Glenbranter Estate

Glenbranter House

Glenbranter House

The house was built in the late 1800s.

When the entrance was constructed, an old woman who lived at the gates was evicted, She cursed the house in terms that no son would inherit the property!

Owned by the MacBrayne family who lost both sons.

Mr Fitzcharles C. MacDonald

of F.C. MacDonald & Co. Ltd. Glasgow.

Son of Minister of Strachur, Fitzcharles Fergusson MacDonald acquired Invernoaden Farm about 1902 and Glenbranter Estate ca 1906 from the executors of the MacBrayne family whilst he was living in Carfin Hall, North Lanarkshire. When he died, in 1912, his wife continued to live in Glenbranter but leaesed it to Harry Lauder. Their son Charles H.B. MacDonald died in 1915 while on active service.

Harry Lauder bought the estate on 13th Oct 1916 then John died on 28th December 1916.

He sold the estate in 1921/22 to the Forestry Commission. The house itself stood empty and was demolished in 1956.

The Work Camps

Ramsay MacDonalds which introduced work camps officially called Instructional Centres.

A network was established throughout the U.K. 1930 and opened a work camp located in the grounds of Glenbranter House Estate.

Selected men from areas of prolonged and heavy unemployment were given 3 months reconditioning course to fit them for labouring work. They had become so soft and temporarily demoralized that they required to be hardened and reconditioned. They came from the depressed industrial areas of Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Glasgow. They stayed away from home for up to 12 weeks and if they refused to go their dole money was stopped.

Men were in such poor condition when they arrived they needed decent food before they could carry out the work.

Camp was certainly successful at getting people up to a better standard of physical fitness. It was very hard heavy manual labor in the hillsides and in the forests. 10 to 12 hours from 6 am. Living in dormitories in Nissen huts and were supervised in military-style discipline. They received part of their unemployment benefit with the remaining nine shillings being sent to their family.

They were provided with suitable clothing for their work including corduroy trousers and waterproof boots. The Glenbranter camp hit the headlines in 1935 when the trainees organised a public walkout and again in 1936 where there was a mass meeting to protest against conditions.

Donald Morrison at Glenbranter Estate
Donald Morrison at the door of a lorry. He looked after the maintenance at the Instructional Centre and later was a Mechanic for the Forestry Commission

In Dec 1921 (according to the New York Times) the Forestry Commission offered 22,000 for Glenbranter Estate.

Manor House was demolished in 1956. The Forestry Commission was established in 1919 to manage and replant forests after the 1st World War. Massive amounts of woodland were felled during the 1914-1918 conflict. The commission planted spruce trees in Glenbranter Forest.

1935 Glenbranter Forest was established as the first Forest Park for public use in Britain.

The village was built for Forestry workers in the 1950’s and behind the houses on the site of the original Estate House is the car park marking the start of three circular walks. Also cycle tracks.

What follows is an edited version of a discussion between Donald Morrison MBE and Cathie Montgomery about Glenbranter Camp.

“…….I was employed by the Ministry of Labour at Glenbranter Camp for about six years as a driver and relief electrician. At that time there was no electricity in the district and they had to generate their own power. Shortly after Glenbranter Camp was built another was built at Glenfinnart, Ardentinny and then one at Cairnbaan near Lochgilphead – those two were more of the conventional type but Glenbranter had comfortable Nissan huts with a coal-fired stove and electricity. A number of staff was employed there – a Manager, Under Manager, Accounts Officer and a Camp Steward who attended to rations as well as Cooks and Orderlies. There was no scarcity of food-three square meals a day and again a supper at night – extras were always available.There were instructors in metal work and joinery and PT (Physical Training)as well as office staff and maintenance staff. At one point gardening classes took place at Benmore.

An Education Officer furthered the men’s education and an Entertainments Officer organised good concerts and sing songs as well as bringing in entertainers from outside. Medical Issues were dealt with by the Medical Orderly who would call in the local doctor is necessary. People who were ill could also make use of the Sick Bay. Twice a week a lorry load of men were transported to the cinema in Dunoon and each week-end some men were allowed leave – they were conveyed to Strone Pier where they joined the steamer to Gourock, then train to their destination.

No darkness would ever settle upon those lamps, as no darkness had settled upon them for hundreds of years. It seemed dreadful that the town should blaze for ever in the same spot; dreadful at least to people going away to adventure upon the sea, and beholding it as a circumscribed mound, eternally burnt, eternally scarred. From the deck of the ship the great city appeared a crouched and cowardly figure, a sedentary miser.

Relations between trainees and staff were very good but if a man required serious discipline he could be dismissed and sent home. There were quite a number of men, who, when their training was completed, were placed in jobs with Public Works contractors.

The lads didn’t talk about how many weeks they still had to do. One night a week they got a pie for their tea. So they counted their time in pies. They had two pies to go or three pies to go – that is how they counted the time. Some trainees who couldn’t find work when they left, volunteered to come back for a second time. I met one or two in the army and they were full of praise for Glenbranter Camp. Once in the army, in Germany a sentry halted us – when I shouted back the sentry said is that you Donald? He was a former trainee and recognised my voice!……”