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Glenfinart House

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Glenfinart House tower, 2012
Glenfinart House tower
© James T M Towill

Glenfinart House was located in Glenfinart Forest, Ardentinny, Argyll & Bute, on the western shore of Loch Long. Following a fire in the 1960s, the only surviving part of the house is the tower, which stands within a caravan park.

Early background

Glenfinart Hall, 2008, Fox
Glenfinart Hall

Glenfinart House originally lay within the estate of the Earls Dunsmore. The land passed to the Douglas family, via Archibald John Douglas and Charles Douglas, then, in 1893, to Henry Pigé-Leschallas. Henry's son, Major John Leschallas, lived there with his family until 1926, when they sold the house and moved south, having previously sold off some parts of the estate in 1922.

In 1906, Mrs Leschallas had Glenfinart Hall constructed as a memorial to her husband, and the hall still remains to the west of the former house and its grounds, where is serves as the village hall and celebrated its centenary in 2006.

1906 Memorial plaque, 2008, Fox
1906 Memorial plaque

The original Glenfinart Estate became fragmented as it changed hands over the years, gradually reducing in size as it was broken up into lots, and sold off. Having encompassed an area including most of the peninsular land on which it lay between Loch Fyne to the west, and Loch Long and Loch Goil to the east, its size fell to that of the present day Glenfinart Forest. The Forestry Commission purchased the remainder of the Douglas estate in 1934, when it became part of the Argyll Forest Park in 1935, the first such area to be established in Britain. The Commission bought or leased land throughout the inter-war period, when land prices were low, and so accumulated large holdings. The fields opposite Finart Bay were once a Forestry Commission nursery, from where Glenfinart's Ardentinny nursery supplied seedling trees for new plantations throughout Scotland.

Unemployment camps

During the 1930s, unemployment camps[1][2] were set up in the area south east of the house, toward the beach, and used to house unemployed workers from the west of Scotland. The west, with its concentration of shipbuilding and related dependent industries, was hit hard by the Great Depression of 1929-1933, when much of the area's working population was laid off. After World War II the Government denied the existence of these these camps, but they are remembered by those who lived in the area at the the time.[3]

World War II

HMS Armadillo

Memorial at information centre, 2007
Memorial at information centre
© Elliott Simpson

Glenfinart House was requisitioned during World War II, and designated HMS Armadillo. Initially used as a War Office camp, it transferred to the Royal Navy in 1942, and provided training facilities for RN Beach Commandos, not to be confused with Royal Marine Commandos. The job of the RN Beach Commandos was to go ashore in the first landing craft and set up a protected base for the Beach Commander to operate from - his job being to control the flow of incoming and outgoing landing craft.

The training school at Ardentinny accommodated between 500 and 600 men and, unusually for the time, mixed officers with ratings. Loch Long was used for amphibious landing drills, and training in reconnaissance and specialised beach skills. Further training included weapons usage, embarkation and debarkation of landing craft under battle conditions, field survival, and exercises such as rock climbing, assault courses, and route marches.

Wartime pictures which can be seen when following the links below have not faded - the light uniforms were khaki battledress (officers and ratings) topped off with the appropriate naval hat.

HMS Armadillo beach memorial, 2007
HMS Armadillo beach memorial
© Elliott Simpson

A commemorative plaque mounted in Ardentinny Church remembers those who were trained there, and a photographic record of the RN Commandos appears on a memorial display board established at the beach.


The last remaining long hut of HMS Armadillo was demolished to clear the site on March 9, 2011.

Long hut demolished

Site visit

Glenfinart House tower
Glenfinart House tower
© William Craig

A site visit was carried out during 2008, and found only two huts remaining. The long hut was found to have a substantial brick addition to the rear. Only one internal picture could be taken through a wall vent, and was inconclusive regarding the purpose of the extension. The area above the car park remains festooned with numerous concrete hut bases of various sizes. Remains of the foundation which served the wooden hut once used by the Lochgoilhead Scout Activity Centre were also found.

A concrete base near the north end of the beach was noted to have a substantial concrete step below and towards the beach. This is thought to be the sole remains of the wooden jetty seen in photographs of HMS Armadillo.

