The origin of the harbour of Ardrossan lies in the vision of Hugh, the twelfth Earl of Eglinton, who was a man of great energy. Not only did he rebuild the family home of Eglinton Castle but on July 31, 1806, he was responsible for the laying by William Blair, Master Mason, of the foundation stone of the harbour and wet dock to be connected by canal to Paisley and Glasgow. The town of Ardrossan grew up around the project.
Earl Hugh died on December 15, 1819 but the Eglinton family continued the project. The estimated cost for the harbour was £40,000 with and anticipated 10% annual return on capital, but costs mushroomed to £100,000 and expected revenues were never realized. The canal made its way from Glasgow as far as Johnstone before the competing project of deepening the Clyde in the new age of the steamboat sucked up all the interest and capital. Nevertheless, Ardrossan was in an excellent position for the export of coal from the nearby Ayrshire coalfield and the rich agricultural products of the Ayrshire plain.
Ardrossan from Cannon Hill
Ardrossan from the Castle
The original harbour proposal consisted of a tidal harbour within the breakwater with a depth of water between 20 and 30 feet together with a much shallower area with a minimum depth of 10 feet at low water, a wet dock of 7 acres with a regular depth of water of 20 feet, and within this wet dock, two graving docks for ship repair. Work was carried out fitfully and there was a long break in development when Earl Hugh died.
Earl Archibald, promoted the harbour with a mediaeval tournament at Eglinton Castle in 1839 where special sailings were arranged to being guests to Ardrossan by steamer from many of the ports around the kingdom. Regular communication with the Isle of Arran had begun in the middle of the 1830s and communications with Greenock and Stranraer were begun with the Ayrshire Lassie, but it was the coming of the railway, built along the line of the unfinished canal in 1840, that precipitated new energy to complete the harbour. Connections from Ardrossan to Fleetwood, connected by rail to London began a short-lived service with the Fire King, to provided a fast route to the Capital.
Ardrossan harbour about 1860 (maps.nls.uk)
By 1845, the harbour works, including the wet-dock, smaller than planned at 4 acres, and graving dock were opened. Over the following forty years, the harbour progressed. The major trade was in coal and the port became a major bunkering port in addition to the export trade. The Glasgow and South Western Railway provided rail connections with Glasgow with a passenger terminus at the Old or Winton Pier. Connections with Arran were taken over by the Ardrossan Steamboat Company in 1839 with the steamboat Isle of Arran which was replaced by the Earl of Arran in 1860. In the late 1860s the Duke of Hamilton had Lady Mary and then the larger Heather Bell built but by 1874, the trade was transferred to Messrs Buchanan.
Buchanan steamer Brodick Castle leaving the harbour
Regular sailings to Belfast from the Ayshire port by the Ardrossan Steamboat Company began with the Isabella Napier in 1844 and was replaced by the Glow Worm later in the year. A second steamer, Fire Fly, was added the following year and the service continued until 1855 when there was a brief lapse before the service was resumed with the Adela. In 1877, two smart little screw steamers, North Eastern and North Western were built by A & J Inglis for the Ardrossan Company and continued until taken over by Messrs Burns in 1907.
North Eastern at the North Quay with the Glasgow and South Western Railway Terminus in the background
With changing trade patterns and larger ships, a major expansion of the harbour facilities was begun in the 1880s. An Act of 1884 authorized the Lanarkshire and Ayrshire Railway Company to construct a line to the harbour, providing access to the Caledonian Railway Company to break the Glasgow and South Western Railway monopoly. Two years later, the harbour extension was authorized with the formation of the Ardrossan Harbour Company to take over the harbour from the Eglinton family. The expansion included an extension and new facilities for Winton Pier, construction of a new quay on the Montgomerie breakwater, forming the Eglinton tidal basin, and a new breakwater to the north. However, the major investment was in the new Eglinton wet dock, with new facilities for handling coal exports.
Plan of the dock extensions in 1892
Predictable difficulties, delays, accidents, and cost over-runs marred the project. The new Montgomerie Pier was opened to allow the Caledonian Steam Packet Company to open their Arran service with Duchess of Hamilton in 1890. The new service took the traffic from Messrs Buchanan’s Scotia forcing the Glasgow and South Western to purchase the vessel and enter the steamship trade. In 1892, they introduced the Glen Sannox to redress the balance.
