The location of Pillanflatt Farm

Text © Copyright Lairich Rig, July 2018
Images are under a separate Creative Commons Licence.

NS3977 : Beside the River Leven at Pillanflatt by Lairich RigA riverside meadow in the former lands of Pillanflatt.

In his final years, Robert the Bruce spent much time at his residence at Cardross. In this context, the name Cardross does not refer to the present-day village of that name. The parish of Cardross extended to the western bank of the River Leven, as seen by the presence of the ruinsExternal link of the ancient parish church in Dumbarton's Levengrove ParkExternal link.

In a companion article to this one, called "Mains of Cardross and Castle HillExternal link", I discuss the twentieth-century debates over where the King's Cardross residence was located. In that connection, ancient records mention a place called Pillanflatt: in 1362, the lands of "Pelanysflat" (Pillanflatt) lay between Dalquhurn and the king's Royal Park of Cardross, the park being the area where Bruce had his residence; see the companion articleExternal link for further comments.

I should stress that the general area of the land of Pillanflatt was already fairly well known: in recent years, local groups such as the Strathleven Artizans have been using the name Pillanflatt to refer to a field (shown above and in two more pictures below), west of the River Leven, that is bounded on the north by a track known locally as the HowgateExternal link, and on the south by the A82 dual carriageway on its approach to the Blue BridgeExternal link over the Leven.

NS3977 : Footbridge on Cycle Route by Lairich RigNS3977 : Footbridge on Cycle Route by Lairich Rig(left) A cycle path runs through the meadow.
(right) A view in the opposite direction over a different bridge.

What was not already known was precisely where the farm buildings of Pillanflatt had once stood. The scholar G W S Barrow was able to deduce the farm's general location correctly, but the map on which he relied did not allow for more than a rough estimate. The aim of the present article is to describe the location of the farm buildings much more precisely, to within 50 metres or so; as far as I know, that had not previously been done. In this article I will set out the map evidence that I relied upon, and I will endeavour to present it in such a way that others can work through it to confirm the findings.

Knowing exactly where Pillanflatt farmhouse once stood does little to enhance our knowledge of where Robert the Bruce's Cardross residence was, but it fills a gap in local knowledge, and is therefore of some interest in its own right.


On early maps

The present article will have nothing to say about the history of the land of Pillanflatt, except as it relates to map evidence. I will only note here that very few very early maps show the farm, and those that do are of no use in accurately determining its position.

"Pillonflett" is shown on the 1654 Blaeu map of the LennoxExternal link, which was based in large part on earlier manuscript maps made c.1600 by Timothy Pont. Among the nearby farms shown on the Blaeu map are OverExternal link and Nether DalwhurnExternal link (later Dalquhurn), DalmowackExternal link (Dalmoak) and MainsExternal link (of Cardross). The map also shows Cardross KirkExternal link (the old parish church) and the clachan of Little Kirktoun that grew up beside it. The farm is otherwise very poorly represented. To cite just one example, Roy's Military Survey of Scotland (c.1740s50s) does not show it, but then it often does not show all of the farms in a given area.

Pillanflatt does not appear on even the earliest (c.1860) Ordnance Survey map of this area; by that time it had already been cleared away.

G W S Barrow

One of the books written by the scholar G W S Barrow (19242013) was "Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland". In that work, Barrow weighs up the evidenceExternal link, both documentary and topographical, and concludesExternal link that "it seems certain that the exact position of the house in which Bruce died is to be sought either at Mains of CardrossExternal link or somewhere in the half mile which separates the farm from the modern railway bridgeExternal link over the Leven".

That conclusion is generally accepted today, and I know of no reason to dispute it.

NS3976 : Site of Mains of Cardross Farm by Lairich RigNS3976 : Mains of Cardross Canal by Lairich Rig(left) The former site of the Mains of Cardross farm buildings, slightly elevated above the surrounding land.
(right) The site gives easy access to the River Leven.

