Goodbye to "My" Village
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Minishant is a bonnie wee place. Portrait of a Village by Henrietta and Hugh Douglas. Line drawings by Michael Ellis. Strathprint, 146 Broadway Peterborough. First Published 1982. Copyright Permission for display on this site granted by Hugh Douglas. You may view and download chapters of this book for personal research purposes only. No other distribution of this text is authorized. Click here for other books by Hugh Douglas. Cover: Mrs. Margaret Limond, was Minishant postmistress until she died aged 94.

Henrietta Douglas

One shouldn't complain about change since change is what life is all about, but it does seem that since 1945 there has been nothing but upheaval, both in the village and in the whole world. An inordinate amount of change, I'd say.

We celebrated the victories in Europe and the Far East with bonfires on the Whinney Knowe, dances and sports, but it took until 1949 for us to get round to commemorating the three boys from our community who hadn't returned. A small polished brass plaque was unveiled in the Church by Mrs. T.D. Gaibraith from Auchendrane, with their names - her son Brodie Gaibraith, Tommy Dixon and Tommy Halbert, whose bantam cock had once won a prize at Minishant show. Brodie Galbraith and Tommy Dixon served in the Royal Navy, but Tommy Halbert, a member of an R.A.F. air crew, died when his bomber was shot down on a raid on Schweinfurt in Germany. It is interesting that the unveiling of Minishant's War Memorial, which had merited three columns in the "Ayrshire Post" after the First World War, was given just 14 lines in 1949.

We tried to get back to normal as quickly as possible after the War. With the acute nationwide housing shortage the run-down cottages of the old village were renovated and now are lovely houses with plenty of life in them.

In 1947, when the then Labour government was trying to do away with tied cottages, a group of houses was built for agricultural and forestry workers, high on the hill between Minishant and Culroy, close to the school. This row of houses facing towards Brown Carrick Hill was named St. Helen's Crescent after the ancient St. Helen's Well, a spring on the High Road to Maybole, whose water was supposed to cure children who wouldn't thrive.

On the social side too, "normal" life was resumed. Early in 1946 it was reported that Summer Ice was starting up and a search was begun to locate the trophies which had been competed for before the War. One was said to be in the possession of a local farmer's son who had won it in a shooting competition among members of the Home Guard.

In Minishant we wasted nothing - even the Summer Ice Trophy did its War service!

The hall had suffered from lack of repairs during the War and one of the first tasks was to raise money to improve it. With a 200 donation by Colonel Galloway the fund finally totalled 660. But it wasn't simply a case of finding money now - in the tight post-War years the Hall Committee had to struggle to obtain building permits, to cope with entertainment tax and the demands of the Performing Right Society, with whom a five shilling fee was negotiated in 1950.

Mr. McEwan continued as secretary right through the War but he had to resign at last in October 1947, tired out by twenty-three years' service during which he had missed only a couple of meetings. Two years later Andrew Limond, Treasurer since the first meeting in 1924, resigned sadly following a dispute over a let of the hall.

In spite of all the problems the hall still served Minishant well, for Rural, Football Club, games and educational classes. A kindergarten was set up there in 1970. Bingo arrived in Minishant in October 1957, with equipment borrowed from the U.S. Air Force Base at Prestwick, and the Americans introduced us to the barbecue when one was held at Blackhill in aid of Hall funds in 1965. The various clubs - Whist, Rural, Football and so on always supported the hall financially and the hall in turn was good to them. In addition, the hall always managed to put its hand into its pocket to help deserving causes or those who were in need. Flood and pit disaster funds could rely on a donation from Minishant.

Raising funds to save the hall became our chief occupation, I sometimes thought when I attended Hall Committee meetings. It was an old building constantly in need of repair and we had to raise 130 to build a fire escape in 1955; then when the hallkeeper's house was condemned and the hall was threatened with closure two years later, Colonel Galloway again gave 200 towards the appeal and we raised about 1,000 to win the day in the biggest crisis the Hall Committee had faced.

