Being West Kilbride

Community, History, Heritage and Memories

January 27, 2016
by Stephen Brown

Neil Armstrong, The Moon Landing and the Queue at the West Kilbride Post Office

PO1969Little was Neil Armstrong to know in the hot and balmy July 1969, when he set off on his perilous 330,000 mile round trip to the moon, the terrible and dramatic effect he would have on the queues at the new West Kilbride Post Office in Orchard Street. Surely Neil, a Scot by descent, must have been informed of the likelihood of so many people in our village now requiring a television licence, and all he had to do was lift the phone to Mr Green the Village Postmaster. But he did not, and the repercussions were grave.

Attached here is a newspaper article from the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald bemoaning the lack of staff resources at the grills in the new Post Office. Recently Mr Green had retired from the stressful position and the Village was currently without postmaster as we waited for Mr Gray to take up his position on 1st March. Meantime everyone knew Neil was to set off soon and a TV licence must certainly be procured if one was to sit in the relative comfort of one’s drawing room with friends and neighbours watching wee Neil’s big day out.

How had West Kilbride Post Office come to such sorrowful state? In truth, we actually know very little about such an important institution. Perhaps if I set out what I think or know, you will be able to add some details or further knowledge?

The Earliest Days of the West Kilbride Post Office

The first postal arrangements in West Kilbride are noted long before stamps were invented. We are told in the 1930’s that the mail coach would arrive in the afternoon each day, but we don’t know where it dropped the mail off.

As shown attached, I have a letter to the Postal Inspector Mr Black in 1858, enquiring as to compensation for a lost parcel. But we do not know where Mr Black was operational from. Perhaps some day if someone is searching the 1851 or 1861 census they might find out and could let us know?

The “New” Old Post Office

As a result of the Railway in 1878 the village was changing dramatically. The Main Street had extended along Ritchie Street t and down Yerton Brae allowing access to the 1880’s Overton Church. In 1900, the Village Hall (the West Kilbride Institute) and Masonic Lodge were built – all paid for Baron Glenarthur who had Arthur Street named after him. Then in 1901, the village got the new Post Office at number 31 Ritchie Street shown in the photograph below which details the first mail arriving.

OldPOOldPO_1This building is now J. Morrow and Son the clock repair specialists, and the quality clock retailers. Indeed only a few years ago, I owned this building and I remember the old “Post Office” sign in stone under where the brown Glenbryde signage is now.

I don’t know who the first postmaster of this “new” Post Office was but by the end of it’s life in December 1968 it was Mr C.L. Green at the helm who chose the time of the moving to the newer premises to retire. Shown here is Mr Green being presented with his retirement gift by the Head Postmaster.Postmaster2

Orchard Street

Prior to 1901, Orchard Street (the road upon which the 1968 Post Office was to be built) did not exist. Shown here is a photograph of the Main Street, before the building beside Kirktonhall was knocked down to make room for the road to the Glen. Mr William Barr donated this part of the Glen to the village in 1928 along with the grounds for the new Bowling Green.

If you look closely at the Main Street then and compare it with the photo I took this afternoon, there are some dramatic differences. Clearly the building on the right where the pavement ends is demolished to build Orchard Street. The trees on the right disappear and the row of shops are then built. Even the chimney on Kirktonhall changes!Postmaster1

The “New” New Post Office

At the end of 1968 the old Post Office in Ritchie Street closed and in early 1969 transferred to the new purpose built facility down on Orchard Street. In March, Mr Gray the new Postmaster took over.

The Edwardian pillar box on Main Street had gone through a number of repairs by this time. Following earlier complaints that tourists could not find the Post Office in Ritchie Street, a sign had been added to the top of the pillar box directing foot traffic up the Main Street to the Post Office. In the early fifties the box had undergone a major refurbishment with a new door being fitted, but it was widely reckoned that this would be a temporary fix (it continues to this day).

For the new Post Office opening in early 1969, the Post Office had commissioned Machan Engineering in Denny near Falkirk to manufacture a new pillar box, and it is shown here – probably to this day the busiest post box in the village.

In the 1990’s the large Post Office became the Cherry Orchard tearoom, the Post Office moved into a smaller area to the left of the building under the aegis of Ann Wilkinson, and the SPAR Shop opened up in the extension built to the right as shown in the picture here.

The Final Chapter

Machan Engineering have been victims of their own success in that the Post Office very rarely requires any new postal boxes these days. Orders last year were in single figures, I believe.

In January 2015 the West Kilbride Post Office shut it’s doors for the final time. The service is now handled as an adjunct to the activities of the SPAR shop. Despite the onset of modern technology, West Kilbride residents remain hard to predict it seems and the queues at peak times in the SPAR shop can be extreme. Perhaps dear Neil Armstrong is spinning in his grave at the thought!