According to John Guthrie Smith’s history of Strathblane, “the compact little estate of Carbeth Guthrie” was constructed between 1808 and 1817 by West Indies merchant John Guthrie. Guthrie was a prominent member of Glasgow’s “Sugar Aristocracy”. He had managed an estate on the Caribbean island of Grenada where one of his titles was “Guardian of Slaves”. (This was part of an “amelioration programme”, devised by slave-owners to tackle the worst abuses of slavery, partly to forestall the rise of abolitionism and partly to promote a natural increase in the existing slave population.) On his return from the West Indies, he joined the Glasgow firm of Leitch & Smith, which both imported sugar and extended credit to slave-holding estates in Grenada and Jamaica.

John Guthrie

 The original Carbeth was a two merk land belonging to the Barony of Mugdock. John Guthrie also bought the lands of Arlehaven, which included Allereoch and Blair’s Hill. These have long been associated with the Battle of Maesydawc or Mugdock where Teudwr, King of Strathclyde, was said to have defeated and killed the Pictish king Talargan in 750AD. This battle covered a wide area of the parish and modern academics are more circumspect about the precise geography. Guthrie Smith suggests that the standing stones to the south-east of Dumgoyach probably mark the burial place of a warrior who fell in the battle. But, though Allereoch (now Alreoch) supposedly means “The King’s Rock”, today’s historians would probably question the confidence of his assertion that this marks the exact spot where King Talargan fell. (The Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) suggests that at least three of the Dumgoyach standing stones are Neolithic. Radiocarbon dating puts their vintage at around 2860BC.)

Dumgoyach Standing Stones

In 1810 John Guthrie built a large part of the house now known as Carbeth Guthrie and set about developing the grounds, creating an ornamental garden. He also improved the road link between the Drymen road and Strathblane, which was then a winding drove road. Having created much of the road we know today, he was keen to improve the line of the Cuilt Brae, which then went straight up the hill. He wanted to make the climb gentler by taking a route near modern day Ardoch – then known as Dykehouse. However, the laird of Dykehouse would not hear of it at first, then made exorbitant demands, including a certain number of bunches of grapes every year! Mr Guthrie would not agree to this and the rerouting had to wait until later. When John Guthrie died in 1834, he left an estate worth around £9000, which was comparatively modest by the standards of the Glasgow West India elite. Carbeth passed to his cousin William Smith. An Ebenezer McAlister of Singapore bought the Carbeth estate in 1878. He made further improvements to the property and installed the horses’ stone water trough, which is still visible at Braehead.

By now the old Clachan of Carbeth, which was on the opposite side of Carbeth Loch to the modern road, had been reduced to one forlorn tumbledown cottage, as illustrated by Guthrie Smith in 1886. The Barns-Graham family acquired the estate in 1883.

Carbeth Guthrie
OS 6″ Map Survey Date 1860
Old Clachan of Carbeth 1880s
John Guthrie Smith The Parish of Strathblane and Its Inhabitants from Early Times (page 253)

The Carbeth Huts

Allan Barns-Graham (1874-1957) was an unusual landowner. Robert Blatchford, a Manchester-based socialist journalist, launched The Clarion in 1891. The weekly publication encouraged working people to form networks and enjoy leisure pursuits, including socialist holiday camps. Barns-Graham was attracted by their ideas and allowed cyclists on to his land to hold annual summer fellowship camps from 1895.

Allan Barns-Graham

After the First World War he welcomed soldiers returning to Carbeth at weekends and during the holidays and also encouraged families. From tents, simple handmade huts evolved. In the decades that followed hundreds escaped the polluted, overcrowded Clydeside communities to enjoy the fireside fellowship, fun and fresh air to be found at Carbeth. The first few huts were constructed around 1919 and the main development took place in the 1930s.  If families could not afford the fare for a charabanc, they walked. The occupiers owned the huts and rented the site from the estate on an annual basis.

