Balloch Page 4

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The Old Balloch Bridge, the Coming of the Railways and the Growth of the Village


The Old Bridge at Balloch

Before the railways arrived, however, Balloch got a much-needed bridge over the Leven. By the 1820's, it was obvious that bridges should replace the ferries at Bonhill and Balloch. The two main local landowning families, Smollett at Bonhill and Colquhoun at Balloch owned the ferries, and under the law of the day were entitled to some level of compensation for loss of ferry revenues when the bridges were built. However, the basis on which it was done became a major grievance for the rest of the 19th century, which turned into a case of the landowners versus the people. Smollett was probably the guiltier of the two on this particular issue, because he abused his position in local government to ensure that the bridges were built under out of date laws that allowed them both to collect tolls indefinitely, which turned out to be until 1896, after the bridges were built - Bonhill in 1836 and Balloch in 1841.

The tolls were never quite the issue on Balloch Bridge that they were at Bonhill, mainly because Balloch Bridge was nothing like as heavily used by locals as Bonhill Bridge was. However, there was many a fight between a local and the toll-keeper on the matter of payment, and even as late as the 1950's there were one or two older men still living in Dalvait Road who proudly carried the scars from these punch-ups, regarding them as justified war medals. The 1841 bridge at Balloch was a Suspension Bridge. It was replaced by a much more robust bridge in 1887, and that one underwent a major rebuild and refurbishment, while retaining its 1887 appearance, to re-open in 2003.

old bridge at Balloch
The 1887 Balloch Bridge before its refurbishment

Balloch Bridge
An older view

The Coming of the Railways

As early as 1844 a new railway company had been proposed, the Caledonian & Dumbartonshire Railway, to run between Glasgow and both Balloch and Helensburgh. Not enough money could be raised, so the promoters decided to concentrate on a railway between Bowling and Balloch.  Bowling was not just a busy Clyde port with international departures, it was also the western terminus of the Forth and Clyde Canal. It was in an ideal position therefore not just to act as a passenger interchange between the Clyde steamers and the Balloch train and onward to the Loch steamers, but also as transhipment point for coal from central Scotland coalfields into the Vale factories, and bleached and printed textiles out.

Balloch Railway Station
Click to Enlarge

Since 1846 the steamers had been using a new pier at Drumkinnon Bay that stood 300 feet out into Loch Lomond, so that the steamers weren't at the mercy of the level of the River Leven. The Railway Company built the line through Balloch to a terminus at this new Balloch Pier, so that passengers were carried straight to the steamers. The railway opened to all on 15th July 1850. In a short time the railway was generating enough passenger traffic to Balloch Pier to keep three steamers busy.

The total journey time between Balloch and Glasgow was about one and a half hours - half an hour to Bowling and about another hour by steamer to Glasgow. The train, drawn by still-primitive Adams engines, built in Bow in London, had a speed of about 20 miles an hour. There were initially only two of these engines on the line, but their cargo-hauling and passenger-carrying capacity was overwhelmingly greater than stage, cart or gabbart. Indeed in terms of passengers, the main initial obstacle to travelling to Glasgow by rail / steamer was the price - from 11d to 1/6 in old money at a time when a typical male factory worker in the Vale was earning about 15/- per week. It was therefore about 6.6% of his weekly wage or about £19 for a single in to-days terms.

The line came into Balloch through the Fisherwood and much of this was cut down to make way for the railway (and even more was removed to build the Stirling line a few years later). The Ferryhill building also seems to have fallen victim to the railway, although this may have disappeared with the building of the bridge. The economic impact of the railway has been frequently referred to, but the physical impact must also have impressed the locals at the time. Before the railway arrived, there had been virtually no buildings of any sort on the west bank of the Leven at Balloch from the Heather Avenue to the southern shore of Loch Lomond, and from the bridge to Luss Road. The land was woods, farmers' fields or marshland. Within a matter of a few months all that had changed with considerable visual impact. Not only had the railway line been laid, but also a terminus operation had been built around Balloch Central Station. Although the line actually terminated at Balloch Pier, all of the buildings, sidings etc needed to support the end of a steam train line were erected at the Central Station. From the outset the station and the station manager's house were the main buildings and both still exist to varying degrees. At the same time, the row of railwaymen's cottages on the west side of the lines, which are still there, was built. Sometime later an engine shed, which was on the west side of the lines adjacent to the “down” platform, was added.

