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Signs of the Past: Recent Rediscoveries in Dunoon and Kirn

Over the past few months, signs of the local area's rich commercial history have been uncovered. Our thanks go out to the local joiners who discovered these- Alan McNee from McNee Building Services Ltd, and Andrew Jones from Andrew Jones Joinery. Read on to find out more about the businesses that proudly upheld these signs as part of their shopfronts.

Peter Boyers, Queen Street, Dunoon (Retrieved thanks to McNee Building Services Ltd.)

Peter Boyers shop sign from 50A Queen Street, now in the Museum collection.

The below recollection of memories of Peter Boyers shop were written by the previous Museum Manager, John Stirling. These recount his childhood memories of life on Queen Street. He shared that:

'Mr Boyers was a well-built man who was something of a hero to me as his prowess as a swimmer was legend. He frequently went swimming from his hotel (Mount Carmel now the site of houses at the bottom of Clyde Street at Kirn) when he seemed to be as at home in the water as he was going about his business assisted by his daughters in his treasure trove of a shop.

Mount Carmel, Kirn.

Mr and Mrs Boyers.

When you went in there was a long counter on the left fronted by metal rails on which there were placed what I believe to be called half biscuit tins. These were special ones as they had lids mainly constructed of glass which allowed a clear view of the contents and I suppose their placement was akin to the trick by present day supermarkets to site goodies next to the checkout so that you are tempted to buy. They are sometimes called display tins.

The shop sold an amazing range of items in addition to newspapers. These ranged from children's pails and spades for the shore, washers to mend pots (unthinkable today) to sticks to light the fire. As I remember these sticks in their bundles tied with coarse brown string were on the floor immediately to your right as you entered the shop and I can even to this day recall the  smell of the firelighters and bottles of bleach with their cork tops, which were next to them. Nearby were little rubber flasks of lighter fuel which had a pointed spout which you snipped with scissors so that the fuel could be directed into your cigarette lighter.

A great favourite was a type of liquorice sticks called nail rods. These were in white cardboard boxes situated not far in on the right of the shop. They were about three inches long and about a half an inch in section. They were extraordinarily tough hence the name and lasted a lot longer than the more popular liquorice pipe, laces etc. I was never a great fan of the real liquorice sticks, which were twigs, which you could put with water, and sugar in a bottle and after the passage of time gave a flavour to the water. This “sugarolly” water could then be drunk. I never thought it very good. Another sweet which comes to mind were lollipops which were tightly wrapped at the eating end with a stout tin foil which was sort of folded concertina like round the edges which made it very difficult to remove from the brightly coloured flavoured part which had been liquid when poured. When removed this foil made a complete circle. 

The longtime favourite comics would be bought here. The Beano, Dandy, Topper, Beezer, Hotspur, and Eagle come readily to mind with the Bunty and Judy for girls. I think there was a publication for younger children called Jack and Jill. At one time the Daily Express brought out a special newspaper for children and I can remember persuading my mother to provide the money. I do not know how long it was issued for.'

Draper and Stationers, Marine Parade, Kirn (retrieved thanks to Andrew Jones Joinery).

Draper and Stationer sign from Marine Parade, Kirn, now in Museum Collection.

This sign comes from a shopfront on Kirn's Marine Parade. The village has its own strong commercial history, with the 1903 Slater's Royal National Commercial Directory of Scotland showing it was home to a number of businesses. These include boat-hirers, a confectioner, a pianoforte seller, and a number of grocers.

Although draper and stationer may seem like an unusual combination of services, this was commonly seen around Britain at this time. Drapers would sell fabrics by very specific measurements, allowing customers to make their own clothes or take this to a local professional such as a dressmaker. The combination of this service with the ability to buy 'plain and fancy stationery' in the same place was often a winning one. Stirling found that this shop was ran by Miss E.B McAra in 1951. The draper and stationer sign was still on display when Queen Elizabeth II visited Dunoon on the 11th of August 1958, and can be seen on the left of the photograph below.

Image of Kirn shopfronts, 1958.

Alongside this sign, another was unearthed that belonged to the same property. This reads 'Johnston,' and states that the shop was a 'milliner and dressmakers.' Stirling found that this was a haberdashery shop runby Miss E Johnston. Haberdashery shops sold supplies for dressmaking, knitting, and sewing. A late nineteenth century census shows an Elizabeth Johnston who was resident in Kirn, living at Douglas Park. Her profession is listed as 'milliner,' along with her older sister Mary as a 'dressmaker.' They were quite young at the time this census was taken, so the shop itself may not date exactly from this time. However, we believe that Elizabeth is a likely candidate for being the same E. Johnston that had this shop.

Here at Castle House Museum we are dedicated to remembering, sharing, and preserving the vast and riveting history of our area. We are extremely thankful to all those involved with retrieving these signs for us. As part of our collection they are not only material evidence of our local commercial history, but act as a starting point from which we can remember the individual residents whose everyday lives composed this history.



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