Balloch Page 3

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The Early 1800's, Celebrity Tourism and the Loch Steamers

Balloch hotel

A famous painting of the Balloch Hotel by Scottish Colourist, George Leslie Hunter

Balloch in the early 1800's

About 1820, a new Balloch Inn was built, with its name emblazoned on a swinging sign. This was on the site of the old ferry house and 1820 building continues to be the core of the existing Balloch Hotel. At the time, there were very few buildings in Balloch.

On the west bank at the top of the ferry brae, there was only one building and it was called Ferryhill, appropriately enough.

Going from the Ferry towards Haldane's Mill, the road had a few houses on both sides. On the north side of the road, the first house beyond the Moss o Balloch was a newly built Lodge to Balloch Estate which stood where its replacement still stands. Past it was the school mentioned above, and the only other building was Mollanbowie Farm parts of which survived until about 2000.

On the other (south) side of the road, until 1825 Dalvait Road joined Balloch Road more or less where Riverside now runs. To begin with the first house was where the Doghouse now stands - indeed some of that early 19th century house may well survive in the present Doghouse building. James Barr tells us that John Lindsay and his brother, who built, owned and worked on the only two gabbarts that traded between the Loch and the Clyde lived there. Adjacent to that building, in the area subsequently occupied by the re-aligned Dalvait Road, were small number of houses going off in different directions. In one lived the pilot of the Marion, while behind that was a small thatched cottage. Beside them was a row of weavers' cottages called Inverlochy. All disappeared as the 19th century wore on.

At the top of the brae on the south side of the road was another small farm. Beyond lay the hamlet of Haldane's Mill, with not only a grain mill but also a blacksmith's yard. (See discussion)

The original Dalvait Road ran from about Riverside more or less in a straight line to the hamlet of Bankhead or Knowehead, from where it closely followed the river until the Carrochan Burn where it swung slightly north east to join the Stirling - Dumbarton Road where it still does. This line changed in 1825. In that year, John Stuart, who was the owner of Lennoxbank, or as it was to be renamed, Levenbank Works, decided to have a house built for himself by the River Leven, opposite the salmon fishing “shots” at Fisherwood. The fact that the road between Jamestown and Balloch ran right through the middle of the chosen site was not a problem - move the road. Dalvait Road was duly moved from running much closer to the river, onto the line it takes to this day. The old Dalvait Road ran just east of old Bankhead. Nairn's smiddy and joinery fronted onto it.

Moving it allowed a considerable amount of building to take place immediately after 1825. Going north along the west side of Dalvait Road from Lennoxbank House, a loan was built from the river up to the new Dalvait Road and a short row of two-storey tenements, called Knowehead, was built (these houses survived until the building of the Waterlot function suite of the Lennoxbank House Hotel in the 1960's). Knowehead, which was immediately adjacent to the garden wall of the Lennoxbank House, was probably built for employees of the Stuart family, working in either Lennoxbank House or Works.

Still on the west side heading northwards, a few yards beyond Knowehead were two short loans both called Bankhead. All three were parallel to each other. The second Bankhead was the most populous of the three and had about three blocks of houses on it, the middle of which survives to this day. Just beyond the third house was what was the smiddy and joinery, which was certainly an industrial-sized joinery in the late 1800's. About 1915 it was converted to become the Radium Works until about 1920. For much of the 20th century, four well-kent Vale personalities lived in Bankhead: wee Tommy MacKay postman, ornithologist and Burns singer exemplar, also generally regarded as just about the nicest person you could meet; his near neighbour was Jimmy Edwards master joiner and craftsman, bee-keeper, and canary fancier; and the Davidson brothers - Nat who was a District Councillor representing Balloch and Haldane for many years first as an independent and then from the mid-1950's as Labour, and Duncan who after his days as a pig farmer ran donkey rides in Moss o Balloch Park for many years. Nat and Duncan were the last owners of the Radium Works building in which they had run a piggery, and Duncan's memoir of working in the Radium Works, the only known first hand account of working there, is included in these web pages, the first time it has been published.

There was originally nothing on the west side of Dalvait Road until what is now The Doghouse building. However, about 1825 the Nairn Marshall family built a fine mansion about halfway between Bankhead and Balloch Road, about as far back from the Leven as Lennoxbank House. This mansion has been referred to as both Tigh Nairn and Dalvait House, and since the Nairn Marshall's were descendants from the Nairn family of Bankhead referred to above, either is equally plausible. If, as has been surmised, the original Dalvait Road ran in more or less a straight line from Lennoxbank Hotel to the Balloch Hotel, it would have run right through this site and Tigh Nairn or Dalvait House must count as another beneficiary of the re-alignment. It was a beautiful house on a site every bit as attractive as Lennoxbank, entered down a curved wooded avenue, about 100 yards long, from Dalvait Road almost opposite where the opening is between the two red sandstone former Co-operative buildings. It had a well laid out garden to the front, and beyond the garden a field ran down to the River. It was about similar in overall size to Lennoxbank House, with a large covered courtyard to the rear of the house and stables and outbuildings just to the south of it, and beyond them, fields to Bankhead. Bankhead, of course, ended up by being owned by the Nairn Marshalls, as did many other things in the neighbourhood, including a large part of the Front of Balloch (as that part of Balloch road between Dalvait Road and the Leven was called) and Auchencarroch or Fairview Quarry (now unfortunately an in-fill site). They owned the house up until the end of WW2, and of its demise, more below.

