Carronvale House

Originally known as Broomage or South Broomage House, Carronvale was probably built around 1800 by Alexander Brown junior of Broomage, or his son, James. It does not appear on Roy’s map of 1755. The Browns had held half of the lands of Broomage for some time but it was only in 1777 that Alexander Brown bought the other half from Robert Chalmers. The house was built in the southern portion of Broomage on a slight south-facing slope just to the north of the lade constructed in 1760 by the Carron Company to feed water from the River Carron into its dams. It lay on the east side of a minor road between the villages of Camelon and Broomage which crossed the river by the King’s Ford at Dorrator. From the ford another road branched off to the left to Larbert. The early house seems to have been a typical well-to-do two-storey farmhouse of the period with a symmetrical south façade having a central doorway and a window to either side, with three windows on the first floor. The doorway was enhanced by the provision of pilasters and a consoled cornice. To its west a quadrangular stable block was constructed and is shown on Grassom’s map. It had opposing tall arched entrances on the south and north. Trees were also planted around the policy. James Brown was an agent of the Falkirk Union Bank and was appointed a captain in the newly formed Falkirk Loyal Volunteers on 29 June 1803. In 1818 Broomage was sequestered as a result of the failure of the bank. The seventy acre estate and the mansion were offered for sale at an upset price of £1,900.

Illus 2: Extract from Grassom’s Map of 1817.

The house and lands were sold in 1819 to the Honourable Duncan Robertson of Roehill in Perthshire.  Duncan Robertson was a doctor of medicine and made his fortune in Jamaica where he became a member of the Legislative Council – hence the title of Honourable.   He used part of his fortune to add two single-storey wings with south-facing bay windows to the house.  That on the east was the dining room and also had a bay window on its east side. Some of the interior hardwood for the house was imported from the family estate in Jamaica called ‘Friendship’.  A lodge house was erected at the entrance.  It was also at this time that the grounds were extensively laid out and the two walled gardens placed to the north of the house.  Further tree planting took place and it is possible that the yew which stands to the south-east of the house and the two wellingtonia on the southern axis belong to this period.  The changes created a small country seat and called for a change in the name of the estate and house to ‘Carronvale.’  This had more of a poetic ring to it, but unfortunately was already the name of a small mansion in Denny.  Duncan Robertson became a Justice of the Peace for the county and sat on the courts at Falkirk.  On 17 March 1823 Carronvale House provided a suitable venue for the marriage of Duncan’s daughter, Louisa Ann Robertson, to Rev. Kelly of Southend.  It must have seemed that the family had become part of the established minor aristocracy and the Hon Duncan Robertson MD of Carronvale had his portrait painted by Sir Henry Raeburn.

Illus 3: The Original Lodge with later Extensions.

However, Dr Robertson did not have long to enjoy the fruits of his labours and he died prematurely in 1824 leaving Carronvale to his eldest son, Duncan Stewart Robertson, who was only three years old  and so the house, fully furnished, was offered for rent in 1826 and again in 1827, via solicitors Russell & Aitken.

“FURNISHED HOUSE IN STIRLINGSHIRE TO BE LET.  To be Let for such number of years as may be agreed on, and entered to at Whitsunday first.

THE MANSION HOUSE, OFFICES, GARDEN, and LAWN of CARRONVALE, with whatever number of Grass Parks a tenant may incline.  Carronvale lies within about two miles of Falkirk, and is delightfully situated on the banks of the River Carron.  The mansion house (which is modern) contains dining-room, drawing-room, parlour, library, and a number of bed-rooms and other conveniences, all in the best order, having been lately painted and thoroughly repaired.  The offices are large and complete.  The garden contains upwards of a Scots acre, well enclosed with brick walls, and completely stocked with fruit trees in full bearing.  And, on the whole, few such comfortable situations for a summer residence are to be met with.

There is a post office in the near neighbourhood, and several stage coaches pass within a few minutes’ walk; and the Edinburgh and Glasgow track boats are also quite at hand.

The furniture of the dwelling house is elegant and substantial, and nearly new.”

(The Scotsman 15 February 1826, 4).

