The most we usually see of Boquhan is the small collection of houses on the road between Killearn and Balfron. In the mid-19th century, it was a centre for home weaving, but by the start of the 20th century there were only five houses. Since then, the settlement has grown. However, there is more to Boquhan than just this settlement, for there are a number of historic houses along the road to Fintry. Scroll down to find out about Parkhall, Boquhan House, Old Ballikinrain and Ballikinrain Castle.
The first is Parkhall. There are two gates to Parkhall off the road to Balfron. Just before the houses of Boquhan are the stone gate piers of one entrance. Carved on a pier is the family crest of Sir Michael Connal of Parkhall, featuring an industrious bee. The second entrance, North Lodge, is beyond Boquhan.
The land of Parkhall land was sold by Walter Buchanan of Boquhan to John Buchanan, an Edinburgh lawyer, in 1727. At that point it was known as Mollanhead. Six years later, he sold it to Thomas Park, the son of the Killearn minister, the Revd George Park. Not being a modest man, he renamed the house after himself, and ever since it has been known as Parkhall.
In the early 19th century, it passed through a number of owners. For a few years, it was owned by Archibald Fletcher. Eliza, his English wife, gives some insights to rural life in her Autobiography of Mrs Fletcher, published posthumously in 1876. In it she recalled Parkhall as a ‘small and most incommodious dwelling’, that obtaining provisions was difficult, and that ‘the summer of 1813 passed most happily away, although quite without the luxuries or almost the ordinary comforts and accommodations of persons accustomed to polite society’.
In 1818, it was purchased by Michael Connal of the East India Company but he had to sell it again in 1826 when he lost his money in a business failure. He returned to India, where he died in 1829. His wife and son, also Michael, remained in Scotland. Michael prospered in his uncle’s Glasgow trading company. He was also active in many charitable undertakings, including the provision of education to the poor of Glasgow. He established the Spoutmouth Bible Institute (in the Gallowgate) in 1848 and was Chairman of the Glasgow School Board, 1877–85. In 1885 he was knighted for his services to education.
In 1858, he bought back Parkhall, and his mother lived there until her death. Sir Michael spent much time there also, and his diaries frequently comment on his pleasure in the surroundings, especially the flowering of rhododendrons, and his sadness at the not infrequent strong winds blowing down trees. An obituary described Parkhall in the 1880s: ‘Parkhall was a fitting abode for an antiquary. Built in 1745, it had an old-world look about it, with its quaint passages, thick walls, and narrow staircases. On the walls of the ante-drawing-room hung all manner of relics, such as bullets picked up on the field of Waterloo, snuff-boxes made out of old trees, pistols, and swords, and many Indian and Chinese curiosities brought home by his father.’
In the years before his death, he started building a new house at Parkhall. It was completed in 1895, the year of his death, and extended in the 20th century by the family. Just a ruined tower remains of the old house, along with an octagonal dovecot that was built in 1745. In the 1980s, the main house was sold by the family. The stables, dating from 1880, were converted into a house and named Mollanhead.
Next to the lands of Parkhall is Boquhan House. The land of Boquhan was held by a branch of the Buchanan family from 1614. Walter Buchanan led a tumultuous life in the early 18th century. In 1721 he was accused of burning down a neighbouring farmhouse, and of poisoning its occupant, in 1725 he was again accused of similar crimes. He was charged in 1729 with robbery and sheep-stealing and sentenced to be deported.
The main block of the current house was built in 1784, according to the date above the door. A window lintel from an earlier building was incorporated into the house and is dated 1704. The last Buchanan, Elizabeth, died in 1828. The house was inherited by Thomas Bryce, who then changed his name to Bryce Buchanan. The family lived there until the estate was sold to Sir Charles Cayzer in 1915. You can read more about the Bryce Buchanans (opens pdf, 3MB) in the Killearn Courier. It was bought by Miss Magda Salvesen in 1924 and was then carefully restored and extended.
On the other side of Branshogle burn from the entrance to Boquhan House is Branshogle Mill, another of the mills in the parish. It was originally a meal mill and then used as a sawmill. It has now been converted to a private house.
Beyond the Branshogle burn lies Old Ballikinrain. The lands of the Ballikinrain were granted to the antecedents of the Napier family in the mid-14th century. Their original house was at Edinbellie, on the Balfron side of the Endrick. They also held lands in Gartness. A member of the family was the inventor of logarithms. John Napier of Merchiston (1550–1617), stayed at Gartness Castle for a number of summers (and complained that the noise of the mill disturbed his work). John Napier of Ballikinrain, took part in the Earl of Glencairn’s rising in 1653 in support of Charles II, and Royalist troops assembled at Ballikinrain.
