Saturday, September 6, 2014

Back to Stromeferry ...

A few years ago, I wrote a series of articles about Stromeferry in Wester Ross and today I spotted on Ebay the postcard pictured above. Postmarked at Stromeferry on 14 September 1906, it shows what was at the time the Strome Hotel (now a private house) at the north terminus of the ferry.

The picture is not particularly special but the message on the back is outstanding and worth reproducing in full:-

 "This is the ferry hotel on the other side. A large flat-bottomed barge, almost as broad as long takes over cattle & sheep, gypsies and their carts, wedding parties and their piper, merchandise in general and motor cars. The landing on our side [i.e. at Stromeferry, the south side] is always picturesque and at times exciting especially when a particularly fine and large motor car has to be put ashore. The boat draws up to the side of the slip and the car is backed on to it. Slip is only 20ft wide & slippery oft. Car has to turn on it."

Photo credit Rob Beale
That's a car being loaded onto a ferry around the same time our postcard was sent. It's not actually the Strome Ferry but the Dornie Ferry (also known as the Aird Ferry, replaced by a bridge in 1940) about 20 miles south. And below is a car boarding the Ballachulish Ferry in 1926. The operation has become a bit slicker in the intervening 20 years but see if your heart leaps into your mouth at the same moment mine did!


Monday, July 21, 2014

Guisachan - Part 2

In Part 1 I described how Guisachan Estate in north west Inverness-shire had been held by a cadet branch of the clan Fraser from the middle of the 16th century until 1855 when it was sold by the 11th laird.

The sale was part of a pattern whereby a huge proportion - if not the majority - of the estates which had been held by the clans in the north and west of Scotland were sold between the late 18th and mid 19th centuries due to economic pressures rather than the feuds and politics which had characterised changes of control in earlier centuries. The map below - which is by no means accurate or complete - shows in yellow some of the land which changed hands during this period:-

This transformation of ownership is a vast subject in its own right but, to attempt a crude generalisation, an earlier phase (in the late 18th and earlier 19th cents.) tended to see estates being bought by more astute cadet families or neighbouring clans: notable examples are Harris bought by Macleod of Berneray from his chief in 1772 (see here) and the clan MacKay's estate in north west Sutherland sold to the Countess of Sutherland in 1829. A later phase (in the mid 19th century) saw estates being sold to outsiders - Victorian nouveaux riches of the Industrial Revolution who craved the clan territories as sporting estates in immitation of the Queen and Prince Albert at Balmoral. The sale of Guisachan fell into this later phase except there was the curiosity that the seller invested the proceeds in buying part of the clan Donald's estates on Skye as part of the same process!

The purchaser of Guisachan was the splendidly named Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks (pronounced "March-banks"), pictures above. A scion of the Coutts banking family, he was Liberal MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed before being elevated to the peerage in 1880 as Lord Tweedmouth. He had been the grouse shooting tenant for some years before he eventually bought the estate after it had been on the market for a while for £52,000 (about £5 million in today's money: what Marjoribanks described as a "fancy price before railway days") .

It's difficult to underestimate the changes Lord Tweedmouth made to Guisachan. The key difference between his management and that of his predecessors' was that, while the Frasers had seen the estate as their source of income, Tweedmouth approached it as something that money was to be lavished upon. Thus, most obviously, the Frasers' modest Georgian house was demolished and replaced by the latest fashion in Victorian gothic:-

The Frasers' tenant farmers were eased out and replaced by a single new estate run "model farm" centred on a magnificent steading complete with clock tower:-

Image copyright RCAHMS

Perhaps more than the clock tower, though, the most arresting feature of the new farm was the dairy with its stained glass windows and terazzo flooring which survive intact to the present day:-

Image copyright RCAHMS

Estate workers were housed in a new model village called Tomich specially built with 33 new stone and slated cottages and endowed with an inn and a school in one room of which church services were held. Today Tomich is a conservation area, complete with faux gas lamp style street lights and most of its houses being listed buildings:-

Tomich School (now a private house)

With his servants all gainfully employed and comfortably housed, Lord Tweedmouth pursued his sport (and developed the ultimate breed of sporting dog, the Golden Retriever) and it was all so idyllic that, after his death, his children erected a fountain in Tomich to his memory:-

