Social Activities
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Maybole, Carrick's Capital Facts, Fiction & Folks by James T. Gray, Alloway Publishing, Ayr. First published 1972. Copyright Permission for display on this site granted by David Gray. You may view and download chapters of this book for personal research purposes only. No other distribution of this text is authorized.

The story of this ancient Ayrshire town from its early beginnings in the 12th century through its growth and development until the nineteen sixties. A fascinating record of the history of a town including a wealth of factual information on its outstanding buildings  growth of industry etc., the book also gives an insight into the life of the community and townsfolk themselves.
Table of Contents


Chapter 16

SOCIAL ACTIVITIES

MANY city dwellers have a fixed belief that life in a small rural town must be dull and monotonous and its inhabitants inquisitive busybodies, but nothing could be further from the truth. In a small community everyone knows everyone else and what a stranger might think inquisitiveness is really just interest in each other. This may seem strange to anyone reared in a large city where neighbours can live next door to each other for years and never get beyond passing the time of day when they meet, but it is natural in a close knit small community where, if ancestry is traced back far enough, it is found most of the population are related to each other in some way.

Naturally people with the same interests gather together and societies or clubs are formed where they can meet and indulge in common activities. In a small town all amusements must be organised by the local people and folk will join together to start choirs, drama clubs, guilds and other activities to give them an interest and outlet for their energies. This was more true in days gone past, when small towns were more isolated and more dependent on their own people for entertainment and recreation, but even today it is surprising how small towns and villages still have thriving drama clubs or concert parties and the W.R.I. and church guilds have full memberships of ladies in all country districts.

Maybole has always had many local guilds and clubs where people could meet, especially in winter, to share common interests and while away the dark winter nights, before television became a must in every household, greatly to the detriment of the old social gatherings. Many Minniebolers have happy memories of winter evenings at the socials in the various church halls where happy hours were passed listening to Willie Miller singing "Ae fond Kiss" or Bob Strachan and Jeannie Manson rendering "The Crookit Bawbee". Happiness was a simple thing in those uncomplicated days before people were brain-washed and told what they had to accept as entertainment. The kitchen sink was left behind in its proper place and not brought on the stage and folks could dream away an hour or two listening to their ain folk singing the old nostalgic songs which they had known from childhood.

The first societies in Maybole were probably the Guilds of the Masons, the Wrights, the Weavers and the Shoemakers and while these were originally trade guilds they gradually became more social in character. The Shoemakers Guild held its meetings in a house in School Vennal and before it finally became defunct (about the end of last century) it was purely a social club where the soutars of Maybole could spend a few hours away from their wives and weans, much as the more sophisticated men's Clubs in larger cities give refuge to the busy executives today. The Wrights and Weavers Guilds in the town became obsolete much earlier than the Shoemakers but the Masons continued to exist by changing from an operative to a non-operative guild of "Freemasons" and two Lodges flourish exceedingly well in the town to this day.

In 1799 or 1800 (the exact date is not known) the first Orange Lodge in Scotland was founded in Maybole when the soldiers of an Ayrshire Militia Regiment returned from service at the Irish Rebellion of 1798. In 1929 the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland, in honour of Maybole being the birthplace of Orangism, created a new lodge in the town with the name Loyal Orange Lodge No. 0 and this lodge, as the oldest in Scotland, has the honour of carrying the Union Jack on their parades. Records show that nearly all organisations in the town up to the present century were all male in character but a change came after the first World War and the Maybole laides gradually took over and infiltrated into social life to such an extent that the main activities of the town are now to a great extent (if not wholly) petticoat ruled. Bailie Niven would have been horrified if it had been suggested a lady should sit in Council, far less become Provost of the Town, but times have changed and, it must be admitted, much for the better.

In 1922 in the Orange Hall in Dailly Road the first meeting of the L.L.O.L. No. 98 John Knox's Daughters of the Covenant was held and the local Orangemen are now partnered by their womenfolk on the 12th July, whilst the members of the Eastern Star now hold their own meetings as a female branch of the still zealously guarded all male Brotherhood of Freemasons. Ladies now sit in the Council Chamber, the Education Committee, the Juvenile and Magistrate Benches and the only stronghold not yet breached is Kirk eldership and it may not be long until some fine day the bread and wine will be offered by a strapping Hebe instead of a funeral like figure in white bow and black coat.

