The Herald Magazine - - FRONT PAGE - Visit nts.org.uk/visit/pol­lok-house. With ac­knowl­edge­ments to the Pol­lok House NTS guide­book.


IT says in the guide­book that the gun room at Pol­lok House is very much a male pre­serve. The guide­book does not lie: the heavy wooden fur­ni­ture, the pan­elling, the built-in shot­gun cases, the mounted an­i­mal heads, the fish pre­served in glass tanks, the paint­ings – ev­ery­thing speaks to a mas­cu­line, tra­di­tional taste. And this is to say noth­ing of a fab­u­lously musty smell that has lin­gered for decades.

“The es­tate game­keeper was the main per­son who was in charge here,” says Karen Corn­field, prop­erty man­ager at Pol­lok House in the south side of Glas­gow, the an­ces­tral home of the Maxwell fam­ily. “There used to be fish­ing on the es­tate, hunting, too.” Back in the day, the es­tate was big on game – ducks in par­tic­u­lar, on ponds formed on the flood­plain of the White Cart. Sir John Maxwell Stir­ling was a devo­tee of field sports.

Curl­ing and other sports equip­ment are stored in the room, too.

The gun room is one of a num­ber of rooms in or near the ser­vants’ quar­ters that have been opened up fol­low­ing an ex­ten­sive ren­o­va­tion. The quar­ters, with their in­sti­tu­tional, glazed-brick walls (the glaze was use­ful for re­flect­ing light in the era be­fore elec­tric­ity) are es­pe­cially evoca­tive. You can imag­ine the but­ler, the house­keeper, the cooks, the valets, the lady’s maids, silently tread­ing these cor­ri­dors decades ago. If you’ve seen Gos­ford Park or Down­ton Abbey, this cor­ri­dor and these rooms will seem strangely fa­mil­iar.

At its peak there were 50 ser­vants to meet the needs of three fam­ily mem­bers in Pol­lok House. The house, even now, plays host to mem­bers of the fam­ily when they are in Glas­gow (“very nice peo­ple they are too – down-to-earth,” says a mem­ber of staff).

The house stands in 361 acres of country park, which is in turn home to no end of ac­tiv­i­ties and at­trac­tions, in­clud­ing the Bur­rell Col­lec­tion, which has gone dark un­til 2020 to al­low a ma­jor re­fur­bish­ment to take place. The landed Maxwell fam­ily are thought to have built three cas­tles here be­fore the house – be­gun in 1747, com­pleted in 1752 – took shape. In the late 19th cen­tury, Sir John made sweep­ing ad­di­tions, in­clud­ing a li­brary and a din­ing room – and, yes, the ser­vants’ quar­ters.

The build­ing is owned by Glas­gow City Coun­cil and is part of the Deed of Gift along with the park that now makes up Pol­lok Country Park. The gift was made in 1966 by Sir John’s daugh­ter, Anne Maxwell Macdonald, 10 years af­ter her fa­ther’s death, and the home is man­aged by the Na­tional Trust for Scot­land on the city’s be­half. Phase one of the build­ing work, now com­plete, fo­cused on the four-storey, Ge­or­gian part of the build­ing. The slate and lead on the roofs and ceil­ing joists were re­placed, and win­dows were re­fur­bished. Other work re­mains to be done.

AS you wan­der the up­per floors you get a gen­uine taste of the Maxwell fam­ily’s life­style and habits: the mag­nif­i­cent, mar­ble­and-ma­hogany en­trance hall with its out­size, elab­o­rate Ja­panese vases, fam­ily busts and por­traits. The mu­sic room, with its deep, vivid, Pom­peian red walls. The li­brary, with its sub­stan­tial col­lec­tion of some 7,000 books, the old­est dat­ing back sev­eral cen­turies. This room is filled with a light that seems tai­lored to the de­scrip­tion of but­tery.

The Keir bed­room, the house’s main guest room, has a four-poster bed and hand­painted Chi­nese wall­pa­per that is more than two cen­turies old. The draw­ing room has im­pres­sive stucco work (one small boy to­day, vis­it­ing with his mother, tells her: “It says it’s called the draw­ing room but there aren’t any draw­ings”). And every­where you look you see ev­i­dence of the life­long pas­sion for col­lect­ing that was the hall­mark of Sir John’s fa­ther, Sir Wil­liam Stir­ling Maxwell. He was an au­thor­ity on Span­ish art, able to as­sem­ble a col­lec­tion that ranges from Goya to El Greco. Most of Sir Wil­liam’s paint­ings are here, though some are held at the Glas­gow Mu­se­ums Re­source Cen­tre in Nit­shill.

One room at Pol­lok House even played a key part in the for­ma­tion of the Na­tional Trust for Scot­land. The small, in­ti­mate cedar room – lots of wood-pan­elling, paint­ings by Wil­liam Blake, a paint­ing of Philip IV of Spain and his fam­ily – was where, in 1931, a clutch of grandees sat down and dis­cussed the idea of cre­at­ing a char­ity that would safe­guard Scot­land’s im­por­tant prop­er­ties and ar­eas of land.

Tak­ing part in an af­ter-din­ner con­ver­sa­tion in the cedar room 86 years ago were Sir John, Sir Iain Colquhoun of Luss, the Duke of Atholl and the Earl of Crawford and Bal­car­res. Sir John was al­ready a vi­cepres­i­dent and honorary pres­i­dent of the As­so­ci­a­tion for the Preser­va­tion (now Pro­tec­tion) of Ru­ral Scot­land, which he co-founded in 1926, the year of the Gen­eral Strike. The NTS has grown to be­come Scot­land’s largest con­ser­va­tion char­ity, its

At one time there were

50 ser­vants here: that’s a lot of lives to leave behind closed doors

re­spon­si­bil­i­ties cov­er­ing ev­ery­thing from coast­lines and islands to St Kilda and ar­chi­tec­turally sig­nif­i­cant build­ings.

