Herbertshire Castle

In the early medieval period the ancient barony of Dunipace was the second largest in East Stirlingshire.  It was named after the two hills that stood on the north side of the River Carron at one of the most important fords.  It was here that the English army under Edward I crossed on the way to the siege of Stirling Castle.  It would seem that the motte at this location may have been the centre of the early barony, although it lay towards the east end of the lands.  By 1350 the name of the barony changed to that of Herbertshire, though references do occur to the old appellation after that date.  The change may have been due to the centre of power moving to what is now called Herbertshire Castle in the parish of Dunipace.  This spot was more central and guarded another early ford as well as the first bridge over the river at Denny.

The first castle at Herbertshire was probably an earthwork with timber fortifications and a tower.  It stood on a natural hill or bluff dominating the river and the countryside around.  A photograph taken from the top of the later tower shows the view looking to the south-east towards the town of Denny and the river valley down to the Forth Estuary.

Illus 2: View from Herbertshire Castle with Denny Parish Church just to the right of centre and the schools in Duke Street to its right, c1910.

A reference incorporating anew the free barony of Herbertshire in 1510 makes mention of “le Courthill in Denypace principale messuagium,” that is to say the Courthill in Dunipace to be the principal seat of the newly erected barony (Reid 2009, 308).  Courthill is a term often used for the hills or mottes upon which the tower stood.  Even after many of them went out of use as dwellings the hills remained the legal place for the transaction of various acts such as the transfer of land and as late as 1679 when the charter for Little Denovan was confirmed it stipulated that the owner should sound three blasts of a horn at the house of Herbertshire.  This courthill therefore seems to be that at Herbertshire rather than the old motte at the Hills of Dunipace.

Illus 3: Pont’s Map of c1585 (National Library of Scotland).

The de Morhams who possessed Herbertshire in the 13th and 14th centuries were heavily involved in the Wars of Independence, usually on the Scottish side, and it seems most probable that they would have defended this and their other property

In the last decade of the 14th century Herbertshire came into the hands of the Sinclairs, Earls of Orkney, by marriage.  The original L-shaped tower house seems to have been built by them in the early 15th century.  It was large and measured 63ft 6in from north to south and 43ft 8in from east to west.  A visitor in the late 19th century recollected that “One, if not two, of the public rooms on the first floor had double doors, and the wall between these doors was at least 7 ft. thick” (Falkirk Herald 26 December 1914).  As there is a steep slope to the river on the south side it is evident that the entrance was at the re-entrant angle on the north side.  Unfortunately the RCAHMS was unable to record the structure and so we have no details.  Pont’s map shows it as a four-storey tower with two gables – reflecting the two roof ridges set perpendicular to one another.

Illus 4: Block Plan of the Tower House at Herbertshire (after MacGibbon & Ross).

The first mention of the castle and fortalice comes in a charter of 1574.  It appears again as “castle, tower and fortalice of Harbertshyre with the greens” in 1608 when James VI granted to Alexander, Earl of Linlithgow, the lands and barony ordaining the manor place of Herbertshire to be the principal messuage.  This is repeated in subsequent documents.  That of 1657 gives a little more detail of the surroundings: “the lands and barony of Harbertshyre comprehending thairin the tounes and lands underwritten at length thairin and ingrossit in the charter granted to him of the samen Togidder with the toure fortalice maner place houss biggings yairds ortcheards wodes fishings parkes mylnes multures and sequels pertinents of the samen.”  (information from John Reid).

The so-called “Anonymous Traveller” in 1697 passed through the area: “Hence I went to Halbertshire. This is, a strong high tower house built by the Laird of Roslin [ie the Sinclairs] in King James the 5th time [ie early 16th century].  The Lairds of Roslin have been great architects and patrons of building for these many generations.” (Hist. MSS. Comm. Portland MSS. II, 56.)

Illus 5: Herbertshire Castle on its hill looking north across the River Carron. The broad stony nature of the river bed here would have been suitable as a ford

The early village would have lain to the east of the castle near to the ford and bridgehead.  Its site is reflected in the long property boundaries extending at right angles to Stirling Road from Dunipace North Church to the Anchor Inn.  Originally this would have continued on the same line to the south-west as far as the line of trees in the park that are shown on the 1865 Ordnance Survey map running NW to SE.  These appear to mark the former line of Northfield Road from Denny Bridge to Broomhill and Low Quarter Mill (now cut off by the M80 motorway).

Illus 6: 1865 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).
Illus 7: Roy’s Map of 1755.

The property boundaries are shown as run riggs on Roy’s map.  A carved stone, known as the “Hornbeam” lay just to the west of the line of trees opposite to Stirling Road (RCAHMS 1963, 406).  It would therefore have been at the junction of the roads to Stirling, Northfield and Denny.  It appears to have been inscribed, but was already so badly weathered in 1892 that it could not be made out.  The name may be associated with a tree of this species that stood on the spot and the stone would have marked the boundary between the village and the policy land of the castle.

The Douglas and the Sinclair families were two of the leading noble families in Scotland and the large barony of Herbertshire was an important holding for them.  Despite this we know little about the early tower there.  In 1608 it was purchased by Alexander Livingston, the first Earl of Linlithgow, but he soon passed it on.  The next dynasty to own it was the Stirlings who occupied it from 1632 to 1768.

