By on Dec 16, 2017 in Caledonia, Clyde River and Firth, Columba, Duchess of Argyll, Duchess of Hamilton, Duchess of Montrose, Duchess of Rothesay, Iona, Jeanie Deans, Jupiter, King Edward, King George V, Lord of the Isles, Marchioness of Graham, Mercury, Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary II, Talisman, Tignabruaich, Waverley | 0 comments

The village of Tighnabruich lies west of the mouth of Loch Ridden in a sheltered location with spectacular views to the south, down the western arm of the Kyles of Bute. The remote site is passed over in the early guides and accounts of sailing through the Kyles. Lumsden’s Steamboat Companion gives no mention, even in its later editions:—

“From Rothesay the channel, for some miles, takes a north-westerly course, leaving the Clyde, and taking the name of the Kyles of Bute, which encircles half the island. Opposite to Rothesay bay is Auchenwilliam, Kirkman Finlay, Esq.; and 2 miles on the left is Port Bannatyne Bay and Village which, as well as Rothesay, is the occasional retreat of sea-bathing visitors; at the head of the bay stands Kames Castle, Hamilton, a romantic situation; and near it, an old tower, in ruins. In sailing through this channel, several agreeable prospects are met with. A few miles farther on to the right is the opening of Loch Striven; and near it the house of Southall, Campbell; about 8 miles from it is a ferry called Collintray; close to it are some rocky islands, and the mouth of Loch Ridden, where is Red Island, on which are the ruins of a castle of that name, used as a garrison, in 1685, in favour of Monmouth. On the same side, at Arden, are many tumuli of Norwegians, who perished on the coast, about 700 years ago, after pillaging the surrounding countries, and taking the castle of Rothesay. Pass the Point of Ardlamont and enter Loch Fyne; Inchmarnock Island on the left, and soon after the House of Lamont; half way betwixt it and Tarbert is the Skate Island, which there is a fine view of the mountainous and rugged Island of Arran, with the coast of Kintyre, and an extensive prospect up Loch Fyne, and some of the ulterior mountains.”

The district was populated with fishermen and crofters who would on occasion use the steamboat traffic that passed by; perhaps two or more steamboats daily in each direction in summer and one every other day in the winter months. The main steamboat connections were in the hands of the Castle Steamship Company. By the 1840s when technical developments made it possible for a steamboat to complete the journey to and from Tarbert or Inveraray in a single day, the company found it necessary to limit the ferry calls on the route. In 1843 a pier was constructed by the Castle Steamship Company at Tighnabruaich to serve the surrounding district. The pier at the “house on the hill” became the principal calling point in the western Kyles and the village developed as feuing for summer residences increased.

Rhu Baan, Tighnabruaich in 1904

Tighnabruaich from the pier in 1904

West Bay Tighnabruaich in the 1920s

The village of Tighnabruaich is spread along the shores of two bays with a rocky beach. It provides a safe, sheltered anchorage for yachts, and a quiet spot for contemplative holidays. Like most of the west of Scotland it suffers from plagues of midges in the early evenings in the summer.

East Bay Tighnabruaich (Spencer)

The shore, Tighnabruaich (Spencer)

Rhu Baan Tighnabruaich (Spencer)

The building at the pierhead was built in 1857 but was extended in 1905 to include a tea-room.

The pier head in 1904

Mercury at the pier around 1902

Queen Alexandra at the pier around 1920

King George V approaching the pier around 1926

The pier in the 1930s

Tighnabruaich pier with the extended pier head around 1930 (Spencer)

Fishing boats at Tighnabruaich pier around 1930 (Spencer)

In 1846 the Castle Company was taken over by Messrs G. & J. Burns and in the 1851, the company was broken up, Messrs Hutcheson taking over the West Highland routes and the Clyde services were sold to Messrs Denny who quickly disposed of most of the assets to a variety of owners. The piers that had been owned by the Castle Company, at Tighnabruaich and also at Kilmun, reverted to the local landowners.

