FOREST HILLS 3 The Fraser period until the turn of the century.
Life got a bit of a spark when in the late 1950s the hotel was purchased by the Fraser Group, headed up by Lord Fraser of Allender. Hugh Fraser (1903-1966) was born in Lanarkshire was the only son of Hugh Fraser who was a drapery warehouseman. In 1919, he went to work in the family business and became an accomplished window dresser and buyer. In 1924, his father made him Managing Director when he was only twenty-one. On his father’s death in 1927, he became Chairman.
In 1936 he defied the economic depression and begun a policy of expansion acquiring 3 stores in Glasgow. This policy continued during the war and by 1948 he floated the House of Fraser as a Public Company. In 1953 inroads were made into North East England (the Binns Group) and in 1959 he successfully secured control of the Harrods Group of stores. At this time, he also focussed on expansion to the tourist industry in the Highlands and sat on the Scottish Tourist Board. In addition, House of Fraser Ltd built the Aviemore Centre and around this time acquired Forest Hills. In 1960, in memory of his mother, Fraser created the Hugh Fraser Foundation. He was created a baronet in 1961 and a baron in 1964 and died on 6th November 1966.
Sir Hugh Fraser Junior (1936-1988) was born in 1936 in Bearsden and educated in Melrose and Glasgow.
He joined the business at the age of 17 and was appointed a director when he was 21. In this role he was given responsibility for the stores in Scotland, His 21st birthday consisted of a special dinner with the cover of the menu stating:
“Heartiest congratulations and all good wishes to you Mr. Hugh. Today when you celebrate your 21st Birthday, marks a milestone in the history of the House of Fraser and we, the Managers and Executives wish your health, happiness and every success in all your future undertakings. We offer you all our loyal greetings.”
By the age of 24 Hugh had been appointed as Assistant Managing Director. Following his father’s heart attack, Fraser was appointed deputy chairman of House of Fraser Ltd, and in 1966, after his death, he was elected chairman of House of Fraser Ltd and of SUITS. In the same year, he renounced his father’s peerage but was unable to disclaim the baronetcy.
Between 1966 and 1973, as the business expanded across the UK, turnover doubled to over £200 million, and profits doubled to over £10 million. Fraser was chosen as the Young Business Man of the Year by the Guardian in 1973. However, Fraser was ready to give up the House of Fraser. He resigned as Managing Director, and when Boots Ltd proposed a merger, Fraser supported the idea. He intended to give up the chairmanship and concentrate on developing SUITS. However, when the Monopolies and Mergers Commission allowed Boots to pull out of the proposed merger in 1974, Fraser decided to stay on.
The years after 1974 were difficult., he had given up the chairmanship of Harrods. He continued to buy department stores in an effort to strengthen the House of Fraser presence in the south of England. However, he became increasingly addicted to gambling and a stock exchange enquiry in 1976 revealed that he had been selling House of Fraser shares to finance his gambling. In 1976, he was fined £600 under the Companies Act for the misclassification of a loan, and for improper share dealings. Fraser was estimated to have once gambled away £2.4 million on roulette tables in a single six-month period in 1976.
In January 1981, following the involvement of Lonrho, the international trading company, in the fortunes of the House of Fraser, Fraser lost the support of the directors and was removed as chairman.
After this Fraser spent most of his time in Scotland. He built up a chain of menswear shops and held a number of directorships, mainly in Scotland, as well as the chairmanship of Dumbarton Football Club. He also worked on behalf of the Hugh Fraser Foundation, and gave substantial amounts of money to medical research in Scotland.
In his personal life in 26 April 1962, he married Patricia Mary Bowie, they had three daughters but the marriage ended in divorce in 1971, and in 1973 Fraser married an international showjumper, Aileen Margaret Ross.
This marriage was dissolved in 1982. The media The media coverage went wild when another girlfriend soon to become the 3rd Lady Fraser was found dead in an exhaust filled car. For the rest of his life his name continued to be linked in the tabloids to a succession of women.
Forest Hills and the Fraser Period:
In an Oral History recorded of Margaret Luke and her daughter Margaret Stewart in September 2017 the world of Forest Hills was described in a unique way. Key themes included The Sir Hugh Senior being very business orientated; The “younger “Hugh getting into early trouble with the anglers as a result of water skiing; Young Hugh as a very kind man with “too many hangers on” ;The high jinks amongst the Dining Room staff including occasional food fights if there was falling out with the kitchen staff.
