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Two of the most common questions asked about this curious old house is when it was built and who built it.
Cards on the table, we can’t say for certain. Various construction dates have been proposed. Claims are either broad e.g., 17th century or 1540s, or they are firm and precise e.g. 1450, 1460 or 1461. Some claim it was built before the Reformation in Scotland, some after. Some label the house Medieval, Late Medieval or Post-Medieval. Others make statements like "Glasgow's Oldest Building", clearly forgetting Glasgow’s Cathedral. There’s also the long running debate about whether Provan Hall or the Provand’s Lordship is the oldest. Proposed builders include the Bishops of Glasgow, James II, James IV, Bishop William Turnbull, and William Baillie.
So, with all this uncertainty and conflicting accounts, how can we go about answering the questions? One approach is to look at what archaeological and written evidence we are aware of and try to generate some ideas about how this amazing wee house came to be.
1. Plaque erected by NTS (now lost) and attached to the building following restoration in the 1930s (Sinclair 2016, 68)
2. Quote from Heritage Trail Leaflet (L&ES n.d.)
Let’s look first at the archaeological evidence. At present the consensus is the mid- 16th century, based primarily on architectural features and their similarity to other buildings of known age. In 2009 a building survey concluded that the North Range (the building with the turret) was constructed no earlier than this period. On Historic Environment Scotland’s website Canmore, there is likewise a broad agreement among archaeologists that the North Range is mid- 16th century. Even more recently, the restoration of the house was undertaken under the watchful eye of archaeologists, allowing them to observe, record and form new interpretations on an ongoing basis. So far, the middle of the 1500s again seems the most likely. These are of course interpretations (albeit by experienced archaeologists), and always open to debate and subject to change.
Is there any evidence for an earlier structure? Many don’t rule out the possibility of an earlier structure, but there just isn’t any evidence for one. There is, however, some tantalising evidence worthy of a thought. For one, there was the oak timber beam discovered above the 1st floor doorway during restoration. A method known as dendrochronology was performed using samples from the timber and the archaeologist concluded it was likely felled between 1259CE and 1295CE. It may also have an association with similar timber used at Glasgow Cathedral. This timber is thought to have been reused, meaning it functioned in some other way in another place or part of the house. Is this evidence of an earlier building? Or could it be a deliberate act motivated by superstition, warding off evil spirits at the threshold? More work is needed.
Some objects that have been found are also interesting. Several fragments of medieval pottery were recovered during archaeological investigations and watching briefs over the years. Do these show people living at Provan Hall earlier than we think?
What about the who? Does the archaeology supply any clues as to who built it? Well, what we don’t see archaeologically is any evidence for a royal ‘hunting lodge’ or anything characteristically ecclesiastical in nature that would tie these buildings to earlier centuries as they have been in the popular histories. This would have been a substantial structure of the time and needed lots of money and resources to build – even more so if a recent theory about there being a ‘lost tower’ is considered. Buildings such as these would have been a real projection of power and status, not just for posh living with some fashionable defensive features. It probably played a key role within the local society and economy. This points more towards private individual ownership.
3. Glasgow Herald 6th Jan 1984.
4. Core Sampling in the North Range (Addyman and Mills 2022). 5. Reused oak timber above door lintel (Mills 2021, 19).
What about written sources then? Before the effects of the Reformation in Scotland, the lands on which Provan Hall were built were granted to the Dean and Chapter of Glasgow Cathedral with records covering this period from the 12th to the 16th century. These supply written evidence useful for exploring many topics – what they do not include is any reference to Provan Hall or other settlement anywhere on the land. Church records discuss other houses, so that rules out a bias in the records as far as ecclesiastical mansions are concerned.
The first possible glimpse of a building comes in 1562 when William Baillie, Lord Provand, fues the lands of Provan to Thomas Baillie of Ravenscraig. This document contains the phrase “Mains of Provan” and is a possible hint towards one or more farm buildings locally. However, by 1575 we have something more substantial. A charter signed by Lord Provand and his wife Elizabeth Durham at the "Hall of Provand" (p.6) provides the first substantial evidence for buildings on the site. It is from this period that references to the house then become more common, but we should also consider that written evidence is more abundant from this time.