Picture credit Dave Fergusson
Picture credit Dave Fergusson
But not everybody was happy. A discordant note about the management of Guisachan was sounded in evidence before the Napier Commission of 1883 - the Royal Commission set up to investigate the plight of the tenantry in the north and west of Scotland and which led to the crofting legislation. Lord Tweedmouth had to hasten to appear before the Commission to defend himself. And as if that wasn't enough, he soon found himself embroiled in litigation with a neighbouring sportsman, a megalomaniac American industrialist who'd also come in for criticism before the Napier Commission from the same source. I'll come back to all that in the next chapter of the story. 

Monday, May 19, 2014


Perusing the 1920s Ordnance Survey One Inch map of upper Strath Glass last autumn, my eye alighted on Guisachan House. Plenty of shooting lodges up these glens, I thought, but few imposing enough to be surrounded by that grey stipple the map legend identifies as "Parks and Ornamental Grounds". A moment's googling produced this picture:-

Picture from Picture from Lucky Lady Farms
Turns out the Golden Retriever breed was developed at Guisachan by its 19th century owner, Lord Tweedmouth. That name rang a bell in my lawyer's brain and a little more research reminded me of an acrimonious litigation with a megalomaniac American railway baron with a side interest in "cigar ships". But beside these eccentricities of Victorian society, the story of Guisachan and its neighbours reveals in microcosm a lot about the broader sweep of Highland history over almost 800 years.

North west Inverness-shire was the heartland of two clans, the Frasers and the Chisholms. The boundary between their territories was the Amhuinn Deabhag (pron. AV-in JIV-ak) as the River Glass is known above its confluence with the River Affric at Fasnakyle. And here's the first thing a study of Guisachan's past reinforces: it's often assumed the Highlands clans are quintessentially Celtic and aboriginally ancient, the very antithesis of the incoming Anglo-Norman feudalism which took over the rest of the country.

In fact, many clans are no such thing. The Frasers were originally a Norman family who had been loyal feudal vassals of the Scottish crown in south east Scotland for almost 200 years before a junior branch migrated north around the turn of the 14th century to establish themselves in Inverness-shire where they promptly "went native". So too with the Chisholms. Whether it's actually true that a Frenchman called "De Chese" adopted the suffix "holme" from marriage to a Saxon heiress is debateable but the fact is that this was another family of exotic origins which finally settled in Strathglass where they morphed into a clan around the turn of the 15th century.

Be all that as it may. Around 1540, Thomas, 4th Lord Lovat (as the chief of Clan Fraser was styled), endowed his second son, William, with the lands of Guisachan. His son, Hugh, inherited the lands of Culbokie on the Black Isle in 1556 from an uncle and, as a result, the Frasers of Guisachan styled themselves thereafter as "of Culbokie" - even after they lost Culbokie and other estates to their creditors in the 1670s and Guisachan was all they were left with.

In 1746, William "Younger of Culbokie" fought at the Battle of Culloden as an officer on the rebel side while his father - "Old Culbokie" (8th of Guisachan) - remained peacefully at home. This was a common tactic amongst Jacobite clans: the son carried the family's honour to war while the father kept out of things in the interests of "it wisnae me" deniability after the event. But it didn't prevent Guisachan House being burnt by Government troops after the battle and for a while both father and son were fugitives before being officially pardoned in 1747. When William the Younger succeeded to Guisachan upon his father's death in 1755, he built a new house which is pictured below:-

Note that the caption says Guisachan, seat of Fraser of Culbokie
The next heir, another William, 10th of Guisachan, owned sugar plantations in the West Indies. Latterly, he owned a plantation at Berbice in what's now Guyana in South America. In the course of trying to liquidate his investments on the eve of the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, it was written:-

With regard to Mr Fraser of Culbokie’s negroes, I fear the present is an inpropitious time for the sale of them, depressed as the West Indies are by the fanatics, collision of interests, and a temporizing government. I think if he gets from £100 to £120 a head for the negroes including children they will be well sold.  

