The Lands of Badcur lay just over a mile to the west of Avonbridge in the Parish of Slamannan. In the mid 19th century it was part of the Lands of Ellrig and Balquhatstone whose feudal superiors were the Ralston-Waddell family. In May 1849 the farm of Badcur, which had not long been renamed Avonhill, was put up for sale by John Mitchell of Jawcraig. It was 28 Scots acres (35.3 Imperial acres) in extent and included a few dwelling houses and a grocery shop occupied by Thomas Forrester (FH 10 May 1849, 1).
They were acquired by John Gardner who then ran a dairy farm there. However just fifteen years later he too had to sell out and the property was advertised for sale as 35 ½ Imperial acres of arable, it having been used in the past to grow potatoes and oats as well as hay:
“THE LANDS of AVONHILL as possessed by MR JOHN GARDNER, consisting of about 35 Acres, 1 Rood, with the BUILDINGS thereon.
The property, which is very compact, is situated near Avonbridge Station of the Monklands Railways. The Minerals are included, and the Feu-duty small…” (FH 8 September 1864, 1).
Having sold the land he then had to sell his stock in trade:
“STACKS, DRAUGHT HORSES, MILCH COWS AND FARM STOCKING, AT AVONHILL, ON MONDAY, 14TH NOVEMBER.
…possessed by Mr John Gardiner, the Whole CROP, HORSES, MILCH COWS, Young CATTLE and FARM STOCKING, on the above Lands, comprising-
13 Stacks of oats,
4 Ricks of Ryegrass Hay,
1 Six year-old Brown Draught Mare, of rare quality,
1 Three-year old Half-bred Colt,
2 Ayrshire Milch cows,
1 Two-year-old Ayrshire Quey in Calf,
2 Ayrshire calves,
2 Close bodied Carts with Wheels and Axles,
1 Iron Prize Plough,
1 Pair of grain Harrows,
2 Sets of Cart and Plough Horse Harness,
1 Pair of Hand Fanners,
A boiler with Furnace, & c.
A Cheese Stone,
And a variety of small Farming Implements and Utensils, & c…” (FH 10 November 1864, 4).
The lands took some time to sell and were still advertised as late as October 1866. By the end of that year they were in the hands of Charles McBeath, merchant, Fraserburgh. In 1872 he was declared bankrupt and the small estate was again for sale:
“DESIRABLE SMALL ESTATE IN STIRLINGSHIRE FOR SALE. There will be exposed for Sale by Public Auction, within CAMPBELL’S GOLDEN LION HOTEL, Stirling, on FRIDAY the 23d day of February next, 1872, at One o’clock Afternoon,
THE Small ESTATE of AVONHILL in the Parish of Slamannan and County of Stirling, belonging to the Trustees on the Sequestered Estates of Charles McBeath, Merchant, Fraserburgh, consisting of 35 Acres Arable, or thereby. The Land, which is all under Grass at present, is capable of being considerably improved. Avonhill is situated about five miles South of Falkirk, and within a mile of the Avonbridge Station of the Slamannan Railway, by which there is communication with Edinburgh and Glasgow and intervening towns.
Upset Price £800…” (FH 20 January 1872, 1).
After keen competition it sold to James Paton, publisher, 5 St James Square, Edinburgh, for £1,130. He continued to grow oats, hay and turnips on the fields, but he also had a substantial mansion constructed in the Scottish Baronial style. The most prominent feature was a four-storey tower at the north-east corner, providing views towards Edinburgh. The tower was joined by a two-storey single-bay to the main house, which had crowstepped gables and a central crowstepped dormer pediment. Behind this was a single storey block, also with crowstepped gables and thistle finials, which served as a kitchen. The main entrance was on the south. This facade contained a datestone on the first floor which read “JP 1878”, and corbelled turrets, one with a pepperpot roof. It contained an entrance hall, four reception or public rooms, eight bedrooms, a kitchen and other accommodation. The cost has been put at around £2,500. Parks were laid out and new trees, shrubs and floral borders were introduced. Two cannon sat outside the front. A gardener, Mr Taylor, was engaged to look after the grounds and grow vegetables, and a gamekeeper, Thomas Dotts, was employed to look after the game.
Paton was not a farmer and, as he lived for much of the year in Edinburgh, he appointed a grieve to manage the farm and estate. In 1886 John Taylor was grieve of Avonhill. James Paton and his wife acted as the local lairds. Mrs Paton took a keen interest in the Congregational Church at Avonbridge. They employed a small number of staff to maintain and serve the house. Two male servants lived on the estate – one in the old farmhouse which had been retained. The other servant, Mr Robertson, lived in the mansion when the Paton family were not in residence. The accommodation formed part of their wages. Many of the female servants were hired on a casual basis. Before long the Paton family was embedded into the social fabric of the community. When the country was commemorating Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887 it was Avonhill that became the focus of celebration:
“In celebration of the Queen’s Jubilee, a bonfire was lighted at Avonhill at 10 o’clock on the evening of the 21st, which blazed brightly for some hours. It was composed of a large quantity of wood, old trees, and tar barrels, over which a barrel of oil was poured. There was also a great display of rockets and other fireworks. A large number of residents turned out, who danced to the strains of a local fiddler. “God Save the Queen,” “Rule Britannia,” and “She’s a jolly good fellow,” were enthusiastically sung during the evening. Dancing was kept up in the Park until nearly one o’clock, when “Auld Lang Syne” was sung, and after a vote of thanks, with cheers to Mr and Mrs Paton for the evening’s enjoyment, the company dispersed.” (FH 25 June 1887, 2).
