The estate of Arnotdale lies on the north side of the road heading west towards Camelon from Falkirk town centre and was formed from the lands of Callendar around 1830 by James Russel, a prominent writer and businessman in the town. His partner, Henry Aitken, took land to the west belonging to Tophill and established Darroch. Over the following years Russel set up all the normal accoutrements of a gentleman’s estate – a large mansion house (SMR 945), doocot (SMR 4), walled garden, greenhouses, potting sheds, lodges, sundial, drives, a fountain, and appropriate tree planting.
By the time that the house had been completed James Russel was the first town clerk of Falkirk and in 1843 he was admitted to the Highland Society of Scotland – he had made the grade!
The 1830 mansion was typical of the period with panelled corner pilasters, a low parapet and a central advanced bay housing a recessed arched doorway framed by fluted columns of the Doric order. The windows were large and symmetrically arranged with dressed margins. The stonework was of high-quality polished ashlar with a prominent plinth course. To either side the chimney stacks were made into features extending up from the parapet. On the north side, as was usual, was the single-storey kitchen and servants’ wing. These opened up onto a courtyard with stores, coach-houses and
outhouses opposite, and stables set off to either side. The latter were one and a half-storey and their southern gables were provided with large ornate arched Venetian window settings, which framed the front prospect of the house. Between the stables and the house were two monolithic pillars supporting gates.
Behind the coach-house was a low range of pig-houses, its plan skewed to the lozenge in order to fit parallel to the house and the walled garden. This garden had tall brick walls capped with stone slabs and was placed in the north-west corner of the initial land-owning, which was why it was on a different orientation. Its south-east corner approached close up to the stables.
In 1834 a doocot was attached to the north side of the pig-house and a small court opened up in front of it so that it was now flanked by piended single-storey buildings. The doocot is Italianate in style and has blank arched windows on the first floor, the southern one of which sports a sundial with the date.
James Russel wanted to increase the size of the estate and opened up negotiations with his neighbours. To the north were two parks or fields of a little over 2 acres 2 roods belonging to William Forbes of Callendar (parcels 897, 898 & 904 on the 1st ed OS map) and these he initially leased, before arranging an excambion for them plus another 2 acres to the east (parcel 888) in 1850 for 3.5 acres of land at the Randygate. These fields were used to graze the carriage horse and milk cows and were surrounded by land which formed part of the Kilns estate whose proprietor was Mrs Nimmo (parcel 905 & 894). Having acquired these fields he then had to feu the northern portions to the Scottish Midland Junction Railway Company in 1852. In 1857 he sub-feued parcel 888 to his daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband, Grahame Hardie of the Falkirk Ironworks for the construction of Burnbrae House. Then in 1859 he acquired from Peter Nimmo of Kilns the 2 roods 8 poles of land to the east of Arnotdale house that bordered Kilns Road (894) and subsequently placed the rear entrance drive across it.
A horticulturalist visiting the area in 1844 noted that Arnotdale was “what a gentleman’s garden ought to be… extensive and carefully kept collection of greenhouse plants, there are specimens of ericas, roses, calceolarias, fuschias, geraniums, and a whole host of others… There is a hydrangea with bunches of flowers 36 inches in circumference. The fruits are of the best selected kinds and promise great crops. The border flowers embrace many that hold more conspicuous situations in many gardens; while the judicious system of manuring secures at once quality and size in vegetables. The hothouses and beds are well constructed and most prolific…” (Stirling Observer 4 July 1844).
This required a team of gardeners and in the 1840s-1850s Archibald Miller, Charles White, Andrew Hughes and James Gun are all mentioned as gardeners there. A fountain was installed in 1853 as a “jet d’eau.” It was gravity fed by water from South Bantaskine for which a legal right was acquired. This right was then shared with Mayfield (the home of James Russel’s second son) and Burnbrae (his daughter). Over the years the garden ornaments were augmented with statues and vases.
Even greater attention was paid to building up an arboretum, the faded glory of which can still be seen to this day. The collection includes purple beeches, a Wellingtonia, Irish and English yews, golden-tressed laburnum, cedrus deodora, cedrus atlantica, cupressus erectus, veredis, and Lawsoniannas. Immediately in front of the mansion house is a weeping ash with golden yews on either side. On the south lawn an old Scotch yew was transplanted at great trouble into Arnotdale from Mungalhead in 1860. There were set-backs, as in February 1856 when several trees were lost in a storm.
