Kilnside House
Hawkhead House

Ferguslie House- click for larger version

Photograph by Thomas Annan

Hawkhead was a large mansion house situated a few yards from what is now Ben Lawers Drive in the modern housing estate of the same name to the south east of Paisley.

Hawkhead (Halkhead) estate was originally owned by the Royal Stewarts and  acquired  in 1367  from the future King Robert lI, then Earl of Strathern  by Sir John Ross for an annual payment of a pair of gloves, or two pennies of silver, to the King. The original name of the family was the  'de Ros ' (from Normandy) which was changed to the Scottish 'Ross' in 1489 when Sir John Ros was inserted among the Barons of Parliament as Lord Ross of Hawkhead .

This was the famous  John 'Palm My Arm' Ross  who lies at Renfrew Parish Church with his wife Marjory Mure.

renfrew effigy of John Ross

The name 'Palm My Arm' comes from wrestling. Ross was said to have been granted the King of Scotland's  favourite land after winning a fight to the death against a giant Englishman with a moat on one side and a raging fire on the other. Even though the honour of Scotland had  been saved, the King was reluctant to let the land go, but Ross insisted. It was King's Inch in Renfrew !!  There must be some truth to the tale because the Ross family was granted King's Inch and owned it until 1760. The full story is here.

The family held the estate unbroken until the 13th Lord Ross who had no sons. He did have a daughter, who married the third Earl of Glasgow. Their son succeeded to the Earldom of Glasgow and was raised to the peerage  as Lord Ross of Hawkhead, that line having died out in the male line. The estate therefore went to the Earls of Glasgow. Hawkhead had a very old tower, but the main part of the building was built in 1634 including orchards and large gardens  with alterations in 1750 to 1780 by Robert Adam, the famous Scottish architect. It was visited in 1681 by the Duke of York, afterwards King James VII. 

The title 'Lord Ross expired with the fourteenth Lord in 1754. and the estate passed first to his eldest sister, Mrs Ross Mackye, and next to a younger sister, Elizabeth, widow of the third Earl of Glasgow. Her son, the fourth Earl, succeeded her in 1791, and in 1815 was created Baron Ross of Hawkhead in the peerage of the United Kingdom. The Earls of Glasgow are the Boyle family who's seat is (still) at Kelburne Castle near Largs.

The 1881 census showed a gamekeeper called James Dunlop with his wife, mother and son, a head servant called Margaret Wilson and another servant by the name of Catherine Methven living in the house. In 1886 the estate was sold to William Stevenson, a Glasgow Quarrymaster including the mansion house and three farms to the south. Lime was quarried on the estate and there is a disused quarry still marked on the current Ordnance Survey map. Later occupants included John Lye, who owned a drapery warehouse in Glasgow

In 1914 it became part of a mental hospital called Hawkhead Asylum (now Leverndale Hospital). The house itself was eventually demolished in 1953. There were two entrances to the estate, one near the Hurlet at the curve of the road and is still clearly a track and the other near the river Cart on the current cycle track at the bottom of the hill going up to the former hospital and tower. A road also ran from the hospital farm to the house.There is a 1923 map below with a reservoir (formerly a quarry) showing and the various tracks. A water pipe ran the two miles from there to the Saucel whisky distillery at Lonend.

hawkhead House 1923 map click for bigger version

The nearby farm, a 'B' listed building (called Hawkhead House farm) was built in 1769 and was the residence of the head coachman. Horses were also kept for hunting. On the map, it is marked as 'offices'.

Below are three recent pictures. Firstly the remains of what are probably the cellars at the back of the house just a few yards from the Hawkhead estate. Secondly, the strange sight of metal traffic barriers in the trees just a hundred or so yards from the cycle track, which must have been a road up to the hospital farm (now demolished). There was also a patient's golf course near there until a few years ago.Third is the view from the house to Hawkhead estate.

