Archive for May, 2008

Helensburgh: the early years: intro.

May 14, 2008

Helensburgh, on the north bank of the River Clyde, is today a prosperous residential town, a popular home for Glasgow commuters and famed for Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s The Hill House, built in 1904 for the publisher Walter Blackie, just one such Glasgow commuter. It is also now home to large numbers of naval personnel from HM Naval Base Clyde at Faslane on the Gareloch. 

 

A comfortable, settled sort of place which you might think had been there for ever.  However a glance at an 18th century map shows nothing like Helensburgh – just a settlement, too small to be termed a village, called variously Malligs, Millrigs or Milligs, forming part of the parish of Rhu (or Row as it was then spelled.)  Where Helensburgh’s tree-lined streets and desirable houses now sit was then just scrubby grazing with a few simple cottages for farm workers and fisher-folk.

 

The area had traditionally been part of the estate of the Macaulays of Ardencaple, but the Chiefs of Macaulay fell on hard times and the Milligs lands were sold to Sir John Shaw of Greenock in 1700.  Shaw did little with the land and his heirs sold Milligs to Sir James Colquhoun of Luss in 1757.  At this time Colquhoun was actively buying land in Rhu to add to his extensive landholdings on Loch Lomondside.

 

The mid-eighteenth century was a great period of improvement in Scotland and landowners were taking more care to ensure that their land was properly cultivated.  Attention was being given to crop rotations and fertility, to enclosure and to the beginnings of scientific agriculture.

 

There was also, all across the nation, from the Pentland Firth to the Solway, a positive spate of new towns and villages being built by local landowners. These proprietors saw prospects of better income from feu-duties on houses, factories, shops and commercial premises than they did from rents of agricultural land.  The new towns would also help agriculture by providing local consumers for farm produce and could also perhaps absorb the rural workers displaced by the new, more scientific and less labour intensive patterns of agriculture.

 

 

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Rest and Be Thankful: intro.

May 8, 2008

Officially it is the A83 Trunk Road. For centuries however travellers have known it as the Rest and Be Thankful and have welcomed the chance to draw their breath and enjoy the view as they crossed the summit at 860 feet on the road that leads from Loch Long to Loch Awe via Glen Croe and past the picturesque Butterbridge into Glen Kinglas. There can be few roads in Scotland so well documented by travellers over the centuries or so affectionately named as the Rest.

 

 

 In the beginning, of course, there wasn’t a road at all.  There was just a track, a path, made by generations of travellers, and beaten out by herds of black cattle being taken by drovers from Argyll to the trysts and cattle markets of the Lowlands.

 

The making of a road, in any sense that we would now recognise it, had to wait until the eighteenth century. Some work was done in the 1730s on roads in Argyll by local government agencies  – the Commissioners of Supply.  However the real impetus for road building came after the 1715 and 1719 Jacobite Risings. General George Wade was sent to Scotland to examine the military situation in the Highlands.  His report made a number of recommendations, including the construction of forts at various points and the development of a network of roads to link these strong points. 

 

In 1743 it was decided to construct 44 miles of military road from Dumbarton to Inveraray, via Loch Lomondside, Tarbet, Arrochar, Glen Croe and thus down to Loch Fyne. Major Caulfeild, Wade’s Inspector of Roads and successor as mastermind of the Highland roads network, was ordered to survey the route and work started that summer – although progress was interrupted by the outbreak of the 1745 Jacobite Rising.

 

 

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Conrad and the Clyde: intro.

May 4, 2008

The Clyde is not the first river one thinks of in connection with Joseph Conrad – the Congo perhaps, or one of the fever-ridden mangrove-swamp streams of the East Indies – but not the Clyde.  Not even the most prejudiced Edinburgh imagination surely can see Glasgow’s river as the “Heart of Darkness”.

But Glasgow and the Clyde had their part in Conrad’s life and work and this connection with the Clyde, its ships and its people, is less well known than it might be.

As a writer of the sea Conrad could hardly fail to depict the Scots who built and manned so many of the world’s ships.  As a mariner trained in sail Conrad had no particular love for the steam engine; as his friend the Glasgow-born artist Muirhead Bone wrote in an obituary appreciation:

 

He had none of a Kiplingesque enthusiasm for material powers – with him it was Man and the Elements, with the apparatus always a bit inadequate.

 

So perhaps, despite the splendidly named Captain MacWhirr in Typhoon (1903), we need not look to closely to Conrad for the archetypal Clyde-trained Scots engineer – otherwise a staple of imaginative writing from Kipling’s McAndrew to StarTrek’s Scotty.

 

 

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