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Kilmacolm village.JPG
Kilmacolm, from Rowantreehill
Grid reference: NS365695
Location: 55°53’39"N, 4°37’37"W
Population: 4,000
Post town: Kilmacolm
Postcode: PA13
Dialling code: 01505
Local Government
Council: Inverclyde

Kilmacolm is a village in Renfrewshire. It stands on the northern slope of the Gryffe Valley 7½ miles south-east of Greenock and around 15 miles west of the city of Glasgow. The village has a population of around 4,000 and is part of a wider civil parish which covers a large rural hinterland containing within it the smaller village of Quarrier's Village, originally established as a 19th-century residential orphans' home.

The area surrounding the village was settled in prehistoric times and emerged as part of a feudal society with the parish divided between separate estates for much of its history. The village itself remained small, providing services to nearby farm communities and acting as a religious hub for the parish. The parish church was mentioned in a papal bull of 1225, indicating its subservience to Paisley Abbey and sits on the site of an ancient religious community, dating to the 5th or 6th centuries. Again in the 13th century, Duchal Castle was built in the parish and is notable for being besieged by King James IV in 1489 when the resident Lyle family had supported an insurrection against him. Feuding between the noble families of Kilmacolm was commonplace in the Middle Ages and in the 16th and 17th centuries the parish again came to the attention of the Crown for providing support to Covenanters, the outlawed reformers.

The character of the village changed significantly in the Victorian era with the arrival of the railway in Kilmacolm in 1869. Many of Kilmacolm's modern buildings were built between this date and the outbreak of First World War. The emergence of such transport links enabled the village to expand as an affluent dormitory village serving the nearby urban centres of Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock. The economy of the village reflected this population change, moving away from its traditional reliance on agriculture to providing tertiary sector services to residents and visitors.

Name of the village

Kilmacolm takes its name from the Gaelic language, meaning cell or church of Columba, derived from the dedication of an ancient church to St Columba of Iona.[1] The church in question is assumed to have been established in the sixth or seventh century on the site of the current parish church.[2] The current parish church, known as the Old Kirk, was largely built in the 19th century and incorporates parts an older 13th century Norman church, which has become the Murray Chapel.[1]

Traditionally it is believed that the village was the location of a cordial meeting in the latter half of the sixth century between Columba and St Kentigern, known locally as St Mungo, the patron saint of Glasgow.[3] In his book Kilmacolm: A Parish History, 1100 - 1898, the then Minister of the Parish James Murray claims history would suggest the meeting took place at Glasgow, noting only that "as, on that occasion, [Columba] passed up the southern bank of the Clyde, he necessarily traversed a portion of Kilmacolm Parish."

For a period in the 18th century, Kilmacolm was generally spelled 'Kilmalcolm', and was assumed to be named after King Malcolm and this practice was changed only after the parochial board voted in 1905 to alter the spelling to 'Kilmacolm', based largely on a case made by the Rev James Murray that this association was mistaken.[4]


Remains of Duchal Castle

Early settlement

Archaeologists have found Stone Age remains in the village, most significantly the agricultural homestead located near to the Knapps Loch, excavated in the early 1960s.[5] Thenceforth all ages have left their mark.

The Romans were here in their northern advance: the Antonine Wall runs nearby, the most northerly of the Empire's defensive walls. A Roman road leading to a fort at Old Kilpatrick was built through the north of the parish. Other forts were built at nearby Whitemoss, with a more significant one on Barochan Hill outside of neighbouring Houston. The Romans' continued presence as far north as Kilmacolm was, however, short lived.[6]

Mediæval and early modern Kilmacolm

Finlaystone House, seat of the Earls of Glencairn

In the Middle Ages and Early Modern period, Kilmacolm was part of a largely feudal society. The parish was largely divided between two estates, which throughout most of the period were based at Duchal Castle and Finlaystone House and began with its division between two families: the Dennistouns and the Lyles, who were later replaced by other families through sale or marriage, the forunes of each ebbing and flowing with the times.

Duchal Castle, on the outskirts of Kilmacolm, was built by Ralph de l'Isle (later Anglicised to Lyle) in the 13th century and remained in the family until purchased by the Porterfields in 1544. The Porterfields occupied the castle until 1710 when much of it was deconstructed and the stone used to build a new home further down the River Gryffe, which exists to this day as Duchal House. The ruins of the castle are still located in the parish. The name 'duchal' means 'between two rivers' for the Castle's position, set between Green Water and its tributary, the Blacketty Water.[7] After Lyle supported an insurrection against King James IV, the Castle found itself besieged in July 1489, the King attending personally and, according to accounts, the inhabitants of the Castle surrendered immediately on the sight of the famous Mons Meg cannon being rolled into position against them. The castle, however, was fired upon, and one of the Royal cannon gained the name Duchal.[8]

