You know, sometimes history can be staring you right in the face and you just don’t see it.

dsc01355I’ve written posts and articles on lots of things in the Barony St. John church building – the christening font, the organ, the church bell, the clock, the clock tower and lots of of Victorian pamphlets, bibles and sermons I’ve found – but until recently I’d never written about the one thing that stares me right in the face every time I walk into the church – the stained glass windows.

In my last post, James Mutter’s windows, I mentioned that all five of the stained glass windows had been installed in 1889.

Either side of the church organ are two wonderful commemorative windows – img_2344                        dsc01158

One to The Rev. John Bryce and one to A.D. Bryce Douglas – so, with the help of volunteer Emma Paterson, we set about finding out who these people were;


Although there had been a Parish Church in Ardrossan from 1691, it was decided in 1744 that, as most of the parishioners now came from Saltcoats, the Parish Church would be moved there.

This church could accommodate 840 people but by 1841, as the population of Ardrossan rose to 4,958 it was felt that the Parish Church should be re-sited back to Ardrossan.

Rev. Bryce, was the Minister of the Parish Church of Ardrossan and Saltcoats from 1837 and so, when the new church in Ardrossan was built in 1844, he became the first Minister of Ardrossan New Parish Church.

As Rev. Bryce was 58 years old when he died in 1858, he must have been born in the year 1800. I know he had at least two sons and two daughters with his wife, Marion, and that Archibald Douglas Bryce-Douglas (A.D.Bryce-Douglas mentioned in the other window) was his youngest son.

His wife, Marion Douglas was the daughter of Archibald Douglas, the Laird of Braeburn, and A.D. Bryce-Douglas took on the Douglas’ name when he inherited his grandfather’s estate.

This links in nicely to the other stained glass img_3184window and to A.D. Bryce Douglas of whom there was a lot more information to be found, mainly from his lengthy obituary in the local Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald newspaper on 10th April 1891. Here are some extracts;


“On the morning of Sabbath 29 March, Mr A D Bryce-Douglas landed at Ardrossan from the Empress of Japan, then on her trial trip and after a week of severe suffering died at Seafield Tower, his residence here on the morning of Sabbath last (4 April 1891).

bryce-douglas-2Need we say a shadow of a great sorrow hung over the community of Ardrossan all week. It was known that Dr Macdonald was in all but constant attendance, that Dr Moore, Glasgow, made daily visits, that enquiries by telegraph were coming from all parts of the country and day by day the first enquiry in the morning and the last at night was an anxious enquiry as to his condition and this and this anxiety was not to be wondered at.

The parish was proud of the eminence he had attained as a marine engineer. He was the son of their old parish minister whose qualities as a preacher and freedom from denominational prejudices were still remembered. He had purchased Seafield Tower (pictured below) because of old it had been in the family. The poor he had helped. The New Parish Church had the benefit of his large-hearted generous contributions for late improvements and hundreds of young men were indebted to him for situations at Fairfield, at Barrow and in other parts of the

All this had endeared him to the community. He was looked up to because of his genius for unquestionably, he was a mechanical genius of a high order. He was respected for his great administrative abilities as a large employer. He was one of the kings of labour and liked for his warm-hearted kindly deeds, his frank intercourse with gentle and simple and his independent bearing.

When his death became known, there was everywhere in the district an expression of sincere sorrow. It was felt that Commerce had sustained a great loss and that the poor and the needy were the poorer and the more helpless because he had passed away. Nor was this feeling confined to his native parish.

All last week, a like anxiety was felt by all classes at Barrow, by Lord Harrington and the other noblemen and gentlemen associated with him in the works there and when the news of his death became known, public testimony was borne to the respect in which he was held by the display of flags half-mast high on public buildings, on public works, on shipping and elsewhere.

Mr Bryce-Douglas was born at The Manse, Saltcoats on 3 October 1840 being the youngest son of the late Reverend John Bryce, parish minister of Ardrossan. He was educated at Irvine Academy under Dr White, master of the Commercial department and afterwards at Glasgow High School under Dr Bryce, finishing at the university.

Like many another son of the manse, young Bryce was destined by his parents for the ministry of the church but his bent lay in another direction and as from his earliest days, he had a mind and a will of his own.

