This is the remnants of the designed landscape of Cowdon Hall, laid out as the setting for a mill-owner's mansion house in the 1860s.
The original Cowdon Hall was built in the 1630s and the ruins survive close to the boundary of the present landscape. In 1830 the owner of the adjacent Crofthead Mill built a mansion house, Crofthead House, adjacent to the old Hall. In 1864 this was replaced by the 'new' larger Cowdon Hall and the designed landscape extended and remodelled. The mill owner's family left the property in 1913 and the house was taken over by a consortium of mill companies before being demolished in 1964.
TerrainSituated on a north, north-west facing hillside above the Cowden Burn.
Detailed DescriptionThe remnants of the designed landscape of Cowdon Hall lie approximately one mile west of the town of Neilston, East Renfrewshire. Extending to over 13 hectares much of the land is on a north-west facing slope extending along the south side of the Cowdon Burn, Lochlibo Road the A736 from Neilston to Lugton, and the railway line from Barrhead to Dunlop.
Settlement on the site is known to date from at least the 1630s, at which time the Cowdon Hall whose remains are present today was constructed by William Cochrane. However a structure ‘Kouden' is recorded on Timothy Pont's Renfrewshire Manuscript, estimated to have been drawn between 1583 and 1596, suggesting there may have been an even earlier house on or near this site.
Following the development of the textile industry along the Levern Valley in the late-18th and early-19th centuries and the establishment of the Crofthead Mills, the mill owner James Orr built a mansion, Crofthead House, alongside in the 1830s. Some thirty years later his nephew Robert Orr replaced Crofthead House with a new mansion on the same site called Cowdon Hall. The landscaped setting for this new house was extended and embellished.
Although the family left the house in the early-20th century when Crofthead Mills passed into the ownership of a large textile thread company, the house continued to be used by the new owners with the surrounding landscape maintained for the use of the mill workers. The house and ancillary structures, including the stables, conservatories and glasshouses, were demolished in 1964 with maintenance of the designed landscape ceasing. The North Lodge has been demolished though the fine gate posts survive. The South Lodge survives in private ownership and has been extended.
Today, although much of the landscape is overgrown many features of the design are still discernible and the site is popular with the local community through informal access. Plans for improved access to the site are under consideration.
Further details about Cowdon Hall are available on the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland website http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/site/330071/details/cowdon+hall/
1. MAPPED SOURCES
Unless otherwise stated all maps referenced are from the online National Library of Scotland Map Collection http://maps.nls.uk
Pont, Timothy 33. Renfrewshire 1583 – 96 identifies Kouden, the older Cowdon Hall
Blaeu, Johan Atlas of Scotland Renfroana (Renfrew) 1654 identifies Kouden
Roy Military Survey Map of Scotland (Lowlands) circa 1755 identifies Cowdenhall and Crofthead
Ainslie, John Map of the County of Renfrewshire 1800 identifies Cowdenhall (old), Crofthead and Crofthead Mill
Ainslie, John Map of the County of Renfrewshire 1820 identifies Cowdenhall and Crofthead
Thomson, John Renfrew Shire 1852 identifies Crofthead
Ordnance Survey First Edition Six Inch to One Mile Renfrewshire Sheet XVI Surveyed 1856 Published 1863, identifies Crofthead House
Ordnance Survey First Edition 25 Inch to One Mile Renfrewshire Sheet XVI.2 Surveyed 1856 Published 1863
Ordnance Survey Second Edition Six Inch to One Mile Renfrewshire Sheet XVI.NW Surveyed 1895 Published 1898
Ordnance Survey Second Edition 25 Inch to One Mile Renfrewshire Sheets XVI.2 & XVI.6 Surveyed 1895 Published 1897
Ordnance Survey 25 Inch to One Mile Renfrewshire Sheets XVI.2 & XVI.6 ( Levelled 1910), Surveyed circa 1912, Published 1913
Ordnance Survey Six Inch to One Mile Renfrewshire Sheet XVI.NW Surveyed 1912 Published 1914
Ordnance Survey Six Inch to One Mile Renfrewshire Sheet XVI.NW Surveyed 1938 Published circa1948
2. PRIMARY & DOCUMENTARY SOURCES
Census Data for Cowdon Hall: 572/01 004/00 017 Neilston, Renfrewshire 5/6 April 1891
Census Data for Cowdon Hall: 572/01 004/00 028 Neilston, Renfrewshire 31 March/1 April 1901
Census Data for Cowdon Hall: 572/01 004/00 026 Neilston, Renfrewshire 2 April 1911
3. HISTORICAL ILLUSTRATIONS & PICTORIAL SOURCES
Taylor, Charles, of Paisley The Levern Delineated Alexander Gardner Paisley 1831
Description of landscape prior to establishment of estate and picture of old Cowdoun Ha’ facing page 50.
