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Shandon Hydro

One of the bonuses of having a dog again is that it is an incentive to go on some of the delightful walks in this area. We’re spoiled for choice, because within 20 miles of where I live there are dozens of rewarding scenic walks. One of the walks I used to take my old dog Jet (a greyhound lurcher) before he got too infirm was in the grounds of Shandon Hydro (an upmarket spa hotel now long gone) and the disused railway line which serviced it.

I took Sally down there today and re-acquainted myself with a walk I’ll no doubt now be taking regularly again.

This old level crossing gate has remained despite being unused since 1939

This old level crossing gate has remained despite being unused since the second world war (edit: I have since found out it was used until the 1970's)

The walk follows the old railway line which ran parallel with the West Highland Railway (Glasgow to Fort William and Mallaig) and which at one time was a branch line from the village of Rhu to Shandon/Faslane. The Hydro occupied a position near what is now the Faslane Naval Base which is home to the Trident armed submarines or Britain’s nuclear deterrent (if you believe that version of events).

faslane2

The Trident Base at Faslane

The Shandon Hydro was originally the home of brilliant Dumbarton born engineer and steamship pioneer Robert Napier

Shandon Hydro in 1901

Shandon Hydro in 1901


Source:  here


The house was originally built as a private house for Robert Napier, the shipbuilder. On his death in 1876, it was purchased by a largely Glasgow-based syndicate who added a swimming pool and the Turkish baths before opening it as a hydro.
*

The two pages reproduced below, are taken from a four page ‘winter circular’ published at the end of the nineteenth century. They show the winter charges and the ‘General Regulations’. Strict though these seem, they are less severe than those in several other similar establishments. ‘Visitors who formerly wintered in the South of France have found in the Sheltered position of Shandon, on the shores of the Gareloch, equal protection from the severity of the weather with all the comforts and conveniences of Home.’

*There remain hydros at Dunblane Crieff and Peebles. That is to say large multi purose hotels occupying their own estate. I remember a visit to Crieff Hydro in the mid 90’s when it was still a temperance hotel (there was no alcohol on sale) Whilst that has changed now, Crieff Hydro still has strict rules relating to the serving and consumption of alcohol on the premises. Presumably Shandon was a temperance establishment as well.

* Water is best: the hydros and health tourism in Scotland, 1840-1940 / Alastair Durie. — Edinburgh : John Donald, 2006. — p.80

leafletp3leafletp4


These printed sheets are amazing. Servants for hire (£6 per month!) to work a 15 hour day! Morning prayers, cut flowers etc. etc. Despite on the one hand the opulent luxury, some of these rules are incredible – the wakening bell for instance! Lights out in public rooms at 10:30pm and “Visitors are requested not to engage in  loud conversation in the corridors and bedrooms after 11:00pm” which was the same time they were requested to turn their heating off.

It shows how used to, and accepting of, rules even the rich were in relatively recent history.

This is the (presumably man made) lake which I took a photo of this morning. The old picnic tables are still there along with a little jetty where the (wealthy) guests no doubt ventured onto a rowing boat.

There’s also the remains of a bandstand nearby.

p02-04-09_0939

The outbreak of WW2 signaled the end for Shandon Hydro as it was commandeered by the government (presumably because of its proximity to the naval base)

I believe it was demolished before the end of the war.

However 70 years later its memory is still very much in evidence.

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23 Responses

  1. Rab, As you probably noticed there are remnants of the small ponds and boating areas still in existence today. Many a shift at work walking these areas were spectacular to come across !(Official Secrets Act prevent me from futher digression,however), the little walkways and boating areas that still had signs of prams,cots,and single and twin seater boats sitting in or nearby as recently as two or three years ago, giving an incite to Napier’s beautiful landscape for his family many years before.T’is a shame that the general public cannot get easy access to these locations, as once they used to, or indeed know of them !

  2. The old railway and lake areas are reasonably easily accessed Sneddy, they just aren’t known about much – even locally. I remember a couple of boats being there but they were pretty rotten and have now been removed.

    The lake is a fantastic spot for a wee bit of untroubled contemplation. As you say, plenty of signs around of what was there.

  3. Talking of the Oficial Secrets Act, nice picture of the nuclear base Rab 😉

  4. I’ve also walked this path and saw a couple of dear on one occasion. My companion, on one of my walks, pointed out the remnants of an old boarding school he used to attend, quite close to the lake.

  5. This is all very interesting but where’s the dog pic of Sally in these beautiful locations? I can only assume she wants her privacy respected.

  6. I think the railway branch from the West Highland Line was actually created during WW2 for the new Faslane Military Port. It was still used in the ’70’s esp by the ship-breaking yard, Metal Industries, that existed there into the 70’s.

  7. Robbo, that pic isnae mine I googled for it.

    Dylan, I assume you meant deer! 8) The “boarding school” was very high class because it was approved! (St Andrews)

    Missy I tried to get a decent pic of Sally but none of them were great as she was preoccupied by sticks, her rubber bone toy and various scents around the place. Fear not, she shall feature again!

    Glade Rover, welcome aboard and one of your old team mates already posts here! I made an assumption on the railway line so thanks for putting that right, it certainly makes more sense.

  8. January 29th 1917 opposite the Shandon, submarine K13 went to the bottom. Commander Goodhart and his wife had been staying at the hotel whilst awaiting the commission of his own vessel K14.

    Commander Goodhart lost his life while trying to arrange rescue of the crew of the stricken submarine.

    http://www.cwgc.org/search/casualty_details.aspx?casualty=2947209

  9. Fascinating Phil.

    Thank you.