Ian McDonald offers a similar perspective. Ian grew up in Kinlochard with his brother Alistair and his mother and father Margaret and Donald. He offers this perspective:
The millionaire Hugh Fraser of House of Fraser used to own the Forest Hills Hotel and his son, also Hugh, would come out from Glasgow at weekends in the summer with some friends in an Aston Martin to water ski. He had a boat tied to a buoy offshore and they would spend hours skiing up and down the loch. We would hear the boat on a Saturday and go down to watch from the shore. Eventually we got to know him and would give them a hand with their gear at the end of the day. Thomas Godwin and I turned up one weekend to find him on his own, and he asked us if we would drive the boat for him while he skied behind! So, we did, and Tommy was eventually given a try water skiing at the end of the rope! At the end of a great day, he told us that he couldn’t manage up the following week and would we like to take the boat out on our own. He gave us the keys and a container of petrol and told us to help ourselves!
Early the following Saturday, we unhitched the boat and set off. It was a beautiful little blue and white speedboat with four seats, a car steering wheel and an Austin Healy inboard engine and it went fast! We spent all day zooming here and zooming there, investigating every nook and cranny of the shoreline right down to the Milton. We used up all of the fuel, tied it up to the buoy and put the cover over it at the end of an incredible day! He was a very nice man Sir Hugh Fraser. I would follow his career for many years remembering those days whenever his name came up in the news. It was very sad that he died of cancer in 1987 at 50 years old.
So, in this period there was a real sense of an exciting and energetic place. Sir Hugh Junior was described as a “party animal”. As a business the hotel was very busy as a venue for coach parties, dinner dances with the Andy Kearns band from Alloa and high tea especially on Sunday afternoons. Forest Hills continued to host some community events. This included the Christmas party for the children of Kinlochard. It was held in the newly built Village Hall.
During this time there is no evidence of any increase in the capacity of the hotel by the Fraser Group. What its role in strategic terms for the Group is not clear but it may have been associated with Sir Hugh’s interest in developing Scottish tourism.
There was a change of ownership when Eric Davies a longstanding manager took charge. He had previously been a manager in Melrose. Eric Davies continued to be involved in the running of Forest Hills until the late 1970s.
Around this time the concept of multi-ownership begun to emerge. A company called Australian Land Sales Ltd was established in 1966 and in a leaflet given the then Forest Hills guests it is suggested that the company offered to sell small patches of land to people. In the Daily Mirror of 17th April 1973, they were offering the opportunity “to invest in Australian real estate”. By 1978 Multi-Ownership started being described as “holidays for ever”. The first venture was in Loch Rannoch followed by a development in Snowdonia and then Forest Hills. By this stage Barratts Construction had appeared on the scene primarily as the builders and took some part or full ownership of the Lodges possibly in the late 1980s.
A very major building programme was underway at. This started in December 1980 with the outside swimming pool followed in 1981 with several chalets, a helicopter shed and laundry.
Groups of workers often came from Aberdeen to undertake the building and add to local skills. According to one local source who worked on site for over 3 years it was very much a “dawn till dusk “building enterprise.
The Resort was officially opened on 13th July 1981 by Alan Devereux who was Chairman of the Scottish Tourist Board. It was attended by several hundred people including Sir Hugh Fraser and the Barratts sky diving team dropped from 4000 feet to land near the new swimming pool.
The complex was called the “Forest Hills Estate incorporating Forest Hills Hotel and Garden Apartment |Lodges”. In 1987 Forest Hills was awarded the Resort Condominiums International premier accolade “Resort of International Distinction”. RCI is a timeshare exchange company with over 4,300 affiliated resorts in 110 countries. Timeshare weeks were being sold at prices from £4,500 to £9, 000 per week plus VAT.
People were encouraged to buy a lodge for a specific week and had the chance of a free helicopter trip from Kinlochard to Rannoch to look at another site in operation. As well as an initial outlay the time-share owner paid an annual management fee. One of the benefits was that they were given a Passport to the Leisure Facilities on other sites.
The promotional material was impressive with brochures describing the whole concept and its advantages. Each site had its own owner’s management group known locally as The Forest Hills Trossachs Club which was the point of influence by owners to Barratts and Forest Hills. More outside facilities were developed in the 1980s and in the early 1990s the Leisure Centre was developed including a swimming pool, sauna and Curling Rink.
Barratts continued to be the owners of the Forest Hills Timeshare until 2004 when Macdonald Resorts took over ownership. Macdonald’s had already acquired ownership of the hotel some years earlier.
The Curling Rink :This will feature as a separate item in the history of Forest Hills as will the lochside developments.
In the context of the history of Forest Hills I have decided to “ draw a line “ at the first 100 years of the building rather than describe more recent developments.