To begin with, there were not many sidings but that soon changed, as a goods yard and shed were added, and over the years additional sidings to house the considerable numbers of carriages required in the summer were added as the land was built up to-wards the river. A turntable to turn the engines was added a few hundred yards south of Balloch Pier, and the round brick-built enclosure in which it was housed has only recently disappeared. Semaphore signals controlled the running of trains on the lines and these were operated by signalmen from a series of signal boxes beside the line. In time there was a raised box at Balloch station which gave the signalman good visibility up and down Balloch Road, because the signalman was also required to operate the level-crossing gates. An iron bridge over the lines from one platform to another was also added much later.

The Balloch - Stirling Line

All you will ever want to know about the Balloch - Stirling railway line is contained in an excellent two-part article titled “The Forth & Clyde Junction Railway” in the railway history Magazine Back Track in its editions of March and May 2010. Back copies of the magazine are available from its publisher, Pendragon Publishing. The article was written by Robert Campbell, who was brought up in the old Mill of Haldane and comes from a long-time railway family.

In May 1856, the Forth & Clyde Junction Railway was completed all the way from Stirling to Balloch (it had already been in operation between Stirling and Buchlyvie for a couple of months). A junction was built on the existing line, just before what is now Rosshead, and this took the Stirling line off across the Leven on the “Stuckie” Bridge and into Jamestown. Another signal box was built just at the junction, and a red sandstone railwayman's cottage was built alongside the Stirling line, backing onto Fisherwood just after the junction. This cottage was still lived in until the 1950's and it was only demolished in the early 1960's. This line provided Balloch with a link, via Stirling, to the national rail network - Glasgow, Edinburgh and beyond - in 1856. This was fully two years before the Bowling - Glasgow link was completed in May 1858, which gave Balloch a direct link to Glasgow.

Various attempts were made to keep the passenger traffic going - including the use of Sentinel Cammel steam cars combining engine and passenger accommodation in the one unit – but it closed to passenger traffic in 1934. Thereafter the line continued in use as a freight line, and indeed had a bit of a boost during WW2 when it carried coal, munitions and other military goods from the East Coast to the Clyde Valley. Munitions dumps were sited near it and many older people will remember in particular the cordite which had been brought in by train and was stored in fields close to the Horseshoe road. There was talk of refurbishing the line after the War to carry coal trains from the Fife and Stirling coalfields to the new super gas-works then planned at Dumbarton, but nothing came of that.

On 15th August 1949 the line was closed as a through line and 3 separate, disconnected sections continued to operate for a while. One of these was Balloch – Croftamie which continued to offer a daily freight service, Monday – Friday, until October 1959, when the Jamestown – Croftamie section was closed. This left a Balloch – Jamestown section, with the line round to the former Milton Works still in use. The Jamestown line then served Grays of Stirling’s Grain Store, a couple of coal merchants in Jamestown Station yard, and the timber merchant’s yard (now Gilmour & Aitken’s) in the former Milton Works. In July 1958, a diesel shunting engine replaced the steam engine. The line eventually closed altogether in 1964 (either in June or September) and the Jamestown coal merchants transferred for a few years to Balloch Goods Yard.”

Various attempts were made to keep the passenger traffic going - including the use of steam cars combining engine and passenger accommodation in the one unit - it closed to passenger traffic in 1934. It continued in use as a freight line, and indeed had a bit of a refurbishment in the 1950's with the intention of using it to carry coal trains from the Fife coalfield to the new super gas-works at Dumbarton. But then, in typical nae luck fashion, the North Sea gas and oil discoveries were made. The future was North Sea gas and not only was the brand new Dumbarton Gas Works doomed, but so was the Balloch-Stirling line. It closed as a through freight line around 1957. However freight trains ran from Balloch to Croftamie for a few more years. Every day a steam engine out of Balloch hauled a small mixed freight train to Jamestown Goods Yard with fertilizers etc for Gray's Grain Store and coal for the couple of coal merchants there, and then it ran round to what had been Milton Works but is now Gilmour and Aitkens' sawmill and wood yard with wagons loaded with wood.

