In 1916 her father died – the family had moved to Stirling in 1906 when her father had been appointed Sheriff Substitute of Stirling – and the family split. Her oldest sister stayed at the family house in Stirling, Miss Elizabeth, her mother and two younger sisters moved to their property in Biggar. Langlees had been bought by Grandfather Mitchell in 1863 on the advice of his younger brother, William, who lived at Carwood, north of Biggar.
The land around Biggar had been owned by the Flemings of Boghall Castle for centuries – they had come over with William the Conqueror. In 1451, the King realized that the Flemings had suffered a grave injustice when Malcolm Fleming had been wrongfully executed some years earlier. In compensation, the King created Biggar a Burgh of Barony. Mary Fleming, cousin and playmate to Mary, Queen of Scots, was one of the “Four Maries”. In 1563 Mary Fleming was Queen for a Day at an Epiphany celebration and this is still celebrated in Biggar. Miss Elizabeth crowned the Fleming Queen in 1930.
In 1747 the last Fleming died and Lord Elphinstone inherited the land. In this period the land around Biggar was reclaimed with the building of stone dykes and the planting of trees. The Town of Biggar grew from 1,098 in 1760 to 2,049 in 1851. Biggar grew in prosperity with a number of banks opening, a number of fairs being held each year, (as they continued the tradition from the time of the granting of burgh status in 1451); the establishment of the gasworks, the replacement of the rat-infested Meal House with the Corn Exchange. But most of all, Biggar’s prosperity was enhanced by the coming of the railway. Lord Elphinstone had sold off parcels of land and large houses became a feature of the land around Biggar – Langlees was built in 1890 by the famous architect George Washington-Browne for Andrew Mitchell on the estate bought by her grandfather many years earlier.
Miss Elizabeth remained in Biggar until 1964 when she moved to the house in Stirling that had been occupied by her sister until her death. Her two remaining sisters moved to a bungalow in Biggar and Langlees was sold to Lord Clydesmuir.
During her long stay in Biggar, Miss Elizabeth developed the edge of her estate which was adjacent to the Town, next to the Knock housing estate, into a little woodland. With her knowledge of the development of garden cities in England, she believed that open spaces, parks and woodlands should be planted where people worked and lived for a happier, healthier lifestyle. She carried this policy through in the development of East Kilbride in the 1940s and 50s.
After her death, what we now know as “Little Mitchellwood” had fallen into a state of great neglect. In 2004, the present Lord Clydesmuir granted a 50 year lease for Little Mitchellwood to the newly formed charity Biggar & District Community Heritage Limited. In the past year volunteers have developed plans and worked on the conservation of the woodland as an asset for the Community, to be enjoyed by all. The woodland will be officially opened to the public at the end of August 2006. I think Miss Elizabeth would have appreciated the work done in her name.
We hope you will enjoy your visit to Little Mitchellwood and will think of the lady whose vision made it all possible. There is more information about Miss Mitchell lodged in the Biggar Museum at Moat Park.
Joan Keys – July 2006
We would like to acknowledge the help and advice offered by Biggar Museums and Mr Brian Lambie.