Miller, A HCastles and Mansions of Renfrewshire and Buteshire1889
Plate 19 shows house and part of garden with glazed bridge to upper level (RCAHMS)
Pride, David A History of the Parish of Neilston Alexander Gardner, Paisley 1910
Pride mentions the ruins of old Cowdenhall (picture facing page 69), the Crofthead Thread Works, the Cowden Burn and the Orrs of Crofthead (p135).
Laws, J L The Neilston Story: A Personal View. Neilston Community Council 1988
Photo of Mansion and gardens – page 86. Photo of Cowdenhall Dramatic Club’s performance of Paul Jones in the conservatory in 1927 – page 88
Zaltbommel/Netherlands: European Library 1985
Picture 75 Grounds of Cowden Hall at the Crofthead Gala – final of the Ladies’ Tug of War, 1913
Photographs held by East Renfrewshire Council at Giffnock Library, Station Road, Giffnock G46 6JF.
4. BIBLIOGRAPHY OF PUBLISHED SOURCES
Pride, David A History of the Parish of Neilston Alexander Gardner, Paisley 1910
Hughson, Irene I Barrhead and Neilston in Old Postcards 1985
Miller, A H Castles and Mansions of Renfrewshire and Buteshire 1889
Hughson, Irene & McCrae, Gordon Cowden Hall Renfrewshire Local History Forum Journal, vol 3, page 28 (Old Cowdon Hall) 1991
Fleming, Alexander Neilston Parish New Statistical Account of Scotland Volume VII Renfrew-Argyle. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Son, MDCCCXLV(1837) “There is an abundance of building going on in the parish; but there has been none of late of any consequence, saving Crofthead House, the property of James Orr Esq and Company; and James Dunlop Esq of Arthurlie; both of which are handsome and elegant buildings.”
Taylor, Charles The Levern Delineated Alexander Gardner Paisley 1831
Laws J L The Neilston Story: A Personal View Neilston Community Council1988
Memories of Neilston Mill. Neilston: Bobbins and Threads, 2008
- Mansion House (featured building)
- Description: Large mill-owners house, now demolished.
- Earliest Date:
- Latest Date:
- Access & Directions
DirectionsThe Cowdon Hall designed landscape is located on the south side of the A736 Lochlibo Road, approximately 1km west of the town of Neilston.
- North Neilston and West Arthurlie
Detailed HistoryThe original Cowdon Hall was built in the 1630s by William Cochran of Cowdon and the ruins of this remain just outwith the boundary of the present site.
At this time the surroundings were primarily agricultural, but by the early-18th century a considerable textile industry had developed along the Levern Valley using the plentiful water supplies mainly for bleaching and printing. The Crofthead Mills at the junction of Holehouse Brae and the Lochlibo turnpike road was one of several works established using the water of the Levern.
In 1830 James Orr, owner of the Crofthead Mills, built a mansion for himself and his family beside the Mill, at a cost it is said of £3000. The house occupied a level area above the Lochlibo road, and separated from it by a steep hillside. The early maps show that, in common with the homes of other local mill owners, the garden around the house consisted mainly of trees in a landscape without extensive ornamental gardens. When later the railway from Glasgow to Kilmarnock was extended beyond the sidings at Neilston, the road was moved to accommodate the tracks in this narrow part of the valley, reducing the land around the house to a narrow tongue bounded on the west side beside the drive by a steep drop to the realigned Lochlibo Road and immediately behind the house on the eastern side by a cliff face rising some 10 metres.
Around this time in about 1864, his nephew Robert Orr, who ran the Mill along with his brother, built another mansion on the same site and called it Cowdon Hall. The whole estate was extended and remodeled. Ornamental trees were introduced from many places, predominantly North American species. There were croquet lawns, tennis courts, a bowling green and a boating pond with boathouse and a little bridge - all something of a mill owner's fantasy.
The Orrs left the Mill and the area in 1912/13 and the house was taken over by a consortium of mill companies known as English Sewing Cotton Corporation Ltd. Over the years until its demolition in 1964, it was used for various purposes. Crofthead as a thread mill finally closed in 1992. After lying empty and vandalised for several years, it was taken over in 1996 as the headquarters of J and M Murdoch and Son Ltd, a local recycling and haulage company who now have a number of other businesses operating from the premises.
The South Lodge side of the site, now in the ownership of the Crawford family, is more open and part of it is used once a year for the Neilston Agricultural Show, now its 187th year. The fields are also a source of silage.
The site of Cowdon Hall itself, owned by the Murdochs, is now quite overgrown but foundations of parts of the various buildings remain and provide a sense of what it must have been like in the late-19th and early-20th centuries.
It is currently the subject of local interest and plans are ongoing to try to improve access and interpretation of the site (see East Renfrewshire Local Plan 2011).
During November 2011 The British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV) obtained a small amount of funding to support four days of basic path maintenance.
The Garden History Society in Scotland
East Renfrewshire Designed Landscapes and Gardens Group