Agriculture and Working the Land in and around the Vale of Leven
Although we now think of the Vale’s history as being dominated by the textile finishing industries of the 18th to 20th centuries, before that and indeed in parallel with most of that industrial activity, the Vale was the scene of fairly prolific industries based on the land. These industries embraced not only farms and small holdings, but also working with raw material such as timber in forestry and sawmills, and extracting stone and sand in quarries around the Vale.
The lands just to the north of the Vale were put to similar use. There were slate quarries at Luss from which slate was extracted for the roofs of Glasgow, and stone quarries around Gartocharn from which stone was dispatched to Clyde-side via a small purpose-built port at the Aber, which is now long-gone. The forests of the Lochside have an even longer pedigree, those at Luss providing timber for the roof of Glasgow cathedral in 1277, while the village of Croftamie’s largest employer after its emergence in the 1830’s was a sawmill which used timber from the surrounding area, including the Buchanan Castle estates of the Duke of Montrose. Gravel was also extracted from a number of places in the Loch in the 19th century.
Initially, these land-based activities relied on water transportation such as boats, scows, gabbarts and barges, to carry away the stone, gravel, wood etc and bring in other raw materials such as lime and coal, but that’s another story, told elsewhere on this web-site. After the arrival of the railway in 1850, many of these raw materials were brought by water to Balloch for onward shipment by rail.
While working the land is now much curtailed, some of its most obvious features remain, and many more did so within living memory. This page covers subjects from farming to small holdings and nurseries, through quarries both sand and stone, to sawmills and forestry. Accurate documentary records covering complete land use in the Vale and adjacent areas only start with the Valuation Rolls of 1886-7, but there are many other official documents and written histories which give us a very good idea how land use developed over the centuries. However, living memory, with reference to how things developed to that point, where possible, is the time-frame of this page.
Farming in the Vale of Leven
The Third Statistical Account for Scotland, prepared in the 1950’s and published in 1959, says that there were 23 farms in Bonhill Parish at that time – 14 owner-occupied and 9 tenanted. A couple of these were on the Darleith Estate on the west side of the Stoneymollan ridge and saw themselves as part of Cardross. Equally, a couple of Renton farms saw and see themselves as part of the Vale, as do some of the Kilmaronock Parish farms who are in more contact with Balloch than Gartocharn. So it’s safe to say that about 25 farms had daily dealings in the Vale as late as the 1950’s. Seventy years previously, the figure would have been about 35.
It was a busy and robust industry around the Vale, catering to the ever-growing needs of the Vale’s population. As early as 1851 there were calls from local farmers for a local market so that they did not have to take their cattle to markets at Glasgow etc. It took another 100 years before that call was met – with Jamestown Market in the former Levenbank Works - and even at that, it lasted only about a decade.
As the 19th century came to a close, in spite of the great factories which stood on the Leven’s banks, and the great increase in population in the villages and towns of the Vale, by far the greater part of the land in the Vale, as measured in acreage, was still being farmed. The farmers actually working the land were almost exclusively tenant farmers, with the farms being owned by a small number of landowners, most of whose names mean nothing now. These farms are listed below; where farmer’s names are available, they are given in brackets.
Mrs James Ewing of Strathleven House and Estate owned Blairquhomrie (William Buchanan), Napierston (John Kinloch), Hilton (John Kinloch), Nobleston (William Couborough), Woodside (John Graham), Ladyton (John Shanks), Milton (John Paterson), Redburn (George William Campbell), Strathleven Mains (Hugh Robertson Ewing) , Northfield (Hugh Robertson Ewing), as well as a number of cottages on these farms. This meant that she owned all of the farms on the eastern hills of the Vale from Dumbarton to Jamestown, excluding only the Horse Shoe farms.
Mr James Hill Kippen of Westerton House owned: Ballagan, Westerton, Dumbain, Blairhosh farms. There are no farmer’s names available for these farms at this time.
The Smolletts owned Cameron Home Farm, Upper Dalquhurn and Nether Dalquhurn (both being farmed by the McLachlans who are still there, at this time it was William and John), Millburn, Overton and Middleton Farms.
Mr James Dennistoun Brown of Balloch Castle owned: Upper (later Over) Balloch (David Crawford), Ledrishbeg (John and Alexander Ritchie), Mollanbowie (Peter Miller), Ledrishmore (Mrs Elizabeth M Hosie).
James Campbell of Tullichewan owned Drumkinnon Farm (Alexander Fleming), Tullichewan Dairy Farm - later plain Tullichewan Farm (no farmer’s name given), and Tullichewan Home Farm (William Fleming).
Dalmoak Farm: James Aiken of Dalmoak Castle (William and Hugh Orr).
Walter McIndoe Trustees (a legal firm): Ashfield, Shanagles (William Pollock was farmer of both).
Robert Elmsall Findlay of Boturich Castle: Lorn Farm (Donald McKeith) and Meikle Boturich.
Robert Watson: Ring (Peter Jenkins), Wester Auchencarroch which Robert Watson also farmed.
John Nairn of Dalvait House, Balloch: Middle Auchencarroch (James Bilsland), Auchencarroch Quarry, and other Auchencarroch land which he owned jointly with George McKinlay of Glasgow.
