As the village originated around the church and castle, the remains of the oldest dwellings can be seen in the walls, etc. at that end of the village. These were the traditional ‘but and ben’ cottages. The walls were often built by a stonedyker and roughly plastered out and in, with clay floors, but sometimes paved with flat stones from the bed of the Stinchar. Very often, a hole was left in the centre of the thatched roof to let smoke escape.
In the middle 1800s slating became more common, gradually replacing the old thatched dwellings. Beside the church lies one of the most historic houses in the village – The Yett. It was originally built in 1596 by Thomas Kennedy for his bride. By 1795 the house was renovated and improved by William Kennedy and over 100 years later, in 1905, the house was enlarged and refurbished with beautiful bay windows enhancing its appearance. The Yett takes its name from the gate and path leading to the river which runs through the grounds and was trodden, for many years, by the village women as they took their washing to the river. Nowadays, it is a favourite walk and frequently used by anglers.
On the other side of the Stinchar, just across the bridge, there was a well with excellent water, called Lady Well. The villagers enjoyed the water so much that they used to carry it to their homes for use there. Water from Balhamie, Boghouse and Clachanton Hills was collected in a tank above the village and piped down to the houses – with pumps in the streets supplying a continual water supply. Horses were also catered for with a trough outside number 25.
Nowadays, in common with Girvan and District the water supply comes from Penwhapple, near Barr. Those who remember the old supply regret the loss of the clean, sparkling water for the present peaty and frequently discoloured unappetising stuff that come out of our taps!
Various tradesmen had shops down the Main Street in the early parts of the century – joiners, blacksmiths, weavers and bakers etc. while behind the village hall, in Haddons Row, there was a cottage for the many beggars that came around. There, shelter was available, with the permission of the Inspector of the Poor, who lived in the village. It was closed in the 1940s after which the vagrants frequented local farms for shelter.
One infamous one was Lizzie Docherty, who would be put on the last bus to Colmonell from Girvan by the police, rather that have her in a cell! On one occasion she arrived at a farm where a tramp was already in residence – a few minutes later, the first arrival was seen heading up the road and muttering that he was certainly ‘not staying with that animal!’ Tramps were always breakfasted and sent on their way, and indeed, they were a regular and welcome part of the farming scene and would do odd jobs during their stay – thinning turnips, splitting sticks etc..
One notable local ‘Snib Scott’ lived in a Bennane cave until recently and spent his time collecting empty bottles for their deposit money – as broken glass is one of the biggest hazards to livestock, his services were more than welcome! Another regular arrived in some style, on a bicycle and this he carefully carried up to his sleeping quar. ters in the granary – he obviously did not trust anybody. There are no longer any regular tramps in the area and we are fortunate not to have attracted the hippies.
Gradually, as transport improved, the village shops became fewer and now there is just one. However the village is lucky to be served with a fishmongers van, butchers van and a mobile library. With the improvements in transport, coal could be delivered to the village thus peat no longer was needed to be cut for fuel. With the advent of electricity before the Second World War, a new era had arrived. Therein lies a story – a local lady arrived in the church hall one night for a meeting. New electrical heating had replaced the coal fire and the hallkeeper demonstrated this miraculous switch which gave instant heat – the lady waited, and waited, while the hall keeper kindled his pipe, eventually she could contain herself no longer and asked why it was still cold she was informed that it had a long way to come – from Kilmarnock!!
Until roads and transport arrived, the villagers had to provide their own entertainment – no TV or radios!! However, many a cheery evening in winter would be passed in story-telling, songs with fiddle music, while crooks would be carved around the fire.
There must have been colder, harder winters long ago, as curling was very popular and ponds at Bush-burn, Oaknowe and above Auchenclearie were used as rinks. Great care was taken to keep the ponds clear ready for the season of ice – a pair of swans were even purchased and found of ‘good service’.
Competition was keen and in 1928 Colmonell Curling Club joined the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in Edinburgh. By 1939 ice was available at the new indoor rink at Ayr so that the season was greatly extended. Ladies were admitted by 1950 – previously they had only been allowed to arrange the social functions and do the catering! With the opening of the rink at Stranraer, curling matches were easier to arrange on a regular basis.
