THE highly-acclaimed Downton Abbey TV programme portrays life upstairs and downstairs in Britain’s great country houses during the early 20th century.
Milliken and Merchiston are mansions on Paisley’s doorstep where running a vast rural estate, maximising income from agriculture and mining and supervising estate and domestic staff was a way of life.
Other dynastic duties included arranging marriages between aristocratic land-owners and their heirs and heiresses to secure future prosperity for family estates.
Concert recitals, soirees, coming-of-age parties, weddings, candle-lit dinners, whist evenings, garden strolls, fetes, flower shows, tennis, croquet, riding to hounds and horse-drawn carriage excursions along lime tree avenues were prominent on the social calendar.
That’s how the destinies of Milliken and Merchiston entwined. Major James Milliken, who made his fortune from West Indian sugar and tobacco plantations, purchased the estate from the Houstoun family in 1733.
The demesne, with its four-storey Georgian mansion, shady woodlands, orchards, terraced gardens, manicured lawns, ornamental statues, dovecotes, ha-has (walled ditches), trimmed hedges, ponds and waterfalls, was acquired by his great-grandson, Colonel Robert Napier, whose relatives owned Blackstoun House, between Paisley and Linwood.
The family was related to the renowned mathematician John Napier (1550-1617), of Merchiston Castle, Edinburgh, who invented logarithms (arithmetical calculations).
That’s why another Napier mansion near Milliken was named Merchiston House.
Later occupants included Charles Kaye Finlayson, of Finlayson, Bousfield and Company Flax Mill, where Morrisons supermarket, in Napier Street, Johnstone, is now situated. Like Downton Abbey, Merchiston was commandeered as a military hospital during wartime. Patients included soldiers wounded on European battlefields.
Sadly, some servicemen were healed only to perish on their return to combat.
Between Merchiston and what’s now the Paisley to Bridge of Weir cycle path were ironstone mines providing Milliken and Merchiston estates with much of their opulence.
There were fatalities. One of the worst was at New Moss Pit, where two Johnstone men were burned to death by an exploding powder keg. The tragedy occurred 138 years ago next week, on September 20, 1873.
Merchiston House was demolished 25 years ago but flooded quarries still ooze black, muddy water in its woodlands.
On dark nights, mist spirals from murky pools and then fades among leafless trees ... like grey ghosts of dead soldiers and miners who knew Merchiston in all its glory.