George McKinlay of Glasgow: Easter Auchencarroch (John Wilson) and part ownership of Auchencarroch with John Nairn, above.
Thus of the farms 35 farms in 1886-7 which were regarded as being in the Vale, although they might be in Kilmaronock or Cardross Parishes, only one, Wester Auchencarroch, was actually owned by the person who was farming it, in this case, Robert Watson, whose descendants farm a number of farms in the area to this day.
By the early twentieth century, although the Vale was industrialised and urbanised, farming hadn’t actually lost all that much land to houses and factories, considering their scale. From the late 19th century till the mid 20th century, no farm had closed because its land had been built upon. That was to change dramatically, particularly in the second half of the 20th century.
The other two factors which drove change were firstly that farming became very profitable after WW2 and secondly farm ownership passed out of the hands of a few big landowners into the hands of the farmers. During the 1950’s, in particular, many local farmers went from being tenants to being farm owners. These changes actually encouraged consolidation since farmers could see the benefits of economies of scale and also could afford to acquire additional land. So, a number of farms were acquired by a neighbouring farm and ceased to exist as a separate farming entity. The surplus farm houses were sometimes sold as private residences.
Other changes in the last 40 years or so have been brought about by government / European Union Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). For instance, crop farming has almost disappeared and most local farms rely on cattle and sheep. Small holdings have all but disappeared as government policy from the 1950’s onwards has favoured the bigger producers. And people’s first hand experience of farming, gained mainly from tattie howking each autumn, which was introduced as a war-time measure, but abandoned in the early 1960s, has greatly reduced.
However, in spite of a reduction in the number of working farms, and the difficult conditions which have prevailed in the industry for about 15 years now, farming retains a high profile in the Vale, and most people can still identify farms and farmers. The tradition of referring to a farm by the farmer’s name has also survived.
A brief description of surviving farms and those from the recent past is given below. Entries in italics are no longer working farms; in fact some of them have totally disappeared, usually because they have been built on. We have also included information on smallholdings, nurseries, etc.
Ashfield Farm. This has been owned by the McKenzie family for about 50 years now. At the end of the 19th century the farms of Ashfield and Shanagles (there have been a whole range of spellings for this farm over the years) were owned by an anonymous trusteeship and farmed jointly by the Pollocks who also farmed at Over Balloch nearby. Ashfield was acquired by the Kippens of Westerton House about the turn of the century and farmed by the Ritchie’s until the 1950’s. Jimmy McKenzie farmed Ashfield until his untimely death in 1999, since when his sons Alex and Jimmy have owned and run the farm.
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Auchendennan Farm, Arden. This farm was part of the Lumsden of Arden estate for about a century. After WW2 it was farmed by the McFarlane family who opened the Fountain Dairy at the Fountain, Alexandria in the early 1950’s to sell their farm produce. For a time their butter was much favoured in the Vale. In the 1980’s it was bought by David McCowan who had sold Lomond Castle Hotel, and was shortly to sell the Duck Bay Marina to Bobby Cawley.
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Ballagan Farm, Ballagan. This is no longer a working farm, but is used as a van repair and sales yard. It is on the hill up to Westerton and the Horse Shoe and overlooks the hamlet of Ballagan. It was for many years owned by the Kippens of Westerton House, and over the years had a fair number of tenants. It was last farmed by James / Janet and May McArthur from the late 1950’s until about 20 years ago. Before that the Sandilands family farmed there from 1945. Their predecessor was John Seele who was at Ballagan between 1935 – 45. Before that from about WW1 Ballagan was farmed by James and Lachlan Cameron, whose son and grandson owned Cameron’s Dairies in Jamestown, and then Dumbarton. The land is now owned by Neil McKenzie and is worked as part of his farm at Lochend.
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Blairhosh Farm, at Westerton on the Horse Shoe is no longer a farm but is a private residence. Blairhosh is in fact the ancient name for Westerton. It was originally owned by the Kippens of Westerton Estate and alternated between having a tenant and a farm manager, with the manager being the predominant approach. The land is farmed by the McAulays of Blairquhanan.
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Blairquhanan Farm which is just beyond Westerton on the Horse Shoe is still very much an active farm which has been extended by taking over land from nearby farms which have been converted to private residences. It is farmed by Andrew McAulay whose family has been in the Gartocharn / Caldarvan area “since time immemorial” and at Blairquhanan for decades.
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Cameron Home Farm, Balloch. Usually the Smolletts farmed the Home Farm themselves, but sometimes they had tenants. The last of these was the Twadell family who tenanted the Home Farm for about 40 years until 1964/5, Willie Twadell being the last tenant. The Smolletts took over direct management of the farm when the Twadell’s left and moved into it as their local residence in the early 1980’s after they had sold Cameron House to be converted to a hotel. When the Twadells left Cameron, Willie’s family left the area.
