Since the 16th century the lands of Polmont had been owned by the Dukes of Hamilton and they remained the feudal superior into the 20th century. Sometime in the 1770s 108 acres were feued to Gilbert Laurie who was a druggist in Edinburgh and had been several times elected as that city’s provost. He was also one of the Commissioners of Excise. In 1771 he was entitled of “Over Polmont” which is the “Polmont” shown on Roy’s map of 1755 on the east side of the road from Brightons to Polmont Kirk, opposite to where the Polmont Bowling Club now stands. This was a small steading. Gilbert Laurie built a mansion, which in 1788 was described as “built within these few years” on the ridge to the north-east overlooking the Polmont Burn which loops around this knoll. Within the space of a few years he enclosed 40 acres of previously open arable land adjacent to the house. The remaining 68 acres extended to the south-west and encompassed rough land around Polmontside Farm almost 1km away on Waggon Road.
The house was a plain three-storied oblong block measuring 47ft 4in from west to east by 30ft 4in transversely over harled walls of random rubble 3ft 3in thick capped by a moulded eaves-course and a hipped roof. The house faced both northwards to the Forth and south to the sun. Single square-headed windows were regularly spaced in the front and back walls, three on each floor, and less regularly in the gables. The quoins, window and door voids all had backset margins so that the natural stone contrasted with the painted or whitewashed harling. The main door on the ground floor lay on the south side and opened onto a hall containing s stone wheel-stair at its inner end. From the front of the hall a large single room on each side could be entered. The stair ascended anti-clockwise to the upper floors where the space appears to have been formerly divided into four apartments, opening two on each side of the landings. A sunk cellarage containing two apartments was placed under the western half of the block, reached by a downward continuation of the main stair.
Gilbert Laurie died at Polmont House on 10th August 1787 and the following March it was put up for sale:
To be sold within the old Exchange coffeehouse, Edinburgh, on Thursday 10th April the Lands of Polmont in the parish of Polmont and shire of Stirling. 108 acres Scots measure, excellent house built within these few years with suitable offices. “Polmont House commands most beautiful and extensive prospects. The adjoining enclosures consist of about 40 acres, well inclosed with stone and lime dikes, and sheltered by stripes and clumps of planting beautiful and thriving, and each enclosure well watered by a rivulet running through the whole. The remainder of the grounds is capable of improvement.” Plenty of coal in the neighbourhood. Stage coaches provide daily communication. £21 of yearly feu-duty. Whole held of the Duke of Hamilton for £1.4s. Also the lands of Barns or Wester Holehouse in the parish of Slamannan, with the fishings in the lochs called the Black Lock and Little Loch and principal seat in the church of Slamannan, formerly belonging to the Earl of Linlithgow. Near lime and coal. Held feu of a subject superior for payment of £6 Scot under lease for 15 years at a rent of £22.4.5.(Edinburgh Evening Courant 20 March 1788, 3c).
It may not have been sold immediately for his daughter’s son is subsequently described as “of Over Polmont.” Jean Laurie had married Rev William Finley and their son, Gilbert Finley Laurie, succeeded his aunts. By 1801 Polmont House and the estate were in the hands of Joseph Williamson and in 1814 of William Davidson. The second of these changes in ownership probably occurred in 1812 as in that year we have the following newspaper advertisement:
“Upset price reduced to £12,000. LANDS OF POLMONT AND FEU-DUTIES, To be SOLD by public roup, within the Royal Exchange Coffeehouse, Edinburgh, on Friday the 3rd day of January, 1812, if not previously disposed of by private bargain.
ALL and WHOLE The LANDS of POLMONTSIDE, MANSION-HOUSE, OFFICES, and GARDEN, and :.31 10s Sterling of FEU-DUTIES, lying in the parish of Polmont, and shire of Stirling, consisting of 127 acres Scots, or thereby.
