Inventory Garden & Designed Landscape

Finlaystone HouseGDL00180

Status: Designated


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Date Added
Last Date Amended
Local Authority
Erskine, Kilmacolm, Port Glasgow
NS 36327 73591
236327, 673591

Artistic Interest

Level of interest

The policies of Finlaystone have high value as a Work of Art in their present form.


Level of interest

Finlaystone has outstanding Historical value in view of the available documentary map evidence and the associations with the Earls of Glencairn.


Level of interest

Finlaystone has high Horticultural value in view of the interesting range of trees planted in the arboretum between 1900 and 1925.


Level of interest

Finlaystone has outstanding Architectural value as it provides the setting for Architectural features of exceptional interest.


Level of interest

The house and woodlands of Finlaystone are of high significance in the surrounding landscape.

Nature Conservation

Level of interest

The presence of an SSSI on the foreshore of Finlaystone gives the site outstanding Nature Conservation value.

Location and Setting

Finlaystone House is situated on the south bank of the Firth of Clyde between the village of Langbank and the town of Port Glasgow, some 18 miles (29km) west of Glasgow. The village of Kilmacolm lies 2.5 miles (4km) to the south. The A8(T) forms the northern boundary of the policies whilst the old Greenock Road forms that to the south. The mansion is set on a whinstone cliff south of the River Clyde. The Finlaystone Burn flows northwards through the policies and cuts down to the River Clyde over a series of waterfalls; it was dammed to form a pond in the south of the policies for the purpose of providing water power for electricity generation. The average annual rainfall is 48". The surrounding landscape to the south is farmed while, to the west, lie the housing and industrial developments of Port Glasgow; Langbank is to the east. To the north, across the Firth of Clyde, lies Dumbarton Rock and the town of Dumbarton beyond which views are gained to the Kilpatrick Hills. Views can be gained along and across the Clyde, particularly from the terraced garden. From the A814, on the northern shore of the Firth of Clyde, views can be gained across to Finlaystone and the woods and house are of some significance from the A8(T) along the boundary of the site.

Finlaystone House stands on a cliff above the Firth of Clyde surrounded by lawns some of which, in spring, are clothed with daffodils. The designed landscape extends north to the A8(T), south to the old Greenock Road, west beyond Brackenhead Plantation and east to Marypark. In 1830, the Glasgow/Greenock railway line separated the rest of the estate from the foreshore although this remains part of the estate. The mudflats are designated as an SSSI. In more recent years, realignment of the A8(T) caused a further division, separating part of the north park and East Lodge from the policies. Following this work, the northern boundary wall was rebuilt in its present position.

There are several estate plans at Finlaystone including a survey plan of 1861, and documentary evidence is also provided by General Roy's plan of 1750 and the OS map editions of 1866 & 1910. These show that the policies were extended to the east between 1750 and 1860 and have remained consistent in size since then. Four drives link the house with the outer limits of the policies; of these, only the east and south drives remain in regular use.

The designed landscape boundary was amended in 2015 to exclude the dual carriageway and roundabout to the west of the designed landscape. Following the 2015 changes, the designed landscape boundary encloses an area of some 208.3 acres (84.3ha).

Site History

The designed landscape in its present form was laid out between 1750 and 1860. Major improvements to the gardens were undertaken in the late 19th & early 20th centuries and from 1955. James Whitton is thought to have been involved in the design of the terraced garden c.1900.

It is thought that there has been a castle at Finlaystone since the late 14th century when Robert II confirmed the lands on Sir John de Danyelstoun. His son, Sir Robert de Danyelstoun, was keeper of Dumbarton Castle. On his death in 1399, his property was divided between his two daughters; Newark Castle which lies on the shore to the west of Finlaystone went to Elizabeth, whilst Finlaystone itself was inherited by Margaret who married Sir William Cunningham in 1405. Their grandson, Alexander, became the 1st Earl of Glencairn in 1488. His descendant, the 5th or 'Good' Earl, was a strong supporter of the Reformation. In 1556 John Knox gave Communion to the family, reputedly under the yew tree which remains today in the garden. The 9th Earl of Glencairn, William (1610-64), was made High Chancellor of Scotland after the Restoration. The 14th Earl, James (1749-92), was a friend and benefactor of Robert Burns.

