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Helensburgh, Dumbartonshire

Historical Description

HELENSBURGH, a town, chiefly in the parish of Row, and partly in that of Cardross, county of Dumbarton; containing, in 1841, 2229 inhabitants, of whom 1672 were in the burgh of barony of Helensburgh, 8 miles (N. W. by W.) from Dumbarton. This place is situated on the north shore of the Firth of Clyde, at the entrance of the Gareloch, and nearly opposite to the port of Greenock on the other side of the Firth, which is here about four miles in width. It was founded in 1777, by Sir James Colquhoun, in honour of his wife, Lady Helen Sutherland, from whom it derives its name; and has rapidly grown into importance as a fashionable watering-place, and a favourite resort of families of distinction during the summer months. The town is regularly built, and comprises one principal street, extending along the shore for more than a mile, and intersected at right angles by numerous other well-formed streets. The houses are of handsome appearance, and interspersed with pleasing villas having grounds tastefully laid out; the surrounding scenery, also, is agreeably diversified. On the opposite shore of the Gareloch are the elegant mansion and pleasure-grounds of Roseneath; and at the western extremity of the town is Ardincaple, the beautiful seat of the Duke of Argyll, who is also proprietor of Roseneath. Along the banks of the Gareloch are various interesting promenades; and to the north, the scenery is boldly marked with rugged mountains of Highland character. A public library of more than 1000 volumes, and a newsroom amply furnished with daily journals and periodical publications, are supported by subscription; there are two commodious hotels, with several inns, and also numerous lodging-houses for the accommodation of visiters. On the shore, at the east end of the town, is a spacious and well-arranged building containing hot and cold baths with every requisite appendage.

Facility of intercourse is provided by steamers to Greenock, which make nine trips daily; and from Greenock there are steamers to Glasgow, touching at all the intermediate places on both banks of the Clyde. Between Greenock and Glasgow are also six railway trains, in connexion with the Helensburgh boats; and persons leaving Glasgow by these trains reach Helensburgh in one hour and a half. The passage, by steam-boat, to Glasgow, is about three hours, and to Greenock a quarter of an hour. An act of parliament was passed in 1846, authorizing the construction of a railway from Glasgow to Dumbarton and Loch Lomond, with branches to Helensburgh and other places. The quay, formed in 1817, and which at high water was partly obstructed, has been greatly improved; and a very substantial and commodious quay has been made about a mile westward of the town, at the entrance of the Gareloch. The town was erected into a burgh of barony by charter granted in 1802 to Sir James Colquhoun, under whom, as superior, the government was vested in a provost, two bailies, and four councillors, elected annually by the burgesses from their own body, consisting of all inhabitants who are leaseholders of houses and lands under the superior. In 1846 an act was passed for extending the limits of the burgh, for lighting and cleansing it, and establishing a police; also, in the same year, an act for improving the port and harbour. A weekly market on Thursday, and four annual fairs of two days each for horses, cattle, and other merchandise, on the second Tuesday in February, the 1st June, the 6th August, and the 12th November, are allowed by charter; but they are not much frequented. The quoad sacra parish of Helensburgh was separated from the parish of Row, by act of the presbytery, in 1839, and contained a population of 1899: it was abolished in 1843, in common with all similar divisions in the country, as being illegal. The church was originally built for a congregation of dissenters, in 1824, and, on their re-union to the Established Church, was made parochial. It passed, however, in 1843, into the hands of the Free Church, the minister and congregation joining in the great secession of that year. The building contains 600 sittings; and there is also an Independent meeting-house in the town. Mr. Henry Bell, who first successfully applied the steam-engine to navigation, resided at this place from 1804 till his decease in 1830; his first steam-boat, the Comet, was built at Port-Glasgow, in 1812, and he made his first passage across the Clyde to Helensburgh.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851 by Samuel Lewis