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A History of the Parish of Neilston
Chapter X. — The Glens of Neilston Parish


There are several glens in the parish which possess all the beauty and charm that result from a combination of wood and stream and rifted rock, with the ever-changing light and shade that afford such pleasure and delight to persons of a contemplative and poetic nature. Of these, perhaps the finest is Killoch Glen. This picturesque and romantic ravine is situated on the southern slope of the Capellie range of hills, nearly opposite the town of Neilston. Both its banks are finely wooded with well-grown trees, and it has been celebrated in song as the early home of the crawflower, anemone, and primrose. The glen is a comparatively short one, and consists of two parts, the upper and the lower glens. The trap formation at the top of the upper glen which separates it from the hollow meadow-land beyond and to the west of it, bears evidence of having been worn down by the overflow of water, probably from a lake formed there by the ponded-back water of the Capellie burn that now flows past the old mill and under the bridge on the Capellie road. The upper reach of the glen is short but picturesque, and the descent from the trap which separates it from the lower glen is rapidly made by a series of broken rocks, and as the water plunges over them a succession of foaming white falls is produced, which, when the burn is in flow, have a grand appearance, especially when viewed from below. Tannahill and his friend Scadlock have both sung the praises of this truly delightful glen. In times of drought, when the burn water is low, many pot-holes are observed in the bed of the stream. In some places these have been worn into one another, giving rise to many fantastic shapes, which have been from time immemorial, in one way or another, associated with “The Witch of Killoch Glen.” The smoother parts between the holes are her “floor,” and her “hearth”; while the cavities, according to their shape and depth, are her “cradle,” her “water-stoups,” and her “grave”; and it is surprising how these objects are outlined in the part of the glen referred to.

“Down splash the Killoch’s wimpling wave,
As through the glen the waters rave,
Far o’er the witch’s eerie grave,
Frae crag to linn,
Yon beetling rocks, they wildly lave,
Wi’ gurgling din.”

The Killoch burn, very shortly after leaving the glen, as already stated, joins the Levern.

The Kissing Tree.—From Killoch Glen across Fereneze Braes to Paisley there is, and has been from time immemorial, a footpath, or right-of-way. From this path on the top of the hill on an early morning in summer, when the sun’s rays are bursting athwart the broad expanse below, one of the finest and most extensive views is to be had of the surrounding country, a view which will well repay the early riser for his trouble. Formerly the “Kissing Tree,” which was well studded with nails, stood on the crest of the hill by the side of this walk, connected with which tradition has it that the swain who succeeded in driving a nail into its gnarled trunk at the first blow was entitled to claim the osculatory fee. The tree has, however, long since disappeared, carrying with it the nailed record of many victories.

Midge Glen, or Image Glen.—This glen is inferior in beauty to none of its size. In general contour it presents all the evidence of having, through the ages, been scooped out of the trap formation which forms its bed by the action of the river Levern. About half-way through the. glen there is a sudden bend in it, the river being turned from a nearly eastern to a nearly northern course, due to the solid trap on the eastern hank, against which the water impinges, having resisted its denuding power and deflected it from its course. The river enters the head of the glen under a quaint old bridge, immediately after leaving the “Links of Levern.” These links are remarkable in the regularity and completeness of their formation and in the way they wind about through the meado^-land above the old bridge, in what is doubtless the silted up remains of an ancient loch. Immediately on entering the glen, where it passes the ruins of the old grain mill, the stream is dashed over a series of shelving rocks which form two beautiful waterfalls. The banks of the defile, especially the southern bank, as has been stated when dealing with the Levern, are well wooded, and the “right-of-way” through the glen, an old church path, is a delightful walk, as throughout its course it overlooks the bed of the river, the waterfalls, and the old mill. The walk seems to be much enjoyed by the people.

Polleick Glen.—This is a delightfully wooded glen, situated on the outcrop of the carboniferous formations at the west end of the village of Uplawmoor. It is not a long glen, but in its course there are several fine waterfalls, and some charming “bits” from an artistic point of view. The stream which flows through it rises in Dumgraine moor and the meadow-land of Linnhead farm, and passes under the bridge on the road leading from Uplawmoor past South Polleick. On leaving the glen, it flows past Caldwell station and joins the Lugton just immediately after the latter has left Loch Libo.