In 1883 the Boys Brigade movement was founded and it was not long until Maybole had its own company which was formed in 1898 by the Rev. Thomson, ably assisted by Sergeant Stewart, the first drill master. The local company was registered as the 16th Ayr (Maybole) Company and in 1948 was presented with Company Colours by the Women's Guilds of the West Church and Old Church to mark their Golden Jubilee. In 1929 the Junior branch of the Boys Brigade was founded and again Maybole was not long in forming its own company of Life Boys in 1936. A year after Baden Powell founded the Boy Scout movement in 1907 four Maybole youths under Patrol Leader John Muir formed the "Kangaroo" Patrol with its meeting place at "Auld Jean's" at the Greenhead. The Troop was registered as the 12th Scottish Troop but undoubtedly would have been given a lower number if there had not been difficulty in getting a Scout-master, which delayed application for registration in London, and Maybole can truthfully claim to have one of the oldest Scout Troops in Scotland. In the years before the first World War the Scout movement was very strong in the town and many of the older men can well remember Scoutmaster Simcox teaching them to form a "sheepshank" or how to "brew up" in a billycan over a camp fire with a piece of stick in the "billy" to keep the tea from being "smeeked". In 1922 two packs of Wolf Cubs (a junior branch of the Boy Scouts) were formed in the town and the Scout and Cub movement is still strong and well supported by the youths.

In 1911 Miss Strain, of Cassillis House, formed the first Girl Guide Company in the town and was Captain of the Company for many years. After the formation of the Boy Scouts in 1908 many of the girls wished to become "Girl Scouts" and it was to meet their demands that Miss Strain formed the 1st Company of Maybole Girl Guides which has flourished ever since its formation nearly sixty years ago. In 1926 the Brownies were recruited among the younger girls of 7 to 11 years, being named after the "wee folk" of Orkney with the motto "Lend a hand and play the game" and this junior company of girls proves a fertile source of recruits for the Girl Guides.

There has been for many years a strong Red Cross Detachment in the town and in 1943 a Junior Red Cross Detachment was formed to encourage young girls to train for the Nursing Services and to help the local Detachment in wartime. About the same period a Girls Training Corps, with a senior and junior section, was formed to train girls to share responsibilities in time of National Emergency and also an Air Training Corps to train boys for entry to the R.A.F. but these junior organizations, although well supported in wartime, naturally have not flourished in peacetime as have the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. In 1933 a Girls' Association was formed under the auspices of the Women's Guild of the Church of Scotland and altogether it can be said the youth of Maybole is well served with various social organizations.

Maybole people have always had an ear for music and enjoy it in all forms from brass bands to male voice choirs. In the latter part of the 19th century a "Christie Minstrel Society" flourished and gave many concerts in "Jack's Hall". It was composed wholly of local men who blackened their faces, wore oversize bow ties and straw hats and delighted their audiences with the "Campdown Races" and the quips of their "corner men". It was all the craze at that time to have "nigger minstrel" groups and Maybole was never behind the times. Nowadays such happy bands of minstrels would probably be charged with being anti-racial, would be ordered to wash the burnt cork from their faces and no doubt would be prohibited from singing "Scots Wha Hae" and damnation to the English.

At that period there was full employment in the town and  many concerts were held in "Jack's" Hall, "Wyllie's" Hall, "Turnbull's" Hall and the Town Hall, where Harry Lauder, J. M. Hamilton, Nellie McNab, W.O. Frame (The Man You Know) and many other famous Scottish artistes appeared and it is said Harry Lauder's fee for his first appearance in "Jack's" Hall was five shillings, from which he paid his own expenses. Many of the townspeople were excellent musicians and singers and got up concerts where local talent filled the bill and few of the older citizens will ever forget "Da" Livingstone bringing the house down with his renderings of "Brown was paralytic, so was I", or "The Brick came down, we had a half a day". 

