John Stewart became a partner in a grain merchants business and had lifelong interests in family history, boating and photography, but it is Lochranza on the island of Arran which provides a common thread which brings together all of these topics. In 1928 John gifted a painting to Glasgow Loch Ranza by Andrew Black to Glasgow, who often depicted west of Scotland coastal scenes incorporating fishing and leisure boats.
John Stewart was born at 15 Willowbank Street, Glasgow on 23rd March 1877 to Alexander Stewart, a seaman first mate, and Euphemia Hamilton Allen, a dressmaker (1). They married in 1875 at a time when Alexander senior was second mate aboard SS County of Sutherland, following his fathers’ maritime occupation as a ships carpenter (2). John lived with his mother and her sister, Margaret together with his grandmother Jane Allen. According to the census of 1881 his mother had been widowed by that date.
John and his mother went to live with his uncle, William McHarg and aunt Margaret at Hillbank Cottage in Milngavie (3). William was a grain merchant with a large store at 104-112 Cheapside Street, Glasgow. Around 1890 John was employed as a clerk in the business and in the early 1900s became a partner in the business when the name changed to McHarg and Stewart, by then described as grain merchant and general storekeepers (4).
Interestingly the Cheapside Street building was designed by architects Honeyman and Keppie in 1892, who employed the young Charles Rennie Mackintosh as a draughtsman from 1889. Mackintosh submitted some drawings for the premises but it is not known if any of his work was included in the plans for the building. The design was influenced by northern Italian palazzi, with massive arches and pilasters. The northern third was designed for William McHarg and remained in the McHarg family till the 1950s when Samuel McHarg and Company were the owners. It was then used as a bonded warehouse storing large quantities of whisky and other spirits (5).
On 28th March 1960 a devastating explosion destroyed the building, the resulting fire killing fourteen members of the Glasgow Fire Brigade and five members of the Glasgow Salvage Corps. The date is commemorated in Glasgow each year.
In 1901 John was living with the McHarg family at 294 St Vincent Street, moving to 9 Clifton Street, Kelvingrove by 1909 (6).
John never married, and throughout his life maintained an interest in boats. In his early years he would accompany his mother to Arran, often in a small rowing boat. They especially loved Lochranza. Photography became a passion for John and he published a series of his work, mainly of west of Scotland scenes. One of these is titled ‘Fair Lochranza in the Isle of Arran’ which is dedicated ‘to my mother and happy memories of Loch Ranza in Victorian Days’, and includes images of boats and hills around the castle of Lochranza (7).
Another is titled ‘Rosneath and Clynder Views’ which is introduced by Admiral Sir Angus Cunninghame Graham in 1958. The Cunninghame Grahams of Ardoch appear to have been family friends. He writes ’…the pleasing photographs reveal something of the generation which was concerned with the greatness of Glasgow and the Clyde.’(8)
When John retired, about 1940, he moved to a large house, ‘Bonaly’ in the village of Clynder on the Clyde and quickly became a well known member of the yachting fraternity and contributed articles on yacht design in Yachting Monthly, leading to speed improvements in racing yachts (9). His greatest passion however was family history. Again Lochranza is the starting point. In 1262 the castle belonged to Walter Stewart, third Steward of Scotland, gifted by the Earl of Menteith.
Walter and his wife were interred on the island of Inchmahome on Lake of Menteith and are represented by possibly the finest 14th century effigies in Scotland (10). Also interred on the island is Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham (1852-1936) who made his name in politics (he was the first president of the Scottish National Party), and spent time in Argentina as a rancher with the local gauchos.
John’s interest in the Stewart family led to him co-founding the Stewart Society in 1899 and he was an active member for nearly sixty years. He became known as John A Stewart of Inchmahome and is referred to as such in many of his publications. The Stewart connection with Inchmahome led to him purchasing the island in 1926, subsequently gifting it to The Stewart Society in 1948, and it is now administered by Historic Scotland on their behalf (10).
John also had an interest in heraldry and published ‘The Story of the Scottish Flag’ in 1925.
On his death John wished to be buried on the island and arranged for a small mausoleum to be built. He died on 28th February1962 and his funeral was held at Port of Monteith Church. Thereafter the funeral party crossed the icy lake to lay John to rest in his mausoleum (11).
- Births, 644/090607 Kelvin, https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/
(2) Marriages, 644/090300, https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/
(3) Census, 1891 1891500/00013/00005, https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/
(6) Census, Barony, Glasgow 1901, 644/09041/09007, https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/
(7) Fair Loch Ranza 1949, printed by G Stewart & Co, 92 George Street , Edinburgh
(in author’s possession)
(8) Rosneath and Clynder Views, printed by G Stewart & Co, 92 George Street, Edinburgh- Helensburgh Library
(10) www.stewartsociety.org, history of the Stewarts, castles and buildings.
(11) Helensburgh and Gareloch Times, 7th March 1962 p2 col 4.