History of Culcreuch Castle near Stirling,
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.
centuries, the lairds of Culcreuch have not just
witnessed history, they have often had a hand in
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.