The Ardross-man

Wallace’s Warriors

Because of our plans to incorporate a William Wallace visitor centre into the redeveloped Barony St. John church buildings, we were asked to participate in the Ardrossan Castle Gala Day parade yesterday – as William Wallace and his band of Warriors!!

The catch was that I would be dressed as Wallace complete with a massive big William Wallace head…..and we would be doing a Gaelic hakka!

Now, for those of you who don’t know, a hakka is what the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team do at the start of all their games. It’s a traditional Maori war dance made to scare the enemies off – so our dance had to be similar but in Gaelic – and performed while marching in an parade. What could be easier? 🙂

The day itself went really well as the photos below show.


Our “Warriors” consisted of instructors and supporters of my charity (The Scottish Centre for Personal Safety) as well as police officers, members of the Tai Chi club who use the Barony St John Centre and some blind people who come to our personal safety lessons.

It was a really good representation of our charity and a brilliant community event to be involved with.

Volunteer Awards 2017

First of all, please let me apologise for taking so long to write another blog post – I’ve been doing a lot of work for my charity.

Now most people assume that I get paid for this work but the harsh reality is, I do not.

I bought the Barony St. John buildings for my charity in December 2014 so we could provide a base for ourselves and offer courses and training from the premises. It took all of 2015 and part of 2016 to get this dream to become a reality but now we run one-to-one sessions with victims of violence, group sessions with vulnerable people including courses for the blind and visually impaired, LGBTI groups, BME groups, etc. and on top of all this, the hall is rented out to various other groups to hold their events and activities in – so we have Muay Thai,  Tai Chi, Yoga, Circuit training, dance classes and kids Krav Maga classes.

But to be this busy someone has to take the bookings, clean the hall and the toilets, take the rental money, bank the money, stock the fridge, stock the tea/coffee, etc. etc. – and that person is me (as well as instructing in a lot of the classes).

It was therefore a great surprise to hear that a few of the people I work with had put my name forward for The Ayrshire Community Trust (TACT)’s Volunteer Awards – and I was lucky enough to be nominated for three awards last week and to win one.

Usually, award ceremonies are won on votes so if I ran a club with fifty kids coming along and they all voted for me, I’d win. That’s why I don’t give much credence to them – they are popularity awards!

But these Volunteer Awards are assessed by a panel of judges who then decide on the winners – a far fairer and therefore far more prestigious award to be nominated for.

The panel consisted of Mark Gallagher (Lead Officer with North Ayrshire Alcohol & Drug Partnership),  David MacRitchie (Senior Manager with Criminal Justice Services and Chief Social Work Officer), Geoff Coleman (Public Support Manager with NHS Ayrshire & Arran’s Mental Health Services), Marlene McMillan (Lead Pubic Health Practitioner with NHS Ayrshire & Arran), Rhona Arthur (Senior Manager with North Ayrshire Council’s Economy & Communities), Janet Strang (Chairperson of Cunninghamme Housing Association) Superintendent Tim Ross (Police Scotland) and Provost Ian Clarkson (North Ayrshire Council).

As you can see, this is a quality panel of judges so what followed was a great honour for me;

This is me picking up my nomination for the Health & Social Care Volunteer Award from Geoff Coleman –





I was also lucky enough to be nominated for the  Long Standing Volunteer Award which I received from Marlene McMillan –






And this is me getting my nomination for the Tremendous Trustee Volunteer Award from Janet Strang –

Although I wasn’t announced as the overall winner in the other categories, i did win the Tremendous Trustee Volunteer Award which was presented to me by Provost Ian Clarkson.

Like I said previously, I consider this a great honour as it comes from such a high calibre of judges – all I can say is “Thank you”.


As you can see, a great night was had by all and I was lucky enough to have two of the registered blind people I work with, Norma and Gillian, present as well as my parents.





Converted churches

There is something really wonderful about a church building in floodlight – maybe even magical.

Take a look at Fenstanton St. Peter & St. Paul parish church bathed in colour and you’ll get what I mean –


Or maybe Fenton St. Mary’s church in the more traditional white spotlight-

I just think that a church lit up at night, whether in colour or in white light, is something a bit special, don’t you agree?


 img_2067  img_2065

I wonder what the Barony St. John church building would look like all lit up?

Spectacular, I think.

Inside, the Barony St. John is the wonderfully grand church organ –


Now here is the organ in St. Luke’s in Glasgow, the former church which has now been converted into an Events Centre –


You must admit, there are similarities – but here is St. Luke’s organ backlit with lights and hosting a music event –


Looks pretty cool doesn’t it?

And here is our floor area –


And here is St. Luke’s with the pews taken out and set up for a wedding –


St. Luke’s also have a bar which can be lit in colours to match bridesmaids’ dresses or any colour scheme and matches the lights at the organ –


Now how cool is that?

