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Pollok Toon – Glasgow Southside’s vanished village


If you’ve ever been to Pollok House and stood on the old bridge across the White Cart River you might be forgiven for believing that the view you see is timeless. On one side sits the stately mansion, high on its mound surrounded by rich foliage; on the other side, empty fields with an old pathway linking the house to the golf-course hidden by the high hedges.


Yet the unpeopled tranquillity of the scene over the river is misleading, for on the open field immediately across from Pollok House for at least three hundred years stood the small village of Pollok Toon – made infamous due to the Witches of Pollok – but which apart from that has remained largely forgotten.


Present day view across the White Cart bridge toward the site of Pollok Toon. Photo copyright of Stephen Watt, 2022
Present day view across White Cart bridge toward the site of Pollok Toon © Stephen Watt 2022


Like the rest of Renfrewshire, the river banks of the White Cart have been populated since as long as the county had permanent human habitation. In his early 20th history of Eastwood, the Minister of Eastwood Parish Church George Campbell argued that at the same time as Columba was in Iona, St Conval set up a chapel just south of Pollok Toon site, where the Auldhouse Burn met a small spring that arose beside the old manse. (This area is now Eastwood’s Old Cemetery).


Regardless of whether we accept this rather picturesque idea of early Celtic saints living near the White Cart’s banks, what we should have in our minds as we move towards the Middle Ages is of a landscape already long populated.


This means that when the first Pollok Castle was errected in the early 14th century the Maxwell family were building in a long-inhabited landscape, and as Pollok Toon grew up to support the new seat of local power, its inhabitants almost certainly included some descendants of people who had already lived in the area from time immemorial.


Pook (aka Pollok Toon) shown on the illustrated map of Blaeu's Atlas Of Scotland in 1654. Copyright: National Library of Scotland Maps
Pook (aka Pollok Toon) shown on Blaeu’s Atlas Of Scotland, 1654 © National Library of Scotland


Pollok Toon only first explicitly appears in the historical record in 1654 where a ‘Pook’ can be found just south of the river Cart on the Blaeu Atlas of Scotland. But it is the famous Witch Trial of 1677 that really puts Pollok Toon onto the record.


As another article on the SGHET website touches on the Witches of Pollok I shall not discuss the witch trial beyond noting the fact that as many of the main actors in that tale both lived in Pollok Toon and worked at Pollok House we can therefore sketch out a picture of life in the village at the time.


What we can discern from this outline is a small village where the inhabitants are a combination of farm labourers and domestic servants, with a number of different trades represented in the village. Many of the villagers would have worked part-time at Pollok House, coming home to maintain small lots of crops and animals.


So we might know the 17th century Pollok Toon for the tragedy of the Witches of Pollok, but the world of Bessie Weir, and John and Janet Stewart was a typical Scottish farming one. Between the big house across the river, and Eastwood Kirk up the brae, their world was defined by the land and the passing of the seasons.


View across White Cart Bridge of Pollok House seen from the present day site of former Pollok Toon. Photo copyright of Stephen Watt, 2022
View across White Cart Bridge of Pollok House seen from present day site of former Pollok Toon © Stephen Watt 2022


And yet the passing of time would bring changes that eventually Pollok Toon would not withstand. In 1750-52 the current Pollok House was built, alongside a programme of development that would transform the woodlands surrounding the house into the gardens we know today. Industrialisation would spread across Scotland as a succession of technological breakthroughs would rapidly reduce the energy needed to make manufactured items.


Finally in Scotland the spirit of Improvement fostered an environment where landowners looked at ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their assets. This could be achieved in numerous ways from improved agriculture yields through to moving cottars and other labourers – most notoriously in the Highlands – to the new industrial concerns of the Central Belt.


Sir John Maxwell, the 7th Baronet, was deeply involved with this spirit of Improvement, with his involvement in the development, sponsorship and funding of the settlement that would become Pollokshaws Burgh in 1812. In turn, it was this same so-called spirit of Improvement that would ultimately spell the end for Pollok Toon…


Local legend has it that the village was destroyed to improve the view from the new Pollok House, but Aileen Smart probably gets closer to the truth in Villages of Glasgow when she mentions that the village (with its 36 houses) was destroyed to build the road to Hurlet.


Roy's Map of the Lowlands (1747-1755) shows the location of Pollok (i.e. Pollok Toon) west of Pollok Shaws and south of the river Cart. Copyright: National Library of Scotland Maps
Roy’s Map of the Lowlands 1747-1755 showing location of Pollok (i.e. Pollok Toon) west of Pollok Shaws & south of the White Cart © National Library of Scotland


The villagers were moved to Pollokshaws where the booming cotton mills were desperate for new labourers and Pollok Toon faded into history… Like the Highlanders facing the Clearances, Pollok Toon was just one victim in a process of economic consolidation and rapidly expanding industrialisation that was taking place across the entirety of late 18th century Scotland.


That is the tale of Pollok Toon, a village largely forgotten, preserved in memory largely by way of the story of some of its inhabitants’ involvement with the Witch Trial of 1677. But I think the village deserves to be remembered for more than its dark past, as it’s a tale of obscurity followed by destruction at the hands of industrialisation – a story that was repeated many times throughout the Scottish landscape.


When Sir John Maxwell cleared Pollok Toon he left no plaque or statue to mark the village’s passing, yet by us choosing to remember the village and looking more closely we can bring alive again the inhabitants of Pollok Toon not as background characters for the story of the Maxwell family, but as historical actors in their own right. We may not know much about them directly but what we do know helps us start to build a better picture of Scottish history and everyday local life than we had before.


By Stephen Watt
Published 17th January 2023

Further Reading:


George Campbell, Eastwood: notes on the ecclesiastical antiquities of the parish (Alexander Gardner: 1902)

T. M. Devine, The Scottish Clearances: A History of the Dispossessed, 1600 – 1900 (Penguin: 2018)

Andrew M’Callum, Pollokshaws Village and Burgh, 1600 – 1912 (Alexander Gardner: 1925)

William Fraser, Memories of the Maxwells of Pollok (1863)

Aileen Smart, Villages of Glasgow: The South Side (John Donald Publishers: 2002 edition)

Jen Anderson, The Maxwells of Pollok (SGHET, 27th July 2020)


1 reply added

  1. Angus Lyon January 24, 2023 Reply

    Hello, i work for NTS at Pollok House. My understanding of why Polloktoun was gradually cleared in the 1760’s ti 1780’s was that, after completing the House in 1752, the Robert Adam designed stone Bridge was built in 1758 to faclitate a route from the House to the road passing through Cowglen. Shortly after that, the Maxwells wanted to create a pleasant vista from the House (and for visitors arriving by coach and horses), so Polloktoun had to go. I believe the family provided new accommodation for the villagers in the growing village of Pollokshaws. A couple of remnants of the Toun are still just visible. The first John Maxwell of Nether Pollok was installed in these lands by his elder brother Herbert de Maxwell, Lord of Caerlaverock and Baron of the Mearns, around the year 1270. So I believe the first castle dates to the late 13th century. A.L.

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