Craigend Castle and Zoo – Mugdock Country Park

Our ‘Document of the Month’ for December was compiled by our volunteer Melissa Lonie

Mugdock Country Park consists of about 700 acres and is graced by the remains of two castles; the 14th century Mugdock Castle and Craigend Castle, although the latter’s title is something of a misnomer. Situated on what was the Craigend estate, purchased by the Smith family in the mid-17th Century, it was initially a somewhat plain country house built by John Smith (1724-1812).

Apparently his son, James, considered its simplicity unsatisfactory and sought to make significant augmentations to the house. Reputedly, plans for these elaborate extensions were created by James Smith of Jordanhill, which builder and architect Alexander Ramsay used as a basis for his work on the building. Around 1816-17, Ramsay had succeeded in transforming the country house into a highly decorative and fashionably Gothic style building, featuring towers, parapets, numerous arched windows and a grand entrance hall.

The house and its grounds are perhaps best known for their brief stint as a zoo in the 1940’s-50’s. Father and son Andrew and William Wilson purchased Craigend Castle in the 1940’s, presumably intending to establish the zoo from the very beginning. References to these plans can be seen in Town Planning Committee Minutes from 1947-1949.

The Craigend Castle Botanical Zoological Park opened on 15th April 1949 to great success, and possibly resulted in Andrew Wilson’s plans to have a car park built on the grounds. This can be seen in Stirling County Council Town Planning Committee minutes in 1949.

The zoo housed around 2000 animals including various species of big cats, exotic birds, and the star of the zoo; an Indian Elephant known as “Big Charlie”. In addition to viewing the animals, guests could visit tea rooms inside the castle itself or ride on the miniature railway. Sadly, its initial success did not last and the zoo closed its doors for the last time c.1954-55.

Today, Craigend Castle stands roofless and derelict and is included on the Buildings at Risk Register. It is believed to have first shown signs of deterioration shortly after the zoo’s closure in the 50’s and 60’s. Since then, Mother Nature has gradually enveloped the remains of the former country house, further compromising its structural integrity.

In 1981, the castle and estate were gifted to the Central Regional Council by Sir Hugh Fraser to be used as a country park. While the park is still open to the public, the castle has been rendered inaccessible due to its instability and the Council, although unwilling to have it demolished, reported in 1990 that restoration would be too costly. There have been plans within the past decade to sell the building and have it turned into a home or community facility, although none of these plans have come to fruition. The Council appears to remain reluctant to demolish Craigend Castle, but it is unknown what its future holds.