Callendar House: 1815 – Present

William Forbes (II) of Callendar was born at Callendar House on 27 October 1806 and was still a small boy when his father, William Forbes (I), died at Edinburgh on the 21 June 1815. The house and estates were therefore looked after by a trust led by young William’s mother. The family continued to live at the house and Agnes Forbes was very attentive to the early education of her children. Increasingly William Forbes (II) spent more and more time on the other estates and then at Oxford University. He was in a fortunate enough position to take time out for the Grand Tour of Europe. However, as soon as he came of age in 1824 he started to lay plans for minor improvements to Callendar House. It was 1829 before he returned to Falkirk to take up permanent residence and the town bells were rung in his honour.

Illus 2: Fleming’s drawing of Callendar House as he thought it to be about 1789 (published 1902).

William Forbes (II) seems to have chosen John Raffield as his new architect.  Raffield was probably already known to the family having been employed as a joiner, builder and contractor with James Nisbet at Ford Castle in Northumberland.  By the late 1770s he had relocated in London where he assisted the Adam brothers in many of their projects as a clerk of works.  Around 1796 he established an independent architectural practice in Great Portland Street in London and undertook many important commissions in that part of the world.  However, in 1821 he was declared bankrupt and spent a small spell in prison.  He then appears to have taken work where and whenever he could get it and was certainly operating as clerk of works at Callendar House on internal alterations in 1825.

The changes started in a modest manner, as is shown in this letter early in 1825:

“Is the Gravel road, before and behind, the House Sorted and all right again, – I am aware my dear Nephew that all these operations will cost a vast sum of money, but I really think it right Callendar House and every thing (about the place) should be in as good repair, and order, as possible, I am likewise glad that the paving, &c, of the Cellars, is so great an improvement –

Will you be able to contrive any way to take in the small Beer &c, without carrying it down the Cellar stair and breaking it all – – this is a great inconvenience, if it could be remedied – I think you spoke of taking in Wine Casks, by a Pully at the Wine Cellar Window   When Mr Raffles begins his operations, and I think he should how soon the day is sufficiently long. 

        I hope every thing shall go on well – Has the Water in the Wood risen to a Proper height for bringing it to the third Story of the House.  

I have been thinking about the Chimnies in the Dining Room, you know Mr Raffles, though they would be much the better to be modernizing a little, but I objected on account of the Fire Grate   I have been turning this in my mind, and thinking whither you should not hear him again upon it, when he commences his operation, the Grates are certainly handsome, to look at, but they are not calculated to throw out the heat, and the labour to servants in keeping such Grates, is very great – and the quantity of Coals it takes to fill them immense, you might hear him upon it – Perhaps the Chimnies should be made more modern, and the present Grates made to answer, so as to throw out the heat, – I think the dining Room Chimnies, were the only one of the public rooms that we resolved to alter until we should come to paint and finish the House –

When we were in London we ordered Hock Wine for Callendar, also some fine Brandy, this you may believe your Cousin William was anxious for it has been sent to Callendar in six cases, – I wrote to Callendar (Hamilton) the other day giving him directions about its reception, he is to put the cases into the outer Wine Cellar,  there to remain unopened, until an opportunity occur of my putting it into the Inner Cellar – William also sent some Dozens of Port, and Madeira, to his Grand-mother, and Aunt Duff – when you were at Callendar   be so good as look if the cases are carefully put into the Cellar”


The access to the cellar for barrels was easily resolved by turning the external steps into a ramp.  Unfortunately the correspondence between William Forbes and the architects employed on Callendar House has not been preserved and for information we have to rely upon that between William Forbes and his factor, John Hamilton, who kept him updated on progress on the ground.  He noted that Raffield had paid the first of his weekly visits to the house on 3 April 1825 to speak with the carpenter, mason and plumber.  This combination of workmen reflected the need to upgrade the water supply and the water closets.  Five pans for water closets of the latest type were sent up from London (1155/3).  The water was led from the Barrel Well near Hendry’s Hill in cast iron pipes and then in lead pipes over the Cascade Bridge to the stables and the house.  New reservoir tanks had to be built to provide the necessary head of water to reach the third storey of the house and small lead-lined wooden tanks were placed at the top of the octagonal turrets.  Attention had to be paid to the design of this gravity fed system to avoid airlocks.  Care was also taken not to disconnect the lightning conductors (1155/2).  The mason for the new work was James Hardie of Laurieston and holes had to be cut for the new pipes and drains installed.  The plumber work was undertaken by Douglas of Glasgow.

