Famous Former Residents

Ewan Kennedy, editor of the scottishboating blog, has recently started research into one of the first families to have lived in the GOW community. He has kindly given us permission to reproduce here some of the remarkable stories he has uncovered.

The Thom family must have moved into 5 Westbank Quadrant shortly after the tenement was completed in 1886 and can be found in the 1901 census. The head of the household was John Thom, a consulting civil engineer and owner of the successful business Thom, Lamont & Co. Ltd. that produced pumps for the steamship industry. John’s two sons would later each gain fame in their own way with Herbert becoming a legend of Scottish sailing and Dorian a World War I aviator.

(above) Thom Family Portrait c. 1895
The Thom Family
(below) 1901 census return for 1/2 5 Westbank Quadrant
Name Age Relation Occupation Origin
John Thom 46 Head Consulting Engineer Millport, Buteshire
Mary C Thom 18 Daughter Scholar England
Helen H Thom 15 Daughter Scholar England
Herbert Thom 10 Son Scholar Glasgow
Dorian Thom 8 Son Scholar Glasgow
Mina F Thom 2 Daughter Glasgow
Jeanie Caton 19 Servant General Servant Domestic Parkhead, Lanarkshire

In common with a great many West coast businessmen John Thom’s main relaxation was sailing. The Thom family had worked for generations on or by the sea; his father, also John, having been a Clyde fisherman. He was born at Inverkip in 1855 and on leaving school went into the drawing office of Scott & Co. in Greenock, one of the oldest Scottish firms. Here he designed and patented various technical improvements to steamships, the best known the “Thom Patent” for a special type of piston valve. These were adopted world-wide, and in 1887 Thom’s patent slide valves were used in the Royal Navy’s state-of-the-art torpedo boat, Fearless. Following this success Thom acquired his own company.

From his earliest years Herbert Thom would sail with his father. In 1903 he won his first yacht race, but it took until the 1931 season for him to gain fame when the Glasgow Herald remarked “Mr J H Thom dominated the Scottish islands class with his new boat, Gigha, which had the score of 29 prizes in 33 starts, including 18 firsts.” and he went on to have similar results in the following seasons for many more years. In September 1938 he joined a team of four British competitors in the British America Cup at Oyster Bay, Long Island. Although this race was a disaster for the British team, Herbert separately contested an individual event known as the Seawanhaka Cup, which he and his crew (including his son) won and then successfully defended the following year. The Second World War delayed any further victories to Herbert’s name but he returned to racing in 1948 to win the Solent Cup, and continued to dominate the Scottish islands class events up until 1963. In May 1957 the Scotsman found it newsworthy that Herbert Thom had not come first in a yacht race.


(below) Dorian Thom – World War I aviator

Dorian Thom

from the scottishislandsclass blog

William Dorian Thom was born on 3 August 1892 in the family home at 5 Westbank Quadrant. Dorian, commonly called Dorrie, probably attended the Glasgow Academy. He had just turned 16 when his father died after years of ill-health and would have joined the family business of Thom, Lamont & Co. at that point, as did Herbert. However the two brothers had vastly different personalities. Herbert was always serious, careful and meticulous, with a deep sense of obligation, whereas Dorian believed in enjoying life and taking risks.

The outbreak of war gave Dorian the opportunity to get out of the business and by the summer of 1916 he had a probationary commission as sub-lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps in 34 Squadron. He flew the primitive and slow BE2es, single-engined biplanes with a maximum speed of about 70mph, which the pilots themselves called “Fokker fodder” and the Germans called kaltes Fleisch. When 52 Squadron arrived in France they were equipped with slightly faster RE8s, but which had the disadvantage that they easily went into an uncontrollable spin and crashed. The end result was that each squadron fancied the other’s machines, so they duly swapped them.

99 Squadron was formed in August 1917 and sent to France to fly twin-engined de Havilland bombers as part of the Independent Air Force. Dorian joined it and survived numerous bombing raids, when the squadron took horrendous losses. When the Royal Air Force was formed in 1918 the Army objected to their use of military ranks, so Dorian became a Flying Officer and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Prince Albert, who would later become King George VI following the abdication of his elder brother, was posted to the staff of the Independent Air Force at Nancy in the last few weeks of the war and got to know 99 Squadron. Dorian was appointed to escort him and took him up for a flight in his de Havilland. On Armistice Day, when the prince was 23 years old he sent the following letter to Dorian, who was then 25.

(above) Letter from Prince Albert to Dorian Thom
Letter from Prince Albert

This is only a wee sample of the fascinating history of this family. You can read the rest at Ewan’s separate scottishislandsclass blog.


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