White Cottage, Carbeth, Willhemina Barns-Graham (Willhemina Barns-Graham Trust)
Oil Painting of Carbeth Loch by Wilhemina Barns-Graham (1912-2004), CBE, daughter of Allan Barns-Graham and foremost British abstract artist

During the Second World War the huts were taken over to provide permanent accommodation for evacuees. At one point there were around 250 huts on the estate. A typical hut contained four bunk beds but could hold many more at busy times, such as during the Clydebank Blitz in 1941. Vegetables were grown around the huts to supplement supplies. Children of primary school age attended Craigton School, about three miles away. They travelled by bus in the morning but had to walk back. Older pupils attended Balfron High School.

Tents at Carbeth
Evacuee children at Carbeth

After 1945 families returned to the conurbation but continued to escape to Carbeth at weekends and during the holidays. However, by the 1960s the expansion of car ownership and rise of foreign travel were leading to a decline in the popularity of the simple pleasures available at Carbeth. Vandalism, arson and fly-tipping added to the problems.

In 1997 the hutters joined together to form the Carbeth Hutters Association and there was a rent strike. In 2008 the Carbeth Community Hutters Association was formed and two years later an agreement was reached with the Carbeth estate giving the association an option to buy the hutting areas if they could raise the funds. In 2013 the hutters purchased the 98-acre site and a renaissance has followed. Today the idea of a handmade little house, made from largely reclaimed materials and offering sustainable, low carbon living, is just the ticket in a world facing a climate crisis.

The history of the Carbeth huts is recognised now as an important chapter in the social history of the working class in Scotland. As one post on the hutters’ website put it: “It was the Carbeth of a thousand childhoods. Almost a century of city children grew up in its playground of fields and forests.”

Typical Carbeth hut
Carbeth huts

The Carbeth Swimming Pond

Glasgow newspaper The Bulletin on 31 May 1933 announced that an open-air swimming pool had been built in a little valley between Carbeth and Craigallian Lochs by Mr Allan Barns Graham and in future would be used by the Carbeth Amateur Swimming Association and visitors to the district. The pool had a length of 51 yards and a depth of up to 7ft 6in. The pool was to be opened throughout the summer months mainly at weekends and public holidays (including the Glasgow Fair). The construction of the swimming pool was in response to the increased demand for the open-air life and leisure pursuits in the country, which had been evident after the First World War. People wanted to get out of the city. The tram system, which was routed as far as Milngavie, provided easy and cheap access to beautiful countryside. And there were buses and trains to Blanefield. The many Rights of Ways in the area became widely used and there was much bathing in both Craigallian and Carbeth lochs, neither of which were very safe for bathing. The pool, formed in 1928 when the stream between Carbeth and Craigallian loch was damned, was more suitable for bathing. In 1933 the embankment of the dam was raised and strengthened and a 7ft spring diving board and a 10-foot-high “Diving Dale” were installed. Changing rooms with toilets, an office hut and a small canteen were erected. Bathing costumes and towels could be hired and the canteen provided tea, aerated water, cigarettes, chocolates and biscuits. The Milngavie & Bearsden Herald of 2 June announced that visitors could swim all day for 6d and the pool would be open on Tuesdays to members whose work prevented them from attending on Saturdays.

Milngavie & Bearsden Herald 2 June 1933 Carbeth Swimming Pool

Annual galas were held before the 2nd World War, on the second Saturday of August but only occasional galas were held after the war. On the 27th July 1963 a Swimming Gala opened by the comedian Jimmy Logan was a great success with swimming events for all the family as well as an exhibition of life saving, swimming and diving by Sergeant George J.C. Rae and his Police Mascots. The proceeds of the Gala went to the Glasgow Branch of the Scottish Society for Mentally Handicapped Children.