The 1950s wrought havoc to old Minishant. Andrew Limond closed down his blanket mill in 1950 - "No longer a viable proposition" was its epitaph. Maybe not, but it was sad to see it go. Mrs. Robertson, the weaver at the mill for longer than any of us could remember, and Johnny Robertson (no relation) the spinner and always known in the village as "the Spinner" were both old and, like Andrew Limond, ready for a rest. The Spinner was a real character: he was the village "leerie" in the days of paraffin lamps, lighting these every night and putting them out and cleaning and filling them every morning. In between that and his work at the mill, he managed to serve Minishant as chimney sweep, gardener, water carrier and odd job man.

The mill still stands as John Grant's joiner's workshop and store, so at least there's some reminder of Minishant's industrial glory.

Closure of the railway station followed in 1956, just a century after the first trains had stopped at it. James Blackwood, the last stationmaster at Cassillis, bought the station house and still lives there in retirement.

The tradition of long-serving schoolmasters changed too. Minishant had two "Maisters" in the 82 years from 1857 to 1939, but then followed a quick succession of head teachers - Miss Annie Gallagher (1939-41), Alexander Adams (1941-51), Henry (Harry) McCulloch(1951-63) and Alfred Simpson (1963-67). Harry McCulloch saw the School into a new home in the actual village.

It was all part of the growing village. Mure Place was extended in 1957 and then extended again in 1959, with this new part named Merrick Crescent after the highest hill in South West Scotland.

As part of the 1957 building plan it was decided to replace the old school on the hill with a new wooden one at Merrick Crescent. This had three classrooms and a large recreation hall for use as a community centre. This community centre has wooed the Rural away from the hall and has made it harder for the Hall Committee to keep going. The hall still struggles on although the Rural has deserted it, and I sincerely hope it will continue to survive because, if the hall goes, our community will no longer have its own centre to use as it wishes. Instead it will be dependent on the notions or whims of local government, able to function only when the administrators in Ayr decide it may open, and at a price decreed by these people who are not part of our community. As Burns said:

"... forward tho' I canna see,
I guess an'fear"!

Since 1960 two further additions have been made to the village; another stride nearer to Kewnston in 1975 called Monkwood Crescent and a further extension in 1979.

Only two other changes have been made to the village since the War: Mrs. Hunter's former shop and Maggie Halbert's cottage next door were rebuilt as one house, called Islavale and James Marr of Blackbyres built a house to retire to, out of sight on the hill between the old and the new villages. He named it Cruachan.

On 27th December, 1970, the new school was burned down and the children had to be bussed to Alloway until it was rebuilt. There is some strange quality about Minishant that inspires loyalty, and Francis Walsh, who had come to Minishant in 1967, refused the offer of another headship in order to stay with his Minishant pupils during this upheaval. Mrs. Agnes Davies became Head of Minishant in 1972 and returned with the children to the rebuilt school in 1973. She was succeeded in 1975 by Mrs. Mary Macdonald who is still in charge. Mrs. Macdonald has taken a great interest in the history of the village and has supplied much useful detail for this book. She also enlisted the help of her children to compile statistics about Minishant today which forms an appendix.

There is no schoolhouse beside the new school and, with easy transport, there is no need for the teacher to live beside the school any more, yet that does seem a pity for it means that there is no "Maister" resident in the village to guide the affairs of local folk. But perhaps I'm just harking back to a past which no longer exists.

Change has continued on the land too, both estates and farms. On the High Road, Mr. T.C. Dunlop left Sauchrie for the family home at Doonside and his daughter, Ruby and her husband, Colonel William Smith, took Sauchrie over. The Smiths were succeeded in Sauchrie by Alastair Bulkeley - Gavin of Craigengillan at Dalmellington and the present owners Mr. and Mrs. James Wilson came to it in 1975. Miss Nora McMikin and her husband Mr. James Thomas lived in Grange during the inter-Wars period and, when they left, the house was bought by Mr. Hamish Maclehose of the Glasgow publishing firm. His son, Mr. Murray (now Lord) Maclehose lived in Grange from 1963 to 1966 when he built a house at Beoch where he now lives. Since then Grange has had several owners - Mr. and Mrs. Peter Fletcher (1966-72). Mr. and Mrs. Neil McAslen (1972-80), Mr. and Mrs. Patrick Donaldson who bought Grange but never moved into it, and its present owners, Mr. and Mrs. William Morrison.

