Finlaystone House, Renfrewshire – Clan Cunningham
Overlooking the banks of the River Clyde, Finalystone House is a clan seat which has passed between multiple different families since its initial establishment in the 12th century.
Perhaps most famous as the traditional home of the Cunningham family, the house has also been used by the Dennistons in the 12th century and later the Kidstons and MacMillans until the present day.
Originally, ‘Finlay’s Town’ was said have been part of the 12th-century lands of Danziel and it is from here that the Dennistoun family took their name with the family being recorded as the ‘Barons of Danziel’s Town’ around this time. The Dennistouns would hold this land until 1399 when Sir Robert Danielstoun, who was confirmed in 1393 to be the holder of the estate, passed away leaving the Barony of Finlaystone to fall under the control of his daughter, Margaret, and her husband, William Cunningham.
The Cunninghams would be made the Earls of Glencairn in 1488 with Alexander Cunningham, the first person to hold the title, unfortunately dying in battle only 14 days after. The family would then go on to become influential supporters of the Scottish Reformation, with the grounds of the estate hosting the world’s first Protestant Reformed Communion service in 1566, held by the preacher John Knox. The Earls of Glencairn would later support Charles I & II during the rule of Oliver Cromwell with William, 9th Earl, narrowly escaping execution by Cromwell before being made Lord High Chancellor of Scotland by Charles II following the restoration.
In the following century, Finlaystone would receive one of its most distinguished guests when Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns, dined in the house and commemorated the occasion by scratching his name onto a windowpane. James, 14th Earl, was said to have rescued Burns, “from wretchedness and exile”, and Burns would name his son James Glencairn Burns after the Earl. Despite this, the Finlaystone which Burns visited is not that same estate that we know today as the modern house was only constructed in the mid 18th century following the destruction of older buildings around this time. The central part of the modern house was built during this period and it is from here that the construction of the modern Finlaystone began.
Not long after this construction, John, 15th Earl of Glencairn, died childless in 1796 with the estate passing to his cousin, Robert Graham, who subsequently took the additional Cunninghame name upon his succession. The Cunninhghame Grahams would continue to live happily at Finlaystone in the ensuing years and even a scandal involving William Cunninghame Graham, known in the family as ‘the swindler’ due to his propensity for forging banknotes, could not force the family to move (although William was forced to sell most of his possessions to repay the bank.)
This happiness would not last, however, and William’s grandson, William Bontine Cunninghame Graham, was forced to sell the estate after accruing serious debts and it was passed to Sir David Carrick-Buchanan before being rented to George J. Kidston in 1873 and bought outright in 1897. Kidston was the Chairman of the Clyde Shipping Company, the oldest steamship company in the world, and would employ John James Burnet as his architect to give the house a more modern style. Burnet developed the ground floor, added a top story into the roof and constructed a pair of distinctive marble pillars to the interior of the home which led to it being classified as a ‘historic’ building.
In later years, the house would pass to the control of the MacMillans following the marriage of Marion Blackiston-Houston, a descendant of Kidston, to the solider, Gordon Holmes Alexander MacMillan. Sir Gordon was not even aware that he was the clan chief of the MacMillan Family until accidentally discovering his true pedigree in 1952 and since then the house has been home to the MacMillan clan chiefs. His son, George Gordon MacMillian, would succeed him in 1955 and opened the wider estate to the public in 1975 as a paid attraction. It has since become a fantastic asset for the local area as a popular visitor attraction with a tea room, play areas and a visitor centre.
Finlaystone is also one of Scotcrest’s local clan seats, situated only 10 minutes drive away from our headquarters and the MacMillan family remain good friends of the Scotcrest team to this day.