November 2009


Some of the photographs received from Craig Jump and put onto the web-site are amongst the most important which the Vale web-site has received. In particular, the 11 or so photographs of the Millburn Pyroligneous Works, which stood where the Millburn Roads Depot now is, are the first of the Works to appear on the site.

Since there are none in any of the local history books, it is possible that they are the only ones of the Works which have survived. Also, they contain rare photos of Place of Bonhill House which stood just about where St Martin’s School now is.

The connection between the two is, of course, the Turnbull family, who founded and owned the Works and lived in the House for almost the whole of the 19th century. Since so many of the photos relate to the House and the Works it is tempting to think that they must have been taken by a family member, but at this stage who the photographer was is not known, although he / she did an excellent job.

From a date on one of the photos and also the level of activity at the Works, it is likely that most of them were taken around 1901. While the photograph of McFarlane’s boat yard at Balmaha is almost certainly more recent than that and perhaps seems out of place in this collection, the Turnbulls also owned a works at Balmaha, so perhaps all will be explained in subsequent photos of the boat yard which we hope to load onto the site sometime soon.

The Pyroligneous Works were a fixture at Millburn for about 100 years. Before they were built on the site, there actually was a grain mill at the foot of the Poachy Burn waterfall whose large wheel was driven by the Burn, hence Millburn. The Works also shared part of the location with the red sandstone Millburn Quarry, from which stone was extracted for the building of much of Renton right up until the end of the 19th century.

When the Bowling – Balloch railway line was built in the late 1840s, it ran through the Works and some of the original buildings had to be demolished to make way for it. One building survived on the other (west) side of the railway, although it does look comparatively new in comparison to some of the older buildings in the photos, so perhaps it was rebuilt after the construction of the railway. The arches which gave access to it, to the Burn and to the quarry (two of which have survived) can also be clearly seen in the photos and help us to place the Works buildings. The Burn has long since been piped through the Depot, but its line under the railway and where it reappears on the east side of the Main Street close to Turnbull’s Loan, also helps.

As Graham Lappin has said, the size of the Works is perhaps surprising because they occupied all of the ground from the railway to the road and also from what is now the boundary fence with the gardens of the North Main Street and Allan Crescent houses to the Burn (which lies under the mountain of sand and salt for most of the year). They were much bigger than the other Turnbull Works for which evidence remains, except the one at Camlachie, and very much bigger than the only similar “liquor works” in the Vale – the so-called Chip Mill, real name Arthurston Mills, which operated from 1844 until about 1900 up the Inler at Jamestown,

The Millburn Works were started in the 1790s by John Turnbull, who came to the Cordale Works of William Stirling & Sons in 1773 and became a partner of that Company from 1790 – 1805. The Pyroligneous Woks produced pyroligneous acid or wood vinegar by heating wood in an airless container, in the same process as produces charcoal.

The acid was widely used in the local textile finishing works, particularly for dyeing, and Turnbull was smart enough to start a company which sold its product to another company of which he was a director. At some stage he also became a partner in Turnbull & Ramsay of Glasgow who had a large chemical works at Camlachie in the east end of Glasgow that survived until 1955. This company became Turnbull & Co in the 1820s.

In the 1880s it had what were described as “branches”, which probably meant smaller works, at Balmaha (of which there are many photos) on a site which was subsequently occupied by the Highland Way restaurant and now awaits development behind an ugly wooden hoarding, at Crinan harbour (where the factory chimney is still standing) and 3 other sites in Scotland.

Apart perhaps from Millburn Works, the location of each Works seems to have been dictated by the plentiful supply nearby of the raw material – wood. On the other hand, Millburn was right beside its main customers and the other raw material, water in the shape of the Poachy Burn.

By 1902 only Balmaha and Camlachie are recorded as still being open. This would tie in with the photos of the Works, which seem to have been taken about 1901. While there is some evidence of the Works still being in production – the horse and cart in one photo, some wood lying around the works and a well-stocked woodyard in others – the overall impression is of emptiness, a bit like the Marie Celeste in fact. The usual date given for the Works’ closure is “about 1900” and the photos certainly don’t contradict that.

