Mobile Fish and Chip Vans in Coalburn
Jimmy Brownlie's Mobile Fish and Chip Van
The photo above shows Jimmy Brownlie´s mobile Fish and Chip van in the late 1930s. The young man on the running board is his son Andrew.
Jimmy Brownlie on the moors near Coalburn
Jimmy was born in Auchenheath in 1901 and moved to Coalburn from Lesmahagow in the early 1930s. He became well known for his witty turn of phrase. When his son Andrew got married, he described his occupation on the registration document as "Mobile Restauranteur".
The original van caught fire in 1947 when parked in the garage with everyone in the house. The dog barking alerted Jimmy to a problem. He went out to investigate and saw the fire. He managed to take off the handbrake and push the burning van out which saved the garage going up in smoke. The van was rebuilt on a new chassis but was a more makeshift affair after this mishap.
These two photos show the refurbished van in the late 1940s. Those in the second picture are (left to right): Jimmy´s wife, Helen (née Miller); Mary Kirk (married name McSkimming); Helen´s great niece Marjorie Jack (who spent a lot of time at Coalburn); and Jimmy's niece Peg Aitken of Stonehouse.
The refurbished van eventually came to the end of its useful life and Jimmy bought another second hand for £450 in September 1954. This was a light green van built on as early Karrier Bantam chassis with the chimneys on the rear of the roof.
Tam Findlay used to stay at the 'Bottom Terrace' not far from Jimmy and Helen Brownlie. He said "It was a favourite haunt of mine to pay them a visit. After a time I was given various jobs to do, peeling spuds, splitting kindlers, mixing batter, filling salt and vinegar bottles, kindling the coal fire before leaving to do his rounds. May I say all closely supervised. So I am proud to say my first ever job was a ´Stoker on a Chip Van´"John Weir also stayed at Bottom Terrace. He recalls "I helped him as well before Tam I think being older..I went with him on his rounds and rang his famous sounding bell..a gem of a man .. I remember he called me jackie no matter how many times I told him it was johnny. His bell had a distinctive ring... 2 rings at a time..ding ding....ding ding....ding ding etc.."
Bill Wright remembers that Jimmy Brownlie´s fish and chip van used to come around on a Sunday night out near the crescent in Lesmahagow. "I was always amazed how it was managed. I can always remember the coal fired pan for cooking the fish and chips in with the wee chimney out the back belching out the smoke. It certainly was a novelty to my young imagination.
The recollection I have would be from around 1950 to 1952 so it sounds like the old van I remember would have been the old one refurbished after the Fire in 48. The photo of Jimmie is just as I remember him from that time, I don't remember the new one from 1954. He used to stop near a bus stop at the bottom of Nethanvale Terrace opposite what was a wee shop run by Joe Cowan. The reason for my memory of this is because my Grandparents lived at 67 Carlisle Rd (houses called the huts demolished when the roadway was widened) It was a Sunday ritual to go there every week. I think the colour of the van was a very dark red or maroon colour."
Jimmy sold fish and chips in Coalburn, Lesmahagow, Kirkmuirhill and the surrounding area until 1962 when he had a heart attack and had to stop. He continued to play a part in the Coalburn community and enjoyed walks on the moor. Sadly in 1964 he had another heart attack and died, aged 63.
Billy Donnachie's Fish and Chip Van in the 1960s
Peter McLeish remembers working on this van:-
"In 1964, I had a part time job at the week-end; it entailed driving a chip van belonging to Billy Donnachie. He lived with his mother in Midfield Road. Three of us took turns at driving it, Bobby Hay, Guy Aitken and I.
A typical weekends work was: Friday nights; 6pm, collect the van, which was based at 215, Bellfield Road where his aunty and uncle, Johnny and Ina Munro, lived. Then to Garden Street and park at the door at the social club and for the evening until the bar closed, usually around 10pm. Then back to Bellfield Road where the van was always reversed in to the side of the house.
Although it was a chip van, which you would think would be nice and warm to sit in for four hours, it wasn't quite so. The reason? I had the impression the vehicle had been used for something totally different in a previous life. It was heavy to steer and the cabin was not actually fixed to the body. Though it was gas that heated the frying pans, they were some distance away from the cabin.
Saturday was a strange day. The van was driven to Birkenshaw, the one at Larkhall thankfully. We sat there from 4 to 6pm then back to Garden Street until 10pm. Sunday was similar to Friday. The wages? A fish supper each night, which was very good, plus 10/- on a Sunday."
Mobile Fish and Chips in 2020
The villages served were Rigside, Carnwath, Douglas, Coalburn and Forth, The van was set up behind behind the Leisure Centre in Coalburn on Saturdays for servng between 4 and 8 pm. A range of hot meals were available but it was the fish and chips that was the main attraction. Customers commented very favourably on their suppers. So, mobile fish and chip vans again visited Coalburn.
The gas-fired fryers in the van
Many thanks to Helen Brownlie, Andrew Brownlie and Gilbert Thomson for providing photographs and information. Thanks also to members of the Lesmahagow Facebook page for their help and memories especially Tam Findlay, John Weir and Bill Wright for allowing their reminiscences to be included. Blemishes in two of the photos were kindly removed by Rozsa Halls. Page produced: 8th July 2020 DJH. Updated 17th July 2020 to include material kindly supplied by Peter McLeish.