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, which did not then exist; it refers instead to the parish of Cardross, which extended to the western bank of the River Leven, as seen by the presence of the ruins of the ancient parish church in Dumbarton's Levengrove Park.

In a companion article to this one, called "Mains of Cardross and Castle Hill", 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 Park of Cardross, the park being the area where Robert had his residence; see the companion article for further comments.

I should stress that the broad location of the land of Pillanflatt was already fairly well known: in recent years, a local group, the Strathleven Artizans, have been using the name Pillanflatt to describe the general area occupied by 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 Howgate, and on the south by the A82 dual carriageway on its approach to the Blue Bridge 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.

Specifically, the article discusses where the farm buildings of Pillanflatt stood in the first half of the nineteenth century. It may well be that Pillanflatt, in the time of Robert the Bruce, was at or near the same spot; though there would obviously have been much rebuilding since his day, it seems unlikely that the farmhouse of later centuries would have been located far from the earlier site.

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. Those who merely wish to know the findings, without any further preamble, should scroll down to look at the maps and read the accompanying bold text.

Pillanflatt

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 or charter 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 Over and Nether Dalwhurn (later Dalquhurn), Dalmowack (Dalmoak) and Mains (of Cardross). The map also shows Cardross Kirk (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.

Charters

As already mentioned, Pillanflatt was described as lying between Dalquhurn and the King's Park of Cardross. Part of the relevant charter is given below. The text is as presented in my printed copy of "The Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, A.D. 13061424" (New Edition, edited by John Maitland Thomson, LL.D., 1984). This is the first of several volumes that are often cited as RMS (from their Latin name, Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum).

Charter 117 appears on page 34 of Volume 1 of RMS; the date 1362 A.D. appears in the running header of that page. The charter reads, in part:


"Carta Johannis Reed pro tempore vite:
David Dei gracia rex Scottorum omnibus, etc. Sciatis dedisse, etc., dilecto et fideli nostro Johanni Reed, illas terras nostras cum pertinenciis que vocantur Pelanyfflat, jacentes inter parcum nostrum de Cardros et terram de Dalgworne, infra vicecomitatum de Dunbretane ..."
"Charter to John Reid, for his lifetime:
King David [etc.] ... (grants) to John Reid, those lands of ours, with (their) appurtenances, that are called Pillanflatt, lying between our (i.e., the King's) park of Cardross and the land of Dalquhurn, within Dumbartonshire"


The spelling given there is Pelanyfflat. Entry 1424 in Appendix B of the same volume gives the following variant spellings found in old charter indexes and other sources: Pelonysflat, Pelainflatt, Pelanisflat. Those index entries include other variations (Reoch for Reed, Dalguborne for Dalgworne).

For the sake of consistency, I have used the spelling Pillanflatt throughout this article; for want of a genuine present-day form, I have adopted the one that was in use at around the time when the farm disappeared. As respects its meaning, some interpretations have been proposed, but I think that the name is best viewed as being of uncertain origin. The "-flat" element perhaps simply indicates a flat piece of ground; at any rate, the same ending is found in other local place-names, Corseflat (later Corslet, then Crosslet) and Stoneyflat.

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 evidence, both documentary and topographical, and concludes that "it seems certain that the exact position of the house in which Bruce died is to be sought either at Mains of Cardross or somewhere in the half mile which separates the farm from the modern railway bridge over the Leven".

I personally agree with that assessment, favouring a site somewhere in the general vicinity of the former site of Mains of Cardross farmhouse, but it is worth adding that (from a century or more ago, and up to the present day) others have suggested that the residence was at Pillanflatt.

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 (map included in Murray MSS, iii). 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 (Sandyholme and the Howgate 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, though perhaps derelict, 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 can be given for this.

For the purposes of the present article, it matters little whether the date of 1841 written on the plan is correct or not; for what it is worth, the features that appear on it do seem to indicate that the date is at least approximately correct. Also, 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.

Comparisons

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 1860 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; later, when the line of the Howgate itself was changed (see below) to run a little to the south of its original course, the burn would again be re-routed to follow the (changed) northern edge of the field. Likewise, by 1860 the Dalquhurn Dye Works had 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.

