Bonhard House

The lands and mansion of Bonhard lay on the ridge to the south-east of Bo’ness overlooking the Forth Estuary to the north and the fertile valley around the royal town of Linlithgow to the south.

In the mid 15th century Patrick Cornwall held the lands of Bonhard (Balnehard) from Alexander Cockburn, Baron of Carriden, but in 1449 received a charter of the superiority.  Bonhard was to remain with the direct line of the family until 1732.  The Cornwalls were an important family often delegated to muster horses for the king’s army, maintain the area’s road network and attend the local courts.  They went to fight alongside the king – John Cornwall was killed at Flodden in 1513, supposedly dressed in the style of the James IV to deceive the enemy.  Later on, in 1640, the miners at Bonhard were exempted from military service.

The family had business concerns in the Royal Burgh of Linlithgow and Peter Cornwall built a comfortable townhouse there in 1529.  His son, Nicholas, was made provost of Linlithgow in 1592 and sat in Parliament as its representative from that year till 1599.  It appears to have been Nicholas who built the stone mansion at Bonhard in the 1580s.  It is a typical L-plan dwelling of that period designed for comfortable living rather than for defence.  It was only in the late 19th century that references appear referring to it as “Bonhard Castle.”

Patrick Cornwall
c1450John Cornwall (son)
c1480John Cornwall (son)
1513Peter Cornwall (son)
1578Nicholas Cornwall (son)
1607Walter Cornwall (grandson)
c1636James Cornwall (son)
1687Walter Cornwall (son)
1711Thomas Cornwall (son)
1732Mary Cornwall nee Drummond (wife)
1742Duke of Hamilton

Illus 2: Ground Floor Plan of Bonhard House.

The walls were of random rubble about 3 feet thick and the rooms were provided with fairly large windows.   An octagonal staircase turret containing the entrance was located at the re-entrant angle.  As was common it was on the northern side of the house and had a small armorial panel above it.  Unfortunately this did not survive long enough to be recorded, but was presumably similar to that at the Linlithgow townhouse.  From the entrance door there was a choice of routes.  Straight on led to a small lobby and thence into the kitchen which was located in the north wing.  Left took the visitor into a second corridor-like lobby and the principal rooms of the house.  The south-east room with its fireplace was probably a private office.  The central room was smaller and may have acted as a reception. 

The south-west room appears in an inventory of furniture as the “Laigh Dineing-room.”  Between it and the kitchen was a service room with a hatch into the kitchen.  Here food would have been prepared for presentation at the table.  This service room had a door leading out to the old garden on the west side of the house.

Illus 3: Drawing of the Interior of the room at the south-east corner of the first floor (MacGibbon & Ross).

The first floor was divided into three handsome rooms with finely panelled ceilings, each of a different design, and ornamental fireplaces with stone and wooden mouldings, and a pilastered panel above the mantelpiece.  These finishings, together with the wooden panelling of the walls, imparted to the house an air of refinement.

The steeply pitched roofs ending in crow-stepped gables allowed for a spacious attic floor.  The water supply was from a draw well about 18 feet deep, 50 yards down the hill to the south of the house.

Illus 4: Pont’s Map of c1585 showing Bonhard House as having two wings connected by a central stair tower. North to the bottom. (National Library of Scotland).

Nicholas married Agnes Halkheid of Dysart in 1551 and the couple were given lands near Stow as a wedding present.  These were subsequently exchanged for land at Over Dechmont, which was closer to Bonhard where they raised their family.  After her death Nicholas married Mary, daughter of Sir Archibald Stewart of Castlemilk.  Forty years after his first marriage he seems to have married a third time and it is this marriage which was commemorated in 1591 with an armorial panel on the doocot at Bonhard.  This structure stood some 30 yards east of the House and was oblong with crow-stepped gables. The pitched roof rose to a central ridge and was pantiled down to the vertical boarding containing the entrances for the birds, below which it had five rows of slates. There were seven pigeon holes in the boarding, which gave the southern facing pitch a step. The doocot measured 17ft by 20ft 10ins and had a string-course approximately three-quarters of the way up the tall side walls. Inside there were 771 nests.  A small entrance faced north.  The coat-of-arms was set in the west gable facing the house with a simple rounded moulding around an inner border enriched with an egg and dart motif.  At the top of the panel was the Cornwall motto “WE BEIG/ZE SE VARLE” (We build, ye see, warily).  The shield was parted per pale and charged dexter: On a fess three mullets as many Cornish kaes or jackdaws, for Cornwall; and sinister: Quarterly, first and fourth, three crescents within a royal tressure, second and third, three garbs or three escutcheons, for Seton of Touch or of Abercorn.   Below the shield were the initials N.C. for Nicholas Cornwall and M.S. for Marie Seton.  This laird of Bonhard died in 1607, in his 70th year, and is interred in the family burial place at Linlithgow.

