Two mansions had much in common

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THE TWO big mansions at Finnart overlooking Loch Long, with first-class views of the rugged landscape known as Argyll's Bowling Green and beyond, were within shouting distance of each other.

By no means identical twins, they did have a lot in common, and both had interesting residents.

Arddarroch and nearby Finnart House (right) have been researched by local historian and Helensburgh Heritage Trust director Alistair McIntyre.

They were built within a few years of each other, were constructed to the designs of the same architect, William Burn, and were originally home to two families who were related. Both came to end up within the grounds of Finnart Oil Terminal, but there, however, the similarities end.

Arddarroch has come to terms with the Oil Terminal, which dates from the time of the Second World War, as it now serves as offices for staff.

By contrast, Finnart House lies empty, its windows boarded up, looking lost and helpless amid pipes and massive storage tanks. It could be likened to a sleeping princess, waiting eternally for the kiss of life from the right suitor.

So what is the story of Finnart, and how did it end up so differently from Arddarroch?

Finnart is slightly older, having been built three years earlier, in 1835, as a home for John and Frances Anderson and their family.

He was a prosperous Glasgow-based merchant, while Frances was a daughter of Robert Burn, an architect, and his spouse Janet Laing. Frances was one of sixteen children born to the couple.

One of her brothers was the famous architect William Burn, who designed both Finnart and Arddarroch, while one of her sisters, Isabella, was the spouse of John McVicar, proprietor of Arddarroch.

Frances and John, who were married at St Cuthbert's, Edinburgh, in 1825, seem to have been well endowed financially — in 1835 John feued eleven acres of land at Finnart from Sir James Colquhoun, the site including a former farmstead, previously farmed for generations by the Fraser family.

Three years later, he feued another forty acres, with the result the family came to own what comprised a small estate.

For reasons that have not yet come to light, John Anderson sold up in 1853. However, a family link with the area was maintained for many years as his widow, Frances, died at Aldavhu, Garelochhead, in 1888.

The new owner of Finnart House (right) was John McGregor, a partner with the Glasgow-based shipbuilding firm of Tod and McGregor.

Born at Fintry in 1802, McGregor started as an apprentice with the famous shipbuilder, David Napier, at his Camlachie works in Glasgow.

He seems to have acquitted himself well, soon gaining management as well as engineering experience, and serving as a marine engineer at sea while still in his early twenties.

While with David Napier, he met with another ambitious young man, David Tod, and they launched out together as a marine engineering partnership in 1833, based originally at Carrick Street, near the Broomielaw.

Three years later their business had evolved to shipbuilding, and they went on to build some notable vessels, such as the City of Glasgow and the City of Paris. By then, they had moved premises on a number of occasions.

So it was that when the purchase of Finnart took place, John McGregor and his family were financially well secure, with a bright future.

John, who claimed descent from Rob Roy, had built a fine steam yacht, the S.S. Finnart (right), and he was now able to use her to commute from Glasgow and spend weekends at Finnart.

Married life was also going well. In 1830, John had married Margaret Fleming, and they had seven children.

The untimely death of Margaret in 1848 left John a widower, but he remarried in 1851, his new bride being Margaret York, and they in turn had family, one of whom was William York, born at Finnart on October 14 1855.

William grew up to become a notable artist, regarded as a leading member of the ‘Glasgow Boys’ group of artists. Sadly, life was soon to change for the worse.

In 1858, John attended the Blairmore Regatta, when he put the S.S. Finnart at the disposal of the Commodore. Before so doing, he had dispensed “sumptuous hospitality” on board the vessel.

Shortly after, he was taken unwell, and died within three days. Several years later, the family put Finnart on the market.

In 1862, the property was sold, heralding the beginning of a new chapter in the story of the mansion. The new owner was Edward Caird, and his family was to be linked to Finnart for almost eighty years.

Many otherwise reputable sources, both old and new, in both printed and online format, confidently state that the Edward Caird who lived at Finnart hailed from the Greenock family of that name, notable as shipbuilders and academics.

Thus, Groome's Gazetteer of Scotland (1883) refers to Finnart as the seat of Edward Caird, Professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow University. This is incorrect.

The Edward Caird who bought Finnart came from the east of Scotland, his background being the jute mills of Dundee. As it happens, the Cairds of Dundee and the Cairds of Greenock were distantly related by marriage, but essentially they were two distinct entities.

Born at Montrose in 1805, the purchaser of Finnart grew up as an ambitious young man, and in 1832, set up his own business as Caird (Dundee) Ltd.

The city of Dundee was at that time gaining a reputation in the field of textiles, and this was the route that Edward went down. In due course, he became established as one of Dundee's jute mill magnates. At his Ashton Mill, business flourished.

Edward married twice. His first wife was Mary Key, with whom he had five children, the eldest being James Key, later Sir James, and it was he who would inherit the family business at the Ashton works. Sadly, Mary died in 1843.

Two years later, Edward remarried, his new wife being Grace Caw, and in due course, a daughter, Emma Grace, was born in 1849. Emma would ultimately play a key role in the story of both Finnart and Dundee.

The 1862 purchase of Finnart marked a degree of winding down on the part of Edward, content in the knowledge that son James was taking over the helm at the Ashton Mill.

In that same year, the well-known architect John Honeyman was engaged to carry out alterations at Finnart.

Although Edward Caird owned Finnart until his death in 1889, little information has come to light about life there during this period.