That quote is from the excellent Slaves and Highlanders website. At the risk of digressing too far off topic, looking at Guyana on Google Earth, it's fascinating to see all the Scottish place names which were presumably plantations owned by Scots named after their ancestral homelands. For example: Pomona (Orkney), Suddie (Black Isle), Skeldon (Ayrshire), Rosehall (Sutherland), Goldspie (Golspie, Sutherland) and Nigg (Easter Ross). There isn't a Guisachan or Culbokie in Guyana that I could find but there is a Belladrum which was another Fraser estate in lower Strathglass (nowadays best known for its annual festival).

Belladrum, Guyana - photo credit silent_cam
The next laird of Guisachan (Culbokie), the 11th of the line, Major William Fraser, was also the last for he sold the estate in 1854. That's probably a good point to break the tale but before moving on to the purchaser in Part 2, I can't resist another digression into Major Fraser's subsequent career.

He bought Kilmuir Estate on Skye - the northern two thirds of the island's Trotternish peninsula - from the chief of the Clan Macdonald, Lord Macdonald of Sleat. It was he who built that distinctive folly in the shape of a Martello Tower which overlooks Uig Bay:-

The folly survives but the lodge which Fraser also built at Uig doesn't because it was washed away by the infamous Uig Flood of 1877. A flash flood of the River Conon, which drains into Uig Bay, carried away not just the lodge but also the local graveyard and it was said that, amongst the rubbish and debris found in the remains of the lodge garden were coffins, skulls and bones. There were those at the time who claimed this as divine judgement on Fraser for his cruel treatment of the tenantry on the estate in the time of "the Clearances". Be that as it may, he had bought Uig Estate for £85,000 and spent about £40,000 improving it. He sold it in 1888 for £110,000 involving an overall loss of £15,000. The sale was two years after the Crofters Act came into force and an intriguing parallel is the emancipation of crofters with the emancipation of slaves which had stung the previous generation of Frasers of Culbokie (Guisachan) financially.

Uig Lodge and Grave Yard - both washed away by the flood between the date of survey (1875) and publication (1879) of the OS 25 inch map, 1st edition

Back to Guisachan in Part 2  

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Lochalsh Hotel

It's the big white building at Kyle of Lochalsh immediately to the west of the slipway the ferry for Skye used to sail from before the bridge was opened in 1995.

The Lochalsh Hotel in the 1980s before the bridge
Prior to the arrival of the railway at Kyle in 1897, the hostelry for travellers arriving at the ferry by road had been the Kyle Inn, just to the north:-

Ordnance Survey 6 inch map 1880
The Kyle Inn is still in business today as the Kyle Hotel but back in 1897 the Highland Railway Company obviously felt that something more salubrious was called for. So they bought what's marked on the OS maps of the time (above) as "Kyle-lochalsh House" (on the plans for the construction of the railway, it's marked as "Kyle Cottage") next to the ferry pier and converted it into "the Station Hotel".

From the Aberdeen University George Washington Wilson Collection
In the mid 1930s, the Station Hotel, by now under the ownership of the London Midland & Scottish Railway Company (LMS) which had absorbed the Highland Railway Co. in 1923, was renamed "the Lochalsh Hotel" and rebuilt in two phases. First, an extension on the east (right hand) end as shown below in a picture dated 1935:-

From the University of St Andrews Photographic Collection
And very soon after (don't know the exact year), the original building was demolished and extended westwards (to the left) as seen below:-

Thus enlarged, the hotel features conspicuously in a 1930s LMS poster by Norman Wilkinson:-

The ship depicted there is MacBrayne's MV Lochnevis (I) introduced in 1934 to serve on the Mallaig and Kyle to Portree steamer service. The poster includes the blurb:-

"MacBraynes steamers offer you a choice of many fascinating tours from the Clyde in the south to the Hebrides in the north. And as a headquarters, what could be more desirable than the LMS Lochalsh Hotel, recently rebuilt and charmingly modern, yet in complete harmony with its surroundings."  

