Callendar House : 1783 -1815

The Forbes Family Arrive

When news emerged that the York Buildings Company was being forced to sell the estate of Callendar there was much excitement in the area. It had been customary to allow the forfeited family to purchase the property back, but times had changed. Strangers were observed around the town of Falkirk and rumours arose that the sale might be well attended. Amongst those prospecting the place was George Forbes from Aberdeen who had been sent there by his brother William. On 14 September 1782 he wrote to his sibling that :

“There is a house upon Callendar which was built before the forfeiture. This house is very extensive: it contains a dining room and drawing room, both of a very large size, and a multiplicity of bedrooms. I think it is not well situated: it is on a hollow ground: Indeed in the days when it was built it was the custom to build upon low ground: our forefathers thought they could never be enough sheltered. The front is northward looking toward the Firth of Forth: on the south of which the whole estate lies. The inclosures round the house are very extensive: in them are a multitude of large and venerable trees: I speak here of what we call in this country the policy, and the policy of Callendar is in my opinion excellent. This was the favourite residence of the Late Earl of Erroll…”

(Forbes Papers 116/38)

William Forbes was more interested in the prestige that the property brought with it and the land that was included in the estate. The latter had great potential as an investment as it included timber, minerals and agriculture. He was fortunate in acquiring the property on 8 August 1783 at well below its true value.

The Earl of Errol had occupied Callendar House until just a few years before the sale and when Forbes took possession Mr and Mrs Ramsay of Mungal were living in one half of the building as caretakers and Mr Russel in the other half – there being three separate entrances on the main front. Errol’s son had removed all of his furniture and many of the legal documents, such as charters, when he had failed to secure the property. Callendar House therefore appears to have been virtually empty and had already fallen into some disrepair when William bought it. Emergency repairs were immediately carried out on the roof to keep the weather out, though later these were found to have been shoddily executed (172/73).

William was detained in London managing his coppersmith’s business and making financial arrangements to liquidise his assets at the best possible price in order to pay for the purchase of Callendar estate and its much needed improvements. Initially he had anticipated spending only part of the year in London and the remainder in Falkirk and so in the meantime he arranged for Mary Hay Leishman to light fires in several of the rooms once a fortnight and to air the house every day that the weather allowed the windows to be opened (347/51).

As his absence extended he agreed that his younger brother, James Forbes, should look after Callendar for a short spell. James arrived at the beginning of January 1784 and took up accommodation at William Dearn’s Red Lion Inn on the High Street in Falkirk. This gave him an opportunity to acquaint himself with the town and its inhabitants – and a mixed bunch they were. He held many conversations with the people in order to acquire some knowledge of the area and its circumstances. Not everything he heard was accurate and he often sought confirmation of the many allegations of misappropriation of parts of the lands and assets from the Callendar estate.

After a few weeks he moved into Callendar House on 30 January as the guest of the Ramsays, who he describes as a “genteel” couple (Forbes Papers 172/5). Russel had already moved out, having lived there rent free under the old regime. It was then that James found that the official papers, which William Forbes had seen in a room in the centre of the house before Christmas, were missing. Errol’s men had removed them. James was asked to prepare four rooms in Callendar House for the owner’s imminent arrival and searched for potential suppliers. This proved to be more problematic than he expected and he quickly found that household furniture and fittings were not as easy to come by as in London, nor as cheap.

“I could procure in Falkirk immediately,” James wrote on 8 May,

“some brazury and tin ware and a sort of stone ware and perhaps some Sheffield knives & forks, but no china, no ready made black smith work, no feathers by any means, except there were to be a roup which there is no prospect of, no ready made chair, no tables nor other thing of the kind. I am told I could not have 2 beds and the other things proposed, in the course of weeks a wright would make bedsteads and the furniture would be to be ordered from Edinburgh from an upholsterer. All the things may be got here, in time, but I imagine, not upon the terms you are accustomed to buy. There are said to be some few people in Edinburgh that keep new & second hand furniture like the Moorfield’s brokers. If you please I shall buy such things as are ready made in Falkirk, and shall either go to Edinburgh for other things or order them to be made here. There are ships constantly sailing from London to this place. If you could send the bed and table linen and some of the other little things in the music room, I think it would be convenient. Far be it for me to bid you buy goods in London, if I thought they could be readily got in Edin: or Falk:, but I am afraid you will be put to inconvenience. There is not a kitchen tongs to be got ready made here and you know what prices workmen charge for goods ordered to be made for such a place as Cal: House”


A month later the Ramsays moved out of Callendar House and Mary Robertson, who they had recommended, was appointed as a temporary cook and housekeeper, and so James stayed in Edinburgh and shopped for furniture. Mary Robertson evidently was not keen on staying in the big rambling dwelling on her own and returned to the town each night. James was concerned about security and at the beginning of July “appointed a man in my absence to look after it mornings & evenings & watch it all the night” (172/30). The watchman was David Abercrombie who also cleaned up the house whilst he was there. James continued to make the necessary arrangements to furnish the vacated rooms.

“Tho’ I have been forbid to bring second hand things into the house for fear of vermin yet I have looked at a great deal but as they are almost as dear as the new I have taken none of them but I have bought all new.”

He then lists:

“2 Tent beds striped£510£11
1 Tent bed green}
1 Tent bed check}
2 featherbeds bolsters & pillows900
2 featherbeds bolsters & pillows700
2 cotton counterpanes 21/ & 27/6286
1 mahogany chamber table11
1 bason stand10
1 dressing glass156
1 dressing glass70
8 rush bottomed chairs220
knives & forks1146
a pair candlesticks96
snuffers & pan30
a small parcel of earthern ware for }
dinner & a teapot sugar box & milk pot}
kitchen tongs & other and bellows shovel }
& some other iron work }
basson stand26
4 kitchen chair14
8 chairs mahogany 22/69
2 elbow to match2190
a sett dining tables660
a knifebox18
a tea tray15

James was evidently an earnest young man for his letter continues:

“There are very good blankets in Falkirk I looked at them before I came away and mean to buy when I go out. I am also to buy many other things in Falk: It’s told yet of Lord Errol that he never bought any thing in Falk: which he could get elsewhere. That was cruel I may just mention with out meaning to direct you where to buy, that I am told there are in Falkirk wines & spirits very good and good tea & sugar & c the best bread and as good butcher meat as in any part of Scotland.” .


The carpets and stoves were to be bought in Stirlingshire where they were made – the former from Bannockburn and the latter at Carron.

