Posted by: ed | March 1, 2003

2000 years of history

Historian Valerie Reilly visited Kinneil Estate recently. Here’s her impressions.

Arriving on the main drive of the Kinneil estate there was a superb view towards a house that I had previously been unaware of.  I eventually worked out that the museum was in a small building off to the right of the drive. I parked the car and went in to an enthusiastic welcome from the attendant.

She explained that there was a 15 minute video to introduce the estate and offered to set it going for me. After watching the presentation which did a very good job of outlining the history of the estate and what there was to see, I went back into the main part of the museum and looked at the displays. Again the attendant was very helpful and gave me copies of the various leaflets they had. One was a guide which detailed a trail around the remains. Since the weather had proved much kinder than anyone has a right to expect that early in the year, I decided to see where it would take me.  

Starting from the museum you can walk along towards the house, parallel to the visible line of the Antonine Wall. The house itself, dates (in its earliest parts) from the early sixteenth century, when it was built by the Hamilton family. It was added to in 1553 by James Hamilton, the Governor of Scotland until Mary Queen of Scots came of age. In 1677 Duchess Anne Hamilton completed the building. But from the early eighteenth century the Hamiltons concentrated on their other homes and Kinneil was let to a succession of tenants. Behind the house is a ruined cottage originally built as a workshop for the engineer James Watt. He was working with a tenant of the house, Dr John Roebuck (founder of the Carron Ironworks) on a project to develop an improved steam engine for use in pumping water from coal mines. The prototype was tested on the privacy of the estate to keep the development from being copied. Watt worked here in 1769 and 1770, but the trials were not entirely successful and after Roebuck went bankrupt, Watt continued his work with Matthew Boulton in Birmingham, where the engine was perfected.

Beyond the cottage the trail goes over a deep ravine carved by the Gil burn, so deep that it caused the Roman engineers to deviate in a dog-leg from the straight line of the Antonine Wall! Crossing the ravine via a foot bridge, the path leads the visitor around to the remains of Kinneil Parish Church, of which only the western gable with its double belfry – once a landmark for ships entring Bo’ness harbour- remains. It is a 12th century building which once served a large parish including the mediaeval village of Kinneil. The visible slabs in the graveyard are all 17th century, but this is a layered cemetery where new soil would be brought in whenever the graveyard was full so that new burials could take place – leaving the ground outside the church 5 feet higher than the floor level inside! In the 17th century a population shift into the new port of Bo’ness led to Kinneil church being under used, and then, in 1669, suppressed in favour of a new parish church in Bo’ness. 

Beyond the cottage the trail goes over a deep ravine carved by the Gil burn, so deep that it caused the Roman engineers to deviate in a dog-leg from the straight line of the Antonine Wall! Crossing the ravine via a foot bridge, the path leads the visitor around to the remains of Kinneil Parish Church, of which only the western gable with its double belfry – once a landmark for ships entring Bo’ness harbour- remains. It is a 12th century building which once served a large parish including the mediaeval village of Kinneil. The visible slabs in the graveyard are all 17th century, but this is a layered cemetery where new soil would be brought in whenever the graveyard was full so that new burials could take place – leaving the ground outside the church 5 feet higher than the floor level inside! In the 17th century a population shift into the new port of Bo’ness led to Kinneil church being under used, and then, in 1669, suppressed in favour of a new parish church in Bo’ness.

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