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Blairbeth House

In October 2023, we received this e-mail from Rhianna Liggitt who lives in Perth, Western Australia:

Subject: Blairbeth House, Burnside, Rutherglen


My name is Rhianna and I’m seeking some help on establishing some history concerning a stately grey-stone house my friend used to live in as a young girl.
The house was called ‘Blairbeth House’ and
 was located in Burnside, Rutherglen on Blairbeth Road. There was a Lodge before you continued down the road that led you to the main house. The house had servant’s quarters, a dumb waiter and all the paraphernalia one would expect in a house of its calibre for that time. According to my dear friend, a close and special landmark just down the road was Castle Milk Castle.

Blairbeth House was used by the Home Guard during WW2 to spot planes and had military huts built on the surrounding grounds. Unfortunately, like many beautiful historic houses, it was demolished possibly between 1953-1965 to make way for a new housing estate.

It would be most appreciated if you could please help me find some historical background of my friend’s former house as she’s now 80 and keenly interested. She’s particularly interested in knowing who built it and when. Really any information you may offer would be great in order to acknowledge that it existed. If knowledge isn’t shared then things are forgotten & disappear forever.

I thank you greatly in advance for your efforts and time in helping me research Blairbeth House.

Sincere regards,
Rhianna Liggitt

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The friend Rhianna refers to in her e-mail is Celia Webb, who like Rhianna, lives in Perth, Western Australia. Celia's maiden name is Hay.

Celia's parents were James and Cecelia Hay. Mr. Hay owned and managed his business Scottish Pharmaceuticals from Blairbeth House during the 1940s. Rhianna tells us that Celia and her parents were the last tenants of Blairbeth before the house was demolished.

Blairbeth was one of a number of fine estate houses largely built  in and around Rutherglen in the 18th. and 19th. centuries.

Much of what we were able to tell Rhianna and Celia about the history of Blairbeth House, we found in Dan Sweeney's excellent book The Lost Mansions and Houses of Lanarkshire, published in 2017. Heritage Society member Des Garrity kindly lent us his copy for our research.

Left, Blairbeth House. This picture was taken in the late 19th. or early 20th. century..

Photo: The Lost Mansions and Houses of Lanarkshire.

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Left, Rhianna Liggitt, who, in October 2023, contacted us on behalf of her friend Celia Webb,  for information about the history of Blairbeth House

Photo: Craig Liggitt. 

Left, Celia Webb of Perth, Western Australia, one of the last residents of Blairbeth House, pictured with her daughter, Kimberley. 

Photo: Kimberley Smith

W. Ross Shearer, in his 1922 book Rutherglen Lore, writes about the landed gentry of the town attending Rutherglen Old Parish Church in the time of Rev. Stevenson, minister from 1862-1909: 

'The family pews....especially in the early days when the parish minister was in his prime, and the front pews in the gallery, were invariably occupied by the elite of the district: Woodburn, Gallowflat, Farme Castle, Eastfield, Bankhead, Blairbeth, Springhall, and, on occasions, Castlemilk would be represented..'

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      'Standing at the front door of the house deep in snow, I am about to find           out about “my palace”. My name is Celia Hay. I would have been about 4-5 years old and was due to start school at Burnside Primary. This I didn’t like, but I had no option.'

Celia Webb

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History of Blairbeth House

When Alexander Muir of Blairbeth died, his property to the south of Rutherglen passed to his daughter Euphemia Muir. She married Alexander Hunter, merchant of Leith in 1782. Euphemia died in 1784, leaving her husband a life-rent of the property. Hunter was declared bankrupt in 1795.

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Above, extract from Thomas Richardson's 1795 'Map of the town of Glasgow and country Seven miles around' showing a substantial building on 'Blairbeth-hill' in the centre. Richardson's map legend tells us that the three-sided angular shape shown on Blairbeth Hill is a symbol for 'Farmhouses &. c.'

Map reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Blairbeth was then acquired by Robert Gray, goldsmith of Glasgow. Gray built a large three-storey mansion on the hill at Blairbeth, presumably on or near the site of the earlier building shown on Thomas Richardson's 1795 map, above.

Right, the site of Blairbeth House. just off Kirkriggs Avenue, Rutherglen.

Photo: Carrick McDonald

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Gray's new house had a tree-lined lawn in front. To the south, the woods of Castlemilk formed a backdrop and gave seclusion. The property commanded panoramic views to the north over Glasgow. 