Outdoor curling has practically vanished due to recent mild winters although use has been made of Knockdolian Loch. Subscription in 1915 was 2/6 and rose to only 5/- in 1954 – subscription now stands at £3.00.
The greatest support for the club is from Pinwherry and Barrhill curlers and the AGM has always been held in Barhill.
With the building of the village hall in 1890, by public subscription, not only was there a hall for carpet bowls, dances and concerts, there was also a billiard room and well-stocked library. The various societies now had a meeting place to enliven and enrich village life. Seven years later a clock tower was added to celebrate the Jubilee of Queen Victoria. In 1984/85 the hall was extensively renovated with the addition of a fine new kitchen and toilets, so that we now have a modern, well-equipped community centre which would, no doubt, delight the original builders having reached its centenary.
One of the highlights of the year was the Bachelors Ball held at the New Year. It was run by a committee who organised the decorations, invitations, music and catering – dress was formal with gentlemen in tails and gloves and the ladies in ballgowns. A special white carpet was obtained from Glasgow to cover the floor. Crawford McCreath, the local baker, purveyed the ice-creams, jellies, biscuits, cakes and other goodies and the evening was rounded off by the service of soup.
In the 1870s the only proper holiday was New Year’s Day and this was celebrated by all, starting off with a good breakfast – which consisted of a haggis full of raisins, which had been made months previously and hidden! The animals all had extra rations too, which was probably just as well for ‘first footing’ was very popular and after much consumption of spirits, the poor beasts possibly had to wait a while for their next meal.
Weddings always provide a welcome and happy break from routine work. Over 200 years ago ‘Penny Weddings’ were held in the village. When a penniless couple wed, their friends would give the penny to pay the piper and the cost of the wedding feast. The wedding reception was usually a gathering of family and friends in a local house, barn or hall and lots of presents and basic necessities were given, amid much merriment and dancing with local entertainers on fiddle, accordion and pipes.
Funerals too, tended to be more of a social occasion than nowadays and were generally held in the house – after the prayers were finished the undertaker went amongst the mourners with drinks and an assistant followed with food – often as many as eight rounds! As the coffin was carried long distances to the graveyard, the journey was often erratic and hazardous and after the interment the mourners adjourned to the nearest pub where they were again treated.
During the time when Rev James Hay Hamilton was minister at Colmonell he wrote two historical pieces – ‘A Pageant of Colmonell’ and ‘Carrick Cavalcade’ which depicted scenes from local events in history – the coming of St Colmon to the life of the notorious Sawny Bean. The scenes were acted out by the local people evoking a great deal of fun and interest.
In 1977 the village held its largest and most adventurous project – The Colmonell Exhibition. This exhibition ran over a three-day period, proving to be an attraction for summer visitors and a source of great interest to the locals. There were numerous displays of crafts, trade exhibits and historical information etc. indoors. While outdoors there were demonstrations, sheepdog competitions, Highland Dancing etc.. The village must be congratulated on achieving such success in the organising and carrying out of such a project.
With the decline and cessation of SMT bus services, to a certain extent the village became quite isolated. However, with the re-introduction of more services recently this has made the village more accessible. Visitors now come mainly by car, some stay and other pass through. For visitors who wish to stay there are two hotels, a caravan park and some bed and breakfast accommodation available.
In 1971 the village shared the prize for the Best Kept Village in the Girvan District. In 1973 it won the distinction outright – Colmonell must do it again.
Throughout the years there have been many societies and clubs for entertainment and educational purposes for all age groups. The Curling Club, Country Dancing, Badminton and Dramatic Society were amongst the first clubs in the village. Carpet bowls started in the hall from the 1890s as well as youth clubs. There was a tennis court next to the school. The Tennis Club was started by a school teacher’s wife for the gentry. When the numbers fell the locals were invited to join – they did not – so the Tennis Club finished.
