Sunday, 17 February 2019

Ayr Inland. A Brief History of Mine.

                                               ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
Back in Ayr again but this time for a walk inland through Ayr itself. One of the real joys of going anywhere these days is finding out about the history of the areas I visit. It's probably also an age thing as in my younger days it was more about fleeting impressions seen in a blur of travel and sensory enjoyment/overload rather than any deeper thinking or analysis about what I observed. Also I was usually in company then and had to engage constantly with a group of equally energetic companions with different competing interests. Maybe it's that simple. Now I tend to think more about the objects I see in front of me and this trio of large buildings proved a perfect example.
I noticed them on my first trip down here (the initial walk along the beach one) and was immediately intrigued by their origins as they seemed so out of place with the neighbouring affluent but lower suburbia scattered around them. I thought at first they might be three grand mansions by rich industrialists but later found out they were purpose built like that in a neat row as Wellington School, built in the 1830s for fee paying pupils. For most of its life a prestigious boarding and day school for girls then later for both sexes. The model Kirsty Hume, Journalist and TV Presenter Kirsty Wark, and classical violinist Nicola Benedetti are all former pupils. Presumably one of the main reasons for sending pupils to fee paying schools and top universities is that they land the best jobs in society through a combination of hard work, ambition, talent, but also contacts and 'closed shop' institutions like the BBC and political/ city industries recruiting them, almost exclusively, from that background. Watching the recent Back in Time series it mentioned that in the 1960s and 1970s the optimism of ordinary folk in the UK after the war years appeared to be high as strides in social mobility had started to occur. More working class actors and actresses filtering into the entertainment industry in larger numbers being a very visual example of change during that period. Fast forward to the present day and its also obvious using that same litmus test entertainment genre for society in general it's reverted right back to the old order again, one of the reasons why so few programmes on TV feature working class families anymore except for the dire and utterly miserable East Enders where they are always biting chunks out of each other every episode. It's all Poirot, Downton Abbey, Agatha Christie, Midsomer Murders to keep well heeled thespians with posh ascents in work. I do enjoy all these programmes but it is a noticeable change from previous decades, that presumably reflects a shift across wider society into two distinct camps despite so many young folk going into university education from every background... and it's not my imagination either :o)  
Although, going by the main shopping streets, it does not give that appearance, Ayr is a town with big money invested over many, many years- in the past and even today. Large well to do suburbs cover much of Ayr with leafy broad streets and sizable detached houses that would not look out of place in Bearsden, upmarket Glasgow or Edinburgh.
I suspect nowadays most of the residents of these fine streets do their shopping online thus avoiding the congested traffic of the town centre, any parking hassles, and the general downtrodden look of the main shopping district, which has a very strong feeling of depressed decay. I don't blame them as I would too if I was pushed for time and inclined to do most purchasing transactions online by habit, living locally. This does have consequences though. On my handful of visits here and other places Scotland wide only the poorest appear to frequent the high street shopping districts nowadays in person as a general rule and this is an honest snapshot as a first time visitor wandering around the place. It could be the type of shops however, mainly low budget outlets or specialist stores, perhaps reflecting that same pronounced divide in society that has evolved during the last 15 years. Either Waitrose or Poundland retail wise- with not much in-between in most urban areas in my vicinity. Previous visits to Saltcoats, Kilmarnock, Ardrossan, Prestwick, etc lends me a template of other clyde coast town shopping districts to compare with and they are similarly depressed looking in atmosphere with a larger working class coefficient in them ('austerity puddles' as Anne wickedly calls them, somewhat unkindly) but the big difference in the case of Ayr is, unlike the other towns, it has a very visible and largely affluent resident population as well, just going by house size alone, although some are now care homes, hotels, and the like.

