The Nimmo family seem to have come to Falkirk from Torphichen in the 1720s and acquired part of the Lands of Easter Bantaskine called Kilns. That name may derive from the presence of malting kilns for a distillery and the nearby stream would make this an appropriate location. “Kylnes” is first mentioned in 1619 (Reid 2009). Before long one of the sons bought land on the other side of the West Burn of Falkirk which was called Westbank and where he operated a tannery.
The Lands of Kilns were bisected by the Scottish Midland Junction Railway in 1852. One consequence of this was that the land to the south was eventually developed for high quality dwellings, whist to the north it was dominated by industry.
In 1853 John Gair acquired a sizeable area of the lands of Kilns and built himself a grand house which became known as The Kilns. The original house at the Kilns and 11 acres of ground were retained by the Nimmo family and is often referred to as Old Kilns, though often confusingly simply as Kilns. Catherine Crawford, relict of late Thomas Nimmo of Lochs, died at Old Kilns on 14 September 1855. She had occupied the lower floor and the property fell to Peter Nimmo. The upper floor, along with the garden and office house, was occupied by James Bryce (husband of the late Mary Nimmo). He was a Falkirk merchant who died in March 1858 leaving £200 to the Falkirk Charity School. He had always been kind to the less fortunate and had been in the practice of giving weekly doles at his door to the indigent.
In 1860 Peter Nimmo decided to sell Old Kilns:
“Ground to feu at Falkirk. Portions of the Lands of Kilns situated within three minutes’ walk if the High Street of Falkirk, and in a respectable neighbourhood, will be feued in Lots to suit applicants. The locality is most suitable for Villas, Cottages, or Workmen’s Houses, for which there is a great demand. Apply to Mr Nimmo, Garnel, Menstrie...”(FH 22 March 1860, 3)
The location was indeed ripe for development as the town of Falkirk and its industries rapidly expanded.
“THE LANDS of KILNS of EASTER BANTASKINE, extending to 10 acres, 2 roods, 8 poles, or thereby, lying at the West end of the Town of Falkirk, with DWELLING HOUSE and FARMSTEADING thereon. The Lands are of superior quality, and have always let readily at high rents. Several portions adjacent to the Turnpike Road are in the very best position for Villas; and the remainder, lying contiguous to the Stirlingshire Midland Junction Railway and Forth and Clyde Canal, is admirably adapted for Public Works, & c. Being all in close proximity to Falkirk, and the greater portion just beyond the boundary of the burgh, and free from the town’s assessments, the Property holds out inducements for Feuing such as are seldom found united.
If not sold in one Lot the Lands will be exposed in separate portions…”(FH 28 June 1860, 1).
The upset price was set at £2,000 and in August the lands eventually sold to Mr Paris of Bo’ness for £2,400. To the south a large feu was taken by the East United Presbyterian Church and in 1862 work on the manse for Rev Millar was begun. To the north of the railway work began in 1871 on new railway siding for a new iron foundry to be called Kilns Foundry (later Camelon Foundry).
Old Kilns was bought by John Gair and was leased to the established church at Camelon and in 1869 Rev J Scott was in residence. Rev John Spaven of the Falkirk Evangelical Union Church stayed there briefly in 1878. To let
“OLD KILNS HOUSE and GARDEN. The House contains Four Rooms and Two Attic Rooms, with Kitchen, Scullery, Closets, and other Conveniences. Rent £21. Apply to Mr GAIR, at the Kilns, Falkirk.”(FH 14 March 1878, 1)
Sheep and cows continued to graze the fields fronting the main road well into the next century.
In 1896 James Strang, architect, erected a stable, harness-room, and coach-house at Old Kilns for the Gair family. The Dean of Guild granted warrant provided that the stable wall was kept back 9ft 5ins from the road on the west and this land was subsequently incorporated into the road, Kilns Entry, which was Macadamised and proper pavements provided.
