Inventory Garden & Designed Landscape

OVERTOUN HOUSEGDL00306

Status: Designated

Documents

Where documents include maps, the use of this data is subject to terms and conditions (https://portal.historicenvironment.scot/termsandconditions).

Summary

Date Added
31/03/2006
Supplementary Information Updated
22/11/2021
Local Authority
West Dunbartonshire
Parish
Dumbarton, Old Kilpatrick
NGR
NS 42120 75959
Coordinates
242120, 675959

A good representative example of a mid to late 19th century parkland landscape with picturesque burnside walks and the remnants of a contemporary garden. The influence of landscape designers Edward Kemp and Henry Milner adds greatly to the interest of the site, as there are few known examples of their work in Scotland.

 

Inventory record updated in 2021.

Type of Site

A large, mid to late 19th-century parkland landscape with picturesque burnside walks and remnants of a contemporary formal garden.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

Mid to late 19th century

Artistic Interest

Level of interest
Some

The design composition at Overtoun, although somewhat degraded still shows a very high skill level and exhibits some value as a work of art.

Historical

Level of interest
Outstanding

The designed landscape at Overtoun is one of the very few commissions executed by the important Victorian landscape designers Edward Kemp and Henry Ernest Milner in Scotland.

Horticultural

Level of interest
Some

The site has some horticultural value due to the variety of trees and exotic conifers employed in the planting.

Architectural

Level of interest
Outstanding

The Category A listed Overtoun House and garden walls (LB24907) in association with the west lodge (LB24910) and the bridge over Overtoun Burn (LB24908) gives this site outstanding architectural value.

Archaeological

Level of interest
None

There are no scheduled monuments within the designed landscape boundary. As with all estate landscapes, there is the potential for any future survey or investigation to reveal more information about the landscape over time.

Scenic

Level of interest
High

There are panoramic views from within the landscape over the Firth of Clyde and up around Lang Craigs. There also fine views looking into the estate from the modern housing developments around Dumbarton and from across the River Clyde.

Nature Conservation

Level of interest
Some

The area of semi-natural woodland in the lower part of Overtoun Burn and the mix of policy planting give Overtoun some nature conservation value.

Location and Setting

Overtoun House is situated in the hills to the north-east of Overtoun. It lies at the end of a minor road reached from the A82 just West of Dumbarton, by turning north through the village of Milton. The house stands on a platform with the Lang Craigs to the east. The wooded Barwood Hill lies to the south of the house, and the Overtoun Burn lies to the west. Overtoun estate is well concealed from public roads and only comes into view after one has proceeded up Milton Brae, the minor road that leads off the A82. There are views from the house and formal garden over the Firth of Clyde, and views from Dumbarton of the backdrop of planting of the Overtoun estate. The Lang Craigs from a dramatic backdrop to the setting of the house and the designed landscape. The soils are predominantly clay and the average rainfall is just over 950mm.

 

Overtoun appears on Johann Blaeu's Atlas of 1654 which is largely based on Timothy Pont's maps of around1590. General Roy's Military Survey of 1747-55 indicates 'Overtown' as a farm, a small house and walled enclosure, surrounded by cultivated but unenclosed land. The 1st Edition Ordnance Survey maps of 1860-61 show little in the way of planting around Overtoun, although the neighbouring small mansion of Garshake is shown surrounded by square parks divided by straight strips of woodland which are still visible today. The designed landscape was extended twice during the 19th century. Firstly, the addition of the estate of Crosslet, which comprised a small ornamental park and kitchen garden, and secondly with the acquisition of the neighbouring Garshake property in 1892. The landscape now extended across the Overtoun Burn and a new western approach was created. By the 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey maps of 1896, James White's designed landscape is clearly in place. The designed landscape has been reduced in extent with the sale of land for housing at Crosslet. The west lodge is now isolated, but the drive remains partly as a footpath through the housing development.

Site History

Overtoun farm is showed on General Roy's Military Survey of 1747-55 within farmland and other farming estates including Garshake, Crosslet and Barnhill. These estates combined to form part of the current designed landscape.

