The Ardross-man


February 2016

The William Wallace Visitor Centre

For some time now, we have been toying with adding “William Wallace” into the final name for our buildings. Originally, I thought of calling the finished project, “The William Wallace Community & Events Centre” – but the locals like the Barony St. John name and it is after all a historical name so perhaps we could name a part of the building “The William Wallace Visitor Centre”.

The idea of adding William Wallace was because I wanted to bring public awareness to the history of Ardrossan;

In 1292, Ardrossan Castle, just behind our Barony St John buildings, fell to the invading English army of Edward I.

In 1296, legend has it that Wallace and his men set fire to some buildings near the Castle and a small party of English soldiers left the Castle to investigate. They were immediately set upon by Wallace’s men who dressed in their uniforms and armour and went back to the Castle. once there, they opened the Castle gates to let in the rest of Wallace’s men.

Tfooter-450he entire English garrison were slaughtered and their bodies were thrown down into the castle’s keep which became known locally as “Wallace’s Larder”. So successful was this ruse and raid that the ghost of William Wallace is said to still wander through the Castle ruins.

The current courtyard between our two Barony St. John buildings (the church and the hall) is 1,122 sq ft and extends outwards to almost level with the church building. I’m hoping this area will become the main entrance to both buildings and incorporate The William Wallace Visitor Centre.


The current breezeblock storeroom, crèche building and wall (photographed opposite) will be removed opening up this courtyard area and allowing it to be glazed and extended to 20m x 5m coming level with the church building.ww1

This area will then form the reception area and main entrance to the Centre as well as being the site for our cafe (which we intend to name after the Keep at Ardrossan Castle – “Wallace’s Larder”).

We have also been in talks with The Society of William Wallace and they are keen to work with us to promote William Wallace and his legacy.parch2

When Wallace was captured at Robroyston on 5th August 1305, he had on his person letters of provenance and safe conduct.

One letter is known as the ‘Safe Conduct’ or ‘Wallace Letter’ and was from the King of France, Philip IV (this letter included an introduction of Wallace to Pope Boniface VIII).

Another letter is known as ‘The Lubeck Letter’ (named after the German museum where it was stored) and is the only surviving document believed to be written by Wallace himparch1self. Attached to this letter is Wallace’s personal seal which shows a lion rampant on the front and s strung bow with arrow on the reverse, suggesting that Wallace may have been an archer. The seal also has the words “Filius Alani Walais Willelmus” which is Latin for “William, son of Alan Wallace” around it and as Alan Wallace was registered as a Crown tenant in Ellerslie, Ayrshire in 1296, this seal throws doubt on William’s traditional birthplace of Elderslie in Renfrewshire.

Perhaps it was just a spelling mistake in Blind Harry’s famous 15th Century poem about Wallace?

The Society of William Wallace are offering to give us the only two copies of these documents for display in our Visitor Centre / reception area (permission has to be obtained from Fiona Hyslop, The Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs however The Society of William Wallace will do this for us).

parch3We also plan to get a replica of the sword which was said to be taken from him at the time of his capture (the original is displayed in The Wallace Monument) and we feel that the three of these items along with historical story boards detailing Wallace’s connection with the Castle will provide an excellent additional tourist attraction to the Centre and help drive additional secondary spend via our cafe.

What do you think of our plans?

Sale of the Century

As mentioned in a previous article, I found a wonderful sermon pamphlet titled “Life & Work with the sub-headingArdrossan New Parish Church which had been hidden beneath the floorboards of the Barony St. John church since 1893.

Inside the DSC01714pamphlet were some fantastic advertisements including this one for The Queen’s Royal Carpets hearth rugs complete with a wonderful crest featuring Queen Victoria (who reigned from 1837 until her death in 1901), resplendent in a black gown which she would become recognised for following the death of her husband Prince Albert in 1861.

This ‘special offer’ advertised “Three for 7 shillings”.

Another advert was for Crab Apple Blossoms and Crown Lavender Saltssold by all Druggists aDSC01749nd Dealers in Perfumery everywhere” – that’s right, not just in the UK….EVERYWHERE 🙂 and priced at 2/ and 4/6 per bottle of Crab Apple Blossom and 2/ and 4/ per bottle of Crown Lavender Salts.

