Rum with a View – Island of Rum
What do the Island of Rum and the town of Accrington in Lancashire have in common? The answer is the Bullough family, former owners of Rum and the biggest employer in Accrington in the early twentieth century.
My family and I elected to holiday around the west coast of Scotland. After a lovely couple of days on Skye, we arrived in Mallaig on the Armadale ferry. We decided to make our first venture a trip to one of the Small Isles. But which one? We greedily scanned the information at the Tourist Office and quickly decided that Rum seemed the most interesting. A combination of National Nature Reserve status and the opportunity of a peek inside the decadent Kinloch Castle seemed too good to miss
Rum is roughly in the shape of a diamond and covers an area of about 10,700 hectares. It is the largest of the small isles. The peaks of Askival, the islands highest point at 812 metres above sea level, Hallival and Trallival dominate the island. These peaks seem to reach into the clouds and they can easily be seen from the mainland.
Getting to Rum
We boarded the Cal Mac ferry expectantly and in just over an hour we were dis-embarking on the newly built landing pier. The Nature officer greeted us. He told us that Kinloch Castle would be open at 3 o’clock and that those interested in the tour should congregate at the Castle’s main entrance, ten minutes before
As we had a couple of hours to spare, we decided to investigate the rest of Kinloch. A torrential downpour dampened our spirits, but at least it had driven away Rum’s famous midges, which are omnipotent in dry weather. We marched in single file along the narrow tracks leading from the slipway to the main track that spanned the length of the bay. We stopped to stroke some ponies poking their heads through a rustic fence and marvelled at the warm autumnal colours that pervaded our surroundings.
As the rain had slowed to a consistent spray, we trekked to the community hall, a large wooden building that housed an exhibition on the history of Rum. In the far corner of the hall, was a small children’s play area. My daughter played contentedly, while my wife and I devoured the information in the exhibition, eager to learn more about this fascinating island.
As 3 o’clock approached, the weather had gradually worsened. The heavy mist had enveloped us and the cool, clammy atmosphere necessitated location of our waterproofs. We carefully made our way back over the boggy track and slowly we got our first glimpse of the red sandstone of Kinloch castle. A young, male guide greeted us. Our group consisted of about 15 people, made up of families and mature day-trippers. The guide started to inform us about the history of Kinloch castle and began by telling us about its former owner, George Bullough.
This was a man I had never heard of. However, my ears stood to attention when the guide uttered one unexpected word, “Accrington”. I grew up in Accrington and very rarely do I hear its name mentioned in any conversation!
Links with Accrington
Our guide informed us about the Howard and Bullough factory in Accrington. The company was formed from the partnership of James Bullough and John Howard. Together they revolutionised the spinning and weaving industries. James Bullough’s son, John, had a real flair for business and soon became a prominent partner within the company. It was John’s idea to rent Rum for a few years before he eventually bought the island in 1888 for £35,000. Three years later, John passed away at the relatively early age of 53. John’s eldest son, George, inherited the island and 50% of the business, the other 50% going to John’s 5-year-old son, Ian, from his second marriage.
The Howard and Bullough factory sounded familiar to me and later I found out that both my grandparents had worked there after the Second World War. During the war the company produced aircraft components, gun carriages, bayonets and shells. At its peak, the factory employed over 5000 staff. The factory closed down in the early 1990’s. It has since been re-opened and named ‘The Globe Centre’. It is now used as a local business centre. Howard and Bullough were also responsible for other landmarks within Accrington. They helped to set up a Technical College and also made a philanthropic gesture by creating Bullough Park, originally James Bullough Park, which is a stone’s throw away from where I grew up.
George initiated ambitious plans for a new estate on Rum. This would be centred around Kinloch, on the east side of the island, which had the best natural harbour. By 1897, the foundation stone had been laid. Around 300 builders and craftsmen, many from the Accrington area, worked on the project. They were paid an extra shilling a week to wear a kilt and tuppence a day to smoke, to keep the midges away. The building was made from red sandstone that was quarried from Annan in Dumfrieshire, about 160 miles away.
For it’s time, Kinloch Castle was a technological masterpiece. Not only was it centrally heated and double-glazed, it was also one of the first buildings in Scotland to use electricity.
Outside the building, there was a large botanical garden, maintained by 12 full-time gardeners. In the heated glasshouses, exotic fruits were grown and turtles and alligators were allowed to roam freely in heated pools, until they were removed when the staff got too frightened! There was also a nine-hole golf course and a bowling green. Sir George also paid 14 roadmen to keep the roads in good condition, so that he and his friends could race around in their new sports cars.
In 1901, Kinloch Castle was finally completed. Over the next few years it was used as George’s holiday home and was occasionally visited by a good friend of George’s, King Edward VII. George became Sir George, as a result of the loan of his yacht, which was converted into a hospital ship during the Boer War.
We gingerly walked behind our narrator as he showed us the opulent decoration lavished upon this Edwardian time warp. He then demonstrated to us the ‘Orchestrian’, a huge machine located under the stairs, that produces the sound of a 40-piece orchestra using punched paper. It is believed to be the only one that still works, anywhere in the world.
We followed him into the bathroom to marvel at the ingenious bath, which featured a complex set of controls more reminiscent of a flight cockpit than a bathroom. The bath had a walnut shower hood which allowed high-powered jets of water to be sprayed out from various angles. Another new invention, the internal telephone system, was the first to be installed in Scotland. The rooms were decorated with artefacts and souvenirs brought back from travels on Sir George’s 221ft steam-yacht, ‘Rhouma’. In the hall there were Tiger-skin rugs, hunting trophies such as stag heads and two enormous incense burners and a bronze eagle, all from a Japan. Much of the interior has remained as it was when the Bullough family last used it, in the early 1900’s.
When Sir George Bullough died in 1939, Lady Bullough rarely visited the castle and it fell into neglect. She sold the island to the Nature Conservancy in 1957. In 1967, Lady Bullough died at the age of 98 and was laid to rest in the Bullough family mausoleum. This is located at Harris, on the south-west side of the island.
After our guide had completed the tour, we had the option of buying mementos such as postcards and books from the intimate gift shop. I made a promise to myself to try and find out more information about Sir George Bullough, Rum and Accrington.
Back to the Ferry
We fended off the rain and slowly made our way to the landing pier. Although we had only been on the island for a few hours, we had become entranced by its beauty and tranquilness.
Ruefully, we made our way down to the ferry and took one last, lingering look at this majestic island. I was astonished that a little bit of Accrington, my hometown, had filtered up to this remote part of Scotland. We vowed to return at a later date and once again become entranced by Rum, nature’s island.