The Place of Killearn was once the most important house in the village, but very little is known about it. Its site has been identified, just below the burn that flows into the Glen from the Cow Field. Through excavation, the foundations of the building have been discovered, but very little remained and no significant objects were discovered. So, what do we know? The First Statistical Account, written in 1795, noted:
‘About a mile and a half south of the village is the Place of Killearn, anciently the seat of a cadet of the Montrose family, but lately of Robert Scott of Killearn, Esq; and now the property of the Right Hon. James Montgomery, Lord Chief Baron of Scotland. The present edifice, which is far from being large, was built in the year 1688. Numerous plantations, regularly disposed in form of clumps, belts, and wildernesses, beautify and shelter an extensive tract of pleasure ground around the house.’
However, we do not know who built the Place or who originally lived there. All we have are a few tantalizing glimpses of what it might have been. The Place appears clearly on what is usually referred to as the Roy map (see more about this map below). The mapping for Killearn would have been done in the early 1750s and shows the location of the house, a formal garden close to it (designed in a pattern similar to a Union Jack) and much managed and formally planted woodland.
Parts of the Glen, next to the site of the Place, were landscaped to provide a fashionable and romantic landscape to entertain the owners and visitors to the house. This included the creation of the Ladies Linn, a designed waterfall sheltered by a grove of yew trees, and a stone pavilion, most likely designed to take tea in.
In 1814, when the Killearn estate was bought by John Blackburn, the Place was regarded as too small. After he had bought the Croy Leckie estate, on the other side of the Blane, in 1828, he rebuilt the house there to create the much larger Killearn House as a family home. Thereafter, the Place became ruinous and was later demolished. By the time of the first Ordnance Survey map of Killearn (1864), all signs of the Place had vanished.
The large trees and hedges in the surrounding fields are remnants of the designed landscape.
The Roy map
The Roy map (more correctly the Military Survey Map of Scotland) was produced between 1747 and 1755. In fighting the Jacobites in 1745–6, the British Army was hampered by the lack of any reliable mapping of the Highlands. As a result, it commissioned this map. It was originally intended to cover only the Highlands, but was extended in 1752 to the rest of mainland Scotland. The mapping for Killearn is at the northern edge of the mapping for southern Scotland.
The project was undertaken by William Roy, at the time Assistant Quartermaster in the Board of Ordnance. He was aged 21 at the start of the work. The surveying was done during the summer months and the data collected was then mapped in the winter. The resulting map was a combination of cartographic precision and artistic interpretation. The main illustrator was Paul Sandby, who later became a highly influential watercolour artist.
As Roy described it, the map was more a ‘magnificent military sketch, than a very accurate map of the country’ in which ‘no geometrical exactness is to be expected, the sole object in view being, to shew remarkable things, or such as constitute the great outlines of the Country.’ The original map is held in the British Library. An online version of it is available here, the section covering Killearn can be seen here. The first printed version of the map was published in 2008.