6 Stained glass window in Parliament Hall Edinburgh commemorating the founding of the College of Justice. William Baillie's arms are shown in the top left of centre. (Wiki commons)
So then, what is our current state of knowledge? And why does it matter when Provan Hall was built? To date, all the archaeological and written evidence we have suggests the house was built around the mid-1500s. Knowing this gives us some context for why it was built. The family most associated with the estate in this period is the Baillie family, who first drew income from the lands as canons of the Cathedral from c.1505 and latterly as a hereditary landowners from the crown. William Baillie, Lord Provand, was clearly making a name for himself as he climbed the legal ladder from notary public to Lord President of the Court of Justice in the 1560s, and took advantage of the changes Reformation afforded. At one point, he was a Baillie of Lamington and all indications are that he sought to establish a distinct Baillie of Provan Line – he retained the hereditary property rights in his feus, began legitimising his offspring and what better way to seal the deal than build for himself a handsome residence in the form of Provan Hall. I hope the debate continues, because speculation generates new ideas, new understandings, raises new questions and at the end of the day, makes it fun!!
Donna McGill has lived all of her life in the East End of Glasgow and the majority of that living and working in Easterhouse, a suburb of Glasgow, Scotland. Her family moved there in 1969, seeking a better living environment during a time when overcrowding was a serious issue in Glasgow. The city planners had developed Easterhouse with new housing and designs, incorporating indoor bathrooms in each home. Donna fondly remembered how these advancements greatly improved her family’s living conditions, especially during a time when outside toilets were the norm in the older tenement buildings. She also enjoyed her close connection with nature in her childhood. Just across her family’s Easterhouse home was a farm, and she could see cows in the field, a massive tree with a swing, and rhubarb growing wild. This kind of green space was the ideal place for a child like her to run around and play outdoors.
Despite the improvements in their living conditions, Easterhouse was not without its challenges. The lack of community amenities created a culture of boredom and unrest, resulting in the rise of gang activity in the area. But in the early 1990s, several charities, such as the Phoenix Community Centre, FARE and Gladiators began their work in Easterhouse, offering diversionary, healthy group programs such as football and weightlifting for young people, which eventually helped to curb the gang activity. Today, local activities are thriving in Easterhouse, and Donna has created a comprehensive guide for residents to stay informed and navigate their community. The most up-to-date version of this can be accessed by clicking on this link.
Growing up in Easterhouse, Donna always hoped to contribute to her community. As a local Community Connector, she supports the development of local networks and helps residents to empower themselves by building their knowledge and skills. Her focus is on community, personal and social development, and she welcomes residents to seek her advice whenever they need it. Having grown up in the area, she understands the needs of the locals and can relate to their experiences. Donna believes in the ability of the local residents to achieve more than they believe they can and encourages them to aim high to attain their goals. She shares her personal story for a reason – Donna never imagined that she would go to university, but she did after years of effort, and now she has a meaningful job helping her community. She hopes that her story can inspire others to pursue their dreams and make positive changes in their lives and their community.
Donna is only one of the many people in Easterhouse who continue to contribute to the local community. Local residents are encouraged and supported to get involved and put in effort to build an even better community! Together, we can continue to make a positive impact and create a brighter future for Easterhouse.
With the opening of Provan Hall, Donna encourages local residents to take pride in our neighbourhood’s amazing historical resources. It is an opportunity for you to explore and preserve what you already have. Provan Hall is not just a historical landmark, but a part of the local community that deserves to be celebrated and cherished!
Housekeeper to the Mather brothers of Provan Hall, and passionate preserver of this heritage gem.
Mary was born Mary Muir on 23 April 1894, at 36 Hayfield Street, Gorbals, Glasgow. Her parents were John Muir and Janet Graham, and she had six brothers and four sisters. At the time that she was born, her father was employed as a Carter (cart driver). He also laboured as a farm worker and ploughman. He worked in a number of different places but for many years worked for Professor McCall, founder of the Veterinary College of Blairtummock, on land which was very near to Provan Hall and where he met William Mather through a shared love of horses. William Mather was then resident at Provan Hall.
Mary was living with her parents on a farm at West Greenrig, Slamannan. William and his brother Reston visited the Muirs at the farm in autumn 1919, and two weeks later Reston Mather wrote to Mary asking her to come and work at Provan Hall as their elderly housekeeper had died.
