Memories of Ayr Station Hotel from Andrew Melvin
You must take into account, that these are the memories of a wee boy growing up in Yorkshire, but spending holidays at his father’s hotel, of which I had full reign of a huge building, able to access parts that guests could not, and chat to employees in various departments. You must forgive me, if I can't remember some names etc, but it was 60 some years ago, but in my mind, I can still feel the grandeur, and the atmosphere of that building, how vibrant, and alive it was, so different to how it is now.
A brief history of my father, W R Melvin and how he came to acquire the Ayr station hotel: He was born in the town of Fraserburgh, in 1891 the eldest son of seven children, his father was also W R Melvin, and at first a bookseller, but he also wrote plays, poems, and amusing stories, later he became the editor of the Fraserburgh Herald, a position he held for 30 years. He was also an after dinner speaker, and his party piece was reciting Tam o Shanter, as he was a great Burns fan. Later my father paid to have his works published, and can be found in a book named 'Poems and Songs, of the North East Neuk' (Maistly Scotch) a testament to his sense of humour! At the age of about 20, my father went to Australia, but eventually ended up in Malaya as an assistant manager to a rubber plantation, eventually becoming manager (and later director) of the Harcroft estate, working with the owners son Charles Rycroft, some of you may know that Charles, was a great environmentalist and philanthropist, financing Gerald Durrell of ‘My family and Other Animals’ fame. He returned to Scotland around 1934 and lived with his first wife, Alice Reid at the Station Hotel in Ellon, at the time run by her mother. I suppose this must be where my father learned the hotel trade, and in 1938 he acquired the Royal Hotel in Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow. When the Ayr Station Hotel became available, being sold off as part of the government’s Nationalisation scheme, he was looking to expand the business, so with the help of some financiers, (a move he admitted to me later he regretted) he acquired the Hotel. He then set about improving it, from just a place to stay, into a proper hotel, making the rooms en-suite, installing an American grill etc. In around 1963 he sold the hotel, as he put it, to a little man who had a Greek restaurant just round the corner from his hotel in Glasgow, his name? Stakis!
In the fifties my father had managers who ran the hotels day to day tasks, Mr and Mrs Moody. I recall Mr Moody was a tall thin gentleman, whilst his wife was a petite lady with a fabulous French accent, I think she originated from Paris? I liked her, as she always made a fuss of me. In the dining room, my father had installed an American style grill, you could choose your steak from a cold cabinet, and a then watch the chef cook it to your satisfaction, very racy for the fifties, of course then it was the thing to dress for dinner, by that, I don't mean like nowadays when your best football shirt will do, it was gentlemen in a suit and tie, ladies in a dress, and wee boys like me in half a suit, jacket, tie, and short trousers! You weren't allowed long ones until you were a teenager!
Reception was a place I would visit often, there were three or four ladies in there, all typing away! One of them, I presume the manager, or manageress as they were known in those days (we had male and female then) gave me an old typewriter, so I could sit and type like them, although it was probably more a ruse to keep me out of the way, and quiet!
I did once or twice venture into the kitchen, a very busy place then. The Chef was a large Cockney gentleman, I remember him gutting chickens one day, putting his hand inside them, and drawing the innards out into a large metal dustbin! He said, “Go on lad, get yer and in an dabble about!” Then laughed at my expression of horror. It's one of my more vivid memories. He did cook a trout for me one evening though! At the time, the hotel had a stretch of river it had access to, and one of the barmen, who was a keen fisherman took me with him one day, so I caught this trout! It arrived on my plate, complete with head, so was speedily returned to have it removed. It did taste good though.
One person I did spend a lot of time with, was the hotel porter, mainly because he would let me 'drive the lift' a beautiful wooden contraption with a trellis gate, and a big brass handle that would make a 'clacking' sound as it shut. I wish I could remember his name? Most annoying! He was a mountain of a man, and certainly impressed me, suitcases that I, with all my strength could only lift an inch off the floor, he would carry four! One under each arm, and one in each hand, then march off down the corridor. Of course with driving the lift, it meant that I met all the new guests who arrived at the hotel, this came in handy later, when after dinner, I would be parked at a table and chair, outside the bar with a bottle of coca cola, (children not being allowed into the bar in the evening) but would often strike up a conversation with guests I had met in the lift earlier, probably why now, I will chat with anyone and everyone!
I remember one day, one of the staff took me to an auto test nearby, as he knew I had a love of motor sport. He had a small MG sports car. As we were about to set off, the porter had sneaked up behind us, grabbed the bumper, and lifted the back end of the car completely off the ground. I think we got into top gear before he dropped it!
At the top of the stairs, were two large oriental carved chairs, with dragon heads on the end of the arms. I would put my fingers into their mouths, in the hope that they wouldn't bite me? Although, when you are a child, You never know? I would often sit and chat to a gentleman, (well, more like disturb him from reading his paper) who my father told me was Robert Boothby MP evidently a family friend, who my father had attended many Burns nights with in Fraserburgh. Of course, there were many famous people who passed through the hotel at the time, actors, and actresses, comedians, and my favourite! Magicians! During the day, I would be allowed into the bar, if a magician was in, I would ask if I could see some magic. I don't know how many coins I have had pulled from behind my ear, and then made to disappear, and numerous card tricks. I still haven't fathomed out how they did it? but that's magic! Another magic thing, was a drink the barman used to make for me, I'm sure his name was Bobby, no doubt some relative will put me straight? He would put various fruit juices into a flask, with the white of an egg, then shake it vigorously, and pour it into a tall Tiger beer glass. The mixture would then layer out into different colours. He called it a ‘tiger’s tail’. I've never seen anything like it since. Then of course there were the trains! What small boy in the fifties didn't like trains? Proper ones I mean, steam trains! It was the one place that was out of bounds to me, I was not allowed out of the back of the hotel, but from the first floor I could see them arriving, leaving, and hear them, see the steam rising outside the window. I suppose the constant rail traffic will not have helped the fabric of the building, combined with lack of maintenance. It is a beautiful building and should be restored, if only just for the sake of the history.
I am now lucky enough to live near the city of York, and every time I pass the hotel there, next to the station, I think of the hotel at Ayr, as it obviously came off the same drawing board! I hope you have enjoyed reading this small part of history, at a time when we seem to be losing so much of our culture, and heritage, buildings such as these need to be preserved.
For pictures of the inside of The Station Hotel see our June Update.