Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Mackintosh’s Hill House preservation features twice in the news

After I mentioned the preparation being made to start work on the protective enclosure Hill House in Helensburgh, it get TWO mentions in the news.

The enclosure is not sealed, but will allow the air to circulate while protecting the building from wind and rain.

In the words of one of the staff, a century of Scottish weather (and unfortunately inappropriate materials) means that the building has become wet, and is being dissolved where it stands.

The enclosure will give it a chance to dry out, and be worked on to conserve it.

In light of the Mackintosh Building fire, it has been pointed out that Hill House will NOT have a sprinkler system, as this could do as much damage to the fragile interior as any fire, if it was triggered.

Instead, staff, monitoring, and plans made with the local fire service will be used to protect the building.

Sadly, WordPress still doesn’t allow BBC video to be embedded, so you’ll have to click on the link to watch.

Protecting Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s domestic masterpiece The Hill House

While there is a more detailed description of plans here.

Protecting Mackintosh’s domestic masterpiece by putting it in a box

05/07/2018 Posted by | Civilian | , , , | Leave a comment

Hill House protection project get close to funding target

Back in February, I noted the ambitious project to erect a protective box around hill

House in Helensburgh, the family home by Charles Rennie Mackintosh commissioned by publisher Walter Blackie.

Although the project has secured most of the funding needed for its completion, £500 k of the £4.5 million target is outstanding, so the hoped for start date of June will slip.

However, a date of 05 July 2018 has been set for the work to begin.

The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) appealed in February for £1.5m in donations towards the £4.5m total cost of a major renovation project.

Work will begin on 5 July, with a giant mesh box being constructed around the house.

It is expected to remain in place for at least five years, protecting the property from the worst of the weather.

Mackintosh Hill House appeal passes £1m milestone

Hill House Enclosure Via NTS Image

Hill House Enclosure Via NTS Image

I haven’t been to Helensburgh for years – I really should threaten the piggy bank, and see how the trains are doing.

Sad to say, last time I did this I found the news was full of stories about the service being withdrawn due to incidents at the town’s station.

28/06/2018 Posted by | Appeal, Civilian | , , , , | Leave a comment

Scotland set to get its own Chernobyl style sarcophagus

I have to admit I’m always a little surprised to see anyone allowed to implement an innovative solution to a problem.

I’m more used to seeing lots of hand-wringing, debates, committees, and rubbishing of anything that looks like a new approach – while the subject crumbles and dies, or decays the point where there no alternative but to send in the bulldozers and flatten it.

I think the last time I got a pleasant surprise was when talk of tarting up the anti-aircraft gun battery off Blantyreferme Road turned from talk to reality.

I haven’t made it back since an early visit (when it was really lost in the undergrowth), and have to apologise at the moment, since Photobucket’s greed has seen most of our pic links broken, but other reports I’ve been shown from visitors look good.

It’s also some time since I made my way up to Mackintosh’s Hill House (well worth the effort though), and that was so long ago the place appeared to be perfect, and I don’t recall any talk of deterioration, but having followed the development of the problems reported in recent years, there seems little surprise about the growing concerns over its condition.

I’m sure there will be a group of ‘Naysayers’ and miserable traditionalists (aka ‘old dogs’) that can’t live with the idea of a protective cocoon around the house, as proposed by National Trust for Scotland (NTS), but it does seem to be a more rational solution that some sort of temporary cover that would probably get blown away umpteen times, and less offensive to the eye than a solid enclosure that hides the structure from sight.

I’m even more impressed to read that visitors will be able to access galleries and platforms that allow the building to be seen from within the enclosure.

“The temporary enclosure is see-through, which means that the building will still be visible from the outside, despite its respite from the elements after a century of being drenched.”

The enclosure is expected to go up in 2018 and could be in place for a number of years.

NTS will launch one of the biggest fundraising drives in its history early in the new year to raise money for the £4m project.

