Binniehill House

 SMR 1746                                                                                                                     NS 8552 7296

Binnihill House
Illus: Binniehill House looking south-west. The original house is the two-storey part on the left – the bay window was a later addition.

Binniehill House was built for Dr John Brown in 1857 on the southern edge of the village of Slamannan.  Access was from the High Street.  Dr Brown had established the Binniehill Coal Company and was one of the first to exploit the coal in the area.  The high quality house coal found a ready market and was exported to Ireland, making use of the Slamannan Railway.  He was also the proprietor of the Lands of Gateside and Shankhead.  Dr Brown died shortly after the house was finished and his son, Alexander Campbell Brown, took over the estate.  Just seven years later, in 1867, he died at Torquay, Devon, aged only 29.  His mother, Ann Campbell Brown died at Binniehill House on 12 May 1868 and her sister Sarah Jane Campbell of Carlton Terrace, Edinburgh, was appointed as executrix dative.  The house was put up for sale:

For sale – “BINNIEHILL HOUSE, OFFICES, and GROUNDS, near Slamannan.  The House, which is in excellent order, contains Dining Room, Drawing Room, parlour, Four bedrooms, Dressing Room, Kitchen, Servants’ Room, Scullery and larder, & c.  The offices consist of a good Stable and Coach House; and there is an excellent Walled garden, with small Greenhouse.  The Grounds extend to 2 Acres and 7 Poles.  Feu-duty £8 3s 9d. (FH 2 July 1868, 1).

In September the contents were sold by James Neilson, auctioneer.  This included the elegant drawing room, dining room, library and bedchamber furniture, silver plate, pictures and valuable books.

The two-storey house was built of stone with a slate roof with wide eaves.  It was squarish in plan with the main inset doorway facing east with a window to either side and three symmetrically placed windows on the first floor.  The south façade, overlooking the garden, had two bay windows.  A single story kitchen wing was attached to the north with a range of offices across a small courtyard beyond.  The entrance drive led north from the house to a gate on the High Street between the properties of Strattenhouse and Gowanlee.

Ordnance Survey Map
Illus: Ordnance Survey map surveyed in 1860 and published 1874.

The purchaser of the house was James McKillop who was a partner of the firm of Messrs James Nimmo & Co, one of the principal colliery proprietors in the district.  He had been born in 1844 and was educated at the Andersonian University in Glasgow where he studied engineering and mining.  He took an active interest in local affairs.  McKillop seems to have been a genial man and in 1871 he invited the children of the Drumclair Colliery Sabbath School to Binniehill House.  Here they were treated to bread, fruit and confections supplied by Mr & Mrs Nimmo.

The mid nineteenth century had provided Slamannan with a major economic boost.  The construction of the Slamannan Railway in 1840 had opened up the plateau to the exploitation of its mineral resources and coal was in great demand.  Hundreds of miners flocked into the area and the population of the parish increased many fold.  Housing had to be rapidly constructed for this new workforce and took the form of poor quality rows.  The work was hard but rewarding.  However, in the late 1870s demand for coal fell and so did prices.  The colliery owners started to cut the wages of the miners.  In March 1878 the colliers in Airdrie, Slamannan and elsewhere went on strike.  Some stuck out for several weeks before going back to work, but in Slamannan the strike remained solid.  The colliery owners decided to wait until starvation drove the men back, but time passed and there was no sign of a return to work.  To hasten the end of the strike some of the coalmasters decided to start the process of legally removing the colliers and their families from the houses that they owned.  McKillop was not keen to take such an action and held off.  John Watson & Co of Balquhatstone Colliery took the lead in the ejections and employed Mr Crawford, sheriff officer, Falkirk, to serve 120 ejection notices.  He arrived at Burn Row between Slamannan and Limerigg on the afternoon of 18 April.  He had a difficult task and was no diplomat.  At the Row he offended the women who became agitated and began to throw stones.  It happened that the men were meeting in an adjacent field agreeing to continue the strike and when they heard about the commotion they went to the aid of the women.

Crawford saw them coming and at once drove to Slamannan where he telegraphed to Falkirk for instructions.  Two policemen were sent up, and in their company Mr Crawford again tried to complete his work, but on approaching the Burn Row the miners showed themselves in such force that they had to return.

Another meeting of the strikers was called for later in the day, and as it broke up due to the gathering darkness the younger men marched down to Slamannan, following the Slamannan Brass Band which was playing on the way.  They stopped at Balquhatstone at the house of Mr Thomson, the colliery manager, on the way and ended up breaking a couple of windows.  Mr Thomson escaped and fled to the signal box up at the railway station where the two police officers had taken shelter.  The angry crowd was informed and set off for it – it was almost as if they scented a chase.  Using large stones they smashed all the windows in the signal box and station and damaged the telegraph wires.  Eventually the two policemen had to confront the mob and whilst they did so Thomson fled along the railway tracks.