Colinbar Glen.—This glen extends from Wraes grain mill to Arthur-lie bleaching works, and has some fairly good wood on its banks. Kirkton burn flows through it, and at its eastern end there is a pleasant walk under the shadow of some trees.

Wauk-Mill Glen.—This glen reaches from the eastern or lower reservoir of Gorbals gravitation works, at Balgray, to Darnley old mill, a ruin on its right bank. It receives the overflow or service water, which represents the continuation of the Brock burn, after it has been ponded up, with other streams, in the reservoirs. Nature has cut this glen through the outcrop of the carboniferous formations of the Levern valley, the coal, clay, and lime-stone of which are plainly visible on the northern side of the glen, where they are being wrought by adit workings. The filters connected with the reservoirs above are placed to the south of the glen, and between them and the southern margin of the stream there is a very agreeable walk, from the road leading from Barrhead to Upper Pollok castle, through the glen to Darnley on the Glasgow Road. This ravine is highly picturesque, being beautifully wooded with tall, well-grown trees, under whose umbrageous shadows ferns of many kinds grow in great luxuriance, and the stream murmurs in tranquil solitude.

Evidence of Glaciers in the Parish.

That the valley of the Levern, like most of the great valleys of Scotland, has been traversed by glacier ice during the “great winter of our land” is amply borne testimony to by the grooved markings left along the Fereneze and Capellie hill slopes and alongside of Loch Libo on the exposed sandstone formation at Uplawmoor wood ; and also by the famous inter-glacial beds in Cowden Glen, and especially by the great glaciated surface on the lime-stone formation at the Lugton outlet of the valley, in addition to large sandbanks and gravel formations to the east of the loch and at Killoch Glen, Gateside, and other places.

The direction of these groovings seems to indicate that the glacier movements were in a north-easterly to south-westerly direction, from probably what was the great ice field of our country at the time, the dreary elevation of the moor of Rannoch. From the height at which the markings can be traced on Capellie hills, the ice seems to have quite filled the valley, and before denudition took place the valley had probably more trap ash in it than at present. As the ice age began to pass off and the rigours of the climate became ameliorated, the valley glacier would seem to have been retarded in its westward progress by the trap formations which so much narrow the valley at the entrance to Cowden Glen, during which period the sand, boulders, and boulder clay, were probably deposited—found in such abundance in this locality as to suggest the existence of a moraine.

When laying the sewage pipes from Levernbanks to Crofthead; and in making the septic tank at Killoch Glen, great beds of sand had to be dealt with, that at Killoch being quite stratified ; and everywhere there were abundance of boulders. During operations for the enlargement of Crofthead Thread Works some years ago, extensive sand beds were also passed through. The cutting covered several acres, and at the face the embankment had a depth of thirty feet. “At this depth the sand was found to rest upon boulder clay, and this again upon volcanic ash. But towards the surface the ash was found interbedded with loose sand.” The boulders exposed during the latter operation varied in size, many of them weighing several tons, and requiring to be shattered with dynamite before they could be removed. They were striated and non-striated, angular and sub-angular, and many of them had travelled far.

In the course of constructing the Lanarkshire and Ayrshire Railway in this neighbourhood, one of the cuttings passed through a considerable extent of sand and gravel on Kilburn farm, evidently an extension southward of the corresponding formations quarried for many years on the adjoining farm of Holehouse. It was observed at the time, that these deposits were laid down in such well-defined stratified beds as to indicate the operation of water, probably some ancient lake in the locality, which in some remote way had been associated also with the valley glacier, ponding back the waters of the higher lands, now the Levern, in the direction of Midge Glen, where there is evidence that a much larger body of water once existed than passes through it at the present day; at which time, also, the natural channel of outlet for the stream would appear to have been more easterly than the present course through Crofthead mill.

