Shops, Businesses and Organisations in the Vale of Leven.
This is a list of the shops / pubs / business premises in Alexandria about 1950. Most of them were in Main Street and Bank Street, but there were others in what could be considered side streets and one or two of them had a Vale-wide following. By its nature it is a snap-shot and many of the businesses had other owners around that time. Some of them are also included.
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ALEXANDRIA SHOPS AND BUSINESSES ABOUT 1950
Where appropriate, the present owners / occupiers of these businesses have also been listed to help identify where they were located. This also helps to show the changes in the lines of business conducted in these shops. Most, but not all, of the wee corner shops have disappeared. All of the Vale Co-op shops have also gone, and there were many of them. And no longer is there a milliner in Alexandria nor a tobacconist’s nor a seller of sheet music. But there are still two excellent butchers, an equally good fish-shop and the range of food and drink is better than it was in 1950.
There are a number of types of businesses and shops which have increased greatly in the past 60 years or so – for instance, there are many more car-related businesses, but then again there are many more cars. There are now a variety of food take-aways and not just fish and chip shops. And of course there has been an almost unbelievable increase in personal grooming shops – hairdressers, beauty salons and tanning salons.
Alexandria is still a good shopping centre and when you include the shops at Antartex and in Lomond Galleries (Torpedo Factory) there is very little that you could buy in Alexandria in 1950 that you can’t buy to-day: perhaps a man’s suit and electrical white goods, although Aldi can fill part of that gap, and a bicycle. But there is a lot that you can buy now but not then. Compared to the carnage in other towns’ shopping centres the Vale has a lot to be thankful for.
The entries are listed from north of Alexandria to south. The lists follow each street through to its end before moving on to the next one and move firstly along the east side of those streets running broadly north-south before turning round to come back along the west side so that they finish approximately opposite where they started. On those streets which run from east to west they start on the north side and come back along the south side.
We are indebted to Willie Ronald who has contributed most of this information. Willie’s memory and knowledge of these times is encyclopaedic. The Street numbers are drawn from the Valuation Rolls.
Hardie Street, Levenvale
- Rodger’s General Store whose last owner was Willie Rodger. Has been converted back to a house for many years now. Next door to the shop there used to be a Salvation Army Gospel Hall.
- Vale of Leven Co-Operative Society (hereafter Vale Co-op) shop which included a grocery, butcher’s, bakers and dairy which stood at the corner of Hardie Street and Argyle Street. It is one of the few shops left in the Vale with a similar function to-day to what it had 60 years ago and with a similar owner or name.
Main Street – North
Starting at the north end of Main Street, which then, as now, was known as Hillview Place, the premises were as follows:
- St Andrews tin church stood in its own grounds right on the corner of Argyle Street and Hillview Place. Then
- 10 Hillview Place, Mrs Campbell’s tobacco, stationery and sweetie shop, later owned by Jessie Sweeney and after that by Robert (“Bud”) Fisher who also had shops in the centre of Alexandria at various times, and then by a Mrs McLaren.
- 6 Hillview Place, the Post Office which also housed a drapery, run by Miss Janet Armstrong
- 4 Hillview Place a newsagents run by a Mrs Malcolm and then by the Gray family
- 2 Hillview Place / 1 Govan Drive. A café and general store was opened during the war in the premises on the corner of Main Street and Govan Drive, by Andy Clugston. It was called the Bonne Bouche. It had been a government-owned pub many years before, but lay empty for years. It was a wee piece of history in its own right, since it was only during the First World War and only in areas where munitions were produced, that the government took over pubs to control the drinking habits of munitions workers. The Lyddite was just across Govan Drive, and the Armstrong Whitworth Company was making munitions in what is now called the Torpedo Factory but was the Gun Work to locals at that time, so the Vale was very much a munitions-producing area in WW1.
- Close to it, but round the corner at 5 Govan Drive was Richardson’s the Bakers which in the early 1950’s was taken over by Robert Young who had a grocery there.
These shops were part of the Govan Drive four-storey tenements which were demolished in 1976 and replaced with the 2 storey building which houses another 4 shops, with a different footprint from the original 4 in Hillview Place. Today these businesses are:
- Jack Dempsey’s Bar & Lounge
- Pizzeria take-away
- Hairpod hairdressers
- Costcutter general store
There was then a considerable gap consisting of the un-reclaimed Lyddite and some Maycrete Houses on the site now occupied by the Swimming Pool. The Torpedo factory was, of course, where it still stands, and immediately adjacent to its gatehouse was Glenview Place where there were the following shops, which carried no number in those days:
- Ernie / Leo Cocozza’s Glenview Café, owned by the uncle of the present owner of Freddie’s café on the Main Street. This is now the Wok Wong Chinese carry-out shop.
- Galbraith’s grocery which is now the Head to Toe beauty salon
- A & J Morrice’s Newsagents. This has been through the hands of a number of different owners over the years, but it is still a newsagents shop.
- William Edward’s dress shop occupied the corner site of Main Street and King Edward Street. This is now occupied by Bridal Connections. Willie Edwards owned the whole Glenview Place building in which the other 3 shops were situated.
In 1950 there were no shops until the Co-op, but to-day there are two in the building which is now called Avenue Place – Bellezza Beauty Centre and Graham Wilson’s Photographers Studio.
In 1950 Main Street did not start officially until the Vale Co-op building opposite the Christie Park. There were 3 shops in that building and while the Co-op did shuffle the use of some of its shops on a regular basis, so that a grocers became a chemist or a dairy a fruiterer's for instance, in 1950 these shops were:
- 3-5 Main Street - Vale Co-op grocery
- 7 - Vale Co-op Butchers
- 9 - Vale Co-op Dairy
After the Co-op sold them, these shops had a variety of occupants including a pet shop, the Vale’s first Indian restaurant, the Star of India, in the l970’s–early 80s which became the Argyll Bar for a while. To-day only Sizzler’s carry-out shop survives as a business at 9 Main Street, the other shops having been converted to flats.
There were then a number of houses before the shops restarted with
- 27 – Harold Edwards shop, which now houses a Nail Salon
- 35 – Alex Aitken the Butchers. Jimmy Kirkpatrick had his Timbercraft shop in what had been Alex Aitken’s and when Iain McPhie took it over he renamed it the Handyman and extended next door into 37. Both shops still house The Handyman which was been owned by Ronnie Kelly for many years.
- 37 – Fanny Aitken’s newsagents shop.
- 41-43 - McKenzie’s pub owned by sisters Catherine and Sally McKenzie. This is still McKenzie’s pub, although the McKenzie sisters have long departed and landlords since them have included Hamish McMeekin and Alan Wright
- 51 - Donald Sloan’s fruiterer's business stood on the corner of Main Street and North Street on the site now occupied by Glen’s Funeral Parlour. Later that building subsided and was propped up by large wooden beams for a few years until being demolished and replaced with a modern building which has blended in perfectly with its surroundings.
- 55 Main Street - The corner shop on the south side of North Street was a painter’s business belonging to McGregor, but about this time it was taken over by Craig the Painter. In the later 1950’s it was taken over by Joe Gibson as a fire-place showroom, but smokeless zones put paid to that. Thereafter there was a succession of occupants until quite recently when it fell victim to the machinations of the unlamented Argyll & Clyde Health Board who were claiming that they needed the land for a new Health Centre. It was bought and demolished adding to the already extensive gap site at the Fountain. Needless to say absolutely nothing has happened about a new Health Centre.
- 63 – Housed in an old single storey building, probably dating back to about 1800 was Miss Watson’s tobacconist shop.
- 77 – Henry Cairnie’s or Cairney’s shop on the corner of Craft Street, sold sheet music and books. It was taken over about this time by Jim Ewart the cobbler, who up until then had had a workshop in Middleton Street, and later still by a bookie. The building is long gone and has not been replaced.
Craft or Alexander Street
- 85 Main Street - next to Craft Street, but still on Main Street overlooking the Fountain was Ross’s Dairies
- 87 – Was another dairy which some people remember as Shepherd’s Dairy and others as Home & Colonial. Both are right because Shepherd’s Dairy was part of the huge Home & Colonial Chain. Neither shop has survived.
- 93 Main Street, with extensive frontage onto Fountain Place – Wilson’s the Ironmongers who had been on that site for many years but before that had been diagonally across Bank Street in a building which was demolished about 1935/36 but which stood adjacent to Miss Blakely’s newsagent’s shop. Wilson's were replaced about 1950 by the Vale Co-op, who opened it first as a drapery, then converted it to a chemists and then a baby shop. It is now GPM Estate Agents.
- 95 – Miss Jessie Brown tobacconist. This shop was later Rhins the Pork Butchers, and is now Willie Sloan’s Butcher’s Shop
- 99 – Tom Telfer, painter, but by 1953 this was Isabel Duncan’s shoe shop. It is now part of Hudson the Jeweller’s shop.