They mob marched behind the band towards the village and stopped at the bridge over the Culloch Burn.  From here they could see the lights in Binniehill House.  It was a little after eight o’clock in the evening.  The band stopped playing and a shout went up of “McKillop.”  The drummer beat his drum three times and with that the band started up again and they marched in perfect order through the village almost as far as the school where they turned round.  On the way back they had to pass the gate leading to Binniehill House.  The band marched straight past, but the crowd halted, uncertain whether or not to pay the house a visit.  It was decided to go, and on this, their first visit, they contented themselves with smashing two of the front windows.  After indulging in a good deal of shouting and cheering they left and proceeded to the house of Mr Gemmell, another coalmaster residing in the village.  James McKillop had left his house at around 8pm for a public meeting in the school and was apparently unaware of the commotion.

By this time the crowd had got greatly excited and emboldened, and it was at Mr Gemmel’s house that the real spirit of mischief showed itself first.  They completely smashed in all the windows, while the doors suffered severely.  Having now seemingly lost all command of their actions they went back to Binniehill House, and, after repeated cries for Mr McKillop, commenced another assault upon the house.

The Glasgow Herald reporter wrote a dramatic, though slightly inaccurate, account of this siege which was copied by several other Scottish papers:

“Passing through the village and ascending the hill that rises on the western side, the men defiled into the gate leading into Binniehill House, the residence of Mr McKillop, a partner of the firm of Messrs James Nimmo & Co, the principal colliery proprietors in the district.  The house was attacked on every side, the large plate glass windows speedily giving way to the force of the missiles directed against them.  Inside the house the scene was a truly pitiable character.  Mr McKillop, who had fortunately sufficient time to escape and make his way to a place of safety, had not been able to get his wife or family out of the house.  The children, four in number, were all in bed asleep when the rioters made their presence known, and, in addition to Mrs McKillop, the only other inmates of the building were two gentlemen and three domestic servants.  After rousing the children, and removing them from the danger to which they were exposed, the occupants had next to consider what means to adopt to secure their own safety.  Escape was impossible; the house was surrounded, and none of the rooms afforded any protections from the showers of stones which were being hurled with great force into the apartments.  The only places which afforded any shelter were the presses, and, thankful even for these.  Mrs McKillop and others speedily took advantage of the protections, fondly hoping the mob would satisfy themselves with doing all the injury they could inflict from the outside, and then march away satisfied.  The cry – a cry which instilled terror into their minds – of “McKillop” was raised, and taken up by nearly every one present, and then a general clamour was heard to “bring out the —“  meanwhile the wrath of the crowd had not been expended on the house.  A small sitting-room or library on the ground flat was entered by some of the mob, a large mirror smashed, a handsome bookcase destroyed, the greater part of the furniture damaged, and great destruction otherwise effected.  So far as can be ascertained only one volume – a history of Scotland – had been taken, and the leaves of this book, torn into fragments, were this morning found strewing the entrance to the house.  In the dining-room the damage was scarcely less complete – everything that could not resist the force of stones, similar in size to an ordinary brick, was lying scattered about in a heterogeneous mass.  After finishing as far as was deemed proper the work of destruction, the assault on the house terminated, and terminated in a manner equally as speedily and unexpectedly as it had begun.  There was still something left on which the mob could wreak their violence.  The large greenhouse was ruthlessly wrecked, and the flower pots scattered about in every direction.  The plants and shrubs in the garden were torn up by their roots, the flag-pole was knocked down – and even the “swing” on which the children amused themselves fell before the unrelenting fury of the miners.  Nothing now remaining to be done, the crowd formed into something like regimental marching order, and left the vicinity of the house.” (Glasgow Herald 20 April 1878)

Two of the domestic servants gave evidence at the subsequent trial.  Janet Waddell spoke first: “I am a domestic servant to Mr McKillop at Binniehill House, and I was there on the 18th April last.  I heard a band coming down from the station towards the village.  I went through the grounds towards the road.  A fellow-servant was with me.  I heard the band stop a little before it crossed the bridge.  The band stopped, the crowd stopped, the drummer gave three knocks on the drum, and a tremendous cry got up for “McKillop.”  I heard them gathering stones.  Shortly afterwards the band marched into the village by the road that passes the Free Church.  I went and bolted the front gate.  By this time some of them had been at the gate.  The band was still playing up the road.  After alarming the gardener, I ran to the house.  By the time I had got in there were a number of them breaking the windows with stones and sticks.  There were not many stones thrown in this time.  The parlour window was worst damaged at this time.  The crowd disappeared for a short time, but returned and committed great havoc – breaking windows, and rearing up shrubbery, and so on.”  Margaret Taylor was next: “On the evening in question Janet and I went out to hear the music of the band which was coming down from the station.  We heard the band coming down the road between eight and nine.  The band stopped on the way.  The crowd cried for McKillop three times.  Previous to the cry being raised the drummer gave three beats.  The band then commenced to play, and the crowd followed them to the village.  The band stopped playing about Dr Boyd’s.  We told Mrs McKillop that the crowd was coming.  The crowd entered the grounds and broke several windows.  Mrs McKillop had to take refuge in another house.”  Mr Wilson had said that between the beating of the drum and the band playing he heard shouting for “stones for McKillop” (FH 8 August 1878, 2).