The size of the barony of Herbertshire had been slowly diminishing over the centuries.  In the early 14th century a large area along the south side of the River Carron was given to Sir Thomas Lindsay as part of the Knights Hospitallers and parts of it, as well as the remaining lands were subsequently sub-feued.  Despite this the land holdings were still large.  In 1657, for example, the charter for William Stirling describes the holdings:

all and sindrie the lands and barony of Harbertshyre comprehending thairin the tounes and lands underwritten at length thairin and ingrossit in the chartor granted to him of the samen Togidder with the toure fortalice maner place houss biggings yairds ortcheards wodes fishings parkes mylnes multures and sequels pertinents of the samen Lyand within the parochine of Donypace and Denny [respectively?] and the sheriffdom of Stirling [section follows on possessions in parish of St Ninians] — all and sindrie the lands of Heids (excepting that part thairof and Hauch of the samen which lyes from the north and eist pairts of the Watter of Carroune contigue and togidder  from the Cuthilbra eistwards to the lands of Donypace occupyit be William Baird and John Cuthill in Heads) the lands of Cuthiltoune The lands of Lilliesleif The lands of Litle Denny The lands of Mylnetoune The lands lyand betwixt the [blank] Walkmylne of Harbertshyre with the mylne lands and mealling thairof Corne mylne of Harbertshyre the lands commonly callit Dyraikers The lands callit Horsmealing alias the Maynes The lands of Thornknow The lands of Rysk The lands of Hoillhous The lands of Herbland the lands of Fyveaikers The lands of Burnego The lands of Staneinch The lands of Brigland The lands of Buckisyde The lands of Bords The lands of Broadley The lands of Northfield The lands callit Quarter The lands callit the Braes The lands of Drumalyiars The lands of Rullie The lands of Dauchilaig The lands of Ovir Burnhouss and Nether Burnhouss The lands of Croftfoot The lands of Broomhill The lands of Ticketsheugh The lands of Garrech

The Stirlings would have been responsible for the first extension of the old tower – taking the form of a two or three storey structure in the re-entrant angle (numbered 2 on the phase plan) which created a new entrance.  Its roof would have leant against the tower.  This was followed by a simple two-storey wing to the east (3).

In the aftermath of the Battle of Falkirk in 1746 Denny was visited by the Jacobites seeking accommodation.  Stragglers from their army stayed at Quarter House which is just a little to the north and we must assume that Herbertshire Castle was also occupied.  One of the Edinburgh Militia captured at the Falkirk fight was John Home who much later, in 1802, published his History of the Rebellion of 1745.  He was held prisoner at Doune Castle but managed to escape with many others by tying bed sheets together and climbing down them.  He managed to evade the enemy as they searched for the escapees and made his way back to Edinburgh.  It is said that it was while acting as tutor at Herbertshire House in 1755 that John Home heard a ballad called “Gil Morrice”.  Its bold and effective story struck him as a good plot for a play which he wrote and called “Douglas.”  This was a blank verse tragedy and was first performed in Edinburgh in 1756, becoming one of the most successful plays of the period and still taught in Scottish schools up to the Second World War.  The ballad was based upon the traditional burial place of Gil Maurice at Headswood to the east of Denny and the home of Douglas was, of course, Herbertshire Castle.  The “cliffs of Carron” are mentioned, as is the Lady’s Leap and a quaint cottage on its banks known as the Hermitage.  Lady Randolph and the hermit are two of the principal characters and the name of the farm of Gateside, west of Denny, was subsequently changed to Randolph Hill.

George Stirling invested the large sum of £300 in the Darien adventure of the 1690s, which failed, but did not ruin the family.  In the end Herbertshire was sold in 1768 as a result of the lack of male heirs.  The new owner was William Morehead; the year before he had been left considerable property by his father’s cousin of Cavendish Square in London.  He seems to have had great plans for the residence and it is notable that at this period it is always referred to as Herbertshire House and not as a castle.  William Morehead had Robert Adam draw up plans for a new house.  It was never built but the plans are preserved in the Soane Museum, London.  He evidently intended to establish a new dynasty at Herbertshire and in 1786 entailed the estate so that it would remain within the immediate family.

Illus 8: Phase Block Plan of Herbertshire House.  1- 15th century tower; 2 & 3 – 17th century Sinclair extensions; 4-6 late 18th century Morehead additions; 7-9 William Forbes.

From the little information available it is difficult to unravel the developmental history of the house, but what follows fits the existing sources.  It seems to have been William Morehead who aggrandised the old buildings to “enhance” their castellated appearance to the idealised version of a Scottish baronial seat.  The fenestration was altered to create symmetry on the main façade and to admit more light. 

Although the windows overlooking the river were enlarged it was not necessary to impose the same strict geometry as they were less visible.  The battlements were rebuilt and capped with rounded mouldings.  The wallhead of the earlier extension (phase 2 on the plan) was also rebuilt in this style.  A grand entrance hall was added on the west of the tower (6).  The latter given a corner turret and a bartizan over the deeply recessed arched entrance.  To the east of the main buildings two long narrow wings encompassed a small service court.

Illus 9: Herbertshire Castle in its fully developed form, c1850. Looking south-east.

Illus 10: Herbertshire House looking south-west, drawn by Flora Sherriff in 1908.

William Morehead also inherited his relative’s library from Cavendish Square and it was moved into the refurbished house.  Not only was it a large collection but it also contained many valuable and rare specimens.

Illus 11: Grassom’s Map of 1817.

William Morehead also had a substantial range of offices or stables built 150m north of the House.  Its quadrangular form is shown on Grassom’s map of 1817.  The two-storey east front of the stables overlooked the lawn and formed the main façade.  It was almost symmetrical with a central arched pend and similar arched entrances to coach houses at the two ends.  Above the pend was a pediment and an octagonal battlemented tower with cross-shaped windows and the entrance to a doocot on the upper floor.

Illus 12: The East Front of the Stables at Herbertshire.

To the north of the stables was a lodge and so it is possible that an avenue ran between the two.  Certainly this was the case by 1865 when a fine tree-lined drive is depicted on the Ordnance Survey map.  The lodge was located at the point where the old road from Northfield would have entered the policy and it is reasonable to conclude that it was at this time that the road was moved further east to its current position where it forms the boundary of the park.

