Obituary: Charles Connell, landowner & shipbuilder

Member of shipbuilding dynasty and Perthshire laird who was friend of Republican US presidents. Picture: Allan Milligan
Member of shipbuilding dynasty and Perthshire laird who was friend of Republican US presidents. Picture: Allan Milligan
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Born: 12 March, 1932, in Kelvinside, Glasgow. Died: 15 November, 2015, in Perthshire, aged 83.

Charles Connell came from a family that had long connections with Clyde shipbuilding – Charles Connell & Co was established at Scotstoun in 1861 and had been managed by the Connell ­family – and was always called Charles. After the demise of the industry in the 1960s, Connell devoted his life to managing his farm in Perthshire and estate in Inverness-shire. All the enterprises, along with his shooting and stalking interests, proved very ­successful.

Charles Raymond Connell was brought up at Craigallion outside Glasgow with his two sisters and on the family estate at Colquhalzie in Perthshire. He attended Cargilfield in Edinburgh and Winchester. He did his national service in the Scots Guards and saw service during the invasion of Egypt to reclaim the Suez Canal in 1965 but did not see action.

He spent a year at Cambridge and then joined the family business. After working through the various departments, he was appointed managing director in 1958. By then the company principally supplied machinery to the shipbuilding industry but in 1968 shipbuilding on the Clyde was in serious difficulties and was under severe pressure. The government stepped in to ­create Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS).

The Geddes Report of 1966, commissioned by Tony Benn, had strongly recommended rationalisation. The proposals caused strife throughout the workforce. Rather than go on strike, the union leadership decided to have a work-in. Jimmy Reid, the charismatic union leader, insisted on tight discipline. He addressed the workers at the yards and famously instructed them that there would be “no hooliganism, no vandalism and no bevvying”. But it was a depressing few months for Connell who laboured hard to make UCS work.

The Clyde shipbuilding industry was much reduced and the Connell yard closed in 1980. Connell turned his energies to pursuing his interests in farming and the land. On his estate at Auchterarder he built up a very successful pig and poultry business alongside developing the arable farming extensively. He wisely ­specialised in growing wheat and malting barley for the nearby distilleries and breweries. He created a fish farming business off the Argyll coast which he sold very successfully to a Norwegian conglomerate.

Connell also developed the shooting and stalking potential at Garrogie Lodge and on the Stronelairg estate near Fort Augustus. In 1996 the estates won awards for their success in returning grouse to the moors and were highly praised by game enthusiasts and the conservation minded. Garrogie supplies the water for hydro-electric plants in the area which, in turn, feeds into the Glasgow supply.

A controversial application to build a 67-turbine wind farm on the estate has been approved, with work due to start next year. The media dubbed Connell “Baron Breeze” as the process went through the courts.

In 1982, as if to demonstrate his shrewd business brain Connell took a stake in Cairn Energy which had been founded by his neighbour in Perthshire Jimmy Gammell the year before. It is an adventurous oil and gas exploration company which had expanded rapidly under Gammell’s audacious management. Gammell was at Fettes with Tony Blair and a friend of George H Bush, and his son, George W Bush: Connell was a frequent visitor to the Bush estate in Texas, while George W spent summer holidays in Perthshire.

Connell was a devoted countryman and dedicated to improving the vast expanses of the Scottish moors and furthering employment in the areas. He strode over the hills in all weathers and wrote with first-hand knowledge on country matters and the environment. Connell was a strong supporter of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, and served as its vice-president. He was a keen stalker, a fine shot and a keen horseman, often competing in point-to-point. He remained active and devoted to his sport until near the end of his life – within a month of his death Connell continued stalking and bagged a stag.

His love of shooting dated back to his youth. The family butler introduced Connell to the handling of a gun. In demonstrating the importance of safety the butler, unfortunately, accidentally shot Connell in the head. There was no harm done and Connell had the pellets removed from his skull.

Connell had met Tugela Croxton while in South Africa in 1970 and, typically, proposed to her while stalking in Inverness-shire. They were both passionate about preserving the Scottish countryside and moors.

The woods on the Garrogie Glen are now amongst the most important areas of birch woodlands in the Highlands.

Connell’s wife died of cancer in 2009 and his partner in the last few years of his life was Pamela Johnson.

Pamela and his son (also called Charles) and two daughters by his marriage survive him.