- 101 – This was the Gift Shop in the early 1950’s and was owned by the same people who owned Robertson & Barr’s ironmongers shop further along Main Street. It, too, is now part of Hudson the Jewellers.
- 103 – Miss Jessie McGregor’s ladies outfitters in 1950, but by 1953 it was Molly Mandy’s woman’s fashion shop owned by Willie Edwards and his sister Mary Pollock. It is now part of Jimmy’s Cards shop.
- 105 – S&M Granger, fruiterer and confectioner. It too is now part of Jimmy’s Cards Shop. Before that it was Mrs More’s fruit and vegetable shop and she also sold bus tickets (weeklies / monthlies etc) for the Central SMT buses.
In the 1950’s the next shop was at 115 Main Street, but to-day there are a couple of businesses in what in the 1950s were houses:
- 107 – Is now occupied by TOA Taxis. Among previous occupiers was Billy Swan who had a frozen food shop in these premises
- 109-111 – Sandra’s Café. This was originally opened by Edi Ronald when it was known as the Coffee Cabin.
- 115-117 – in 1950 this was Robertson & Barr, ironmongers, which was owned at this time by T Davie & H Pickup. Robertson & Barr was still open until well into the 1970’s. 115 is now The Barber’s Shop, surely unique amongst Scottish barbers in that you are quite likely to be entertained by live classical Spanish guitar music or engaged in a discussion on Renaissance Art while you are having your haircut. More power to their scissors.
- 117 – 119 was David Muir’s until very recently, but there is now a message directing inquiries elsewhere.
- 123 Main Street - In 1950 this was a house, but is now Hobson’s Choice cobbler’s shop.
- 125 – Helen Granger’s in 1950 which later became Bells the Cleaners.
- 127 – 133 British Linen Bank, which in the late 1960’s was taken over by the Bank of Scotland, who still occupy it. Upstairs now houses SIS & Co hairdressers and beauty salon.
The Bank of Scotland building marks the end of the older buildings in this part of Main Street. Everything south of here in the Town Centre dates from the 1970’s and there is not another older building housing a business until much further along Main Street at the Old Vale Bar. The present occupiers of the newer buildings are listed below the listing of the older buildings. Going back to the 1950’s buildings:
- 145 Main Street – Doctors Swanson and Cook’s surgery
- 149 – William Scott’s the Fishmonger. By 1953 this had been taken over by another fishmonger, William McFarlane, while later it became Jim Carr’s until it was demolished.
- 151-153 – This is best remembered as Stewart & Hepburn’s licenced grocery, which it was by 1953 and remained so until it was demolished. In 1950 and before, however, it had been 2 separate shops:
- 151 was Nancy Palombo’s cafe and ice cream parlour, while
- 153 was Jimmy Glen’s Midnight Grocers, so called because he stayed open until late.
- 175 – Mrs Tibbs Fish & Chip shop, which shortly thereafter became Salem Khan’s Fish & Chip shop. Salem Khan also owned the Green Oak Cafe on Main Street, close to the Bowling Green.
- 185-187 - Mrs Jessie Browning’s newsagents and stationers on the north corner of Mitchell Street. Until a few years before, this had been two shops:
- 185 - Was Effie O’Hare’s first fruit shop. Effie was Dan’s wife and she opened this shop in the late 1930’s but moved across Mitchell Street to 199 Main Street about the end of WW2, which is the shop in which Dan is best remembered.
- 187 – Was Mrs Browning’s newsagents. When Effie / Dan O’Hare moved out of 185, Mrs Browning combined both shops into one.
- 199 - Dan O’Hare’s fruit shop on the corner of Mitchell Street to which he moved about 1945. It was empty by 1953 by which time Dan was paralyzed and his wife Effie had had to give up the shop to nurse him.
- 201 – Mrs Smith’s wool shop
- 203 – Eddie Boardman’s pub, The Grapes. He was there until the building was knocked down in the early 1970’s when he bought the Sportsman Bar at Bonhill Bridge and moved there taking The Grapes name with him.
- 207 – Richardson the Bakers
- Alexandria Parish Church and Churchyard
- 253 – Burgess & Buchanan, house factors
- 255–257 until about the beginning of WW2 there was a single storey shop on the Main Street, which had at one time in the 1920 – 30’s had been an auctioneers (which really meant that it dealt in second hand furniture) but by the late 1930’s was McKinnon’s furniture shop. It did not survive to 1950. In behind the advertising hoardings was a yard which had been Hunter’s original coal yard and stables, but by 1950 housed a couple of buildings used mainly for storage. The first of these belonged to Victor “Freddy” Arcari, of Arcari’s Dance Hall fame in Balloch. Freddy had another property at the foot of Church Street which almost backed on to this yard and which is mentioned below.
- 265 - Garages belonging to David and Andrew Gallone.
- 285 Main Street – The Albert Hotel. For many years it had been owned by Jimmy McIntosh, but by 1950 he had sold it to William Gow. However that was pretty short term because by 1953 its owner was Thomas Russell. It was renamed the Griffin Hotel in the 1960’s by one of its subsequent owners. Later owners who made their mark included Andy Wilson and his wife who owned it for most of the 1970’s and 80’s. Andy sold it to Bill Fairfull who not only renamed it The Alexandria Hotel, but also opened Zanders Nightclub in the building, with its entrance in Bridge Street. After he sold it, it went downhill and was sold off for redevelopment. Although it was demolished quite soon after its sale, it stood empty for many years before being built upon. The site now consists of an attractive block of flats which houses on the ground floor MacDonald & Smith’s Dental Practice, Squirrels Estate Agency and Leonards Homes, who built the new building
- 295 – Agnes (Mattie) Hutcheson’s newsagents, later bought over by the Mitchells who occupied it until its demolition
- 305 – The Old Vale Bar. One of the great Vale institutions, which like McKenzie’s, has kept its name for about 100 years. In 1950 it was owned by Frank Coates who had had it from the 1920’s. Frank sold it about 1960 to Lewis Montgomery, when it entered what is still fondly remembered by many as a sort of Golden Age. Indeed it still is “Lewie’s” to many. In the early 1980’s Lewis sold it to Jimmy Goodwin and went off to Durness in Sutherland where he had bought a hotel (he still stays there, hale and hearty, making regular forays down to the Vale). Jimmy Goodwin sold it to George Burch who completely rebuilt the interior while retaining the exterior and character of the place. He has since sold it.
- 309 – Gallone’s Ice Cream Parlour. This was another venerable Vale institution. Vale folk quite rightly believed that Gallone’s ice-cream was the best in the world. They also thought McDougall’s was also the best lemonade in the world. In both cases they were of course indisputably correct and we were very lucky to have two such fine products in our midst for so long. The patriarch of the Gallone family was David, but after he retired his daughters took over running the business until well into the 1970’s. The Parlour’s interior dated from about WW1 and contained much-sought-after cafe furniture arranged in booths and also a fine collection of old Vale photographs. (Originally the Old Vale Bar had been in these premises until the time of the WW1 when it moved next door into what were larger premises). It changed hands a few times after the Gallones sold it and was eventually closed quite abruptly and its contents emptied. After lying empty for many years it reopened a few years ago as a successful Bistro and take-away restaurant which also does a big trade at lunch time in sandwiches.
- 315 – Mrs Kinloch’s millinery shop, which has been converted to a house for decades.
- 327 – Mrs McEwan’s corner shop. By 1953 it belonged to Mrs Agnes Paton. In the past 30 years or so it was owned by Benny and Grace Franchi, when it was usually known as Benny’s, and now by Jean and Willie Edwards
- The last shop on the east side of Main Street was Vale Co-op’s Millburn Grocery which these last many years has been David Graham’s Woodyard Car Showroom.
- Beyond this last shop was Millburn Terrace in which Mr Dick had his chiropodist’s practice.
The “new” shops on the east Main Street stretch of the Town Centre are as follows:
- 135 - Youngs' Newsagents who moved up a year or so ago from a shop in Mitchell Way
- 137 - Lloyds TSB Bank
- 139 - Greggs the Bakers, arguably Alexandria’s busiest shop
- 141 - Marie Curie Shop
- 143 - The Witches Hut hairdressers
- 145 - Thomas Cook Travel agents
- 163 – Dr Barnardo’s charity shop
- Scot Sport which has closed in the past few weeks (February 2010).