The lands are delightfully situated upon the south side of the great road leading from Edinburgh to Stirling, 21 miles from the former, and 14 from the latter. They are distant from Linlithgow five miles, and from Falkirk three miles; at both which places there are good markets. The grounds are of an excellent soil, capable of bearing any kind of crops. They are all in grass, and well watered by a rivulet, which runs partly through, and partly round them, and are sheltered by a variety of small plantations. The mansion-house, which is most substantial, and fit to accommodate a large family, is delightfully situated, and commands a view of the Carse of Falkirk, Grangemouth, Firth of Forth, and opposite coast; as also, the Castle of Stirling, Benlomond, and adjacent country. The offices are at a convenient distance from the house, and consist of a coach house, stabling for 12 horses neatly fitted up, with hay lofts and servants’ apartments, barns, byres, and other accommodations. The garden contains nearly an acre, is surrounded with a stone wall, and well stocked with fruit trees, & c. The premises form a most agreeable and genteel residence, and can be kept up at a comparatively small expence.
A purchaser might dispose of the land of Polmontside to great advantage for villas, as it commands the same beautiful prospects as from Polmont-house. The whole lands are out of lease (with the exception of six or seven acres), and may be entered to immediately. They are held for payment of a trifling feu-duty. The proprietor has right to the teinds, which are valued. The whole public burdens are under three pounds.
For further particulars, apply to Charles Ferrier, accountant, Edinburgh… A servant at Polmont house, or James Smith, at Polmont kirk, will shew the lands.”(Caledonian Mercury 21 November 1811, 4).
William Davidson of Polmont House had been born in 1759 and having acquired Polmont House married Alexandrina Ann McLeay, youngest daughter of John McLeay of Garland, in January 1816. Later that year their first son, John, was born at Polmont House and went on to become a medical doctor. It was probably at this time that the house was enlarged. Single-storey wings were added to either end both measuring approximately 32ft in length by 29ft 8in transversely and set 6in back from the south front. Their double-pitched roofs end in gables which carry plain tabling with ornamental urn-finials on the skewputs. Pinnacles of obelisk form rose above the eaves in the centre of each of the south and north walls. The west wing contained a single room lighted by a Venetian window in the front and back. The east one had a similar Venetian window in its north wall, but two single-light windows on the south. It is possible that these replaced an original Venetian window that was blocked up when the wing was divided internally at a later date, but as it seems to have served as a kitchen they may also have been there from the start. Tall chimney stacks on each of the four gables emphasised the otherwise vertical symmetry, emboldened by the stark whitewashed walls.
William Davidson died at Polmont House on 21 April 1837 and John inherited. He set up a medical practice in Brighton, Sussex, and so Polmont House was let. In 1841 Rev Robert Cunningham established a boarding school for boys in the house:
“POLMONT HOUSE ACADEMY, CONDUCTED BY REV. ROB. CUNNINGHAM, A.M.
THE Course of Instruction in this Academy comprises a thorough preparation for the University, or the active Business of life. The Principal is himself the Instructor in the greater number of the branches taught, and competent assistance is provided where necessary. The number of Pupils is limited to Twenty.
The experience of the past year, while it affords abundant encouragement, has impressed the Conductor more than ever with the importance of commencing early the formation of right habits, He has, accordingly, so arranged his terms as to hold out inducements to the placing of Pupils with him at an early age.
The Session terminates on 1st August. The Pupils reassemble, after the holidays, on1st October. There are still several vacancies to be filled up against that date.
Prospectuses may be had, on applying to Mr WHYTE, Bookseller, George Street, Edinburgh; Mr D BRYCE, Buchanan Street, Glasgow; or Mr CUNNINGHAM, Polmont House, Polmont, by Falkirk.”(Witness (Edinburgh) 25 June 1842, 1).