Remainsfarm trackView from house to Hawkhead estate

The Ross family also gave their name to Ross maternity hospital which was in Hawkhead Road and became Ross House, the health board headquarters and the Ross Hall estate including Ross Hall private hospital on Crookston Road and the adjacent Ross Hall Park which was originally part of the larger Hawkhead Estate. Ross Hall Mains Farm is the farm with the horses on Scott's Road across the river from the cycle track.

Ross HouseRoss Hall Mains Farmross hall hospital

Hawkhead House - click for larger version

Hawkhead House - click for larger version

Detailed Histories

Millar A H (1889) The castles and mansions of Renfrewshire and Buteshire

Hawkhead, which was until lately one of the seats of the Earl of Glasgow, is situated about two miles south-east of Paisley, in the Abbey parish. The principal messuage of the estate of Hawkhead stood formerly on the site of the present building; and some remains of it seem to have been in existence when Crawford wrote his history in 1710. Referring to Hawkhead at this time, he wrote thus:

"This fabric is built in the form of a court, and consists of a large old tower, to which there were lower buildings added, in the reign of King Charles I., anno 1634, by James, Lord Ross, and Dame Margaret Scott, his lady, and adorned with large orchards, fine gardens, and pretty terraces, with regular and stately avenues fronting the said castle, and almost surrounded with woods and enclosures, which adds much to the pleasure of this seat."

After the death of William, thirteenth and last Lord Ross, in 1754, the estate of Hawkhead fell first to his eldest sister, the Hon. Jane Ross ; and after her decease, in 1777, to the younger sister, the Right Hon. Elizabeth Ross, Countess Dowager of Glasgow. Great alterations were made upon the mansion by Lady Glasgow after her accession ; and Semple, writing in 1782, speaks of her Ladyship as "making great improvements in repairing the manour within, which is a very ancient and elegant structure, adorned with a large cupola on the top. Her Ladyship is also making a new garden, a few score yards south from the house, consisting of near four acres of ground, with a large green hot-house about 120 feet long. At the back of the said green hot-house is an ice-house building, the only one I know of in the shire. Adjacent to the south side of the manour are a number of different kinds of drooping trees interspersed,-which, I imagine, has been the pleasure-ground formerly,-where two very broad arched stone bridges crosses over a road which leads into the lower story of the house, which forms a kind of square court, secured with a baluster and rail along the breasts."

The estate of Hawkhead was originally a portion of the lands possessed by the Royal Stewarts in Renfrewshire. According to Mr. Riddell, the genealogist, Sir John Ross, son of Godfrey Ross of Tarbart, acquired the lands of Hawkhead, in 1367, from Robert lI., then Earl of Strathern, and fixed his residence at that place. The oldest charter, however, now in existence amongst the documents preserved at Hawkhead, is dated 30th March, 1390, and by it the lands of Auchinback and Hawkhead are conferred upon Sir John Ross, for an annual payment of a pair of gloves, or two pennies of silver, to the King. The descent of the family of the Rosses of Hawkhead is somewhat obscure until the close of the fifteenth century, at which time Sir John Ross was created Lord Ross of Hawkhead, circa 1490. That he resided at Hawkhead is proved by a charter dated 31st May, I499, by which he grants to his son and heirapparent, Sir John Ross of Malevyn, certain lands in Linlithgow.

This document was signed by Lord Ross:-Apud manerium de Halkhede. This son succeeded his father as second Lord Ross, and fell at the battle of Flodden. From him descended, in unbroken succession, James, sixth Lord Ross, who, with his wife Margaret, daughter of Walter, Lord Scott of Buccleuch, made those alterations upon the house of Hawkhead to which Crawford alludes. Three of their sons were successively seventh, eighth, and ninth Lords Ross ; and after the death of the last of them, unmarried, in 1648, the title and estates devolved upon their kinsman, Sir William Ross of Muiriston. The grandson of the latter was a very eminent man in his time. He was born in 1656, and succeeded his father as twelfth Lord Ross, in 1682. At the Revolution of 1688 he zealously supported the Orange party, and was a Privy Councillor both to King. William and to Queen Anne.

