Camelon House

also known as New Hall or Mansion House

SMR 1049                                                                                                           NS 867 801

Dorrator estate was for centuries the property of the Callendar family, but around 1754 it was acquired by James Burns, one of Scotland’s two Principal Clerks to the Bills serving in the House of Commons.  In 1758 he built himself a new mansion to the south-west of the newly created village of Camelon.

Camelon Mansion House
Illus: Camelon Mansion House built in 1758.

Camelon House was in the latest style and consisted of a large square block requiring two roof ridges.  It faced east towards Falkirk and the main facade contained four large Venetian windows disposed symmetrically around a central pedimented doorway.  Above the door was a narrow arched window set below a low moulded pediment that broke out from an eaves course.  An ashlar plinth course added to the gravitas.  In size it was just a bit bigger than the nearby house at Tophill, the home of Captain Andrew Russell.  The facade was emphasised by curving wing walls that joined at either corner and created a forecourt.  The main drive entered this forecourt from the north where it originated at the Main Street in Camelon.  It continued south towards Tamfour and Glenfuir.  The service courtyard containing the outbuildings and a doocot lay on the north side of the House; a walled garden and orchard to the south.  The grounds were planted with tree-lined avenues to the north, south and east.

James Burns also looked at exploiting the minerals of the estate.  Coal was found and its extraction was considered to be potentially profitable.  At this point he decided to sell the southern part of his lands as a going concern, retaining the old house of Dorrator and the area around it.  In July 1759 the Caledonian Mercury advertised:

To be sold, THE lands of CAMELON, including Thomfuir, New-House, and South Bankhead… There is upon the above Lands, a neat well finished House, which has a very fine situation, and consists of seven Fire rooms and a Kitchen, & c. with proper Office-houses, all in good Order…  The Lands in general are very improveable, particularly the Lands of Thomfuir, consisting of about 60 Acres, Pasture Ground (commonly called the Moor, but of good Soil) and about 50 Acres, rich arable Grounds, which tho’ lying within a Mile of the Town of Falkirk’s Dung, is at present rented something below 22L. Sterl.

There is a Coal within the Lands, for a nine Years Tack of which a good Tenant has proposed to lease a regular going Coal-work, at the expiration thereof, free of all Charges to the Proprietor, and, in the mean time, after the first three years, to pay yearly 500 Merks, and 100 Horse Loads Coals of Tack-duty, and 50 Merks more for each Pick employed above five… If the Lands are not sold soon, the Proprietor will commune with any Person inclining to have a Tack of the Mansion-house and inclosed Grounds in his Possession.”

Ordnance Survey Map of Camelon
Illus: 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map of Camelon House.

The land concerned is shaded grey on the plan of the original feus.  The purchaser was Major John Chalmers (born 14 October 1709) whose career had been in the Royal Artillery.  Major Chalmers took a great interest in local matters and in March 1768 he was appointed to the committee for managing the affairs of the Company of the Forth and Clyde Navigation.  His interest in this venture was personal as John Smeaton, the engineer tasked with taking it forward, had just produced a suggested line.  Starting near Carron Iron Works it was proposed that the canal should follow the lie of the land, noting: “From Carron-shore to Tophill, a little below Camelon bridge, the ground is gently rising, and accommodated as well as possible for a canal.  From thence to the point above Camelon between New Hall and Glenfuir, the ground rises near 60 feet in half a mile, and is more uneven…”  New Hall was Camelon House.

Feu Plan
Illus: Feu Plan of c1760.

The new canal cut through his lands and a tall stone wall was built along the side of the towpath where it passed his house.  A slightly recessed gateway with square piers surmounted by raised obelisks was placed on the south drive at the east end of this wall overlooking Lock 16.  The grounds were evidently well maintained and upon taking possession he appointed Alexander Marr of Turreff as his gardener.

In 1768 Major Chalmers assumed the name of Fergusson for inheritance purposes. He married Anne, daughter of William Comrie of Comrie, Perthshire.  Major John Chalmers Ferguson died 6 July 1780 at Camelon House.  Mrs Chalmers died there on 7 Oct 1789.  Their only child, Johanna Fergusson of Isle, married Michael, son of Sir Michael Bruce of Stenhouse, Bart.  After his death she remarried, this time to Captain Selkirk Stewart of the 4th Fencibles, (contract, 4th June 1798), who assumed the name of Fergusson.  Captain Selkirk Stewart of 1st Bn of Breadalbane Fencibles died at Camelon House on 20 February 1799.  Mrs Fergusson died on 10 May 1831 without issue and was succeeded by her cousin who disposed of the lands in Camelon.

Water rights to supply the House were confirmed in 1810:

And farther with the power privilege and servitude of conducting by a proper level, in such manner as should be found expedient either below or above ground, such share of the water of the Rivulet in the Farm of Tomfuir, as the said John Chalmers or his wife, or their said daughter or her foresaids might find necessary for the purposes of their family at the Mansion House upon the Lands disponed, with full power and liberty also as occasion might require to repair and amend the pipe  or conduit conveying the said water, but under this declaration that the said John Chalmers or his said wife or their daughter, and her foresaids should be bound and obliged to pay to the said James Burns or to his heirs or disponees or their tenants, whatever damage the grounds of the farm of Tomfuir remaining with them, should suffer from the operations to be made thereon..”