      'I loved this house. There were many rhododendron bushes with flowers               ranging from delicate pinks to vibrant burgundy. In addition, the oval driveway was flanked by a huge Monkey Puzzle tree which I think came from South America and close by was my ‘special’ chestnut tree which I climbed many times and gathered copious amounts of chestnuts. My Dad would cook the chestnuts which were delicious.'

Celia Webb

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Above, the view from the site of Blairbeth House today. Because of its elevated position, the property provided fine views to the north over Glasgow. Ben Lomond is visible to the north west. Rhianna reminds us in her e-mail that Blairbeth was used to spot enemy aircraft in World War II as part of the defences of Glasgow, and it is clear to see why. Blairtum House, one of Rutherglen's mansions which did survive, can be seen in the middle distance.

Photo: Carrick McDonald

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Following his apprenticeship with leading Glasgow goldsmiths Milne & Campbell, Robert Gray started his own silversmiths business in Trongate, Glasgow in 1776. There he produced high quality gold and silver work which he sold to wealthy merchants and the gentry of Glasgow. 

Left, William Forrest's 1816 map shows the names of some of the owners of local estates. Blairbeth is shown as belonging to a 'Mr. Gray' who was Glasgow silversmith Robert Gray.

Map reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Gray's son William Gray joined his father's business in 1802 which then began trading as Robert Gray & Son. This firm's reputation grew and they became widely regarded as the finest Scottish silver makers of the time. In 1819, Robert Gray became a founder member of the Glasgow Goldsmith's Company, becoming its Chairman until 1824.  

Right, Scottish Georgian silver punch ladle by Robert Gray & Son.

Picture: Leopard Antiques

Scottish Georgian Silver Punch Ladle - Robert Gray & Sons_Scottish silver punch ladle - bo

Robert Gray died in 1829, with the firm continuing to trade successfully under his son and surviving business partner William, the only one of Gray's nine children to join the family business. The firm of Robert Gray & Son was wound up in 1852 following a downturn in trade for Glasgow goldsmiths when English goods began to flood the local market in the 1830s and 1840s. William Gray died at Blairbeth in 1850.

      'On the first floor were four rooms (two huge ones for entertaining), one           smaller one for my dad’s office and a kitchen complete with a long walk-in pantry with jars of goodies, pots and pans, dishes etc. My Dad had his business in the basement of the house, my mother was the bookkeeper.


Outside of the pantry was a dumb waiter. I found out by looking in the opening there were two slats of wood that had a pulley that sent the boards or shelves up and down. This, I found out, went down to the main kitchen where all the meals were prepared and then sent on to the dumb waiter. The middle kitchen then dispersed the meals to the householder and family.


In each room by the fireplace was a bell. The householder could ring for attention and the bell would ring denoting who needed something. It worked very well. What a palace this was and so much to find out about it.'

Celia Webb

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Left, extract from the 1787 edition of Jones's Directory, (a Georgian 'Yellow Pages'), listing Robert Gray's jeweller and silversmith's business at No 87 Trongate, Glasgow.

Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Thomas Campbell, poet

William Gray was a cousin of the Scottish poet Thomas Campbell. He stayed for some time at Blairbeth in 1836 where his recovery from a severe bout of lumbago was aided by William Gray's three unmarried daughters. Campbell was born in Glasgow in 1777. After some time as tutor, he studied law in Edinburgh in 1797. His poem Pleasures of Hope enjoyed considerable critical success, four editions of it  being printed within a year. Lord Byron regarded Campbell more highly than contemporary poets such as Coleridge or Wordsworth. Campbell also produced several patriotic war songs.


Right, portrait of the Scottish poet Thomas Campbell who visited Blairbeth House in 1836. 

Image © Mary Evans Picture Library


Campbell was part of a movement which led to the foundation in 1826 of what was to become known as University College London (UCL). The patriotic style of Campell's verse went out of fashion and his reputation declined, but he was held in high enough regard for him to be buried in Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey following his death in Boulogne in 1844. There is also a statue of him in Glasgow's George Square.

On William Gray's death, ownership of Blairbeth passed to his daughter Agnes Gray. The 1855-56 Valuation Roll shows her as proprietor and tenant of the 'House & Garden' at Blairbeth, and notes the assessed yearly rental for the property at £75.

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Above, 1859 Ordnance Survey map showing Blairbeth House and surrounding 'policies' in the centre, nine years after William Gray's death. The 200 ft. contour line surrounding the house and its immediate grounds, confirms the elevated position on which the property was built. The building to the south east of the house was stables adjoining a walled garden. There is a lodge shown just off what is now Blairbeth Road. The road seen winding up from the lodge through the grounds to the house is now Kirkriggs Avenue.