- Boots the Chemists
- M & Co have an extensive Main Street frontage and entrance, but the address is in Mitchell Way
The west side of Main Street had its first shop in the Burnbrae housing scheme in 1950
- Mrs Hart had a corner shop in a wooden hut which is still a shop at the corner of Millburn Road and Main Street. Further up Millburn Road at 25 was another wooden hut serving as a wee corner shop owned by Mrs Isabella Mitchell
- 290 – On the corner of Upper Bridge Street, Allan Methven had an electrical shop. Allan went on to own the Hall Cinema, while the shop has had various other owners over the years including the Vale of Leven Travel Agency, a period as a pet shop and is currently the Power Cut hairdressing salon which it has been for many years,
Upper Bridge Street
- Main Street Primary School, demolished in the mid 1960’s when the School transferred to the former Vale of Leven Academy in Middleton Street - now known as the Christie Park School. Alexandria Leisure Centre which opened in 1973 was built on the former school site.
All of the buildings between what had been Main Street School (now the Alexandria Leisure Centre) and what is now the Murray Agency (previously the Gas Showrooms) have long since been demolished as part of the Alexandria Town Centre redevelopment. A car park now occupies the site of 190 – 184 Main Street, while the buildings between 172 and 142 were replaced by a new row of shops. A list of the new shops appears at the end of this west Main Street description.
- 190 – Foster & Aitken, but immediately before that had been Mrs Ferguson’s sweet shop – in a key position close to Main Street School.
- 188 – Ministry of Works store. By 1953, 190-188 had been combined into one shop by Jimmy Goodwin who moved up there from Mitchell Street. It was later David Scott’s ironmongers shop and after that Joe Tamburini used it as a cash & carry store before he opened his Pawn Lounge in nearby Overton Street in the early 1970’s
- 186 – Thomas Telfer’s painter shop. It was later taken over by McFarlane the painter and finally by Eddie Irwin, who was its last occupant before it was demolished.
- 184 – On the south corner of Overton Street, Landi and Mary Biagi’s Fish & Chip shop. By general consensus, not a patch on his brother Melli’s chippie down Craft Street.
All of these buildings were demolished after the first phase of redevelopment and have been replaced by the grass and trees which stand on the Main Street in front of the Overton Street car park.
- 172 – on the north corner of Overton Street, Mrs Helen Kyle’s Myra’s hairdressers. By 1953 this belonged to Mary Hamill and it then passed into May Ballantine’s hands who had it until it was demolished.
- 168-164 – Fyffe’s the Bakers with the bakehouse at the back. Another Vale institution where from early evening onwards you could go up the close and into the bakehouse to buy newly made rolls. The final port of call for many a Valeman winding his way home from the pub, and still much missed.
- 162-158 – George Westland the drapers. At about this time he gave up his smaller shop in Bank Street
- 156 – Grace Stewart, fruiterer
- 152 – John McAlister, electrician. This was the last shop in the old buildings. McAlister’s had had a shop and a garage on Station Brae, from the late 1920’s when he and Willie Aitken dissolved their partnership in the garage opposite the Balloch Hotel. McAlister’s electrical business moved further north along Main Street and for many years took over what had been Bobby Cawley’s Craig International shop at the corner of Gilmour Street (Bobby moved to much larger premises “at the Fountain” as he styled it.)
- 142 – The Gas Show Room was also something of a Vale institution and there were public demonstrations outside it when it closed in 1993. It had a large glass frontage on Main Street hosted the displays of many trophies won by Vale organisations over the years including the Cowal Championship trophies won by Bonhill Parish Pipe Band. The premises have housed the Murray Agency for many years.
- 140 – James Sweenie the barber, now part of the Murray Agency
- 138 – At first this was Leddy & Glen’s shop, which was a partnership between Peter Leddy of Dumbarton and Valeman Tom Glen. They were both photographers and newspaper reporters. They also had a photograph processing unit in the former Levenbank Works at Jamestown. About 1950 the partnership was dissolved and this became Tom Glen’s first shop. He later expanded next door. Soon after he also had a building at the back of the building where he carried out photograph processing of the sort previously done at the Leddy & Glen unit at Levenbank. This business grew like topsy in the 1950’s and has renamed Scottish Colorfoto. Eventually it moved down to a factory on Lomond Industrial Estate but Tom Glen kept his shop at 138 – 136 Main Street. For the past year or so James Allen of Helensburgh has had a baker’s shop there.
- 136 – George Turner’s shoe shop, now part of Wilkie & Rider’s shop.
- Upstairs above 132 / 130 and entered via the close between Wilkie & Riders and Maxine’s cards is the legal firm my lawyers.
- 132 – John Hudson the jeweller’s shop. Perhaps the last man in the Vale to come to his business wearing a bowler hat, by bus (he lived in Balloch). Now Maxine’s Cards.
- 130 – Miss Annie Taylor in 1950, but by 1953 George Turner’s shoe shop. Now the hairdressers Miller & Lowrie.
- 128 – John Angus the Bakers. Now Peter McCann’s the hairdressers.
- 126 – George Walker tobacconists. Now Strathleven Financial Management Ltd.
- 124 – Robert “Bud” Fisher who also had a shop at Hillview owned this shop in 1950. By 1953, however, John (better known as Jack) and Mary Glen had it when it was known as “Glen’s Emporium”. It is now part of the Upper Crust cafe.
- 120 – Miss HL Gray, draper. By 1953 this had become Pullars of Perth. It is now part of the Fountain Cafe, better known as “Freddie’s” after its owner Freddie Cocozza.
- 118 – Buttercup Dairy, a Scotland-wide chain famed for their tiled interiors, was in its last days in 1950, and by 1953 this shop was occupied by Cathie Manclark. Now part of the Fountain Cafe.
- 116 – Boots the Chemists. Now New Lakeside Takeaway.
- 114-112 on the south corner of Gilmour Street - William Craig’s Gents Outfitters. This was taken over by Bobby Cawley before he moved along Main Street to his shop at the Fountain, and after that McAllister’s was in here for many years. 114 is now part of New Lakeside Takeaway while 112 is part of the Cairns Brown’s lawyers’ office.
- 110, on the north corner of Gilmour Street - Galbraiths Stores, the grocery chain which also had a shop along at Glenview place. Now Halo hairdressers
- 108 – J Maxwell the confectionery chain. Now G Coyle’s the fishmonger
- 106-102 – Peter Flannigan’s Fountain Bar. This had been a bar since that building was built by the publican John Findlay in 1880. Until about 1940 it was Finlay McDonald’s pub and he sold it to Peter Flannigan who owned it until he died in the 1960’s. It then became a number of things, including for a brief time in the 1970’s, a non-alcoholic bar, which was a brave but unsuccessful venture and a Salvation Army shop. Is now the Totesport Betting Shop.
- 100-98 – Patterson’s the Bakers and Tearoom. The premises have been many different things over the years but are now the Post Office and general store.
- 96 – Miss A MacDonald’s in 1950, which by 1953 and for many years thereafter was Alex Dawson’s fruit shop. Was Cutie Pie children’s shop until recently, but is now closed although there are signs that another owner is moving in
- 92 – Alex Munro the butcher where for many years Paddy Kennedy was in charge. Now it is perhaps the most popular shop in the Vale - Wrights the Ironmonger. Its owner, George Murray, recently got to the final of a UK-wide quality of service competition, voted there by his customers on the basis of customer satisfaction. The shop is a bit like Humphry Bogart’s Rick’s Bar in Casablanca, because sooner or later everybody in the Vale shows up in there.
- 90 – The Fountain Dairy. By 1950 it was owned by the McFarlane’s of Auchendennan Farm who went on to own it for many years, but it had been The Fountain Dairy from the early years of the 20th century. It is now the Floral Design Flower Shop.
- 88-86 – Miller Weirs Licenced grocers and Italian Warehousemen, which was by 1950 one of the Vale’s most venerable shops. They had just stopped advertising special discounts for country houses and mansions but still had an air of “grocers to the gentry” about it. Soldiered on for a number of years under that name. It changed hands after Miss Miller Weir died when it was bought by the McKinneys from Dumbarton in the early 1960’s. They continued its role as a licenced grocers for many years. The shop is now a Hills betting shop.
- 84 – Nelsons the newsagents, owned in 1950 by Fanny Nelson. This was another shop which had been around for a long time, and indeed until the last few weeks (February 2010) was the only shop in the whole of the Vale still trading under the same name for the same purpose in the same premises as it had done in 1910. It has been announced, however, that it has closed as a newsagents, but rumour has it that it will shortly re-open as a hairdressers.
- 80-78 – John McDonald’s crockery shop. This is now IDL Car Spares, which must be about the most fully-stocked shop in the Vale.
- 76 – William Kerr, hairdressers. Empty at the present time.
- 74 – Farquhie Gilmour’s, the butchers. This was one of the Vale’s most popular butcher’s shops for many years. It is now Gray’s the Opticians.
- 70 – Mary Russell’s fruit and vegetable shop. It is now Mione hairdressers shop.
- 68 – Sinclair’s Polytechnic, which was a draper’s shop. Now Tungs Express takeaway.