The formation of a bing at Greenbank caused pollution to the open leat used to convey the water in this area and so a lead pipe was installed.  The spring head at the rivulet was also modified to provide a head of water – first by sinking a barrel into the ground and later constructing a brick reservoir.  This part of Tamfour Farm became incorporated into South Bantaskine estate

Camelon Mansion Doocot (1)
Illus: The Doocot and Gateway at Camelon House looking north-west with hay ricks and the new Carmuirs School in the background.

The doocot (SMR 15) was situated 10m north of the House on the northern boundary wall of the courtyard and adjacent to its entrance gateway which in style reflected that of the south gate.  The small two-storey building was based on an octagonal plan.  The upper storey had windows in each side, blind except for a larger window/door over the entrance.  The walls were of coursed random rubble with dressed quoins and a simple cornice; the door and windows margins backset to accommodate harling.  The roof was slated in the form of a pavilion and the dove holes were placed in a dormer facing SSE.

Camelon Mansion Doocot (2)
Illus: The Doocot just before demolition. The pyramidal finial has been removed from the gate column and a shed built in the courtyard.

The style of the doocot suggests that it was not an original feature of the 1758 House and may date to around 1800.

House and its parks were acquired by John Baird of Camelon and his wife Mary Dunlop in 1826.  John Baird was a writer to the signet and did his business from 4 Circus Place West, Edinburgh.  He was a director of the New Town Markets Company, the Edinburgh Gas Light Co. and the Scottish Equitable Assurance Soc.  He also became a director of the Caledonian Insurance Co. and the Sea Insurance Company of Scotland.

Camelon Mansion (2)
Illus: Camelon House looking WSW. The two women in the doorway may be the Bairds.

John Baird’s daughter, Eliza, married Alexander Campbell Beatson, Captain 2nd Regiment Bengal Native Infantry in December of the year that he acquired the House.  The family, however, do not seem to have spent much time there and the property was rented out.  The first of a long series of residents were the Walker family followed by the Dicksons.  James Wardrobe Dickson was the Sheriff-Substitute for Falkirk from 1834 until around 1843.  One of the tenants was William Morehead who was certainly in residence by 1849.   When, upon the death of his wife, he left this part of the country in May 1855 he left £5 with Rev Begg for charitable purposes.  The style in which and his wife had lived in Camelon can be gauged by their furniture:

SALE OF THE HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE, PIANOFORTE, PICTURES, BOOKS, & c, & c., AT CAMELON HOUSE, ON FRIDAY THE 18TH MAY.  To be Sold by Public Roup, at Camelon House, near Falkirk, on Friday the 18th day of May, 1855, A LARGE PORTION of the excellent HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE and other Effects which belonged to the late Mrs MOREHEAD of Camelon House, comprising – a capital Set of Spanish Mahogany Dining Tables, Mahogany Sideboard, 10 Mahogany Dining-Room Chairs,

12  DRAWING-ROOM CHAIRS, 8 Parlour Chairs, 2 Dozen Bedroom Chairs, 2 Sofas in Green Damask, a richly-toned

GRAND SQUARE PIANOFORTE, several Mahogany Dour-Posted and Tent Bedsteads, in Scarlet, Moreen, and other Curtains, with Feather Beds, Hair, Wool, and Straw Mattresses; 6 Chests of Mahogany and Wainscot Drawers, Mahogany

TEA, CARD, PEMBROKE, AND TOILET TABLES;

Washing Stands with Ware, Dressing Glasses, a Mahogany Library or Consulting Table, a Book-case and a considerable number of capital Books;

SEVERAL MAGNIFICENT ENGRAVINGS,

In Rosewood and Gilt frames, including “The Waterloo Banquet,” “Prince Charles Edward’s entry into Edinburgh,” and other fine Engravings; Mahogany What-not, an Eight-day Clock, Brass and Steel Fenders and Fire irons, Carpets and Floor Cloths, set of Dish Covers, Brass Preserve pans, Cooking Utensils, Dishes, & c, & c.  Likewise, an excellent laundry mangle, and numerous other articles.  JAMES NEILSON, Auctioneer.” (FH 17 May 1855, 1).

The next year Daniel Fullerton was the occupant.  The next tenant was John Smith who owned the Camelon Iron Works.

Entrance Gates
Illus: The South Entrance Gates facing Lock 16 with Union Road to the right.

John Baird died around 1852 and his daughters Elizabeth Beatson and Mary Baird inherited.    Eliza Beatson, the last surviving daughter of John Baird died on 3 February 1891.  It was their Trustees who eventually sold the land for feuing in the late 1890s – leading to a spate of building along Union Road and at the end of the north drive on Main Street.  A large parcel was purchased by the Camelon School Board and Carmuirs School built upon it, opening in 1902.  In 1901 the Roman Bar was built at the original entrance off Camelon Main Street.  Falkirk Town Council then purchased the land around the school and to its west, but it was 1927 before planning permission was given to build 96 houses there.  Camelon House was demolished in preparation and the area became part of the social housing development forming the west side of Mansionhouse Road which was named after it.

G.B. Bailey (2020)