Couple gave windows in thanksgiving

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THREE SETS of stained glass windows from the demolished St Bride’s Church are displayed in Helensburgh Library . . . but only two of them are memorials.

The windows — all the work of artist Viola Paterson — were found by Helensburgh Heritage Trust and restored by Scotland’s leading glass artist Brian Hutchison in 2001.

Two are memorials to St Bride’s former minister the Rev John Baird, father of John Logie Baird, and the Paterson family.

The third, which was installed in the former West King church in the early summer of 1924, was a gift from Leonard Gow JP (left) of Camis Eskan and his wife Mabel in thanksgiving for the safe return of their sons from World War One.

Dr Gow was clearly not one for publicity, as his gift received only two paragraphs in the Helensburgh and Gareloch Times. And when he died twelve years later there was neither a death notice nor an obituary.

He was, however, a very important and interesting person, whose two decades as principal tenant of the imposing mansion on the eastern outskirts of the town surely deserved some local recognition.

He was born in Glasgow on January 14 1859, the son of a shipowner of the same name and his wife Jessie MacLeod, daughter of a publisher.

After leaving school he spent 1884 studying moral philosophy at Glasgow University, returning to receive an honorary LL.D. degree in 1934.

The year of his birth his father, Leonard Gow (1824–1910), inherited the Glasgow-based Allan C.Gow and Company shipping firm from his brother.

Recognizing the advantages of steam over sail and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, his father formed the Glen Line to trade between London, Singapore, China, and Japan.

Leonard Jnr. eventually became a partner in Allan C.Gow and, following his father’s retirement, expanded the firm and renamed it Gow, Harrison and Company.

He also became a director of Burmah Oil and various other companies, and he was a leading and highly respected figure in the Glasgow business world.

A noted philanthropist, he founded the Leonard Gow Lectureship on Medical Diseases of Infancy and Childhood at Glasgow University in 1919.

He was a great friend of the artist Muirhead Bone, younger brother of Helensburgh resident, sea captain and author David Bone (later Sir David), and collecting art and porcelain was his passion.

He was considered to be one of Glasgow’s greatest art collectors, and his exceptional Chinese collection consisted primarily of Kangxi-period porcelains. It also included examples of Yongzheng and Qianlong porcelains, jades, and other hardstones.

The collection was housed at Camis Eskan (right), and it gained international recognition through a series of ten articles by R.L.Hobson in Burlington Magazine and through Hobson’s catalogue, which Dr Gow published privately in a limited edition of three hundred copies in 1931.

He lent fifty-six pieces to the 1935–36 International Exhibition of Chinese Art held at the Royal Academy in London.

Just months after his death in 1936, an exhibition of his entire collection was held at Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow.

Alfred H.Caspary of New York purchased the greater part of the collection of Chinese porcelain in 1938 and bequeathed more than four hundred pieces to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1955. Sotheby’s auctioned the remainder of the Gow collection in 1943.

His collection of well over 400 prints by Muirhead Bone, which included very many rare impressions, was presented by his trustees to the Hunterian Art Gallery at Glasgow University.

He married his wife Mabel Harper in October 1889 at Sands Point, a village at the northernmost tip of the Cow Neck Peninsula on the north shore of Long Island in New York, in the United States.

The couple went on a honeymoon tour of the Western States, then returned to Britain on a liner.

They had two sons who both served in the army in the First World War, Captain Leonard Harper of the Queen’s Own Yeomanry and Lieutenant John Wesley Harper of the Scots Guards.

In 1915 the couple rented the historic Camis Eskan mansion and its extensive grounds, up the hill on the east side of Colgrain, from owner Colin Campbell, who lived in Renfrewshire.

They commissioned well-known Helensburgh architect Alexander Nisbet Paterson to modernise and extend the building.

It was Dr Gow’s home until his death in the mansion at the age of 77 on November 11 1936. His wife also died there, on June 23 the following year, aged 70.

It was to the architect’s daughter Viola, still a student at Glasgow School of Art, that they turned to create the stained glass windows (left).

The right half of the windows was dedicated by Mrs Gow and shows a seated Madonna with the Child on her knee and St Joseph standing behind them holding a lantern in an Italian landscape.

In the left half dedicated by Dr Gow there are three bearded male figures. One has a hand raised in blessing, another has his hands crossed over his chest, while the the third kneels in an attitude of prayer in the direction of the Holy Family who face them.

At the foot of both windows are borders decorated with flowers, insects and birds.

Butterflies and dragonflies, symbols of rebirth and resurrection, and the birds, symbols of the spirit, fly freely among the flowers. The predominant colour is blue.

The inscription says that the windows were placed “in humble thanksgiving to God for the safe return” from the war of their sons, the younger of whom rose to become a Brigadier.