In 1746-50 proposals were prepared for alterations to the house but these were not carried out until 1760. On the death of the 15th Earl in 1796, the estate passed to the grandson of the 12th Earl, Robert Graham of Gartmore, in whose family it remained until 1862. In 1830, the railway was constructed through the north of the Finlaystone policies and, as a result, the walled garden was moved from its position near the railway line to its present position. It is thought that some of the existing outbuildings may also have been built around this time. Sir William Cunningham- Graham sold the estate to Sir David Carrick-Buchanan in 1862 who let the house five years later to George Jardine Kidston.

In 1882, Kidston bought the property and began an extensive series of improvements to the house and policies. He commissioned Sir John James Burnett to remodel the house. The gardens were extended, the terraces laid out and the arboretum established. His daughter married Richard Blakiston-Houston and they continued the plantings in the mid-1920s. Their daughter, Marian, married General Sir Gordon MacMillan, and after 1955 further developed the policies and planted extensively in the grounds, particularly after the devastation of the gales of 1968, and also established the nursery in the walled garden. The present owner is their son, George Gordon MacMillan, hereditary chief of the Clan MacMillan. He and his wife, and other members of the family, are actively involved in the upkeep and maintenance of the designed landscape.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Finlaystone House, listed B, was built c.1760 around an earlier Castle; the architect was John Douglas. It was remodelled in the Baroque style by Sir John James Burnet in c.1900 although the turrets predate this extension. The South Lodge stands on the Old Greenock Road at the end of the south drive. The stables, garages and garden buildings lie to the east of the walled garden. They are thought to have been built in the mid-19th century and were altered c.1900. The Laundry stands on the west bank of the Finlaystone Burn and has been converted for use as a tea room. A fine stone bridge spans the Finlaystone Burn on the main east drive. There are two sundials: one in the old rose garden and another in the walled garden, the latter of which requires some restoration. A stone Japanese lantern stands at the edge of a footpath to the south-west of the house. Stone ornaments are mounted on the pillars which are incorporated at either end of the balustraded north retaining wall of the terraced garden.


Reference to the 1st edition OS map of 1866 shows parkland trees in an area along the northern boundary of the policies, now known as the Macneill Field, and west of the house. Reference to General Roy's map of 1750 would indicate that these parks had been cut out of areas of former woodland. By the time of the 2nd edition OS map, the number of trees in these areas had been reduced. Today there are three mature oaks in the Macneill Field and, since 1976, the area has been cultivated for soft fruits. The park to the west of the house was largely developed as a garden at the beginning of this century, incorporating some beech and other old parkland trees including a Turkey oak (Quercus cerris) which was thought to be the largest in the West of Scotland in 1907. A small area of parkland remains on undulating ground between the gardens and Brackenwood Plantation.


Woodlands were established at Finlaystone by the mid-18th century, as shown by General Roy's map. Of these, some were cleared for parkland. By 1860, the blocks which remained lay in the central core of the policies, along the Finlaystone Glen and along the edge of the cliff to the north of the house. The Great Lime Avenue and three mature yew trees, which remain in an area known as Paradise to the north-east of the house, are remnants of an earlier wood shown on General Roy's map of 1750 which incorporated a series of intersecting rides through it. By 1866, it had been largely cleared. The age of the yews is uncertain and is the subject of various reports including those by the Andersonian Naturalist Society, who visited in 1893, and a Glasgow Naturalist Magazine article of 1912 which estimated that they may have been planted c.1620.

Between 1866 and the early 1900s, the structure of the policy woodlands remained similar. 90% of the older woodlands are deciduous with sycamore, ash, wych elm, oak and horse chestnut species. Extensive planting has been carried out in the woodlands to the east of the Finlaystone Burn since 1882, when the estate was acquired by Mr Kidston. He also established the arboretum between 1890 and 1900, mainly along the east and west drives. The tree collection was further embellished by his son-in-law c.1925. The trees were catalogued and measured in 1974. They include a diverse range of species: among them Abies homolepis, Abies cilicica and Picea polita. After 1955 spruce, larch and pine plantations were established, particularly in the areas between established woodlands to the east of the Finlaystone Burn. Seventy acres of mainly young woodland were lost in the gales of 1968, some of which have been replanted, whilst other areas have been left to naturally regenerate. Rhododendron ponticum became established in the understorey but has been cleared.

