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Early 20th-century woodland and informal parkland with a loch survive at Formakin. The site has a number of buildings dating from the same period, but built in 16th- and 17th-century styles. These were restored along with the grounds in the 1980s and 1990s. The gardens were once renowned for their topiary, fountains and herbaceous collections.

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:

Location and Setting

Formakin Estate is situated at the junction of Millhill Road and Barochan Road, the B789, some 2 miles (3km) west of Bishopton and 4 miles (6.5km) north of Houston. It lies in undulating ground between the River Clyde and the Renfrewshire Hills. Outcrops of rock frequently occur throughout the policies and the ground rises from 77' (22.5m) by Dargavel Burn to 238' (72.5m) at the top of the escarpment north of the house. The soil ranges from neutral to slightly acid. The climate is typical of west central Scotland and the annual rainfall is about 46.5". Land around Formakin is mostly farmed with livestock and a mixture of arable crops. Small woodland copses are found on the steeper and poorer ground. There are few views out of the site but from the escarpment there are long views across the Clyde to the Kilpatrick Hills and the Vale of Leven. The policies and meadow can be seen from the B789 road and the woodlands contribute to the variety of the local scenery.

The house lies at the centre of the policies sheltered from the east by Paddock Craig escarpment. The policies are bordered by two minor roads to the south and west, by a woodland shelterbelt to the north and by the track to Whitemoss Farm to the east. This layout appears on the 3rd edition OS plan, dated about 1912. The extent of the designed landscape, which is now some 284 acres (115ha) has not changed since it was laid out in about 1903.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Formakin House, listed category A, was built of Whinstone with sandstone dressings between 1911 and 1913 to the designs of Sir Robert Lorimer. Construction began in 1911 and stopped in 1913 when the shell was completed. Holms supervised the building directly and Mr James Grieve, the clerk of works, employed all the tradesmen.

Main Entrance Gateway and Lodge, listed category B, were added to the Millhouse in 1910. The arched gateway enclosed by a solid wooden door is attached to a pair of two storey Lodges, each with a small turret and an ogee slated roof. The Millhouse is joined by the Stables and Motor Shed built by Lorimer between 1909 and 1910. The Tower Bothy, listed category B, extending to the north of the Millhouse was built by Lorimer at the same time. There are several humorous details such as mottoes, several monkeys dancing on the roof and a false date stone of '1694'.

The Old Meal Mill, listed category B, restored by Lorimer and completed by March 1908, is now derelict. Around these buildings there are many other artefacts including Sundials, Gates, Fences and Ironwork, all designed by Lorimer. Although some of the buildings are listed individually, all them including the artefacts are grouped together and listed category A. Gatehead Farmhouse, converted for Holms, is now derelict.


The policies divide into two parts, the southern area around the house is open parkland and the northern section, mainly pasture enclosed by shelterbelts. Most of the fields are still in agricultural use but two have not been disturbed or grazed by livestock since before World War II. These have been colonised by broom, gorse and some hawthorn but meadow grasses still grow grazed by occasional straying animals and wild deer. (Since the survey one of these fields has been classified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest).

The southern area contains a loch designed by Lorimer and the Old Mill pond. The layout of the park reflects Lorimer's view that it should be informal and become increasingly more natural further away from the house. The meadow directly to the south of the house is still open but hawthorn and other encroaching shrubs are gradually reducing it. In the north-west corner there are clumps of ash and birch and the ground is covered by invading bracken. On the south side of the plateau there are the remains of a cherry orchard planted with several different varieties. The Lake is silted up with bullrushes and Polygonum while seedling ash, hawthorn and goat willow grow around its margins. On the north side near the drive is a beautiful clump of ash including a magnificent specimen of the golden ash (Fraxinus excelsior 'Jaspidea'). Many varieties of daffodils have become naturalised throughout the parkland area between the house and loch.

On the westerly side of the house, the drive descends to Barochan Road edged on the woodland side by an attractive stone dyke. The drive sweeps past a line of high yews before curving along the escarpment overlooking the park to the south. Behind a double line of sycamore is a stone wall and above, on top of the outcrop of basalt, stand four rows of beech. As the drive nears the house, the outcrop swings to the north and a flat plateau is formed between it and the drive. Here several unusual ornamental trees and shrubs were planted under a canopy of Scots pine. These include a fine Euodia velutina, a large Cedrus atlantica, and a red-leafed sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus 'Atropurpureum').


The woodlands were mainly planted with mixed deciduous trees in the 1900's. Within them, there are one or two older stands dating from about 1850. The woodland divides into three broad areas, the beech shelterbelt to the north and west of the house which runs along the escarpment towards Paddockcraig; the woodland belt along the Barochan Road to the Mill; and the shelterbelts around the fields and Gatehead House. The beech woodland contains mainly beech and an overgrown nurse crop of ash and sycamore. On the north side it was bordered by a beech hedge growing on a raised bank edged with large stones. It is now very overgrown.

