Cameron House Hotel fire takes two lives and destroys much of five-star property

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Cameron House fire victims 2Cameron House Hotel from the air.jpg 2Cameron House fire

Cameron House Hotel at Duck Bay on Loch Lomondside from the air and Simon Midgley and Richard Dyson, both media people from London, who died in the fire.

Cameron House at Duck Bay on Loch Lomondside was the home of the super-rich and famous Telfer-Smollett family until it was sold for £70 million in 1990 and turned into a luxury, five-star hotel.

The hotel attracted a galaxy of super stars and A-list celebrities from every walk of life – royalty, politics, sport and showbusiness.

Clients included Pavarotti, Michael Jackson, Prince, Clint Eastwood, Bono and U2, Sir Bobby Charlton and members of the Norwegian royal family.

Various sports stars and teams, from the Scotland international football squad to Rangers and Celtic and the top clubs in Europe, have been guests at the hotel.

Naomi Campbell, the fashion model, strolled the extensive lawns and riverside walks with her then partner, the Edge of U2.

The world’s leading professional golfers, who took part in major tournaments at the exclusive Loch Lomond Golf Club nearby, dropped in regularly for dinner and cocktails.

Clint Eastwood and Bill at CH

Bill Heaney interviewing Clint Eastwood at Cameron House Hotel.

Two people died and 400 hundred years of history went up in flames when fire ripped through the hotel early on Monday morning.

Simon Midgley and Richard Dyson, both media people from London, were staying at Cameron House Hotel when the blaze broke out.

The fire caused extensive damage to that part of the old mansion house, which accommodates the Cameron House sports and social club with its swimming pools, gymnasiums, saunas, spa and squash courts.

Cameron House was acquired by James Smollett, Laird of Bonhill, in 1763. In 1773 Dr Johnson and James Boswell are said to have visited there when they toured the Highlands and islands by carriage, on horseback and by boat, planning the stages of their journey to stay at the houses of the local gentry.

About 1790, the mansion was enlarged, altered in 1806, and was substantially rebuilt after a fire in 1865.

Sadly, tragedy struck as Cameron House staff were preparing for Christmas, the busiest time of the year for the hotel.

Accommodation was being found for the 200 guests who were evacuated when the fire broke out.

New arrangements are being made with other hotels in the area for Christmas parties and other seasonal functions.

One poignant historical note is that Cameron House has forever been linked to Christmas and Charles Dickens by a member of the Smollett family.

Tobias Smollett, father of the novel, is said to have been the inspiration for Dickens, who wrote A Christmas Carol.

Tobias George Smollett, author, poet and surgeon, spent much of his life in London, seeking his fortune.

But he was born at Dalquhurn on the family’s extensive estate, which is now part of Renton in West Dunbartonshire, in March 1721.  Tobias was the third child of Archibald Smollett, a judge and landowner, and his wife, Barbara.

Cameron House in the middle of last century

Cameron House, the way it was before the estate was redeveloped and the hotel opened in 1990.

He went to Dumbarton Academy and then studied medicine at Glasgow University, where he was apprenticed to surgeons William Stirling and John Gordon.

He took a post as a surgeon’s second mate in the Royal Navy – he was appointed to HMS Chichester in 1740, and the grim exposure to life at sea is said to have provided him with many of the vivid scenes he later incorporated into his novels.

While living in Italy at Il Gardino, Smollett completed work on his last novel, regarded as his finest, ‘The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker’, published in three volumes in 1771.

The novel describes the travels of Matthew Bramble, various members of his family and their companions, as they travel through England, Scotland and Wales, in a series of letters written from startlingly different points of view.

Tobias Smollett died in September 1771 near Livorno, in Tuscany.

But his legacy lived on – his work had enormous influence on the young Charles Dickens who, before he was 12, had devoured the contents of his father’s library, which included Smollett’s novels.

Later in life, when an extremely successful author himself, Dickens paid tribute to his favourite books, written by Henry Fielding, Oliver Goldsmith – and Tobias Smollett.

Valuable first editions of the Smollett novels escaped Monday’s fire.

These and other family treasures and heirlooms were fortunately moved out of the now fire-ravaged mansion in 1990 by Major Patrick Telfer-Smollett and his wife, Gina.

Patrick Tobias Telfer Smollett, who was born in Derbyshire, son of Major General Alexander Telfer Smollett, a former Lord Lieutenant of Dunbartonshire, became a highly decorated soldier who also gained notoriety as “The Chocolate Soldier”.

The family are descended from a brother of Tobias Smollett, the celebrated eighteenth-century novelist, and Patrick’s maternal grandfather was Herbert Strutt, a member of the wealthy cotton family who had mills at Belper in Derbyshire.

As a result, Patrick was born into substantial wealth, his family having homes and estates in England as well as at Kingairloch in Argyll and Cameron House.

Each summer his parents and their guests would sail up the west coast to Oban in the family yacht, first the Sanda, before the war, then the Galma. It was an indulged and privileged childhood.

He was sent abroad to learn French, before returning home to the Cameron House estate where the inevitable military career was mapped out for him.

In 1936 he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Highland Light Infantry and dispatched almost immediately to India.

Among his fellow subalterns was the actor David Niven, with whom he forged a lasting friendship.

In 1938 he was sent to Palestine and found himself in the midst of the Arab revolt.

Shortly afterwards, following the outbreak of the Second World War, Telfer Smollett was serving in the 5th Indian Division with the HLI when he was sent to the Red Sea port of Massawa, in Eritrea.

There he found himself in an absurd situation, where the British and Italian military commanders were in daily telephone communication with each other.

In Telfer Smollett’s opinion, the ensuing battle was entirely unnecessary and a waste of human life, but for ”dash and leadership in the face of enemy bombing” he was awarded the Military Cross.

In 1942 he was sent to Egypt as part of the British Military Mission. Being only five years older, he gained the confidence of the young King Farouk, who had taken a dislike to Sir Miles Lampson, the British Ambassador.

The King persuaded Telfer Smollett to return to the UK with a giant 130lb box of chocolates for the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret from Princess Feriel, Farouk’s daughter, accompanied by a letter from Farouk to King George demanding Lampson’s withdrawal. The letter was duly noted by the Foreign Office, although Lampson stayed in place.

Immediately after the war, Telfer Smollett made an initial foray into politics, when he stood as an independent conservative candidate in the 1945 election, but then withdrew. From 1948 until 1951 he was stationed with Allied Command in Berlin, and in 1951 he married Georgina, daughter of Sir Gifford Fox, MP for Henley.

They had one son, David, and one daughter, Gabrielle. David, who is based in in Devon, has widespread agricultural and business interests and Gabrielle, who lives in Rutland, is an artist.

Serving with his regiment, Telfer Smollett was thereafter stationed in Cyprus from 1955 until 1956, then Egypt, before retiring in 1959.

In 1964 he was adopted as the official Conservative candidate for West Dunbartonshire, a safe Labour seat. His campaign was one of the first to involve media photo calls and included canvassing passengers on one of the newly introduced ‘Blue trains’ between Alexandria and Glasgow and seeking the votes of the members of a naturalist colony on the Loch Lomond island of Inchmurrin.

Just before Cameron House was sold the Telfer-Smolletts embarked on a wildlife park project with the Chipperfield circus family.

It was not a success and the Telfer-Smollett moved to Cameron Home Farm where they took great pride in their herd of Highland cattle.

Telfer Smollett Patrick and Gina

Major Patrick Telfer Smollett and his wife, Gina, at Cameron House, Loch Lomond.



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