The construction of a wallhead parapet and the installation of gutters and downpipes in 1790 had been as a consequence of the unforeseen need to provide a new roof and inadequate provision had been made for drainage.  This was now rectified and tied into that for the additional water closets.  A particular problem had arisen at the east end of the house caused by damp in the cellars.  Here it was noted that :

all the strength of the labourers is employed at drains at the East End for the Cellars & it is a heavy work.  the cut is about 10 feet deep and has all to be proped to keep it from falling in upon the men


New partitions were required for the water closets and these were constructed by the carpenters under James Callendar.  Elsewhere in the house old partitions were torn down and doorways blocked, only to be replaced by new ones.  The spaces in the garret or loft were also given lathe and plaster dividers.  This letter of 19 April 1825 provides a typical example of the work being done:

Mr Raffield was here yesterday and arranged for the different works to go forward till his return.  Hardies men is now cutting the door through to the petition in the Small drawing (room) to State Bedroom.   J Callender is lifting the floor in the Gentlemens Water Closet for to let Hardies men get into the drains below, the Petition is down between the old Plan room and the outer office, the press that was in the corner near the window of the Plan room has at one time been a fire place and may again be used as a fire place.   the petitions for inclosing the water Closets is going forward at present   Mr Raffield was wishing to have seen you about the repairing of the Plaster in the rooms mentiond   he says that it is all in a loose State on the lath and it cannot be done in a substantial maner without coming all down…


The old larder was at an inconvenient distance from the kitchen and so a new one was placed in the south-west corner of the kitchen by inserting a curving wooden partition under the overhang and re-using the wooden shelves (1165/17).  The remnants of the vault over the old larder were removed by the masons (1172/1).

By this stage in the works Raffield was working on Dunmore House and his visits were less frequent, but John Callendar was putting the finishing touches to his work in June so that the plasterers could move in to do the facings, dados and mouldings (1155/22).  In the room intended for Mrs Forbes the ceiling was taken down and replaced by a slightly more ornate one.  Much work was also executed on new fireplaces and freshening up existing ones.  It was found that many of the chimney stacks needed replacing, along with parts of the linings (1172/3).  Dalziel the marble cutter altered and repaired several fireplaces and the grates in the dining and drawing rooms were modified (1165/18).  These latter had been made extra large in the 1780s and provided with ornate fronts, but they consumed a lot of coal without throwing much heat into the rooms.

Raffield completed his work and when it came to redecorating the principal rooms of Callendar House the Glasgow architect who had recently designed the replacement Steeple in Falkirk and the parish church at Larbert was chosen.  This was David Hamilton who was at the peak of his powers at this time.  John Raffield may already have been ill, for he was buried on 13 February 1828 at St James Churchyard in St Pancras.  David Hamilton was working on Callendar House by August 1826 and on 1 September the factor wrote to William Forbes for additional information:

You mention now that Bryson is to put up Stucco Ornaments for in the Drawing, Dining, Small Drawing and Library Rooms   I would wish you to mention the Exact Size and also the Pattern for without these mistakes may happen which would be most disagreeable or do you mean to leave it all to Bryson to put up what he thinks would answer –

Mr Hamilton the Architect when here said by sending him the size of the room he would sent a drawing so as the Plasterers could go on with

I have herewith sent you the length and breadth of the rooms in question

Drawing Room35 feet3 Ins.by23 feet3 Inches
Small Drawing Do23 Do10x12 Do6 Do
Dining Room36 Dox23 Do6 Do

If you should think of writing Mr. H- about the ornaments you have the size of the different Rooms


The ornate plasterwork friezes executed by John Bryson can still be seen in the dining, drawing and small drawing rooms.  They are enriched with anthemion, urns and foliage.  They are similar in style to the corniced doorpieces which are presumably also of this period.

The Great Stair was also upgraded:

“I have tried Callendar again and again about the Oak flooring for the top and Bottom of the main Stair but he says unless he knew the pattern he could not say what would be the cost working would cost   Top and Bottom will take about 60 Square yards of ploughing   good oak is now selling @ about 3/6d per foot – what you propose to have laid with Oak would require about 60 feet to finish it in plain planking   I would wish if you have any Plan fixd upon to let Callander know as soon as you can (before the hands is parted with) if wood is to be got for it   I think is will require to be got from a distance if wished for Large Size”

(26 September 1826 – 1172/20).

Illus 3: The Library at Callendar House looking west.  The 1827 library ended at the pilaster on the left.

In 1827 David Hamilton drew up designs for a new library.  Previously the library had been situated on the north side of the first floor of the east block (F117 – currently the Roman Gallery).  It was transferred to the equivalent room in the west block (F17).  This had been part of the original tower house and was wider at its east end.  This was “corrected” by making the shelves taper so that larger books could occupy the eastern book cases.  To provide an air of academia the room was lined with oak panelling.  It had been a tall bedroom with a wide plaster frieze.  Now a coffered wooden barrel vault was inserted and panelled pilasters divided the shelves.  At this stage the room was only 25ft 4ins long and 17ft 2in wide and thus approximately half of the present library/archive room.  In the west wall was a new fireplace with a small window to the north of it.  The north wall contained two large windows in the deep recesses of the wall enabling their chamfered sides to be lined with books.  In the centre of the south wall was a double-leaved door set within an ornate entablature.  The inner ends of the doors were set into the woodwork to reduce external noise and they were lined with blue felt.  A second set of doors just a couple of feet beyond them provided access to the small drawing room.

In 1830 David Hamilton drew up plans for extensive additions to the House giving provision for a massive new kitchen wing and entrance hall.  Two designs were produced, one showing the kitchen and servants’ quarters placed around a courtyard tacked onto the south side of the house at its west end, and the other with these elements added tangentially to west end of the front façade.  A large Gothic arched entrance was to be built in the courtyard in front of the old main entrance and subsidiary entrances across the smaller courtyards to either side.  Thankfully, they were not executed.

