Ambitious plans to bring Craigend Castle back into community use

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Exciting plans to create a community facility in Craigend Castle at Mugdock Country Park have been unveiled this week.

Strathblanefield Community Development Trust has approached the council with a proposal to develop the now derelict building into an activity centre, possibly with a bunkhouse facility.

However, the building poses a number of challenges due to its current poor condition, the scale of work that’s required and its listed status.

The trust aims to get lottery or heritage funding to enable them to develop the building while retaining the facade.

A spokesperson for the project, Roano Pierotti from Bearsden, said: “Everyone involved in this project has an emotional link to the castle, we all feel it’s an important part of our life.

“It has such a wonderful history and it’s a stunning building so we’d be very sad to see it go to ruin.

“We have spent the last nine months putting together a strategy which could save the castle and bring it back into community use.

“Our plans would hopefully assist the park and bring more visitors there.

“The facility would greatly benefit people of all ages but it would need to make an income to be sustainable.

“We are working closely with East Dunbartonshire Council and the park management committee to create a facility that people would use.

“We eagerly await the results of the council’s consultation which is due next month and we will use this to guide our proposals.”

Some activities which could be offered include a climbing wall, mountain biking, a zip wire and educational resources to link in with health and exercise.

Councillor Eric Gotts, Chair of the Mugdock Park Joint Management Committee, said: “Craigend Castle is an important site of historic significance and the committee is keen to see it brought back into productive use.

“We were approached by this trust earlier this year and agreed to give them an exclusivity period to progress their proposals - which include developing the site for a community facility.

“Progress on Craigend Castle will be reported to the next Mugdock Park Joint Management Committee on December 9.

“We remain committed to finding the best possible solution for this once magnificent building.”

The historic Craigend Castle was put on the market in October 2012 and a Grand Designs type of project for a residential property in the building was knocked back by East Dunbartonshire Council.

The castle, which is the former site of Craigend Zoo - a major attraction at the park until it closed in 1955 when visitor numbers plummeted, was put up for sale with a closing date of March last year.

Craigend was formerly called Gallowknowe and was owned by the Graham family from the mid 13th century until 1670 when it was purchased by Robert Smith, ancestor of the well-known Victorian antiquarian, John Guthrie Smith.

At that time the property was a small house in 10 acres of land but, by the late 1700s, the Smiths had prospered greatly having acquired property in the West Indies.

The castle was built in 1816 in Regency Gothic style by Alexander Ramsay of Jordanhill to plans furnished by James Smith of Craigend. Its interiors were stunning, especially the public rooms.

The reception hall was panelled in oak with an interlaced carved stone ceiling and stained glass windows which bore the Smith family’s coat-of-arms.

There were two drawing rooms, each with carved gothic doors and decorated with blue and silver silk wallpaper. A large conservatory led off the second drawing room and was accessed through massive carved oak doors. Craigend’s imposing opulence drew many an admiring eye across the magnificent landscaped gardens, to witness the comings and goings at ‘the big house.’

Craigend was sold in 1851 to Sir Andrew Buchanan, the former Ambassador to Habsburg Court in Vienna. Later occupants included James Outram one-time owner of the ‘Glasgow Herald’ newspaper, who leased the castle in the early 20th Century and Harold Yarrow, son of the founder of the famous shipyard Yarrow & Company, who lived there until 1940.

Part of Craigend Estate was sold to Andrew Wilson and his zoologist son William in the 1940s and they transformed Craigend into a zoo with four thousand animals, reptiles and birds.

Undoubtedly the zoo’s main attraction was Charlie the elephant who resided in the stable block with his keeper Singh Ibrahim.

The pair were inseparable as the following story illustrates. One day Ibrahim decided to go for a drink in one of Milngavie’s public houses. As he walked to the village he was unaware that Charlie was following him at a discreet distance.

He only realised that he had been followed when Charlie tried to enter the public bar and got firmly stuck in the doorway.

It took the local fire brigade some considerable time to set him free!