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Ardrossan History by Rosslyn Lee

Ardrossan's name describes its position on the coast

ard: height

rossan: a small rocky promontory

Ardrossan was basically a village before it quickly developed during the 18th & 19th centuries. It is probably best known as a port: coal and pig iron were exported to Europe & North America as well as Ireland for many years.

Shipbuilding was one of Ardrossan's important industries. Many local firms were involved in building wooden ships, used as fishing vessels or cargo boats. Unfortunately due to competition from abroad, Ardrossan's shipbuilding industry almost ceased to exist after the 1950s. 

Passenger boat services to Arran started in 1834, with the Irish passenger ship Gloworm starting in 1884. Isle of Man services commenced in 1892.

In 1796 Hugh, Earl of Eglinton had ambitious plans for Ardrossan. His vision was a town with wide streets and good housing. He also wanted to build a harbour and a canal to connect to Glasgow. When Hugh died in 1819, the work had been in progress for 13 years, but was incomplete. Work on the harbour was eventually completed in 1864. Hugh's dream of a canal linking Ardrossan to Glasgow was never realised.

Ardrossan town grew as a result of the harbour and became a Burgh of Barony in 1846 with a Provost, magistrates and commissioners. In 1886 the Ardrossan Harbour Company was formed to deal with the huge increase in use of the harbour. the company built the Eglinton dock in 1892 along with the existing breakwater.

Ardrossan continued to flourish into the 20th century with new manufacturing industries - the Shell-Mex refinery, Metallic Manufacturing and the Winton Foundry to name but a few. There were also many shops concentrated in Glasgow Street and Princes Street. The Ardrossan Co-op was opened in 1870. Other shops which have all but disappeared included Murchies (grocer), Sutters, Allisons (clothing), Fullertons (ironmongers) and Hogarth's Emporium.

Apart from its industrial side, Ardrossan was also a popular holiday resort. Its sandy beach was often mobbed in good weather. Many of the summer visitors arrived from Glasgow by train to one of Ardrossan's five railway stations - South Beach, Caledonian, Montgomerie, Winton and Ardrossan Town.

Ardrossan lost its burgh status in 1974 when it was amalgamated into Cunningham District Council with other local towns. It is now part of North Ayrshire Council which was formed in 1996.

What would Hugh, 12th Earl of Eglinton think of Ardrossan now? He would still recognise parts of Ardrossan although it has grown dramatically throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

Has his dream been fulfilled? Ardrossan certainly has some wide streets, a large proportion of good housing and although the harbour has declined over the years, it has recently re-emerged as a marina that is set to expand. Hugh's canal hardly got further than Paisley and it is almost certain that this part of his dream will never be fulfilled. However, the slow-moving upgrading of the A737 could be considered as a modern day alternative to his vision of connecting Ardrossan to Glasgow.


Click here for some photographs of modern day Ardrossan.