dawn Martin.

veronica Lewis says

I have just read the article from John Cunningham station master  my late father was Sanny Lewis my name is Veronica I had an older brother Eric and a younger sister Lorna

Sharon Ablett says

I can't believe I saw a comment from my brother on this site! Our mum (Betty Kellythorne) was born in Fairlie 8 August 1918 while my grandmother and four kids were living on Burnfoot road. My grandfather was stationed in Italy at the time and I have a copy of the telegram to say "daughter. both doing well." I visited Fairlie twice - in 1983 and again in 1999 and took photos of what I believe to be the house where she was born. All I know is that it was a cottage belonging to a well-off family who let the house out and it was beside a stream. My grandmother said that the "lady from the house" sent down a pram when she heard about my mother's birth. 

Robert Telford says

I am writing a history of my boat Idle Duck, which was built by James Miller in 1969-70, for Brian Kelly. I would like to contact John Cunningham as he has written a history of James W Miller & Sons at St Monance, and I can no longer find his website.

John's history of Miller was the basis for a Wikepedia entry that  has been shortened, and all the references retrieved. I was in the middle of an exercise completing the full list of yachts and other craft built at the yard based on research using LLoyds Register.

Can anyone help?

veronica Lewis says

The late Alex (Sanny) Lewis and May Lewis late of Fairlie eldest son Eric passed away suddenely but peacefully in Canada on the 30th Dec 2011 he was the big brother to Veronica Lewis

Sandy Cunningham says

Dad, John Cunningham,the author of this story,died in Feb 2010, aged 92. One of the orignal silver surfers.

Ashes interred in St Monans, Fife

As a boy I used to 'help' in the pier signal box.....I remember my namesake well!

Sandy Cunningham

Phil Ashcroft says

Enjoyed reading about Fairlie and its stations. I remember them well.They were lively centres of activity. I'm amazed at how many people were employed there.

Remember Mr Cunningham and you, Sandy. We were in the same class at Fairlie School. In my mind's eye I can see Mister Jack, the headmaster, teaching us, getting us ready for the 'Quali'. Fifty years ago now.

 

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