Christmas news in 1961

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Press-Barons-wCHRISTMAS often includes large slices of nostalgia, but looking back can serve to remind that many things do not change very much with the passage of time. 

That thought kept recurring when I visited Helensburgh Library on Friday December 23 2011 to have a look at the Helensburgh Advertiser of 50 years ago.

The December 22 1961 edition of the then four-year old weekly — printed in the East King Street premises which had become the paper’s home earlier in the year — consisted of eight broadsheet pages, and cost just three old pence.

But many of the stories and the occasional advertisement certainly resonated with some in recent years.

The front page lead, with the headline IT IS TOP GEAR FOR TOWN’S GOOD CHEER all across the front page, was an account of everything going on in the town and district for Christmas.

It began: “Colquhoun Square fairy lights — useless for any other purpose — are being lost at the rate of six a night.

“But on Saturday morning senseless light looters raided the square and left 30 lights sockets empty.”

Editor Craig Jeffrey loved a dramatic phrase, if possible an alliteration, and of course there were four 28 feet trees in the square.

On the positive side there had been a festive spending spree, with over 1,000 Christmas trees sold in the burgh already.

The verdict was that, after a slow start, “everything is going with a boom”.

At Helensburgh Post Office 57 posties had worked in the most hectic Christmas spell for many years and were looking forward to putting their feet up.

Also looking forward to Christmas Day were burgh couple Isaac Marks (82) and his wife Mary (79) as it would be their 58th wedding anniversary.

Meanwhile a haggis, described as born and bred in Helensburgh, was being flown across the Atlantic to the United States after the enterprising and charismatic Provost J.McLeod Williamson responded to a request from a Californian firm for several.

There was more Christmas cheer at the 200 year-old Ardencaple Hotel, where a hundredweight of wealth was to be given that evening to the nearby Lagarie Childrens Home.

A three foot high pile of — big, old — pennies, about 7,000 in all and worth about £30, was to be knocked over, with the home’s Matron invited to accept the cash to buy Christmas presents for the children in her care.

The Advertiser has always liked an unusual story, and it was revealed that “by a freak sound wave, the bells of St Joseph’s School have been broadcasting.

“Each time they rang the pupils in and out of school, the folks who live on West King Street (where the school then was) heard them on their radios.”

However the head of Clyde Street Primary School had coped with the same problem, and advised fitting a suppressor.

In business news, it was announced that banking history was to be made in Helensburgh on January 3, as when the new British Linen Bank branch opens its doors for business it will be the first of its kind in Scotland.

The revolutionary bank has been built on American lines, with customers open to view from the street outside. A bank spokesman said that banks must move with the times in architecture and modern approach.

Two items of Helensburgh District Council news could almost have been written today.

Firstly, Cardross Councillor Mrs Marie Dick asked the District Council to take emergency steps to repair the village’s rocky pot-holed Darleith Road, which even doctors had refused to drive up.

At Garelochhead the new Bendarroch playing fields, which cost £8,900, are “so hard that only eight games of football have been played on them since their swanky opening in summer”.

The reason, an engineer reported, was poor drainage.

In those days the Advertiser featured the weekly Gareloch Gossip column written by one Clach Mackenny. It was a pseudonym which covered all the staff, and many did not realise it is actually the name of a hill on the Rosneath Peninsula near Clynder.

His column in this edition offered some potential Christmas gifts, one of which was for the Burgh Cleansing Department . . . under-street heating “for public peace from now on”.

As befitting a Christmas edition there were plenty of advertisements, but I could find only two from advertisers still in business today — ironmongers T.G.Allan Ltd. and near neighbours in West Clyde Street Webster the Jeweller.

Kirklands the toy shop and furniture firm Kerrs were both in business until a few years ago, and the Kingsclere Hotel became the Commodore Hotel, was burnt down, and rose again.

Many will remember Macvicars outfitters in Sinclair Street, the A & D Fraser garage in East Clyde Street, the Music Shop in James Street, and hairdresser Delia Hely in West Princes Street.

My favourite from that era was undoubtedly M.Eman, 74 West Clyde Street, because of the delicious Eman’s Helensburgh Toffee in the maroon box.

The other big difference is that the Helensburgh and Gareloch Times, edited by Walter Bryden, was still the established local paper at that time, but five years later it had been overtaken by the Advertiser.

The picture is one of very few which show Craig Jeffrey (left) and Walter Bryden together, though both were to become members of Helensburgh Rotary Club. Man in the middle is Provost Williamson.