Alternative Names
Cowdon; Coldoun; Cowdoun
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Background

The community of Neilston currently enjoys informal access to the privately owned Estate of Cowden Hall, located on the village's north-western edge. The records for the Estate are amongst the earliest for the Parish. Its history is one of Lords, Earls and Barons; of Lairds and 18th century agricultural progress; of 19th century industrialists and empire; and no less important, of the life and work of 'ordinary people' over time in a rural, mill town. The changes in its ownership and land use provide a fascinating insight into the wider political, economic and social factors that have shaped the development of Neilston, its people and landscape.

Records of the development of Neilston, including Cowden Hall, can be found in various sources including the Statistical Account of Scotland 1799 and 1830 as well as the more familiar publications, such as Dr Pride's History of the Parish of Neilston, and more recently, the Memories of Neilston Mill (2009) by Neilston's Bobbins and Threads . Copies of these can be found in the Neilston Community Library. The Cowden Hall Timeline shown below has been made possible by the works of the authors, individuals and groups shown in the Historical Records .

Cowden Hall Timeline

Click on dates for further information

Pre 17c: Early history: The Castle

Developments in the estate know as Cowden Hall can be dated back to the 12th century. The 'auld castle' of Cowden Hall sat on a hill to the west of what was the 'Boating Pond' in the 19th and 20th century. The land and the castle were held then, and for many years, by the ancient family of Spruils (Taylor, p52). Taylor provides an illustration of the 'standing' of the Spruil family and the Barony of Cowden, with Walter Spruil, for instance, 'Senescal' or 'Lord Chief of Justice' to Malcolm, Earl of Lennox in 1294.
17c-18c: Progress and improvements; Barons, Lords and Earls

By the 16th century the Castle was no longer standing, having been replaced in the 18th century by a laird's house (identified by RCAHM as the only surviving example in this part of Scotland, and typical of those occupied by middle-ranking lairds). For more information click here.

The Estate was owned by the Cochrane's from around 1622 and was the late residence of William Cochrane, Lord of Cowdon, who inherited the Barony. William Cochrane was later awarded the title Earl of Dundonald in return for services to the King, Charles II.

In 1725, the property was owned by the Marquis of Clydesdale, a descendant of the Earl of Dundonald, and sold by the Hamilton family in 1766 to Baron Mure of Caldwell who sold part of the Estate in 1790 to Orr and Company (Stewart, 2009).

These 18th century changes in land ownership, proceeded along with a range of agricultural improvements and industrial development (including bleach fields, calico works and lint mills which transformed the rural landscape, and gathered pace over the 19th century. The Cochrane's, for example, laid out a bleach field and set up a lint mill when on the lands of Cowden under their ownership with the Crofthead Spinning Mill established by Orr and Co in 1792.

As noted in Neilston: People and Place (2009), Neilston's 'population expanded as people moved into the area to spin, weave, bleach, dye and print cotton. The Kirkton of Neilston and the once separate settlement of Holehouse coalesced and continued to grow'. A history and account of housing development in the once separate settlement of Holehouse can be found in the historical records, see Pride and Laws.

1830-1900s: Grand designs: homes, gardens and industry

Neilston's industrial development throughout the 19th century is documented in the various historical records, with Bobbins and Threads Memories of a Neilston Mill providing an excellent record of that for Crofthead Mill. From this source we learn of the Orr family's role in the development of Cowden Hall Estate such that, in 1830, James Orr, founder of the Crofthead Mill, built Crofthead House on the Estate as his home. Having sold the Crofthead Mill in 1859 on to R.F. and J. Alexander, Orr's nephew, Robert Orr, then leading the enterprise, it seemed was well positioned to enjoy the rewards of the business and build himself a grand new house, near the site of his uncle's house, to be called Cowden Hall. This development was accompanied by a massive investment in, and metamorphosis of, the Estate into the designed landscape of the 19th century.