In 1857 Russel offered the grounds of Arnotdale for the annual show of the Falkirk Horticultural Society. A large tent was erected on the lawn opposite the house and the Camelon Band played – it was a great success.
James Russel died at Arnotdale on 4 February 1858 and that year the horticultural show moved to Wilson’s Buildings in the High Street of Falkirk. The estate fell to his eldest son, also James, who had a career in banking. James Russel jnr was also a keen gardener and in 1860 reported that the fine specimen tree, Picea Nobilis from the auriferous regions of California, at Arnotdale had grown six feet within the last two years.
It must have been James Russel jnr who enlarged and redesigned the house, adding the two familiar large consoled balconied window bays with pediments to the south front. These were fitted in between the original angle pilasters and the columned door surround.
A longer projecting bay was added to the west side of the original block at its northern end. This has shell-headed niches on splayed sides. A smaller bay was added to the east.
However, James Russel jnr did not have long to enjoy the estate and died on 31 November 1860 at Arnotdale. His son, another James had taken up residence at Dundas Castle and had no interest in Arnotdale which was advertised to let:
“To be let, for such period as may be agreed upon, THE MANSION-HOUSE of ARNOTDALE with the Furniture therein, and Offices, Gardens, Greenhouses, Vineries, Pleasure Ground, Parks, & c. Attached, extending to fully 10 Acres, finely situated to the West of the Town of Falkirk, and near the Falkirk and Grahamston Stations on the North British Railway.
The Mansion House has hitherto been occupied by the Proprietor, is handsomely furnished, and contains 4 Public Rooms, 6 Bedrooms, and 2 Small Dressing Rooms, besides Nurseries, Butler’s Room and Pantry, Kitchen and Scullery, Baths, Cellars, Servants’ Accommodation, & c. The Offices, which include Stables, Byre, Coach-house, & c, are large and commodious and the Fruit and Kitchen Gardens are walled in and well stocked with Fruit Trees. There are 4 Vineries in full bearing, a large Greenhouse, Peach-house, and Stove. The Pleasure Ground, Woods, and Shrubberies, are tastefully laid out with rare and valuable Trees, Shrubs, and Bedding Plants. There are two Porters’ Lodges on the Property.” (FH 15 August 1867, 1).
John Higginbotham, a merchant in Glasgow, was the first lessee. He agreed a lease in 1867 for three years and this was subsequently renewed for another two years. One of the conditions of let was that he had to keep not less than three gardeners –standards had to be maintained. One of these three had to be James Don, the existing gardener, though he was at liberty to remove him with the agreement of the Trustees. Writing in 1869 Gillespie was effervescent about the planting: “We are also overpowered with the blaze of gay and gaudy blossoms. Still, from the exquisite commingling of colours, the loveliest, if not the grandest, of the floral beds, is that in which the grey cantauria, with its richly-powdered leaves, alternates with the “cloth of gold” geranium, the blue lobellia, and the dwarf beet. Many beautiful shrubs and trees are likewise artistically set throughout the grounds; including the golden yew; the delicate Wellingtonia; the weeping gean, with its drooping foliage and bridal blooms; the gorgeous rhododendron plant; and the golden-tressed laburnum. But on the south lawn there is, perhaps rarest of them all, an old Scotch yew, which was transplanted into Arnotdale from Mungalhead, some six years ago.”(Gillespie 1868, 35).
In 1877 a two year lease was taken by James Ross who had made his money by establishing a chemical works at Lime Wharf, Tamfourhill. He had just sold his business as a going concern and rather than live adjacent to the works at Wallside House which he had built he chose to use Arnotdale for his retirement. The house now included a parlour, library, drawing room, dining room, lobby, stair, upper lobby, white bedroom, Mrs Russel’s bedroom, bedroom off Mrs Russel’s bedroom, best or Walnut bedroom (west side facing the front), Mr Russel’s bedroom, west bedroom, garret, nursery, night nursery, bathroom, two water closets, pantry, butler’s room, kitchen, scullery, servants’ bedroom west, servants’ bedroom east, butler’s room, laundry, kitchen passage and shoe hall. Behind the house there was the back court with a three- stalled stable, byre, two coach houses, the laundry or washing house, milk house, potato house, barn, pig house and potting sheds. The lease agreement only stipulated two gardeners.
