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Rosneath's Princess

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Princess-Louise-wHER Royal Highness Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria, had a huge impact on Helensburgh and Garelochside, where she lived in Rosneath Castle and loved the beauty and quietness of the Gareloch.

The area provided a haven for her in her later years after a fascinating and busy earlier life inevitable for a daughter of Britain’s longest serving monarch from 1837-1901.

She was born on March 18 1848 and christened Louisa Caroline Alberta, but was always known as Louise. She had four brothers and four sisters, and was the sixth oldest and the fourth of five daughters.

She was to be the daughter of a Queen, sister of a King, aunt of a King, and great aunt of two Kings.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were devoted to each other and were very conscientious parents. Unlike many aristocrats of their time, they had a very close relationship with all of their children.

Like her other siblings, Louise was brought up with the strict programme of education devised by her Prince Albert, and the young children were taught practical tasks, such as cooking, farming, household tasks and carpentry.

Princess Louise youngFrom her early years, Louise was a talented and intelligent child, and her artistic talents were quickly recognised. Hallam Tennyson, the son of the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, remarked in 1863 that she could “draw beautifully”.

Her inquisitive nature earned her the nickname “Little Miss Why” from other members of the royal family.

Because of her royal rank, an artistic career was out of the question, but in 1863 the Queen allowed her to attend art school. She also became an able dancer.

Queen Victoria wrote, after a dance, that Louise “danced the sword dance with more verve and accuracy than any of her sisters”. Her wit and intelligence also made her a favourite with her father.

Prince Albert died on December 14 1861, after which the court went into a period of intense mourning.

However Louise was unsympathetic to her mother's prolonged mourning, and her dissatisfaction with the royal court led her to pursue her sculpture and painting. She was also a supporter of the women's suffrage movement.

Louise served as an unofficial secretary to her mother between 1866 and 1871, but then the question of her marriage began to be discussed.

Suitors from the royal houses of Prussia and Denmark were suggested by relatives, but Victoria wanted new blood in the British royal family, and therefore suggested a member of the British aristocracy.

Despite opposition from some members of the family, Louise fell in love with John Campbell, Marquis of Lorne, the heir to the 8th Duke of Argyll, and Victoria consented to the marriage, which took place on March 21 1871.

Marquis of Lorne youngThe Marquis (left) was educated at the Edinburgh Academy, Eton College, and St Andrews and Cambridge universities. He entered politics and served as the Liberal MP for Argyllshire from 1868 to 1878.

From 1868 to 1871, he acted as personal secretary to his father who was then serving as Secretary of State for India.

By the standards of the time, the Marquis was considered good-looking. He was fair and had blue eyes and a pleasing personality. He was described as being amiable, enthusiastic, and temperate.

As an adult, Princess Louise was tall and slim, with rich brown hair and blue eyes. She stood very erect and was always immaculately groomed.

Because of her artistic flair, she had excellent taste in clothes and always saw that her personal quarters were properly furnished.

Although of independent mind, she was gentle and unaffected. She mingled freely with people and had very democratic views about human relations. The less fortunate were always her concern.

She often looked rather serious, but she would readily break into a bright smile. Her natural beauty was never contested.

Princess-Louise-20s-wPrior to her marriage, Princess Louise lived at Buckingham Palace, Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, and Windsor and Balmoral Castles. Kensington Palace was her London home for 60 years.

After their marriage their first home was I Grosvenor Square, London, now called Macdonald House. They then purchased a small country home near Royal Tunbridge Wells which they called Dornden.

Financial considerations led them to give up Dornden in favour of some vacant apartments at Kensington Palace.

The Marquis was appointed Governor General of Canada by Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli in 1878 and served until 1883.

It is generally acknowledged that he did the job well. His wife was liked, and a glacial lake in Banff National Park, Alberta, was named Lake Louise after her.

