The History of Cathkin House

A black and white photo of Cathkin House which has white railings around it, a path leading up to the entrance plus a large lawn with mature trees and shrubs.

Built in 1799, this house features in Thomas Annan's Old Country Houses of the Old Glasgow Gentry (1878). Read on to find out more about this fascinating house and the families who lived there.

Cathkin House was built in 1799, for Walter Ewing Maclae (1745 - 1814). It was designed by architect and landscape gardener, James Ramsay (d.1820).

On publication of the original volume Old Country House of the old Glasgow Gentry (1878), Cathkin House was described as "the property of Alexander Crum Maclae[...], presently of Cathkin, [who] is the head of three distinct families: the Maclaes, who were merchants in Glasgow some two hundred years ago; the Ewings, who, coming originally from the Vale of Leven, have been settled for many generations in the great City; and the Crums, a Glasgow race, who were manufacturers and merchants there towards the end of last century."

Hugh MacDonald in 1856, describes the area thus: From Stonelaw to Cathkin the road gradually ascends through a delightful succession of gently swelling knolls and fields in a high state of cultivation, interspersed with clumps of wood and fine belts of planting, the haunts of numerous birds, and at this season of love ringing merrily with their sweetest melodies [...] commanding an extensive and beautiful prospect [...] "in the low ground are seen the Burgh of Rutherglen, and our own good city, nestling, as usual, under her canopy of smoke. The prospect from this spot is one of great interest and magnificance, and embraces [...] within its scope no fewer than sixteen counties. (16)

According to John Buchanan, author of the text, "Walter Ewing, afterwards Walter Ewing Maclae of Cathkin, married Margaret Fisher, daughter of the Rev. James Fisher, formerly parish minister of Kinclaven, afterwards one of the four "outed" ministers in 1733 who became "the fathers of the Secession."

During his lifetime, Walter Ewing Maclae made a fortune in the West India Trade. In addition, his brother, James Ewing of Strathleven (1775 - 1853), was a dominant figure in the Glasgow Merchants House and the town council. By the 1790s, the family had extensive sugar interests in Jamaica. They owned various plantations in Jamaica, as well as at least 449 slaves. According to claim details from 1836, Humphrey owned at least three plantations. Port Royal (161 enslaved), St Ann (195 enslaved) & Lillyfield (93 enslaved). It is safe to assume that the profits of this plantation, and the work of the slaves, contributed to the wealth required for the design and building of Cathkin House. Interestingly, Humphrey's maternal cousin was Reverend Dr Ralph Wardlaw (1779 - 1853), who was one of Scotland's leading anti-slavery campaigners.

The first available census of Scotland in 1841 (1) records that Cathkin House was inhabited by Walter's son Humphrey Ewing Maclae (1770 - 1860), the laird of Cathkin, his wife Jane (1774 - 1874), and their servants. Humphrey was absent on the date of the census, but Jane Maclae did have a young visitor, Barbara Mulholland (aged 30). The two women were waited upon by five servants, including a young woman aged 15, Joan McMaster. Jane and Humphrey did have a family during their marriage, but they were not on the 1841 census as they had sadly both died at a young age. Walter (1811 - 1826), died in Nantes at the age of fiteen, on the same day as his aunt, Isabella Dennistoun Brown. (2) Their second son, Alexander (1816 - 1829) died at the age of thirteen.

In 1851 (3), Humphrey was in the house, along with his wife, Jane and four servants from various rural parts of Scotland and Ireland. None of these servants were there in 1841. Humphrey died just before the 1861 census (4), so the house would probably have been in mourning at this point. Jane was 86, and employed four servants to care for her. The housemaids, Jane Weir and Margaret Ferquhar, also feature on other censuses, so were clearly attached to the family.

In 1871 (5), at the impressive age of 96, Jane was hosting a number of visitors. Elizabeth Hyde is visiting from Glasgow, along with a young man from Syria named Joseph George Saleeby (aged 26) and a 20-year-old lady by the name of Mary Brown. Jane Weir had been promoted to the role of Housekeeper, and Margaret Farquhar was now the cook. There was also a new butler, Alexander Mackay (aged 59). In 1874, Jane Ewing Maclae passed away at the impressive age of 101. After her death, owing to the early death of her two sons, the estate of Cathin passed to her nephew Alexander Crum Maclae.