John Gair became the Procurator Fiscal for Eastern Stirlingshire in 1843 at the youthful age of 29. He built himself a cottage in Grahams Rd at an expense of £700, but in 1852 he acquired Kilns and sold off his property in Grahamston. That year four acres of potatoes were harvested at Kilns. The following year a substantial mansion-house was built and the grounds and gardens were laid out. The architect for the house was William Stirling III. The masonry was executed by James Law. It is a two-storey villa of red sandstone (now weathered) with an asymmetrical arrangement of bays in a Tudor-Jacobean style. There is a profuse use of pointed and stepped moulded gables surmounted with small ball and obelisk finials; and smaller pointed gablets forming the dormer pediments finishing in fleur-de-lys. The tall-shafted chimneys are kept to the rear part of the building. Together these create tall vertical segments which are unified by a chamfered plinth course, moulded string courses and chamfered offsets.
Illus 2: Doorway at Kilns House
The south face has an advance gable as its west segment with a square bay window set within it sporting a garter inscribed “PAX.HVIC.DOMVI”; and an angled ground floor bay window below two dormer windows in its eastern segment. The east face, which overlooks the valley of the West Burn, has three gables. The central gable is advanced and contains the ornate doorway in its southern re-entrant. The southern gabled segment has a corbelled oriel window; whilst the northern one has a narrow square two-storey bay window. The heavily iron bracketed door sits within a simple low arch with “MDCCCLII” in relief above it and framed by a deeply moulded Gothic arch. Above this is an eroded coat-of-arms with a surviving mullet and a banner bearing the inscription “LAUDO MANENTEM.”
John Gair was an ardent horticulturalist with a fine collection of orchids. Mr Paxton was the first gardener. One of the first plants to be planted was a Wellingtonia gigantea which by the summer of 1860 was reported to be just over 4ft high. The setting was described in 1868 as:
“a charming frontage of sward; and, in the pride of the rose and rhododendron seasons, its terraces revel in a perfect blaze of bloom.”(Gillespie p.62)
Illus 3: South-West Gateway looking along the shrub avenue to the Stone Bench.
The south-west gateway entrance to The Kilns was the work of John Boyd Law, the son of James Law, and was executed when he was only a lad. A terrace wall to the east of the house was built at the same time and houses a fine stone bench.
Illus 4: The Stone Bench at the southern end of the Terrace.
There had been a public washing green at the Bleachfield on the sides of the West Burn where the women from the west end of the town brought their linen and washed it in tubs. By the time that Kilns House was built this was little used and before long it was annexed as part of the estate – the old washing-houses becoming the laundry for Kilns House. The old footpath along the stream bank vanished and became a private drive.
Illus 6: Kilns House Ice-House looking south-west.
An ice-house was built on the east-facing hill slope to serve the house, shaded by trees. This has now been largely covered over with soil. To its north was a broad terrace for a walled garden and a series of paths meandered their way around the grounds.
John Gair died at Kilns 14 April 1891. He was survived by his son William Kinross Gair who arranged for the collection of rare plants to be sold off.
G Fairbairn, the gardener at the Kilns for the previous twelve years, decided to start business as a market gardener and was presented with a purse of sovereigns on the occasion.
“THOMAS BINNIE, AUCTIONEER, Falkirk, will Sell by Public Auction, at THE KILNS, Falkirk, on FRIDAY, 9th October, 1891, the Large Collection of STOVE and GREENHOUSE PLANTS, including – Large Specimen Camellias, Anthuriums, Abutilons, Dracaenas, Crotons, Lapagerias, Yuccas, Aloes, Palms, Clivias, Epiphyllums, & c.
Also, the Choice FERNS, LYCOPODIUMS, & c, which belonged to the late Mr John Gair.
Particulars in catalogues, which may be obtained from the Auctioneer.
Sale to begin at One o’clock. The ORCHID HOUSES at the Kilns are for sale by private Bargain, and may be seen on application to Mr Binnie.”(FH 23 September 1891, 4)
Mrs Gair and her daughters continued to live at Kilns House. In May 1898 there was a shocking incident when a drunken labourer broke into the outhouses and threw a piglet and a calf out of their shelters. He then broke into the house and threatened the family. Elizabeth Kinross, widow of John Gair, died at The Kilns on 5 December that year, aged 79. The daughters continued to live in the house and were at the centre of fundraising for comforts for the soldiers serving in the Boer War. As well as treated the wounded soldiers upon their return they posted tobacco out to the troops in South Africa.
