The place name “Milnfield” occurs as early as 1799 (Reid 2006, 232) and presumably refers to an otherwise unknown mill on the Polmont Burn. The stream is relatively fast flowing at this point and the narrow valley would have made it ideal for that purpose. The Lands of Millfield had formed part of those of Whiteside in the parish of Polmont.
The mill building may well have been that shown 1st edition OS map on the east bank of the burn just to the north of Marchmont Avenue which was then the main road. Here the waterfalls show the potential energy of the water. The building was converted into a library by Dr Robert Henry and it was here that he wrote the sixth and final volume of his “History of Great Britain on a New Plan” published in 1771. This compilation was very successful and earned him a long lasting reputation as well as over £3,000. When he died in 1790 he was buried in Polmont Churchyard where his tomb may still be seen. He was brought up near St Ninians and educated in Stirling and so it is probable that Millfield was related to his wife’s family. Above one of the windows of the building was the inscription “Otio Et Musis” meaning “(Dedicated to) Leisure and the Arts” and at the foot of another was carved in the stone the words “Be Easily Pleased” referred to in the “Life of Dr Henry” as characteristic of the man. The last person to live in this building was Helen Anderson who died there in June 1853 at the age of 99 years. At the time it was called Millfield Cottage – a name also used for a group of dwellings further to the east on the south side of Marchmont Avenue. It was also referred to as “the old laundry” which function it was also admirably suited to by the copious supply of fresh water.
In 1842 or 1843 Millfield was purchased from the Finlay family by John Miller, the chief engineer on the construction of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway. He must have found the small estate whilst working on the railway and evidently came to a private bargain with its owner. Millfield was close enough to the new station at Polmont to make commuting to Edinburgh a practical proposition. Miller then designed a new house and had it constructed on the higher ground overlooking the winding valley. A four-storey tower at its north-east corner provided views across to the Forth and the coast of Fife. Indeed, the whole edifice was quite lofty with a diminutive three-storey tower on the north. Both of these emphasised the Italianate style with low pyramid roofs having wide eaves and triple-arched upper windows having stone balconies. Even the main block, on the south side of the house, was of three-storeys. The curving entrance avenue from a new lodge on Polmont Road swept round to the foot of the large tower where there was an arched entrance porch with a balustraded top providing another balcony. This form of parapet was echoed on the lower parts of the building. The aesthetics of the building thus made full use of vertical changes in height as well as indents to provide articulation.
Work began on laying out the grounds as idyllic nature walks enhanced by the hand of man. In 1845 James Wilson was employed as the head gardener. By 1846 John Miller CE was given the appellation “esquire of Millfield House.” In 1848 the Polmont Horticultural Society, which had been formed just a few years before, was given permission by John Miller to hold its annual exhibition in the grounds of Millfield House. For this the society bought a new marquee in which to display the flowers, vegetables and fruits produced in the area by professional gardeners. A smaller tent was used for the amateurs. The event was a complete success and was rounded off by a firework display paid for by Miller who became the Society’s president. It was to be a long association.
John Miller had been born in Ayr in 1805 and his father was a wright and builder.
Despite having studied law at the University of Edinburgh John Miller took up business as a land surveyor. Before long he was involved with the construction of roads in Scotland and Ireland, moving over to railways at the beginning of their appearance. The timing was perfect and Miller rode the wave of railway mania becoming the chief engineer of the Edinburgh and Glasgow line. This made his name and set the foundation of his fortune. Over the next decade he was involved with a huge number of railway projects and often appeared in Parliament to provide evidence. He officially retired in 1850, at the youthful age of 45, but continued as a consultant. It was during his work that he met and became great friends with the artist David Octavius Hill. Hill produced a lithograph of the opening of the Glasgow and Garnkirk Railway in 1831 showing Miller on the footplate of one of the locomotives. Both Hill and Miller were early proponents of photography and together they created the Photographic Society of Scotland in 1856.
The Miller family lived in Millfield House and the 1851 census shows it had a staff of nine, plus Miller’s secretary Charles Ogilvy. There was also a governess, and a teacher, Elizabeth Donaldson, who taught the four younger children. Margaret, the eldest, was boarding at St Cuthbert’s girls’ school in Edinburgh.
The grounds continued to receive much attention. Early in 1851 William Hepburn was appointed as the head gardener at Millfield and together they helped to found the Polmont Gardeners’ and Cottagers’ Mutual Improvement Association – John Miller president. For almost a century meteorological readings were to be taken at Millfield and these were forwarded to the local newspaper and to the National Meteorological Office where they can now be accessed on the internet. Hepburn wrote a series of articles in the “Scottish Florist” about the planting of a flower garden.