- 64-62 – Retson's Cycles which was located in a sort of lean-to building attached to the tenement which housed all of the above shops. This was a busy shop which sold bicycles and where you took your battery to be re-charged. It closed in the late 1970’s when Campbell Retson retired and was demolished soon after. It is now an empty space which widens what used to be Sauchieha or Jock’s Loan.
- 34-32 – Salem Khan’s Green Oak cafe, long gone where it stood is part of the forecourt of Glen’s Garage.
- 28 Robert McFarlane’s hairdresser. Now approximately the entrance/exit onto Main Street of Glen’s Garage
The shops in the “new” building in Main Street.
- 168 – The Spice of Life Takeaway
- 166 – Kitchen Craft
- 164 – Gift Centre
- 162-160 – Lomond Dental Care
- 158 – The Lagavulin pub and lounge, originally The Bee’s Knees
- 156 – McDermid’s Newsagents
- 154 – The Hot tanning Salon
- 152 – Haddows off-sales
- 150 – Empty
- 146 - Amusements
The business premises in the side streets off Main Street start with:
- 17-25 Bob “Pop” Robson had a scrap yard near the top of North Street on its north side.
- 57 - The Gasworks
- 63 – A hall belonging to the Roman Catholic Church, probably the original school, used up until St Mary’s was opened about 1931. Not to be confused with the Northern Halls which was the former chapel and was on the opposite side of North Street
- 77 – Henry Cairnie’s wee shop (he also had the sheet music shop at the corner of Main St / Craft St)
- 91-93 Willie Gallacher moved into his slater’s yard about this time. It backed onto the railway line.
- 58 - Northern Halls which before the opening of Our Lady & St Marks in 1926 had been the Roman Catholic church in Alexandria since the mid-19th century. Used by everyone for dances, weddings etc and was also the venue of choice for the Vale’s organised boxing matches.
- 36 – This is shown as a house, but from it a W. Crockett operated a bespoke tailor’s business for some years after the War.
- Somewhere in this area Johnnie MacMillan ran a boxing club
- 34 - Annie Friel had a shop which was perhaps also owned by Mrs Campbell about this time. It was a wee sweetie shop
- 16 – John Glen now owned the garage and premises which for over 20 years before that had been owned by Alex McNiven, undertaker and motor hirer. This was John Glen’s first garage (he had been working for Willie Aitken at his garage in Balloch until his return from the Army after WW2). John moved soon after to the site on Main Street which has grown into the present garage, but was at that time still mostly occupied by the Castle Danger tenement.
North Street in 2010
The numbering system in North Street has completely disappeared and most of the north side of the street is occupied by business units. It is very much the car repair centre in the Vale and includes, from the top of the street:
- Lomond Autotech
- Sakerski Body Repairs
- Robert Mills Catering Services
- Ferryfield Garage, which moved there from its previous site close to Bonhill Bridge on the former Ferryfield Works land.
- Brian Starmore’s garage
- Picture Framer
- Alexandria Self-Storage for the storage of boats & caravans, which extends through to Wilson Street
- On the south corner of Lennox Street / North Street – CPR, Willie Black’s tar company.
- No number – Jimmy Rodger’s smiddy
- Lennox Foundry which belonged to the Sharps at this time
Lennox Street in 2010
- Alan Methven’s garage to which he moved about 4 years ago when he vacated Dalmonach Works.
Craft Street / Alexander Street
- 27 - Kennedy the Hawker’s yard
- 63 – Harry Timmoney’s corner shop
- 87 – Mamie Friel’s corner shop
- 28 - Melli Biagi’s fish and chip shop, the chippie of choice in Alexandria and rivalled only by Louie’s at the bottom of Bonhill Brae for the title of “the best in the Vale”. There are still 2 fiercely divided camps on this issue and it’s just a pity that we can’t have an “eat-off” to decide on the winner.
Craft Street / Alexander Street 2010
None of the original buildings survived the Alexandria Town Centre redevelopment. The only 2 buildings in Alexander Street which are now used for non-housing purposes are:
- The Dog Training Club which is housed in a 1940’s Maycrete building which was originally built for the Ministry of Pensions and used for many years by the Ministry of Pension’s successor departments.
- The Armed Forces Veterans Association has recently (autumn 2009) re-opened what used to be the Salvation Army Hall which had been built in the 1970’s.
- A shop had been built adjacent to the Salvation Army Hall, but it has been closed for many years.
- 23 – Norman Doig’s wee shop which was later taken over by Donald McDermid, Pipe Sergeant and then Pipe Major with Bonhill Parish Pipe Band. Donald moved from here to a shop at the entrance to Rosshead when that estate was built. All of this property has long since vanished.
- 23 – The Ebenezer Hall, a gospel hall, who moved to Mathieson’s Mission in Susannah Street in the 1950’s when it was occupied by the Salvation Army until the whole of Mitchell Street was demolished
- 37 – Vale Co-op Shop which was at one time a grocery and later a chemist’s
- 40 – Charles Smith & Son, slater’s yard
- 30 – In 1950 this was Jimmy Goodwin’s first shop, and before him it was Mrs Taylor’s sweets and food shop. By 1953 he had moved up to Main Street and the shop was owned by Donella Cowan. Later it was Dawson’s Paint Pot, which moved to the former Horseshoe Bar in Bank Street in the early 1970’s when Mitchell Street was being demolished. The Paint Pot is still in Bank Street.
All of the buildings in Mitchell Street were demolished (except the Vale Co-op department store on the corner of Bank Street and which had a Bank Street address; it is now Iceland) and the Street disappeared, although Mitchell Way closely follows the line of Mitchell Street.
- 12 – Matt Thomson’s pub. Probably the most idiosyncratic pub in the Vale, it was run entirely according to its owner’s view on life. Perhaps it was that which made it so popular. If for any reason (rarely stated) he didn’t take to you, you wouldn’t be served. On the other hand, Matt loved a good argument and his frequent political rants with George Evans, both giving as good or as bad as they got, were a particular favourite with customers. Also, Matt and his brother Jack hand-bottled Bass beer on the premises. It was carefully nurtured for 6/7 days until it was just right for serving and it had a big following among regulars. Truly, they just don’t have pubs like this anymore – even then it was unique. One of the Vale’s favourite pubs, it was closed by the redevelopment on 30th September 1971.
- 56 – Jack’s Railway Tavern. This stood on the corner of John Street and Random Street and close to the Balloch or “down” line exit from the station – the old wooden staircase which stood in John Street for nearly a century until it moved across Bank St for a few years when single line working did away with it altogether. Jack’s was a favourite place for someone having their first beer, and it also had a steady regular clientele from around that area.
- 53 – McKay’s Pawnshop
- 37 – John Smith the electrician’s wooden shop
- 9 – The Hibs Hall, the meeting place of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and another popular venue for dances weddings etc.
- No number – Alexandria Parish Church Hall stood on the site of what had been Anne Street School. The hall housed 2nd Alexandria BB’s and 2nd / 4th Vale Scout troop. It survived the town centre redevelopment, but was demolished about the time that the Church was closed in 1994. St Andrews Court now partly stand where the Church Hall was
- 38 – Victor “Freddy” Arcari’s Lomond Caterers firm had a factory which made ice cream, crisps etc. This was his first business venture in the Vale and slightly pre-dates his various properties in Balloch, including the dance hall for which he is best remembered. The building was tucked in behind tenements in Church and John Streets. In the 1920’s and 30’s it was Miller’s the coach-builders workshop. During WW2 it was used to collect “salvage” – scrap metal, railings, old clothes etc. Judging from the state of the building when Freddy Arcari moved in, an awful lot of railings were cut down for nothing. He seems to have given up using this building in the mid-1950’s, certainly long before he departed the Vale in the early 1960’s.
- 14 – Mrs Mary Paul’s wee corner shop; by 1953 it was owned by John Stewart
Overtoun Street (it was only later that it was changed to Overton Street)
- 13-15 – Joseph Gibson’s slater’s yard
- No number, but more or less a lean-to attached to the Territorial Hall – Robert Thomson’s yard. He was a stone-mason, builder and slater.
- No number, but on north side of street, John Paton & Son’s yard, builders and monumental sculptors. The builder’s part of the business closed down about 1970, but the monumental sculptors has survived. Initially Patons sold it to Bert Stewart who owned it for many years. On his retirement, Bert sold it to Mr Jardine. He too has just retired (January 2010) and the firm is now owned by a Renfrewshire firm.
- 6 – Tom Moncur's slater’s yard.
Of these premises, none have survived until now on their original sites, most disappearing in the Town Centre redevelopment of the early 1970’s. Overton Street in 2010 has 2 businesses on it now:
- John Paton Monumental Sculptors which occupies a corner of the original yard.
