My memories of Kirkton House
Kirkton House was owned by the Stevenson-Hamilton family from Fairholm near Hamilton but circa 1930 - 1950 it was leased/rented to a Captain & Mrs Phillipps. My mother was employed by them as a cook from the early 1930’s until shortly before my birth.
Captain Phillipps had been a soldier in the Great War and held a managerial position with the LMS railway company at Glasgow. I can remember seeing photographs showing them in court dress during the 1920/30 period. He was in a military style uniform while she was in a long dress and had feathers attached to her tiara or whatever it was she had on her head.
My mother would have had to leave her employment on my arrival but she was often recalled to cook for dinner parties and special occasions. She told me that one of the guests at a dinner party was Sir Alec Douglas Home, the future Prime Minister, who had complimented her on the dinner.
The housekeeper at Kirkton was one Mary Macrae, a very superstitious lady who came from the Dingwall area. Mary never seemed to be dressed in anything other than a long blue working dress, white apron and cap, almost like a figure from the TV series Upstairs & Downstairs.
If Captain & Mrs Phillipps had to spend a few nights away, then they would contact my mother and ask her to come down in the evenings and stay overnight with Mary. If their absence ran into a week, fortnight or more then our family just moved in for the duration – no great hardship as we lived at the very top of Mill Road just up from the Central SMT bus depot where my father was a bus driver.
After the war, Captain & Mrs Phillipps took several long holidays abroad, I’m sure one of their trips was to South Africa and another to Canada.
Captain Phillipps owned a pre-war Renault car which was kept in a wooden garage near the foot of the drive to the manse in Station Road. I recall my father driving them to Prestwick Airport when they went to Canada, I believe the aircraft was a Canadair North Star which was delayed due to having to undergo an engine change. Captain Phillipps arranged for my father to be shown over the plane and he was later invited to go up for the short test flight – he declined the offer!
During those foreign holiday periods, both I and my younger brother had the run of the place – exciting times for two youngsters.
The staircase to the upper floor was festooned with animal heads mounted on wooden plaques. We were told that these had been shot by Col. Stevenson-Hamilton who was the first warden of the Kruger National Park in South Africa.
The upstairs private bathroom looked like something out of a Hollywood film set with raised tiered flooring which gave the impression of a sunken bath.
There were some large paintings in certain rooms, mainly of elderly and severe looking Victorian couples and we were fascinated (probably frightened) by how their eyes could follow you around the room.
The walls of the main passageway upstairs were adorned with swords, shields, flintlock pistols and muskets - rather too much of a temptation for two mischievous tykes. We eventually worked out how to remove some of the lower swords from the wall fixings and had many a fencing match up and down the passageway - the mind boggles!
I was very much taken with a beautiful basket handled officers sword with red felt lining on the inside of the basket. It was highly polished and the blade was engraved with words to the effect that it had been captured by the Dervishes (I think) at Khartoum and recovered at the Battle of Omdurman.
The large attic was full of interesting things, including some German steel helmets brought home as souvenirs from the Great War. From the attic, we could get out through a hatch onto a castellated flat roofed area where wearing one of those heavy helmets which I could hardly see out of, we pretended to defend our imaginary fort.