Born in 1868, Mackintosh trained as an architect and went on to create much admired buildings including the Glasgow School of Art and Scotland Street School in Glasgow.

The building will remain open to the public while conservationists are at work, and visitors will be able to climb stairs and gangways to gain a bird’s eye view of Mackintosh’s masterpiece and watch the restoration work as it progresses.

Via Giant cage to help protect Mackintosh masterpiece

More details, video, and illustrations ‘Giant cage’ plan for Helensburgh’s Mackintosh Hill House

Hill House Enclosure Via NTS Image

Hill House Enclosure Via NTS Image

Hill House was originally commissioned by, and built for publisher Walter Blackie, between 1902 and 1904.

I’ll admit to a little envy 🙂

But, on the other hand, I don’t have the bills!

06/12/2017 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Plans to save Helensburgh’s Morar House may become reality

While I have to confess to only ever making it to Mackintosh’s famous Hill House in Helensburgh (yet have visited the town hundreds of times), I also have to admit to failing even to notice the house across the road, Morar House, also once known as Drumadoon.

More conventional than its famous neighbour, having last served as a nursing home, it has now been lying derelict for some years, but it now seems there is news of serious plans by developers All Saints Living for refurbishment and internal development of the property.

Obviously, I haven’t seen inside the place (and it not nearby), but I can only guess at the horrors that may have been exercised on it in order to make it compliant with the regulations for a nursing home. There will be a lot of work needed, and that does not take account of the effects of abandonment, and any vandalism that the property may have suffered.

Change of use from nursing homes to dwelling house and office was granted Aug 2000, followed by a number of planning applications:

2013: Full Planning Permission and Listed Building Consent for extension and conversion of Morar House to form 11 flats, 1 mews with the erection of 1 dwellinghouse within the surrounding grounds are under consideration with Argyll and Bute Council ref: 12/02754/PP & 12/02755/LIB.

2014: Listed Building Consent for conversion, part demolition and extension of the former nursing home into 12 flats and 3 dwelling houses has been lodged with Argyll and Bute Council ref: 13/02904/LIB

2016: Listed Building Consent for subdivision, part demolition and conversion to form flats with associated new build is being sought ref: 16/00449/LIB.

Helensburgh Heritage writes that:

These will be explained at a drop-in briefing session hosted by the Chamber on Wednesday February 15 as they need help to give the William Leiper mansion, originally the home of the Hogarth shipping family, a new lease of life.

All Saints Living ask: “Do you have skills to contribute? Are you a builder, roofer, landscape gardener? Have you talent to offer in a new build in the grounds? Interior design perhaps? Plasterer, painter, joiner, builder’s merchant?”

Via Morar House Restoration Plan


All Saints appeal:

We are seeking local construction subcontractors and suppliers to help deliver our prestigious scheme, MORAR HOUSE, HELENSBURGH.

When: Wednesday 15th February – 15:00 – 19:00

Where: Helensburgh Parish Church Hall, Colquhoun Street G84 8UP.


Come along to the event or for more information, call Susan on 0191 211 4130 option 1 or email

Morar House Helensburgh

Morar House Helensburgh pic via All Saints web appeal

See also Buildings at Risk Register: Morar House, 17, Colquhoun Street Upper, Helensburgh

12/02/2017 Posted by | Appeal, Civilian | , , , | Leave a comment

Save Hill House (and others) from ‘fake news’

I don’t work in the media, so have no need to come up with a constant stream of stories to convince the editor to give me a cheque, or to keep me on rather than fire me.

Headlines have recently referred to the proliferation of ‘fake news’ and the problems it causes, which is almost a ‘fake news’ story in itself, as the impression given is that it is new. I don’t think it is, and the real problem is that ethics and honesty are being subverted, and these stories are being created by people who have no concept of truth, just how many clicks (or cheques) they can bank on. They’re quite happy to spread plausible made-up lies as truths, so long as they get ‘paid’ and fly just below the line of prosecution or court by remaining anonymous, or avoiding accountability.