1881 brought a new family to Cathkin House. Anton Kufeke was German-born flour merchant based in Hope Street in Glasgow. His son, Richard also worked in the family business. They were regularly listed in the Glasgow Post Office directory, and were so successful that Anton had a regular column in the Oregon News on the subject of the flour industry (7). Alongside them in the house, there is an English governess, Mary Cuddon, who would have taught and cared for the smaller children. Interestingly, the eldest daughter of the family, Nelly (aged 23), is listed as a scholar. The family had two important visitors, showing evidence of their involvement with the Catholic Church in Glasgow. Charles Eyre, the Most Reverend Archbishop of Glasgow, and James McLachlan, who was also an official of the church. Their four young servants, including two Roses, came from various rural areas of Scotland and Ireland. Anton Kufeke and his family quickly moved on to Crown Terrace in Dowanhill, reflecting similar movement to the West of the city in the late 19th century.

The next family to reside in Cathkin House were the Guthries. William Guthrie (1836 - 1908) was born in 1836 in Inch, Wigtonshire, the son of George Guthrie (1804 - 1868), who was a factor, lawyer, and chamberlain to the Earl of Stair. The rest of the family were also closely involved in the legal, insurance and accounting business. There is another female scholar, Margaret Guthrie (age 23), who is described as an Arts student. The children were all living in the family home at the relatively advanced age. Perhaps the large number of servants made for a pretty comfortable life for the young Guthries! By 1901, the family had moved to Mansionhouse Road, in Langside.

The Findlay family are the last to be listed in the published census, residing at Cathkin House in both 1901 and 1911. Robert Findlay (1854 - 1924) was an East India merchant. In 1891, the family lived nearby, in Burnside, later moving literally "up the hill" to Cathkin as they became more wealthy. They sadly lost a child in 1894. Robert was named as a Justice of the Peace in Hamilton 1902. Some notable family members include his father, Thomas Findlay (1825 - 1891), who was the son of Robert Findlay (1784 - 1862), a landowner and banker. Robert's daughter Jean Hamilton Findlay (1891 - 1982), was awarded an MBE late in her life. The family later moved to Crossbasket, Blantyre.

The Findlays had a large number of servants, including an Indian governess for the children, Ada Rundall Boothry. There is a nurse, Annie Milne, for the smaller children, and Swiss sewing maid named Josephine Brocard. There is also a Cook, a Tablemaid, a Laundress, two Housemaids, a Kitchenmaid, and a Groom! In 1911 (10), only Helen Findlay and her daughter Jean (aged 20), remain. On the date of the 1911 census, they were being visited by a young lady named Cecelia Mary Grey Buchanan (aged 19), perhaps a friend of Jean. During the First World War, Jean Findlay appears in a report in the Hamilton Advertiser in 1916, noting that she had sent the names of workers on the estate to the Lord Lieutenant of the County. She clearly had a keen interest in the running of the estate (11).

After the Findlay family, the next residents were the Train family, owners of a major firm of Glasgow building contractors founded by John Train. John Train & Taylor was a major firm of Glasgow building contractors, founded by two brothers-in-law, John Train (later 'Sir', b. Cambusnethan, 1873–1942) and William Taylor (b. Co. Down, Ireland, c. 1870–1954). Taylor married Train's sister, Dorothea, in 1892. Train was a stonemason's son who, like Taylor, became a mason himself, and Train's obituary dates the firm's origins to 1894. However, the firm only appears in local directories from 1904, and its address is listed as 'Dalmarnock Bridge, Rutherglen' from 1905 onwards. The firm's many projects illustrate the breadth of skills and success of the company. The company built many of the stone bungalows along the current Cathkin by-pass. (12)

In addition to being involved in the building trade, the company moved to provision of building materials from the estate land. Their first attempt at quarrying in the Cathkin estate was unfortunately, not a success, "owing to the fact that the stone contained a red pigmentation which not only disfigured the stone, but would not bond with cement, and so, after a fairly short life, the quarry was closed". A second enterprise was more successful, an abandoned quarry next to the original one. "This he named as Cathkin Quarry South and will be remembered by many today as a working quarry. Under the management of John Gray, the quarry went from strenth to strength, supplying stone for the foundations of such buildings as the Rolls-Royce, East Kilbride, Toryglen Chapel, Victoria Infirmary and Blairbeth Church. [...] During the Second World War 25 wagon loads of Cathkin Stone were used to ballast the ships which were deliberately sunk to block Cherbourg Harbour." (13)