He strongly advocated the Union of the Parliaments, and was chosen one of the Representative Peers in 1715, and appointed Lieutenant of Renfrewshire at the same time. He resided principally at Hawkhead, taking an active interest in county affairs, even when advanced in years; and he died at Hawkhead on 15th March, 1738, in the eighty-second year of his age. His son George, thirteenth Lord Ross, was the father of Elizabeth, Countess of Glasgow, who made the latest alterations upon Hawkhead. She was born in 1725, married, in 1755, to John, third Earl of Glasgow, and succeeded to the estate of Hawkhead in the manner described.

She died at London, on 9th October, 1791. Her son George, fourth Earl of Glasgow (nat. 1766, ob. 1843), was Lord-Lieutenant of Renfrewshire in 1810, and was raised to the Peerage of Great Britain in 1815, with. the title of Baron Ross of Hawkhead. His son James, fifth Earl of Glasgow, who was also Lord-Lieutenant of Renfrewshire, held the estate till his death in 1869, when he was succeeded by his brother, George Frederick, the present Earl. In 1886 the estate was exposed to sale in lots, when Mr. William Stevenson, Quarrymaster in Glasgow, purchased the mansion house lot with the three farms lying to the south, and marching with his estate of Househill.The mansion house is presently occupied by Mr. John Lye, Glasgow.

Ramsay Philip (1839) Views in Renfrewshire, with historical and descriptive notices,

SOUTH-WEST from Crookston, and amidst scenery similar to that which has already been repeatedly described, stands Hawkhead House, the property of George, fourth Earl of Glasgow, a lineal descendant, maternally, of the Rosses,' its ancient possessors, who were sprung from the English Rosses, -lords of the baronies of Wark and Belvoir. A branch of that family settled in Ayrshire, soon after the middle of the twelfth century, and held the estate of Tarbart and other lands in the district of Cunningham. These Rosses were .quite unconnected with the once powerful, but long since attainted, house of the Earls of Ross in the North of Scotland, with whom they have sometimes been confounded.

In the year 1367, Sir John Ross, a younger son of Sir Godfrey Ross of Tarbart, Sheriff of Ayr, acquired from Robert, Earl of Strathern, afterwards King Robert IL, the barony of Halkhead, or Hawkhead, in Renfrewshire. He there fixed his residence, and is found frequently witnessing deeds connected with the West of Scotland. Other lands in Renfrewshire were acquired by his descendants. In 1450, the Rosses of Tarbart alienated their estate to their cousins, the Rosses of Hawkhead, upon whom, on the failure of the Tarbart branch, the representation of the family afterwards devolved.

On the circle of an arch, in the church of Renfrew, there is a Latin inscription, which tells that Sir John Ross of Hawkhead and Marjory, (Mure,) his lady, repose underneath. Figures of these persons, cut in stone, lay long below the arch : some years ago, they were removed into an adjacent aisle, which forms the burying place of the family, where they may still be seen. This monument is without a date, but, as the last Sir John Ross, who remained a commoner, died before the year 1501, it cannot be referred to a later period than the end of the fifteenth century. There is a traditionary story, that the Sir John Ross commemorated on the monument vanquished an English knight in single combat, from which lie acquired the epithet of " Palm-my-arm;" and by that name his effigy is to this day called by the worthy burghers of Renfrew.*

Sir John Ross of Hawkhead, a descendant of the famous " Palmmy-arm," was, about the year 1503, raised to the Peerage, with the title of Lord Ross. On 7th January 1504, he was summoned, under that title, " at his duelling-place of the Halkhed," to appear before the Privy Council, to answer to a complaint at the instance of the abbot and convent of Paisley. Through his mother, Agnes Melville, daughter and sole heiress of Thomas Melville of that Ilk, he succeeded to the barony of Melville in Mid-Lothian. The arms and the style borne by his son and successor-" Ninianus Dominus Ross ac Melvil"-are sculptured upon a fragment of the old Castle of Melville, now at Hawkhead. On another stone in front of the house appear the arms of George, tenth Lord Ross, who flourished in the seventeenth century. The crest of this family, a hawk's head, erased, is obviously allusive to the name of the estate.Referring to an authentic Memoir respecting the distinguished family

