Alexander Downie – of Crossbasket

Words from “The History of Crossbasket Castle” by Paul D Veverka (c) 2015

Alexander Downie was born in 1795 to Thomas Downie and Margaret Mushet. A respected, hard working merchant of Glasgow, and shareholder of major Life Assurance and Railway companies. During his lifetime he had 5 daughters and 5 sons. He lived at Crossbasket for 13 years.

1825 – At the age of 30, on 5th June 1825 Alexander marries Isabella Buchanan in Glasgow. The marriage was not to last but produced a daughter, Sarah.

1834 – At the age of 39, on 29th April 1834 Alexander remarried to Mary Amelila Lockhart at Camnethan House, her family home. I believe following this date they were looking for a new property to settle down. A new wife. A new start.

By this time, Alexander was starting to appear on Committees and board of Directors for large scale projects in Glasgow and the surrounding area. It would appear he was not only an investor in these companies, but formed a knowledge or think tank, along with other respected figures, in order that these new companies could be managed well.

1835 – During the first half of this year, Alexander bought Crossbasket from Charles Mcintosh. In the Parish Statistical Account of that year, it mentions, “Alexander Downie of Crossbasket owning mines at Basket”. This follows on from reports on 22nd May that year of an Alexander Downie disposing of cattle at Inverchroskie, Perthshire, but I think this is unrelated and a different person. In any case, Downie was at Crossbasket by July that year.

 1839 – Poet John Struthers wrote a poem called “Calder Water”. It described the course of the Rotten Calder river down from Calderwood to its join with the Clyde. Crossbasket is briefly mentioned, as John wrote,

“Or where, as if by fairy hands,
Set down, Crossbasket lovely stands,
While fragrant, June prolific showers,
Around her wilderness of flowers.
And every rock and every tree,
Is one wild hum of melody.”

1840 – On 1st April 1840, the Inverness Courier notes Alexander Downie of Crossbasket attended a committee meeting, one of the first confirmations found of Downie’s at Crossbasket.

On 14th May he was one of many shareholders of the Marine Insurance Company who were raising a sum of £200,000. At the end of that month he was appointed Chairman and a Director of the company.

A week later, an illegal hunt took place at Calderwood in the fields across from Crossbasket. The hunt was attended by Steel, Alexander Downie’s butler. The matter was reported as an infraction of game laws. However, Steel was later “let off” by the courts for being a spectator only and not party to the dog handling.


Duke of Wellington Statue

An eventful year, on Friday 20th November 1840 a meeting took place in Glasgow of several businessmen to discuss procuring a statue of the Duke of Wellington and erecting it in Royal Exchange Square. On the committee, and one of the subscribers to this cost, was Mr. A Downie of Crossbasket. Today, in 2015, the statue is a famous Glasgow icon, commonly featuring a red traffic cone, on the Duke’s head. I’m not sure what Alexander would have made of that, but I would like to think he would be happy at the infamy and popularity of the statue itself. It is probably the most photographed thing in Glasgow! The story of its procurement is covered in the Morning Post of Wednesday 25th November 1840.

1841 – The Sporting Chronicle reported on the hares bred by Alexander Downie of Crossbasket, for use in dog hunts.

That year, the census reports 46 year old Alexander living at Crossbasket with 36 year old wife Mory Epislia Downie, their three daughters 14 year old Sarah, 6 year old Eliza Anne and 5 month old Jane Compble. Also there were 2 sons. John Downie aged 4 and Alex aged 3. Interestingly, no servants were living in the Castle itself.

That same year, Alexander Downie is known to have built a hexagonal timber Summerhouse in the garden. It still appeared on later 1859 maps, although had disappeared by 1898. The location is known. Pictured below in March 2015, is a relatively young Cherry Blossom tree in the south garden at Crossbasket. To the left out the picture is Crossbasket Nursery. To the right out the picture, the Generals Bridge. It is a good marker for the location of the Summer house. Above the cherry tree, on the ridge, sat this wooden Summer rest that his wife and daughters were known to be fond of. (presumably due to the woodlands and view back to the Castle)

51 Cherry Blossom and Summerhouse

2009 Cherry Tree at Crossbasket. Summer house was on the far ridge.

1842 – On 5th November 1842 The Kendal Mercury reported on Alexander Downie’s bumper crop of onions that year, that had been untouched by Onion Maggot, a pest known to frequent neighbouring farms. This was put down to Alexander spreading nitrate of soda on his crops.

Around this time National Newspapers reported on dog racing and the name Crossbasket came up, but this proved to be a dogs name and a racing course in England, with no connection to Alexander.

1844 – On 31st May, Alexander Downie attended a lecture of Agricultural Chemistry, showing he had an interest in enhancing the farmlands and output of his crops. That same day, he had earlier sat on a committee meeting intending to raise £300,000 for the Glasgow, Dumbarton and Loch Lomond Railway.

