The S.S. Ailsa viewed from offshore: The steamer
is berthed at the Lighthouse slipway and is flying the Red Ensign on
the jack staff at the stern of the boat. The Girvan Family
House Flag is clearly seen on the rear mast. A white cottage
at the centre is the tacksman's cottage used by the Girvan family
and to the right is the tearoom. The white building on the
left of the cottage contains winding gear used to pull laden bogies
up from the slipway while on the skyline is seen a structure
commonly known as Ailsa Castle.
Wild goats on the Craig: The goats were a well-known feature on
Ailsa and around 1836 the tenant of the Craig " went there for a few
days shooting at the wild goats that abound." At the beginning of
the 20th century the numbers had increased and counts varied between
20 in 1902 to approaching 80 in 1936. Over a period of a few
years their numbers were reduced by regular shooting and in the
1940s only a few old billies remained. They eventually died out
leaving Ailsa Craig devoid of wild goats. The head of an Ailsa Craig
wild goat preserved by Roland Ward of London can be seen in the
McKechnie Institute, Girvan.
The older gentleman is Alexander Thomson, the
principal lighthouse keeper with an unidentified colleague. c1911.
The Light-Keepers sorting fish: Fishing boats from
Girvan would call at Ailsa when returning with their catch.
The Ailsa inhabitants go for a regular supply of fresh fish for the
table. The fish appear to be pollock known locally as 'Stenlachs'.
The waters surrounding Ailsa were regularly fished and for many
centuries the island was used as a local fishing station during the
summer months. Sir Donald Munro, writing in 1549 states "for
in the same ile is verey good killing, ling, and uther whyte
Cranking the generators: These engines were all
hand-cranked to start the shaft turning. A number of these
Lister generators were installed around 1911. They were
changed over daily with one kept as a spare for emergencies.
The power produced was supplied to the lighthouse lamp and
electricity was also routed to the living quarters of the lighthouse
buildings. Another engine in the winch-house was used to pull
supply bogies up the steep rail track from the jetty.
The North Foghorn showing the compressed air
cylinders at the south side of the Horn. c1908
A steam crane moving boulders at the Ailsa Craig granite quarry.
The mineral railway: To facilitate the
transport of rocks and boulders to the crushing mill, a flimsy
narrow-gauge Railway was constructed. Large boulders were
loaded onto the bogies by a steam crane which had more lifting power
than the quarrymen. Smaller material was loaded by hand.
The bogies were then either pushed by hand or pulled by a pony.
The steep cliffs of Kennedy's Nags rise upwards at the right-hand
side of the picture.
Quarrymen's housing 2: The Ailsa Granite Quarry
employed a large workforce of about 30 men during the summer months.
The married men were housed in corrugated-iron buildings and the
single men in the barrack building seen in the distance. The
granite-built cottage in the centre of the row was used by the
quarry-manager. The gentleman in the foreground wearing a
collar and tie is probably Archibald Currie who was quarry-master
from 1911-1914. This building still exists today.
Splitting a boulder: large boulders were
split by a hand-technique known as 'plug and feather'. A skilled eye
identified a natural weakness in the grain along which a series of
holes were hammered to a depth of about 6 inches (15cm). A
large steel chisel, held by wire, was turned and struck by a 28lb
(12.7kg) double-handed hammer. Half-round metal rods or
'feathers' were inserted into the holes and a wedge or 'plug' was
driven between the rods. As the pressure increased the rock
eventually split along the line of holes.
Matthew Girvan (right) shares a break from
some stone knapping with a colleague at the Blue Hone Quarry.
Rowing the blocks: Matthew Girvan and his
colleagues rolled the blocks to the water's edge and then waded into
the sea up to waist level carrying the blocks out to an offshore
rowing boat. This was cold and unpleasant work. The
heavy skiff being used to take the stones out to the trader is of a
type that became defunct by the 1950s. Even in such a flat
calm, the load looks decidedly scary. The boats did capsize on
a number of occasions and many blocks may be seen lying underwater
to this day.
Charles Kirk perched on a cliff at Ailsa
Craig focusing a half plate stereo camera. c1900
Charles Kirk descending a cliff. He did not
use ropes and wore only sandals. c1900
A colony of Kittiwakes nesting on the cliffs at
Dory’s Yett. The negative is dated 1903.
Gannet landing at its nest: This is a
splendid example of Charles Kirk's superb pictures of seabirds in
flight around Ailsa Craig. Gannets usually lay a solitary egg,
bluish-green beneath the outer chalky deposit that is usually
stained. The nest is a heap of seaweed with the addition of
some local vegetation and any oddments lying about. Gannets'
eggs have been collected on Ailsa centuries, mainly for local
consumption. Fortunately that practice is now illegal.
A camera-shy young Gannet is seen cowering
underneath the parent bird.
Puffins resting on rocks: Dr Bernard Zonfrillo of
Glasgow University was a prime mover in the formation of a committee
to begin a rat-eradication programme. It was decided to use a
specific rat-poison called Warfarin. The rats were targeted
while leaving all other species untouched. This was successful
and in 1991 the island became rat-free for the first time in over a
hundred years. The Puffins returned to breed in 2002 and other
ground nesting birds such as the Wheatear have also returned to
A calm day at Stranny Point at the South of the
Leaving on the S.S. Ailsa: Visitors came to
Ailsa in droves during the summer months. For many people
scaling the summit was considered a priority. However, many of
the ladies, sweltering in their long dresses, made for the
refreshment tent run by the Girvan family. A tea room was
built later. By most accounts it was "spotlessly clean with
linen like driven snow, home-baked scones, butter, jam and the hot
tea was just perfect." Many items were for sale at the shop
including postcards produced by Charles Kirk.
This is only a very small glimpse
of the contents of “Kirk on the Craig” and I do recommend you to
purchase a copy.