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Dalmoak Farm, Renton. Originally Dalmoak Farm was owned by whoever owned the Castle, which in the case of the current building was Mr J Aitken an Ulster brewer, who let the farm out. At the turn of the 19th / 20th century William and Hugh Orr were tenants. However, most people will associate Dalmoak Farm with the Young family, who farmed there for a large part of the 20th century. Just after WW2 George Young reversed ownership roles by also owning the Castle. George Young retired to Toward, where he still lives, and sold the farm more than 20 years ago. It is still a busy dairy farm, one of the few in the Vale where you will encounter cattle on the road heading to and from milking. It is now farmed by the Turners.
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Dalmonach Farm, Bonhill. Although Dalmonach Farm house still stands in Dalmonach Road, right at the top of the Dummy’s stairs, it is surprising how few locals know that this is the old farmhouse for the farm on which much of the northern part of Bonhill was built. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising, since it stopped being a working farm a very long time ago. It survived the building on its land of Dalmonach Works, Mount Zion Church and the Canon Row (all of which have now disappeared), and the villas of Dalmonach Road. But from 1900 onwards its days were numbered. It seems to have incorporated the Hill Farm or Hilton Farm just before then. James Black & Co, the owners of Dalmonach Works, acquired the farm before they joined the Calico Printers Association, which they did in 1899, while Union and Hall Streets were built about 1900. A Mrs McArthur was in residence in the farmhouse for a number of years around this time and later, but there is no suggestion that she farmed it, and it seems to have dropped its designation as a farm by the end of WW1. The land that remained was probably worked by adjoining farms after this time, but eventually disappeared under the Hillbank council houses of the 1920’s and 30’s and Dalmonach Housing Estate from the 1940’s onwards. Much of the Slunger ran through the Dalmonach Farm land. The outbuildings were used for many years as a garage.
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Drumkinnon Farm, Balloch. This farm was originally part of the Tullichewan Castle estate. The farmhouse still stands, but is now hemmed in on its west side by the embankment of the ”new” A82, just about where the footbridge carrying the path linking Lower and Upper Stoneymollan Roads crosses the A82. If the alignment of that road had been changed by only a few feet to the east when it was being built in the early 1970’s, then the farm-house would have disappeared under it. In fact, since most of the farm’s land had already been swallowed up by the westward expansion from the railway at Balloch, including the houses and hotels on Balloch Road, the BSD Silk Factory and Silk Factory houses in Luss and Drumkinnon Roads, as well as the northern part of the Tullichewan estate, it was on its way out as an operational farm long before the new road was built. Different members of the Fleming family seem to have farmed both Tullichewan Home Farm and Drumkinnon Farm for years before and after 1900. In the 1920’s parts of its lands were rented out to adjoining farmers from time to time. By the 1950’s the Mitchell family owned the farm which had been sold by JS Anderson who owned the Castle until it was demolished by explosion in 1954.
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Dumbain Farm, Mill of Haldane. When the Haldane Estate was being built in the 1950’s, Dumbain Farm had a narrow escape. It survived almost intact, unlike its immediate neighbour to the south, Milton Farm, which was completely built on. Its land lies on the east and north side of the Haldane Estate and it used to be accessed from the old Mill of Haldane via the Tinkers Loan, which ran up beside the Haldane Smiddy and Ballagan Burn. The patch of land on which the travellers pitched their encampment was on Dumbain Farm land. Originally Dumbain was owned by Kippens of Westerton but the Watsons have been there since the beginning of the 20th century. They are descendants of Robert Watson who owned and farmed the nearby Wester Auchencarroch in the late 19th century, and who was the only farmer in the Vale at that time who actually owned his own farm.
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Easter Auchencarroch, Auchencarroch Road. There are 3 farms with Auchencarroch in their title, all close to and accessed from Auchencarroch Road. The land of Auchencarroch is one of the first estates to be mentioned in the Vale, dating back to the same charter of 1270 which also makes the first mention of Bonhill. All three Auchencarrochs also have the distinction that they never belonged to either of the bigger landed estates in the area – the Westerton Estate of the Kippens, nor the Strathleven estate of the Ewings, later Crum Ewings. Easter Auchencarroch. It is has had many farmers over the years, perhaps the best known being Hamilton McKinlay. To-day the land is mostly used to graze sheep by its present owner, Bill Easy.
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Ladyton Farm, Bonhill. This farm originally belonged to the owners of the Strathleven Estate. It lay on the hill above Bonhill and disappeared in the late 1960’s – early 1970’s with the building of the hillside estates. It was the second farm on which building started, Nobleston being the first. The farmer at the time was John McKay, who retired when the farm was acquired by the Council. Before him the Whitefords had farmed at Ladyton for many years, and before that, the McLellans. However, its best known farmer, from over a century ago, was James Shanks, who doubled up as a poet and song-writer. His memory lives on for having penned the song, Beautiful Vale. In his day the road up to Ladyton Farm was known as Shanks’ Loan.