When I wished to copy the 1841 plan, I was allowed to photograph it, the library's photocopier being out of order at the time; this turned out for the best, since it allowed for a better quality of reproduction in this article. The colours in the 1841 plan, as reproduced below, are those of the original, though they have been muted to allow my digital highlighting to stand out more clearly. Naturally, I am not the first to examine the plan (my sole innovation has been in trying to locate Pillanflatt farmhouse more precisely using it). For example, in August 2019 I acquired a copy of a locally-produced work, John MacKay's 2011 book "Bleachfields, Printfields and Turkey Red"; that book reproduces, on page 16, a photocopied section of the same proposed canal plan. As it happens, the name "Pillanflatt Farm Ho" appears at the very bottom of the page; it would, though, be very difficult to read the name in that picture without already knowing what it was.

Notes on the images:
(1) The four blue patches appearing at the far right correspond to changes in the direction of a marked boundary.
(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 the two have many recognisable features in common.
  2. The buildings of Pillanflatt are immediately adjacent to an identifiable track, namely, the Howgate.
  3. The Howgate itself is not straight, but has several distinctive 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. It is also fortunate that the proposed course of the canal passed so close to Pillanflatt; had this not been so, the farm would almost certainly have been omitted from the plan.

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.NS39007755, and the two western buildings were at c.NS38957756. 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 surface 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.

NS3977 : The former site of Pillanflatt farmhouse by Lairich RigNS3877 : The former site of farm buildings at Pillanflatt by Lairich RigNote: the following guide to positions is approximate only; see the two pictures themselves for further explanatory comments.

(left) The eastern building, presumably the farmhouse, was here.
(right) The two western buildings were here.

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. At least the northern part of the field that lies just south of the Howgate would probably been part of the lands of Pillanflatt, which was the nearer of the two farmhouses.

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 Farm was further away, and Over Dalquhurn Farm still more so. The creation of the Dye Works at Dalquhurn would, though, have taken away some of the farmland. Note also that, even though the buildings of Pillanflatt Farm are depicted on the 1841 plan, it does not follow that they remained in use at that date; it is at least possible that they were already unoccupied. This would have mattered little to the creator of the canal plan, for whom those buildings, whether occupied or not, were worth showing on the plan because they lay particularly close to the proposed course of the canal.

Later, when 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 buildings was sealed. They would only have presented an obstacle for 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.

Evidence that the farm buildings were still present in 1842 can be found in an article on the second pageExternal link (PDF) of the Tuesday, March 8th 1842 edition of the Edinburgh Gazette. There, notice was given that an application would be made to Parliament for an Act to authorise the formation of a railway, one of whose branch lines would pass "the Farm house or houses of Pillan Flat Farm, in the parish of Cardross". That branch line would terminate "at or near the works known by the name of the Dalquhurn Dye Works". The notice is dated the 18th of February, 1842.

An OS map revisionExternal link of 196264 shows a building called Howgate Cottage; it is now gone, but it stood at NS38997753. By chance, this is particularly close to the position that I have identified as the former site of the farmhouse of Pillanflatt Farm.

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.
NS3877 : The western end of the Howgate by Lairich RigNS3977 : The eastern end of the Howgate by Lairich Rig(left) The western end of the present-day path.
(right) The eastern end of the same path.

Reference has already been made several times to a track that is known locally as the Howgate (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 roughly corresponds to the path leading directly ahead.
(right) Its original course also passed through the location of the houses on the right (present-day Taylor Street).

As mentioned above, the expansion of the Dalquhurn Dye Works swallowed up the original course of the Howgate. The present-day path of that name now runs a little to the south of its old 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 to both the Dalquhurn Works and the Cordale Works. My casual inspection of the (re-routed) burn just south of the Howgate turned up some pieces of clinker, 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 Point). However, the clinker might instead have come from the area just to the south of the track: as will be explained below, that area seems first to have been quarried, probably for sand, and then filled in; OS maps of c.1965 mark that part of the field as a "refuse tip".

Sandyholme

The 1841 plan employs the name Sandyholme for the area where the Howgate reaches the River Leven. That the area was 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.

NS3977 : River bank at Sandyholme by Lairich RigNS3977 : Sandyholme by Lairich Rig(left) "sandy": most of the sand has been extracted (mid-twentieth century), but pockets remain.
(right) "holme": cattle still graze here.

