AS HELENSBURGH has changed over the years, not always for the better, so too has Shandon.

It is a good example of a community where changes have been especially pronounced, with loss of many features.

This ranges from removal of its pier to closure of the church, school, railway station, sub post office, shop, hotel, and golf course.

Local historian and Helensburgh Heritage Trust director Alistair McIntyre has been investigating the community’s history, and he began by looking at the rise and fall of Shandon Pier and the story of Shandon Church.

He says that, as land became available for house-building at Shandon from the 1830s onwards, the location proved to be extremely attractive, and uptake was swift.

Before very long, a number of substantial villas were built, and the population swelled.

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While occupation by the owners was in some cases only seasonal, such houses and their policies required sizeable numbers of staff.

There had for some time been a road beside the Lochside, but with ongoing growth in Victorian times, it proved to be liable to deteriorate quickly, particularly in bad weather.

The surface was often muddy, there were steep gradients in places, and there were several bends to be negotiated.

With ever-increasing wheeled traffic, the road became notorious, and there were harrowing accounts of horses becoming bogged down in the mire.

A typical account from 1875 refers to a lorry, which “though pulled by a powerful horse and trace horse, became stuck up to the naves when coming up the brae at Berriedale - it was detained for a considerable time”.

It was not surprising that in the wake of Henry Bell’s pioneering steamboat ‘Comet’ of 1812, water-borne transport soon beckoned as an alternative to the mud and dangers of the road.

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By the early 1820s, vessels such as the Henderson and McKellars steamship ‘Sovereign’ were plying the Glasgow-Gareloch run.

Good piers on the Gareloch were lacking, and so at a number of places like Shandon and Garelochhead, a small ferry-boat would row out to rendezvous with the steamboats.

Some of the early steamers additionally towed a small boat of their own.

The ferryman at Shandon from the early days of feuing was Duncan McKinlay, and he plied his craft faithfully for some 50 years.

Such an arrangement was always going to carry an element of risk, and in 1859, when his small craft approached the steamer ‘Gem’, it hit the larger vessel and capsized.

Passenger Alexander Davidson, gardener to George Martin, was drowned. Such an outcome, tragic though it was, was probably exceptional, and the existing arrangement continued as before. It was not until 1878 that a major change took place.

Following the sale of Robert Napier’s very large residence, West Shandon, after his death in 1876, it opened as Shandon Hydropathic Establishment in 1877. This change acted as a catalyst for the building of a pier close by.

Helensburgh Advertiser: Travellers alight at Shandon pierTravellers alight at Shandon pier

Given the ambitions of Napier, and the great and the good he entertained at his residence, it was surprising that he had not used his influence to build a pier in his own lifetime.

In fact, according to an article in the Dumbarton Herald of July 26, 1878, this matter had been discussed between Napier and Sir James Colquhoun, “but at Mr Napier’s request, Sir James forbore from carrying out the project”- a surprising decision.

With the arrival of the Hydro, and the focus on commercial success, momentum built up with typical Victorian drive and commitment.

The pier was built under the auspices of the Colquhoun Estate Trustees, and the opening took place in September 1878. It was opposite the old toll-house, and close to the premises of the 20th century firm of Timbacraft.

Built by Baillie Kennedy of Partick, the pier was 275 feet long, and had piles of the best pitch pine, with construction geared towards protection from marine boring worms.

The pierhead face was rounded at the outer corner edges to facilitate berthing and departure by steamers without damage to the structure. There was a commodious waiting-room, and there was even a special slip for the landing of horses and cattle.

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It was known as either Balernock Pier or Shandon Pier. To mark the official opening, the well-known steamer, the ‘Balmoral’ paid a call, “gaily decorated with flags, bunting and evergreens, in honour of the occasion”.

Although a great convenience for visitors to the Hydro, the pier was some distance from the centre of Shandon, but as steamers continued to use the ferry call as well as the new facility, there was not too much discontent.

However, after the opening of the Craigendoran railway station and piers by the North British Railway Company in 1882, it was decided to discontinue the ferry call at Shandon.

This upset many Shandon residents, and pressure grew for the erection of another pier in place of the ferry call. The upshot was that in 1886 a new pier opposite Shandon Free Church was opened.

Spearheaded by local residents Henry Bell, namesake but not relative of the steamship pioneer, William Brown, John Kerr, Andrew Henderson, Andrew Kilpatrick, William Swan and William Walker, the new facility was paid for by several sponsors.

It was then made over by them to the Colquhoun Estate Trustees as part of their estate, and to be maintained by them on the same basis as their other Gareloch piers.

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Built at a cost of around £1,500 by Messrs Watt and Wilson, the designs were by Glasgow-based William Robertson Copeland, who also designed several of the local reservoirs.

The new facility had piles of greenheart, which is a durable South American hardwood, pierhead facings and copings of elm, and the gangway and terminal platform had creosoted pitch pine. At the pierhead was a roomy waiting room, along with piermaster’s office and storeroom.

There was a condition that with the “exceedingly handsome” new Shandon Pier now in use, the Colquhoun Estate Trustees would close Balernock Pier, a measure aimed at preventing the unpleasantness of possible litigation.

Given that the latter was still in almost new condition, one might imagine that the owners of Shandon Hydro would hardly have welcomed this outcome. What is not known is whether or not Balernock continued as a private pier or required to be demolished.

Old photographs seem to show two piers close to the Hydro, and there were certainly adverts which referred to yachting and boating from a private jetty. An Ordnance Survey map from the turn of the 20th century shows Balernock Pier, but it has an accompanying description “Disused”.

Shandon Pier did not enjoy a long and distinguished life: it closed as a public pier in 1915, possibly influenced by the arrival around the same time of a new Gareloch Motor Service, operated by Messrs McLaren, though other factors, such as wartime circumstances, may well have played a part.

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However, although the pier was rendered redundant as a public facility, it did continue to be used by the crews of laid-up ships moored in the loch, until the onset of the Second World War.

This was however not quite the last chapter in the story of the Shandon piers. In 1942 wartime restrictions led to the closure of the Gareloch steamer service, by which time the venerable ‘Lucy Ashton’ had been the only vessel plying the route.

However, that same year, a newspaper report revealed that Messrs Ritchie Brothers, Ferrymasters, Gourock, were planning to commence a new ferry service, billed as running between Rhu and Rosneath. It was claimed that there had been many complaints about the old service.

In October 1942 it was announced that the new service would in fact run between Clynder and a newly-built pier at Gullybridge, although it was still sometimes referred to as the Rosneath ferry.

Launches would be used, and it would be a passenger only facility, as had been the case with the railway steamers.

The new service began, but by May the following year, the Chief Constable was reporting problems to Dumbarton County Council - the timetable was not being adhered to.

To be continued.

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