In 1852 a conservatory was added to the west end of the house which probably also meant adding a low west wing behind it. The local newspaper reporter who visited was enthusiastic because the public was allowed in to see it during the annual horticultural show:
“The beautiful structure is in quite a new style of glass architecture, and one evidently suggested by the Crystal Palace. The framework consists of light pillars of wood, iron being considered unnecessary for a building of the size. The glass is in very large sheets, and is made from a composition much better adapted for the purpose than the ordinary plate glass dimmed. Altogether the structure has a light, airy, and elegant appearance, strikingly contrasting with the heavy stonework and common glass of which some conservatories are still made. The design, indeed, is so beautiful that it is only justice to mention that it is the work of an old pupil of Mr Miller, who has executed a number of highly meritorious designs in connection with railways – Mr Thomas Davies, architect and engineer, Edinburgh.” (FH 9 September 1852, 3).
The Polmont Flower Show in the grounds of Millfield had become the “must go to” event of the year. It gave older members of the community the chance to meet and to be seen. For the younger folk it presented an opportunity to take part in the “promenade,” to see the latest fashions and meet potential partners. The grounds were usually opened after the show, from 3pm until 5pm. The Falkirk Herald report of 1852 is typical:
“thronged by many hundreds of visitors from all parts of the surrounding district, of all classes of society, but all equally remarkable not merely for decorum, but also for that good breeding which is commonly supposed to be the exclusive monopoly of those to whom horticultural promenades are usually restricted. The weather being highly favourable, and extensive public notice of the promenade having been circulated, the number of visitors to the grounds was this year unusually great, – we believe nearly double the number on any former occasion. Of these many were from a considerable distance, the fame of Millfield and its rural promenade, which certainly may be regarded as something quite unique in its way, having spread far and near.”
The proximity of the railway station was a big bonus and attracted people from Falkirk, Bo’ness and Linlithgow as well as Polmont. The event set the standard for horticultural shows – one which most could not attain.
John Miller was a liberal and opening up all parts of the grounds was a matter of principle. Although there was a modest entrance fee it was gratifying to see large numbers of the working class turning up and appreciating the enhanced beauties of the natural environment. Only too often was it pointed out that such individuals did not despoil the place in their perambulations:
“There was an array of fashion and elegance which would have done no discredit to a metropolitan promenade; but perhaps the most gratifying feature of the exhibition was the large assemblage of people of the lower classes, who had been allowed a holiday by their employers in the neighbourhood, and who, by their lively curiosity and by the admiration they manifested for what was beautiful around them, afforded a pleasing illustration of the facility with which such occasions may be made to minister to the intelligence as well as the recreation of the people.” (FH 11 September 1851, 3). Not at all condescending!
The two tents on one of the lawns were usually packed with spectators, particularly during the inclement spells of weather. The scenic walks gave the visitors a chance to spread out and even in the first years there was plenty to see. By 1851 the grounds were full of gardens and shrubberies. On the north side of the house was a kitchen garden surrounded with brick and stone walls. To the south of the house was a geometric garden full of bright flowers with a closely cropped lawn beyond. Down in the glen there was also a beautiful bowling green flanked with vases and graceful statues. The classical statues included the figures of Eve, Flora and Diana. Beside the green was a shell fountain in the centre of a circular pond. South of that lay a little lake or pond with its goldfish surrounded by rock-work and grottoes with wild plants and strange water-fowl. The stream was canalised and filled with miniature cascades.
The sound of its burbling water was augmented by the splashing of several fountains. And in the early years Mr Douglas, the pyrotechnist of Edinburgh, was paid for a display of fireworks from the top of the octagonal tower in the grounds which usually ended after it had gone dark, a little after 9pm.
The fireworks were particularly popular with the working classes.
“A large collection of persons again assembled in the grounds in front of the lofty tower from which the fireworks were displayed, and for nearly half an hour, during which the exhibition lasted, the utmost decorum was preserved, though a somewhat lower class was now present than was to be seen in the forenoon. Shortly after nine o’clock the crowd retired from the grounds, which, except that the grass on the lawn was somewhat trodden appeared on the following day as fresh and uninjured as if the public had never been within the gates, a circumstance which, while it does not detract from the generosity of Mr Miller, ought to operate as an encouragement to others in a similar position to follow his example.” (FH 9 September 1852, 3).
1851 also set the model for permitting access to worthy groups upon written request. Two weeks after the flower show, 450 juveniles from the Juvenile Abstainers’ Excursion walked in procession through the grounds of Millfield for almost three hours. They then returned to Falkirk through the grounds of Parkhill and Westquarter and a soiree in the Bank Street. Later that winter the Linlithgow and Stirlingshire foxhounds met at Millfield House.
1852 was also the year that Miller bought the 13,000 acre estate of Leithenhopes estate at Innerleithen in Peebles-shire for £57,500. He immediately extended its 16th century manor house to become Leithen Lodge. This was a state-of-the-art home with a hydro heating system and thereafter he was styled as John Miller of Leithen.