Finally, and back to carpets, this colourful advert was for Cedar Felt underlay.

Having worked in some really grand old hotels, I have seen a lot of this type of felt underlay – it not only protected the carpet and floor but was gave a remarkably warm feeling underfoot too.

DSC01716     DSC01717

It’s probably difficult to read but the advert states that Cedar Felt;

Supercedes the Brown Paper sometimes in use, which crackles, and is no protection to the Carpet, being as hard as the flooring.

Strangely, the advert doesn’t show workmen laying the under-felt but two maids complete in Victorian style long dresses, aprons and maid’s hats.

And how much would it cost you to purchase this wonderful new underlay?

Well, the price per yard for 60 inches wide was 6 pence going down to 2½ pence if your carpet was only 22 inches wide.

I wonder what else I could have bought for 2½ pence back in 1893?

If you would like to know about our charity, please peruse our website or look us up on Facebook.

Goodbye for now.

Alan Bell

The Ardross-man

Our Place funding discussion 27th Feb

Hi all,
As you may know, Community Renewal’s are managing the rolling out of The Big Lottery’s Our Place £1.6 million Ardrossan funding over the next 5 years and they are publicising a few proposals on Saturday 27th February at the Civic Centre in Ardrossan, 1pm until 3pm.
One of those proposals is ourselves. 🙂
We will be submitting a proposal that £50,000 be spent on constructing a Training Room in our Barony St. John hall building to show that the community will use the room and the hall room and thereby demonstrate that the building is worth investing in to develop into a community asset.
We want to change it from this….
DSC01380 classroom1  classroom2
Into something like this…..

Picture 137

So, if you think you or your group could use our Training Room which will be equipped with WIFI, a Smart Board, conference table and chairs, flipcharts, computer terminals, etc., I’m hoping you will be able to come along on the 27th and show support for our proposal.
As this is a public meeting to discuss the proposals, we have been told that the proposals which gain a consensus from those present will be granted funding – it’s that simple. So it is imperative that as many of your group members / supporters of our project attend to ensure that the Training Room and the Barony St. John hall building is funded for you / your groups future use.
I really hope you can come along and look forward to seeing you there on the 27th.
Many thanks for your support, in advance,
Kind regards,
Alan Bell aka The Ardoss-man
The Scottish Centre for Personal Safety

Management of the Bell

I came across this document on one of the window ledges which ties in nicely with previous posts about the church bell;


I love the bit about having the bell inspected every three or four months – I wonder when exactly the bell and it’s fixings were last inspected and oiled? If anyone has any idea, please let me know.

Until next time, stay safe.

Alan Bell

The Ardross-man

Does this ring a bell?

Although extremely cold and windy today, I decided to pay another visit to the belfry of the former Barony St. John church.

DSC01392Climbing the rickety old wooden ladders to get to the hatch which leads onto the parapet is bad enough but once inside the cock tower there is another wooden ladder and an extremely small hatch which takes you into the bell tower.

What seemed like 101 pigeons flew out past my head as I entered and the entire area is inches thick with pigeDSC01253on droppings, feathers, broken egg shells and the remains of some dead birds. Yuck!!

The bell itself is huge and the fixings, as I mentioned in a previous post “Hogmanay Bells – Wedding Bell to Wedding Belle?“, are very rusty but I was drawn to an inscription on the bell itself.

It’s a bit difficult to read but it says;


Thomas Leadbetter & Co.


IMG_0515      IMG_0514

A check of the internet showed that the firm of John Leadbetter & Co. appeared in the “Glasgow Directory” of 1815 – perhaps Thomas took over his father’s company (?)

A further internet investigation revealed a 1938 document titled “History of Ardrossan Fire Brigade” in which one of the paragraphs reads;

Accordingly at a meeting held on the 4th June, 1869. Provost Barr produced drawings and prices of Fire Engines by London and Glasgow makers and it was agreed to recommend the “Patent Curricle Fire Engine” made by Shand Mason and Co., London. Of the size suitable for Twenty two men to work, price Seventy Three Pounds Sterling complete with hose, implements, etc., as specified in printed list. The Committee also agreed to recommend the pattern of Fire Plug Cocks as made by Thomas Leadbetter & Co., Glasgow or the number I.C. (?) pattern made by Glen field Company, Kilmarnock which the Committee understood are the same kind of Cocks on the Ardrossan Harbour.