Wouldn’t the Barony St. John look superb if it had this makeover?

Well, it may well do – and it’s could be up to you. We are asking for your opinion in a Survey Monkey to determine what the Barony St. John buildings could be transformed into. So for your say on what we should do with them, simply log into and give us your opinion.

Many thanks 😀

Crystal clear

After what seems like an eternity, the windows in the Training Room have been completed – and they look fab!

Here is what they looked like before –

The wood was rotten (in fact one of the arched windows fell out when we removed the plaster work around it) and every pane was a different type of glass – frosted, clear, opaque, patterned with dimples, patterned with ridges, tinted, mottled – you name it, it was here.


The wooden windows are exact copies of what was there before even down to the small square opening segment in the middle of the square windows.


With a new coat of paint, the new windows look absolutely fabulous compared to the old, rotten ones.


Now we need to focus on the metal protective covering which is on the outside wall of each window.


These are badly rusted and damaged causing rust to flow down the external stonework so they need removed, de-rusted, repaired and re-painted – if that’s possible. If not, they’ll need replaced.

Onwards and upwards. 😀

Victorian Adverts 2 – Cure-alls

In a previous post (Victorian Adverts 1) 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.

Some of the adverts were for magical cure-all medicines which seem to be favoured by the Victorians.

The first cure-all is Mellin’s Emulsion which the advert says was a mix of Cod liver oil and Hypophosphites (whatever they are) which was “very palatable“, “easily digested” and thankfully “perfectly safe“.

Mellin’s Food for Infants and Invalids  is described as “For infants, growing children, convalescents, consumptives, dyspeptics and the aged. A perfect nutriment in acute illnesses and all wasting diseases.”

I also managed to find this old coloured advert from 1880 on the internet for the emulsion –

img_2325  mellins

And these pages from an 1891 booklet to accompany Mellin’s Food for Infants and Invalids.


Another product advertised is Smedley’s Chillie Paste  claimed to cure Rheumatism, Gout, Lumbago, Bronchitis, Sore Throats, Neuralgia and Sciatica among other illnesses.

It contained oils from chilli peppers and although chillies had been used to treat inflammation for over a century in the USA, the chilli was still very much a novelty in Victorian Britain.

Smedley’s Chillie Paste was so popular that it later became known as “The King of all Cures” (once Edward VII came to the throne upon the death of Queen Victoria in 1901) as this colour advert I found on the internet shows –

img_2323  smedley

Lascelles’ Pills seemed to be taken “for the most obstinate cases” if the chilli paste didn’t work so I dread to think what might be in them. :-/

Allcock’s Porous Plasters also intrigued me and my investigations showed that Thomas Allcock (1815–1891) was the inventor (in 1854) and subsequent founder of the Allcock Manufacturing Company.

Thomas, although born in Birmingham, England, emigrated to the USA in 1845, settled in New York and opened a drug store. He was later called up and served as an artillery officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War (1861-1865).

I love the heading on my advert which says “Here you have a remedy that has made millions of ladies bless the maker of Allcock’s Porous Plasters” 😀 and this alternate advert which I found (on the left) which says that Allcock’s Porous Plasters can cure almost anything and could even be used to stop a cough. 🙂

img_2319  allcocks

Symington’s Edinburgh Coffee Essences were produced in bottles alongside Symington’s Dandelion Coffee Essence by Thomas Symington & Co. of Edinburgh around 1880 which ties in with the 1893 date of this pamphlet.

img_2328    crop

Symington’s coffee essences preceded the more popular and still going Camp Coffee in bottles produced by Robert Paterson of Glasgow from 1897 onwards.

Thomas Symington’s posters advertised that by adding boiling water to his essence, you could have “a cup of coffee in one minute” – the world’s first instant coffee.

Between 1880 and 1890, the Victorians recognised that the caffeine in tea and coffee could cause an increase in heart rates as well as stomach upsets and sleeplessness so Thomas Symington rose to the challenge and developed an alternative hot drink using dandelion roots –Symington’s Dandelion Coffee Essence.

The health benefits of dandelion coffee were promoted as almost a cure-all aiding everything from stomach upsets to gout and even bad tempers. 🙂

Both Symington’s products were sold throughout the British Empire and into the USA, winning many medals and prizes for their exceptionally high quality along the way.

Symington’s continued to be sold until 1975 when the company was acquired by G R Lane Health Products and is apparently still available today from specialist health stores.


Ailsa Craig – Paddy’s Milestone

Visitors to the Barony St. John buildings will frequently gaze out to the sea and ask what the small island is in the distance.

img_3094    img_3095

The island is called Ailsa Craig (which comes from the Gaelic, Aillse Creag meaning “fairy rock”) but is known by many as “Paddy’s Milestone” presumably because Ireland is only 179 miles away from it (9.9 miles from the Scottish mainland) and immigrants from Ireland would travel from Belfast to Ardrossan on their way to Glasgow and Edinburgh and see this as the “milestone” marking their near arrival in Scotland.

