Crookston Castle: The story of Glasgow's last remaining castle as Glasgow celebrates it's 850th birthday

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It is Glasgow’s only remaining castle, and as one of Scotland’s oldest buildings has a fascinating history taking in romantic royal liaisons, warring dynasties and a place in the national defence during World War II.

Crookston Castle may now be overshadowed by the more famous fortress in Edinburgh, but in its day it was a major draw for thousands of tourists.

And as Glasgow gears up to celebrate the 850th anniversary of the city’s founding next year, friends of Crookston Castle are calling for it to be given a central role.

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The hidden gem dates back to the 12th century and is the second oldest building in the city.

A 12-month programme of events to mark the occasion will be created and David McDonald, former depute leader of Glasgow City Council and interim chairperson for the Friends of Crookston Castle is hopeful the castle will feature in the programme. 

Speaking exclusively to the local democracy reporting service (LDRS), he said: “We would  like to be involved in the council’s 850th celebration of Glasgow as a city. 

“This is the perfect place to launch the celebrations and it would bring more people to the castle.”

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On a recent tour, on a suitably atmospheric, misty day, the group were happy to share just some of its fascinating history. 

In the 1160’s Robert Croc, a vassal of Walter the High Steward was granted an estate namely Croc’s toun.  And in 1180, the then Sir Robert Croc was granted permission from Paisley Abbey to build a private chapel “as a special friend of the house”. 

In 1330, the lands were sold to Sir Alan Stewart, cousin to the first Stewart monarch Robert II and the Tower House we recognise today was built.

Under the ownership of the Stewarts, who have been described as one of the most enduring and turbulent royal dynasties in Scottish history, the earlier castle was replaced by the present stone castle in around 1400.

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In 1361 the castle passed to John Stewart of Darnley, a cousin of King James I.

He served as the Constable of the Scottish Army in France, supporting Joan of Arc during the Hundred Years War. He died on the battlefield in1429 and is buried at the Cathedral in Orléans

In 1572, Crookston was passed to Darnley’s younger brother, Charles, the Earl of Lennox. Charles was regent for his young nephew, King James VI and maintained Crookston’s royal connections.

The Stewart’s ownership of the castle came to an end in 1703 when Charles 1st Duke of Lennox sold it to the Duke of Montrose.Crookston was sold again in 1757 by the 2nd Duke of Montrose to the Maxwells of Pollok.

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John, the latest Baronet of Pollok was the first of the Maxwells to own the castle and is also credited with the building of nearby Pollok House.

But Crookston then suffered from many years of neglect. 

In 1817 Sir Walter Scott published his novel The Abbot.

His story cemented the idea of Mary Queen of Scots and Lord Henry Darnley’s courtship at the castle in the 16th century and increased its fame as an iconic and romantic location.

Legend has it that Mary had a romantic rendezvous with her future husband beneath the shade of the yew tree. 

In 1847, under the ownership of the 8th Baronet, Crookston underwent refurbishment to mark the royal visit by Queen Victoria to Glasgow.

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If you can get to the top of Crookston Castle tower - you can experience stunning views of the South Side of Glasgow (Pic Historic Environment Scotland)If you can get to the top of Crookston Castle tower - you can experience stunning views of the South Side of Glasgow (Pic Historic Environment Scotland)
If you can get to the top of Crookston Castle tower - you can experience stunning views of the South Side of Glasgow (Pic Historic Environment Scotland) | Historic Environment Scotland

During this time the legendary Crookston  yew tree, which had been stripped bare by relic hunters seeking a souvenir, was felled. 

In the early 1900’s the Stirling Maxwell family opened the castle to day-trippers for the first time with 6500 paying visitors recorded in 1910.

But at the outbreak of WWII the castle was on a war footing for the first time in hundreds of years. The tower was used by the Home Guard as an aircraft observation post during the blitz and an army camp was set up in the woodlands nearby.

After the war saw the resumption of building across the community, with new homes and schools being built through the 1950’s and 60’s including the new Crookston Castle Secondary School, now the site of Crookston Castle Primary School.

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Today the castle stands as a highly visible reminder of the past and the friends of group are focused on the future and working to celebrate the only mediaeval castle in Glasgow.

Speaking about the importance of the castle and its history Mr McDonald added: “I think the phrase hidden gem is used quite a lot but this is off the tourist track as well as for the residents. 

“We want to encourage people to come to the castle to learn more about its history. We want families from across the city including those struggling with the cost of living crisis to come and visit as this is a free day out.

“There is easy access to the castle which is not too far from other places like Pollok Park which means there is enough in the area for families to make a day of it.”

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Brian Gerrand, from Crookston, added: “This project shows just how important these areas are, especially when a couple of years ago we weren’t allowed to leave our homes because of Covid 19.

“Crookston Castle has a complex history and it is good to get people engaged with it.”

To join the friends of group or for more information email [email protected]

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