During their stay in Canada, their official residence was Rideau Hall, Ottawa, where the Princess felt homesick. In the summer, they spent a considerable amount of time at the Citadel, Quebec City.

On February 14 1880 the couple were travelling in separate sleighs and Princess Louise's sleigh overturned on the icy roadway just after it went out through the gateway to Government House.

The horses took fright and ran more than 100 yards before they could be brought under control. The Princess made light of the accident but was unable to shake off the effects of the painful experience.

She returned to England and physicians found a piece of glass lodged in her ear.

After his term of office was over, the Marquis returned to politics. He was defeated as the Liberal candidate for Hampstead in 1885 but was eventually elected Liberal-Unionist MP for South Manchester and served from 1895 to 1900.

Princess Louise-1875-wIn 1896 the couple moved into Rosneath Castle, the Marquis’s boyhood home. The estate had been owned by the family since 1489.

The Marquis succeeded his father as the 9th Duke of Argyll in 1900, was elevated to the House of Lords, and given the title Lord Sundridge. He possessed considerable literary ability and wrote many scholarly papers and psalms.

Despite a happy beginning to their married life, he and Louise drifted apart, possibly because of her childlessness and the Queen's constraints on their activities.

Following Queen Victoria's death on January 22 1901, Louise entered the social circle established by her brother, the new King Edward VII.

She was determined to be seen as an ordinary person and not as a member of the court. When travelling abroad, she often used the alias “Mrs Campbell”.

In 1907 she travelled from Rosneath to Glasgow to launch and christen the King’s new yacht Alexandra. At the lunch afterwards her husband called her the ‘Admiraless of the Western Isles’.

She and her husband reconciled in 1911. The Duke’s health was deteriorating and he became increasingly senile, but Louise nursed him devotedly. In these years Louise and her husband were closer than they had been before.

In the spring of 1914, Louise stayed at Kensington Palace while her husband remained on the Isle of Wight. He developed bronchial problems followed by double pneumonia.

The Duchess was sent for on April 28 1914, and he died on May 2, a month after their 43rd wedding anniversary.

She was devastated by his death, had a nervous breakdown and suffered from intense loneliness. She wrote to a friend shortly afterwards: “My loneliness without the Duke is quite terrible. I wonder what he does now!”

A month after his death she was appointed Colonel-in-Chief of Princess Louise’s Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. “The Duke would have been so pleased,” she said.

Following the end of World War One in 1918, she was appointed Dame Grand Cross of the British Empire after setting a shining example to women during the war, with a constant round of visits to hospitals and homes, touring factories, and raising money for charities.

The Daily Mail reported in May 1918 that Princess Louise, who was president of the Kensington Hospital for Children, having been informed by the British Empire Union of the appointment as house surgeon of Miss Wehrmann, who was born in Germany, had written that she was not informed of the appointment last August.

Only a little more than a fortnight ago was she told unofficially. On learning the facts, which she also carefully investigated, she at once took energetic measures, and before two days had elapsed she was thankful to say the lady had left.

It is understood that the appointment was made during the absence from London of the Princess and the matron of the hospital.

But after the end of the war she became a gradual recluse, undertaking few public duties outside of Kensington Palace.

She was very close to her youngest sister, Princess Beatrice, who married Prince Henry of Battenberg and had three children.

In 1874, Czar Alexander II of Russia presented Princess Louise with the Order of St Catherine, and in the Coronation Honours of 1937, another Dame Grand Cross award was conferred on her.

Rosneath Castle was her principal home from 1896 and the base for her Scottish activities.

Rosneath-Castle-rear-wShe felt that the vast neo-classical mansion, designed by London-based architect Joseph Bonomi and completed in 1806, four years after fire consumed its predecessor, was more homely than Inverary Castle, traditional home of the Dukes of Argyll, and even moved the 20 Adam fireplaces from Inverary to Rosneath.

Careful planting of trees and laying out of the walled and other gardens made Rosneath a highland sanctuary for the couple. There was heronry in the woods and a grouse moor nearby.