Another couple of hundred yards beyond that was a small white cottage that ran at right angles to the river, which contained two separate houses. In one of these houses James Barr, whose memoirs provide most of the detail of the history of Balloch in the 1820-30's was born in 1816. This house was called Dalvait Cottage and was still standing into the 1930's. It was called after the area in which it stood, in which also stood the hamlet of Dalvait with its fishermen's cottages. “Dalvait” is derived from the Gaelic and means “Field of the boat”. It appears in documents relating to the Partition of the Lennox under which it passed to one of the three Lennox inheritors - John Napier. It was an appropriate name, because he allowed Leven salmon fishermen to draw up their boats and lay out their nets there. There were some other houses in the Dalvait area, most of which survived into the 20th c. However, one particular group of houses are worth noting, and they are mentioned by Archibald M Aitken in his book Jamestown and Balloch As I Remember Them (2003), as still being inhabited in the 1930's. They were where Dalvait Road turns northward, just before the gates of what was to become Lennoxbank House and its successors. The unusual aspect of this row of houses was that they were all built into the side of Dalvait Road, but below the level of the road. These houses, whose name now seems to have been lost, were Balloch's version of troglodyte living. Their ruins survived until about 1950, but by that time they seem to have been uninhabited for a number of years.

Celebrity Tourism

We have already touched on two tourists to the district - Johnson and Boswell and they were a foretaste of what was about to become the first major factor for change in Balloch. Tours by moneyed British people were nothing new, and the Grand Tour of Europe was well established. But that was the point - they went to Europe. By the 1790's, however, touring Europe was off the agenda. The French Revolutionary Wars soon developed into the Napoleonic Wars and they engulfed just about everywhere that the British Grand Tourist wanted to go. So they turned their thoughts to the parts of Britain that they otherwise wouldn't have been seen dead in, and that particularly included Scotland.

We're not talking large numbers here - only a miniscule proportion of the population were wealthy enough to even consider going on a tour. The poets Wordsworth and Coleridge, and Wordsworth's sister Dorothy are typical. They passed through the Vale on their way to the head of the Loch. In truth they weren't all that much taken by the scenery - Wordsworth complained that everything was too large in comparison with his beloved Lake District - now there's real insight. But others, wealthy from the new industries in central Scotland soon followed, and by the early 19th Century, Balloch's first tourists began to arrive. They wanted access to the Loch and that was difficult by land since most of the Loch-shore was privately owned. A sail on the Loch was therefore in demand, and the demand was met in small sailing or rowing boats. In 1812, Henry Bell, a Helensburgh-based man started Europe's first steamship based services on the Clyde from Helensburgh using the 30 ton steamship, the Comet. Others soon copied him and quite quickly there were a number of steamship services up and down the Clyde.

The Marion - the First Loch Paddle Steamer

Loch Lomond Boat
"The Marion"
‘A Trip up Loch Lomond', from M Egerton, Airy Nothings... by Olio Rigmaroll, London 1825.

The man who built the Comet's boilers, David Napier, immediately recognised the potential in steamship travel. He built his own Foundry at Camalachie in Glasgow in 1814, and 2 years later it produced his first marine engine of 20 h.p. He was all set to go as a ship owner as well, when he built the wooden hulled Marion (named after his wife), at Dumbarton and installed the new engine in it. The Marion was about 60ft in length and about 13ft in beam, with, it is said, a deck cabin, which doesn't seem to appear on any of the surviving illustrations of the Marion. She wasn't steered from the Cabin, but by a long iron tiller at the stern. It had a crew of about 8 including the captain, helmsman, steward (who was in charge of the food), engineer, stoker and deckhands. In 1817, Napier sailed her on the Clyde, but decided that in the following year he would sail her on Loch Lomond where there was no steamship competition, and where there was undoubtedly a demand from the small number of affluent tourist who were now coming to Balloch. He therefore sailed the Marion up the Leven and began a steamship service from Balloch, up the Leven and onto the Loch in 1818, just 6 years after Bell's first service had started on the Clyde.