During the first World War, Miss Mary Brannan, a local school-teacher, organized many concerts to raise money for the war effort, where she, like a local Florrie Ford, led the audiences in spirited choruses of old songs and invariably gave her own inimitable rendering of "The cows are in the clover, they've trampled there since morn, Go and call them Maggie to the old Red Barn".

For years there was an excellent Male Voice Choir in the town, which won many trophies in competitions throughout the west of Scotland, and it is said the bass section of the Maybole Choir was unequalled throughout the country. Many of its members were excellent soloists and although the choir no longer exists some of its members still entertain the guests at local Burns' Suppers, etc. Fortunately many of the younger people still show an interest in music and the School Choir at Carrick Academy often bring trophies back from competitions they enter. It may be that in the not too distant future Maybole may once again have choirs to boast about and to listen to with enjoyment in the Town Hall as no doubt people will tire of canned music from the radio and television and wish to hear their ain folk sing the old songs as they did in years gone by.

From the early part of the 19th century Maybole always had a silver or brass band to entertain the local people on a summer evening in the Town Green or on New Year's morning when the bandsmen paraded the streets to the sounds of "A guid New Year tae ane and a'." There was a brass band, known firstly as the Maybole Carrick Band, then the Carrick Instrumental Band and finally the Maybole Burgh Band and it was in existence, with short lapses through lack of bandsmen, for well over a hundred years. In 1867 the band instruments were taken from the local bandsmen, because they would not attend practices, and given to the Volunteers who formed a band among its members, and although for a time it was factually a military band it was always considered the Maybole band. 

About the turn of the century the instruments were returned to the Council and the Maybole Burgh Band came into existence before the first World War. It won many competitions under the leadership of Mr. Shaw, the Bandmaster, and played in the town and district for many years until, again through lack of young people attending practices, in the 1950s the Council took over the instruments and stored them away and the town was left without a band. It was hoped some townsmen interested in band music would come forward and another band be formed but this was not to be and, as the instruments were deteriorating in storage, the council sold them. By coincidence the council purchased scarlet and ermine robes for the Provost and Bailies about the time the instruments were sold and it was the ribald belief of many ratepayers that the council had robbed the band to robe their civic heads and that it was the sale price of the big drum which went to buy the Provost's cocked hat. Whatever be fact or fiction, the fact is Maybole has no band nowadays while it is no fiction that the Provost and Bailies have scarlet robes and cocked hats.

For many years the Orange Lodge had a flute band which delighted to plague the local Roman Catholics with "Boyne Water" every twelfth of July but it has also passed away and never again will the Minniebolers be treated to the unforgettable spectacle of "Dickie" in his orange jersey, limping along and banging the big cymbals with unholy delight and absolute disregard for the tune being played by the other members of the band. Once when reproached by the bandmaster, who pointed out the drum should give the beat for the music, he replied, "The drum! Man, it only gangs "Thump-Thump" while I go "Clang-Bang". Let them tak' their time frae me."

Although the brass and flute bands are gone, but not forgotten, the town is still fortunate to have an excellent Pipe Band and long may the hearts of the townspeople beat more quickly as its kilted members swing down the High Street in their bright tartan to the skirl of their pipes. Pipe Major Boyd was the main person responsible for keeping it going for many years and he was personal piper to President Eisenhower whenever he came to reside in his Scottish home at Culzean.