Around 9.30pm James McKillop received news of the disturbance and upon his return home found his house a complete wreck.  Mrs McKillop, her children and servants had taken refuge in a neighbour’s house – they were scared and frightened.

From Binnhill House the mob went to Limerigg, calling at Thomson’s house on the way and more completely wrecking it.  At Limerigg Mt Pitcairn, manager of Lacour & Watson, also had his house trashed.  It would appear as if the only object of the crowd was revenge, as there was no plundering.

The next day was a Friday and was eerily quiet.  Large numbers of miners congregated and were joined by men from Airdrie and Longriggend.  At mid day the miners assembled at the Burn Row to partake of a dinner prepared for them at the expense of the grocers, bakers, and shopkeepers in the village.  As the dinner was finished, the county authorities made their appearance, and assured the men that the ejections already served would be delayed, and that no further notices would be served, on condition that no further disturbance should take place, which was readily agreed to by the men.  A subscription was also got up for the starving families, to which the Sheriff and Fiscal liberally subscribed.

Superintendent Macdonald of Falkirk with a detachment of 15 men reached the station early in the afternoon where they were met by a crowd of about 500 men, women, and boys, who pelted them with stones all the way down to the hall in the village.  A few of the policemen received skin cuts – some of them rather severe.  At half-past five Chief-Constable Campbell of Stirling arrived with a further 40 men from Glasgow.  They took up position near the station to a few derisive cheers from about 200 spectators, and retaining that position until eight o’clock, when they marched to the hall, and there joined the Falkirk contingent for the night.

The heavy rain on Saturday did not send the miners to their homes.  Bands of men congregated at several street corners in the centre of the village, anxious apparently lest they should be taken unawares.  Perfect order was kept, however, and the authorities withdrew the police from the village at 1 o’clock in the afternoon.  The detachment from Glasgow was accompanied by a considerable but orderly crowd to the station, and as the train moved off they received an angry parting salute.  Whist condemning the destruction of property the Falkirk Herald had some sympathy for the plight of the working class – “The miners in the district are almost all in a state of utter destitution, having been out on strike for five weeks, with nothing to support them except what has been bestowed in charity.  They lay the blame of their sufferings on the coalmasters, who, they say, have grossly ill-treated them.”  A few days later the ejections recommenced.

It was hard for the authorities to identify individuals from amongst the crowd to put on trial, but the entire brass band was found guilty and sentenced to 60 days imprisonment.

Thomson, the manager of Balquhatstone Colliery, was never seen again in Slamannan.  Remarkably, James McKillop and his family returned to Binniehill House and lived there for many years.  He continued to play an active role in the social and political life of the area.  He became a road trustee and a justice of the peace.  With the Slamannan Angling Club he helped to restock the River Avon with trout.  He was, however, destined for higher political life.  From its inception in 1889 he became a member of Stirlingshire County Council and the following year moved to Polmont Park.  He was a director of Inglis & Co, engineers, and wrote about science and travel.  He retired from the county council when he was elected as MP for the county and remained in Parliament until 1906 by which time he was a Deputy Lieutenant for Stirlingshire.  Whilst an MP he returned to Slamannan on numerous occasions; often delivering speeches.  Some of these are recorded in his book “Thoughts for the People” published in 1898.  One of the talks was on “selfishness” and talks about the gulf between capital and labour.  James McKillop died in an Edinburgh nursing home on 5 November 1913.

For a short period after the departure of James McKillop, Binniehill House was occupied by James Nimmo jnr who had just returned from a world tour.  In 1893 the house was bought by James Liddell. James Liddell had conducted an extensive licensed grocery business at Crossburn House to the east of Slamannan which he sold in 1895.  He later invested in the Jawcraig Coal Co Ltd and consequently is often seen as the fourth coalmaster to occupy the house.  He also had an interest in the Forth and Clyde and Sunnyside Works at Camelon.  It was probably Liddell who built the lodge at the gate of Binniehill House and in 1895 this three-apartment “gatehouse” was advertised to let.

