Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Old Bridge Inn, Partick

Before I return to kelping, here's a nice mid-winter's New Year image - the Old Bridge Inn at Partick:-

The picture is from the volumes of the Regality Club which contains the following description of the inn written in 1873: it reminds us that Partick was once just a village a few miles outside Glasgow:-

"... fifty years ago [the Old Bridge Inn was] the most popular house in the village. Certainly no house in Partick was better known to Glasgow merchants who were in the habit of coming to the country on a Saturday on Sunday afternoon in search of a good dinner and a quiet glass of toddy. It was then occupied by Mrs. Craig, a stout old lady, who prided herself on the quality of her liquors, as well as in the style in which she could get up a dinner or supper for a large party and her house was a model of cleanliness. Nothing could be more enticing on a winter evening than to look in through the window (not filled with bottles), and see the bright blazing fire in the kitchen, and the wall covered with shining metal measures and meat covers, reflecting the light over the whole apartment, the stone floor whitened over, the deal table scoured to a whiteness one might ake their meat off without cover."

It reads like a scene on a Christmas card! And I thought going out at the weekend for a pub lunch in the country was an invention of the 1970s - it just goes to show nothing's so new as you think and our ancestors 150 years ago did just the same as us.



You can see the inn on the OS 25 inch map of 1860 (above) at the corner of Knowe Street and Bridge Street just north of the eponymous bridge carrying the main road from Glasgow to Dumbarton over the River Kelvin. The picture at the top is taken from standing in Bridge Street looking west over the back of the building which fronts Knowe Street. If you zoom in closely on the map you can see the two external stairs visible in the picture and also the low outbuilding with the chimney at the right of the picture at a slight angle to the main block.

The picture is dated 1890 but I suspect from the dress of the two figures it depicts an earlier view. On the 1893-94 25 inch map (below), the inn is still there but the bridge has gone. The road is now carried across the Kelvin by the present day bridge (at right of the map below) built in 1878. It replaced an earlier bridge just upstream built 1800 (far right) which still stands although now closed to traffic. Knowe Street has also gone and there's a new railway bridge (centre bottom). The blanks and lack of detail to the left suggest to me there's been demolition and unfinished railway redevelopment going on at the date of the map.

I don't know when the Old Bridge Inn closed. I wonder if it was already closed or very shortly to go at the date of the above map - it looks like it's kind of hanging in limbo from the past. Is it significant it's marked as "inn" rather than "P.H." (public house)? Anyway, it no longer appears on the 1932 25 inch map where there appear to be newer buildings on the site just above the railway sidings. Note the addition of today's Benalder Street Bridge a bit to the west of the site of the original bridge.

The area has, inevitably, since been subject to post railway/industrial re-development in the last 25 years such that little of the previous layouts are still recognisable. You can compare these old maps with recent aerial imagery here (use the "Change transparency of overlay" slider). The nearest I could get to the site of the Old Bridge Inn in Google Streetview is here - it must have been right under this building:-

Looking north east - Bridge Street on the left and the Kelvin to the right

The original bridge over the Kelvin which the Old Bridge Inn stood at the north end of and was named after is the one below.

Looking upstream from the west. The Old Bridge Inn stood out of view to the left of this bridge  - Copyright Canmore

It was built about 1577 and demolished in the late 19th century to make way for railways. You've got to love the Victorians for their single-mindedness and not letting history getting in their way! Imagine if the 16th century Old Bridge of Dee were to be just casually swept aside to build the Aberdeen Western Bypass!

Finally, I suspect the "Old" in Old Bridge Inn describes the bridge rather than the inn. This is because the 16th century bridge it stood next to would have become the "Old Bridge" upon the opening of the "new" one in 1800 further upstream (which was in turn replaced by the present Partick Bridge in 1878). I hadn't intended this post to digress from inns into bridges but I couldn't help it!   
   

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Kelp Part 1 - from soda ash to iodine


The distinctive cone of an 18th century glassworks in Glasgow

Soda ash - or to give it its technical name, sodium carbonate - is a type of alkali. That's enough science already, it's a chemical used in the manufacture of glass and soap. But in the 18th century it wasn't a mineral that could be mined or quarried. It is now but back then it had to be extracted from plants found in salty environments by burning them to produce ashes rich in the chemical - hence soda ash. The best plants for this purpose were saltworts native to the coasts of the Iberian peninsula and the Canary Islands the ash of which was called barilla. Second best was seaweed found along Europe's north western seaboard which was burnt to form a mineral rich material called kelp.

Kelp burning in Scotland is said to have begun in Fife in the 1690s. It spread to Orkney in the 1720s then the west coast in the 1740s. But it really took off in the 1790s when the Napoleonic Wars closed off imports of barilla from Spain. The price rose from about £7-8 per ton mid-century to a peak of around £22 in 1800 when Scotland was producing about 20,000 tons of kelp a year.

