Clan Pollock

From The Historian's Corner

In The Beginning - 
The Earthwork Fort At Pollok

Our family took its name, Pollock, from the place name of an area along the Whitecart River in Renfrewshire bordering on what is now the southwestern edge of the city of Glasgow. In present day maps you will find the name Pollockshaws assigned to the northern portion of this area, including Pollock Country Park where the Maxwells of Pollock have their family seat - at Pollock House. It was known from ancient times as Pollok, long before our progenitors arrived there. The name comes from the words "pol" for a slow moving stream or pool, and "ok" for the oak forests native to the area.

In the second half of the 12th century when Peter, son of Fulbert, was first granted the lands of Pollok by Walter FitzAlan, the first Steward of Scotland, it was no doubt mostly forested and rather sparsely inhabited. We have almost no information about the existing populace and prior chieftans of the area, but we can safely assume that they were resentful and suspicious of the new foreign authorities that had been thrust upon them by King David. As vassal to Walter, the new laird of Pollok was expected to take control of the area and provide armed troops in support of his overlord's causes when called on. There was, however, no ready castle or fortification of the type whose remnants we now see all over Scotland in which to take up residence as his seat of power. Those were built in a later period. Peter and the other followers of Walter FitzAlan in Renfrew, as well as Walter himself, were therefore faced with an immediate problem of establishing secure bases from which they could begin to exercise their power.

What did they do? It was not practical to immediately set about building full size, stone-walled fortresses at that time. That would have been far too labor intensive, expensive, and time consuming. In this initial period of Scottish feudalization something far more modest would have had to suffice, but something that was effectively defensible. The logical choice would most likely have been a simple earthwork and timber fortification which could be constructed with relative ease. Such structures were indeed built by the earliest Norman followers of King David in southern Scotland, but they are not easily discernible today, more than eight centuries later, because they were abandoned for grander dwellings and left to the ravages of time and weather.

But nature has not erased all trace of these early earthwork forts. Not only is it still possible find the remains of some of them today but it is entirely possible that the first actual residence of the sons of Fulbert in Pollok is among these! In fact, there is an earthwork formation on the original lands of Pollok which is a strong candidate for this honor. It has not been recognized as such, and I have never visited it, but it is real enough - let me explain.

An article entitled "The Earthwork at Camphill in Glasgow", by H. Fairhurst and J. G. Scott, published in the Proceedings of Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Volume LXXXV, p.146 (1950-51), recently came to my attention. It describes the archaeological investigation of an earthwork formation on a drumlin (elongated hill or ridge) at Camphill which is at the eastern edge of Pollockshaws, adjacent to Langside, site of the last battle in the cause of Mary, Queen of Scots. It is located near the crest of the drumlin from which "on a clear day it is possible to see far down the River Clyde past Dumbarton to the Argyll Hills….the site would form a superb signaling station or beacon." What the archaeological excavations revealed, which was a surprise, was that the "camp," as it is called, did not date back to an Iron Age or Roman era origin as had been expected, but to the late medieval period, precisely the time that Walter FitzAlan was given the lands of Renfrew by David I. It seems only logical to conclude that this particular fort or camp was erected either at the direction of Walter himself or by whichever of his vassals was given this particular piece of land. It is not this earthwork at Camphill that might have been the first home of Peter and Robert of Pollok, but another one located not far to the West. At the end of the article the authors make the following observation: "The possibility of the ditch being the primary feature was suggested by a visit to a site one and a half miles to the west of Camphill, in the North Wood of Pollok House (Nat. Grid ref 26/557627). This is again located on a drumlin…. A medieval date is almost certainly indicated for this 'fort' at Pollok."

This description points to a site on the north side of the Whitecart squarely within the lands of Pollok that were first granted by Walter FitzAlan to Peter of Pollok sometime in the final third of the 12th century. Although this area was later taken over by the Maxwell family and came to be known as Nether Pollock and seat of the Maxwells of Pollock, such was not the case at the outset. The Maxwells did not enter this area until about a century after its initial enfoefment, and Pollok was not divided into its Upper and Lower (Nether) portions before the Maxwells' arrival. This was the original foef of Pollok. See for example "A History of Mearns Parsh", J. A. Strang, 1939, p.264. But if it indeed dates to the late medieval era, as Fairhurst strongly believes, who else could have ordered its construction but the new laird of the land on which it was erected? It seems almost certain therefore that this modest earthwork on the drumlin in the North Wood of Pollock House was in fact the first seat of our Pollock family.

The Royal Commission of Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) maintains the National Monuments Register of Scotland, with detailed information about more than 7000 ancient structures. Among them is the earthwork in the Pollock Country Park, which is identified as NS56SE 33 and located on the National Grid Reference at NS 5566 6263. Following is the description of this structure in the Register:

This earthwork comprises a roughly circular enclosure some 30.0m in diameter, surrounded by a deep moat 9.0m wide, interrupted on the E side by a causeway, 8.0m in width. But for a modern drainage cut, this moat would fill with water. There are traces of inner and outer banks formed by upcast from the ditch. The whole earthwork is densely covered by trees and shrubs.

H Fairhurst and J G Scott 1953; Visited by OS (J L D) 1 April 1954. Excavations carried out by Glasgow Archaeol Soc in 1959-60 showed that a roughly circular house, 16' in internal diameter, with a well-made, central post socket had stood just S of the centre of the enclosure. Its site had been levelled by removing earth and placing cobbles. An inner foundation kerb of stone was found under the inner bank of the enclosure, and the entrance causeway was paved and kerbed. Finds include three stones with incomplete perforation, two perforated shale discs, and the upper stone of a rotary quern.

Talbot (1973) suggests that this feature, comparable with others in the vicinity (NS46SE 3, NS56SW 4, and NS56SE 32) was a Norman ring-work.

Thus, this earthwork is clearly identified with the first Norman overlords of the area. A quick check of the map shows that the site of the Pollok fort is strategically located very much like the Camphill fort, only further to the West. Situated as it is on a drumlin, with appropriate clearing of trees it too would no doubt have had a fine view up the Clyde estuary and stood guardian on the western flank of Walter FitzAlan's Renfreshire fiefdom.

John F. Polk, Ph.D.
Clan Pollock International
First published in the May 2007 Pollag.



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *