The Ardross-man

ScotCPS – look how far we’ve come

Back in early 2015, Sirens Cinematic made this video about us based on our plans at the time.

Phase 1 was completed by 2016 with most of Phase 2 now nearing completion in 2017.

Let’s see what our feasibility study says we should do now. 😀

Internal organ

As I am fascinated by the amount of history in the Barony St. John’s church, I wanted to let you know about the beautiful organ which first gave me the “Wow factor” when I entered this building for the first time.

Just to the left of the staircase to the pulpit in front of the organ is is a hidden doorway into the internal workings of this beautiful work of art which was originally installed in 1889.

img_2364  img_2365 img_2355

As you step through the doorway, you find a very narrow set of ladders which lead up to behind the extremely dusty organ pipes – it was a tight squeeze with barely enough room to get two feet side by side on the ladder.

img_2362 img_2358 img_2356

Coming back out and to the front of the alter area, you’ll find the keyboard for the organ – lift back the lid and the keyboard is revealed.

img_2366       img_2367

img_2370       img_2369   img_2372   img_2371

As you can see, there is a small plaque which reads J.J. Binns, Fitton & Haley Ltd. Bramley, Leeds. I have tried to track this company down but it appears that they went bust back in the 1950’s.

A notice in the London Gazette states that there was “a Meeting of the Creditors on 11th August 1953 at 3pm in accordance to The Companies Act 1948 regarding the winding up of the company“.

But inside a little cupboard to the side of the organ I found the organ tuning log books which date back to 1963.

img_2373 img_2374 img_2375

And a lovely hymn sheet copyrighted to former church organist Stuart McMahon dated 1993.  img_2376



Saltcoats (salt cots) and Betsy Miller

I’ve often been asked where our neighbouring town of Saltcoats got its name from –

Well, back in thsaltcotse 1500s, King James V paid for a salt panning industry to be established here. The “salt cots” were on the seashore and gathered the sea water, which was then boiled dry to leave behind sea salt, which was then used to cure fish – a godsend for a small fishing village as this was.

As we Scots speak with quite a broad accent, the “salt cots” name used to identify the village that sprung up around them was pronounced “salt coats” and so when it came to writing the name down, the English wrote it as it was pronounced and the anglicised name stuck – Saltcoats.

Today, Saltcoats is part of the”Three Towns” alongside Ardrossan and Stevenston (see my post Omen 5 – The SAS Omen).

betsy_miller_largeAnd it was in Saltcoats in 1792 that Betsy Miller, the first woman ever to become a registered ship’s captain, was born.

The daughter of a ship’s captain, Betsy became a proficient sailor and, at the age of 46, took command of her father’s ship, the Clytus, when he died. She was then listed in the British Register of Tonnage as a Sea Captain.

She spent the next 22 years shipping coal and limestone between Scotland and Ireland (50 years in total if you count her time working with her father).

The ‘Clytus’ was a coaling brig made from the wreck of a French man-o’-war, bearing the same name and differed from other vessels in the coal trade by having a poop deck with a cabin on it which was used by Betsy as her Captain’s Quarters.

img_2298 img_2299

The only other person allowed into Betsy’s quarters was, according to, “her first mate who was single, handsome and came from the same seafaring background. Captain and mate slept there together, which didn’t raise an eyebrow either at sea or on land, because Betsy’s mate (and chaperone) was her sister Hannah.” 😀

Betsy, known for sailing in the most atrocious of weathers and for dressing as a lady at all times, retired in 1861 aged 69 as one of the wealthiest women in Ayrshire. She died three years later in 1864.

The plaque shown above is situated in Saltcoats harbour and honours this extraordinary lady of the seas.



The Fall of Eve

I was recently lucky enough to see an article in The Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald about an Irvine-based band called The Fall of Eve.

Apparently, they love filming their music videos in old buildings and so I took this opportunity to contact them directly and offer the iconic Barony St. John as a possible venue for a future video.

Lucky for me, they came around to view the church building and immediately accepted my offer. 😀

The band were formed in 2011 and describe themselves as a “Symphonic rock band”. They consist of founder Evangeline on vocals, co-founder Michael Moffat on guitar, Harry Butler on bass, Panos Rodopoulos on drums and Philip Morrison on orchestration.