John Miller also had an interest in indoor art. In 1854, in keeping with his liberal outlook, he loaned several paintings to a public exhibition in Falkirk. The Falkirk Art Exhibition included three landscape paintings by D.O. Hill, and a snow scene by Hasenpflug.
Hill’s pictures were a view of the Ballochmyle Viaduct over the river Ayr (now in the Kelvingrove Gallery), the Viaduct over the Avon on the Edinburgh and Glasgow railway, and a view of the Railway Bridge near Lock No.11, Falkirk. They were pleasant landscapes, characterised by a poetic treatment. Miller saw part of this art as a permanent record of his own achievements and during the construction of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway he had commissioned Hill to produce three large canvases of the work for Millfield House. The preliminary sketch for another one of these, at Falkirk Station, is now in the collections of Falkirk Museum. In 1857 an engraving was made by Mr Richardson of another of Hill’s paintings owned by Miller called “Old and New Edinburgh”. The painting was considered to be the most elaborate of the artist’s works and one of the finest landscapes produced by a member of the Scottish Academy and is now in the National Gallery of Scotland.
In 1854 John Miller had his portrait painted by the president of the Academy, Sir John Watson Gordon. This full length portrait was exhibited in March the following year at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh, as were portraits of Charles Stirling of Muiravonside and his wife.
Like Leithen Lodge, Millfield House was kept up to date with modern conveniences. In 1860 the Ordnance Surveyors described it thus: “A large mansion built in the Italian style and surrounded with extensive and tastefully laid out pleasure grounds. Near the house is a castellated tower of an octagonal shape. Offices attached, all two stories and slated. Property and residence of John Millar Esq.” The tower mentioned had stood about 120yds north-east of the house on the higher ground since at least 1852 and was connected to the supply of water to it. A large flag flew from its top. Shortly after 1860 the house had gas lighting. The gasometer was located at Millfield cottages which belonged to Miller. The Ordnance Surveyors simply described them as “A pile of buildings forming part of the offices of Millfield. All slated, one storey, and in good repair.”
Robert Warden owned the neighbouring estate of Parkhill to the west. He was rarely ever there and so in December 1853 he offered the lands to John Miller who, having accepted, took possession 1st January 1854, the price being £8,775. This offered Miller huge scope for integrating the grounds. The drives were dealt with first. A long track from the Parkhill Lodge on Polmont Road near its junction with Salmon Inn Brae led gently across the heavily wooded hill slope to Parkhill House. Now it was extended along the crest of the hill from a point just to the north of Parkhill House to Millfield. To cross the valley of the Polmont Burn a stone bridge or viaduct was constructed which is said to have cost in the region of £2,000. Just to the west of the new bridge it was joined by another new avenue from the south originating at a lodge on Marchmont Avenue which was lined with rhododendrons of numerous types. The grounds of Parkhill had been a little neglected and much pruning of the fine trees was required and new ones were planted. The removal of common trees was to bring into greater prominence the more valuable trees. The opening up of little vistas was to bring attractive objects in the grounds within the scope of vision, and to let long lines of sunlight down upon the sward.
The old walled garden and its associated structures at Millfield were removed as Parkhill offered a better site with more scope for the rearing of fruits and vegetables. The hothouses at Parkhill contained crops of grapes, peaches, and figs, and the greenhouses held some splendid specimens of fuschias and other plants. Mr Macintosh was appointed as the fruit gardener. The neighbourhood of Millfield House looked more airy in consequence of the removal of the stone and brick walls and other structures associated with the growing of vines and other delicate fruits. The union of the two estates placed both sides of the glen into one ownership and as a consequence many a new walk was made and old ones improved.
Down in the glen a large number of roses were planted near the bowling green. A row of Portugal Laurels was placed along the burn upon the Parkhill side; and a mass of shrubs and undergrowth was removed from one of the Peninsulas in the pond to reveal the beauty of a weeping ash.
In February 1856 the grounds at Parkhill and Millfield suffered severely from storm damage. Some damage was also done to the conservatory attached to the house at Millfield, and some of the statues in the pleasure grounds were blown down, after resisting previous storms. The damage was soon repaired and in May 1856, it was reported that “the Musa Cavendishii, a variety of M. Sapientum, a species of tropical plantain, ripened its magnificent and delicious fruit this season in the stove in the gardens of Millfield. Several dishes have been sent to the table… The plant at Millfield is about seven feet in height, the leaves are oblong, entire, and nearly four feet long by two feet across as the broadest part; and the noble spike of flowers proceeds from the centre of the plant and is about four feet in length, of a whitish colour, without a calyx or flower cup, but covered with a purple scale or spathe” (FH 1 May 1856, 3). The grounds were in good enough condition by September to awe the annual visitors and it was pointed out that the main reason for enormous success of the Polmont Horticultural Show, making it the most important event in the area, was the magnetism of the park. The tents were now placed on the Parkhill side of burn which provided more room.