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Ledrishbeg, Balloch. Like some of the farms which lie close to it, Ledrishbeg has a very old pedigree indeed. It is listed as “Ladryshbeg” in the Settlement of the Partition of the Lennox, which was signed at Drymen in 1493, so it must go back even longer than that. By that Settlement its ownership passed to Haldane of Gleneagles, after whom Mill of Haldane is named. It was owned for decades by the Dennistoun Browns as part of their Balloch Castle Estate, and then for a time by Glasgow Corporation, when they bought Balloch Castle Estate in 1915. For much of that time it was farmed by the Ritchie family, a very well known farming family in the Balloch area who also rented land around the Vale as well as farming at Ashfield in the early 20th century. The farmhouse lies just to the west of the main road and faces almost due south overlooking Balloch, the rest of the Vale and onto the Renfrewshire Hills beyond. It is still very much a working farm and has been in the Rennie family for decades. Over the years, the farm has taken in land from farms which have disappeared such as Mollanbowie and the Haldane Farm which stood behind Haldane Terrace. The present farmer, Richard, better known as Dick, Rennie, is one of the Vale’s retiring heroes, unsung because that’s the way he wants it. It was Dick who anonymously donated the land on which Robin House, the Children’s Hospice, stands. His good deed only emerged when objections were lodged to its building, and he stood up to be counted.
Before buying Ledrishbeg in 1932, Dick’s father previously farmed at Woodside Farm, Bonhill, but that farm passed to John Kinloch when Dick’s father moved to Ledrishbeg.
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Sewing and Harrowing Loch Lomond (Move mouse pointer over image to enlarge)
This image has probably been taken from the Boturich Road, above Boturich castle.
The south end of Inchmurrin island can be seen on the Loch in the Background.
Ledrishmore Farm is also very much a working farm and everything that has been said about Ledrishbeg’s long history could also be said about Ledrishmore, since it is also mentioned in the Partition of the Lennox. It too, was owned by Dennistoun Brown’s Balloch Castle estate before being subsequently sold by the old Glasgow Corporation. It was farmed by Benjamin Pender at the beginning of the 20th century before being bought by James Colquhoun and the Colquhoun family still farm it. Since the early 1970’s the adjoining Over Balloch farm has been incorporated into Ledrishmore.
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During the Clydebank blitz of 1941 a landmine exploded on Ledrishmore ground, close to Ashfield farmhouse, damaging not only the farmhouse and surrounding farms, but some houses as far away as Balloch. Ledrishmore farmhouse has a very attractive setting on a ridge which overlooks the Vale in the distance to the south and the Ballagan valley and Gartocharn road to the east.
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Mid-Auchencarroch, Auchencarroch Road. This is still very much a working farm, owned and farmed by George Munn. Fairview Quarry, from which much of the stone which built the old centre of Alexandria was extracted, was sited on Auchencarroch Hill on this farm. A narrow gauge railway carried the extracted stone down from the quarry to a siding on the Balloch-Stirling line for shipment out. The line of that railway is still just discernible to the east of the farm-house, and the road still passes over that railway bridge, although you wouldn’t know it. The downside to that quarry for the Vale now is that it was used as a land-fill site which developed into the huge dump which has re-engineered the eastern ridge of the Vale’s hills. The quarry and the farm were both owned at one time by J Nairn of Dalvait House who also owned the joiners work at Bankhead, Balloch which became the Radium Works. The Bilsland family were tenants at Mid-Auchencarroch for the better part of the 20th century when it was best known as “Bilsland’s Farm.” They were succeeded in ownership by George Munn who is the current farmer at Mid-Auchencarroch.
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Millburn Farm, Alexandria. This is one of the oldest identified farms on the west side of the Vale, appearing on maps in the 18th century, and perhaps earlier. At one time it would have covered all of the ground on which Burnbrae stands and probably the land right up to and including Millburn Church, which was not considered as part of Renton until the 20th century. One of the Turnbull family who owned Place of Bonhill and the Pyroligneous Factory where Millburn Depot now stands, farmed Millburn Farm in the 19th century, although ownership seems always to have stayed with the Smolletts. Millburn has not been a working farm for about thirty years, but the farmhouse and many of the farm buildings still stand, now completely renovated or rebuilt. It lies behind Burnbrae and lost some of its land when that scheme was built in the 1920’s. It was previously popularly known as Bauchop’s Farm, after John Bauchop who farmed there from about 1880 for almost 50 years. John Bauchop also owned a butcher’s shop on Main Street Alexandria, and would drive the cattle down the Cemetery Brae to a building (still standing) which was used as a de facto slaughter house, behind a cottage which he owned in Middleton Street. Jock Graham took over from the Bauchop’s and Millburn Farm was still viable up until his retiral, in the mid 1970’s. When Jock retired the land and the buildings were sold separately by the Smollett Estate. The land was sold to the adjoining farms, while the farmhouse became a private dwelling. A market garden / nursery now stands on former Millburn ground quite close to the old farm steading.
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Milton, Balloch / Jamestown. This was the farm on which from about 1953 onwards, the Haldane housing estate was built. It was a very old farm – the name appears on Pont’s map of 1654 on roughly the site still occupied by the farm in the mid 20th century. It was the most northerly of the farms owned by the Ewing, or Crum-Ewing family of Strathleven Estate (not to be confused with the Orr-Ewings who were a quite different family). It was on its land that much of the village of Jamestown was also built from the late 18th century onwards. The first of the Jamestown bleach works opened in 1772 and it ended up being called Milton Works. Jones & Hopner in their book “On Leven’s Banks” think that the name of Milton Works might not have been used until about 1850 when the works were acquired by Archibald Orr Ewing and extended onto what seems definitely to have been Milton Farm land. The second of the large Jamestown terraces to be built was called Milton Terrace.
