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Borrowstounness and District
Chapter III. Kinneil

1. Kinneil House—2. The Village and Parish—3. The Church and Churchyard—4. The Ministers of Kinneil.


Kinneil House, the ancient seat of the Hamiltons, is beautifully situated about a mile west from Bo'ness and just a little beyond Casteloan. Originally the building must have been of the nature of the ordinary feudal keep, and occupied much the same site as the existing structure. Its strategical position on a high and naturally protected site made it well-nigh impregnable.

Historians and antiquarians have all along been anxious to have a complete history of the building from its earliest days. Professor Dugald Stewart, when in residence at Kinneil, wrote to Rome in quest of information. He is said to have succeeded in getting traces of its history for several hundred years back, but these notes have been lost.

The house was pillaged in December, 1559, during popular commotions, burned in February following, and again burned in 1570 by some of the English army who had invaded Scotland. The Duke of Chatelherault, who was reputed to be the first builder of Hamilton Palace, is said to have also made large repairs at Kinneil, and these quite possibly were made by him both before and after the two burnings.

Sibbald had a great partiality for "Kinneil Palace," as he calls it. To his mind, it ranked amongst the finest seats in Britain. His descriptions not only of the woods and gardens,

Kinneil House. (From a photograph by IV. S. Andrew, Carriden.)

but of the mansion, its rooms, staircases, and of the furniture and pictures by great masters, furnish us with some idea of the former grandeur of " this princely seat, once the abode of nobles and the retreat of kings."

Dr. Rennie and Mr. M'Kenzie both give descriptions of the building. The following notes, however, are based on a much more recent and very complete architectural account of it1: —

"As will be seen from the illustration the structure consists of two parts, namely, an oblong keep (the original and centre building), with wings north and south added in later times, and -a block of buildings to the north-east originally forming a separate house. In length the keep runs to fifty-six feet six inches, and to thirty-one feet six inches in width, with walls fully six feet in thickness. On the ground floor level in the western or back wall are still to be seen three shot-holes of the horizontal kind two feet six inches in length by six inches in height. The first floor contains a great hall, forty-one feet six inches long by twenty feet broad; but in other respects the structure has been completely transformed through subsequent additions and alterations. Where the original entrance doorway and staircases were cannot now be traced, and few features remain to indicate the date of the keep. The old building, as we have seen, passed through many vicissitudes. With the advent of the seventeenth century came quieter times. It was then considered more suitable to erect a new and detached mansion to the north-east, keeps at this period being often abandoned and newer and more comfortable dwellings erected. This new house was of the L plan, with the staircase in the re-entering angle, as can still be observed from the north side. Some of the rooms in this building have the appearance of an awkward addition, and, especially opposite the staircase, do not fit in as if they formed part of the original design. The elevation shows a good deal of the character of a Scottish seventeenth century mansion. During the reign of Charles II. the Duchess Anne and her husband resolved to combine the keep and the detached mansion into an imposing edifice. They therefore added the wings at the north and south ends of the old keep. The north wing served to unite the keep and the detached mansion, the internal communication being obtained by means of a skewed doorway. At the same time the existing great square staircase, with its heavy stone balustrade, was erected in the south wing. It only leads to the first floor, however, the upper wings being reached by two circular staircases. The roof of the keep was also at this time crowned with a classic cornice and balustrade, just as we find it now ; and its windows were enlarged and arranged in regular rows to match those in the symmetrical wings. A central doorway with classical mouldings completed the transformation. On the front of the north wing is a fine panel which attracts much attention. This contains the arms of the authors of the transformation just decribed. In the right shield are to be found the Hamilton arms and motto, and on the left what appear to be the Hamilton and Douglas Arms quartered, probably for the Duchess Anne and her husband, Lord William Douglas. The house now became a great but rambling edifice, the hall of the ancient keep serving as the dining-room, while the hall of the formerly detached mansion became the modern drawing-room. Internally the building was once richly decorated, but the upper floors of the keep seem never to have been finished."

No mention is made of the approach to the keep. In all likelihood this would be from the west, where a drawbridge would be used over the natural moat formed by the wide and deep ravine of the burn. And there is still evidence of a pillar, probably connected with the drawbridge, on the east bank of the ravine to the rear of the house.

