The Bonhill Ash trees

[1] The Bonhill House [Place of Bonhill] Ash tree:

This was the” family tree” of the Smolletts, who had been proprietors of Bonhill for a very long period. The tree features on the Smollet family crest:

This ancient Ash tree had been surrounded, for its preservation, with a sloping mound of earth about 3 feet in height. In September 1784, at the top of this embankment it girthed 34 feet 1 inch; at 4 feet higher up, it was 21 feet 3 inches; and at 12 feet from the ground, it was 22 feet 9 inches; where it divided into three huge arms. At this point, the leading trunk had, about a century before, been broken over, in consequence of which the tree had become hollowed . As the stump had become quite hollow, and open on one side, it was formed into a door, and the decayed heart scooped out, so that a room was formed in it, 9 feet 1 inch in diameter, with a conical roof 11 feet high; and was floored, and surrounded with a hexagonal bench, on which eighteen people could sit; and above the door, five small leaden windows were fitted. In this condition this remarkable trunk lived on, forming a great deal of young wood in the shell or bark.

In 1812, Dr Walker stated that “it was thickly covered with fresh vigorous branches, and, by this sort of renovation, may continue to live, nobody can say how long.”

[2] The Bonhill Parish Church Ash tree:

In the churchyard of the parochial church was another ancient and giant ash tree. This tree was measured in 1768, and was found to have a circumference of 16 feet 9 inches at a height of five feet above the ground. When measured again in 1784, it was found to have a circumference of 17 feet 9 inches at the same height, and of 33 feet measured at just one foot above the ground. At a height of about 6 feet, it divided into three main branches. However, it was becoming hollow inside, and supports were placed on it to prevent its collapsing under its own weight.

[I] The Fate of the Bonhill Place Ash Tree:

What eventually finished it off was an attempt by some local boys to get rid of a wasps’ nest that had appeared within it; sadly, by their botched efforts, they set the tree itself on fire.

Bonhill Place [circa 1900]

Bonhill Place [1968]

[II] The Fate of  the Bonhill Parish Church Ash Tree:

It was eventually levelled by strong winds on the 1st of November 1845, but its wood was put to use: various items of furniture were made from it, some of them for the parish church.

Mausoleum of the Dennistoun Browns:

This enclosure with iron railings contains the forlorn memorials to the Dennistoun Browns of Balloch Castle. Before this became the Dennistoun Brown vault, it was the site of the Old Ash Tree.

A tablet can be seen on the back wall with the following inscription: “To the memory of Margaret Lindsay (relict of Andrew Swan) who died at Balloch Castle 6th October 1879 aged 73. For more than 20 years a faithful and attached nurse in the family of A J Dennistoun Brown, by whom this tablet is erected. ‘I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.'”

Margaret Lindsay, nurse to the family, was found dead on the tree-lined approach to Balloch Castle.  Her remains, dust to dust, joined the ground where the roots of the Ash tree had provided living sustenance longer than anybody could remember.

Further archive material:

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