The Princess was fond of gardening and forestry, and in later life enjoyed needlework.

She and her husband spent a considerable part of every year there and on holiday in the Highlands which she loved.

In the 1890s she acquired the nearby Ferry Inn, and she showed her independent spirit in the plans for the development of the former pub.

On the advice of her friend, the garden designer Gertrude Jekyll, she commissioned an unknown young architect to rebuild it as her dream cottage by the sea. His name was Edwin Lutyens, and Ferry Inn was one of his first independent projects.

Ferry Inn was a house designed for pleasure, comfort and convenience rather than to make a grand artistic statement. Taking full advantage of its splendid setting on the Gareloch shore, its balconies and overhanging eaves seemed to reach out to the beach.

A massive chimney and mullioned windows hinted at inglenooks and cosy rooms within. Every shape and angle, though seemingly haphazard, was carefully composed to be pleasing to the eye.

What Lutyens created is considered a masterpiece of Arts and Crafts design, and the house is, in its modest way, as architecturally significant as Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Hill House in Helensburgh.

It is a house that has been tested to the limits by the vagaries of fashion and has undergone drastic transformations in the course of an extraordinary history.

However Princess Louise abandoned the house when the rebuilding was complete. Despite her longing for a cottage, she lived instead in Rosneath Castle.

Ferry-Inn-wIn 1902 she turned Ferry Inn (right) into a Home for Soldiers wounded in the Boer War, as hospitals were unable to cope with the numbers, and she continued to run it until the need was over. Afterwards it was sold to the Government.

Early in 1911 Rosneath Castle, which had over 100 rooms, was partially destroyed by fire when the Duke and Duchess were in England.

The outbreak began in the morning when plenty of amateur firefighters were on hand. But the extinguishers were not powerful enough to hold the flames in check and the hose kept handy in case of such an emergency was so full of leaks it proved almost useless.

A telegram was sent to Helensburgh for the fire brigade, and meantime a human chain was formed and buckets passed from hand to hand.

The fighters were reinforced by the boys of the Training Ship Empress, which was moored off Rhu, and they were sent on shore with two lines of hose.

For two dramatic hours until the fire brigade arrived and took matters in hand, the flames were kept from spreading.

The damage was estimated at £4-5,000. Although the flames had been got under control before reaching the lower part of the building, the upper storeys fared badly and the Princess’s studio was gutted.

Many of the books in the library were ruined by water from the hoses, but no family heirlooms were lost.

When the Duke heard of the 17-mile dash by the Helensburgh brigade, he sent a telegram: “Greatly appreciate kindness and assistance given yesterday. Accept our thanks. Argyll and Louise.”

Later the deputy fire-master and the lieutenant of the brigade each received a silver cup, and a sum of money was sent for distribution amongst the men.

It was typical of the Duke and Duchess that no-one who had helped to fight the fire was forgotten, and at the prizegiving day the following month on board the Empress, it was Princess Louise who presented the awards.

Rosneath-Castle-drawing-room-wAfter her husband died she became the Dowager Duchess of Argyll, and Rosneath Castle — the drawing room is pictured (left) — became her Dower House. It was used as a military hospital during the First World War.

In Rosneath she was Patron of St Modan’s Parish Church, which she attended regularly.

She contributed to the church organ fund, to the building fund of the vestry, and to the installation of electric lighting to the church and manse. She also donated a bible used by her mother, Queen Victoria.

On her suggestion the parishioners installed a stained glass window behind the communion table in memory of the men of the parish lost in World War One, and she contributed to it.

In memory of her husband and his father, the chancel was extended, and later she had a carved picture of the Last Supper erected on the wall behind the Communion Table.

Appointed as the first royal patron of the Girl Guides in 1916, four years later she expressed a desire that the Dunbartonshire Girl Guides should be called Princess Louise’s Own, a royal accolade they have been proud to bear ever since.

