Milngavie: a Brief History

Mills on the Allander

The mediaeval village of Milngavie grew up on the banks of the River Allander, the water of which was used for powering grain mills. There has certainly been a mill in what is now the village centre since at least the fifteenth century; the historic building and wheel of Gavin's Mill, from which the village may possibly take its name, were restored in the 1960s and can still be seen today.

In 1793 the village was recorded as having only about 200 inhabitants. However this number increased rapidly during the Industrial Revolution, and by the 1870s stood at over 2000. The Allander and its tributary Craigton Burn were also home to cotton-spinning, bleachfields, a distillery and dyeworks, and industrialisation spread further upstream than is found today.

The Allander, no longer industrialised
This photo shows the river just upstream of the village; the industrial sites have reverted to nature.

The cotton mill site was later taken over as a paper mill and, although this particular location is no longer used for industrial purposes, cardboard boxes are still manufactured in Milngavie on the banks of the River Allander.

The oldest house

Corbie Ha' from the southwest
The oldest house now standing in Milngavie village centre is believed to be the eighteenth century farm building Corbie Ha' in Park Road. It is currently the headquarters of Milngavie Pipe Band.

Reservoirs for Glasgow's water

Mugdock reservoir, just north of Milngavie village, was opened in 1859 for storage of water piped from Loch Katrine for Glasgow. As Glasgow's population grew during the industrial revolution, so did its demand for water, and so a second adjacent reservoir, Craigmaddie, was opened in 1896. The two reservoirs have remained attractively landscaped since Victorian times and provide a pleasant walk both for Milngavie residents and for those living further afield.

Arrival of the railway

The Milngavie and Glasgow Junction Railway opened from Westerton to Milngavie in 1863. Although Milngavie was at this time only a small village, the railway builders had the foresight to realise that it would expand rapidly as a result of the rail link to Glasgow and that the line would carry many commuters. As well as a passenger service, Milngavie station boasted a large goods yard, and in the 1890s a short freight line was constructed northwards to Ellangowan paper mill; the start of the West Highland Way now follows this route, and the paper mill site is occupied by the library, community education centre and housing. A further freight branch was built at about the same time to serve the Burnbrae dye works on the boundary of Milngavie and Bearsden. This latter branch became famous in the 1930s as the site of the overhead test track of the George Bennie railplane, the terminus building of which still stands on the main road and is occupied by Kelvin Timber.

Trams did not reach Milngavie until 1934, although they had served adjacent Bearsden since 1906. The tram service survived only until 1956, when buses took over.

Rejuvenation of the village centre

By the 1970s the narrow streets of Milngavie village centre were choked with traffic. This was alleviated by the construction of a bypass, Woodburn Way, linking Main Street and Station Road, and pedestrianisation of the village's shopping streets in 1981, making Milngavie once more a pleasant place to stroll. More recently, the long term viability of the small village shops has been threatened by the construction of a supermarket on the river bank near Gavin's Mill, and several premises now lie empty.

A Milngavie local history collection can be found at:
Brookwood Library, 166 Drymen Road, Bearsden, Glasgow G61
phone: 0141-942 6811

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