One visitor who used to be connected with Blairlodge School wrote to the Falkirk Herald to congratulate the owner and the local community:
“When I arrived at 3 o’clock the gates were just being opened to admit the public. I was astonished to see the great number of carriages from Falkirk, Grangemouth, Linlithgow, and other places in the vicinity. The visitors were very numerous, as you may have an idea of when I inform you that upwards of twenty-one pounds were drawn in sixpences at the gates. On my entering I was pleased beyond expression. I used to know the grounds well, but the change that they had undergone of late years can only be fully understood by those who knew Millfield and Parkhill in former days. Nature has done much, art not less. Indeed, the visitor will find at one place something resembling the style of Versailles, and at another place the mountain stream of Nonally. Here he will be surrounded by the same kind of scenery as is found in the sweet vales of Langollen and Ruthin, and there he will fancy himself wandering among the smooth cut grass and well kept walks of Furness Abbey. Everything throughout the whole of the grounds was in first-rate order; and in a few years, when the different plants shall have established themselves, and the appearance of newness shall have worn away, I confidently predict that Millfield and Parkhill will take a high stand as one of the best kept properties in the district. To be privileged to walk through them, minutely to examine and study whatever they contain, is a great boon of which the public ought to avail itself. It is of immense advantage to the young, whose eyes in early life should be accustomed to objects of neatness and beauty, order and uniformity...” (FH 18 September 1856, 3).
The comment about the vegetation settling in was remarked upon a couple of years later by another visitor who noted that the vegetation on the rockery had vastly improved its aspect. He continued south from the rockery next to the pond –
“We pass along a walk for a short distance, till we arrive at the confines of the old kitchen garden, now a beautiful green bank, admire for a moment an antiquated doorway, cross the burn by a small bridge and enter the American ground. Here there are magnificent hybrid rhododendrons in a blaze of beauty… The rhododendrons constitute a new and magnificent feature in these grounds. For the last few years Mr Miller has been collecting specimens and varieties from the best collections in the kingdom, and now there are few collectors in Scotland who can lay claim to such a valuable assortment. We admire specially the standard rhododendrons, that is, plants formed by working the rarer sorts upon a tall straight stem, formed from some of the commoner and free growing varieties. We have never seen such standards, and there are several of them which, for size and symmetry, have few or no equals in Great Britain. We observe that the fine deodara which was brought to Millfield from Edinburgh a few years ago, at no little trouble and cost, is progressing beautifully, and that two younger sisters, brought from the same quarter, are exceedingly handsome.” (FH 17 June 1858, 3).
George Scott was now the gardener.
The antiquated doorway referred to was assembled from stones reputedly taken from the John Knox House in Edinburgh and dated 1619. That date appeared on the lintel or tympanum along with the large raised letters “GOD BLISS THIS WARK” (SMR 1388). The sides or rybats of the doorway were made of stones with rounded margins and glazing grooves taken from the windows of the earlier structure. Back to back with this, forming the south face of the doorway superstructure was a dormer-pediment bearing, on a sunk panel in the centre, a triple-towered castle. To right and left of this appeared a rose above a thistle, and above it a large thistle. The finial was formed by a crown. This inscription and the emblems of the Crown and of the City of Edinburgh, suggest that both these tympana probably came from the King’s Wark at Leith, which was under construction at about this date.
Taking a step back, near the pool was an interesting collection of antique stones. The most prominent was an heraldic panel measuring 3ft by 2ft 6in which seems originally to have been set in a moulded framework on the outside of a building. It was carved in low relief with the arms of the City of Edinburgh, and above it appeared the motto “NISI DOMINUS FRUSTRA” with the date “2 IVNII 1623.” Arms and motto also point to an Edinburgh origin. Nearby stood a stone lion, sitting upright on a square base, the whole being 3ft 9 ½ in high. It held a cartouche in its forepaws charged: Quarterly, 1st and 4th, a stag’s head cabossed; 2nd and 3rd, a flame; at fess point the badge of Nova Scotia. Above the charges were the letters “S/GMcK,” indicating that the arms were those of Sir George Mackenzie of Tarbat, later 1st Earl of Cromartie; the figure is thus likely to have come from Caroline Park, Granton, which he built in 1685. The remains of a metal dowel on top of the lion’s head suggested that the figure was intended to support a sundial (RCAHMS 1963, 404). The lion was lost in the undergrowth but was found in the 1930s during clearance operations at the estate. It, and all the other carved stones, were noted in a visit by the RCAHMS in 1953 on the left bank a little further downstream, but have once again disappeared.