 In short I expected the town centre to look much better than it did - more upmarket and tidy, given the income bracket of the surrounding area... but it was actually worse. Also, given that record numbers of people are in work, according to government figures, and supposedly lifted out of poverty, how come there always appears to be ever increasing levels of walking wounded, assorted anti social damaged souls, the left behind, and the frankly unemployable in any large town or city I've been in during the last five years- and that's local accents not immigrants. Surely with so many universities, colleges and other centres of learning the standard of education, opportunities, and general collective intelligence of the local population should also jump up creating a more balanced ordered society. But that's not the impression I get, wandering around. Something doesn't add up. Despite the propaganda recent predictions (in the Guardian) warn that another million UK households containing children with be pushed into poverty within the next few years.
I mention this because of the old Conservative ideology and way of thinking that if you funnel money to the richest in society it will trickle down to the poor eventually and Ayr is a perfect test tube for that theory as it should have has the right blend of residents. An ordinary Ayr housing estate above, where the base of the pyramid mainly resides so a half and half fairly mixed population of income brackets- rich and poor. I mention this not for any axe to grind or class prejudice but just because, as a first time wanderer, through the shopping district here, I was shocked and saddened by how downtrodden and neglected it looked with empty shops and untidy period buildings everywhere. It looked very shabby. Town centre buildings that should be preserved with Ayr's long proud history. Unfortunately, these two tribes of the modern UK live very separate lives and rarely meet anywhere- a process from way back that's only increased with technology as a facilitator to make them less likely to interact. Separate world's entirely. Today, the money never trickles down, only up, against the laws of gravity. In a cashless society, which big business is continually pushing towards, that may only get worse.  Poor districts just become poorer, year by year,- in post industrial urban areas a normal trend over many decades now if you squeeze any remaining wealth from them via austerity measures and benefit cuts. A downward spiral for many unlucky areas. That's my take on it anyway.

Having said that many immigrants from overseas still do believe that the UK offers abundant opportunities for advancement denied to them elsewhere so maybe that has some bearing on the equation.
I could put a dozen or more photos of Ayr High Street full of empty shops on here but this one will do. The historic Fish Cross where people have gathered to buy produce for over 800 years. 800 years of trading eroded away in a single decade/generation in our case.
Fish Cross info. The red flower on the fish almost stands as a lament for the death of the High Street. Ayr is and was a real shopping jewel of the Clyde coast with more shops per head of population than almost any other town its size in Scotland. And a great variety of independent stores and high street chains. My point being if Ayr looks like this, with its wealthy hinterland of affluent suburbs then there's little hope of revival for other places unless they have additional compelling attractions to pull punters in. Ayr still has loads of shops and three covered period arcades, which I enjoyed exploring, but my main feeling was one of decline and free fall in the retail sector here. And the reason that matters most is one of job losses as I'd imagine retail is a major or even the largest employer in any town centre or busy village throughout the UK, especially for young people and women, given the low wages. ( Shortly after my visit I learned that Ayr's first major department store, Hourstons, opened in the late 1800s, closed its doors after 100 plus years of trading with the loss of 81 jobs) Multiply that by several hundred shops in this single town and you get some idea of the numbers affected.
So although I enjoyed my wander around the shopping district, especially at Christmas, I was also dismayed by the obvious poverty of the empty buildings and the obvious poverty of the fellow shoppers around me. No homeless folk visible here in doorways  just a general look of seen better times in every street I visited with pawn shops, cash converters and budget stores the busiest places around.
As night descended it actually improved the look of the place as the empty store fronts diminished and Christmas lights took over.
My mood improved dramatically with the coming of darkness and I got my sparkle back again. Outside the Gaiety Theatre, seen here, I found myself suddenly surrounded and ambushed by laughing young children wearing flashing head gear, illuminated unicorn horns, glowing fake antlers, and the like, having seen a pantomime show inside. Being a single lone male in this age of rampant pedophilia this discombobulated me somewhat and I swiftly backhanded a few of these irritating little munchkins crowding around to clear a path and keep myself safe from any suspicion. Alas, that turned out to be completely the wrong thing to do as well and I was soon chased down the street by angry parents regardless. Who knew keeping a healthy distance could be so problematic and divisive?
I was more in my comfort zone here, earlier in the day, surrounded by wildlife. Mature woodlands in Belleisle Park in Ayr. I remembered this park/estate being rather grand, surrounded by upmarket suburbs so I was keen to reacquaint myself with its delights. Unfortunately major restoration work was taking place here thanks to a lottery grant so it was half beautiful park/ half building site at the moment but will be back to its former glory soon.
The grand mansion, currently closed and under restoration.
Rare breeds sheep. The park also has a few deer in a nearby enclosure.
A visit to the glasshouse came next.
Which was very nice inside.
and warm on a cold winter day.
I then visited Seafield House nearby, currently unoccupied but a sick children's hospital until the early 1990s.
Info on it here. Before that it belonged to Sir William Arrol, an extraordinary engineer who had a real talent for planning then building metal structures with a CV that included Brighton Pier, Glasgow's Central Station Bridge, London's Tower Bridge, The Forth Rail Bridge and Dundee's Tay Bridge. Wow.
His story here.
And lastly St Johns Tower, all that remains of a larger building on this walled plot of land. A 14th century tower that, as I mentioned in a previous Ayr post a couple of weeks ago, appears to have inspired more modern buildings along the Ayr waterfront, imitating its clean vertical lines for up to date housing stock. (The neglected period buildings around the High Street I've not included but if they occurred in Edinburgh, for instance, money would soon be found to preserve them. Paisley has the same problem with a very rich heritage of period architecture in serious decline but not enough money available to save or restore them all- same with Glasgow.