    • Thanks for the memories . I Lived in a cottage in the Hydro grounds from 1957 to 1960 . The spectacular rhododendrons, skating on the pond in winter and deer foraging close to the house.
      We had a great view of the loch and a couple of U.boats at anchor awaiting their fate at the Faslane breakers yard. It truly was a wonderful place to spend teenage years.

      • I was born in Belmore House in 1960(now also inside the naval base, we lived ther until 1970. As you say an idyllic place to live. Rhododendrons, daffodils and bluebells and it always seemed to be a hot summer.

      • Hi There,

        What’s your surname?

        We lived in the admiralty houses from 1955-1957. Have you any pictures of the hydro grounds or anecdotes I could use for my family history.
        We used to belt through the trees on an old tricycle, my brother, Jerry and I

        Mike stewart

        • Hi Mike

          This was before I was born in September 1960. However did you go to Garelochhead Primary School? My brother would be around your age Andrew Jardine and an older sister again, Patricia Jardine. I have actually asked for permission to visit Belmore House as I was 50 on Friday. Not sure if it is a good idea though maybe prefer to remember it the way it was. My brother and sister stay down south now but we are meeting up beginning of October and I will ask them they will remember the Hydro better than me

  10. I was born at hill cottage shandon. There was four other homes there the Sinclairs ,Bramwhites and Thomas’s I clearly remember cycling through the remnants of the Hydro downhill to the post office which was what looked like an old gatehouse. There was an attempt to make it into a caravan park by the then owner. Prior to the Navy expansion.
    The Railway was in use while we lived there and seemed to call at faslane breakers yard a couple of times a day.
    There were a number of ponds reaching from the top of the hill near the quarry working down to the lake near the hydro.
    We often attended church services at the approved school particularly when the weather was bad. We were compulsory purchased from our home in 1966.
    At the time there were a number of navy houses near the bus stop and a couple of large houses.
    The ship which was regularly docked there was the Maidstone but I do remember a special visit from the new submarine the dreadnought coning tower number was S101.

  11. My Gt uncle bought Shandon Hydro, (50-60`s period) and was developing it into a caravan park, when the MOD served a compulsory purchase order on him and so he had no choice but to leave. I think there was an appeal but you could do nothing to help yourself in those days.

    I was a youngster at the time but I remember this being a very sad time for the family as they wanted to build the place back up to some sort of former glory.

  12. I have a series of postcards commissioned by the proprietor of Shandon Hotel with internal
    and external views of the hotel and local area from early 1900s. There is also a printed tariff with the cards. Happy to show to anyone interested. I live in Kilsyth.
    Jan 2012.

  13. I have been reading about Shandon Hydro with great interest. Years ago I was told that my Great Grandfather owned the hotel and I have a picture rather like the 1901 picture above on my hall wall. My mother has a large painting of the conservatory complete with large plants and basket chairs, all very grand.

    • Anonymous, how many years ago was it, that your g grandfather was supposed to have owned Shandon Hydro and the grounds ? Was it in the 1900`s 0r 50`s and 60`s ? Do you know his surname?

    • Jennifer…..
      If you would like the unused postcards
      of the exterior and interior of the hotel I
      have, please email me and I will arrange
      to post them (free of any charge)to you.
      I picked them up at a jumble sale many
      years ago and they are lying in a drawer.
      (RonnieBateman@aol.com)

  14. I was born in 1937 and lived at South Cottage, just along from the Post Office/shop at entrance to the Hydro, This is where the Guard Room was sited. I left in 1947, but remember quite a lot about the activities during the war.. The Bowling Green (just by the turret on the sea wall0 was an early casualty as ‘they’ decided it was a wonderful place to put latrines. In the summer they had outdoor cinema with the screen at the top edge of the slope in front of the Hydro. The Commandos regularly started their training on the shore up and over the road and scaling the wall at its highest point before going quite a way into the many glades and swinging across the ponds. As a child it was a delight to be able to follow and watch, without hindrance, their training. There was of course a nine hole golf course, with a pros shop, starting and finishing adjacent to the Railway Station. There was considerable railway development including a turntable. On the subject of the railway development there was a tree that supposedly caused bad luck or death to anyone who damaged it. There was an article published (I know not by whom are where it was published) detailing the history of the tree and the fates of those who dared to remove/damage it. It was also used in 1945 /46 as a holding base for, I think, it was Italians and Poles. Where the lower entrance to the Naval Base there was originally a pier and a very large hanger where boats were built. The Railway line and Station were certainly in use well before the war.
    Gordon Cairns

  15. I lived in a small cottage in the grounds of the Shandon Hydro in World War Two. My mother once told me it was the Lodge cottage but I cannot be sure. This was the married quarter allotted to my father, a Captain in the Royal Engineers. It was quite primitive with a pump in the back garden. There were steps down to the kitchen which often flooded in bad weather. Dad used to go out shooting rabbits for us to eat and we kept chickens too. I remember mum hanging out washing in the front of the cottage with wonderful views of the Gareloch, and I can recall American troops whistling and waving to her. The flying boats landing on the loch amazed me! They were very happy times for me in Scotland – seals on the beach and a farmer once let me feed a lamb with a bottle at Loch Lomond. I haven’t been able to find any details of our small cottage. We later moved to School Road, Rhu, and then we returned to Aldershot in August 1945 with my new baby brother, just in time for me to start at infant school. By then I had developed such a strong Scots accent that often my mother could not understand me!

  16. Marjory Dowling (nee Mclean)
    My father was born in East Cottage Shandon Hotel, Shandon in 1933. Both his parents worked at the Hotel . I would be interested to hear if anyone has any memories or information of Alfred (Alf) McLean and Jane Barr Hunter.

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