Pol­lok House is a key part of all that, of course. “It’s in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant to the Na­tional Trust for Scot­land,” Corn­field says. “It’s a very sig­nif­i­cant prop­erty in Glas­gow and it’s the NTS’s largest prop­erty in the area. The trust’s first prop­erty in Scot­land was ac­tu­ally Crook­ston Cas­tle, which is nearby [the cas­tle was gifted to the new body by none other than Sir John].

“Sir John had broad in­ter­ests in cul­tural and nat­u­ral her­itage, which fits nicely with the trust’s aims. He was in­ter­ested in good ar­chi­tec­ture, even for so­cial hous­ing, which was an im­por­tant thing for him. He felt that so­cial hous­ing should be of good qual­ity. There was no ex­cuse for poor ar­chi­tec­ture, no ex­cuse for ugly homes.

“He also loved gar­den­ing and hor­ti­cul­ture. He’s got an enor­mous col­lec­tion of rhodo­den­drons on the es­tate – ap­par­ently there’s one flow­er­ing at all times of the year. I have to say I never saw any in Jan­uary but they were def­i­nitely flow­er­ing in Fe­bru­ary. He was a keen out­doors­man and a hill­walker. Like a lot of fam­i­lies at that time they had a High­land es­tate, and they would spend time out on the hills.”

She makes the point that while the Ge­or­gian/Ed­war­dian grandeur of Pol­lok House might be an un­usual part of the cityscape, most of Glas­gow’s south side “was built on the for­mer es­tate – Sir John had a hand in quite a lot of town plan­ning”. Pol­lok, to take one ex­am­ple, is this year cel­e­brat­ing the 80th an­niver­sary of the sale, by the Stir­ling-Maxwell fam­ily to Glas­gow Cor­po­ra­tion, of the land on which it is built. And Pol­lok­shields Burgh Hall was built on grounds granted by Sir John to the burgh of Pol­lok­shields in 1887.

Corn­field and her col­league Louise Maughan, the events co-or­di­na­tor, are plainly both de­lighted with the re­sults of the ren­o­va­tion work, not least the open­ing of the ser­vants’ room down­stairs. “Pre­vi­ously, you would visit here and see a lot of closed doors on this level, and the story of the house fo­cused a lot on dec­o­ra­tive arts, and up­stairs,” says Corn­field. “That re­flects how his­toric houses have been pre­sented for years and years.

“But in the last decade or two, there has been a change in per­cep­tion, and peo­ple are much more in­ter­ested in so­cial his­tory and the lives of or­di­nary peo­ple. Ten­e­ment House [a NTS-man­aged prop­erty in Glas­gow city cen­tre] is a prime ex­am­ple of that. We’re now quite in­ter­ested in the lives of the peo­ple down­stairs. It’s quite a thought that at one time there were 50 ser­vants work­ing here: that’s a lot of peo­ple, and a lot of lives to leave shut behind closed doors.”

In­deed it is. Pol­lok House is busy on this par­tic­u­lar day. Peo­ple are clearly fas­ci­nated by how the up­per classes once lived; but there are many chil­dren here too, for whom the team at the house has even de­vised a game, Es­cape the Past (“You have 60 min­utes to look for clues, solve a se­ries of puzzles and com­plete chal­lenges in or­der to thwart the but­ler’s de­vi­ous plans, save Pol­lok House and re­turn to the present”).

Wed­dings are an­other part of the house’s pop­u­lar­ity. “It’s a unique wed­ding venue,” says Maughan. “You have the won­der­ful sur­round­ings of the country park and then you can spend the day in this won­der­ful house. It’s a spe­cial day for the cou­ple and their guests.”

Work­ing front-of-house in the en­trance hall is Ste­fan Plazal­ski, 69. “I was born two miles from here,” he says. “When I was a kid, this was a pri­vate es­tate. I used to come in here and steal plums, ap­ples, pears – as you did. When I went to Shaw­lands Academy, I used to play hookie, come in here, make rafts and sail down the Cart.

“I’ve been here 14, maybe 16 years now. At the academy I had a smash­ing art teacher, who used to get us into the house to see the paint­ings. I’ve had a long affin­ity not only with the house but with the grounds too. We’re so lucky to have it so close to the city cen­tre. A lot of folk, es­pe­cially from abroad, find it amaz­ing that it takes only 10 min­utes to get here from the town.”

As he deals in his good-na­tured way with a fam­ily of visi­tors, I glance at the new­est

A lot of folk, es­pe­cially from abroad, find it amaz­ing that it takes only 10 min­utes to get here from the town

page of the visi­tors’ book. It’s not just the com­ments –“beau­ti­ful”, “amaz­ing” “fan­tas­tic” – so much as the places their au­thors have come from: Utah, Fin­land, Lin­colnshire, Cal­i­for­nia, On­tario, Min­nesota, even Bo­livia. Two hun­dred and sixty-five years af­ter the com­ple­tion of the main house, this an­ces­tral home of the Maxwell fam­ily re­tains a power to in­trigue that ex­tends far be­yond Glas­gow.

Karen Corn­field, prop­erty man­ager of Pol­lok House, in the gun room, where ev­i­dence of Sir John Maxwell Stir­ling’s pas­sion for field sports is laid bare for visi­tors to see

From top: the stair­case off the main hall at Pol­lok House; the newly opened ser­vants’ room; and the house in 1870 fol­low­ing al­ter­ations in­sti­gated by Sir John Maxwell Stir­ling

Staff mem­ber Ste­fan Plazal­ski’s con­nec­tion to Pol­lok House goes back to his boy­hood

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