His father wisely gave way and allowed him to carve out his own path through life. Indeed, if it be true that the boy is father to the man in the case of those who rise to distinction, it was so in his. ‘Still life’ was unknown to him as a boy. His restless energy even then was conspicuous.

When seventeen years of age, he was apprenticed to Mr Robert Drape, joiner, Ardrossan with whom he remained for two years. He also served for one year as a mill-wright with Mr Hendry, West Kilbride but not yet had he found his vocation and at the end of that time, he removed to Glasgow and entered the engineering establishment of Randolph, Elder and Company then situated in Centre Street, in the evenings attending classes for the study of mechanics at the Andersonian University.

In Messrs Randolph, Elder and Company’s employ, he found congenial work and throwing himself into it with all the ardour of his nature, he soon attracted the attention of Mr Randolph, the head of the firm who predicted for him, even at that early age, a distinguished career but he was not content to remain for more than a few years in the Centre Street establishment.

He had always been possessed by a spirit of adventure and early in the sixties he shipped as a passenger in a sailing vessel for Auckland where he had the promise of taking charge of an important machinery plant.

On the way out, the carpenter died and Mr Bryce was offered and accepted the situation rendered thus vacant. On arriving in New Zealand, the Maori war had just broken out and taking the situation in at a glance, he soon found an opportunity of working his passage with a well-known captain with one of our ocean liners to the Pacific coast.

For about a year, he was in the service of the Peruvian Navy at the end of which time he was offered and accepted a situation as seagoing engineer with the Pacific Steam Navigation Company.

In the year 1865, he revisited Scotland and after taking a few months with his friends and taking his examination for extra first-class engineer, in which he was successful, he returned to Callao to become assistant engineer of the Pacific Company. This position he occupied till 1869.

In that year, the headquarters of the company were removed from the island of Taboga in the Bay of Panama to Callao on the establishment of a line of steamers to sail direct between Liverpool and Valparaiso and a vacancy taking place at the same time in the office of the superintending engineer through the resignation of Mr Jamieson. Mr Bryce received the appointment which he held for a period of six or seven years…..

……He remained at the Fairfield Works until he removed to Barrow in 1888. The history of the Fairfield Works during that period it is unnecessary to recapitulate. Briefly, it may be stated it was during this time that the Arizona, Alaska and Oregon and other vessels for the Cunard fleet were built and that the revolution in the construction of ocean-going steamers, which has not yet seen its close, was commenced. The whole of these vessels were engined under the superintendence of Mr Bryce-Douglas as well as the Orient, the Austral and the Ormuz for the Orient Line.

He also constructed the engines for the Czar’s yacht, the Livadin for the Italian iron-clad Magicienne and for several of the numerous vessels for the British Navy which were turned out of the Fairfield yard. He also re-engined the Russian warship, Peter The Great.

Mr Bryce-Douglas’s connection with Barrow commenced in 1886 when engines of his design were built under his supervision for the Navigation Steam Navigation Company’s Orula and Orizaba which were constructed by the Barrow Shipbuilding Company. These were two of the earliest examples of engines of the triple expansion type put into ocean-going steamers.

In 1888, influenced by Lord Harrington and other capitalists, Mr Bryce-Douglas accepted the position of managing director of the Naval Construction and Armaments Company which took over the works of the Barrow Shipbuilding Company……

……The immediate cause of death was a cold caught, it is believed, at the launch of the Empress of China and which developed into peritonitis. He was ill on board and was prescribed for by a medical gentleman of the party and when he landed at Ardrossan on a bitterly cold morning, he was able to walk to Seafield. No time was lost in calling in medical aid and all that human skill and good nursing could do was done for him. The inflammation, however, had got too firm a hold and a constitution, remarkable for its strength, succumbed and at the comparatively early age of fifty, a life of much usefulness and still greater promise came to a close.

He had probably when at sea faced death too often to dread the approach at the last. This at least is certain, that when told the illness might have a fatal termination, he received the tidings with the greatest calmness and with the utmost composure, awaited the end.