Their fan base has continued to soar since 2011 and prompted a crowd funding campaign which enabled them to release their first album, Calls from the Horizon, in 2013 and their second album, Eternal Embrace, in 2015.

calls  eternal

Most recently, they received funding from Creative Scotland’s Open Project Fund towards a promotional music video for their new EP, If Even Angels Fall – and that’s where I came in.


It seems an abandoned church was exactly what they were looking for this video to accompany their new EP’s title track “If Even Angels Fall“.

And they also wanted a night shoot. Whoohoo 😀

Here are some photos taken on the night;

img_3429 img_3430 img_3435img_3434      img_3437      img_3439 img_3440 img_3443img_3441 img_3442 img_3444 img_3445

I’m sure you’ll agree, the photos alone look fab – but I can assure you the single sounds brilliant too and so I can’t wait to see the finished video. 😀

They’ve definitely got the “Wow factor”!

Even more good news from the point of view of promoting the Barony St. John is that The Fall of Eve’s last video for the song “Destiny” (which was shot in the Trinity Church in Irvine) has so far had over 113,000 views – so lets hope this new video gets even more (and not only rockets The Fall of Eve to stardom but also helps puts the Barony St. John on the public’s radar once again).

The video can be viewed at on the band’s YouTube channel

And their new EP If Even Angels Fall  is available as a CD from and as a digital download from iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and other online retailers.


Enjoy. 😀

All in a Lather

This is my 150th post since starting writing last November (2015) about my discoveries and escapades as I try to save two old church buildings in Ardrossan, North Ayrshire, Scotland. Thank you for reading them and I hope you continue to enjoy my posts.

Anyway, as mentioned in a previous post, I found a wonderful pamphlet titled “Life & Work with the sub-heading Ardrossan New Parish Church” which had been hidden beneath floorboard of the Barony St. John Church since 1893.

Inside the pamphlet were some fantastic advertisements including the following for Pears Soap;


Initially, I was excited to see the drawings – the front cover featured a tin bath of a shape I hadn’t seen before (I always thought tin baths were oval shaped but this one is like a keyhole – a bigger end for sitting in and a longer end for your legs) and two ladies dressed in beautiful Victorian dresses of the day. 🙂

The inside of the advert declared that the soap was by special appointment to Her Majesty the Queen (who would have been Queen Victoria) and His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales.

DSC01727     DSC01726

But as I thought about writing this post and telling you all about my find, I thought I’d like to know more about Pears Soap – and my investigations revealed a darker side to what was the nation’s favourite soap;

Pears transparent soap was first produced and sold in 1807 by Andrew Pears at a London based factory. It was the world’s first mass-market transparent soap and Pears’ clientele included many wealthy socialites who took pride in their appearance.

In a change from current trends, the fashion among the wealthy of the period was for pristine white complexions (tanned faces were associated with the lower classes who laboured outdoors).

Andrew Pears found that his powders and creams were frequently being used to cover up damage caused by soaps and other beauty products, many of which contained arsenic or lead, so he began to experiment with soap purification and eventually managed to produce a gentle soap based on glycerine and other natural products.

The clarity of his soap gave it a novel transparent appearance and its floral scent, which reminded people of their gardens, gave Andrew Pears a huge marketing advantage especially overseas in America (not yet united as the Civil War was fought from 1861 – 1865).

Thomas J. Barratt, sometimes referred to as the father of modern advertising, married Mary Pears (Andrew’s granddaughter) in 1864 and he began a worldwide sales campaign for Pears Soaps – part of which were these removable advertisements (not just printed in newspaper and pamphlets but adverts which could be removed and taken to your shopkeeper or chemist where orders could be placed).

The first Pears soap advert (below) would be deemed racist nowadays and would never be allowed to be printed but back in Christmas 1884 it was seen in publications throughout the British Empire.


