Life & Times
Memories of Sunnyside
Bob McMillan 2008
1. The author.
My name is BOB MCMILLAN and, at that time lived at 131k Sunnyside Road. The reason for committing my memories to paper, via the computer, is that I have no relatives left alive who can augment my own memory as regards my childhood and the area in which I grew up. Thus my recollections can only grow less as the years go by and, since most of the Sunnyside area is now gone, I will try to record all that I can remember for posterity.
2. The place
In my childhood days Coatbridge still maintained the attitude that came from many small villages having been integrated to form a large town, in that the residents of each area identified themselves with the area and not the town in general. The area of Sunnyside was no exception and though no sign, either physical or otherwise, identified the boundaries, the locals knew its limits and who was a local or an outsider.
Sunnyside Road ran from the junction of Bank Street, Main Street, East Canal Street, Ellis Street and West Canal Street, known as "The Fountain" to the junction of Coltswood Road, Dunbeth Road and Burnbank Street, known as "The Red Bridge". Sunnyside Road contained shops, a shoe factory, a potato crisp factory, several pubs and many houses. Sunnyside Cross was formed, roughly halfway along Sunnyside Road, by the junction of Gartsherrie Road, Sunnyside Road and Church Street. The cross was a natural meeting place for both old and young. Sunnyside was surrounded by the areas known as Dunbeth, Burnbank, Greenhill and Gartsherrie. The area on the high ground between Sunnyside Road and Main Street didnt seem to be identified in this way, perhaps the posh folk in the big houses there didnt feel the need for a communal identity!
3. Where do I begin
Picture by James Craig
This description begins at " The
Fountain" which took it's name from the
large granite monument that was located
near the middle of the junction. The
monument, gifted to the town by a Mr.
Whitelaw, had a large basin-shaped water
fountain on each of it's four sides and
a four-pillar arch on top. The monument
marked the location of a railway
crossing the canal and the Glasgow
turnpike road on what is allegedly the
first commercial railway in Scotland
(1826) (a railway that ran from
Kilmarnock to Troon predates this (1811)
however it served the Duke of Portlands
coal mines etc. and so it could be
argued that it may not have been
The largest part of the Fountain junction was built on top of a bridge which allowed the Monkland canal to pass under the roadway on its way from Glasgow, and from the Summerlee basin which was some 100 yards north of the bridge, to the Sheepford mineral depot on Coatbank Street. It is worthy of note that within a distance of some 200 yards no less than four bridges crossed the canal, two railway bridges, one road bridge and a foot-bridge. The Summerlee basin and the canal formed the early transport system for the Iron works around which Coatbridge grew up. (note :- The fountain was moved in later years to the corner of Main Street and East Canal Street)
Standing at the "Fountain" and looking along Sunnyside Road you had on your right the Airdrie Savings Bank taking up the corner site, the Fountain Bar pub, a sweet shop, a hardware shop and yet another pub the Segton Bar. Most of the buildings had shops etc. on the ground floor and houses above. In Sunnyside Road the buildings were two storey, i.e. ground floor shops and one level of houses above, except on the corner of Sunnyside Road and Main Street where, above the bank, were three storeys.
Across the street, on the left side of Sunnyside Road, were some small wooden shops which housed various small businesses over the years. These shops were built on the site of the entrance to an old railway station, on the North British Railway line. The station closed in 1951. Behind the shops was a vacant piece of ground and a closed-up archway which passed under the railway and provided access to the other platform of the old station. The remainder of the area of the old station was vacant ground.
3.1 Morag and the catapult
Across the road from part of this vacant ground was a clothing store, Hendersons, which was quite extensive to a child,. The frontage was made up of five large plate-glass display windows and two doors. There was a door on each side of the large corner window (the corner nearest the Fountain), forming an small arcade with the door in to the shop proper leading off this. At the side of the store there was an open alleyway between the store and the adjacent 2-storey building. At the inner end of the alleyway was a narrow, steep flight of stone steps leading upwards some 20 feet to a long row of two-storey tenement houses which were high up above and behind Hendersons. I have no recollection of ever being allowed near those houses and indeed only remember them as being "spooky". The Mollinson family were the only ones I ever know who lived up there.
Hendersons was a fascinating place to a child. From an elevated cash desk there ran a taught wire, at just below ceiling level, to each sales counter. Along this wire ran a little trolley onto which a cup screwed. This cup was used to send cash and receipts back and forward over the heads of the customers. It was propelled by means of a spring loaded catapult arrangement at each end. The assistant placed the cash and the sales slip into the cup, screwed it into place on the trolley then pulled the release handle and whoosh, off went the cash to Morag (Mollison, if I remember correctly) in the cash desk. (A different version of this system could be found in the Co-op Drapery Store in Bank Street. Here the transport medium was a semi-circular track formed from wooden rods and a vertical hoist at the sales counter. The cash was placed inside a hollow ball, which unscrewed into two halves. The ball was hoisted up onto the track and off it went. The track had points just like railway tracks. These allowed the cash desk to divert the ball to the appropriate sales counter without the need for separate tracks over the full distance. I believe a similar system was in use in Morris the Drapers in Main Street.
