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4 Aug 2017

The ‘upstairs, downstairs’ life 

Pollok house main hall
The Pollok estate is the ancestral home of the Maxwell family, who lived here from the 13th century until 1966, when it was gifted to the City of Glasgow.

There are clues to the location of former properties on the estate: the land at the top of the rhododendron walk suggests it may have been the site of an ancient castle, and early stonework in the stable block indicates this may have been the site of a second and third castle. 

The main part of the current Pollok House was begun in 1747, and was designed in a rather austere Georgian style. However, in the late 19th century Sir John Stirling Maxwell commissioned acclaimed architect Robert Rowand Anderson to design extensive additions in keeping with late Victorian ideas of comfort. The new work sympathetically preserved the Georgian features.

Sir John’s desire to conserve Scotland’s heritage resulted in a meeting in 1931 at Pollok House, where discussions for the founding of a National Trust for Scotland took place inside the cedar-panelled smoking room with his like-minded friends. 

Visitors today can explore the upstairs, downstairs lifestyle of well-to-do families in the 1930s. Upstairs is plenty of evidence of the opulence of that time, including large, grand rooms, beautiful furniture and furnishings, and a renowned art collection. With a primary focus on Spanish paintings of the Habsburg era, much of this collection was amassed by Sir John’s father, Sir William Stirling Maxwell, in the 1840s. 

The contrasting ‘downstairs’ life can be seen in the vast servants’ quarters. The extent of the tiled corridor and the size of the kitchen is an eye-opener to the amount of work it took to run this magnificent stately home. In the house’s heyday, there were 48 indoor servants for just 3 family members – the house was famed for its unparalleled hospitality. As well as serving the Maxwells upstairs, staff would also have been responsible for the gardens, stables and wider estate.  

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