Illus 5: The Doocot at Bonhard with the Coat-of-Arms on the West Gable.

Nicholas’ son, Walter Cornwall, was served heir of his father’s property in Bonington and the annual rent from Blackness  in 1607 and later that year to the house and garden in the burgh of Linlithgow.  In 1615 he inherited the lands at Over Dechmont and in 1620 part of Bonsyde.  He acquired further parts of Bonington in 1616 and 1624.  He continued to acquire land near Linlithgow in his own right and in 1626 was infeft in Flass, Flasshill, and a piece of muir annexed.  He represented Linlithgowshire in the Parliament of 1625.

His son, James Cornwall, was Sheriff Depute of Linlithgowshire and a Commissioner of Supply.  In 1669 he sold the large house in Linlithgow to the Corporation for 800 merks.  In December 1679 the Lords of his Majesty’s most honourable Privy Council appointed James Cornwall of Bonhard, Robert Hamilton of Dechmont, baillies of the regality of Bo’ness, to judge the trial of Annabel Thomson, Margaret Pollwart, William Craw, Bessie Vickar and Margaret Hamilton for the abominable crime of witchcraft.  The accused were all found guilty and were taken to the ordinary place of execution at the west end of Bo’ness upon Tuesday 23 December 1679 between the hours of 2pm and 4pm “ther to be wirried at a steack till they be dead, and thereafter to have their bodies burnt to ashes”.

James Cornwall was very active in mining coal on his own estate and those of neighbouring landowners.  In 1678 he leased the minerals at Kinneil, belonging to the Duke if Hamilton, and at Torryburn in Fife.  The salt pans which used the dross from this work were kept busy.  He was considered to be a competent colliery manager with considerable experience and expertise in coal mining operations.  The family fortune seemed secure.

Walter Cornwall was served heir general of his father on 8 July 1690.  In 1689 he had been made a Commissioner of Militia and like his father was a Commissioner of Supply from 1685 to 1704.  Unfortunately, Walter Cornwall was one of the shareholders in the disastrous Company of Scotland trading to Africa and the Indies, generally known as the Darien Scheme.  The failure of this company impoverished a great many of the gentry of Scotland.  In 1707 he had to petition for a personal protection against arrest for debt, and he became bogged down in litigation with creditors.  Walter died in 1711 and the estate then fell into the hands of his creditors, although the family lingered on at Bonhard for fifty years longer.  Magdalene, Lady Bonhard, was only able to establish her right to the jointure of £100 per annum settled on her by process of law, and obtained a decree against the creditors for that amount from the Lords of Session on 9 July 1712.

Walter’s son, Thomas Cornwall, acquired the estate by purchase at a judicial sale.  John Brand, the minister of Bo’ness Parish Church, in his diary in 1723 mentions the death of Lady Bonhard elder, and adds that the family “is nigh extinct. The young laird and lady frequent a Jacobite meeting. I and my family have been oft kindly entertained there, but now this is at an end.”  Only too frequently did the impoverished gentry ally themselves with the Stewart cause.  He did not get to participate in the 1745 rebellion for he died around 1732 without any surviving children, leaving his wife as sole executrix and universal legatrix.  A few years later, in 1742, she put the house and lands up for sale:

“To be SOLD by publick Roup within the Parliament-house of Edinburgh, on the last Wednesday, being the 30th Day of June inst. Before the Lord Ordinary on the Bills, betwixt the Hours of 1 and 4 Afternoon, The Lands and Estate of BONHARD with the Pertinents, lying within the Parishes of Linlithgow and Carriden, and Sheriffdom of Linlithgow.  The Rental, Progress and Conditions of Roup to be seen in the hands of Mr George Livingston, one of the depute clerks of Session, Clerk to the Ranking, any time before the Roup.

