Sunday, September 14, 2008

Cardross and A. J. Cronin Part 1

I haven’t managed to visit Cardross so far but, owing to my passion for the books of A. J. Cronin who was born there, I have wanted to go for some years. I hope I shall make it there this autumn at last (I’ll write Part 2 of this blog afterwards!)

Archibald Joseph Cronin was born on the 19th July 1896. He attended Dumbarton Academy and later studied medicine at Glasgow University. He became a Royal Navy surgeon and later entered general practice and worked in South Wales and then Harley Street in London. His work and experiences provided inspiration - most obviously for ‘The Citadel’, which was at the same time his most commercially successful and his most crusading work. It has been said that its exposure of inequalities in medical provision contributed to the introduction of the National Health Service.

Of course, Cronin is best known - if anyone has heard of him at all! - through the very popular1960s television series ‘Dr Finlay’s Casebook’, which was based on one of his books, although he wrote so many fine novels besides on widely different themes. It’s ridiculous that most are now out of print and I have obtained most of mine second hand through Ebay and the like, and I re-read them all every couple of years. His very first novel, “Hatter’s Castle”, which he wrote while on holiday in Inveraray for three months in 1931, is a masterpiece and was accepted at once by the only publishing house to which the manuscript had been submitted! The plot revolves around many characters and has many subplots, all of which relate to the life of the hatter, James Brodie, whose narcissism and cruelty gradually destroy his life. (The book was made into a successful film in 1941 starring Robert Newton, Deborah Kerr, and James Mason.)

The Wikipedia website here has a very informative article about Cronin and lists all his works - he was an extremely prolific writer!

I recently sent the letter below to the local council, a large tourist website, and a smaller one, based in the Cardross area (I’d better not give their full names, titles and details here without their permission!):

"Dear Sir,

I am visiting Scotland this October and Cardross in particular as I am a great fan of A J Cronin's many wonderful novels. I have collected almost all of them through the years and also the films of some of his best-loved books, such as The Spanish Gardener, with Dirk Bogarde. I have been looking forward to going to Cronin's birthplace for years!

I wonder if you could let me know where to find his house, Rosebank Cottage, and if it is open to the public. I would like to know if there are any statues, exhibitions or monuments of the great man to see in Cardross, or possibly in Helensburgh where he lived later on - or of any which may be in Glasgow where he studied medicine?

Looking forward to hearing from you, Yours sincerely" etc

The council wrote a friendly email to say they had sent my letter onto a smaller body of people who are concerned with Cardross (I will add to this blog as and when I hear from them). I also had this brief reply from the larger of the two tourist websites:

“We have no details of any attraction in Cardross pertaining to A J Cronin, neither are we able to advise is Rosebank House is open to the public, it is not something we have listed, so it is likely to be in private ownership.” which I replied,

“This is extremely disappointing and very surprising. However, thank you very much for taking the time to reply to my letter, Yours sincerely,” etc

I wonder why Cronin has been forgotten and does not appear to be honoured anywhere, not even in his own birthplace? Surely I can't be the only fan of his excellent books?!

Some of the books in my collection

Some further facts about Cronin can be found on a few websites. Here are a couple below:

A J Cronin died on January 6th, 1981 in Montreux, Switzerland and his grave can be seen here

(For more information about this great and completely underrated man, please see Tom's excellent comments underneath)

(Part 2 of my A.J. Cronin blog can be found here, and Part 3 here)


Tom said...

I adore Cronin's work and the films as well! I applaud your tenacity in trying to get Cardross/Glasgow/Scotland to acknowledge this native son who was far ahead of his time. It's disheartening and sad, really, that they're so uninformed about his diverse accomplishments and universal popularity when they should be exceedingly proud. Cronin was a bona fide genius (a word I despise due to its rampant abuse, but which actually applies in this case), a fine doctor, an amazing writer, a humanist, and an advocate for the disenfranchised - as evidenced by "The Stars Look Down," "The Citadel," and "The Keys of the Kingdom," to name a few. He not only entertained people, but he informed people and reformed the medical system in the UK ("The Citadel") while doing so - not too bad. He also inspired a few generations to choose medicine as a career. Cronin's work continues to inspire - the film "Billy Elliot" was partly drawn from "The Stars Look Down," and the opening song of the Billy Elliot musical is even titled this as a tribute. I'm baffled as to why this man was never knighted, especially considering some of the rather undeserving people they pick these days. I suspect that the reason for his being overlooked is that he really shook things up in the UK - his immense popularity is even credited with the election of the Labour Party in 1945! He achieved fame and wealth at a relatively young age and had several bestsellers throughout a few decades. That sort of sustained success tends to be viewed negatively (the old green-eyed monster...JEALOUSY). This kind, hilariously witty man also mingled with the stars in Hollywood and was the godfather of Audrey Hepburn's son - whatever the case, Cronin should be honored by his homeland. It is an affront to his legacy that he has been ignored for so long. Truth be told, Cronin, a proud Scot, never really left Scotland at all - its rugged beauty and character suffuse his stories.

Jane said...

Thank goodness I'm not alone! What a wonderful post about Cronin, Tom; thank you so very much for taking the time.
Best wishes, Jane

Gerard Ward said...