Barrow had made a start in determining the location of Pillanflatt Farm, making use of the limited map evidence that he came across. In the work already cited, he states that he encountered an undated eighteenth-century map by Thomas Kitchin in Dumbarton Library. This map showed "'Pilinflait' south of Dalchurn and slightly north-east of Dalmoak, suggesting that it was situated just to the north of Mains of Cardross".

The 1841 plan

In June 2018, shortly before starting work on the present article, I was passing the time in Dumbarton Library by perusing old (pre-OS) maps and plans. I recalled that, a few years earlier, I had seen the name Pillanflatt on one such map, close to another place-name, Sandyholme (neither of those names appears on even the earliest OS maps). Imagining that this map evidence would already have been taken into account, I gave the matter no further thought at the time.

In June 2018, almost the first of the pre-OS maps that I examined was one whose title seemed unpromising: it was the "Reduced Plan of proposed Vale of Leven Canal, from Loch Lomond to the River Clyde, uniting with the Forth & Clyde Canal at Bowling". The map was credited to "James Thomson, M.R.I.A. Engineer", and was engraved by "Allan & Ferguson, Lithog., Glasgow". A modern hand had added the date 1841.

The 1841 plan covers the entire length of the River Leven, from Loch Lomond to Dumbarton Rock, but also covers an area further to the south-east, as far as Bowling Bay. As a consequence of its subject matter, the plan is much longer than wide. The canal was never built (similar plans proposed much more recently likewise came to nothing).

This 1841 plan was the one that I had glanced at a few years earlier: it shows Pillanflatt near Sandyholme. On the face of it, this plan might be thought to offer little more than the eighteenth-century map that Barrow had earlier examined. However, the advantage of the 1841 plan was that it showed the farmhouse of Pillanflatt beside a geographical feature that, with a knowledge of the area, I was able to recognise as a track known locally as the Howgate (SandyholmeExternal link and the HowgateExternal link will be discussed later in this article).

On examining this proposed canal plan, I was sceptical about the date 1841 that had been added to it. My main reason was that, if this date was correct, then the farm buildings had been in existence in 1841, but had then been removed with such thoroughness that not even a ruin was left by the time the first-edition OS map was surveyed in 1860. As will be explained below, a good reason for this can be given.

For the purposes of the present article, it matters little whether the date of 1841 written on the plan is correct or not, although, for what it is worth, it does seem, from the evidence of other place-names that appear on it, that the date is more or less correct. I am sure that a detailed consideration of the houses named on the plan, the disposition of the various dye-works and their buildings, and so forth, would allow the date to be determined to within a few years, should anyone wish to do so. I will note here only that the lithographers responsible for the plan, namely, Allan & Ferguson of Glasgow, were active at this time.

For convenience, I will refer to that document as the "1841 plan" throughout this article. In the next section, I compare the 1841 plan with the 1860 OS map.


Below, I present a very small part of the 1841 plan. Below that, for comparison, is the corresponding section of the 1860 Ordnance Survey map, the earliest OS map of this area:

I have digitally added some highlighting in red, on both the 1841 plan and the 1861 map, to draw attention to a track, which corresponds to the original line of the Howgate.

In a similar way, I have digitally highlighted several other corresponding features in blue. Note that the correspondence between them is not always exact, but even such discrepancies as do exist seem to reflect genuine changes on the ground. For example, the burn that is shown just south of the western end of the Howgate (in other words, the blue feature furthest to the left) had been re-routed a little by the time the 1860 map was prepared, presumably for the convenience of having the burn flow along the edge of the field rather than through it. Likewise, by 1860 the Dalquhurn Dye Works have expanded, swallowing up the area that had previously been occupied by the Pillanflatt farm buildings.

Had I shown a larger part of the 1841 plan and the 1860 map (at the expense of making the images inconveniently large, or rendering the text on the OS map illegible), it would have been possible to see several more points of correspondence: Mains of Cardross Farm on the 1860 OS map, simply labelled "Mains Farm Ho" on the 1841 plan (many other old maps likewise simply call that farm "Mains"); and Kilmalid Farm (now long gone) on the other side of the River Leven.