Dancing has always been a favourite activity of the townspeople and every opportunity is taken to indulge in it, especially in wintertime. In days gone past balls were held in the "Dancing Room" in the old Tolbooth above the town gaol and many happy nights must have been spent there with the dancers setting and linking to the lilt of the fiddles. When the Town Hall was built it provided a much larger hall for dancing and the nights of the great Balls of the Yeomanry, the Masons, the Bowlers and Quoiters became annual events. Invitations to these balls were eagerly sought after and the dancing classes of Mr. McQuiston, Mr. Galloway and Mr. McCulloch were always well attended by the youth of the town preparing themselves to take their place in the Grand March, which always opened a Ball in the old days before the first World War. It was necessary to learn the proper steps of the Lancers, the Petronella, the Waltz Cotillion and other favourite dances and most of the older generation have at some time or other attended "Galloway's Class" to be put through their paces and be rapped by his fiddle bow if they got out of step. Those were the days of dancing pumps and white gloves for the gentlemen and long graceful frocks for the ladies and, of course every man had to take a partner. Little dance cards (with pencils on a silk string) were provided and it was a point of honour that each lady's card be filled with the initials of her partners for the whole programme and there were few, if any, wallflowers, as the Master of Ceremonies made sure that the men did not hang around the hall door but did their duty nobly by dancing with the ladies. A gentleman would give his partner the first dance, the supper dance and the last dance and dance with other partners for the rest of the evening, as it was simply not the "done thing" to dance all night with one partner. The old Town Hall was a festive and happy place when the Yeomanry men led off the Grand March in their dress uniform with bumishers gleaming on their shoulders and everyone eager to be up for every dance until the last waltz at three o'clock in the morning when cups of soup would be served and the gallants would escort their ladies home. After the end of the First World War the returning soldiers held a Ball, which was one of the highlights in the town this century and is still remembered with nostalgia by all who attended it. The days, or rather nights, of the great "Balls" have gone, however, to be replaced with "Saturday Night Hops" where girls go by themselves in many cases, with the hope of finding partners or, if they are unlucky, spend the evening dancing with each other. The older generation may be "squares" in the eyes of youth but the young people of today miss much of the courtesy and pleasure their elders enjoyed.

Naturally with their love for dancing and their ear for music the townsfolk formed many band groups some of which were in great demand to play at dances all over Ayrshire and indeed in some of the Glasgow dance halls. In the days of the "Dancing Room" in the Tolbooth the music was provided by a lone fiddler although often different musicians would take it in turn throughout the night's revels as it was quite common to dance until around five o'clock in the morning, and a solitary "Music Makar" would find it hard to stand up to the strain. Sandy Tannock was the best known fiddler at such functions and it is recorded his fee for playing at a dance was one shilling, which was increased to eighteen pence if he played "till morning". By the end of last century, however, dance bands consisting of violin, flute, cornet and piano had been formed and "Tot" Watson and his partners were in constant demand at dances' all over the district. "Kirns", or dances held in farm barns at the end of the harvest time, were common, and lone fiddlers in the town were kept busy in September and October supplying music for the hardy country folks who started with "Strip the Willow" about 8 p.m. and would finish with a reel about milking time the following morning. The older folks who have sedately waltzed at a Yeomanry Ball or "hooched" the night away at a "kim" at Cultizeoun can never hope to understand the modern style of dancing where it seems that everyone stands and gyrates on one part of the dance floor about two yards away from their 'partners, with mournful expressions and at no time giving the impression that dancing should be a graceful and happy pastime.

Through time the composition of the dance bands changed and saxophones became the predominant instruments and between the two world wars "Jock" Paterson's band was in great favour and played at Turnberry Hotel when any big function was held there. Then accordions took pride of place, in turn giving way to the guitar which seems to be the favourite instrument in all bands at the present time. The Maybole dance band enthusiasts always kept up with the modem trends and were in great demand, and "Mackays" band played throughout the whole of the west country, being noted for its excellent performance and rhythm.

Although the nights of the great balls have passed and the lilt of the violins have given way to the strum of electric guitars there are still groups in the town who keep pace with modern dancing trends and travel afield to play for the enjoyment of the modern youths and it is good to know that the townsfolk still have the love for dancing and music which has been characteristic of Minniebolers for generations. It is of interest to note that a Maybole lad, Tommy McQuater, who started as a young cornet player in the local brass band became a member of a world famous orchestra and he can truly be said to be the town's most noted musician in the dance band world.