The Bowling Green was opened in 1952/53 and is still popular with both the younger and older generation. The WRI held their Diamond Jubilee in March 1987 and with over 40 members regularly attending it has become increasingly popular with its varied programme of demonstrations, talks and entertainment.
‘The Graceful Years’ was started by the Rev J Hay Hamilton for the older members of the village who meet for the occasional film show, tea and a game of cards.
There is a flourishing playgroup which was started in 1985 – showing a good future for the village. Some of the societies known in Colmonell over the years: Angling Club; Rambling Club; Curling Club; WRI; Playgroup; Carpet Bowls; Arts and Crafts; Youth Club; Badminton Club; Country Dancing; Guild; Graceful Years.
Colmonell has always been well schooled and has produced many benefactors to education. The earliest known school was held in ‘the scholar's room behind the pulpit’ of the 1591 church. Subsequent schools were on various sites – the churchyard wall shows to this day where the second school stood and the position of windows and doors can still be distinguished. The first ‘private/penny’ school (presumably a penny a week school) was at the Bush-Burn, another was in Rowantree Street opposite Kirkhill policies. in 1867 there was a school built on the present school site. However, in January 1967 the school burned down. Until a new building was opened in 1987 teaching was held in the village hall using books borrowed from other schools.
In 1982 the Education Act transferred the running of schools from the church to the School Board. With larger families and a catchment area from Bougang and Craig to Bellimore-on-Tig the school had many more pupils compared to the present day.
There are some young families in the village at the moment, giving hope for the continuation of the school when so many village schools are closing. In earlier times the mode of educating the young was very different from what it is now – much education was imparted in the home at the ‘hearth-stone’ – one of the best places in the world for laying the foundation stone of character.
School meals were cooked on the premises until the 1950s. Now they are despatched from a central kitchen in Girvan.
There can be few villages to have made a greater contribution to the cause of education than Colmonell. The Rev James McCrie, a native of Colmonell, bequeathed his property of Big Dangart for the further education of students at Glasgow University with a preference for natives of Colmonell, Ballantrae, Barr etc. The McCrie Bursary was founded in 1873 and one of the conditions was that each bursar must spend a month each summer living in Colmonell and studying in the library at Dangart. This condition no longer holds, but the McCrie Bursary is still open to competition by an annual examination held at Glasgow University.
John Snell made an outstanding contribution – he was born in 1629, the son of Andro Snell, the local blacksmith. John went to the earliest known school and from there to Glasgow University to study law. He worked hard, becoming Lord Chancellor and Keep and Bearer of the Great Seal to Charles II and purchasing an estate, Ufton Manor in Warwickshire. In his will he provided for the Snell Scholarship which each year takes an outstanding Glasgow University student to Balliol College, Oxford. Commemoration service for John Snell 1629--1679 was held in Colmonell Church in September 1979. There is a monument on the knowe above Almont Farm where ser- vices are held in his memory. Engraved on the stone is:
‘Give instruction to a wise man and he will yet be wiser
Learning to a just man and he will increase in learning.’
School was not all hard work! The first recorded school picnic was held around 1901/02. The children were transported in decorated farm-carts, taking with them a tin for their tea or milk and a bag of buns. School outings now go further afield – a day at the Royal Highland Show, a safari park, Edinburgh Castle and once even a flight in an aeroplane. This flight from Glasgow covered a familiar area from Ailsa Craig in the South-west to the less well-known sight of the Forth Bridge in the east.
###Colmonell Fire Brigade###
Colmonell is the only village in south Ayrshire which can boast a part-time fire brigade providing a service for a wide area. The fire brigade started in Colmonell as the National Fire Service in 1939 and after 1947, South Western Area Fire Brigade. It is now Strathclyde Fire Brigade.
The first fire appliance in 1939 was an army staff car converted to carry crew of six, delivery hose, branches, ladder, fire-hydrant, operating equipment but it had no water capacity resulting in it having to tow a 100 gallons per minute pump.
