With the summer tourist season coming to a close, and in the context of the demolition of the old pier, Arran resident Jim Henderson has written an historical account of travel to Arran. Information taken from Arran population census 1961 3700, 1971 3564, 1991 4474.
The ‘Comet’ was launched in 1812, and within 10 years, development of the Clyde was rapid with many commercial paddle steamers operating several routes. The prosperity being witnessed, it began to influence the growth of holiday destinations, with quiet villages like Rothesay, Largs and Dunoon becoming large towns. Arran mainly missed out of this development due to the restrictions being imposed by the duke, which eventually was relaxed in 1895 following his death in Algiers.
In the early 1800’s the island population exceeded the 6,000 mark which had a bearing on the duke’s controls. The respective communities did not travel much outside their villages as travel was difficult, having to walk or some by using horses, or making use of the sea in boats.
In August 1825 the SS Helensburgh began a limited service from Greenock to Arran via Bute, stopping at Lochranza, Corrie, Brodick and Lamlash, the only village with a stone pier that was serviceable at high tide.
During 1829 the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co began a weekly service from Greenock to all parts of the Clyde estuary and east coast of Arran, with the PS Inverary Castle and PS Toward. This was the same year as the famous 1829 sailing to Canada by the ‘Caledonia’.
1860 a service began from Ardrossan to Brodick and Lamlash, which was operated by the Ardrossan Steamboat Co with the ‘Earl of Arran’.
In 1868 the Arran estate decided to have a share of the expanding trade to Ardrossan and ordered two ships, the ‘Lady Mary’ named after his daughter, and the ‘Heather Bell’. Then the building of a pier at Brodick was commissioned.
The wrought iron pier was first opened to the public on the 17th June 1872 by the Arran Estate. Their venture into providing a passenger service ended in 1874, when Mr Buchanan was approached to take over the Arran run. By this time there was 41 vessels serving various destinations, owned by 12 private owners.
Ships of Buchanan’s fleet:
PS Balmoral, Eagle, Shandon, Vivid, Elaine, Guinevere, Benmore, Brodick Castle, Scotia, Isle of Cumbrae, Isle of Skye, Isle of Arran and Eagle 111 – dating from 1864 to 1910.
In 1884 a greenheart timber constructed pier was created at Lamlash by the estate, then one in Lochranza in 1888 and Whiting Bay in 1899.
Caledonian railway extended the line from Lugton via Kilwinning to terminate at Ardrossan in 1888, principally to export coal from the Lanarkshire pits to Ireland, and the Caledonian Steam Packet Co was formed in 1889 by Caledonian Railways.
On 10th April 1890 the first P.S. Duchess of Hamilton, for the above company, was launched and achieved the speed of 18.1 knots on the measured nautical mile. On the 29th August of this year, the competition between Buchanan’s ‘Scotia’ and Caledonian Steam packet Co’s ‘Hamilton’ created a few incidents and records of service, which seem to be impossible even to this day.
At Ardrossan harbour with the two piers Winton and Montgomery, approaching the breakwater, the ‘Scotia’ that had left Brodick 10 minutes ahead of the Hamilton with neither giving way, resulted in collision. Following a court case, the decision supported Buchanan who was awarded damages of £30.00.
This however, introduced better timetables and a record time of 87 minutes from Brodick to Glasgow St Enoch rail station. The record times created some inconvenience for passengers, luggage and goods, as bound for Arran they had to be despatched on an earlier train. On arriving at Ardrossan, train passengers had to run the short distance to the paddle steamer, or run the risk of missing the vessels departure. The crew had the landing and departure down to a fine art and waited on no one to meet the scheduled timetable.
In 1897 the first motor car arrived on Arran. It was loaded onto the paddle steamer, (there was room for a maximum of 2), in the area of the paddles, via a couple of timber planks that were placed in such a fashion so that the car was loaded and the transfer of weight tipped the planks onto the vessel or pier. This practice was in use for many years.
On 1st January 1973 the Caledonian Steam Packet Co acquired most of the ships and routes of MacBrayne – then renamed ‘Caledonian MacBrayne’ (CalMac).
The first dedicated car service began in June 1957, with the new Glen Sannox, which used a lift and side loader. It also had a turntable situated in the bow part of the ship. The lift capacity being 5 or 6, it took over an hour for the vessel to clear the cars and load up again. Lorries and buses (capacity 2) were also loaded on the lift.
On 1st August 1969 Scottish Transport Group arranged with CSPC to acquire Arran Piers Ltd. In the days of Arran Piers Ltd one had to pay dues to board or depart the pier from the ferry. By 1970 the new link span was completed and the Glen Sannox was fitted with a rear ramp.
In May the Swedish ‘Stena Baltica’ with bow and stern doors, was purchased and renamed ‘Caledonia’ and saw the start of the drive-on drive-off service for Arran.
All of this is now history, the pier structure being condemned, even before the new construction began, and is currently in the act of demolition to remove all trace of it.
Some photos of the demolition of the old pier that has been taking place in recent weeks. All image credits to author Jim Henderson.