Ideally John Davidson wanted to dispose of the estate and soon put it on the market:
“THE ESTATE of POLMONT HOUSE, situated in the parish of Polmont and county of Stirling, and near to Polmont Station on the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway. The Estate consists of upwards of 150 Acres Imperial Measure. The Lands are of good quality, and capable of bearing all kinds of crops; and the greatest facilities are afforded for disposing of the produce to the best advantage, and for obtaining supplies of manure and other articles, the Estate being situated in the centre of a populous district, within 3 and 4 miles of the towns of Falkirk and Linlithgow, and close to one of the stations on the Edinburgh Glasgow Railway, and to the Canal. There is a good Farm House and Steading on the Farm of Polmontside, and there is also a Steading adjoining to Polmont House.
The Mansion House, which commands a most beautiful and extensive view of the Firth of Forth, Stirling, and surrounding scenery, is large and commodious, and the offices and Garden are extensive. There is some valuable ornamental Timber around the House, and thriving Plantations are interspersed throughout the Property. By the Railway the House can be reached, either from Edinburgh or Glasgow, in about an hour, it being 21 miles distant from the former, and 25 miles from the latter.
There are valuable beds of Freestone and ironstone on the Property, which may be worked or disposed of to the best advantage. They can be transported by the Railway or Canal, and the Carron Works are also in the neighbourhood.
There are Feu duties to the amount of about £32, payable from lands adjoining, which will either be sold along with the Estate or separately… the property will be shown by John Paul, at the Lodge of Polmont House.”(Glasgow Herald 13 May 1844, 3).
It did not find a buyer and the upset price was reduced and the possibility of selling in lots introduced. Meanwhile the house was again let out, now to a girls’ school:
“BOARD AND EDUCATION AT POLMONT HOUSE, STIRLINGSHIRE. AN ESTABLISHMENT for the BOARD and EDUCATION of YOUNG LADIES will be Opened at POLMONT HOUSE, on Tuesday the 6th of May next, by the Misses TELFER of Edinburgh.
Polmont House is conveniently and pleasantly situated, within a few minutes’ walk of the Polmont Station on the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway, and about an equal distance from both Cities. References and particulars may be learned on application – in Glasgow, to Mr D. Bryce, bookseller, Buchanan Street, and Mr W. Blackwood, bookseller, Queen Street, Mr Innes, bookseller, Hanover Street, and the Misses Telfer, 8, Malta Terrace.”(Glasgow Herald 31 March 1845, 2)
The following year the school moved to Craig House near Stirling, where the Misses Telfer were able to secure a longer term lease.
The upset price was further reduced. The new owner seems to have been Alexander Kincaid, farmer of Bowhouse near Beancross. His eldest daughter married James Smith of Loanhead. Smith had lived near Polmont Kirk before moving to London and then Edinburgh as a merchant. On his return he acquired Loanhead near Kerse House (Grangemouth). Alexander Kincaid’s second daughter, Elizabeth, died at Polmont House on 12 September 1849 and he died there later that same year. A trust settlement of November 1849 made Smith his sole trustee and executor. He was also the main beneficiary and it was probably at this time that his sons adopted the surname of Kincaid Smith – which was later hyphenated. James Smith moved into the house with his family, but had not been there long when he too died on 8 August 1853. His son, John Kincaid Smith, inherited the house and estate. His name is on the 1854 list of subscribers for the statue of Wellington which stands in Falkirk town centre.
In the late 1840s or early 50s the house was again enlarged. A two-storey addition increased the width of the main block by 11ft along the whole length of its north side. Each floor of the extension contained a long, narrow gallery-like apartment. The upper room was lit by three single windows, but those on the ground floor were lit by a three-light window on each side of a central ashlar portico flanked by Doric columns. This portico now contained the front door and was surmounted by a simple balustrade. At the same time, a single-storied outshot lit by a double window and measuring 12ft 8in by 8ft 6in, was built in extension of each end of the addition against the respective wings. On the south façade a broad rectangular tower was added to the centre, using the old doorway and the central windows above it to communicate with the main block. The entrance was moved to the east side of the tower to create a lobby on its ground floor and bathrooms the upper floors. The whole of this range of additions, as well as the tower, were flat-roofed and battlemented, with moulded copes.