Smoke from kelp burning features in a number of William Daniell's images, this one at Gribun on the west coast of Mull around 1815.

Kelping was a very labour intensive process as about 20 tons of wet seaweed had to be collected to produce one ton of kelp. Whole families - men, women and children - laboured for a pittance chest deep in the sea cutting weed which was then laid out to dry before being burnt in stone lined pits to produce the valuable kelp, actually a sort of crystalline slag formed when the seaweed melted in the fire then cooled and solidified rather than an ash as such.

An unusually well preserved kelp burning pit in Ardnamurchan - picture credit Heritage Ardnamurchan

Several factors conspired to cause the kelp industry to decline in the first quarter of the 19th century. First, the return of peace in Europe after Waterloo in 1815 allowed imports of barilla from Spain to resume. Second, a process to extract sodium carbonate more cheaply from common salt had been developed around the turn of the century. For a while, tariffs on the import of barilla and excise duties (the same sort of taxes we still pay today on things like petrol, alcohol and tobacco) on salt continued to keep kelp competitive but these were eventually abolished and by 1831 the price of kelp had slumped to £2 per ton.

The collapse of kelping was a disaster for the estimated 40,000 people in the north west of Scotland who had been dependent on the industry. Their coastal smallholdings (these were some of the earliest crofts) were too small to support them year round but there was no alternative employment locally. (For a modern analogy, think of the impact on mining villages of the rundown of the coal industry.) The landowners were reluctant to divide up the large farms (from some of which the kelpers' ancestors had been cleared) but even if they had, it's questionable whether there would have been enough land given the intervening population increase the (relative) prosperity of kelping had contributed to. The result was that many people were forced to emigrate around the middle of the 19th century in some of the grimmest episodes of the Highland Clearances.

Kelp burning on the Shiants by Daniell

But although the kelp industry collapsed in the 1820s, it didn't disappear completely. This is the bit I didn't know - it revived in the 1840s albeit on a much smaller scale and with the kelp now being used as a source, no longer of sodium carbonate for soap and glass making, but of iodine (used in various applications including photographic and medical) and another alkali, potassium carbonate (potash - used as a fertiliser). Glasgow became the centre of British iodine production. In 1845, about 6,000 tons of kelp were imported to the Clyde from the Western Isles, Orkney & Shetland and Ireland. By the early 1860s that figure had risen to 10,000 tons (about 60% of that from Ireland) when the price was around £4/ton. Not as much as the 20,000 tons from Scotland alone at £22/ton in 1820 but a significant industry all the same.

Edward Stanford - picture credit Sussex Photo History

In 1862, a young English chemist, Edward Stanford, published a paper with proposals to improve the production of kelp. He considered the traditional method of burning the seaweed in pits by the seashore was inefficient and wasted of far too much of the valuable potash and iodine which literally went up in smoke. He proposed that, in future, Hebridean crofters' input be confined to gathering and drying the weed which would then be heated in cast iron retorts in a nearby factory. (I don't pretend to understand all the science: you can read it here.)

Whether the retorts in which Stanford proposed to heat seaweed to form kelp looked anything like this, I don't know!

Stanford's paper happened to be noticed by the Duke of Argyll. He was the owner of Tiree which had been a kelping island par excellence during the kelp boom of the turn of the 19th century but had not really participated in the revival of the industry in the 1840s beyond "a few tons occasionally bought at a trifling price by some manufacturer in Glasgow". Unlike the owners of other former kelping islands, Argyll disdained from dealing with the people left redundant by the collapse of kelping by clearance and forced emigration, preferring instead a more gradual process of natural wastage coupled with voluntary emigration. Given Tiree's seaweed resource, he was naturally interested in the prospect of a modernised kelp industry to give much needed employment on the island so he contacted Stanford to suggest he give his ideas a trial there.

Haughty? Moi? George John Douglas Campbell, 8th Duke of Argyll 1823-1900

Thus was born The British Seaweed Company to which the Duke ("a very hard man to deal with" according to Stanford) leased a site for a factory at Middleton on the west coast of Tiree - it was spotting this on the OS maps which got me inquiring into the kelp industry in the second half of the 19th century which I had not previously known about:-

Ordnance Survey 25 inch map via National Library of Scotland

Establishing a factory in a place like Tiree in the 1860s was challenging. Stanford supervised the operation personally and you can read his review of the year 1863 - a "hand to hand uphill combat with trouble and difficulty" - on the excellent Tiree Historical Centre's An Iodhlann website here. Not only were there logistical challenges such as there being no pier at Tiree on which to land kit such as cast iron retorts or evaporating pans (one of which drifted alarmingly far out to sea in the course of being floated ashore), there was an absence of creature comforts including:

no stimulant of any kind sold in the whole island. ... We were much surprised to find no place of convenience in the island, and I was for a long time afflicted with piles and boils from the total absence of fresh meat and vegetables.

