Welcome everybody to a stroll round Sunny Saltcoats in the 1960s. Well, we hope it'll be sunny; if for some strange reason it isn't , there are plenty of cafes, shops and places of entertainment to shelter in on our route. It's the 1960s, and mainly the latter part, because that's the time I know best, but we'll look backwards and forwards a little sometimes if the occasion arises.
It's also the 1960s because the town centre of Saltcoats, always the metropolis of the Three Towns ( and as such familiar, unlike Ardrossan or Stevenston,to all Threetowners ) , is arguably at its peak . Holidaymakers are still flocking there in their thousands at Glasgow Fair, and all the attractions are still there to cater for them. And it's definitely the heyday of the town as a shopping centre. All through the decade there were new building projects going on round town, as local businesses expanded or branched out, and bigger outside firms moved in. Only by travelling to Kilmarnock, Ayr or Glasgow would you do better for shops; Irvine had comparatively little to offer for its size until the new precinct was built as part of Irvine New Town.
I was certainly impressed from an early age by the sheer number and variety of Saltcoats shops. I first set out to list them at the age of about eight; an idea I very soon thought better of at the time ! But many years later, in a fit of nostalgia not long after leaving town, I made a much better list; not complete in some of the less familiar parts, but much better than I'd have managed from scratch now. With the aid of this; a 1967 phone book, very useful for sorting out the order of shops; and some old receipts and advertisements, some of which I'll add as illustrations; we can I hope restore Saltcoats in some detail to its former glory. And hopefully you''ll all have lots of memories and extra information to add to the picture.
This is going to be a leisurely stroll; anyone who's in a hurry can go and hang out in a cafe , take in a film or amuse themselves in an amusement arcade while the rest of us catch up. Since walking into Saltcoats always, for me, happened down Ardrossan Road, that's where we'll begin, with the aim of walking down Hamilton St . Whether we cover a street at a time or go all the way round on one side and back on the other; venture into less popular streets or stick to the main ones; we'll decide in due course.
Let's make a gentle start, as we reach the town end of Ardrossan Road, by looking across to Ness Gardens at the bottom of Caledonia Road Brae. There could well be "Welcome to Saltcoats " written in bedding plants on the raised part by the bus stop, after all; it was usually something of the sort.
There was very little land between Ardrossan Rd and the railway anywhere on that side; the houses can't have had much in the way of gardens. At that far end it narrows down to a sliver, and it was at the start of the sixties that someone had the idea of turning this piece of land into an ornamental garden. I can just remember it being new, and solemnly walking round all the paths in the lower part ; they occupied almost as much space as the beds, it was a tiny place really.
I've seen old photos showing buildings squeezed into that plot, huddled against the retaining wall . So perhaps someone can tell me, since I don't remember that far back; what were they, and had they been demolished recently to make way for the gardens, or at an earlier time ? And also perhaps where the name " Ness Gardens " comes from.