John Turnbull moved into Place of Bonhill House in 1806 and lived there until his death aged 77 in 1817. The Smolletts had owned Place of Bonhill for over a century, and it is in fact from that House that they took the style of “Smolletts of Bonhill”. The House seems to have been built about 1642 by the Lindsays, the predominant landowners at that end of the Vale throughout the Middle Ages. They sold it to the Smolletts in 1648, who stayed there until 1762/3 when they bought the Cameron Estate.

It had lain more or less empty since then until 1806 and John Turnbull had to commission a major refurbishment and rebuild job on the House before he could move in. After the renovation / rebuild the House’s appearance from a northern aspect was Scottish baronial with its stepped gables, although its southern aspect was much more English country house.

Family members lived in the House until about 1900 – some of them were farmers, while others ran the Works. It was the Turnbull family who leased the land for nearby Millburn Park to Vale of Leven FC in 1888, at a nominal rate. They later donated the ground to the club.

Comments on the Photographs
Graham Lappin has already commented on some of the photos. Here, some additional observations are offered, where appropriate, and the photographs have been numbered for easier reference.

NOTES ON VIEWING THE IMAGES: To view each image just move your cursor over the highlighted text. We assume that some people may want to have a closer look at the images through this page. Unlike some other images on this website the displayed images have to be closed down manually by clicking on the cross (X) at the top right.

Photo No 1. As it says on the photo, the Dillichip Bridge, now usually referred to as the Black Bridge.

Photo No 2. The shelter on the west or "down line" (i.e. to Balloch) platform of Renton Railway Station.

Photo No 3. Place of Bonhill greenhouses and Jessie and Miss Davidson. These names might yet give some clue as to the photographer. The greenhouses and gardens were later in the 20th century the site of a small-holding run by Duncan McEwan, nicknamed “Old Starry” because of his passion for astronomy; he also lived in the House for many years. Ian Paterson, in his contribution, also tells of Harry Flowers, a resident for many years from the 1930s onwards, still maintaining the orchard.

Photo Nos 4, 5 and 27 show Lennoxbank House at Dalvait Road in Balloch. At the time the photos were taken the owner and resident was Charles Orr Ewing, MP for Ayr, and the son of Sir Archibald Orr Ewing who was also a previous owner. The photos were taken from where the Vale of Leven & District Angling Club now is in Fisherwood.

Photo 4 is taken from the South-West and shows the gardens, the entrance drive-way in the top right and just visible, the gate posts. These posts survived until about the 1980s.

Photos 5 and 27 show the row of gardeners’ cottages on the left which were occupied until the 1960’s. The last private resident was Paddy Caulfield, the sand and haulage contractor, who sold the House to Glasgow lawyer and businessman Harry McGhee about 1960. McGhee converted it to the very successful Lennoxbank House Hotel whose Friendly Bear Bar is fondly remembered by its many regulars. Flats now occupy the site, but some of the trees in the photos have survived and you can now compare the size of the smallish oak in the middle foreground to the huge tree that it has grown into.

Photos 6 to 16 inclusive show various scenes from the Millburn Pyroligneous Works.

Photo 6 is perhaps one of the less interesting and informative photos It is taken from the south and shows a light railway line on which trolleys were probably pushed about the Works and one of the Works’ two chimneys (the Works had 2), and some old buildings.

Photo 7 is taken from the north side of the Works. It shows some logs lying about, the north side of one of the Works’ larger building and, at the top of the photo, the Balloch – Glasgow railway line with the single Works building on the other side of the line. All the buildings in the photo have slated roofs and look like they were built in the mid-19th century suggesting that they are not the original buildings. The photograph is taken from the edge of the woodyard, which to-day is the site of what are now some of the back gardens in Allan Crescent. A later photo (number 16) shows stripped timber neatly stacked in the wood yard ready to be used to make the acid. The logs in this photo are quite different in appearance from the woodyard timber, so it is possible they had a different use.