The island was also a haven for Catholics during the Scottish Reformation in the 16th century and as a prison during the 18th–19th century but today the island, at only 4 km (2.5 miles) in circumference and 338 m (1,109 ft) tall, is uninhabited and is a bird sanctuary for gannets and puffins.

ailsa_craig_from_hms_campbeltown_-_geograph-org-uk_-_988485As this photo by Johnny Durnan, (CC BY-SA 2.0, highlights, it is thought that the island was actually the top of a volcano which erupted sending this plug end flying out and landing here in the sea.

This volcanic activity gave the island rock a rare type of micro-granite known as Ailsite which is used in the making of curling stones and, as of 2004, 60–70% of all curling stones in use were made from granite from the island and the island is one of only two sources for all curling stones in the world (the other being the Trefor Granite Quarry in Wales).

Ailsa Craig produced two types of granite for curling, Blue Hone and Ailsa Craig Common Green.


Blue Hone has very low water absorption, which prevents the action of repeatedly freezing water from eroding the stone. Ailsa Craig Common Green is a lesser quality granite than Blue Hone.

Kays of Scotland has been making curling stones since 1851 and has the exclusive rights to the Ailsa Craig granite, granted by the island’s owner, the Marquess of Ailsa.

The last “harvest” of Ailsa Craig granite by Kays took place in 2013, after a hiatus of 11 years; 2,000 tonnes were harvested, sufficient to fill anticipated orders until at least 2020.1024px-ailsa_craig_clyde_1840s

I came across this beautiful wood carving from 1841 (just 3 years before the Barony St. John was built).

It is by Roger Griffith (Memorials of Clutha. E A Phipps. 1841., Public Domain, and as you can see, has the island shaped a little differently from what it looks like today. An artists impression or erosion over the years? Who knows.

castle_and_lighthouse_ailsa_craigThe only surviving buildings on the island are the lighthouse on its east coast facing the Scottish mainland, a ruined towerhouse castle built in the 16th Century by the Hamilton Clan to protect the area from King Phillip II of Spain and the old quarry manager’s house that is now used by the RSPB (Royal Society of the Protection of Birds).

The castle has two vaulted storeys , shown in this photo by Ron Ireland (CC BY-SA 2.0, and an oven is located in the cellar with evidence of a spiral stairway that once ran to the top of the tower. Three cinquefoils arranged in a ‘V’ shape are carved on the tower, a mark of the Hamilton Clan. There are also indications that an adjoining building may have ran from the castle to the north.

In the Summer time, you can hire a boat to take you from Largs to Ailsa Craig and you can even visit the towerhouse castle – so watch out for some more photos later in the year as I may just pay the island a visit. 😀





Easter Egg Hunt 2017

Well, it’s hard to believe that it was a year ago that I did our first Easter Egg hunt with my kids in the derelict Barony St. John building.

This year, I tried something a little different – coins and a large egg. You hunt for the coins, which were hidden all over the pews. And then you get a clue to the whereabouts of the large egg.


Daniel’s clue was “Arial, Lucinda, Comic Sans, Times New Roman…”

Yes, you’ve guessed it, they’re all types of Fonts…………so his egg was in the church font. 🙂

Gemma’s clue was “Heart, Kidneys, Liver, Lungs…”

They are all types of internal organs…… her egg was in the church organ. 😀

Two happy kids. 😉

Omen 10 – The Haining Omen

From the very beginning there has been something weird drawing me to the Barony St. John buildings in Ardrossan as a base for my charity.

Little coincidences or quirks that I’d refer to as “omens” which seemed to be telling me that this was my destiny.

Yes, I know, this all sounds fanciful and I have detailed all the Omens in previous blog posts – but let me summarise them to date –

Omen 1. The Ardross-Ardrossan – this highlighted the similarity between the name of the village where I lived in the Highlands (Ardross) at the time I bought the buildings and the town where the buildings were (Ardrossan).

Omen 2. The Instructor Omen – not knowing exactly where in North Ayrshire Ardrossan was, I contacted a group I had trained as instructors from North Ayrshire to see if they had heard of the church – and it turned out that the leader and a couple of instructors actually lived in Ardrossan,  giving my charity a supply of ready qualified, local instructors.

Omen 3. The Star of David Omen – when visiting the buildings for the first time with my brother David, I noticed it had a Star of David (Jewish) symbol in the hall window and in the church window. Strange for a Church of Scotland building but a coincidence since David was here with me.

Omen 4. The Church Omen – After putting a bid in for the hall building, we were informed it had been accepted and we would be getting the church building too.

