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The garden layout at Barncluith dates from the 17th century and comprises a series of five terraces cut into the steep bank above the River Avon, once renowned for their topiary and planting. Some of these are now derelict but the upper terraces and the garden around the house are maintained. A few ornaments acquired from the demolition of Hamilton Palace in 1927 remain on the property.

The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:

Type of Site

A formal garden laid out in the 17th century along the series of five terraces cut out of the steep bank of the River Avon, accounts recording the use of extensive topiary work, flowering shrubs and bedding within box compartments and garden ornamentation as an integral part of the design. Subsequent improvement may have involved William Adam in the first half of the 18th century.

Location and Setting

Barncluith lies at the mouth of the Avon gorge, approximately 0.5 miles (1km) south- east of the town of Hamilton and 12.5 miles (20km) from Glasgow. It is bounded to the west by its access road which runs off the A72 and to the east by the River Avon. Prominent from the garden are the woodlands of Hamilton High Parks which clothe the banks of the valley, the River Avon, and the viaduct across it to the north-east which has carried the Hamilton/Motherwell railway since 1874. Obscured beyond the woodlands to the south, lies the remaining agricultural land of Hamilton High Parks and, to the north and west, the spreading urban fringe of Hamilton. The setting of the garden terraces on the bank of the Avon River provides views in both directions along the river.

Barncluith House stands on the west side of the gorge of the River Avon. The designed landscape extends along some 200m of the valley between the house and the river. Comparison of available documentary map evidence confirms that the extent of the designed landscape has not changed since its original layout. There are approximately 10 acres (4ha) in the designed landscape of Barncluith.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Barncluith House, the Tower, Terraces and Courthouse are collectively listed as an important category A group of buildings. The house is 18th century. The Victorian enlargements have crow-stepped gables. The Tower is thought to be 16th century and to have been built as a watch- tower; it was, at one time, thatched and was restored in 1633. The terraces and courthouse dated 1698 predate the house. The Belfry, or Gazebo, on the front drive, housed the Bell of St. Giles. The stable/garage complex stands to the north of the house. There are various pieces of garden ornamentation including some urns and balustrades on the upper terrace and the slab with the Hamilton crest set in the wall by the Bowling Green, which were acquired from Hamilton Palace at the time of its demolition c.1927. A classical archway is set on the northern boundary of the kitchen garden. A well, sited behind the house and known to have been there c.1850, has now gone.

The Gardens

The formal garden was laid out along the series of five terraces cut out of the steep bank of the River Avon. One of the earliest descriptions of the garden is dated 1722 by Macky who describes 'walks and grottos all of them filled with large evergreens in the shape of beasts or birds'. Subsequent descriptions always refer to the extensive topiary work, softened by the addition of flowering shrubs and bedding within box compartments. Garden ornamentation was an integral part of the design. John Naismith, in 1792, made particular reference to a 'jet d'eau in the middle of a basin spouted water to a considerable height'.

William Cobbett described the garden in 1832 as one of the 'prettiest spots' and the Rev. William Patrick in 1841 described 'Borders of Walks, crowded with a variety of evergreens cut into fantastic forms. In the centre of the great walk is a handsome pavilion, fitted up with rustic chairs and other curious pieces of furniture'. However the level of maintenance appears to have subsequently lapsed, as an account of the garden of the following year in the Gardeners' Magazine describes the garden in a 'ruinous state'. Fruit or flowering shrubs lined the walls of the terraces. Maintenance appears to have been resumed and a description of 1894 describes the rockery as being particularly fine. An area of one of the terraces was given over completely to peonies planted between the buttresses of the wall. On the lower terrace, an informal walk ran along the riverbank and there are references to an informal, Japanese-style garden being developed in the early 20th century. Several 19th century references are made to the many rare plants and lichens throughout the garden.

Herbert Maxwell in 1911 describes the top terrace being occupied by 'no less than 40 little square beds in the Dutch manner, each with its box-edging and enclosed by a gravel path' which were filled with many common and other uncommon flowering plants.

The rose garden was made in the late 19th century on the flat lawn next to the house on the site of the former orchard. The area is now largely grass and a sundial marked on the Birnage survey drawing has also gone. An area between the rose garden and the main entrance was a Bowling Green.

Walled Garden

The kitchen garden lies to the east of the site. It is recorded on the Birnage survey as having a sundial as its central feature. Since the 1940s this has gone. A tennis court, subsequently constructed within the garden, is now disused as is the garden itself. A new vegetable garden has been created to the north of this area.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:

Reason for Inclusion

Formerly an outstanding work of art, the early terraces and gardens are still of special historical significance, and the designed landscape forma an impressive setting for a category A listed building.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

17th century with improvements in the first half of the 18th century (?).

Site History

It is known that terraces were laid out on the banks of the River Avon at Barncluith in the 17th century following the construction of the present Tower House. No documentary evidence exists as to the date of origin of the present layout and ornamentation. Recent research amongst the Hamilton papers has indicated the involvement of William Adam at Barncluith by letters exchanged between Adam and his Clerk of Works, Robert Mein, from Barncluith in 1735, 1736 and 1739. Map evidence is confined to the 1st & 2nd edition OS maps of c.1850 & 1910 and a series of survey drawings by Sydney Birnage in the 1940s.

The lands of Barncluith are first thought to have belonged to the old Norman family of Machan. William Hamilton of Rossmoor, a descendant of the Duke of Hamilton, acquired the estate in 1507 when he married Anne Machan. Their grandson, John Hamilton, inherited Barncluith on the death of his father at the Battle of Langside. He returned to Barncluith in 1583, having lived in Europe for a period. He built the present house, restored the Tower House, and laid out the terraces on the steep slope of the river gorge on the site of what was a renowned orchard.

Soon after the Union Treaty of 1707, John Hamilton of Barncluith, the Duke of Hamilton's deputy, held the appointment of Sherriff of the Lower Ward of Lanarkshire. His court sat within the Pavilion on the Terraces and tradition has it that executions took place at an oak tree which stood nearby.

Over the centuries, Barncluith was often leased to tenants, which could account for the lapse in maintenance recorded in the mid-19th century. John Campbell, a kinsman of the Earl of Loudoun, lived here in 1745. His son was the Hamilton magistrate, John Campbell of Saffronhall who, as a seedsman and nurseryman, is thought to have supplied plants for the gardens.

In the 19th century, Lady Ruthven inherited Barncluith from her Hamilton forbears. In the later 19th century, the 8th Baron Ruthven was in residence. In 1908, Lord Ruthven sold to James C. Bishop, a local coalmaster and lawyer. Mr Bishop carried out many improvements to the garden. When Hamilton Palace was demolished in 1927, various pieces of ornamentation were salvaged from the debris and incorporated as garden features. On his death, Barncluith passed to his niece, Mrs Stewart, and it was later sold to the present owners, Mr & Mrs J. Oswald Graham. In recent years the garden has suffered greatly from vandalism and maintenance of the garden has been confined to the upper terraces.

Features & Designations


  • Historic Environment Scotland An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland


  • Garden Terrace
  • Gazebo
  • Topiary
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential








  • Historic Scotland