Polmont House was to stay with the Kincaid-Smith family for just over a century. The list of owners and occupants may be summarised in the following table (those in itallics were tenants):
|c 1800||Joseph Williamson|
|1837||John Davidson (son)|
|Polmont House Academy (1842)|
|Polmont House Ladies School (1845-6)|
|Kincaid married James Smith|
|1853||John Kincaid Smith|
|Daniel McFarlane (1855-59)|
|James Graham Adam (1860)|
|Johan Theodore Salvesen (1861-1865)|
|Mrs Salvesen (1865-1876)|
|1884||Ronald Kincaid Smith|
|W Stevenson (1888)|
|T A Warrand (1889-1901)|
|David Laidlaw (1905-1912)|
|1907||Kenneth John Kincaid Smith|
|George S Orr (1913-1918)|
|David J Mitchell (1918-1934)|
|William Hogg Smith (1938-c1960)|
John Kincaid Smith had a military career, reaching the rank of major, and so the house was let to a series of tenants who were leading businessmen. Daniel McFarlane was a timber merchant, JT Salvesen a ship-broker, shipowner, timber merchant and forwarding agent. Notably he also served as the Consul for the Hanoverian government, and vice-consul of the Russian, Prussian, Swedish, Norwegian, Dutch and Belgian governments. David Mitchell was the managing director of Mitchell Brothers, distillers, Glasgow, a firm with an extensive Scottish and Irish trade, which became part of the Distillers’ Company, Ltd, with Mitchell as a director. George Orr was a Stirling County cricketer. As the house had so many tenants it often appears in the newspapers to let. One of the earliest, in 1859, is also the most informative:
“To be Let, Furnished or Unfurnished, for such a Term of Years as may be agreed upon, THE MANSION, with Offices and Garden (with or without grass Parks) of POLMONT HOUSE, Stirlingshire. This most desirable residence is situated near to Polmont Station, on the Edinburgh and Glasgow railway, and can be reached by numerous Trains from either City in three quarters of an hour. The House contains Three public and Seven bed Rooms, Two Dressing rooms, and ample Servants’ accommodation. There is Stabling for 6 Horses, &c, &c. The premises are lighted up with Gas. A Pack of Harriers, and the best Meets of the Linlithgow and Stirlingshire Fox Hounds are in the immediate neighbourhood.
Entry may be had on 1st October next, on which date the present Tenant positively leaves…”(Glasgow Herald 1 August 1859, 3).
The estate continued to manufacturer its own gas for decades and in 1876 when seeking a good gardener it was also noted that “One who can make Gas preferred.” Some of the potential gardeners must have wandered what kind of diet was on offer!
Illus: Doocot Tower on the east wall of the Walled Garden, looking east. Now set amongst modern gardens.
The house was occupied for most of the century and provided a steady income. Polmontside Farm was initially let on the traditional 19 year lease and in the 19th century its main tenants were Mrs Neilson, then John Mitchell and subsequently David Manson. Towards the end of that century factors were appointed to let the parks annually, James Neilson the auctioneer being the first.
For most of the time the house was a quiet family home surrounded by pasture where cattle grazed. To the south of the house was a lawn which could be used for games. On its east was the well-stocked walled garden and the gardener kept the kitchen well supplied with vegetables and fruit. To the south of the lawn, on the lower ground, was the square of single storey offices which included the coachhouse. Half way down the hill on the west side of the lawn a neat little summerhouse could be used for teas and picnics. A handsome lodge with a Doric porch lay at the end of the drive to the west.
Illus 8: Polmont House Lodge in 2020 set between 1970s bungalows.