It is quite in consonance with the existence of such a lake, that some years ago, in a field on Holehouse farm, which would then be covered by its waters, a beautifully finished, evidently neolithic stone celt was found, which is in the writer’s possession. A drain was being cut in one of the lower fields to collect water for the supply of the then Holehouse laundry, during an interdict of their supply from the Levern, and the celt was found at an unascertained depth below the present land surface. In an adjoining field was also found a stone sinker, or possibly a whetstone. This stone is 5 inches long, by 2½ broad, and has a hole through one end of it, which has been formed by drilling from either side. The stone is in the writer’s possession. How long this lake may have continued, there is nothing to indicate, but it most probably existed well into neolithic times, when some primitive savage or native, paddling over its surface, or possibly engaged in the more deadly enterprise of war, lost the celt overboard, to be subsequently restored to light by a modern drain-maker; whilst the sinker, which the peaceful ploughshare revealed in long subsequent ages, may have broken away from the primitive tackle. These discoveries open up wide fields for reflection. The stone of which the celt is made is “Water of Ayr-stone,” and as no such stone is found in this locality, we have evidence of very early trading—barter possibly, or possibly worse— or the celt may have been part of the booty after some tribal battle with their neighbours from the district of Ayr, and subsequently lost from the canoe in the lake. As to the stone sinker, one can readily imagine what grief the savage fisherman—not this time a disciple of honest Isaac, but rather, a very early forerunner—would display when he found that his tackle had given way, and the sinker it had cost him so much pains and trouble to drill and make had gone to the bottom, and was lost to him for ever.

The Lands and Properties of Neilston.

King David I., when he ascended the throne of Scotland, was forty-four years of age ; of mature judgment, and possessed of some education and refinement from his connection with the Court of England, where his sister was Queen to Henry I. He was, besides, a baron of England, and possessed large estates in that country. His friends and followers from England were chiefly Normans who came to settle in Scotland, as many of their fellow-countrymen had done before during the reign of his father, Malcolm Camnore. By them the feudal system, already established in England by the Conqueror, and introduced into our country in the reign of Alexander, became established, and from them most of the ancient nobility of Scotland claim to derive their Norman descent. Prominent among those who followed the king from England was Walter Fitz Alan,— a scion of a Norman family in Shropshire, whose ancestor, the first Walter, had come to England with William the Conqueror, and to Scotland in the reign of Can more, to whom he acted as Dapifer. For him the king seemed to entertain the highest esteem and regard, and, for some eminent but unnamed special services, appointed him Lord High Steward of Scotland —Senescallus Scotia?—an office which afterwards became hereditary in that family. In addition to this high favour and signal reward, and to enable him the better to maintain his exalted position, large gifts of land were made to him, including nearly the whole of what is now Renfrewshire, and much of Ayrshire—King’s Kyle and Kyle Stewart in that county—lands which in the beginning of the fifteenth century were erected into a Princedom by King Robert III. for his son. Amongst the retainers of the High Steward, who had accompanied him northward to Scotland in the king’s service, was Robert de Croc, whose ancestors appear to have also come to England with William the Conqueror, although there is an opinion that he may have been of Saxon origin, from the prefix “de” being seldom used in his name. Following the example of the great Norman monarch, who had divided the rich lands of England amongst those followers who had helped him in the great conquest, the Steward would appear, almost immediately after receipt of the royal honours and gifts from King David, to have begun sub-dividing them with his retainers and followers, and accordingly, amongst the earliest references there is to the lands of Neilston, The Register of the Monastery of Paisley, circa 1170, shows that already these lands, including nearly the whole of the parish, were in possession of the ancient family of de Croc, whose principal residence was Crookston, probably so called from the owner’s surname, the lands being then named Crooksfeu. Subsequently to this date the lands of Neilston passed into possession of a collateral branch of the same illustrious family by marriage, when Robert Stewart, third son of Walter, second High Steward of Scotland, took to wife the daughter and heiress of Robert de Croc, designated of Neilston, as about the twelfth century the greater part of the parish belonged to that family. The lands of Glanderston formed part of the lordship of Neilston, and, through the marriage of Lady Jane Stewart, also of the High Steward’s family, with John Mure of Caldwell, they came into the Caldwell family. John Mure of Caldwell disponed the lands to his second son, William Mure (1554), in whose family they remained until 1710, when the Mures of Glanderston, on the failure of the elder line, inherited the Caldwell estates, and thus united the lands of Glanderston to Caldwell again, after they had been separated for a period of one hundred and fifty years. In 1774, these lands were acquired by Speirs of Elderslie from Mr. Wilson, and in that family they still remain.