Despite the claims of harmony with surroundings, the Lochalsh Hotel post its 1930s extensions became a most conspicuous landmark. Note how it's not visible in the postcard below which dates the view (looking from Kyleakin back over to Kyle) to prior to the mid 1930s:-

The dating of these changes to the West Highland landscape is a bit of an obsession of mine and in that regard it's notable that the railway hotel at Kyle is listed as the Station Hotel in MacBrayne's 1934 summer brochure but as the Lochalsh Hotel in the 1937 edition. In both cases, it appears in the same advert along with such other illustrious LMS Railway Hotels as Glasgow's Central, Edinburgh's Caledonian, Turnberry and, of course, the Gleneagles:-

In the late 1960s, the Lochalsh Hotel was extended again by the addition of a new wing at its west (left hand) end so as to assume its present profile:-

Photo credit Clifford Young
I date this last extension to the late 1960s because it's not visible in the postcard below which includes the Skye ferry MV Portree (II) (distinctive for having its wheelhouse forward) which entered service in 1965:-

Disregarding the obvious replacement of the ferries to Skye with a bridge, there are a few other changes between these last two pictures. It's a bit like one of these kids' "Spot the Differences" competitions in a comic - how many can you get?

I don't know when the Lochalsh Hotel was sold off by the railways. It was for sale a few years ago at a price of £825,000 through estate agents Allied Soutar & Jaffrey (although that wasn't the sale off from the railway). I downloaded a copy of the sale particulars (Sorry, but I don't know how you link to a pdf - if anyone does, please leave a comment) :-

It's perhaps surprising the Lochalsh has never been taken over by a coach tour company. And despite having once rubbed shoulders with the likes of Gleneagles and Turnberry, it's perhaps not too surprising to see a hotel like this getting mixed reviews on Tripadvisor (even if the ghosts of the directors of the Highland Railway must note with satisfaction that it still ranks #1 out of 2 hotels in Kyle over the Kyle Hotel!) One reviewer wrote that it was like walking into the 1930s - that reflects the history and to me is a good thing!

Art deco touches at the front door
But although I've never stayed at the Lochalsh Hotel, I'm happy to record a positive experience there. I'd arrived in Kyle off the Citylink coach from Glasgow on a day of that shocking weather we were having in December 2013. I had several hours to kill before my train north to Achnasheen but as it was Sunday, the station was closed. However the chap at the Lochalsh was very kind and happy to let me sit in the lounge for the price of a cup of coffee. He even let me leave my suitcase with them while I went out for a walk round while the rain briefly let up. So kudos to the Lochalsh Hotel for that kindness which is not to be taken for granted. I wish it well in the future.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Calmac corporate history

The "Lord of the Isles" en route between Oban and Colonsay - picture credit Neil Roger

Caledonian MacBrayne is the name in big letters along the side of the ship but the small print on the back of your ticket says you're travelling with a company called Calmac Ferries Ltd (CFL).

And you may have noticed the new vessels for Raasay and Stornoway have been commissioned by something called Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL). You're less likely to be aware that the holding company for the Scottish Government's publicly owned ferry services is called David MacBrayne Ltd (DML).

All these new entities are a by-product of the compulsory EU tendering process a few years back, you'll be thinking. Correct and that explains why CFL was incorporated in 2006. But how come Companies House reveals that DML was incorporated in 1928 and CMAL as far back as 1889? That betrays a more venerable corporate history. Here it is.

Pioneered in 1819 by Henry Bell's "Comet", by the 1840s, the steamer services on the west coast of Scotland north of the Clyde had become consolidated in the hands of the Liverpool firm of G & J Burns. But in 1851 they sold their Scottish operations to a partnership between David Hutcheson, his brother Alexander and the Burns' nephew, David MacBrayne. These three traded in partnership as "David Hutcheson & Co" until 1878 when the Hutchesons retired. Thereafter MacBrayne continued the business in his own name. He took his sons into partnership with him in 1902 and the firm was incorporated as David MacBrayne Ltd in 1906.

It's David Hutcheson who's commemorated by the obelisk at the north end of Kerrera so prominent on the left as you steam out of Oban bay for Mull and islands beyond:-

The Waverley departing Oban past the Hutcheson Monument - photo credit Roy Tait
Meanwhile, down on the Firth of Clyde (where, with one exception, MacBraynes didn't operate), the steamer services to Dunoon, Rothesay and Arran etc. were in the hands of the three principal Scottish railway companies, the Caledonian (CR), the Glasgow and South Western (GSWR) and the North British (NBR).