Illus 4: The Kitchen Store at the east end of Callendar House.

Instead, part of the garret appears to have been modified to take more servants’ bedrooms and the existing west wing was upgraded.  Hamilton’s suggestion for a new stairwell here was taken up and is still in use.  It enlarged the existing stair in the small octagonal turret by removing the wall at its southern end.  The only other structure attributed to Hamilton is the kitchen store – a narrow one-storey building extending eastward from the north-east corner of the house.  It presented mock arrow slits to the extended façade.  Between these was a tall heavily lintelled doorway (now a gate) typical of Hamilton’s style.

Illus 5: Conjectural view of Callendar House in 1843.

Ten years later the idea of building a large entrance hall and porte cochere in the courtyard between the two large octagonal turrets was revived.  The architect now appears to have been Patrick Wilson of Edinburgh.  He was already well known and his next commission was Dalmellington Parish Church in Ayrshire.  At Callendar House he designed a sympathetic extension to the existing building whilst adding features of contemporary taste.  The bulk of the extension was formed by a rectangular three storey block of the same height as the existing building.  It and the frontage up to the turrets were capped by a balustrade set on a heavy cornice.  The two protruding angles had obelisks set on the corner plinths whose line was extended to the ground by slight pilasters.  In the centre of the balustrade was an ornate panel.  The upper windows reflected the earlier arrangement but those on the first floor were much larger in order to provide ample light for the large entrance hall.  The floor of the hall was slightly raised and the host of the house could stand on the top step and be on eye-level with a guest arriving in a carriage under the shelter of the porte cochere.  This feature reflected the plain ornamentation of the central block with elliptical arches in each of the three sides, pilasters at each corner, and a low blind balustrade.

Illus 6: Photograph of the north front of Callendar House, c1850. Sheep crop the grass and a gillie holds his master’s pony. It is tempting to think that the man in front of the tree on the left is William Forbes (II).

Illus 7: The Grand Staircase of 1842 with the later papered walls in brown.


The Grand Entrance Hall now contained the main stair to the principal rooms on the first floor.  From the black and white marble floor (now relaid in the later porch) broad wainscoted flights of cantilevered steps swept up to the left and right and united on the south wall at either end of an open balustraded oak balcony.  Below the balcony an oak panelled screen hides the stone wall where the previous entrance had been, screening a service corridor thus created.  The introduction of the stair in the entrance hall relegated the Cromwell Stair to a subsidiary role.

The hall is lofty and well lit forming a welcoming entrance to the house.  Its wide span is achieved by the use of composite timbers and some ironwork, hidden from below by a coffered plaster ceiling painting to resemble wood with mock corbels in the coving.  James Millar, plasterer, Grahamston, did the plasterwork on the alterations and extensions to Callendar House.

Illus 8: The Grand Hall with plaster ceiling and the original red painted walls.


On the balcony of the new stair doorways with oak consoled architraves opened into the dining room and drawing room through openings which had previously been large windows.  The former window between these was utilised for a new fireplace and it was probably at this time that the massive wooden surround that is still there was installed.

Illus 9: The Doorways from the Balcony into the Dining and Drawing Rooms, c1925.  Large tapestries hang between the doors.


William Forbes (II) had became the Conservative member of Parliament for Stirlingshire from 1835 to 1837 and then from 1841 until his death.  It is for this reason that there is a portcullis carved prominently into the wood at the centre of the fireplace – this is the symbol of the Palace and Parliament of Westminster.  It was developed as part of Sir Charles Barry’s plans for the rebuilt Palace after the original burned down in 1834; he conceptualized the new Palace as a “legislative castle”, and the symbol of a castle gate or portcullis—fitted well with the scheme.

Illus 10: The Fire Surround in the Dining Room with the blocked window behind.


To either side of the fire a caryatid carved in high relief supports the mantel shelf and is reflected on the ends by half of another set perpendicularly.  Below the busts are foliate pendants, which are also found hanging from the Corinthian capitals higher up.  The Neo-Jacobean overmantel was clearly designed to hold a painting.  The painting recess was bordered by broad ovolo beading and surmounted by a cartouche.  A bracketed hood mould caps the lot.

Illus 11: Oil Painting of William Forbes II.

Whilst in London William Forbes (II) was painted by Thomas Musgrove, one of the leading portrait artists of the period, and it is this painting that the fireplace was designed to hold.  It was presented to him by some of his constituents.  It portrays the Member of Parliament sitting in an upholstered armchair that has elaborately carved legs, with his left elbow resting on a carved round table.  On the table are a quill, a bottle of ink, paperweight, letter opener and official documents.  To his right is a book case with four shelves of leather bound books (usually such bindings use goat skin).  The frame of the bookcase, which occupies the edge of the painting, had a broad ovolo border matching that on the overmantel.  William is well dressed in a stylish topcoat, cream waistcoat, white silk shirt with upturned collar and a black bow tie.  The chain of a pendant emerges from the top of the waistcoat and the pendant is partly hidden by his right hand.  Unfortunately this oil painting was left behind as a fixture when the family moved out and was roughly cut out of the frame in about 1980 and stolen.