The Gardens

There are two areas of informal garden at Finlaystone: the New Garden below the Laundry and the Bog Garden. The New Garden is situated on either side of the Finlaystone Burn, between the Laundry and the stone bridge. It is significant from the main drive where it is seen against the backdrop of the waterfall and the rustic bridge which crosses the burn opposite the Laundry. The area was cleared in 1959 and the present garden has been created since then by Lady MacMillan. It includes a range of Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Hostas and Primulas.

The Bog Garden is situated at some distance from the west of the walled garden. The whole area was created from an artificial pond made in 1900. After 1945 it was leaking beyond repair and was gradually filled in and planted. It is centred on a pond which has recently been cleared and around which the garden is currently being established. The pond is edged by informal shrub beds which include a mixed range of species. A 'folly' for the garden is currently being designed by George MacMillan. The Bog Garden is separated from the terraced garden by informal lawns and shrub borders, in which various species and hybrid rhododendron and azalea are planted. Philadelphus, Buddleia, Hydrangea and other shrubs are also growing in this area. Many of the plants have been propagated for sale in the nursery.

There are two areas of formal garden: the old rose garden which lies due west of the walled garden and the terraced gardens on the west side of the house. The old rose garden is enclosed by a clipped yew hedge. The box compartments laid out to contain the rose beds are now used for cuttings and cut flowers.

The terraced gardens were laid out c.1900 for Mr Kidston on the site of the earlier formal gardens. James Whitton, Superintendent of Glasgow Botanic Gardens from 1893 to 1923, is thought to have been involved in their design and a Mr Goldring is thought to have laid them out. The terraced lawn adjacent to the house is contained by a stone retaining wall along the north boundary. A flight of steps incorporated within the wall links the terrace with the west drive. The banking between the terrace and the drive is clothed with clipped laurel. The 'John Knox Tree' stands on the lawn next to the house. The tree was moved in 1900 and a series of three photographs exist which record the operation. Lady MacMillan's great-aunt was involved in the castellated clipping of the yew hedges (inspired by the castellations of Marlborough House, London) which enclose the rose garden beyond the main lawn. A bomb dropped in World War II was responsible for the undulating surface of the area. Since then, the beds have been relaid and planted with roses given as gifts to General Sir Gordon and Lady MacMillan on the occasion of their Golden Wedding. All the plants were lost in a recent bad frost and the beds are to revert to bedding plants, a style first adopted between 1918 and 1939, until the ground is ready to take roses once again. A long herbaceous border lies on the north edge of the lawn which lies beyond the rose garden.

Walled Gardens

The walled garden was built in its present position between 1830 and 1861. The original planting was herbaceous until World War I when it was cleared for vegetables. It was planted with vegetables during the wars and since 1955 it has been managed as a tree and shrub nursery by Lady MacMillan. An interesting selection of trees and shrubs is propagated in the glasshouses from material in the gardens, whilst other plants are brought in from other Scottish sources.



A.H. Millar, Castles & Mansions of Renfrewshire & Buteshire, 1889

1782 Semple, History of Renfrewshire

1840 New Statistical Account

1799 Old Statistical Account

W. Wyper, Tree Survey 1974, list of Principal Conifers

J. Truscott, SF, June 1985, Transactions, Natural History Society, 'Finlayston' Aug 10th 1907

Annuals of the Andersonian Naturalists Society, 1893

The River Clyde, 1909

Ruth Rutledge, Countryside Ranger Service, Finlaystone, March 1987

Ainslie's map of Renfrewshire Map of Finlaystone Estate, 1850

Plans at Finlaystone House

Groome's, 1883


NMRS, Photographs

About the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

We make recommendations to the Scottish Government about historic marine protected areas, and the Scottish Ministers decide whether to designate.

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Printed: 30/07/2021 04:36