A manhole and pipe support visible at the northern end of the beach are believed to be have been part of the camp sewage system. A large water tank, constructed mainly of stone, was also found here, having a brick addition at one corner together with a further brick construction inside the tank. The tank is overgrown, making it impossible to determine whether or not there are any further structures within, or if this was simply some form of simple overflow device, intended to maintain the water level. The purpose of the tank is unclear, as the construction seems to pre-date that expected of World War II.

Postwar period

Glenfinart House fire, 1968
Glenfinart House fire, 1968
Courtesy of Glenfinart website

Following the end of the war, the house returned to private ownership and became a hotel.

By the mid-1950s, forestry was flourishing on the surrounding land, and the area was again used to provide accommodation for the unemployed. This time, however, accommodation was provided in the big house, albeit temporarily, while the workers' housing in the village was being completed. These workers were taking advantage of a retraining programme, and being trained as forestry workers to meet the growing demands of the local industry. More than fifty were employed in Ardentinny, where the nursery produced several million seedling trees for national distribution. Unfortunately, changes in acceptable working practice brought more than twenty years of successful employment in the area to an end.[4]

The hotel was also suffering from progress, with bookings falling as the cheap package holidays of the 1960s attracted holidaymakers away from their usual local destinations, and to warmer and sunnier locations abroad.

Glenfinart tower and portico, 2008
Glenfinart tower and portico
© Willie Mair

In 1968, Glenfinart House was destroyed by fire, leaving on its site only by the remains of its entrance portico and tower, which still stands within the caravan site which occupies the grounds.

Uig Hall

Uig Hall, 2009, Fox
Uig Hall

In November 1959, one of the huts in the grounds of Glenfinart House was dismantled and moved to Uig, which lies between Benmore and Rashfield, and became the new Benmore & Rashfield Community Association hall.[5] The building remains on the site, having become Uig Hall, and used for local meeting and events. The hut has been restored, with the original corrugated iron cladding replaced by profiled aluminium sheeting. The original windows have also been replaced.

The story of The Little Red Elf

Little Red Elf book, by CC, 1977
Little Red Elf book
Largest book in the world 1977
© Scottish Library Association

At some time during the period of the 1960s and 1970s, one of the former World War II concrete huts was occupied by Mr William P Wood, who constructed what was then listed as the the largest book in the world, and featured in the Guinness Book of Records. The pages of the book were constructed from standard sheets of hardboard measuring 8 ft x 4 ft (2.4 m x 1.2 m), and the final book is described as being 2.2 metres in height, and 3 metres in width.

At the time, the story is described as having been accompanied by a son et lumiaire display on the site.

The story of the little red elf appears to be a retelling of another story, "The Little Red Hen", and tells of a little red elf and her lazy friends at the North Pole: the hare, the penguin, and the reindeer. When the little red elf can't get help planting the pine cones or decorating the Christmas tree, she knows just how to reward her friends, who still expect to open the presents found under its branches on Christmas Day.

Although the attached information places the book in a cave, it is understood to have started out in one of the huts, and only later moved to a cave near Loch Eck, to the west, after Mr Wood was evicted from the hut. The book was was then placed in the care of the School Libraries Officer of Lothian Regional Council.

The 1977 photograph showing the book was accompanied by the following text:

The (then) largest book in the world, The Little Red Elf by William P Wood. It measured 2.2m x 3m and was originally housed in a cave in Ardentinny but later placed in the care of the School Libraries Officer of Lothian Regional Council.

This image originally appeared in the Scottish Library Association (SLA) News Mar/Apr 1977 (No. 138).
© Scottish Library Association

Famous residents

Although there do not appear to be any accounts of guests of special note residing in the house, the village of Ardentinny does have some famous residents.

Born in Glasgow, actress Phyllida Law has a family home there, and admits that while her career in England has been successful, it has meant not being truly resident in Scotland. Phyllida's husband was Eric Thompson (November 9, 1929 - December 1, 1982) an English actor, producer, and television presenter, probably best known for his script and narration of the children's television series The Magic Roundabout, transmitted between October 1965, and January 1977. The scripts, which replaced the original French material, were written while the couple were living at Ardentinny, and this influenced a number of aspects in the scripts, for example, the naming of Dougal, the dog - apparently this upset the French, who mistook the pronunciation as de Gaulle. Thompson had a dislike of the original French scripts, describing them as being loud and noisy, and created his own stories, more in keeping with the quiet and relaxed style of life in a village.