Does this ring a bell with anyone?

It definitely proves that Thomas Leadbetter & Co were still selling brass devices in 1869 – twenty five years after installing the bell in the bell tower of Barony St. John.

If anyone knows anything more about the Barony’s bell or Thomas Leadbetter & Co. or indeed if Ardrossan Fire Brigade actually did buy its fire plug cocks from Thomas Leadbetter & Co. instead of the Glen field Company, then please let me know.

I hope you enjoyed this little historical dalliance. 🙂

If you would like to know more about my charity, The Scottish Centre for Personal Safety, please look us up on Facebook or peruse our website

Until next time, stay safe.

Alan Bell

The Ardross-man

Harness’ Electropathic Belts

As mentioned in previous articles, I found a wonderful pamphlet titled “Life & Work with the sub-headingArdrossan New Parish Church which had been hidden beneath the floorboards of the Barony St. John church gallery since 1893.

Inside the pamphlet were some fantastic advertisements and one of the more eccentric was this one for Harness’ Electropathic Belts.


The outlandish claims to cure almost all ailments prompted me to investigate the history of this product and uncover the world of the Victorian quack doctor.

The original Dr. Scott’s Electric Corset was a magnetic device rather than electric. It had magnetised steel plates at the front that attached together to fasten the corset.

Cornelius Bennett Harness was initially a distributor for this famous American invention, but by 1891, he was selling his own version out of his opulent premises, Harness’ ‘Electropathic and Zander Institute’ in London’s Oxford Street.

Harness’ Electropathic Belts contained zinc and copper plates that were somehow supposed to generate a health giving current and as electro-magnetism was only discovered in 1820, the Victorians loved these allegedly health giving devises.

A supposed visitor (sounding more like a paid review) to Harness’ Institute described it as follows;

It seemed to me that I was standing in a Temple of silence. Outside was the rush and roar of London life. Inside, all was calm and peaceful. The interior, in its blend of colours and graceful hangings, and its rich carpeting, reminds one of Oriental times. The attendants move so softly and speak so gently. Here and there, young women, in neat print dresses and caps, move gracefully about. You yourself feel hushed and awed, as if some magician were about to appear.”

This quote is from a feature article in The Pall Mall Gazette of 5th August 1892, just the year before this advertisement was published in the Barony St. John’s sermon pamphlet. It goes on to describe the numerous diplomas on display in Harness’ consulting room and the huge number of testimonials confirming that the electropathic belt worked wonders…..but, this very year, things were set to get very much worse for Mr. Harness.

Earlier in 1892, a customer named Mr. Jeffrey had consulted the company’s hernia specialist (a former salesman of Oriental furniture, believe it or not, so hardly a medical expert) and was predictably prescribed a Harness’ Electropathic Belt.

Still feeling back pain, he consulted a doctor and got fitted with a proper truss and feeling rightfully conned, he refused to pay the balance for his belt of £3 3 shillings.

In July 1892, Harness sued him but lost and had to give back the £2 2 shillings Mr. Jeffrey had already paid – and this was the beginning of the end of Harness and his company.

The Electrical Review reported on the court case and described Harness’ activities as “one of the grossest cases of misrepresentation of the present day”.

In response, Harness sent a circular to newsagents warning them that he would hold them responsible for these “malicious libels” should they continue to sell the Electrical Review and many, including W.H. Smith & Co., did stop selling it. This resulted in the owners of the Electrical Review taking Harness to court and they were granted damages of £1000 (a huge sum in it’s day – especially when you think that the cost of building Ardrossan’s Barony St. John hall, including furnishings, was the same price – £1000).

