The Ardross-man


January 2017


img_2796My brother gave me a present of this bottle of red wine for Christmas.

He picked it because of the name – Baron Saint Jean.

It’s very similar to the Barony Saint John name of the church buildings. 😀

I wonder if the church building will ever become a venue with a bar in it? And if it did, would we stock Baron Saint Jean wine?

Nice thought, isn’t it? I think I’ll drink to that. 🙂

The Southern Italy earthquake of 1908

In my previous post, Kirk Session Report 1909, I made reference to the accounts which mentioned church collections for “Sufferers in Southern Italy”.

Well, you know me by now, I love a good mystery… I set about investigating what happened in Southern Italy that caused people to suffer and why were people in Scotland collecting money for them.

It all started at approximately 5.20am on the morning of December 28th 1908, when a massive earthquake hit Southern Italy. The epicentre was under the Strait of Messina which separates the island of Sicily from the mainland region of Calabria (right on the “toe” of Italy’s “boot”).

The earthquake was the highest ever recorded at the time, measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale, and although it only lasted 20 seconds both the Sicilian city of Messina and the mainland city of Reggio Calabria were almost completely destroyed.

The tsunami that followed brought waves estimated to be 40 feet (13 metres) high crashing down on the coasts of northern Sicily and southern Calabria.

Between 100,000 and 200,000 people were killed – Messina having lost almost half its population.

messina-3This photo shows how the port of Messina looked back in the early 1900s and I’m struck as to how similar it is to some of the old photos of Ardrossan harbour and seafront area (it also being a port town at that time with the large clipper ships in the bay).

But to get some more information as to just how devastating this earthquake was, I turned to the internet and found this in-depth report on Wikipedia;

A boys’ boarding school was pulverised, burying the students.

A total of 348 railway workers were killed when the two railway stations crumbled.

Several foreign consulates were reduced to piles of rubble with only their respective standards messina-earthquakeleft intact. American consul Arthur S. Cheney and his wife Laura were killed. The French consul and his children also lost their lives. Ethel Ogston, wife of the British Vice-Consul died instantly after being struck by a falling iron balcony as she attempted to escape through the streets with her husband, Alfred and small daughter, both of whom survived. Former US Consul and Messina correspondent for Associated Press, Joseph Pierce and his family were crushed to death when their damaged home, close to the port, was brought down by the force of the waves created by the tsunami.

Can you imagine surviving the earthquake only to look out your window and see a 40 foot wave crashing towards your home?  Terrifying!

The photos above and below show the devastation of the aftermath.

A number of notable Italians were among the dead including politicians, the Attorney General of Messina Crescenzo Grillo, local patriots of the Italian unification and members of the nobility and literati.

messini4The Chief of Police died in his home, killed by a fallen beam. 

Tenor Angelo Gamba who had performed onstage in Aida the evening before the earthquake also lost his life together with his family when the Hotel Trinacria collapsed. Miraculously the other performers in the operatic company, including Hungarian soprano Paola Koraleck (who performed in the role of Aida), were pulled out alive from the hotel’s wreckage.

The Italian navy and army responded and began searching, treating the injured, providing food and water, and evacuating refugees (as did every ship). Giolitti imposed martial law with all looters to be shot, which extended to survivors foraging for food. King Victor Emmanuel III and Queen Elena arrived two days after the earthquake to assist the victims and survivors.

The Wikipedia report goes on to reveal how news of this disaster travelled around the World and explains why churches all over the World were collecting for the “Sufferers in Southern Italy”;

The disaster made headlines worldwide and international relief efforts were launched. With the help of the Red Cross and sailors of the Russian and British fleets, search and cleanup were expedited. The Russian battleships Tsesarevich and  Slava and the cruisers Admiral Makarov and Bogatyr, British battleship HMS Exmouth and the cruisers HMS Euryalus, HMS Minerva and HMS Sutlej were ordered to provide assistance; the SS Afonwen was in Messina harbor during the quake (anchored in 45 fathoms (80 m) of water, but there were only 30 fathoms (55 m) when she sailed full of refugees). The French battleships Justice and Verite, and three torpedo boat destroyers were ordered to Messina. The U.S. Navy’s Great White Fleet and supply ships USS Celtic and USS Culgoa were also ordered to assist. Other nations’ ships also responded.”