Photo 8 taken from the south, this shows the building on the other side of the railway line and it looks like the Burn running just in front of it.

Photo 9 is taken from the west side of the railway line and shows about half of the main buildings in the Works. In the top left hand corner of the photo is a white gate giving access across the railway line.

Photo 10 this is the only photo with anyone actually in it – a single unidentified well-dressed elderly man who certainly doesn’t look as if he’s there to put a shift in. In the background are low, single-storey, tiled-roof buildings which could well date from the start of the Works

Photo 11 is informative and helps to locate the Works buildings in to-days terms. Taken from the south, it clearly shows the Works’ boundary fence and the Poachy Burn running across the foreground, with the factory buildings all to the north of it. The railway crosses the upper part of the picture and 3 arches under the railway are clearly visible. The right-most has a door which is closed and leads directly to the Works building on the other side of the railway line. The Burn is coming through one of the arches, while the nearest and largest arch almost certainly gives road access to the quarry etc on the other side of the line. All 3 are within the boundary fence of the Works. In the background is a high railway signal gantry – its height denotes that it is on the curve of the railway, and the curve is still there on the railway just before you pass Millburn Depot, and helps to place the buildings.

Photo 12 is a busy photo showing many of the Works’ buildings, the Burn and, apart from the man in Photo 10, the only sign of activity in the Works – a horse and cart.

Photo 13 this photo seems to have been taken in one of the older, more run-down corners of the Works, showing a large wooden vat, what looks like a tank with pipes running into it and the light railway again.

Photo 14 is taken from the west side of the railway in a southerly direction. The purpose was to capture the north side of the building on the west side of the railway, but the bonus is in the background. It shows the then-new St Martin’s School (officially opened February 1900) with the spire of Millburn Church just visible above the School’s roof.

Photo 15 gives the most comprehensive view of the Works site. It is taken from the south-east and from the south side of the Poachy Burn.

Photo 16 is taken from the north-west side of the Works, probably from the west side of the railway line. It shows the north side of the Works, including the woodyard on the left of the photo, with plenty of timber stacked in it, which suggests that the Works were still in production. Also in the photo are the 2 Works chimneys, and in the background the 3 tall chimneys of Dillichip Works.

Photo 17 this is part of a group of 3 photos (18 and 25 are the other two) which show the south side of Place of Bonhill House. Considering how long that the House stood (it was only demolished in 1964 to make way for the present St Martin’s School) there are surprisingly few photos in the public domain of it. The only one in a publication appears in the 1980’s book Renton “Oor Ain History” and is itself only the merest snippet of the House. Appropriately enough it features Harry Flowers, mentioned by Ian Paterson in his contribution, and postman Bob standing in the right hand doorway of the 2 which appear which appear in the photos.

Photo 18 south side of Place of Bonhill House showing its setting amongst the trees.

Photo 19 and photo 20 - we can only guess that this interior of a house is showing a room inside Place of Bonhill House.

Photo 21 these factory buildings are in Dillichip Works.

Photo 22 The 3 chimneys tell us that this is Dillichip Works, but what is less clear is from where the photo was taken. Graham suggests the driveway of Place of Bonhill House, but if that is the case, where is the River Leven? The profile of the hills in the background might just supply the answer, so all suggestions will be gratefully received.

Photo 23 is definitely Dillichip Works from the west bank of the Leven with the boat facing upstream into the current.

Photo 24 is Place of Bonhill House from the north side. Strange as it may seem, although there are a couple of artist’s illustrations of the north side of the House in various publications, which have given us a very good impression of what the north side looked like, this is the only actual photograph of the House from the north in the public domain, of which we are aware.

Photo 25 see 17, south side of Place of Bonhill.

Photo 26 this is McFarlane’s boatyard in the bay at Balmaha. Across the bay the white railing runs alongside the road to the Pass of Balmaha and also to the Pier. Alongside the jetty are two mail boats in which Alex McFarlane delivered mail to the islands on the Loch. This photo is more recent than the others in the group.

Photo 27 see 4, Lennoxbank House.


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"For those we loved are scattered,
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