There are now two beautiful approaches, one named the Hamilton Ride, entering from the south at Hamilton Lodge The other, from the east, is across the bridge which spans the Dean burn, and along a wide and beautiful avenue of stately beech trees.

Kinneil policies are greatly enhanced by two beautifully •wooded rivulets, the Dean burn and the Gil burn. The former runs under the main approach near the entrance, while the latter forms the western boundary of the house. Both fall into the Firth near the Snab. The glen of the Gil burn, according to tradition, is haunted by the wraith of Ailie or Alice, Lady Lilburne. The story is that she was the wife of a colonel of Cromwell's, who was for some time resident at Kinneil, and that she committed suicide by throwing herself into the ravine from one of the back windows. Another legend is to the effect that there was a subterranean communication between Kinneil House and Linlithgow Palace; but it is too foolish for credence.


There is little doubt that the village of Kinneil, now no more, sprang up in feudal times. It was built, we are told, to the west of Kinneil House near the site of the Roman Wall, and had the causeway or base of the rampart as its street. The proprietors of the soil in those days fostered such villages in the neighbourhood of their keeps. Thus in troublous times they had their vassals and retainers ready at any time to guard and defend them. With the advent of more peaceful times, however, many of the old feudal obligations fell into disuse, and, as a consequence, these feudal villages were broken up. But Kinneil village long survived feudal times, and latterly assumed quite a modern character. In time the district became the Parish of Kinneil, which was bounded on the north by the sea, on the west by the River Avon, on the east by the castle wall, commonly called "Capies Wall," and on the south by Linlithgow. Malt-making and brewing were in the seventeenth century the occupations of the villagers and parishioners to a great extent. Indeed, many of the early feuars in Bo'ness were bound by their titles to go to the Brewlands of Kinneil to have their barley made into malt.

It is recorded3 that Kinneil was a considerable town long-before any population had collected at the Ness, and also that in the year 1661 there were 559 "communicable" persons in the parish, the greater number of whom resided in the town of Kinneil. In 1691 the village was almost wholly demolished, only a few families remaining. As with Blackness in the east, so with Kinneil in the west, the rapid rise of the new town and port of Borrowstounness practically led to its extinction. But even in 1843, long after the Kirk and Parish of Kinneil had been suppressed and a new church opened in Borrowstounness, the inhabitants of the Barony of Kinneil still observed some old customs connected with the ancient parish. This appeared particularly in the management of their poor, which was quite distinct from that of Bo'ness. Kinneil folks put their church-door collections for the poor into the old ladle of Kinneil Church, whilst the inhabitants of the town put their quota into a different receptacle. After the poor belonging to Kinneil were supplied, the remainder of the funds that could be spared was distributed to the poor of the town. These funds were occasionally augmented by voluntary contributions from a Hearse Society connected with the barony, and were always more than sufficient for supplying their poor. It is greatly to be regretted that information concerning the parish and village is so scant. Unfortunately, the Church records were lost some hundreds of years ago. In a historical sense this is a calamity, for with them a great deal of interesting and valuable information must have gone for ever.


On a knoll to the west of the ravine at the back of Kinneil House are yet to be seen the ruins of the Church of Kinneil. The building ran east and west, and the western gable, containing a belfry apparently for two bells placed adjacently, is nearly all that remains. In consequence of its ruinous state it is now difficult to form much idea of what the church was like. Its length cannot be traced, but there appear to have been buildings, at a distance eastwards of about sixty-four feet. From indications it seems to have consisted of a large nave, with a transept on the south side only. On the north several small chapels may have been grouped, as there are evidences, though slight, of buildings here. The west gable measures twenty-six feet wide outside, and is three feet nine inches thick. Entrance was gained by doors opposite each other on the north and south sides, a few feet from the west gable. Short flights of steps led into the church, the floor of which was below the ground level. There is no trace of the eastern gable, or of where the entrances from that end, if any, were situated. The floor appears to have been covered, in places at least, with slabs. Some of these bear devices and initials, and it is very probable that interments had taken place inside the building.

At what date the church was built we cannot learn. In the twelfth century it was common for the feudal lord to provide a place of worship for his family and retainers, and doubtless the building was erected early in the century by some of the Hamiltons.

