A History of Culcreuch
For seven centuries, the lairds
of Culcreuch have not just witnessed history, they have often had a hand in
The oldest parts of the castle date back to the 1390s, a time when Scotland was
newly independent after the efforts of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce.
Nevertheless, the clans remained more or less permanently at one another's
throats over the centuries.
Culcreuch was the seat of one of
the principal branches of the Clan Galbraith for over 300 years. The lands are
thought to have been granted to the family by Maldovan, Earl of Lennox (1225 -
1270) and records show that in 1320 a Maurice Galbraith owned and lived at
Culcreuch. Reference is also made to an Andrew Galbraith of Culcreuch in a
National Instrument of' 9th December, 1472. The Galbraiths of Culcreuch were a
warlike Clan and it is certain that the Castle must have witnessed much in its
time and its bottle dungeon been in regular use.
The tower of the present house is
thought to have been built at the end of the 15th Century, and therefore by a
Galbraith. There is no sign of ruins in the neighbourhood and therefore this
tower is probably on the site of its predecessor. The Galbraiths of Culcreuch
were probably the principal branch, with their strongest castle on Inch
Galbraith on Loch Lomond. They did not live a quite life! At the end of the 15th
Century, Thomas was hanged for taking part in rising under the Earl of Lennox.
His estates were forfeited but later restored to his successor, James. In the
1550's the then laird, James, turned out the teaching friars who had a
settlement in the parish, and quietly added their lands to his. In 1560 he was
making life very difficult for the "Reader" in the Fintry kirk and the Lords
Council had to bring him heel.
The last two lairds were John and
Robert;. John was "put to the horn" (outlawed) and Robert was accused of "hamesucken"
(attacking a man on his home territory), was imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle, and
was frequently "put to the horn". He got into debt and "wadset to", and finally
gave his estate to his brother-in-law, Seton of Gargunnock in 1624. This Seton
became a judge, taking the title of Lord Kilcreuch, (1624), and sold the estate
in 1632 to Robert Napier, 2nd son of John Napier of Merchiston (inventor of
logarithms). Culcreuch was used to garrison the Commonwealth forces during the
Civil War in 1654.
The Galbraiths were twice
involved in uprisings against the Scottish Crown. The first in 1489 ended at the
Battle of. Talla Moss and led to the death of Thomas Galbraith, who had
supported the Earl of Lennox against the Royal Party, guardians of the young
King James IV. Another Galbraith of Culcreuch was in an uprising in 1526 and
this resulted in the Battle of Linlithgow against the Douglas's in whose control
the minor, James V, was held. This battle again ended in defeat for the rebels. When not feuding on a national
scale the Galbraiths used Culcreuch as a secure base from which to carry on a
vendetta against their enemies. They were regularly bound over to keep the peace
on the pain of heavy fines.
Eventually it was financial
hardship which forced the last Galbraith incumbent and possibly the wildest -
Robert, to sell the estate to Sir Alexander Seton of Gargunnock, a Lord of the Session, in 1624,
who took the title of "Lord Kilcreuch" upon his ascension. Seton held the estate for
eight years before selling it to a Robert Napier, second son of the famous John
Napier of Merchiston, who invented Logarithms.
John Napier was an interesting
character in his own right; he dabbled in the occult and wrote a treatise on
alchemy. His successors proved more law abiding, taking an interest in County
affairs and serving in the Army, however, in 1654 the Castle was occupied for a
time by Cromwell's troops.
The Napiers were an important
land-owning family in Lennox as well as in Merchinston (Edinburgh) - some were
Provosts of the city - as, through an earlier marriage to a Lennox, they owned
estates on the Endrick right down to the shores of Loch Lomond. They lived at
Culcreuch for five generations before selling the estate to Peter Spiers in
1769. It was a Napier who either in 1721, (the date on the stone above the
Castle door), or later that century, as thought by archaeologists, enlarged
Culcreuch by adding the new front wing. The interior and exterior of the old
castle was also altered.
The last of the Napiers, Colonel
R.Napier sold the estate for a reputed £15,200 to a Mr. Spiers from Glasgow in
Some 130 years later the estate
passed into the hands of Peter Spiers, a wealthy Glasgow merchant whose ventures
into the weaving and distilling industries were set in the adjacent village of
Fintry. He also established the loch in the grounds.