On the Low Road Auchendrane remained the home of Colonel Galloway until his death in 1969. His nephew, the Hon. Thomas Galbraith, M.P., succeeded to the estate and was its owner until his death in January 1982. Auchendrane at present is empty. Monkwood was bought by the Earl of Eglinton and then by its present owner, Commander John Hamilton, formerly of Rozelle.

With so many new faces at the "big hooses" it is to be expected that farming has changed also. When I travel around the district now I find reminders of its farming glory few and far between. When I began work on this book in 1969 I wrote, "Since 1963 five dairy farms have been sold in the district. This is rather sad. Rising costs and scarcity of labour have to a great extent caused this change. Science has had a little to do with it too".

Little did I realise then, but that was only the beginning. A generation ago there were 22 farms with herds of milch cows grazing rich green pasture: now it is easier to reel off the names of those which still do have dairies - Low and High Pinmore, Low Milton, Laigh and High Grange and Glenalmond. That's all! Several farms have been bought by farmers who own land in other districts - Blairston Mains (owned by the Stevensons of Changue at Cumnock), Grange Mains (the Kerrs of Bourtree-bush) and High Midton (the Kennedys of Doonhoim), and in the case of Kewnston and Burnmouth the land is mostly let or sold off, while the family retain the farmhouse and steading. Kewnston is an excellent and much-needed tearoom for tourists. Blackhill was sold by Robert Young last Spring and the new owner Loudon Maxwell, an Ayr coalmer-chant, who has sold off some of the land. Monkwood Mains and Midton, still part of Auchendrane estate, are grazed and the farmhouses are let separately.

With so much alteration in the way of farming it, the face of the country could hardly fail to look different. Few herds of Ayrshire are seen cropping the dazzling green fields; many of the fields themselves have changed with their beech and thorn hedges pulled out to make larger, more easily workable land units; corn, potatoes, kail and turnips are rarely cultivated. The farming folk whose fathers and grandfathers lovingly looked after the land, are mostly away too. To me it's a sad, sad scene.

Around Minishant itself there isn't a single dairy left. Grazing cattle is all the rage and that may be more profitable, I don't know. But I am sure of one thing, we may have been poor in the old days, but we could live off our land. Heaven help everybody today if the Mother's Pride van fails to get through or the milkman - from a town dairy! - doesn't deliver the "pintas".

The hall is used less now that the community centre is available beside the School at the other end of the village. In 1975 we celebrated the half century of the old mill's lease of life. To mark the occasion a dinner was given for all the senior citizens of the district and all who had served on the Hall Committee. Those of us who had been "in" on the hall project since that first meeting in the Church reading room remembered the usefulness of the hall in holding the community together and we hope it will continue to do so for a long time yet.

The Church, too, passes through difficult times with fewer than a dozen folk worshipping in it each Sunday. One wonders how long it can continue at that rate - one wonders and hopes for some unexpected turn of events to give it a new lease of life.

But that's the depressing side of life in Minishant today and it would be wrong to end with an old woman's girns. I drove over Brown Carrick hill last week and looked across the lovely green valley that is Minishant. It was a brilliant early spring day with snowdrops carpeting the woods at Sauchrie. and Knockdon fields as neat as lawns, just like they were in my childhood memories of them. Culroy was still the most peaceful village in Ayrshire, and Minishant itself was bustling and busy. Of course one or two of the faces I saw were strange, but the majority were the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of folk who have passed through the earlier pages of this book. Minishant of tomorrow is theirs, and it is quite clear that they care about it as much as we did. The village will change, but it will remain the same warmhearted place as it has always been. And that's what matters.