Stanford also recounted some of his experiences to the Napier Commission (the one which gave rise to the crofting legislation) in 1883. You can read them here (scroll to paragraph 44379 on page 511 of the pdf) but one particular passage is worth recounting here:-

some [of the Tiree islanders] thought the Sassenach was a Frenchman, and their ideas about Napoleon were still very warlike; indeed, every nationality claimed me in turn. Others thought my object was to dig up the dead bodies, and boil them down for the fat (there was little of that to spare then amongst the living); others, the majority, took a violent hatred against me, because they thought I was an excise officer sent to look after the illicit stills. They would do nothing for me; they would sell me nothing. Bread and meat could not be got; and much fine turbot and halibut was cut up for bait, but not for me. However this did not last long, and I soon got on very well with them; for I had promised his Grace [the Duke of Argyll] to employ the people as much as possible.  

Undaunted, the British Seaweed Company proceeded to another a similar factory at the head of Loch Eport on North Uist where they paid the landowner, Sir John Orde, £1,000 a year (about £120,000 in today's money) for the exclusive seaweed rights of the island plus the factory site and a small farm to keep the horses employed in carting the dried weed from the shore. (There was also a similar farm on Tiree).

Ordnance Survey 6 Inch Map via National Library of Scotland

North Uist was, in fact, less challenging than Tiree because at least Loch Eport was a sheltered harbour where materials could be more easily landed. The North Uist factory was also fired by locally sourced peat (600 tons a year) whereas, there being no peat on Tiree, coal had to be imported there, another arduous task on an island with no pier. As well as the hotel where "stimulants" and "conveniences" were doubtless on offer, there was also a bank at Lochmaddy. There wasn't one on Tiree which greatly complicated the otherwise mundane task of obtaining cash to pay the islanders for the weed they'd collected - in his evidence to the Napier Commission, Stanford tells of the "schedules" of Tiree sailing smacks involving waking the manager of the Clydesdale Bank at Tobermory in the middle of the night to cash a cheque. And of a clerk being sent out from Glasgow on a steamer in winter with £300 who returned with it about three weeks later after an extensive trip to just about every other island in the Hebrides apart from the one he'd been sent to!     

The kelp factory at Loch Eport

Tiree was worth persevering with, though, because the quality of the seaweed there was much higher than in the Uists. The reason for that was that the Tiree weed was washed up on rocky shores whereas the Uist weed was washed up on the sandy beaches of the west coast of these islands and the sand contaminated it. This brings us to the types of seaweed involved. The favoured species in the late 18th/early 19th century kelp boom when sodium carbonate for use in glass and soap making was the goal was weed of the fucus type. This grew in more sheltered sea lochs and was cut from the rocks at low tide in summer.

Bladder wrack - fucus vesiculosis - was one of the species preferred during the kelp boom

But the weed preferred in the second half of the 19th century when iodine was the goal was laminaria. This is commonly known as tangle but the word "kelp" also applies to this type of weed itself as well as to the ashes of weed (of any type). Tangle was torn from the seabed by winter storms and washed up on western facing shores where it was gathered. The preference for tangle in pursuit of iodine explains why the kelping industry revived in very exposed spots such as Tiree and the Uists but not more sheltered spots like Skye and Mull where fucus had been gathered.

Tangle washed up on a beach on the west coast of South Uist - picture credit Alasdair Campbell

I think I'm right in saying that the end product of the British Seaweed Company's Hebridean factories was kelp - i.e. merely the ashes of the burnt (or rather heated in retorts) seaweed rather than potash and iodine. I think the kelp was transported to the company's chemical works beside the Forth & Clyde Canal in the appropriately named Stanford Street in Clydebank for conversion into the final product. In fact, Stanford lived the rest of his life in Scotland at Glenwood House, Dalmuir (now demolished) and was a magistrate of the burgh of Clydebank.  

The timing of Stanford's Hebridean venture in the 1860s was unfortunate. The discovery of naturally occurring potash at Stassfurt in Eastern Germany at about the same time promptly put an end to the market for that particular product. Then, in the 1870s, iodine, the market for which seems to have been volatile at the best of times, began to become more cheaply available from a mineral called caliche imported from South America.  In 1876, the British Seaweed Company was in liquidation (advert for the sale of the Clydebank works here) but Stanford arranged new finance and the business was rescued and continued under the new name of North British Chemical Company. It continued to struggle, though, and by 1883 when he was appearing before the Napier Commission, Stanford admitted that his landlords had reduced his rent and that he would continue the business "as long as it can be carried on without loss" - when pressed by the Commissioners about whether that was imminent, he was coy. His North Uist landlord, Sir John Orde, told the Commission there simply hadn't been any tangle (laminaria) washed up on the shores of that island that year.