A few days ago I noted a planning application that could see the Old College Bar in Glasgow demolished. Part of the reasoning was apparently a claim by the developer that the building had been inspected and declared unsafe, but checks with Glasgow City Council confirmed that the building was safe, and no such declaration had been made.

Then I read that Mackintosh’s Hill House in Helensburgh, designed and built for publisher Walter Blackie, could be sold or leased to help solve problems with running costs and falling visitor number to National Trust for Scotland (NTS) properties. One claim was that it was to be sold for conversion into a hotel.

NTS responded by stating this was all “Untrue”, said that while significant monies were needed for maintenance, plans were underway to both fund and carry out the needed work, and that visitor numbers were NOT falling: “According to figures from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, 25,340 people visited the Hill House in 2015 – an increase of 8.5 per cent on the previous 12 months. ”

There’s more detail in the original story here: ‘Millions needed’ for Hill House repairs – but it won’t be sold

That’s only two examples. Sadly, a dig around would soon find more.

It’s a shame that both the creators of these pieces of fake news, or to be honest, lies, aren’t held to account for them and the damage they can do, and the same goes for the media that happily publishes such nonsense, clearly without any fact-checking or verification.

None of them care, just so long as they can push out something that will attract clicks to their material, true or otherwise, the ad-revenue will roll in.

Meanwhile, places such as Hill House (or the NTS as it tries to look after the them) had to shuffle around, cap in hand, begging for donations and funding from grants and other sources.

It’s a shame that the very features that give building such as this their unique appearance are often the same ones that cause them problems decades later, as Scotland’s weather takes it toll on anything but the most traditional of techniques.

Coastal areas, such as Helensburgh, can be even tougher to cater for, thanks to and even damper environment and salt air. I used to get to Bute regularly, and watched some new flats going up towards Craigmore. I’m guessing the builder was not a coastal building specialist as it was not long before the nice white rendering was running with rusty brown weeping ‘sores’, and the finish was bursting and buckling off the façade as the presumably unprotected steel fittings behind rusted and expanded.

In comparison, Hill House probably weathered better:

Hill House Helesnburgh

Hill House Helesnburgh

11/02/2017 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , | Leave a comment

Glum Helensburgh esplanade lighting story

Sad to say, I misunderstood the meaning of the headline on the following story on first sighting:

Lighting to be installed on Helensburgh seafront | Helensburgh & Lomond | News | Helensburgh Advertiser

Recalling the old days of the Clyde coastal resorts, I erroneously interpreted this as a reference to decorative illuminations of some sort, and not merely street lighting.

And it got worse as I read on, with:

one Helensburgh resident and business owner is concerned the seafront is ‘unsafe’ due to the lack of handrails, permanent barriers, and adequate lighting.

He said with summer on the way, tourists who don’t know the area may be in danger of taking a wrong step and tumbling into the sea at night.

He told the Advertiser: “If someone’s walking along near the edge and trips they might just drop into the sea and that could be the end of them – especially is there is a storm or if it’s high tide.”

I don’t know the statistics, but I have been a regular visitor, and can’t recall stories of visitors spontaneously falling into the sea, and if it’s stormy, then wandering along the edge is acting irresponsibly. Describing the seafront as ‘unsafe’ seems rather extreme and possibly politically motivated, as there are many Scottish seafronts with considerably less lighting or barriers etc than Helensburgh, and we don’t appear to have any significant problems as a result.

It will be interesting to see the result of the work mentioned in this story, as one of the nice things about spending a late evening on the esplanade at Helensburgh is the relative darkness and quiet, both things we miss if we live in or near the city. I hope that sitting on the pier (in the car park) enjoying a locally procured fish supper and watching the light on the opposite shore come on as dusk falls will not become little more than a memory.

I’m also somewhat amazed that no-one attempted to blame this resident’s outburst on some mythical and non-existent Health and Safety requirement. Maybe the Advertiser has been fingered for promoting such nonsense in the past, and doesn’t want to be held up as an example of that particular type of headline-making nonsense.

