A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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Helensbugh, a town and quoad sacra parish within the parish of Row, Dumbartonshire, is picturesquely situated on the shore of the Firth of Clyde, near the entrance to the Gare Loch, and directly opposite Greenock, which is 4 miles distant. The town lies 8 miles by rail NW of Dumbarton, and 23 WNW of Glasgow. It is the terminus of the Glasgow and Helensburgh branch of the North British railway; and it has direct communication with Edinburgh and other districts viâ Cowlairs Junction. By water it has steam communication with Glasgow, Greenock, and all parts of the Clyde; and in summer it is the starting-point for some of the best. known tourist and excursion steamer-routes. Helensburgh is built partly on a low belt of flat ground contiguous to the beach, and partly on the gentle slope of a low range of hills that rises immediately behind. The town, whose outskirts extend into Cardross parish towards the E, stretches along the coast for about 1½ mile, and it has an average breadth of 6 furlongs. For the most part it is carefully laid out on the rectangular plan, the longer streets running parallel to each other, with the shorter streets cutting them at right angles. Each of the rectangles thus formed comprises about 2 acres, never occupied by more than four houses, except in the two chief streets near the sea. A terraced street, extending along the coast, and buttressed for a part of its length by a sea-wall, is, with the thoroughfares immediately adjoining, chiefly occupied by shops and the dwellings of the poorer classes; but where it begins to leave the town proper, it is flanked by a number of handsome and pretentious villas, standing each within its own grounds. The more inland thoroughfares, and especially those on the slope, are spacious and well-kept; many have broad and carefully-trimmed ribands of turf betwixt the side-walks and the carriage-way; and several are planted, boulevard-fashion, with small trees. The houses that line these streets are chiefly villas and neat cottages; and as each is separated from the quiet thoroughfare by a garden or shrubbery, the whole atmosphere of this retired town is delightfully sequestered and rural. The houses in most cases are the property of retired merchants and others who are well-to-do; many are the country quarters of families whose winter residence is in Glasgow. As is to be expected, the private buildings are neat and pretty rather than handsome; and the public buildings are not numerous. In Aug. 1878 was laid the foundation-stone of new municipal buildings. They are built in the Scottish Baronial style at a cost of £6000, and have a frontage of 50hf. feet to Princes Street and of 80 feet to Sinclair Street, and contain a small hall. The present public hall in King Street, with a neat Gothic front, was erected in 1845 as a U.P. church; but since the erection of the new U.P. church it has been let for meetings, concerts, etc. It holds about 450. At the E end of the same street stands the new hospital, erected in the cottage style at a cost of £3000 from a bequest left by Miss Anne Alexander, and partly supported also by funds from the municipal authority under the Public Health Act. On the esplanade a monument was raised to Henry Bell in 1872, at a cost of nearly £900. It consists of an obelisk, rising 25 feet from a base 3 feet square, and claiming to be the largest single block of red Aberdeen granite erected in Scotland. The total height of base and column is 34 feet; and it bears the following inscription:-' Erected in 1872 to the memory of Henry Bell, the first in Great Britain who was successful in practically applying steampower for the purposes of navigation. Born in the county of Linlithgow in 1766. Died at Helensburgh in 1831.

The quoad sacra parish church, erected in 1847 near the beach at the E end of the esplanade, is a large oblong building with a plain square tower and little pretensions to beauty. It contains 800 sittings. The West Established church ranks as a chapel of ease, and contains about 800 sittings. The foundation-stone of this handsome Gothic edifice was laid on 1 Feb. 1877, and the total cost was about £6500. It superseded an iron church built in 1868 for £600. The West Free church, a large ornamental Gothic building with tower and spire, was erected in 1852 on the site of a former Original Secession church. The E or Park Free church, also a large Gothic edifice with tower and spire, was built in 1862-63 near the public playground. The U.P. church occupies a prominent site on the rising-ground, and was built in the same style, with tower and spire, in 1861, at a cost of upwards of £5000. The Congregational chapel was rebuilt in 1881 in James's Street at a cost of over £3000; and a new and larger one is meditated on the same site. The old square building of this body, known as the Tabernacle, built in 1802, was the first place of worship in the burgh. The Episcopalians of Helensburgh built the Church of the Holy Trinity in 1842, a schoolhouse in 1851, and a parsonage in 1857; but in 1866 the first was pulled down, and on its site rose the Church of St Michael and All Angels, a handsome Early French edifice, consecrated in May 1868. A Roman Catholic mission was founded in Helensburgh in 1865, with a place of worship to hold 300. In 1879-81 a new church, dedicated to St Joseph, was built of white and red Dumbarton stone in Gothic style, with 400 sittings. In 1878 a plain mission-hall was erected in West King Street for religious and educational purposes, especially in connection with the Helensburgh Working Boys' and Girls' Religious Society.

