Jun 5 2009 by Eric McGowan, Irvine Herald
I’M always pleased to meet folk in the street who are kind enough to give me comments on my column when I wander away with my pen to other times and centuries.
They tell me they find it interesting – but they like reading it even when my topic is Auld Irvine. I can only reply ‘so do I’.
But with all the Memory Lanes over the years I keep running out of topics, so I’ll start this week telling you about a telephone call I received last night from a Mrs Hazel McDonald, of Troon.
I have to say she is not a Herald reader, she told me, but she was across at Irvine recently to shop at Asda and noticed the headlines about the tragic young couple who were drowned in the River Garnock. She said how sad she felt and was so upset about how the baby was left on the river bank, she bought a copy of the paper to read about this more fully.
Behold and Lo and all that, she discovered Memory Lane for the first time and read the second part of the tribute to Fergushill Church. Amazed wasn’t the word for it, she told me, I think it was seniority, that apparently she is a great-great-granddaughter of Reverend William McAlpine who, as I told you, was ordained as the first minister of Fergushill Church in December 1880.
If I share her story correctly, she spoke quickly as she went through her family history and to be honest, I had just put potatoes on and the oven was ready to put some quiche in etc, etc, so here’s what I gathered.
Hazel’s mother is still alive, aged 88, and lives, I think, in the Isle of Wight and her memory is great as she speaks about her great-grandmother. I hope I have the ‘greats’ right for both Hazel and her mother. She told Hazel that the Rev William had married quite late in life and he was reported to have said: “I won’t marry at all unless I can marry the wee English governess from Girgenti.”
Said I, once I had established it was indeed Girgenti she meant because she staggered the name a bit before I cottoned on what she meant: “My Grandfather Duncan was born there”.
This excited Hazel who straight away wanted to know what all I know about Girgenti. I’m afraid I knew nothing at all, so, of course I asked Hugh what he knew but unfortunately, other than knowing where it was and saying about the farm there, that was all he knew.
I then asked him if he had ever known about a big house there that may, or not, been a house.
Of course I was the sorry I had not asked my grandfather about his early days but who does go into a family history when you are young. I didn’t with my mother’s parents because they were, perhaps stricter than my father’s parents.
I have related often and often here in Memory lane about my Granny Blackley. She was the kind of granny who sat down with you and told you stories about her early days and I always loved hearing them. Granny Devon was more a “Children should be seen and not heard” kind of granny.
So, I’m now on the trail about Girgenti, so if any of you folks can tell me anything at all about the place, I’ll be more than delighted to hear from you and I haven’t discounted the fact that there may not be a big house there, a farm could easily enough be prosperous enough to employ a governess.
But, I have to admit the fact she was English did intrigue me.
Again, I have written in the past about wondering how people at one end of the country got employment at the other end of it, haven’t I?
Back to Hazel for a minute and again I hope I have this right. She told me that the art teacher who used to be at Irvine Royal Academy was her grandfather. “Daddy Ayles!”, I said before thinking and she agreed that she knew that was what the pupils had called him.
Hazel had gone over to Irvine yesterday to buy another Irvine Herald and to call at the office to try and produce the previous week’s copy so she could read my part about Fergushill Church.
So, to her great delight, nice hen at reception had one and gave her my phone number.
Thanks, hen, it was nice to have this conversation and my Memory Lanes about Fergushill will now be kept, she told me, for all the members of the family. And my dinner was fine, Hugh saw to it!
So to continue on this week about auld Irvine because, as I said, it’s about my favourite topic.
I was pleased to have a visit from David Bairns recently. We don’t see too much of him now since he lost his mother but he still pops in when he is visiting his sister and family, I’m delighted to say. So, thanks to David, I’m going to tell you about Church Bells, the me in the Old Parish Church and roundabout.
