The launch of the Trail

There have been buildings in the area of Killearn House from at least the early 17th century. Blaeu’s map of 1654 (see here) records a building at Croy. Later in that century it became known as Croy Leckie, and a house there was occupied by the Leckie family. In 1677 John Croy of Croy Leckie married Margaret MacGregor, the sister of Rob Roy. He fought with Rob Roy at Sheriffmuir in the 1715 Jacobite rebellion. After the defeat of the rising, he fled abroad and his estate was forfeited.

Black and white photo of a grand Killearn house
Killearn House as it was around 1900.

By 1766, John Muirhead, a Glasgow builder and timber merchant, owned the house and planted 50 acres of trees ‘disposed in the most advantageous manner for shelter and ornament’ (according to the First Statistical Account). Muirhead’s purchase of Croy Leckie was an example of a Glasgow merchant having a country estate in the area, particularly for use in the summer. John Muirhead, was the uncle of James Watt. By account of John’s daughter, Marion, it was in the Muirhead’s kitchen in their Glasgow house that James Watt watched steam coming from a kettle and was inspired, so the story goes, to improve the steam engine.

John died in 1769. The estate was inherited by his son Robert (his portrait, painted by Sir Henry Raeburn is in the Hunterian Gallery). Robert and James Watt stayed in contact for life. Watt stayed at Croy Leckie for a week after his first wife’s death in 1772.

At some point later in the century he sold the estate to William Richardson, Professor of Humanity at Glasgow University. Some of his students studied with him at Croy Leckie during the summer. Richardson appears in two portraits painted by Sir Henry Raeburn. One shows him with a view of a loch and hills in the background, perhaps suggesting his time at Croy Leckie. The second image is more austere. (The first is in the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, the second in the Hunterian.) Richardson’s most important book, Anecdotes of the Russian Empire (1784), was an account of four years he spent in St Petersburg in 1768–72. Richardson was a supporter of the appeal to build the Buchanan Monument. He was a friend of Robert Anderson who wrote of Croy Leckie in his Life of Smollett.

Croy-Leckie, the seat of the late William Richardson, Esq. professor of Humanity in the University of Glasgow, stands in a picturesque valley, on the west side of the Blane, about a mile below the birth-place of Buchanan, between the Dowalt and the Carnock, two romantic mountain streams, descending through wild rocky dells, overhung with woods, interspersed with walks, and forming bold cascades and stupendous chasms, which bound the enclosures on the south and north, and enter the Blane separately, at the distance of a quarter of a mile, near its junction with the Endrick. . . .

I expected these reminiscences of the classical scenery of Strathblane and Strathendrick would again meet the eye, and gratify the enthusiasm and local attachment of the amiable poet, whose friendship and social worth endeared to me the romantic beauties, and elegant hospitalities of his summer residence; but the expectation was utterly vain. He died on the 3d of November 1814, after a very short illness, in the 70th year of his age. (The Miscellaneous Works of Tobias Smollett, M.D., with Memoirs of his Life and Writings, 6th edition, 1820)

After Richardson’s death, Robert Muirhead repurchased Croy Leckie. Muirhead died in 1828 and the following year Croy Leckie was purchased by John Blackburn.

Blackburn was born in Glasgow in 1756, a merchant’s son. In the 1770s, he set off to Jamaica and became a prosperous plantation manager and owner, relying on enslaved labour. He lived in Jamaica for 32 years. During his time there, he managed about 30 plantations, a few of which he owned. Returning to Scotland in the 1800s, he became a public advocate for the plantation system, not least to a Parliamentary Committee in 1807. John Blackburn’s nickname in Glasgow was ‘Bluebeard’, from his having a large blue or purple patch on his chin.

In 1814, he bought the Killearn estate, which included much of the land around Killearn and The Place. In the years that followed, he expanded his landholdings, buying the Croy Leckie estate in 1829. The house was quickly rebuilt. He regarded The Place as too small a house. His new house he named Killearn House. He continued to own or have shares in a number of Jamaican plantations. When slavery was abolished in 1834 in Jamaica, he received payment from the British government of around £12,000 (over £1.5 million at today’s prices) for the ‘loss’ of 638 enslaved people. He died in 1840.

Another view of Killearn House.

The house and estate were inherited by his oldest son, Peter Blackburn, who expanded the house further in 1850. He was MP for Stirlingshire for six years (1859–65), losing the 1865 election to the Liberal party candidate.

John Blackburn’s second son, Colin, became a lawyer and then a judge in England. He was appointed a Law Lord in 1876 and took the title Lord Blackburn of Killearn. He was unmarried and the title died with him. John Blackburn’s youngest son, Hugh, became Professor of Mathematics at Glasgow University (1849–79 . He married Jemima Wedderburn (his brother Peter had married her sister Jean). Jemima was a distinguished watercolourist and illustrator. In 1854 they bought and enlarged Roshven House on the shores of Loch Ailort in Kinlochmoidart in the Highlands; house guests included James Clerk Maxwell (Jemima’s cousin), Lord Kelvin, Hermann von Helmholtz, Sir John Millais, Anthony Trollope and Benjamin Disraeli.

When Peter Blackburn died in 1870, the estate was inherited by his eldest son, John. He died in 1909, and the estate passed to his brother, Peter, a Lt. Colonel in the Royal Artillery. He was married but had no children. On his death in 1922, the estate passed to his sister, Helen Blackburn, who, in 1874, had married Norman Lampson. He was the second son of Sir Curtis Lampson who was born in Vermont in 1806, became a fur trader in Canada and arrived in London in 1834. Initially he traded in furs but quickly moved into other businesses. He was knighted in 1866 by Queen Victoria for helping to deliver the first successful transatlantic telephone cable.

Norman and Helen’s second son, Miles Wedderburn Lampson, was born at Killearn House in 1880. He had a distinguished diplomatic career. This included serving as High Commissioner and then Ambassador to Egypt and Sudan from 1934 to 1946. He was made a peer in 1943 and took the title of Lord Killearn.

Helen Lampson died in 1929 (her husband having died in 1893). Her oldest son, Curtis Lampson, sold the Killearn estate in 1939, ending the family’s connection with the village.

Killearn House fell into ruin in the years that followed. It was reconstructed in 2008 as a number of apartments.

Vintage photo of a derelict stone building that is falling down
Killearn House in the late 20th-century.