With the growth of the rest of Jamestown in the 19th century, Milton Farm did well to hang on to over 100 acres until n the 1950’s. The farm house shared its access road with Jamestown Parish Church Manse, and lay to the south east of the Manse, but unlike the Manse, it was demolished in the early stages of house building. John Paterson was the tenant for about 40 years, but by WW1 John Muirhead had moved in, and the Muirheads were there until the end, about 1954. At that time the tenant was Mrs Elizabeth Muirhead but it was her sons who ran the business. They also had a horse and cart for delivering milk in Balloch and Jamestown. A couple of years before the farm’s demise, Willie Muirhead moved into Overton Farm in Alexandria, where his sons still farm.
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Mollanbowie, Balloch. This farm has now completely disappeared, although the byre still stood until a few years ago when it was demolished and replaced by new houses on Mollanbowie Road. The farm house stood on the west side of Mollanbowie Road, adjacent to the byre. The farm was part Balloch Castle Estate, which it bordered, owned firstly by the Dennistoun Browns and then by Glasgow Corporation. In living memory it was never a big farm and there were less than 25 acres left when the last farmer called it a day. The bungalows and villas on the north side of Drymen Road, and the whole of the Mollanbowie Estate built by John Lawrence from the late 1950’s onwards, stand on land which used to be part of Mollanbowie Farm. Daniel and Peter Miller were tenants until the early part of the 20th century and Peter’s daughters still featured at the farm for many years after that. In practice however, it was John McNeil, who was the farmer for an astonishing 60 years, from 1900 until 1960. He disposed of the rest of the land in 1960, by which time Lawrence Castle Avenue estate, as it was then known, was well under way, and he took a well-earned retirement.
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Napierston Farm, Jamestown. This was another farm which at one time belonged to Strathleven Estate. Although the Kinloch family had been associated with this farm at the north-eastern edge of Dalmonach Housing estate for well over a century, it doesn’t seem to have been an unbroken tenure. In fact they moved back in 1932, taking over from the Rennie’s, who moved to Ledrishbeg at that time. The father of Richard Rennie of Ledrishbeg farmed Napierston from 1918 until 1932, when it was taken over by John Kinloch. He was the farmer from 1932 until about 1950 when it passed to his son Jimmy Kinloch.
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Few farmers in the Vale had closer neighbours nor met more people in the course of their daily business than the Kinlochs. Not only were they at the edge of the Dalmonach houses, but to the east and south-east their land was bordered by the golf-course. Many a golfer was happy to be deflected from an unhappy round with a few minutes of much happier banter with Jimmy, who would be working in an adjoining field. Jimmy was there for over 30 years but on his death the centre of farming operations moved up the Auchencarroch to the adjoining farm of Woodside, which had also been in the Kinloch’s hands for over 50 years and is now farmed by Jimmy’s son Hugh. The Napierston farmhouse and some buildings survived for many years, almost surrounded by a new private housing estate, but were demolished about 2007.
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Nobleston, Bonhill. This ancient farm, dating back to the middle ages when its origins were literally “nobles’ town”, although it was never a town in the modern sense, was the first of the Bonhill farms to be built upon in the 1960’s, soon followed by Ladyton. The two farmhouses were more or less in a line on the hillside with Nobleston being the southerly of the two. It too was part of the Strathleven House estate for the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries when Walter Couborough was the farmer. The proximity of Ladyton and Nobleston was reflected in the fact that both were farmed by J Whiteford in the mid 20th century. However, the last people to farm Nobleston were the McLeans.
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Over Balloch, once known as Upper Balloch. This former farm on the road up to Boturich, above the North Lodge of Balloch Park, was part of the Balloch Castle Estate at one time and marks the northern boundary of Bonhill Parish on the eastern side of the Loch. It was one of the best known farms in the area, mainly because of the Orr family who farmed it from about the 1900 where William Orr senior moved in, until the 1970’s. William had a large family and four of them – William, Andrew, Margaret and Elisabeth - succeeded him in ownership of the farm and stayed there for the rest of their working lives. The family died off one by one and only Lizzie Orr was still alive when the farm was sold to the Colquhouns in the adjacent farm of Ledrishmore. The farm house has been demolished but many of the farm buildings are still standing.
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Overton, Alexandria. This is very much Alexandria’s Farm. For almost a couple of centuries it was part of the Smollett estate, as was Middleton Farm, just down Overton Road from this farm. By the second half of the 19th century Overton and Middleton Farms were tenanted by Duncan and James Gardner, sons of Walter Gardner of Middleton Farm. For the latter part of the 19th century Overton Road was called “Wattie’s Loan” after Walter Gardner, and there are illustrations of the farmstead. Middleton Farm was lost under Alexandria’s expansion westward from Main Street – Middleton Street is about the only reminder – and the Farm was lumped into a title of Overton and Middleton Farms until well into the 20th century in the official records. The Gardner brothers farmed them as one.