The rich wooden fire surround must have been set against a wainscoted background and so it seems reasonable to assume that it was at this time that the oak panelling and Spanish leather insets were put in place.  The upper panels were filled with leather lining made from goat skin known as Cuir de Cordoue (from Cordoba) or cordwain.  The vertical strips of leather were sewn together and a moulded pattern imprinted into them using heated irons.  During this process silver foil was embedded into the sunken fields.  Yellow varnish gave the foil a gold tint and this contrasted to the red glaze used over the rest of the surface.  The sheets of leather were then nailed to wooden boards as an alternative to tapestries.  These products were already somewhat antiquated in 1840 and by 1875 had been replaced by synthetic imitations.  During the cleaning of the boards during the conservation work in 1998 a drawing of a man was found bearing a resemblance to the portrait of William Forbes.


Illus 12: Graffito on the back of the Morocco leather boards.

The smaller courts in front of the house were also being infilled with single storey extensions.  Meikle gives us an idea of their function:

the two wings were more closely jointed to the main building by the introduction of curtain walls, with ornamental balustrades, where formerly there had been open court spaces – that on the east side being set apart for kitchen purposes, while that on the west comprised what was known as the Batchelors’ Rooms.”  

William Forbes (II)’s eldest son was born in July 1833 so this must have been a foresighted preparation.  In September 1835 he had bought Herbertshire Castle in Denny for his mother who lived there until 1860 (she was much younger that her husband).

On 13 September 1842 Queen Victoria was on her way back from a Royal tour of Scotland and made her way from Stirling to Edinburgh by private carriage.  She stopped in front of Callendar House for four minutes – just long enough to change the horses.  At the time the finishing touches were being put to the new grand entrance hall and port cochѐre and the Queen’s carriage was able to make use the latter. 

It must also have been in the early 1840s that an iron balcony was fixed to the south side of the house in front of the dining and drawing rooms.  A central flight of steps led down to the gardens.  It can be made out in the distant photograph taken in the 1850s.

Illus 13: View of Callendar House looking north-west, c1850.

This photograph shows just how plain the house looked from this side – indeed it was described as looking like a Lanarkshire mill!  The only relief from the blank straight wall dotted with rows of rectangular windows was a small three-storey round turret at the south-west corner of the main block.  It contained a spiral stone staircase enabling servants to get from the old servants wing (the west wing) to service the state rooms at that end of the house.  It is not shown on Craig’s plan of 1785 and was presumably part of either the 1830s or 1840s work.

In August 1854 William Forbes (II) entertained the tenantry on the Callendar estates to dinner in a large hall at Callendar House in celebration of the majority of his son.  In all, dinner was served to 200 people, all sat down to table.  It was a clear example of the relationship between the laird and his dependents.  It was a timely reminder for on 10 February the following year William Forbes MP died at the early age of 48.  It was now time for William Forbes (III) to make his mark on Callendar House.  However, before he had chance to do anything there was almost a disaster.  In May 1865 a gas explosion in Mrs Forbes’ suite of apartments set fire to the curtains and furniture and it was only the prompt action of the staff in forming a chain to pass buckets of water to the scene that stopped it from spreading.

William Forbes (III) commissioned James Maitland Wardrop of the Edinburgh firm of architects Brown & Wardrop (soon to be Wardrop & Reid) to draw up plans to unify the existing elements and embellish and aggrandise the whole.  This produced an ambitious programme to convert the relatively plain traditional Scottish Baronial style house with its touches of Neo-Georgian architecture into a mansion with the appearance of a French chateau of the Renaissance.   This was to be achieved by changes to the profile of the roof and the introduction of contrasting ashlar-faced features such as round turrets – the original harled surfaces and openings being mostly retained.  The overall designs were approved in 1869 and it was programmed to take place in two stages with the first phase of work on the south façade and the roof between 1869 and 1877 and the second on the north façade from 1878 to 1879.

Illus 14: Callendar House looking north-west.

The garden front was now dominated by large twin double-height bay windows with a linking balustraded balcony on the first floor clasped at either end by massive stone staircases descending to the shrubbery. These were centrally placed, forming the fronts of the dining and drawing rooms, whose functions were now swapped so that the eastern room with the large portraits became the drawing room and the western room the dining room. The bay windows were corbelled to square at the second floor and capped with high French roofs crowned with decorative ironwork; round corbelled turrets occupying the outer returns of the canted bays.

Illus 15: The twin Bay Windows on the south elevation of Callendar House (Ron Watson).

 For the front or north façade in 1878 the new design meant replacing the now discordant octagonal stair towers with larger slightly recessed rectangular stair towers finished externally with squared rubble.  Their outer corners were enlivened with two-storey conical roofed turrets or tourelles carried on continuous corbelling.  Large three-light stair windows stretching across the first and second floors provide a prominent feature and are unified with the frontage by stepping a moulded stringcourse over them in the fashion of a hoodmould.  Over each of these is a corbelled wallhead cornice and then a pierced parapet overlooked by a dormer window with consoled buttresses.  The western stair was of wood of the scale and platt variety and on the first floor a newel is stamped “MOIR” for the Falkirk carpenter John Moir.  The other stair is of cantilevered stone.  Beside it a dumb waiter was introduced for hoisting luggage and coal to the bedrooms on the upper floors.