WK Gair now made the Kilns his residence. His first wife, Miss Sherriff of Carronvale, died and in 1900 he married a much younger woman, Christina Ellen Fraser, the eldest daughter of Dr Fraser of Falkirk. Christina Ellen Gair dedicated much of her life to improving the medical facilities in the Falkirk area. In 1911 she became the commandant of Voluntary Aid Detachment No 16, Stirling (Falkirk), at the time of its institution and was prominent in the promotion of the movement in the area. The grounds of Kilns House were periodically opened to allow for cake and candy stalls on the lawn raising money for the Red Cross. During the First World War, Mrs Gair became the matron of Wallside Auxiliary Hospital – and for these services she was awarded the MBE. In July 1916 the Bainsford Amateur Horticultural Society and a party of wounded soldiers from Wallside Hospital visited Kilns and were shown around the gardens by Mrs Gair and Mr McRobie the head gardener. After the war, she was the main organiser for the local collections for Remembrance Day – arranging the sale of poppies. She was also on the management board of Falkirk & District Infirmary, and of the local branch of the Queen Victoria Memorial Nursing Association. History was made in April 1922 when Mrs Harvey of Weedingshall and Mrs Gair of Kilns became the first lady Justices of the Peace for Stirlingshire. Mrs Gair died at the Kilns on 11 July 1928, aged 49.
WK Gair was particularly fond of roses and chrysanthemums. The roses were most conspicuous:
“Mr W.K. Gair of the Kilns, Falkirk, takes a very great interest in the cultivation of roses, and his beautifully kept and admirably planned rosaries have been for some weeks past a veritable picture. It is rarely, indeed, that one sees in a private garden such an extensive assortment of named roses so well kept and in magnificent bloom. In all there are at Kilns quite 600 plants, including bush and standard roses, and all the latest and best varieties are grown. The principal rosary is in an admirable situation in the garden proper, and on entering it by a turf walk one is struck with the lovely display of bloom which presents itself, with the trim appearance of things, and with how well the rosary has been planned. Roses grow best when grown alone, and in this rosary no other flower finds a place. The ground, as has been stated, has been very neatly laid out for the purpose. In the centre there are four beds in the form of segments of a circle, with nice grassy walks. Leading from the main walk, between each, and the whole constitute a half circle, with a walk right round in keeping with the others, although somewhat broader. The sides and ends of the rosary are also utilised as rose beds. A momentary glance is enough to show to anyone of horticultural knowledge that in the cultivation of this favourite flower Mr Gair has been singularly successful. Not only are the blooms large, well-formed, and of fine substance – the result of skilful pruning in the spring and liberal manurial treatment – but every plant is robust and entirely free from mildew and insect pests which play havoc with badly kept rose beds. The blooms are all so good that it is difficult to distinguish between them. When there the other day there were some immense blooms of Her Majesty, Merville de Lyon, Captain Hayward. Marchioness of Londonderry, and Gustave Piganean, and other good kinds in flower were Grace Darling, Mrs John Laing, Francis Muholone, Earl of Pembroke, Viscountess Folkstone, Victor Verdier; that old favourite, General Jacqueminot; Prince Damile de Rohan, a fine dark-coloured rose, with shell-like petals; and Augustine Guinois – good in bud form. In addition there were excellent specimens of Gloire de Dijon and Charles Lawson, both in tree form. A large standard plant of the latter, said to be over 60 years old, was literally clad with magnificent light pink-coloured flowers. In one part of the fine lawn which surrounds Kilns mansion-house there is another rosary of an equally interesting and attractive character. In the lawn there have been cut a number of beds of a round and oval shape. One of these was occupied with some exquisite varieties of teas and hybrid perpetual, including such specimens as Bessie Brown, Mrs F.W. Sandford, Mrs Ramsey, and Mrs Cocker, a beautiful light pink, named after the wife of the raiser, Mr Cocker, rose specialist, Aberdeen. A bed adjoining is entirely devoted to growing that well-known and extremely pretty rose, La France, the queen of the hybrid teas. In another bed there were grown, amongst other tea roses, such good ones as Devoniensis, Bridesmaid, Madam Lambard, etc. These beds are enclosed by neat wooden lattice work fences, about three feet