Map reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

      'One day I went for a walk to explore the walled nursery. Mr Middleton was           in charge of this and what an array of flowers and veggies he cultivated. Occasionally, he gave my mum some of what he had grown. He also roamed the entire property and woodlands with a rifle over his arm. He killed rabbits and was generally on the lookout for thieves to warn them off!


The stables were no longer in use but in bygone days was used for visitors to have their horses and carriages cared for. At the side of the house stood the remains of army shelters which housed the Home Guard who were there to spot enemy planes, thus the spotlights on the roof of the house. Thankfully there were no enemy planes in our area.'

Celia Webb

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In 1858, Agnes Gray sold Blairbeth to cotton factory owner John Robertson of Bridgeton. Robertson was also a trustee of the Glasgow & West of Scotland Savings Investment and Building Society. In addition, he was a property speculator, and made a considerable profit from selling the Cessnock estate a year after buying it, to the Clyde Navigation Trust who at that time were buying up land along the Clyde to build docks. Some of Robertson's wealth was spent on improvements to Blairbeth House where he died in 1875. 

Samuel Stevenson, owner of the Polmadie Sawmillspurchased the estate in 1877. He only held the property for three years, but in that time began building houses on the land for sale or rent. In 1880, Robert Gracie, an accountant and property factor acquired the estate for £12,000. The 1885-86 Valuation Roll shows Gracie as joint owner of the property with a lawyer in Edinburgh. Blairbeth is described as 'House, Garden, Office and Land', with a separate assessment being made for 'Land in Grass'. Gracie began selling off the land for the construction of villas and cottages.

From Rutherglen Lore by W. Ross Shearer, 1922: 'The population of Burnside, which is in the County of Lanark, is about 800, with 180 houses. On the Blairbeth or "Gray's" Road, many handsome villas and terraces have been erected.'

Shearer's reference to Blairbeth Road sometimes being known as Gray's Road, may date back to the ownership of Blairbeth by Robert Gray and his family in the 18th. and 19th. centuries, described earlier.

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Gracie leased Blairbeth House to George Lawson who in due course purchased the property. Lawson was a railway and dock contractor. His projects included work at Troon Harbour in 1898 and on the Loch Katrine to Glasgow waterworks two years later. He was paid £195,000 for the latter contract. Lawson also built the Flannan Isle lighthouse in the Outer Hebrides, completed in 1899. The consultant engineer on the project was D. Alan Stevenson, one of a family of lighthouse engineers, and uncle of the author Robert Louis Stevenson. 

Right, Flannan Isle lighthouse built by George Lawson between 1895 and 1899.

Image Credit: Chris Downer via Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

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The 1881 census, taken the year after George Lawson moved into Blairbeth House, describes him, aged 53, as a widower. He had married Mary Ann Scott in 1879 but the marriage was short-lived, as she died in the same year she took up residency at Blairbeth. Lawson's marriage to Mary Ann was his second. Also in the house are Lawson's four step-children from Mary Ann's first marriage. Three servants completed the household.

Left, printed cotton handkerchief depicting the 1881 census form showing caricature figures of typical property occupants..

Image credit: V&A Museum

The 1891 census shows no sign of the step-children. They have been replaced by three of the eight children by his first marriage. The census ten years later shows the only relations living with Lawson were two young grandchildren. The domestic staff were then a children's nurse, a cook and a housemaid.

George Lawson's rent in 1885 while the property was still under lease from Robert Gracie was £245 a year, the equivalent of £39,000 today. Lawson made large sums of money from his business activities, enabling him to occupy and fund the upkeep of Blairbeth House and lands for 30 years.


Perhaps given the complex and competitive nature of the business sector in which he operated, Lawson was frequently involved in litigation. Add this to the fact that, domestically, his daughter-in-law once sued him for slander, and the ever-changing make up of the household at Blairbeth House seen in the census information, perhaps suggests that George Lawson may not have been the easiest man to live with. Lawson left Blairbeth House in 1910 following his bankruptcy, and died two years later. He is buried in Peebles, the town of his birth.

PO Glasgow Directory 1910-11 EA Gamble c

Following George Lawson's departure, the estate was bought by William Crawford Stirling-Stuart of Castlemilk. Edward A. Gamble took the property on a short lease. Gamble was managing director of John Anderson's Royal Polytechnic Warehouse in Argyle Street, Glasgow. This was Glasgow's first department store and was known to generations of Glaswegians as 'the Poly'. 

