FOREST HILLS 2-War and Peace.
In this part of the history of Forest Hills we take the story from just before World War 2 until the late 1950s.
The Forest Hills Company was established in 1937 by Robert Aitkenhead Scrymgeour (1898-1938), a Dundee based architect with some political interests and David Lawson, a Company Director also from Dundee who already owned the Pine Trees Hotel in Pitlochry. As well their business relationship they were brothers- in- law,
Robert was educated at Newport Higher Grade School and Dundee Technical College and School of Art. He then began his apprenticeship with H&F Thomson who were Dundee based architects. During WW1 he had been in the Royal Engineers and served overseas and in the General Headquarters of the British Army of Occupation in Rhineland. After the war he continued his apprenticeship in Dundee and Glasgow. From about 1930 onwards the firm’s work was in a very bold jazz-modern style (1). They had a particular interest in the design of Cinemas including in Arbroath, the Regal Cinema in Dumfries and the Savoy Cinema in Dundee. Some of this emerged in design features of the hotel including the cocktail bar.
Once the purchase of Forest Hills was completed in January 1937 major alterations were undertaken. The overall costs of the alterations were £15000. The building was gutted and a new wing of bedrooms were added adding to the existing total of 40 rooms. On the ground floor a dining room was added and on the 2 Upper Floors 19 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms and a housemaids closet.
Image 3 Ground Floor Plan 1937.
The first planning application was submitted to Perthshire Council on 16th February 1938 and approved on 24th March. Some more proposals were added later including the building of a garage and lock up area. The hotel opened in June 1937 but without an alcohol licence. The initial application was refused because the Chief Constable said that the area was already well provided with licensed premises but the alcohol licence was granted upon appeal on 26th October 1937 at West Perthshire Licensing Court in Dunblane.
By then the gardens and grounds extended to some 20 acres. Its features included a wooded area, rock garden, streams and grottos. These was also an extensive vegetable garden RC McGaughie was the gardener of some repute and longevity. In August 1930 McGaughie’s Sweet Peas had won 2nd prize for a vase of purple sweet peas at the Kelvin Hall Flower Show. McGaughie remained at Forest Hills well into the 1940s.
The shoreline had a boathouse and some very nice gates at the main entrance. The gates were the subject of a legal dispute as the hotel had not paid the company for the work. This did not prevent the gates being promoted as a major feature of an early Forest Hills publication.
The 1940s brochure offered this description to visitors: “Pass through the gardens and grounds by a short drive to the entrance to the hotel itself, whether it be in early spring with its legions of spring flowers, summer with its profusion of roses or autumn with its wealth of gold tinted shrubs and trees, you will immediately register the feeling “this is really beautiful”.
The War Years saw Forest Hills continuing to act as a hotel, at a time when most large properties were requisitioned. It advertised extensively in the Scotsman and the Times as a “safe retreat where comfort is the keynote” and the following description: “Situated in a garden paradise, overlooking Loch Ard. The romantic Rob Roy country. Luxurious interiors of charm and refinement, every modern comfort, cuisine, gardens, putting green tennis, table tennis”.
Promotion of Forest Hills was added to by the production of a “Souvenir of Local Ard “. It is specifically sketched and hand tinted with images of the hotel and its environment.
In parallel with looking for customers the hotel was also seeing staff:
“Kitchen maid and pantry maid wanted immediately for Forest Hills Hotel, Aberfoyle. Experienced waitress wanted immediately; £2 15/-weekly and percentage; excellent conditions.”
The hotel provided an important location for village events such as Whist organised by Mrs McGregor. The Womens Rural Institute groups from Kinlochard and Ruskie used it as a venue for table tennis, music and tea. Many of these activities were to raise funds for “Our Boys”. Subsequently events were held there as fundraisers for the Kinlochard Village Hall which was built after the war. Meanwhile Helen Scrymgeour had remarried Major Peter S. Wilkinson of the Wiltshire Regiment in March 1941.
After the War David Lawson continued as Owner and Manager until well into the 1950s. On 2 July 1946 a planning application was submitted by George M. Davidson who was a Stirling based architect. The changes that were proposed and approved were for a staff Annex consisting of 6 bedrooms and a staff toilet.
Advertising continued such as:
“FOREST HILLS ABERFOYLE: The approaching winter days drive our thoughts to the comforting things of life: good food, warmth, restful beds, and a pleasant atmosphere. Here you will find these joys await you, with the added attraction of beautiful surroundings indoors and out. The pleasant staff and personal attentions of the management ensure that visitors are not merely numbers but welcome guests. Decidedly a really good Hotel to relax from daily care and worry. Winter Terms from 25s daily, no extras. Bus and train met by arrangement. Fully Licensed. Excellent Cellar. Telephone: Kinlochard 217.” (2).
Amongst the staff was a young Murdo Morrison who came from the Isle of Lewis. Murdo provided via his son Louis details of why he was at Forest Hills and is reproduced below:
“My father is Murdo Morrison from the Isle of Lewis. The cook at Forest Hills was a cousin of his father a Miss Isobel Morrison also from the Island in a place called North Tolsta and she got him a job as a waiter when he left school. You can imagine a young boy from a poor family who had never left the island arriving in Aberfoyle was like being on a different planet.
Ha can remember a Mr Lawson, a Dolly Palmer whose family had the local post office (he thinks) Miss Drysdale the housekeeper who had a wee red MG car and a German POW called Ernest, Emest was about 5 to 7 years older than my dad, he worked in the boiler room and in the gardens, Miss Morrison the cook used to feel sorry for him even though she lost her brother in WW1 she used to give him some extra food and treats. In turn Ernest looked after my dad as he could see he was just a young boy far away from home.
He also remembers the day the football team arrived in a big bluebird bus with a swallow down the side of it , his big regret is as he was shy, he didn’t get their autographs as they were the world superstars of the day(3).
It was in May 1947 that a group of British Footballers who were playing the rest of Europe at a friendly match at Hampden were resident in Forest Hills. The group took some time to use the football pitch in Aberfoyle for practice and signed autographs for the schoolchildren. However, it was reported that the local Constable Hogg was the first to get autographs from all of the team.
In the 1950s Aerial photography had really taken off and an image from 1954 gives a sense of the Forest Hills site and wider developments in Kinlochard.
Kinlochard saw a major change with the building of 24 houses by the Forestry Commission. The first set of houses numbers 1-12 Loch Ard Cottages were built in 1950/51 and numbers 13-24 in 1952/53. In 1953 the Alskeith House Hotel applied for a neon-lighted sign above the entrance and shortly afterwards in 1954 Mrs Margaret McDonald of 5 Loch Ard Cottages applied for permission to enlarge her corner shop located just after the entrance to the village and several hundred yards from Forest Hills.
Forest Hills itself was an exciting place as it was the hotel where of many stars involved in the 1953 version of Rob Roy Movie were accommodated. Richard Todd and Glynis Johns were the leading actors. The local extras met at Forest Hills because they changed into their movie clothing in the Chinese Lounge.
A number of locals were in the movie including Margaret and Wilf Luke. Margaret worked in the Dining Room/Restaurant at Forest Hills for much of her life until she retired in 1989. Margaret and Wilf were amongst the first to move into the Loch Ard Cottages where they brought up their young family. Wilf worked for the Forestry planting young trees and he supplemented his income by working in the extensive gardens at Forest Hills.
Throughout this time the ownership remained the same but the 1960s brought some significant changes!
1 DSA Architect Biography Report accessed July 7 2017.
2 The Scotsman 13 Nov 1947 p8.
3 Personal Communication from Louis Morrison 11th August 2018.