high, which afford a protection to the roses from the winds they will frequently be subjected to in this position. In two other beds there are a fine lot of standards, which were covered with magnificent blooms of such varieties as Lady H. Stewart (a beautiful dark rose of good habit), Salamander, Lawrence Allen, Clio, Captain Hayward, Spencer, Fisher Holmes, Caroline Testout, and Duke of Wellington, a lovely deep red variety. In the centre of these plots is a uniquely-arranged assortment of standards and half-standards, the luxuriant blooms of which in rich shades of colour meet the gaze of one on every side. This plot required more than passing notice. It is in the form of a double circle. In the centre a fairly large-sized circle of the lawn is left, and around it is another circle of three rose beds, a grassy walk from the lawn proper to the inner circle being between each. This arrangement, besides being very picturesque, permits of the roses not only being examined with ease and comfort, but enables the gardeners to more easily attend to their cultivation. Here they were growing a number of the varieties already named, and in addition that fine rose, Tom Wood; Clara Watson, a lovely white, shaded peach colour; Marjory, another very fine white; Marquise de Salisbury, a rich red; Madam Hoste, the queen of yellow teas; Mrs R.G.S. Crawford, a lovely big rose of a soft pink colour; Marquise Lita, Marie Beauman, Marchioness of Downshire, etc. At Kilns the old-fashioned and unsatisfactory method of writing the names of the varieties on wood has been discarded, and there has been adopted instead the more permanent embossed metal labels, which hang on the top of a piece of wire. Mr Gair has good reason to congratulate himself on his splendid display of roses, and the success he has achieved in the cultivation of this flower. It is scarcely possible that a finer collection of roses in such a perfect condition of growth could be witnessed in the gardens of any gentleman’s estate in the country… The excellent ferneries, vineries, etc, show that Mr James M’Culloch, the head gardener, cannot only grow roses to perfection, but that he is also well up in other branches of horticulture.”(FH 28 July 1900, 5)
The trees formed an important ornamental backdrop to the grounds and also provided a privacy screen on the main road. In 1905, therefore, it came as a surprise to WK Gair when the newly established Tramways Company lopped a large amount of branches from those that overhung the highway so that they could install their tram system. Being a lawyer he sued the company and won damages.
WK Gair died at the Kilns on 26 February 1932 aged 86. He had retired from his post as Procurator Fiscal just two years before, having occupied it jointly with his father and then in his own right for an amazing 59 years.
WK Gair’s sister, Miss CL Gair, continued to live at The Kilns until her death in April 1932. She was the last of John Gair’s children. The following month the household furniture at the Kilns was sold and the house with 5 ½ acres was put on the market. It was still for sale a year later:
“FOR SALE the ATTRACTIVE RESIDENCE of THE KILNS FALKIRK, containing 3 Public, 4 Principal Bedrooms (2 with Dressing Rooms), Maids’ Rooms, 2 Bathrooms, and other accommodation, with Garage and Stable; and THREE HOUSES at OLD KILNS and GARDENER’S HOUSE – The grounds, which extend to nearly 5 ½ acres, are beautifully laid out, and include tennis Lawn and productive Garden. Assessed rental of House, etc., £90. Old Kilns Rents, £34. Ground Burdens, £6.6s. Immediate or early possession can be given.
Apply to JOHN & W K GAIR & GIBSON.”(FH 1 April 1933, 2)
It was bought by Thomas Graham Marr, solicitor, Falkirk. In 1939 he converted the stable and loft at Old Kilns, Falkirk into a dwelling-house containing four rooms, a kitchenette and a bathroom. There were now four residences at Old Kilns.
In May 1954 Kilns House was bought from Thomas Marr by Falkirk Council for use as offices. The Council was in the midst of plans to rebuild Westbank to the east and the expenditure on the purchase of Kilns House and £1,500 on the necessary alterations and extensions were questioned. Nonetheless, when the Burgh Architect’s Department and the Sanitary Inspector’s Department moved to Kilns in 1955 the cost of conversion had been £3,000. The Engineering Department remained at Arnotdale. The building of the new Municipal Buildings meant that the proposed extensions at The Kilns did not take place and so the Council decided to open up the grounds as a public park. Today it makes an admirable walk from the town centre to Arnotdale.
Sites and Monuments Records
|Kilns House||SMR 946.|
|Kilns House Ice-house||SMR 66|
G.B. Bailey (2020)