The name Wemyss Bay is applied to two quite distinct places. The best known of them is the departure point for the CalMac ferries to Rothesay on Bute, and for the associated terminus of the railway from Glasgow. A little to the north, between Wemyss Point and the A78, is the upmarket settlement of Wemyss Bay.
Both aspects of Wemyss Bay date back less than 150 years, to the arrival in 1865 of the railway from Glasgow. Until then many steamers serving the fashionable Victorian watering holes of Rothesay on Bute and Millport on Cumbrae sailed from Glasgow itself. But even in those days, making the maximum use of limited leisure time was important, and the Wemyss Bay Steamboat Company and the Caledonian Railway hoped to steal a march on their competitors by carrying passengers by train to Wemyss Bay before embarking them on steamers making much shorter crossings.
Poor management meant that the service limped along for a quarter of a century until the Caledonian Railway took over the Wemyss Bay Steamboat Company in 1893, launching instead the Caledonian Steam Packet Company. And to complete the transformation, in 1903 they built an utterly magnificent new station at Wemyss Bay and an adjoining new pier.
The station and the pier were restored to their original glory in 1993, and the awards since showered on them suggest that we are not alone in feeling the result is the most beautiful railway station (and pier) in the world.
The station is beautiful not so much for its half-timbered mock Tudor exterior as for its glorious interior, which, especially if you catch it on a day like the one illustrated here, is absolutely spellbinding. The result does great credit to the work of the station's architect, James Miller.
Until the mid 1800s, Wemyss Bay, said to be named after a local fisherman, Robert Wemyss, had been a sparsely developed area. The arrival of the railway had an immediate impact on this coastline. It meant that the well to do no longer needed to live in Glasgow in order to work there. To the south of the railway terminus the village of Skelmorlie grew up, while to the north the especially rich started to develop Wemyss Bay.
Before long, the coast around Wemyss Bay to Wemyss Point became home to large villas that, in turn, were home to the likes of the Chairman of Cunard, and to James "Paraffin" Young, who made his fortune developing the oil shale industry in West Lothian. Some of the grandest of the villas are no longer there, but Wemyss Bay as a settlement retains a certain exclusivity.
Skelmorlie, to the south, and in North Ayrshire rather than Inverclyde, became home to a lot of the "not quite so, but still fairly" rich. It is perhaps best known for providing the measuring points for the Skelmorlie Mile a one mile long stretch of water offshore from the village used to measure the top speed of steamers in the days before more sophisticated means of measurement were available.
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