Past Hendersons was another pub and then a lane which led to Marshall's shoe factory where, I think, "Bata" shoes were made. There was no shop as such but you could buy shoes directly from the factory. I can remember my father telling me that Marshall's motto was, like the Roman Legions of old, S.P.Q.R., only in this case it meant Small Profit, Quick Return! Im told there was a proper shop at one time, well frequented by the locals, but I have no memory of it.
3.2 Sweet success
Beyond the lane to Marshalls was a derelict piece of ground, where a building had been knocked down, then "Cissie Beattie's" sweet shop. Here I was taken each week to buy sweets. Sweets were still on ration when I was young and the ration card had to be produced before a purchase could be made. (Sweet rationing did not cease until 1954) I was often "treated" to sticky sweets , (as my dental record proved in later years) by the lady who worked in the shop. The relatively high counter (to a small boy) ran parallel to the front of the shop and was surmounted by jars of sweets. The back wall of the shop contained shelf after shelf of sweets, all in screw-topped glass jars. Sherbet Lemons, Pan Drops, Fizzers (two discs of thin wafer like material, that melted in your mouth, with sherbet powder in between), Jew Drops, Butternuts, Midget Gems, Odd Fellows, Liquorish Shoe Laces and other delights were amongst the items that tantalised me there.
Next door to the sweet shop was "King Fergie's" cycle shop, a positive dream world for a young boy. The shop contained cycles of all sizes and descriptions. It seemed that cycles hung from the roof, lined the walls, and filled the window. I believe that Fergie, Mr. Ferguson, had been a cycling champion and the walls were covered with photographs of, I assume, himself.
Beside "Fergie's" was "Sunnyside's", also known as "Cheap Jack's", where the "Penny Gobstoppers" and "Cowans Penny Caramels" were not to be missed! (Again my dental records will show that I speak from practical experience). Unfortunately this mecca of all things bad for dental hygiene was but a short walk down the hill from Gartsherrie Academy primary school where yours truly was ensconced during his formative years. Adjacent to the sweet shop we again come to a pub who's frontage rounded the corner into Baird Street.
3.3 Hymns and other interesting things
Going back to the other side of the road (the left as you walked from the Fountain), across from the vacant ground at the shoe factory there was a wooden hut, built parallel to the road, but part way up the railway banking. This was the "Brethren" hall from which the sound of hymn singing could be heard most evenings and most of Sunday. The inside of this building remains a mystery to me as no one but the members of the Brethren seemed to be allowed in. Any attempt to peer in through an open door or through a window was met with hostility and you were immediately chased away. Adjacent to the hall, but at road level, was another row of wooden shops which housed an Optician's (a Mr. Moore at one time), a Domestic Appliance repairer, and the main attraction........... Machetti's chip shop!
Next to the shops, heading away from the Fountain, there was a large, stone-built garage-like building with tall double wooden doors facing, more or less, up Baird Street. This was Barnes & Bell the Steel Stockholders whose yard occupied the area between the railway lines and the road for a fair part of the next stretch of Sunnyside Road. In the yard there was a large static crane, built of riveted girders and able to swing in an arc of some 210 degrees. The crane was electrically driven but appeared to have been steam at one time. It had the classic wooden cab structure of the old steam cranes and was used to unload lorries, railway wagons and the large bogies that were used to trundle steel about the yard.
The office building, the one with the large wooden doors, butted onto a 1.2 metre high stone 'dyke' which separated the road from the yard and the railway which, at that point were on a level. There was no pavement on this side of the road, only a slightly hollow gutter of cossies and, to a youngster, it was quite daring to walk on this the wild side of a busy road. The wall continued along the north side of Sunnyside Road for about a quarter of a mile until the railway curved away to the north, opposite Academy Street, near Sunnyside Cross, to run parallel with Gartsherrie Road and onwards to link up with the line from Airdrie to Glasgow. Also behind the Barns & Bell 'dyke', but much closer to Sunnyside Cross, was a Coal Merchant's yard.
Here Stewart the Coal Merchant, Frank and his brother, could be seen each tea time filling and weighing sacks of coal (no smokeless then) and loading them onto the lorry for the morning deliveries. The lorry was loaded there but garaged behind the houses in Colt Terrace. The access gate to both the coal 'ree' and the 'Barbell' steel yard was opposite Academy Street where it joined Sunnyside Road.
To be continued....