So, in 1858 there was much to see and admire in the grounds. The Polmont Horticultural Show was an important date in the social calendar where people from all walks of life wanted to be seen. It brought in a fair amount of money into the coffers of the Horticultural Society, but there were the rumblings of disquiet about the way in which it was being spent. Many thought that larger and newer marquees should be acquired and that some money should be spent encouraging the lower classes to participate in vegetable growing. However, the committee had allowed the expenditure on the annual dinner held on the same day as the show to grow out of proportion. Miller, the chairman of the society, objected. At a committee meeting in August 1858 his proposal to reduce this cost was not only out-voted on the explanation that the meal was a reward for the burgeoning number of show judges, but he was also treated with some disrespect. He removed his permission to use Millfield as the venue. Inevitably the committee had to climb down and it was agreed that judges would be found more locally with many coming from the committee itself. The show took place in the first week of September as it had for almost a decade and was destined to do so for many more years. It had become the practice for a band to perform at the annual show. At first it was the famous Camelon Brass Band, but the Kinneil Instrumental Band also appeared.
From the Disruption in 1843 Miller became a staunch supporter of the Free Church. He was one of the committee that raised funds to buy the well-known painting that showed this event and which was painted by his old friend D.O. Hill and his wife Amelia. John Miller made substantial donations towards the construction of a Free Church in Polmont, but it was only in March 1857 that he and his family cut their ties with the Church of Scotland and joined the congregation of Polmont Free Church where he became an elder in August 1859. In 1857 John Miller presented a bell to Polmont Free Church (ie. Brightons Church).
When war with France seemed imminent in 1860, Miller helped to establish the First City of Edinburgh Engineer Volunteer Corps. He was made captain and his son-in-law, George Cunningham, was a lieutenant. The corps merged with the First Lanark Engineer Volunteers in 1862 and Miller resigned, but Cunningham stayed on until the combined corps disbanded in 1865. The corps of Edinburgh Engineers was invited by its commanding officer to visit Millfield House in September 1860. They marched from Polmont Station and were received by a salute of nine guns. This discharge of artillery was “well served by the out-door department of Captain Miller’s establishment, who to keep up the military character of the fete, had for this day laid aside pruning knife and spade to wield the more warlike instruments of ramrod and linstock.” (FH 12 September 1861, 3). The corps, in their scarlet uniforms, drew up in front of the mansion. Upon the appearance of Captain Miller, accompanied by the ladies of the family, they presented arms. D.O. Hill arranged for photographs of the occasion. There then followed a military display and sports competition.
In August the following year the Falkirk and the Linlithgow Volunteers paraded together at Millfiled, watched by folk who had climbed over the estate walls. It rained and so after the damp exercises were over, some dancing took place in the stone-floored kitchen of Parkhill. Refreshments had been provided but rather a lot of drink was consumed and they were not asked back. The Edinburgh Engineer Corps were back that September.
In May 1862 the nearby villa and grounds of Haypark were put up for sale, as were the adjacent five acres of the Lands of Thornhall. The latter, it was noted were well adapted for two or more villas in addition to the existing dwellinghouse and office. The lands of Thornhall were purchased by John Miller at the upset price, which was £1,500. They too were integrated into the larger estate of Millfield.
John Miller was very active. He was a member of several agricultural organisations, including the Highland Agricultural Society whom he often represented as an official with particular interest in the development of machinery. He was particularly proud of the local connection with improvements to winnowers and reapers. On one occasion he travelled to Paris for an agricultural show. He also took a concern in local politics and the provision of relief for the less well off. He sat on the Polmont Parochial Board, helping to administer the Poor’s rate.
In September 1864 the Polmont Horticultural Show was not held at Millfield. Instead, a field at Polmont Park was made available by Alexander Crum Ewing. Clearly something was afoot. John Miller’s only son, Lieutenant John Miller of the 60th Royal Rifles, had died returning home from his regiment in India. It was devastating. In August 1865 it was announced that John Miller had sold Millfield to Thomas Hinton Campbell, the representative of a Singapore firm in Glasgow. The price paid was £19,250 of which £9,500 was for Parkhill. Miller had several estates and removed to Fife and Edinburgh. He had been an unsuccessful parliamentary candidate for the Burgh of Stirling in 1852, but became the MP for Edinburgh in 1868.
Campbell was also a self-made businessman and was quite content to continue to allow the public into the grounds of Millfield. Being away on business he left his gardeners, Nicol and Finlay, to supervise the visits of several Sabbath and public schools. Often the pupils were furnished with fruit from the walled garden which they consumed on the washing green.
