The Harbour Arts Centre
The story of the volunteer-led years of the Harbour Arts Centre from 1966 to 2007

The authors are grateful to Irvine Burns Club for including this HAC section in the local history section of the Burns Club website

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Also possibly of interest to you - Andy Baird's archive of Harbour Theatre events - thirty-five years of top-quality amateur productions
The domain is no longer in use, and the name is (at the time of writing) owned by Custard Media Solutions Ltd in Preston, Lancs

“Presenting PEOPLE, PLAYS and PICTURES at the HARBOUR ARTS CENTRE, 1966-1987”
additional material covering the history of the following 20 years
Originally published as a 21st anniversary booklet in 1987 (text by Ian Dickson), here updated for the web.


Foreword (1987): Mrs Moreen Shields
Headnote (2007): Avril Gilmore
The History of the site and building before its life as an Arts Centre
Some photos
Centre room layouts 1965, 1974, and 2007

Chapter 1: The Beginnings - chapters 1 to 5 appear on the same web page

Chapter 2: The Early Years

Chapter 3: Special Interest Groups

Chapter 4: Harbour Theatre

Chapter 5: Renovation, Re-opening and Borderline

Chapter 6: Visiting drama at the Centre - chapters 6 to 15 appear on the same web page

Chapter 7: Music, Dance, Poetry and Talks

Chapter 8: The Harbour Gallery

Chapter 9: Social activities

Chapter 10: Who's Who at the Centre

Chapter 11: Summer Schemes & Summer Schools

Chapter 12: HAC (Irvine) Limited 1984

Chapter 13: Assistance from MSC

Chapter 14: Acknowledgements

Chapter 15: Looking Ahead (the 1987 chapter)

Chapter 16: The years 1987-2007 (a brief summary)

Committees 1965-2007
Harbour Theatre shows 1968-1999
Financial summaries of 1968 and 1986
Amateur to Professional - some names
Extracts from HarbourTheatre reviews


Twenty-one years of achievement have justified the hopes and efforts of the small group of friends who thought that the time and the place were ripe for the formation of an Arts Centre. A great deal of faith was needed when you looked at the place - Barnet House and the rather derelict harbour area served by the Fergushill bus twice in an evening. There were not many casual passers-by on a winter evening or wet week-ends.

The New Town was not yet a reality. The leisure centre was only an idea, but slowly all that changed and the area is now the hub of activity not only for the New Town but for much further afield. The Arts Centre sits at the foot of the Magnum, a prime position, and attracts companies from all over the country (and even abroad).

So many people helped in the early days when everything was done voluntarily. It needed a rota of thirty-six people to keep an Art Exhibition open for two weeks. It is not possible to name all these members who were sometimes with us only a short time and sometimes for years and years. The problem of keys - who had them and where they were - was constantly with us and as there was no telephone in the Centre help for constantly recurring emergencies was hard to get quickly. But all who have been members can look back on their own involvement at the Centre with visiting artists, actors, musicians and members of the public and feel that they themselves benefited and that they made a very real contribution to leisure and enjoyment in their own town and their own country - for drama groups and writers and artists of all kinds cannot find themselves on television or the national theatrical scene without the interest and understanding of all of us to sustain them in their early years. And where are these plays and exhibitions to be seen if we do not provide theatres and galleries?

The successes, failures, changes and experiments at the Harbour Arts Centre have made twenty-one years fly in. When you look at the list of events, you indeed wonder how they were all fitted in. The changes in our physical environment since 1966 have been great but in the next few years, bringing us into the twenty-first century, we will face even more important changes in work duration and leisure. We should not be daunted, however, for around us can still be seen the remains of theatres built by earlier generations, plays written centuries ago are still performed, more pictures are bought and painted. Even in the most technical age people will want to act, make music and enjoy the visual arts. It is for this that the H.A.C. exists and let us hope it will go on playing an important part for us all for many years to come.

Moreen Shields

- a note received before the new Centre's volunteer evening in 2007

Twenty-one am really sorry, as I would have loved to be there, especially as it was my exhibition of paintings that was the opening event of the Centre [1966]! And then I was the first Exhibitions Convenor after Ian White gave up running the whole show single handed, and I also designed the original logo for HAC, which was used for years. So I figured quite a bit in the early years...

Actually, I probably have the longest connection of anyone with the building itself, as, when it was a seaman's mission, my grandfather was appointed missionary for a while, and my father was born in the little but an' ben which was alongside the reading room, immediately behind the hall, and which became the main exhibition area and cafe/bar. My father was one of a family of eleven children - amazing how they all fitted into the tiny four roomed cottage (although by then the oldest ones would probably have left home?) So it was doubly exciting for me when I took part in all the labouring and work that turned it into an Arts Centre in 1966.

Do please give my kindest regards on Tuesday to any who remember me. I do hope, when my health picks up, that I will be able to come through to visit HAC and its "new look"..

One of the newspaper photos that I have of the days when I was Exhibitions Convenor was taken when Richard Demarco loaned us paintings from his Edinburgh Gallery for a HAC exhibition in November 1968. The photo is of myself, Ricky, and Walter Shields, the Chairman of the Arts Centre, at the private view. Ricky used to say that we were the only cultural establishment in the south west, which was maybe true, as we were probably the only Arts Centre then?

Avril J D Gilmore

"that piece of ground through which the Railway from Shewalton Colliery sometime passed"

(Information from the title deeds about the land on which the Centre stands, and the Centre building itself. The land is throughout described as in the phrase above.)

1821-1846: Various transactions are recorded for these years, with the land passing first to a Troon salt merchant and an Irvine merchant, and later to a Coal Master who owned land to the east.
1846: It passed into the hands of the Right Honourable David Boyle of Shewalton, Lord Justice General of Scotland, who owned land to the south.
1888: Capt. D. Boyle (grandson of the R.H. D.B.) of the Pavillion, Ardrossan, sold a "piece of ground at Irvine Quay" to Mrs Rachel Anne Mure McCreadie and the Misses Mary Rachel and Helen Jane Mure (a third each). In the Notarial Instrument issued later in 1888, the property was described as "Mission Hall and relative Dwelling House at Quay, Irvine"
1892: The one third belonging to R A Mure McCreadie passed on her death to her two daughters.
1912: Helen Jane Mure now owns it all.
1914: "The Hall and Dwelling House known as the Shore Mission Hall" is passed to the Trustees of "The Perceton Mission Trust". Trustees - Helen Jane Mure of Perceton, Rev. John Esslemont Adams, former Minister of Perceton & Dreghorn, and William Johnstone, Writer of Glasgow.
1940: The Mission Hall was designated as an emergency mortuary for any wartime casualties.
1946: It was passed to new trustees, four prominent local ministers, who then sold it to the trustees of the 1st Ayrshire Boy Scout group for £800.
1954: Trustees of 1st Ayrshire Scout Group sell the buildings to David Allan (Knitwear) Ltd of London for £600.
1965: David Allan (Knitwear) Ltd sell to the Royal Burgh of Irvine for £3,058 16/-.
1972: The Royal Burgh of Irvine sell to Irvine Development Corporation.

floor plan as in 1965-1973

see our photos page

floor plan as in 1974-2005
in the 1980s a porch was built around the street door to buffer against winds, and the unused west door area between the office and darkroom was incorporated into the office to enlarge it

and as in 2007

(different scale)

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