Omen 5. The SAS Omen – As the Three Towns of Saltcoats, Ardrossan and Stevenston often gets abbreviated to SAS (as in the SAS Explorer Scout Unit) it was a coincidence since SAS was the abbreviation of my organisation prior to it becoming a charity, Security And Safety.

Omen 6. The Owner Omen – how strange to find out that the only other person on the title deeds to the church buildings was Robert Bell in December 1844 and now, exactly 170 years later in December 2014, my name was added – Alan Bell. Only two people on the title deeds, both named Bell.

Omen 7. The Elder Omen – Having found the accounts from 1906 and 1909, I was surprised to see that David Bell was a church elder. The same name as my brother.

Omen 8. The Wolf Omen – Having decided to look at getting the church ceiling painted with a fresco, a local painter had the idea of painting a Celtic horoscope with animals and trees representing the various star signs. Her plan of work showed various animal drawings of a stag, salmon – and a wolf drawing which was identical to the emblem of my children’s Primary School….in Ardross.

Omen 9. The Wallace Omen – A chance meeting with World Karate Champion Bill “Superfoot” Wallace saw him agree to open my Centre…..on the 720th anniversary of the original William Wallace’s taking of Ardrossan castle just behind the church buildings.

And now, one of my new instructors comes up to me having read one of my blog posts regarding (Omen 7. The Elder Omen) and asks me if I noticed her name in the list of church elders.

Daisy Haining is currently our youngest instructor. She is 17yrs old and was actually born in Stevenston (one of the Three Towns) where she lived for the first two years of her life before moving to Ardrossan.

Her father was originally from Stewarton in East Ayrshire (15 – 16 miles away from Ardrossan) so no immediate link with Ardrossan until 15 years ago.

And here’s the thing – Haining is a pretty uncommon name. In fact, Daisy has never met anyone else with the same surname other than her relations!

image                image

But yet, here in the list of church Elders in the New Ardrossan Parish Church annual report of 1906 and 1909 is a Mr D. B. Haining.

image            image

Now, if you look carefully at the list of Elders, you’ll notice there is something really strange about D.B. Haining – it’s the only name abbreviated to initials. All the other names are written in full.

D.B Haining was also the “Representative Elder to Presbytery and Synod” (I had to look up “synod” and apparently its either “an assembly of the clergy and sometimes also the laity in a diocese or other division of a particular Church” or “a Presbyterian ecclesiastical court above the presbyteries and subject to the General Assembly”) and D.B Haining was one of only three Elders who were on the Poor Fund Committee – the other two being James Barbour and David Bell (same name as my brother).

So yes, it is a Mr rather than a Miss. And yes, it is D.B. Haining rather than D. Haining. But there is no denying that this is spookily weird.

I buy the church on behalf of my charity and two of my six instructors have the same surnames as two of the twelve church Elders from over a hundred years ago.

Even spookier, two of the three members of the church’s Poor Fund Committee have the same surname’s as two of my instructors and one has the exact same name….the other is the only person to have their forename as an initial instead of the full name, making this name D. Haining the same as my instructor D. Haining.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, I think you will agree that this new revelation does indeed qualify as Omen 10. The Haining Omen 😀

Getting there

Yes, I’ve had a lot of setbacks with this Training Room; the water ingress, the plasterwork, the rotten windows, the wrong size windows, the wrong size glass, etc. etc. but through it all Paul Marchetti, builder extraordinaire, has shone through. He tackles every problem with a shrug and a smile and just gets on with the job. Likewise his partner in crime, Peter.

And so, we are finally getting there. The window glass is ordered and in the meantime, the room has been framed off.

img_2934       img_2935

Next stage was to put in insulation between all the frames leaving a gap between the insulation and the stone wall to allow air flow and prevent a build-up of sand and dirt again.

The room is starting to shape.

img_2940     img_0853

The next stage was to take one of the windows out so that it can be sent to a specialist wooden window making company and exact copies can be made. Paul undid a screw at the top of one of the arched windows…………and the whole thing fell out. :-/

Luckily, Peter was there to catch it and between the two of them they managed to lower it to the ground. The frame was a mess, completely rotten.

img_3041           img_3040

Then came the plastering and the painting of the walls and the building of an internal cupboard.

 img_0852        img_3073img_3128    img_3130 

A lick of paint and that’s one wall done.

The big job ahead is to do the same to the other three walls, two of which contain the windows – and all of this is only if we find the next lot of funding.

I can’t wait to see the windows boxed off internally with shelves below each of them. 🙂

But then the tea/coffee area needs to get built, everything painted, carpet and floor coverings put down – and even then we need to look for funding for the equipment to go in the room (SMART Board, meeting room tables, chairs, dry wipe board, flipchart, WiFi, breakout sofa area, etc, etc.

One step at time though…..we’re getting there. 😀

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