In 1613, the Laird of Glanderston married Jean, daughter of Hans Hamilton, rector of Dunlop. This lady’s brother, James, rose to eminence in Ireland, being created first Viscount Clandebois, and latterly Earl of Clanbrissil, honours which became extinct in 1798. The Laird of Glanderston had issue by his wife, Jean Hamilton:—William, afterwards Laird of Glanderston ; Ursula, who became the wife of Ralston of that Ilk; Jean, who married John Hamilton of Halcraig; Margaret, who became the wife of the minister of the Barony Kirk, Glasgow. This somewhat eccentric clergyman, Zachary Boyd, whose bust occupied a niche over the west arch in the inner quadrangle of the old University in High Street, translated parts of the Bible into a kind of rhyme, of which the following quatrain may be taken as a specimen :—

“Jonah was three days in the whaul’s bellie,
Withouten fyre or caunill,
And had naething a’ the while,
But cauld fish guts to haunil.”

The MS. is in the College Library, Glasgow, but was never published.

Lochliboside, the property of J. Meikle, Esq., of Barskimming and Lochliboside.—This estate extends along the north side of the valley, past Shilford, and joins that of Caldwell at Loch Libo, and there is a charter to show that it was from an early period a possession of the Eglinton family: “Charter by King Robert Second to his dearest brother Hugh of Eglinton, knight, of the lands of Lochlibo within the barony of Renfrew : To be held by Hugh and Egidia his spouse, the King’s dearest sister, and their heirs, Stewards of Scotland, for giving yearly ten marks sterling for the support of a chaplain to celebrate divine service in the Cathedral Church at Glasgow.” Dated at Perth, 12th October, 1374. In the fifteenth century it was still an Eglinton possession, and became pledged in a curious way as part of a marriage dower: “Indenture between Sir John Montgomery, Lord of Ardrossan, and Sir Robert Conyngham, Lord of Kilmaurs, whereby the latter ‘is oblgst to wed Anny of Montgomery, the dochtyr of Sir Jone of Mungumry, and gyfe to the said Anny joyntefeftment of twenty markis worth of hir mothers lands.’ Sir John is bound to give Sir Robert for the marriage three hundred merks and forty pounds, to be paid by yearly sums of forty pounds from the lands of Eastwood and Loychlebokside.”

Neihtonside and Dumgraine lie to the south-west of the parish. A large part of the property is rough moorland and marshes. During some estrangement between Queen Mary and the Lennox family, we find it treated as rebellious, and under date 36th April, 1548,—this was before the death of Darnley, which took place on 9tli February, 1567,—“The Queen (Mary) granted to Robert Master of Sempile and his heirs and assignees for services rendered by him, his friends and relations, etc., the lands of Crookston (Crooksfeu), and Neilstonside, also Inchinnan, with castles, towers, mills, multures, fishings, etc., the advowsons of the churches, benefices of chapels of the same, which fall to the Queen by their forfeiture of Matthew, sometime Earl of Lennox.” In 1755, Neilstonside belonged to John Wallace, a lineal descendant of Scotland’s great liberator, but is now the property of Mr. Speirs of Elderslie. “The principal branch of the Wallaces of Elderslie failing in the person of Hugh Wallace of Elderslie, who died without succession. John Wallace of Neilstonside was his heir.”4 There would appear to have been at one time an old Celtic town of Dumgraine, near Waterside ; that the castle of Walter Fitzallan, the first High Steward of Scotland, appointed by King David I., circa 1140, was built at this place on the south side of the Levern. (Semple.)

The lands of Fereneze are now the possession of Admiral Fairfax and Auchenback, long a possession of the Earls of Glasgow, was purchased some years ago by David Riddell, Esq., Paisley.

The estates of Capellie and Killochside are owned by A. G. Barns-Graham, Esq., of Limekilns and Craigallion.

Chappell, the site of an early religious house attached to the Abbey of Paisley, is the property of Joseph Watson, Esq., writer, Glasgow and Barrhead.