Maybole never lagged in introducing new types of entertainment and just before the first World War the cinema was brought to the town by Mr. Biddle who built a wooden hut in "Adam's" yard with entrance to it from the "Back Road". This new fangled entertainment caught on and there were usually full houses every Saturday night, when every seat was taken, from the hard forms in the front rows, where one's head was tilted back at an excruciating angle and the figures on the screen were all out of focus, to the cushioned "tip ups" in the four back rows where the young "mashers" with velvet collars to their coats entertained their girl friends to "a night at the pictures" and a box of chocolates from Miss Dinning's wee shop in the School Vennal. While today the "talkies" are shown on wide screens and in colour it is doubtful if present day cinema patrons ever equal the thrill experienced by the older generation as they watched Pearl White being tied to a railway line or a sawbench and had to wait until the following week's episode to find out whether or not she escaped. in the days of the "Bughut" patrons did not complain about having to wait while "Roddie" changed each reel or repaired breakdowns in the films and were quite content to stamp their feet in time to the "British Cavalry" played on the old upright piano by Miss Murray or Miss McNab who could so skllfully fit the piano accompaniment to the type of film being shown. Whilst the entertainment was much less sophisticated in those days the enjoyment was much greater, or seemed so, and everyone heartily laughed at the antics of Mack Sennet or openly and unashamedly cried with Lilian Gish in her misfortunes.

After Mr. Biddle the next owner was Mr. Gilmour and some years later he built a new "Carrick Cinema" at the top of Welltrees Street and the old and original cinema was taken down. The new picture house was much larger and possessed a balcony with "cuddle seats" in the back row and once again there were queues for admission each Saturday night when there were two "houses" and the young couples manoeuvred to get the back seats. When "talkies" came in it was not long before the cinema was converted to sound and the townsfolk tearfully enjoyed "Smiling Through" and other epics, perhaps a little later but every bit as happily as the city dwellers. Cinema business was so good between the two World Wars that another one, "The Ailsa" was built at the bottom of the "Smiddy Brae" and for many years the townspeople had a choice of programme. This interest in "the pictures" died out when television was invented and became as necessary in most homes as the kitchen table and the "Carrick" closed down in the 1950s and became a warehouse and the "Ailsa", although struggling on against the competition of the "goggle box" for some years, finally became a Bingo Hall and now draws large crowds who sit with heads reverently bowed over their Bingo cards listening to the mystic incantations of the "caller" chanting "Kelly's eye" or "Legs eleven" and praying for a certain number to turn up to complete their lines.

Maybole never has boasted of a theatre in the town but last century many strolling players set up "geggies" or wooden booths on the town green and played to large audiences who sat spell-bound through the performances. Every other year a famous company of performers, who went by the name of Bostock, would visit the town and they invariably played "Romeo and Juliet". The part of Romeo was always played by one of the Bostock family who was known as "Surly", and Juliet by a lady billed as Miss McGuire who was a married lady of about fifty summers with a grown up family of four sons and two daughters who all took part in the performances. Entrance charges were usually a penny, with twopence being the price of the front seats, being entirely in reverse to the system in the cinema of later days where the front seats were the cheapest and the prices rose the further one sat back from the screen. The townsfolk were sometimes difficult to please and thought nothing of throwing things at the actors if they did not play their parts as the Minniebolers thought they should be played, and indeed on one occasion the audience was so displeased they wrecked the "geggie" which was set on fire by lamps being overturned. Prior to the "penny geggie" period plays were performed by itinerant actors in the old "Dancing Room" in the Tolbooth and records show the rents charged to the strolling players for weekly lets of the hall. Since the Town Hall was built many companies have played in it but with the coming of the cinema the taste for live drama died out in the town and with the exception of local amateur players who occasionally put on a play in winter there have been no "strolling players" walking the boards in Maybole for many years.