The Dennistoun family originated in the parish in the mid-12th century and ended with Sir Robert Dennistoun, who died in 1399 with no male heirs. His two daughters inherited his parts of his estate and married into two new noble families, thus creating three main estates in Kilmacolm rather than two. The Cunninghams, later to become the Earls of Glencairn had their seat at Finlaystone House and the Maxwells, later built a seat at Newark Castle, in the village which became Port Glasgow in an area once known Nether Finlaystone.[9] With the death of John Cunningham, 15th Earl of Glencairn in 1796 his title became extinct. Finlaystone House was passed to multiple owners, and is now the seat of the chief of the Clan MacMillan. In 1668, Sir George Maxwell sold much of his lands at Newark to the city of Glasgow, for the development of Port Glasgow. A later Sir George Maxwell disposed of his estate in the early 18th century.[10] Newark Castle is now owned and operated by Historic Scotland.[11]

The Duchal estates were acquired from the Lyles by John Porterfield in 1544. The Porterfields were staunch Covenanters and Duchal was widely seen as a refuge when the profession of such sympathies was criminalised. Conventicles were held in the estate, particularly on the natural amphitheatre which is positioned within the present-day 14th hole of the Kilmacolm Golf Club. As a result of these religious sympathies, the estate was sequestered by the Crown in 1684 and the men of the Porterfield family arrested; it was however returned following the Glorious Revolution of 1688.[12]

The last of the Duchal-based Porterfield family was James Corbett Porterfield, who died without an heir in 1855. His estate then passed to Sir Hugh Shaw-Stewart, 8th Baronet. Duchal House was subsequently purchased by the first Baron Maclay, and remains in the family to this day.

Modern Kilmacolm

The Lyle Buildings, Lochwinnoch Road

The arrival of the railway in Kilmacolm in 1869 marked a significant turning point in the village's history and lead to Victorian expansion on a grand scale. Hitherto the village had changed little in the preceding centuries, falling behind the development of other parts of the county.[13] Kilmacolm's rail connection came about as a result of railway companies entering into the shipping trade and the perceived need to link Glasgow directly to Greenock's waterfront. Links to the wider world, and particularly Glasgow, made the village an attractive dormitory settlement.[14]

Kilmacolm expanded at an unprecedented speed and many of the large Victorian and Edwardian villas which characterise the village today were constructed, as well as such attractions as the Hydropathic Hotel[15][16] and facilities such as banks and plumbed water. Combined with the dramatic expansion of the village and gentrification of the area, the traditional importance of agriculture to the parish economy declined significantly.[17] Slightly further east on the railway line, William Quarrier's Orphans' Homes were opened in the 1870s and remained as a residential children's community until the late 1970s. Since then, what has become known as Quarrier's Village has become largely residential.[18]

The First World War stopped local development. 300 men of the parish enlisted, and at home the village came to accommodate a number of Belgian refugees.[19] In the Second World War, Kilmacolm was used to house evacuees from Glasgow and public buildings were used to house those made homeless by the Greenock Blitz in 1941. One bomb fell in Kilmacolm, causing minor damage and, following the war, the hydropathic hotel was used as a naval hospital until being returned to private ownership.


View to the north; the Clyde and Ben Lomond visible

Kilmacolm sits in the Gryffe Valley, 350 feet above sea level, 4 miles south-east of Port Glasgow, 7½ miles east-south-east of Greenock. Glasgow lies 15 westwards.

The River Gryffe, a tributary of the Black Cart Water, begins its flow in the village, running through Quarrier's Village and then on to Bridge of Weir and other villages in the Gryffe Valley.[20]


Kilmacolm Parish Church, the "Old Kirk", dating back to the 13th century on an ancient site of worship.

Kilmacolm was the place where John Knox performed what was possibly the first Protestant communion in Scotland. It became a centre for Covenanters. Conversely, it also became notorious for drinking and 'riotous behaviour' at historic religious festivals.[21]

Parish Church

The Parish Church, known as the "Old Kirk", is ancient in origin. Its chancel dates back to the 13th century and is incorporated into the modern structure, built in 1830 as a replacement for a structurally unsound 16th century main building, as the Murray Chapel.[22]

Church of Scotland and the free churches

In 1858, a number of the Parish's inhabitants broke away to form a United Presbyterian church in what had until recently been the abandoned Reformed Presbyterian Church. In 1868 the Church of St James was built on the site which now houses the Royal Bank of Scotland branch and lends its name to the town's main shopping terrace. There are no remains of this church today.

