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Glengyle House - built by Rob Roy MacGregor

By Peter Lawrie, ©2004
Glen Gyle House was sold at auction in Glasgow on 24th November 2004 for £470,000. It subsequently appeared that this sale may have been a part of a criminal money laundering scheme. We understand that the house has now been sold again and may have a brighter future. In a separate transaction the Glengyle Steadings have been developed into holiday letting apartments.

From 1918 until the early 1980s the Glasgow Corporation Water Board cared for the house and used it to house three families of estate workers. West of Scotland Water preferred to use contract workers and allowed the house to become run down and in danger of dereliction. At long last, the house now has new owners and it is to be hoped that they will be caring owners, prepared to restore the house in keeping with its history and status.

In view of the extensive interest in the sale, an article written by John MacGregor in 1926 detailing the history of the house has been given below.

Glengyle House from south The house stands assertively at the head of Loch Katrine, visible for miles along the south shore. The Glengyle MacGregors were asserting their presence and importance in the landscape with this bold architectural statement.

The house is not deep and the ceilings are low. The western block was added in the 19th century and the westernmost extension of it after 1918.

Pictures and floorplan with thanks to Nancy W Johnson.

ground floor first floor
By the purchase of the estate of Glengyle, the Corporation of Glasgow now owns the whole lands round the shores of Loch Katrine. Truly the wheel of time brings many changes and one wonders what Rob Roy would have said had he seen, as I have done, a successor of Bailie Nicol Jarvie residing in the family mansion.

This small property, extending to about 2200 acres, is situated at the extreme west end of Loch Katrine. The Loch for rather more than a quarter of a mile and the Glengyle water for another two and a half miles form its southern boundary. To the north the property is separated from the Braes of Balquhidder by the hill tops, which rise to a height of over two thousand feet.

The dwelling house, a two storied building with attic or storm windows above, is pleasantly situated facing towards the south, and overlooks the west end of Loch Katrine. It is sheltered from the west and north by a strip of trees, in which there is a small burying ground. In front of the house is a grassy field, which slopes gently to the level of the loch.

Glengyle at one time formed a portion of the extensive estates of the Buchanans of that ilk. The last male of the old family to possess the property was John Buchanan, who died before September 1631, leaving two daughters, and his lands were purchased from his creditors by James, 3rd Marquis of Montrose.

front of house

When the MacGregors first occupied Glengyle is not clearly ascertained, but they were there in 1530 as tenants of the Buchanans, and in 1655 Lieutenant-Colonel Donald MacGregor (Rob Roy's father, was designed as “of Glengyle”. He was the ceann Tigh or head of the house of Clan Douill Chere or mouse coloured Dougal. Lieutenant-Colonel Donald MacGregor took a leading part in the affairs of the clan. Donald had taken an active part in the rising under the Earl of Glencairn in favour of King Charles in 1653, and probably then had a commission as lieutenant-colonel, a designation which he retained for the rest of his life. At one time he was a man of considerable means, and appears as lending or paying considerable sums of money. He frequently was accepted as cautioner or surety for executors of deceased clansmen, and figured in many of the transactions in which his young chief was concerned. Notwithstanding the part which he had taken in Glencairn's rising, General Monck authorised him to secure any of the name of MacGregor or other broken men and to send them prisoners to Perth, and in 1685 John, Earl of Athole, as Justice-General of Scotland, gave him a commission for uplifting all forfaltours and fynes of fugitives from the Justiciary Court. Unfortunately his circumstances suffered a great eclipse, due to his loyalty to his Sovereign. On 24th August, 1689, he, along with the chiefs of several Highland clans, signed at Blair Athole, a Bond of Association, under which he undertook to raise one hundred men for King James. When Dundee fell at Killiekranky, every hope of his King perished, and on 11th January, 1690, it was announced, in a letter from the Earl of Crawford to Lord Melville that “the great robber Lifetennent Collonell Macgregor was taken by a party of my Lord Kenmuir's men and brought prisoner to Edinburgh”. His rents had been sequestrated, and the Privy Council recommended the Lord Advocate to proceed against him for treason, having been in rebellion against King William and Queen Mary, and also for depredation, theft and robbery. Apparently that recommendation was not adopted, for Donald MacGregor petitioned the Privy Council to be set at liberty on 5th February, 1691, and on 1st October following, on taking the oath of allegiance, he was released from the Tolbooth of Edinburgh. It is also stated in his petition that any little means he had been spent, and that his wife was lately dead. The last occasion that we have proof of Lieutenant-Colonel Donald MacGregor being alive was on 23rd May, 1693, when he and John Buchanan of Arnprior entered into a Bond of Friendship.

John MacGregor, eldest son of Lieutenant-Colonel Donald, was born about the year 1647, married in 1685, and dying young, left two sons and at least one daughter. His eldest son, Gregor was commonly called Gregor ghlun dubh, or of the black knee, was a child at the time of his father's death, and to him Rob Roy, who was a younger son of Lieutenant-Colonel Donald, and consequently Gregor's uncle, acted as his guardian.