A good account of the state of affairs at Tignabruaich was given in the Glasgow Herald in 1863 as Messrs Hutcheson introduced their new Iona, a saloon steamer, to replace the first Iona of 1855 that had been sold to the Confederates under the soubriquet of the “Emperor of China”. The unfortunate steamer did not make it out of the Clyde, when, running without lights, she was run down off Greenock by the steamer Chanticleer.


“The new Iona.—Whatever the Emperor of China may have to answer for as regards other watering places on the Clyde, he has, as yet, done nothing to prevent access to Tigh-na-bruaich. On the contrary, his celestial Majesty deserves the gratitude of the inhabitants—natives and strangers—for having, by his somewhat unfortunate and unprofitable acquisition of the old Iona, added yet another to the many inducements to visit this beautiful and quiet spot, by causing her public-spirited owners to place on the Asdrishaig station a steamer not only worthy to succeed the old Iona, but far surpassing her in everything which can add to the comfort, convenience, and pleasure of her passengers. Since this novel and beautiful steamer began, on Wednesday last, to make her daily calls at our pier, on going to and returning from Ardrishaig, crowds have assembled to see her pass, to admire her beauty, to welcome the numerous visitors whom she daily lands on our shores to spend a few hours till she returns from Lochfyne, and heartily to join in the praises universally bestowed, here and elsewhere, on the public spirit and fine taste of her owners. Long may she continue in her daily course, rejoicing those who take advantage of her elegant accommodation for the enjoyment of the splendid scenery of the Kyles and Lochfyne. There have been those who have sighed for a new pleasure, and we opine that had they been passengers on board the new Iona they would have got their wish realised, for everything about this vessel is not only novel but eminently fitted for gratifying the utmost wish of the most fastidious traveller, or the keenest hunter after a new pleasurable sensation. But, after all, this Imperial Majesty has a tremendous maw for Clyde steamers, and swallows them by the dozen; and should he, contrary to expectation, set his heart on the new Iona, we verily believe the gallant Buteshire Artillery and Rothesay Glendaruel Rifle Corps would instantly to a man join the Tae-pings, and blow his Majesty up into his celestial kingdom.

The new Iona (Illustrated London News)

“Extension of Tigh-na-bruaich.—This place, a very few years ago, the residence of the laird and a few fishermen and cottars, has now the appearance of a thriving watering place. The extent of ground along the shore is not such as to permit of a very large increase of buildings, and it is only when you approach Kames that the land on Poltalloch estate flattens from the shore and will permit of extensive feuing. But everywhere there are symptoms of increase. A new church, connected with the Establishment, has recently been completed, and is now occupied; and the Free Church has a place of worship also nearly finished. Each of these will accommodate about 300 sitters, and the sittings may be increased by galleries when required. There is also a new hotel in course of erection midway between Tigh-na-bruaich and Kames piers. Along the shore, from the Rhu-ban to the new Established Church, there is a line of handsome villas, and the comfort of the inhabitants is attended to by the usual complement of purveyors in shape of grocers, bakers, and butchers. Visitors who sojourned here a very few years ago, when the quiet retirement of the place was one of its greatest recommendations, almost regret now to see the number of fine houses which have displaced the primitive huts of the natives, and the vastly increased number of visitors now to be found along the shores; but it is impossible to destroy the natural grandeur and beauty of the hills, or to lessen the shelter the place enjoys from almost every cold wind; and hence it is that many who have in former years. and under different circumstances, spent the summer months here, still continue to visit its shores—grumbling, it may be, at the changes, but yet still preferring the place as the quietest and one of the most beautiful on our western shores, within easy access to Glasgow.