Some islanders preferred to continue burning their own kelp and selling that to Stanford rather than just gathering weed for him. This George Washington Wilson photo shows kelp being burnt on North Uist in the 1880s - picture credit Am Baile 

But if he'd been guarded to the Commission about his financial prospects, Stanford was still optimistic about the prospects for new discoveries. In fact, in the same year, 1883, he patented a new chemical extracted from seaweed, alginate. Unfortunately, no viable commercial application for this had been achieved by Stanford's death in 1899. His North British Chemical Company had already been merged with the United Alkali Company formed in 1890 to group smaller family owned chemical companies - paradoxically, one of the UAC's focus areas was manufacturing sodium carbonate by the process which had put the original kelp boom out of business!

Whether or not directly related to the UAC takeover and Stanford's death, I don't know but the Tiree kelp  factory closed in 1901. There's a picture of it after closure here and it was demolished in 1941 with its materials being used in the foundations of the airfield on Tiree. I presume the Loch Eport factory on North Uist closed around the same time but it was not used in the construction of Benbecula aerodrome and still stands today. It's not a listed building or on any tourist trails but I think it should be:-

Google Streetview here - if you turn to your right, the cottage behind you is called Kelp Cottage

By restricting imports of rival raw materials, WW1 provided a temporary filip for the kelp industry but otherwise it seems to have just bumped along the bottom during the first few decades of the 20th century. Then, in the early 1930s, a trade war between Japan (supplier of seaweed) and Chile (supplier of iodine bearing minerals) slashed the price of iodine. Kelping looked to be finished forever except for one small ember left smouldering and destined to carry the seaweed business on. But as this is getting overlong, I'll continue the story in a subsequent post.

Kelp burning on Tiree in the 1930s - picture credit isleoftiree.com

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

McCaig's Tower

As a lawyer (retired), I'm naturally interested in legal cases that took place along the Kyles and Western Isles. Apart from the points of law involved, case reports often reveal interesting historical detail. Thus, I've written before about the legal sequels to the wreck of the brigantine Aid of Dundee off the coast of Harris in 1819 (here); the sinking of the Islay mail steamer Lochiel in 1960 (here); and a dispute between rival ferry operators across Kyle Akin (here). So here's another episode from the legal archives, this time concerning McCaig's Tower, the great rotunda which crowns Oban's skyline.

Photo credit - Gerhard Lehner

The tower was built in the 1890s by Lismore born local bank manager, John Stuart McCaig. You can read about its construction in this article on Undiscovered Scotland. The article also speculates about what more McCaig may have intended for the site before he died just as the Tower was being completed in 1902. Well, the litigation which ensued from the terms of his will provides the answers.

One of a family of nine none of whom married, Stuart McCaig lived at the time of his death with his two surviving siblings, his brother Duncan and sister Catherine. They lived at John Square, in Oban (described in the Ordnance Survey name book as "a superior block of building on the west side of George Street", it no longer exists having been replaced by a parade of shops with the same name: see here) which Stuart and Duncan owned jointly. Duncan died a month after Stuart leaving Catherine as the sole heir to both of them.

Plaque above the entrance to the Tower - picture credit Andrew Bowden

Stuart McCaig left an estate consisting of real estate yielding an annual rent of around £2,500 (about £300,000 in today's money) plus moveable estate (banks accounts, stocks, shares etc.) of about £10,000 (around £1 million today). But all Catherine was left out of this fortune was a life annuity of £300 (£35,000 today). The rest of Stuart's estate was left in trust for the following purposes:-

erecting monuments and statues for myself, brothers, and sisters on the tower or circular building called the Stuart M'Caig Tower, situated on the Battery Hill above Oban, the making of these statues to be given to Scotch sculptors from time to time as the necessary funds may accumulate for that purpose; also that artistic towers be built on the hillock at the end of Aird's Park, in the parish of Muckairn, and on other prominent points on the Muckairn estate, and on other prominent places on the various estates; such in particular on the Meolreoy of Balagown, lying north-east of Kilachonish farmhouse; my wish and desire is to encourage young and rising artists, and for that purpose prizes be given for the best plans of the proposed statues, towers, etc.,

In a codicil signed a few months before his death, McCaig added the following detail:-

I have to describe and explain that I particularly want the trustees to erect on the top of the wall of the tower I built in Oban, statues in large figures of all my five brothers and of myself, namely, Duncan, John, Dugald, Donald, Peter, and of my father Malcolm and of my mother Margaret, and of my sisters Jean, Catherine, Margaret and Ann, and that these statues be modelled after photographs, and where these may not be available that the statues may have a family likeness to my own photograph or any other member of my foresaid family and that those statues will cost not less than one thousand pounds sterling [£115,000 today].