Land use

This article concludes with a discussion of the OS maps (18601965), relating mainly to their depiction of the field that is bounded on the north by the present-day Howgate and on the south by the A82 dual carriageway. This section is not directly related to the research on the location of the farm buildings, and is included here mainly for geographical interest.

NS3977 : Cows at Pillanflatt by Lairich RigNS3977 : River bank with bricks and clinker by Lairich Rig(left) Cows grazing beside the path through the meadow.
(right) The river bank, with bricks and clinker.

The map evidence is summarised in tabular form below, and is best consulted in conjuction with my annotated satellite viewExternal link, which I updated while writing the present article. Significant features are referred to, where possible, by their label on that view, such as (A1) or (E2).

In connection with excavations mentioned below, I should add that, while I was working on this article, I had a conversion with the Strathleven Artizans, in order to pass on my findings. In the course of that conversation, I was told about the replacement of a large quantity of surface material in the field; that accords very well with the map evidence presented below.

1860 OS mapExternal link

This is the earliest of the maps, the first-edition OS map.
The Howgate follows its original line (B2), but the Pillanflatt Farm buildings are already gone, with a sandpit occupying the same general area.
The field to the south has a central water channel (C1) with subsidiary channels (C2)(C8) at right angles to it.
A long embankment (D1) serves both as a boundary to the area covered by the water channels, and as a defence against flooding from the adjacent River Leven.
The southern part of that embankment remains in existence as a footpath and cycle path; when that part of the field is flooded, this path remains above water.

1896 OS mapExternal link

The central water channel has been replaced by a long straight boundary (E1); there is no trace of the other channels (C2)(C8) that ran at right angles to it.
The original line (B2) of the Howgate is still shown, but the Dalquhurn Dye Works have expanded still further to the south, almost consuming that track.
The Dalquhurn Siding (B1) of the "Dumbarton & Balloch Joint Line" has appeared; although the map does not show such detail, there was a turntable above the left-hand end of the word "Dumbarton": the little locomotive, known locally as the Pug, was turned there. The course of that long-dismantled line remains in use as a path, the present-day Howgate (B1).
The creation of the siding has taken land from the northern edge of the adjacent meadow; as a result, the burn that flows along the meadow's northern edge has (again) been re-routed.
Note also a straight footpath running SSE from the eastern end of the present-day Howgate (B1) to meet the long embankment (D1).

1914 OS mapExternal link

There have been further developments just south of the present course (B1) of the Howgate:
(1) the northern end of what was originally the central water channel (C1) and later a boundary (E1) is now the site of a short track (D4); and
(2) from the most easterly bend in the Howgate (B1), a short section of track leads roughly west.
Both of these changes may be associated with the beginnings of excavations in that area; these are seen in a more advanced state on the next map.

1937 OS mapExternal link

There are now much clearer signs of excavations on the map: (E2) and (E3).
It seems likely that the work involved sand extraction, as had earlier taken place to the north, at the former site of Pillanflatt Farm, and as would take place further to the south, at Mains of Cardross.
A section of rail track (E4) leads down into the excavated area (E2), which it crosses diagonally.
The northern part of the straight footpath that led SSE from the east end of the Howgate (B1) has been modified to avoid the excavations (E2), resulting in the track marked (D2).

1965 OS mapExternal link

The former site of excavations is now marked on the map as a "Refuse Tip".
At present, the southern edge of that area is apparent on the ground as a discontinuity (F1).
The eastern end of that discontinuity corresponds to a short line of trees near the river bank.

Mid-2018

Portions of the embankment (D1) remain, serving as a present-day footpath and as part of cycle route NCN 7.
The construction of the A82 has changed the boundaries of the field considerably, and has excluded, for example, all but the eastern extremity of area (E3).
Small pockets of sand are still visible in the River Leven's banks at the location that was once called Sandyholme, but much of the original sand is now gone, replaced with infill. The material exposed along the river bank includes bricks and clinker, and an examination of the various company names stamped on the bricks shows that this material was deposited here at some point after the middle of the nineteenth century.
The north-eastern part of the field has some recent short gravel tracks made c.2014 in connection with refurbishment of the overhead lines.
The field itself is still used for grazing; cattle pass under the Blue Bridge in moving from this field to the fields beside Young's Farm.


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