The picturesque nature of the Carron Glen was fully appreciated at the time.  The Hermitage, some distance up-river, had been constructed to take advantage of a unique setting where the waters plummeted down a rock face confined in a narrow gorge as the course turned suddenly through a right angle.  A road was constructed along the north side of the river to provide access to the varying views and to allow for the exploitation of the timber resource.  Closer to home, the fields on the south side of the river immediately opposite to Herbertshire House were maintained as pasture to provide a suitable setting.  The walled garden of almost three acres lay to the west of the house beside the river and from here a private footbridge took the walker to paths laid out in a wooded area to Stoneywood.  These landscape features were very much in the spirit of the Romantic Movement.

In his early years Francis Jeffrey, afterwards Lord Jeffrey, was a frequent visitor to Herbertshire.  He had an influential political career as the liberal editor of the Edinburgh Review, a Member of Parliament and a judge.  When William Morehead died in June 1783 Jeffrey wrote that he had “lost a most excellent man, and an undoubted friend.”  William Morehead was buried in what was destined to be the family plot at Denny Parish Churchyard.  William Morehead junior succeeded to the estate and seems to have expended a lot of energy on getting the entail removed.  He presented a petition to the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled for himself, and in behalf of William Morehead and Matilda Morehead, his children; John Morehead, Esq. advocate; the Reverend Robert Morehead, one of the ministers of the Episcopal Chapel, in the Cowgate of Edinburgh, for himself, and in behalf of William Ambrose Morehead, Isabella Morehead, Isabella, and Matilda Lockhart Morehead, his infant children; Francis Jeffrey Esq, advocate, and John Jeffrey Esq. residing in Edinburgh, sons of Mrs Henrietta Loudon, and George Jeffrey writer in Edinburgh.  The petition craved for leave to bring in a Bill for authority to exchange certain parts of the entailed estate of Herbertshire, for lands un-entailed, more immediately connected with the mansion house of Herbertshire, and which had been vested in Trustees for the purposes therein mentioned; and also, for the sale of certain other parts of the said entailed estate, for the purpose of paying certain debts of the entailer.  In 1813 he got the result he wanted and in March 1815 the farms of Middle Barnego (45 acres), Buckieside (63 acres) and Whitehill (32 acres) were put up for sale.  These were followed in September 1817 by Hydes, also known as Headswood (63 acres), Blaefaulds (83 acres) and Easter Barnego (97 acres).

Whilst the family had been able to sell some of the outlying lands it was still debatable whether or not they could also sell Herbertshire House and its immediate grounds.  In June 1832 William Morehead agreed to sell the lands and barony of Herbertshire to his brother, the Rev. Dr. Robert Morehead, for £40,000, to be paid in certain instalments of £2,000 each.  However, instead of paying the first instalment Robert presented a bill of suspension denying the right of William either to sell or mortgage any portion of the property as a result of the entail.  William then placed the process in front of the Lord Ordinary, who, on 5 July 1833, decided in favour of Robert.  William therefore appealed to the House of Lords.  In April 1835 Lord Brougham delivered the judgement of the House.  Their Lordships were unanimously of opinion that the entail was a good one; and that the sale to the Rev. Robert Morehead was bad, and they decreed accordingly.

The case has been explained at length because it is a good example of the legal machinations that often took place over disputed ownerships of such estates.  It may sound as though Robert was being malicious but it was obviously a friendly suit set to try the case.

Irrespective of the results of the lawsuit, Robert moved into Herbertshire House and William lived at Glenfuir House in Camelon where he died on 22 April 1834.  Whilst at Herbertshire he had been a Justice of the Peace and had held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel of the Stirlingshire Regiment of Local Militia for the Eastern District.  That December his art collection was put up for sale – it included works by William Vandevelde, Giorgione, Domenichino, Hans Holbein, Rubens, Sir Peter Lely, Berghem, Both, Carlo Maratti, Rembrandt, Hobbema, Teniers, Proccaccina, Ruysdael, Rev John Thomson and Nasmyth.

It would seem that one of the paintings sold at this time may have been the painting of Stirling by Johannes Vostermans and Thomas Van Wyck, the former doing the landscape and the latter the figures.  They were commissioned by Charles II to paint Windsor, but it is not known who requested that of Stirling which dates to around 1674.  This is considered to be the oldest painting of the town.   It was later copied by George Harvie and it is probably that copy that is now at the Smith Institute in Stirling.

Rev Robert Morehead succeeded to the estate but he evidently had no intention of retaining it.  In 1835 it was advertised for sale:

“VALUABLE AND BEAUTIFUL ESTATE IN THE COUNTY OF STIRLING FOR SALE.  THE ESTATE of HERBERTSHORE, situated in the parishes of Dunipace and Denny, is for Sale by private bargain.  It contains 1480 acres or thereby, about 1240 of which are arable and pasture, and 240 of natural and planted woods of the most thriving description.

The estate is moderately rented at L.1709, including feu-duties and rents from houses let on building leases, which last will ultimately fall into the estate, but exclusive of the rent from the mansion-house, Offices, Garden, and Game, which are let, and also of the annual produce from the woods, which is considerable and increasing.  The land tax is redeemed, and the other public burdens do not exceed 4 ¼ per cent. of the gross rental.  There is an heritable right to the teinds, which are all valued.