James Ross had been brought up in relatively humble circumstances in Airth and was quite a sociable man. He soon opened up the estate for special occasions. In 1878 and 1879 the Falkirk Horticultural Society was granted the use of the grounds for its annual September show. The following year the lease was extended by a year and there was a Grand Vocal and Instrumental Promenade Concert there. As well as the choir the event was attended by the bands of the Falkirk Iron Works and Whins of Milton. Free Lodges and charity schools also got opportunities to visit the well-kept gardens. The lease was continued until 1883 when James Ross bought the house and estate outright. Together with part of the glebe on the other side of the turnpike road this purchase cost him £6,700. Among the “movables” included in the sale were a stone stature in the grounds (the Prodigal Son) and a Roman altar in the greenhouse. Ross continued to look after the gardens and often contributed plants to decorate the halls of local societies. Structurally his main addition seems to have been an indoor swimming pool capable of being heated. He also had a fine art collection of old masters and modern artists. He died at his residence on 10 June 1893.
Mrs Ross continued to live at Arnotdale until her death at the very end of the century. In January 1900 Arnotdale House was advertised to let furnished. The new tenant was Robert Barr, the aerated water manufacturer. A reporter from the Falkirk Herald was allowed in to see the grounds:
“On the invitation of Mr Robert Barr, aerated water manufacturer, the occupier of the estate, we had the privilege the other day of visiting the grounds, and we were struck with the fact that how few there must be who are aware of their great wealth in the matter of rare trees and shrubs. Though the estate is not a large one, so far as broad acres go, the grounds have been so skilfully laid out and so effectively wooded that when once inside, and standing in the middle of the large and magnificent lawn in front of the mansion-house, once could almost fancy that he has been transported to a delightful open space in the midst of an extensive forest or woodland. Though almost within a stone-throw, in the one direction, there is the Camelon Road, and in the other, the Grahamston and Larbert Railway, neither are in the slightest degree visible, and one cannot fail to be impressed with the fine conception of landscape gardening possessed by those who originally laid out the grounds, and the fine taste which seems to have led former proprietors of the estate, regardless of expense, to stock them with trees and shrubs of a class not to be found elsewhere in this district, and which are rarely to be seen in estates of much larger dimensions in other parts of the country.
As you enter the lawn from the carriage drive there are to be seen massive specimens of coniferous and deciduous trees in perfect health, together with a grand yew, of the taxus baccato variety, which had a diameter of 55 feet. This tree was brought to Arnotdale from Mungalhead in the last day of 1860. It was then a good age, and so large that doubts were entertained as to whether it would shift. It was safely uprooted, but owing to its great weight, the conveyance on which it was taken broke down on the way, and the tree for a time completely blocked the street. Beside this yew is a smaller one, the gold-coloured foliage of which has at present a very pretty appearance. Planted here and there in the beautiful lawn will be found also fine specimens of cedrus deodora, cedrus atlantica, cupressus erectus, veredis, and Lawsoniannas, together with some noble types of the Irish yew, and a very fine weeping ash. Immediately in front of the mansion house will be seen a splendidly grown weeping ash, which forms a charming arbour. On either side are golden yews, 24 feet high, and the combination is exceedingly picturesque and effective. A few paces away are a couple of remarkably good English yews. From this point, on the lawn one sees in front of him, and, indeed, around him, as he gazes on the foliage of the beautiful trees, a variety of colour so striking that it will not readily be forgotten. Occupying convenient positions are large clumps of rhododendrons in a mass of magnificent bloom, from creamy white to darkest purple. One of these clumps has been so trained as to form an arbour or quiet retreat. At the west end of the lawn is an ornamental fish pond, a fine fountain, which was playing brightly, and adding not a little to the charm of the whole surroundings. To the south is a beautiful bed of Ghent azaleas, covered with their bright orange blossoms. The specimen trees here are numerous, the most striking being some capital oaks and walnuts, while special mention may be made of a grand specimen of the sequoia sempervirens tree, belonging to the same family as the Wellingtonia gigantea, of which there are several giant specimens at Arnotdale. There are also grand types of the picea excelsea tree which, with their glaucous colours, are very effective. On the lawn at the western side of the mansion house, is a magnificent yew of the “Blue Peter” variety which spreads its branches over a considerable circumference of ground. This tree will rivet the attention and evoke the admiration of any one having a knowledge of such matters. It is quite a distinct variety. Its habit is entirely different from the other yews mentioned, and a specimen of its size is rarely met with. Quite at hand are some beautiful cedars of Lebanon, and variety of splendid flowering shrubs in magnificent bloom. On our way to the garden we passed a capitally executed statue of the “Prodigal Son,” the work, we understand, of the same sculptor who executed the Wellington Monument in High Street. The gardens are well laid out, and are also of no little interest. Special mention may be made of a fine group of American aloes on stands. Inside the conservatory will be found some magnificent pots of malmaison carnations, geraniums, and dracaenas. Amongst the geraniums is a new specimen of a hybrid, the result of a cross between the zonale and ivy-leaved varieties, showing grand trusses of dark pink semi-double blooms. There is a long range of vineries, peach-house, and tomato house, with fruit in an advances stage. In close proximity to the gardens, in a substantial building with glass roof, is an excellent swimming bath, fitted with every modern appliance for muscle development. The estate lodges have a most attractive external appearance, and are quite in keeping with the other parts of the estate. It is evident from the condition of the grounds and garden that Arnotdale has had a succession of experienced head gardeners, and Mr Barr has in Mr Hogg, the present gardener, one who, from his horticultural knowledge and experience, will maintain the traditions of the place.” (FH 26 June 1901, 5).