Only occasionally were the public allowed into the grounds of Polmont House. In 1864, for example, the Edinburgh Artillery Corps was invited by JT Salvesen for refreshments and drill. Captain Mackay and the men took a boat from Leith to Grangemouth and marched up to Polmont. As well as the home farm at Polmontside John Kincaid Smith owned other property on the parish, including Polmontside Square (houses), Upper Candie (cothouse), Hawthorndean (cothouse), Loanhead (farmsteading) and Oxgang (farmsteading, cothouse & smiddy).
Major John Kincaid Smith’s three sons all had military careersThe fields next to the house were known as the Lands of Polmont House and covered 46 ¾ Acres, and comprised Rayefaulds Park, the Field adjoining Mr Learmonth’s Store, and the old Pasture Park at Polmont House Offices, as well as the lands between the railway and the canal. A piece of ground in the policies was known as the Hangman’s Acre and the Duke of Hamilton as baron drew rent on it.
Colonel Ronald Kincaid-Smith was the oldest son. He joined the army as 2nd Lieutenant of the 4th (Queen’s Own) Hussars in August 1879, became captain February 1887, major February 1896, lieutenant-colonel May 1901 and colonel May 1904. He served in the Soudan on the Nile Campaign during 1884-85, and was at the battle of Abu Klea (medal with two clasps and bronze star). Moved with his unit to Madras in 1896. He was also a well-known owner of race horses. He died on 2 November 1907 in Rous Memorial Hospital, Newmarket, as the result of an operation for appendicitis, aged 47. On his death he left all he possessed to Capt K J Kincaid-Smith.
Brigadier-General Kenneth John Kincaid-Smith, younger son. He joined the ROYAL Artillery in 1891 and was promoted to captain in 1900. He served in the South African War 1899-1903 where he was one of Dr Jameson’s ill-starred raiders in the Chartered Company and was taken as a prisoner. He was one of the defenders of Ladysmith and was twice mentioned in despatches. He received the Queen’s Medal (with five clasps) and the King’s medal (with two clasps) and the Distingusihed Service Order. Subsequently he served at home and in France, and was appointed CRA 25th Division in 1916. He was appointed a Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George in 1916. He inherited the property from his brother, but made his home at St Osyth’s Priory, Colchester, Essex. He was a Deputy Lieutenant of Essex and was High Sheriff of the county in 1929. He died in a hospital in London, July 1949, aged 77.
Captain Malcolm Kincaid-Smith was the third son. Educated at Eton and the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, he received a commission in 9th Lancers in 1894. Served in Natal, India, and West Africa, and in the South African War when he was awarded the Queen’s Medal (two clasps). He also served throughout the Great War and was mentioned in dispatches. He was the Member of Parliament for South-West Warwickshire. He died at Boston, Massachusetts in January 1939, aged 64.
Major Kincaid-Smith’s daughters also had military connections. Edith Anne Kincaid-Smith married Commander Henry Robert Peel Floyd of the Royal Navy and Constance Kincaid-Smith married Captain F. Campbell Pearson of the 4th Hussars.
Major John Kincaid-Smith, late of the Royal Sussex Militia, died al Palmeira-Square, Brighton, on 26 March 1884 aged 57 and His eldest son, Ronald inherited the Polmont properties. He paid a surprise visit to the area in May 1887 when a detachment of the 4th Hussars under his command, numbering two officers, 39 men, and 55 horses, arrived at Falkirk from Piershill Barracks, Edinburgh, on their way to Greenock, where they were to embark for Cork en route for Ballincollig.
When it had been built, the water supply for Polmont House came from the Polmont Burn nearby. In the 1890s this had been replaced by water pumped out of abandoned coal workings. The pump belonged to Blairlodge School and was powered by a water wheel. The water was fed by pipes to Blairlodge and Polmont House. At the former it supplied the needs of 300 boys and in 1896 the county council considered supplying the people of Brightons from the same source. In the end it plumped for the larger scheme on the Carron and eventually the school and Polmont House joined it. In 1900 it was found that the water in Polmont Burn beside Polmont House was being polluted by sewage discharged from new feus on Crossgatehead Farm and by Polmont parish School Board in particular. The situation became so bad that it was no longer drinkable for cattle and eventually the Sheriff Court forced the School Board to take action to prevent the pollution.