Rosemary said...

How extraordinary that Sir William Arrol's name conjures up no recollections or recognition, and yet he was obviously an extremely talented engineer and responsible for so many of our iconic structures. However, it appears that he was well thought of in his day as otherwise he would not have been rewarded with a knighthood.

Anabel Marsh said...

I could call you a hard-bitten cynic for your observations on life - but you are entirely right IMO. As for Ayr, I have only visited the newish university campus and the hospital (as a visitor, I hasten to add) so don’t know it at all.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Rosemary,
I knew the name up here from The Forth Rail Bridge and that he was the head of a large metal manufacturing factory but did not know about his house in Ayr or that he had produced so many of the UK's iconic structures still in use today. Not many CVs can beat that one for a list of achievements still contemporary over 100 years later.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Anabel,
I'm probably only stating the blindingly obvious to any smart 16 year old but as it's taken me all this time to work it out I don't think of myself as cynical- just stupid and slow to catch on.
It's worth a trip on the express bus from Buchanan Street bus station as it only takes an hour and Ayr has several good walks.

Carol said...

There might be more university places available nowadays but many of the people doing their degrees aren't doing them in real, academic subjects so it doesn't mean a rise in education or intelligence unfortunately - just a rise in 'apparent' qualifications.

The BBC didn't used to be exclusive as I got an interview in London for a sound engineer's job back in the 80s and I definitely wouldn't fit their criteria today.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
Also from what I've read competition for university places is fierce and I'd imagine English or overseas students at Scottish universities might be more desirable as cash cows rather than a high percentage of Scottish students as they do not pay to go to university at the moment so presumably are less profitable if attending in high numbers and living locally instead of paying for student flats.

I've also seen and read various reliable accounts of the very high percentage of BBC folk, politicians, hedge fund managers. etc who all seem to have attended the same handful of top schools/ universities which seem to suggest you really have to go the the right places... to tick the right boxes... to be socially accepted as- 'the right sort.' Something that came out during the BBC male to female presenter inequality wage battle that highlighted an even bigger social divide in the company with very few important jobs going to folk outside that privileged educational background no matter how bright or talented applying for the job. And that was from The Guardian not a bog standard daily rag.
I'll have a go at something else next week. Give me a windmill and a fast donkey and I'll charge at it :)

Andy said...

Interesting stuff. The divide between rich and poor seems to accelerating to alarming degrees. I have hope from a very limited sample (namely my kids) that the next generation will be more socially/environmentally/politically aware but perhaps that’s just wishful thinking