Oban in the 1870s before McCaig's Tower had been built - picture credit National Galleries of Scotland

Stuart McCaig had also specified in his will that his trustee was to be Glasgow University but that the trust was to be managed locally by his lawyer, Donald McGregor. The latter had a concern that the will (which had been written by McCaig personally) contained two mistakes which a lawyer wouldn't have made - it didn't say what was to happen to Stuart's moveable estate and didn't say what was to happen to the real estate after the towers and statues had been paid for. So McGregor got Catherine - as Stuart's next of kin who would inherit anything not disposed of by his will - to sign a "Deed of Assignation and Corroboration" whereby she agreed that the towers and statues were to be paid for out of the moveable as well as the real estate and that, after the statues and towers had been erected on the two sites specifically mentioned in the will, the whole remaining estate (real and moveable) was to be applied towards endowing a new chair at Glasgow University to be called the John Stuart McCaig Chair for teaching "sculpture, painting, music, or other fine art or kindred objects".   

Not long after, Catherine began to have doubts about all this. In the ensuing litgation, she alleged she had asked the lawyer, Mr MacGregor, to see Stuart's will but he had refused. Then, even more audaciously, the lawyer asked her to sign another document making over the share in the house at John Square she had inherited from Duncan in return for the right to live there rent free for the rest of her life. This she refused to do and instead raised court actions against the University and McGregor to set aside the Deed of Assignation and Corroboration (which, she alleged, she had signed only because she was elderly, in frail health and grieving the recent deaths of her brothers and had lacked independent legal advice) and Stuart's will and codicil itself.

A view of Oban of Oban showing McCaig's Tower at an early stage of its construction in the 1890s. This is a photo I took of a photo hanging in the Calmac Terminal Building at Oban

In fairness to the memory of Donald McGregor, the legal case reports don't reveal whether Catherine McCaig's allegations of his questionable ethics were proved. This is because the reports are more concerned with the points of law arising than the actual outcomes for the parties. All we're told is that the court decided there was a stateable case fit to be sent for trial by jury. We're not even told if the Deed of Assignation and Corroboration was, in the end, set aside although I think it must have been or the parallel case to set aside the will and codicil could not have proceeded. In regard to that, Catherine's lawyers realised that, while Stuart had undoubtedly been somewhat eccentric, they could not go so far as to claim he was mentally unbalanced rendering his will vulnerable to challenge on that account. So they had to attack it on the more subtle ground that the detail of the towers and statues scheme was too vaguely expressed in the will to be put into effect - for example, were the eleven statues of the McCaigs to cost £1,000 in total or £1,000 each?

The first judge consulted dismissed this argument and upheld the will, albeit not without some hesitation. But ruling that the intention was that the statues be £1,000 each, he remarked that the towers and statues scheme:

may be fantastic, and may result in what most people will consider waste of money. But the money was Mr. M'Caig's, and the project is neither, so far as I can see, contrary to public policy or morals, nor [referring to a recent case in which a bequest "for the advancement and diffusion of the science of phrenology" had been upheld] more vague and indefinite in scope than some of the schemes which have been held to be within the recognition of the law.

Inside the Tower at dusk - picture credit Andras Sobester

Catherine McCaig appealed. This time her lawyers deployed a different legal argument, namely, that one can only disinherit one's nearest of kin by a legacy which benefits someone else or the public at large whereas Stuart's towers and statues scheme was of no benefit to anyone. With this the four appeal judges agreed: the incidental benefits in the shape of the prizes rising young artists stood to win didn't count. Nor did this fall within the recognized exceptions of bequests for memorials to historical personages or events or for "beautifying or embellishing a town or neighbourhood" which are of public benefit.

On this narrow technical ground (that the towers and statues scheme didn't benefit anyone), the appeal judges rested their judgement overturning the will. But it didn't prevent two of them expatiating on their personal views of Stuart McCaig and his scheme. The Lord Justice Clerk said:-

He seems to have been possessed of an inordinate vanity as regards himself and his relatives, so extreme as to amount almost to a moral disease, though quite consistent with sanity.

And Lord Kyllachy said:-

I consider that, if it is not unlawful, it ought to be unlawful, to dedicate ... the whole income of a large estate ... to objects ... which have no other purpose or use than that of perpetuating at great cost, and in an absurd manner, the idiosyncrasies of an eccentric testator. ... Indeed, I suppose it would be hardly contended to be [lawful] if the purposes, say of the trust here, were to be slightly varied, and the trustees were, for instance, directed to lay the truster's estate waste, and to keep it so; or to turn the income of the estate into money, and throw the money yearly into the sea; or to expend the income in annual or monthly funeral services in the testator's memory; or to expend it in discharging from prominent points upon the estate, salvoes of artillery upon the birthdays of the testator, and his brothers and sisters.





