Haunted Blantyre Priory – Part 1 of 2

How about a spooky story next?! This is in two parts, the short version (taken from a much larger paper about the Lords Blantyre). First part today, continued tomorrow. Our tale is set in Blantyre 357 years ago…..


   While living at his mansion house in Cardonald during the summer months of 1663, Alexander Stewart, fourth Lord Blantyre, was mostly engaged in his favourite pastime, carousing and playing cards with the off-duty soldiers who were garrisoned at nearby Dumbarton barracks. However, on one of those rare days when business had to be personally attended to, he found his presence required in Edinburgh, and it was on such a day, while he was away, that a messenger arrived at Cardonald bearing news of trouble at Blantyre.

   Although Alexander himself had taken up residence at his family home in Cardonald, his wife and children were staying at the Prior’s old house back in Blantyre. (The Blantyre Priory).  The content of the message from Lady Blantyre appeared to be urgent enough for his lordship’s estate manager, the reliable and able Mr Christopher Morrison, to summon his horse and immediately make for the old Augustinian Priory on the Clyde.

   With but a couple of short stops, Christopher Morrison rode in haste in a south easterly direction, passing the site of Mary Queen of Scot’s defeat at Langside, and on to Rutherglen, before finally arriving at the Priory of Blantyre. When he got there Lady Blantyre and her servants were in such a state of fear and alarm they were already packed ready to leave.

1930s Blantyre Priory by Rev Chas H Dick

Blantyre Priory 1930s by Rev Charles H Dick.

   Upon enquiry, Mr Morrison ascertained that the trouble began on the 14th of July 1663, when the strangest sounds, unearthly sounds, were heard around the old priory walls. Then there began the phenomenon of stones, blocks of peat, and lumps of coal flying through the air, even though the outer perimeter gates were all shut up. When visitors came, whether during the day or at evening, the poltergeist like activity got so bad, that some of them were said to “have gotten stroakes.

   The next curious occurrence was the sight of “apples and peers fleeing up and downe the house in daylight.” Given the superstitious nature of the general public in Scotland at this time it would take very little to strike fear into the hearts of those who were resident in this isolated spot. Further to this, the servants told Mr Morrison excitedly, that while on a bright moonlit night, they were sitting round a fireplace warming themselves when all of a sudden, “there came downe watter from a chimneyheid and almost slockened on the fire to the which chimneyheid none could hav gone without a long ladder and no ladder was neer it.”

1920s blantyre priory1

1920’s Blantyre Priory Ruins

   The locals also were aware of these strange goings on. It was said by one of them that there was “Ane evil spirit or something of that kind turbulent in the Craig of Blantyre.” Mr Morrison was further told that one of the women “by one stroake on the heid by a great stone was stricken dead for a long time on Saturday last in the afternoon.”

   Christopher Morrison used all his people skills and experience trying to reassure them they would not be further harmed, he himself would stay with them and keep them safe, but despite Mr Morrison’s presence in the house for two days the eerie episodes continued and he, admitting to no little fear himself, found it impossible to keep her ladyship and the staff at the priory another night. He arranged for them to be put up each night at the nearby farm run by John Cruiks and they would return to the priory only during the daylight hours. Stories of restless monks, angry at their priory being used for less than holy purposes circulated among the locals, but Mr Morrison, having had time to consider all the evidence, discounted these theories, although he did believe “the disturbances were diabolical.”

   Superstition was rife in Scotland at this period of time, there would not have been a farm or an estate in Blantyre parish that did not have a rowan tree in the corner of a field to ward off evil spirits. Alexander’s son, also Alexander, fifth Lord Blantyre, would preside over a famous case of witchcraft in Renfrewshire in 1696, another member on that committee was his uncle Sir John Shaw of Greenock (his mother’s brother), and during the testimonies given, among many other bizarre statements, evidence would be heard of a grim, dark man (the devil) with very cold hands, suddenly appearing in houses. Between the 7th of August and the end of December 1649 the Committee of Estates in Edinburgh issued more than 350 commissions for the trials of witches, and when parliament reconvened the following year a Specialised Session Committee was appointed on the 18th of May to “Considder of the depositions and other papers to be givin in concerning witchis.”

   As was the belief in the country then, the devil must have had a confederate in these malignant actions at Blantyre Priory. There was no hesitation on the part of Christopher Morrison here, for one person alone stood out as the main suspect, the villainous cook, John Mathie, whom we might assume to be the ferryman employed by Lord Blantyre on the Duke of Richmond’s estate a few years later, when they were both extorting tolls from the cattle drovers. Mathie had been the cook at Blantyre Priory for many years, but when the servants discussed the on-going situation between Lord and Lady Blantyre he was reported to have spoken most scornfully of her ladyship, and made no secret of the fact that he wished far more to be in the service of his lordship, he even went as far as to call Lady Blantyre “a waister.” Whenever he was in the presence of her ladyship Mathie was openly discourteous, but then it seems he treated everyone with unwarranted contempt, a behavioural trait perhaps associated with his drinking habit. One of the male servants, John Keiper, who “suffered a stroake” at the cook’s hand, asked Mathie, “What gart you gar your gaist hurt me with a stane?” Mathie, not even trying to hide his guilt, simply replied that he did it (almost brained him with a rock) out of boredom.

   It was only when, at the urgent request of Morrison, Lord Blantyre himself finally arrived at the priory that the fruit and other materials ceased to fly around, seemingly of its own volition, another pointer to Mathie’s guiltiness. It is not recorded what was done about this baleful character, it seems he may, as has been suggested, have been kept on by his lordship, but some would have preferred to see justice done, because in those days, anyone having “interassurance and conversation with familiar spirits and devils, ought not to be suffered to live among Christians, but should have his tryall.”

2015 Blantyre Priory by Katarzyna3

2015 Blantyre Priory in June. Photo by Katarzyna G.

   John Mathie in earlier days had claimed to have healing powers, and was able to treat all manner of diseases. One time, while living in Glasgow, a woman came to him complaining of “the each” (itch), for which Mathie gave her a belt or girdle to wear round her middle, but it must have been far too tight because “after the using whereof she died within a short time and very suddenly,” so many came to the conclusion back then that Mathie must be “a Warlock, and a malevolent one forbye.” Mathie was pronounced to be “a most prophane godless rude and drunkensome fellow.”

Continued tomorrow in final Part 2

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