 

In 1859, Overtoun Farm was acquired by James White who had retired from the legal profession in 1851 to join his father and uncle's chemical manufacturing business which had been founded at Rutherglen in 1810.

 

Historical records refer to Barnhill estate as the seat of the Colquhoun family from before 1543. The descendants of the Colquhouns of Barnhill, the Campbells of Barnhill, owned Barnhill estate in the mid-19th century.

 

The 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map of 1860-61 shows Overtoun farmouse was connected to Barnill estate via the south approach. The Dumbartonshire Ordnance Survey Name Book of 1860 notes Barnhill is the property of Mr Campbell of Barnhill and describes the house as a good mansion with large adjoining farm offices (OS1/9/15/19). Overtoun [spelled Overton] is described as a small farm house and steading, owned by James White Esquire of Glasgow (OS1/9/15/11).

 

In 1836 James White of Overtoun married Fanny Campbell, daughter of Alexander Campbell of Barnhill. Their eldest son, John Campbell White (1843-1908), later became Lord Overtoun. The 1861 census records James and Fanny staying at Barnhill House as guests of her father, Alexander Campbell, likely during the construction of their new house nearby at Overtoun (Ancestry). The 1881 census return shows James and Fanny White as living at Overtown [sic] House (Ancestry). John Campbell White moved to Overtoun estate in 1891 and further expanded Overtoun House. Historic newspapers confirm that Barnhill House was used as a family residence while renovation works were undertaken to Overtoun House, further indicating the estates were under the same ownership in the mid to late-19th century (Lennox Herald, 1892).

 

The original land of Overtoun was confined to the east side of the Overtoun Burn, and the farmhouse of Overtoun stood on the site of the present formal garden. A tree-lined approach to the house from the south came across the park and crossed the valley to the east of the Spardie Linn by a small stone bridge. The bridge is still extant.

 

The 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map shows a small structure to the east of Barnhill, next to a road leading northwards from Milton. This structure was later redeveloped and became the south lodge of Overtoun House, likely around the time of the construction of the house in 1860-63. The south lodge to Overtoun House was demolished sometime after 1967. Only the gatepiers relating to this former lodge remain (LB24909). Barnhill Lodge is not shown on the 1st Edition map of 1860-61, however a newspaper rental advert from 1888 indicates the lodge was built sometime between 1860 and 1888 to service Barnhill House.  

 

Although there are no surviving plans, it seems almost certain that the ornamental grounds at Overtoun House were designed by Edward Kemp (1817-91). A report in the Dumbarton Herald on 11 June 1863 states:

 

'…the grounds were laid out under the superintendence of Mr C Kemp, Birkenhead, and have been transformed from their naturally rugged condition into a state of extreme beauty.'

 

Although the initial is incorrect, it seems extremely unlikely that this could refer to anyone but Edward Kemp, superintendent of Birkenhead Park under the famous designer Joseph Paxton, from 1845 until his death in 1891. Paxton had previously supervised Kemp when he was in charge of the gardens at Chatsworth in Derbyshire.

 

Kemp practised as an independent landscape designer whilst superintendent of the park, and designed a number of public parks and private gardens throughout England. He published several works, including his General Guide in Choosing, Forming or Improving an Estate, 1850. There was a second edition entitled How to Lay Out a Garden, A General Guide in Choosing, Forming or Improving an Estate, 1858, with a further edition in 1864.

 

When James White died in 1884 his son, John Campbell White employed Henry Milner to design a bridge to join Overtoun with Garshake. Milner was also a landscape gardener, and his father Edward Milner had been another of Joseph Paxton's assistants. It seems certain that he would have been responsible for the planting on the west drive but who did what on other parts of the estate presents problems, given that Kemp's and Milner's dates and styles are so similar. Henry Milner's few known Scottish commissions include the enlargement of Princes Street Gardens in 1891. Like Kemp, Milner also put his thoughts on paper, in his case The Art and Practice of Landscape Gardening, 1890, which is very much based on the work of his father, Edward Milner. His father, like Kemp, had been a gardener at Chatsworth under Paxton and was then appointed to supervise a number of other Paxton projects. He was also engaged on several private commissions, the best known being Bodnant, North Wales.