Thomas Campbell and his wife were quite philanthropic. In 1867 he gave £100 towards the formation of a brass band in Polmont – which played at the flower show that year. Mrs Campbell contributed to the Ragged School. He was a keen supporter of the newly formed Polmont Curling Club and allowed them to play on the bowling green in the glen from 1874 until they were able to find another venue. Cups and medals for competition were donated. An all-round sportsman, he gave permission for the Falkirk Junior Cricket Club to play Polmont Cricket Club on the grounds of Millfield in September 1868; the home team was soundly beaten. Thomas Campbell also sat on the Polmont School Board.
The annual flower show also continued. In 1868 it had a new feature – poultry, dairy
produce and honey were to be entered in competition. The show continued uninterrupted until 1883, though oftentimes access was restricted to the field with the tents.
Dance music was introduced by the bands such as the Laurieston Saxhorn Band.
In December 1871 catastrophe struck when four children of the Campbell family alongwith their nanny died of an infectious decease, called “the plague” by the locals. Due to the nature of the illness they were interred in a private cemetery at the northern end of the estate (SMR 724) now the site of several flats adjacent to the Texaco Petrol Station at the west end of Polmont Main Street.
On the sequestration of Thomas H. Campbell the lands at Millfield and Parkhill were exposed to public sale in January 1885. Parkhill was bought by Alexander W Gray-Buchanan, Millfield by David Mitchell. By incredible good fortune Mitchell continued to interact with the public in the same way as his two predecessors. The annual show was held at Millfield in September 1885 with his permission. Groups were still allowed in to admire the grounds and have a good time. In 1888, for example, 150 children of the Zetland Band of Hope of Juvenile Good Templars had their annual trip to Millfield. So too did the Linlithgow Free Church Sabbath School and the Kingscavil Mission School and the Newtown Sunday School. The Bo’ness Parish Church Sunday School trip to Millfield saw the invasion of the estate by 480 children and teachers. Special transport had to be laid on for them in the form of carts supplied by local farmers. That same year the Bo’ness Episcopal Church Sunday School arrived by train.
David Mitchell was a native of Glasgow. He had started work as an agent for Dunville & Co, Belfast, and after seven years, he founded the Belfast whiskey firm Mitchell & Co (Ltd) with his brother, William Charles Mitchell. Their “Mild Mellow Matured Old Irish Whiskey” gained a reputation and the company expanded with branches throughout the United Kingdom. After almost twenty years they founded Mitchell Brothers (Ltd) distillers and blenders in Scotland.
David Mitchell also followed his predecessors at Millfield in taking an active part in the area. He was a justice of the peace, a Road Trustee for the County before the constitution of the County Council in 1899, and became a member of that body on its formation representing Polmont. He was a member of Polmont School Board and a member of the Grangemouth Artillery Volunteers. He was a member of the Highland Agricultural Society, as well as several other agricultural societies. He too became closely associated with the local football, cricket and bowling clubs. Suitable trophies were provided. Where he differed was in remaining a member of the established church. Not only was he a member of Polmont Parish Kirk Session, but he was also its representative on the General Assembly. He also took part in the Freemasons’ Lodges of St John No 3 and No 16.
Mitchell was best known for his interest in breeding and exhibiting horses. His skills were such that he was often sought to judge these animals across the whole of northern Britain. Thornhall Farm became the centre of his activities in this respect. Under Campbell it had become Millfield Dairy, now it also served as a stud farm. At the height of its working cycle this stud had 60 Clydesdales and hackneys and was considered to be one of the finest in the country. Horses from the stable brought in many accolades and prizes, selling for large sums. Walter Allison Aitkenhead was in charge of the stud farm until around 1900 when he became tenant of Meadowbank Farm. Not everything was plain sailing:
“On Wednesday forenoon fire was discovered to have broken out in a room in connection with the stables at Millfield. The Falkirk Fire brigade was telegraphed for, and was early on the spot. The stables, which are built of wood, contain one of the best studs of horses in the country, and but for the prompt action of the servants on the estate and the fire brigade, considerable damage might have been done. Fortunately the flames were kept away from the stables, but the hay loft containing a quantity of hay, the groom’s apartments, dining hall, harness room, and prize-room, were gutted. In all about 30 feet of roof was burned. The damage, which is estimated at about £600, is covered by insurance. The origin of the fire is unknown. Mr Mitchell desires us to express his thanks to the members of the Falkirk Fire Brigade and others who assisted in subduing the fire.” (FH 27 April 1895, 8).
In 1892 David Mitchell bought the 124 acre estate of Meadowbank from the trustees of Matthew Waddell, contractor, for £6,750. It lay contiguous with Millfield on its south side and included a mansion house and farmsteading. Part of this land near Polmont Station was feued by the Polmont Bowling Club and was opened by its president, David Mitchell, in September 1894. He had a new lodge constructed at the north entrance to St Margaret’s, Meadowbank, in 1897.
