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Cairndhu House

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Cairndhu House, Helensburgh, 2007
Cairndhu House, Helensburgh
© Paul McIlroy

Cairndhu House is located in Helensburgh, on the Firth of Clyde. The house was designed by William Leiper (1839 - 1916) and built between 1872 and 1873 for John G Ure (1820 - 1901), first chairman of the Committee of Health for the City of Glasgow, Lord Provost of Glasgow (1880 - 1883), whose son became Lord Strathclyde. Leiper designed a number of well regarded houses and mansions in Helensburgh.

The house sits on a low hilltop, set back from the shore and accessed along Cairndhu Gardens which skirts the lawn in front of the house. A more steeply sloped lawn area, just below the house, has had the name CAIRNDHU picked out in large white letters formed by white stones set into the ground.

The building is described as a miniature French château in François I style, with the interior is having a number of notable features including an impressive black and gold Anglo-Japanese ceiling decorated with sunflowers, bamboo and birds, and excellent examples of stained glass by Glasgow born designer Daniel Cottier. The figures of Fame, Fortune, and Love appear in windows in the house, with the figure of Death on a Cottier and Company tile which was formerly mounted in the dining room fireplace surround.

The basement it reported to have been used as the meeting place for the Helensburgh Amateur Radio Club,[1] although the date of this use is unknown.

World War II - HMS Vernon

During World War II, the house was requisitioned by the Royal Navy in September 1940, and became home to part of HMS Vernon, along with nearby Ardencaple Castle. After the war ended, the house was returned in 1947.

Following its wartime service, the house became a popular hotel on the Helensburgh seafront, but was to close in 1984, re-opening c. 1993 as the Cairndhu House Nursing Home, able to care for about 40 residents.

In 2010, the nursing home was closed, leaving the house abandoned and boarded up, and reported to be deteriorating, with local concerns regarding its future, while the council monitors its condition.[2][3]

From this account, we also learned that the house was threatened with destruction once before:

In the mid-1960's, it was purchased by Rhu Hotels Ltd., and they submitted ambitious plans to develop Cairndhu in a quite different direction.

Permission was sought and obtained to demolish the Victorian structure and erect a new hotel in its place. But in addition, they wanted to build a garage and filling station in the grounds, and also planned three five-storey blocks of flats.

However they were refused permission for the garage and flats, and after a planning inquiry the then Secretary of State for Scotland upheld the refusal in May 1966.
- Helensburgh-Heritage.[4]

Cairndhu organ

Cairndhu was home to an organ (which seems to have been a feature in a number of 'big houses' of the time) which was removed at some time (the date and reason does not seem to have been recorded) and installed by Ingrams of Edinburgh, in St Andrew’s Presbyterian (now United Reformed) Church in Silloth, Cumbria, in 1946. The organ is thought to have been built by in Huddersfield by pipe organ builders and restorers Conacher and Company.

In 2016, it was reported that the organ, which has been in use at the church since its installation was in need of internal cleaning and adjustment,and that the congregation had started raising funds for the work.[5]

Cairndhu Lodge

The house was provided with a lodge, or gatehouse, positioned at the start of the driveway leading from the coast road to the house. The main road is now Rhu Road Lower, the A814, while the driveway is now Cairndhu Gardens. The lodge was also the location a flush bracket, a form of bench mark used used by Ordnance Survey.[6]


1 Lomond Radio Club

2 Helensburgh Community Council Minutes, January 2011.

3 Historic seafront mansion boarded up Retrieved April 12, 2011.

4 Historic seafront mansion boarded up Retrieved April 12, 2011.

5 Former Cairndhu organ to be restored Retrieved October 16, 2016.

6 Flush Bracket G4008: Helensburgh, Cairndhu Hotel

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