There are, understandably, some minor discrepancies. Nevertheless, for a plan whose making probably did not involve triangulation techniques, such as were employed in the making of the 1860 OS map, the 1841 plan does appear to have been very skilfully surveyed. The correspondence between the plan and the map is surprisingly good, at least over small areas such as the one shown here.

Notes on the images:
(1) Of the four blue patches appearing at the far right, the upper three are supposed to mark changes in the direction of a boundary (I have placed one of them a little too high on the 1860 map).
(2) On the 1841 plan, the brown curving line that crosses the River Leven represents the proposed course of a canal. Because the canal was never built, that line should be disregarded when comparing the two pictures.

Below: the 1841 plan.
Above: the 1860 OS map.

At least three factors make the 1841 plan particularly useful in pinpointing the location of Pillanflatt:

  1. The plan is close enough in time to the earliest OS map (1860) to ensure that many of the same features are recognisably featured on both.
  2. The buildings of Pillanflatt are immediately adjacent to an identifiable feature, namely, the Howgate.
  3. The Howgate itself is not straight, but has several bends, which are faithfully reproduced on the plan and on the map.

Had the farm buildings been far from other recognisable features, any inaccuracies in the surveying of the 1841 plan would have made it impossible to determine the location of those buildings with any certainty. But their nearness to distinctive and recognisable bends in the track minimises the effects of any such inaccuracies.

Direct comparison of the maps makes it clear that the eastern building (probably the farmhouse) at Pillanflatt stood near the eastern end of the (later) sandpit that is shown on the 1860 OS map, and that the two other buildings stood near the future sandpit's western end.

Another factor that must be taken into account is that the current course of the Howgate is not the same as the original one shown on the 1860 OS mapExternal link. Hence, rather than attempting to match the 1860 map directly with present-day satellite imagery, it will be found more convenient to employ later map revisions (1896External link / 1914External link /1937 External link) as a bridge between them. Those later revisions show the gradual progress of the absorption of the original course of the Howgate by the expanding Dalquhurn Dye Works; they also depict the current course of the track, making comparison with modern satellite imagery a straightforward task.

Following these steps leads to the conclusion that, of the three buildings that make up Pillanflatt Farm on the 1841 plan, the eastern building was at c.NS39007754, and the two western buildings were at c.NS38947755. Those locations are on what is currently Taylor Street (housing built in about 2011) in Dalquhurn. Before Taylor Street was built, the area was under dense tree cover. As will be explained below, it is very likely that all traces of the original farm buildings had already been removed long ago.

(I estimate that the grid references just given are correct to within about 50 metres, but readers can draw their own conclusions, based on the evidence. The degree of precision depends mainly on the extent to which the 1841 plan can be matched with the 1860 OS map: as already mentioned, the match is a good one, and the fortuitous placement of the farm buildings very close to a recognisable bend in the original course of the Howgate largely cancels out the effects of any large-scale surveying errors that might be present in the 1841 plan. The OS maps themselves (from 1860 to 1937) are surveyed so accurately that matching the different map revisions with each other, or with present-day satellite imagery, introduces very little additional uncertainty.)

I have created a map, in the form of annotated satellite imageryExternal link, that depicts the location of Pillanflatt's farm buildings (two blue marker pins close together), the original course (yellow line) and current course (green line) of the Howgate, and the general area (a single blue marker pin near the Leven) that was once called Sandyholme.

NS3877 : Taylor Street, Dalquhurn by Lairich RigNS3877 : Taylor Street, Dalquhurn by Lairich RigNote: the following guide to positions is approximate; see also the satellite view.

(left) The eastern building (probably the farmhouse) was near the leftmost white van.
(right) The two western buildings were just in front of the brick-red houses in this view.