A week later, James returned to Falkirk and took up residence in Callendar House, in order to spare the expense of paying the watchman, and the housekeeper also moved in. Mrs Ramsay lent them bed linen, tablecloths and towels until their replacements arrived from London. He was now ready to receive his brother “you can come directly to Callendar house with a servant or two. The house will not be in great order but you can sleep and eat in it.” For eating it was necessary to establish a new kitchen, the old cramped one being inconveniently located at the south-west end of the house and not having been much in use. James asked Carron Company to provide an estimated cost of a range, jack and spits, to be fitted in the old servant’s hall “because it is near to the chief door & staircase. It would be far for servants to come to open the door to everybody except you had more servants than you propose at first…” In the end he settled for a small grate which could be used for a kitchen whilst there were few occupants of the house and for the servants afterwards. The Ramsays had used this fireplace and had partially bricked part of it up. James had it opened out, revealing a space 8ft wide. A moveable dresser (probably left by William Cadell who had bought it at Lord Errol’s roup) was moved into the room. A common jack was sought in Edinburgh. A set of tables, costing £6.6.0, could be combined in various ways to make a dining top of any size with rounded ends.

James continued to buy locally whenever possible. This included blankets, wright and coppersmith work and so on. “China is exorbitantly dear in Edinburgh I could not get cups & saucers under 21/- per doz: I have bought in Falkirk one dozen strong china cups & saucers coloured, but decent enough at 17/6 which will do for morning and afternoon.” William Forbes was to buy the good china and linen in London and have it shipped up.

Mary Leishman had lived in the porter’s lodge and only yielded up its keys on 12 July. A thorough inspection of the buildings now revealed that one pane of glass was broken in the low east wing of the main house and one in the isolated lodge. James immediately arranged for one of his trusted workmen, Waugh, and his wife and family to move in. This increased his sense of personal security (172/32). To be doubly sure, however, he had Abercrombie sleep in Callendar House with his gun loaded! The two men received 1/- a day for other work and so their accommodation was the only expense of this protection. That other work included cleaning the roads and cutting the edges of the grass. This, James thought “made a great alteration upon the appearance of the place” (172/42).

By mid July the new laird’s temporary bedroom was ready for him – fitted only with a field bed, a table, a dressing glass, a basin stand, three rush chairs and an old stove (172/33). Preparations were then extended to the dining room. James went to Carron to order two stoves and got a wright to take the shape of the chimneys using boards so that they would fit properly. The room had been lined with plain blue paper which was torn and so matching pieces were salvaged from another room to patch it up. The room was considered to be well shaped at 18ft long, 15½ft broad and 17ft high (172/35).

James was under strict instructions not to entertain local landowners at Callendar House until it was fully completed. Family members were unable to contain their curiosity and after a short visit Anne Stewart wrote to William:

“I am just come back from admiring your Palace at Callendar. I am quite charmed with the ancient grandeur of its appearance. With a little expense you may make a beautiful place and a pleasant comfortable house. I am in love with the Tapestry rooms; all that Wing seems in good repair – the other we did not see to so much advantage.”

The wing mentioned appears to have been the area occupied by the Ramsays at the east end of the main block.

On 30 July 1784 James reported to William :

“I have bought a jack, fenders, fire irons, 2 mirror glasses, a sideboard, a carpet, wine glasses, decanters, earthenware, ½ dozen knives & forks to match the other dozen and several little things you will see all the accounts here. The glasses were £8.8 the two, they are small but there is no help, the pair bigger than them, the maker would have had me take, were twenty three guineas. They would have been small for any room upon the first floor of this house. The pair I have bought will do for the present till you consider buying such glasses as the rooms would need, will take consideration especially as the fashions often change, the rooms being high and glass dear. I imagine glasses to suit would cost about ninety guineas the pair. I go much upon matching things. The carpet I have bought suits the paper and bed of your room. I could not get one to please me like the paper of the other room, therefore have ordered one from the maker. It comes out next week.
The Edinburgh prices astonish me. I have given for a small sideboard £3.15. Such a thing was wanted and tho’ this one may not be large enough for the chief dining room, yet it will, tho’ the whole house was furnished, be of use, for I understand, when the whole house was occupied, there generally was a room, besides the great room, for dining with small companys. You never have said what things you are sending of silver, therefore I have bought no Japan work but 1 pair flat candlesticks & 1 pair bottle bearers. The decanters are plain & the glasses very plain, although dearer than some cut ones on account of the pureness of the glass. They are of the commonest shape you can imagine, but I saw their excellency at once and I was assured they are used by many of the best people in Edinburgh. I believe I told you I had difficulty in getting white handled knives to my liking because they are mostly green in Edin: I could get no desert, therefore I only bt ½ dozen bone without forks as near to the shape of the others as possible. I am busy getting things put into order in the house”


He did not buy any chests of drawers as the house was amply provided with presses. The two Carron Company stoves finally arrived for the two best rooms and fitted and looked exceedingly well – which they should have done as they were highly priced. These rooms could now be used to receive guests. The estate’s tenants, it was suggested, could be received in the room at the foot of the great wooden staircase, which would be kitted out with a desk and writing apparatus (172/41). James was evidently pleased with himself and on 10 September 1784 wrote “Do you know that but a very little reparation will be wanted even to Callendar House?” (172/42).

That was not, however, to be the case. Using the accommodation arranged for him, William Forbes arrived at Callendar House late in 1784 and stayed for several months – long enough to form big plans. Thereafter he was only able to pay infrequent visits to the house. The access to the different floors and apartments was clumsy and the rooms were ill-proportioned. The style of decoration was old fashioned and whilst William Forbes did not like over ostentation he admired the clean uncluttered lines of the Neo-Classical architecture then in vogue. He started to look around for an architect who could, with the minimum of cost, bring the house up to date. Michael Ramsay of Mungal recommended James Begg, “as a young man of genius and execution in Designs and Plans for Building and in estimating and ascertaining their expense with great integrity and all possible exactness.” (188/5). It was, however, James Craig, with whom Begg had trained as a draughtsman, who was asked to draw up plans. Craig was very well known, having been responsible for the New Town in Edinburgh and St Giles Cathedral. He was a prolific architect and very familiar with the prevailing styles. He surveyed the existing house at Callendar and proposed two large octagonal stair towers in the re-entrant angles on the main north façade, the remodelling of the existing east wing and the addition of a similar western wing to provide symmetry. Windows were to be enlarged and moved to provide greater regularity and floors removed to provide height and grandeur to the two principal rooms. This last idea was never implemented.

Illus 2: Improved Plan of the Principal (first) floor of Callendar House (after Craig), 1785.
Illus 3: Improved Plan of the Bed Chamber (second) floor of Callendar House (after Craig), 1785.

Craig’s plan of the principal floor stills survives and shows a long dotted line stretching along the interior of the south wall of the main block of the house.  The line is uninterrupted by walls as it passes through at least eight doors.  This curious feature is referred to in Meikle’s account of the house in 1879 as follows: “a gallery stretched the entire length from east to west of the building.  This was done away with in 1868… with the result of adding considerably to the spaciousness of the drawing-room, dining-room, and accessory chambers.”  Such galleries were for exercise during inclement weather (most of the time in this part of the world) and its location against the south-facing windows is ideal.  However, by the eighteenth century it was rather an old fashioned concept and it is difficult to see how it could have functioned, traversing as it did two bed chambers and their dressing rooms.