On the other hand, the article does go on to describe works which are being carried out to improve the appearance of the area, and remove potential tripping hazards, repair road/footpath surfaces, and install various items of street furniture – and that’s all good to hear.

The pic below is from April 2014, so the work mentioned in the report is not just a promise, but actually taking place:

Pity they’re not installing some good old-fashioned illuminations (as well).

30/05/2014 Posted by | Civilian | , , , | Leave a comment

Helensburgh submarine museum funding on council agenda


I’ve been watching out for mentions of the proposed submarine museum in Helensburgh, and waiting until something positive appears that suggests it is moving forward and will materialise one day.

I’ve jumped on earlier mentions of forthcoming project of a similar nature in the past, because I want information about their existence to be out there, as it might be spotted by somebody who matters, but so far, feel as if I am getting my fingers burnt, as they all seem to fizzle out.

I’m not going to mention any specific past project, in case I say something wrong, as I am not privy to any special knowledge, but on the other hand, do know that one or two of these projects are still being pursued, but perhaps by different people and/or in slightly different directions.

So, back to the submarine museum:

Funding to the tune of £140,000 is also expected to be released by councillors for the Scottish Submarine Trust specifically towards the development of The Submarine Museum in Helensburgh. The condition of the funding mean the cash must be split evenly and released in two instalments of £70,000 when the following milestones are achieved; proof of legal ownership of the building; and receipt of Listed Building Consent. The museum aims to tell the history of the Royal Navy’s Submarine Service will be told using new media and immersive 3D projected imagery and exhibits.

A 39 tonne ‘X’ Craft – or mini submarine – will be displayed as the centrepiece to the museum, which will also house an interactive electronic memorial in Remembrance of the 5,329 submariners who have given their lives in the Royal Navy Submarine Service.

The project, which aims to attract 10,000 visitors to the Burgh, is spearheaded by Visit Helensburgh.

The museum will be within the hall of the former St Columba’s Church, and the company will take formal ownership of the property on March 28 of this year.

Via: Submarine museum on today’s council agenda | Helensburgh & Lomond | News | Helensburgh Advertiser

14/05/2014 Posted by | council, Maritime, military, Naval, World War II | , , , | Leave a comment

Political church might sink Helensburgh Submarine Museum

While I’m not someone who nurtures any particular religious or political views, that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the irony of seeing how the clergy often manage to turn a blind eye to the many thousands of dead that litter history thanks to the church and its assorted dabblings and favouritism with various political parties over the centuries. Yet it’s not slow to point at others.

I should have realised that things were going too smoothly when I noted the inclusion of the proposed Submarine Museum at Helensburgh (along with project at St Peter’s seminary) on the agenda of Argyll & Bute Council.

While the council ultimately voted in favour of awarding £140,000 to the project, it seems that not all is well – and anyone who ever reads about Argyll & Bute Council in the media will probably not be surprised that as soon as it was awarded… the problems began to arrive.

In this case, it seems that some are not satisfied with what is known about the Scottish Submarine Trust and its plans.

I’m not privy to the meeting, so can’t really comment, but it seems odd that councillors should feel confident enough to vote the award through if there was insufficient information to back up the application, or if the were concerns over those making the application. I also find the suggestion reported from one SNP Cllr Trail, who said the project has been pulled together ‘astonishingly quickly’ to coincide with the Commonwealth Games, a little hard to fathom. I have no time for the nonsensical games, but I’d find it hard to think I’d get any credibility by blaming events taking place in Helensburgh on them.

Here is Argyll & Bute Council’s Scottish Submarine Museum Evaluation of Funding Request

We’ll see. We can only watch and see if this descends into yet another fiasco.

What is perhaps a sadder and even more desperate clawing at straws in order to make some sort of point is the arrival of the church and its hypocritical opinion.