“Herring fishing.—The past has been a busy month with the Kyles fishermen. Several new boats, the result of last year’s successful fishing, have been added to the fleet, and the whole native population have been actively engaged in fitting out the boats and preparing their nets for another, and, it is to be hoped, successful, season’s fishing. Nearly two weeks ago one or two of the boats joined those from other places fishing along the shores of Arran, but their success was not such as to induce others immediately to follow. With a limited length of nets, they tried to “mark the herring” in the Kyles; and they proved their presence there, but in such small numbers as to forbid further experiment. Last week about a dozen boats left for the Sound of Kilbrannan and Lochfyne, and they returned on Saturday, and report that their take has averaged about eight hundred a boat—that the price varies from 6s. to 10s. a hundred, and that, when they left Lochfyne on Saturday morning, there was a better appearance of fish than they had seen during the week. The quality of the fish is also fast improving, and those brought home on Saturday were of excellent quality, and sold readily at a penny each. This week every boat is off to Lochfyne, and the fishermen are in high spirits. They have now no annoyance from trawlers, in the way of interference with the fishing or breaking the “eyes” or shoals of the fish, and thus driving them back into deep waters. But notwithstanding that the shores of the Kyles and Lochfyne now abound with policemen, and although every net bladder is numbered, one of the boats from the Kyles had a barrel of her nets stolen when last week fishing off Tarbert. This kind of depredation it is surely within the power of the police to put down, and we hope that we shall hear nothing more of such losses to the industrious and honest drift-net fishermen, who are entitled to receive, as they by their uniform good conduct deserve, both encouragement and protection from all in authority.

“Amateur fishing.—We are keen fishers, and pursue the whiting, the haddock, the cod, the flounder, or the mackerel with as persevering a determination to destroy such of them as are to be found in a mature state, as the trawler followed and sought to destroy the immature herring on the fishing banks in the Kyles, or along the Kerry or Bute shores. We have thus been led to mark the decrease of these fish from year to year on our favourite banks just as trawling increased, until they entirely disappeared. For several years fishing for white fish has, in these waters, been a vain and profitless occupation, and hence our sympathy with the drift-net fishermen, who attributed similar results in their occupation from a like cause. But trawling has had its day and is for ever dead; and in spite of all the Royal Commissioners that ever pocketed public money for profitless and useless services it shall never be revived, for has it not been shown to demonstration that with the cessation of the trawl came the increase of the herring, so that last year never had the drift-net fishermen such a fishing since trawling began. So also, we rejoice to say, the white-fishing begins to recover from the deplorably destructive consequences of the trawl system; and we can bear testimony to the fact that with two hand-lines, and within two hours, the following take was obtained in the Kyles on Saturday, viz.:—Nine dozen good-sized whitings, eight cods, four flounders, two skates, and one dogfish. This reminds us of former days, when an hour’s pleasant work produced as many fish as the family could consume next day, and when boating and fishing were the universal sources of healthful and profitable amusement for summer visitors, along the shores from Gourock to Ardlamont Point or Pladda Light, wherever a fishing bank was to be found. It seems to he consistent with reason and common sense that if the breeding banks and young fish be undisturbed fish must increase, and anything the trawler swears to the contrary will convince no one unless he lives within hail of Tarbert.