The winter of 1919, when she was twenty-five years’ old, was the start of Mary’s Provan Hall journey, a journey which did not end until she left Provan Hall in 1955. Mary’s older sister Margaret had tried to persuade Mary not to go to Provan Hall, as she thought it was too large a job for such a young girl.
Mary’s role was housekeeper to William and Reston Mather until they both died in 1934. After the Mather brothers died, she took over as caretaker of Provan Hall along with her husband Adam Holmes. Mary had grown very close to the Mather brothers and was very fond of them both. She was well known to visitors for the teas she provided at Provan Hall when she was the caretaker.
In 1920, Mary’s brother John, who resided in Canada and was in the 1st Canadians, was seriously injured in battle in France. He decided to come home to Scotland. A year later, both Mary’s parents were ageing and her father infirm. Mr Henderson, Provan Hall’s gardener, had died and his cottage at Provan Hall was vacant, so Mary persuaded her parents and brother to move into the cottage along with their dog Paddy. They resided at Provan Hall cottage until the three of them died in 1931.
Then Mary met Adam Holmes, a talc miller by trade, and they married on the 18th of November 1933, in Glasgow. Adam moved into Provan Hall with Mary. He died there in 1954. Adam and Mary had one son, also named Adam, who was born in 1934. Sadly he died at the age of three weeks on 13 February 1934. He is buried in the Mather plot in Sandymount graveyard along with William and Reston Mather.
Mary got to meet many visitors to Provan Hall. In the time of William and Reston Mather she got to meet visitors such as politician Cunninghame Graham, artists George Houston and Sir David Young Cameron, and cousin Dr. George Ritchie Mather, Principle of the Royal Infirmary, who wrote the “Two Great Scotsmen”, who were all related to the Mathers. She also met Rev. Dr. Norman McLeod, author George Eyre Todd, the Wylies of Garthamlock, iron industrialists the Bairds of Gartsherry, and Dr. Hill B.L. of Barlanark House.
After the death of the last Lairds of Provan Hall, William and Reston Mather, Mary conceived the idea of turning her beloved Provan Hall into a tea room. At this time the house badly needed restoration. Mary contacted members of the Old Glasgow Club in which Miss Dreda Boyd, author of the "Scarlet Clock" was a member. They raised funds and Provan Hall was restored back to its former glory in 1936.
Visitors to Provan Hall tearoom signed the visitors book and some of these visitors included T.C.F. Brotchie, Miss Dreda Boyd, the Rev. Neville Davidson and his wife Mrs. Margaret Davidson of Glasgow Cathedral, Sir John and Lady Stirling Maxwell of Pollok House who wrote "Shrines of Scotland" with Provan Hall on the cover, Dr. Violet Robertson and artist Mary Gossman.
Mary finally left Provan Hall in 1955. She passed away at the age of 78 in Wishaw Hospital, Lanarkshire.
Scotland’s People (Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates)
Speculative Sketch by Pavo Interpretation.
Former visitors to Provan Hall.
Tearoom visitor book.
Local landmark Todds Well, situated in the open ground below Conisburgh Rd has been known to locals for generations…but who or what was Todd?
Research by Anne Marie of Friends of Provan Hall has discovered a local family named Todd who lived for over 100 years in a small farm which was part of the Provan Hall estate, in the Parish of Barony.
The residents of the ‘Big House’ are well known, with many books mentioning the Buchanans and Mathers who lived in Provan Hall from 1779 to 1934. Little has been discussed about the Wilsons who lived at North Mains and the Todds who lived at South Mains at the same time.
Records show that Janet Wilson married John Buchanan in 1816 at her home at North Mains, they then moved to the Big House and their family lived there until 1934. Three generations of Andrew Wilsons continued to live at North Mains until at least 1901. In fact, the Wilsons can be traced back for 4 generations living in the parish of Barony before Janet’s generation.
A third family lived in the area at the same time. The Todds lived at South Mains from at least 1776 when George Todd was born there. In 1841 Richard Todd (grandson of George) married Helen Wilson, niece of Janet Wilson.
Three sons of Richard and Helen are recorded on the 1901 census…but what about Todd’s Well?
An inscription at the location, erected in 1857, by R Todd is detailed in Scotland’s Places.
The 1888 Ordnance Survey map shows this area as being called Todd’s well. An earlier map (1882) shows this as Back o’Braes Well.
Was this change in name due to the 110+ years that the Todd family had used this well?