This Dear Place, Corrie and Sannox. Memories and Reflections by Lesley Paton Cox
A Review, by Elsa Rodeck
Last week, a copy of the recently published book This Dear Place, Corrie and Sannox. Memories and Reflections by Lesley Paton Cox, fell into my possession. I have been immersing myself since in another time and place – the 19th century and 20th centuries, spending time in the dwellings and amongst the people of Corrie and Sannox of those times. For me personally, with a long family connection to Corrie extending over several generations, this has been a delightful and surprising, yet also a familiar, journey. I have been aware of many of the families and places portrayed in This Dear Place from a young age, with stories told and retold to me, by my grandparents; my grandmother herself having visited Arran since the 1920s as a young girl from Paisley. To have these snippets of folk history, fleshed out by a much fuller exposition of the villages and village life as it was then, has brought to me a new sense of connection to a previous era, an era that the author says is in danger of being lost to us today.
Lesley Paton Cox begins our journey at Birchpoint (just north of what is now Carlo), at the very south end of Corrie where the boundary with Brodick meets. We are guided north through the village taking in the cottages, buildings and significant geographic points, where we meet the inhabitants and learn about various aspects of their lives. Along the way, we stop off at High Corrie, The Quarry, and discover the origins of the Village Hall. Further along we come to the thriving village centre with the Hotel (first build in 1850 and extended in 1898), shops and tearooms that formed such a hub for villagers by the turn of the 19th Century. We hear about the funeral practices during these years, the impact of the World Wars on Corrie and Sannox, and about the lives of villagers that were both viscerally rooted in their immediate place and at the same time intricately connected to the wider world. The author recounts that “even in the early 1800s the island was well supplied by mainland companies. Murchies of Ardrossan, McBride’s of Glasgow, Orr of Saltcoats. They all brought goods across regularly in the coastal smacks.”
The smacks were trading ships and provided a vital lifeline to islanders. Owned and operated by local families, there were six trading smacks based in the Port in Corrie during the 1800s. Carrying cargoes of sandstone, gravel and sand to the mainland, they would bring back other essential supplies, building materials and coal. In later years, puffers, small coastal cargo ships powered by steam engines, replaced the smacks, and throughout this time as well, the passenger steamers would arrive just off Ferry Rock in Corrie, bringing hundreds of visitors to the village during the summer months. Corrie men would row wooden ferry boats between the large steam ships and the Ferry Rock, carrying people and luggage safely to land.
Throughout the book the reader gets a vivid sense of the ways villagers were not only connected to each other and the land and sea on which they worked, but also to larger political forces that shaped their lives. Paton Cox explains how the Estate (the local landowners) was inextricably bound to the livelihoods of the villagers. The Estate was also instrumental in the development of the early period of the tourist industry, an economy with which the island remains deeply connected today, and which in part seems to have arisen as a consequence of the Clearances in the late 19th Century. With the changes to the traditional farming system and land cleared for large sheep farms, one option for people was to move to the coastal villages and make a living from the increasing visitors that were coming to the island. Spotting an opportunity for income for the island, the Estate would offer families a piece of land, or feu, to build on (in return for an annual rent) and in several cases specifically setting the feu for the construction of an ‘outlet’ for the expanding tourism economy. The author describes her own family experience of this system, whereby her grandfather was offered land to build the Paton Tea Rooms, which then grew into Blackrock House. It became one of the many very popular and successful boarding houses in the village.
In this fascinating book, the stories of the families of Corrie and Sannox flow, giving the reader a real sense of the hardships, but also the honesty and joy with which villagers inhabited their lives. The physical struggle of life also seemed to hold a richness, coming perhaps from their sense of place but also from the awareness that they lived in an environment akin to what in ancient traditions of Celtic Christianity is referred to as a ‘Thin Place’, a place where Paton Cox writes, “other dimensions sometimes converge with ours”.
The appeal of this book has perhaps been magnified by my personal connection to Corrie but more widely, This Dear Place has much to engage readers with an interest in Arran, and forms an important record of a period of time that as the author says, with the last of this particular generation now passing on, would otherwise be lost. For Paton Cox, the book is both a work of reverence for her Arran home and ancestral roots, and an attempt to ensure that the local and traditional names and histories of specific points of interest are honoured and upheld.
This Dear Place, Corrie and Sannox. Memories and Reflections is currently available to buy at Arran Active in Brodick, and the Corrie Golf Club Tearoom in Sannox.
Featured image shows Corrie around early 19th Century.