Princess-Louise-guide-colours-wThis made Dunbartonshire the only Guide County permitted to use a Royal Cipher on their County banner and badges, although the Dunbartonshire District Scout Council is also 'Princess Louise's Own'.

She is seen (right) presenting new colours to the 1st Rosneath Peninsula Girl Guides in 1928.

She was president of Rosneath District Nurses Association, and a great supporter of Erskine Hospital for disabled servicemen which she formally opened in June 1917. She visited it every year until she was too frail to do so.

She was also a regular visitor to Edinburgh where she took a keen interest in the Princess Louise Nurses for Children College and the Edinburgh School of Cookery. She was patroness of Edinburgh College of Domestic Science.

Painting in water-colours was one of her passions, and she became an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Painters and Etchers in 1898, She was also a member of the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolour, and she even illustrated a comic book on curling.

Her sculpture was highly regarded, particularly her statue of her mother which stands in Kensington Gardens (below left).

Princess Louise died in her London home, Kensington Palace, on December 3 1939 at the age of 91 after being ill for many months, ending Rosneath’s royal connection, and her death was viewed as a personal loss to Dunbartonshire.

She was buried at the royal cemetery at Frogmore in the Windsor Home Park in Berkshire after the funeral at St George’s Chapel, Windsor.

A service was held at St Modan’s Church at the same time as the funeral service in Windsor.

A detachment of Princess Louise’s Own Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, and members of Princess Louise’s Own companies of Girl Guides and Sea Scouts which she founded, attended in uniform. Princess Louise’s Own Dunbartonshire Boy Scout Band was represented.

A recently retired Rosneath Church minister, the Rev A.B.Grant, who knew her well, gave the tribute.

Queen-Victoria-statueTheir sense of loss was tempered, he said, by the thought that she had left to the Church and the Nation a great legacy of service. Her beneficiaries were many, and her attachment to the people of Rosneath was shown in all matters that affected their welfare.

Other benevolent interests included the Band of Hope temperance movement, Charing Cross Hospital, Gentlewoman's Employment Association, Girls' Public Day School Company, Heritage Craft Schools for Crippled Children, Heritage Homes for rehabilitation of military veterans, Home for Recovery convalescent home for infirm hospital discharges, Kyrle Society for literary development of the poor, Lending Library of Books for the Blind, National Society for the Protection of Young Girls, National Trust for Places of Historic Interest, Miss Rye's Home shelter for girls in Canada, Princess Louise Home for Girls, Princess Louise Kensington Hospital for Children, Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts, St John's Ambulance Association, Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association, South Kensington School of Art, and the Women's Emigration Society for the welfare of British women emigrants.

In early 1940 some four and a half centuries of Argyll family ownership ended when Rosneath Estate was sold.

The castle provided a headquarters for the Rosneath Naval Base during World War Two. In 1942 Churchill, Eisenhower and Montgomery planned Operation Torch, the successful invasion of French North Africa, within its walls.

It was abandoned in 1947 and it met the same fate as its predecessor, being destroyed by fire. It was finally demolished in 1961.

Last Updated ( Monday, 24 October 2016 18:17 )  

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First 2018 Open Meeting

Mike-Thornley-wThe first 2018 Open Meeting will be held at Helensburgh Civic Centre at 7.30pm on Wednesday January 31. Mike Thornley will talk about the Glenarn garden at Rhu. Anyone interested most welcome.

Winter Talks 2017-18

  • Wednesday September 27 2017 — AGM; then Professor John Hume: History of local churches
  • Wednesday October 25 — Cleland Sneddon: Childhood holidays in Rosneath
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  • Wednesday January 31 2018 — Mike Thornley: The Glenarn Garden
  • Wednesday February 28 — Bruce and Nicola Jamieson: Developing the Mackintosh Club
  • Wednesday March 28 — Richard Reeve: A Brief History of the Rosneath Peninsula

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