Cayzers at Cove 1885 – 1918

Part 2: Provost to Politician 1889 – 1901

Over the late summer of 1889, the local press published three long (anonymous) letters regarding the lack of a Burgh Hall for Kilcreggan and Cove.  Some difference of opinion between the commissioners on this and other local matters meant that the usual routine November re-election of retiring commissioners was suddenly contested, with two new candidates competing against the retiring three.  When the smoke cleared, the incumbent Provost had lost his seat.  Charles Cayzer (already a commissioner, although not one of the retirees) was duly appointed as the new Provost by the new board of commissioners; he took his seat at the first post-election meeting on the 20th November where he was also appointed chief magistrate, a role traditionally held by the Provost.

At this same meeting notice was given that owing to the newly-passed Local Government Act (Scotland) 1889, some powers would devolve from the Burghs to the newly-formed County Councils, significantly the jurisprudence.  So Charles could only be a magistrate for a very brief part of his time as Provost.  On the principle that if you can’t beat them, join them, he promptly offered himself as Burgh representative for Kilcreggan and Cove on what would be the new Dumbartonshire County Council.  With an eye to his role as Provost, he even managed a dig at the Clyde Trustees in one of his speeches as a candidate (the battle to save Loch Long from Glasgow’s sewage was ongoing).  Charles Cayzer was duly elected to Dumbartonshire County Council in 1890.

Recreational facilities at Cove improved in the summer of 1890 with the opening of Craigrownie Golf Club in June.  Provost Cayzer promptly revived the Burgh Hall suggestion, by raising again the idea of building a large hall for public use by Cove and Kilcreggan, at the next meeting of the commissioners, in July.  His suggestion was notably more fully formed than any such previous.  The hall would provide Council chambers for the commissioners and other small groups requiring such a room, and there would be indoor recreational spaces for Cove’s summer visitors.  Adjacent land (technically the property of local landowner the Duke of Argyll), could be used for tennis courts and a bowling green.  Finally he suggested that the money to build the hall (around £2000) might be raised by a subscription scheme targeting specifically the wealthy summer residents, who might benefit the most from facilities aimed directly at their entertainment and diversion.  Charles Cayzer went on to kickstart the fund with an anonymous £500 donation, as he “strongly urged that an effort should be made now while proprietors were occupying their summer homes”.

Inspired by Charles’s vision and determination, the commissioners began targeting the summer residents.  By August they were only £200 short of the target and there were still potential donors to be approached.  Confident that they could raise the money, they wrote to the Duke of Argyll asking for some land on which they might build the hall.  After some negotiation, a plot was finally settled on in November, reasonably equidistant between Cove and Kilcreggan, and with enough land (granted to the project by the Duke at a nominal annual feu of 1s/acre) for the proposed outdoor tennis courts and bowling green.

At around this same time, Charles made a big decision and purchased Ralston House outright.  The house cost £55,000, but Charles would now pour around £17,000 into extensive renovations and improvements by the Glasgow firm J & J Hutchison.  These included everything from a domestic power plant for the new electric lights, to a large side-extension for a winter garden.  The work would not be completed until the end of 1891.

Charles’ bold decision to try for one of the seats on the new Dumbartonshire County Council the previous year now bore unexpected fruit.  Local government had brought him to wider political attention.  He was approached by interested parties and finally agreed in June 1891 to accept the nomination as Conservative candidate (with the support of the Liberal Unionists) at the upcoming General Election, in the constituency of Barrow-in-Furness.  He and his wife rented a property in the constituency and would spend a lot of time over the next 12 months canvassing hard in Barrow, where the sitting Liberal MP was the son of a previous incumbent.

Provost Cayzer began 1892 in the usual way.  Building work finally started on the Burgh Hall; a popular commissioner, Mr Harvey, died during an influenza epidemic; there were questions about the sewage and waste disposal facilities at Cove.  In July 1892 the local paper was proud to announce that Provost Cayzer M.P. had been successful in his bid for the Barrow-in-Furness seat.

For Charles himself, everything would change.  He was still running his shipping business, but now would need to spend more time in his constituency, and, importantly, more time in London, attending Parliament when in session.  To his credit he took this very seriously, and rented his first central London townhouse, 38 Portman Square.  Charles Cayzer senior, staying in Portman Square, wrote a description of the far from luxurious surroundings: he himself had been given the use of the only room with gas lighting as a study/smoking room.  The house was otherwise lit mostly by candles.  “…we all miss the electric light at Ralston” he told his brother in a letter in 1893.  As the London house was rented, improvements were not an option.

With his new political responsibilities, Charles Cayzer stood down as Provost in November 1892, only a few days before he and his wife attended the wedding of the first of their children to marry.  Eldest daughter Mamie wed a dashing army officer, Captain John Medlicott Vereker, a grandson of genuine Anglo-Irish aristocracy, in Trinity Church Paisley, officiated by the Bishop of Glasgow.  At Cove the locals celebrated the marriage of the daughter of “our popular ex-Provost Cayzer” by building a huge bonfire on the beach across the road from Clevedon House, which was the centre of a large party with much singing and dancing, and no doubt drinking.  A scratch wedding march was supplied by Mr James Campbell on his violin “which was strikingly and beautifully emphasised by one or two rounds of light artillery from Mr Tugwell, the head gardener at Clevedon” reported the local newspaper.  The Cayzers missed these festivities, as the family would have been at Ralston that evening.