Colonel Ronald Kincaid-Smith died at Newmarket in 1907 leaving an estate to the gross value of £104,625 19s 5d. Despite this his Will had been written four years earlier on the back of a sheet of Cox’s (military bankers) notepaper and contained just 42 words as follows:
“I, Ronald Kincaid-Smith, Lieut-Col 4th Hussars, in the event of my death, leave everything I possess to my brother Kenneth John Kincaid-Smith, Capt. Royal Field Artillery, and I appoint the above-named the sole executor of this my last will and testament. Dated 12th June 1903.”
Under the tenancy of Colonel Laidlaw the grounds of Polmont House were visited several times a year by church groups or the Boys Brigade. For several years after 1909 the crowning ceremony of the Polmont Children’s Festival was also held in the fields beside the stream on the north side of the house. David John Mitchell (captain from 1924) was particularly active in the local area. He had been brought up on the neighbouring estate of Millfield and was very much at home. A keen bowler, he gifted cups to the Polmont Bowling Club for competition. He did likewise with the Polmont Golf Club. He also became president of the Polmont Horticultural Society and in 1923-4 the annual flower show took place in the grounds. He and his wife were at the forefront of raising funds for the churches and other good causes. They helped to organise the erection of a war memorial. The land was given free by Brigadier KJ Kincaid Smith and lay near the lodge to Polmont House. He had the honour of unveiling it in 1922. The following year funds were raised for the families of the victims of the Redding Pit disaster. The Mitchells were able to dedicate so much time to the local community because they had a household staff of one kitchen maid, one cook and six maids. In 1932 the family moved to Brackenrig, Davidson’s Mains, Edinburgh.
The good work at Polmont was continued by William Hogg Smith and his wife, May. They were frequently to be found opening events in halls for all sorts of organisations. In 1949 they included Polmont House in the Scotland’s Gardens Scheme for the first time. The event was run to raise funds for the Queen’s District Nursing Association and visitors were charged 2s 6d for each car, teas were available. The garden was in first-class condition, with an abundance of grand vegetables and beautiful flowers. Adjoining the garden was a well-kept putting green and on this many “foursomes” were played. A large marquee, loaned by J Aitken & Co, Falkirk, was used for the teas and ices, staffed by volunteers. One unusual feature of the day was the opportunity to visit the lower part of the mansion house where a display of works of art, china and ivories collected by the Smiths could be seen. The display of musical jugs, which on being lifted played familiar tunes, was a favourite with the children. Mrs Smith even showed her cameo collection. 400 people attended the event which had much in common with the more recent Doors Open Days.
Illus 10: The Gate Piers at Erskine Hill looking north.
In 1972 Polmont House was added to the List Scottish Buildings of architectural and historic interest. At the time it was empty and the owner was looking to convert it into a hotel. Unfortunately that project failed and it was sold to Bradley Homes, a property developer, which was only interested in the land. An application was made to demolish the listed building in 1978 in order to build a housing estate. A couple of years later George Younger, the Secretary of State for Scotland, called in the application in 1978, much to the fury of the Glasgow firm of chartered surveyors who had taken over. It was only a temporary reprieve. The building had been allowed to get into a condition which made it difficult to renovate and in 1981 it was demolished. Bureaucracy being what it is the building was only de-listed in 2011!
The site is now occupied by Polmont House Gardens and Erskine Hill. Parts of the tall wall of the enclosed garden have survived as modern boundaries, along with the doocot. The gate piers were transplanted from their Station location to the junction of the two roads just mentioned. The lodge now lies marooned and hidden behind tall hedges in a row of other houses.
Sites and Monuments Records
|Polmont House||SMR 915||NS 9332 7828|
|Polmont Old War Memorial||SMR 596||NS 9357 7931|
Geoff B. Bailey (2020)