Until this time the family had only been tacksmen or tenants of Glengyle, at first under the Buchanans and latterly under the Montrose family. Rob Roy, however, obtained from James, Marquis of Montrose, a feu charter of the two merklands of Glengyle, dated March 25, 1703, to himself, as tutor at law to James Graham (as Gregor ghlun dubh was called, owing to the proscription of the name MacGregor), and to the said James Graham at his lawful age.

Rob Roy wrote the following letter to the Earl of Breadalbane:-
"Portnellan, Nover. 12th 1707
"My Lord,
"I long to see your Lordship, and I presume to tell your Lordship that I have come of your Lordship's family and shall keep my dependency suitable to the samine of which I told your Lordship, when I parted with your Lordship last and what I sayed to your Lordship or ever promised shall be keeped while I live. My Nephew is to see your lordship, whom I hope will be capable to serve your Lordship and will do it tho I were in my grave he is a young man so my Lord give him your advice he is Bigging his house and I hope your Lordship will give him a precept for the four trees your Lordship promissed him the last time I was there I beg pardon for the subscriveing and I am, My Lord
"Your Lordship's servant. "Rob Campbell."

If the house of Glengyle was only built in 1707, it cannot have been the same house in which Rob Roy was born about thirty-six years earlier. The room in which he is said to have been born is, however, still pointed out in Glengyle House. Since Rob Roy's birth, Glengyle house has been rebuilt at least twice.

It was doubtless in preparation for his marriage that Gregor Ghlun dubh was building the house mentioned in the foregoing letter. He married Mary Hamilton, daughter of James Hamilton of Bardowie, and their marriage contract was signed six days after the date of the above letter. Gregor was then still in his minority.

The MacGregors were at Sheriffmuir under Rob Roy in the year 1715. “The Flying Post, of October 1st, 1715 records­ “Some days ago a party was ordered from Perth, another from Stirling, and a third from Glasgow towards the house and haunts of that notorious robber and rebel Robert Roy MacGregor with a design to have surrounded him and his men, but one of the parties being prevented by the waters being out from coming up in time enough to the rendezvous, the design miscarried and tho’ our men came within sight of him, he and his clan escap'd to the mountains. Our men shot at them, but 'tis not certain whether any of the rebels dropp'd. They fir'd again and kill'd one of our grenadiers, so that all our men cou'd do was to burn his house, and what was not worth or capable of being carry'd off.” The house burnt on this occasion may have been that of Glengyle.

Gregor Ghlun dubh was engaged in the '45. Prince Charles appointed him Colonel and Commandant of the fortress of Doune, Cardross, and Balinton, and Murray of Broughton in his memorials says he was judged the fittest man in the country to keep the garrison at Stirling castle in awe and to prevent their making excursions into the country to disturb the families of such as were in arms. In a footnote, Murray describes Glengyle's character as follows:-

"Glengyle . . . in person, a tall, handsome man and more of the mien of the antient heroes than our modern gentlemen, poaseast of a Singular deal of humanity and good nature, honest and disinterested to a Proverb, extreamly modest, brave and intrepide, and born one of the best Partisans in Europe, in that the whole people of that country declared that never did people live under so milde a Government as Glengyles, not a man having so much as lost a chicken whille he continued there.” When in the tower of London, Murray gave an account of the Highland clans. His account of Glengyle there differs somewhat from that given above. He says M'Gregor of Glengyle “is a very humain honest man in private life, but seldom to be depended upon, being frequently delirious".

According to the Scots Magazine, on June 7th 1746, a body of 700 men entered Balquhidder and proceeded to the Braes of Menteith, but not finding Glengyle and his party, they burnt his house, and all the houses in Craigroyston possessed by the Macgregors and carried the cattle to Crieff.”
Gregor Ghlun dubh, under the name James Graham of Glengyle was excepted by name from the Act of Pardon passed in the year 1747.

There is a small enclosed burying ground a short distance to the west of Glengyle House.

On the wall facing the entrance is a badly eroded stone slab which is now illegible. From a paper copy made at the end of the 19th century:- A central figure holds a vertical sword with a crown on the left and a vertical tree on the right. (The usual arms of the clan chief have the tree and sword crossed). The tree might be a pine, but could be a somewhat etiolated oak. The words above read, "P Bell builded the burial place of the family of Mac Greggars called Dugald keirs family. Forevard and spare not."
I suspect this dates from the time the house was built around 1708 and makes use of the Scots words similar to those used by Ladasach's line, "E'en do and spair not"

A white marble slab in the north wall has the following inscription to Gregor ghlun dubh:-
An early form of the MacGregor arms at the burial enclosure behind Glengyle house. Photo by Peter Lawrie
To the Memory
of Gregor M'Gregor of Glengyle,
who died 21st August, 1777, aged 88.
Not with vain flatt'ry to insult thee dead
We place this stone above thy honour'd head
But that, while wand'ring here, the Good and Brave
May sighing pause to mark thy silent grave
And awful o'er thine ashes as they bend,
Think on their Chief their Father or their Friend
Speak of thy Steady Soul, and martial flame
That burnt for Truth and Virtue more than fame,
And tell their sons to hold thy Mem'ry dear
Thy footsteps follow and thy name revere.
Over the door of Glengyle House there is a stone inscribed as follows-

J. M'G J.B.
G. M'G. 1726 M.H.

Obviously the inscription was not carved in 1704, for as we have seen the house was only built in 1707. The initials "G.M'G and M.H. stand for Gregor MacGregor and his wife Mary Hamilton, who were married in 1708 as mentioned above.

