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Tourist plan for Scottish Samurai’s Aberdeen home

The statue of Fraserburgh-born Thomas Blake Glover in Nagasaki. Picture: Complimentary

The statue of Fraserburgh-born Thomas Blake Glover in Nagasaki. Picture: Complimentary

  • by FRANK URQUHART
 

THE neglected former home of Thomas Blake Glover - the “Scottish Samurai” - is set to be saved and transformed into a major tourist destination and economic hub for Aberdeen, it was revealed today.

Glover is revered throughout Japan as one of the founding fathers of modern Japanese industry and his home in Nagasaki attracts an estimated two million visitors each year.

But Braehead House, the Victorian mansion in Aberdeen’s Bridge of Don where the entrepreneur once lived, was forced to close its doors two year ago as a museum dedicated to the Japanese industrial hero after failing to attract enough visitors to remain financially viable.

The trust which runs Braehead House has been forced to sell off some of the mansion’s furniture and place precious artefacts in storage.

But it was announced today that Aberdeen City Council is set to take over the ownership of the building in a bid to transform its fortunes. The council, which is being offered the building free of charge by the Glover Trust, is planning to turn the house into a major visitor attraction for the North east and to help promote economic links between the Granite City and Japan.

Mitsubishi adviser

Glover, who died in 1911, was the principal adviser to the fledgling Mitsubishi company and played a major role in laying the foundations for the corporation’s rise to economic superpower status.

He built the first warships for the Japanese Navy and was showered with awards, becoming an honorary samurai. His Japanese wife, Tsuru, is also believed to have been the inspiration behind Puccini’s opera, Madame Butterfly.

Mitsubishi executives bought Braehead House in 1997 and gifted the mansion to the independent Glover Trust. But the trust was forced to close the mansion two years ago after Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire councils ended their financial support for the museum.

Councillor John Reynolds, a former Lord Provost of Aberdeen who is one of the Glover house trustees, explained: “There was no money coming in and the curator had to go and the place had to close. And for the last two years the building has just been kept wind and water tight.

“We had two options - either to sell the building or negotiate with the council for them to take it over. And that is where we are this moment in time.”

Mr Reynolds continued: “We had to clear the place to save on the business rates which were quite exorbitant. We sold some of the period furniture - none of it Glover’s - which we had bought for the house and we put the important items we had collected into storage.”

‘Marketing’ failed venture

He admitted the the venture had failed “because of the way it was marketed.” Said Mr Reynolds: “People in the North east didn’t really know much about Glover and we couldn’t get the Japanese tourists up to the North east.

“What happens is that they come into London, then go up to the Lake District to visit the home of Beatrix Potter and - if we are very, very lucky - they come up to Edinburgh and then do a u-turn and go back to London.”

Mr Reynolds said, however, that he remained convinced of the potential to develop Braehead House as a major tourist attraction. “There is a huge amount of potential - especially with Trump’s golf course now on our doorstep.be

“A lot of Japanese are into playing golf and it’s very, very expensive in Japan. It would probably cheaper for them to fly into Scotland for a week’s golf and Braehead House cold be a major draw for them.

“We should be shouting Glover’s achievements from the rooftops. But unfortunately he is not known and we don’t tend to push our own up here.”

Councillor are expected to formally approve proposals to take over the ownership of Glover’s home at a meeting of the council’s finance committee next month.

Councillor Willie Young, the committee’s convener, said: “The big problem we have got is that the building is sitting there doing absolutely nothing and we need to bring this asset back for the city.”

He continued: “We want to develop the house as a tourist attraction and also use the building for economic development, building economic links with Japan. At the moment it is just sitting there unused because no-one knows it’s there.

“It could become major attraction for Aberdeen. The problem is that the trust had no money and it is now dilapidated and going downhill. We need to get it back into use and show people we have this tremendous heritage.”

SEE ALSO

Scot who helped Japan go full steam ahead

Thomas Blake Glover: Japan’s favourite Scot

 

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