Thus did Catherine McCaig eventually inherit her brother's fortune except that it wasn't mere avarice which had motivated her to challenge his will. Rather, according to one of the appeal judges, it was because she did not wish to see her family ridiculed by being immortalised in such an extravagant manner. Thus, when she, a spinster with no known surviving relatives at all, made her own will in 1908 she provided for a modest statue of her brother Major Duncan McCaig to be put up in front of the Volunteer Drill Hall in Breadalbane Street in which he had been active. That done, she directed her trustees to hold the remainder of her estate and apply the annual income in the following order: (1) upkeep of Duncan's statue; (2) a supplement of £20 per annum to the stipend of the United Free Church Minister of her native Lismore; (3) £20pa to Oban Town Council to spend on coal for "deserving poor people in Oban"; (4) annuities of £20/30 to three friends; and (5) the rest towards:-

the assistance of the education and maintenance of Gaelic-speaking students at Scottish schools, universities, or church colleges, in providing lectures calculated to further the knowledge, use, and study of Gaelic language and literature

and finally for erecting and equipping a building in Oban to be called the McCaig Memorial Institute.

But then Catherine - mindful perhaps that the bulk of her estate (worth about £30,000 or about £3 million today) had been inherited from Stuart and that she had only got this because she had challenged his towers and statues scheme and that it might be only be fair give his pet schemes a chance before implementing her own - had a change of heart. She made a codicil to her will. This specified that, after the statue of Duncan had been provided for but before anything was spent on UF Ministers, deserving poor, friends or Gaelic education, McCaig's Tower was to be fenced off to exclude the public, its interior leveled off and bronze statues costing not less than £1,000 each of herself and her parents and eight siblings be erected inside. As that was estimated to absorb the whole of the trust income for at least eight years, the Lismore UF congregation, Oban Town Council and the three friends, all of whose annual payments would be delayed, challenged the codicil in court.

Lismore United Free Church as seen in Google Streetview

This time, the legal debate centred on the question of whether Catherine's statues scheme fell within the recognised exception to the rule that a trust must benefit someone (or the general public) which allows a family memorial "on a customary and rational scale" (usually in a cemetery) or a proportionate statue or monument (usually somewhere else) to a national or local celebrity. The judges consulted were unanimously of the opinion it did not. Describing it as a "sheer waste of money", Lord Salvesen continued:-

The prospect of Scotland being dotted with monuments to obscure persons who happened to have amassed a sufficiency of means, and cumbered with trusts for the purpose of maintaining these monuments in all time coming, appears to me to be little less than appalling.

These comments in the written judgement were, however, comparatively mild compared with the Lord Justice Clerk's remarks in court alluding to a dramatic recent turn of events in the course of WWI as reported in the Glasgow Herald (page 11, 2nd column) :-

It's a good thing [Catherine's statues scheme] is limited to statues and not to obelisks such as are set up. These things are monstrous. ... It would be useful if Zeppelins could come and knock them down. 

View from McCaig's Tower over Oban Harbour - picture credit Oban ships and scenery

In light of the judicial mockery of the McCaigs, therefore, it's pleasing to record that Catherine's trust for the promotion of Gaelic was duly set up and remains very much in existence today - you can read about it here. The United Free Church of Lismore didn't merge with the Church of Scotland in 1929 as most UF congregations did but carried on as a "UF Continuing" congregation until it closed in 1970 - read about that here. And all I could find out about the statue of Major Duncan McCaig (which the courts did permit) was this selfie on Instagram:-

Duncan on the left: Picture credit NS Design Ltd

But I don't know where the statue is - the Corran Halls perhaps? I do know the site of the Volunteer Drill Hall where it was originally to have been put up is now occupied by two blocks of 60s looking flats at 12-14 Breadalbane Street so perhaps Duncan was moved to his present location when they were built.

Which just leaves to be located the "Meolreoy of Balagown" which Stuart McCaig identified as an eligible site for one of his artistic towers. I think it must be the hill called Meall Reamhar on the OS maps on the west shore of Loch Nell between Ballygowan and Killiechoinich Farms about 2 miles south east of Oban. I don't know that area but from a virtual drive round in the Google Streetview car, the Meolreoy doesn't seem to be a very prominent feature - maybe an artistic tower is just what it needs.


Monday, September 10, 2018

St Catherine's Ferry

As a child in the late 60s, we always went on our Easter holidays to Kishorn in Wester Ross. The drive up from Edinburgh involved crossing the Ballachulish and Strome Ferries and in some respects this was my favourite part of the holiday! I used to pore over Ordnance Survey one inch maps looking at the routes of similar ferries and was always curious about the ferry across Loch Fyne between St Catherine's and Inveraray which, at about a mile and a half, was so much longer than the normal ferry crossing of about a quarter-half a mile.

