Kersehill was a name invented in the late eighteenth century for a small estate established on the slightly rising ground above the Carse or Kerse of Falkirk. It lay to the north of the town of Falkirk beyond the old common muir on the north side of Dalderse Road, which here later became Etna Road.
Illus 2: The Estate of Kersehill in 1834.
In 1782 Michael Ramsay, son of Alexander Ramsay, shoemaker and postmaster of Falkirk, purchased the land from Colonel Adam Livingstone of Bantaskine on behalf of his brother, Alexander Ramsay, merchant, Falkirk. The lands then purchased lay on both sides of the Forth and Clyde Canal which had been newly dug, the portion on the south side and on part of which Kersehill was erected consisted of a little under eight acres of arable land, and that on the north side of that waterway extending to two acres two roods and thirty-three falls, also of arable land. Typically, it was a narrow strip of land arranged perpendicularly to the contours with the northern boundary formed by the Bainsford Burn and the public road the southern. The eastern boundary was straight, but the western curved outwards as its southern end reflecting the shape of an agricultural rig ploughed by oxen. It must have been shortly after 1782 that Kersehill House was erected by Alexander Ramsay, merchant, as in that year the old family home at Mungal was sold to Captain Charles Napier who changed its name to Merchiston Hall. In recording a marriage of Jane Ramsay, Alexander’s eldest daughter, in 1814, the ceremony is said to have taken place at “Carsehill,” and forty years later in another public announcement it is named “Karsehill,” providing us with the correct pronunciation of the name.
The mansion was similar to that at Brockville (dated 1831) – the main south façade was symmetrical having a central hooded doorway with a window to either side and three on the upper floor. The wall was topped by a large, moulded eaves course, echoed by a plainer string course below. The corners were framed by panelled pilasters whose vertical lines were continued upwards by chimney stacks to either side of the slated hipped roof. Another chimney stack was placed in the centre of the gabled central wing on the north side of the house. A large orchard was planted on the east side of the drive to the south of the house and a walled garden for vegetables and flowers was placed on the other side of the drive. The two fields between the house and the canal were reserved for grazing and milk cows were kept. A suite of offices arranged around a courtyard, open to the north, was built north of the walled garden and screened from the house by shrubbery.
Alexander Ramsay married Christina, daughter of James Rattray who had served in the Jacobite forces at Culloden as a major. On the establishment of the Falkirk Banking Company in 1787 he became a partner and, at a later date, the cashier. He was a pillar of the community and in May 1813 subscribed to the relief of those who had suffered in Russia by the invasion of the French. At the same time he also gave money for the building of the new Steeple in Falkirk town centre. As a prominent landowner he was asked to serve on the Grand Jury for the preliminary trial of Baird and Hardie following the failed insurrection of 1820. On the Falkirk Banking Company giving up business in 1826, Alexander Ramsay received a substantial pay out and it was probably then that a single-storey extension was added to the north side of Kersehill House and given a battlemented top. The extension was wrapped around the east and north sides of the north wing and extended beyond its north-west corner to provide an open court on the west side.
In 1826 the Bank of Scotland established a branch in the old bank’s premises and the services of Ramsay and his son, also Alexander, were retained as joint-agents. They retired from office in 1830, and were succeeded by Alexander Macfarlane who owned the adjoining estate of Thornhill. On the north side of the Forth and Clyde Canal they erected Castle Laurie Mill which was a huge grain mill with plenty of storage or warehouse space. Alexander Ramsay, senior, died at Kersehill on 8 September 1837, aged 86.
Like his grandfather Alexander Ramsay junior was the postmaster of Falkirk, until 1854. His father’s financial affairs had been in disarray when he had died and in 1845 his remaining assets were sequestered. Before that, however, Kersehill and its grounds had been handed over to the Bank of Scotland. Early in 1843 they were sold to Lieutenant-Colonel Archibald Inglis, formerly of the Honourable East India Company’s service, Madras. He was the son of Admiral John Inglis of Auchindiny, Langbyres and Redhall. The year after he moved in, Colonel Inglis married his second wife, Catherine Hartland. He was ordained an Elder in Falkirk Parish Church on 24 March 1844 but resigned that office after he left Kersehill in 1847 and moved to Carlingwark House, Stewartry of Kirkcudbright.