James Craig was at the zenith of his career and his name carried considerable prestige at the time.  So too was that of the plasterer (stucco worker) employed – James Nisbet of Edinburgh.  He was recommended by James Bruce, having just completed work in his house at Kinnaird.  Bruce considered him to be “the best employed man and the most reasonable of his profession.” (208/17)  He appears to have acted as the clerk of works on the job, on one occasion bringing with him a design for the main door.  On another he showed some of the designs for Callendar House to the architect Robert Adam.  He also sub-contracted the work on the stone fireplaces to other professionals in that line.  A local man, John Wyse, was the principal stone mason.  John Wyse and his son, James, were responsible for many of the buildings in the town of Falkirk.

William Forbes oversaw the initial arrangements and in January 1785 the journeyman wrights began their work on the internal floors, partitions and window frames.  Within a few weeks the masons were also at work in Callendar House.  Building materials were obtained from the port at Grangemouth.  Memel and Norwegian timber was supplied by Alexander Henderson of Falkirk, Henry Swinton and John Glen & Co of Grangemouth.  Nails were made to order by John Bell at Camelon.  Easdale slates were brought via the Forth and Clyde Canal.  Lime was burnt on the estate at Almond, occasionally supplemented by material from Charlestown in Fife.  Stone came from quarries in Callendar Wood.  Sheet lead was sent in Carron Company ships from London.

Before long William was back in London and George Forbes joined James at Callendar House as the scale and pace of work multiplied.  The masons and wrights were kept constantly employed – in the summer months working on the stables, quarrying and dressing stone, and rebuilding the estate wall.  For the masons the main task was to build the western octagonal stair turret.  This was completed by the end of the year and estimates were obtained from London for a turret clock with a mechanism requiring winding at intervals of between 30 hours up to eight days (242/6 & 7).  Before long the copper dial plate was ordered from Messrs Lockwood and finished by Thomas Russell in the Barbican.  William Forbes was asked “if you have anything to give in the way of directions about the fashion of it and the Hour and Minute figures be so good as to write.”  Thomas Johnston of Ormiston Hill, Fife, provided a stair carpet (224/27).  The major work on the stables was completed in November 1785.  Inside the house it was decided to live on the first or middle floor whilst the floors above and below were being worked upon.  In February 1785 George wrote “There are about 12 carpenters and as many masons who are repairing the upper and lower floors of the house while we live in the middle floor; about the end of the ensuing summer the upper story may be completed when we will move up to it and then repair the middle floor.” (246/1).

One of the first rooms to be given a makeover was the bedroom in the north-west corner of the second floor.  This had been the room where, by tradition, Mary Queen of Scots had slept.  For this John Thomson, carver, guilder and glass manufacturer, at Magdalene Chapel in Edinburgh, made the chimney piece (fire surround) and sent his men to fit it in November 1785 (224/20).  Just along from it was a new water closet.  William Forbes was evidently keeping up with household innovations and appears to have been keen to replace the old soil buckets with these new devices.  It had only been in 1775 that Alexander Cummings, a watchmaker born in Edinburgh, took out a patent for the “S-trap feature” which he had added to the existing water closets and thus stopped the odours from escaping. He also used swirling water to clean the bowl.  Marshall and Armstrong from Edinburgh were employed to install the plumbing work for the water closet and returned over the following two years to place them into newly renovated areas of the house.  The stone basins in the loft that fed the toilets were installed by the wrights, though it was 1787 before piped water was fully led into the house.

In January 1786 John Wyse agreed to build the easter turret to the same design as the completed one.  This held out the promise of future work for him and his team, but for the moment there was a temporary lull.  On 5 January 1786 George told William that “The masons have stopped hewing.   The carpenters go on as formerly” (236/1).  However, Forbes wanted to retain the services of Wyse who he found to be a good worker and who did not charge extravagant fees.  By the end of that month George was able to add “The works in the house and without are going on much in the same way as when you saw them.  Yesterday the lime was taken out of the kill; it was originally the refuse of what was formerly burnt at Almond and but little was to be expected from it, nevertheless it has produced a good deal which will be useful here.   Wyse is now building a window in the west wing with it.

Wyse keeps generally six & seven men at work and does his work well for which reason he might be constantly employed – his present job will be presently fulfilled.   Pray what should he be set to next” (236/4).  Wyse was set to finish a chimney in one of the high rooms (236/5).  That summer work also began on a new walled garden.  A sundial was bought and Thomas Russell was paid £1.11.6 for “painting, drawing in strong gold, a large copper dial plate” which was presumably for the new turret to match the clock in the earlier one.

The other large task for the workmen that spring was the new kitchen.  The one set up by James Forbes in the old servants’ hall was always intended to be temporary.  Now the far end of the two-storey east wing was to be converted into a kitchen fit to grace the best of country houses.  This involved removing the floor between the two storeys and installing the necessary apparatus (the floor joists and scarcement of the original wing still survive behind the plaster of the south wall; as does a stone fireplace on the first floor of the north wall).  The double-height kitchen appears on Craig’s plan of 1785 and to him we should attribute the concept.  However, the Great Fire in the east wall is absent on his drawing and two windows are depicted in this wall in its stead.  This alteration was probably made at an early stage.  The unifying theme of the kitchen features was a keystone motif at the apex of the various arches, lintels, and in the top centre of the door mouldings.  The arches included the Great Fire as well as the settings for the oven and hotplate.  To either side of the main fire was a small recess with a lintel incorporating a keystone.  That to the right contained a flue for a small oven, and that to left a storage area.  The number of doors in the kitchen was the same as it presently possesses, as is shown by an order in July 1786 for two right-hand and two left-hand door locks as well as a mounting for one for a mock door (236/11).  The west end of the room was over-sailed by part of the earlier first floor, now supported on a cast iron column, and here the wooden keystone motif on the architraves was echoed by a broad hood mould.  The retention of this upper floor room was another deviation from Craig’s plan, but Nisbet’s measurement of the ceiling – 31ft by 10ft (2107/5) show that it was not a later insertion.



Illus 4: The west end of the partially restored Kitchen showing the plaster roundel for the clock.


In August 1786 a clock dial and movement were sent from London to fit the moulded plaster roundel in the upper part of the west wall of the kitchen – it was important to the proper working of such a facility (245/4 & 5).  Niset’s invoice for the plaster moulding for the clock was for a length of 10ft 5ins, giving a diameter of 1ft 8ns.