In June of that year, the nearby Greenhall Estate was up for sale, the advert attracting potential buyers by stating it was “near Crossbasket estate”, clearly an attractive selling point in itself.

On 30th September, Alexander attended a public dinner in honour of Dr. Justus Liebeg, Professor of Chemistry at Glasgow.

1845 – On 31st March 1845, Alexander Downie sat on a provisional committee to gather a fund to construct the Slamannan and Borrowstoness Railway, not the first time he was on a railway committee. In April, he sat on the provisional committee for “The City and Suburban Water Company of Glasgow.” Further committees he was included that month and the following few months were “The Glasgow Joint Stock Feuing Company”, “The Caledonian and Dumbartonshire Junction Railway”, “Glasgow Eastern Necropolis”, “The Glasgow and Coatbridge Direct Mineral railway”, “Glasgow, Strathaven and Lesmahagow Direct Railway”, “The Scottish Central Railway”, “Inverness and Elgin Railway” , “The Argyll Canal” and “Glasgow Loch at Katrine Water Company.”

These committee meetings were not just a once event. They met regularly and throughout 1845, Alexander Downie seems to have spent his entire time at business meetings in Glasgow relating to the improvement of infrastructure and it is known he became a director of several of these railway committees, with tied, financial interests of his own.

On 12th November 1845, The Inverness Courier reported on measures Alexander Downie had taken “recently” to prevent his Potatoes from being diseased. The account, as well as providing a detailed insight into the process, also gives good dating evidence for the creation of further small mill operations on Crossbasket Estate along the banks of the Calder River. It states,

6 2004 Wooden Footbridge by A Rochead

2004 Crossbasket Bridge over Calder River. Photo by A Rochead.

Mills set up for the extraction of the diseased root have sprung up all around us, some by the spirit and enterprise of individuals. We are glad to learn that already as examples, we can point to the mills erected by Mr. Downie of Crossbasket where work of converting partially diseased food into healthy matter is ongoing. In the meantime we may state that as an encouraging fact, that Mr Downie’s Mill which was one of the first in operation, was constructed and completed by a country joiner in the brief space of eight days. There is water power on the estate to any extent, but in the meantime, the machine works to the extent of 30 bolls per day.” A material feature of these mills is the drying of the flour when it is extracted from the potato root. It would not be easy to describe these mills without diagrams and Mr Downie’s mill will be at all times open for the inspection of those who are interested.”

This suggests a construction date for this particular Mill (known as the Chipping Mill) as 1845 but should not be confused with the larger more substantial northerly and deeper structures constructed earlier by Mr. McIntosh. The mills were accessed by wooden footbridges built on stone abutments. At this time, there were 2 footbridges crossing the river, both near the tower, which were repaired several times over the next Century and a half.

1846 – On 4th June, Mr. Downie attended the Lanarkshire Farmers Society day showing off 2 beautiful Shetland ponies, as extra stock, which “excited universal admiration.”

That same year a small house called “Crossbasket” came up for sale in Gallowgate, with no connection to Downie, although may have had connection to previous owners, the Bailles of Park.

1847 – On 9th February 1847, a son was born to Mr and Mrs Downie. Joyful news, but the celebrations did not last long.

On 4th March 1847, the Perthshire Advertiser records, whilst a committee was re-electing members, Mr Downie’s position was not renewed on account of him being “in bad health” and unfit to carry out his duties. This may not be a surprise given the amount of meetings he had been making effort to attend.

During June, it is noted that Alexander Downie was still a Director of The City of Glasgow Life Assurance and Revesionary Company and living at Crossbasket during that year. That same month agricultural reports commented on Mr. Downie’s bumper crop of potatoes, unblighted by disease., no doubt being tended by a leased farmer.

1848 – In early 1848, Alexander disappears from all records. No more news reports, no more meetings, no more comments about his ownership of Crossbasket in the media. This is a possible sign that he likely died. Although I found no documented evidence for this, what is clear that on 25th February 1848, Alexander Downie or his surviving family, put Crossbasket up for sale. About 6 years later his wife Mary Amelia Lockhart describes herself as “widow of Downie of Crossbasket”. Alexander was only 53 and it would appear he stressfully worked himself to exhaustion.

There was further heartache for Mary Amelia, who was left with her young family for although Alexander had 3 sons, none of them were older than 12 years old at the time of his death. Interestingly, at the suspected time of Alexander’s death, Mary Amelia was pregnant and gave birth to son Robert on 7th March 1848. His birth is recorded as occurring at Crossbasket, whilst the Castle was up for sale. Robert Downie would later go on to live in New Zealand and is pictured here later in life, surrounded by his family.

robert downie

Robert Downie, Alexanders Son and family c 1916

Downies sell Crossbasket

The advert selling Crossbasket appeared in February 1848 within “The Glasgow Herald” newspaper, giving a good description of the property and an absolutely huge estate at the time.