The above photo shows some of the 100,000 – 200,000 bodies awaiting burial after the event.

But the troubles didn’t stop there;

Homeless residents of the affected areas were relocated by the Italian Government to various parts of mainland Italy and Southern Sicily but with no homes, no jobs and no food, a humanitarian effort was needed. America, Canada and the UK were among many countries offering a new home to the survivors.

At 5.40am on the morning of 23rd January 1909 “…. the cargo ship SS Florida carried 850 such passengers away from Naples. Lost in a dense fog, the Florida collided with the RMS Republic, a luxury passenger liner. Three people aboard the Florida were killed instantly. Within minutes, pandemonium broke out on the ship. The captain of the Florida, Angelo Ruspini, used extreme measures to regain control of the desperate passengers, including firing gunshots into the air. Eventually the survivors were rescued at sea and brought into the New York harbour where they would start a new life.

Luckily, the RMS Republic was the flagship of the White Star Line’s Boston service and, being one of the ten largest passenger liners in the world at the time, was fitted with a new Marconi radio and so could send out a Morse code call for help. This was to be the first recorded distress call use of the Marconi radio and resulted in 1,500 people being saved, many of whom were rich American millionaires.

The following photographs show the RMS Republic before her collision with the SS Florida – and a dramatic photo of her sinking, stern dipped beneath the sea, at 8.40pm on the 24th January 1909, the day after her collision;

rms_republic rms_republic_sinking  Miraculously, SS Florida managed to make it to New York despite extensive damage shown below;


Her passengers were transferred to The White Star liner RMS Baltic who answered the Republic’s distress call but not before a riot nearly broke out as the Italian refugees from SS Florida were asked to wait until the millionaire first class passengers of RMS Republic were boarded first.

Following the sinking of RMS Republic, there were many rumours that she had been carrying lots of gold and valuables belonging to the wealthy millionaires she had been transporting (presumably there had been lots of insurance claims following the sinking).

One rumour was that the ship had been carrying $250,000 of gold to pay staff of the US Navy’s Great White Fleet; another rumour said she had been carrying gold intended for the relief effort following the earthquake; and yet another rumour said she had been carrying $3,000,000 in gold as part of a loan to the Imperial Russian Government.

It’s worth noting however that the values (above) attributed to the alleged gold on board are based on 1909 figures. In today’s money this equates to nearly $5 billion.

Now, where’s my scuba kit. 😀

Kirk Session Report 1909

img_2969I’ve made reference in various other blog posts about the 1909 Annual Report and Accounts from New Ardrossan Parish Church which were revealed from behind a hat cupboard, so I thought I’d go into a bit more detail and reveal what the Kirk Session Report contained because I was reminded of it after the electrical problems we had in the church building this week (see my Shocking blog post);

The Kirk Session’s report is the record of a quiet and uneventful year in our congregational history. For many families the past year was a hard one, and we sincerely trust that more prosperous times are in store for all.

Notwithstanding the fact that there have been many removals from our midst, it is satisfactory that we are again in a position to report an increased membership.

On Roll at 31st December 1908 …. 839

                    Removed – By Death … 16

                    By Certificate .. 25

                    Otherwise … 15

                                 Total 56 = 783

Admitted during 1909 –

                  By Communicating for the first time … 40

                 By Certificate … 28

                By Special Admission … 3

               Total 71

On Roll at 31st December 1909 ….. 854

Being an increase of 15 for the year

Your Session again desire to impress upon members that it should be considered a sacred duty to attend regularly the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It is a most painful duty to have to remove names from our roll because of non-attendance at the Table of our Lord.