- The Pawn Lounge bar which was opened by Joe Tamburini in about 1973 on what had been the site of a tenement. Joe sold it to Junior Owen who renamed it The Highlander and under Junior and his wife Catherine it became the busiest pub in Alexandria. Has passed through a number of hands since Junior sold it and has reverted to its original name.
- The Gilmour Institute housed the Vale of Leven District Council chamber and offices and the Registrar’s office, as well as the Library in 1950. Now its main occupant is a greatly expanded Library
- No number, Paton the builders had a yard on which a detached house now stands.
- Masonic Temple stood on the corner of Gilmour Street and Smollett Street. It is still there
- Stirling & Gilmour the lawyers, who are still there
- 2 – was a house in 1950, but had been built in 1880 as the cellar for John Findlay’s pub which stood on the Main Street (Finlay McDonald’s Fountain Bar in 1950). It is now Edith’s Wool Shop which over the years has become a Vale institution for Vale women.
- 18 Hill Street - McKelvie the Printers workshop. The Stewarts School of Dancing has been based there since they lost their Bank Street premises to redevelopment.
- 32 – Miss Janetta Rogers wee corner shop. Was the “tuck shop” for the Vale Academy just across Middleton Street and famed for its candy-chuckers. Closed when the Rogers retired and was converted back to a house.
In 2010 the largest group of shops in buildings which did not exist in the early 1950s is in Mitchell Way, which replaced Mitchell Street and the top of Random Street in the 1970’s. The local MP, Ian Campbell, opened the development in 1976. In the 34 years of it existence, there has been a fair turnover of shops in Mitchell Way, and only 2 premises continue in the same use since then – the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Council offices, although in this case the name of the Council has changed as a result of local government re-organisation. Many of the shops are now closed, but this is at least partly because of the plans to demolish the south-east block of flats / shops, which has been announced but not acted upon so far.
- 1 Mitchell Way – M & Co which is a rebranding of McKay’s fashion chain. It had previously occupied one shop but expanded a few years ago and now sits prominently on the northern corner of Main Street / Mitchell Way
- Mi One hairdresser, may be closed because they have other shop at the Fountain.
- 11-13 – Alliance Chemists, now owned by Boots.
- 15 Royal Bank of Scotland, has been there for the lifetime of Mitchell Way
- West Dunbartonshire Council Offices is another building which has always housed council offices.
- Former Clydesdale Bank premises, now empty
- Former McDermid’s, then Youngs’ Newsagents, now empty
- Farmfoods freezer shop, open
- Superdrug chemists, open
- Gordons the Chemists, open
- 2 Mitchell Way – Somerfield’s has just been converted to the Co-op, who bought it over a few months ago. When it opened it was a Presto supermarket then Safeway, brands which have completely disappeared from the market as a result of a series of takeovers about 20 years ago.
Some of the Mitchell Way shops in years gone by were very popular. These included:
- Jackie Drummond’s butcher’s shop, which along with Morrison & Ritchie and Willie Sloan gave the people of the Vale an unrivalled choice in butcher meat. It closed when Jackie retired.
- The Victoria Wine shop, which compared with the better off-licences anywhere. It’s still a puzzle why it was thought better to close it and roll the business into a much smaller Haddows in Main Street, but it’s no surprise that the company that made that decision is in administration.
- Lomond Wools owned by the Curries, which was the only wool shop in the Vale for many years. It was taken over by Edith McKirdy of Edith’s Wools, who renamed it and moved the shop to its present site in Gilmour Street.
Back to 1950.
- 3 – James McIntosh fishmonger, still there 1953
- 9 – Mrs Blakely’s newsagents. Later it was owned by Donald McKechnie for many years. Has recently closed
- 11 – Joseph Kelly’s Argyll Bar, by 1953 it was owned by James Robertson. After Flannigan’s Fountain Bar closed, it took that name for a time. It is still a pub, having reverted to its Argyll Bar name and in recent years its best known owner was Prem.
- 13-15 - National Commercial Bank, later the Royal Bank of Scotland. It was the corner premises of the fine Weir Building which succumbed to the second phase of the town centre redevelopment. The site of the whole building, on which the next 6 businesses stood, is now a stretch of grass with a small car park behind it.
- 17 – William McKenzie
- 19 - Greenlees Brothers shoe shop and then Easiphit Shoes
- 21-23 – Templetons the Grocers
- 25-27 – McNiven’s the Chemist which by the early 1950’s was owned by M Stalker
- 31 – Miss Anderson
- 33 – George Westland the drapers. By 1953 it was Beevers the jewellers, who moved into it from their first shop, which was at 41 Susannah Street. In the 1920s Donaldson’s umbrella factory had occupied the site, which is not the sort of business which you’d ever think would close in the Vale.
- 39 – Fordyce’s garage was set back across a small forecourt complete with petrol pumps.
- 43 – McLaren’s Horseshoe Bar which by 1953 had passed into the ownership of Joseph McCallum. This was a popular watering hole which comfortably survived until the redevelopment of the town centre in the early 1970’s. The building still stands and has for many years housed the Paint Pot shop.
- Although the ground next to the Paint Pot was a vacant lot in 1950 it had until 1941 been the drapery and furniture store for the Vale Co-op. It was destroyed by fire in 1941 and these businesses were then moved across into the Co-op Halls which is where they stayed until the building of the new Co-op store (now Iceland) in the mid 1950’s. In 1941 the Co-op Hall was permanently lost as a venue for concerts, meetings, plays etc. The space was built on in the mid 1950’s, when a new surgery for Doctor Scott’s practice was built. This was an innovative architectural design when it was built, which attracted a lot of favourable comment in architectural and design circles. It still stands, having long since been vacated by Doctor Scott’s practice and has been a bookie’s before its presence use.
- 61 – Vale Co-op bakers
- 63 – Vale Co-op shoe shop
- 65 – Vale Co-op Electricians. These shops were in the one building and survived the town centre redevelopment by many years. The building passed into other ownership before being knocked down and replaced by an apartment building not so many years ago.
- 67-69 Bank Street - Grace Cameron’s baby shop
- 69-71 – Babtie & Campbell chemist’s shop, owned by K McKenzie
- 73 – Peter Ewing’s Ironmongers. By 1953 this was owned by the Scott Family, but continued to trade as Peter Ewings, as indeed it did until David Scott closed the business down
- 75 – Stewarts School of Dancing. When redevelopment came along they moved to what had been McKelvie the Printer’s premises in Hill Street, where they still are.
- 79 – G Alexander the Opticians. This was a lean-to building at the north west side of the Strand cinema which had originally been a wee sweetie shop selling confectionary to the Strand’s patrons. This subsequently had a number of owners, the last being Iain McGregor, who had fruiterers business in this shop. Iain only vacated it when the former Strand cinema was being demolished to make way for the new Aldi store and its car-park.
- No number – The Strand Cinema which about this time passed from the ownership of Joseph Wingate to his son Charlie, who is the person Vale folk most associate with the Strand. It was the first and only purpose-built cinema in the Vale, built as The Palace Cinema in 1914 and renamed The Strand in 1929 - the other 2 cinemas, the Hall in Alexandria and the Roxy in Renton had both been originally built as public halls. The Strand regarded itself, with some justification, as being the area’s premier cinema. It closed as a cinema in 1977 or 1978 when it became an indoor market for a number of years and then an amusement arcade. By the time it was demolished to make way for Aldi, even its exterior (its interior was just an empty shell) was looking sadly run-down.
- No number – Health Clinic run by Dunbarton County Council. The site is now part of the Aldi Car Park
- No number – what had been the Constitution Club, but by 1950 housed the Bank of Scotland, McArthur Brown and Robertson, lawyers and upstairs the Dumbarton Unionist Association club rooms. Out the back was a snooker hall, something that the Tories attached to most of their club-rooms up and down the UK. The building still stands and houses a number of service companies.
- No number – Alexandria Post Office. This was closed in the 1990’s when the post office became an implant in a store at the Fountain. Is now a busy dental surgery.
- Then and now a children’s nursery stands on Ferry Loan
St Mary’s School
- No number – Ferryfield Garage was located in a Nissen hut located just inside the gate to the former Ferryfield Works, and partly behind the next two buildings. It was owned at the time and for many years afterwards by Robert Curry. Its successor garage using the same name has moved to North Street
- 225 Bank Street – Charles W Stuart, newsagents. Charlie was one of the best known and popular shop-keepers in the Vale who was held in awe by many for having had the foresight (Charlie’s version) or luck (everyone else’s) to back the Vale to win the Junior Cup in 1953 before a ball was even kicked in the competition. The shop has since passed through many hands and was for many years owned by Ian Gibson
- 202-198 on the other side of the street was owned in 1950 by Robert Fairlie the butcher who had taken over the premises from the previous butcher, Spence. There were two shops in the building – called Edith Place – as there still are
- 202 – This was a general store in 1950, and has been a hairdressers shop for many years, currently known as The New Image Hair Studio.