The lands are in general well adapted for the culture both of wheat and turnip crops, and farm produce finds a ready sale in the immediate neighbourhood.  Minerals are abundant, and both coal and ironstone could be wrought with advantage.  A freestone quarry was opened up last year, at a corner of the estate remote from the mansion-house, and adjoining the public road, which promises to be extremely valuable – the stone being of the best quality, and capable of being obtained in very large masses.  The value of this quarry, as well as of the estate generally, will be materially enhanced by the branch canal or railroad, which it is proposed to run from the Forth and Clyde Canal to Stirling, and the line of which, as surveyed, will pass within a few hundred yards of the quarry.  In consequence, a considerable quantity of ground will admit of being feued to great advantage.

The Mansion-House, which is handsome, commodious, and in excellent repair, is beautifully situated on a fine natural terrace, elevated about 30 feet above the stream of the Carron, and commands in the foreground a view of the finely wooded banks of that river, beyond which the more distant country is seen through a great variety of trees of large size and singular beauty, scattered in picturesque groups over the adjoining lawn.  The precipitous and wooded banks of the Carron, which intersects or bounds the Estate for upwards of three miles, are noted for their romantic beauty, and are now rendered easily accessible by the formation of a private road through Carron Glen.  The Estate is in general of an undulating and diversified surface, finely interspersed with plantations, and affording many delightful situations for villas or ornamental cottages.

The Garden, extending, with the shrubbery, to upwards of three acres, is well laid out, and in excellent order.  The offices are substantial, extensive, and situated at a convenient distance from the mansion-house.  The Stirlingshire fox-hounds generally hunt within reach.  Besides the usual varieties of game on a lowland estate, including pheasants, there are grouse and black game on two detached fields of upwards of 100 acres each; and the Carron and its tributary streams afford capital sport to the angler.  The Estate is situated in an excellent neighbourhood, about 20 miles from Glasgow, 30 from Edinburgh, and nearly equidistant, or about six miles, from Stirling and Falkirk.  Coaches to all these places pass the gate almost every hour of the day…”

(Caledonian Mercury 27 June 1835, 1).
Illus 13: Plan of Herbertshire from 1835 prepared for the sale (Falkirk Archives).

It was purchased in September 1835 by William Forbes MP of Callendar for £52,000.  Much of the estate was still being run by a trust set up by his late father, with his mother at the helm.  Mrs Forbes, nee Chalmers, lost her husband in June 1815 when her eldest son was only 9 years old.  Charles Laing was appointed the local Factor and kept an eye on the house.  After a month of heavy winds he wrote to William Forbes on 20 December 1835:

The only thing I have seen wrong about Herbertshire since Martinmas was about a month ago during some very high winds several of the slates of Herbertshire house and the offices were thrown off and a piece sheet lead torn out of one the gutters which required to be got replaced. I put the slaters to work and got the whole put to rights and got the roofs all made watertight and since the weather being calmer have had no further trouble with that department.” 

(Forbes Papers 1220-21).

After making certain alterations, Mrs Forbes took up residence in Herbertshire Castle in 1837.  Different members of the family stayed with her from time to time.  William Forbes Gatacre was born at the castle on 3 December 1843. He was the third son Mrs Forbes’ daughter, Jessie, and Edward Lloyd Gatacre, of Gatacre near Shrewsbury.  He attended the Royal Military College at Sandhurst and entered the army as an ensign,  before purchasing the rank of lieutenant and going on to become a renowned general.  On 7 March 1849 Mrs Forbes’ youngest daughter, Katherine, married Captain John Russell RN at Herbertshire and their first son was born there on 4 June 1850.

The main alteration made in 1836 was the insertion of a tall two-storey block into the west end of the courtyard next to the old tower house.  The new block extended over the south wing of the courtyard where an oriel window was placed on the south front providing magnificent views over the valley.  A small octagonal crenallated tower clasped the north-east corner of the new block to continue the baronial theme of previous decades.

Illus 14: Herbertshire Castle looking north-west.

Around 1838 Mr Cuthill erected his own gas works and supplied gas to Herbertshire Castle as well as to Herbertshire Print Works and Carron Vale House.

The minerals on the estate were fully exploited by the Forbes family and in 1837 numerous bore holes were drilled in order to make the most of them.  This was welcomed by the local people as jobs were needed to replace those at the printfields which were closing due to mechanisation.  Mrs Forbes became a familiar sight in the neighbourhood and made many charitable gifts to the poor of Denny.  She also allowed improving societies such as Sunday Schools to visit the grounds.  This culminated in August 1858 when almost a thousand members of the Stenhousemuir Juvenile Temperance Society or Band of Hope travelled to Herbertshire where they were able to admire the old oak trees, planes, Dutch hedges and a Spanish chestnut.  That chestnut is still standing as a forlorn reminder of its former setting.  It is well over three hundred years old!  Mrs Forbes continued to reside at Herbertshire until her death on 17 January 1860.  Just days earlier she and her family had welcomed their tenants and others connected with the castle to a supper and ball there.  Mr Lindsay, butler, occupied the chair and Mrs Dickie, housekeeper, made the arrangements.  After presentations the company proceeded upstairs to the dining room where dancing took place.

With the death of Mrs Forbes it looked like that family’s residential use of the house had ended and Colonel Forbes lived in Callendar House.  Herbertshire was rented out, fully furnished, but the first tenant, James Jamieson of Glasgow died there on 11 July 1861.  The following year it was advertised for let.  Sir Andrew Buchanan, Her Majesty’s Ambassador at the Prussian Court, was in residence at Herbertshire Castle in August 1863.  In 1866 the tenant was a Mrs Buchanan, and in 1869 Mary Lyon Dennistoun, relict of Archibald Buchanan Esq of Auchentorlie in Dumbartonshire.  It was then taken on by Alexander Duncan junior of Carrongrove Papermill who moved in after his wedding in October 1869.  Alexander Duncan was a local man and well-known in the area.  He was a member of the School Board and active in the community.  He also had an interest in presenting dogs at shows and was often seen walking around the grounds of Herbertshire.