Cathkin House was improved by some renovation in 1919. The design for a new door by Watson, Salmond and Grey architects being displayed in the 1922 in the annual show of the Royal Glasgow Institute for the Fine Arts. (14)

In 1929 John Train was elected as Unionist MP for Glasgow Cathcart. Following considerable commercial success, and political office, John Train died in 1942, having been Knighted in 1936. He was survived by his wife, Lady Train, two sons and three daughters. The landscape of the estate had change significantly during his lifetime. The land was being quarried and farmed, and the maps of the estate reflect this.

If you wish to undertake further research into this local family, please contact Glasgow City Archives, which holds the records of John Train & Co, LTD: Builders and Contractors, Rutherglen & Cathkin Quarries Co. (TD118).

In 1923, a young man named Thomas Park, the son of the gardener of Cathkin House, was lucky enough to find "a cheap attache case which was discovered to contain £700 in treasury notes [...] hidden in a wall on a foot-path in Cathkin Braes, Glasgow. While walking along the path with some companions the boy caught sight of what he thought was an old piece of linoleum protruding from the wall [...] The case was crumbling, and though locked was easily opened, and the notes were found in bundles of £100. The police were notified, and took possession. It is supposed that the money is part of a sum of money stolen while in transit to a Manchester bank. In 1921, a man was sent to prison for 18 months for theft, and it is believed that he visited Glasgow before his conviction." (15)

In 1955, the National Children's Home opened its first Scottish Home at Cathkin House after being gifted the house by the Train family. Initially, the house was divided up to place children in three 'family groups' under the supervision of a 'house mother'. There was further accomodation throughout the grounds, including two small gate cottages. After its closure, the property was used for a while as a residential care facility for elderly people. For around 4 years, the property stood empty, before being converted into private residences.

It's fascinating to think of all the families who have brought Cathkin House to life over the years. Indeed, there is considerable further research that could be done into the residents who lived there: there are the slaves, whose toil fininanced the building of the house; the very old Glasgow family, who owned those slaves; the bereaved parents rattling around the house with their many servants; ; the young man visiting from Syria; the servants who left their families to work for the wealthy owners; the smart young lawyers; the hardworking flour merchants; the East India merchants; the Indian governess; the young women scholars, who would have been in a minority of women at university at that time; the successful businessman and member of parliament; the residents of the children's home, and now the home-owners who look from their windows over the vista of the City of Glasgow, perhaps no longer nestling under a canopy of smoke, but certainly still embraced by "no fewer than sixteen counties".

All research for this article was completed using the resources in the Family History Centre in the Mitchell Library. Please contact us for more information.

(1) Census 1841 Parish: Carmunnock; ED: 2; Page: 6; Line: 940; Year: 1841​
(2) Caledonian Mercury 2 February 1826
(3) Census 1851 Parish: Carmunnock; ED: 1; Page: 3; Line: 13; Roll: CSSCT1851_151; Year: 1851
(4) Census 1861 Parish: Carmunnock; ED: 3; Page: 6; Line: 20; Roll: CSSCT1861_94
(5) Census 1871 Parish: Carmunnock; ED: 3; Page: 6; Line: 7; Roll: CSSCT1871_121​
(6) Census 1881 Parish: Carmunnock; ED: 3; Page: 6; Line: 3; Roll: cssct1881_208
(7) Oregon News 17 September 1884
(8) Census 1891 Parish: Carmunnock; ED: 3; Page: 11; Line: 7; Roll: CSSCT1891_231
(9) Census 1901 Parish: Carmunnock; ED: 3; Page: 3; Line: 1; Roll: CSSCT1901_256
(10) Census 1911
(11) Hamilton Advertiser May 1916
(12) John Train & Taylor from Mackintosh Architecture
(13) East Kilbride News 26 August 1983
(14) Cathkin House on Dictionary of Scottish Architects
(15) Rutherglen boy finds £500. The Scotsman 28 March 1923
(16) McDonald, Hugh Rambles Round Glasgow (1854)