From the harbour entrance showing Winton and Montgomerie Piers and the new tidal basin between (Poulton)
Duchess of Hamilton in heavy seas off Ardrossan
Messrs Burns Adder leaving with Glen Sannox at Winton Pier
Glen Sannox approaching Winton Pier
Jupiter at Winton Pier
The Caledonian winter service was carried on by Marchioness of Lorne seen here leaving the harbour astern with the new breakwater to port.
Messrs Burns had begun a new daylight service to Belfast with a fast paddle steamer, Cobra, in 1889. Originally promised to sail from Ardrossan, the facilities were incomplete and Gourock was substituted. The following year, Adder replaced Cobra, but it was 1892 when the harbour works were completed, that Montgomerie Pier became the point of departure.
Ardrossan Harbour—Opening Eglinton Dock
The new dock will be opened on April 12th at Noon, by Lady Gertrude Mongomerie. The Dock and its tidal-basin have an area of 14 acres, with a depth of about 18 feet at low, 27 feet at high water, and the dock is equipped with hydraulic coal hoists and cranes of the most modern description, ensuring rapid despatch in loading and discharging vessels. The dock has excellent railway connection with the Collieries and Iron and Steel Works of Lanarkshire and Ayrshire. The Ardrossan Harbour Dues on Vessels and Goods and Minerals, as also the Charges for Loading and Discharging Cargoes are most moderate. For these, and all other information relating to the Harbour, application should made to John Craig, General Manager and Secretary, Ardrossan Harbour Company. Harbour Offices, Ardrossan, 26th March, 1892. Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, April 8 1892
Messrs Burns Mastiff on the upper Clyde
The opening of the Eglinton dock was accompanied by much fanfare. Messrs Burns steamer Mastiff was the first vessel to enter the new dock and was followed by a number of steamers that were regular visitors to the port. A luncheon was provided in the new Mongomerie Pier Station.
Colliers in the old wet dock (Stengel)
The new Eglinton wet dock with the Caledonian terminus at Montgomerie Pier. The buoy in the center of the dock was used to aid ships in maneuvering
Looking across from Winton Pier onto Eglinton tidal basin to the swing bridge at the entrance to the new dock with the Caledonian terminus on the north pier
Collier Laura Sandefjord loading in the new Eglinton wet dock with the dock entrance and Caledonian terminus at Montgomerie Pier in the background
Colliers in the south west corner of the new Eglinton wet dock
A Swedish turret collier, Gellivare, at one of the new coaling hoists. She was built at Sunderland in 1905
Colliers in the new wet dock
The new facilities encouraged new business, including summer sailings at peak times by the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company.
Eglinton tidal basin with an Isle of Man steamer
In the new century, new vessels replaced the old favourites. Messrs Burns Adder was replaced by the new fast turbine Viper on the Belfast service in 1906.
Duchess of Argyll and Viper at Montgomerie Pier
Viper off Ardrossan
Viper leaving Ardrossan
The turbine Duchess of Argyll took over the Arran service from Duchess of Hamilton in the same year, and the winter service to Arran saw the introduction of the Atalanta for the Glasgow and South Western service from Winton Pier.
Duchess of Argyll at Montgomerie Pier
Sharing arrangements between the Caledonian and Glasgow and South Western meant that the G & SW Atalanta could be found at the Caledonian Montgomerie Pier. Seen here with Viper
Consolidation of steamers services after the first world war changed the level of activity at the port and the decline in coal exports reduced revenues. However a new oil storage facility was constructed and grew in importance. This, together with continued trade with Ireland and the Arran ferry service have allowed the port to survive.
A few additional photographs of Ardrossan favourites have been added here.
Atlantic City and the collier Glencree in Eglinton wet dock in 1935
Isle of Man steamer in Eglinton tidal basin with Marchioness of Graham at Montgomerie Pier
Marchioness of Graham entering the Harbour with the breakwater behind
Messrs Burns and Laird Belfast boat Lairds Isle
A aerial view of the harbour
Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, April 15, 1892
Ardrossan Harbour 1805-1970, Catriona Levy and the Ardrossan Local History Workshop, Workers Educational Association, Glasgow, 1988