The kitchen was amply lighted by two rows of windows in the south wall and the light atmosphere was enhanced by painting the walls pale yellow (this was revealed from an examination of the layers of surviving paint at the window apertures, despite advice from Historic Scotland stating that all late 18th century Scottish kitchens were painted pale blue).  A charcoal burning range was placed near the south-east corner to make use of the ventilation provided by the windows.  Between the windows broad wooden pilasters divided the wall face and appear to have been a darker shade, approaching buff.  They were echoed on the opposite wall, giving the room a warm Classical feel.  This was further enhanced by a deep cornice and coved ceiling.  The north wall had no windows and was utilised for the specialised cooking equipment that required chimneys.

By August 1786 the kitchen was almost completed.  The large wooden dresser had ten drawers.  To the north of the kitchen a projecting room was added and one of the doors just mentioned connected with it.  It seems to have been a bakehouse (236/11).  The scullery lay to the west of the kitchen.  Copper pans too were sourced in London and sent by a Carron Company ship (254/22).  The copper drip tray was built in-house by the Forbes’ family business – without legs as they were known to work loose no matter how well they had been attached.

25 September 1786 – “I shall immediately go about providing the Copper Kitchen Furniture from a wholesale Brazier, informing myself first of the newest improvements – and shall do my best as to workmanship and price – Not a day shall be lost – They and the Double Boiler shall be packt up and shipt together…”

Illus 5: Cross Section of the 1787 Kitchen showing the features in the north wall.

The mention of a double boiler is tantalising and it is probable that this was for the oven which was destined to occupy the eastern of the two arched alcoves in the north wall.  The front was evidently separate and a wooden pattern for it had already been shipped to Falkirk and passed on to the Carron Company for casting in iron.  However, it had been made of unseasoned timber and had warped by the time that it was to be used:

4 July 1786 – “Mr Tibbats presents his respectful compliments to Mr Robert Forbes and begs leave to send up the pattern of the oven door for Mr Robert’s inspection remarking that from its being made of timber imperfectly seasoned it is considerably cast out of a plane, & that on both sides the flange is much narrower at one end than the other – Mr Tibbats has been at much trouble in attempting to make the goods call from so improper a pattern answer, but would esteem it a favour if Mr Robert could step down to Carron this evening, & bring Mr McLean with him, when they would determine what was best to be done – Mr Tibbats will be in the Works at 5 o’ Clock” (255/1).

Illus 6: The Oven.
Illus 7: Measured Sketch of the 1786 Oven giving a cross section showing the flow of hot air.

Carron Company also made the grate for the Great Fire:

1 August 1786 – “Mr Cooper is gottd in the grate to the keepers for the sliding checks … I wish to have you opinions in the fashion of them, as also about one of the handles on the stove… Amb. Tibbats, Carron” (254/4).



Illus 8: The Great Fireplace in Callendar House Kitchen measuring 2.4m across the inside. Above – the spit mechanism and inspection doors for the smoke jack.

The sliding ‘checks’ or cheeks were to enable the size of the fire basket to be varied according to the length of the meat being roasted on a horizontal spit.  The basket sat in the large elliptically-headed arch which provided a recess of 2.4m length.  Above it two chains emanating from pulley blocks mounted on the mantel were for suspending meat joints vertically.  Above the mantel cornice a large iron plate with moulded edges was used to attach the brackets for a more sophisticated roasting spit.   This consisted of a long iron spindle with bevelled cogs attached near to the centre to convert the horizontal motion into vertical ones for vertical roasting.  Towards the end of the spindle were hollow pulley wheels to run chains for long horizontal roasting of whole or half pigs and sheep; and in between were two brass grease pots with mouldings and finials to ensure smooth running and adequate support.  The motive power was supplied by a smoke jack or turbine placed in the chimney – hot air rising from the fire turned the blades.  Cast iron doors set in the chimney breast allowed this to be inspected, adjusted and maintained.

Illus 9: Hotplate or Boiling Table.

However, it was 1792 before the iconic ornate boiling table was cast for the western alcove:

June 28, 1792 – “We have received your sundry orders by Mr Maclean & shall endeavour to execute them to his satisfaction –   The front for the Boiling Table will be a most difficult piece of work, & will subject us to much Expence in the preparation, which Mr McLean assures us you will not scruple to pay – the Job being absolutely necessary & urgent – I am Sir For Carron Co… J Stainton, Manager”


The two decorative front plates and figures were ready the following month (471/6).


Illus 10: Central Panel from the Hotplate showing Cupid and Psyche in veils, led by putti with a torch and a basket of fruit to a stool for their wedding ceremony.  Based on a copperplate engraving by Francesco Bartolozzi after a design by Giovanni Battista Cipriani.

The scenes on the bowed front of the hotplate depict (1) (above) – Cupid and Psyche led by putti to their wedding and (2) (right) – Hebe the cupbearer feeding Zeus, in the form of an eagle, with nectar. They are thus indicative of hospitality and the consumption of food. However, their placement in a working kitchen does seem a little extravagant, and it is unlikely that they were much appreciated by the kitchen maids!


Illus 11: The Greek goddess Hebe feeding Zeus’ Eagle.

Illus 12: Front and Sectional Drawings of the Hotplate.

The stone for the surrounds for the oven and hotplate came from Brighton Quarry and on the latter two larger figured panels were attached depicting a classically robed standing woman – reversed on one side.


Illus 13: Cast Iron Panel attached to the Hotplate.


The stone paving for the kitchen floor was essential and continued into the ante-room to the west and the connecting passage to the previous temporary kitchen, which now once more became the servants’ hall.  Part of this paving survived under the wooden dresser or worktop (the remainder of the floor in the kitchen was renewed in Caithness stone in 1997).  Payment for the floor was made to Alexander Ker, mason, in 1795 (2087-1).

A grand kitchen called for grand vaulted cellars and it seems to have been at this time that cellarage was inserted under the entire east wing – the excavated soil could have been used to fill up the “valley” between the house and the stables.  Inserting cellars into an existing building was quite a feat, though not that unusual.  Neil Keir was paid £56 for the paving stones of the wine cellar in 1789.  The stone stair down to the cellars was placed in the small room between the kitchen and the scullery and a second door in the east gable gave access to the cellar from the grounds by an external flight of steps.  Adjacent to the main stair to the cellar another flight of steps rose to the first floor.  This would have enabled the servants to take the food from the kitchen to the new dining room without having to climb the Grand Staircase – though they still had to cross its balcony.  It was from the top of this minor stair that the kitchen clock could be wound from its back.

Illus 14: The Ceiling on the Cromwell Stair.

The former use of the scullery is not known.  This was the room which James Forbes prepared as a temporary estate office because of the convenience of access and the presence of several shelved presses (172/41).  Beyond the scullery the scale and platt staircase, later known as the Cromwell Stair, was retained.  This was the chief staircase which James had referred to.  Much of the present oak panelling of this room is of a later date, but it is highly probable that it had been panelled before the house was bought by William Forbes.  The broad stair is relatively plain but is given extra richness by the plaster ceiling painted in a Baroque manner. 