The Marion sailed from a jetty on the east bank of the Leven just above the ferry, and close to the hotel - more or less where the jetty was in the Lynn's first east bank yard. “Jetty” was a bit of an exaggeration, since it seems to have consisted of two shoogly planks of wood. When the Leven was low in the summer, the Marion, and her eventual competitors, had to moor just beyond the mouth of the river on the Loch, and the passenger were rowed or, more likely, punted up to the steamships by crewmembers in rowing boats or light scows from this jetty. Speed was not a consideration with the Marion, and her range was usually to about Rob Roy's cave and back on a trip, keeping as direct a course as possible i.e. to the west of Inchmurrin and up the Luss straights.

The Marion's operations and sailings are well documented - James Barr's memoirs and Ransom's Loch Lomond and the Trossachs provide much useful information. One early passenger described it as “hissing and roaring” and “foaming and shouting like an angry whale”. Napier served food on board, and he had different classes and prices for his passengers. Dorothy Wordsworth, in a trip on board in 1822 describes eating “not at the gentry end” because “the other was quite as good and only half the price.”

The typical passenger came from Glasgow or Greenock. They got to Balloch by sailing by steamship to Dumbarton and changing to a horse-drawn coach that took them to Balloch. If the coaches were full, but they still wanted to get to the steamer, then they had to walk from Dumbarton. The preferred route for the coach between Dumbarton and Balloch was through the west side of the Vale, coming down Balloch Road to the Ferry on the west bank, and then crossing by ferry to access the jetty on the east bank. This was a much smoother road surface than that from Dumbarton via Bonhill - perhaps because it was the busier of the two military roads, perhaps because it was the one frequented by the Duke of Argyll. The owners of the Marion did try to run a coach from Dumbarton via Bonhill, but owing to the hilly uneven route, they soon gave up.

Although Mr Stuart claimed that there was not much money to be made out of the Marion - he claimed that in his best year he only made £50 from it - it soon attracted competition. A new company was formed in Dumbarton, the Lochlomond Steamboat Company, and it built a new paddle steamer in Dumbarton, The Lady of the Lake, which started to sail from Balloch in 1825. She was bigger than the Marion, more modern in construction, and more powerfully engined. She presented a strong competitor to the Marion. James Barr tells what happened next. “When she got on station (at Balloch), the next move of the opposing parties was to have touters waiting the arrival of the coaches from Dumbarton to solicit for the respective interests. The cheapening of the fares, which for a time were almost nominal, brought crowds of holiday excursions from Glasgow and Paisley, and for their conveyance the vehicular resources of Dumbarton were frequently found to be inadequate.”

“Balloch had not for several generations been so attractive and exciting as it became under the steamboat rivalry. Idlers came from afar, and as they occurred at the usual breakfast hour, many in the neighbourhood hurried their meals in order to witness the proceedings. There were groups of onlookers on both sides of the river, those from Levenbank Printfield favoured the Marion; those from further down the river were mostly for The Lady as she was the opposition boat, and opposition tends to cheapness in sailing as well as in the more indispensable necessities of life.”

Balloch Old Bridge
Boats on the River Leven circa 1950

Some of the events in that passage could have been describing the scenes of the 1940's to the 1960's as the rival Lynn and Blair yards touted for the excursion bus business on Balloch Bridge. It also highlights the unsustainable cutthroat price war that brought the tourists - who may be much reduced from the hey-days, but have never really left - in such large numbers for the first time.

Napier, as he was to prove many times, was an astute businessman, and he had a number of advantages in the struggle to survive. He seems to have already have had in place advantageous pricing agreements for his passengers on the Clyde steamers bringing them to Dumbarton, and pricing and capacity agreements with the coaching company bringing them to Balloch from Dumbarton. Also, in 1828 he brought a larger Clyde-based steamer, the Euphroyne, onto the Loch. He held off all of the competition. Then in the 1830's, he entered into a partnership with some of his erstlewhile competitors, and operated under their name of Lochlomond Steamboat Company. In the late 1830's this company brought the first iron-built steamship, the Lochlomond, onto the Loch.

In 1844, competition emerged for the first time from the north end of the Loch when a group calling itself the New Lochlomond Steamboat company, brought another steamer, the Water Wych, onto the Loch sailing between a newly built canal basin at Inverarnan on the Falloch, and a specially-built pier on the Leven close to Balloch Bridge (which had been opened in 1841, replacing the ferry). This was a potentially serious rival, because one of its major investors was the Marquis of Breadalbane who saw the Inverarnan harbour as a very useful jumping off point for coaches to his lands in western Perthshire. However, the competition was short lived and in 1845 the two companies amalgamated into the Lochlomond Steamboat Company, which had a very successful future ahead of it. It was also the progenitor of perhaps the biggest impact on Balloch's development - the arrival of the railways.

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