Down Memory Lane, October 23 2020

Duncan Brown has written a book, titled Boyhood Memories of the Wee Toon, about his childhood.
Duncan Brown has written a book, titled Boyhood Memories of the Wee Toon, about his childhood.

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Duncan Brown’s boyhood memories of the Wee Toon

The family of the late Duncan Brown has given the Courier permission to serialise his booklet, Boyhood Memories of the Wee Toon, in our Down Memory Lane pages.

The booklet – in which the former toy-shop proprietor reminisces about shops, industries and shares numerous anecdotes from his childhood – was printed and published just a couple of weeks before he died on August 11, aged 95.

Last week, we shared the first half the booklet’s third chapter, titled Anecdotes, which we conclude this week.

Anecdotes continued

At the head of the quay was the Weigh House (known as the ‘Weeuss’) which was there to weigh certain incoming and outgoing cargoes from the pier. It was also a gathering place for old friends, especially ex-fishermen, to meet and blether about the old days.

Other assemblies were at the Hall Street side of the Christian Institute where lots of hot air was expended and lots of voices were raised without anyone coming to blows.

In those day, ‘cattle floats’ (large lorries designed for the transport of cattle or sheep) were not in use in this area, so farmers living near the town would bring their cows in on foot.

Housewives living in tenements took great pride in the cleanliness of their stairs. Our family used a product called ‘pipe clay’ to keep our steps gleaming white.

However, they didn’t always stay in that pristine condition! Early one morning, at about 6.30am, a small herd of cattle was being driven down Longrow en route to the steamer when one cow decided to make a dash for freedom and ended up climbing our stairs!

Eventually, one of the herders manoeuvred the very scared beast to ground level and peace was restored, but that left many hours of scrubbing and cleaning to be done. Never to be forgotten!

At the Grammar School, romance must have been in the air because four of our male teachers chose local shop assistants to woo. These charming ladies would each become their respective wives, but we enjoyed the gossip as their stories developed.

Campbeltown had no fire engines until after the Second World War, but they used what was jokingly called ‘The Ice Cream Barrow’ which was a two-wheeled barrow loaded with fire-fighting equipment and pushed by untrained council workers. The first fire I remember was at Ramsay’s Garage in Argyll Street and somehow they managed to get it under control.

I had intended to limit the stories to the thirties, but other later events keep popping into my mind. In the summer of 1940, six local men lost their lives and over 70 were taken prisoner by the Germans at St Valery en Caux, France, and we found ourselves living in a very gloomy town.

However, at the beginning of 1941, news was received that the Germans had repatriated two of these men because of injury or age. I knew one of them, Roddy MacLeod, from Glebe Street, but, unfortunately, I cannot recall the name of the second one.

A huge crowd had gathered in the Main Street to give them a warm welcome home. I had never before seen so many people assembled in one place, and as a MacBrayne’s bus, carrying the men, slowly made its way to the Post Office, the cheering began and resonated throughout the whole town.

People were laughing and crying with the sheer unrestrained emotion of the day. I thought the sound was loud enough to be heard in Tarbert!

Looking back, I appreciate the freedom we were allowed to have as youngsters. It was a happy-go-lucky existence and there was boyish excitement to be found round every corner.

  • See next week’s Courier for more from the booklet.