Nursery Lane



  • BURGESS’ TICKET 12 SEP 1819,
  • PROVOST 1829-1831, John Stevenson succeeded him.

The information below comes out of the Oban Times and has been retyped for ease of reading.

The following letter is by Duncan McKillop in response to a letter dated 25/7/1914 about Walter Scott’s visit to Oban written by “A Man of Lorn”. Walter Scott had said “ Heard of an active industrious man who had set up a nursery of young trees, which ought to succeed, since whoever plants must send to Glasgow, and how much the plants suffer during a voyage of such length anyone may conceive.” Comment by A Man of Lorn says “One wonders who the industrious nurseryman was and what was the result of his enterprise.” This was the response.

SIR WALTER SCOTT’S VISIT TO OBAN - The Oban Times 8/8/1914

Sir – In your issue of the 25th ult “A Man of Lorn” wonders who the “industrious man” was who set up a nursery of young trees, and what was the result of his enterprise, as mentioned by Sir Walter Scott in his diary of 1814. As he has mentioned my name, along with Mr John Munro’s, perhaps the following notes, hurriedly thrown together, may help to explain.

The “industrious man” was Mr Thomas Kennedy, nursery and seedsman, George Street, Oban. Mr Kennedy came from Ayrshire to act as gardener at Ardchattan Priory about 1800, where he stayed for some years. About the same time the Campbells of Dunstaffnage, who were proprietors of the central portion of Oban and the estate of Glencruitten, now owned by Mr Shelley Boutein of Glencruitten, commenced to feu Combie Street and George Street up as far as “the Tannery Burn” and Mr Kennedy about 1808 took from the Dunstaffnage family a feu, where he set up a nursery of trees, etc, as stated by Sir Walter Scott.

The boundary of the nursery on the north was the Tannery Burn, which finds its exit into the sea at the Park Hotel. It was bounded on the south and east by what is now known as the Nursery Lane, and on the west by the road now called the Dunstaffnage Road, but which at that time had no existence till it was made about 1832.

The principal road for vehicular traffic was the Glencruitten Road, behind Oban, up to Connel. The bridle road from oban started at the Nursery Lane, up towards the U.P. Manse, on below Bellevue, Hollymount, Fernie Knowe, straight on through Mr Drummond’s nursery up to Balloch-an-Righ; then it struck to the right, only higher up than the present road, till it reached to Connel. The old nursery is now covered and built upon by Breadalbane Street, the U.F. Church, the Argyllshire Gathering Halls, Burnbank and Strathaven Terrace.

Mr Kennedy built for his residence a one-storey cottage, which still stands in Nursery Lane, just below Springbank, which is on the right side above Nursery Lane. There Mr Thos. Kennedy brought up a family of four sons and two daughters, namely, Robert, Thomas, John and Alexander and Ann and Jean. Some time after 1816 he feued the west side of John Square, now occupied by Mr John Munro’s ironmongery establishment. He also feued Nos 114 and 116 George Street and erected for his own use another residence behind what is now Creelman’s boot and shoe shop, where he died.

The houses Nos 114 and 116 George Street are at present occupied by Mr McNaughton, bookseller, and Mr Maxtone, railway guard, the latter being used as a temperance hotel. In Mr McNaughton’s house, No 114, the Rev. David Macrae, M.A., founder and first President of what is now the Oban Scientific and Literary Association, and first ordained minister of the U.P. Church, lived for many years till the family removed to Glasgow in 1832. In No 116, or Maxtone’s Temperance Hotel, Sir Edward Ward, late Under Secretary for War, was born, and there also Miss Isabella Bird, afterwards the distinguished traveller and writer, and Mrs Bishop, lived for a time.

