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Clan MacMillan's Finlaystone House

Finlaystone House & Gardens is imposing, elegant and historic. But it is also a home where the author spent many happy summers living and working with the MacMillan family.


Finlaystone on the southern bank of the Firth of Clyde, west of Glasgow and not far east of Port Glasgow, is where I spent the happiest time of my youth, before I was married. In my late teens, I was one of the first of a long succession of contented slaves and our slave drivers were the late Sir Gordon and Lady MacMillan. Every time I return through the gates into the long, well-kept front drive flanked by rhododendrons, I have nostalgic memories of back-breaking days with saws and clippers and spades; shovels and rakes and hoes; and every other sort of agricultural and horticultural tool except those activated mechanically. And I always remember endless, joyous laughter.

We slaves lived in the house as family and were treated as such. We got up early, ate a thumping good breakfast and sallied forth into the grounds where we did our slaving. There was a brief respite for an extremely hearty lunch, returning when darkness fell to rush up to our rooms, bath and change into respectable clothes and descend to the beautiful drawing room on the first floor to be given a glass of sherry by Sir Gordon, before sitting down to old fashioned dinner with 3 courses and coffee. Just like a proper dinner party -- night after night.

It is hard, now, to describe how wonderful it was to emerge from adolescence into semi-adulthood under those shrewdly watchful, strict and kindly eyes, with a gang of surrogate siblings, and perhaps there will never be another place quite like Finlaystone because there can never be another family quite like the MacMillans. We adored our slave drivers unreservedly and would have done anything in the world for them.

The roots of Finlaystone were firmly embedded at least six centuries ago when it was Finlay's Town and part of the 12th-century Lands of Danziel, and since then it has been the home of only three families with a variety of surnames due to marriage. It was only sold twice: once in 1863 when a Cunninghame Graham, known as "the swindler" because of his penchant for forging banknotes, had to sell up to pay his debts. He sold it to Sir David Carrick-Buchanan who then sold it in 1897 to George Kidston, Chairman of the Clyde Shipping Company -- a hunting friend who had, in fact, been living there as a tenant for the previous 24 years. One of George's daughters, Lilian Blakiston-Houston, bought out her siblings and took over the estate and it was her daughter Marion, our beloved slave driver, Lady MacMillan, who subsequently inherited the running of it with her husband Sir Gordon and their team of slaves. Sir Gordon was proclaimed MacMillan of MacMillan of Knap, Chief of Clann an Mhaoil, in 1952, a title now held by their oldest son George who has in turn given the estate to his son Arthur, though he still lives in part of the house.

The full text of this article is available in the Autumn 2007 issue of Scottish Life.

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Photos: © Richard Bolton