In the course of the year 15 couples were married by the Minister; there were 56 baptisms. We should like to see the Sacrament of Baptism more frequently administered in Church.

The introduction of incandescent light into the Church has been found a great improvement, and has added to the comfort of our evening congregation.

The outstanding event of the year was the Sale of Work, opened by Lady Montgomerie, for the purpose of providing funds for repairs upon the fabric of the Church.

It has been arranged that the collections for the Schemes of the Church of Scotland shall be taken as in 1909, and the total sum allocated at the end of the year.

To the workers in our several organisations, the men and women who so devotedly service the Church, we express our indebtedness and extend our most cordial thanks.

Our prayer for our congregation is, that God may increase among us true religion, that more and more we may love our house of prayer, that we may with willing heart and hand render the service which Christ expects from us in His Church.

In name of the Session,

J. Kirkland Cameron, Moderator


A few things worth noting in this report are that the church benefited from incandescent lighting for the first time. A fact I was reminded about this week as, 108 years later, we have upgraded the electrical supply input from the old ceramic fuses to newer, safer units.

A look at the accounts attached to this report showed that 7 pounds, 2 shillings and 5 pence was paid to install the new electrical lighting to the Church.

I wonder if this was the first time they had electric lights in the Church – would they have had gaslights before or candle lights?

Other outgoings included paying the annual salary of the Minister, the Rev. J. Kirkland Cameron; He was paid £120 from the Church of Scotland plus a supplement of £170 from the Church Funds plus a £10 allowance for taking Communion etc. making his annual salary £300 which, when you realise that the average worker in the UK only made £70 per year at this time, you understand that being a Church Minister was a highly paid job.

The bell ringer was paid £5 per year, the organist £35 per year and, strangely as I have never heard of this before, the Treasurer was paid £10 per year. (Don’t tell my Treasurer this 😀 )

I also noted that the accounts made reference to collections for “Sufferers in Southern Italy” and this prompted me to find out why. It seems that the most powerful earthquake ever recorded hit Southern Italy in the early hours of December 28th, 1908 and so devastating was it that I will have to write a separate blog post to give it justice.


I was hoping to get my electricity meters replaced with SMART meters but when the electrician came to look at the connecting fuse box he told us he wouldn’t touch it.

Apparently the age of the box meant it was unsafe and so we had to call in a specialist company.

What I thought would be a simple job turned into a major operation!

First, paving stones were lifted and a hole dug outside of the church building and the old electricity cables were exposed.

img_3034     img_3035

Next day, the engineers came out in force and we opened the double doors of the main church building to let them gain easy access to the fuse box cupboard.

  img_3044     img_3043

Finally, the new wiring was connected and the hole eventually refilled – but it took three vans from the electricity company and six staff to do the job.

I think the locals are getting used to seeing work vans parked on the pavement outside these buildings now. sorry for any inconvenience.

img_3047      img_3053

Barony St. John photos

In a previous post (Ardrossan views) I shared with you some photos of the Barony St. John taken by various local photographers and residents.

With all the problems I’ve been facing with the funding for the renovation of the Training Room (see my last few posts) I’ve decided that I need cheering up and have scoured the various internet forums for some more fantastic photos of the Barony St. John buildings. I hope you like them too 😀

This dusky photo taken by Howard Arthur Moiser is absolutely beautiful as it shows the stars just beginning to peak out even although the sun isn’t fully down.


Whereas this photo by Helen Abbott is of a sunset and highlights the rocket-esque look of the Barony St John Centre wonderfully.


This is a lovely photo showing a line of seagulls as they fly past level with the Barony St John spire in the background. Unfortunately, I don’t have the name of the person who took this photo. 😦


And this is a cracking photo by John Craig showing the buildings reflected on the watery sand.


These next photos also show how close we are to the beach and how extensive the beach is (both in width and length) – and bear and mind, the beach goes on for miles and miles towards Stevenston.