It would seem a lot of their advertising centred around turning black skinned people white or at the very least trying to improve their hygiene as on the reverse of the advert I found was this rather racist advert;


It may be difficult to make out as it is water damaged but it features a black native complete with feather headband staring at an apparently naked white woman who is coming out of a giant clam shell on the beach. The heading reads;

Good Morning! Have you used Pears Soap?

I’m not sure if this is supposed to be the black native asking if the white woman had used Pears Soap perhaps trying to explain how she had turned white (as in the previous advert) – or is it the white woman asking the black native if he had used Pears Soap as a nod towards his lack of hygiene? What do YOU think?

Meanwhile, if you would like to know more about my charity, The Scottish Centre for Personal Safety, search for us on Facebook or peruse our website at

Goodbye for now – and here’s to the 150 posts. 😀



The Bell’ters – 20th Anniversary

I find it hard to believe, but I’ve been teaching personal safety and self defence for 20 years now.

Back in 1997, myself and my brother, David Bell, went on a course in London and qualified as instructors with The National Federation for Personal Safety. David brought his experience of bar stewarding (bouncing) and I brought my military and Close Protection (bodyguarding) experience.

We soon developed our own style of self defence training based on hard hitting techniques, realistic scenarios and absolutely no flowery moves.

We provided personal safety courses and workshops as a not-for-profit social enterprise called “Security And Safety” with our main client base being Women’s Aid groups and Domestic Violence forums throughout the United Kingdom as well as Rape Crisis Scotland and Victim Support Scotland.

To enhance the not-for-profit nature of our business, we set about becoming a charity and achieved this in 2013. Under our new name, The Scottish Centre for Personal Safety, we moved to our new premises in the former Barony St. John church hall building on Princes Street in Ardrossan and last year saw the official opening of the Centre by Bill “Superfoot” Wallace. (See my Official Opening – the return of William Wallace post.)

So, to mark 20 years in the personal safety business, we held a small photo ceremony during one of our bi-annual Instructor Training Days in the Barony St. John Centre.

image5 image1-2

A tally of the number of people we have trained over the years comes to nearly 4,300 people, many of whom have been victims of violence.

We’ve trained all over the UK from Wick to London and we’ve also ran specific courses for children in various schools and nurseries throughout Scotland. But I have to say, my proudest achievement is developing a personal safety course specifically for the blind and visually impaired, which we have just completed.

And although we are clear that we provide personal safety and self defence training, what we actually provide is self confidence and self esteem.

Here’s to the next 20 years. 😀

The Matchstick Man

image1-1As part of the background history of Barony St. John’s church, the Design Team I’ve employed to compile a feasibility report for the buildings came across this model.

It’s an exact replica of the Barony St. John and all they could tell me was that the model was made by Jim Miller and was on display in the Parish Centre of the Church of Saint Peter in Chains as part of their Doors Open Day on 2nd September 2007.

Well, you know me by now, I love a mystery so I had to set to work finding out  – “Who is Jim Miller?”, “What was the model made of?” and “Where was it now?”

The local newspaper, The Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald, came to my aid, running an article asking for help from their readership and I soon got an email address for Jim.

After a few unsuccessful bids to meet up, Jim popped into the Barony St. John on his way past one day and I managed to interview him about his model;img_3234

The model itself is made of matches – about 15-20,000 matches in all!!

And this was not the only model Jim has made. In fact, Jim has made a matchstick replica of almost every church in Ayrshire!

So, some background details on Jim – he currently resides in Kilwinning but originally hailed from Dalry. He took up the hobby of matchstick model making around 1994/5 when he became a volunteer in the Abbey Tower Heritage Centre in Kilwinning.

Before then, he had been making a number of small matchstick model kits when he was the Crafts Class Officer with 1st Dalry Boys’ Brigade in the 1970s – 1990s.

However, his first serious model was of the stunningly beautiful Eglington Castle (shown below).

Image result for eglinton castle


By 1995, Jim had developed an interest in making models of churches and when the Church of Scotland told the congregation of Mansefield Church in Kilwinning that they  would be moving to another location, Jim decided he would build a matchstick model of the church as a memento (in case it was to be sold or demolished).

Once complete, Jim gifted the model to the church congregation, as he has done with every church model since.