Illus 16: The Centrepiece of the north façade.

Just three years after it was built dry rot made its appearance in the wooden staircase and it had to be taken down and rebuilt.  The cause could not be ascertained and at the time the understanding of this phenomenon was rather limited.

Illus 17: The Porch and Entrance Hall.

The projecting hall of 1842 was given a facelift in keeping with the new theme.  Neo-Jacobean panelled aprons were inserted between the first and second floor windows and slender pilasters added to frame the central ones.  The wallhead also saw considerable change.  A pierced parapet was added fronting a new French pavilion style roof topped by iron cresting.  The previous panelled pediment was replaced by an aedicular stone dormer window flanked by Doric pilasters capped by obelisks.  The arched window is designed to contrast with the curvaceous gablet surmounted by a finialled segmental pediment.  The dormer ensemble is flanked by half-arches and panelled piers which are also provided with obelisk finials.  The 1842 structure had possessed large obelisks at the wallhead terminating the clasped corner pilasters that rose from the ground. These were replaced with heavy chimney stacks with canted corners; the panels decorated with lozenges.

The porte cochere was replaced with a porch having a broad round-arched pilastered and keystoned doorway on the central axis.  To either side was a smaller similarly composed niche each framed by banded neo-Jacobean pilasters topped by triangular pediments.  The window surrounds in the sides of the porch are similar to that of the door.  The wallhead is capped by a balustrade bearing banded and studded ball finials and obelisks.  Inside, the porch (25ft x 15ft) was paved with the black and white marble floor removed from the entrance hall which was given a new floor of oak (36ft x 21ft) and rare old tapestries were hung on the walls of the hall.

Illus 18: The wood panelled Business Room (F12).

Elsewhere on the north façade a round tower was added to each of the corners of the main block, matching those on the south front and complimenting the tourelles.  Beyond these the single storey infills of the side courts had their wallhead balustrades removed and were raised by another storey provided with steep dormer pediments.  The room occupying the west section thus created was lined with oak panels and became the business room (26ft x 18ft).  The oak came from the family estate at Earlstoun.  The heights of the two wings were also increased by adding a jettied ashlar clad attic with two French pavilion roofs on each.  In the centre of both the north and south faces is a steeply pedimented dormer window.

Illus 19: The jettied Attic of the East Wing showing the double French Roof and blind Windows below.


The result of all of this work has been rather inelegantly classed as French Renaissance Revival Châteauesque.

Illus 20: Drawing of Callendar House in 1878.

The drains at Callendar House were connected to the burgh sewer at East Bridge Street by a 6-inch pipe in 1906.  The work was done by the Town Council and charged to Forbes.

Illus 22: Ground Floor Plan of Callendar House with room numbers.

During the 1970s work on Callendar House each room was designated a unique number with the prefix “G” for those on the ground floor, “F” for first floor, “S” for second floor, “T” for third floor and C for the underground cellars.  To avoid confusion these denominations were utilised in the 1990s renovation.  Given the changing use of the rooms through time this is a useful way of keeping track of which room is being referred to.  The following section lists some of these functional changes:


Entrance Hall

(Room G18)


Illus 23: The Oak Screen in front of the Servants’ Corridor with Balcony above.  The prehistoric elk horns on display in the entrance hall at Callendar House were found in a moss near Almond Castle.  Each has nine tines.

Breakfast Room

(Room G16)

1700sentrance hall & larder
1787breakfast room
1820sbilliard room
1920sdining room
1997Museum temporary display gallery
20??Art gallery

Cromwell Stair

(G24 & F118)

Illus 24: The Cromwell Stair.  The oak cabinet seen here had the date 1632 carved on it.
1700?bedrooms – 2 floors
1785Grand Stair
1842Grand Stair



Illus 25: Callendar House Kitchen with, from left to right: the Great Fire with replica grate, charcoal Stove and later Range, original Work Bench with sycamore top. Modern stone floor.
17??2 floors, guest rooms
1998kitchen exhibition

Servants’ Hall


1700sservants’ hall
1786temporary kitchen
1787servants’ hall
1997Museum Gallery – Story of Callendar House

Still Room


1786temporary estate office
1825still room
1997design team office
2003education team office


Illus 26: Plan of the First Floor.

Drawing Room

(western of the two main rooms – F18)

Illus 27: The Drawing Room with light flooding in from the Bay Window on the left. The plaster Frieze is from the 1820s work of David Hamilton, but the swagged Architrave of the Glass Cabinet on the left (and the doorways) is from the 1840s. The white marble Fireplace was executed by Dalziel in 1826. To its left are three oval portraits which include Lady Louisa Forbes and Edith Harvey Forbes.
Illus 28: The Drawing Room looking north. The Console on the right was sold in 1963 – “Pair handsome console tables, carved and gilt scroll shell and acanthus leaf designs, marble tops, on cabriole legs, and rosewood slab bases, mirror-backs, in gilt pillar frames surmounted by pierced shell and acanthus leaf pediment, overall 12ft 3ins x 5ft 3ins” and again in 2012 by Bonhams.
1700dining room
1785drawing room
dining room
drawing room
1997conference room
2018café extension

