Loch mansion had colourful residents

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A MANSION called Arddarroch is in use as offices in the middle of the Finnart Ocean Terminal on Loch Longside . . . and one of its early owners was in the centre of a huge row over landscape pollution.

It has a magnificent backdrop of the rugged Argyll's Bowling Green and the Arrochar Alpss, but now has the trappings of modern industry all around.

The setting is appropriate, as one of the former owners was a leading industrialist, right at the heart of the Industrial Revolution.

There is a dark legacy from this man’s endeavours, which reverberates to this very day, and he has been researched by local historian and Helensburgh Heritage Trust director Alistair McIntyre, to whom I am most grateful for the details which follow.

The industrialist was John White, and his vast chemical works at Shawfield, near Rutherglen, caused such massive pollution of the surrounding landscape that it continues today to make headlines in the national press.

As recently as March 2019, the Herald newspaper devoted its front-page headlines and two whole inside pages to the continuing saga of problems with waste from the Shawfield works.

On this occasion, there was particular concern over contamination of waterways, and parallels were drawn with the Hollywood film about environmental campaigner Erin Brockovich. So who was John White, and how did he come to possess Arddarroch?

The story begins with John White's father, also John, who in 1810 joined a firm at Shawfield which made soap and soda.

The firm struggled to survive, and probably around 1818 it was bought over by John Snr's father, Dr White, a medical practitioner in Paisley, on behalf of his son. In 1820, John Snr's younger brother, James, joined the firm, and so the name J & J White and Co. of Shawfield came into being.

Not long after, in 1825, a crucial business decision was made, that the firm would include the production of potassium bichromate as part of its portfolio.

Manufacture of this chemical proved so successful that by around 1840, it was decided to focus almost exclusively on this substance which was so much in demand.

Bichromate of Potassium had many industrial applications. It was used in dyeing, bleaching, tanning, and in paints. It had applications in batteries, in photography, and in medicine.

To this day, chromium-based finishing paints have important roles in the automobile and aerospace industries.

Production of this chemical enabled the Whites to become extremely wealthy. But there was also a down side to all this success.

Potassium bichromate is in a class of substances characterised by chromium in its hexavalent form. These substances can have very bad effects on the human body for those regularly exposed to them.

They are known carcinogens. Worse, production of the chemical also led to massive amounts of chromium waste, which was dumped at various sites around the factory. Its continuing presence has caused great concern down the years.

The John White who bought Arddarroch was born in Glasgow in January 1810, the eldest son of the John White who first ran the firm. He joined the firm in 1833, became a partner in 1840, and became head of the firm in 1851 on his father's retirement and the death of his uncle James that same year.

John Jnr had a younger brother, James, and in the momentous year of 1851 James came aboard the firm as a partner, concentrating on the commercial side.

The purchase of Arddarroch took place in 1858. The house dates from 1838, when John McVicar, a wealthy Glasgow businessman, bought 35 acres of land from Sir James Colquhoun of Luss, and built a fine dwelling, the name translating from the Gaelic as height or promontory of the oaks.

McVicar was related by marriage to the proprietor of the nearby mansion house of Finnart, built in 1835 for John Anderson, a successful Glasgow-based merchant.

Anderson was married to Frances Burn, while McVicar's wife was Isabella Burn, her sister. Isabella and Frances were sisters of the famous Victorian architect, William Burn, and he was the architect of both mansion houses.

There were alterations at Arddarroch carried out by David Bryce in 1846-47, while in 1904, the firm of Honeyman, Keppie and Mackintosh was engaged to carry out further substantial work — and Charles Rennie Mackintosh is thought to have been the main architect involved.

Some demolition took place in the second half of the 20thcentury, when much of the 1904 work is thought to have been lost. The building is ‘B’ listed.

All seemed set fair for John McVicar, who had strong business ties with Manchester and Buenos Aires, but disaster struck in 1857-58, with the failure of the Western Bank of Scotland.

Not only did McVicar have money invested in the bank, he had also been an extraordinary director in the 1840s. He was forced to give up Arddarroch, and John White was the next owner. The family connection to the mansion was to be a long one.