Mr Kennedy was the chief founder of the Seccession Church in Tweeddale Street, and through his enterprise and energy the church and schoolhouse attached were built in 1835. They are now occupied by Mr MacDougall, V.S., and his brother, Mr MacDougall, baker, George Street. In that church, Benjamin Disraeli, afterwards the Earl of Beaconsfield, sat and worshipped in Oban, as also did John Bright, Herbert Spencer, Archbishop Whatley of Dublin, and scores of other distinguished visitors, as it was the only church in Oban at the time where English was preached at all their services, all the others having a Gaelic service in the forenoon. In that little church, founded chiefly by Thomas Kennedy, the Rev. Dr. Edmond, afterwards known as the “Prince of Preachers” to children in London, and who was Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of England as well as Moderator of the U.P. Church of Scotland, preached his first sermon, as did likewise the Rev. Dr. Knox of Pollok Street Church, Glasgow; Mr Mailer of Huntly, author of “The Philosophy of the Bible”; Rev. Mr Meiklejohn of Chapelknowe, brother-in-law of Principal Cairns of the U.P. Church; Rev. Mr Logie of Canada; Dods of Newcastle, and about half a dozen other young men, who were teachers in the little schoolhouse built by Mr Kennedy, and who became afterwards distinguished ministers of the great Gospel.

When Mr Kennedy had his nursery where Breadalbane Street is, he supplied from it nearly all the trees which now adorn the estates of most of the proprietors in the district. Mr Kennedy erected in his garden, like the Stevensons, a sun dial, which supplied the correct time to the local watchmakers of the day. His garden site is now built on by the stores erected by Town Councillor Lawrence and Mr Angus MacDonald, fishmonger, The Secession Church, in which Mr Kennedy took such interest, is now known as the Dunollie Road U.F. Church.

He was elected one of the first four Town Councillors when Oban was erected by charter into a Burgh of Barony in 1820, when Mr Campbell of Combie, was elected its first Provost.
Mr Kennedy, who was a man of irreproachable character, died in the house he had built in George Street, aged 80 years, and full of honour.

His family followed in his footsteps.

His son Robert was in early years acting as shipmaster, and later on was first agent in Oban of the City of Glasgow Bank, which then held or occupied, what is now the site of the Palace Hotel. He was one of the pioneers, like the Stevensons, in opening up the tourist route to Staffa and Iona long before Messrs G & J Burns, now of the Cunard Line of steamers, or Thompson & MacConnel, or other later companies went there.

In 1821 he had a schooner or wherry, called the Isabella, which plied regularly with tourists, weather permitting. His agent was Mr Duncan MacArthur, of Dunolliebeg and the Caledonian Hotel. Mr MacArthur was acting for Messrs G & J Burns and also for Messrs David Hutcheson & Co later on, and he left Oban about 1856 for Invercargill, New Zealand where he became Minister of Woods and Forests in the New Zealand Government. Mr Robert Kennedy in 1820 built the Caledonian Hotel which was the principal hotel for many years, till the Great Western, the Alexandra, and the Station and several other hotels were built. Later on, about 1846, he built Heath Cottage, which he occupied for some years as his residence, and where the office of the City of Glasgow Bank was situated. He also rebuilt the house where Mr Robertson, chemist’s shop is, and occupied it himself, the lower portion being the office of the City of Glasgow Bank till the time of its failure.

Mr Kennedy also built a well-known coasting vessel which traded regularly to Glasgow with goods about 1816, when steam communication with Oban had scarcely begun. The vessel was called the “Ann and Jean”, being the names of his sisters, and was never allowed to sail on a Sunday if at all possible. Some of the other merchants’ vessels were known as the “Sunday desecrators” and it was noticed that the “Ann and Jean” made more trips in twelve months than the other did. Mr Robert Kennedy in 1843 threw in his lot with the Free Church, and was an elder or manager, I believe, in the Free Church on the hill till his death.

Mr Kennedy was one of the promoters of the Oban Gas Company, and a shareholder as well, when erected in 1848. He owned a yacht called the “Nora Creena”, and built a boat which was propelled by a screw, the motive power being manual labour, at a time when the screw was looked upon as a visionary project by every sane person.

Mr Robert Kennedy built in his garden in Stafford Street a small house, which was used for smoking or kippering fish some 60 years before the Railway Company built theirs.