Dining Room

 (eastern of the two main rooms F113)

Illus 29: The Dining Room looking north-east with the Corinthian capital on the right. The portrait of William Forbes (II) hangs over the mantelpiece and to the left a painting showing his two sons on horseback; to the right William Forbes (III) – obscuring the Morocco leather panels. A portrait of Lady Louisa Forbes was also hung in this room. The plaster friezes of David Hamilton have been extended to the east end of the room.
Illus 30: Looking west with the Bay Window on the left; then the doorway to the Drawing Room; the Raeburn Portrait of William Forbes (I); the doorway to the Balcony in the Entrance Hall; and finally the Oak Overmantel with the Portrait of William Forbes (II).
1785dining room
1843drawing room
1920morning room
1997period room



left – Library looking east;
right – Library looking south-west.

Illus 31: Library. The doors are covered with blue velvet to deaden noise.  The basic design is that of David Hamilton, extended eastward in the 1870s.  The trellised bronze screen doors to the library shelves were probably added at the same time.

15th centurytower house hall
1787state bedroom
1998archive research centre

Small Drawing Room


left – the small drawing room looking west;
right – the small drawing room looking towards the door into the library.

Illus 32 : The small drawing room.  The dark blue brocade with gold thread which covers the chairs was specially woven for Queen Victoria, but she died while it was still in hand, and it remained with the makers until 1915, when Mrs Forbes bought it. There was just enough to go round.

1785bedroom & dressing room
1789small drawing room
1998Archive store

The Scots Pictorial in 1920 contained the following description of the interior of Callendar House:-

When we come to the interior of Callendar House we find ourselves in a home which is ancient, modern, beautiful, and full of comfort as well as teeming with the interest of the days of old. Besides its magnificent reception rooms, it possesses forty-seven bedrooms. We enter an outer hall or vestibule from the centre of the north front. Straight in front of us is the modern main staircase and hall. The hall is beautifully panelled in old oak, while to left and right rises the main staircase in two flights of steps, giving access to a landing which forms a gallery. The hall is furnished with old furniture, and in front of the gallery hangs a frontal bone and antlers of a prehistoric elk, black with the colouring of the bog from which it was dug many years ago in the immediate neighbourhood. The gallery is guarded by a very fine balustrade of classical design, in conformity with that of stonework which is on the outside of the house. The gallery runs round three sides of the hall [not actually true], and gallery and hall are well lighted by the great windows above the porch on the north front. The only public room on the ground floor is the great dining room looking out on the south view, and not approached directly from the hall. The dining room is of magnificent proportions, being somewhere about 100 feet long and 30 feet wide. The wall on the interior side is very thick, having been in the old days the exterior wall facing the courtyard. It is lighted by great bay windows, and can be entered directly from that front. To the west of it a charter room and strong room, vaulted and old, between the dining room and the round tower, while on the east is the state staircase. In the days before the courtyard was included in the actual building, doubtless there was an entrance to that staircase from the courtyard. On mounting the modern grand staircase, we find that passages proceed west and east from the gallery. The gallery is adorned by several pieces of beautiful pictorial Spanish tapestry, old chairs and beautiful cabinets are numerous, and here and there we come across collections of priceless china. From the gallery, doors admit to the morning room and the drawing room, which also enter from each other. The morning room is to the east, partly over the dining room, and the drawing room is towards the west, over the dining room and the vaulted room already noticed. A striking feature of the morning room is to be seen in two classical columns in the east end. These columns are fluted, with Corinthian capitals, and together with two pilasters support beams which, running north and south, carry a ceiling which itself is plain, but with a certain amount of classical decorations on the beams. A number of years ago the ceiling was raised, and it was then found that tree trunks, or limbs, roughly lopped, and of great age, had been used as beams. Old brocades cover the chairs, dating from 1790, but there is no reason to believe that any of the furniture dates from the days of the old possessors. The walls are oak panelled, varnished, and with the panels covered with Spanish leather. There is a fine fireplace in the north centre, the ornamental supported by artistic half figures of classical form. Among many artistic and beautiful pieces of furniture is a Chinese cabinet, brought home by one of the family who was in the old East India Company’s service. The most striking object in the room is the magnificent Raeburn which hangs on the west wall, a full-length portrait of the first Forbes who owned the house. It is very large, and the colouring is beautifully fresh and bright. The second son of the subject, when a child, slashed this painting badly with a riding crop, but was in the lifetime of Sir Henry Raeburn, and the painter was able to restore it, so that it carries no trace of the damage. On the north wall is a painting of his son William, over a fireplace. To the east of that is his son William, and on the east wall is another portrait of the same William Forbes, father of the present owner, in hunting dress and mounted, by Lutyens. The drawing room, which may be entered from the west end of the morning room, is very large and very beautiful. The walls are covered with old brocade, buff-coloured and faded from its original peach colour, and now very soft and grateful to the eye. The curtains and draperies all match this colour, and the whole symphony of shade dates from about sixty years ago. The furniture is mostly ormolu and gilt. There are eighteen mirrors in the room, some of them dating from the old days when the Earl of Kilmarnock and his countess, a daughter of the Earl of Linlithgow and Callendar, who was attainted, occupied it as tenants. A certain special interest attaches to the dark blue brocade with gold thread which covers the chairs. It was specially woven for the late Queen Victoria, but Her Majesty died while it was still in hand, and it remained with the makers until the year 1915, when Mrs Forbes, the wife of the present owner of the house, bought it. There was just enough to go round, with a little help from mandarin’s robes. To get to the state staircase from our present position, it is necessary to pass again through the morning room and to leave it by a door in the south-east corner. We are then in a passage which leads east directly to the old and original stairway of the house, so far as we can speak of any stair being the original in a house so old and so frequently altered. It is a very handsome staircase, lined and panelled with oak, which was originally painted, as was the bad habit of the good old days. It was when the wood was removed to have the paint scraped off that the old Roman stonework was discovered. Now the stairway stands in all its pristine beauty of the natural oak. Up and down that stair have walked Oliver Cromwell, General Monck, and many other notabilities of history; and it is a matter of interest that the lineal descendants of Oliver Cromwell still walk up and down the old oak steps, for Mrs Forbes of Callendar and her children are those lineal descendants. From the state staircase is entered the state bedroom, which is so called partly from its position and partly from the fact that so many eminent persons have occupied it – Oliver Cromwell, Prince Charlie, General Monck and the Duchess of Gordon among them.  At the other end of the house and beyond the gallery of the modern grand staircase are the library, Mr Forbes’ business room, and ten bedrooms which were used during the late war as district headquarters more than once. That wing was a very busy place, with the ticking of many typewriters going on constantly. The library is a long and narrow room, constituted by the second Forbes who owned the house. Its windows are very deep, on the first floor of the north front, running west towards the round tower. The wall there appears to be about 6 feet thick. The ceiling of the room is arched, and the room contains a very good reference library on Scottish subjects. The business room is further to the west, the walls panelled with oak from the Earlstoun estate in the south of Scotland. The wood is from one particular tree, very old, from which branches broke from time to time until there is now little or nothing of the tree left; and these panels represent the last branch which broke off. Within the panels, all round the room, are paintings of horses, the winners of steeplechases over a series of years. Of all the rooms in the house, the sentiment and interest of visitors inevitably turn to a few rooms almost exactly above the part just described, for these rooms are associated with the memory of Mary, Queen of Scots, and we can almost imagine that we sense her presence as we stand in them. Two of them open into each other, and above the doorway is an inscription which says – “Queen Mary of Scots and her ladies occupied these rooms and those above them. August 12th 1562; July 1st 1565; January 13th 1567; January 24th 1567; and January 29th 1567.” The arras is specially designed to concentrate the sentiment with the Scottish lion, the thistle, and the initial letter M. The illuminating pendants are in the form of a Scottish crown surmounted by a thistle decoration, and the beds and furniture are Jacobean. One of the rooms faces north and the other south, the latter having a recess in the turret in which are collected a number of objects of dressing room requirements of the most beautiful character. It is uncertain which of the two rooms actually was used as a bedroom by the Queen. That on the south has a painting of the Queen over the fireplace, a copy of one by Zuccharo, with an inscription on beneath in old French, which runs “Ayez memoire de l’ame et de l’honnour de celle qui a este votre royne.” The rooms above to which the inscription refers are not visible from the north, but appears as dormers on the \zA&a small booklet was printed for the occasion – from which some of the interior photographs in this article originate.  However in the 1930s the family moved to its other estates in Scotland only using Callendar House on special occasions.