In addition to youth organizations, bands, choirs, etc., Maybole has always been well served with other forms of social activities. Most churches have guilds for both men and women and many people are brought to speak or demonstrate to the members on every type of subject. There is a strong Towns-women's Guild and Cooperative Guild and no one need feel lonely on a winter night as everyone is welcomed. The Darby and Joan Club which meets in Carnegie Library weekly caters for the needs of the older generation and the people of the town have organizations to fill the needs of everyone from childhood to retirement age. Evening classes are held each winter in the various schools and there one can be taught anything from country dancing to baking cakes lest anyone should come to visit. The British Legion (which was first mooted when Earl Haig visited the Marquess of Ailsa at Culzean after the end of the first World War) flourished in the town exceedingly well for many years although unfortunately of later years it has not been the force it was formerly. For some years a drama group put on plays annually in the Town Hall and, although in abeyance meantime, it may yet start up again. There have been from time to time clubs of every description, from Photography Clubs to Judo Clubs, and at present there are some Youth Clubs in the town with strong memberships. While often a club is formed, flourishes exceedingly well and then in time dies out no doubt the old town will continue to have its own groups of enthusiasts who band together to amuse and educate themselves, with little, regard to what goes on outside its boundaries and, though men may walk on the moon, to a Minnieboler the world will still revolve around the old Capital of Carrick as it has done for so many during the past eight hundred years.

Curiously enough Maybole men have never started a Rotary Club, or a Round Table, or similar organizations so popular in many other towns. This may be due to the influence of their womenfolk who for generations were barred from the various Guilds of Masons, Shoemakers, etc., and who, since their emancipation, are determined the menfolk will never again be free to meet in all male company. As these organizations usually meet for lunch it may be, however, that the Maybole man, when asked to join a Rotary Club, spoke for all when he said, "Na, na. I havna' the time thro' the day and anyway I'm better fed at home." There used to be, however, one all male club which existed in the town for purely social purposes. This was the "High Jinks" club which had its headquarters in a local Inn for many years last century. Its members met once a week for breakfast before they started their work and held a dinner in the evening once a year. Before a member could be admitted he must have been the originator of a successful practical joke against some of his fellow townsmen and it was a strict condition that such jokes must be humorous and not ill intended to its victim. Naturally the club members were all witty and high spirited men and the breakfasts must have been happy starts to a working day and the annual dinners hilarious occasions. At each annual dinner new members were dubbed with imaginary titles, very often characteristic of the member, and it is recorded one foppish member was called "Lord Haw Haw". Another (Dr. Hathon who was said to be a better talker than a practitioner) was named "Lord Humbug" but he objected and was re-christened "The Marquess of Blarney" which title he accepted with equanimity. The club members were nearly all bachelors to begin with but as time went on most of them married and dropped their attendance at breakfast and finally the membership was reduced to three hardened old bachelors, who continued to meet once a year for dinner until one died, another became bedridden and the last one decided the day of the "High Jinks" club was over, and so ended the only really social men's club in the town. In the present times wives would frown on their spouses cheerily setting out for breakfast in a hotel once a week and probably demand that they be taken with them and most husbands would agree this would spoil the whole spirit of the venture. Few wives would understand why it could be possible for their husbands to be live sparks among their fellow men at breakfast on one morning in the week when probably they sat behind a newspaper at home on the other six mornings.

For generations there was a strong Burns Club in the town which met annually for a supper of haggis and neeps in the Kings Arms but this Club died out during the second World War. Other Burns Clubs have started up, however, and probably for generations to come the Bard will be toasted each 25th of January in the old town where his father and mother first met and were married in the church at the Kirkport.

Taking everything into consideration the city dweller need waste no sympathy on the small townsman and feel that he leads a dull and monotonous life as, in the case of Maybole at any rate, the boot is on the other foot and the countryman leads a full and varied life, making his own pleasures among his own folk and does not need strangers in theatres or picture houses to entertain him. The greatest and most glamorous film star can never thrill the city man on the silver screen as does "oor wee Jeannie" when she sings or recites on the Town Hall platform to an audience of locals who have known her since she was born. The greatest elocutionist can never hope to equal "Our Willie" when he throws off his jacket to address the Haggis at a local Burns supper, where everyone is ready to fill in the words should he falter, and certainly to a Minnieboler no story teller could possibly outshine "Jimmy" when he told of his attempt to join the "Council". The social life of a small town, where everyone happily joins in, is a thing to be treasured and preserved and it is hoped it will never really die out.


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