According to an authority4 quoted by Sibbald, Kinneil was in the diocese of St. Andrews and deanery of Linlithgow about the year 1176, and was rated at twenty five merks. It had been given to the Canons of Holyrood in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and was confirmed to them by the Bishop of St. Andrews in 1240. The canons enjoyed the revenues, and the cure was served by a vicar. We find5 also that in 1512 John Stirling granted £10 sterling yearly from his lands of Easter Crackey to a chaplain for performing divine service at one of the altars of Kinneil Church. A manse and glebe, we know, came to be attached to the charge in later years. The site of the former cannot be located, but it possibly lay to the north or west of the church.

A bell belonging to tbe church is now in the possession of the Kirk Session of Bo'ness. It is thought to be one of two, inasmuch as the inscription is incomplete, and is supposed to have been continued on the other. The double belfry lends support to this supposition. The inscription is in ornamental Lombardic capitals—"en Katerina: vocor: ut: per: me: virginis: aline:" Diameter, 23f inches. This bell was on view in the Scottish Exhibition of National History, Art, and Industry, Glasgow, 1911.

Around the remains of the church lies the old churchyard. To the west and south the flat tombstones lie in abundance; and it is believed there are also many graves and tombstones to the north, though not now visible. Few of the tombstones to be seen are now in their original positions. Laid flat on the grave, and with little but their own weight to keep them in position, they could be easily displaced; and it is evident that many of them have from time to time been removed and cleaned, with the object of deciphering the emblems and dates. The stones are generally about six and a half feet long and three feet broad. Inscriptions there are none, and names but few. Initials, however, are common; and the names, when given, are usually cut round the borders of the stone. Very many have a shield on them, generally in relief, but sometimes simply cut into the stone; and it is supposed that many of these indicate the graves of some of the numerous cadets of the House of Hamilton at one time resident in our neighbourhood.

Some of the stones have symbols indicating the occupation of the deceased. There is, for example, one with an anchor; another with a small hammer in the centre of a shield, with initials; another with what is evidently a maltster's shovel; and several with collier's pick and hammer.

The members of the Ducal House were generally buried at Hamilton Palace. Alexander, the tenth Duke, constructed the famous mausoleum there, which cost £150,000, and took twelve years to build.


Undernoted is a list of the ministers of Kinneil6 from the Reformation.

The first is Mr. Thomas Peblis, and the year of his appointment is given as 1588. He was presented to Bathgate in 1592, but preferred to remain at Kinneil; was a member of Assembly in 1602, 1610, and 1617; and had a son, boarded in the New College, St. Andrews, in 1616. It is thought that he became the minister of Kirkmichael.

Mr. Peblis was succeeded, in 1618, by Mr John Peblis, A.M., who studied at the University of Edinburgh, and attained his degree three years before. He died in March, 1625, aged about thirty, and in the seventh year of his ministry. There is nothing to show that he was a relative of the former minister.

The successor of Mr. John Peblis was Mr. Richard Dicksone, A.M., formerly of St. Cuthbert's. He was presented here by old Marchioness Anna of Hamilton. There was delay over his settlement. During the reign of James, or early in that of Charles, he had been confined in Dumbarton Castle. When nominated by the Duchess, the Bishop of St. Andrews continued the collation until he acquainted King Charles, and meanwhile steps were taken to " keep order " at Kinneil. The King's authority was obtained, release followed, and the Bishop directed Mr. Dicksone " not to exercise his gifts elsequhair than at the Kirk of Kinneil." He was a member of the General Assembly in 1638, and died in 1648, aged about seventy-two. He was married first to Bessie Pantoune, by whom he had a family of two daughters and five sons. His second wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Robert Hamilton, merchant, Edinburgh, survived him.

The last minister of Kinneil was Mr. William Wishart, A.M. He graduated at Edinburgh University in April, 1645, of which his son and grandson became the twelfth and fifteenth

Principals respectively. He was admitted in August, 1649, but there is some uncertainty as to the year in which he entered the charge. Details of his trials and troubles while minister here and afterwards will be found in the chapter on the Covenanters. References to his brilliant family will also be found elsewhere.

Kinneil Parish and Church were finally suppressed by an Act of the Scottish Parliament in 1669.

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