Part 1: A Home for the Family 1885 – 1889
The village of Cove on the bank of Loch Long in what is now Argyll and Bute, Scotland, has an unexpected link with the Cayzer family. It was here in this small village that the then-Charles Cayzer first bought a house of his own.
Life at Cove broadened Charles’ horizons in unexpected ways, and sowed the seeds of his future interests and achievements in both home improvement, as might be expected, but also in politics.
The future Sir Charles Cayzer had founded his own freight shipping line, Clan Line, in Glasgow in 1878. Once the business was running smoothly, Charles moved his family to Scotland, where his ninth child, Bertie, was born in July 1881. Charles’ wife, Agnes, was soon expecting another child, and so he moved his ever-expanding family to a large Georgian mansion, Milliken House, which stood in its own park, and was a 20-30 minute commute straight to Glasgow Central, only a few metres from the office in Hope Street. Milliken House was a rented property, as all the previous family homes had been. It was also the largest house the Cayzer family had yet lived in; and it was here that Harold, the tenth and last of the children was born in August 1882.
It was not until Spring 1885 that Charles Cayzer made the leap to property owner, by purchasing a purpose-built “summer villa” in Cove. Clevedon House, Cove, was a vaguely Italianate villa, one of several large houses that had been built speculatively along the road facing the loch, to develop Cove as a waterside summer resort for wealthy visitors. At this time, it could be reached only by a ferry from Gourock, but there was a train from Gourock straight to Glasgow Central, so Clevedon was, like Milliken, a fairly easy commute for Charles. The Loch Long development had already attracted other leaders of Glasgow industry, and the clear loch waters were undoubtedly an added attraction.
From 1885 onwards the youngest of the nine living Cayzer children would move to Cove for the summers, accompanied by Charles’s elderly parents, Charles William Cayzer senior and Mary Elizabeth Cayzer (née Nicklin) both of whom now lived permanently with the family. The Cove household would be joined later in the summer by the older children as they came home from school for the holidays. In a letter dated June 1885, Mamie Cayzer, Charles’s eldest daughter, then aged about 15, was excited about the new house, as this was the perfect excuse to buy a new hat, perfect for a loch-side summer. She hoped her mother would send her the money to buy the one she already had in mind. Sadly no subsequent correspondence indicates whether her approach was successful.
Cove was not an especially developed village, with few facilities of any kind; and the new houses were, like the village cottages, coal-fired. Charles Cayzer promptly set about improving his property, investing in a small (and probably new) local company, the Kilcreggan and Cove Gas Co. to get piped gas installed at Clevedon. Kilcreggan was the first village on the Rosneath Peninsula, directly across the river from Gourock, and was part of the burgh (administrative district) of Kilcreggan and Cove. An earlier local endeavour had already brought piped potable water to Kilcreggan and Cove by means of the Kilcreggan and Cove water scheme, which had seen the building of the Kilcreggan Waterworks in 1881. Any improvement to the amenities of the two villages was inevitably the result of the local “Police Commissioners” (similar to a parish council) working together with the wealthier interested residents. Philanthropy was a strong Victorian value and what benefitted the wealthy and influential would also benefit the local inhabitants. The K&C Gas Co. is likely to have been Charles Cayzer’s very first taste of the way that that local politics worked in a place like Cove; and would certainly have brought him into contact with the local Provost and commissioners.
At around this time, Charles Cayzer was also looking for another family home on the outskirts of Glasgow, and had found Ralston House, only about 20-30 minutes by train to Glasgow Central just like Milliken. Charles rented Ralston in 1886, and it was then the main family home for many years. Meanwhile back at Cove, a local battle was brewing and Charles was about to get involved. The Trustees of the River Clyde were legally obliged to oversee the periodic dredging of the river as it ran through Glasgow, and the Clyde estuary. But the dredgings had to be disposed of, and it seemed simple enough to dump these somewhere up the mouth of the nearest loch, which unhappily for its inhabitants was Loch Long. The Clyde dredgings comprised not only whatever general river and shipping detritus had sunk to the river floor, but also sediment courtesy of Glasgow’s sewage system, which simply channelled the contents of the sewage pipes out of the city straight into the Clyde.
In 1887 the residents of Kilcreggan and Cove united once again, this time in their anger at the pollution of their loch, although they were not sure how to go about persuading the Clyde Trustees to stop the dumping. In stepped Charles Cayzer. It’s possible that he had become a Cove commissioner by this time, or at any rate, soon afterwards, but he certainly got involved and suggested a public subscription around the area to raise enough money to launch legal proceedings. The money was duly found, and the Burgh took the Clyde Trustees to court.
Away from local politics, the happy highlight of 1887 was the celebration of Charles’s parents Charles and Mary Elizabeth Cayzer’s 50th wedding anniversary celebration, on 4th October. Charles had ensured that his parents enjoyed the comfortable retirement he could now afford to give them; they travelled between Ralston in the autumn and winter, and Cove, which they both especially loved, in the spring and summer. They especially loved living at Cove and celebrated their anniversary with a dinner for their family and close friends at Clevedon. Charles gave each of his parents a thick gold ring for their golden anniversary.
Barely eighteen months later, Mary Elizabeth Cayzer died at Ralston, in March 1889. Her coffin was transported back to Cove, and she was interred in the Barbour Cemetery, Cove. Her grave was on a hillside with a beautiful view overlooking Loch Long.