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The Anecdotage of Glasgow
Pollok mansion and the Baronial Maxwells


THIS baronial seat is situated in a delightful position on the north bank of the Cart, a little to the south-west of the town of Pollokshaws. It is, therefore, in the immediate vicinity of the 20th and 21st wards of Greater Glasgow.

The house is a spacious edifice, four storeys in height, and of the plainest architectural appearance, comfort and commodiousness, rather than ornamental grandeur, having been obviously attended to in its construction. It was erected in 1752 by Sir John Maxwell, the then baronet, who died a few weeks after its completion.

The offices of the present mansion, to the eastward, now occupy the site of its more warlike predecessor, the castle, previously occupied by the family, but shortly afterwards entirely demolished, with the exception of a small portion, apparently the remains of a massive tower, embedded in the garden wall.

On an eminence in the vicinity, which commands a magnificent prospect of the country for many miles around, a still older castle formerly stood, but no vestige of it remains to mark its whereabouts. Desolation as complete has fallen upon it as that predicted for his own mansion by Thomas the Rhymer, when he said in bitterness of spirit,

"The hare shall kittle on my heath-stane."

The gardens and pleasure grounds of Pollok are on a princely scale of magnificence. The Cart, which is spanned by an elegant bridge in the vicinity of the house, winds beautifully through the park, which is finely sprinkled with clumps of wood and picturesque sylvan individualities (to make use of a Johnsonian phrase) every here and there, standing "alone in their glory," and exhibiting to the practised eye the distinguishing peculiarities of their various species. Seldom, indeed, can finer woodland studies be witnessed than are to be found in the spacious park of Pollok. Old Evelyn would have travelled a long summer day, and reckoned himself amply repaid for his labour, by the sight of a single group of wych-elms which grace the bank of the river a little to the east of the mansion.

These fine trees were described in Mr. Strutt’s Sylva Britannica published in 1826, a splendid but expensive work, the Scottish division of which was dedicated to the late Sir John, then Mr. Maxwell, younger of Pollok.

The principal member of the group was measured a few years since for Mr. Loudon’s work on trees, and was found to be ninety feet in height, and four feet in diameter at a yard and a half from the ground. Nor is it only in modern times that the grounds of Pollok have been shadowed by sylvan giants.

Several years ago an immense trunk of oak was discovered in the bed of the Cart at this place. With great difficulty it was excavated from its gravelly bank, when it was found to be not less than twenty feet in circumference. This immense mass of primeval timber was scooped out, and formed into a summer-house in the garden.

The ancient and honourable family of the Maxwells of Pollok, to whom the greater portion of the parish of Eastwood or Pollokshaws belongs, is descended from the Max-wells of Carlaverock, and has been located here since the end of the thirteenth century. On the escape of Queen Mary from Loch Leven, and her arrival at Hamilton, she sent to her attached adherent the following royal missive, which is still carefully preserved at Pollock.

"To our Traist Friend,

"Ye Laird of Nether Pollok.

"Traist friend, we greet you weill. We dowt not bot ye know that God of His goodness has put us at libertie; quhome we thank maist heartilie. Quhairfore desires you wt all possible diligence faill not to be heir at us in Hamylton wt all your folks friends and servants bodin in feir of weir as ye wil do us acceptable service and pleasure. Because we know yor constance. We need not at this put to mak langer Lyr, but will byd you fairweill.

(Signed) "MAIRE R.

"Off Hamylton, ye V. of May, 1568."

The summons was obeyed, and the "Laird of Nether Pollok," who had adhered faithfully to the cause of the fair but ill-fated monarch through all her misfortunes, is said to have been knighted by her on the fated day which saw her hopes perish at Langside. A fine portrait of the beauteous Queen of Scots is preserved at Pollok House, as also authentic portraits of her not less ill-fated grandson, Charles the First, and the Infanta of Spain, who, it will be remembered, was at one period destined to be his bride.

Another interesting relic of the hapless queen, also preserved at Pollok House, is a model of Crookston Castle, formed from a portion of the timber of a beautiful old yew-tree, which stood in the garden to the east of the castle, and which tradition alleged to have been a favourite haunt of Queen Mary and Darnley during the brief courtship which preceded their ill-assorted and ultimately tragical union. Crookston Castle and lands came into the possession of Sir John Maxwell in 1757, and it was by the late Sir John that the remains of the fine old tree referred to were removed in 1817.

Besides the letter of Queen Mary above quoted, a number of other papers of considerable antiquity are preserved in the family archives, among which is a letter from James VI. to the Laird of Pollok, requesting provision for the prince’s baptism—a curious trait of the times; and the original of the Solemn League and Covenant, with the signatures of the King and Council, dated 1587. Sir John Maxwell, the fifteenth baronet, was a strenuous supporter of the persecuted Covenanters, and on that account he was condemned to imprisonment for sixteen months towards the close of his life, and as it also turned out of the Stuart régime.

For many generations a Maxwell of Pollok constantly filled the rector’s chair in the University of Glasgow. In 1859 H.RH. the Prince of Wales visited the late Sir John Maxwell at Pollok. In 1866 the late Sir William Stirling Maxwell, of Cadder and Keir, sometime member of Parliament for Perthshire, and of some celebrity as a literary man, succeeded to Pollok through his mother, Elizabeth Maxwell, sister of Sir John Maxwell, and wife of the late Archibald Stirling of Keir, and on doing so added the name of Maxwell to his own original name of Stirling.


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