The oldest part of the current house is thought to have been built in the 1720s by James Napier, who was a prosperous Glasgow merchant. The merchant business was continued by his son, John. His business partner, Robert Dunmore, then married John’s daughter, Janet, and through her, he inherited the Ballikinrain estate. In the 1780s, they added a grand two-storey extension, which contained the most impressive rooms in the building. By then, Robert Dunmore was a partner in the new Ballindalloch cotton mill in Balfron, along with printworks and a bleaching field that were on the Killearn side of the Endrick. He was a local benefactor. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the appeal to build the Buchanan Monument. In addition, he made many improvements to the estate and was the major contributor to the Endrick Bridge on the road to Balfron, built around 1790 and still in use.
Robert Dunmore’s son inherited the estate (and changed his name to Napier). In 1862, the Napier family sold the estate to Archibald Orr Ewing, who shortly thereafter built Ballikinrain Castle (see below). At this point the house became known as Old Ballikinrain. The house was rented out in the late 19th century. When the Ballikinrain estate was broken up in 1912, it was bought by a Glasgow shipowner, Frederick Gardiner. He and his brother endowed professorships in bacteriology, organic chemistry, physiological chemistry and music at Glasgow University. Since then, the house has had a number of owners, and it has been restored and well maintained. It is a listed building.
When Archibald Orr Ewing bought the Ballikinrain estate, he commissioned the distinguished architect of Scottish baronial buildings, David Bryce, to design a new home for him further up the slope from Old Ballikinrain. It was regarded as his grandest and probably his best design.
The scale of the building was immense and was completed in 1870 after seven years of work. Stone was taken from a quarry in the estate. The main rooms included a great hall, dining room, drawing room, library, boudoir, business room, along with copious numbers of bedrooms. The servants’ quarters give an indication of the scale of the establishment, and included kitchen, servant’s hall, scullery, scullery-pantry, still-room, store-room, housekeeper’s room and bedroom, laundry-maid’s room, kitchen-maid’s room, housemaid’s sitting-room and bedroom, head housemaid’s room, head laundry-maid’s room, footman’s room, visitor’s footman’s room, valet’s room, bathroom, butler’s room with pantry, silver safe, gun-room, brushing-room, china-room, shoe hall, game, fresh meat, vegetable, fish, cooked meat, and pastry larders, laundry with drying stove, washing house, dairy and boiler house, coal house, wood-house, wine, beer, cool, aerated water, and glass-washing cellars.
The house had gas lighting and heating, with gas produced by the castle’s own gas works. There was also a curling pond in the grounds. There was a large walled garden of about two acres (now Castle Gardens). In its prime this garden contained four vineries, two peach-houses, a green-house, palm, carnation, croton, rose, orchid, begonia and gardenia houses, tomato and melon houses, and a mushroom house.
The West Gate remains an imposing building on the road to Fintry, and the immediate estate is distinguished by nearly 8 kilometres of stone walls lining the road.
Archibald Orr Ewing lived there until his death in 1893. He was knighted for political service in 1886, having been the Conservative MP for Dunbartonshire from 1868 to 1892. He continued to be very active in the management of his textile interests in the Leven Valley, where he was one of the major producers of Turkey red fabric, as well as being involved in a wide range of other business enterprises.
In 1911, however, the house and estate were sold by Sir Archibald’s son to a property syndicate. They failed to resell the whole estate and it was broken up in a major sale in 1912. The Castle and its immediate land was bought by Sir Charles Cayzer of Gartmore. The following year, while still unoccupied, it was gutted by fire. It was alleged that the fire was started by suffragettes, although this has never been convincingly proved. Read more about the suffragettes at Ballikinrain (opens pdf, 2MB) from the Killearn Courier. The building was restored and significantly reduced in size thereafter. The main rooms of the house were no longer as grand as they had been. It was then let for a while.
In 1928, the wedding reception of Jimmy Bryce Allan and Rita Jolivet, which lasted several days, was held there. The wedding had taken place in Paris. Jimmy took over the lease of Ballikinrain from his father, and the couple lived there for a few years. Rita Jolivet was a well-known actress first on the stage, and, from 1914, on film, her first Hollywood film being Cecil B. DeMille’s The Unafraid (1915). She continued to make films until 1926. In May 1915, she was a passenger on the Lusitania when it was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland by a German U-boat. She survived along with 763 others; 1,198 lost their lives. Rita’s nephew, Lawrence Jolivet, recalled their time at Ballikinrain:
‘It had 50 bedrooms and that sort of thing. You were piped into the dining room every night by a piper. They had 25 inside servants and 25 outside … In Scotland at Christmas, oh, the organization that had to go on. This had to be done, that had to be done. And she insisted on having a French chef. To pull a French chef out of the south of France and stick him in a place in the depths of Scotland … she went through chefs about one a fortnight.’
The attraction of a large Victorian castle palled, and they soon moved away. Just before the Second World War it was sold to a hotel company but their business failed. It was then taken on by St Hilda’s School for Girls, having evacuated from Edinburgh. The school closed in 1967 and the Church of Scotland purchased the castle. They ran it as a residential school for children and young teenagers who were experiencing social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. It closed in 2018. While used as a school, additional educational buildings were built in the grounds. The future use of Ballikinrain was uncertain at the start of 2021.