When George Neilson bought Crossbasket, High Blantyre in 1891, he immediately set about adding the 3rd massive addition to the house, extending it further using Architect Alexander Gardner and James Baird Thomson from his father’s Glasgow architectural firm James Baird Thomson.
James Baird was only 21 years old and an apprentice but an accomplished designer with vision. His design combined traditional features like the battlements on the Clark extension and tower and again copied features from the nearby General’s Bridge.
However, for the new façade, he went for a more modern look with elegant tall and narrow windows at the front. James Baird Thomson was to die young in 1917, so Crossbasket design was noted as being one of his accomplished legacies, something that seems to have been forgotten or lost. The architects had also worked at other large grand houses in Blantyre including Auchinraith House.
The architects Alexander and James delivered an excellent design to George Neilson and by Autumn 1891, construction had started at the Castle, which must have been a major talking point given the scale of operations. The mid section Georgian Manor House was to be entirely demolished down to basement level, and rebuilt on a larger scale and in keeping with Clark’s building on the right of it. No trace inside remains of the original Georgian Mansion House.
The new extension was three storeys, instead of two previously. In addition, it also had a basement. Built in stone, the design featured battlements on top and was constructed to project outwards, with an appearance that gave this part of the building a more prominent focus, than the previous dominant tower. From herein, the main part of Crossbasket was this third extension.
It was built just as high as the tower and the previous Clark family extension, massively increasing the bulk volume of Crossbasket, permitting larger stately rooms. Inside, the Clarks entrance arch design was copied and replicated in the hallways on all levels, a theme running through almost all of the Castle. In the lower main drawing room, which faced out to the gardens, the room was made even more impressive by the addition of stone columns, providing the opulence that Neilson desired.
Local labour was engaged wherever possible. Now, I know of a William Little, a joiner and glazier who had just moved to Blantyre from Wanlockhead, 4 years previous to this. His son, James was only 13 or so, an apprentice joiner. I’d love to make a connection here and say the Little’s were employed on the construction work, but sadly, don’t have evidence of this. If Neilson did use a local glazier, there is a strong chance it may have been this local family. If so, young James would have no idea at the time, that one day he would be the owner of this Castle! This statement is one of a few “flight of fancies” I have suggested in this book, and I wish to make it clear that it is merely an unfounded suggestion. (if not at least an interesting possibility!). I digress, lets get back to Neilson’s construction work.
Pictured above in 1905, about 14 years after the 3rd extension is Crossbasket Castle’s new look. The ivy free building gives a good idea of what the building looked like exactly after Neilson had finished his work. The clean, new stonework of the entrance, by comparison to the older stonework of the Clark extension. The photo was taken by my very own 2nd Great Grand Uncle, David Ritchie although photography was only his hobby and is published here for the first time. David married Mary Ann Fleming on the 7 December 1888 in South Townend, Strathaven and then moved to High Blantyre where he started his own business as a master joiner and glazier and may even have worked on Neilson’s extension! As you can see from the subject matter of the photo, the tower now was not the focal point.
Neilson’s plans were extensive. Just as significant as James Clark’s massive extension 35 years earlier. Crossbasket Castle now had a mid section the same height as the Tower to the west and the Clark extension to the east. The battlements were rebuilt to complete the aesthetics and provide some uniformity. Particular attention was given to this south façade, for it is from that side the owners and guests would approach from on a daily basis. Long, narrow grand windows were constructed, whereas the north façade were given more basic, rectangular ones. As was the fashion of the time, the whole building was rendered in a type of roughcasting (more like plaster), covering all signs of the stonework below inside and out. Unknown at the time, this would later cause problems for the maintenance of the building.
The James Clark extension wasn’t left untouched. It received a brand new entrance, covering up the smaller doorway which had previously been flush with the walls. No expense was spared. A new protruding porch, (with battlements!) was added as a statement of grandeur and is still being used as the entrance today.
Neilson also took the opportunity to tidy up some of the buildings in the garden. We see from the 1898 map, that by then the previous Clark tool shed and gardening sheds, (which were huge) had been demolished at the west side of the tower, and landscaped over. Further footbridges had been added providing access to beautiful walks through the woodland to the North on the opposite river bank and the Mill area in general cleared of its bothies and dilapidated wooden structures.
Other features previously seen at Crossbasket were by the 1890’s, gone. The orchards, the dog kennels and the summerhouse were cleared. It is unknown how long the extension work took to complete, but it surely must have been at least a few years. There are no apparent rubble or spoil heaps, so it would appear than much of the stone from the mansion house may have been reused, wherever possible.
Extract from the book, “The History of Crossbasket Castle” by Paul Veverka (c)