View of Kilcreuch from Adair's Map, 1685.
View of "Kilcreuch" from Adair's Map, 1685.
© National Library of Scotland






Culcreuch Castle, 19th century Mill.
Culcreuch Castle, 19th century Mill.






Details from Culcreuch Castle, 2002.
Details from Culcreuch Castle, 2002.
The Seton Collection © 2005






Culcreuch Castle, from the rear, 2004.
Culcreuch Castle, from the rear, 2004.
The Seton Collection © 2005

A History of Culcreuch Castle

For seven centuries, the lairds of Culcreuch have not just witnessed history, they have often had a hand in making it. 

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 January 1778.

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 Fintry.

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