STEP INTO HISTORY
A Registered Charity
Castle House Museum is a member of the Association of Independent Museums.
Castle House Museum gives you the opportunity to discover the interesting history of Dunoon. With views of the Clyde second to none, we host an extensive and fascinating range of exhibits spanning from the early days of the town up to the days of the American fleet.
Open since 1998, Castle House Museum is run by Dunoon & Cowal Heritage Trust, a Registered Charity, and is a member of the Association of Independent Museums. As such, we are completely reliant on entry fees, shop sales and donations to cover our running costs, and we are grateful to our dedicated team of volunteer staff members.
The Museum was set up through the enthusiasm and vision of the late Arthur Allan. It is now operated by a Charitable Trust. A further legacy left by a founder member, Miss Josephine Bennett, allowed the Trust to extend the range of exhibits and develop its service to the local community.
Dunoon & Cowal Heritage Society
Based in one of Dunoon’s most historic locations, our mission is to stimulate interest in the history, lore and traditions of Cowal.
Our first venture was a limited exhibition, mainly of models of Clyde steamers and items associated with them, which was set up in part of the Argyll Hotel. This proved to be too restrictive however, so an offer from Argyll and Bute Council of part of Castle House at a nominal rent was gladly accepted.
Many months of hard work by devoted local volunteers, and the generosity of members of the community in donating or lending articles, produced a Museum which tells the story of Cowal from the Stone Age to the American nuclear submarines.
Holiday Home, Library, Museum
Castle House is a beautiful building with its own rich history.
The flag post on Castle Hill marks the original site of a 13th Century stone castle and boasts expansive views over the Clyde.
In 1820 Lord Provost Ewing of Glasgow bought the land around the ruined castle and built his holiday home there. Castle House was (and is) a grand building, exuding the opulence of wealth and status.
Later, this former holiday retreat became home to Dunoon’s public library for many years and now hosts Castle House Museum as well as a Ceremonies Suite, where weddings can take place.
The famous statue of Highland Mary – Robert Burns’ wife by handfasting – is nearby, and the Clan Lamont Memorial, built to commemorate the Dunoon Massacre, is just across the street
DOON THE WATTER
A Booming Holiday Destination
By the 1890s Dunoon had become a popular holiday resort, well serviced by paddle steamers which ran from the Broomielaw in Glasgow.
When Lord Provost Ewing came to Dunoon, he bought the land around the old castle and proceeded to build Castle House. He could not have realised that in his wake would follow floods of Glasgow holidaymakers eager to enjoy all the delights of the seaside.
First came the prosperous Glasgow businessmen, who built fine holiday homes. They came for the summer, bringing their entire households along, complete with servants. Children enjoyed the healthy sea air while Papa travelled daily to Glasgow to do business, using the fine new steamers.
By the 1890s paddle steamers of competing companies were racing against each other to the handsome pier at Dunoon. Paw, Maw and the weans would come ashore complete with trunks, or roped up hampers, making for one of the many hotels or boarding houses. Then it was down to the shore ready with buckets and spades and hoping for a trip on an “oary boat”
A Strategically Important Location
Cowal was home to many warships, submarines and training grounds.
Cowal was an important location during the Second World War, with an anti-submarine boom anchored to the shore, and coastal defence gun emplacements at Castle Hill and Ardhallow. Combined Ops training centres were based at Toward and Ardentinny, with HMS Brontosaurus at Toward visited by both Winston Churchill and Lord Mountbatten.
The Firth of Clyde and the long sea lochs were centres of activity during the two World Wars. Inside the boom, stretching from the West Bay to the Cloch Lighthouse on the other side of the Firth, gathered the ships bringing supplies from Canada and the USA; the great liners acting as troopships and the Royal Navy ships which protected them.
The Normandy landings of 1944 were planned and rehearsed on the shores of Loch Fyne. The daring raids on ships of the German Navy by tiny two-man submarines were the result of months of training in Loch Striven. It was also a practice area for the famous Dambusters bomb.
THE COLD WAR
An American Outpost
During the Cold War, the American Navy were based at the Holy Loch for over thirty years, the last submarine leaving in 1992.
For 31 years nearby Holy Loch and the surrounding district was an outpost of the USA.
Nuclear submarines moved down the Firth to submerge off Arran and disappear on their mysterious business. Their mother ships and the dock were moored in the Holy Loch.
Ashore, American families settled in, and for the first time ever, their children attended local schools. Houses were built to accommodate the ever-changing population. Eventually the Americans had their own cinema and entertainment complex.
Hairdressers and taxi firms flourished, though the families shopped for American goods in their own Commissary.
Many local girls married American sailors, and outposts of Argyll are now in many States of the USA!