Left, extract from the 1910-11 edition of the Post Office Directory for Glasgow showing the entry for Edward A Gamble. 

Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Mr. Gamble was also a Justice of the Peace. Effectively a lay magistrate appointed from within the community, he was qualified to dispense criminal justice in court for less serious crimes.

The Valuation Roll for 1915-16 shows Edward Gamble still in the main house, and the appropriately named Mr. Burnside, the gardener, living in the lodge house. Part of the land at Blairbeth is shown as being leased by Stirling-Stuart to Blairbeth Golf Club for their golf course. Founded in 1910, the club was to move location twice more before being wound up in 2015. 

Right, 1941 Ordnance Survey map showing the 9 hole Blairbeth Golf Course on land to the south of Blairbeth House, leased to the club by William Crawford Stirling-Stuart.

Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

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Golf Road in Burnside is now the only indication of the existence of the original Blairbeth golf course.

Five years later, Matthew L. Simpson was the new tenant at Blairbeth House. He may have been Mr. Gamble's successor as manager at 'the Poly'. The house by then had a chauffer who was called Robert Robertson.

The Blairbeth Estate was bought by Rutherglen Town Council to build houses as part of their plan to alleviate a shortage of housing in the town. In 1952, the Weir Housing Corporation Ltd. began building the Blairbeth housing scheme on the lands. The house itself was originally to be made into a community centre under the local Development Plan at that time, and the the grounds surrounding the house were set aside for a pubic park. In the event, however, Blairbeth House was demolished at the same time St. Mark's Primary School in Kirkriggs Avenue was being built just to the east of the house, between 1956 and 1958.

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Above left, the original lodge building for Blairbeth House photographed in 1957, and right, the houses which now occupy that location at the corner of Blairbeth Road and Kirkriggs Avenue.

Pictures: Wikimapia (l) and Carrick McDonald (r)

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We complete our history of Blairbeth House, which ends with its demolition, by quoting from the work of  the poet Thomas Campbell who, it will be recalled, stayed for a time at the house in 1836 recovering from illness.


In his poem about the mountain he could see as he looked north from Blairbeth, Campbell is perhaps comparing its timelessness with the transience of man and his grandiose buildings.

Temples and towers thou seest begun,

New creeds, new conquerors sway;

And, like their shadows in the sun,

Hast seen them swept away.

From Ben Lomond

Thomas Campbell, 1777 – 1844

Left, statue of the poet Thomas Campbell in George Square, Glasgow.

Photo: Carrick McDonald

      'A load of men with hard hats and earth moving equipment had arrived close         to the house and the first shock to me was seeing a workman with a chainsaw proceeding to cut down a tree. I shouted, “Please don’t do that, the birds will die!” This process continued until a large number of beautiful trees were felled. Why?

So, what now? We were to move? Such sadness and for what? A housing estate and school! Like we needed that. A beautiful house demolished, a part of history. There’s so much. The little sweet shop, and nearby Castlemilk House where Mary Queen of Scots stayed on her way to the Battle of Langside. The whole area was raped with no remorse. Such a disgrace and all in the name of progress! The sadness I felt when Blairbeth House and all its fine memories were no more. Was I dreaming? Did I really live there? I did, and I carry all the memories and fun times which I will never forget.'

Celia Webb

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Carrick McDonald

© 2024 Rutherglen Heritage Society.  

Sources, links and further reading

Lost Mansions and Houses of Lanarkshire by Dan Sweeney, Windan Press, 2017. 

Rutherglen Lore by W.Ross Shearer, 1922.

The Finial, Vol. 16/05, May/June 2006 for biographical information about Robert and William Gray, goldsmiths. Click here

Scottish Poetry Library and for biographical information about Thomas Campbell, for the text of Loch Lomond by Thomas Campbell. Click here

Northern Lighthouse Board for information about Flannan Isle Lighthouse built by George Lawson. Click here

Forgotten for information about Blairbeth Golf Club. Click here


Celia Webb for sharing her memories of her time living at Blairbeth House and  Rhianna Liggitt for contacting us initially and for liaising so effectively between Celia and ourselves.

Des Garrity for lending us his copy of Lost Mansions and Houses of Lanarkshire by Dan Sweeney.

Zen Boyd of Rutherglen Heritage Centre for information from Valuation Rolls on some of the residents of Blairbeth House.

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