The woodland along Barochan Road is mainly oak and elm with some lime and in the wetter areas where the Burn runs there are some birch, alder, and willow. In one area the ground is boggy and here the alders have almost formed a carr. Near the road bridge and along the mill leat there are one or two ornamental shrubs including a large clump of Aralia elata under a thick canopy of seedling ash. The woodland copse consists of a mixture of deciduous trees mainly ash, beech, and some oak. The trees are leggy and poor as thinning has not taken place since they were planted. Beech were planted around Gatehead House in rows only 1-2m apart and they have never been thinned.

The Gardens

At Formakin there are remnants of gardens in four areas, around the house; the Bothy block and Mill House; and the derelict Paddockcraig and Gatehead Houses, neither of the latter two were more than small gardens and are of no historical interest. To the south of Paddockcraig, there could have been the old Kitchen Garden, but nothing remains today.

Only the gardens around the Bothy have received any attention since 1938, so the magnificent formal gardens just to the north of house have become almost totally overgrown. These gardens were enclosed by walls and hedges. The walls are crumbling and the overgrown hedges, tower over the gardens. In the enclosure nearest to the house called the Fountain Garden, stone steps, paving and a fountain can just be discerned under tangled undergrowth. The fountain has been cleared of brambles; it is guarded by four stone lions at its base, set in a lawn bounded on three sides by paths and overgrown borders. A summerhouse, built from similar stone as the walls, links this closure with one directly north of the house (known as the 'Old World Garden'). Behind this garden is another one enclosed by a yew hedge on one side and a beech hedge on the other. Further north and on slightly higher ground is a fourth enclosure which contains the remnants of beautifully detailed stone paths leading to a heart- shaped centrepiece. Yew has almost closed over the top of this area and several Rhododendrons still grow in one of the quarters. Elsewhere sycamore and ash seedlings are taking over.

In an article in the Gardeners' Chronicle of 1921, the gardens at Formakin are praised for their collections of Orchids, Lilies, Delphiniums, Campanulas and many other plants. 'A prominent feature of Formakin is the large group of plants not often seen in such quantities in a private garden' It also describes Holms' catholic taste for flowers and concludes by saying that 'Formakin possesses a really superb collection of hardy plants, excellently grown as a whole under the supervision of its owner, with the able assistance of his gardener, Mr Hugh Morris'.

The gardens around the Bothy and the Mill House have been maintained and the exquisite detailing of the paths, gates, steps and walls all show the skill of Lorimer's design and workmanship. Near the Mill House three enclosures are made by a 2m high beech hedge. An enormous ash tree stands near the entrance. To the north and east of the buildings there is a large orchard containing apple, pear, damson and plum trees.

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

An early 20th century landscape designed by Sir Robert Lorimer, containing several notable architectural features, woodland, parkland, gardens and important wildlife areas.

Site History

The gardens and grounds were designed and planted between 1903 and 1920 and maintained until 1938.

In 1902, Millbank Farm, later Formakin, was bought by John A. Holms, an art collector and Glasgow business man. Shortly after he acquired the estate, he commissioned his great friend, Sir Robert Lorimer, to design a new house as a suitable repository for his art collection and also the gardens and park. The plan for the layout of the grounds was prepared in 1903 and shortly afterwards work began on the garden. Designs for the twin lodges and stables followed in 1907 and working drawings for the house in 1909. The Old Meal Mill was restored to working order by 1908 to provide accommodation for Holms whilst the new house was being built, but construction work on the house halted in 1913 when only the shell had been completed. In 1920 Holms installed central heating but no further work was carried out and the house has never been occupied.

Formakin House was designed in the style of a Scottish tower house of the 16th and early 17th centuries with gardens which revived the traditions of walled gardens of the same period. Lorimer's aim was to create a 'natural park up to the walls of the house on one side' and 'on the other you stroll right out into the garden enclosed'. Lorimer was also familiar with the work of Gertrude Jekyll and much of the planting was influenced by her ideas. Following one of Miss Jekyll's recommendations a lot of work on the garden and park was undertaken before the house was built.

Holms died in 1938 and the estate was purchased by the Pickard family. The property was requisitioned during World War II. Maintenance ceased and gradually the gardens and grounds became overgrown. The Pickard family guarded their privacy and Formakin became a haven for wild life, providing protection for birds, plants, animals and insects seldom found elsewhere in the district. In the late 1970s, the two Pickard sisters died and proposals were drawn up to develop the estate for housing. In 1982, the Local Authority, with the support of other public bodies mounted a campaign to save the estate for the nation.

(In 1984, Renfrew District Council were able to purchase the estate with the help of a grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund.)


Early 20th Century (1901-1932)

Associated People
Features & Designations


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

  • Site of Special Scientific Interest

  • Reference: A field on the Formakin estate
  • Historic Environment Scotland Listed Building

  • Reference: Main entrance gateway and lodge
  • Grade: B
  • Historic Environment Scotland Listed Building

  • Reference: The Old Meal Mill
  • Grade: B
  • Historic Environment Scotland Listed Building

  • Reference: The Tower Bothy
  • Grade: B
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential


Early 20th Century (1901-1932)





Open to the public





  • Historic Scotland