ONE of Helensburgh’s most beautiful spots is Hermitage Park — yet how many local people walk or drive past without ever venturing in.
Through the three gates on Sinclair Street, Victoria Road and Grant Street they will find a feast of flowers and shrubs, in fact a beauty which is only matched by its history.
Perhaps we might have a look at the Hermitage Park area in the middle of the 19th century. Let us try to visualise the ground from Argyle Street to Victoria Road, bordered by Sinclair Street, Grant Street, and Ardlui House.
To the west of the Millig Burn, Mill Glen and Dovehill Cottage are already well established, and up behind them is the important Millig Mill with its high mill wheel powered by water from the burn and from a large area of dam. Remains of the old mill can still be seen to this day behind the Victoria Hall car park.
The Millig Mill, and to a lesser extent the Glenan Burn Mill, were vital to the economy of the area, and the Old Granary at the foot of Sinclair Street formed an important link in the storage and disposal by ferry across the river.
Although the Mill had long been out of use when I was a boy, I can well remember the chimney stack (below) coming down around 1920. And I can well remember the stagnant old mill pond which occupied the area now used for tennis and putting.
In fact it is only as recently as 1925 that teams from Craighelen and Ardencaple Clubs played a demonstration match to celebrate the opening of the courts.
To get back to the 19th century, we find a handsome mansion house called Hermitage in the centre of the large area above the mill, with the only other building being Hermitage Cottage at the corner of Sinclair Street and Victoria Road, which in the event outlived the mansion.
Three brothers Cramb and a sister occupied the Hermitage, and it is said that one point they fell out with their neighbour in Lansdowne Park on the other side of Victoria Road, and built Prince Albert Terrace to block his view of the river.
When Hermitage Secondary School was built about 1880, a part of their front garden on Argyle Street — which was known as Hermitage Nurseries — was acquired for this purpose.
A large area adjoining the school on the east was presented to the School Board as a playing field, and until recently a wrought iron arch commemorated the gift and named it Cramb Park.
Miss Cramb, the last of the family, died in 1910, and the town, with courage and foresight, acquired the mansion and grounds and developed it as Hermitage Park. During the First World War the mansion was used as a convalescent hospital, and I can remember the men in blue being wheeled about by nurses.
Although midges have always been a menace, military bands frequently played and scratched in an attractive timber bandstand down by the burn.
Henry Bell’s memory is kept alive by the exhibition in the park of the Comet’s flywheel and his local blacksmiths anvil (later moved to the seafront at the East Bay).
Only last year a young man from Australia asked me the whereabouts of a memorial to Henry Bell’s blacksmiths, the Campbell brothers, and after a bit of headscratching I was able to recall the old anvil.
Now of course the mansion house — which was pretty derelict for many a year but was partly used as offices and a gardener’s flat — has been demolished and replaced by a ‘modern’ shelter, while up behind is the Garden of Remembrance and the War Memorial, designed by local architect A.N.Paterson and built in the 1920s.
Hermitage Park is now a mecca for putting, tennis and bowling enthusiasts, the green being known as the Low Green, as opposed to the High Green at the corner of Sinclair Street and Abercromby Street East.
But the Curling Club was perhaps the first sports club to be formed in Helensburgh in the early 1850s, and the curling pond was east of the public park between Adelaide Street and Henry Bell Street.
When this ground was feued for building, a new 12-rink curling pond was formed at the east end of Havelock Street (left).
The Curling Club had been in existence for some years before a lease of land was granted by Sir James Colquhoun of Luss to provide for the High Green.
A company was formed entitled the Helensburgh Public Assembly Hall and Bowling Green Co., with a widely subscribed share capital of £2,000.
In 1861 the bowling green, turfed with grass from Durnish Farm, Glen Fruin, was officially opened. The Public Assembly Hall was very much later, in Queen Victoria’s jubilee year of 1887, and of course was named the Victoria Hall.
About 1858 a charter to several acres of land was presented to the town by Sir James and others, to be enclosed and laid out for cricket, quoits and other games. This became known as the Public Park on East King Street, and about 1860 a cricket club was formed.
Sea angling was very much in vogue in this period, and as early as 1863 an Angling Club had already acquired sole rights for fishing Loch Lomond and its rivers, and restricted it to fly fishing only. Wild duck shooting was another pastime, especially between Cardross, Ardmore and Craigendoran.
By 1875 there was a skating pond at 39 West King Street, about the present site of Helensburgh Tennis Club — itself established in 1884 — but a few years later Sir James gave a grant of land for a new pond alongside the reservoir on the Luss Road.