In 1897 A & W Black prepared the plans for large additions to Millfield House. The old conservatory was replaced by a fernery with adjoining billiard room and lavatory. The village of Polmont had also grown and there were now far more houses to the south at Redding and Wallacestone. This became a problem and in 1899 the amount of sewage in the burn through Millfield was contributory to the formation of a special drainage district.
The sale of Millfield and Parkhill to different owners had meant that the grounds had to be separated. A new lodge was built for Millfield on Marchmont Avenue and a new drive was led along the top of the glen on its west side to meet the bridge at a sharp angle. The new arrangement meant that both sides of the glen belonged to Millfield until past the bowling green when they were part of Parkhill.
Due to familiarity the annual Polmont Horticultural Show had lost some of its earlier gloss. In 1893 a band competition was introduced. Eight bands entered the contest from Slamannan, Kilsyth, Laurieston, Clydebank, Kirkcaldy, Carriden, Bonnybridge and Alloa. A special train had to be hired to carry the Kirkcaldy Brass band together with a lot of the inhabitants of that town. After a few years the competition was abandoned and Highland dancing to the pipe and brass bands of Dr Guthrie’s Industrial Schools, Liberton near Edinburgh, took its place. There was also a tug-of-war. In 1900 the dancing was led by the Falkirk Dramatic orchestra. 1909 saw children’s sports events. The evolution and innovation continued until 1912 when Millfield was once again for sale. David Mitchell was unwell and it was time for a new owner.
The standard of living at Millfield can be gauged from the sale of its contents:
“For sale “A QUANTITY of SUBSTANTIAL HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE, a HANDSOME LANDAU on U-springs, a VICTORIA on C springs for One or Pair; the Carriages are in perfect condition; a quantity of single and Double HARNESS, HORSE CLOTHING; and a Three-Years-Old HACKNEY FILLY. Full pedigree at time of Sale.
The FURNITURE is briefly as follows:- Walnut Drawing Room Suite, in perfect condition; Walnut Card Table, Black and Gold Drawing Room Cabinet with Mirrors, a Fine Musical Box on Table with 6 Barrels, a large Mirror, a Couch, Armchair, several Small Chairs, Drawing-Room Carpet, a quantity of bedsteads with Spring and Hair Mattresses, several very good Mahogany and Walnut Chests of Drawers, a very Fine Dressing Table with Cheval Glass, an Oak Dining Table, Brass and iron Fenders and irons, Garden Seats, Pheasantry, and numerous sundry Effects; a Beautiful Electro-plated Epergne and a Pair of Fruit Stands to match…” (FH 12 March 1913, 2).
Millfield House and Millfield dairy were sold as separate lots:
“LOT 1 – MILLFIELD as a whole, or in Two Lots. A beautiful residence in its own grounds of 24 Acres. The Mansion is an imposing structure, substantially built of stone, containing large Dining, Drawing, Morning Rooms, a splendid Billiard Room, Boudoir, 12 principal Bedrooms, one having Shower, Spray, and Douche bath; 5 W.C.s. The Kitchens and Domestic Offices are light, large, and well fitted with modern conveniences.
Acetylene Gas, excellent Water Supply, Drainage perfect. Excellent Offices, Stables, Gardens, etc…
LOT 2 comprises a Small DAIRY FARM, with suitable HOUSE and STEADING, together with 10 Acres of good Arable and Pasture Land, in the occupancy of Mr Ritchie at an annual rent of £42 10s...” (FH 26 October 1912, 1).
In the first week of November, Millfield House was bought for £5,900 by John G Stein and in the following week he also got the Dairy for £1,000. Stein had made his money manufacturing refractory bricks for industry with works at Bonnybridge, Castlecary and Denny. David Mitchell removed to Edinburgh at the end of 1913. He died on 2 April 1917 at his residence Dunard, Grange Loan, Edinburgh, aged 79. He was survived by two sons and his wife and left an estate valued at £56,166.
The world was changing, and yet in September 1913 the annual flower show took place thanks to John G Stein. The Paisley Industrial School Band played and now there was a baking competition as well as contests for schools. The First World War provided a temporary halt to the shows, but they returned in 1920. For the duration of the war the Polmont Horticultural Society had concentrated upon the production of vegetables for the Royal Navy. The 1920s were difficult times and there were fewer professional gardeners. The amateurs were less interested in displays and so quietly the famous Polmont Horticultural Show fell into abeyance.
The two sons of John G Stein served in the forces during the war and one daughter served as a doctor in France. The women of the family took an active part in fund-raising, particularly for the Red Cross.
John G Stein was fond of his garden and fed the birds there. He did not participate much in public affairs but he continued to allow visiting groups to use the grounds. His wife and daughters were keen to support good causes. In June 1927, for example, the Polmont and District British Women’s Temperance Association held a fete in the grounds of Millfield, courtesy of Mr & Mrs Stein. There were stalls to raise money, an American tennis tournament and the Polmont Temperance Pipe Band.