James Paton was accustomed to the big city and found the conditions of the roads around Avonbridge deplorable. He would often walk from Avonhill to Avonbridge Railway Station and soon crossed swords with John Colquhoun, the factor for Balquhatstone and the surveyor of the parish roads. When the Eastern District of Stirlingshire Roads Board was established he therefore became one of its first committee members. Being a Justice of the Peace, he was also on the County Licensing Board. Paton seems to have been in constant dispute with the county in regard to the rateable valuation of his property at Avonhill. The mansion was indeed a substantial edifice but being in the rural area of the county it was not capable of producing a high rent. In 1887 the valuation of the mansion was reduced from £75 to £65.
The appurtenances of the estate included a doocot and in 1892 two local miners were found guilty of stealing thirty pigeons from it. There was also a gashouse with its associated storage tank.
James Paton was the managing director of the firm of Hugh Paton & Sons, printers, St James Square. It had been founded by his father, Hugh Paton, and produced high quality printed art material which it initially distributed. James moved the firm from publishing to printing. The printing business was doing well enough to allow James Paton to buy the 851 acre estate of Gowanbank for £10,310 in December 1894. The estate was a little to the south of Avonhill and straddled the parishes of Slamannan and Torphichen. As the firm was now well established he was able to spend more time in Avonhill and more and more social events were held there. In August 1894, for example, the Avonbridge Pipe Band in full dress uniform performed there to a select audience. In October that year the servants on the estate, along with their friends and families, numbering forty in all, were
entertained to a supper and ball.
“Dancing commenced at 8.30, the company being honoured by the presence of the young ladies and gentlemen of the household. The room had been tastefully decorated under the superintendence of Mr David Paton. At 11 o’clock the company sat down to an excellent supper, presided over by Messrs Porter, Fleming, and Robertson. Thereafter dancing was resumed and carried on till an early hour in the morning, when, after a hearty vote of thanks to Mr and Mrs Paton for their kindness, a most enjoyable night’s entertainment was brought to a close with the singing of “Auld Lang Syne.”” (FH 6 October 1894).
Avonhill was also used to help the Congregational Church at Avonbridge. In July 1896 the Sunday school children had their annual picnic there and the Patons provided refreshments. They also started to provide a Christmas tree laden with children’s presents to the church.
The years were passing and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee came along:
“Through the public spirit and kindness of Mr Paton of Avonhill the inhabitants of Avonbridge marked the jubilee of Her Majesty with a suitable celebration. The natives of the village and surrounding district were invited to the estate on Tuesday evening, and every arrangement was made for entertaining the guests. About 400 persons availed themselves of the invitation. Refreshment was served by the servants on the estate, and the Avonbridge Pipe Band played a lively and much appreciated selection of airs, and dancing was indulged in very generally. The Congregational Church Choir was also present, and rendered the national Anthem with great verve and taste. During the evening Mr Clement Paton danced the Highland Fling with much grace. Mr Paton addressed the guests on the Jubilee, and alluded to the unique nature of the celebration. A brilliant pyrotechnic display followed, and at 10.30 a large bonfire was lit up by Mrs Paton. Rev John Heggie moved a vote of thanks to Mr and Mrs Paton for their hospitality, and this brought to a close a most worthy celebration of the Jubilee. Mr Paton replied to the vote passed, and the assemblage thereafter dispersed.” (FH 26 June 1897, 7).
James Paton’s children were growing up and in June 1900 the feuars, tenants, and servants on the Avonhill estate, were entertained to supper at Craigend Farm by him on the occasion of the marriage of one of his daughters to Mr Herdman of Edinburgh. They presented her with an inscribed silver bowl.
James Paton of Avonhill died in May 1907, aged 68 years, at 5 Bruntsfield Crescent, Edinburgh. He was survived by his widow. Alexander McFarlane, the grieve, continued to administer the estate which included 60.37 acres at Craigend, 40.96 acres at Loanhead and 48.50 at Holehouse, each with the associated farmhouses and buildings. Mrs Paton continued to take an interest in the local community, allowing the Standburn and Avonbridge Boys’ Brigade to exercise and drill in the policy and donating money to it. Her son, David, married in 1908 and set up home near Edinburgh. One of her last public appearances was to take the salute when the Boy Scouts visited the grounds of Avonhill in September 1914.
On her departure the family no longer kept an interest in Avonhill and in 1919 the estates of Avonhill and Gowanbank were put up for sale. Avonhill extended to 328 acres and Gowanbank to 942. They were both occupied by dairy and stock farmers. The upset price for Avonhill, including the two lodges and a good garden, was £10,675.
After some time it was bought by William H Whyte. He was not there long as he died in
1927. His widow continued to live, off and on, at Avonhill until her death. By 1938 it was in the hands of her trustees and was standing empty when two local boys entered the house and removed some curtain rings to play quoits with them.
Immediately after the Second World War an entrepreneur, Andrew Erskine Ure, whose main employment was as a pig farmer, bought Avonhill. His wife had been in the catering trade and so they registered the house with the Scottish Tourist Board with the intention of attracting tourists to the area. In 1950 they lodged a planning application to convert the house into a ten bedroom hotel and in March that year applied for an alcohol licence for the proposed bar. Unfortunately the Chief Constable objected and the licence was refused. The scheme fell into abeyance and Ure and his family moved to Glasgow. Avonhill House remained empty and in May 1953 a fire gutted the main part of it; the east wing was damaged by fire and water. Fire engines from Slamannan, Falkirk and Grangemouth attended and used water from the river Avon. It was estimated that the fire had caused £6,000 worth of damage to the three-storey 19 room residence. It was never lived in again. Over the following years it was visited by local people and the property was vandalised and then demolished. Two cannon sat outside the north front for many years after the fire.
G.B. Bailey (2020)