When he came of age Duncan S Robertson received a commission in the 31st Regiment.  He served in India and whilst there he met his future wife, Harriette Anne Mary, the third daughter of Hon Colonel David Ogilvy of Clova.  They were married on 18 September 1844.  After bearing two children she died on 23 April 1849.  Meanwhile Captain Duncan Robertson became a JP.  Goods for Carronvale House were supplied from the town of Falkirk and this, naturally, included a quantity of beer from James Aitken and Co.  Late one summer afternoon, shortly after five o’clock, Alexander Hamilton of the Falkirk Brewery had delivered the goods and was returning via the ford over the River Carron.  It was June in 1856 and the river was swollen with recent rains.  The horse, man and cart were swept away.  The alarm was only raised when the horse was seen swimming near Carron Bridge about two miles downriver.  The body of Hamilton was found around 7am the next day.

Illus 4: The Robertson Enclosure at Larbert Parish Churchyard.

Captain Robertson, like his father, died young.  On 20 October 1856 he breathed his last at Lochmaben Manse aged only 35.  His will stipulated that all of his possessions should be divided equally between his two young children, Donald and Julia.  Consequently Carronvale was put on the market:

 “BEAUTIFUL SMALL ESTATE NEAR LARBERT TO BE SOLD/ THE ESTATE OF CARRONVALE, consisting of nearly 100 Acres of the finest Land.

There is an Excellent and Commodious Modern Mansion House, beautifully situated for a genteel family, with complete set of offices and Large Walled Garden.  The Plantations are ornamental and thriving.  The Farm is at present Let to an enterprising and respectable tenant, but arrangements may be made for the Proprietor to resume possession, if desired.

So eligible and desirable a Small Estate seldom comes into the market.  The Lodge is about half a mile from Larbert Railway Station, from which there is easy access in an hour to Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The Boundaries of the Property will be shown by Mr Ronald, the Tenant of the Farm.”

(Glasgow Herald 24 November 1856, 2).

The sale of the house and 93 acres of land took place on 4 February 1859 at the upset price £7,800.

Illus 5: Ordnance Survey Map of 1865.

The layout of the mansion house and its associated designed landscape at this period is shown on the first edition Ordnance Survey map.  The lodge house is located near the south-west corner of the policy next to the entrance to the tree-lined drive which ran parallel to the lade before curving northwards towards the house.  It then passed in front of the house with the lawn on its right before continuing around the back of the house to the stables.  In front of the stables is a stone-lined crescent-shaped detour which might have been a coach wash.  The lade was screened by trees and a woodland path ran alongside this screen.  The walled gardens were laid out with paths – the western garden probably being for vegetables and the eastern for flowers and fruit trees.  To their west was a paddock for the horses and milk cows to graze in.  A service drive led from the main road to this paddock and the north side of the stables and the walled gardens.

Carronvale was bought in April 1857 by John Bell Sherriff.  He had family connections with the area because his father, George Sherriff, had worked with Carron Company and then with James Watt the steam engineer before going to Russia.  John Bell Sherriff was born in St Petersburg in 1821 and came to Scotland when he reached the age of 21 and was employed by his uncle, Christopher Bell, a tea merchant.  He lived with his uncle at Abbotshaugh House.  He subsequently entered into business as a distiller and married Flora Taylor whose father was a merchant in Islay.  He was successful enough to acquire a distillery in Campbeltown.

John Bell Sherriff was a staunch supporter of the volunteer movement and in 1862 became the first captain of the 12th Stirlingshire Rifle Volunteers.  He was soon forced to retire due to age and other commitments but undertook much of the administration of the unit.  In July 1869 65 rank and file, as well as the band, of the 12th Stirlingshire (Carron) Rifle Volunteers proceeded to Carronvale under the command of Lt Gillespie.  They marched round the mansion house and drew up in the front of the door.  Each had 15 rounds of blank cartridge and performed a variety of manoeuvres consisting of file and volley firing, manual and platoon exercise and skirmishing.  Gooseberries from the garden were supplied as part of the refreshments.

