Fragments of History: Study Day looking at the Caldwell Estate, 9 June 2012

Fragments of History: Study Day looking at the Caldwell Estate, 9 June 2012

report by John West

An 18th century print of Caldwell shows the marked similarity to Dumfries House, and its setting, 30 miles away

On Saturday 9 June the GHSS East Renfrewshire Group organized a Study Day in the Mure Hall in Uplawmoor. This was the first of three such events this year, which build upon the survey and research carried out by local groups, and on this occasion looked at the history and development of the nearby Caldwell Estate. The choice of venue was appropriate as the hall was originally provided as a memorial to the last member of the Mure family to reside at Caldwell and the day set out to look at the relationship between this prominent local family and the designed landscapes of their estate.

The day started with an introduction to the work of GHSS in East Renfrewshire and the range of gardens surveyed by the group. Though not rich in major designed landscapes, the area has the remains of gardens made by local gentry in the 17th century, in the 18th and 19th century by mill owners and in late Victorian and Edwardian times by professional men with offices in nearby Glasgow.

The designed landscape at Caldwell holds remnants of all these periods and the first session concluded with a short history of the estate and the landscape styles and fashions employed, from formal baroque gardens through parkland and romantic hillside walks to late-nineteenth-century pleasure grounds.

Not surprisingly, the changes to the designed landscape closely followed the fortunes of the Mures of Caldwell. The family’s history was traced from minor mediaeval landowners with an interest in politics, a Baron of the Exchequer, members of parliament and rectors of St Andrews and Glasgow universities, through to the last of the Mures to live at Caldwell.

Some of the major events in the family’s history were highlighted. In the mid 17th century his involvement in Scottish politics led to William Mure’s exile at the Dutch court for supporting the covenanting cause. With lands restored following the accession of William of Orange to the English throne, the landscape developed to reflect the rising status of the Mure line.

When another William Mure was created Baron of the Scottish Exchequer he employed the Adam brothers to build a castellated mansion “fit for his status” along with a suitable parkland landscape. The next generation added the Brandy Hill walks in the romantic style, but there seems to have been relatively little subsequent change until 1895 when Colonel William Mure married the daughter of the Earl of Eglinton.

Perhaps it was not a coincidence that the development of another formal garden with glasshouses, herbaceous borders and avenues of ‘exotic’ trees appears to have been put in hand around this period.

However, Colonel Mure was the last member of the family to live at Caldwell. After he died in 1912 his young heir was brought up in London and the link with the estate was broken.

The next presentation used the range of available historic maps and archive material to illustrate the features of the various designed landscapes. The outcomes of the Group’s surveys were shown and the various extant features used to build up a more detailed picture of the relationship of the gardens to the Adam mansion. The survey work had traced entry routes to the estate made prior to the construction of Caldwell House and together with remaining fragments of designed landscape indicate that two earlier houses and gardens were made nearby following the abandonment of the original tower house. The old tower by Loch Libo, about half a mile away, was subsequently rebuilt as a feature of the late 18th century landscape.

The group discussed the archive work still needed to add more detail to the survey findings and the difficulties presented by the need to travel to Edinburgh for documentary research.

The final session before lunch looked at the decline of the house and estate following its sale to the Glasgow Health Board and its shameful treatment in recent years, which has allowed the roof of the listed building to be removed along with other willful neglect. The latest proposals for restoration were outlined and the potential impact on the landscape of the inevitable accompanying housing discussed.

In the afternoon the group travelled the short distance to Caldwell and in a warm sunny interlude enjoyed a walk around the late 18th century Brandy Hill walks. These provided an opportunity to see the now derelict listed Mansion, the early Lime avenue, the Cascade, Ice House and other remaining fragments of designed landscape.

The rear elevation of Caldwell House today

The rear elevation of Caldwell House today

 And in happier days in a c.1910 photograph

And in happier days in a c.1910 photograph

The day set out to examine this significant element in East Renfrewshire’s heritage, and the close relationship between the estate and its social history. It made a plea for planners to respect and conserve the features of the site as far as possible in any developments. The thirty-six attendees included representatives of the local authority as well as interested members of the public from surrounding communities. The interest generated by the event gives the Society some hope that the future of this largely neglected estate may not be as bleak as its immediate past.

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Painswick Roccoco Gardens, the Red House, Photo © Joab Smith