In 1889, the CR incorporated a shipping subsidiary - the Caledonian Steam Packet Company Ltd (CSP) - to run steamers from its railheads at Gourock, Wemyss Bay and Ardrossan. In 1923, the CR and GSWR (along with other companies) merged to form the London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMSR). The ex-GSWR ships were gradually absorbed into the CSP and adopted a common livery of black hull and buff funnel with black top.

Queen Mary II at Lochgoilhead in CSP livery - photo credit Douglas Campbell
At the same time, the NBR was absorbed into the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) and continued to operate from its railhead at Craigendoran (closed now - was between Dumbarton and Helensburgh) under a livery of black hull with red, white and black funnel (like the Waverley - as she was the last ship ever ordered by the LNER, she reverted to their livery under heritage ownership.)

Back beyond the Crinan Canal, meanwhile, MacBraynes ceased trading in 1928. Their undertaking was rescued by a partnership between the LMSR and Coast Lines (a Liverpool coastal shipping company which had previously absorbed the Burns operation which originally spun out the Hutcheson/MacBrayne operation in 1851). This joint venture incorporated itself as David MacBrayne (1928) Ltd although the date in the name was soon dropped. (I'd guess the (1928) was included because the new MacBrayne company was registered at a time when the old one hadn't been wound up yet: Like ships, you can't have two companies with the same name.)

In terms of livery, the new incarnation of MacBrayne's briefly flirted in the early 1930s with a grey hull but soon reverted to the traditional black to accompany the red funnel with black top which had been a constant throughout their history:-

MV Lochfyne at Staffa in the short-lived early 30's grey livery
The next big date in the corporate history was 1948. That year, the LMSR and LNER railway companies were nationalised as part of British Railways (BR). The practical effect was that the LNER ships on the Clyde (including the then brand new Waverley) joined the CSP Clyde steamer and had their red white and black funnels repainted in buff and black top. MacBraynes became half state owned (i.e. the LMSR share which had passed to BR) and half privately owned (Coast Lines' half) and retained its red funnel with black top livery.

In 1957, BR revived the "Caledonian Steam Packet Company" brand, the company having been very much in the background (small print on the back of the ticket) as far as the public was concerned since 1923 after which the branding had simply been LMSR then BR Clyde Coast Steamer Services:

Another livery change took place in 1965. That was the year most BR ships (including the cross Channel, Irish and Isle of Wight ferries) adopted a red (previously yellow) funnel with black top adorned with the familiar BR double arrow logo. Their hulls were also changed from black to "monastral blue". But on the Clyde, while the CSP fleet adopted the new hull colour, in a nod to the company's individual history within the state railway empire, it was allowed to keep its buff funnel but now adorned instead with a rather small red lion rampant.

CSP car ferry MV Cowal (1954) en route from Rothesay to Wemyss Bay in the 1965 "monastral blue" livery. Photo credit Rod Lightbody

The next big date was 1969. By the late 60s, the rationale for having state shipping operations under the control of state railway operations was becoming less and less obvious considering how many passengers were now joining the ships from road transport rather than trains - many were even now driving their own cars aboard ships specially designed for the purpose, the new-fangled "car ferry". In Scotland, the solution adopted was that the CSP was transferred from BR to the state bus services quango, the Scottish Transport Group. In consequence, the blue hulls were repainted black but the red lion on the buff funnel was retained.

The STG also acquired BR's 50% shareholding in MacBrayne's and, in July 1969, bought Coast Lines' share as well so that, for the first time in the company's near 120 year history, it was wholly state owned. No change in their perennial colour scheme of black hull and red funnel with black top, however.

MacBrayne's Clansman pulls away from Armadale for Mallaig in the early 70s - photo credit Tom

With the Clyde and Western Isles services now both under the same management, the next logical step was for MacBraynes and the CSP to merge and this happened on 1st January 1973. In corporate terms, what happened was that the Caledonian Steam Packet Company Ltd (incorporated 1889) changed its name to Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd and David MacBrayne Ltd (inc. 1928) transferred its assets (the ships and the piers) to that company. The merged corporate livery involved the CSP red lion being placed on a yellow disc on the red funnel of MacBraynes.