With Charles spending more time away from Cove, and no longer involved in local politics, it was only now, in 1893 that two of his initiatives finally bore fruit.

His fight with the Clyde Trustees, over the dumping of Clyde dredgings into Loch Long, had dragged on for years.  The Outer and Inner Houses of the Court of Sessions in Edinburgh had each voted in favour of the Burgh, but the Clyde Trust promptly appealed against the decision each time.  After the second vote had gone against them, the Clyde Trust appealed to the House of Lords.  This seemingly interminable battle ended in March 1893 when the Trust was defeated once again, by law.  In Cove there were “great rejoicings” said the local paper, and “three cheers for Ex-Provost Cayzer, M.P. for Barrow” getting the full credit he deserved for his tenacity.  The cheers were given around the large bonfire speedily built for that purpose when the locals heard the good news, and took the opportunity to have a spontaneous celebration.

Charles’ second initiative had been the push to raise the money to build the Burgh Hall for Kilcreggan and Cove, but he stepped down as Provost six months before the hall was completed. The new Provost, Peter Donaldson, opened the Burgh Hall on 10 May 1893. The architect, selected by competition, was Glasgow architect James Chalmers, and the cost of the completed building was £2,300. The work had all been done by local tradesmen. Several lengthy speeches were reported in the local paper, but it fell to Mr McCracken, the local schoolmaster and a fellow commissioner to give credit where it was due.

As the press reported: During his [Charles Cayzer’s] short stay here he worked very hard for the welfare of the people. Personally, he [Mr McCracken] felt somewhat ashamed that it should have fallen to Mr Cayzer to put into practical shape the scheme for getting this hall considering that he had, compared with many of them, but a short association with the place…He was afraid that they would not have had this hall had Mr Cayzer not originated and helped it with a very large subscription. (Applause) he was glad to say, however, that though Mr Cayzer had started the scheme, it was heartily taken up by the community, and by none more heartily than by the late Mr Harvey. (Applause).

Charles himself was unable to attend the opening, since he was in London, attending to his duties as an MP.  More significantly, the long list of local attendees at the opening ceremony included Mr & Mrs Steven, Clevedon.  Clevedon had been let, and the Cayzers were no longer in residence.

But the story of the Cayzers at Cove is far from over.  After the Stevens’ lease was up, Clevedon stood empty for a few years.  And so in August 1895 Charles offered the property to The Sailors’ Orphan Society, founded in Glasgow 1889.  As a shipowner/manager himself it was a cause close to his heart.  Most of the locals were perfectly happy at the thought of the projected fifty orphans who would live at Clevedon, but a vocal minority were horrified at the prospect.  In spite of a public meeting at which Charles himself spoke eloquently in favour of his project, no agreement could be reached.  In January 1896 it was reported in the press that Charles Cayzer had donated £5000 to The Sailors’ Orphan Society, so that the trustees could find land and build a home for the boys from scratch.  Clevedon remained in Cayzer ownership.

By now, the house was not used by the family at all, and Charles’ father, now extremely elderly, lived permanently with his son between Ralston and Portman Square.  All was quiet at Clevedon until the local paper reported in May 1897 that the house had finally been let for the first time in two years.  One month later, Charles Cayzer became one of the “Diamond Jubilee Knights” gaining a knighthood in Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Honours List of June 1897.

Charles William Cayzer senior died aged 91, in March 1900, in the London town-house his son was now renting, 34 Belgrave Square.  His coffin made the long journey from London to Glasgow, and then travelled from Gourock on the ferry across the water to Cove, where it was taken to the Barbour Cemetery so that Charles could be buried beside his wife on the same beautiful spot overlooking Loch Long.

It was at about this time that the new Sir Charles Cayzer decided to make something more of the final resting place of his parents. There is no paperwork in the archive, but a moderately large square section of the cemetery was surrounded by a low pink granite wall, which suggests that Sir Charles purchased a number of plots. In the centre of the section was a tall, ornate four-sided grave monument in grey and pink granite, with pink granite panels offering space for at least twelve inscriptions. “Sir Charles Cayzer” was inscribed prominently on the stepped granite base of the monument, suggesting that Sir Charles intended this to be the family plot for himself and the rest of his family in due course. Sir Charles’ parents were the first occupants added to one of the pink panels.

Sadly for the family plot at Cove, in 1900 Sir Charles also bought a new house, Gartmore House in Perthshire.  The house was intended as a new country home for the entire family, and the village of Gartmore had its own parish church and cemetery.  Only one further Cayzer would join Sir Charles’ parents at Cove, while Sir Charles himself, his wife, and many of their descendants would eventually be laid to rest in the new Cayzer family plot at Gartmore.

Meanwhile Sir Charles was still leaving his mark on Cove.  He commissioned stained glass from Mr Stephen Adam of Glasgow for the transept window in Craigrownie Parish Church as a memorial to his parents (according to the local paper) but only to his father according to the brass plaque which accompanied the window.

The Craigrownie plaque bore six lines of text: the first for God, the sixth for the memorial itself, and the intervening four lines for a potted history of Sir Charles’s achievements in politics and in his private life (both his large estates got a mention). This was as much a commemoration of himself as of his father, for whose own name there was no space. Sir Charles also gifted a window to the local church at Ralston, Cardonald Parish Church, as a memorial of his father, by J.&W. Guthrie Studio, also of Glasgow. Sadly some remodelling at the rear of Cardonald in the 1960s to build a corridor from the church to the church hall led to the loss of the bottom section of this window.