Alexander Spiers, a prominent
merchant, had made his fortune in Glasgow, which between 1760 - 1775 enjoyed a
remarkable expansion due to its virtual monopoly of the tobacco trade in the
Empire. He built a cotton mill in Fintry in an attempt to provide local
employment, but, the venture failed as transport was too difficult over the
rough roads at the time.
It was at this time (second half
of the 18th Century) that the "nouveaux riches" of the day - the city merchants
- started their country estates. Peter Spiers was a Glasgow merchant - tobacco,
etc. His arrival marked the entry of Fintry into the world of industry. Spiers
and Robert Dunmore, Laird of Ballindalloch, each decided to erect a cotton
spinning and weaving mill. (The names of some of the streets in Balfron - i.e.
Cotton Street - are a reminder of this period). Between them they financed the
realigning and regrading of the Crow Road (over the Campsie Hills to Lennoxtown)
and so eased transport to and from Glasgow and to the canal at Kirkintilloch.
Before this the gradients went up to 1 in 6 and a horse could only pull half a
load in a cart. Fintry had one bridge over Endrick (at the Gonachan) built in
1750 by Generals Wade's army engineers, from which there was a road to Denny and
also a road through Culcreuch to Balfron and Kippen. Spiers decided to site the
Mill further down the New Town. The Mill was water-driven, and for this he built
the Walton dam and the dam below Craigton, and also the Mill-lade. This was all
completed by 1800.
The cotton mill operated 20,000
spindles with 260 workers. The key workers were imported from Dewsbury in
Yorkshire. There was also a small woollen mill on the north bank of the Endrick,
just below the old bridge, and a distillery (Messrs Cowan & Co), just East of
the Quarry, which produced 70,000 gallons per year of malt whisky. This
distillery to a certain extent supplanted the numerous illicit stills in the
neighbourhood. Fintry was the local "kirk town",and the road to Killearn and
Balfron became a "turnpike" and tolls were collected at the Fintry Inn. Houses
were built along the South side of the road, with gardens on the other side
running down to the river. For the most part those were in sets of four - 21ft.
3ins. frontage and 28ft. 3ins. deep. The front door led into a small lobby and
from there into a single room on each side, each single room leading to two
smaller rooms at the back. The upper floor was reached by an outside stair at
the back. The door similarly led into a lobby and again into one larger room at
each side at the back - each into smaller rooms at the front. They had garrets
reached by a ladder. Additionally, there were two larger individual houses
facing the bridge. The flats were let out according to the size of the family -
up to four children for the lower "flats" and more than four children to the top
"flats". Remember "child labour" was within the law at this time.
Trade was carried out by five
shopkeepers - a baker, a shoemaker, a tailor, a saddler, a carrier, and five
public houses. The mill workers were partly paid by tokens which were exchanged
for goods at the mill shop or the village shops, some of which were owned by Mr.
Spiers. So the village, and the New Town, from a largely agricultural population
(over 1,000 in 1660 and shrinking to 550 by 1780) rose to over 1,000 again with
an industrial majority. In 1830 or so the industrial bubble had burst. Cost of
transport to and from Glasgow was one disadvantage, but the death blow was the
development of steam from coal as against a water-driven mill where production
varied with the availability of water. For minerals, the valley had coal, red
ochre, and alum, but in unworkable quantities.
By 1850 the cotton mill, the
distillery, and the small woollen mill had all closed down. The Kirk Session
Minutes have several references to the problem of unemployment. The Clachan of
Fintry itself lost place to the New Town. There were then many cottages round
the Clachan Inn and at the Gonachan. The last to disappear - it was pulled down
after the last war - was locally known as "the Castle" - on the west side of the
bridge over the Gonachan. There was a further absorption of farms and
simplification of farming to concentration on beef and mutton. The result was
the population dwindled to 220 by 1930. There was also mechanisation of farming
creeping in. (An interesting fact on this point is that in 1914 there were 34
working horses in the parish. - Now there are two "pets" at Bogside - each had a
foal in 1974.
Peter Spiers was fortunately rich
but also had vision. His vision may have been slightly out of focus, but his
enthusiasm and his money were directed, partly at least, to the welfare of