McKirdy family mystery at Birkwood House: solve it!

Illustrated window...from the Chur Valley in Switzerland which has gone missing, along with other treasures, from Birkwood House in Lesmahagow
Illustrated window...from the Chur Valley in Switzerland which has gone missing, along with other treasures, from Birkwood House in Lesmahagow

IT is ironic that an imposing, huge building on the edge of Lesmahagow will be ‘reborn’ soon as a hotel called The Birkwood Castle – given that a castle is one of the few things it’s NEVER been in the past!

Still best known as Birkwood House, the great mansion is finally to take on the role of a hotel, the fate of so many of Clydesdale’s great Victorian private country houses since World War One.

It will now follow – very belatedly – in the footsteps of the likes of the Cartland Bridge, Cornhill, Wyndales and many others into the hospitality industry after a very varied history.

With its conversion coming soon, the Lanark and District Archaeological Society has taken the opportunity to study the building’s past as part of its ongoing Clydesdale Local History Project.

This exercise has unveiled a mystery from the 1920s which might have graced an Agatha Christie novel, given it involves the disappearance of a great horde of treasures!

Giving the background, a society spokesman said: “Birkwood House has an interesting history.

“It was built originally by the McKirdy family back in 1887 but not occupied by the family for very long.

“The McKirdys only had the house up to 1920 when it was purchased by Lanarkshire County Council for the purpose of taking care of children with severe learning difficulties.

“Over a number of years it gradually changed and grew to accommodate over 300 mental health patients.

“To do this a number of extensions were made in 1948 and 1958, a whole new wing being built in that latter year.

“However, over time attitudes to treating mental illness changed and by 1981 efforts were being made to give the patients more independence.

“Eventually the Community Care Act (1990) and new types of treatment resulted in the relocation of the patients in 2001 and eventual closure of the house in 2005.”

This is all documented fact but there is another part of the Birkwood story still shrouded in mystery – the fate of the McKirdy Treasures.

Said the spokesman: “Birkwood was at one time not only a home for the McKirdys but a museum filled with interesting artefacts.

“Inside Birkwood were a number of finds made in and around Lesmahagow, including some of the carved 12th Ferrera swords of the 17th century and a small bell which was found near Birkwood which dates back to the era of early Christianity, about the eighth century AD or even earlier, maybe even to the time of St Machute himself.

“This saint, of course, gave Lesmahagow its name.

“Another local find of the McKirdy collection was a crude bronze item that was supposed to be of a horse ; this would be Iron Age. This indeed is a very rare item.

”Also inside Birkwood were a number of late 17th century stained glass windows which were purchased by the McKirdy family .

“The illustrated window came from the Chur Valley in Switzerland and dates to 1675, during the Covenanting times in Scotland.

“The top of the window shows nine gentlemen and a women, perhaps the sons and daughter of Gregory Scherer who was a magistrate in the Chur Valley.

“The society would be grateful to hear about the whereabouts of these items.”

So can you solve the mystery? Have a look in the attic or your garden shed; perhaps some of the McKirdy Treasures ended up there!