Illus 33: Polish soldiers on the canal bridge behind Callendar House.

A large part of Callendar House was not in use when the Second World War began.  Dust sheets were spread over the furniture and these rooms were not cleaned.  A skeleton staff consisting of a cook, kitchen maid and house keeper had been retained but these were moved into wartime employment.  After the evacuation from Dunkirk it was essential to utilise any available accommodation and Callendar House was taken over by the 52nd Divisional Petrol Company of the Royal Army Service Corps which occupied it throughout 1941.

Millar’s garage on Callendar Road opposite the Park was also partially requisitioned.  In April 1942 the RASC moved out and their place was immediately taken by Polish Forces.  It is at this time that the local newspaper carried adverts for a housemaid, assistant housekeeper and an elderly man (presumably because he had not been called-up) with knowledge of gardening.  The Polish Forces at Callendar House consisted of forty engineers who, for the purposes of local defence, counted as fully armed men.  By December 1944 the 11th Signal Corps was there and was joined the following year by the 12th Signal Corps.  Falkirk was a hub for clandestine communications with Poland with other signallers based in Carron School. 

Illus 34: The rectangular parch mark that can be seen in the grass is due to the former presence of a Nissan hut.

Scots Gunner Alex Hall and Yorkshire man Arnold Atkinson are known to have been billeted in the house in April 1943, so it appears that there was also an artillery unit there.  It would have been this unit that drove the “tanks” and Bren gun carriers that were often seen filling up with fuel at Millar’s garage.  Callendar estate providing plenty of opportunity for them to undertake exercises and the back road from Beam to Slamannan was badly churned up by these vehicles.  Vehicles and Nissan huts were placed along the edge of the wooded area near the stables to make them less visible to aerial reconnaissance.

