A Stranraer couple whose hard work, grit, vision and determination founded one of Scotland’s best known and successful hotel chains celebrated 50 years in the trade recently with the launch of the book ‘McMillan - the couple who built the family business’ recording the fascinating story of Hammy and Janet McMillan.
The book, written by retired documentary film maker Mike Marshall from the Isle of Whithorn, traces the rise of the McMillan family, from humble beginnings in Stranraer’s ‘Clayhole’ to the brand that’s hospitality empire encompasses, in order of acquisition, North West Castle, Cally Palace, Fernhill Hotel, Kirroughtree House, Glenapp Castle, Peebles Hydro and The Park, Peebles.
Back in the 1950s, after learning the joinery trade, Hammy had emigrated from Stranraer to Canada and made a life for himself and new wife Janet running his own business while she worked as a nurse. And there they would have stayed had the building that became the North West Castle Hotel not come on the market back in Hammy’s home town.
After taking advice from his father and discussing the idea of starting a hotel from scratch with Janet, the determined young couple packed their bags and headed for home,
The building they purchased was in a sorry state of disrepair, but Hammy soon put his joinery skills towards creating a 12-bedroomed hotel that was open for business in October 1962. The hotel swiftly grew in size every year and with the addition of the ice rink in 1970, and the popular curling weekends, not to mention the famous Saturday night Smorgasbords, the business went from strength to strength.
In 1981 Hammy and Janet stunned the area when they bought the 90-bedroomed Cally Palace Hotel at Gatehouse, but that was just for starters. They then bought the Fernhill Hotel at Portpatrick in 1988 and Kirroughtree House Hotel outside Newton Stewart was added to the chain in the early 1990s.
Glenapp Castle at Ballantrae was a long term restoration project that began in 1993 with the initial lease and then the purchase of the Victorian stately home. Painstakingly recreating exactly the ambiance of its heyday, work was completed in 2000 and aimed at attracting the luxury end of the market.
The 132-bedroomed Peebles Hydro and the Park Hotel in Peebles were added in 2004 to what has now become known as the ‘McMillan Hotels’ chain. Along the way all Hammy and Janet’s five children have become involved in every aspect of the business and taken in forward into the 21st century with the same trademarks as their parents - warm hospitality and a professional attitude to business without losing the personal touch.
At the book launch, former employee Douglas McDavid, now a respected hotelier in his own right, spoke amusingly of his time with the McMillan family and learning the ropes of the hotel trade.
Fiona Hardie, Hammy and Janet McMillan’s oldest daughter, said she and her daughter Aline had worked for months with author Mike Marshall to sift though the vast archives of documents and photographs stored since 1962 to help him tell the story of rise and rise of the McMillan brand.
Mike Marshall said: “Without doubt one of the most striking features has been the strong family influence on the business,” said Mike. “My first encounter with Hammy McMillan was back in the mid-eighties when I arrived with a film crew from Aberdeen en route to Ireland. Hammy, ‘The Boss’, as he’s known to everyone in the hotel, was there to welcome us. He went further than that; he carried all of our bags and escorted us to our rooms. I learned later that he did this as a matter of routine – offering a warm welcome and a very high standard of hospitality. It’s the same caring spirit that I found in all their hotels as I worked on the book, meeting and talking to staff – there’s a considerable respect for Hammy and Janet, and tremendous admiration for what’s been achieved.”
Earlier this year many of the faithful staff that have worked for McMillan Hotels over the past 50 years enjoy a reunion in the North West Castle. During the get together Douglas McDavid succinctly summed up the success of the McMillan family saying that since Hammy and Janet opened the doors of the North West Castle in 1962 it has never been shut - not even for one day.