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 though 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 to Sir Andrew Buchanan, the former Ambassador to the Habsburg Court in Vienna, in 1851. Later occupants included James Outram, Chartered Accountant and nephew George Outram, one-time owner of the ‘Glasgow Herald’ newspaper. He leased the Castle from the Buchanans from 1909-1919. Sir Harold Yarrow, son of the founder of the famous shipyard Yarrow & Company, lived in the Castle with his family from 1920 and resided there for 27 years.
Craigend Stables functions as the Country Park’s Visitor Centre and is contemporary with Craigend Castle. Constructed of whinstone and ashlar in 1816, it was here that the Estate’s horses, coachmen, grooms and carriages were housed. Behind the Stables was an open area with a glass roof where the Estate coaches and carriages were washed. There was also a storeroom for farm tools, a boiler-room used for the preparation of animal feed and a byre with a semi-circular bull-pen attached.
Craigend, or as it was formerly called, the Gallowknowe, 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 little more than a small house set in 10 acres of land but, by the late-1700s, the Smiths had prospered greatly having acquired property in the West Indies.
The Victorian Walled Garden
Beside the Stables is the Victorian Walled Garden set in a sheltered hollow with high stone walls, elaborate gates and cast-iron railing along the south-facing front. In its heyday, a number of greenhouses ran along the north wall, heated by a large coal-burning boiler located in the west corner using water from the loch nearby. Many varieties of fruit were grown in the Garden’s west side including apples, plums, pears, currants, gooseberries and rhubarb, which had once more become fashionable. Vegetables were grown along the east side while a large circular flowerbed dominated the centre.
The Garden lay untended for more than half a century so that, by 1960, there was a profusion of rampant weeds and rhododendron bushes. The Garden was restored between 1998 and 2002 by a team of tradesmen, training agencies, volunteers and park staff. It now ranks as one of the Park’s most popular attractions during the summer months.
Craigend Estate was sold to Andrew Wilson and his zoologist son William in 1948. The family was already well-known as the proprietors of Wilson’s Zoo in Oswald Street, Glasgow. Between them they transformed Craigend into a zoological wonderland, opening in April 1949, and containing over two thousand animals, reptiles and birds. most of which were kept in cages and dens located round the Gallowhill. A Noah’s Ark contained smaller birds and animals and was especially popular with children. Two of the Estate’s three lochs contained rowing and motor boats which could be hired for a modest sum.
Three of the Castle’s public rooms became tearooms serving up to a thousand customers a day. Undoubtedly, the Zoo’s main attraction was Charlie the Elephant who resided in the stables block along with his keeper Singh Ibrahim. The pair were inseparable as the following story illustrates. Ibrahim one day decided to go for a drink in one of Milngavie’s public houses. As he walked down towards the village, he was unaware that Charlie was following at a discreet distance. The elephant’s presence was only confirmed when he tried to enter the public bar and got stuck fast in the doorway! It took the local fire brigade some considerable time to set him free. Sadly, Craigend Zoo was not a success. The local transport company withdrew the bus service from Milngavie to Craigend as it was operating at a loss. Visitor figures plummeted and the Zoo closed its doors for the last time in 1955.