Falkirk Iron Company had been established in the second decade of the century and slowly grew in size. Its remorseless growth eventually encompassed most of the land in the vicinity. The leading partner at the time of its founding was John Hardie and on 16 August 1842 his youngest daughter, Janet, married Thomas Melville, wood merchant and shipping agent. Thomas Melville followed the business of his father and about 1840 was assumed as a partner with his elder brother, Robert, in the firm of Robert Melville & Co, St. John’s Sawmills, Grahamston. He resided at Gowan Cottage, Grahamston until 1847 when he purchased the house and lands of Kersehill. Robert died from cholera in 1854 leaving Thomas as sole partner and the business continued to thrive. He took little part in public affairs, being of a retiring disposition, but did support local charities both financially and with his time.
By 1852 the orchard at Kersehill was mature and in August that year it was let for commercial cropping. Thomas and Janet Melville had a family of four sons and six daughters, most of whom were brought up at Kersehill.
In the late 1860s the house was extended and modernised. A new bay was added to the west with a large apsidal window on the south façade. In the re-entrant angle to its east a single storey veranda-porch with square columns extended as far as the old doorway with two of the original first-storey windows opening onto its balustraded top. The third window and that to the east of the door were subsumed into a canted bay window. A moulded parapet wall was added at the wall-head and dotted with escutcheons over the windows. The panelled pilaster at the south-west corner seems to have been moved to the new corner in order to maintain the framing and both it and its opposing pilaster were continued through the parapet and finished with a finial. The architect was William Stirling (III). At the same time the old orchard was cleared and put under grass to provide a suitable lawn.
Illus 5: Kersehill House looking north-east.
Thomas Melville died at Kersehill on 30 December 1871 aged 61 years. On his death in 1884 his son, Archibald, left a legacy which paid for the stained-glass windows to be put into Falkirk Parish Church on either side of the pulpit in his parents’ memory.
The area around this grand mansion had continued to change. Falkirk Iron Works now occupied acres of land to the north-west and in 1875 Watson, Gow & Company acquired 12 acres of land on the estate of Thornhill to the east of Kersehill and constructed another iron foundry. The first cast was on 6 April 1877. Most of the sons moved away – Robert to Glasgow, John to Eriden House on Arnothill, Thomas to Glasgow, Archibald to Stirling – and their mother, Janet Hardie Melville, remained at Kersehill where she died on 10 July 1887. She happened to be away on the night that the census of 1881 was taken:
In September 1887 the “very superior high-class” furniture from the house was sold in Falkirk Town Hall at public auction by the Trustees the late Thomas Melville and the following month an advertisement appeared for the sale of the house:
“FOR SALE, the PROPERTY of KERSEHILL. in the Parish of Falkirk, containing 7 acres, 3 roods, 34 poles or thereby. The Dwelling-House is Modern and Commodious, and in good order. The offices are complete, and there is a large Enclosed garden. The Lands are bounded on the North by the Canal, and on the South-West the Railway runs close to the boundary, making the property a very valuable one for Feuing purposes…”(Falkirk Herald 19 November 1887)
The property was offered for sale in the Crown Hotel, Falkirk, at the upset price of £4,000, but failed to find a purchaser. It was March 1889 before Kersehill was sold to David Cowan, the energetic manager of Carron Company. A civil and mining engineer, he almost completely remodelled the Carrion Iron Works and broadened out the sphere of the activities of the company. Outside of work he took a keen interest in the affairs of the area and immediately became one of the original members of the Falkirk and Larbert Water Trust to which we owe the modern water supply. Due to his engineering experience he was made its convenor. Deeply interested in education he was responsible for the inauguration of art classes in the Carron School prior to their management being undertaken by the School Board. He was a Justice of the Peace for Stirlingshire and became a county councillor. Cowan had been at Carron Co for ten years when he bought Kersehill and may have seen it as a personal investment. Work had not been going well due to disagreements with board members and around 1890 Cowan became a director of the Joint Stock Gas Company in Falkirk.
