The Formakin Estate
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The Formakin Estate lies close to Bishopton in the Renfrewshire hills. It was bought in 1903 by Paisley businessman John Augustus Holms who employed Sir Robert Lorimer, a famous Scottish architect, to design a house (above) and surrounding buildings in the style of a 17th century Scots Baronial mansion. To add to the illusion of a historical property a stone tablet above the courtyard entrance is inscribed with the date `1694` and the letters `DL`. The letters, however, rather than family initials, stand for "Damned Lie"!
The home was intended to allow Holms to show off his vast collection of art, Chinese porcelain, Oriental rugs and English furniture. Holms was an expert horticulturist and he created magnificent gardens which were once open to the public. Now, they are private although visitors can wander through other parts of the estate.
Formakin soon became known as "The Monkey House" because of the stone monkeys which adorn the various buildings.
This photo of Holms shown below is displayed on the information board in the estate car park. Unfortunately he never saw the completion of his project as he was seriously injured in a riding accident then lost his fortune soon after, thanks to the illicit dealings of a business partner. Holms was unable to pay the workmen and they downed tools in 1913 as soon as they made the main house wind and watertight. The estate was sold after Holms's death in 1938 for £7,000, although the new owner never lived there.
In the aerial view (above right) of the Formakin Estate, Formakin House can be seen bottom right. Gatehead Lodge is the white building just left of centre, with the stable block and old mill towards the top right.
In addition to Formakin House there are a number of other buildings within the estate. A farm, known as Nethermill, once stood just downstream but was cleared when the Royal Ordnance Factory (ROF) was built prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. The first mention of Nethermill Farm was in records dating from 1796.
Gatehead Lodge which lies north of the Formakin Estate`s main entrance.*
Bishopton was one of sixteen similar explosives ordnance factories built by the Ministry of Supply during the Second World War. The chosen location incorporated the site of the Georgetown Filling Factory at Fulwood near Bishopton, which had been constructed in 1915 at the height of the Great War and specialised in the manufacture of ammunition. By 1917, over 10,000 workers were employed there, placing explosive into shell cases which would then be transported by rail. Unlike the later ROF at Bishopton, the Georgetown complex was purely an assembly line and did not manufacture the chemicals or explosive contents. The factory closed in 1919, and was quickly decommissioned. Construction of ROF Bishopton, which eventually occupied an area of some 2,000 acres (8 km²), began in 1937 and a number of farms were swallowed up with the occupants forced to relocate. Although Nethermill was one of the farms which disappeared, the Formakin estate`s main buildings lay just beyond the proposed boundaries and were left intact.
ROF Bishopton was built to manufacture propellant, mainly cordite, for the British Army and the Royal Air Force and it wasn`t until 1965 that the factory started making cordite for the Royal Navy as until then they had a dedicated source. ROF Bishopton was fully functional by April 1941 and around 20,000 workers were employed there. In addition to the factory buildings there was also on-site housing and facilities for the personnel. The site comprised of three explosive factories, Factories I, II, and III, with Factory 0 being the administration and support facility. A spur line close to Bishopton Station connected the ROF site with the national rail network with around 11 miles of standard gauge railway line laid within the complex. In addition there was a further 55 miles of 30 inch (760 mm) narrow-gauge railway line for transporting explosives. The track-lines are still visible in many of these aerial views.
On-site, the explosive and chemical wagons were hauled by a dedicated fleet of diesel locomotives. The processes to create the various chemicals used in the manufacture of explosives and propellant was complex and required numerous purpose-built structures, many of which were protected by earth berms or iron-clad blast walls. Similar precautionary measures were taken with storage areas. For example, each factory had it's own nitroglycerine section. Nitric and sulphuric acids were added to glycerine at the top of a small hill and as the explosive is highly volatile, gravity, rather than a pump, would cause the mixture to flow downhill, passing through several washing and acid recovery stages on the way. Water-filled ponds were conveniently situated for emergencies. Large quantites of nitric and sulphuric acids were required and these were made on-site. White phosphorus, cordite, Picrite (nitroguanidine) and a host of other chemicals were also manufactured and waste would either be recycled or dumped within the site. There are various landfills and pits within the grounds but accurate records regarding disposal were not kept, especially in wartime.
Especially in its later life, ROF Bishopton was a major processing centre for dismantling and disposing of old ammunition. Two large boiling-out houses, the "Big Steamie" and "Little Steamie", were used to steam the explosive out of artillery shells, and the volatile contents were then burnt on one of the large designated areas within the grounds. ROF Bishopton was also tasked with the decommissioning of the nuclear capable, US manufactured Lance missile system although all warheads were removed prior to the missiles being forwarded to the Renfrewshire site. The ROF site, which was privatised in 1984, finally ceased explosives production in 2002.
Several trails lead through the Formakin Estate which includes a pond, mature woodland and open moorland offering views of Ben Lomond and the mountains beyond. (Unfortunately power lines spoil the scene).
Even though Roe deer, rabbits and birds are regularly spotted, sightings of monkeys are always guaranteed! These small, black painted primates sit on top of marker posts, pointing visitors in the right direction. "The house and gardens are private - head that way!"
Although there is currently no public access to the fountain gardens, apart from an occasional `Renfrewshire Doors Open Day`, they can be viewed at a distance from the main circular trail. They contrast with the sweeping lawns to the front of the main house. Formakin`s three-headed lion statue.
Buzzards are present year-round and are regularly seen circling overhead. This one was sitting on a dead tree but flew off before I could get a decent closeup. Directly underneath its perch was its dining table which contained the remnants of its last meal. It`s best to walk in an anti-clockwise direction, leaving this fine view of Formakin House to the end.
Autumn is a good time of the year to view the different varieties of fungi which thive throughout the Formakin Estate.
Please bear in mind that these images are copyright. They are not free to use and have been embedded with a digital watermark.