I was also intrigued by this being a "Ferry F" - a foot ferry with a single pecked line on the OS map as opposed to the more familiar vehicular ferry ("Ferry V") marked by a double pecked line. I knew fine what a vehicular ferry looked like ...

Strome Ferry - picture credit foundin_a_attic

... but wasn't very sure what this foot ferry must look like considering the only foot ferry I'd ever seen was the one sculled across the 40 yard wide River Almond at Cramond which would obviously not be very suitable for crossing Loch Fyne.

Cramond Ferry - picture credit National Museums of Scotland

In 1973, we decided to go to Inveraray for our Easter holidays. Disappointment at going to a destination which did not involve a car having to be driven on to a boat was countered by the knowledge that at least my curiosity about this enigmatic foot ferry would be requited and a trip across it would likely be on the cards.

Alas, despite still being marked on the then latest edition of the OS 1 inch map (pictured above), the St Catherine's Ferry had been discontinued some years earlier. Presumably, everybody was now travelling by car or bus and it was quicker to go by road round the head of Loch Fyne. But in the pre-internal combustion engine era, when travel by water could, in the right weather, be a perfectly viable alternative to travel on foot or horseback, the St Catherine's ferry had been a vital link in the communication network between Glasgow and the Clyde and Inveraray and the parts of Argyll beyond. Look at the map below:-


In the second half of the 18th century, as now, the land route to Inveraray was the military road (built 1743-49 by Major Caulfeild, not General Wade) from Dumbarton up Loch Lomond, through Arrochar and across the Rest & Be Thankful then round the head of Loch Fyne - red route on the map. But an alternative in these days was the green route using the ferry across Loch Long at Portincaple (I'm not exactly sure where the west terminus of that ferry was, whether it was on the opposite shore of Loch Long or went up to Lochgoilhead but I better save that for another blog) and the St Catherine's Ferry across Loch Fyne.

The Rest & Be Thankful before it was realigned to today's route in (I think - another blog topic?) the late 1930s

The alternative "sea routes" to Inveraray via the St Catherine's Ferry were given a boost by the construction of new roads from Lochgoilhead to Ardno on the east side of Loch Fyne (green) and from Ardentinny to Strachur (yellow) by the Highland Roads & Bridges Commission in 1809 and 1810.  The Memorial to the HR&BC petitioning their assistance for the Lochgoilhead road is instructive:-

And supposing the traveller to start at Inveraray to ferry over at St. Catherine's, the distance from St. Catherine's to Loch-Goil-Head is not eight miles. The advantages of this road are obvious; travellers may reach Loch-Goil-Head from Inveraray in less than three hours. Foot travellers are generally encumbered with heavy burthens, but by having a hired cart at St Catherine's and another at Loch-Goil-Head, they will be enabled to proceed with ease and expedition.

In the following decade, steam navigation began on the Clyde and, in 1825, The Lochgoil & Lochlong Steamboat Company was formed to sail from Greenock to Lochgoilhead via calls at Ardentinny and Portincaple amongst other places - there's much more about these steamers on the wonderful Dalmadan website. Another alternative was by coach from Dunoon and then steamer up Loch Eck and a sail on any of these steamers followed by a coach trip along relatively new roads to St Catherine's must have held considerable attractions compared with struggling up the old military road over "the Rest". Another factor which would have generated traffic for the St Catherine's Ferry in times gone by was that Inveraray was then more of an "entry point" to north Argyll than nowadays with more travellers going north via the Port Sonachan ferry across Loch Awe (brown route on the map).

"Lochgoilhead from the Steamer" - an 1848 sketch by J F Campbell showing the coach preparing to depart for St Catherine's - picture credit Wikipedia

So much for its connections, what of the infrastructure of the ferry? On the St Catherine's side (go for a virtual walk round in Google Streetview here), the pier was built by the Highland Roads & Bridges Commission in 1818-20 to a design by Thomas Telford. The note in the Commissioners' 1821 Report speaks for itself:-

ST. CATHERINE'S FERRY PIER - Opposite to Inverary on Loch Fine [sic.], a Ferry Pier, Ninety Yards in extent, has been built at St.Catherine's, equidistant from the Northern Terminations of the Strachur and Ardnoe Roads [from Ardentinny and Lochgoilhead respectively], and is an example of great convenience obtained at the moderate expense of £166, one half of which was paid by Captain Campbell of St. Catherine's, the Proprietor. Many such Piers would be highly serviceable in the County of Argyll, indented and intersected as it is by the sea, and by fresh water Lakes, in all directions.

