Craig House and Laigh Milton Viaduct.
Updated: May 31
I have many happy memories of Craig House. My grandmother worked there as a seamstress in the 1960s and 70s when Craig House was used as a residential school for boys (Girls were sent there a few years later alternating with the boys on a month-by-month basis)
I remember sitting in Gran’s Mini passing by Laigh Milton Mill and the Laigh Milton Viaduct as we drove towards ‘The Craig’ and always feeling slightly in awe of such an imposing building. We didn’t use the front entrance (except at Christmas) but entered via the door next to the kitchen which was near to what had once been a conservatory on the left-hand side of the house.
The dining room, in the main building, was connected to the kitchens below by an impressive dumb waiter!
Gran had her own room somewhere in the depths of the building, but occasionally we would venture out into the main part of the house. I loved looking at the soaring ceilings, staircases, and beautiful views looking down the hill towards the river Irvine as it rippled and flowed, cutting through the green fields like a shimmering blue ribbon.
I would attend parties at Christmas time, and can still remember the huge pine-scented, brightly lit Christmas tree which became visible as we climbed the curved stone steps leading towards the portico, which consisted of four columns standing sentry-like guarding the impressive entrance to the mansion.
The Craig also had a walled garden which acted as a magnet for local children who scrambled over the wall to pick fruit! It was used in more recent years by Kilmarnock College to grow vegetables and various courses were held there. It was known as Craig Campus Crosshouse.
There were gardeners and workers' cottages, a gatehouse, and impressive rhododendron-filled grounds.
I would love to be able to report that Craig House boasts a colourful past, but there are surprisingly few facts or stories written about it, most of which I found difficult to decipher!
Craig House was built on land which belonged to The Mowat's of Busbie. The lands of Busbie formed part of the Barony of Robertoun and were owned by the Mowat family from about 1400 to the mid-17th century.
In 1661, Hugh Montgomerie, Earl of Eglinton, inherited the lands of Busbie, Knockentiber, and Robertoun. The Earl had a charter from James V, dated 3rd February 1499 for the lands of Robertoun in Cunninghame which were in turn, part of The Barony of Ardrossan.
The Barony of Robertoun, (once part of the Barony of Kilmaurs), ran from Kilmaurs to the River Irvine.
Parts of Kilmaurs, Knockentiber, Craig, Gatehead, Woodhills, Greenhill, Altonhill, Plann, Hayside, Thorntoun, Rash-hill Park, Milton, Windyedge, Fardelhill, Muirfields and Corsehouse were also part of the barony.
Busbie Castle, a stone keep (now in ruins) was, built around 1600. The entrance was on the ground floor. The hall on the first floor had a large fireplace and two window seats. The castle measured 37 1/2ft by 24 1/2ft and was approximately 50ft high. Most stone keep castles had kitchens on the ground floor and living quarters on the top floors. The stone keep, or tower, was the core of the castle. Although primarily for defense, it also meant that rooms could be larger and more comfortable.
Busbie Castle had a small hamlet of thatched cottages nearby, but over the years Busbie and Knockentiber merged.
Craig House was later owned by John Glasgow Esquire, who was Provost of Irvine three times between 1742 and 1752. He died in 1764 and his headstone still stands in Irvine Churchyard.
In 1780, Craig was bought from Dalrymple of Nunraw in East Lothian by Captain John Morrice.
In 1788, the house burned down, and a new mansion was built slightly to the left of the site of the old one. John died on the 23rd of March 1788 at
age 45. Robert Morrice inherited Craig. Robert bequeathed the property to his sister Janet. When Janet died, Craig was passed to William Pollock, who was a surgeon in the army. William assumed the name of Morrice, becoming William Pollock-Morrice.
In 1910, Colonel Pollock-Morris (note the spelling has changed) of Craig presented the chancel window to St Leonards Parish Church in Ayr in memory of his wife. Under the window is a bronze plaque that reads:
“To the glory of God and the beloved memory of Agnes Tennant Buchanan, wife of R.M. Pollock Morris of Craig D.L., who died at Middleton, Ayr, on 26th of December 1909. She was the best of wives and mothers. Her whole life was one of noble unselfishness and kindness, which so eminently endeared her to her family and all who knew her”
William Pollock-Morris, 1867-1936, is buried in Kilmaurs cemetery.
I have read stories from people reminiscing about Craig House when it was a boy’s residential school from as far back as 1953, but I cannot find a definitive date when it became a school. There is even a Craig Residential School Facebook page, and delightfully a Pollock Morris Drive in the Craig House Estate.
The Craig as it is known locally in Crosshouse eventually became dangerous and derelict. It came close to being demolished but thankfully it was rescued just in time by property developers and was converted into luxury flats.
Several houses were built on the grounds.
I love to walk from Crosshouse down to the now derelict Laigh Milton Mill and walk across the Laigh Milton Viaduct, a Georgian structure, it was built in 1811 - 1812, and it is thought to be the oldest surviving railway viaduct in Scotland and one of the oldest in the world!
It has four segmental arches and crosses the river Irvine forming the boundary between East and South Ayrshire. The views along the river Irvine from the viaduct are spectacular no matter the weather and Craig House can easily be seen nearby.
The original Kilmarnock and Troon Railway was one of Scotland’s earliest lines. It was powered by horse traction in the beginning. The railway was only allowed to carry freight, so passengers were charged freight rates based upon their weight!
The railway line was paid for by William Bentinck, Marquis of Titchfield, who became the fourth Duke of Portland (1768-1854) He needed it to transport coal from his mines to his newly constructed harbour in Troon. He commissioned William Jessop to build it. The line opened on the 6th of July 1812
The viaduct, A-listed since 1982, was restored in 1995-96. It is the earliest known survivor of a type of multi-span railway construction.
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Thanks to Anne Richmond and Margaret McMillan for sharing memories of Craig House.