- 198 – Robert Fairlie’s butcher’s shop. When Robert retired in the late 1960’s, the shop was bought by two butchers who had worked for him - Jimmy Morrison and Eddie Ritchie. They renamed the shop Morrison & Ritchie ran one of the best butcher shops in the area for the next 30 odd years. Although Jimmy and Eddie are now dead the shop continues to be run by the Ritchie family.
- Up the pend close between 202 and 198 the Salvation Army had a hall before they moved to the Ebenezer Hall, when the Ebenezer moved to what had been Mathieson’s Mission in Susannah Street.
Edith Place (202-198 Bank Street) is the only one of the 1950’s buildings still standing between the Hall and the Station Bar.
- 176 – Dr McCully’s surgery
- 174 – in 1950 this was William Finlayson’s but by 1953 it was Mrs Catherine Good’s wee shop
- 160 – Elizabeth Irvine in 1950, but it changed hands shortly thereafter and by 1953 belonged to H R Manly. Tooraladdie Lane, the short cut between Bank Street and Bridge Street, ran alongside this shop across to Bridge Street. It entered Bridge Street just where William Taylor’s and Mathew Haggerty’s yards were, passing between the two. All of these buildings disappeared almost 40 years ago, but the number 160 Bank Street is in use for the address of the Labour Exchange, now called the Job Centre, which moved from Leven Street towards the end of the redevelopment.
- 154-152 – Willie McKim, photographer, brother of Davie McKim the Renton Councillor in the 1920’s and 30’s. Willie took many of the photographs of the area which appear on this site, and some of the best known colour photographs of the Loch and the Vale, including one which has reached iconic status, Ben Lomond from Duck Bay. Although probably millions of such photos have been taken since, none has improved on Willie’s photo which was taken in the 1940’s. But then again, nobody has improved on the view either. In Jimmy Russell and Willie McKim, the Vale was lucky to have two such outstanding photographers chronicling the area in the first half of the 20th century.
- 142-140 – The Station Bar. In 1950 it was owned by John Lugton, who also owned the Central Bar in Bridge Street. Before him it had been owned by Mick Doyle and after him by DG Brock for a few years in the early 1950’s. By 1955 it was owned for many years by Ian Fraser, with whom it is probably still most associated. Always a busy pub at that time with a loyal following. It has returned to something like that under the present ownership of John Methven. Its striking from old photographs how much Bank Street has been lowered just outside the Station Bar because of the vale redevelopment when it became the only pub in the UK on a Roundabout. Until then the front door was at Street level instead of up a flight of stairs.
Station Road - The Railway Bridge - John Street
- 138 – On the corner of John Street, John Audsley’s licenced grocers. It was later owned by Stewart Mirlees.
- 134 – Mrs Agnes Kinloch’s fruiterer, confectionery and wreaths
- 128-130 – Alexander Oliver, Hosiery Manufacture, which also had a workshop out the back. In the early 1950’s the Alexandria telephone Exchange was in what had been the houses above these shops at 134 – 128 Bank Street. It moved to its present location in a new building in Smollett Street about 1953.
- 122 - Mary Kinniburgh’s bookshop
- 120 - Bowie’s Laundry, in what had previously been the Vale Laundry shop.
- 118 – Andrew Kerr’s barber’s shop which by 1953 had passed to his son Walter
- 114 – Di Felice’s café. Donato di Felice had owned this cafe from the 1920’s and one time in the late 1920’s had called it the “Beaumonde Saloon” but sometime in the early 1930’s he thought better of it and dropped the name. He also owned a café further up Bank Street at the Fountain until immediately after the war. By the 1950’s this one almost opposite the Strand was being run by his son Bernie. It was for many years the most popular café in the Vale with teenagers, partly on account of its juke box, via which rock n’roll reached the Vale. It was demolished in the early 1970’s but Bernie had sold up before then and it was owned by Landi Biagi’s son. The gap for Vale teenagers left by its disappearance has never been filled.
- 112 – McKenzie’s electrical shop sold all the latest electrical appliances
- 108 – The Clydesdale Bank. The demolition of this fine building in 1973 caused more protests than the loss of any other in the Vale at the time. The protests were quite justifiable, but sadly there were many equally deserving cases at that time.
- No Number – Alexandria North Church. It was demolished in 1968 many years before the redevelopment scheme, when the congregation built a new North Church on Lomond Road Balloch which opened in 1965. This Church is now the Parish Church.
- 82 – Willie Edwards draper shop which went back more than 20 years in 1950, and was there until it was demolished.
- 80 – By 1950, Mrs Catherine Muir had replaced Mrs Wilkinson who had been in this newsagents since the 1930’s. By the time it was being demolished it was owned by Willie McDermid, father of the present owners of McDermids stores. Willie moved across Bank Street into a temporary hut in the few years between the demolition of this shop and the completion of a shop in Mitchell Way, of which he was the first occupant.
- 78 – Alex Dawson fruit and veg. By 1953 Alex had moved up to the Fountain
- 68 – The first of 3 entrances to the Vale Co-op Halls and offices which by 1950 were housing the drapery and furniture shops on the first floor. Later in the 1950’s these shops moved into the purpose-built department store at 78 Bank Street which now houses Iceland, but the Halls were never restored to their original use and this whole building from 68-46 Bank Street was demolished in 1971 to be replaced by the present Medical Centre which opened in 1977.
- 64 – Vale Co-op butchers
- 62 – 2nd entrance to Co-op Halls
- 60 – Vale Co-op dairy
- 58 – Vale Co-op fish shop
- 56 – Vale Co-op fruit & vegetables
- 54 – 3rd entrance to Co-op Halls
- 46 – Vale Co-op tobacconist
- 44 – SCWS Funeral department offices.
- 36 – Taylor’s Auction Halls, where sales were regularly held. By the 1950’s the sales were usually organised by Glasgow auctioneers rather than the Taylor family and everything from furniture to furs were auctioned off. These past many years it has been Bobby Biddulph’s carpet shop.
- 6 - 8 - No. 6 was upstairs and a private residence until about 1963 when it became a dental surgery. It is now occupied by the Vale of Leven Credit Union. 8 Bank Street was also a private residence in 1950 and continued as such until around 1960 when it became a ladies' hairdresser owned by Willie Baxter, brother of Bobby Baxter who had the barber's business at 4 Bank Street.
- 4 – The above mentioned Baxter’s the hairdressers, which had been there from the 1920’s. Although Bobby Baxter, the owner, was certainly around, the two best known and popular gent’s barbers in the shop, many would say in the whole of the Vale, for years were Willie Trotter and Alex Gallagher, with Collie McIntyre providing able assistance. They knew everything that was going on in the Vale and nothing was true until they had confirmed it. It was usually busy, but by a Saturday it was packed out. Willie set up his own very successful barber’s shop in the Main Street in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The shop has continued to be a hairdressers presently owned by Aileen Wardell.
- 2 – Smith’s the electricians sold electrical goods and was also for many years in the 1950’s and 60’s the only place in Alexandria where you could buy gramophone records – 78s, 45s 33 1/3. It subsequently passed through many hands and had a role for some years as the fishing tackle shop in the Vale, and then as a sports shop. Is now part of the Mei salon.
- Up the pend in Stevenson’s Building at the top of Susannah Street, Dugald Stevenson whose father had built Stevenson’s Building, had his plumber’s shop and yard. Now long gone.
- 23 Susannah Street – the Dyers Hall or to give it its proper title, the Hall belonging to the National Union of Dyers, Bleachers and Textile Workers of Bradford. When the Hall was built in the early 20th century, while the local textile finishing works were in full swing, this was easily the biggest trade union in the Vale. The Hall was visual evidence of that strength. It was used a lot for dances, concerts, meetings etc, but by the early 1950’s the Union and the financial viability of the Hall were in what proved to be terminal decline in the Vale. In the early 1950’s it was bought over by the RNTF Social Club, which had already established itself in the former camp theatre at Tullichewan Camp. The Torpedo Club, as it was known, was open to all employees of the Alexandria RNTF and eventually to others as well. It was very successful for many years and substantially expanded the premises, adding a large function suite, complete with the best dance floor for miles around. It also had a number of the best billiard and snooker tables in the west of Scotland. It comfortably survived the closure of the RNTF, but eventually a number of other factors put paid to it. It was bought over by Ian Conway who reopened part of it as Susannah’s Lounge which was popular with lunchtime diners and the Corner Pocket which was a busy snooker bar. However, it too fell on hard times and failing to find a buyer, it was closed down. A short time later it was destroyed by fire and only a truncated part of the frontage survives, with the rest of it contributing to the large Fountain gap site.