Robert Barr had a particular interest in growing roses. He had been quite an athlete in his youth and must have found the swimming pool attractive. He died at Arnotdale on 15 January 1904 and once more the house was for rent:
“The House contains 4 Public Rooms, 6 Bedrooms, and 2 Dressing-Rooms, Day and Night Nurseries, Bathroom, Cloak-Room, Lavatories, Kitchen, Servants’ Accommodation, etc. The grounds extend to several Acres, and there are first-class Vineries, Conservatories, etc.; also large swimming Bath under cover, with means of heating. Ample stable accommodation and all other conveniences. Two lodges, occupied by gardener and coachman.” (FH 13 February 1904, 8).
Robert Barr had rented the premises with the furniture and in May 1905, the contents were sold off by James Ross’ Trustees. As well as the high-class furniture the sale included the paintings, books, silver plate ornaments, crystal, and other effects.
In 1906 the new occupant of Arnotdale was Sheriff Alexander Moffat. In 1900 he had been appointed as Sheriff-Substitute of Shetland and was transferred to Falkirk in 1904. Again the grounds were opened up to specific events for the public. In May 1907 the Falkirk and District Choral Union held a grand open-air concert there, attended by the band of the Seaforth Highlanders. Occasional brass band competitions invigorated the scene over the years, as did dancing tournaments. Falkirk High School was able to use the field to the north for inter-school cricket competitions. There were also private parties. In July 1908, for example, over a hundred guests attended a garden party featuring tennis, clock golf, croquet and shooting. There was also a tree-naming competition with over 36 different species of tree.
The Ross Trustees decided to sell the property and it was put on the market in November 1909 for the upset price of £8,000. There were evidently no takers for Mrs Blanche Moffat died at Arnotdale on 4 December 1913, aged 49 years. Sheriff Moffat continued his work until the 29th March 1921 when he too passed away at home.
The House had already changed hands. The newspaper notice of the sale contains a few more details of the house which are worth repeating:
“FOR SALE, by Public Roup, within the ROYAL HOTEL, FALKIRK, on THURSDAY, 15th January, 1920, at 2 o’clock Afternoon, the PROPERTY of ARNOTDALE, FALKIRK. The House, which contains 4 Public Rooms, 7 bedrooms, 2 Dressing-Rooms, 2 Bathrooms, Butler’s Room and Pantry, Kitchen, Scullery, Cellars, Servants’ accommodation, etc., stands in its own grounds, extending to fully 11 Acres. The offices, which include Stables, Coach-house, etc., are commodious. There is also a walled garden, with Vineries, etc., and a Swimming Bath. The ornamental Grounds and Shrubberies are tastefully laid out with rare and valuable trees and shrubs. The Grass Parks on the property extend to about 5 ½ Acres. There are also 2 Lodges and a Cottage on the property. UPSET PRICE, £5600.” (FH 3 January 1920, 8).
Just over a week later Falkirk Council decided to purchase Arnotdale at the upset price for the maternity service and child welfare scheme, but things did not go to plan. Finally, in December 1920, Arnotdale was secured by Robert Dollar for the town of Falkirk. The rest of the story may be found under Dollar Park.
G.B. Bailey, 2020