Ten years after his purchase of Arddarroch, John White married Amelia Susannah Brooman, widow of Richard Archibald Brooman of Twickenham. The couple bought a residence at 53 Princes Gate, Kensington, London, from where John acted as advisor to the Shawfield works, until his death in 1881.

Two years afterwards, his redoubtable widow married for a third time, her groom being Lord Henry Charles Gordon Lennox, third son of the Duke of Richmond. Matters now became complicated.

The marriage of John and Amelia had produced no children, although Amelia's first marriage had seen the birth of a son, Richard Charles Brooman, in 1853.

In his will, John White left Arddarroch and much of his estate to his stepson on the condition that he add White to his name. It was thus that Richard Charles Brooman White became the proud possessor of Arddarroch.

In 1882, Richard married Lily Geraldine Angela Schuster, grand-daughter of the 5thEarl of Orkney, and the young couple set up home at Arddarroch.

Richard Charles achieved distinction in a number of fields. He was a noted orchid grower, perhaps the chief authority on the subject in Scotland.

He was described as excelling in photography — on at least one occasion, an exhibition of his work was held at the Victoria Hall in Helensburgh, when prints could be obtained, with the proceeds going to the local infirmary.

The census of 1891 reveals the lifestyle enjoyed by the family during this period.  

Both parents were absent, with family members comprising their children Charles (7), born in England, Lily (6), born in Rhu parish, and Aimee (3) and Eileen (5 months), both of whom were born in Edinburgh.

The children were in the care of a governess, and eleven household servants. Separate dwellings included a number of married and outdoor staff and their families, with several lodgers.

William Hamilton, who was born in Garelochhead in 1889, left an eye witness account of the family at the turn of the 20thcentury.

In his memoirs, recently published as a book, he writes: “Arddarroch and Finnart are the two mansions that stand opposite opposite each other where the road joins Loch Long about three miles from Garelochhead.

“They had beautiful grounds, and employed a large number of both indoor and outdoor staff. R.Brooman White was the owner of Arddarroch, and spent at least half of each year there with his wife and family.

“He was a wealthy man, and his hobbies were shooting, motoring and orchid growing. He had a staff of four for the orchids, and many more for the outside work.

“Sometimes I had the opportunity to peep into the orchid houses and see some of the magnificent blooms, many of which went to London.

“He was the first in the district to own a motor car. Among the first I remember seeing was a big red Mercedes of sixty horsepower, and it used to race up Whistlefield Hill like an express train, making a noise like a machine gun in action.

“He had one of the first Argyll cars, and then there was a big Daimler which he had for some years. The Whites were, I suppose, aristocrats, and the family was brought up as such, and had little to do with the village folk.”

Despite a privileged lifestyle, Richard and Lily had their times of sorrow. Their second son, Ronald George, born in 1892, had the unfortunate distinction of being the first man from Garelochhead and district to fall in the Great War, being killed near Ypres on May 15 1915, when he was a 2ndLieutenant with the Royal Irish Fusiliers.

The best-known of the Brooman White family is undoubtedly Richard Charles Brooman White (right), son of Richard and Lily's eldest child, Charles James.

Born in 1912, and educated at Eton and Cambridge, young Richard gained a good degree, and began a career as a journalist, writing on politics and foreign affairs for Scottish newspapers. He also became a broadcaster on BBC radio.

On the outbreak of World War Two in 1939, Richard was mobilised as a 2ndLieutenant in the Dunbartonshire Light Anti- Aircraft Unit, Royal Artillery.

In 1940, he resigned his commission on health grounds, and joined the Security Services, including MI5. During this period, he successfully recommended the detention of Arthur Donaldson, who was suspected of being ready to form a Quisling-style government in the event of a Nazi invasion of the UK.

In 1943, he rejoined the Army, when he served in the Intelligence Corps, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Post-war, although he had no known active connection with the chemical works at Shawfield, he stood as Conservative candidate for Rutherglen in the 1950 General Election. Although defeated, he stood again for the same constituency in the General Election a year later, when he was successful.

