The Ardross-man



Unexpected items that I’ve found!

John Moffat window update

Following a request about who the “John Moffat” is mentioned in the large circular window which is currently boarded up in the church, I received this wonderful letter from George McGrattan detailing a biography of the man;

Records at Liberton Parish Church in Edinburgh show that John Moffat was born on 7th May 1818, the son of John Moffat and his wife Barbara Brown.

So, what is John Moffat’s connection with Ardrossan?

Well, he was a Civil Engineer who came to Ardrossan and helped develop Ardrossan Harbour, evenutally becoming the Harbour Manager as this obituary for his sister (Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, 28th November 1902) intimates;

“In 1843, John Moffat, so long honourably connected with the Harbour, began his visits as engineer of the Wet Docks and to his untiring efforts, the present day prosperity of Ardrossan is largely due.”

Throughout his working life, John Moffat featured in several newspaper reports both locally and in the Glasgow Herald including:

  • being toasted by the Earl of Eglinton at the opening of Ardrossan Docks in 1845
  • being a founder member of Ardrossan Volunteer Corps in 1859
  • presenting the 4th Ayrshire (Ardrossan) Artillery Volunteers with brass musical instruments in 1874 (which I detailed in my last article The John Moffat Window)
  • paying for the distribution of twenty tons of coal to the poor in 1875
  • opening the bazaar on behalf of the Volunteer Band in 1875
  • being associated with the Ardrossan branch of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in 1876
  • addressing the Ardrossan Young Men’s Society For Religious Improvement in 1877

As I mentioned in my previous article, on 18th November 1874, at the age of fifty-six, John married Jessie Arthur who was only twenty five years old.

Having settled in Ardrossan as a single man, initially living in Montgomerie Street (according to the 1851 census) and latterly at 11 South Crescent (according to the 1861 census), John and Jessie moved to Glasgow where their two children were born, Edith in 1876 and John in 1879.

According to the 1881 census, the Moffats lived at 7 Woodside Terrace, Glasgow and as well as being described as a civil engineer in the census, he was also described as a Justice of the Peace.

On 23rd March 1882, just over seven years married and at the age of only sixty two, tragedy struck. John’s body was found in a reservoir near Parkhouse Farm, in what is now Parkhouse Walkway, off Parkhouse Road, Ardrossan.  His death certificate states that he committed suicide by drowning.

The Glasgow Herald published an obituary.  It read;

It is with regret that we announce the sudden death of Mr John Moffat, superintendent of the Ardrossan Harbour.  Mr Moffat came to Ardrossan forty years ago and has always been noted for his close attention to duty and great business aptitude.  He was a member of the School Board and always took a ward interest in education and indeed in most public questions.  He was a director of the Ardrossan Gas and Water Company and held a similar position in several other important companies throughout the county.  He was also noted for many deeds of un-ostentatious charity and by his death, many of the poor in the locality are deprived of a kind and liberal friend.  Mr Moffat was appointed Captain of the Ardrossan Volunteer Corps at its formation in 1860 and continued in that position for many years.  Even after retiring, he took a warm interest in the Corps.”

Why would an apparently successful and esteemed man with a wife and two young children kill himself?  A clue is given in the opening sentence of a testimonial in the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald.  It states;

The late Mr John Moffat is one other victim to overwork.  More than a quarter of a century ago, he succeeded his brother James in the management of the then Ardrossan Railway, afterwards incorporated into the Glasgow and South-Western Railway System and the Ardrossan Harbour.  He had immense capacity for work and it was due to his foresight and untiring energy, while lessee of the Harbour, that some years ago, Ardrossan became one of the most flourishing and best managed ports in the West of Scotland.   With Messrs Henderson and Son, Belfast, he owned the magnificent steamers of the Ardrossan Shipping Company.  He opened up a most lucrative trade with Spain and for years has been one of a few gentlemen who were directors of more than half a dozen companies.  He could take a singularly clear and strong grasp of any matter of business brought before him and few could excel him in his exposition of details.  Only lately, after a meeting held in Saltcoats on the Water question, a gentleman present said to the writer that he could have listened to him all the evening.  His position at the Harbour naturally gave him great influence in the place but the deceased gentleman would have commanded a foremost place anywhere.  An excellent education had developed a love for the best literature and to an extensive acquaintance of the works of the best authors, there was added the culture which comes from travel in foreign countries and friendly personal intercourse with some oi the best informed and most learned gentlemen in the country.  When the occasion required he could show considerable tact in dealing with an opposition.  He had superior conversational powers, was a good speaker and a lecture which he delivered some years ago, at the request of the Library Committee – full of information relieved by happy strokes of humour – showed that even in this he would have excelled, had he given his mind to it.  He was a prosperous man but, as he strongly disliked anything like ostentatious display, only a few knew how generously he bestowed money where help was needed.  If the case was an urgent one he gave liberally and while we would have hesitated to approach him on a pure matter of business, if money was needed for a good cause, all hesitation vanished.  We knew that we could get from him all that we wished for.  For Mrs Moffat and his sisters, there is the deepest sympathy.  It is felt that their sorrow is a calamity which even sympathy – the deepest and truest – can relieve but faintly’.