- Gilfillan the plumber’s yard. Although there is still a firm of plumbers in the Vale called Gilfillan, it has been owned these past many years by Graham Crook and that yard disappeared in the redevelopment.
- 39 – Willie Lang’s stores and stables. For about 50 years from this base in Susannah Street, Willie Lang travelled round the streets of the Vale selling kitchen ware and paraffin for lamps and heaters, at first with a horse and cart then with a Bedford lorry. He is best remembered for his cry of “Paraffin Oil” which he could draw out for about a minute. Although he wasn’t the last person in Alexandria to have a horse and cart – that distinction almost certainly belongs to the Co-op milkman, he was perhaps the last to carry out direct selling from the back of a lorry. He kept going into a ripe old age, only giving up on retirement, well past 65, and the business retired with him.
- 41 – Mrs Carruther’s shop, which by about 1953 had been taken over by Beever’s the jewellers, who later moved to 33 Bank Street.
- 76 – Mathieson’s Mission Gospel Hall. Founded in the early 1900’s by Mr Robert Mathieson, Mathieson’s Mission was an evangelical group which “spread the word” and generally carried out good works in the Vale. It also owned some houses for the elderly in Susannah Street. Although Mathieson’s Mission no longer survives, the hall is still very much used by a similar gospel group.
- 48 – Mrs Catherine Bilsland’s wee shop
- 32 – Alexandria Flying Pigeon Club on the corner with Gray Street. The Club relocated to a hut at the corner of James Street and Craft Street when redevelopment moved them on
- 24 – Susannah Street Schoolroom, which was one of the oldest buildings in the Vale having been built as the second Alexandria village school in the 1820’s. After it stopped being a school it was run by the Alexandria Schoolhouse Association for over a century as a sort of de facto Community Centre where jumble sales, sales of work, dances, meetings and concerts were held. The largest hall in the Schoolroom could only accommodate about 100 people so it did not compete with the likes of the Co-Op or Public Halls and the Vale Empire for big events or even the Northern Halls and Masonic Temple for those attracting about 150. However, its convenient location at the top of Susannah Street meant that it was busy right up until it succumbed to the 1970s redevelopment.
- No number, but beside Susannah Street schoolroom – Dr Baxter’s surgery in 1950.
Apart from the Gospel Hall all of these premises have disappeared under grass, car parks, the houses of McAllister Road and new housing on Susannah Street.
- No number, in 1950-53 the SCWS Funeral department had premises which were more or less on the site of the former Vale Empire Theatre which is more or less where the Co-Operative Funeral Parlour now is.
- No number, but perhaps it was No 9 – Dr Kirk’s surgery
- No number, but probably No 2 – Dr Scott’s surgery. Both are long gone, although Dr Scott’s practice still has a surgery on the corner of Steven Street and Bank Street
- A children’s nursery, still there, which was run by Dunbarton County Council
- 123 Bridge Street – The Hall Cinema. In 1950 it was owned by the Vale of Leven Public Hall Company and operated by Alloa Theatre Company. Later in the 1950’s it was bought by Allan Methven who owned the electrician’s shop in Main Street Alexandria. The Methven family operated The Hall as a cinema for many years and it later became a Bingo hall, which is what it remained until 2009. It is presently occupied by a furniture store.
- 121-119 – Orlando Biagi had an ice-cream parlour in the building which now houses the Laughing Fox pub. This building is one of only 3 in Bridge Street – the others are the Baptist Church and the Hall – which survive from 1950.
- No number – the YMCA had a fine red sandstone building. The Alexandria YMCA was not part of the world-wide YMCA movement, at least for all of its post-war life, but entirely an Alexandria-based organisation. Like its world-wide counterpart it housed a Forces canteen during WW2 which offered hospitality, but not accommodation, to the many members of the armed forces stationed in nearby barracks – Dalmonach – camps – Bodylines, Tullichewan – and bases – the RAF at Dalmoak Castle, army at Auchendennan. It enjoyed a period of popularity, especially with youngsters and teenagers from about 1945-60 but was in gradual decline after that. Sold off the building which was demolished and replaced by flats
- 89 - but in reality set back from Bridge Street behind tenements and standing on each side of Tooraladdie Lane, Mathew Haggerty the plumber on the east side of the lane, and William Taylor, joiner, on the west side. When William Taylor retired in the early 1950’s he sold the business to Bob Crawford and when he retired Bob sold it to David Wood. Both continued to trade as William Taylor’s, Joiners. After it was demolished in the early 1970’s, the business moved to one of the units at the bottom of Wilson Street which had been built on the site of the former gasworks.
- 41 – John Bain’s garage, which was in a yard entered through a pend in a very fine red sandstone building. There was a petrol pump just inside the pend which can be seen in the pictures of the garage, one of three garages in Alexandria where motorists could fill up at that time. It should have been a fine building, of course, because it was built by William Barlas, who built many of the houses in the Vale in the 1870’s and 80’s, to say nothing of the Fountain itself, as the headquarters and yard for his building business. To support the house above the pend he used what is said to be the biggest sandstone lintel used for miles around. His company didn’t limit itself to the Vale and built extensively in Dumbarton, where Veir Terrace at Levengrove Park is named after his wife, and in Glasgow. Many of his company’s documents – drawings, plans etc – were left behind when the Barlas’s vacated the building. They lay undisturbed for many years under John’s predecessors as owners, until, as John’s son Bobby remembers, his father decided to have a clear out and burned the lot. John had succeeded his father Robert in the business and he ran the garage until the early 1970s when it was demolished as part of the redevelopment. Even with the new roundabout road there was probably enough space to have saved this very fine building and the ones between it and Main Street. That would have required a little bit of positive imagination on the part of the planners to offset their unbridled destructive imagination. That of course was just asking too much and another piece of the Vale’s history bit the dust.
- 44 – John Grieve’s wee corner shop, which has previously been Sarah White’s
- 52, on the corner of John Street, - Andrew Clugston’s corner shop. He also had the shop on the corner of Hillview Place and Govan Drive. These premises are well-remembered as Cronin’s pub, but even by 1950 James Cronin had been out of the pub for a number of years. After Andrew Clugston left it, Beattie the bookie had it for a time before he moved to what had been the British Legion hut on Station Brae.
- 54 Bridge Street – this shop was a couple of different things in quick succession around this time, although in both cases it continued to be owned by Bonhill South Church. Firstly, it was run by Dunbarton County Council’s Education Committee as a shop from which they dispensed clothing to needy children. Started in Hungry 30’s. It continued in this role for a few years after the war. The Vale Co-op then took it over for a short period as a grocer’s shop. In the mid 1950’s the whole building was bought by Preston Fleming who moved to Alexandria from Falkirk at that time. Preston had bought Mathew Haggerty’s plumber’s business just down Bridge Street and he moved into the house above the shop. He used the shop itself as a showroom for bathroom fittings and furnishings. It didn’t take him long to become a well-kent figure in the Vale and this became one of its busier addresses. The roundabout road and embankment now go through what had been the site of this building.
Railway - Leven Street
- No number, but on the corner of Bridge Street / Leven Street – Jenny McLean’s wee shop
- The Baptist Church, which is still there
- 114 – John Lugton’s Central Bar. In 1950 John Lugton also owned the Station Bar. Before Lugton bought it, it had been owned for many years by a well known Valeman, Alan Weir. As is the case with a particularly popular owner it continued to be known as “Alan Weir’s pub” for years after Alan had sold it. John Lugton sold it to George Lowery but he couldn’t have had it for long, because later in the 1950’s the Central Bar was owned by Andy Lynn. Under Andy’s ownership it became the Vale’s answer to London’s Windmill Theatre which claimed “We Never Close”. Dumbarton man Andy was a very popular mine host and run a good pub, which in the days before a more liberal licencing hours regime, provided a useful service to discreet customers. It was lost to redevelopment and Andy retired at that time.
- 122-124 – Vale of Leven District Council’s Sanitary Inspector’s office.
- 126 – A laundry run by the County Council
- 142-52 – this was one of the Vale Co-op’s buildings, which took up a large part of the south side of Bridge Square. The Co-op had at most times 4 shops in the building, although what each was selling changed from time to time depending on demand. The best recollection from the early 1950’s is that coming down Bridge Street the first one i.e. at 142 was a bakers, the next a butchers, then a dairy and then a grocers. It is believed that later in the 1950’s one of these had changed to being a chemists for a time.
- 154-158 – Orlando Biagi’s Bridge Café. Most people remember this as the café in which Mary Biagi served and that it was “her” café. Mary was the last of her generation of Biagi’s and lived on for many years after the café was demolished up on Main Street a few doors south of Mitchell’s newsagents shop.
