‘The Foul Mouthed Foreman’, ‘The Stowaway on the SS Florence Cooke’ and ‘A Trip to Kolkata’

Scottish Maritime Museum launches a collection of short films reflecting on life around local shipyards in the last century

A new collection of personal stories reflecting on life lived around the shipyards and marine industries of Irvine and Garnock Valley during the last century is now screening at the Scottish Maritime Museum on Irvine Harbourside.

The 15 short stories, which run throughout the day in the Museum’s new Harbour Stories Screening Room, were captured during the Working Voices oral history project led by the Scottish Maritime Museum and the Garnock Connections Landscape Partnership Scheme.

Through the Working Voices project, which was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the partners captured and preserved disappearing memories held by people who lived or worked around the shipyards, smithies and engineering works across the area.

Interviewing people across Irvine, Ardeer, Saltcoats, Stevenston, Ardrossan and surrounding area, the team discovered a wealth of memories for the short films which are illustrated with footage and photographs from the Museum’s heritage collection as well as images contributed by interviewees and their families.

The Harbour Stories Screening Room is open daily and included as part of the visitor experience.

Opening the new Harbour Stories Screening Room, Matthew Bellhouse Moran, Curator at the Scottish Maritime Museum, said: 

“There has always been a significant lack of recorded social history across this area so Working Voices has been an important heritage project not only for the Museum but for the region as a whole.

“Over the past year, we have spoken to people across the area and listened to their thoughts and memories of the twentieth century, when local towns were bustling with the sound of shipyards and manufacturing, with a steady stream of ships sailing in and out of local harbours.

“We are delighted with the wonderful memories we have captured to date. As well as reflecting life living and working across our maritime industries, the stories create a vivid picture of how the wider area and industry has changed dramatically over the last fifty years. 

“The 15 short films offer personal insights into the vanished industrial past of the towns and will be a fascinating and rewarding watch for visitors of all ages.”

Stories include ‘The Foul Mouthed Foreman’ with John McMillan, ‘The Stowaway on the SS Florence Cooke’ with Alexander Sims and ‘A Trip to Kolkata aboard the Lady McGowan’ with Morris McKay.

In ‘The Foul Mouthed Foreman’, John McMillan recounts the day his great grandfather, a gentle, religious man who never raised his voice, stood up to the shipyard foreman.

When the foreman cursed at the team, scolding them to work more quickly, John’s great grandfather politely pointed out that it would take time to tension the mast so it would be secured and safe and that his foul language was unnecessary. 

Yet the foreman cursed again. John recounts how this “triggered an explosion” in his great grandfather who “just lifted his fist, up, up and right under the foreman’s chin stretching him out on the deck of the ship. After that, the foreman kept a civil tongue in his head and was never a problem!”

In ‘The Stowaway on the SS Florence Cooke’, Alexander Sims recalls his childhood in and around Irvine Harbour including the day he accidentally stowed away on the explosives carrier the SS Florence Cooke resulting in “a nice little cruise to Ireland with the dog!”

In ‘A Trip to Kolkata aboard the Lady McGowan’ Morris McKay recalls his father embarking on a six month trip to Calcutta and ports in between in 1963, “a daunting prospect for a vessel of that size and going that kind of distance”. 

Encountering a cyclone and docking in Zanzibar, where the crew knew little French and the islanders little English, the 1952 Clyde built coaster and crew managed to make the round trip successfully.

Mark Pieroni remembers coal loaded aboard the workhorse puffers, a perfect example of which is MV Spartan at the Museum, one of only two surviving Scottish-built ‘puffers’. 

In another film, Norry Mason recounts the 1984 explosion which brought to an end the working life of harbour tug MV Garnock

The 1956 Garnock, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Vessels of the United Kingdom and thought to be the only tug preserved in Scotland, was built in Greenock for the Irvine Harbour Company to tow ships loading and unloading explosives at ICI (Nobel Explosives) works.

Latterly MV Garnock was employed to dump faulty explosives in the Irvine Estuary and it was whilst dumping near Ardrossan that this explosion ripped a hole into the stern damaging the vessel beyond repair. MV Garnock has been preserved at the Scottish Maritime Museum since then. 

For more information on the Scottish Maritime Museum’s national maritime heritage visit www.scottishmaritimemuseum.org

Issued on behalf of the Scottish Maritime Museum by 

Joanna Harrison, Mobile: 07884 187404.