Using the trompe l’oeil technique it gives a perspective vista framed in an oval depicting figures glancing over an oculus balcony down onto the onlooker.  A similar scene can be seen at Hopetoun House

At the time that the Great Stair had been inserted, the ground floor was still mostly used for practical purposes and the principal living rooms were on the first floor.  Continuing westward along the ground floor from the stair the first room was the larder which still retained part of its vault (1172/1).  Then there was the entrance hall – connected to the stair by a short corridor.  Beyond the hall were more vaulted storage rooms.

Despite an ongoing dispute between William Forbes and the Carron Company over a reservoir that it had illegally built on his lands at Dunipace, fireplaces and stoves continued to be purchased from that source.  It was noted on several occasions that the prices were high, but then again so was the quality.  Mr Cooper was the company man delegated to measure up the fireplaces and install them.  In November 1786 he was there with nine stoves (255/32).  For the dining and drawing rooms something grander was required in 1787.  These large grates, 4ft 3ins long and almost as deep, were needed to produce the heat – two in the dining room and one in the drawing room.  The elegant fronts, however, were made in London – they were designed to slip off.  When they arrived in August 1787 George was delighted with them saying that they were “very genteel” (282/11).  However, a small ornament on one of them was broken in transit.  The size of the fireplaces meant that the marble had to be specially shipped from London to “Sea Lock” for James Whyte of Leith who then sent two of his best hands to put the dining room ones up (296/9).  Liddel did that for the drawing room (271/13).  Serpentine fenders, 6ft 1in long, were purchased from London (268/18).  For the bedrooms, elegant hob grates were considered appropriate and Forbes seems to have favoured the type then fashionable in Bath.  He therefore arranged to have four patterns for the plates made and cast at Carron (296/17).  Stove pipes were needed for several of the stoves and on one occasion in July 1787 some large thin cast iron panels (296/7).  It is tempting to think that these latter were for the kitchen.

Craig was a very busy professional and with William Forbes away in London it clearly became difficult for them to progress Callendar House to everyone’s satisfaction.  Having achieved the initial aims of remodelling and extending the accommodation Craig therefore parted company.  Nisbet remained and Forbes employed a London architect called Edward Bardwell Brazier.  His reason for doing so may have been a family connection, as well as convenience – Brazier’s father was a banker.  Compared to his predecessor Brazier was relatively inexperienced and, in so far as can be judged from the scant information available, was accustomed to improving existing properties in and around London for clients with a taste for decorative urban structures.

Brazier’s first commission at Callendar House was for the design of a new entrance porch – rather grandiosely called a “portico.”  The need for this structure was noted by George Chalmers writing to William Forbes:

Your principal door being to the North would expose the house much to cold… perhaps therefore it might be proper to build an elegant porch which would add to the look of the front of the house… I know that at Hopetoun where they did not make a porch being a storey up, the door being to the East is a very great inconvenience


Difficulties arose from working from a distance without having even seen the building and in July 1786 Robert Forbes sent

a drawing of the front door of the house on a large scale, which will be better for the Architect to place the Porch upon, than the general front of the house which you carried up, it being on a small scale


A few weeks later, Brazier wrote back for more information:

Please to figure exactly every space and perpendicular on the Sketch markt A in order that a drawing may be made so as that the workman may clearly understand the same, and work without error – Should also be glad to know the exact height of the Hall floor, together with the depth of the cornice.   The door separate from the drawing is made with a bead across, which bead ranges with tops of the windows:  this is done to preserve the same effect respecting the height of the door, should we be compelled to submit for want of height in the hall floor.”


Illus 15: One of Brazier’s Designs for a new Porch at Callendar House (Forbes Papers).

By September the preliminary design for the porch was completed, but it was the end of October before William Forbes, having returned to Callendar House, got to see it.  In the meantime Brazier had produced another five alternative models (254/13) and drawings for the porters’ lodges and the stables (254/14).  He then moved on to the dining room using sketches provided.  Work on the house temporarily halted for the winter.

At the end of January 1787 work on the upper floor was complete and the middle floor was vacated –

We have been settled in the upper floor this week past. I assure you it is very comfortable lodging, so warm and so clean, you can have no idea of it when compared with the other – we cannot burn such large fires as formerly.  The poor old middle floor is reduced to a mere skeleton; the workmen are going on very rapidly, and I expect will soon put it together again, several of the new windows are already shaped and built up again”  


Almost all of the external walls were harled and this made moving the windows a relatively easy matter.

By the second week of February 1787 William Forbes was back in London and went to see Brazier.  From his subsequent letter it is clear that the age-old dichotomy in the relationship between the architect and the client had emerged, with the architect not quite matching the client’s needs and proposing greater expenditure than the client intended. 

I have been with Brazier and he promises to give dispatch, and the minutest designs and directions about the spire to the Stables, and about the Porters Lodges.   –   Mr Brazier  has given me his ideas of an eating room; but he annexes to it such a superb mode of finishing and at so vast an expence that I gave the matter up; for no argument shall ever induce me to make a single room in Callander House other than quite plain, both in the walls and ceiling


As it happened a new problem was discovered at the house itself.  The masonry walls in the south-east corner of the dining room which had long before formed part of a circular internal staircase, and which it had been intended to demolish in order to increase the size of the room, were found upon examination to be supporting walls on the floor above (282/3).  James Craig had intended for the dining room to be 42ft long and the drawing room 41ft on the understanding that they would be extended into the floor above, but the extra height with its consequent loss of rooms was never considered acceptable to Forbes.  The upper floor had already been renovated and decorated and there was no willingness to undo that work. 

As to the Eating Room, I would have you go on with it without waiting: that circumstance of it’s being shortened is a fortunate one, in as much as it creates good proportion.  And in the conversation wh I had with Mr Brazier he laid it down as a principal that three is the number of windows which ought to be in a complete Room: but to think of waiting for a design from him, or even a Sketch, it could not be hoped for sooner than the end of summer; for though I made an application to him for drawing the Porter’s Lodges as soon as I got hither, I can’t look for them till six weeks after I leave this again; so that you will be obliged to proceed with such drawings as you already have in the Builders Magazine &c. for the completion of that Room.  As to pulling down any work that may occasion an alteration in the upper floor, it cannot be thought of for a moment; that floor being now completed, it must be kept as it is” . 