But since the period of the early possessors of the lands now enumerated, time has wrought enormous changes in the parish. In the greater number of instances all that remains to show that these ancient and noble owners through hundreds of years ever held possession here, are a few ruins fast crumbling into oblivion, as their owners have done long ages ago. Cowden Castle, which gave the first title of Lord to the family of Cochrane, afterwards Earls of Dundonald, is now a shapeless ruin on the hillside in Cowden Glen; the lands of Lochlibo, at one time the property of the Earl of Eglinton; Raiss Castle, east of Barrhead, in 1488 the property of an ancient family named Logan, subsequently a possession of Lord Ross, and afterwards of the Earl of Lennox, who granted it by charter to Alexander Stewart, consang. suo, and of the family of Lord Darnley, a son of whose house became the unfortunate husband and king to Queen Mary of Scots ; the broad acres once owned in the parish by the Earls of Glasgow,—have all changed hands, so that the motto, “New men in old acres,” might very fittingly be applied to the greater number of the proprietors of land in the parish of Neilston at the present day.

Roads and Highways.

In few things have there been greater improvements in recent times throughout the country generally, than in the condition of the public roads that pass through parishes from one centre of population to another ; and the parish of Neilston has participated in this modern movement. The Romans—that mighty and intrepid people—in the great military ways they constructed in their march northward through Britain, were possibly the earliest road-makers in our country; and their works have never been excelled for solidity of construction. But it does not appear that the inhabitants profited much by their example in road-making; and it was not until Telfer and Macadam, the great engineers— especially the latter, whose name is still preserved in the designation, “Macadamised roads”—demonstrated the principles of road construction, that any real improvement was effected in this direction. Before their time, the roads were in such a wretched condition that travelling was difficult and dangerous. We are told that in rainy weather there was only a slight ride in the centre of the road, between two channels of deep mud, and that, so late as 1669, the “Flying Dutchman” stage-coach took thirteen hours to cover fifty-five miles, which was considered a wonderful feat; and that even in the vicinity of the Scottish capital the roads were such, that riding was always preferred. When the military roads constructed by General Wade through the Highlands made such a thing practicable, we learn that his chariot, drawn by six horses, produced a great sensation in his progress through the territory of the clansmen. It had been brought from London by sea, and, when passing along the roads, the people ran from their huts, bowing, with bonnets off, to the coachman, as the great man, altogether disregarding the quality within. In those days burdens were mostly carried on horseback ; and, to give the animals secure footing and ensure them against sinking under their loads, the roads in general were so made as to secure a rocky bottom, and no attempt was made, by the slightest circuit, to avoid steep places. For example, in making the old Glasgow and Kilmarnock road, which skirts the southern border of our parish, the writer was credibly informed by a gentleman of long experience as a road surveyor, that the method adopted by Sir Hew Pollok, Bart., of Upper Pollok, and the gentlemen associated with him in laying off the undertaking, was to proceed to the top of one hill and then look out for another in the direction they meant to go, and so continue; the result being, that the road has a good and substantial bottom, but is quite a “ switchback,” a constant succession of up and down hills for much the greater part of its way, and therefore ill-suited for vehicular traffic. So much was this found to be the case, as to necessitate the construction of the “ New Line” of road some years after, when the stage-coach had to be provided for. In our own parish, where the Turnpike Act was long in being adopted (though introduced into Scotland in 1750), the condition as regards roads was nearly identical. The Kingston road to Kilmarnock being such a “switchback” of hills and hollows, as to necessitate the building, about 1820, of the new turnpike road from Glasgow, through the Levern valley by Lugton, to Kilmarnock, Irvine, and Ayr, at a cost of about £18,000. The parish roads at this period were even more deplorable, before Statute Labour was converted into money payments, in 1792.

Statute Labour Roads.