Millfield House came close to being lost in September 1925 when fire broke out in the roof space of the tower over the east wing entrance. The alarm was raised and the occupants of the house, together with all the members of the staff proceeded to remove as much of the household contents as they could from the rooms closest to the fire and take them to a place of safety on the lawn. Falkirk Fire Brigade arrived on the scene and a good supply of water was obtained from a hydrant on the main road. The firemen successfully concentrated upon confining the outbreak, though the task was not accomplished without difficulty and risk, the firemen having to operate from dangerous positions on the roofs of the main buildings and in the burning tower itself. The turret roof, which was completely destroyed, fell into the rooms below where a considerable amount of damage was done by the falling debris and water. The fire was eventually extinguished. The total damage was estimated at £500.
This was not to be the only fire of the Stein era, though it was the worst. In March 1930 workmen renovating the interior of Millfield House smelled burning coming from a room in the servants’ quarters. It was discovered that the flooring in the vicinity of the hearth had become ignited on the underside and was burning fiercely. Falkirk Fire brigade was summoned and had little trouble in quelling the outbreak. A shed with 9 tons of hay and a few hens at Millfield Farm was destroyed by fire in September 1934.
John G Stein died on 16 October 1927 aged 65 and Millfield fell to his son, Colonel Alan Stein. Alan Stein continued the family business and opened new works at Manuel near Whitecross. He was a great supporter of Falkirk Infirmary and made several sizeable donations to the funds of the new hospital.
A garden stall was held at Millfield in June 1928 with a plant stall placed on either side of the bowling green. A special feature was a treasure hunt. The event raised £47 for the infirmary.
Colonel Alan Stein married Dorothea Christian Cadell, the youngest daughter of Henry M Cadell of the Grange, Bo’ness, in November 1934, and the couple shared an interest in good works. In June of that year the Millfield grounds had been opened as part of the Scotland’s Garden Scheme in aid of the Scottish Branch of the Queen’s Institute of District Nursing. The family helped in the serving of teas and £14 was raised. The following year there were 250 visitors and the sum increased to £17 2s. The gardens were opened every year thereafter until 1953, even during the Second World War. Sugar was in very short supply in the war and the cups of tea had to do without it. Petrol rationing also meant that the number of visitors from a distance was restricted. After the war children were catered for by the provision of toys and pony rides. It is these open days that still reside in the memories of some of our older generation. The grounds were still being well maintained and the glen was particularly attractive. Mrs Stein continued in her support of the community and opened countless fetes, stalls, bazaars and so on. She was on the local committee for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
Millfield House was a family home and some of the earliest home movies were shot here. In November 1934 Norman Stein showed some of these to the Allandale Sunday School. They were watched with wonderment. They can now be seen on-line at the Scottish Film Archive.
In 1937 Colonel Alan Stein was appointed as Depute Lieutenant of the County. During the Second World War he became the commanding officer of the 2nd Stirlingshire Home Guard Battalion. He ensured that there was a platoon based at his works at Castlecary and at Manuel. David Taylor, his gardener who stayed at the North Lodge, promoted the keeping of bees for honey due to the shortage of sugar.
Colonel Alan Stein died at Millfield on 1 June 1954, aged 65. His widow continued to live there and in 1955 advertised rooms to let: “Furnished flat, 3 rooms, kitchen and bathroom, in country house, for business or professional couple, use of grounds and tennis court. Apply Mrs Stein, Millfield, Polmont.” (FH 2 July 1955, 2).
Millfield and Parkhill had been oases of green curtailing the inexorable expansion of Polmont to the west. Inevitably, with the Stein family interests now focused elsewhere, Millfield House was sold to property developers and was demolished c1968. The site of the house and its grounds are now occupied by Millfield Drive, Lyall Crescent, Scott Avenue and Lyness Court. The North and South Lodges, the viaduct and some of the boundary walls remain. And down in the glen are the ghosts of the grottoes, ponds and the bowling green.
Sites and Monuments Records
|Millfield House||SMR 1803||NS 9320 7865|
|Millfield Bridge||SMR 1441||NS 9316 7869|
|Millfield South Lodge||SMR 1439||NS 9314 7851|
|Millfield North Lodge||SMR 2094||NS 9313 7893|
|Millfield Graveyard||SMR 724||NS 9327 7887|
|Millfield carved stones||SMR 1388||NS 931 788|
|RCAHMS||1963||Stirlingshire; an Inventory of the Ancient Monuments.|
|Simpson, R.||2002||‘The Forgotten Man of Scottish Railways,’ Scots Magazine.|
G.B. Bailey (2020)