I find it hard to believe though that John would commit suicide because he was overworked. He could have retired happily and not worked another day in his life. My suspicious mind does make me wonder if it was suicide, an accident or something more sinister.

John’s widow, Jessie, remarried on 13th April 1886 in Dundonald.  Her husband was Charles Edward Hay, a thirty-six year old bachelor chemical manufacturer.  Charles was the son of Sir John Hay, Seventh Baronet of Hay and Sheriff Substitute of Stirlingshire.

Jessie died on 17th November 1931.

John’s children also had notable lives;  The Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald reported that on 30th  July 1901, Edith “daughter of the late John Moffat, Ardrossan, and Mrs Jessie Hay of Castlehill, Ayr, was married to Captain Henry Scrymgeour-Wedderburn of Wedderburn, Kirkhill, Fife.  The Reverend George Grub, rector and Reverend Alexander Copland, senior curate officiated at the ceremony.  The bride was given away by her brother John Moffat.  Mr Norman Lamont, younger of Ardlamont was best man“.

Henry Scrymgeour-Wedderburn was the Tenth Earl of Dundee.  His and Edith Moffat’s son, Henry James Scrymgeour-Wedderburn (1902–1983), was the eleventh Earl of Dundee.

Among several military and political posts, he was Under-Secretary of State for Scotland from 1936 to 1939 and 1941 to 1942.

Henry’s son, Alexander Henry Scrymgeour, the Twelfth Earl of Dundee has been a member of the House of Lords since 1983 and still attends.

Edith died in Edinburgh on 16th October 1967.

On 21st November 1902, the local paper stated that “Mr John Moffat, who has been unanimously adopted as Unionist candidate for Paisley, is a son of the late Mr John Moffat, Ardrossan.  He is about twenty-four years of age and was educated at Cheam, Eton and Cambridge where he is said to have made a special study of mathematics, chemistry and political economy”.  John did not win the next election. He then pursued a career as a merchant.

On 19th January 1926, John married Fern Clarisse King in Paris.  Fern was the daughter of Lloyd Stanley King, a man of independent means.  It appears that John continued to live in France where he was still resident in 1950.

Although John Moffat’s life had a sad ending, he left a distinguished family and played a prominent part in the industrial and community life of Ardrossan.  He was clearly held in high regard by his contemporaries who symbolised their affection by the installation in 1889 of a large circular window in his memory which dominates the in the Barony St John Church.  May John Moffat rest in peace.

Many thanks to George McGrattan for writing most of this article.



The John Moffat window

Way back in March 2016, I told you about the circular window in the hall building which had a Star of David inside it and I mentioned that there was a large circular window in the main church building which had been boarded since the late 1990’s / early 2000’s, and that I didn’t know what this window looked like.

What was behind the boarding has remained hidden and it is our hope that one day we can make the window safe and have it uncovered again for the public to view but in the meantime, a local resident has come to me with some photos showing the window underneath in all its glory.

The window is not plain glass like the hall window but stained glass – and the colours and intricate patterns are amazing.

In the centre of the window there is an intertwined IHS symbol which is an abbreviation of IHSOUS or “Jesus” in Latinised Greek. The symbol is used in many Christian churches and you may just be able to make it out on the red velvet drape hanging over the pulpit below the organ pipes in the above photo showing the entire church wall, alter and organ.

In the close-up photo below, you may also be able to make out that there is an inscription around the circumference of the window. The upper line reads;

In loving memory of John Moffat, died March 23rd 1882.

But the lower line is harder to read as some of the words are obscured so I can only read;

He rest from his ………. works do allow him.


If anyone has any more information on this window, what the full inscription says or who John Moffat was, please do get in touch.

The only two pieces of information I can find, which may or may not be the same Mr Moffat, were obtained from the Glasgow Herald.

