Memories of Glenfinart House fire

Linda’s mother and Shandy the boxer at Glenfinart House 1968

As a young girl of 13, Linda Sinclair was on Holiday at Glenfinart House Hotel, Ardentinny in the summer of 1968. This was the week before fire destroyed the historic house on 24th August, of the same year. Linda’s brother Jim and his family were actually in the hotel when the fire alarm was sounded, they were in the second floor room of the Tower.

The following are some of Linda’s recollections.

I do have very vivid memories of Glenfinart House. I can remember exactly the way the house looked in August 1968.

The entrance into the hallway had a great sweeping staircase and deep red carpet. There was a large stained glass window on the curve of the staircase with its coats of arms and a huge chandelier hung in the hallway. To the right, at the bottom of the staircase, was a long corridor, on the right of that was the large dining doom to the front of the house with a view of the loch.

I remember the hallway was hung with very large oil paintings of past residents, and a battle scene with men in tartan (I didn’t like it, as there were dead horses and dead people in it!). Further along was a very large sitting room that was not very inviting, it had a huge ornate fireplace and the furniture was old dark mahogany. Nobody ever sat in this room. There was a bullet hole in one of the windows at the top I remember, and the curtains were heavy and dark. This window also looked out over to Loch Long.

On the left side of the corridor was a smaller room which was the bar, it had patio windows and steps down to the garden at the back, a door in the corner led to upper floor bedrooms.

The kitchens were also on this side of the corridor, across from the dining room. I remember there was a huge oil painting on the corridor wall. It was of Glenfinart House, from the shoreline of the Loch, with the forest behind the house. All purple and green hues. It was amazing and it took up the whole wall, and had an ornate gilt frame. Oh, what happened to these paintings? I reckon they were all destroyed in the fire (so sad).

I remember the hut with the biggest book in the world that was on your left as you came into the driveway. I also remember my room which was to the side of the house. It looked on to the stone bridge that led down to the little bay.

I was told of a ghostly lone piper who played the lament on the top of the tower and about a lady who was one of the inhabitants.

Also I remember the people who had the hotel were not Scots. They were Londoners. I think the lady who owned Shandy the dog was named Cath and there was a waiter named Dave who had a bad limp.

Glenfinart House burns on 24 August 1968

In one of the largest incidents of its kind in Argyll the Brigade were called on Saturday, August 24, 1968, at 0846 to the Glenfinnart Hotel, Ardentinny. Repeat calls had been received from Cove and Kilcreggan and crews arrived to face a serious fire which is well illustrated by the fireground message “A building of 2-3 and 4 floors about 120 feet by 230 feet, first floor, roof and tower well alight. Make pumps 3.”Seven jets were used on this fire and crews were in attendance for over 13 hours.
Courtesy: Dunoon Fire Service Centenary 1889 – 1989.

My niece Lesley was one of the children that was in the second floor room when the fire broke out. She told me that she was sitting on her potty at the time, and my brother picked her up potty and all and took her outside.

I had made great friends with the owners’ boxer dog named Shandy on my stay, and was completely devastated when the dog was killed in the fire. My brother had tried to save the dog, as it was in the room above, and he heard it run up and down the room in distress. He tried to get up the stairs to the room but the heat and smoke was too intense.

Glenfinart House today

My brother told me that the Dunoon Fire Brigade recovered the poor dog’s body and laid it to rest on the grass lawn on the right of the front of the door. I did go back some weeks later and found the grave of Shandy and cried my eyes out. In later years my family, who are in the demolition business from Glasgow, demolished the house. Only the tower remains today.

We are grateful to Linda Sinclair for sharing her memories with us. We would very much welcome any additional anecdotes related to the history of Glenfinart House.

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Sallie McDougall
2 years ago

We’ve just been watching a dvd of a cinefilm made by my husband’s father, who was an off-duty fireman on the day of the fire. He followed the appliance and filmed the fire. We weren’t sure which hotel it was, but Google is a great place to solve the puzzle! I’ll be in touch soon, as I imagine you’d be interested in a copy, though it’s only a minute or so of footage.

Linda Sinclair
3 years ago

Following on from my post…..when I returned to Glenfinart House some week after the fire on 28th August 1968…..I remembered the following There was a tall dark haired boy ….who came out to the lawn from the side of the house.
I don’t remember if he was Scottish or English.
He asked of he could help…..I asked him where the grave of Shandy was ….and he guided me over to th grass in front of the house on the right …..there was a large square of lawn that had been carefully dug out…he said here she lies…….I began to cry….and he said I will leave you for a while and went back around the back of the house
Once I had stopped crying I went around to the back of the house to dayy goodbye…..he was in the bar area….I said my farewell, and went to catch the bus and ferry and train back to Glasgow…..This could have been Davey Villier…..anyone know if the Villiers are still in the area ?