The frustration with the architect is palpable and was turning the Forbes brothers into their own designers as well as project managers.  Instead of being 44ft the new dining room was therefore only 36ft long and 24ft broad with a height of 16ft.  Robert Forbes, the man on the spot, pressed on

I have made another design of the new dinning room, but it will only admit of three windows, the loss of the 5 feet cuts off one window – three of these windows 4 feet by 8½ is a great quantity of light


William Forbes returned to Callendar House in early March 1787 and finally received the outstanding drawings from Brazier.  He was evidently not impressed.  He seems to have continued to consider the proposals expensive, the decoration on the lodges overdone and the portico out of proportion.  More to the point, the open columned design of some of the porticoes would not have excluded the drafts.  His response has not been found, but it elicited this reaction from the architect:

2 May 1787 – “Yesterday your brother did me the favour to call & read me the ansr  he recd & I confess myself much surprised & I cannot comprehend sufficiently to apply to the blame: but I conclude that some person unknown to me either from interested motives or pique, has written that singular & inexplicable Order, to have the Drawings sent down before any ansr can be given; that he may examine & determine whether the ornaments are proper for the building or not.

I confess I am more hurt on this occasion, I must say it is out of his power to produce such ornaments for the building either in strength, execution or beauty: but if it is yr wish or order I submit; I shall ever think it my duty to study yr interest I inclination & co: I to my credit to produce the best effect, I cannot without extravagances. These things I trust would be so prov’d, were they executed agreeable to the Designs I have made.

With your leave I must also express myself much concerned at the non execution of the Portico; which would have given considerable importance to the House: & might have been executed as easily as other porticos are to houses after they are built. In this I was over rul’d & must submit to the discredit of the petite effect of the principle Entrance to a House 300 feet in front.

Permit me Sir, to observe with the greatest respect & at the same time do me the justice to believe, that I have not even an idea of giving the least offence; but it woud be far more satisfactory to me, not to have my designs ; ….. in its execution; as my reputation must suffer considerably by such & innovations; as have, & are still to take place.  My greatest pleasure & indeavour is to produce a good effect; if so happy  also to meet the approbation of the gentleman I have the honour to be employ’d by: which I shall ever esteem of far more consequence & value to me; than any pecuniary emolument arising therefore have sent as directed all the Drawings for the workmen; I am desirous of being thought with the utmost defference


London                                   Your most obt humle Servt

May 2nd 1787                                                          E B Brazier”


William Forbes was happy enough with his own ideas, particularly after making comparisons. 

I have looked at a number of Buildings here of the most distinguished taste, and I am far, very far from thinking that the Windows of Callendar house are too small. The Great Windows introducing just now at Edinr and other places are repugnant to all good rules of Architecture, and cannot long be in Vogue.   Were ours to do again I would have them as they are


His remaining doubts were soon dispelled

D.F. [David Forbes] and I have been looking at the Windows of Buildings designed by Sir William Chambers and other eminent Architects; and those which are in Callander are in truth larger than the common run of good Architecture – so much for any fear of their being too little” (271/14).  Robert Forbes too was “sure they are large enough.  The devil is in meddling people who pretend to criticise and have no taste


Whilst Brazier’s designs were rejected as they stood, elements were used.  Robert Forbes, now the resident “architect,” noted

You are certainly right in determining to have no figured work in the rooms, for large well proportioned plain rooms will always be the fashion, when what is the present mode of ornamenting is wore out.   And yet, if you have Braziers designs I would like to see them, for by them we would see his proportions of pairs &c. which might be of some use to us. You know we pickt out among his designs of a portico a very good plan for a door.  Ker is going on with the building the front door.”

After the dining room it was the turn of the drawing room.  Before William Forbes bought Callendar House this room was a wainscoted dining room (271/4).  Here it was found that the corner of the 16th century building protruded into the north-west angle of the proposed space and so the new room was reduced from 42ft to 38ft in length (271/3).  Brazier was still working intermittently upon the designs for the room.  In July he had a serious accident whilst inspecting one of his projects, then in November he fell 16ft down a hatch and was laid up for some time.

Beds were acquired as new rooms came on stream.  Back in May 1785 James Forbes had bought two striped tent beds from Edinburgh to get the ball rolling (see above).  Throughout 1786 the main supplier was Hamilton and Sons of Edinburgh, though they had problems obtaining the appropriate fabrics.

  • 23 September 1786 – “bedstead curtains… we request to be informed if you have no objections to a good full blue for the  curtains which we can with less difficulty against the time furnish than a green.  If the bed is to stand in a different room the colour is equally eligible for standing” (255/11).
  • October 1786 – “A four posted bedstead with lath bottom & mahogany foot posts – mounted with quaker coloured morine edged with French gray bynding, & fringe to upper valants length 6ft 8 by 5 ft 6 & 9 feet high.  Bedding for do such as to the former beds – with a wool mattress in place of straw pallas cover” (255/13)
  • 11 October 1786 – “I trust your opinion respecting yr trimming of your morine bed hangings wch wth the bedstead & co are in hands for Callendar house –   I have been at much pains but cannot find a fitting colour of French gray than the pattern of bynding inclosed & no morine worsted to match it than its corresponding pattern of fringe   –  I inclose wth them a pattern of blue bynding – the blue fringe is not quite the same shade.  But if you approve I can match the bynding wth fringe exactly the same colour – shd any thing different from either of these occur to you please write to me by first post –  My own opinion is that the blue will bring out the colour of the morine – wh.. both colours will not detract from each other.  The gray & morine being flat colours both – may have a genteel appearance but will serve to lessen each others effect… James Hamilton” (255/17).
  • 24th October 1786 – “Agreeable to your order we have this day forwarded by Mr Duncan the different articles of yr Accot. annexed – which we are hopefull will meet with your full approbation.
  • Wth respect to the bedstead we ….. used the freedom of decorating the foot …  little more than hoped for our own bed …… & the silk bynding & more expensive fringe make it on that Accot come a triffle higher – but as it will be placed in a room where you wd rather prefer ornament than in your own room – we assume you will not consider it ill bestowed


Illus 16: An example of one of the four-poster beds that remained at Callendar House until the sale in 1963.


  • 15th November 1786 – Wm Hamilton & Son Dr(draper)
To a Servants Bedstead wth Curtains of green Cluney Morine as formerly – – –317
To a Feather Bed & bolster – – –416
To 3 Blankets – – – @ 8/9163
To A Bynding Do – – –57
To a Bed Cover of Printed Rupia linen159
To Matts & Package3

The last of the beds came from the Forbes house at Primrose Street in London and from London suppliers:

23 Jany. 1787 – Wanted from London

3 Beds with furniture for the rooms compleat

Height of the rooms 10..9 from floor to Ceiling

The furniture of the room which belongs to the Barrè coloured bed which came from Primrose Street

A cloaths press.


Illus 17: Close fitting square paving stones in the Entrance Hall at Callendar House (now covered by wooden flooring).  The main door was at the front left.

