North Ayrshire’s Heritage Centre was celebrating its own history last week as the team marked 63 years since it first opened its doors.

On June 25 back in 1957 the North Ayrshire Museum in Saltcoats officially opened to the public.

The Heritage Centre brings together all aspects of the area’s rich history under one roof.

With an artefact collection of local, regional and national importance, many objects are displayed on a permanent basis along with regularly changing temporary exhibitions.

Items on permanent display include a 13th century carved stone sarcophagus, fossilised tree trunks, part of a stone Celtic cross and the Ardrossan Burgh Fire Engine, built in 1866 and used during the First World War.

The museum was originally Ardrossan Parish Church, built in 1773. This old church was the third site of the Parish Church of Ardrossan.

At the Manse Street entrance is the Session House. It was built in the 18th century and was used by the church session for meetings and to house the gravedigger’s tools.

During World War II the building was used as a civil defence post and in 1946 it was taken over by Kerr & Co. House Furnishers of Ardrossan and used as a furniture store.

In the early 1950s Owen Kelly, a keen local historian and collector, wished to preserve the local history of the area for future generations. He put together a committee to establish a North Ayrshire Museum within the Three Towns Area and persuaded the councils of Ardrossan, Saltcoats and Stevenston to assist in the purchase of the Ardrossan Parish Church.

Establishing the museum was no easy task and although assistance was received from local and national government bodies, the expected cost of repairing and renovating the building proved higher than anticipated. With a shortfall of £500 an appeal was put to the public to help raise the money still needed. A letter was drafted and an article posted in the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald. The appeal was successful and the building was opened as The North Ayrshire Museum on Tuesday, June 25 1957. Once it had opened there was a charge of sixpence to browse around the exhibits. There was also a museum association that you could subscribe to annually for 2/6.

The grounds of the museum were cleared in 1967 to form a cemetery lawn - all illegible headstones were removed and the remainder set around the perimeter walls. The grounds were first used shortly after the church opened and the last internment was in 1915.

Of the original 451 memorials 192 remain and a full report on them is kept in the museum for public consultation.

Families of interest buried here include relations of poet Robert Service as well as Edgar Allan Poe, the Allans of the Allan line, the Smiths of the City Shipping Line, the Workmans (famous marine engineers in Belfast) and Betsy Miller – the first female sea captain.

The museum continued to be privately run until 1974.

In 1976 it became part of Cunninghame District Council and today it is the North Ayrshire Heritage Centre run by North Ayrshire Council.

The building is listed Category B for its heritage interest, making it the perfect historical venue for a collection of exhibits of regional and national significance.