THE massive Shandon Hydropathic Establishment was established in 1877 in what was previously shipbuilder Robert Napier’s home, West Shandon, and proved to be highly successful.

Lists of paying guests were often published in the local press. These reveal that although many came from the West of Scotland, a significant proportion came from other parts of Scotland as well as quite a few from south of the Border and abroad.

Local historian and Helensburgh Heritage trust director Alistair McIntyre discovered this when researching the area, and this is the second part of his second set of articles about the village.

Among the multitudes who flocked to the Hydro was Robert Louis Stevenson, who was in residence, along with his parents, from April 5-14, 1879.

At that time, Stevenson was still finding his feet as a writer and he could be described as a classic example of the rebellious son.

Helensburgh Advertiser: An old image which shows passengers waiting at Shandon StationAn old image which shows passengers waiting at Shandon Station

His parents' desire was that he should follow in the great civil engineering tradition of his justly acclaimed forebears.

But the young Robert showed no interest, so he was put to studying law. This field likewise held no appeal. His attitude led to serious friction between father and son.

At the time of the Shandon visit, Robert’s emotional life was also in turmoil from a different quarter. In 1876, while travelling in France, he made the acquaintance of Fanny Osbourne, an American lady who was separated from her husband, and soon they fell in love.

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This further strained the already fraught relationship between Robert and his parents, but tension subsided in 1878, when Fanny returned to the United States. This was the backdrop to his stay at the Hydro.

Stevenson’s mindset can be gauged from a letter he sent while there to Fanny Sitwell, an old flame from further back. The contents are quoted in ‘The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson’, edited by Booth and Mayhew (1995).

He wrote: “I am staying with my people at Shandon Hydropathic Establishment. I hate it, and am dull, stupid, and a little wee bit gloomy between whiles. When I cannot work, cannot walk, and am not much in the humour to read, my time hangs upon my hands.

“I think I’ve never felt so lonely as when I am too much with my father and mother, and I am ashamed of the feeling, which makes matters worse.”

That August, Stevenson left Scotland to meet up with Fanny Osbourne in the United States, marrying her in 1880, by which time she was divorced from her first husband.

The great influence of Shandon Hydro, and its many attractions, could be seen as threatening to shift the centre of gravity of Shandon away from the cluster of amenities which included the church, school, pier, grocery, and penny savings bank. Almost certainly because of the Hydro, the first public pier in Shandon was located close by.

Given the many paying guests at the Hydro, their presence must have generated a need for a place handling mail, so the decision to open a post office nearby made good business sense.

The exact date of the opening of Shandon Post Office has not been pinpointed, but it was probably not long after the opening of the Hydro. It was certainly in existence by 1883, when Mrs Hanagan was postmistress.

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The location was an unusual and picturesque one too, by the old lodge-house to West Shandon, and many photographs survive.

By the end of the decade, Mrs McLean was postmistress, and she remained there for many years - until at least 1937. The next postmistress going into the Second World War was Miss E.S.McLean, possibly a relative.

The Hydro was commandeered by the military in both World Wars, but the post office survived both conflicts. Doubtless the military presence would have generated its own demand for mailing services, and there is still a post office at the Clyde Naval Base at Faslane.

The sporting amenities at the Hydro were essentially for the use of guests only, but at times of recession, a number were made available for non-hotel guests. A likely candidate would have been the nine-hole golf course.

That would certainly have been the case from around 1930, when Shandon Golf Club came into being, replacing control by the Hydro. Originally opened in 1890, the course was redesigned not long after by the famous Willie Fernie, and it proved a popular attraction.

The terrain was hilly, but the views were outstanding. Celebrated golfer Tom Haliburton from Rhu learnt to play the game there, and many members came from outwith Shandon.

Crucially, the course was not owned by the club, and this ultimately was a major factor in the winding-up of the club in 1958. The farmer on whose land it was located stated that he needed to have his land back. A campaign to save the course was unsuccessful.

Shandon Omnibus Station was based at the Old Tollhouse, by Carnban Point. A toll-bar operated at Shandon from 1830-57, when it was replaced by one at Garelochhead.

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The Omnibus service started around 1868, and the driver was Robert Hosie. An advert from 1883 refers to an omnibus setting out daily at 7.50am, in good time for travellers to catch the 9am train from Helensburgh to Glasgow. A return run set off from outside the railway station at 6.15pm.