Through the years, the Fire Engines have been brought up to date. The present Fire Engine is the fifth and came into use in 1982 with alloy sides and pump bay, 500 gallons per minute pump mounted rear of appliance, two blue flashing lights with an electric warning horn and bell.
The first crew at Colonell consisted of one leading fireman and eight firemen. The present levels have one sub-officer, one leading fireman and eight firemen. Thursday has always been training night at Colmonell.
Colmonell Fire Station moved from the old station now used as a store by James McCreadie to the present station in 1956 to be in closer proximity to the then proposed village bypass.
The use of siren and call bells ended in 1981 and since, pagers are used with a radio radius of five miles. The minimum crew to respond to an emergency is four. Early training consisted of mainly pump, ladder, hose-running and branch handling drills. As new equipment was added, it was incorporated into training. Breathing apparatus, resuscitation and road accident procedure are a large part of training now.
In 1872 a petition was sent from the people of Colmonell to the Commissioner of Police requesting a resident policeman. The reason given was the construction of the Girvan-Stranraer railway, work on which had reached Pinwherry. The last resident policeman left the village in the 1970s. The policeman in Ballantrae, a native of Colmonell, now ensures justice is carried out.
The two World Wars called upon many brave men to go forth from Colmonell to fighting elsewhere – unlike the Covenanters who fought locally.
Those men left in the village during the wars took charge of the Local Defence Volunteers, later renamed the Home Guard. Target Practice took Place on Garnieburn Hill and many an adventure did they have. The Colmonell Home Guard had a checkpoint at Pinwherry – for those who were of a nosier disposition, it provided an entertaining evening! Some would like to say the Home Guard were more of a danger to themselves than the enemy, however, they did provide a valuable service for the village.
The brave men who died during the wars are remembered by Colmonell with the building of the War Memorial where, on Armistice Sunday, a short service of Remembrance is held.
###The Cattle Show###
The Colmonell and Ballantrae Agricultural Society Show was first instituted in 1883, being held annually in May in the showfield at Boghouse Farm until 1969. Through- out this period, the show was considered one of the best in south-west Scotland – old folk used to say ‘If you win at Colmonell you can go anywhere’. A comment at the time was that the Clydesdale horses and Ayrshire cattle sections had seen the best blood in the country.
Originally, the entries were confined to the parishes of Colmonell, Barr and Ballantrae but from 1970 it was made an open show to attract more entries. As well as classes for cattle and horses, there was much competition for dogs, sheep, poultry, rabbits and pets. In 1981 classes were introduced for beef cattle and goats.
When the show was in the village, local workers and schoolchildren had a half-day holiday and all roads led to Colmonell. There was much to see, both in the showfield and in the church hall where all the baking and handicrafts were on display. During the long winter evenings, many fine cloths were embroidered, socks and jerseys knitted and shirts and dresses neatly sewn by the women, while the men whittled sticks and whistles all ready for the competition.
Over the dyke, in the glebe, the sheepdog trials provided continuous entertainment throughout the day, with many men and their dogs competing and children thoroughly enjoyed bringing their pets. While it was difficult to judge the rival merits of baby ducks, hamsters, lambs, kittens and pups galore every child went home happy with a bar of chocolate. This is still one of the most popular classes.
After the serious business of judging and presentation of the many fine cups to the winners in each section, the real fun began. The young men competed with each other in tossing the sheaf, pillow fighting, greasy pole and as many teams as they could arrange for the five-a-side football. The long day was rounded off by the lively Show Dance in the village hall. The show was held on a Wednesday in May until 1970 but it is now on a Saturday in August at Almont Farm, Pinwherry, where there are still classes for beef cattle, sheep and goats. The Blackface sheep and handicrafts sections still attract many entries. The sheepdog trials are increasing in popularity no doubt due to One Man and His Dog on television.
Carriok Young Farmers Club support the show with stockjudging, baking and handicraft competitions. Many of the local young people are members of the Young Farmers where they learn a wide variety of country crafts along with an enjoyable social life. Continued support for the local show depends on the coming generations. Membership for the show in 1887 was 5/- and now at only £1 it is very good value!