Jane,that's a great blog about Cronin,I have read two of his books and that was many years ago!

I shall have to pay Cardross a visit.

Thanks for all your kind comments on my site.

Make sure you bring some winter clothes when you come in October ,its getting cold.I hope you get some decent weather.

Make sure you get some pics of Largs pier as I'm told its going to be rebuilt this year.


Jane said...

Thank you so much Gerry. Yes, I think winter clothes will have to be in order - just hope for some dry weather! I will definitely take photos of the pier - it's interesting that it's going to be rebuilt. I should very much like to see any photos you take around Cardross if you visit it yourself.
Best wishes, Jane

Denis Bell said...

Hi Jane, great quality as usual and you also attract informed and intelligent comments...well done all. I'm not too smart on Cronin (mainly a time and awareness thing!) but also admit that there are so many good folks who do not get proper credit. We are abysmal at acknowledging societal inputs and genuine feats of brilliance..when we think of the rubbish who get all sorts of pandering commendations?!! I also feel pretty well the same about our industrial legacies and we seem so shallow that we are not caring enough to save more of the past that enlightens future generations. It is said you need to look back to go forward. I trust I don't seem an old grumpy 'stick in the mud' but am concerned how we discard the 'unfashionable' so readily. Presumably 'not enough money' or 'interest'...????

Kind regards, and thanks for your recent comments too, Denis.

Douglas said...


I lived for a number of years in Rosebank Cottage. The cottage was purchased by my grandfather for (I think) £200. My sister was born there. My grandfather had met A J Cronin and continued a correspondence with him. So far as I know, none of the letters survive.

I've created a map of the area in Google (link at end) with some nearby places of note (to me, anyway). My family lived in or near Cardross for many years, and until recently all three of my children lived there. My son still lives in Geilston Park, near Cardross station.

Many of the locations of Cronin's novels can still be located in and around Cardross and Dumbarton. If you are visiting, enquire in Dumbarton Public library.


Best regards,

Douglas Lockhart

Douglas said...

Meant to add: look at the Google map in the satellite view and you'll see the cottage. If you want to know more, contact me at:


Jane said...

Very many thanks for your message Douglas (and also to Denis who wrote before - sorry to be so slow!) Douglas, I was fascinated to read about your family's connection to A.J. Cronin and Rosebank Cottage. What a pity those letters haven't survived! Yes, I certainly will go to Dumbarton Library at some point - we intend to visit the town next time we're in Scotland. Thanks for the link to the Google map as well. Besides myself, I now know that there are several people (at least) who will be very interested in this map and your message.

Best wishes, Jane

Anonymous said...

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Kath said...

Hello! I was actually looking online for some information about Percy Pilcher, and found your blog. Given that I live in Cardross, and at one time worked with your contributor Michael MacDonald (many moons ago now) I was intrigued.

I used to live in Helensburgh, in a block of flats near the park, and was given to understand that AJ Cronin had lived in that building at some point. I did not know that he was born in Cardross though, and I think it is a great shame that more isn't done to remember this wonderful author.

I do know that there are moved afoot in Helensburgh to create some kind of lasting museum/site/information/commemmoration of "Local Heroes". Helensburgh was the birth place of John Logie Baird and apart from giving his name to a local school and a byline on the town's Welcome Sign there wasn't much to commemorate his acheivements either. I don't know if it is apathy, or cash, or ignorance that has prevented us from celebrating these wonderful people but I do hope things will change soon.

Jane said...

Hi Kath,

It's great to hear from you - thanks for your comments. Nice to hear from someone actually living in Cardross, and what a coincidence that you once worked with Michael MacDonald!

It's very interesting that A. J. Cronin was thought to have lived in that block of flats in Helensburgh. I've never known where it was he stayed there - I knew he was there and also in Dumbarton for a time. I'm amazed that so little is made of John Logie Baird in Helensburgh too - and there are other neglected 'local heroes' who could be named too (I've just come across a few in Greenock recently in my reading).

I wish Cronin's life could be properly recorded; there's not enough detail on line (I've spent a lot of time searching). Yes, I agree with you and I think it does come down to apathy. It's partly because Cronin isn't a 'fashionable' author these days and most of his books are out of print. There just don't seem to be enough people interested. If I were a millionaire I'd try to get a statue of Cronin erected! Sadly, it will come down to money, or the lack of it. If only we (the people who have contributed to this blog and others who may turn up) could get together and propose a mounument (or plaque at the very least) to be put up in Cardross, that would be wonderful.

Mubeen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Alan Davies said...

Dear Jane,
I stumbled on your blog about Cronin by accident. To say I was surprised would be an understatement. You may be pleased to know that I have written a biography of Cronin which is due to be published in October 2010.
I too have been in contact with thr relevant authorities in Dumbarton to try to get a plaque erected. Unfortunately, they move like tortoises and claim poverty.
This year also a Scottish publisher is hopefully going to resurrect the Dr Finlay title so there should be a buzz later in the year.
Like you I am Welsh, though I live in England. Our Celtic blood must be the common link with Cronin.
My email address is if you wish to get in touch.
Alan Davies 03.03.2010