After the death of Alexander Duncan, Herbertshire Castle was leased to Thomas Wilson Richmond for use as a boarding school for young gentlemen under his rectorship.  He had successfully run two such schools in Sunderland and Perthshire, and the Herbertshire Castle Boarding School opened on 4 September 1877.  The newspaper advertisement says that the schoolrooms were separate from the house, which was used as bedroom accommodation, dining and lounging.  Presumably the classes were held in the east wing.  A cricket team was quickly established, though they were thoroughly beaten when they played the nearby established private school of Blair Lodge, Polmont.  Fox hunting, of a sort, was also indulged in.  Three “foxes,” selected from the older pupils, would leave the house twenty minutes before their pursuers – the hounds – and left a trail of sawdust at intervals for them to follow.  The hunt would cross farmers’ fields as well as run along roads or canal towpaths and could cover up to twenty miles.  Usually the foxes were back at the house long before the hounds and some of the hounds got lost and had to hire taxis to get back.  These were bi-annual events and caused much amusement amongst the local population.  Military drill was on the curriculum and in 1880 Louis Saurin composed a grand military march called “The Herbertshire Castle.”  The younger locals were invited into the grounds to make supervised use of the sporting facilities – a form of outreach that is familiar today.  The vice-principal, JW Reid, also gave lectures in the church halls of the area. 

John Wilson Reid was a hard working charismatic teacher and when, in February 1888, he was appointed mathematics master of the new Inverness Academy it was clear to his uncle, Principal Wilson, that the days of the boarding school were numbered.  For a year he hired temporary staff as replacements and at the beginning of the summer of 1889 he closed the school to take up private tuition, also in Inverness.  In the last term at Herbertshire Academy his pupils presented him with a portrait of himself in a gold frame inscribed: “Presented to T.R. Wilson, Esq., by his pupils, as a token of deepest regard, on his leaving Herbertshire Castle. May, 1889.”

Once again the house was rented out and in June 1894 Donald Macdonald, building contractor, was in residence.  He allowed the Denny and Dunipace Agricultural Society to use the grounds for their annual show of farm stock and dairy produce.  This show continued for several decades at Herbertshire Castle Park under various tenants.  The following advertisement appeared in The Scotsman of 16 February 1895:

“To LET for such period as may be agreed on.  HERBERTSHIRE CASTLE, with or without Field in front thereof, Policies, large Fruit-bearing Garden, Offices and Lodges, beautifully situated in the neighbourhood of Denny, from which there are several trains daily to Edinburgh, Glasgow, and the North.

The Castle contains Drawing Room, Dining-Room, Library, Seven large and Two small bed-Rooms, Dressing Room, Bath-Room (with all conveniences), Kitchen, Laundry, and Servants’ Accommodation.

The Offices are unusually commodious, fitted for a large establishment.

Apply to Mr James Stevenson, Callendar Park, Falkirk”

Donald Macdonald was still at Herbertshire Castle in May 1895 and was working on Portnambothaig Pier when he was declared bankrupt.  His furniture was sold off and as it shows the style in which the tenants of the house lived. The notice of sale is reproduced here:

“AT HERBERTSHIRE CASTLE, DENNY, ON SATURDAY, 25TH MAY, AT TWELVE O’CLOCK, PUBLIC SALE OF HOSUE FURNITURE AND PLENISHING, ITALIAN WALNUT CABINET with Mirror Back, FINE BUHL TWO DOOR CABINET, ROSEWOOD COTTAGE PIANO by POHLMANN, CAPITAL MAHOGONY 3 – DOOR BOOKCASE AND CHIFFONIERE, MAHOGANY 3 DOOR WARDROBE, FINE ENGRAVINGS & C, & C. (Sold owing to the Expiry of the present tenant’s Lease)…. Including Rosewood Cottage Piano by Pohlmann & Son, Italian Walnut 4-Door Cabinet with Mirror Back, Walnut Shaped and Circular Tables, Rosewood Drawing-Room Couch, Easy Chairs and Small Chairs, Mantel and Console Mirrors in Gilt Frames, Expensive Buhl 2-Door cabinet with Ormolu Mounts, Whatnot, Marble Clocks, Ornaments, & c., Set Mahogany 16ft Telescope Tables, Mahogany Enclosed Sideboard, Sofa in Haircloth, East Chair and 32 Chairs in Morocco, Spanish Mahogany 3-Door Bookcase and Chiffonniere, and about 200 Volumes Books, including 21 Volumes Encyclopaedia Britannica, 9 Vols Illustrated London News, Large Quantity Magazines and Pamphlets; Mahogany Writing Table, Consulting Desk, Mahogany 3-Door Wardrobe, Capital Enamelled Pine Wardrobes and Bed-Room Plenishing, Birch Bed-Room suite, Chests Mahogany Drawers, Brass and Iron bedsteads, Hair and Straw Mattresses, Feather Beds, Brussels Stair and Room Carpets, Stair and Picture Rods, Curtains, Oil Paintings, Fine Old Engravings, including the “Waterloo Banquet,” “Wellington and Blucher,” “Nelson, “ “The Trial of King Charles,” “Strafford,” “Effie Deans, “ & c; Oak Hall Stands and Chairs in Mahogany Cases, 2 Wheel Barometers, Usual Kitchen and Culinary Requisites, & C & c.  Also FAMILY CARRIAGE, GIG, PONY CART, AGED MARE, HARNESS, NEW BARROW, 2 HALF-BRED JERSEY AND 3 AYRSHIRE COWS.”