“ESTATE OF CROSSBASKET FOR SALE. To be Sold by Public Roup, within the Royal Exchange Sale Rooms, Glasgow, on Wednesday the 29th day of March, at Two o’clock Afternoon, THE ESTATE of CROSSBASKET, consisting of 304 Imperial Acres, situated in the Shire of Lanark, and in the Parishes of East Kilbride and Blantyre, distant eight miles from Glasgow and four from Hamilton. The Lands, a great portion of which is tile drained, and the whole arable are intersected by thriving Plantations and occupied to by most respectable Tenants. The Mansion house, which contains Four Public Rooms, Eight bedrooms, and the Offices. consisting of Double Coach House, Stabling for Eight Horses, Byre and Piggeries, are in complete repair; and the situation is so well known as to render description unnecessary. For further particulars apply to Mr. Andrew MacEwan , or accountant, St. Vincent Place; or to Alexander & James Morrison, writers. 40 St. Vincent Place, who are possessed of the Title Deeds and Articles of Roup. Robert Morton, at Basket, will show the Grounds and point out the boundaries; and orders for viewing this House will be obtained on application either to Mr. MacEwan or Messrs. . Morrison. Glasgow, 25th February, 1848”

The advert was repeated weekly all throughout March 1848. This is also good confirmation that the Georgian mansion house (i.e the building immediately attached to the tower) had eight bedrooms and is not noted in the advert as being “modern” or “new”.

It is unknown if Amelia inherited Crossbasket or if lawyers were forced to put the property up for sale in the name of the Downie Estate overall. (If no will was present, this could happen with siblings and cousins entitled to their share from the estate).

Three weeks later, on 29th March 1848, the day of the sale, the property failed to sell, due to lack of interested buyers (or people who could afford it!). The auction was reset and advertised as to take place on 22nd May 1848. A new advert was drafted containing the words “To ensure a sale, the property will be exposed at the low upset price of £13,000.” The Downie’s had lowered their asking price, to a sum which by 2015 worth, would have been around £6,000,000.

Having had to compromise on the selling price, the Downie’s decided to sell their entire house belongings. Barclay and Skirving were the auctioneers and on Thursday and Friday the 11th and 12th May at the house itself, the belongings were auctioned off. This allegedly included belongings from previous owners which had been there when the Downies arrived. Amongst the items of sale were, “Silver plates, oil paintings and fine framed engravings, carriage and brougham including horse harnesses (a covered horse drawn carriage), farm implements, a cellar full of fine wines, Dining, drawing room, library and bedroom furniture, India china, crystal and stoneware, kitchen and laundry items, billiard table, the thrashing mill, churning machine and greenhouse plants.” Due to the fine and expensive nature of the wines, these were to be individually sold in Glasgow on 25th May.

To create further interest, a few days before the auction, the auctioneers created at advert for newspapers listing the items and inventory in a little more detail. Such Crossbasket items appeared in the Glasgow Herald and included for sale, “Silver tea and coffee pots, water jug, waiters, wine sliders, spoons, forks, silver handled knives, silver soup tureens and corner dishes, candlesticks with branches, steak and vegetable knives, oil paintings. Modern Frame engravings including features “Waterloo Banquet”, “A proof before letters”, “Coronation of her majesty Queen Victoria”, “Caledonian Coursing meeting”, “The Battle of the Boyne and of La Hogue”, Set of Five”, “Village Politicians”, and after Wilkie, “Bolton Abbey in the Olden Time”. Also included were costly and expensive line engravings by Raphael Morghen, Billiard table with Morocco seat, gas fittings and lustres, Grand pianoforte by Stoddart, Italian Seagliola Console Table, Ebony cabinet, foreign furniture in cabinets, wardrobes , chests, drawers, large India china vases, a full assortment of richly cut crystal, gilt table service, French clocks, furniture of the kitchen and from servants apartments. Travelling Chariot and Brougham, built by Buchanan of Glasgow in excellent condition, coach harnesses, riding saddles, greenhouse plants etc. Also for sale at the farm were 3 farm horses, brood mare with foal, 3 Ayrshire cows, 6 farm carts, 1 milk cart, the whole and new excellent threshing mill by Smith of Paisley, Clod crusher, churning machine and plough harness, stack stools, ryegrass hay, wheat and oat straw and other articles. “ 

 Such was the attention this received, an omnibus (open carriage) had to be put on for the people wising to attend coming from Glasgow. To leave in the morning and return in the evening.

On 22nd May 1848, Mr. John Cabbell of 72 Virginia Street, Glasgow bought Crossbasket at the auction.

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