Calmac colours applied to the funnel of the first ever Scottish car ferry, the CSP's MV Arran of 1954 - photo credit Arnie Furniss
Except the merger was not as complete as generally believed. 1973 was in the middle of the transition from the traditional pattern of separate fleets of mail steamers and cargo vessels to all-purpose ro-ro ferries and in fact it was only the latter which transferred to the merged Calmac. David MacBrayne Ltd (DMB) continued a separate existence post 1/1/73 with five of their older ships - the Loch Arkaig (1942), Lochdunvegan (1946), Loch Seaforth (1947), Loch Carron (1951) and Claymore (1955), none of which ever sported a lion on its funnel. The intention was that Calmac would be financially self sustaining on the car ferry routes to the bigger islands while DMB would continue - at least in the medium term - to serve "thinner" routes to smaller islands such as Coll, Tiree, Colonsay, Raasay and the Small Isles on a subsidised basis. You can read about this in Parliament here. Of course, the dream of financial viability never came to pass, even on the major routes. I don't know exactly when DMB finally went out of business and the whole operation was formally taken over by Calmac but I would guess the mid/late 70s after all of the islands (bar the Small Isles) were being served by car ferries (1974) and the last cargo service ceased (1976).

MacBrayne's last cargo ship, MV Loch Carron (1951) leaves Oban in the early 70s - picture credit syntax
In the following decade, the 1980s, the bus companies which formed the bulk of the Scottish Transport Group's operation were privatised leaving just the perennially unprofitable Calmac in state ownership. Hence, the shares in the company were transferred to the Secretary of State for Scotland in 1990 in order that the STG could be wound up. The shareholding transferred to the Scottish Government upon devolution in 1999.

Orkney & Shetland - Northlink

The services to Orkney and Shetland had been operated by P&O and its antecedent companies (including Coast Lines which had owned a half share in MacBrayne's 1928-69 and was taken over by P&O in 1971) for over a century until October 2002 when they were beaten in a tender for the subsidy by a joint venture between Calmac and the Royal Bank of Scotland. Branded "Northlink", the Calmac/RBS JV was incorporated as a new company called Northlink Orkney and Shetland Ferries Ltd (company number SC212342). This contract ran into trouble - I mustn't digress into why, but the net upshot was that it was re-tendered early. This time, Calmac (on its own without RBS) was the sole bidder and regained the contract which commenced in July 2006. The corporate vehicle for the new contract was a company originally incorporated in 1949 under the name Arran Piers Ltd (APL) by the Duke of Montrose as owner of the island. It was taken over by the CSP in 1969 in order to upgrade Brodick and Lochranza piers for ro-ro ferry operations. On the merger of the CSP with MacBraynes in 1973, APL was renamed Caledonian MacBrayne Holdings Ltd. It was again renamed Northlink Ferries Ltd (company number SC027370) in May 2006 in order to be the vehicle for Calmac's Orkney and Shetland Northlink branded services.

Calmac's northern incarnation - MV Hamnavoe departs Stromness in Orkney for Scrabster - picture credit Premysl Fojtu
2006 was also the year tendering came to the west coast. In preparation, Calmac was divided into two entities - a company to own the ships and associated shore infrastructure ("Vesco") and another company ("Opsco") consisting essentially of Calmac's management and staff to operate them on charter from Vesco.

In corporate terms, Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd (originally incorporated in 1889 as the Caledonian Steam Packet Company Limited and which changed its name in 1973 upon the merger with MacBraynes) became the Vesco and changed its name to Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL). The Opsco was a new company called Calmac Ferries Ltd (CFL - company number SC302282). The separation took effect in October 2006 with the intention that private companies would, in due course, be able to bid against CFL for the subsidy to operate CMAL's ships. In the event, however, none did at a tendering exercise carried out in 2006/07 so the operation continues to be wholly state owned with CFL having a contract running from 1 October 2007 to 30 September 2013, since extended to 2016.

