Council Conjure Up Plan For Memorial Garden

Ramsay Memorial Garden

Ramsay Memorial GardenThe council are seeking permission for ground to the rear and side of the former Pierre Victoire building on River Terrace, to be set aside as a beer garden, with a boundary of the wall of the Auld Brig on one side and a 1.2 metre high timber fence on the other

It is believed they have a number of tenants waiting in the wings ready to lease the empty building if the plan gets the go ahead - but not without the outdoor area. But the council's Estates Department could be in line for some unusual objections from the Scottish Conjurors' Association, The Magic Circle, and other top magicians' groups.

Mr Ramsay, who owned a grocers shop just round the corner from the River Street site, was a famous conjuror and Honorary President of the Association for many years. And it appears his fellow magicians may not be entirely charmed by a plan to bar the public from having access to a memorial of one of their most distinguished colleagues.

Ramsay Memorial PlaqueA spokesman for the Magic Circle in London said: "We were shocked to learn of the council's plans and would urge them to reconsider or at the very least find another suitable location for the memorial to this important magician.

"The council of the Magic Circle will consider whether to make a personal representation to the planning authority."

This reaction was shared by Professor Edwin Dawes, Honorary President of the Scottish Conjurors' Association and Magic Circle historian, who travelled to Ayr for the re-opening of the garden after its refurbishment in the mid-90s.

He said: "That garden is unique in the sense that John Ramsay is the only magician in the world with a garden named after him. The reverence with which he was held all over the world of magic was astonishing and only in May of this year, I was called to give a presentation about Mr Ramsay at the Magic Circle in London. People in the States, in particular, rave about his magnificent sleight of hand skills and material about him is still in great demand. And yet it seems people on his doorstep have forgotten how important he was."

The current president of the Scottish Conjurors' Association, Alex Proctor from Busby in Glasgow, said there was a widespread feeling of disbelief that the memory of John Ramsay was not being honoured in Ayr.

Johnny Ramsay: World Famous MagicianHe recalled: "John Ramsay was a legend in the magical fraternity: he was a real magician's magician and loved to trick fellow conjurors. He was revered and respected all around the world, particularly in the United States. We had a convention in Glasgow a few years ago, to mark our 75th anniversary. One guy who had travelled over from New York was adamant he wanted to come to Ayr to see the John Ramsay memorial gardens. When he saw the condition it was kept in, he was very disappointed. What would he think now?"

Meanwhile opposition is also building here in Ayr, from groups keen to preserve the riverside spot as an open space for members of the public. A spokesman for the Kyle and Carrick Civic Society said: "Johnny Ramsay was a very well known figure and after he died in the early 60's, the gardens were created as a memorial to him, because he was famed for his gardening skills as well as his conjuring talents. They were also later redesigned by Auchincruive students to be used as a recreation area by the people of Ayr and a place where they could sit in peace and quite. If this goes, local people will lose one of the few places they can sit and rest."

President Michael Hitcheon said: "We appreciate it is better to have a nice building used rather than left empty, but this is a very precious open space and one of the few in the town which is not subject to car fumes. It is also scandalous that the treasured memory of Mr Ramsay is not to be honoured."

John Ramsay, who went on to become a world famous magician and President of the British Ring of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, was born in Ayr's Bogha' Row (now Victoria Street) and began his working life as a grocers boy, earning just 3 shillings a week.

As he progressed through the ranks of shop assistant and manager to eventually own the George Street business, he also developed interests in running and draughts: he once held world champion Richard Jordan to a draw. But it was talents in the conjuring field which went on to earn him the name of Scotland's grand old man of magic.

Showing an early interest in conjuring from the age of seven, he was encouraged by his family and spent much of his pocket money on tricks and penny puzzles. He went on to enthral customers at his shop - and audiences the world over - with his sleight of hand and ready patter.

As his abilities grew, he became associated with the London Magic Circle and the Inner Magic Circle, going on to win the British Ring Shield when it was presented for the first time at the International Brotherhood Convention in 1939.

In 1960, he was honoured in a special dinner by the Scottish Conjurors Association, of whom he was a life member and honorary president for many years.

Seven months before his death, the Scottish Association of Magical Societies met in Ayr and presented John Ramsay with a bound volume containing messages and tributes from magicians all over the world.

The beer garden plan was unveiled in a public notice earlier this month, with any representations to be sent to Burns House by July 26.

A council insider said: "I can understand why people would want the Ramsay Gardens kept. But those who live near them know they are used by winos. They would be quite happy for something else to happen in the area."