While previously it could only be said that Pillanflatt was probably "just to the north of Mains of Cardross" (see above, and note that this is certainly true as far as their respective lands go), it can now be said with some confidence that the farm buildings of Pillanflatt were 800 metres (and a few points west of north) from those of Mains of Cardross. The field that lies just south of the Howgate would probably been part of the lands of Pillanflatt (the nearer of the two farmhouses), as had already been surmised.

Pillanflatt Farm might appear to have been cramped, on the north, by the nearness of Dalquhurn, but it should be borne in mind that Dalquhurn House was there, not a farm; Nether Dalquhurn FarmExternal link was further away, and Over Dalquhurn FarmExternal link still more so. The creation of the Dye Works at Dalquhurn would, though, have taken away some of the farmland.

As soon as the site of the Pillanflatt farm buildings had been consumed by the expansion of the Dalquhurn Dye Works, and a working sandpit had been created nearby, the fate of those disused buildings was sealed. They would only have presented an obstruction to those working at or near the sandpit, and they would therefore have been removed at the earliest opportunity. This would seem to be the most natural explanation for the (otherwise puzzling) complete disappearance of the buildings in just under two decades, so that not even a ruin was left to be marked on the 1860 OS map.

The Howgate

NS3977 : The Howgate by Lairich RigNS3977 : The Howgate by Lairich Rig(left) A view east along the present-day Howgate.
(right) A view west along the same path.

Reference has already been made several times to a track that is known locally as the HowgateExternal link (click on that link for various pictures of it). There was a Howgate Lodge near its western end, but that building is now gone. Note that it was not the same place as North Lodge, which is still standing. Howgate Lodge stood about 80 metres NNE of North Lodge; if it was still in existence, it would now be almost underneath the A82 dual carriageway. In fact, Howgate Lodge was cleared away when that road was built.

While I was researching Pillanflatt for the present article, and was comparing the 1860 map with the 1841 plan, it became clear that providing access to Pillanflatt farmhouse must have been an important function of the Howgate; this was probably its original role, although the track would also have provided convenient access to the River Leven from the Renton-to-Dumbarton road.

NS3877 : Path at the southern end of Dalquhurn by Lairich RigNS3877 : Taylor Street, Dalquhurn by Lairich Rig(left) The original line of the Howgate crossed the foreground, and turned to follow the edge of the bushes on the left.
(right) It also passed through the houses on the right (the southern side of Taylor Street).

As mentioned above, the expansion of the Dalquhurn Dye Works swallowed up the original course of the Howgate itself. The present-day Howgate now runs a little to the south of its original course. The annotated satellite imageryExternal link shows the original course (as a yellow line) and current course (as a green line) superimposed on present-day features.

The 1898/1914/1937 map editions all show a branch line of the railway extending along the (present-day) Howgate. Some of the older residents of Renton will recall that there used to be a railway turntable at a point partway along the track, but there is now little of interest to be seen at that spot. A little locomotive called the Pug used to run along that line, which led toExternal link both the Dalquhurn Works and the Cordale Works. A casual inspection of the (re-routed) burn just south of the Howgate turned up some pieces of clinkerExternal link, a material that seems to have been employed locally as a cheap form of track ballast (as mentioned in the last part of my comments on clinker at Dalquhurn PointExternal link).


NS3977 : Beside the River Leven at Pillanflatt by Lairich RigNS3977 : Sandyholme by Lairich Rig(left) In context: Sandyholme at background right.
(right) Sandyholme is still employed for grazing.

The 1841 plan employs the name Sandyholme for the area where the Howgate reaches the River Leven. That the area is indeed sandy is borne out well enough by the sandpits that had been excavated nearby by the time the 1860 OS map was surveyed. The "-holme" element is also appropriate: a "holme" or "howmExternal link" (Dictionary of the Scots Language) is the same as a "haugh": a low, flat riverside meadow, suitable for grazing. That description is still accurate.
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