 

Although there are no plans still in existence for the west drive, it seems obvious when one compares the layout with his writing that this is Henry Milner's design, given the fact that he was responsible for the bridge. This last phase in the layout of the estate did not occur until the death of James White in 1884. His son, John Campbell White, later Lord Overtoun, acquired the lands of Garshake on the death of his mother and was thus able to commission the building of the mile-long west approach. The last period during which the estate was managed and developed came to an end when John Campbell White died in 1908.

 

White had no children of his own so the estate passed to his nephew, Dr John Douglas Campbell White (1872-1940). Dr White was a GP in London and rarely came to Overtoun. Lady Overtoun continued to live at Overtoun until her death in 1931. The estate was gifted to the people of Dumbarton in 1938, thereby ridding Dr White of a costly burden.

 

The house was adapted as a maternity hospital and continued as such until 1970. However, many of the structures within the landscape, including the South Lodge and the Folly Castle were demolished prior to this date. Tenders were received for demolition of the walled gardens 1959-60.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Overtoun House, designed by James Smith of Glasgow and built in 1860-3 to a Scottish baronial design, is set on a slope and consists of three and two storeys with a five-storey square tower at the north-west corner. The rectangular Terraced Garden to the south of the house is enclosed by buttressed and bull-faced ashlar retaining walls with an ashlar parapet. There are central steps and circular bastions at the south-east and south-west corners. The bridge over the Overtoun Burn, designed by Henry Milner, consists of a single span with smaller side arches under which there are footpaths, now neglected. Castellated bastions hang over the bridge, which would have provided vantage points up and down the burn. Much of the burnside planting is now over-mature and parts of the views have become obscured. The West Lodge, probably built around 1892, the year the Garshake land was purchased for the creation of the long-planned picturesque west approach, is stone-built with crow-stepped gables and a corner tower with slated pepperpot roof. There are pierced stone curved entrance walls. The remains of a fernery are set into a bank on one of the burnside walks to the north of the house. It is a very derelict structure but some white tiles and an iron-rimmed centrepiece remain. A small stone bridge in the park to the south of the house carried the drive to Overtoun Farm.

 

Barnhill estate, located south of Overtoun House, includes the 19th century Barnhill House, several office buildings and a gate lodge south-east of the main group of buildings. This arrangement is standard for a small country estate which was then incorporated into the larger Overtoun estate in the mid to late-19th century.  

Drives & Approaches

The earlier north approach to Overtoun farm, visible on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey Map of 1860-61, was replaced by the west and south approaches during the redevelopment of the estate and the creation of the designed landscape from the mid-19th century. The earlier of these two approaches, the south drive, provides a fairly direct route to the house but was considered to be too steep for the passage of carriages. Consequently the west drive and west gate lodge were built in 1895. This new layout is shown on the 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey map of 1896 and remains visible in the designed landscape today.

 

The two entrance drives to Overtoun House have wide grass verges with park railing. The mixed deciduous and coniferous planting includes species such as Scots pine, beech, holly, lime, sycamore, and Lebanon cedar, mostly underplanted with Rhododendron.

 

The west approach is now divorced from the estate by recent development, including the County Police Headquarters to the rear of the lodge, and the County Buildings on the opposite side of the drive. These in turn are surrounded by housing. The first part of the drive has been reduced to a footpath. A new entrance to Overtoun House, marked by reproduction gate piers, has been made further up the drive, now reached via Garshake Road, which runs roughly parallel with the line of the old drive.

 

At the west lodge there are remains of the late-19th century bands of perimeter planting which include Scots pine, beech, horse chestnut, silver birch, and lime. Within the band of perimeter planting by the road (A82) are the remains of park railing.

 

Proceeding up the Garshake Road to the new west gate on the east side of the road, there are the remains of 19th century perimeter planting, including oak, beech, and Scots pine.