The first dated 17th March 1874 in an article titled “Ardrossan – Volunteer Ball”.

It mentions the annual ball of the 4th Ayrshire (Ardrossan) Artillery Volunteers which took place in the Good Templars’ Hall. It discusses the event and then says;

Mr Moffat then presented to the corps a beautiful set of brass musical instruments subscribed for by several gentlemen in the town.

Is this the same Mr Moffat?

He must have been well known as other people are mentioned by name and then have their job detailed (Mr Barrs the music instructor, Mr Cowan the treasurer to the corps and Mr Phillips of the coastguard) but there is no mention of who Mr Moffat is or what he does.

Presumably, he was so well known that readers, even in Glasgow, would have known him by name only.

The second article was published on 19th NOVEMBER 1874 and identifies the person as JOHN Moffat so it maybe our man;

The article is titled “Ardrossan Rejoicing” reports;

Yesterday in recognition of the marriage of Mr. JOHN MOFFAT with Miss ARTHUR of Barshaw, all the vessels in the harbour (of which Mr. Moffat is superintendent) were gaily decorated with bunting, and several of the public buildings also displayed flags.

The volunteer fired 13 rounds from the big guns at the battery, and met again in the evening, when they fired a feu de joie.

The harbour employees were suitably entertained in the evening.

If this is the same John Moffat whose death in 1882 is recorded, he married in 1874 and was died only eight years later.

Hopefully you can help me solve this puzzle and reveal who John Moffat was and why he was so well known.

Oh, and one last thing, I have completely mislaid the name of the person who gave me the photos of the church window – if it was YOU, can you get in touch so I can publicly thank you? Cheers.

Goodbye for now.

Ardrossan 1934

Local historian Helen Abbott has done it again – she has unearthed a fantastic photo from around 1934 which shows the rear of the Barony St John church buildings.

You may remember in a previous post (The Mystery of the Church Hall extension) I was questioning the current layout of the church hall building as there were different types of stone and brickwork on the rear.

Initially, both the church and hall buildings were joined only by a corridor which was recessed. You can see by the brickwork where this has now been made parallel.


And you can see in the close up photos of the 1934 photo that the corridor had been made parallel by then as the brick and cement wall is clearly shown – but there is a wall or a building extending out from the hall corridor area.


If you look at the hall building, you will see that at right angles to it ending, at the rear and to the right of the lawn in the photos above, there is another construction extending down the width of the lawn garden and finishing with another house type structure.

This confirms what I suspected when looking at the current rear of the Training Room (the first modern photo above) as you can see a break in the stone work and a replacement of brick and cement again.

If the buildings and the Training Room (which was originally known as the “Small Hall”) had extended back, it would indeed be large enough to be known as a hall and it would also confirm what a previous Ardrossan resident, Mary Buswell, had said. In a previous post (Sexy Mary), Mary confirmed that although she left Ardrossan in the 1950’s she could remember the Training Room being much larger and extending back into what is now a car park area.


Angel feathers?

Are these angel feathers in the Barony St John church building?

Gone but not Forgotten

Some time ago, I wrote a post From Death Springs Life about the font situated at the front of the church building and how it was dedicated by the parents of two fallen soldiers in the Great War.

Well, a local chap by the name of William Parker has been doing some digging and came up with a fascinating story.

About ten years ago, William was researching for a book he was producing about the opening of St Cuthbert’s Church in nearby Saltcoats.

One of the main benefactors for St. Cuthbert’s was apparently a Mrs McIsaac and it was her son-in-law , Mr Charles Addis, who spoke on her behalf at the Opening Ceremony as did another donor, a Mr. James Mutter (You may remember him from another post James Mutter’s windows about the person who installed the two stained glass windows either side of the alter).

Anyway, Mr Addis’s sister was married to Rev Robert Adamson, the minister of St. John’s Church in Ardrossan. This means that the font which is now in the Barony St John was, as we thought, gifted to the original St. John’s Church but what we didn’t know was that it was gifted by St. John’s own minister and his wife.

William searched online and found the following entry;

Name: ADAMSONImage result for poppy
First names: Robert Thorburn
Rank: Lieutenant
Regiment: Royal Scots
Unit: 4th Bn
Age: 23
Date of Death: 23/04/1917
Additional information: Son of the Rev. Robert M. Adamson, of Saint John’s Manse, Ardrossan, Ayrshire. M.A. (Edinburgh University)
Memorial reference: Bay 1 and 2

Robert is the brother of George Addis Adamson who is also on the memorial. Both brothers are also on the Ardrossan memorial.

