Here is indeed a splendid mansion;
Nobly it stands, rich in architectural
Grace and beauty, amidst these tall old trees:
Where silent flows through meadows green,
And gently sloping banks, Clyde’s lovely stream;
‘Tis a proud monument of enterprise
And industry, and merchant-worth.
CARSTAIRS House, the seat of Henry Monteith, Esq., of Carstairs, is beautifully situated among extensive pleasure grounds, on the north bank of the Clyde. It was erected by Mr. Monteith, in 1824, from designs by William Burn, Esq., Architect, Edinburgh. the style of the building is what is usually called the Manorial, or Domestic Gothic; and certainly it would be difficult to point out an instance, where the more airy graces of Gothic, or rather as it should be called, English Architecture, have been more skilfully, or with greater judgment, applied to a modern manorial edifice. The house, as will be seen in the engraving, is very extensive; contains five public rooms, an appropriate number of bed rooms and dressing rooms; and every other domestic arrangement necessary for so large an establishment. The principal part of the building is of a quadrangular form, rising to two stories, and ornamented at top with an embattled parapet. At each of the corners, and in other parts of the building, are octagonal turrets also embattled. The central portion of the building rises in form of a tower higher than the rest, having also an embattled parapet, and is flanked by octagonal turrets, similar to the other parts. A large wing is attached to one end of the house which gives a graceful irregularity to the general design, exceedingly appropriate in an edifice displaying the Gothic or English Architecture. The principal front is to the north, and is that shown in the engraving. The entrance is here seen, over which extends a porch, with pointed arches, and flanked by small buttresses. On either side of this porch are two large windows, each divided by slender mullions into five lights, trefoiled at the top; and immediately over the porch, are two similar windows, similarly divided. These windows project from the line of the wall, and form corresponding recesses in the rooms they light and ornament. The south front possesses an equal, though varied beauty; some of its windows are pointed, divided into different lights, and ornamented with tracery, others are square topped; but in all are preserved the spirit of the style of the building. The general effect produced by Carstairs house, is that of rich magnificence; its details and ornaments exhibit beauty and elegance. Its internal arrangements, its decorations, and its furniture, are in a style of richness and splendour, corresponding to the grandeur of its external appearance.
The pleasure grounds, in which stands this truly splendid residence of a British Merchant, are, as already mentioned, extensive. Green lawns, interspersed with stately trees single or in groups, spread around; rising into gentle knolls, or sloping softly towards the Clyde, which is here a beautiful and expanded river. Indeed, to the whole of this fine scenery, may be applied, one of Fletcher’s picturesque passages in the Faithful Shepherdess.
Here be woods as green
As any, air likewise as fresh and sweet
As where smooth zephyrus plays on the fleet
Face of the curled streams, with flowers as many
As the young spring gives, and as choice as any.
A short way south of the house between it and the river, is a large avenue, perfectly straight, planted on each side with trees, chiefly beech, but intermixed with oak, elm, lime, ash, and plane-trees. The grassy surface of the walk is kept smooth and level; the trees are high and umbrageous; and mingling overhead, their spreading branches form, through its whole extent, a close leafy covert. When viewed from either side, it exhibits a probably unequalled vista of upwards of a mile in length, and forcibly reminds the beholder of the fanciful origin which has been assigned to Gothic Architecture; for it is alleged that in the invention of this order, man has merely learned to imitate in stone,
“By pointed aisle, and shafted stalk,
The arcades of an alley’d walk.”
Besides the usual offices, which stand to the east of the house, and are seen among the trees at the right side of the engraving, Mr. Monteith has erected, in a very appropriate situation, a complete set of farm offices, containing dairy, stables, barns, and every thing requisite for a large farm. These are extensive, well arranged, and deserve attention from the curious in Agricultural matters.
The village of Carstairs is two miles distant from the house, and since Mr. Monteith’s purchase of the estate, has become the admiration of all travelers. The houses are built on each side of the public road; some of them are whitewashed; they are generally thatched; and all have a neat, clean, and pleasant look. They stand at a little distance from the road, having a piece of ground in front, formed into little kitchen gardens, fenced with rustic railings, and separated from each other by gravel paths, leading from the public road to the different houses. A cleanly kept gravel walk passes along in front of the cottages between them and the gardens. The Church and School house stand at the east end of the village. They have small grass plots in front, railed off like the gardens, and carefully preserved. Indeed, for rural neatness and simple beauty, the village of Carstairs may be put in competition with the most boasted in the sister kingdom.