 

On the old west drive north of the new entrance gate piers there is much regenerating silver birch, elder, hawthorn, and larch. From here there are glimpses through to Barwood Hill which is mostly beech and oak.

 

As one nears the house, the planting becomes noticeably formalised and includes holly, box, specimen conifers, dogwood, cherry laurel, and purple 'Pissardii' plum.

Paths & Walks

One of the main features of the Overtoun designed landscape is the network of picturesque walks around the Overtoun Burn and to the falls at the Spardie Linn. There is direct access to these burnside walks from the formal gardens by the house. Above the burn is a Rhododendron walk which leads to a sloping path to the walks. The sound of rushing water can be heard at several points on the walks, which are now much degraded but can still be followed. The area around the bridge has been unmanaged, but obviously made a very attractive feature in the past. A brick-lined shallow drainage channel carries running water under the bridge over a weir-like drop and into a still reflective pool before releasing the water further down into the burn. A stand of beech trees can be seen on a knoll just to the north of this area. The knoll may be natural but it seems likely that it was part of the works of picturesque enhancement carried out in Kemp and Milners' time. Elsewhere around the burn, there is generally a mature canopy of oak, sycamore, and larch.

 

Another of the historic design features of these burnside walks is a pond, which lies in the northern area of the burn. A photograph dating from around 1910 shows the pond planted around with Rhododendrons and coniferous trees. The picture also shows a fog-house, no longer extant. Much of the planting has also now disappeared.

 

The Scottish Wildlife Trust have reconstructed many of the paths to the north of the house, but in some places old features survive such as a set of stone steps in the pond area. Further to the north are two small footbridges, which take the walker across the burn. Many of the burnside paths have become overgrown and are not being maintained.

 

Parkland

There are small areas of parkland around the house to the north-east and south of the house and south of the new west drive. Approaching the house from the south drive, the parkland area to the south of the house provides a foreground for the house. The planting today, however, is much depleted, comprising a couple of limes in the centre of this small area. To the north of the house, to the east of the walled garden and old stableyard site, there is nearly 100 per cent loss of tree cover. The perimeter belts still equate with those shown on the 1st  Edition Ordnance Survey map of 1860-61 and the belt outline indicates that a certain amount of attention was paid to their detail. The parkland is grazed.

Woodland

Most of the woodland is centred around the Overtoun Burn, apart from the wooded knoll of Barwood Hill to the south of the house. This forms part of the policies of Barnhill and is mainly a deciduous mix of beech and oak.

The Gardens

The formal garden on the south-west side of the house consists of a bastion-walled platform. There are two terraces immediately adjacent to the house. The upper has a gravel walk, the other is just a grassy bank. There is a gravel path around the perimeter of the grass platt and holly shrubs are planted by each of the bastions. The gravel paths are overgrown. Steps, once gated, lead down from the garden to a lower area of formal walks and exotic trees, including Monkey puzzle and giant redwood. On the east side the steps lead down to a bowling green. The formal walks and bowling green are now much degraded. The planting in this area includes clumps of Rhododendrons with lime, copper beech, horse chestnut, ash, sycamore, and mountain ash.

 

References

Bibliography

Canmore: http://www.canmore.org.uk CANMORE ID 127662

Canmore. Photograph of Barnhill House, Dumbarton, at http://canmore.org.uk/collection/1852447

Canmore. Photograph of Barnhill House, Lodge, at http://canmore.org.uk/collection/1842180

Maps and archives

Blaeu, J. (1654) Blaeu Atlas of Scotland, at https://maps.nls.uk/view/00000438.

Roy, W. (1747-55) Military Survey of Scotland: Lowlands, at https://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/#zoom=7&lat=55.66671&lon=-4.16441&layers=4&b=1

Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1860, published 1864) Dumbartonshire, sheet XXII (includes: Cardross; Dumbarton, Erskine). 6 inches to the mile. 1st Edition. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.

Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1860-61, published 1862) Dumbartonshire XXII.7 (Old Kilpatrick) and Dumbartonshire XXII.3 (with inset XVIII.15) (Old Kilpatrick). 25 inches to the mile. 1st Edition. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.

Ordnance Survey (revised 1896, published 1899) Dumbartonshire sheet XXII.NE (includes: Dumbarton; Old Kilpatrick). 6 inches to the mile. 2nd Edition. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.

Ordnance Survey (revised 1896, published 1898) Dumbartonshire XXII.7 (Dumbarton; Old Kilpatrick) and Dumbartonshire XXII.3 (Dumbarton; Old Kilpatrick). 25 inches to the mile. 2nd Edition. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.

Ordnance Survey (1967). 1:2,500. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.

National Monuments Record (1910). Photographs of Overtoun House and Barnhill.

Printed sources

Dingwall, C and Dougall, I. (1994) Overtoun House: The Landscape. A report prepared for Strathclyde Council.

Groome, F H. (ed) (1882-5 ) The Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical. Edinburgh: Thomas C Jack: Grange Publishing Works.

Kemp, E. (1858) How to Lay Out a Garden, A General Guide in Choosing, Forming or Improving an Estate. London: Bradbury and Evans.

Lennox Herald (13 October 1888) Special Cheap Rates, p.5.

Lennox Herald (23 January 1892) Bowling, p.3.

Milner, H E. (1890) The Art and Practice of Landscape Gardening. London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent, and Co.

Strathclyde Regional Council and Dumbarton District Council (1993-98) Overtoun Estate Management Plan.

Walker, F A. (1992) North Clyde Estuary: An Illustrated Architectural Guide. RIAS: Rutland Press.

Online sources

Ordnance Survey Name Book (1860) Dunbartonshire, Volume 15, OS1/9/15/19, p.19, at https://scotlandsplaces.gov.uk/digital-volumes/ordnance-survey-name-books/dunbartonshire-os-name-books-1860/dunbartonshire-volume-15/19 (accessed 12/08/2021).

Ordnance Survey Name Book (1860) Dunbartonshire, Volume 15, OS1/9/15/11, p.11, at https://scotlandsplaces.gov.uk/digital-volumes/ordnance-survey-name-books/dunbartonshire-os-name-books-1860/dunbartonshire-volume-15/11 (accessed 12/08/2021).

Glasgow Digital Library. Who's Who in Glasgow in 1909: The late Right Hon. Baron Overtoun, at http://gdl.cdlr.strath.ac.uk/eyrwho/eyrwho1311.htm (accessed 12/08/2021).

Ancestry. United Kingdom County Families, at https://www.ancestry.co.uk/imageviewer/collections/8628/images/CountyFamiliesOfTheUK-0802?treeid=&personid=&rc=830%2C791%2C945%2C827%3B443%2C878%2C533%2C909%3B756%2C875%2C883%2C905%3B208%2C949%2C325%2C981%3B138%2C798%2C374%2C836&usePUB=true&pId=802 (accessed 12/08/2021).

Ancestry. 1861 Census transcriptions for James White, at https://www.ancestry.co.uk/discoveryui-content/view/2538265:1080?tid=&pid=&queryId=f88237fa16d2d8fafe26bc22c8af1517&_phsrc=hRO53&_phstart=successSource (accessed 12/08/2021).

Geograph. Barnhill House, at https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1083495 (accessed 12/08/2021).

Geograph. The Lodge at Barnhill, at https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1083494 (accessed 12/08/2021).

Geograph. Memorial to the Campbells of Barnhill, at https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2693112 (accessed 12/08/2021)

Geograph, Path to Overtoun Estate at https://schools.geograph.org.uk/photo/2390227 (accessed 12/08/2021)

West Dunbartonshire Council. Overtoun House, at https://www.west-dunbarton.gov.uk/leisure-parks-events/museums-and-galleries/collections/buildings/castles-and-country-houses/castles-and-country-houses-dumbarton/overtoun-house/ (accessed 12/08/2021)

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Printed: 03/10/2022 15:44