(FH 25 May 1895, 4)

Old single trees in parkland landscapes are always vulnerable to the wind.  Not surprisingly in the Great Storm of January 1844 a number of trees in the grounds of Herbertshire Castle were blown down.  However that same storm also saw the roof lifted off the nearby Lawhill Public School which had only been built a few years before.  The roof of Dunipace Public School also suffered severely.  In December 1895 a historic plane tree at Herbertshire Castle, which stood on the eastern boundary of the park, was blown down and blocked Stirling Road for a while – it had two trunks, one of which was 5ft in diameter.  It was known as the “Clasped” Tree because the trunks were bound together by an iron belt.

The next short chapter in the story of Herbertshire Castle was as the country destination of hundreds of poor children taking a break from the rigours of life in the capital city.  In the early summer of 1898 the “Edinburgh Holiday House for Poor Children” furnished the castle in a simple fashion for the purpose of receiving boys from five to twelve years, and girls from five to fourteen years of age.  It was open all year round and during school time a doctor’s certificate to the effect that the child needed a change had to be shown, and in all cases the parents had to be willing to let them go.   As a precaution the homes from which they came had to be free from infection.  The castle’s large and airy rooms made splendid dormitories, dining, and play-rooms.  The children got three meals each day of what was described as “good, plain food”.  The matron was Miss Younger, Herbertshire, Denny.

Illus 16: Edinburgh children at Herbertshire Castle, 1898.

The holiday home did not last long and for a couple of years the house stood empty.  Then in June 1904 it was announced that Captain Ian and Lady Helen Forbes were to move into Herbertshire Castle, which was being loaned to them by his cousin, Mr Forbes of Callendar.  The castle was overhauled

and fitted and filled with all the conveniences and luxuries of modern life…  In the system of decoration whole colours have been employed – there are no such things as patterns in either wall-paper or carpets – and as far as possible the colours have been limited to two.  For instance, the library and smoking-room, which was formerly the dining-room, is done off in red paper and green carpet; the drawing-room, in white paper and blue carpet; and the dining-room, which used to be the library and smoking-room, in green paper and red carpet.  The effect in each case is sweet and pleasing.  The main rooms of the castle are on the second floor – the library, the drawing room, with its fine panelled ceiling; her Ladyship’s bedroom, with its beautiful marble fireplace, etc.  On the first flat the rooms consist of the entrance hall, the dining-room, kitchen, etc.”

(Falkirk Herald 10 September 1904, 7).

Captain Ian Forbes was the eldest son of Colonel Forbes, laird of Rothiemay in Banffhsire and a second cousin of Mr Forbes of Callendar.  He had been attached to the Gordon Highlanders during the South African War and was present at the siege of Ladysmith.  In 1904 he was an adjutant of the 1st Lanark Volunteers, Glasgow.  Lady Helen was a daughter of the third Earl of Craven and was a well-known novelist and writer.  At the time that they moved into the house they had a boy and a girl named Ian and Victoria, aged three and one years.  The local reporter for the Falkirk Herald was pleased to see the house used and wryly noted: “Captain Ian and Lady Helen Forbes of Herbertshire Castle are apparently going to be something better than mere ornaments to local society.  They seem anxious to identify themselves with all the good work going on in the place.  This is as it should be.” (Falkirk Herald 19 November 1904, 5).

They were as good as their word and before long the Boys’ Brigade inspection took place in front of the house and open-air concerts were performed there to raise money for local causes.  In August 1906 the very first Denny and Dunipace Co-operative Children’s Gala Day was held in the grounds and over 2,000 children attended!  The Co-op supplied milk and pastries.  The main features were a long parade, followed by games such as football.  Punch and Judy shows were popular, as was a display by a team from the Camelon Gymnasium.  The galas were destined to continue for several decades.

Lady Helen Forbes had a new book entitled “Lady Marion and the Plutocrat” published in 1906.  By a strange coincidence another one-time resident of Herbertshire Castle had a book of poetry published that same year.  Mrs Macdonald had been a housemaid there and her book entitled “Musings at Eventide” contained 150 pieces.  She had not led a privileged life.  Born at Stripside, Denny, in 1834, her father had been employed in Stoneywood Chip Mill.  At the age of 8 she went to work in Denovan Printfield and then entered domestic service in Glasgow where her mistress taught her to read and write.  Lady Forbes went on to write “The Saga of the Seventh Division” released in 1920 recounting the story of a military unit in the opening stages of the First World War.

The Forbes family acquired Herbertshire Castle as their jointure house – that is a residence settled on a wife for the period during which she survived her husband.  It had also been used for the eldest son before he inherited Callendar House.  The latest refurbishment had been undertaken so that it could return to the latter role and in June 1907 Captain and Lady Forbes removed to Stenhouse, which they rented from the Sherriff family and Charles W Forbes and his wife took up residence in Herbertshire Castle.  A few months later she gave birth there to twin sons.  The family took up the charitable work of their relatives and that Christmas started a tradition of presenting the schoolchildren of Denny with gifts.  In the first year these consisted of sweets, pastry and an orange.  Later on the sweets came in elaborate cardboard boxes, some of which are preserved in Falkirk Museum.  Other activities included a cake sale in the grounds of Herbertshire Castle on behalf of the parish church, bazaars, and favours for the Primrose League in which they took a particular concern.  Charles W Forbes captained the county cricket team and matches were played at Denny.  It was whilst he was living at Herbertshire that his father died on 21 July 1914 and he inherited Callendar House and the remainder of the estate.

Illus 17: Mrs Forbes with the Twins in a Pram at Herbertshire, 1908.