Beside possessing several patents, Mr Bryce-Douglas was proprietor of Seafield, Ardrossan which he purchased from the liquidation of the City of Glasgow Bank and greatly enlarged and beautified.

By inheritance, he was also the owner of Brownhill Estate in the parish of Dalry and Burnbrae Estate, Dumbartonshire and it was when entering into the possession of this last, on the death of his cousin Captain McAlister Douglas, that he took the name of Douglas…..

….He was married to Miss Jessie Caldwell of Boydstone, Ardrossan, who died while they were resident on the Pacific coast and her death was a great blow to him. She was survived by one daughter but she also died about ten years ago, another daughter predeceasing her.

Two of Mr Bryce-Douglas’s sisters remain with many devoted friends to mourn his sudden and unexpected death.

The funeral took place on Wednesday (8 April 1891). In accordance with the expressed wish of the deceased, it was strictly private and beyond the two male relatives, the trustees, representatives of the Barrow works, one of the directors representing the board, and a representative of the Canadian Pacific Railway only a few intimate friends were present. The day was one of the finest of the season and all along the route from Seafield to the cemetery, crowds of townspeople had gathered to see the cortege pass.

Before the coffin was placed in the hearse, the Reverend J D McCall of the New Parish Church conducted a brief but impressive service and shortly thereafter the sad procession began. Eleven mourning coaches followed the hearse and upon the coffin and in those coaches in which the blinds were not drawn, beautiful wreaths of flowers could be seen.

As a public tribute to the memory of the deceased, the shops in the town were closed between the hours of one and two and the bell of the New Parish Church, of which he was a trustee, tolled….” 

Wow, what a guy! What a life! What an adventurer!

I was enthralled to discover that this great man’s gravestone may still be standing and so, with the help of Emma Paterson and her daughter Ami, I managed to track down Archibald Douglas Bryce-Douglas’s gravestone in Ardrossan Cemetery –

img_3241     img_3242

The inscription reads ;

Erected by
A. D. Bryce-Douglas
in loving memory of his wife,
Jessie Caldwell
who died at Callao, 27th April 1869, aged 30,
and their daughter, Jessie who died 4th March 1881, aged 12.
Also his father-in-law, William Caldwell, Boydstone,
who died 14th July 1888(?), aged 78
and his wife, Jean Simpson who died 14th May 1889, aged 78,
also their children
John, who died at Callao, 9th April 1868, aged 25,
Annie, who died 19th April 1885, aged 26,
Margaret, who died 6th January 1890, aged 36.

The said A. D. Bryce-Douglas, died 5th April 1891,
aged 50,

Jeanie, daughter of the said William Caldwell,
died 1st August 1901, aged 60.

This means that all of Jessie Caldwell’s (A.D. Bryce-Douglas’s wife) siblings died at Callao at a young age – Jessie herself aged just 30yrs old, her brother John aged just 25yrs old, her sister Annie aged just 26ys old and her other sister Margaret aged just 36yrs old.

I’m left wondering what had killed them?

And, as always seems to be the way with the Barony St. John buildings, there is something of a mystery left here too;

I’m presuming that A.D. Bryce-Douglas had commissioned these windows prior to his death in 1891 as they were installed in the same year but make no mention of his death.

img_3184And it must have been devastating to lose his wife Jessie Caldwell, herself only 30 years old, while he was working in Callao, Peru (as well as losing all of her siblings). And then to lose his daughter Jessie at the tender age of 12 years old.

But when talking of his wife, his obituary mentions “She was survived by one daughter but she also died about ten years ago, another daughter predeceasing her”, so does this mean that they had another daughter who died before daughter Jessie died in 1869? And if so, why was she not named in the window?

At any rate, she must have died before A.D. Bryce-Douglas died in 1891 and if the windows were put in on that year, it still begs the question “Why was the other daughter not named in the window?”

It’s a mystery.

boatAnd finally, just when I thought I had brought our investigations to a conclusion, I realised where I had heard the name A.D. Bryce-Douglas before……it was in another of my posts from last year, Ship Shape, where I wrote about the history of the beautiful ship weathervane on top of our church spire. It was erected in 1885 after being presented by ………… A.D. Bryce-Douglas.

Many thanks once again to Emma Paterson for helping with the research of this post.