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Updated 7th February 2017.

 

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The text on this page is information that I have read or have been given by word of mouth over the years that I have lived in this area and is to the best of my knowledge correct. If anybody disagrees with, or is unhappy with any of the following text then please let me know.

This area was until recently relatively uninhabited, Dumbarton was the ancient capital of Strathclyde and Dumbarton Castle has been a stronghold longer than any other fortification in Britain. It has been a stronghold of one form or another since the 5th century. It was the seat of the Earl of Lennox. Clan MacAuleyīs family seat was at Ardencaple Castle, and the Campbellīs of Argyll were at Rosneath Castle, and in the 13th century the not so friendly Vikings did a bit of what they did best and a bit of plundering while they were at it and in the17th century the MacGregors and Colquhouns had a bit of a messy disagreement at Glen Fruin. With the advent of steam came the railway and the steamship which created large engineering factories and shipbuilding yards in Glasgow and the upper Clyde, so successful were they that a lot of people became very wealthy and it became very popular to build ones own house if you could call them that, they were in fact very large villas and baronial homes of opulent proportions designed by some very well known designers like William Leiper and Alexander Thomson. They built for the mill owners and wealthy business men who wanted to get away from the hustle and dirt of Glasgow and as a railway link between Glasgow and Helensburgh had just been created, this became a popular choice and the coming of the steamers made the possibilities even greater. The downside of this was that between 1800 and 1900 this area was one big building site, with not one JCB to be seen.

This area now has many villages and hamlets which are supported by the town of Helensburgh. a mainly residential town less than three hundred years old but has a history of which it is rightly proud.

 Sir James Colquhoun of Luss bought some land on the north bank of the River Clyde with the intention of building a town based on the textile industry. In 1776 Helensburgh, named after his wife Lady Helen Sutherland came into being, but without any textile industry. It quickly grew, and soon became a sought after residential town. In the 1790īs a Mr. Henry Bell came to live in the town. He was an engineer and model maker to trade and in 1807 became the towns first Lord Provost. He and his wife ran the local baths at what became the Queens Hotel and he also worked on bringing fresh water to the town from Glen Fruin. He had been working for several years on a plan to power a boat using a steam engine. He needed funding, and he took his plan to the Admiralty but he could not generate any interest so he built his own boat the "COMET" which became the first commercially viable boat to be powered by a steam engine, the flywheel of which can be seen in the towns East Esplanade. The  Comet was not the first boat to be powered by steam in Scotland, that honour went to the "Charlotte Dundas" built by William Symington on the Forth and Clyde canal but he also had his problems, firstly with funding and also the fact that the owners of the canal were worried that the wash from a powered boat would damage the banks of the canal. . Having boats powered by steam was to have a major impact on this area in the future.

Another famous resident was John Logie Baird who had the first house in Helensburgh to have electric lighting, installed by himself, he was also the man who invented the first form of television but he was unable to convince the Television Advisory Committee of its merits who instead decided to go with a system developed by Marconi. A bust of Baird now stands on Helensburgh promenade.

In Helensburghīs west end is Kidston estate which is built on the grounds of the ancient Ardencaple castle which dates from the 13th century and was the family seat of the MacAuley Clan. The tower and some of the wall of the castle is all that remain. Continuing further west out of Helensburgh is the ancient parish of Rhu (Row) now a conservation village with its churchyard where Henry Bell is buried. The Rhu narrows leads to a sheltered natural harbour called the Gareloch..

Near the north end of the Gareloch at a point where Faslane now stands used to be Faslane Castle which belonged to the ancient Earl of Lennox, and this spot has also had a connection with the navy since the days of James IV and today it is home to Britain's Nuclear Deterrent of Trident submarines at HMNB Clyde which has expanded northwards taking in what used to be Metal Industry's ship breakers yard where the battleship H.M.S. Vanguard was broken up, and has also expanded to the south, and at the spot where the officers mess now stands, used to be a very grand Scots-Jacobethan mansion called "West Shandon" commissioned by a gentleman named Robert Napier,a engineer and shipbuilder, an avid collector of works of art, the house boasted a gallery which contained paintings by some very famous artists like Rembrant, Rubens and Raphael. The gardens and greenhouses had rare species of plants, brought back from expeditions by his friend David Livingstone.

Robertīs cousin ( and brother in law ) David Napier was one of the early pioneers in the great development of steam ships, his contribution to maritime evolution was immense, when he was a young boy he would visit Symingtonīs engineering works in Glasgow to see the "Charlotte Dundas" and soon understood the basics of steam. When he was in his 20īs his father gave him the job of building the boiler for Henry Bellīs COMET. At just about the same time his father died, David took over his fathers engineering business and he became a brilliant inventor, marine engineer and shipbuilder. Unfortunately one of his ships the "Earl Grey" exploded while lying alongside at Greenock Quay, the boiler exploded, killing and injuring a number of the crew, and although he did not build the boiler for this ship ( it was built by a Mr. G Mansell who was taken to court and tried for overloading it, but was acquitted.) it did have a lasting effect on David.    

