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Mar Hall-The Past Revisited
During Spring 2006, while on our annual pilgrimage to our homeland of Scotland, my wife and I were invited to lunch by her nephew at Mar Hall, a newly refurbish mansion in the Gothic style that had been opened as an hotel and spa by three enterprising, young Scottish businessmen. This brought back memories, some fifty-or-more years old, to the days when we knew the building as Erskine Hospital. In those days, its proper name, though we did not know it at the time, was the Princess Louise Scottish Hospital for Limbless Sailors and Soldiers and it had opened in 1916 during the First World War. It was also being used well into the 1960s for World War II veterans and was well known for its shop which sold goods made by the invalids that included baskets, trays, stools, cabinets, and model yachts, to name a few.
To enlarge pictures, please click on the picture.
North side of Mar Hall
Mar Hall, as it is now called, was designed in 1828 by Sir Robert Smirke, who also designed the British Museum, and built on the Estate of the Earl of Mar at Erskine on the south bank of the River Clyde in Renfrewshire, for the 11th Lord Blantyre, who, unfortunately, died rather suddenly during uprisings in Brussels a few years later. The Earl of Mar, incidentally, is reputed to be the oldest title in Britain and is named for Mar, one of the seven Pictish kingdoms in ancient Scotland.
Looking north from Mar Hall to Bowling and the Kilpatrick Hills
The Hall has a beautiful view to the north overlooking the Dunbartonshire village of Bowling and the Kilpatrick Hills, one of the four ranges of hills that run from north-east to south-west of Scotland just below the Highlands. They were easily remembered, according to my old geography teacher, Mr. Chalmers, as S.O.C.K. –standing for Sidlaws, Ochils, Campsies and Kilpatricks, all of which rose to around 1000 feet - small potatoes compared to the 4,404 feet of Ben Nevis, Britain’s tallest mountain.
My wife and I both had connections to Lord Blantyre but not genealogical, unfortunately. My maternal great-grandfather had been a shepherd for Lord Blantyre on his estate in Berwickshire on the Scottish Borders before moving to Renfrewshire with him and eventually obtaining his own farm in Kilmacolm, nearby. My wife’s maternal grandparents had been the first tenants in Lord Blantyre’s building in Bowling, and which can be seen in the photo, the red building, by those with an eagle eye! Bowling, itself, is an interesting little village of a few hundred inhabitants. It lies at the western end of the Forth and Clyde canal, which was started in 1768 and completed in 1790- a wonder of the modern world in its day. Small craft can be seen in the Bowling basin in the photograph. It also lies at the end of the Antonine Wall, a little brother to Hadrian’s Wall, which crosses central Scotland some 100 plus miles to the north, and which was built to keep the Picts at bay.
It was with great interest, therefore, that we entered the newly refurbished Mar Hall on that bright Sunday morning in Spring. What a difference from the old house that had been filled with hospital beds and the smell of disinfectant. The new owners have spent upwards of $30M to bring it back to its former beauty and a wonderful job they have done. The photograph of the Grand Hall shows the splendor to which it has been refurbished. This 118-foot-long hallway is a magnificent setting to have coffee, tea or a light meal.
Grand Hall of Mar Hall
Following our meal, we went for a stroll around the extensive grounds, passing a renovated, old dovecot and out buildings, before reaching the garden center with its extensive collection of plants, flowers, and garden accoutrements.
Dovecot, in foreground, on the grounds of Mar Hall
The hotel is still in the throes of expansion with a golf course under construction and a spa that had just opened. It is possible to walk a couple of hundred yards down to the banks of the Clyde and see the river which had been central to Scotland’s industrial growth over the last few centuries. At first glance, it appears too narrow to have had ships like the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth be built only a few miles upriver in Clydebank and sail down it into history. Looking upriver to the north east, one can see, atop the trees, the spire of the parish church in Old Kilpartick, Dunbartonshire, reputed home of St. Patrick until about his eighth year when he was captured by pirates and spirited off to Ireland.
View to the north-east of Mar Hall and the
village of Old Kilpatrick with the River Clyde
in the foreground
All in all, it was a wonderful experience and well worth a visit. And what of the meal? It was served with a touch of class in a wonderfully restored dining room. It could be best described as nouvelle cuisine and not inexpensive! The new owners are to be commended for investing in a Scottish treasure.
Andrew Roxburgh McGhie