NB. There is a large convenient mansion house, Office houses, Fruit-gardens, Pigeon-house, & c. on the Lands; a well-going Coal, and several Salt-pans: These last two not valued.” 

(Caledonian Mercury 1 June 1742, 4).

It was bought by the Duke of Hamilton to whose estates it was contiguous on the west.  The extent of the new addition can be seen in a list of the properties belonging to the Duke of Hamilton in 1759, which includes:

“the Property  of  the Lands of Bonhard and Northbank, with the South Moor thereof, and Commonty  used and  wont in the Moor and Barony of Carriden, with the Coals, Coal-heughs,  and haill  Pertinents of the same, lying within the Barony of Carriden, Dukedom  of Hamilton,  and Sheriffdom of Linlithgow.  AND SICKLIKE ALL AND WHOLE the  Lands of  Ryehill, the Lands of Westfield, the Lands of Corsehill, the North Park  of Bonhard;   these  Acres which were some time possessed  by  William  Bannatyne, William  Shedd, and Alexander Dalziel of Eastfield, together with  the  Manour-place,  Yards, Office-houses, and Dovecot of Northbank, which Lands are  proper Parts,  Pendicles  and Pertinents of the said Lands of Bonhard.   AS  ALSO  the Property  of these eight Acres of Land, the principal Mansion, inner and  outer Closes,  South and East Yards bounded and limited, the Green of  Bonhard,  with the Byre, Barns and Barn-yard, which do now stand, and are built, together with the third Part of the Residue and two Part of the Residue of the eight Acres of Land lying as follows, viz. the 3d Part of the Residue of the said eight  Acres of Land lying contiguous to the Barn, lying upon the East side of the same, and upon  the North Side of the Commonty which leads to the Haining-craig, and  the two Part of the Residue of the said eight Acres of Land, lying contigue to  the said  Mansion  and South Yard, and also upon the South-side  of  the  High-way, which leads to the Rock called the Haining Craig, all lying within the  Barony, Regality and Sheriffdom forsaid, with the Teinds thereof, Manour-place, Houses, Biggings, Yards, Colas, Coal-heughs, and haill Parts, Pendicles, and Pertinents of  the said haill Lands”

(Airth Papers – National Library of Scotland).

As well as these there was also an important piece of land on the south coast of the Forth Estuary in the vicinity of the present parish church of Carriden.  Known as Bonhard Pans it included the salt pans, girnels (salt warehouses), quarries and a shipping point.  The last of these was important because the land stretched up to Little Carriden and Muirhouses providing a bridge for the transport and export of coal from the mines around Bonhard.

The farms on the large estate had been let to various tenants and many of these leases came to an end in 1754 which provided an opportunity to improve the lands and to raise the rent:

“That the Lands and Estate of BONHARD, belonging to his Grace the Duke of Hamilton, consisting of about 280 Acres, and situate within a Mile of the Towns of Linlithgow and Borrowstounness, being presently possess by many Tenants; Are now to be LET by publick Roup, on Tuesday the 3d Day of September next, in the House of John Bain Vintner in Borrowstounness, either altogether to one Tenant, or in two, three of four Parcels to different tenants, and for such Space and Number of Years as can be agreed upon.  The Entry to be at the Term of Martinmas next – The Rental, Plan of Grounds, and Articles of Roup, are to be seen in the Hands of James Wilson the Duke’s Chamberlain at Borrowtounness…”

(Caledonian Mercury 11 July 1754, 4).
Illus 6: Extract from Roy’s Map of 1755.

Roy’s map indicates large rectangular stone-walled enclosures to the west and north-west of Bonhard House which would have held extensive orchards and gardens at an earlier period.  By 1755 there was also a small village just to the north of the house which presumably held the colliers associated with the local mines.  This was a short-lived settlement and as the mines closed the occupants moved on and the buildings were demolished.