Mr Robert Kennedy’s brother Thomas was, like his father, also a man of enterprise.
He was one of the early watchmakers of Oban. His place of business was where the door of the present Royal Hotel is. While there, one of his apprentices was the late Mr Duncan Whyte, watchmaker, the father-in-law of Mr John Munro, Oban, and as my mother, then a girl of 16 - whose brother was the Chief of the Clan Iachair, or Jackson, who built at a very early date, their Castle of Dun M’hungan, on the estate of Barbreck, Lochawe, and also Caisteal na-h-‘Ingheadh Ruadh (the Red Haired Maiden’s Castle) on an island in Lochavich - was serving with Mr Thomas Kennedy, senior, in the old Nursery, she used to hand Mr Whyte the keys to open the door of the shop in Argyll Square every morning.

Mr Thomas Kennedy left Oban and went to Kilmarnock, where he wrought at his trade for some time, being, like his father, a man of enterprise and ability. He, I was told, took our a patent for a gun, which was accepted by Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. He also, it is said, in company with another, took out a patent for a water meter, which turned out a great success. The business founded by Thomas Kennedy, jun, is a huge concern, and is known as Glenfield & Kennedy, and does a large engineering and water-meter business all over India and Europe and in all parts of the world. When Mr Thomas Kennedy, jun, died he left a sum of money at the disposal of the Oban Town Council to be used there for educational purposes, and which is known as the Kennedy Trust. The principal director of the firm is now Mr Thomas Kennedy, the third of the name, and oldest son of Mr Robert Kennedy, banker, Oban.

Mr Thomas Kennedy received his early education in the U.P. School in Tweeddale Street. His teacher there was Dr Knox, of the Pollock Street U.P. Church Glasgow. When the Free Church School started, he finished his education there under Mr Smeaton after going to Greenock, where with his brother John he learned marine engineering.

His brother John was for many years superintendent of the MacAndrew fleet of steamers trading between Spain and London. Mr Thomas Kennedy, after living in London for some time, joined his uncle in the Glenfield & Kennedy business, and the firm pay, I am told, over £2000 weekly as wages to their workmen. Of Mr Thomas Kennedy’s schoolmates who were in the U.P. School, I know of none now but myself and Mr Neil Livingstone, Sanitary Inspector of Boness.

One of the daughters of Thomas Kennedy who planted the nursery was Ann French Kennedy. She was one of the most pious women of her day. Among other good deeds, she performed, she started the first Sunday School in Oban, along with a few others of a like turn of mind. The Sunday School was held in the old School in the High Street erected by the Duke of Argyll and the inhabitants of Oban before 1790.

The old School, about 1806, was unroofed and the walls made higher and a gallery put in, and it was the only public place of worship in the town built of stone and lime. In 1808 the Rev. Hugh Frazer, afterwards of Ardchattan, was ordained the first minister of “the Oban Chapel of Ease” as the communion tokens of the day show. Here in later years Miss Kennedy started her Sunday School, which afterwards was held in the old Masonic Lodge, which was situated above the old house on the site occupied at present by Mr Duncan MacDougall, ironmonger. When the Congregational Church was built in 1820 in Tweeddale Street (then known as the Independent Chapel), the Sunday School was transferred there, and for many years was the most numerously attended school in Oban.

When my mother was serving in the “Nursery” in 1816, Miss Ann French Kennedy taught her how to make a worsted sampler, which I still have and keep as a sort of link connecting the Oban of the past with the present and the “industrious man” referred to by Sir Walter Scott in his diary when he visited Oban on the 1st September 1814, nearly 100 years ago. The Messrs Macpherson Brothers, Cluny House, and their sisters, and Mrs Brown, wife of Rev. Alex Brown, Baptist minister, Taynuilt, are full cousins of Mrs Thomas Kennedy of the Glenfield & Kennedy Engineering Works, Kilmarnock. Mr Kennedy paid a visit to Oban for a few days last year and put up at the Caledonian Hotel, built by his father.

The above jottings may explain who Sir Walter Scott’s “industrious man who planted a nursery of young trees” was to “A Man of Lorn”, and he will be able to judge for himself whether the nursery he planted in Oban turned out a success or not.

– I am etc Duncan McKillop

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