History of Culcreuch Castle near Stirling, Scotland 

Ron Spiers, England 2007


This article is taken from the web site www.culcreuch.com. The web site shows pictures of the castle, which is now a hotel, and which can be visited. The address is given on the web site. Also see a related article in the History Section on the ‘Tobacco Barons’ of Glasgow.


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.


After 17 generations of occupation by the Clan Galbraith, the Napiers took over in 1632 and built a new wing to the Castle.


Seton only 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 Merchiston (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. This was Peter Spiers.


Peter Spiers, was 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 difficult over the rough roads of 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 the Endrick (at the Gonachan) built in 1750 by General 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 1914-1918 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 that the population dwindled to 220 by 1930. There was also mechanisation of farming creeping in.


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.