The museum has managed to secure premises in a former church hall in the town, although its initial – and ultimate – aim is to house its collection on Helensburgh pier. The latter appears to have been deferred for the moment, due to a lack of knowledge regarding council plans for the future of the pier.

However, Rev Fred Booth, who was the minister at St Columba for 23 years, upset about the hall being used to house ‘memorabilia of war’.

It’s not worth the hate mail I know would follow.

The same is true for the comments of the Rev Ian Miller, formerly of Bonhill Church, who successfully managed to twist this story into an opportunity to rail against Trident.

I was going to comment on the irony or hypocrisy of this thought on their part – then decided not to.

However, I will say I would have respected both of them if they had supported the museum, and worked toward ensuring it served as a memorial to those who lost their lives serving on submarines, as this is often overlooked, and has only recently seen a memorial raised in Dundee, at HMS Ambrose.

Via Row surfaces over planned Helensburgh submarine museum | Helensburgh & Lomond | News | Helensburgh Advertiser

Church razes Cold War relic

Thanks to the church, Scotland lost a potential artefact relating to the Cold War…

Ayr was the Royal Observer Corps’ No 25 Group HQ, in the UKWMO (United Kingdom Warning and Monitoring Organisation) Caledonian Sector. The owners of 25 Group ROC HQ at Ayr, who were the local church, decided they have no use for the building and that it should be demolished at the earliest opportunity to provide extra car parking space. What they really meant was that from their perspective, they could morally support the continued existence of the building.

Strange that their morals didn’t prevent them acquiring it in the first place, only to destroy it.

See AYR: ROC group HQ No 25

08/04/2014 Posted by | World War II | , , | 1 Comment

Submarine museum and St Peter’s seminary projects on council agenda

It’s a while since we saw the last positive rumblings regarding moves to preserve at least some of St Peter’s, but it looks as if the various ideas are gaining traction, and potential funding, as noted below.

I was also pleased to see positive reactions to the submarine museum which was proposed for Helensburgh. I’ve deliberately avoided mentioning this so far (in other words, I forgot, and also just never got round to it), because when I mentioned similar projects in the past… they just evaporated and never seemed to attract any interest. In my opinion, however, they were doomed before the started. The project I recall had projected funding requirement in the order of £10 million, and I would think that potential backers would have run a mile from such a suggestion, on the basis that they are not fools, and the knowledge that all these project end up way over budget. Starting with such a high initial figure may be honest, but in the real world, any smart backer would multiply their potential commitment by two or three to arrive at the figure they were likely to be asked to come up with to see the project through to completion – and would have run to the hills to hide.

COUNCILLORS will discuss the multi-million pound St Peter’s project and the Scottish Submarine Museum, amongst a busy agenda at today’s full council meeting.

On Thursday, March 20 elected members will meet in Kilmory Council Chambers where they will also be asked to release £25,000 funding to NVA at the beginning of the financial year 2014/15 for an Audience Development Strategy relating to the Kilmahew/ St Peter’s Project near Cardross.

The project – which will cost more than £7m in total – aims to transform the derelict site of the former St Peter’s Seminary buildings and the surrounding woodlands of Kilmahew which has lain abandoned for more than thirty years.

Situated on the edge of the village of Cardross, the site covers approximately 40 hectares and is predominately wooded. Each of the structures from medieval to modern is now in a ruinous state.

Funding to the tune of £140,000 is also expected to be released by councillors for the Scottish Submarine Trust specifically towards the development of The Submarine Museum in Helensburgh. The condition of the funding mean the cash must be split evenly and released in two instalments of £70,000 when the following milestones are achieved; proof of legal ownership of the building; and receipt of Listed Building Consent. The museum aims to tell the history of the Royal Navy’s Submarine Service will be told using new media and immersive 3D projected imagery and exhibits.

A 39 tonne ‘X’ Craft – or mini submarine – will be displayed as the centrepiece to the museum, which will also house an interactive electronic memorial in Remembrance of the 5,329 submariners who have given their lives in the Royal Navy Submarine Service.

