Helensburgh was founded in 1776 when Sir James Colquhoun of Luss built spa baths on the site of Ardencaple Castle, which dated back to about 1600. He then had the seaside resort town constructed to the east of the spa on a formal layout in the style of Edinburgh New Town, and named it after his wife Helen. A ferry service he arranged across the Firth of Clyde to Greenock was successful in attracting residents who could commute from jobs there to attractive homes in the new town. Helensburgh became a favourite place of residence for shipping tycoons and tobacco merchants from Glasgow. At one point the small town had one quarter of Britain's millionaires living there.
Helensburgh born coal miner Charles Harper emigrated to New South Wales (now a state of Australia) and became the first manager of the Metropolitan Coal Company before being killed in a mine accident in 1887. In that year, the company took over the mining lease on an area south of Sydney known as Camp Creek. When the coal mine opened the following year, the town was named Helensburgh, possibly named after his birthplace or after his daughter Helen. The two Helensburghs are now sister cities.
Hill House, Helensburgh.
In 1903, Charles Rennie Mackintosh built the Hill House for the publishing tycoon Walter Blackie. The house, in Colquhoun Street on the north edge of town, is one of the best examples of his style, with startlingly modern interiors incorporating furniture which he designed. It is now owned by the National Trust for Scotland and is a popular tourist attraction.
Telephoto view of Helensburgh in winter, seen from Greenock to the south.
Helensburgh today acts as a commuter town for nearby Glasgow, with a population at the 2001 census of 14,626, and also serves as a main shopping centre for the area and for tourists attracted to the seaside resort. Helensburgh is also influenced by the presence of the Clyde Naval Base at Faslane on the Gare Loch, a major local employer. The town is a popular destination for day trippers.
The seafront has an indoor swimming pool, an esplanade walk, a range of shops, cafes and pubs, and sailing facilities including Helensburgh Sailing Club. At Rhu, just beyond the town boundary, there is a marina.
The streets are built on a gentle slope rising to the north east, and at the brow of the hill a golf club has views looking south out over the town to the Clyde, and to the north across nearby Loch Lomond to the Trossachs hills.
The paddle steamer Waverley calls in to Helensburgh pier during summer sailings. Until April 2012, a regular passenger ferry service ran from Helensburgh pier to Kilcreggan and Gourock, (until 2007 the historic ferry Kenilworth was used on this route); Craigendoran pier fell into disuse in the late 20th century.
In a recent study, Helensburgh was shown to be the second most expensive town in which to buy property in Scotland.
The town is used extensively for the local Naval Base, Faslane which is the site that houses the British nuclear deterrent fleet of Vanguard class submarines. The base is only six miles away from the town. A significant amount of income for the town is generated by the base, its submarines and visiting vessels alike.
Helensburgh is home to a number of annual events, with the local branch of Round Table running an annual fireworks display on Guy Fawkes Night and hosting a Real Ale Festival at the Sailing Club.
Sports are well represented with various football, rugby, cricket, athletics, netball, hockey, curling, bowling, golf, sailing and fishing clubs amongst others active in the town.
^"New operator for Gourock – Kilcreggan Ferry". Spt.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-08-27. "It’s regrettable that we could not maintain the link to Helensburgh. With passengers on that route representing only 7% of the total and the subsidy cost per head being £20, it was simply unsustainable."
^Jaques Waardenburg. 1999. Classical Approaches to the Study of Religion. Aims, Methods and Theories of Research, Volume I: Introduction and Anthology, p244. New York : Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-016328-4