Wyse was still working as the mason and by August 1787 the west wing was ready for fitting out.  William Forbes advised that the wing, “being for Servants Rooms only is to be finished in the cheapest way” (271/5).  The ground floor of the main block was completed with the laying of paving stones in the large Breakfasting Room.  Large numbers of glass panes were sent on board Carron Company ships from London for the windows.  On 16 August 1787 Robert wrote to William –

The marble men are putting up the chimneys –   The whole front of the house is now cast & whitened, they are briefly employed on the back and gavels, it will soon be finished, and then they fall on the offices and bridges. The house makes a very pretty appearance


By 3 October 1787 the plasterers had finished and were all gone.  Robert was looking forward to the next season:

In my last I mentioned the necessity of putting away the masons.   On consideration, I think it would be better to keep John Wyse with one or two of his best hewers, and Wm Dobie with one or two of his, to hew the gate for the garden and the two seats which we proposed to build there, with what other work will be wanted for the garden.   This would let us push forward the bricklaying in the spring, without any hindrance and forward the work very much. It will also secure the masters in the service. Next spring there will be a great demand for masons at the navigation [Forth & Clyde Canal].   The stones for the garden work I would propose to buy at the Brighton quarry, they are cheaper than any we can quarry ourselves” . 


The carpenters at this time consisted of Maclean and his eight men fitting up the new wing and planing off the floors of the main middle floor; Kincaid and his three men; and Bell with his five men.  Kincaid and Bell were finishing the stables. 

All the work people are trying to outdo each other, they see a great disbanding, and each is trying to do his best, wishing to ingratiate himself, that he may be kept


As the building work was drawing to a close William Forbes started to send the furniture that he been buying in London.  On 29 September 1787 this included the following items on board the Stirling, Joseph Grahams, master:

  • “2 Mahogany Side Boards, Serpentine Fronts moulded taper Feet, good Wood
  • 6      do         Hall Chairs, oval fluted Backs wt Satin Wood, Oval in Center and Crest painted
  • the Set of Dining Tables from Primrose Street
  • A mahogany shaving stand wt a Glass behind, a Queen’s Wase Bottle Bason, water Bottles &c
  • A    Do       with Night Table at Bottom
  • 2 Mahogany Bason Stands with Tops to fold
  • 4 large Vase Lamps mounted with Brass &c
  • 3   do       do                                           do
  • 4 Burners for Lamps
  • 3 Salvers in different Sizes
  • 12 Syllabubs engraved
  • 18 Jellys        do
  • 1 Top Glass   do
  • 24 Breakfast Bowls & Sawcers, blue
  • 24 Tea           do                        do
  • 4 fluted Vaze Balance Balls Gilt
  • 4 double Pulleys for do
  • 16 Yards brass Chain &c
  • 6 Trifle Dishes, cut and engraved Glass” (271/13)

On 1 October 1787 came notice of the slackening pace of building work –

I am very glad to hear that you are almost done with the Masons: This Letter will arrive time enough for you to give notice on Saturday to John Wise to pay off all except himself and two or three – also to Alexr Ker that no more than himself with two or three will be wanted at present: To William Dobbie too and all his men; unless you think one or two of them necessary – The Masons may be informed that this is to be the state of matters till my arrival.   The sooner they are discharged the better, for when Men do not perceive much ado they contrive to spin out Work.  Pray acquaint me of the state of the Carpenter’s work, and what number of them can be spared: for it is to be considered that we can get as many either of them or of the Masons at any future period as we want


After two long years James Nisbet was also finished and his invoices promptly paid (271/15).

November saw finishing touches being made in the form of floor coverings and mirrors.  For the principal rooms there was to be a painted floor cloth covering most of the floor with a slightly smaller carpet laid on top of it.  In the summer the carpets were to be removed and the floor cloths used uncluttered.  Black and white marbled floor cloths had been popular and were considered proper.  Made to order they took three months to complete as they required several coats of paint.  The drawing room was 36ft long by 24ft wide and Luck & Kent were asked how much a Turkey carpet or an imitation Persian carpet would cost at 29 feet 3 inches long and 17 feet 3 inches broad– leaving a margin of 3ft around the edges (268/16 & 19).  The Turkey carpet was estimated to be £42, a Persian of the first order £90, and of the second sort £50 (298/3).  The latter was chosen.

For the Breakfasting Room a Turkey carpet a little shy of 21ft broad was required.  Grant, Pellance & Co of Glasgow made the two carpets for the stairs in the octagonal towers (280/14).  One was 55yds long and one yard wide, and the other 33yds.  On the off chance that more was required the firm wrote

We have just now two looms going in the same pattern, yard wide, which we will not alter till we hear from you with respect to the quantity of that kind that may be wanted.  If you should judge it necessary, for the more exact measurement of any part of the House, that Mr Grant should be there for that purpose, he will be happy to take a ride to Callander at any time you may desire.”

Once the work on Callendar House was completed Brazier worked on the designs for the lodges.  William was at Callendar House and it was now David Forbes’ turn to get exasperated with the architect.  On 17 March 1788 he announced that he had received the finished drawing

which I have at length got from Mr B.   It is a superb thing 24 inches by 16, and as superbly framed in gilt & glazed.   It is now hanging in the room I sit in” (307/14). 

He lent it back to its creator for a final touch and forwarding to William Forbes at Callendar House, only to find that that did not happen:

31 March 1788 – “That fiddle faddle Creation Brazier! –   What is he at now, do you think?   Why, instead of packing the Drawing to be shipt with the rest of the things, he writes me a Card, that some of his Friends have expressed a desire of seeing it in the Exhibition at Somerset House.   I have been with him & set forth that you can no longer do without it; but he wishes to hear yourself about that, and that there is just time, if you please to give your permission; or that all paintings or Drawings must be given in there by 10 April.  

“Mr Forbes, says he, I think, will approve of this; most Gentlemen do “like their designs so exhibited.” & all that.

Now I know you are very angry at reading this, and getting such tantalization about a trifle.   But upon receiving your return, the Drawing shall be forwarded   In the meantime, he begged to be indulged with my asking you.   You will please observe the Gate & Lodges were represented with the road before them, Trees behind them & every circumstance of a Park; & it is to be supposed he means it as an advertisement of his Talents… David Forbes, London


David evidently thought this to be another of Brazier’s lame excuses and wrote in some surprise on 5 May 1788 that

The design of Gate & Lodges is really in the Exhibition at Somerset house.   The Printed Catalogue expresses it thus “No 447 Design of Entrances to Callander Park, Scotland, the Seat of “William Forbes Esquire.  B. Brasier””


It was towards the end of July before the drawing was sent to Scotland (320/31).

Illus 18: Conjectural view of Callendar House c1790.