The Barony St. John church model was Jim’s 13th church model (my lucky number) and was built around 1998/99, taking three – four months to complete.

It currently resides in the Kirkgate Parish Church in Saltcoats alongside the model of Kirkgate that Jim made (the congregation having moved to Kirkgate when the Barony St. John closed).

img_3306 img_3310 img_3307

Jim’s models, as well as being incredibly detailed, also contain a little white dove somewhere on the building as can be seen with the closeup of the parapet in the Barony St. John model (above).

And this Kirkgate church model complete with stained glass windows, looks equally impressive (below).

img_3304   img_3305

The plan is to put both these models on display in the upper gallery of Kirkgate church in Saltcoats.

To date, Jim has completed 83 church models – all of which have been gifted to the congregation of the particular church he has made.

The congregations of churches all over Ayrshire, Pennal in Wales and even Berlin in Germany have been fortunate enough to receive a replica of their church made by Jim Miller. And he has also made 19 other non-church models including a couple of schools, three castles, two Masonic lodges and a Community Centre.

It’s no wonder he is known locally as The Matchstick Man.

Jim also told me that his favourite model is that of St. Margaret’s Church in Dalry (pictured below) where Jim was christened on Christmas day in 1949 and married on 18th October 1974. 😀st-margarets-church-dalry


Yoga – more Yang to go with my Yin

yin-yang-symbol-variant_318-50138A few months ago, I wrote a post titled Tai Chi – the Yang for my Yin, explaining how I felt I needed some balance in the evening classes I offered to the community at the Barony St. John.

I had Muay Thai boxing classes, Ladies Boxfit, Krav Maga self defence – all fighting based classes but nothing at the opposite end of the spectrum – no relaxing classes.

I began by getting Tai Chi in last November but the one other class I really wanted to bring to the Centre was Yoga but finding a Yoga instructor was proving extremely difficult.

And then, it happened. I got a call from a Yoga instructor wanting to move from her current venue.

We offered a large comfortable, matted area with no obstacles (apparently the last place was small and with a wide pillar in the middle which obstructed the view of the instructor for some people).

We could also ensure that the room would be quiet and guaranteed to not be pre-booked by other clients.

And so, on Valentines night (Feb 14th), we held our first Yoga class at Barony St. John 😀

Now I’ve read a lot of reports and scientific studies on Yoga and I’ve learned that it has a lot of good effects ranging from increased flexibility, lowered blood pressure, lowered blood sugar levels. stronger bones and even weight loss;

yogaBut I had this vision of a typical class in my mind and it involved standing on your head and putting your ankles behind your neck etc.

So………I gave the class a try (well, what else am I going to do on Valentine’s night? 🙂 )

First of all, the training hall looked wonderful. The mood was set for the class with dimmed lights, soft Eastern music and lots of candles. Very relaxing.

img_3383  img_3381

The class started and finished with a short meditation session and the exercises were more about stretching to my body’s own limits than contorting into impossible positions.

I have to admit, I never realised how simple exercises such as holding your arms out parallel with the ground could be so exerting.

I left the class feeling full of energy – revitalised and with a spring in my step.

If you have never tried Yoga and are a bit apprehensive about giving it a go, take a leap of faith and join a class. I guarantee you’ll love it.

If anyone wants to visit our own class, it’s on every Tuesday, 6.30pm – 7.30pm and the instructor’s name is Frances. 😉

Blind Faith

For the past year now, myself and other instructors in my charity (The Scottish Centre for Personal Safety – take a peak at our Facebook page or our website have been developing a Personal Safety course specifically for the Blind and Visually Impaired which includes self defence training.


This weekend should see the culmination of that training as we put two blind people through our Instructor exam and test day – including a Pressure Test where they will be attacked by two “attackers” over a five minute period.

Michael has been making his way over to our Centre, in the former church hall of Barony St. John in Ardrossan for this training and, you know me by now, I like my omens……..I was walking him back to his train when I noticed the name of the train operator –


Fate? omen? Or just a coincidence? You decide.

A. Bell

The Ardross-man 😀

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