Linda Sinclair
3 years ago

David Gillings, I thank you for your corrections, I was only a lass of 13 but I still have previous memories of Glenfinart House, , and I lived your dog Shandy.♥️
I may have got a few things mixed up…but most of it is pretty spot on.

David Gillings
5 years ago

David Gillings here again with two things that Linda mentioned which I forgot to comment on in my previous message.
Firstly concerning the ghostly goings on. I must say I do not recall the story of the piper. However the story of the lady I do have some knowledge of and which may be of interest. In my previous comment I mentioned John who used to share a room with me. Now John was aged 20 and had previously worked in the Steel Mills near Hartlepool. He was of tough uncompromising stock and was not given to flights of fancy. One Saturday night when we had no guests in he and I were sitting in front of the fire in the bar lounge with our backs to the bar. John suddenly turned round and went as white as a sheet and pointed to the bar. I turned round and could not see what he was pointing at. He said “there was a woman in a grey dress behind the bar and now she is not there she just disappeared” I must admit to being rather sceptical about this but John was adamant and I could not get him to calm down. He went on about this for days after, he was convinced about what he had seen.

In addition to the regular tour guests and the casual guests, we did sometimes get three shipyard workers from Greenock over who came on a Friday night and went home Sunday. These three were fishermen.
Granted that they did not do a lot of fishing but spend some time in the bar, this may also be of interest. One night the three, all of whom had separate rooms, retired to bed. Five minutes later one came rushing downstairs and said “there was a woman all in white standing next to my bed when I went in and she just disappeared in front of my eyes” We searched the building but no woman found. He refused to go back into his room and never came back to the hotel.
Another thing Linda mentioned was the hut next to the Hotel which contained “The biggest Book in the world” The man who owned it and who ran it completely separately from the hotel was a small Scotsman who wore a kilt constantly. He kept a pet goat as well. Now the book was a made up fairy tale which he had written and it was written and illustrated on plywood and was held on a framework . The book pages were about 8ft high and 4ft wide and were difficult to turn. After the fire I do not know what happened to the man or the book but I do know it survived the fire.

David Gillings
5 years ago

I have read Linda’s posting about Glenfinart House. I worked there in 1968 at the time of the fire and would like to correct some inaccuracies in her post.
Firstly the owner did not work in the hotel. The Manager and his wife were my cousin Peter and his wife Anne who were friends of and employed by the owner who was a businessman from Hertfordshire. Actually when I say owner, I believe the man who employed Peter and Anne leased the building from a company in London, but bought the fixtures and fittings and contents to continue to run it as an hotel.
The Boxer Shandy was my dog, and I am the Dave referred to, albeit I did not have a limp and was not primarily a waiter. I was the bar manager, although everyone mucked in doing all sorts. We did employ some local people off and on. The only person with a limp was the maintenance man Tommy. I do not recall anyone called Cath, although I cannot recall Tommy’s wife’s name who also worked there.
I lived in the top floor of the tower with a guy named John who worked there with his mother and was from the Hartlepool area. The next floor down was where Peter and Anne lived and where Shandy was when the fire broke out.
The hotel had a contract with a Yorkshire tour company who I believe were called Sheffield United Tours, and they brought up to 40 guests to the hotel on a Sunday evening and who left the following Saturday morning. On the day of the fire they had left at about 0730 and we were all in the process of cleaning up when the alarm was raised. I called the Fire Service from the hotel phone but by the time they arrived it was obvious that the building was lost.
Shandy was found unmarked in a bath in the room below where she was originally, and this must have been the room where Linda’s brother was staying. After the fire Peter and Anne returned to Hertfordshire, John and his mother went back to the Hartlepool area. I stayed on working part time in another hotel run by a Mr McClean who had two Chow dogs. I also drove for an American family, the father being an Officer on the USS Simon Lake which was the depot ship in Holy Loch.
I returned to Watford and lost contact with my cousin and his wife.
I have only recently though about finding out what happened afterwards. There was an investigation into the fire which concluded that heavy rain the night before had penetrated the roof and got into an electrical junction box which caused the fire to run three ways through the roof.
The brigade did recover Shandy and she was buried by myself and two local lads Davey Villiers and his brother.
My wife and I are visiting Dunoon in September and we will be visiting Ardentinny.

Tony Harrison
11 years ago

I have just been reading your story about Glenfinart House and found it very interesting. I have just been sifting through some of my late Mothers papers and found a 1956 copy of the “Friendship Holiday Association’s brochure. In that brochure they are offering accommodation at Glenfinart House from the 16th of June to the 22nd of September for £7/0/0 per week. The telephone number in those days was Adrentinny 214 and if you were lucky enough to arrive by car then “free parking was available”.
My Mothers Uncle was the Founder of Friendship Holiday Association and I am just interested to find out what happened to his Empire.?
Kidest Regards

Tony Harrison.

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