Its present state, however, is entirely owing to Mr. Monteith. Previous to his improvements, Carstairs presented the dirty irregular appearance, too frequently exhibited by Scottish villages. Peat stacks, dunghills, and pools of stagnant water, occupied the ground in front of the cottages, now tastefully laid out in little gardens; and pigs, poultry, and dirty children, rolled about in the mire, where all is now beauty and order. Mr. Monteith, no doubt, found some little difficulty in effecting his alterations. The villagers are mostly feuars of the ground their houses occupy; and it would be no easy matter to convince so many different individuals, in general independent of the proprietor, of the utility of the proposed improvements. By persuasion, and chiefly probably from being at all the expence, Mr. Monteith was enabled to bring order out of confusion, and to make that both useful and ornamental, which formerly was not only perfectly useless, but even noxious. These alterations were made by men employed for the purpose by Mr. Monteith in 1826, and have not yet the appearance they shall no doubt hereafter assume, when the trees and the shrubbery planted, shall have attained higher growth. It is much to be wished that Scotch proprietors would more generally follow Mr. Monteith’s example, as with little difficulty on their part, and not a great expence, a stigma, too long attached to our country, might be altogether, as it happily is in many places already, removed.* The village contains upwards of five hundred inhabitants. They are mostly employed in weaving for Glasgow manufacturers, or in labouring on the adjoining lands. A few of them work as country weavers.
In former times the Baron Baillie of Carstairs, as in other Scottish Baronies, was a very important personage, among the villagers and other tenants. The memory of the last who exercised judiciary functions, is still preserved by the present inhabitants. This person, whose name was James Craig, was a very singular character. In addition to his office of Baillie, he held the Mill of Carstairs, and was a considerable distiller. James is said to have worn a blue bonnet of such extraordinary dimensions that “a good Scots ell-wand,” would have lain within it. The sittings of this village dignitary were usually held in the public house of the village; and there in an immense arm chair at the head of a long table sat the representative of the Lairds of Carstairs, or rather of Lockhart-hall, as the Mansion-house was then designated. Here the disputatious tenantry and villagers assembled; and speedy, and substantial justice was administered by the Baillie. At least the villagers were usually satisfied with the decisions given, and seldom troubled the Sheriff at Lanark, or adopted the rather dangerous mode of obtaining redress by applying to the “Fifteen.” The fee of court was a pint of two-penny ale; and this being partaken of both by judge and client, its soothing influence no doubt assisted his efforts to subdue the more contumacious and refractory. But whatever may be in this, James Craig appears to have been highly satisfied with his fees of office; for he is said to have been laborious in his vocation, his session often lasting six days at a time, nor did any very long time usually elapse till the sittings were again commenced.
Carstairs, or Caerstairs, as it should be spelt, is supposed to have been the long sought Coria of Ptolemy, a town of the Damnii, the tribe of Britons who inhabited this part of the country, during the Roman invasion.1 It was situated on the Roman Iter, or Watling street, as it as well as many other Roman roads have been named, which traversing their province of Valentia, communicated betwixt the wall of Severus and that of Antonine. Many Roman remains have been discovered here, all tending to show that that great people had a permanent station, and many transactions in this neighbourhood. The Iter passed through the inclosures of Carstairs house. At the east end of the village, near the church, General Roy mentions, the remains of a Roman bath were found;2 and since his time a common sewer has been discovered, running from this place to a burn which falls into a small loch at Carstairs Mill. Roman bricks, coins and other antiquities have also been repeatedly found.3 About a mile from Carstairs, at a place called Castledykes, was a Roman camp or station.4 It was beautifully situated on the north side of the Clyde, on a bank immediately above the river. The great Iter in its progress, passed through this station. It was probably capable of containing from 10,000 to 12,000 men. Hardly any vestiges however of this camp, or any of the other Roman antiquities discovered in this neighbourhood now remain.