 ( "On September 2009 I recieved an Email from Mr Nick and Robert Beer detailing that decendants of their family were onboard the Earl Grey when the explosion happened and the story was subsequently reported in their great auntīs memories written in 1903 and entitled "Rememberences from Long Ago" as follows .... "My grandparents were onboard the Earl Grey an excursion steamer when she was blown up at Greenock quay. Many of the passengers were killed, but the grandparents were thrown into the water, and so were saved, as those thrown upon the quay by the explosion were dashed to pieces. Grandfather was able to keep himself afloat till help arrived: while doing so he noticed an object in the water floating past him which he managed to lay hold of, and was astonished and delighted to find that it was his wife. She had been kept afloat by huge feather pads worn under the voluminous sleeves which were the fashion of the day. She kept these same pads, and used to show them to her grandchildren, and tell the story of them. It was long before she was able to be removed home, and neither of them ever got quite the better of the shock." the ladyīs name was Mrs Agnus Robinson King and her husband Mr Matthew King a ship owner from Port Glasgow.)

David later sold his factories to his cousin Robert who, was also an engineer who started building steam engines, the first engine he ever built was for the "Leven" it was so good it was later fitted to another ship and can be seen today outside the Denny ship experimental tank at Dumbarton. Robert was a exceptional business man who insisted in the best quality possible. He convinced some of his friends to invest in the British & North American Mail Steam Packet Coy. which later became The Cunard Steam Ship Coy. Ltd.

Ships hulls were built of wood but Iron hulls were the next step and Robert was ready to expand his company to build hulls as well as engines, the first ship launched from his Govan yard was the "Vanguard" for the Dublin & Glasgow Steam Packet Coy, and was soon followed by the Royal Navyīs first iron steamers the "Jackal", the "Lizard" and the "Bloodhound". Many men who worked for Robert went on to open their own ship yards which is why Robert Napier is known as " The Father of Clyde Shipbuilding".He died in 1876 aged 85, and was buried in the family vault in Dumbarton. The body came by road from Shandon by the Gareloch, where ships at anchor flew their flags at half mast, through Helensburgh, where the streets were lined with the local community and the bells of the towns three churches tolled for one hour. Fourteen hundred of his firms workmen came from Glasgow by special train to Dalreoch and accompanied the coffin for the last mile to the churchyard. It was Robert Napier who provided the headstone for Henry Bell in Rhu parish church graveyard and he also provided most of the money to erect the Bell Monument at West Clyde Street Helensburgh.

The navy isnīt the only member of the armed forces with a foothold in the area, the Americans had a base in nearby Rosneath during the war and the army have a training camp in Garelochhead.

Garelochheadīs claim to fame is "The Battle of Garelochhead".In 1853 Sir James Colquhoun tried to prevent steamers using the pier on Sundays. As the steamer came alongside a group of locals encouraged by Sir James Colquhoun barricaded the pier head but the passengers of the steamer eventually got ashore. A plaque to commemorate this event has been erected at the spot where the pier used to be. Despite those protests steamers on the Clyde became very popular and most villages had a pier, and in some cases a pier was built and the village grew around it. In the heyday of the steamers there was eight piers in the Gareloch alone.

As you leave Garelochhead you enter the Rosneath peninsula passing through Mambeg, Rahane and into Clynder, a small village which in 1878 boasted two piers within 500 yards of each other. Steamers used to call at both taking four minutes to travel from one to the other. Unfortunately this village has changed quite a lot since the early 1970īs it used to be self contained having its own hotel, butchers, supermarket, petrol station, post office and paper shop and part time bank. Clynder was also where some of the finest wooden yachts were built at McGruers boat yard. That yard has now been demolished and is now a small housing estate. The yard was moved to the old navy sheds at Rosneath and has now closed. It is close to another famous boat yard bought over by Silvers in 1903 who were famous for there high quality specialist motor yachts until 1973. Rosneath also has a large holiday park with many static caravans and water sports centre.

Kilgreggan, on the south end of the peninsula looks across the Clyde estuary towards Gourock and Greenock. Many famous ships have passed this stretch of water leaving from the shipyards of the Clyde. The pier at Kilcreggan has not changed much over the years and is the only traditional wooden pier which is used all year round.  One the Loch Long side of the peninsula lies Cove which grew up around its pier. Because of its exposed position the pier there did not stand up to well and has since gone.

Coulport is now known as the Royal Naval Armaments Depot but in earlier years (1860) John Kibble the astronomer and botanist built his home "Coulport house" with its large conservatories, one of which was donated to Glasgow's botanical gardens known now as "Kibble palace" and is still in use today.

A new road built for the MOD takes you back to the north of Garelochhead to Whistlefield which is the only hamlet in the area that does not lie on the shore. It did however in years gone by have its own Whistlefield railway Station on the West Highland Line. The station was opened in 1896 as an after thought following complaints from the local communities of Whistlefield and Portincaple, it was built of wood and at one point was used to take prisoners of war from a camp on the Whistlefield hill which is now a picnic area and car park, to help build Loch Sloy dam north of Arrochar, but the station was eventually closed after 68 years service

Down the hill to the shores of Loch Long lies the small hamlet of Portincaple, a holding point for cattle brought over from the other side of the Loch. There are still the ruins of the old cattle shed beside "Ferry House", there is also an old quarry here, the stone from which was used to build the Custom House at Greenock. After the opening of the railway station at Whistlefield steamers for Arrochar would stop and anchor at Portincaple, because there was no pier passengers would be taken ashore by small boat and they could continue there journey by train.

With the Scottish fishing fleet sadly shrinking itīs great to see the Portincaple fleet double in size as there are now two boats in the local fleet. sadly for sentimental reasons, the " Jennie Stella" which was built in 1963 down on the shore of Portincaple, her frames were made from trees which were felled across the loch at Ardgartan Forest near Coilesssan south of Arrochar. has been replaced by the "Lucy J" and has now been accompanied by the "Osprey".

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