“The pier.—Every place has some public grievance—something that interferes with the interests or hurts the feelings of the inhabitants, and Tigh-na-bruaich is no exception. It has its grievance in its pier. The pier is in itself no grievance—it is, on the contrary, a great public convenience—but its management does not please either the native or transient inhabitants. This pier was, we believe, erected by the proprietors of the line of Highland steamers for the convenience of their vessels calling at the Kyles. It was by them handed over or sold, we do not know which, nor on what terms, to the laird of Tigh-na-bruaich, who keeps it up ostensibly for the benefit of the public. There is a scale of pier-dues exacted for goods, and passengers pay one penny for going on board or landing from a steamer. These seem to be fair and reasonable charges, inasmuch as if the burden of maintaining the pier falls on the laird he is entitled, unless he could see it to be his interest to make it free, to demand as much in shape of dues as will keep it in repair. So far the public go with the laird, and give utterance to no complaint; they pay when receiving goods, and they pay when going to or coming from the steamer. But, unless on such occasions, the public have until last year been at liberty to go upon the pier without payment; and every one knows that the dull monotony of places even more lively than Tigh-na-bruaich there is a kind of relief from ennui in a visit to the pier on the arrival and departure of steamers, to look out for acquaintances, to meet friends, or even to gratify idle curiosity. But things are changed, and every visitor to the pier, whatever his purpose, must now pay one penny if he pass the gate. This is the grievance, and about it there has been a world of gossip, much angry talk, and keen discussion, and we fear some unjust censure of the laird. That this penny exaction is felt to be an annoyance both to the natives and visitors is, however, unquestionably true; and, without going into the question of right, we wonder that for so small a yearly sum as these pennies must produce the proprietor should injure his own more important interests, and at same time raise angry feelings in the whole population. The proprietors of Tigh-na-bruaich and Poltalloch have a good deal of valuable ground along the shore yet to feu, and they are anxiously desirous to dispose of their land. Feuing can only succeed if there be a demand for houses for summer residence, and it would seem to be the interest of the proprietors to throw out every inducement to strangers to come to these shores. The inducements the place really offers are those provided by nature, in the beauty of the hills, the purity of the atmosphere, the protection from cold winds, and the facilities for safe boating and fishing which the placid waters of the Kyles ever afford. There are also places of worship and zealous ministers of the Established and Free Churches, and the native inhabitants and proprietors of houses are civil, obliging, and not greedy. It really seems suicidal for the proprietor to act as he does. He thereby raises questions as to his rights, and the owners’ loss of the foreshore, which would otherwise never have been mooted. He may think that a penny is a trifling sum; but if the public have the notion that the penny is improperly exacted it becomes important and its exaction is at once magnified into a public grievance —it is felt to be an annoyance, and is the cause of grumbling, and there are many who, rather than submit to it, will make choice of other places where they are more liberally dealt with. We have been looking on to see how this thing works. Every day members accompany their friends to the steamers, but they cannot see them safely on board without each paying the penny tax. Ladies are anxiously waiting the arrival of their lords, but must stand at the end of the pier or pay the tax; young ladies, looking out for sweet. hearts, are staring their eyes out through the bars of the pier-gate, and the whole romance of their meeting is lost by this tollgate exactions. Many are desirous to get newspapers from the newsboy on board the steamer, and this can only be accomplished by paying as much as they pay for their newspapers. The pier, too, in the absence of well-kept roads, would be much frequented as a promenade, especially about the time of the arrival of steamers; but such pleasure is too heavily taxed, and cannot therefore be enjoyed. In fine, without joking, this penny affair is felt to be a grievance requiring a remedy, if visitors and natives are not to have their tempers ruffled, and if houses are to be let. But we confess it is much easier to find fault than to suggest a remedy. The laird and the feuars should, however look to find one in time, for, if the evil ingredients created by this matter are once thrown into the legal condition, it would then remain for the witches to predict the future of the pier.”—Glasgow Herald, July 1, 1863.

By 1884, the pier had fallen into disrepair and required renovation.

Columba at the pier before reconstruction

“Proposed reconstruction of Tigh-na-bruaich pier.—The old pier at Tigh-na-bruaich having become considerably decayed and out of repair, the proprietors propose to have it re-built. Schedules have been issued to various firms, who are asked to estimate for the work, which it is proposed to commence on lst October, and finish not later than 1st February, 1885. Greenheart piles are to be used, and the pier itself is to be longer and somewhat broader than the present one, but the gangway leading to the pier and the offices are to be the same. The work will be completed in sections, so that the traffic may be carried on without interruption.”—Glasgow Herald, August 26 1884, and Rothesay Chronicle, August 30 1884

Iona at the pier during the reconstruction

The work dragged on, at least into March.

