For Graeme Hogg, a longstanding contributor to development projects at Tighnabruaich, much of what goes on there today is coloured and inspired by memories of the past.
The photograph above ties together two strands of recollection, now interwoven by my life in retirement at Tighnabruaich.
It shows Jeanie Deans arriving at Tighnabruaich pier in 1946 or 1947 in her short-lived LNER post-war livery. She had been extensively rebuilt by A & J Inglis on her release from war service. This resulted in her acquiring two elliptical funnels, larger in diameter than previously and of the same height, more extensive deck saloons and new lifeboats slung on Welin davits above these deckhouses. The new Waverley, from the same yard, had a similar design, but she was smaller and had a less imposing appearance.
The photograph was taken by Cuthbert Spencer, who for most of the century up to that time had photographed the ships visiting the Kyles of Bute and many other scenes around the district, and published them in several series of postcards. He was born in Yorkshire and had settled in the area probably around 1910 or 1911, working as a gardener at Wellpark not far from Tighnabruaich pier.
There were extensive greenhouses in the grounds, which he undoubtedly helped look after. Photography was a hobby at which he was clearly very proficient. It probably provided him with useful additional income to supplement his gardener’s wages. For those wishing to learn more about this interesting character, there is a short biography of him, written by Geoff Newton, on the website of the Tighnabruaich District Development Trust (tddt.org.uk).
One of the Trust’s current projects is to create a Heritage Centre in Tighnabruaich outlining aspects of the history and development of the area over the past 5,000 years. It will open to the public at Easter. As a director of the Trust, I am developing presentations on the maritime history covering the piers, the steamers, yachting and boating and puffers and cargo boats. Until the ‘New Road’ was opened in 1969, the sea provided the principal means of access to the area.
The presentation on steamers and piers will draw extensively on Cuthbert Spencer’s work and it is fair to say that, without him, it would be quite difficult adequately to illustrate the developments to steamer services in the first half of the 20th century.
By the time Cuthbert took this photograph of ‘Jeanie’, he would have been into his 70s and it is one of the last of his photographs to be published. The photograph itself had an afterlife. Some time later it re-appeared as a Valentines postcard, but the funnels had been touched up to appear as if they are BR yellow. It was poorly done and the original is much better.
The second strand concerns the ship herself and my connection with Tighnabruaich. My first visit there was for a family holiday for the Glasgow Fair of 1959. My father did not have a car, so travel was by steamer. The trip provides my earliest memory of being on a steamer. We joined a well filled Jeanie Deans at Gourock on Fair Saturday lunchtime and sailed via Dunoon, Innellan and Rothesay to Tighnabruaich.
I was six years old, but can remember what seemed like huge engines turning at great speed. My other memory is of being in a very steamy after deck shelter, which at that time was the tearoom on board. My mother would have been unable to endure a voyage of that length without a cup of tea, hence the visit.
Tighnabruaich was a great place for a holiday, and that visit kindled my love of both the place and the steamers. At the end of our fortnight, rather than return on ‘Jeanie’, my parents decided we would travel to Bridge Wharf on Queen Mary II. I had decided already that Jeanie Deans was my favourite steamer, but the ‘Mary’ was very impressive, even if she lacked paddles and proper engines.
My main memory was of having High Tea on the way upriver on a sunny evening. As was the custom on busy days, the Assistant Pursers carried out the ticket collection on the passage and this took place while we were in the Dining Saloon. My parents hadn’t appreciated that a supplement was due on our return tickets and a lively discussion took place before my father went up to the Ticket Office to sort things out. The Assistant Purser in question may even have been Richard Orr. Whoever it was certainly stood his ground well.
We continued to holiday in Tighnabruaich for six years, although we went by road in later years, and we were there over the September weekend in 1964. I can remember ‘Jeanie’ leaving Tighnabruaich for the last time and giving three long blasts on her whistle as she did so. She had a sorry time on the Thames, and I prefer to remember her paddling majestically through the Kyles.
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Published on 22 March 2019