William Thomson, who would become Sir William and then Lord Kelvin, was the leading scientist of the 19th century. His achievements are well documented elsewhere. Here we will concentrate on his time in Largs.
Lord Kelvin's association with town as a holiday visitor and then resident lasted over 50 years. He married his first wife Margaret Crum in 1852 who was the sister of Mrs Watson of Northfield and Miss Crum of Danefield. The three sisters were also Kelvin's cousins.
He took up residence in Auchenames at the bottom of Nelson Street and built his mansion, Netherhall House, in 1874. He fitted the house with electric lights powered by a gas generator. Quite an achievement in its day.
He stayed at Netherhall regularly and was known in the town as Professor Thomson and then Sir William. He took an interest in the town helping local societies such as opening the flower show. He would also give lectures to benefit local institutions sometimes in the Artillery Hall.
Kelvin was also interested in politics and became president of the Liberal Unionists Association of Largs. He appeared at political meetings often when the subject was of interest to him, such as his opposition to the Largs and Wemyss Bay tramway.
Famously he slipped at the Largs Curling Pond, fracturing his leg and leaving him with a permanent limp. He was attended to by Dr Kirkwood the local physician. In 1907 at Netherhall Kelvin's final illness started on 23 November with a severe chill. He died there on 17 December at 10.15 in the evening.
It was intended that he would be buried at the new cemetery at Haylie Brae but that was changed to an internment in Westminster Abbey. His coffin was taken from Netherhall to Largs Station on the evening of Saturday 21 December followed by an assembly of representative men of the town. Placed in a special stock van it was taken to Ardrossan and then Kilmarnock for the London Express.
Kelvin's Largs home remained the property of the Thomson family until 1927 when it was bought by Netherhall Limited, a private limited company. It was converted into a Christian Holiday Home and Conference Centre with accommodation for up to 60 guests. A camp in the grounds could take 100 young men in the summer months.
It was the project of a number of Scottish businessmen who had met in St Andrews in 1919 at a summer convention. They wanted to bring together young men and women for bible study and missionary enterprise. The result was the centre at Netherhall.
The centre was very popular but by the mid-1980s lack of investment meant it had to close. Netherhall was put up for sale in 1988 and bought by house builders Barratt and the contents were auctioned off in 1989.
Barratt applied to develop the site for housing but the plans were rejected mostly because of opposition by neighbouring residents. In February, 1990 Barratt got planning permission from Cunninghame District Council to convert Netherhall House into seven flats, build 33 houses and 16 flats in the grounds, and convert the coach house into three houses. The plans changed slightly in November 1990 when the house was to have nine flats and in the grounds 14 flats were to be built.
Due to continued objections it wasn't until 1993 that work started at the site. During this time the house had been vandalised and the grounds overgrown.
In September 1993, Barratt opened a sales office at the site and buyers could reserve a property for £250. The houses cost between £58,950 and £78,950 and the buyers were moving in early 1994. The apartments in Netherhall House went on sale in April 1994 and cost between £78.000 and £80,000.
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