Finally, on 19 May 1789 William Forbes was able to proclaim that

The work at Callander is now finished – the Garden Park and offices nothing remains but to paint and paper the house.    Pray apply to a real paper stainer and get his prices to the trade for hangings of sorts not exceeding one shilling pr yard.  That a proper choice may be made send a yard of each sort say ten or twelve sorts with a piece of border to match (by next ship).   Can you easily learn whether eating and drawing rooms are most commonly finished by painting or papering upon the plaster?  


In fact, having been given a bargain price, he ended up painting the plaster (349/19).  In July that year water was brought to the house in lead pipes.

It had been a long task but the house had been transformed and William Forbes looked forward to his new role as local laird.  Unexpectedly, problems were found with the roof and it soon became apparent that it required a complete refurbishment.  After all the work that had been done to the interior this had to be undertaken with as little disturbance to it as possible.  Forbes used his experience in shipbuilding and acquired sails for use as tarpaulins to cover the roof during the work.  Some of the sails were tarred and some greased with animal fat in the kitchen of the house to make them watertight (404/1).  The work was started in the middle of the summer of 1790 and at the end of December William Forbes wrote with some relief:

31 Decemr 1790 – “We have been employed in putting a new roof upon Callander house, it was begun in July and this day in the afternoon it will be finished – It hath been a most laborious business – for to roof a completely fitted up house without injuring it was a serious work – Altho the season was uncommonly wet during the work yet I may say no injury has been done, only a few bits of plaister fallen in the bedrooms, which are now mended so far as not to be seen – All judges who have seen it pronounce it as compleat a roof as ever they saw.  There is also a parrapet wall and rain water pipes – the whole together makes the house look twice as well as formerly.   You may remember the two turrets in the center of the house where the vanes are – the roofs of them are made steeples. 


It had been a major undertaking and one of the huge cross timbers towards the east end of the building has carved into it “ROOFED 1790” in the large well-formed letters of a mason.

William Forbes continued to augment the furniture in the house.  The following letter from William Lamb, upholsterer in Edinburgh, dated 9 August 1793 provides a flavour of the type of furniture and its context:

“I sent my Foreman of the Cabinet makers to look for the red & yellow woods that I was not sure about when with you   to finish the tops of the tables in the Great Drawing Room and find I can get plenty of them, so that I can take in hand to finish them the same as yours, and if you are pleasd to have one below the largest glass & 2 Card Tables with the upper tops (Rails & feel) to Match the others it would be more Complete & Eligant one of the last mentiond to be a Tea Table, or both to be Mahoganey inside of the tops and green Cloath Covers to throw over them when used as Card Tables, you had objections to the legs of the Card Tables being the same as the pier Tabls, but in my opinion they should all be the same, and to have Cases to put on them, all also the Chair & Soffa feet, and when you have Company in that Room they can be taken off and that Room will not be used but when you have particular Company & is the Manner other part of the Furniture will be Eligant, that way of finishing the Tables will Make the room complete.   I beg leave to observe that the Soffas & Chairs should have cases above the leather ones, if there is as Much of your own Demity left it would do very well or a small Red stripd cotton, and the cases to come to the bottom of the feet”


Table, chair and sofa legs were painted white and gilded – as was fashionable at the time.  Lamb went on to refurbish many of the beds already provided and to make chair covers using fabrics acquired by Forbes in London, as well as making window curtains and valences (509/2) and covering a backgammon table (509/10).

After having used the house for a few years it was realised that the drawing room required a companion room for smaller gatherings or for the ladies and so the bedroom and dressing room to the west were combined and converted into a small drawing room in 1794.  It measured 25ft by about 15ft and required another Persian carpet and mirrors (1155/6).  The room to the north of this appears to have remained the State Bedroom (now the library or archive room).

Despite the huge sums spent on the house its insurance value with the Phoenix Company was only set at £3,000 and in October 1793 (505/28) its contents almost doubled that amount:

The House built with stone & lime roof slated£3000
Household Goods therein2000
Printed Books100
Wearing Apparel200
China & glass100
Offices adjoining, stone & roofs slated300
Utensils & stock, live stock included500

Illus 19: William Forbes of Callendar by Sir Henry Raeburn (detail).

For a moment in August 1797 William Forbes thought that he was going to have to make a claim on the insurance money when he fled in panic from Callendar House in the face of a “mob.”  Looking back from the hill to the south he saw through the trees what he thought was the house on fire.  In fact the flickering flames were the furnaces at Carron ironworks in blast (Bailey & Young 2013).

In 1798 William Forbes commissioned Henry Raeburn to paint a full length portrait of him characteristically holding a letter.  The artist even had ideas about how it should be displayed, which were conveyed to William Forbes by Robert Buchan on 20 July:

I’ve been with Mr Raeburn, & after describing the different situations, he is clearly of opinion, the Little Drawing Room is the place for putting up the portrait – He thinks 21 or 22 feet a sufficient distance for it to be view’d at – & also thinks it should be placed 5 feet from the floor”


The portrait confirmed William Forbes’ standing in the world.  A well-meaning, but somewhat sycophantic, letter to him at this time made it clear that he had reached this position by his own efforts:

I understand that at Callendar house you live in all the elegance of a Peer – in this you are very right and deserve the highest praise. – You have not been an Idler and it is the height of sound reason and common sense (whatever your heirs may think) that you should enjoy the fruits of your own Activity and industry… I am just returned from visiting Callendar House – Its being called a Superb Villa induced me to make a trip to your Place to see it – I was enraptured with it – I was told you are also building 3 new Villas one to the E. at Almond another to the S. and a 3rd to the West. – The one at Almond you should make very large and grand. – It is a place of very great Antiquity and fame in all our histories and it is well worthy to have a magnificent structure erected upon it. – I will however as your Friend give you this Advice To get your Workmen from Edin: – The people in the Country (I know from experience) are not acquainted with erecting Buildings so quick as here. At least You ought to get some Architect from Edin. to superintend. – As to this you need but read Arnots history of Edinbro” which will convince you and which is well worth the buying

Illus 20: Callendar House by Alexander Nasmyth 1817.

After 1795 the focus of William Forbes’ activities switched to the policy – the walled garden, lodges, park walls and so on. Thereafter the enclosure of the farms and improvements to the steadings took up much of his time. He died in June 1815 having been transformed from an obscure copper merchant into the largest landowner in Stirlingshire. His son was only nine years old and the house and estate were looked after by a trust led by his mother. Little was expended on further embellishment of the property. However, as soon as he came of age this changed and issued in a half century of continuous aggrandisement – the subject of part III of the story of the building.


Bailey, G.B. & Young, J.2013‘Falkirk and the Militia ‘riots’ of 1797,’ Calatria 30, 83-108.
Forbes PapersNow held at Callendar House
Meikle, J.1879Callendar House: its place in Scottish history (Falkirk Herald).
RCAHMS1963Stirlingshire: An inventory of the ancient monuments.

G.B. Bailey (2021)