Chalmers descendants appeal for family history

Gill Chalmers would like to hear from anyone across the Oban area who knows about the family business.

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The sudden closure of a prominent building and business in Oban has seen family members come forward with an appeal for information about its history.

Gill Chalmers (pictured below) and her identical twin sister Heather were among those deeply saddened by the bombshell announcement that Chalmers at 42-46 George Street has permanently closed after an apparent wrangle over the lease between the landlord and Edinburgh Woollen Mill.

Gill, aged 44, who lives near Inverness and has an older brother Matthew, had been making frequent visits to Oban researching the family history.

The name was always important growing up – being a source of pride for her own late father Alexander, with the business established by her great-great-grandfather William Chalmers.

Gill Chalmers would like to see the closed shop become a centre for tartan, tweeds and woollens.

Gill told the Oban Times: ‘I just feel really sad for Oban people as it’s part of their history too and they have said how sad they are.

‘It’s been going over 100 years and people have grown up with it. I feel part of Oban and would love to have contact with those that were there.’

Gill is keen to hear from anyone who can help fill in any gaps and said she would love the building to once again become a centre for traditional tartan, tweed and woollens.

Anyone who can help should contact Gill on lornestar1999@yahoo.co.uk.

 

The History of Chalmers by Heather Chalmers

Five years after the turn of the 20th century, a large pink granite and red Arran sandstone building was constructed on George Street in Oban.

The building was completed two years later and comprised a shop downstairs and flats above known as Argyll Mansions.

It was described at the time as one of Scotland’s ‘finest tenement’ buildings.

‘One of Scotland’s finest tenements.’ A drawing of the Chalmers building which is in the Etive House care home.

It was a busy time in Oban for construction with the railway line between Glasgow and the town having been completed in 1880.

There was a lot of incoming trade with Glaswegians descending during the city’s two-week holiday in August known as the Glasgow Fayre.

A young tailor from South Lanarkshire called William Chalmers had moved to Oban in 1880.

He had been born in Hamilton on August 12 1858 to his mother Elizabeth Aird and Robert Chalmers.

His father gave his profession as ‘tailor’ and he was the first in three generations of tailors in the Chalmers family.

William left school at the age of 12 and he too became an apprentice in a tailoring business.

In 1880, at the age of 22, he came to Oban having obtained a position as a tailor with a local firm.

He continued until he had established himself sufficiently to buy the business and ultimately the property in 1896.

Subsequently, the original building was demolished and the present building erected in 1906.

William Chalmers left school at the age of 12 to become an apprentice tailor and would go on to oversee the prominent Oban business.

William met Mary Kennedy, who was born in Shiskin on the Isle of Arran and they married in 1883.

She had come to Oban to help her uncle who owned the Station Hotel.

William became a wealthy and successful tailor, and his business, the Chalmers Highland Tweed Warehouse, grew from strength to strength.

The extensive ground floor area was specifically designed to give the best possible display of tweeds and tartans and cashmere knitwear, for which the firm became well known.

In the season, 60 tailors were employed and the tailoring work rooms were bright and spacious.

In the original plan, flats for let were constructed and they are still regarded as among the best in Oban.

The Chalmers name became an epicentre for tailoring in the West Highlands.

FAMILY LIFE

William and Mary’s first son, Robert Chalmers, was born on  October 10 1884. He was joined by younger brother William Kennedy Chalmers born on  January 21 1887.

Robert was trained in business while William became a doctor.

In education, William excelled, leaving Oban High School with a merit certificate.

He went on to university to study medicine and qualified as a surgeon for the Royal Navy in 1911.

Robert married on January 5 1910 to Nettie Stewart Murray MacTavish, an Oban girl.

They went on to have one child, a daughter named Mairi, who later in life would go on to marry Alan Cameron, a former editor and owner of The Oban Times, with links to the original Cameron family who bought the business in the late 1800s.

THE CHALMERS SONS

William Chalmers’ son also called William, who was a surgeon in the Second World War.

Robert was 30 at the time the First World War broke out and was called up for service with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

Younger brother William, also served during the war and became a Royal Naval surgeon on medical ships around the world.

Their beloved mother Mary died on March 15 1916 at their home, Glencairn Lodge, believed to be in Oban. She was 68 years old.

She was the first of the Chalmers family to be buried in the family plot in the Pennyfuir Cemetery.

A large square family plinth was erected, and there are now 10 members of the Chalmers family buried in the plot.

Flashback to February 2017 when singer and television presenter Jane McDonald visited Chalmers.

ALT-NA-CRAIG LINK

Following Mary’s death, Robert’s wife Nettie went to look after her widowed father-in-law, William.

Two years later it was decided to purchase Alt-Na-Craig house as a family home,  overlooking Carding Mill Bay.

After the war ended in 1918, Robert returned to his wife and young daughter in Oban and ran the family business along with his father.

Following his naval service, brother Dr William Chalmers did a post-graduate course at Cambridge University.

He worked for some time at the now famous Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, which is the UK’s largest specialist cardiothoracic hospital.

Following this, he became the local GP in Inveraray, moving into a house known as Stronshira.

Chalmers of Oban, pictured here in 2020 when it reopened after uncertainty over its future after Covid and EWM entered administration.

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

Father William died suddenly in the Mediterranean while on holiday in Naples in Italy at the age of 75. He was on a yacht at the time.

The family arranged for William’s body to be taken back to Oban for burial in the cemetery alongside his wife.

From a humble beginning as a tailor at the age of 12 he had become a very successful businessman and was also artistic and musical and had a great charm and manner.

From then on it was up to Robert to take over the family business while his brother continued his career in medicine.

Chalmers staff welcome back customers in November 2020.