Name: ADAMSON, GEORGE ADDIS Image result for poppy
Initials: G A
Nationality: United Kingdom
Rank: Second Lieutenant  Regiment/Service: King’s Own Scottish Borderers 
Unit: 6th Bn.
Age: 19
Date of Death: 12/10/1917
Additional information: Son of the Rev. Robert M. Adamson, M.A., and Robina S. T. Adamson, of St. John’s Manse, Ardrossan, Ayrshire.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead Grave/Memorial Reference: Panel 66 to 68. Memorial: TYNE COT MEMORIAL

The plaque on the back of the font is photographed below.


William also obtained additional information from Edinburgh University’s Roll of Honour:

Ardrossan Academy ; Dux; First XV. and XI. Cadet Corps 1909-12.

Student of Arts, 1916-17. O.T.C. Infantry, July to Dec. 1916, Cadet; Officer Cadet Dec. 1916.

6th King’s Own Scottish Borderers, 2nd Lieut. Jan. 1917. France.

Fell in action at Passchendaele on I2th October 1917.

Here is the plaque showing their names on the Ardrossan war memorial  just across the road from the church.



Victorian Adverts 3

In previous posts (Victorian Adverts 1 and Victorian Adverts 2 – Cure Alls) I described some advertisements found in a pamphlet dated May 1893 which was rescued from some fallen masonry from the gallery area of Barony St. John’s church.

Here are some more ads which caught my eye;

The Zoka Hand Camera was introduced by Jonathan Fallowfield in 1894.  It was a very popular inexpensive camera, mainly designed for beginners and youths. This advert and its description as a “Detective Camera” was obviously aimed at the youth market.

The camera was fitted with a fixed focus achromatic lens. The plates were held in place by a spring and once exposed you would pull a knob and the plate would drop down to the lower part of the camera and at the same time a new plate was readied for exposure.

I couldn’t find anything about Hinksman’s Asthma Reliever except on a blog post My Dad’s Memoirs: Memoirs of a Fisherman’s Son.

“As soon as I felt an attack coming on or awoke during the night to find myself in the throes of an attack, I would put about a teaspoonful of the mixture in the oval depression on the lid, set a match to it and inhale the smoke which was given off. Relief came within a very short period: less than two minutes. Wherever I went as a boy I had my tin of Hinksman’s with me: this continued until I was 16 when the burden was lifted from me as mentioned later.
Other children in the village also suffered from this dreadful affliction: some like me used Hinksman’s, others a similar product called Potters’ Asthma Cure or herbal cigarettes. The latter I tried from time to time but found no help in them. However as it gave me a feeling of superiority over my fellows, I used, deliberately to smoke those cigarettes from time to time: to the great envy of my fellow pupils!”

Smoking in school allowed because the cigarettes were said to help asthma – oh how times have changed LOL 😀  

Although I couldn’t find any references to Thompson’s Corn Plasters, corn plasters are actually still sold in chemist shops. These days they contain salicylic acid which removes the build up of hard skin formed in areas of the foot which experience excessive pressure (around the big toe area of women who squeeze their feet into narrow fitting high heels, for instance).

I don’t know if it was salicylic acid that was used in the Victorian days but it must have been some kind of acid to burn the skin off. Ouch!

Godfrey’s Extract of Elder Flowers allegedly cured pimples, humours and eruptions and could “speedily remove all tan, sunburn freckles and redness”. The cream was prepared by Benjamin Godfrey Windus and later sold through Messrs. Willoughby & Co.

Benjamin Godfrey Windus, 61 Bishopsgate Street, was engraved on a Government Stamp which was pasted over the cork of every bottle, “without which none can be genuine”.

The Y & N corset was granted to Robert Alfred Young and Robert Neilson (Y&N) under British patent no.116 on 10th January 1879. It was described as a “more durable and yielding” corset but the sketch on the advertisement does not give it justice as this photo shows.

Lady Grisell Baillie

I found this Victorian advert in the church about Lady Grisell Baillie


But having never heard of her, I had to find out more;

It turns out she was a Scottish songwriter with a fascinating  history.

Born on Christmas Day 1665, she died aged 80 on 6th December 1746, just shy of her 81st birthday and was buried on Christmas Day 1746.

800px-lady_grisell_baillieGrisell was the eldest daughter of Sir Patrick Hume, a staunch Scottish patriot.

In 1677, when Grisell was just 12 years old, she carried letters from her father to Robert Baillie who was in prison for plotting to assassinate King Charles II of England and his brother James.