In 1914 came the tragedy of the First World War.  Mrs Forbes was active in raising funds for the Red Cross and by Christmas that year two rooms at Herbertshire Castle were filled with gifts for the soldiers at the front.  Mr and Mrs Forbes were still in residence with their four daughters Marion, aged 16; Margaret, aged 15; Agnes, aged 14; and Louise, aged 10.  Their three sons were at Callendar House.  Friends of the family, Clare and Cynthia Graham from Airthrey Castle, aged 16 and 14 years respectively, arrived on 18 December to celebrate Clare’s sixteenth birthday on the 27th, and Mrs Forbes had arranged to have a special tea in her honour. 

They intended during their visit to take part in rehearsals of a dramatic entertainment which Mrs Forbes was arranging on behalf of the Red Cross Fund.  Rachel Littlejohn was acting as the companion-secretary to Mrs Forbes and had been in the house for two months.  Mr and Mrs Forbes and their children occupied bedrooms on the first floor.  The second floor was unoccupied, and on the third floor the Misses Graham, along with their maid, occupied bedrooms.  On the fourth floor two maids (sisters Jessie White and Annie White) occupied a room, and a smaller apartment on the same landing was occupied by Miss Littlejohn.  In all there were 15 servants in the house.  These included Frank Dennis the hall boy who slept in a room near the kitchen; George Sim the footman slept in a room near the pantry; Miss Miller the housekeeper in a room on the second landing; and the butler David Coulsey.

At around 5.30am on the morning of 20 December, the four daughters noted smoke and in a panic  rushed from their bedroom to their parents’ apartments.  Awakened by their screams, Mr and Mrs Forbes at once made to leave their room, and Mr Forbes, on opening the door, was almost driven back by the heavy smoke and the heat.  The parents assumed that the four children had then made their way out of the building and so made their own escape by the back stair.  The smoke was black and thick and it was impossible to see anything; Mrs Forbes almost collapsed.  The footman had heard the screams and woke the butler and the two met the owners as they reached the bottom of the stairs.  The butler and footman then rang a dinner bell which woke many of those still asleep and those who occupied rooms on the lower floors made good their escape by the main door.  Those in the upper storeys, however, were cut off by the dense volumes of smoke which filled the staircase.

The outbreak seems to have originated in the library on the ground floor and had evidently been smouldering for some time before it was discovered.  Flames engulfed the front side of the building but the back was covered by dense clouds of smoke.  This had already percolated up that side of the tower into the rooms occupied by Clare and Cynthia Graham and Rachel Littlejohn.  They never woke from their sleep – suffocated by the fumes.

The rapidity with which the flames spread through the storeys was astonishing.  By the time that Mr and Mrs Forbes got out of the building it was well ablaze.  To their horror they now realised that their daughters had not left the house and were trapped inside.  The four, having found their way of escape by the stairs filled with smoke and seeing flames coming from that direction, had ascended to the top storey where they met one of the housemaids.  By this time some of the servants had alerted the surrounding residents and people rushed to the scene to see what help they could render.  As they ascended the hill, the tower looked like a giant torch whose bright flames illuminated the area.  As they and the anxious parents watched, the maid led the four girls onto the roof through a narrow window and they took up a position by the turret on the north-west corner.  There was a moment of relief and then of confusion as to how they were to be rescued.  Some of the crowd shouted for them to jump, but the maid gave strict instructions for them to stay and they patiently waited and watched the activity below.  The butler and the footman both made valiant attempts to re-enter the building but were driven back.

Then screams were heard on the other side of the tower from the two housemaids who had been woken from their slumbers on the fourth floor.  Unable to get to the stair and finding the fire spreading from the corridors into their room, they managed to make their way onto the window ledge.  Miss Meiklejohn’s window was just next to them but attempts to rouse her were in vain.   Before long it became apparent that they would die if they remained and so in desperation they leaped to the flat roof of the adjoining building – a distance of almost 22 feet.  They received severe injuries, one to her back and the other to her legs.  They somehow managed to slide down onto the sloping roof of the laundry in the next part of the building from where they were afterwards brought down on ladders and taken to the Denny Cottage Hospital.

Illus 18: Some of the Fire, Police and Ambulance Crew from Denny who attended the fire.

By the time that they jumped, the noise of the flames and the cracking of window glass was considerable.  Great tongues of fire commenced to shoot up out of the roof, from which at brief intervals parts came toppling down into the rooms below.  Ladders had been brought by some of the villagers and they were quickly lashed together with rope and promptly reared against the turret on which the four children and the housemaid had taken refuge.  When the ladders were placed against the parapet of the roof the youngest of them asked the maid “Now can we go?” and having received a positive reply each climbed down without assistance, followed by the maid.  They were welcomed effusively by their parents.  Not long after that, the part of the roof on which they had been standing collapsed.

These rescues had been completed by the time that the fire brigades arrived.  Denny Fire Brigade engine was first, followed by the Vale Paper Mill engine.  Falkirk Fire Brigade was next to reach Herbertshire and then a detachment from the Glasgow Fire Brigade arrived.  Their task was hopeless and despite pumping large quantities of water from the river, 1,050yds away, the fire eventually burnt itself out.  One fireman was struck on the shoulder by a large piece of coping stone.  The thick walls of the tower contained the fire and the buildings of the west wing were almost untouched, and grass growing just a few feet away was not even scorched.  Almost all of the masonry and timber fell within the tower and by the end of the next day there was almost 12ft of debris on the ground floor.

Illus 19: The Ruins of Herbertshire Castle in 1930.

The castle servants and a number of the firemen had succeeded in bringing out some of the furniture from the lower parts of the building as well as a quantity of silver plate, but all of the personal possessions such as jewellery and paintings were consumed, only the walls stood intact.  All day several lines of hoses were kept playing on the building, but parts of the interior remained on fire until the next day.  Over the following days the remains of the three victims were discovered in the wreckage.  The building was abandoned.  Six months later the south walls of the tower collapsed with a large thud.