This photo of a cold looking day is by Pauline Clements –


Whereas this photo by James McLaughlin seems to have captured some sunshine. I love the miles of clean sand and the Barony St. John on the horizon – a very well thought out photo.


And this photo taken from the beach looking up one of the many slopes to the promenade with Barony St. John in the background is actually from Trip Advisor by an unnamed photographer.


These next few photographs show the splendour of snow capped Isle of Arran in the background. This first one is by James McLaughlin.


While this one was posted by the Chair of my charity, Deirdre Oakley.


And we’re even more famous than Trip Advisor as this photo, taken using a drone, is from Irvine Bay Regeneration’s webpage and media reports. What a fantastic view with Princes Street in the forefront and the Isle of Arran in the background. 😮


Finally, this photo is very similar to that taken by James McLaughlin and was used by Scottish Television for their weather report. It was sent in by “That Blonde Woman” 😀


So now you’ve seen them all – what’s your favourite?

What a pane!

What a pain (or should it be pane?)!

Having made the small hall room completely safe by taking down all the loose and cracked plaster work it has revealed a problem we had not accounted for –

The window frames are rotten and urgently need replaced! 😦

We had not planned to do the windows as part of this room renovation project but once the internal double glazing and the surrounding plaster was taken off around the windows, they have become unstable and the two arched windows have had to be kept in place via a wooden strut.


You know, when I took the above photo, I never even thought to ask why there was a beam of wood holding the windows in place. Well, now I know!!! 😦

It appears that decades of wind and rain have taken its toll on the wooden frames of these windows and they are now suffering from a bad case of wet rot and this in turn has rendered them unstable and they may even fall out of place.

img_2919 img_2907 img_2708

img_2918                                    img_2920

Additionally, a lot of the glass has been cracked and/or broken over the years and these cracks and holes are also letting in water.

img_2911    img_2915   img_2912  img_2913     img_2917  img_2914

And, as you can see, as the years have gone by various panes of glass have been replaced – some by Georgian wire glass, some by coloured glass, some by dimpled glass, some by striped glass, some by frosted glass, etc. etc. etc. etc.

img_2908 img_2909


I should’ve guessed that the windows would be a problem because the outside of them have wire protector grills covering them and these are showing signs of decay and rust too – a possible sign that water may be getting into the building.

img_2921                         img_2922 img_2923

What a nightmare!

This revelation will not only set our timescale back for the opening of the Training Room but will also set back our funding too. We simply cannot afford to replace the windows.

Well, that’s not strictly true – we could maybe scrape up some funds to replace the windows with new PVC windows, but this is a listed building. Any replacement windows have to be wooden and of the same shape and design as the existing windows. This, unfortunately, costs a lot more as we need to get in a specialist company to hand make each window.

The good news is that the Planning Department has given us the go ahead to get them replaced due to the urgency of their current precarious condition. I am now in the process of contacting Historic Environment Scotland to see if they can help with an emergency repair application for nearly £5000.

Fingers crossed.


……Okay, our “little job” of clearing the small hall room of debris had turned into a mammoth task.

Paul and Peter (our builders from P&M Property Services) had to don coveralls, face masks and hard hats as dirt, sand, plaster, rubbish and debris of all sorts rained down on them.

There were even shells img_2695amongst the debris!

We’re guessing that some of the sand used to mix the cement between the sandstone blocks of the walls may have been taken directly off the beach in front of our building.

Strangely, as the dust settled, Paul was left covered in white dust and Peter was covered in black dust.

I’m wondering who’s the saint and who’s the sinner. LOL 😀

img_2693          img_2694

And the van load of rubble bags turned into several van loads….

img_2704 img_2707img_2703But at least all the precarious plaster, rubbish and debris has now gone from the small hall room and it’s now safe to enter the room.


But we need about £20,000 to transform the room into a Training Room – so if anyone reading this knows of a sponsor, funder or someone willing to donate money towards what will be a great room for our charity when dealing with female and child victims and the most vulnerable groups of our society including people with disabilities and the elderly, then please get in touch or click on the “Donate” button on our website

I’d like to say a huge “Thank You” to The Hugh Fraser Foundation for donating £7,000 towards this project.

