Innellan is a village which lies on the western shore of the Firth of Clyde, about four miles (7 km) south of Dunoon, and directly opposite Wemyss Bay.
Founded in 1843, the village soon grew to occupy more than a mile of the shoreline, having grown from a number of villas which had been built around the Royal Hotel, located on a site which overlooked much of the village. A wooden steamer pier was added around 1850, linking the village with places such as Glasgow and Rothesay, and the scenic location added to its popularity as a destination for those going Doon the Watter for their annual holiday break.
The village had its own post office, branch of the Clydesdale Bank, two garages, gas and water works, café, bowling-green, horticultural society, public school, and four churches: Established church c. 1879; Free church; UP church; and St Margaret's Episcopal church, a Gothic structure dating from 1875. Of some 14 shops which once flourished along the road, only the post office remains and also serves as the local general store. The remainder have closed, and been converted into dwellings.
Dating from 1850, the pier was of wooden construction and built to serve the many steamers which operated on the Firth of Clyde in Victorian times. The popularity of the village led to the pier being extended around 1900, in order to cope with increasing traffic and the deeper draught of the newer steamers. However, by the 1970s, the cheap package holiday had seen most of the area's annual holidaymakers desert the Clyde coast and its resorts for the guaranteed sunshine of places such as Spain, and most of the steamer piers around the Firth of Clyde closed, including Innellan in 1972.
The pier was reopened for about seven months during 1974, when the Ardyne Point Yard was opened by Sir Robert McAlpine to construct concrete oil platforms for use in the North Sea, but after the shore road was upgraded, the market for such platforms collapsed (only three platforms were ever completed) and the old wooden pier was finally closed. The last of its remains were demolished and cleared by the Army between 1996 and 1997. The remains were dumped at Toward near the entrance to the Ardyne Point Yard: some remain there to this day (2011). The second visit was needed as the piles had refused to move during the first, remaining firmly firmly fixed in their rocky bed, while the crane began to tip over instead. The local paper, the Dunoon Observer, reported that it had been bought for £150 following the closure of the Ardyne Point Yard, in the hope that it would be needed should the yard re-open. It seems he still owned the pier, or its remains, at the time of its demolition by the Army, one of a number of similar pier demolition and removal operations which served as training exercises.
The Royal Hotel was destroyed by fire in 1981, leaving only the entrance gates on Pier Road, still carrying a sign which shows the way to the non-existent pier which once served the hotel. Said to have been located in a building - possibly a lodge - just down the hill from the hotel, the public bar survived, and can be seen as the building to the left, in the 1907 photograph below. It seems that it was located there in order to separate the classes of the time, and keep the common drinkers away from the well-heeled patrons of the hotel proper.
The hotel is believed to have been requisitioned for a relatively brief period during World War II, when it was used as accommodation for the Pioneer Corps, while constructing camps and other facilities at Toward.
A house originally known as Lilybank, which may have been built by a family by the name of Younger, was the Braemar Hotel until it closed some time around 2000, after which the house and its grounds were redeveloped and returned to residential use. Its use as a hotel is said to postdate World War II.
Also related to wartime activities, the wreck of a landing craft is reported in the waters off Innellan. The circumstances of the loss are unknown, but it is safe to assume it was associated with the extensive training carried out in the firth, particularly by Combined Operations.
Innellan House was built by one of the Campbells in 1650. The structure is described as a plain two storey house having a single wing at its eastern end. Already ruinous when described in 1892, only the walls and gable-ends remained in place.
Recorded as little more than an overgrown pile of rubble by the 1970s, much of the stone having been removed by local builders to repair walls. The site and surrounding area was subsequently developed in 1993/4, with two later houses now occupying the location.
HMS Ajax shelling incident
The incident took place as HMS Ajax was making way from from her station as guardship on the Clyde to Chatham Dockyard for repair/refit. In those days, naval ships were issued with a quarterly ammunition allowance for gun drills. The Commanding Officer, Captain Durrant, decided to expend his current allowance while on the Firth of Clyde. As Ajax was passing Innellan, a fault occurred in one of the gun circuits, causing the gun to fire while traversing, and while pointing at the village. The main armament comprised of four 12.5-inch 38 ton muzzle loading guns (Ajax was the last British warships to be completed with muzzle-loading guns), the largest that could be accommodated within the ship's displacement. The shell ricocheted off the water and flew into the air, landing approximately ten yards from Ashgrove House which belonged to Mr Patten, a sugar merchant from Greenock. The house was described as uninhabitable, being covered in debris, a gable wall damaged, and having all of its windows broken. Having made a hole in the ground some seven feet deep, and uprooted four large trees, the shell exited the ground and carried on up the hill until the energy of the shot was exhausted, after which it rolled back down the hill and is said to have damaged another house, belonging to a Mr Henderson.