His talent was immediately recognised, and he rose through the ranks, his speciality being the steel industry.

As a parliamentarian, he spearheaded the defence of Kim Philby, who had been accused of being a Soviet agent. Later, however, the accusations were found to be true.

In 1960 Richard became Under Secretary of State for Scotland, but once more, ill-health overtook him, and he was forced to stand down in December 1963. He died the following month.

In 1957, Richard had married Rosalie Mary Rees, and this resulted in the birth of two children, Charles James and Alexander Richard, and it is through them that the Brooman White line continues. But the family link with Arddarroch ended several years earlier.

In early 1942, with a U.S. Navy base already at Rosneath, the Americans decided to build an oil jetty and storage tanks at Finnart, to be linked not only to Rosneath, but also to existing oil facilities at Bowling and Old Kilpatrick, from where there was an existing pipeline to Grangemouth Oil Refinery.

Finnart offered deep water berthing, while the surrounding steep sided hills provided defence from air attack. Such was the focus of the Americans — up to 1,800 men were involved — that the facility at Finnart was declared ready by July 1943.

Initially Arddarroch continued to function as a private residence, and indeed was the home of Lily Brooman White until her death in 1951 at the age of 86 years.

By that time, however, the writing was on the wall, the oil terminal at Finnart having passed into the possession of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co, the forerunner of BP, around 1950, and there were plans for a massive expansion of the facilities.

The Brooman White family sold Arddarroch to the Anglo-Iranian company in 1952. It was the end of an era.

The big house survives, used as offices by the oil company. The owners over much of the period were BP, regarded as very good employers, but in 2005 the facility was taken over by Ineos.

Finnart Ocean Terminal has witnessed remarkable scenes over the years. Some of the biggest oil tankers in the world have berthed there, including the gigantic Port Hawksbury.

Another ship that visited Finnart was the now notorious Torrey Canyon, wrecked soon after off Land's End in March 1967, in one of the world's worst-ever environmental disasters.

There have been a number of phases of expansion at Finnart. While the facility was originally designed to unload crude oil and pump it through to Grangemouth, instabilities in the Middle East and the coming on stream of North Sea oil led to the capacity to pump refined oil from Grangemouth to Finnart, for onward redistribution by oil tanker.

What of the chemical works at Shawfield? The White family connection continued long after the death of John White of Arddarroch in 1881.

It was his younger brother James who ultimately took over the mantle, his main involvement being with the commercial side. James built Overtoun House, near Dumbarton, in 1860, the architect being James Smith, father of the Madeleine Smith of murder trial fame.

James White was married to Fanny Smith, and it was their second son, James Campbell White, later the first Lord Overtoun (right), who was to continue the main family connection with Shawfield.

Created Baron Overtoun of Overtoun in 1893, and politically a Liberal, James Campbell White achieved considerable distinction in public life and as benefactor and philanthropist.

It came as a great shock to many, not least Lord Overtoun, when in 1899 Keir Hardie, the Labour politician, launched a fierce verbal attack on him over working conditions at Shawfield, and industrial unrest at the works followed.

Lord Overtoun was deeply and genuinely shocked by the attack, but it would appear that the charges could not be refuted, his only defence being that he had not taken part in any recent management and had no knowledge of the matters raised.

He argued that he had not visited the works for years, and latterly, because of other interests, had ceased to take an active part in the business. Subsequently, a number of improvements were implemented, including pay, hours of work, Sunday work and health practices.

The outbreak of the Boer War served to deflect public attention, and the controversy died away. He died in 1908, after contracting a chill thought to be the result of being driven in his open car.

With the death of Lord Overtoun, control of Shawfield passed to William Chrystal, a relative, and subsequently to Hill Hamilton Barrett, another relative, until his death in 1934, by which time the works was employing 900 people.

In 1953, a merger led to a new name, British Chrome and Chemicals. In due course it was bought over, and production of chrome products ceased at Shawfield in 1965.

There have been various efforts to clean up the area, and these are ongoing, but the contamination continues to make the headlines.