The congregation of St James's Church planned a new building in 1900, which was completed in 1903. This new Church of St James united with St Columba's Church, which was formed in the 1870s following another schism within the Church of Scotland. This former St Columba's Church stood on Bridge of Weir Road, and is recorded as standing in 1907 although the date of its construction is unknown. The magnificent spire and much of the church was demolished in the 1960s, but the main hall still remains and serves as the Kilmacolm Masonic Temple facing onto Glebe Road. The slates from the roof of the old church were used on the roof of "The Glen" being built at that time in Glencairn Road. When the church was demolished and the congregations of St Columba's and St James's united, the former St James's Church where they met was renamed St Columba's Church. The church has now become again part of the Church of Scotland.

Culture and community

Birkmyre Park
The Knapps Loch

Parks and recreation

There are number of community and recreational facilities in Kilmacolm. Set largely in open countryside, a number of outdoor pursuits such as angling and golf are available in the local area. Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park extends into the parish, which also contains Glen Moss Wildlife Reserve, a Site of Special Scientific Interest operated by the Scottish Wildlife Trust.[23]

A public park, Birkmyre Park, was donated by local merchant Adam Birkmyre for the benefit of the parish in 1897. The park is held and managed by the Birkmyre Trust.[24] Recent redevelopment has modified the park's pavilion to contain a fitness gymnasium, a café and changing facilities as well as including a new children's playpark.[25] Birkmyre Park also hosts association football, rugby and cricket within its grounds.[26] In 2009, the Trust proposed reopening the former tennis courts and putting green in Birkmyre Park following public consultation, as well as creating a court for basketball and netball.[27] Two smaller public parks exist within the Kilmacolm area: the smaller West Glen Park and a playpark in Quarrier's Village.[28]


There was formerly a funfair held annually in Birkmyre Park. Due to park refurbishment, it has not continued in recent years although alternative sites are under review.

The field beside the Knapps Loch is used for community events such as the Kilmacolm and Port Glasgow Agricultural Society's annual show and the Bonfire Night celebrations organised by the Kilmacolm & Quarriers Village Conservative and Unionist Party.

Appearance in fiction

Kilmacolm is depicted as 'Kilellan' in RJ Price's Renfrewshire short stories A Boy in Summer (2002) and features briefly in Raymond Friel's poetry collection Stations of the Heart (2009).

Outside links


  1. 1.0 1.1 The Editors of the Gazetteer for Scotland. "Kilmacolm history, Gazetteer for Scotland". University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 2009-06-13. 
  2. Roe 2007, p.20
  3. "Meeting commemorated in stained glass window, Old Kirk". The Advertizer Newspaper. Retrieved 2009-06-13. 
  4. Roe 2007, pp. 20-21
  5. Roe 2007, pp. 2-4
  6. Roe 2007, pp. 14-18
  7. Roe 2007, pp. 40-44
  8. Roe 2007, pp. 49-53
  9. Roe 2007, p. 30
  10. Roe 2007, p. 165
  11. "Property Detail: Newark Castle". Historic Scotland. Retrieved 2011-01-03. 
  13. Roe 2007, p. 111
  14. Roe 2007, p. 113
  15. Bradley, James; Dupree, Mageurite; Durie, Alastair (1997). "Taking the Water Cure: The Hydropathic Movement in Scotland, 1840-1940". Business and Economic History 26 (2): 429. Retrieved 2009-11-17. 
  16. Shifrin, Malcolm (Last updated 3 October 2008). "Victorian Turkish Baths Directory". Victorian Turkish Baths: Their origin, development, and gradual decline. Retrieved 12 December 2009. 
  17. Roe 2007, pp. 116-118.
  18. "Quarrier's History". Quarrier's charity. Retrieved 2009-06-13. 
  19. Roe 2007, p. 145
  20. The Editors of the Gazetteer for Scotland. "River Gryfe, Gazetteer for Scotland". University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 2009-08-13. 
  21. Books: Kilmacolm
  22. Visitscotland Kilmacolm Old Kirk
  23. "Glen Moss Wildlife Reserve". Scottish Wildlife Trust. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved 2009-06-13. 
  24. The Lord Justice Clerk (2005-08-24). "Inverclyde Council v. Dunlop". The Court of Session. Retrieved 2009-06-13. 
  25. "Birkmyre Park webpage". Inverclyde Leisure. Retrieved 2009-06-13. 
  26. "February 2009 Meeting Minutes". Kilmacolm Community Council. Retrieved 2009-06-13. 
  27. "November 2009 Meeting Minutes". Kilmacolm Community Council. Retrieved 2010-01-12. 
  28. "April 2009 Meeting Minutes". Kilmacolm Community Council. Retrieved 2009-06-13. 
  • Roe, David (2007). Kilmacolm:A History. Birlinn. ISBN 1841586218. 
    • Appendix 3 contains a copy of the Rev. R. Cameron's Statistical Account of the Parish of Kilmacolm of 1836.
  • RCHAMS Entry on Duchal Castle