Every £1 helps and goes directly to this project. No-one at the charity gets paid (including myself) and all the money donated is accounted for to a Board of Trustees and OSCR (I say this to put people’s minds at rest, as far too many charities pay their CEOs a fortune or siphon money into other costs / salaries before they fund the project they are highlighting. We are not one of those charities!)

Many thanks for your help and support, in advance.

Alan – The Ardross-man



….you see, a lot of the plasterwork on the walls was badly cracked, falling off or covered in damp mould – to be honest, in most parts it was a combination of all three.

And we couldn’t figure out where the water ingress and dampness was coming from.

So, we decided to pull a bit of the plaster off to see just how bad the rot was. It didn’t take much coaxing for huge chunks of plaster to break and fall off –

img_2690  img_2698

Okay, so this was a major problem. The plasterwork was rotten and any slight knock would see it crumble onto the floor.

This made me worry even more about the huge piece of ceiling plaster that had previously fallen off.

In Victorian times the plaster was put on about an inch thick, and if any more of that fell down and say, hit someone on the head, it could kill them.

The entire room was now a hazard – a Health & Safety nightmare!

The plan, once we get funding, sponsorship or donations, is to frame the walls and ceiling and put insulated plasterboard back on to stop any moisture getting through, create an air gap and to help with insulation.

But, if the ceiling was framed and more plaster fell off onto the new plasterboard beneath, the sheer weight of the original plaster could bring the whole of any new ceiling down. So maybe we should give it a tap to see how safe it actually was?…..

img_2692 Erm, that would be “not very safe” then!

How about another tap?

img_2689 Oops.

Not an inch of the floor could be seen as the original plaster crumbled and fell off en masse. This room was an accident waiting to happen – and the debris we thought would be easy to shift, was far from gone…..



The small hall room is in the Barony St. John and is directly opposite the main hall room (which we’ve converted into the Training Hall).

img_1658To be honest, the small hall room was my dumping ground for all the rubbish I had amassed while converting the Training Hall – and it was now high time that I cleared it out!

The room itself has its own share of problems including severe water ingress, dampness, wet rot, falling plasterwork, cracked plasterwork, botched repair jobs, fallen ceiling masonry – the list goes on and on. img_1657

At some point before the Church of Scotland sold the buildings, some bright spark had decided to take off the wood paneling around the walls to see where all the water was coming from – but they found nothing….and subsequently ran out of money so couldn’t refix the paneling.

Now that the Training Hall is operational and doing well, I wanted to blitz the small hall room, perhaps turning it into a Training / Meeting Room complete with conference table, chairs, a break-out sofa area, a coffee post and storage.

My idea was that, if the room could be converted, my charity (The Scottish Centre for Personal Safety) could run personal safety, conflict resolution, lone worker and first aid courses in there…..PLUS we could rent the room out for other groups / organisations to use either for their own training or for meetings.

One of my Charity Trustees listened to my ideas and came up with this neat little room plan –


Now there are two main problems..

  1. It’s going to cost anywhere between £20,000 – £25,000 for this room to come to fruition, depending on what equipment we put in there (Smart Board, etc.) and we have no money so we’re looking for funding, sponsorship or donations. 😦
  2. Before we do anything with the room, it will need cleared. :-/

Enter builder extraordinaire, Paul Marchetti once again to help me shift everything.

The rotten carpet was removed (well, what was left of it as some had rotted and some had been previously torn off); The floorboards were taken up along the side of the walls to see how badly corroded the floor beams were (and we found an old Victorian advert – see my post Bell Wringer and an old Victorian stone chisel – see my post Nailed It!); And piles and piles of dirt, sand and debris were dug out from under the floors.

img_2655   img_2663

But just when we thought the room was cleared, we realised that the debris was far from gone…..

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