“Serious accident at Tighnabruaich.—A sad acccident happened this morning at the new pier in course of erection. While hoisting a load, some gearing gave way, by which two men were seriously hurt—named John M‘Lachlan, joiner, from Dunoon, manager, and John Blair, jun., Cregans. There is no hope of the latter’s recovery, his head being badly hurt. The other has compound fracture in the leg, and he is otherwise severely bruised.”—Glasgow Evening Post, March 13 1885

Lord of the Isles at the new pier

The pier at Tighnabruich was an important call for the decades prior to the first world war. After the war, with the improvements in road traffic, its importance declined but it remained a popular destination for visitors and excursionists. At the turn of the millennium, efforts were made to raise funding to keep the pier safe and open and at the time an attractive booklet was produced detailing the history of the pier.

McCrorie, Ian: “Tighnabruaich Pier,” The Tighnabruiach Pier Association, The Douglas Press, Glendaruel, 2002.

Over the first half of last century, no record of the sights and scenes of Tighnabruaich and the steamers that called or passed by, was better produced than the efforts of Cuthbert Spencer. Born in England around 1873, he was a gardener living in Argyll Villa until he died on November 10, 1954, aged 81. Examples of his work are to be found throughout this site, particularly those aspects dealing with the Kyles of Bute. I am sure that the highlight of many a trip to Tighnabruaich in the 1920s and 1930s must have been a visit to the local shops to purchase photographs and postcards of the steamers through his sense. What follows are some sights and scenes captured by his camera.

Is this Cuthbert Spencer in the flesh?

West Kyles from Tighnabruaich (Spencer)

Some early work before the first world war:

King Edward bedecked with bunting (Spencer)

King Edward at the Pier (Spencer)

Lord of the Isles at the Pier (Spencer)

Columba at the pier (Spencer)

King Edward (Spencer)

King Edward at the pier (Spencer)

King Edward leaving the pier (Spencer)

King Edward (Spencer)

Queen Alexandra (Spencer)

Queen Alexandra at the pier (Spencer)

In the 1920s:

Duchess of Argyll in 1924 (Spencer)

Duchess of Argyll leaving Tighnabruaich in 1924 (Spencer)

Lord of the Isles on a post war “Round Bute Cruise” (Spencer)

Lord of the Isles at Tighnabruaich (Spencer)

In the 1930s:

The White Funnel Steamers:


King Edward (Spencer)

Queen Alexandra (Spencer)

Queen Alexandra after 1932 (Spencer)

Super Turbine King George V (Spencer)

King George V (Spencer)

Queen Mary II (Spencer)

Queen Mary II (Spencer)

The MacBrayne Ardrishaig Steamers:

Columba (Spencer)

Saint Columba (Spencer)

Lochfyne (Spencer)

The L.N.E.R Steamers:

Talisman in 1937 (Spencer)

The L.M.S. Steamers:

Duchess of Rothesay on the Arran run (Spencer)

Duchess of Rothesay (Spencer)

Duchess of Argyll (Spencer)

Duchess of Argyll (Spencer)

Duchess of Montrose (Spencer)

Duchess of Montrose new in 1932 with short mainmast (Spencer)

Duchess of Montrose (Spencer)

Duchess of Hamilton in 1932 (Spencer)

Duchess of Montrose with full length mainmast in 1934 (Spencer)

The new Caledonia in 1934 (Spencer)

The new Caledonia in 1934 (Spencer)

The new Jupiter in 1937 (Spencer)

A favorite spot in the late 1930s:

King Edward (Spencer)

King George V (Spencer)

Saint Columba (Spencer)

Marchioness of Graham (Spencer)

Waverley (Spencer)

Duchess of Montrose (Spencer)

Duchess of Hamilton (Spencer)

After the second world war:

Jeanie Deans, one of the last postcards issued by Spencer

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