Illus 6: Carronvale House, c1863. On the left are George and Margaret Sherriff with the pony. On the right John Bell Campbell in his Volunteer’s uniform. In the background the gardener scythes the grass whilst his wife (?) rakes it and puts it in the wooden wheelbarrow.

After seven years at Carronvale John Bell Sherriff decided to take over the running of Carronvale Farm from his tenant, Mr Ronald.  Consequently, in February 1864, ploughs operated by his neighbours turned out to do a friendly day’s ploughing for him.

Illus 7: The Lade at Carronvale looking East.

The lade to the south had originally been used by the Carron Company to take castings from the foundry in the east to grinding mills in the west, and then to return them for onward delivery.  By the 1850s this was no longer the case and some of the houses on its north bank were able to construct private bridges over it.  They also sailed pleasure boats along it and in 1871 a boat owned by John Sherriff and moored at Carronvale had its lug sail stolen.

John Sherriff had his father’s mementoes at Carronvale which included a gold snuff box presented by Tsar Alexander and medals from Tsar Nicholas.  He also had a handsome desk gifted by James Watt when he left the firm of Boulton and Watt for Russia.  Fire was a constant threat to such items and in March 1884 a fire broke out in a bedroom in Carronvale House.  The alarm was instantly raised and the gardener and a few willing hands succeeded in confining the flames to the room.  Meanwhile the Falkirk Fire Brigade was telegraphed and arrived in the course of half an hour.  They removed all of the burning material and in a short time the fire was out.  A large mirror, the carpet and the woodwork and painting were destroyed giving damage estimated at £200.

Carronvale House was kept up to date and in 1890 John Sherriff erected telephone poles from Stenhouse to Carronvale.  He was also instrumental in getting the county council to construct a footbridge at the ford across the River Carron in 1893.

John Sherriff was involved in the local community.  He was an honorary president of the Stirlingshire Liberal Association, supported the Scottish Institution for Imbecile Children based at Larbert and was a member of the Glasgow and Stirling Sons of the Rock Society.  He was also a Justice of the Peace.  He often made financial contributions to these and other good causes and his wife and children helped with their time.  His daughter, Margaret, did painting and her work sold well at church bazaars.  She was one of the prime movers in establishing the Nursing Institution of Larbert Parish.  In 1880 she married William Kinross Gair of Kilns House but died shortly afterwards.  John Sherriff continued to support the local nursing association and left a bequest for that purpose. 

John Sherriff continued to amass money from further investments.  By the time of his death at the age of 75 on 5 November 1896 he had set up JB Sherriff &Company (Jamaica) Ltd to manage his sugar plantations and rum distillery in Jamaica.  He had set up a trust to manage his affairs which also included investments in railways in the United States of America and South America, mines and shipping companies, and a considerable amount of property in Glasgow and central Scotland.  The property included Stenhouse, bought in 1888, Kersie near Airth and Kingairloch in Ayrshire.  Amongst the many gifts laid out in his will he left £20 to those servants at Carronvale who had been in his service not more than five years, and £40 to those who had been there longer.

Illus 8: Art Nouveau Water Hopper with the Date 1897.

George Sherriff inherited the estate.  In September 1883 he had married Catherine Jane Nimmo of Westbank, Falkirk.  Catherine and George went on to have six living children. Flora was born in 1887, John George in 1891, Edith Mary in 1892, Alexander Nimmo in 1885, Christopher Bell in 1896 and George in 1898.  In 1888 George Sherriff had taken part of the Carronvale estate on the west side of Carronvale Road to build a large house designed for him by Thomas Lennox Watson in the English Arts and Craft style which he called Woodcroft. 

Upon inheriting Carronvale House he decided to modernise it and hired an old friend from his days at Blairlodge School to remodel it.  This was the celebrated architect Sir John James Burnet.  Work began in the summer of 1897 and was completed by 1900 when a series of record photographs were taken.

Illus 9: The South Façade of Carronvale House. The central bay with three upper floor windows and the entrance door formed the main block before 1820, the bay windows were added at that time and heightened in 1897.

G.B Bailey (2020)