The following are the schools under the burgh schoolboard, with their respective accommodations, average attendances, and government grants for 1881:-Helensburgh public school (450, 226, £196, 18s. 8d.); Grant Street public school (319, 265, £254, 4s. 11d.); Roman Catholic (237, 183, £128, 3s.); and Episcopalian (91, 68, £59, 14s.). Besides these there are various private schools, boarding and otherwise, for boys and girls. Gas was introduced into the burgh about 1846, and is managed by a gas company. A plentiful supply of water is obtained from a reservoir, opened in 1868, on Mains Hill above the town, and by means of a pipe from Glenfruin, laid in 1872. Among the associations of the town may be mentioned a cemetery company, with a beautifully situated extramural cemetery, agricultural and horticultural societies, bowling, cricket, curling, and skating clubs, a reading-room and library, and a public library. In January 1883 the Public Libraries Act was rejected at a public meeting of ratepayers. Several acres in the E end of the burgh are enclosed as a public playground, for cricket, quoits, etc.; and there is a safety skating pond, of about 4 acres, on the Luss road, to the N; and fine bowling-greens. In 1878 a quantity of ground, enclosed and laid out as a park, situated at Cairndhu Point in Row parish, was presented to the burgh through the generosity of a few of the citizens. This is known as Cairndhu Park. Helensburgh has a post office under Glasgow, and branches of the Bank of Scotland, the Union, and Clydesdale Banks. The offices of all these banks are fine buildings; that of the first is in the Scottish Baronial style, and cost £3000. Seventeen assurance companies are represented by agents or offices in the burgh. There are three principal hotels; one of them, the Queen's, formerly known as the Baths, was the residence of Henry Bell. The Helensburgh News, a Conservative organ established in 1876, is published on Thursdays; the Helensburgh and Gareloch Times and property Circular, a Liberal paper begun in 1879, appears every Wednesday.

Although it was one of the original inducements to settle at Helensburgh, that ' bonnet-makers, stocking, linen, and woollen weavers ' would ' meet with proper encouragement, ' the burgh never attained any commercial importance; and it has no productive industry beyond what is required to meet its own wants, and those of the summer visitors who annually swell the population. Herring and deep sea fishing occupy some of the inhabitants. Since the opening of the railway to Glasgow in 1857, the mild climate of the district has combined with the convenience of access to make it a favourite summer resort; though of late years the popularity of other watering-places has perhaps diminished that of Helensburgh to some extent. Notwithstanding various proposals, Helensburgh never had a harbour; and the completion of the railway superseded the necessity of one. The quay, a rough pile built in 1817, used frequently to be submerged; but in 1861 it was greatly enlarged and improved. In 1881 a fine new pier was built at Craigendoran, ½ mile to the E, by the North British Railway Company; but it is situated wholly in Cardross parish, and is exclusively in the hands of the company.

In January 1776 the lands of Malig or Milrigs were first advertised for feuing by Sir James Colquhoun, the superior, who had purchased them from Sir John Shaw of Greenock. Feuars came in gradually, and for some years the slowly growing community was known simply as New Town or Muleig; but eventually it received the name of Helensburgh, after the superior's wife, daughter of Lord Strathnaver. In 1802 it was erected into a free burgh of barony, under a provost, 2 bailies, and 4 councillors; with a weekly market and 4 annual fairs. The insignificance of the last is indicated by the fact that in 1821 the fair customs were let for five shillings. The introduction of steam navigation lent an impetus to the growth of the burgh. Henry Bell (1767-1830) removed in 1807 to Helensburgh, where, while his wife kept the principal inn, ' The Baths, ' he occupied himself with a series of mechanical experiments, whose final result was the launch of the Comet (Jan. 12, 1812), the first steamer floated in the eastern hemisphere. Henry Bell was provost of the burgh from 1807 to 1809. From 1846 till 1875 the town was governed under a police act obtained in the former year; while at the latter date the General Police and Improvement Act was adopted. The municipal authority now consists of a provost, 2 bailies, and 9 commissioners. The police force consists of 9 men, including a superintendent, with a salary of £160. No fairs of any sort are held now.

The quoad sacra parish was formed in 1862, and is coterminous with the burgh; on the E it is bounded by Cardross parish, on the S by the Firth of Clyde, on the W by Ardencaple parish, and on the N it extends to the N boundaries of the farms of Kirkmichael, Stuck, Malig, Glenan, Easterton, and Woodend. It is included in the presbytery of Dumbarton and the synod of Glasgow and Ayr. The municipal constituency numbered 1580 in 1883, when the valuation of the burgh amounted to £57,595. Pop. (1851) 2841, (1861) 4163, (1871) 5975, (1881) 7693, of whom 4411 were females, and 235 were Gaelic-speaking. Houses (1881) inhabited 1581, vacant 211, building 39.—Ord. Sur., sh. 30, 1866.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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