There is no mention of a service in between, with the service as advertised primarily aimed at those commuting to and from the city.

It is not known if the service adjusted in any way to suit those journeying to and from the Hydro. It had its own coaches for hire, though to what extent they ran a transport service to suit paying guests is not clear.

The Shandon Omnibus Station did not survive the turn of the century, and possibly competition from other forms of transport played a part in its closure.

One example is the West Highland Railway, which opened in 1894, with Shandon being one of the beneficiaries.

Shandon Railway Station was typical of other stations on the line, being a handsome and distinctive building constructed in the Swiss chalet style, with shingled wall facings.

It had an island platform, and it was equipped with a signal box and points. There were sidings and a loading platform. As it had its own stationmaster, an attractive house was provided for him.

The first stationmaster was James B.Shedden. Houses were also provided for signalmen and those charged with maintaining the track and fences.

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It all sounds very alluring, but one disadvantage, in common with all Garelochside stations, was that going to it entailed a testing uphill walk.

A contemporary writer put it: “A sound heart and lungs and experience of hill climbing are essential to a man who hurries from his breakfast table to catch a train at one of the lochside stations - it is easier to go to a pier.”

Perhaps the choice of location within reach of Shandon Hydro was influenced not so much by the existence of that place, but rather because a station further to the south would have entailed an even steeper climb.

One writer commented that the lofty elevation of the line came about because of pressure from some feuars, who did not wish to have a railway passing close to their residences.

While that may well be true, another reason for the inconvenient location of the stations stemmed from the fact that the West Highland Line was built on a relatively shoestring budget.

This ruled out the use of long tunnels, and with Whistlefield Hill having to be surmounted, the route north of Craigendoran junction needed to build up sufficient height to clear it, while avoiding excessively steep gradients.

By 1904, the stationmaster was Thomas Anderson Lyon. In July of that year there was an accident near the station, which, though serious enough, had the potential to have been much worse.

The safety record of the West Highland Railway, with its single track line, has been good, but over the years, incidents did crop up from time to time.

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On this occasion, the carriages of a northward bound passenger train had been uncoupled from the engine, while the driver undertook to take a horse-box along to the sidings at the station.

But the brakes holding the carriages proved insufficient, and they began to roll downhill towards the station. The engine driver saw what was happening, was faced with a difficult decision.

One major consideration was that if the carriages - which contained a good number of passengers - picked up enough speed, they might derail, with possibly catastrophic consequences.

He decided that the lesser of two evils was to let the carriages run into the horse-box and engine before they built up too much speed. In the collision that followed, the leading carriage and horse-box were badly damaged, and a number of passengers suffered nasty, but not life-threatening, injuries.

At some stage, the post of stationmaster at Shandon was discontinued. When John Dewar was appointed stationmaster at Garelochhead in 1942, he was told that he would also have the stations at Shandon and Whistlefield in his remit.

This was an especially demanding time. With the construction of Military Port No.1 at Faslane in 1941-42, a branch line was built to service it, with 22 miles of track and extensive sidings.

A major factor in the choice of Faslane for the port was the existence of the West Highland Railway. In addition, the wartime presence of large numbers of other military personnel entailed yet more railway activity.

Further business stemmed from local Prisoner of War camps established as the Second World War drew to a close. Many of the German prisoners travelled daily from local stations to Inveruglas, where they were put to work on construction of the Loch Sloy Hydro-electric Power Station.

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Post-war, all seemed set for a bright new future at the station. At one time, there was an annual competition for best-kept stations, and although Shandon no longer had its own resident stationmaster, it performed well.

In 1959 Shandon Station, along with those at Helensburgh Central, Garelochhead and Cardross, was awarded the First Class designation. This brought with it a prize of £7-10/-, a tidy sum.

Competition between stations helped keep up high standards, and many will recall the fine floral displays. The stations were cheerful, friendly places.

However, post-war society was changing, and with developments like increased car ownership, movement of freight by road, overseas holidays, effects of inflation, and lack of investment, railways began to suffer.

In the wake of the infamous Beeching report of 1963, it was announced that Shandon would be one of the stations that would lose their passenger service.

This led to job losses, although at Shandon, the services of a signalman, which often entailed his wife working a two shift system, were retained.

However, this too was discontinued in 1967, and the station, signal box and island platform were removed. Shandon Station became just a memory.

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