The couple's children are also well-known, being the actresses Emma Thompson and Sophie Thompson.


The bowling green at Ardentinny lies to the north of a burn, and had several huts, some wooden, some concrete, and was probably the site of the camps referred to above. The Lochgoilhead Scout Centre had the use of one hut for a while - the hut had previously been used as the village youth club, and came with a piano and three sets of wallbars, but little else.

We are grateful for the following local information received regarding the past of Glenfinart House:

After the war it reverted to private hands and became a hotel. By the 1960s trade was dropping off and most of the building was destroyed in fire in 1968. The entrance portico and tower with the carving of the Leschallas family motto De Tout Mon Coeur survived, as did several wartime concrete huts to the rear. The literal translation of the motto is Of All My Heart, perhaps With All My Heart, being closer to its actual meaning.

One of the huts was occupied by a squatter, and when the site was abandoned he created the largest book in the world (featured in the Guinness Book of Records) and set up a son et lumière accompaniment to the reading of the story. The story depicted was The Little Red Elf. The pages of the book were made out of 8 ft x 4 ft sheets of hardboard. When he was evicted he took it to a cave on Loch Eckside. No one seems to know what happened to it after that.

Many years later a Lady told me that her parents were friendly with the hotel owners in the 1960s and they had visited the house one day. When they left she turned round and saw smoke rising from the building but her parents told her to keep walking!
- Anon

Douglas peerage

The following members of the Douglas family have been identified from peerage records.

Unfortunately, there seems to be some conflict, as General Sir John Douglas, G.C.B. appears to be interred in two separate locations.

Lt.-Gen. Sir Neil Douglas of Glenfinart
Invested as a Knight Commander, Order of the Bath (K.C.B.). Father of General Sir John Douglas of Glenfinart. Source
General Sir John Douglas of Glenfinart
Father: Son of Lt.-Gen. Sir Neil Douglas of Glenfinart. He married Lady Elizabeth Cathcart (d. 27 February 1896), daughter of General Sir Charles Murray Cathcart, 2nd Earl Cathcart and Henrietta Mather, on 1 June 1843. General Sir John Douglas of Glenfinart was Commander of the Forces in Scotland, gained the rank of Colonel in the service of the 79th Foot, and was invested as a Knight Grand Cross, Order of the Bath (G.C.B.). Source
Major-General John Douglas
Was born before 1827. He married Rosa Maria Paget, daughter of Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur Paget and Lady Augusta Fane, on 10 March 1842. 1 He died on 10 May 1871, without issue. Invested as a Companion, Order of the Bath (C.B.). He gained the rank of Major-General in the service of the 11th Hussars. He lived in Glenfinart, Argyllshire, Scotland. Source
General Sir John Douglas, G.C.B.
1817 - 1888. Of the 79th Cameron Highlanders (sometime between 1873 - 1886). The sources make no reference to his home. Source 1 Tomb Source 2 History Source 3 History
General Sir John Douglas, G.C.B.
At Kilmun (St Munn's) Parish Church, against the north wall of the tower can be seen a mort-safe. Within a red sandstone vault lies General Sir John Douglas, G.C.B. Source
Sir John Douglas
Was born before 1848. He lived in Glenfinart, Argyllshire, Scotland. Invested as a Knight Grand Cross, Order of the Bath (G.C.B.). Father of Charles John Cathcart Douglas (b. b 1864, d. 25 Apr 1926). Source
Charles John Cathcart Douglas
Was born before 1864. The son of Sir John Douglas. He married Helen Tolmie Dick Bayly, daughter of General John Bayly and Jane Crum-Ewing, on 17 November 1880. He died on 25 April 1926. Charles John Cathcart Douglas held the office of Deputy Lieutenant (D.L.). Source


1 BBC video report on 1920s/1930s work camps

2 BBC radio report on 1920s/1930s work camps

3 Ardentinny Community Profile

4 Ardentinny Community Profile

5 From the files of The Dunoon Observer & Argyllshire Standard, November 20, 2009.

External links

Aerial views



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