Scrutiny of the census returns, completed every ten years since 1841, reveal little about family life there, as the Cairds were absent in 1871 and 1881, though details of staff were listed.

Certainly, Edward served for many years as a J.P. He died in 1889, Finnart being left to his daughter by his second marriage, Emma Grace Caird.

Emma Grace was unmarried when she inherited the big house. However, in 1892, at the age of 43, she married Lieutenant Colonel Herbert C.Marryat, late of the Manchester Regiment, and they set up home on Loch Longside.

Colonel Marryat was related to Captain Marryat, author of rollicking sea-stories such as “Mr Midshipman Easy”. There was one child, Grace Lois, but tragically, she died in infancy.

The Marryats, a country loving couple who lived animals, were no absentee family, and were at home at the time of the census of 1901.

Listed as present at the main residence were: Herbert C.Marryat (56); Emma Marryat (51);  Alice Carpenter, lady's maid; Margaret McIntosh, cook; Annie Thomson, house maid; Jessie Murdon, parlour maid; Margaret Patterson, laundry maid; Ellen McGourlay, kitchen maid.

At Finnart Lodge were Alice Coogan, a widow, and two grown-up children, John, a gardener's labourer, and Mary, a domestic servant. At the coachman's cottage were Charles Young, coachman, and his wife, Mary.

At Finnart Gardens were Duncan Thomson, a gardener, Hugh Fletcher, an apprentice gardener, and John McDougald, a general labourer.

Life for Emma was to change dramatically at the time of the First World War, when in quick succession, she lost the two main men in her life — her half-brother, Sir James Key Caird died in 1916, while husband Herbert passed away at Belmont Castle, Dundee, the following year.

Emma and James had always been very close, and as a young woman, she travelled extensively with him. He left his main estate to her, making her an extremely wealthy woman.

Sir James had been a notable benefactor of good causes, particularly those relating to Dundee, and now Emma parted with a good deal of her wealth.

She donated generously to Dundee Royal Infirmary, gifted Belmont Castle estate, with its 900 acres, to the city, and provided sufficient funds for the completion of Caird Hall, also in Dundee. Her portrait by David Simpson Foggie, now hangs in the foyer of Caird Hall.

Emma continued to live at Finnart, where she died in 1927.

After her death, Finnart was retained in the hands of the family. The owners were listed as the Rev Dr J.Henry Miller, Matthew M.Caird, Miss G.M.Caird, and Mrs M.K.McGregor. It may well be that they served as trustees of the estate.

However, the name most closely identified with Finnart after that is that of the Rev Dr John Henry Miller.

He was the son of John Ritchie Miller, of McHaffie, Forsyth and Miller, Iron Founders, Glasgow, and his wife, Georgina Caird, a daughter of the Edward Caird who bought Finnart.

As an Army chaplain, he witnessed at first hand many of the horrors of the front line, having been present at Passchendaele and Ypres. He distinguished himself to the extent that he was appointed Head of the Chaplaincy.

As a minister of the United Free Church of Scotland, he came to public attention for his work at The Pleasance, in Edinburgh.

Despite the name, this was one of the most deprived areas in the city, but his pioneering and innovative approach in seeking to address the problems of many of the inhabitants brought him widespread acclaim.

As a churchman, the pinnacle of his career came in 1928, when he served as Moderator of the penultimate General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland. In his address, he looked forward to the forthcoming union with the Church of Scotland the following year. In academic life, he rose to become Principal of St Mary's College, St Andrews.

With such a busy life, he must have had limited time to spend at Finnart, but he does seem to have stayed there as often as he could. He is pictured (right) at a Sunday School outing in the grounds c.1930.

The Very Rev. Dr J. Harry Miller, C.B.E., T.D., D.D., F.R.S.E., died in January 1940, after a very distinguished life and career.

Finnart was sold two years before his death, marking the end of a very long chapter. It was bought by a Mr and Mrs Binnie, who converted it for use as Finnart Hotel.

The timing was unfortunate. With war clouds gathering, it was not a good time to embark on such an enterprise. Worse, following the outbreak of war in 1939, the land was requisitioned by the Government in 1942, followed by the appearance of the Americans and their construction of jetties, oil pipelines and massive storage tanks.

The ill-fated hotel was one of the casualties of war, and the Binnies were forced to relinquish their hopes and dreams.

With the end of hostilities, the infrastructure at Finnart passed to civilian control, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, the forerunner of B.P.

In 1982, Mrs Margaret Nicholson, then resident in Buckinghamshire, initiated a good deal of correspondence about Finnart House. This documentation sheds invaluable light on how matters stood at a time of significant change.

Many people will know Mrs Nicholson better as Margaret Yorke the novelist, who passed away in 2012, aged 88.

She was in a great-great-granddaughter of the John McGregor who once owned Finnart, and knowing that the property had been swallowed up by the Oil Terminal, her correspondence was prompted by concerns about the fate of the family home.

She contacted the then Superintendent, Alex Robertson, among others, and he was able to confirm that the mansion still stood. Earlier that year, it had served as a canteen for staff, and had been in use for social and recreational purposes.

However, those functions had ceased, and it had now been put on to a care and maintenance basis. B.P had no further use for the building.

It was actually owned by the Ministry of Defence, from whom B.P held the building and land on a long lease basis.

Little has changed since then. The house is ‘B’ listed. With so much history associated with the building, it would be comforting to think that it might yet have a future.