 The Carbeth Amateur Swimming Association had been formed in 1930 and affiliated to the Scottish Amateur Swimming Association so that amateur swimmers of other clubs could take part in its Gala. There were 75 members in 1930, 92 in 1931, 167 in 1932 and over 300 in 1933,   the largest number ever attained. The annual subscription in 1934 was 2s6d (12p) rising to 10s (50p) in 1960. Day visitors’ rates in 1960 were 1s (5p) for adults and 6d (2p) for children. But the swimming pool was never a financial success. Before the Second World War the net revenue was not enough to pay for repairs. After the war, it was run at a loss and suffered from vandalism. The greater use being made of motor cars took potential bathers further afield and people became used to more sophisticated facilities than those offered at Carbeth. The total number of visitors in 1933 was 4,300 but by l968, it had dropped to 1,290. The pool was “closed” in 1969 and in 1978 the diving dale and buildings were demolished.

Carbeth Swimming Pond
Carbeth Swimming Pool as seen from the Red Brae – Swimming Gala in progress.

The Holiday Fellowship Camp

The Holiday Fellowship Association was founded in 1923 by three fellow Sergeants in the HLI. They rented a partly wooded area at Carbeth, some 500 yards from the “Wee Shop” that stood near the junction with the Drymen road. The Association was a very well organised enterprise with its own elected executive committee and strict rules as to membership and behaviour in the camp, which was occupied from the 1st July to the 30th September. Originally, there had been 20 permanent sites for tents, before long that number was increased to 40. Each site was provided with a timber floor. In the off season these floors were stored in the Recreational Hall built by their own members. The Hall was about 60 feet by 30 feet complete with stage, kitchenette etc. There was a generator, which provided electricity for the hall, which housed a billiard table and was used for Saturday dances and sing songs. At the end of the season the members would produce a concert with plays, sketches and songs. For many years the association held a tennis competition at a court at Carbeth House. In 1968 the association disbanded and terminated its lease. The increase in cars and caravans reduced the demand for such an association.

Carbeth Curling Club

In the 19th century and first half of the 20th century, winters appeared to be “proper winters” and the numerous lochs in the area would freeze over each year allowing the inhabitants to participate in the popular game of curling. In 1868 an agreement was drawn up between the tenants on the land on both sides of Carbeth Loch and the Carbeth Curling Club. In brief, the Carbeth Curling Club was allowed to flood over the meadow on the banks of Carbeth Loch to an agreed height between the 10th of November to the 1st March. The winters were evidently colder then because there was the proviso that if there was still ice on the pond on the 1st of March and a probability of curling being continued, so could the curlers! The cost of using the pond was £5 a year. The Carbeth Curling Club, which according to Guthrie Smith was the Parish Curling Club, was instituted in 1845. The patron was Mr John J Pollock of Aucheneden and the president was Guthrie Smith himself with Dr Walter Rankin the village GP as vice president and Alex Spark as secretary and treasurer. The Rev Daniel John Ferguson, Minister at Strathblane from 1874 to1886, was described as being a keen curler and his presence at the club’s bonspiels was said to ensure a good humoured and hearty match.

The Carbeth Inn

Opened in 1816 and immortalised in Sir Walter Scott’s novel Rob Roy*, The Carbeth Inn (formerly known as The Half Way), was one of the few public houses marked on Ordnance Survey maps and was a favourite watering hole with the motorbike community, the Carbeth hutters and motorists heading for Loch Lomond. It closed in 2016 after being acquired by the Fraser family, owners of the popular Oak Tree Inn at Balmaha.

*The reference to The Carbeth Inn in Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott: “At dinner, however, which we took about noon, at a most miserable alehouse, we had the good fortune to find that these tiresome screamers of the morass were not the only inhabitants of the moors. The goodwife told us, that “the gudeman had been at the hill;” and well for us that he had been so, for we enjoyed the produce of his _chasse_ in the shape of some broiled moor-game,–a dish which gallantly eked out the ewe-milk cheese, dried salmon, and oaten bread, being all besides that the house afforded. Some very indifferent two-penny ale, and a glass of excellent brandy, crowned our repast; and as our horses had, in the meantime, discussed their corn, we resumed our journey with renovated vigour.”

Carbeth Inn (formerly The Half Way Inn)

See also:

©Strathblane Heritage 2023



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