In actual fact, there were two other Calmac Opscos incorporated in 2006. Cowal Ferries Ltd (Company no. SC306519) was formed to operate the Gourock to Dunoon service. This route was treated as a special case due to being the only one in the Calmac network subject to private sector competition in the shape of Western Ferries. Nobody - not even Cowal Ferries Ltd! - bid for this service in 2006/07 so CoFL were simply ordered by the Scottish Government to carry on the route on a subsidised basis.  The third Opsco was Rathlin Ferries Ltd (Company no. SC306518) incorporated to run the Ballycastle-Rathlin service with subsidy from the Northern Ireland Executive.

Western Ferries and Calmac (Cowal Ferries Ltd) share the same water between Inverclyde and Cowal - photo credit Stuart MacMahon

Also in 2006, David MacBrayne Ltd (DMB - incorporated 1928 but dormant since the late 70s) was re-awakened to act as the holding company for Northlink Ferries Ltd and the three Calmac Opscos, Calmac, Cowal and Rathlin Ferries Ltd. Note that DMB does not hold CMAL which is held directly by the Scottish Government.

CMAL also owns the Caledonian MacBrayne/Calmac brand and licenses this to CFL. CMAL is also the sole shareholder in a dormant company called Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd (company number SC308636) incorporated in 2006 solely to hold that name so no-one else could have it.

Below is a somewhat artless graphic of the structure as at the end of 2007:-

It only remains to update on developments since then:-

* Rathlin Ferries Ltd lost its contract in 2008 (although the current operator continues to charter CMAL's MV Canna).

* The European Commission wasn't happy with the way the Gourock-Dunoon tender had been handled so - to cut a long story short - it was re-tendered in 2011. It was won by another new DMB subsidiary (i.e. Calmac Opsco), Argyll Ferries Ltd (company number SC391762) which took over the route on a passenger only basis on 30 June 2011. AFL does not use the Calmac brand and just to show how illogical these things are, its two vessels are owned by DMB rather than CMAL as you'd expect.

* Northlink Ferries Ltd lost its contract to Serco in July 2012. They continue to trade under the Northlink brand (I don't know who that belongs to) with the same fleet (which doesn't belong to CMAL either - a bank, I think but mustn't digress into that now).

Calmac's houseflag on MV Lochmor at Rum in the early 1990s
This must be the dullest blog I've ever written so I'll finish it with a timeline:-

1851 - David and Alexander Hutcheson and David MacBrayne go into partnership as David Hutcheson & Co.

1878 - Hutchesons retire and David MacBrayne continues the business in his own name.

1889 - Caledonian Steam Packet Company Ltd (CSP) incorporated as a subsidiary of the Caledonian Railway.

1923 - CSP and Glasgow & South Western Railway steamer fleets merged into the London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMSR) fleet.

1928 - MacBrayne family cedes control to new company, David MacBrayne Ltd (DMB) jointly owned by the LMSR and Coast Lines.

1948 - LMSR and LNER railways and their respective steamer fleets (including 50% share of DMB) nationalised as British Railways (BR).

1949 - Arran Piers Ltd (APL) incorporated.

1957 - CSP brand revived for BR Clyde steamer services.

1965 - CSP livery changed to "monastral blue" hull and red lion rampant added to buff funnel.

1969 - CSP and BR's 50% share of DMB transferred from BR to Scottish Transport Group. STG also acquires Coast Lines 50% share of DMB. CSP livery reverts to black hull. CSP takes over APL.

1973 - CSP and DMB merge to form Calmac. CSP (inc. 1889) changes its name to Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd (Calmac). APL changes name to Caledonian MacBrayne Holdings Ltd.

late 1970s - residual independent DMB services integrated with Calmac.

1990 - STG privatised and wound up - shareholding in Calmac and (dormant) DMB passes to Secretary of State for Scotland (to Scottish Government in 1999).

2002 - Calmac in partnership with Royal Bank of Scotland takes over Orkney & Shetland services branded as Northlink (Northlink Orkney and Shetland Ferries Ltd incorporated.)

2006 - Northlink Ferries Ltd (NFL - ex Caledonian MacBrayne Holdings Ltd, ex Arran Piers Ltd) takes over O&S contract.