The project, which aims to attract 10,000 visitors to the Burgh, is spearheaded by Visit Helensburgh.

The museum will be within the hall of the former St Columba’s Church, and the company will take formal ownership of the property on March 28 of this year.

via Submarine museum on today’s council agenda | Helensburgh & Lomond | News | Helensburgh Advertiser.

26/03/2014 Posted by | Appeal, council, Naval, World War II | , , , | Leave a comment

Helensburgh’s oldest hotel has just closed its doors

It was sad to read news of Helensburgh’s oldest hotel having to finally close its doors as the owner pursues ‘other business interests’ – in other words, there are not enough ‘bums on seats’ to keep it viable.

Reportedly refurbished only last year, the Imperial Hotel in West Clyde Street is already said to be on offer online for rent at £35,000 per annum. Dating from the early 1800s, the horse and cart age when it once provided stables and accommodation, first as the Tontine Hotel, then as the George Hotel, and finally (possibly) as the Imperial Hotel.

The hotel, known locally as The Imps, was (in its day) ideally placed, overlooking Helensburgh’s pier and therefore one of the first to be seen by holidaymakers arriving via steamer. But Helensburgh (like  most of the Clyde coast) is no longer a holiday destination, and sees the bulk of its visitors in the form of day trippers. Times have changed.

I’ve certainly never been any help, being close enough to drive to Helensburgh to enjoy an evening fish supper in the pier car park while watching various happenings on the Clyde.

Nevertheless, while some parts of the town are seeing some recovery, and some small business and catering operations are prospering, others are suffering the changes badly, and I see a number of older establishments closing down and being boarded up. This fate also seems to be placing some of the fine ‘big houses’ (mansions) that once served as guest houses, business premises, and even care home, at risk, as they cannot sustain themselves.

Helensburgh’s oldest hotel closed last week | Helensburgh & Lomond | News | Helensburgh Advertiser

09/02/2014 Posted by | Civilian, Lost | , , | Leave a comment

Parliamentary motion to commemorate the 125th anniversary of John Logie Baird’s birth

Jackie Baillie MSP has proposed a motion in the Scottish Parliament to recognise John Logie Baird’s contribution to the television industry.

The motion read:

That the Parliament commemorates the 125th birthday of John Logie Baird; notes that the television inventor was born in Helensburgh on 14 August 1888 and considers that his legacy is truly global; acknowledges that the Helensburgh Heroes Project has purchased John Logie Baird artefacts to add to its Heroes Centre collection and has the backing and support of John Logie Baird’s family to promote his achievements in the town; recognises John Logie Baird’s contribution to the television industry, and remembers his lasting achievement.

The motion was supported by a cross-party group of MSPs — Jim Hume, Dennis Robertson, Nigel Don, Clare Adamson, Jayne Baxter, Angus MacDonald, Jackson Carlaw, Adam Ingram, Colin Beattie, Annabelle Ewing, Neil Findlay, Kenneth Gibson, Anne McTaggart, Richard Lyle, Mike MacKenzie, Stuart McMillan, Kevin Stewart, Sandra White, David Torrance.

Motions, Questions and Answers Search – Parliamentary Business :  Scottish Parliament – Motion S4M-07617: Jackie Baillie, Dumbarton, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 06/09/2013.

Via Holyrood recognition for Helensburgh’s John Logie Baird | This Week | News | Helensburgh Advertiser

Also noted on Parliament recognises Baird

Which mentions that the inventor’s son, Professor Malcolm Baird, is honorary president and active member of the Helensburgh Heritage Trust, and that the Trust has a permanent exhibit of Baird equipment and memorabilia in the Heritage Centre at Helensburgh Library.

20true,%20″”,%20″”,%20false,%20true))”>Motion S4M-07617: Jackie Baillie, Dumbarton, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 06/09/2013

21/09/2013 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , | Leave a comment

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