In the earlier part of the 20th Century James McIntyre was the tenant, and he was succeeded by the Scotts (see below) who were the last farmers before Willie Muirhead about 1950. By then the Muirheads knew that the Haldane estate was going to be built on the family farm of Milton at Balloch. Overton has expanded on the western hillside of the Vale over the years as adjoining farm land has been sold off by its owners. The Muirheads have a thriving farm at Overton, and continuing an old family tradition from Milton Farm, also run a busy Dairy business from the farm delivering milk and eggs to homes in the Vale each morning.
These are of Willie Scott and his father (on the back of the reaper). Willie died just two years ago. Move your mouse pointer over these images to enlarge.
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The Ring, Jamestown. This was never a big farm, and although it existed in 1886, it doesn’t seem to go back much before then. The Watsons owned it for nearly a century, and their last tenant of note was Robert Ruthven. He was in residence for over 30 years from WW1 onwards, and ran it as a small holding in addition to his day job which was as a railway guard – which was quite appropriate since the Ring’s northern march is the Balloch – Stirling railway line. The land has now been incorporated into adjoining farms, but for a time the Ring retained a farming connection as an equestrian centre. It is now a private residence.
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Strathleven Mains Farm, Bonhill. This was the home farm for Strathleven House Estate, and is strictly speaking in the parish of Dumbarton. However, it was, at least from WW2, very much regarded as a Bonhill farm. The Ewings of Strathleven farmed it themselves for most of the time, without a tenant but almost certainly with a manager. Although strictly speaking the extensive parks and grasslands around the House were not part of the Mains Farm, as became apparent after WW2, the Crum Ewings also farmed them themselves. After WW2 Robert Brewster was the tenant for a time, but after the death in late 1946 of last of the Crum-Ewings to stay at Strathleven House, the farms on the Estate were sold to a Leeds-based property company, Margrave Estates. By about 1950 they had started to sell the farms off, usually to their tenants. Strathleven Mains was, however, put up for auction and was bought by the Maltman brothers, Robert and John, who farmed it for many years. The farm proved to be a popular destination with Bonhill folk and he was never short of helpers at harvest time or with his milk delivery business. When the brothers died, John junior continued to farm for a while, but the steady encroachment of housing onto the farm’s land meant that he gave farming up many years ago, although one of the farm-houses is still occupied by the family. John now runs a successful waste disposal and skip hire business in Dumbarton.
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Tullichewan Farm was also known at one time as Tullichewan Dairy Farm. It was not tenanted, but was run directly by the Campbells of Tullichewan and later JS Anderson, although in practice by a manager. In fact, it is one of the few farms where a manager, or grieve as he was titled, is recorded as being in residence. For a number of years after the war, it was owned and farmed by the Uries, but in recent times it has been completely renovated to become a very modern Bed and Breakfast establishment, while retaining its name of Tullichewan Farm.
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Tullichewan Home Farm, Alexandria. This was the farm on which much of Tullichewan Housing Estate and all of Levenvale, Argyll Street and Estate, the Garden City, the Vale Hospital and Govan Drive were built, so it’s perhaps surprising that it survived as long as it did. It was still farmed in the 1950’s and the farm house, which could be accessed from both Luss Road and Argyll Street - this was the business entry – stood in the middle of what is now the Argyll Estate and survived until the building of that Estate in the 1960’s. It was the Home Farm to Tullichewan Castle and Estate and was owned by whoever owned Tullichewan Castle. From the 1840’s until the 1920’s this was the Campbell family, and thereafter JS Anderson. Estate owners typically liked to show off their wealth not only in their castle or mansion, but also in the quality of the farmhouse at the Home Farm. Tullichewan Home Farm was no exception, being a fine red sandstone building. For most of existence it was a tenanted farm, although the Black family, who were tenants from the 1920’s onwards, eventually bought it. They were the last farmers at the Home Farm and were well known as breeders of Clydesdale horses. Some members of the Black family are still active in the local farming community.
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Upper Dalquhurn, Renton, or as it is universally known, McLachlan’s Farm. The McLachlans have been in this farm longer than anyone can remember – they were there when modern written records began with a Local Directory in 1877 (10 years before the first Valuation Rolls), when it was owned by the Smolletts. They are the family with the longest continuous residence on a farm in the Vale by quite a way. Over the years, as farms have closed on either side of them, the McLachlans have acquired additional fields including some from Millburn Farm, and this has extended their farm into Bonhill Parish. Sometime in the 1930’s they must have upset Hitler, because the only landmine or bomb to actually land in the valley – as opposed to the surrounding hills or Ledrishmore Farm – exploded in one of McLachlan’s fields. A fading outline of the crater was visible until quite recently. With typical Renton black humour, Rantonians claimed after the landmine explosion that Renton was suing for a separate peace. McLachlan’s was, and will probably ever remain, “Renton’s farm” where in the hard times a blind eye was turned to drawing a net for rabbits and the occasional borrowing of a turnip or a few potatoes to feed many a hungry family.