* For. the preservation, in print, of the tradition above referred to, we are indebted to the late Mr Motherwell, by whom it was related in his own peculiarly appropriate style, in the Appendix to Hamilton of VVishaw's Work, p. 300. The Minister of Renfrew has since given it, in a condensed form,
in the New Statistical Account,-article " Renfrewshire," p. 13. Neither of these writers has noticed the combat which Sir John Ross of Hawkhead and other two Scottish knights fought with three foreign champions, in presence of King James II. and his court, at Stirling, in the year 1449, and of which there is reason to suspect that the tradition in question is but another version, disguised and cor-rupted in its oral transmission from age to age.
t Chartulary of Paisley, p. 63.

of Ross, inserted in the Appendix to Robertson's Continuation of Crawfurd's History, we pass at once to William, thirteenth Lord Ross, who died, unmarried, in the year 1754, after having enjoyed the title for only two months. The title became extinct, and the estates of Hawkhead and. Melville devolved on his eldest sister, Jane Ross, wife of John Ross Mackye of Palgowan. By this lady, the estate of Melville was sold, in the year 1760, to Captain Rennie, maternal grandfather of the present Viscount Melville. On her death, in 1777, her only surviving sister, Elizabeth Ross, widow of John Boyle, third Earl of Glasgow, succeeded to the estate of Hawkhead.

Her Ladyship having died in 1791, the estate and representation of the noble family of Ross devolved upon her son, George, fourth Earl of Glasgow, whose paternal ancestors, the Boyles of Kelburn, belong to Ayrshire, where, as free barons, they have flourished for nearly six centuries. The title of Baron Ross of Hawkhead, a peer of the United Kingdom, was revived in favour of the Earl of Glasgow, in the year 1815. The Earl was for some years Lord Lieutenant of the county of Renfrew. He now holds the same office in Ayrshire. This venerable nobleman, whose literary accomplishments are well known, is President of the Maitland Club, for which there was printed, at his expense, the Chartulary of Paisley,-a valuable donation, the benefits derived from which, in the preparation of these Notices, are very apparent.

Hawkhead House is an irregular pile, of which Crawfurd thus writes : -1~ This fabric is built in the form of a court, and consists of a large old tower, to which there were lower buildings added in the reign of King Charles I. in 1634, by James Lord Ross, and Dame Margaret Scott, his lady, and adorned with large orchards, fine gardens, and pretty terraces, with regular and stately avenues, fronting the said Castle, and almost surrounded with woods and inclosures, which adds much to the pleasure of this seat." This was one of the earliest attempts which were made in Renfrewshire to introduce the Dutch style of gardening, and to construct low buildings approaching to the modern fashion, in` addition to the high castellated places of defence which anciently formed the habitations of the nobility and gentry.

Very little alteration was made upon the place from Crawfurd's time till the year 1782, when the Countess Dowager of Glasgow greatly repaired and improved the house, and formed a new garden, consisting of nearly four, acres, a short distance to the south. The estate is still finely adorned with trees. A reverend writer has recorded, as one of the memorable events which happened in his time, that, in the month of October 1681, when Scotland was under the administration of the Duke of York, afterwards King James IL, his Royal Highness " dined at the Halcat with my Lord Ross," This nobleman, George, tenth Lord Ross, was a zealous adherent to the Stewart family ; hence the mark of distinction which the lofty Viceroy paid to him. His son and successor, William, was a promoter of the Revolution of 1688, and, after that event, held several high offices in the State.

* Law's Memorialls, p. 205.