Irvine Old Church: A tower with spire containing one bell, 42 inches in diameter, inscribed, “John Warner and Son Founders London 1797.” This bell was cast at the old Cripplegate Foundry, London, and is hung from a very large wooden headstock which is turned by fabricated metal wheels.
The tower of the old church was declared unsafe and was taken down in 1721; the bell there in, seems to have been taken down earlier and was hung for a time from one of the old boughs of an ash tree in the churchyard.
However, in 1711, the bell was removed to the Tolbooth Steeple, still being rung for church services.
The inscription read: “Blessed are they who hear the joyful sounds.” But there was neither date nor maker’s name.
From the peculiar grammar used it would seem probable that the founder was not fully acquainted with English and it has been noted that a bell bearing a similar inscription was cast in Irvine for the Laigh Kirk in Kilmarnock by Albert Danel Geli in 1697, it is likely that this bell was also cast by him.
On his bell at Maybole he is represented as a Frenchman; this might account for his spelling and gives colour to the theory that the old Irvine bell was his.
This latter bell was cracked during the rejoicing following the passing of the Reform Bill and having been re-cast, was used for secular purposes till it was again cracked on the occasion of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria before being sold for metal.
The present steeple was built in 1778 and the bell was supplied in 1797 through the generosity of the provost, the 12th Earl of Eglinton, and hung at his expense.
A brass plate giving the names of the donor, his fellow magistrates, the dean of guild and the minister is supposed to have been fixed to the bell but no trace of it exists.
However, as the clock was given at the same time, the plate may be fixed to the latter.
I have taken the above from the photocopies David gave me so I cannot say where the information came from and who wrote it but some credit is actually given to Arnold McJannet.
I was disappointed that the Parish Church is the only church mentioned until it dawned on me that would be the only church in town in those early days.
However, Irvine Town Hall comes next so here’s what it says:
“Below the clock in the town steeple hangs a bell, 41 inches in diameter, inscribed@ ‘Erected AD 1888/John C Wilson and Co Founders Glasgow.’ This bell was cast in the Gorbals Factory and is hung in all-metal fittings. Above the clock and in the base of the spire hangs a smaller bell, 22 1/8 inches in diameter, inscribed: ‘The Tolbuth Bell Of The Burghe Of Irvine. 1637 O.’ The last two letters of The and Burghe are run together and the lettering is in rough Roman type and at the end of the inscription is a circle which might be the impression of a coin but the corrosion has destroyed any identification marks. The bell is hung for ringing in a wooden frame but as the clapper is gone, the bell is not used.
The crown staple is original and as the marks of indentation of the clapper are hardly noticeable. the bell cannot have been swung very much in the past. It was doubtless primarily intended as a clock bell.
“The tone is poor and it is likely that it is a local product, perhaps cast by the same founder who cast a bell in Irvine for the Over Tolbooth in Ayr in 1615-16.
“The present spire was built in 1818 and is not unlike its predecessor.”
The inscription in the bell which I never heard ring (wonder how long it rung) wasn’t news to me because I vividly remember back to the mid 1980s when I was in Glasgow Vennel a man coming in to show me this inscription.
He was working in the bell tower and copied out this for me, exactly as it was written. I was so pleased that he did this and somewhere in my house among all my other thousands of such like items, I still have it.
As I said, I’m sorry there was only one Irvine church mentioned so I’ll end this week by telling you about Dreghorn and Pierceton Church bell, seeing we started our married life a few yards from it and incidentally, I wonder if ‘Pierceton’ is still spelt like that in the church. I know there are one or two variations of the name.
In a small spire hangs one bell, 23½ inches in diameter, which is devoid of inscription.
The crown terminated in a hand bell type argent and fittings are all of cast iron.
The bell is similar to that in Saltcoats Town House and was probably cast in a local brass foundry in the first half of the 19th century.
The parishes of Dreghorn and Pierceton were united in 1668 and the parish church was re-built in 1780.
And so the bells toll, many thanks to David.