2006 - Calmac changes name to Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL). Its operations hived off to new operating companies (Opscos) Calmac Ferries Ltd (CFL), Cowal Ferries Ltd (Gourock-Dunoon) and Rathlin Ferries Ltd (RFL).

2006 - DMB (inc. 1928) revived to act as holding company for Opscos NFL, CFL, CoFL and RFL. 

2008 - RFL loses Rathlin contract.

2011 - Cowal Ferries Ltd's Gourock-Dunoon contract transferred to new DMB subsidiary, Argyll Ferries Ltd.

2012 - DMB subsidiary NFL loses Orkney & Shetland contract to Serco (which continues to trade under Northlink brand with same leased ships.)

2013 - CFL's contract extended to 2016.

The Waverley in 1973 - her first and last year in Calmac livery - phot credit Hugh Spicer

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Lochrosque - Part 2

Part 1 here

Looking over Achnasheen, west along Loch a' Chroisg
It's September 1914 and World War I has been underway for just a few weeks. Sir Arthur Bignold is at dinner at Lochrosque Lodge when his butler is summoned to the door. He is surprised to be confronted by an armed raiding party led by no less than the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill!

It sounds like something out of "Monarch of the Glen" but it's true. Driving past Lochrosque en route to inspect the Royal Navy base at Loch Ewe, Churchill had noticed the searchlight at the top of the tower:-

Picture by kind permission of Helen Murchison,
On arrival at Loch Ewe, he was informed of an unidentified aeroplane seen in the area (a very rare occurrence in 1914) and began to suspect the searchlight could be part of a plot to guide enemy aircraft (Zeppelins, perhaps) to the fleet in Loch Ewe. Hence the armed interruption to Sir Arthur's dinner. In fact, the searchlight was for spotting deer on the surrounding hillsides at night by the reflections of their eyes to make it the easier to hunt them the next day - unsporting, perhaps, but hardly treasonable. Unconvinced, the First Lord had the light disabled and, upon his return to London, ordered the Intelligence Services to investigate Bignold, his guests, friends and servants.

Sir Arthur Bignold died in 1918 (or 1915 in other accounts), his reputation as a patriot intact. Lochrosque Estate passed to his only child, his daughter, Mary. In 1888, whilst on holiday in Tenerife with her parents, she had met and married a local Spanish nobleman, Alberto Cologan y Cologan (the double surname betraying that both his parents were of Irish ancestry), the Marques de Torrehermosa.

At this point, the history (so far as I can discover it from online sources) becomes rather elusive but it seems from the website I got that picture of Mary Bignold from (here) that she was divorced from the Marques and had remarried by the time she inherited Lochrosque from her father. According to this website (in Spanish) about the Tenerife Irish, Torrehermosa returned to his native island but his two children with Mary - Arthur and Consuelo - remained in Britain. The former, who adopted the surname "de Cologan", eventually succeeded his father as Marques de Torrehermosa.

Meanwhile, according to the Achnasheen and Garve News and Views website (which is where I got the picture of Cabuie Lodge which originally piqued my interest in all this but which I hadn't read carefully enough when I was writing Part 1 of this article: note also the scans of the illustrated pages of the Lochrosque gamebook), it seems the western part of Lochrosque Estate, with the Lodge, was sold around 1920 to a Harley Street dentist, John MacKenzie.

He died in the 1940s following which the Lodge is said to have been sold to an American who dismantled it stone by stone and transported it to the USA. The Tenerife Irish website linked to above speaks of Lochrosque being demolished during WW2 and I must say the transporting it to be rebuilt in America has a whiff of apocryphality about it - is it not more likely it just suffered the same fate as so many similar late Victorian and Edwardian houses of simply being demolished as having become an expensive liability in changed times?

Looking east along Strath Bran - Loch a' Chroisg bottom left
In any event, Arthur de Cologan, Marques de Torrehermosa, Sir Arthur Bignold's grandson, inherited the eastern part of the estate centred on Strathbran Lodge and died in 1968. He was survived for a number of years by his widow, Irene, and I can remember in the 1980s tales of the rather eccentric and colourful "Marquesa" of Strathbran. After her death, the estate passed to cousins, the Seligman family who still own it at the present day.

Strathbran Lodge - picture credit John Allan