Exhibition of Paintings from the Anderson (Local Collection) Trust 2023
by M-J Selwood
THE annual exhibition of paintings from the Anderson (Local Collection) Trust Collection is again on view to the public (now until the end of May) in Helensburgh Library. The theme, this year is “Piers and Jetties” illustrated by artists, mainly from this area and ranging in period over the past 200 years.
For a long time piers and, in particular Helensburgh Pier, have featured regularly in the local press and in the hearts and thoughts of Helensburgh residents. Now, arrivals over water are welcomed to the town not by a pier but by a leisure centre.
Perhaps this exhibition of paintings from the Anderson Trust Collection, will help us to remember and reflect on how piers used to look and the vital purpose they served for coastal habitations round Scotland for many centuries when the sea was their main highway. They retain their importance, here at the confluence of the Gareloch with the Clyde, serving transport, tourism, commerce, leisure and defence.
Few traces can be found today of the small jetties built by a scattering of smallholders before 1802, when the town of Helensburgh was planned and named by its laird, Sir James Colquhoun.
An example of a more substantial “jetty”, where sailing cargo vessels tied up, can be seen in the early nineteenth century painting “Helensburgh Pier”. The launch of the first steamboat on the Clyde, “The Comet”, built for Henry Bell of the Bath’s Hotel (later Queen’s Court) marked a significant increase in marine traffic and prosperity for the town, a period that is well represented in the paintings on view such as William Daniell’s “Steamboat on the Clyde”
A further boost to the importance of Helensburgh came in 1858 when the North British Railway Company linked the town with Glasgow. There was no Craigendoran station at that time, probably only a farm, and the track did not follow the shoreline as it does now. Sometime later the North British Railway Company wanted to extend the railway line from what is now Helensburgh Central Station down to the pier. This split public opinion, and the matter was finally decided in Parliament, with the extension through the town centre being refused.
This refusal prompted the Railway Company to build their "station in the sea" at Craigendoran which opened in 1882 and the pier formed a convenient link with the paddle steamers that ferried city dwellers “doon the water” on popular day trips to Rothesay and other coastal holiday towns.
Paintings in the exhibition record the various stages of this pier, over a hundred years, from the small jetty in Rosa Templeton’s “Pier at Craigendoran”, then as a busy terminal for paddle steamer traffic, to its decline in the 1970’s so powerfully illustrated in Ailsa Tanner’s linoprint (in the case).
A number of the works displayed here were among the paintings in Nance Anderson’s original collection of local scenes, which she bequeathed to the people of Helensburgh on her death in 1980, and which later formed the nucleus of the Anderson (Local Collection) Trust. A keen sailor herself, she would have been familiar, from personal experience, with many of the points of arrival and departure on the shores of this area and, I think, would have enjoyed this exhibition.
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