In October 1892 Cowan resigned his post as manager at Carron and soon after was appointed the local consulting engineer during the rebuilding of the gas works at Bainsford Bridge. At the beginning of 1894 he set up practice as a consulting engineer in Glasgow and in February put Kersehill up for sale with the 8 acres of land. Once again it took some time to find a buyer and meantime the grazing was let. The gas works were taken over by Falkirk Council and before long it was looking for an alternative site capable of expansion. Ironically Kersehill was one of the sites it looked at. It was bored in 1896 but found to have running sand. That August Councillor Marshall purchased the property privately from David Cowan CE, including the mansion house and ground. He clearly had a grasp on the strategic position of the site. Trouble had been brewing for a few years as a result of the Falkirk Iron Company shunting its trucks over the level crossing at Dalderse Avenue and Falkirk Council had threatened to take action to reduce this hazardous undertaking. At the same time the Council itself was intending to develop a site further east along Dalderse Avenue for its new gas works. Within three months of his purchase Marshall had sold Kersehill to the Falkirk Iron Company. A new level crossing was introduced further to the east and that part of the grounds of Kersehill lying adjacent to the road was used for laying new rails, including a double section where shunting could take place away from the road. A large earth bunt was erected to the north of the railway to screen it from the house. At the same time the new arrangement allowed the railway company who owned the branch line to extend it to the new gas works. It was 1900 by the time that these arrangements had been completed.
Falkirk Iron Company had little interest in Kersehill House and immediately after purchasing it put it and the coachhouse with the garden up for let.
It was leased by Alexander Graham and his wife. Graham was an expert in machinery used in sugar production and spent many years in this line in Cuba. He subsequently worked in Ontario as an engineer before retiring in 1885. The couple then moved into Bathfield House, Vicar Street, which belonged to Mrs Graham, and in which she was born. On the property of Bathfield and grounds being acquired for the building of the Post Office and British Linen Bank they removed to Kersehill, where they resided for several years before moving to Merchiston Villa.
Illus 7: Major A M Kennard, 1904.
Major Arthur Molloy Kennard DSO, whose father owned the Falkirk Iron Company, retired from the armed services in 1903. From 1904 he lived at Kereshill and acted as the resident partner of the firm. He had had a distinguished military career, latterly serving in the South African War where he was twice wounded. Major Kennard became a Justice of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenant for the county of Stirling. In 1912 he married Evelyn Mary, eldest daughter of Lord David and Lady Mary Kennedy. Their home-coming was made the occasion of considerable rejoicing by the locals. The couple took a particular interest in the welfare of the Company’s workforce. Major A M Kennard was now the District Commissioner of the Boy Scouts and in July 1913 he invited the Falkirk and Laurieston troops to a garden party at Kersehill. After a sumptuous tea on the lawn, they were engaged in a “treasure hunt” which was quite a novelty, for six prizes in kind to the boys of each troop.
Illus 8: Car and Chauffeur at Kersehill, looking north-west.
The boys also gave an exhibition of ambulance work and signalling. This event set the tone for the next decade, as did the gift of a handsome silver rose bowl to be called the Kennard Trophy to the Grahamston and Bainsford Bowling Clubs. The trophy was to be competed for over a five years period. The couple frequently opened bazaars and fetes. When war broke out in 1914 Major Kennard re-enlisted in the Scottish Horse and was placed as second in command of the 2nd Battalion.
Illus 9: Lieutenant-Colonel A M Kennard, 1916.
In July 1915 he was promoted to the temporary rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and transferred to the 95th Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery, 21st Division. That September he was wounded at Loos and treated in a London hospital. He returned to the front in January 1916 to command a full brigade on the Somme, but was again wounded in September, and was invalided out as medically unfit. Major Kennard died at Kersehill on 2 January 1917 of pneumonia after a week’s illness. At his public military funeral in Grandsable Cemetery over 200 female and 300 male workers from the Falkirk Iron Company attended.
