MOST Helensburgh people know that the Baths Inn — later Queen’s Hotel — business on East Clyde Street was started and run by steamship pioneer Henry Bell and his wife.
But not many could name the next owners of the hotel, which was converted 30 years ago into the luxury Queen’s Court flats.
However descendents of the Bells’ successors are alive and well in the town today and as far afield as Australia.
John Hendry is the great great grandson of Alexander Williamson (1814-1891) who ran the hotel from 1858 with his wife Jean Glen (1820-1891). They are pictured below.
He says: “I received pictures of the couple from another descendant, Elizabeth Bacskai in Australia, whose great grandfather was Alexander’s son James who emigrated to New Zealand originally.
“She had a locket with the two photographs, which were identified within her family from photos in an old family album. ‘Stuart Photographer, 120 Buchanan St, Glasgow and Thistlebank, Charlotte St, Helensburgh’ is printed on the backs of the photos.
“Naturally I would be interested in any more information which anyone may have about Alexander Williamson, Jean Glen, or their children.”
Elizabeth said: “James died in 1930, at the age of about 74 and was my mother's grandfather. My siblings and I found the locket — which we had never seen before — among our mother's things a couple of years after her death, and that was what sparked our family tree research.
“It was such a surprise when I found the photo of Alexander Williamson on John Hendry's website but with a different name! Since then more and more information has come to light.”
To this day many local people fondly remember the Queen’s Hotel in its heyday under manager Norman Drummond, and it was actually Alexander Williamson who changed the name from the Baths Hotel.
Henry Bell, the town’s first Provost, is believed to have opened the hotel with his wife Margaret in 1807, a year after he acquired the land.
According to the late Brian D.Osborne, librarian and author of the biography ‘The Ingenious Mr Bell’, the Inn was well established by 1810, but in May of that year Henry Bell sold the property to a Glasgow merchant, Archibald Newbigging, to raise money for his Comet steamship project.
The Bells continued to live in the Inn and manage it as it passed through a number of owners.
In 1820 and 1821 the attractive three-storey building was repeatedly advertised for sale, initially at £2,000. This was then reduced to £1,800, but there were still no takers and at the end of 1821 it was advertised for let.
Brian wrote: “For most of its time under the Bells' control the Baths Inn ran smoothly and successfully, an achievement which almost certainly owed more to Margaret's talents than to Henry's. It swiftly established a position as the town's, and the district's, leading hotel.”
Bell died in 1830, but his widow — a very popular hostess — continued to run the hotel with the assistance of nine live-in staff until her death at the age of 85 in 1856.
The following year Alexander Williamson, previously a spirit dealer and proprietor of first the King’s Arms Inn in Glasgow and then Balloch Hotel, took over and changed the name.
The Williamsons, who had 14 children although several died in infancy, ran the hotel for 33 years. It had several suites, a large coffee room, a smoking room described as magnificent, and hot and cold salt-water baths with dressing rooms.
In 1878 Alexander was caught in the City of Glasgow Bank collapse, a disaster for Scotland and for him personally, but somehow he survived bankruptcy although the number of hotel staff was reduced from ten to three.
On January 5 1891, his wife Jane died at the hotel, aged 70, and he died on November 17 that year at the age of 77. The couple are buried in a family plot in Helensburgh Cemetery.
Their descendants who remained in the burgh are thought to include the owners of the firm of Williamson Builders, one of whose managing directors, the late J.McLeod Williamson — known to all as ‘Cloudy’ — was a Provost of Helensburgh and Convener of Dunbartonshire County Council, and lived at Thistlebank.
His son Hamish competed in the popular TV game show ‘Countdown’ for the second time ten years ago.
- The picture above shows Queen's Court as it is today.