The house became a family home.  James Liddell and his wife, Jeanie Wood, the eldest daughter of Robert Smith, headmaster of Carron School, had married in 1857 and celebrated their 50 anniversary at Binniehill House.  Ten years later they were still there for the 60th.  Jeanie’s brother, Rev John Smith, also resided at the house.  Their eldest daughter, Christina (Tina) Smith, married John Baird of Airdrie, in June 1899 and the couple also stayed there, contributing to the social life of the village.  Whenever fundraising events were run, John Baird made financial gifts.  John Baird jnr, quarrymaster, of Binniehill House, died on 29 January 1911 aged 41.  He left, in addition to real estate of an estimated capital value of £20,000, a personal estate in the UK valued at £19,192.  The youngest daughter, Jeanie Wood Smith, married Rev William Robert Stewart (Slamannan Free Church, Oct 1898-May 1921) in August 1904.  A reception was held in a marquee on the lawn at Binniehill House.

1897 Ordnance Survey Map
Illus: Ordnance Survey map of 1897.
Bank Street Slamannan
Illus: Looking north-east towards Slamannan Cross, Bank Street becomes High Street at this point. The building on the right fronting the footpath is the lodge of Binniehill House, with the gates just beyond.
Binnihill Lodge
Illus: The lodge at Binniehill House looking north, c1920. J Main and his sister stayed there and maintained the gardens as well as keeping the many fires of the house burning during the winter months.
Binniehill (2)
Illus: Binniehill House looking west. Note the whale bone arch in front of the bay window.

The house had to be extended.  The earlier kitchen was demolished and a two-storey extension built on its site, extending out to the stables.  A square bay window was added to the east façade, providing some shelter for the main door.  The gardens were also laid out and the jaw bone of a whale placed on the path directly opposite to the door.  Plants were often donated to decorate halls for meetings and shows.  In 1912 a private acetylene gas plant was laid down for their own use; prior to that the house had been lighted by gas supplied by the Slamannan Gas Light Company.

The couple died shortly after their diamond wedding jubilee and the house was put up for sale with an upset price of £1,800:

 “For SALE by Public Roup, within the Office of the Subscribers, on THURSDAY, 25th March, 1920, at 3pm,

BINNIEHILL HOUSE, SLAMANNAN, within a Mile from Slamannan Station, 13 Miles distant from Glasgow, 6 from Falkirk, and 8 from Airdrie; 3 Public Rooms, 8 Bedrooms, Kitchen, Laundry, and Bathroom.  3-Stalled Stable, Garage, and 2 Greenhouses, Fine Garden.  Lodge at Gate.  Extent 2 Acres 7 Poles.  Feu Duty, £8 3s 9d.” (FH 13 March 1920, 2).

In March 1921 Binniehill House was bought by a group of Glasgow Jews as a Rest Home for the use of those of the Jewish Faith who were in failing health, particularly those of the poorer classes.  The Jewish Convalescent Home was formally opened on 16th July 1921 before 70 people.  After lunch on the lawn Rabbis from Edinburgh and Glasgow performed the opening ceremony and a cypress tree was planted to commemorate the event.  The honour of planting the tree was put up for auction and the money went into the House Fund.  The house was maintained by voluntary subscription and had room for 30 residents.

During the recession of the 1920s it was difficult to keep the Convalescent Home running and in April 1928 it appeared on the market again – now at the low upset price of £750.  It was eventually bought by Elizabeth Downs, commission agent, in 1933.  She was quite a character, always impeccably dressed, she ran the local gambling scene for many years.  In October 1934 she was fined £20 at the Falkirk Sheriff Court for using a hut in the grounds of Binniehill House for ready-money betting.  She admitted four previous convictions in respect of similar offences.  She was clearly unrepentant as it was noted that she had opened a newsagent’s shop in the village, but, owing to the depressed state of industry in the village, it was not a profitable proposition.  Consequently she had decided to take up the betting business, but had now come to the conclusion that bookmaking was just about as unprofitable, and had resolved to give it up.  Undoubtedly she was putting the cost of fines in the equation.  In 1938 she was fined £25 for using her newspaper shop for betting.  July 1951 it only cost Elizabeth Downs £6 because she was now receiving bets for someone else at her shop.  This was repeated in 1954.  Clearly the authorities kept her on their radar.  As it was a big house, and her income was evidently unable to keep pace with its demands, she had tenants.  Over the years these included Mrs A Jenkins; William Munro Hunter, motor driver; Charles Smith Laing, engineering electrician; Mrs Clerk; Agnes Gordon McLean and her husband Robert Matthews; Mr R Aitken; John & Isla Wardlaw, and A. McClenaghan.

Overcrowding was still a problem in the village and in the early 1960s Binniehill House was bought by the County Council so that the land could be incorporated into a large housing scheme.  The house was duly demolished and Gowanlea Avenue now occupies its site.  The old avenue remains as a public footpath.  The lodge was demolished along with the house and until c1993 a public convenience took its place.

G.B. Bailey (2020)