The 1st Baronet of Helensburgh

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sir_william_raeburnTHE FIRST holder of the Baronetcy of Helensburgh was Sir William Raeburn.

The Raeburn Baronetcy of Helensburgh in the County of Dunbarton is a title in the Baronetage of the United Kingdom, and it was created on July 25 1923 for the Conservative MP for Dunbartonshire, head of the shipping company of Raeburn & Verel Ltd.

He then became Sir William Hannay Raeburn, 1st Baronet of Helensburgh, selectiing this title because he lived here — and many of his descendants still do.

Sir William lived in Woodend (pictured below), a splendid mansion in Millig Street, which was for a time a St Bride’s School boarding house and today is flatted and has particularly attractive modern homes in its extensive grounds.

The late Mrs Winifred McKenzie, who lived in Rock Ibris and was very well known in the town, was a relative of Sir William, and several town and Rhu families are related to her.

Sir William, who was one of the stoutest defenders of shipowners interests in the West of Scotland, was originally from Glasgow, where he was born on August 11 1850, and moved with his family to the burgh towards the end of the 19th century.

His Millig Street home was built in 1872 for a Mr Robertson, but Sir William engaged two of the best known architects to work in Helensburgh to make extensive additions to the property.

In 1901 William Leiper designed the imposing conservatory, and nine years later A.N.Paterson designed an Elizabethan window and a stair-hall timber screen. He also added a billiard room.

After the First World War Sir William was elected as MP for Dunbartonshire on December 14 1918, and he held the seat until 1922. As an MP, he would also be well known to Helensburgh resident Andrew Bonar Law, Unionist Prime Minister for 209 days in 1922-23 until his death.

A memorial plaque on the north wall of St Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church was placed there by Sir William and his wife, Ellinor Martha, in memory of their youngest son, Alfred Anthony Douglas Raeburn.

Woodend-wSir William was a member of the vestry of St Michael's and a key figure in the erection in 1930 of the church tower and provision of new bells.

A 2nd Lieutenant in the 9th Highland Light Infantry Glasgow Highlanders, Alfred was one of so many who lost their lives at the Battle of the Somme. His death on July 15 1916 was eight days before his 24th birthday.

In his business life Sir William was well known as one of the stoutest defenders of shipowners interests in the West of Scotland.

He played an important part in connection with most of the shipping legislation of the time, notably the Merchant Shipping Act and the Workmen's Compensation Act of 1906, and a year after that he was appointed a member of the advisory committee formed to confer with the Board of Trade about the working of the Merchant Shipping Acts.

He was a member of many Glasgow organisations of the time.

These included being deputy chairman the Clyde Navigation Trust, chairman of the Clyde Pilot Board, vice-chairman of Glasgow Local Marine Board, chairman of the Clyde District Committee of the Shipping Federation, a Clyde Lighthouses trustee, and director of the Sailors Home and the Royal Samaritan Hospital for Women.

He was also a director of the Empress Training Ship moored in the Gareloch off Kidston Park, on which lived 300 boys aged 12-14 who faced the risk of being drawn into crime because of family and other problems.

The Empress replaced the Cumberland, which was in use from 1869 until 1889 when it caught fire and burnt to the waterline, fortunately without loss of life.

She remained there until the 1920s, offering tough and at times brutal training and harsh discipline — but also brass and pipe bands which were much in demand for social events.

Sir William RaeburnAfter Sir William’s death on February 12 1934 aged 83, he was buried in Helensburgh Cemetery.

His son William Norman Raeburn became the 2nd Baronet, and he was succeeded after his death in 1947 as 3rd Baronet by his son Edward Alfred Raeburn. When he died in 1977 his son Michael Edward Norman Raeburn became the 4th Baronet, but he does not use the title. His heir is his son Christopher Edward Alfred, who is 26.

A notable member of the family was Major General Sir Digby Raeburn (1915-2001), son of Sir Ernest Raeburn (1878-1922), second son of the first Baronet, who was in the Scots Guards and Governor of the Tower of London.

Sir Digby followed his successful career in the Army with an eight-year appointment as Governor of the Tower of London and Keeper of the Jewel House. As Governor, Sir Digby was in command of the Yeoman Warders; as Keeper of the Jewel House he was in charge of the separate corps of Curators and Wardens and responsible for the security of the Crown Jewels.

With these appointments, which Sir Digby held from 1971 to 1979, went residency at the Tower in the Queen’s House, built by Henry VIII as a wedding present for Anne Boleyn. It was from the Raeburns’ spare bedroom that Anne went to her execution, after carving her name three times in the stonework of the fireplace.

He was in office in 1974 when a 10 lb terrorist bomb exploded in the Tower’s Mortar Room, a small basement exhibition hall. It was thronged with tourists, and one woman was killed and more than 40 injured. Sir Digby and his wife had just finished lunch when they heard the bomb go off.

  • Woodend photo by Donald Fullarton