It was fortunate that there was no loss of life in the incident, although some relatively minor injuries were reported, and the village school lay close to Ashgrove House. A plumber who had been working in one of the houses was reported to have suffered injuries to his body, and had to take to his bed for a day, and the Patten's servant girl suffered cuts to her hands.
Newspaper report and House of Commons question
The Weekly Dispatch of February 20, 1887, carried the story of the accidental shelling of Innellan, by the Clyde guardship HMS Ajax.
Mr M'Cartan, MP for Down (South), followed this up with a question to First Lord of the Admiralty in the House Commons on February 25, 1887:
HANSARD 1803–2005 → 1880s → 1887 → February 1887 → 25 February 1887 → Commons Sitting → QUESTIONS.
ADMIRALTY—THE GUARDSHIP "AJAX" AT GUN PRACTICE.
HC Deb 25 February 1887 vol 311 cc569-71 569
§ MR. M'CARTAN (Down, S.)
asked the First Lord of the Admiralty, Whether his attention has been called to the following paragraph, which appeared in The Weekly Dispatch of the 20th February instant:— "H.M.S 'Ajax' at gun practice." "Shameful recklessness." "Our Greenock correspondent telegraphs:'The Clyde guardship Ajax, under the command of Captain Durrant, left anchorage off Greenock on Friday morning for Chatham, where she will undergo alterations to rudder, &c., and will thereafter join the Channel Squadron previous to returning to Greenock probably towards the end of the summer. While passing down the Firth of Clyde, and when opposite Innellan, an occurrence of a most remarkable nature happened. It appears that in going down the crew of the Ajax were being exercised in big gun drill with the view of expending their quarterly allowance of ammunition. About half-past 10, at which time the Ajax was directly off Innellan, a shot was seen to issue from one of the guns of the vessel, strike the water, and then ricochet with terrific force towards the shore. It struck the ground immediately adjoining the villa of Mr. G. W. Patton, sugar merchant in Greenock, entering the earth about 10 yards from the north-east gable wall. The shot made a hole in the ground about seven feet deep, and uprooted four large trees, breaking them in pieces, and scattering the branches and 570 fragments all over the roof of Mr. Patton's villa, as well as over the adjoining grounds, besides covering the roof of the house with stones. Every window in the house was broken, and great rents were made in the gable walls; the house, in fact, being rendered quite uninhabitable. The force of the projectile, even after striking the ground and doing this considerable damage, was not yet quite spent, as the shot was carried about a quarter of a mile up the hill, and when it had reached the ground it rolled back for some distance down the hill. The adjoining house, occupied by Mrs. West, also suffered to no little extent. A plumber named Finlay Brown, who was employed at the house at the time, received injuries about the body which necessitated confinement to bed yesterday, and a servant girl with Mrs. Patton had her hands cut. The Board School is in the immediate vicinity of Ashgrove, and at the time of the occurrence was filled with children. A slight deviation of the shot would have brought it into contact wilh this building. The Ajax people did not apparently notice the damage that had been done, because they went on with their firing, although the other shots went in a more seaward direction. The Ajax is due at Sheerness on Monday;" whether the statements made in this paragraph are correct; if so, what are the names of the persons injured; to what extent was damage done to property; whether compensation will be given by the Admiralty to the persons so injured, and also to the persons whose property has been damaged or destroyed; whether the "big gun" drill was conducted, as alleged, for the purpose of "expending the quarterly allowance of ammunition;" and, whether steps will be taken to prevent the Commanders of Her Majesty's war ships from endangering the lives of Her Majesty's subjects by discharging "big guns" at such a short distance from the shore?
§ THE FIRST LORD (Lord GEORGE HAMILTON) (Middlesex, Ealing)
It is the case that when proceeding to carry out her quarterly target practice a premature discharge of one of the Ajax's turret guns occurred, and that the shot struck the shore in the neighbourhood of Innellan, Firth of Clyde, damaging the houses and grounds of Messrs. Patton and Henderson. Beyond the two cases referred to in the Question—those of the plumber and the servant-girl— there has been no injury to individuals, and they are nearly well. An officer sent from the Admiralty reports that no great structural injury has occurred to the buildings; but that the roof of Mr. Patton's house has received considerable damage, and the grounds have suffered a good deal. The Admiralty will give full attention and consideration to all claims for compensation to persons or property resulting from this accident. The hon. Member may be satisfied that there was no intention of firing a shot in the direction of the shore, and that no one regrets the circumstance more than the Admiralty and the captain and officers of the Ajax. The premature discharge of the gun was owing to the accidental completing of the gun circuit, into the cause of which an inquiry by specially selected officers is being held. The Admiralty will take every possible precaution to prevent a recurrence of the accident.
- Hansard, February 25, 1887.
Related Canmore/RCAHMS and ScotlandsPlaces (SP) entries:-
- Ashgrove House
- Royal Hotel
- Braemar Hotel
- Innellan pier
- Innellan House
- Approximate position of landing craft wreck
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