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By still Shiel Waters (part one)
Charles Dunell Rudd, “CDR” to his family and close friends, owned Ardnamurchan Estate (55,000 acres) from 1896 until his death in 1916.
During that short period he probably employed more people than any of his predecessors and according to contemporary accounts and local tradition, was one of the most popular and benevolent 20th century land owners West of Fort William.
CDR is still remembered in the district not because of his vast wealth made in the South African gold and diamond mines, or his impressive yachts (Mingary I and II) and two large houses – Glenborrodale Castle and Shielbridge House – but for his genuine interest in the welfare and livelihood of every resident of Ardnamurchan to whom he was employer, landlord or friend, and often all three.
CDR was married twice. In 1981, Alan Rudd (1903-1992), a son of the second marriage, published a small book about his father for private circulation which is long out of print. Alan also recorded his early memories of Shielbridge, which is a short but personal insight to life in and around Acharacle in the early part of the 20th century. It is published here for the first time by kind permission of his daughter.
‘I was born at Shielbridge [House] on August 10th, 1903, and spent most of my young life there up until 1918 when, my father having died during the War in 1916, the place reverted to my half brother Percy, who lived in South Africa. The Ardnamurchan Estate was bought by my father (without seeing it) in 1896 while he was at Shieldaig, which property he rented for the shooting and fishing and where his yacht was anchored.
‘Shielbridge was one of two large houses he built on the estate – the other being Glenborrodale Castle, built in the Scottish baronial style, and standing overlooking Loch Sunart at the other side of the estate. My mother never liked it and we soon made our permanent home at Shielbridge. It had a wonderful view up the river and Loch Shiel and Ben Resipole. Admittedly it faced east, but the view compensated for that, and anyway the south aspect faced over two bogs.
‘In those early days my father spent much time and money on the estate. It was curious – or was it – that his offer to rebuild many of the cottages of the crofters was at first treated with some suspicion? The reason, of course, was that the scandalous evictions of the 19th century were not forgotten. However, gradually rebuilding began in many parts, notably Acharacle and the dry wall, peat-thatched crofts were well rebuilt in stone and iron roofs with proper chimneys. This all meant work as well as better housing for the inhabitants as did the building of the new bridge for the diverted road to Dorlin and Kinlochmoidart.
‘My father was a keen fisherman and in the early days stalked a good deal. But his eyes failed latterly and he concentrated on the salmon. The River Shiel was not a bad river and though not really prolific, we got salmon up to 30lbs and I caught a 20-pounder on my 15th birthday. In fact we all fished, as did our various visitors. In summer there was a constant stream of them.
There was the family. My father’s first family – Percy and his four children, Jack with Esme and Peggy, and until he died, aged 41, Frank.He was the one who accompanied my father to the Jotempala Kraal in 1888. There were others who had known my family in South Africa – the Playfairs, the Goold-Adams, the Meakins etc., not to mention my (Wallace) uncles and their wives. No families then.
They were wonderful days for us children. Trips in the yacht – always at anchor in Salen ready for use. Splendid beaches at Dorlin and Kentra. I often wondered if the staff were bored ever – or was there too much going on. The housekeeper, Jessie McGregor, went to the King at Holyrood House after Shielbridge. The housemaids were local. The cooks were a trouble and left regularly. We had a splendid (acrobatic) butler, who was blessed with a great sense of humour. He had three sons, all officers in the War. The footman, George he was called, but was actually David Inches, married our nursemaid ‘Winnie’. Both awfully nice in every way and we were so fond of them.
There were two other footmen I remember, one married a hotelier’s daughter in Perth and eventually ran, till his death, The Betty Hill Hotel in Sutherland. He was Neil Mackinnon. The other wanted to join the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders at the beginning of the War. My father fixed this for him, much against his parent’s wishes and he started a private and ended a major. In the Second World War he was very active as a full colonel in recruiting and received the MBE. He married one of the daughters of Mr Menzies, the coachman, and retired to Skipper’s House in Salen.
The staff at Shielbridge was approximately this: cook, kitchen maid, scullery-maid, housekeeper, butler and footman and two housemaids. There was an old chap Duncan, bearded and Biblical, who did the coal and general bits and pieces and there was a head gardener – usually a highly qualified one and a couple of locals. Down at the bothy there was a couple who bred turkeys, kept enough chickens and hens to supply eggs and milked the two cows. There were a few sheep in the fields near the river. The Dewars were our greatest friends – Cecil and Mini and their sons all did very well. One cannot help remembering the West Coast people of one’s youth, their ideas, their honesty, their decency and generosity and their trust in God, and compare them with the people of all kinds one meets today.
Willie Mackay played the pipes at all the local gatherings. He had lost a leg in a boat accident. His son, who left school at 12, went on a ‘puffer’ as ‘engine room boy’ and was finally engineering consultant to the Hull Trawlers’ Association. He went to Cunard at the beginning of the War and offered his services as Chief Engineer and was torpedoed (the ship full of emigrant children to the US) and was lost.
The estate carpenter, Jimmy MacIntyre, lived over at Glenborrodale. Besides joinery, he was an historian and a member of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, as was the roadman at Strontian,, both used to correspond with Scottish genealogists and historians over the world.
There were various ghillies around, Alan MacNaughton for fishing. What a marvellous ‘family feeling’ all over the estate – all due to my father who never stopped seeing that all was well with everyone.
One of the things we were strictly brought up on was our attitude towards the staff and to their families. We had to visit people in their crofts regularly. In those days men on the estate would always touch their cap on passing on the road. We, Cecil and I, were careful to acknowledge this greeting or else!
To be continued.