In April 1772 Kinneil Estate, including Bonhard, was administered on behalf of the Duke and Duchess of Hamilton by a Mr Burrell.   He  wrote in his diary:

This  morning Andrew McVey in Borroustoun came and made offer of £22 Scots per acre  for the Mansion house farm of Bonhard extending to 44 acres with the  sum of  £13  Sterling for the house,  garden and dovecoats extending to 3  acres, extending in whole to £93.13.4.  On condition that…the house and office houses be made wind and water tight, together with the dovecoats

(Burrell’s Journals, Hamilton Papers).

After Andrew McVey, the tenant appears to have been Malcolm Henderson, land steward and overseer.  He was one of a new breed of professional factors specialising in the latest advances in agriculture, book-keeping and land-measuring.  He was administered small farms at Linlithgow, Grange in Midlothian and elsewhere.  He was at Bonhard by 1804 and died there in June 1813.

Illus 7: Ordnance Survey Map of 1856 (National Library of Scotland).

In 1818 the house was put up for let again:

“BONHARD HOUSE, consisting of dining-room, six bed-rooms, kitchen, laundry, garrets, & c with an excellent garden, coach-house, and stable, and any quantity of ground, to the extent of 30 or 40 acres, a tenant may require.

Bonhard is situated within two miles of Linlithgow, where several coaches pass through daily, and within a mile and a half of Borrowstounness, where the steam-boats pass daily between Newhaven, Grangemouth, Alloa, Stirling, & c; commands a most delightful prospect of the sea and surrounding country, and within half a mile of coal.” 

(Caledonian Mercury 10 October 1818, 1)

Illus 8: Bonhard House looking south-west.

As the condition of the house declined, it became harder to find suitable tenants.  Before long it was divided into flats for farm labourers and their families.  In the 1850s the Ordnance Surveyors described it as

A large and well constructed house, three stories high with a few office houses and farm attached.  In the possession of Alexander Lear­month, farmer, and property of the Duke of Hamilton… The farm on which the house is situate is called Wester Bonhard.  The house is in good repair and is occupied by some farm labourers.” 

In the 1870s and 1880s two families, the Mitchells and the Williamson lived there.

In January 1888, the Duke of Hamilton offered to sell Bonhard Castle and an acre of ground to Carriden Parochial Board for £600 for the erection of a fever hospital.  The Board considered that the price was too high and wrote back asking for a reduction, which was rejected.  However, Linlithgow Parish was also looking around for a site for a fever hospital and offered to combine its financial resources with those of Carriden.  It estimated that the house required £300 worth of repairs.  Andrew Gilmour, Medical Officer of Health for Linlithgow, produced a report in March that year:

“I beg to report that I visited and made a careful examination of Bonhard House and grounds around it.  The said house is situated on a rising ground facing the south about 2 ½ miles from Linlithgow, and from 4 to 5 miles from the Oil Works.  It consists of three storeys in height, containing nine apartments: basement, 21 feet by 40 feet; in first flat are east room, 18 by 18 feet, wester room, 18 feet by 24 feet, and back room, 19 feet by 12; second and third flats, about the same size.  There is also a large entrance hall.  To the west and north of the house there is a large garden.  Were the house properly fitted up it would accommodate from 25 to 30 patients, with ample air space for each.  There is no drainage in connection with the house.  Water supply – There is a draw well about 18 feet deep, 50 yards to the south and at a lower level, but not of good quality.  The people living in the house say there is no water in the well during dry weather, they having to get their water supply from a small burn some distance off.  They also complain of the bad quality of the water.  There would be little hope of getting water by boring, as the ground around it is all undermined.  Were the house fitted up as an hospital, it would require both new flooring and new roof, as both are in an advanced state of decay.  I would estimate the fitting up of said house as a fever hospital to cost about £600.  As to its eligibility as a fever hospital, as far as size and situation are concerned, it is very suitable, and well adapted for that purpose.  But the distance from the more populous districts of the parish, and the defective supply of water, would, in my opinion, be strong reasons against selecting it as a suitable house for a fever hospital for the said parish or district.” 

FH 7 March 1888, 5

The project was dropped.

Illus 9: Bonhard House looking south-west, c1910.

It was at this time that the architectural historian Thomas Ross became interested in Bonhard House and made some notes which he published in the journal of the Edinburgh Architectural Association in 1891.  In June 1897 he acted as their guide when they visited the site.  Two years later the information also appeared in the magisterial work of MacGibbon and Ross.

