Hidden History of Rouken Glen

Hidden History of Rouken Glen

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Although just outwith the Parish of Mearns, Rouken Glen Park is a favourite place for Mearns folk to visit.

There are many popular stories about the park associated with historical celebrities. It is alleged that William Wallace sheltered under the falls when fleeing from the English and beyond the issue of Braveheart getting very wet, there are more recent associations. Madeleine Smith, the 19th century Glasgow socialite who was the defendant in a sensational murder trial in Glasgow in 1857 is associated with the mansion house and the Crums of Thornliebank who developed the printing works lived in the mansion and were responsible for the landscaping of much of the present park.
But our perception of the park doesn’t need to be dominated by celebrities. Nowadays people visit the park for recreation, not for history. In other words, it is the landscape that is the main attraction but can the history of the park’s landscape stand up for itself without bringing in famous outsiders?

For most local people, Rouken Glen provides an escape from suburbia, but what the local walker or jogger may not know is that the parkland today is a link back to the pre-improvement landscape of the area, almost all of which is gone.

More than twenty years ago, the author used research on the area to develop a Rouken Glen History Trail. This developed over the years, with guided walks with various groups, including Mearns History Group. These confirmed a curiosity about the park which is not satisfied by the conventional history of the rich and famous.

The park’s landscape continues to change. Until about a decade ago, the green space making up Rouken Glen Park, and the adjacent Deaconsbank Golf Course, was bounded on only two sides by housing. Now, ongoing development along Stewarton Road and at Greenlaw and Capelrig, will soon completely encircle the park with housing.


Mines and Kilns

rouken1The Capelrig Burn, also known as the Auldhouse or Eastwood Burn, flows through the centre of the park. In the glen, the burn cuts through and exposes most of the rocks which are otherwise hidden under the wider area. This includes the sandstones, limestones and coals of Giffnock and Eastwood, with the lavas of Mearns parish on top. More than a century ago, the glen was a favourite venue for geological walks. One guide wrote of the park, “If I were asked where within easy reach of the city, and in the compass of a few miles, one could best acquire a knowledge of the leading principles of geological science, I could not possibly refer the inquirer to a better locality”.

Just before the burn enters the park through the bridge under the Neilston railway from Capelrig, it emerges from beneath the volcanic rocks of Mearns into the softer rocks of the glen. At the top of the glen is a coal seam which has been worked from adits (or tunnels) just above the falls. The rocks which actually make up the waterfall correspond to the famous sandstones which were quarried and mined at Giffnock and Braidbar. The same sandstones were also worked on the edge of Rouken Glen, in the hollow which now forms Whitecraigs railway station, and from the outcrops in the field west of the waterfall.

Further down the burn, limestones which were important in the area are exposed. Under much of the park lies a shallow saucer-shaped ‘basin’ containing the Arden limestone and coal. The Arden limestone was worked just west of the park in Laigh Davieland Farm, where a large draw kiln was active in the 1780s. Further limestones which are exposed in the glen were quarried and mined extensively at Orchard, Arden and Darnley. Arden lime was used extensively for whitewashing buildings in the area, and both the Arden and Orchard limestones were valued nationally for building mortar and Roman Cement (which sets under water and was used for harbours). The Arden coal and limestone was worked under the park in the 1780s from an adit east of the Garden Centre.


Lands and Woods

rouken2Rouken Glen is made up of parts of several traditional estates. On the west side of the burn, it includes bits of Mearns (Capelrig estate) and Maxwell of Pollok’s lands (Deaconsbank farm). The most popular part of the park is on the east side of the burn, and was part of the Eglinton estate, which made up much of Eastwood parish. This comprises the farms of Slates and Brocklees, with smaller bits of High Davieland and Crosslees. An the bottom of the burn at Spiersbridge, the park touches more of the Maxwell’s lands, including Arden, Ardenhead and Thornliebank. Perhaps the oddest portion making up the park is the mill lands of Rockend (various spellings), part of Eglinton’s land, but isolated from the rest of the estate on the opposite (west) side of the burn. The mill lands would give their name to the park, which is quite fitting, as the origins of the park are tied in with use of water for power and processing.

The growing availability of the land in the area for agricultural, industrial and finally leisure use was due to the decline of the great wood of Eastwood, which had covered much of the area. It was also part of the decline of the traditional owners, the Montgomeries of Eglinton. By 1812, much of the Eglinton estate of Eastwood, measuring more than 1,100 acres was on the open market. In the previous century there are further hints at the demise of the woodland, from adverts in the Glasgow press. These include the sale of the “Last woods of Eastwood” in 1773, or the sale of oak, ash, plane, fir in Eastwood Wood in 1819.


Mills and Water

rouken3Beyond the park, the Capelrig Burn flows through Thornliebank and Eastwood, meeting the White Cart at Pollokshaws. From the 1740s the burn was used as a source of water for some of the earliest bleachfields and printfields in Scotland down at Pollokshaws. Nearer the park, the burn is best-known for powering the textile works at Thornliebank.

Less well-known is that there was also extensive water based industry inside what is now the park. (For more information see the website page on Bleachfields and Printworks.)

Visitors to the park will find ruins of what appears to have been a mill down in the glen, below the site of the former mansion house. Yet this ruin is simply a folly, concealing a pump which raised water to the mansion.

The picture on the left shows the path which leads to the ruins of the real and much earlier Rockend Mill which survive further upstream, near the waterfall.