In October 1893, The Pall Mall Gazette stopped accepting advertisements from the Medical Battery Company and printed a series of articles headed ‘The Harness “Electropathic” Swindle’, which stated;

The Medical Battery Company has for years past been fattening on a system of fraud and imposture which is absolutely unequalled in the annals of swindling.”

Harness himself (pictured opposite) was described as;

“… a man of no pretensions whatever to scientific or medical knowledge, but [is] a common, illiterate and unscrupulous charlatan.”

The articles resulted in a lot of customers demanding their money back and in early November 1893 (just four months after our Barony St. John advert was published), he and his business associate, Dr. James McCully (originally a qualified physician but now struck off the Medical Register), were arrested and charged with unlawfully conspiring to defraud.

Dr. McCully was found not guilty but the jury couldn’t agree about Harness. The courts ordered that the company be wound up but almost immediately, Harness tried to resurrect it as the Medical Electrical Institute and was allowed to do so on condition that it was under control of a qualified doctor.

The creditors and shareholders of the old company unanimously agreed that it should go ahead and Harness became manager of the new company on a huge salary of £600 a year. (And they say crime doesn’t pay?)

But, in spite of considerable advertising, the damage was done and with Harness’ reputation was in tatters, no one would buy his products and within a few months he went bust.

After that, Harness moved to the other side of the world and died in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1921.

I thoroughly enjoyed investigating this story and found the history of this product and Harness fascinating – I hope you did too.

I’ll post another link to the past and Barony St. John soon, in the meantime, f you would like to know more about our charity or how you can get involved in helping us save these iconic Ardrossan buildings, please comment below, peruse our website or look us up on Facebook.

Goodbye for now.

Alan Bell

The Ardross-man

Prime Minister Lord Chatham

Last week, I mentioned how workmen pulling down a precarious piece of ceiling masonry in the old Barony St. John church building in Ardrossan, North Ayrshire and inadvertently uncovered a “Life & Work” sermon pamphlet from May 1893.

A paragraph from the Our Sunday Firesidesermon reads;

AlwaysDSC01712 in the enjoyment of ample means. A good friend three times said to me that these words, quietly said in a printed memoir, appeared to provoke me. Indeed it was not so. But I was strangely interested. Here indeed is something strange.

I will not say who wrote these words. A good many readers know at once. A good man, writing a memoir to his wife. It was his wife and he who were so singularly well-off. A Scotsman. The son of an Elder of the Kirk: the brother of two Elders. He rose so high, that he could not rise any higher. Big people went down almost on their knees, when they were introduced to him: I mean duchesses and the like. I have seen them: but I did not myself go down on my knees. The most arrogant of Prime Ministers, the great Lord Chatham, bowed so low to men in that Scotsman’s place, that his nose could be seen between his knees: and never looked more arrogant than in so doing.

But who was Prime Minister Lord Chatham that the author referred to?

As this sermon was written in 1893, it would be logical to assume that the Lord Chatham referred to is William Pitt the Younger as he died in 1806 (he was Britain’s youngest Prime Minister in 1783 at the age of 24, left office in 1801 but was Prime Minister again from 1804 until his death in 1806).

But there is a problem with this – he was not the Earl of Chatham as this title fell to his older brother John. I also cannot find any references to William Pitt the Younger being known for his arrogance.

So, although hWilliamPittTheEldere lived over 100 years prior to this sermon being written, I believe the Prime Minister Lord Chatham referred to was the father, William Pitt the Elder, 1st Earl of Chatham who became Prime Minister from 1746 – 1755 and according to his biographer, “his peerage (in 1766) destroyed his image as ‘the Great Commoner’ and he became arrogant, verging on megalomania”.

These paragraphs also had me laughing as they reminded me of Rikki Fulton’s drunken Last Call Reverend revealing;

Elsie was always saying to Jim – of course that wisnae their real names, everybody knew their real names – it was it was wee Sammy Dunn and his wife Nirvanah – just like the author who although unable to say who he is referring to goes on to say he is a well off Scotsman, the son of a Kirk Elder and the brother of two Elders….I’m sure this must have narrowed it down a bit.

If you would like to know about our charity, please peruse our website or look us up on Facebook.

Goodbye for now.

Alan Bell

The Ardross-man

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