When required, it also ran on to Croftamie with bulk agricultural goods - but that was no more than a day a week. About 1960, a diesel shunting engine replaced the steam engine. The line eventually closed altogether in 1964 and the Jamestown coal merchants transferred for a few years to Balloch Goods Yard.

The Joint Line from Balloch to Dumbarton

By 1865, the Balloch - Glasgow line was owned by the North British Railway Company, whose great Scottish rival was the Caledonian Railway Company. In 1889 the Caledonian proposed a new line along the east side of the Vale from Dumbarton to a terminus about the Aber. Even at the time, the economic wisdom of this was very much open to question, although it did receive support in the Vale. This proposal was accompanied by a stated intent from the Caley to bring its own fleet of steamers onto the Loch. A short time later the Caley also announced its intention to end NB's monopoly of railway services on the north bank of the Clyde, by building a line close to the shipyards and engineering works on the Clyde's banks, from Glasgow to Dumbarton. A protracted period of horse-trading then took place between the NB and Caley, the upshot of which was that the Caley proceeded with the Glasgow - Dumbarton line, but dropped the Vale link. This new line opened in October 1886. In return for dropping the Vale section, the Caley forced the North British to allow them to run over their lines into Balloch, and to operate this line a new company was formed, the Dumbarton and Balloch Joint Line. The NB and Caley each owned 50% of the company, and each owned their own trains, which ran on the jointly owned line.

The line into Balloch was operated by this company from 1896 until railway nationalisation in 1948, although by then the North British had been absorbed into the LNER and the Caley into the LMS, as part of the 1923 railway rationalisation. The traveller from the Balloch and other Vale stations therefore had a choice from 1896 of taking a train to either Glasgow Queen Street (on an NB, later LNER train), or to Glasgow Central (on a Caley, later LMS) train. Both these services ran into the respective Glasgow low level stations and then into the Lanarkshire industrial hinterland. Trains rarely went to Glasgow; they usually left Balloch for places like Whiffletts or Rutherglen. This remained the case until electrification, and even after nationalisation in 1948 staff and passenger loyalty remained strong to the older companies, with the LMS trains being regarded as the workingman's train, while the LNER train into Queen Street was regarded as a bit more middle class or even snooty. Surprisingly, perhaps, the idea of a Joint Line which now seems to be a pretty obvious and sensible way of saving money, was very rare and there was only one other joint line in Scotland at the time of nationalisation.

Even at the start of the operation of the line 1850, there must have been quite a number of people employed at Balloch, and of course the railway work-force grew with the opening of the Stirling line in 1856 and then with the connection right through to Glasgow in 1858, when additional engines and rolling stock would be required for the additional services which the trains offered. Trains ran from Balloch 6 days a week (it wasn't until 1919 that trains ran on a Sunday) from about 6 am to midnight, and the staffing required at Balloch reflected its position as a terminus. There were engine-drivers and firemen (even at the time of electrification in 1960, when goods traffic had fallen considerably, there were still 4 steam engines based at Balloch), guards and cleaners, permanent way men, in addition to the porters, ticket staff, signalmen, carters for deliveries etc, who would be found at any railway station. At Balloch the Station Master, who lived in the rather grand house above the station, headed them all up.

The Growth of Balloch

The steamer and railway workforce was the largest in Balloch. Some of the workers were locals already living in Jamestown and Dalvait, and no doubt some came from other parts of the Vale. However a number came to Balloch specifically to work on the steamers and railway, and they had to be housed. As has been noted some were housed in the railway cottages at the station, but new houses had to be built for the rest. The first of these were the older buildings at the Front of Balloch i.e. on the south side of Balloch Road facing Moss Park, immediately west of Dalvait Road. Three separate buildings were erected there between the 1850's and 1860's and housed many of them. These buildings still stand, although all have been much renovated over the last 150 years, and for most their use has changed a number of times between houses, shops cafes and pubs in that time. They are the first buildings in the expansion of Balloch brought about by the railway.