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Wester Auchencarroch is an old farm, the third farm with “Auchencarroch” in its name. When the Valuation Rolls started to record ownership details of all property in the area in 1887, this was the only farm which was actually farmed personally by its owner, Robert Watson. It has been farmed by descendants of that Robert Watson ever since. About WW2 John Munn married into the family, and the Munns have farmed it from then. The present farmer is John Munn.
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Woodside, Jamestown. This farm is the first farm on Auchencarroch Road going east from Main Street Jamestown. It was originally a Strathleven Estate farm and its farmers in the last hundred years or so have included John Graham, William Duncan and Andrew Rennie. However, for most of living memory it has been farmed by the Kinloch family who also farmed the adjoining Napierston Farm. When Napierston Farm was demolished they moved into the newly-refurbished Woodside where the old Napierston Farm sign now hangs at the front gate. Woodside remains very much an operational farm.
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Small holdings were just what the name suggests, small parcels of land, sometimes less than an acre, rented from a larger landowner, on which one person carried on some form of agricultural business. Most often, this was running a piggery, but a few were market gardens (which are listed under nurseries), while at least one was a chicken farm. They were at their peak in the 1950’s, and all of them had gone by the early 1960’s, by when the government’s withdrawal of grants to small producers and increase in farming regulation made these small businesses, which were usually only marginally economic, loss-making.
They had a high profile in the community, partly because some of them were close to housing estates, and partly because the small holder would be out and about on the streets every day collecting waste food from restaurants, shops, hotels and cafes to use as “pigs swill”. Environmental Health officers to-day would go apoplectic at the very thought, but outbreaks of food poisoning were so rare as to be beyond recall, at least in the Vale. All of the various strains of food poisoning currently in vogue, shall we say, have very modern names such as e-coli, and date from industrialised farming and food production, long after the small holdings had been driven out of existence. There could not possibly be a lesson there, of course. These small holdings included:
John “Haddy” Bell’s piggery, which was located in the long-disused quarry at Millburn, just on the opposite of the railway line from the Millburn Roads depot, for many years after the war. Haddy, who lived in Cordale, was a familiar figure on his horse and cart as he went round the area, particularly Renton, collecting swill to feed to the pigs.
Bodyline Camp. There was a POW camp sited on what is now Strathleven Housing estate during and after WW2. When the POW’s left, local homeless families moved into the camp immediately, and stayed there until the council housing program allowed them to be housed in the new housing estates elsewhere in the Vale in the mid 1950’s.
That part of the story is well enough known. What tends to be forgotten is that the camp itself occupied a small part of what had been a huge field or grasslands, running north from the back of Strathleven House to Dillichip. This large area was taken over by a former Polish soldier, Joe Birkiski (that spelling may be wrong) who ran it as a large small holding or small farm. He converted one of the camp’s Nissan huts to a farm steading and unlike the other small holdings he kept cattle, as well as hens, pigs etc. He was there for most of the 1950’s and perhaps early 1960’s, when he seems to have disappeared without trace, but hopefully some reader will have additional information about him.
Davidson’s piggery was in part of the former Radium Works at Bankhead, Balloch. It was owned by the brothers Dunky and Nat Davidson who had been brought up and lived at Bankhead. Their father had been the carter for the Nairn Joinery Shop, which was the original function of the Radium Works, and both Nat and Dunky had worked in the Works when they left school. They ran the piggery in the 1940’s and 50’s. Dunky went out in his small Ford pick-up to collect swill, while Nat, who was a local councillor for many years, maintained a more clean cut image, if that’s the right word, back at base. At the time there was no suggestion that this might be introducing some sort of radio-active health hazard into the food chain. Indeed when they went out of the pig business it was for the reasons given above – driven out by government policy to favour the large producer – and both Nat and Dunky lived on for many years with no side effects from their time on the Radium Works site.
John Jamieson’s piggery was in part of the former Dalmonach Works in the late 1940’s – early 1950’s. It was close to Dalmonach North Lodge, where John Jamieson lived, and lay between the Lade and the Leven at the northern end of the works. There is some suggestion that it went out of business when the pigs became infected with something like swine fever and had to be destroyed, but that is from a hazy recollection and could be wrong.
James and Alexander McIlchere, who had owned Haldane Nursery in Mollanbowie Road (see below), also had a chicken farm at Blairlusk or Shanacles – it could have been both at different times. Archie Aitken in his book “Jamestown and Balloch as I remember them” tells that they started the business at the Nursery and had already acquired a piece of land at Blairlusk Farm before disaster struck the Nursery business about 1938 when an exceptionally heavy snow fall brought down the greenhouses. They were still in business in the 1950’s although the records show by that time they were at Shanacles Farm, which is adjacent to Blairlusk, which could just be an adjustment in the records.
Bridget Melvin, the only woman to feature on the list so far, although others may emerge, kept a piggery in Back Street in Renton in the 1930’s.
The Wilsons had a piggery in Bonhill Quarry in the 1940’s and 50’s. At the front of the property they also had a small shop which sold confectionary and is remembered by many Bonhill people as the place where they bought the then exotic products of salts which dissolved to make fizzy drinks.