"J.M'G and J.B. stand for John MacGregor, the eldest son of Gregor Ghlun dubh, and his wife. John was born in 1708, and died before his father in 1774. He married Jean, daughter of William Buchanan of Craigievairn. I am not aware of the reason for putting the date 1726, as their marriage does not appear to have taken place until about the year 1743.

The remains of John MacGregor, who died on december 30, 1774, are also interred in the small burying ground.

John MacGregor was succeeded in the representation of the family of Clan Douill Chere by his son James, who was at one time a quartermaster in the 105th regiment. He was twice married. His first wife was Isabella, daughter of Captain Gregor MacGregor of the family of Inverardran, whom he married in the year 1777. She died in 1789, and left four daughters. His second wife was Henrietta, daughter of Alexander MacGregor in Ardmacmuin, which place is also situated on the north shore of Loch Katrine, to the eastward of Glengyle.

In 1791, while droving a flock of sheep, James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd had to get permission to drive them through Glengyle. He went to Glengyle House to get permission. The laird, he says, "was then an old man, and seemed to me to be a very queer man” but his lady granted my request without hesitation, and seemed to me an active, social woman. This was, of course, John's second wife. By her he had three sons. The two eldest dying in infancy, James was succeeded by his only surviving son John.

John MacGregor served for some time in the West Kent Militia and married in 1816 Jane Isabella the daughter of Captain Daniel MacGregor who was the brother of John's first wife, and had three sons, James, John Daniel and Gregor.

When the Commissioners of the Glasgow Corporation Waterworks Act 1855, proposed to raise the level of Loch Katrine, with the result that part of Glengyle would be submerged, he lodged a claim for compensation. In this claim he states that

"the property has been in the family of the claimant for hundreds of years, and possesses a distinction of the highest value to him and his family as the birthplace and last resting place of a long line of ancestors, who were in succession the chiefs of his race and clan. The effect of raising the level, he says, will be in winter and during seasons of long continued rain, the land will be covered with water, but in summer and autumn his beautiful green meadow will be converted into an unsightly, offensive and unwholesome swamp, exhibiting only decayed and decaying vegetation, and polluting the atmosphere with most offensive odours and exhalations. The compensation he claimed for the portion submerged, extending to 18 acres 3 roods and 2 perches, and the damage to the rest of the estate, was
25,900 11s 8d."

Can some reader say how much he got!

John MacGregor in 1855, owing to financial difficulties sold the estate to James MacGregor, proprietor of the Queen's Hotel, Glasgow, for 9675, and the commissioners of the Glasgow Corporation in 1918 purchased the estate from James MacGregor's daughter for rather less than half of that sum.

Of the three sons of John MacGregor, James, the eldest, died in Auchterarder Combination Poorhouse on January 25 1897, aged 79. He had been an inmate for many years. He was buried in the little burying ground at Glengyle among his ancestors by the generosity of certain members of the clan, who defrayed the expenses of the funeral. The second son appears to have died young. Gregor, the third son, for some time practised in Callander as a doctor, and dying in 1861 was buried in the burying ground there.

In the little burying ground near Glengyle House also rests the remains of Major General Sir Charles Metcalfe MacGregor K.C.B., who died at Cairo on February 5th 1887. He was the heir-male of Rob Roy, and during his last illness expressed his earnest desire to rest among his ancestors in this little graveyard. The interment took place with difficulty through drifted snow on March 11th in that year.

James MacGregor of the Queen's Hotel, who had purchased the estate in 1855, died in 1870, and his only son, Robert Napier MacGregor, in 1881, when the eldest daughter, Jemima, succeeded to the property. She married George Sheriff, who assumed the name MacGregor and died in 1895. Their only son was killed in action at Spion Kop on January 24, 1900, and it was from his mother that the Commissioners bought Glengyle in 1918, as mentioned above. James MacGregor, his son and grandson, are also interred in the little burying ground.

William Wordsworth, the poet, visited Glengyle in 1803 and was informed by a "well educated lady who lived at the head of the Lake, that Rob Roy's grave was near the head of Loch Katrine, in one of those small pinfoldlike burial-grounds, of neglected and desolate appearance, which the traveller meets with in the Highlands of Scotland, situated within a mile or less of her residence. And under this mistaken impression he composed the poem entitled "Rob Roy's Grave. in which the well-known lines occur:-

The eagle he was lord above
And Rob was lord below.

The burial-ground indicated is evidently that at Portnellan. The information, however was erroneous. Rob Roy was buried in Balquhidder burying-ground and that fact is stated in Notes to the later editions of Wordsworth's poems.

Extracted from the letter by John MacGregor W.S. ­ Glasgow Herald 3rd June 1926