As described by Stewart (2009) under Orr's ownership 'The whole estate was remodelled and trees imported from all over the world. It was a palatial mansion with croquet lawns, tennis courts, a bowling green and a boating pond with boathouse. The motto above the door read True to the End. There were substantial greenhouses and outhouses and a large conservatory connected to the main house by a bridge from an upper floor to the top of the cliff against which the house was sited'. Stewart also notes that with Robert Orr's death, the house was taken over by the Mill.

Several other homes were built around the estate, including four for the mill managers, one being High Crofthead House, which still stands (now known as Crofthead House); the various gatehouses and lodges on the estate's periphery as homes for the Estate workers.

The Memories of Neilston Mill. (Neilston: Bobbins and Threads, 2009) tells us of the consolidation of the R.F. and J. Alexander's ownership of the Mill with the new consortium, English Sewing Cotton Company, in 1898 and the subsequent further expansion of the Crofthead Mill. The closure and consolidation of R.F. and J. Alexander's Duke St Mill, Glasgow, in 1906 resulted in an influx of workers to the Crofhead Mill, where the number of employees rose to between 1250 and 1500 in the first decade of the 20th century. The Mill Houses of the Holehouse Estate were built to accommodate this influx of workers associated with the Mill's expansion.

1914 -1918: The war effort

Like most large country homes during the First World War*, Cowden Hall served as a convalescence home, in this case to British and Belgian soldiers (Bobbins and Threads 2009).

Little is recorded of the scale and impact of this development on Neilston life, but we can imagine that the Home brought new activity to the village in terms of domestic and auxiliary work as well as to those in the nursing profession.

*The War and British Red Cross
At the outbreak of the First World War, the British Red Cross and the Order of St John of Jerusalem combined to form the Joint War Committee to pool resources under the protection of the Red Cross emblem. Because the British Red Cross had secured buildings, equipment and staff, the organisation was able to set up temporary hospitals as soon as wounded men began to arrive from abroad. The buildings varied widely, ranging from town halls and schools to large and small private houses, both in the country and in cities. The most suitable ones were established as auxiliary hospitals.

1900s-1960s: Business and pleasure

Under English Sewing Cotton Company's ownership of the Mill, the Cowden Hall Estate and Manor served primarily as a workers' welfare and recreation facility. With up to 1500 mill workers employed in the mill in the first decade of the century, the significance of this resource in supporting the good relations, loyalty and well being enjoyed by the management with its employees can be appreciated. (Memories of Neilston Mill. Neilston: Bobbins and Threads, 2009).

The mill workers enjoyed access to the tennis courts, two bowling greens, gardens, boulevards and orchards of the estate in addition to indoor facilities including a billiard hall and a venue for dances and events. In this environment, the social life of mill workers flourished, the legacy of which is with us still in the living memory of those who grew up on and around the estate as children, family and neighbours of mill workers and the mill (see Let's Talk!).

Other activities in the House included that of the dressmaking firm, Diana Dresses, relocated from London just after World War Two and the subsequent conversion of the house into flats for key mill workers. (Memories of Neilston Mill. Neilston: Bobbins and Threads, 2009).

1960s-present: A slow decline

The house was demolished 1962, a symbol of what had been the gradual disinvestment** in the Estate. The Crofthead Mill closed in 1992. As described within the Charter, the Estate of Cowden Hall now acts as an informal park for the residents of the village of Neilston.

The community's current relationship with Cowden Hall is explored in the following two sections.

**A further instance of this is revealed through the story of the Cowden Hall Estate Bowling Club, founded in 1921. The Club was relocated in 1959 to the Mill 'Recreation Hall' on Molendinar Terrace. The original turf from the Cowden Hall green was brought to its new home, in wheel barrows. In its first few years in its new home, the Bowling Club shared facilities with other recreational activities such as badminton, but in time became the main user of the facility as other activities died away. The Hall was purchased by the Bowling Club members in 1994, coinciding with English Sewing Cotton Company's disposal of its assets in Neilston.