Salmon in 1913 noted that it was still inhabited, having been divided into six dwelling-houses and stating that “It is a fine old place yet, with its entrance drive, ancient dovecot, and walled garden.”  In May 1920 it was his turn to act as the guide when the Falkirk Natural History & Archaeological Society visited Bonhard Castle.  The tenants were now ordinary working class people.  These included John Docherty, iron-dresser (1910), William Boyd, pit-sinker (1916), James Hamilton (1926) and Peter McLean, dye-worker (1932).

Henry M Cadell, the owner of the neighbouring estate of Grange was looking to build a new mansion for his family, as he mentions in his historical survey:

“In the end of 1892 I bethought myself of trying to acquire old Bonhard House from the Duke of Hamilton, and if I could buy it to alter and reconstruct it for a suitable mansion house overlooking all Grange estate.  My first idea was to excamb a bit of Bonhard for the 14 detached acres at Borrowstoun entirely surrounded by Kinneil Estate.  At that time Mr J. Auld Jamieson WS was the Duke’s factor in full charge of Kinneil estate.  When I approached him, he proposed to sell me the whole of the old Bonhard estate of something like 400 acres lying to the south of Grange.  I proceeded to get plans prepared for the house by an eminent Edinburgh architect Mr Hippolyte Blanc, but Mr Jamieson took ill and was succeeded by George Dalziel WS, an old skinflint whom the Hamilton family used to call Duke Dalziel.  He ruled the trustees and acted as if he was the Duke, but abruptly broke off negotiation telling me that Mr Jamieson had made a mistake and that Kinneil could not be sold in separate pieces.  It was as well that I did not build there, since I afterwards found that there was no adequate water supply and in 1901 I secured a far better place for the new house”

In 1928 the whole of the Duke of Hamilton’s Kinneil estate was put up for sale, at which time “Bonhard Castle” comprised of seven houses and land  with a rental of £51.  There were about 80 lots but Bonhard did not find a buyer although most of the land round it was disposed of to Thomas Kirk, the tenant of Northbank Farm for around £8,000.  The house continued with the regime of minimal maintenance.  A concerned visitor wrote to the local newspaper (Bo’ness Journal 25 February 1944, 2) voicing his worries:

“On a recent visit to 400-year old Bonhard I was grieved to find that decay that leads to ruin, if not stayed, had fastened its grim clutch more firmly on this fine old mansion.  While the fabric itself is in fairly good condition, the roof appears to be almost in a state of collapse.  Many of the window panes have been smashed by local vandals, thus exposing the beautiful ceilings and panelling within to damage by weather…

Ancient splendour can still be seen within the house in spacious rooms, finely panelled ceilings each of different designs, ornamental fireplaces with stone and wooden mouldings, and pilastered panels above the mantel-piece.  An air of distinction is imparted to the whole by the wall panelling which is fairing none too well in a state of neglect… Two families already live there and help in staving off the complete decay of the building, but there are other rooms which could be made habitable.”

Illus 10: Aerial Photograph c1950 of Bonhard House and Grounds.

It was descending into a Romantic ruin and in the summer of 1941 the local artist GTS Gould painted a water colour of Bonhard Castle, which was exhibited in Edinburgh in the Royal Scottish Society’s gallery.  A chimney fire caused some damage to roof timbers in 1946, but thankfully the Bo’ness National Fire Service soon got it under control.  It was but a prelude of things to come.  Standing empty in 1959, the building was gutted by fire and the shell was blown up in April 1962.  Nothing now remains of Bonhard House except part of the north enclosure wall. Its site is occupied by a new house.

Sites and Monuments Record

Bonhard HouseSMR 401NT 0141 7980
Bonhard Doo’cotSMR 12NT 0147 7978


MacGibbon and Ross1889Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland.
Ross, T.1891‘Bonhard House’, Trans Edinburgh Architect Ass, 1, 1891, 189 – 92.
Salmon, T.J.1913Borrowstounness and District.
Stodart, R.R.1877Genealogy of the Family of Cornwall of Bonhard, in the Parish of Carriden, Co., Linlithgow

G.B. Bailey (2020)