Evelyn Kennard busily occupied herself helping on the home front. In June 1915 she had run a garden party in the grounds of Kersehill House for the employees of the Falkirk Iron Company and their families. There was a programme of sporting events including miniature rifle shooting, archery, pitching and so on. Teas and cookery were available on the lawn to the accompaniment of a military brass band. The following month Mrs Kennard sent a gramophone and a large collection of records to the auxiliary hospital at Strawberry Cottage and the Falkirk Iron Company donated an enamelled bath.
At this time there was a large number of Territorials billeted in the poorhouse at Falkirk and so she entertained a goodly number of the poorhouse’s inmates at her residence. In 1918 the Falkirk Iron Company arranged for rooms in Kersehill House to be provided for the Voluntary Aid Detachment members working in the new military wards at Falkirk Hospital.
After the war Major A M Kennard’s son, Captain H J Kennard, ex Royal Navy, joined his mother at Kersehill and he continued the work of his parents. July 1920 saw another sports day held in the grounds for the employees of the ironworks. In December Captain Kennard unveiled the war memorial in the Falkirk West United Free Church. More opening of shows, bazaars, parades, games and the like followed. Captain Kennard became the honorary president of the Bainsford Bowling Club, as well as a Justice of the Peace and county councillor.
Almost every summer from now on there was to be a garden fete and/or a youth meeting in the grounds of Kersehill.
- June 1922 – Picnic for Brownies belonging to the Falkirk Pack and Young Helpers belonging to the Falkirk Habitation.
- June 1923 – grand garden fete and fancy fair in aid of funds for Christ Church.
- June 1924 – garden fete for the Falkirk & District Women Citizens’ Association and the Falkirk Iron Works Welfare Club.
- August 1924 – outing and picnic for the blind.
- June 1925 – garden fete for “mental defectives” at the Industrial Colony in Larbert.
- March 1926 – garden fete to provide funds for St James’ church hall.
- June 1926 – garden fete for the Scottish National Queen Alexandra Memorial to augment the funds of the Queen Victoria nursing association.
- September 1927 – garden fete for the Falkirk Burgh Liberal Association.
- August 1928 – garden fete for the Falkirk and District Battalion of the Boys’ Brigade.
- May 1929 – garden fete for the Graham’s Road U.F. Church Hall Fund Committee.
- August 1930 – fete and stalls in aid of the Falkirk Wesleyan Church funds.
- September 1933 – Rangers and Senior Guides net ball competition.
- May 1934 – garden fete for St James’ Church.
- June 1934 – garden fete in aid of the funds of the Falkirk and District Battalion of the Boys’ Brigade.
- September 1934 – garden fete to help the East Stirlingshire Football Club in their financial difficulties.
- August 1935 – garden fete for James Street Methodist Church.
- June 1937- garden fete for Trinity EU Church.
- June 1938 – County Guide net ball competition for the Lady Stirling’s Cup.
Mrs Kennard was the president of the local Ladies Lifeboat Guild and one of the Divisional Commissioners of the Stirlingshire Girl Guides. Like her mother-in-law she took an interest in the Falkirk Iron Company Employees’ Welfare Scheme. Captain and Mrs Kennard moved to The Haining near Polmont in 1940. Their son, Major David A Kennard, had been born at Kersehill, and was serving with the Coldstream Guards. In 1943, at the age of 27, he was at the battle of El Alamein in charge of an advance group when they got cut off from the main forces. Under the cover of darkness he managed to lead them back to their own lines and was awarded the Military Cross for his cool approach. Mrs Kennard was now involved with the local community at Polmont and Maddiston. She was the wartime leader of the Women’s Voluntary Service in that area and worked with the ARP. Captain Kennard retired from his managerial role at the Falkirk Iron Company in 1947 and the couple retired to Gloucestershire.
For a while Kersehill House was occupied by the Hutchison family and even though almost engulfed by the ironworks it survived into the early 1970s when it was demolished. Today the site is occupied by Mandela Avenue.
Sites and Monuments Records
|Kersehill House||SMR 670||NS 8912 8103|
|Love, J.||1928||Antiquarian Notes and Queries, Vol 2.|
Geoff B. Bailey (2020)