This scene of despondency was overshadowed by the war.  Yet, after the Victory celebrations had been held in the park, the gala days resumed.  Denny Town Council was looking ahead and realised that Herbertshire Castle would never again be occupied.  It inspected the grounds for housing and in August 1919 agreed to erect 170 houses on the Herbertshire Castle site, 70 by February 1921.  They started negotiations to buy part of the land but in May 1920 the Herbertshire Castle policies were purchased by the Carrongrove Paper Co Ltd and the Council’s plans were stifled.  They were not, however, completely killed off.  Approaches were made to buy a small part of the land but in December 1928 the Carrongrove Paper Co said it would sell all of it or nothing and generously offered it at same price as it had cost them.  The offer was rejected.  Council houses were built elsewhere but the Second World War intervened before Denny Town Council returned to the fray.  Immediately after the war it threatened the Carrongrove Paper Co with a compulsory purchase order and the company agreed to sell Herbertshire minus a large piece of land on the west side, which was deemed acceptable.

Between the wars the galas had continued, as had the annual agricultural shows.  During the Second World War the shows had to be put on hold and the galas were much reduced in scale.  Concerts were held in the park in aid of war funds.  Herbertshire Castle Stables were taken over by the ARP for storing its fire-fighting equipment and for training.  In 1941 part of it was converted into a food preparation centre for community feeding and the provision of school meals.  The interior of the walled garden was ploughed and planted with crops and later used for pasture.  Many of the trees were cut down to provide timber.

German prisoners of war from the camp at Castle Rankine erected a dais at Herbertshire Castle Park in June 1946 for the crowning of Elizabeth Sneddon as Denny’s Victory Queen.  The galas had been resuscitated in 1945 and that same year Denny Town Council declared that Herbertshire Castle was of no historic interest and should be demolished.  The Falkirk Herald pointed out that this was not the case and so the town’s architect looked at the cost of consolidating it.  He came up with a figure of £1,000 which a council meeting decided was a waste of money.  In September 1950 the remains were removed with the help of explosives.  Many residents considered it to be an act of civic vandalism but it was too late.

Illus 20: Aerial Photograph from 1951 showing the construction of the council houses in the grounds of the already demolished Herbertshire Castle.

Construction of the housing scheme had begun in earnest in 1950 and the streets were named after trees.  There were few of the original trees left, though the Spanish chestnut was one of them.  The parkland to the east of the castle was retained and made into a public park, though its diminished size meant that the last agricultural show was held there in 1952.  The Herbertshire Castle Stables were temporarily used as changing rooms for football teams playing there, but in 1952 they were converted into the burgh depot for the cleansing department at a cost of £3,900.  Incredibly they were demolished around 1970 and the area remained unused.

The history of the castle is a varied one, ranging from military stronghold to country house and from new lives to tragic deaths.  It has associations with many families and these can be summarised as:

13th centuryde Morehams
c1340Euphemia de Morham (daughter) married John Giffard
c1341Hugh Gifford (son)
c1345Gifford (daughter) married John Douglas
1369Archibald Douglas
1388William Douglas (son)
1392Giles Douglas (daughter) married Henry Sinclair, Earl of Orkney
1420William Sinclair (son)
1476Oliver Sinclair (son)
1527William Sinclair (son)
William Sinclair (son)
1583William Sinclair (son)
1608Alexander Livingston (purchase) Earl of Linlithgow
1612William Livingston of Kilsyth
1615Alexander Livingston of Bantaskine (wadset)
1632John Stirling of Achyle (purchase)
1664William Stirling (nephew)
1679George Stirling (brother)
1707William Stirling (son)
1751John Stirling (brother)
1756George Stirling (son)
1760Jean Stirling (sister)
1768William Morehead (purchase)
1793William Morehead (son)
1835Robert Morehead (brother)
1836William Forbes (purchase)
1855William Forbes (son)

Almost forgotten are its literary connections.  John Home’s play “Douglas” appears to have been partly written in the castle and is full of references to the area.  It was so famous in the late eighteenth century that one Scotsman, after seeing a performance asked, “Whaur’s yer Wullie Shakespeare noo?”  Then too we have the work of Lady Helen Forbes, some of which was written at the castle.  Amazingly we also have the poems of Christina Macdonald who was a maid there.

Books by Lady Forbes

Katherine Cromer (1897)

His Eminence: a Study of the Last Century (1904)

It’s a Way they have in the Army (1905)

The Provincials (1905)

Lady Marion and the Plutocrat (1906)

The Outcast Emperor

Notes of a Music-Lover

The Polar Star (1910)

The Bounty of the Gods: A Study in Points of View (1910)

The Saga of the Seventh Division (1920)

Letter of John Orrok. Compiled by Lady Helen Forbes (1927)

Unfortunately these literary musings are almost forgotten, though many can still be bought as reprints.  Of the castle itself nothing remains.  The park now has a modern veneer – but the hill and the river remind us of the setting of this once noble house.

Sites and Monuments Records

Herbertshire CastleSMR763NS 8049 8309
Court Hill, HerbertshireSMR 1541NS 804 830
Herbertshire StablesSMR 776NS 8042 8324
Herbertshire Stable DoocotSMR29NS 8042 8324
Herbertshire FootbridgeSMR 2195NS 8042 8304


Gibson, J.C.1908Lands and Lairds of Larbert and Dunipace Parishes.
MacGibbon and Ross1887Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland. Vol. 1.
RCAHMS1963Stirlingshire: An inventory of the ancient monuments.
Reid, J.1995The Feudal Land Divisions of Denny and Dunipace: Part 1, Calatria 8,21-48.
Reid, J.2009The Place Names of Falkirk and East Stirlingshire.

G.B. Bailey (2020)