Baillie’s idea was that the Catholic King and his brother would be killed and a Protestant heir would take their place on the throne. (Guy Fawkes had a similar idea when he tried to blow up King Charles II grandfather, James I, in the famous Gunpowder Plot of 1605).

The King’s men soon became suspicious of Hume as in the same year, 1677, Grisell was asked to be one of the Maids of Honour at the wedding of Mary (the Protestant daughter of the King’s brother James) to William of Orange. And although Grisell turned down this offer, the King wanted Hume arrested for questioning.

Hume hid in the crypt of Polwarth Church in the Scottish Borders while his daughter, Grisell, smuggled food to him and when news broke of Baillie’s execution in 1684, Hume fled to the Netherlands (home of William of Orange) where his family later joined him.

Catholic King James VII of Scotland (II of England) meanwhile took the throne following the death of his brother Charles II in 1685 but Protestant nobles called for the King’s Protestant son-in-law, William of Orange, to land an invasion army from the Netherlands.

When, in 1688 William did just that, King James fled for France and was replaced by his eldest, Protestant daughter Mary and her husband and invader, William of Orange.

This was to become known as The Glorious Revolution.

The Catholic former king, James, didn’t give up so easily though and made one big attempt to recover his throne from Protestant William and Mary. He landed in Ireland in 1689 with a small army in 1690 and there followed the Battle of the Boyne where James and his “Jacobite” army were defeated by William’s “Williamite” army. James returned to France where he stayed with his Catholic cousin, King Louis XIV (he of the Palace of Versailles and French Revolution fame) until his death.

Sir Patrick Hume and his family including Grisell returned to Scotland in 1690 after James’s ultimate defeat in Ireland and in 1692, Lady Grisell aged 27, married George, the son of the executed Robert Baillie. It was said that Grisell fell in love with George when she first met him aged 12 as she smuggled letters from her father to his.

Some of Lady Grisell’s songs were printed in Allan Ramsay’s Tea-Table Miscellany. The most famous being “And werena my heart light I wad dee” which originally appeared in William Thomson’s Orpheus Caledonius (otherwise known as A Collection of the Best Scotch Songs) which was published in 1725.

Lady Grisell was also memorialised by the Scottish poet, Joanna Baillie (not a known relation but she claimed to be a distant relative) in a poem first published in 1821 in Metrical Legends of Exalted Characters.

What a colourful history lesson.

Soap by Royal Appointment

I saw this advert in the pamphlet Life & Works which I found last year –

It starts off Appointed by Special Royal Warrant – Soap Makers to Her Majesty the Queen

Obviously this is Queen Victoria as the date on the pamphlet is May 1893.


The nice thing about some of these Victorian adverts is that some were written as a short story instead of just the “buy me” type of advert we get today.

This story – “A Daughter’s Happiness” is delightful;

“There is no incident in a mother’s life more deeply moving than when she is alone for the last time with her daughter, shortly to become a wife, the training of whom for a useful happy life has been her constant care. There stands the young bride, full of hope and confidence in the future, scarcely giving a thought to the happy home she is leaving, and scarcely asking herself whether she will be equally happy in the home she is seeking for herself. In a few minutes the carriage will bear her away, and she will have passed from her mother’s care to that of the man to whom she is confiding her whole future happiness. In these few minutes of waiting the mother lives again the years that have flown past since her daughter was a wee toddling babe, and asks herself if she could possibly have done more than she has done to secure her daughter’s happiness. At such a time, the mother finds the deepest satisfaction in knowing that whilst her daughter is fully accomplished for the ballroom, and for all the social duties of life, she is equally well trained in all the details of household management. These things are not trifles, as some would suppose; the happiness of a household depends on cleanliness and comfort; with these the cottage is a HOME; without them the palace is a wilderness. HAPPY is the wife who has been taught that the easiest, surest, safest, and most economical way to ensure cleanliness and comfort in her household is by the regular use of SUNLIGHT SOAP.”

Oh my, how times have changed!

I find it frightening to think that this was a woman’s lot right up into the 1970s – you get married and then serve your husband, keep the house and be a good wife.

Aren’t you glad that we live in these modern times of equality?

A little ray of sunshine

I came into the hall building the other day and noticed something lit up on one of the toilet doors in the corridor. It was a beautiful little image of the huge circular window in the main hall.

A little ray of sunshine had obviously shone through the window, carrying the image down through the entire length of the hall, through a small crack in the door, across the corridor and onto the the lower half of the toilet door.

It made my day 😀

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