Formerly, the roads of the parish other than turnpikes, being intended for local communication only, were kept up by tenants, cottars, and labourers giving so much of their personal labour yearly as served for their maintenance; the consequence of this loose arrangement was, that not unfrequently they were allowed to lapse into a very dilapidated condition. The writer remembers being told by a Neilston farmer, that in his young manhood—the beginning of the nineteenth century—in the parish of Kilmacolm, where his father was also a farmer, he was sent with a load of hay to near Govan, and that the condition of the roads was such as to quite preclude the use of any kind of cart, and that the load of hay had to be taken on the horse’s back. This, however, was a common enough practice at the j:>eriod referred to in country districts, and it is to this practice that we owe the term “load,” being just as much as a horse could carry conveniently as a load of any commodity. In the present day, to realize something of the condition of such roads in our parish, it is only necessary to travel over the relic of a reputed once public thoroughfare that passes from the east side of Harelaw dam on the Moyne road, past Snypes farm to the “Flush,” at the junction of roads from Barrhead and Neilston to Mearns ; or the similar old road, the remains also of a once public way, which passes along the top of the hill, by the farm of Bank-lug, above Loch Libo, to Greenside and Dunsmuir road. But, happily, these conditions are now gone, and by the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1889, the County Council now provides for the maintenance of the highways, which include main roads and most of their branches, everywhere throughout the parish, which, under the superintendence of our vigilant surveyor, Mr. Robert Drummond, C.E., are kept in a thoroughly good condition ; while the bypaths, old church roads, rights-of-way, and all roads other than highways, are under the supervision of the Parish Council.

Toll Bars in the Parish.

Closely associated with the roads of the parish were the tolls by which they were formerly kept up ; and, as this system is now relegated to the limbo of past devices, not likely to be had recourse to again, a few words regarding tolls may come to interest those of a future generation who will know nothing of them from practical knowledge. Toll primarily meant money paid for the enjoyment of some special privilege or monopoly in trade. But latterly it came to have a much broader meaning, and by Act of Parliament, Customs of many kinds were recognised as tolls—turnpikes, railways, harbours, navigable rivers and canals, were all brought under its operation. Our interest, of course, rests with the first of these, the turnpike, or road tolls. The first Act of Parliament for the collection of tolls on the highways in Scotland came into force, as already stated, in 1750. The principle underlying this mode of taxation was, of course, “ that they who used the roads should pay for their upkeep,” and at one period there might have been a superficial sense of equity in this mode of road upkeep, but after the introduction of railways, the whole position was changed, and it soon became apparent that much injustice was being practised on some branches of industry that others were largely exempted from. For example, some large business concerns or contractors, by the facilities railway stations afforded them, could have quite a number of horses on the road from one year’s end to another, and yet pay no toll ; while another contractor could not move a load of coal from a pit, or stone from a quarry, without having to pay toll dues on every cart. The toll bars were placed on the turnpike roads by the Road Trustees, a public body empowered by Act of Parliament to do so at their discretion; and they were generally so placed as to intercept all horse or cattle or vehicular traffic entering or leaving the parish, or passing through it. The charges varied at different toll bars, but it is not apparent on what principle, and vehicles varied according to the number of horses by which they were drawn. At Neilston toll, on Kingston road, the charge was 6d. for each gig and horse, 2d. for a riding or led horse; Shilford toll the same ; Dovecothall toll the same; Kingston toll was 4½d. for horse and gig, and l^d. for single horse; Dunsmuir toll the same.

The following table indicates the dues leviable at most of the tolls in the parish, a copy of which usually hung on a board outside the tollhouse, for reference when the charges were disputed, as sometimes occurred :—

The tolls were rouped annually, and, for our parish, in Paisley. There was usually a dwelling-house attached to the toll bar, in which the toll-keeper and his family resided ; gates, with wickets for foot passengers at either end, were stretched across the highway to intercept traffic ; and there was generally some one of the family on the look out for traffic at night. This system of collecting toll dues often entailed a considerable amount of annoyance to the traveller ; as on a stormy winter day, or in a hurricane of wind and rain in the middle of the night, when wrapped up in waterproof or overcoat for protection—as was often the lot of the country medical practitioner—it became necessary to strip to procure the needful sixpence. But, happily, this clumsy mode of tax-gathering is gone ; abolished by the “Roads and Bridges Act of 1878,” which came into force throughout Scotland, w here not previously adopted, on 1st June, 1883. This arrangement applied, however, to main turnpikes only; roads other than turnpikes being dealt with under the Statute Labour Roads system until 1889, when they were included as highways, and taken over by the County Council.


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