The second set of buildings erected at this time were the older buildings at Haldane's Mill, particularly the tenements in the V formed by Mollanbowie and Stirling roads, which were demolished in the 1960's. Haldane's Mill was already a thriving small community, which had grown up around the Mill and the small farm, and the facilities which were already there probably made it an attractive location for new houses.

Also in the 1850's stables for the Balloch Hotel were built immediately opposite the Hotel in Balloch road - the Esso garage, presently an unseemly gap site, occupied the exact footprint of the stables, as we shall see. The stable buildings replaced the Kiln building. They consisted of a large walled-in courtyard, which was completely covered, and accessed by means of two large wooden sliding doors. The stables and other storerooms were arranged around the yard with a large hayloft at the eastern end. The building stayed substantially the same through its first change of use - from stabling horses, to accommodating the horses' successors, the motorcar. It was first operated as a garage by a partnership of James McAllister and Wull Aitken from the 1920's. Wull Aitken lived in Charles Terrace and was the brother of Donald Aitken who owned the blacksmith's business at Mill of Haldane, and who was for many years the County Councillor for the Balloch area, until defeated by Mrs Cathy MacLean in 1955.

In the winter of 1938, a heavy snowfall caused the roof to fall in (exactly like the nearby Waterlot 50 years or so later). The consequences for the business were very dramatic, because in spite of the substantial damage caused to buildings, equipment and cars, which were inside the garage when the roof fell in, the insurance company pleaded “Act of God” and refused to pay up. Perhaps as a result of this, James McAllister moved on to set up an electrician's business in Alexandria, which his family ran until quite recently. Wull Aitken soldiered on as owner of the garage for another 20 years or so, but wisely never replaced the roof. However, the outside walls and doors remained intact, and the garage operated within the courtyard with a petrol pump located at the doors. It continued this way throughout the 1940's and 50's until the Aitken family sold it to Harry Lynn, of the boat-yard business, about 1960. Harry made some radical changes, knocking down the walls and opening up a garage forecourt with island pumps. However, his offices and motor repair area at the east end of the garage, remained part of the original stables building.

When the Lynns sold it to Glens in the 1990's, the whole area was flattened and replace by a standard Esso filling station and convenience store layout, and remained that way until closed in 2005, and demolished in 2006 with the intention of building flats on the site. At the time of writing (June 2008), the land is a gap site awaiting development

From about 1900 a steady trickle of house building began in what became Drymen and Balloch Roads, which gathered pace as the 20th century went on. The first new buildings were the substantial detached villas immediately around Balloch Station on Balloch Road. On the south side, the houses from Lomond Villa to Avalon and on the north side the Anchorage. At this time Station Road did not exist, and there was nothing more beyond these houses on either side of Balloch Road as it ran up from the station to Luss road, except fields on either side. At about the same time, the villas on Fisherwood Road, and the Tullichewan Hotel were built. Until the 1930's the Tullichewan Hotel was a temperance hotel - the only one in the Vale - before opening a bar entered from Fisherwood Road.

Balloch Road finished at the end of Balloch Park wall and Drymen Road started there. The first houses on Drymen Road, dating from about 1900 were built only on the south side of the road, and for many years there were gaps between many of these villas. Unlike the houses on the west bank of the Leven, most of whose original owners were Glasgow businessmen who travelled to work by train each day, the Drymen Road houses were mostly built for local Vale businessmen and professional people.

Balloch Main Street
Click to Enlarge

House building had also started in Dalvait Road. The first of the new buildings was Mossview, which still stands on the corner of the Front of Balloch and Dalvait Road, quite recognisable from its original 1900 build. The corner shop which was a combined grocers and Post Office for about 40 years, was originally the only shop in the building. Shortly after Mossview's completion, the Orr Ewings built Charles Terrace for senior UTR employees. It was named after a brother, who was the Conservative MP for Ayr, another of the Orr Ewing's family businesses. From its frontage onto Dalvait Road, apart from the railings, which were removed to make munitions during WW1, Charles Terrace still looks pretty much the same as it did the day it was completed. The two red-sandstone buildings between Mossview and Charles Terrace were the last to be built at the Balloch end of Dalvait Road at this time. They were built in 1906 by the Vale of Leven Co-Operative Society for rental to members. On their completion, the layout of the core of Balloch hardly changed for about 60 years.

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