In the lower end of the park, Brocklees or Newfield Printfield was started by Robert Osburn in the 1770s. By the mid 1790 Newfield was run by Osburn’s son William, but William died and Brocklees was advertised, including the “farm, dwelling houses, mill and other buildings, engines and bleaching items belonging to Mr Osburn”. Mayfield works included a large water powered cotton mill driven by an elaborate lade in the park. You can see the grave of Robert Osburn in Eastwood Cemetery on the right. The grave of Robert Osburn in Eastwood Cemetery

The Crums gradually took over Newfield works, and also purchased most of the lands which became Rouken Glen Park. In 1806 they advertised the mill lands of Rouken, as a suitable site for building a villa. The adjacent fall in the burn of over seventy feet was also offered as a source of power for industry, such as a paper mill.

Despite the later fame of the Crums, in the early decades of the nineteenth century they were in financial difficulty. They advertised land along the water of ‘Rucken’ in 1809. In 1821 the Crums were in more serious trouble and their whole business was in the hands of creditors. In addition to marketing their printing works, bleaching houses, dye houses, warehouses, cotton mill and entire village at Thornliebank, they advertised Newfield cotton mill in what is now the park, which contained 4,000 spindles and eighty power looms.

rouken5The entire works at Newfield and Thornliebank were powered by the Capelrig burn, which today seems incredible, given the modest flow in the burn. However, back in the 1790s the Crums had purchased the Brother Loch, at the headwaters of the burn, on Mearns Moor. They built a large dam on the loch and multiplied its storage capacity. The dam as it is today is pictured on the right.

Early in the morning, at a pre-defined time, a worker rode up to the Brother Loch and opened the sluice by a precise amount. The situation was similar to the Long Loch on the Levern, where opening the sluice by three inches provide enough power to employ several thousand people in the textile works downstream at Barrhead and Neilston.

The water from the Brother Loch also benefited the printworks and bleachfields downstream at Pollokshaws, which shared ownership of the reservoir with the Crums. Upstream, the water also benefited numerous Mearns bleachfields, including Netherplace, Greenfield, Tofts, Wellmeadow and Broom.

rouken6The Crums survived the financial difficulties of the 1820s and Alexander Crum took over the family business from 1867. Despite the vast scale of the works relative to the modest burn, Alexander was determined to continue to rely exclusively on water power.

This was partly to avoid air pollution, including smuts from the chimneys from affecting his textile printing. To increase water storage, he added further water storage at Pilmuir reservoir in Mearns.

He also bought Greenfield and Wellmeadow bleachfields upstream, which had been causing pollution. This made Thornliebank and Newfield one of the first smoke-free works in Britain.

Alexander Crum’s biggest development occurred in the lower parts of Rouken Glen.

The burn was diverted and a huge reservoir created at Newfield.  This reservoir and its related dams, tunnels, lades and overflows survives as Rouken Glen’s best kept secret, now hidden in trees below Rouken Glen Garden Centre car park.

rouken12Despite the size of Newfield reservoir and the importance of its cotton mill and bleachfield beside Spiersbridge, the Newfield name became almost forgotten, lost under the umbrella of the main Thornliebank works downstream.

In the early twentieth century an elevated walkway, below the walled garden, passed the reservoir and a well known duck pond, but this was left to decay decades ago.

rouken13It is often forgotten that the most spectacular feature of the park, the waterfall near the pond, is not a natural feature, but another of the Crum’s water storage dams. The deep reservoir behind the curving masonry dam has silted up, making the dam look simply like a waterfall. The dam is occasionally drained which allows it to be seen. At the base of the man-made dam, under the bridge at the crest of the original natural waterfall, a rock-cut channel leads off to Rouken Mill. 

The final use of the water in the burn was to create Rouken Glen pond. Originally it was a small curling pond. This was greatly enlarged in the twentieth century to form the present boating pond.  Water from the burn is diverted to the pond from the crest of the waterfall, which is just at the right height to supply the pond.


Although today the park is threatened by the growth of suburbia, from the late 1840s the lands which became the park were threatened by railways. In 1848, the railway reached the very edge of the park at Speirsbridge, serving Thornliebank works. After 1900, the new Neilston railway cut along the southern edge of the park, using the cutting of the old Whitecraigs quarry for a station.


Mansions and Cottages

rouken9The mansion house in the park has had a confusing variety of names. Although it was built on Brocklees Farm, it was called Birkenshaw House when first built. This was the name of another Eglinton farm some distance away. In 1852 ‘Birkenshaw Mansion House’, cottage and offices were advertised in the Glasgow press.

Although the Crums often get the credit for founding this mansion, it was built by another Glasgow merchant in the 1850s and not purchased by Walter Crum until about 1860, when he enlarged it. The Crums added paths and gardens for their own enjoyment and this began to create the modern park as we know it.

rouken10The mansion became known as Thornliebank House, named after the Crum’s old house which had been situated inside Thornliebank works. Back in 1820, their old house was described as the “mansion house, offices and garden of Thornliebank”.

Shortly after 1900 one of the Crum heirs sold the estate to Archibald Cameron Corbett, M.P., later Lord Rowallan. In 1906, he gifted the estate and mansion house to the citizens of Glasgow and it was officially opened on 25 May 1906 as a public park.

Once the park was established, the house became known simply as Rouken Glen House or the Mansion House, rounding off at least half a dozen names. Like many country houses, following military use during the Second World War, it fell into disrepair, and was demolished in the early 1960s.

rouken11The old courtyard of the farm near the garden centre, with the double gates and clock has had various uses. The north range was a popular tearoom, then a Chinese restaurant, but currently lies empty. The buildings were originally the site of Brocklees farm, and incorporate the farmhouse, or Birkenshaw Cottage. From the 1830s Birkenshaw Cottage was regularly advertised as a summer retreat.  

Overall, it should not be forgotten that the scenic landscape of Rouken Glen conceals an earlier and less obvious story of woods, agriculture, minerals and water power.

Stuart Nisbet (2011)




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