- 162 – Bobby Wood’s Cosy Corner Bar & Lounge. This old bar appears in many pictures of Bonhill Bridge from the 19th century and by the early 1970s when it was demolished, it was the oldest pub in Alexandria. Bobby Wood was always regarded as an out and out Valeman, but he was in fact a Lancastrian who had come to the Vale in the 1920s. His pub was ideally located to catch trade coming in many directions as well as from what was a sizeable population in the Crescent, on the corner of which it stood. In the Vale FC’s heyday in the 1950’s when crowds of 2,000 were regularly at nearby Millburn and 5,000 or so were not uncommon, the pub was packed to the gunwales. In the 1950s Bobby had the foresight to add a Lounge to the bar to attract couples. This was the first lounge in a pub in the Vale and although there were at least passing gestures to lounges in the hotels at Balloch at this time, probably the Glenroy was the only one which made any serious attempt to attract the Vale’s couples trade. The gamble certainly paid off for Bobby and from then until he closed it was an important part of his business. He retired when it was demolished and like every other Alexandria publican who lost their premises to redevelopment, he did not apply for a licence in the Town Centre. Only his brother-in-law, Eddie Boardman even moved to an existing pub elsewhere – Eddie took The Grapes name from Main Street across Bonhill Bridge to what had been the Sportsman Bar, which more or less faced the Cosy Corner across the Leven. Events seem to have vindicated their decisions.
- 1 Leven Street – John Angus the Baker’s had its bakehouse, offices and a shop. In 1950 John Angus was the oldest business in the Vale still operating under its own name and in the same family. It had been started in 1783 in the Burn of Bonhill but had moved to this site at the edge of what had been the Public Park in the mid 19th century. Angus’s had a chain of bakers shops in the Vale and sold their products to grocers’ shops throughout the west of Scotland. Like many family businesses of that size they did not feel inclined to compete with the changes they saw in their market and closed in the mid 1950’s. The bakery was taken over for a few years by McFarlane’s Crisps and later still was a scrap yard owned by Pop Robson.
- No number, on the south corner of Thomas Street / Leven Street – the Vale of Leven Laundry Co’s laundry. This did not survive WW2 for long, being taken over by Bowie’s in the early 1950’s, it was soon closed, although the Council did use it for a number of years. It is now a largely neglected blaze football pitch around which there is some controversy as Dunbritton Housing Association has applied to build houses on it.
- No number, but on what had been in the 19th century the Cricket Park – the County Council built a Cooking Centre to provide meals for the schools throughout the Vale about 1952-53. It operated there for more than 20 years but succumbed to changing practices.
- More or less across Leven Street from the Cooking Centre – the Labour Exchange, built in 1936. A listed building because it carries the insignia of Edward VIII, one of the very few in the UK ever to do so. It closed in the mid 1970’s when the Job Centre moved to Bank Street; it was subsequently converted to flats.
- No number, but entered via a lane which ran up beside the Labour Exchange – the Vale Emmet football park. This was one of 3 football parks which all lay adjacent to each other, the others being Millburn and Lesser Millburn. A great many teams played there over the years, even in the 1930’s when there was no Vale of Leven FC and Millburn was lying empty and unused for much of the year. The ground was actually owned by the railway company – British Railways by 1950 - and leased to Vale Emmet FC. Was in regular use up until it was sold for housing. It is now the Cloverleaf Path estate.
- No number – this building was a council cleansing depot in the 1950’s. It has since the late 1970’s been occupied by a number of different garages and now houses the Grants Vehicle Repair business
- 21 Thomas Street – John Sharp, potato merchant
- 31 – John McLetchie’s stables and undertaker’s business. His father James had had this business for many years in Thomas Street and had hired out horse-drawn carriages in his early days. For a time in the early 1950’s one of them also run a dairy business from the premises.
- No number – The McLetchie’s expanded the garage business by building a new garage complete with pumps etc just across Thomas Street in the 1930’s However by the early 1950s John McLetchie was in partnership with Dugald Clarke at McArthur’s garage, Balloch and they sold that garage to the SCWS for its limousines, hearses etc. The SCWS in turn sold it to Tommy McEwan in the early 1960’s and he owned it until the whole of Thomas Street was demolished.
- 4 John Street – In 1950 Mrs McIduff had a fish & chip shop, but around this time the Porcini family also ran it, while before that the Swan family from Renton had been the owners (Tom Swan still has the Sweet Shop in Main Street Renton).
- 8 - A & R Kinloch the plumbers
- 48 - In what had formerly been Alexandria Police station (until 1936) the County Council had 2 departmental depots. Firstly, the Water department’s base, complete with pipes and fittings stored in the grounds. A little later, Jock Blair - later again a Labour County Councillor and last Chairman of Vale of Leven Co-operative Society - lived in the house since he was in charge of the Water department in the area. Secondly, it was the base for the Weights & Measures Department.
- 126 – James Stirling’s slater’s yard
- 128 – Paton & Kennedy joiner’s yard. With demolition on the horizon, Andre Kennedy moved up to Tain in the late 1960’s to what he expected would be a quiet existence as a country hotelier. And then oil was found in the North Sea and that whole area boomed, particularly hotels. So much for Andre’s quiet life.
- 63 – Joe Proctor’s yard, backing against the railway line. Joe was for many years a councillor in Bonhill. He could turn his hand to anything and just about everyone in the Vale knew him. When he had to vacate the yard for redevelopment he left the area altogether and headed down south with his family.
Shops which have opened since the 1950’s
There have been a number of shops which opened in Alexandria on sites which did not exist in the 1950’s. These include:
In the 1950’s a new row of shops was opened on Tullichewan Drive at the entrance to Tullichewan Housing Estate. The original occupants were various Vale Co-op shops, but the Co-op cut back and eventually moved out completely. The shops were general stores and later shop-owners included (this is not a complete list):
- Jimmy Goodwin
- Alan Wright
- And now Morning Noon and Night
Two shops opened in Rosshead virtually as soon as it was built. They were:
- Colquhoun Drive, right at the entrance to the estate and overlooking the Heather Avenue and the railway bridge, was Donald McDermid’s shop. Donald piper, pipe-sergeant and latterly pipe-major with Bonhill Parish Pipe Band, moved there from his wee shop in India Street as soon as the shop was available. He stayed until his retirement. The shop has been closed for many years and is now used by the Tenants Association.
- Halkett Crescent. The first owner of these premises was Willie Graham who moved into it when the first residents moved into the Rosshead houses. For the many years which he owned it, it was known simply as “Graham’s Shop”. Now it is Khaira Licenced Grocers, the remaining general store in Rosshead, and kept busy serving the needs of that community.
The Antartex shopping complex
This is located in buildings which formerly housed the Antartex sheepskin clothing factory and factory shop and before that was part of the UTR’s Craft Works. It is a popular destination not only with bus trippers who visit every day, but also with locals. Its shops now include:
- Edinburgh Woollen Mills Ladies and gents clothing and restaurant / cafe
- The Golf Company which sells clubs, equipment and golf clothing for women and men.
- The Whisky Shop, which as its name suggests sells a wide range of whiskies, particularly single malts.
- Hector Russell’s kilt and highland regalia shop
- Icefire Glass makes and sells glass ornaments and jewellery in the Antartex complex
- Ponden Mill has a soft furnishings shop
- Loch Lomond Pet & Poultry Supplies operate a pet feed store on the site.
Lomond Industrial Estate
- Royal Mail Sorting Office where you can collect undelivered parcels but since there is no post box you cannot actually post a letter at a sorting office. Even on the old overnight mail trains there was a post box on the side of a carriage where you could post a letter. See the Royal Mail, see progress?
- Jim Law Cars has an expanding car repair and MOT business
- Lomondprint is, as the name suggests, a print shop offering a wide range of printing services.
- Argyll Kilt and bagpipe makers makes and sells kilts and bagpipes in a unit close to the entrance to the Estate
The former Torpedo Factory building housed the Vale’s first factory outlets complex when it opened in 1997 as Loch Lomond Factory Outlets. To begin with it was a great success but suffered when Lomond Shores opened and is not as busy as it used to be. However, the current retail outlets still provide a very useful range of goods at very competitive prices. They are complementary to the shops in Alexandria town centre and don’t compete with any of them. They are all worth being the first stop if you’re looking for something in their particular lines of business. The shops include:
- Pavers Shoe shop
- Ponden Mill which sells soft furnishings such as bed clothes, fabrics etc
- The Works – a branch of a 300 outlet chain which sells a wide variety of stationery, books, artist’s materials and CD’s /DVD’s.
- Bags etc. whose name says it all.
- Totally Tartan Kilt Makers who moved here when their previous premises at Luss were burned down.
- Halo which sells furniture and lighting
- Pram Central which is an infant and nursery shop
- The Gallery Cafe
- There is also an exhibition of Cars of the Stars which maintains a connection with the building’s original role as a car factory for the manufacturing of Argyll Motor Cars.