From the HR&BC's 9th Report, 1821

Opposite the pier was that other essential requisite of a ferry in centuries gone by, an inn. It had a sign above the door claiming to have been granted a charter in 1460 as a "wayfarer's tavern": no doubt there had been a hostelry on the site since before 1756 when the main block of the present building was built but I'm not sure how credible the 15th century claim is. In 1864, the poet Alexander Smith wrote in "A Summer in Skye":-

The only thing likely to interest the stranger at the little hostelry of St Catherine's is John Campbell, the proprietor of the same, and driver of the coach from the inn to the steamboat wharf at Loch Goil. ... He has not started on his journey a hundred yards when, from something or another, he finds you occasion for a story, in which he is sure to proiduce a roar of laughter from those alongside of, and behind, him. ... Every one who tarries at St. Catherine's should get himself driven across to Loch Goil by John Campbell, and should take pains to procure a seat on the box beside him. When he returns to the south, he can relate over again the stories he hears, and make himself the hero of them.

The St. Catherine's to Lochgoilhead coach in Hell's Glen - picture credit Edinphoto.org

Today, sadly, the inn at St Catherine's is empty and deteriorating having been closed for about ten years and on the Buildings at Risk Register.

The St Catherine's Hotel in happier times - picture credit Tour Scotland Photographs & Videos

On the Inveraray side, there's still a house called "Ferry Land" ("land" used there as the old Scottish word for a tenement or multi-storey building). Dating to 1777, this was previously the Ferry Inn and also the ferryman's house.

Ferryland, Inveraray via Google Streetview

The St Catherine's Ferry belonged to Inveraray Burgh Council. What I mean by that is not that the boats belonged to the Council but that Inveraray owned the exclusive right to operate a ferry across Loch Fyne at this location which nobody else could set up in competition with. Under Scottish law, ferry rights usually belonged to the landowner(s) on one or both sides of ferry but could belong to a third party in the same way that the right to fish for salmon in Scotland does not necessarily belong to the owner of the banks of the river or loch concerned. I tried to explain this esoteric point of law in the context of the Kyleakin Ferry to Skye (which belonged jointly to the owners on either side before being sold to the Highland Railway when they were building their railway to Kyle) in this post. Anyway, as was the common practice, Inveraray Council didn't operate the ferry itself but leased the right to a tenant. A Report on the assets of Scottish burghs compiled in 1835 noted:-

[St Catherine's] ferry for many years was of no consequence as an object of revenue; it being granted rent-free, on condition merely that the tenant should provide sufficient boats and hands for the accommodation of the public. The rent presently paid is £40; the first rent charged was £9.

Since I started writing this post, I've discovered an article published just last month [August 2018] about the ferry in the Argyllshire Advertiser. Aptly titled "The sea unites - the story of Inveraray's ferry", you can read it here. In case that link goes dead, there's a screen grab below:-


Amongst other interesting snippets, the article tells us that St Catherine's ferry had been equipped with steam vessels as early as 1827 and that the tenant of the ferry from 1836 to 1865 was the Lochgoil and Loch Long Steamboat Company. In 1865, the ferry was taken over by the Inveraray Ferry & Coach Company who introduced a new 60 foot iron paddle steamer called the Fairy. This link contains a very small picture of her and also hints that the ferry passed through the hands of other companies such as Inveraray & St Catherine's Ferry Co. Ltd and Inveraray Steam Ferry Co. before being taken back in hand by Inveraray Burgh Council in 1892 with a new steamer called the Fairy II. Below is a rather grainy picture of the Fairy I - there's a clearer version of it on the Dalmadan website here

Picture credit Argyllshire Advertiser

It seems that rowing boats continued to operate alongside the steamboats, the operation of St Catherine's Ferry in 1875 being described in Murray's Handbook for Travellers in Scotland thus:-

At St. Catherine's (small Inn), is a Ferry to Inveraray. 2 m. [miles] by rowing boat in 1/2 hour; and by steamer (fare 1s.) twice a day in 10 minutes. Coach to Lochgoilhead.

One of the steam ferries - possibly the Fairy II at St Catherine's Pier - photo credit Graham Thomas

The article in the Argyllshire Advertiser tells us that the Fairy II was wrecked in a storm in 1912 (not while on passage we assume) following which the St Catherine's Ferry was operated by a succession of motor launches (see the article for more detail) before it ceased in 1963. In retrospect it seems odd it lasted so long - the railway to Oban opened in 1880 must have taken away some of the the traffic passing through Inveraray for points further north and the improvement of the A83 at the Rest and be Thankful (which I think was in 1937) makes it curious that the ferry resumed after the War.

As ever, if anyone can add any detail or memories of the St Catherine's Ferry, then do leave a comment but I leave you with a picture of a Loch Fyne skiff, a type of herring fishing boat a motorised example of which the AA article tells us operated the ferry during the 20th century - maybe my mental picture of the Cramond ferry was not so wide of the mark after all!

Two skiffs at Tarbert - picture credit ThistleDhu1