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There were nurseries in the Vale in the late 19th and early 20th century in Bonhill and at the Crescent beside the river in Alexandria. However, like small-holdings, they seemed to be at their most popular in the area in the immediate post WW2 years. They were very much the forerunners of the modern Garden Centre, but unlike them the nurseries had a heavy emphasis on in-house production, particularly of tomatoes and similar summer fruit and vegetables. The bedding plants and cut flowers which you could buy at them were usually home-grown too, although much less so in the winter for obvious reasons.
Large greenhouses were a prominent feature of nurseries at that time, and they were very expensive to maintain and to heat. By the 1960’s most tomato producers were being put out of business from cheaper imports, not just from the Channel Islands but also from the Mediterranean countries, a trend which has continued with flowers from places like Kenya. Supermarkets became the main supplier of tomatoes and vegetables and most nurseries either concentrated on bedding plants or sold off what was usually valuable land and called it a day. One survived to gradually transition into a Garden Centre. The main nurseries were:
Auchendennan – After WW2 when Auchendennan Estate was bought by the Scottish Youth Hostel Association, the wall gardens / orchard and adjoining gardener’s house were acquired by Alex Davidson, who opened a nursery / market garden there. When Alex Davidson sold up in the late 1950’s, the nursery passed into the ownership of Andrew McAulay, who ran it for many years before ill-health forced his retirement.
He added mink-farming to his activities there, which seemed to offer the possibility of a very good financial return, certainly well worth the risk of attack by these small animals which naturally enough were potentially very vicious in captivity. Auchendennan was not the only mink farm in the area; there were others on the east side of the Loch. The possible financial rewards never quite materialised, while the mink attacks most certainly did. The mink farms all closed in the late 1950’s, and the remaining mink were put down. Some, however, escaped and a few of their descendants have survived to this day, a few on the western hillside above Auchendennan, and one or two are seen occasionally in the Leven as far downstream as Dalmonach Lade. Sightings are rare and naturally, they should not be approached. Like most wild animals, if you leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone. The former nursery has been a private residence for many years.
Ballagan Nursery started out as more or less a hobby in the Hogarth family’s Ballagan Cottage garden in the 1960’s. They gradually built their clientele up by word of mouth, and certainly by the late 1970’s it was the first port of call for bedding plants, bouquets etc for many in the Vale. After her husband died, Cath Hogarth carried on the business herself with the help of her daughter and additional land was acquired, where the successor Garden Centre stands. In the 1990’s Cath decided to sell up and move down south.
Her immediate successor considerably expanded the business onto the land to the south of the original nursery. With new layouts and a new large shop and tea-room, it was transformed from a nursery to a Garden Centre. At the time, Garden Centres were the fastest growing sector of the British retail industry, so the move had business logic behind it. It was sold on to a very successful Clyde-Valley Garden Centre business, which expanded it even further. Perhaps even over-expanded it. At about this time the Bird of Prey Centre, which is not part of the Garden Centre business, opened at the south end of the car park. It was closed for a period, but in 2006 its current owners re-opened it with a new name – Loch Lomond Homes and Gardens – and new product ranges. It may well get back to being the first port of call for Vale gardeners again.
Haldane Nurseries stood at the at east side of Mollanbowie Road from about where Mossburn Avenue now is for about 75 yards. In his book “Jamestown and Balloch as I remember them” Archie Aitken gives a pretty full account of this nursery, on which he was particularly knowledgeable since he worked there for 3 years after he left school. It was started by Hector MacDonald, but by the time Archie went to work there, about 1930, it had been taken over by John McIlchere and his two brothers, Alick and Joe. The McIlchere’s originally came from Campbeltown. In addition to the greenhouses and plant beds, they also had a chicken farm at Mollanbowie and added another at Blairlusk, both mentioned in the Small Holdings entry, above. The McIlchere’s nursery was put out of business by a particularly heavy snow-fall about 1938 which caused the greenhouses to collapse. However, the Nursery sign stood on the land for many years thereafter, certainly until well into the 1950’s. And its presence lives on in the nick-name of “Tomato Lane” for Mollanbowie Road.
Loch Lomond / Red Fox Nursery originally ran from Dalvait Road to the Leven, with Bankhead as its southern boundary and the policies of the Nairn’s Dalvait House as its northern one. It was started about the time of WW1 by a man named Wylie. It lost a bit of ground when the building of Lomond Road and Bridge started in July 1931. That building work was halted for a time by public spending cut-backs in the Depression and the road and bridge were not opened until July 1935. When it did open, the road proved to be a major boon to the Nursery, because it gave it a new front entrance and plenty of passing trade. The green-houses covered almost half the site.
Shortly after WW2 it was bought by the husband and wife team of Peter McFarlane and Jessie Young (of Dalmoak) who considerably upped the tempo of the business, and to begin with traded as McFarlane & Young. They were the Vale’s first Interflora agency and in a move which was then ahead of its time, opened a shop and eventually a tea room as part of the Nursery. The tea-room was called the Red Fox Tea Room and the whole business came to be known by that name. By the late 1960’s developers, who had already acquired land at Bankhead and Knowehead, were keen to get their hands on the Red Fox site which was by now was a piece of prime real estate. The business was closed and the land sold about 1970-1 and the Red Fox private housing estate now stands on the former nursery site, so the name lives on in the housing estate.
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