Illus 35: Plan of the Ground Floor of the West Wing before 1947.

In 1947 the ground floor of the west wing was turned into a business suite to administer the affairs of the estate.  The suite consisted of a board room, cashier’s office, factor’s room and general office.  Here the tenants came to pay their rents and consult about their buildings and land.  A new external door was broken through the west gable, utilising what had been a blind window, and steps laid up to it.  On the north front a widow was also used for another doorway.

Illus 36: Plan of the Ground Floor of the West Wing after 1947.

There had been a charter room in Callendar House since 1787 with a vaulted stone top and strong locks.  Shortly afterwards another secure room was added for the silver plate in use in the dining room.  This valuable collection was still in the house in 1947 when William Forbes (IV) started to sell it off.  In July that year sixty of the eighteenth century dinner plates weighing more than 1000 ounces and engraved with the Forbes crest were sold at Christie’s in London for £500, a pair of 1826 wine coolers £130, and an oblong tray £130.

These were followed in 1949 by rare pieces of porcelain and art that brought a further £3,310.  They included a pair of candelabra formed as foliage with porcelain flowers in colour – £546; a pair of Meissen figures of pug dogs – £131; a Delft painted oval dish and a figure of a jay – £126; and an antique Chinese figure of a pheasant – 68 guineas.

The estate remained in the possession of the Forbes family until 1963, when it was compulsorily purchased by Falkirk Burgh Council to enable the town to expand in that direction.  However, the underground coal workings meant that it was not possible to build extensive housing schemes and instead high-rise housing was constructed immediately behind the Antonine Wall in the north-west corner of the Policy and shortly afterwards the walled garden was developed as a College of Education (now the Callendar Business Park).

The grounds around Callendar House were turned into a public park.  The Council was equivocal as to the fate of Callendar House.  Many councillors saw it as a sign of the old inequitable aristocratic hierarchy and wanted it demolished.  Consideration was also given to selling it for use as a hotel, but that would have meant relinquishing the heart of the park.  In any case, there was no money to undertake work on the building and it lay empty for almost thirty years, slowly deteriorating.  Windows were broken, fittings stolen and the fabric vandalised.  Despite this in 1974 Falkirk District Council contracted Anthony Curtiss Wolffe & Partner to eradicate dry rot in the house.  This meant the removal of large sections of flooring and timber partitions.  At the same time the west wing was converted into a caretaker’s house and a council tree surgeon, appropriately named William Wallace, moved in.  Shortly thereafter the roof was extensively repaired at a considerable cost as a holding operation to halt the decay.  Meanwhile the Neo-Georgian library was used for painting park equipment such as the boats used on the lock in the summer months.

The political climate had changed by the early 1990s with a growing public awareness of the historic importance of the area.  An appreciation of the past was coupled with a developing tourist trade and so Falkirk District Council embarked upon a programme of restoration.  At first this was conducted in a series of short steps.  In 1990 the Council’s Architects Department carried out a structural survey and the Museum archaeologist was able to note some of the historic features revealed by the removal of plaster.  The two architects dedicated to the scheme were Robin Millard and Stan Berman. The ground floor and the main block were rapidly consolidated and decorated, with the upper floors and wings following.  The prevailing ethos was to leave the principal rooms as examples of the baronial residence, but to utilise the remainder as display galleries and office accommodation for an expanded museum service.  The “Period Rooms” were the porch, entrance hall, dining room, kitchen, Cromwell Stair, drawing room, small drawing room and library – though the small drawing room was quickly filled with racking for archival storage.  For years water had been pouring through the ceiling painting in the Cromwell Stair and so it had to be carefully removed in sections and a reproduction was painted on a canvas in a Berwick church by William Kay.   Once finished it was glued to the new ceiling.  On the upper floors the partitions between the bedrooms were torn down to make usable space.  It was found that one brick wall had simply been suspended on an old steel railway track.  Steel beams had to be inserted in places to consolidate the fabric and fire safety features installed.  The dumb waiter was replaced by a modern passenger lift.  The museum and visitor attraction fully opened to the curious public in May 1998 having cost £3.7 million, of which 64% came in grant aid from outside of the district.

A conscious decision was taken to restore the late 18th century kitchen.  Modern plumbing and wall-mounted electricity cables were removed, as was the 1820s larder.  Flagstones only survived under the bench along the south wall and so elsewhere the concrete floor was replaced by Caithness stone.  Missing wooden features such as the keystones on the door architraves were reconstituted and the walls painted pale yellow – a colour found by carefully peeling back the paint layers.  A working clock was made for the roundel in the west wall and a Bonnybridge blacksmith fabricated an expandable range for the Great Fire.  Existing equipment such as the late 18th century oven and boiling plate, the wooden work bench and charcoal stoves, were renovated.  Copper pans and other early cooking utensils were purchased.  This is now a working kitchen with costumed interpreters and a great atmosphere.

Since the opening in 1998 the museum has evolved to reflect the cultural and economic climate and its management devolved to the Falkirk Community Trust in 2011.  An education team was assembled, only to be removed when finances became extremely tight.  The morning room with its decorative ceiling, Moroccan leather panels and Corinthian capitals had been restored with period furniture to reflect the grandeur of the house.  In 2013 this furniture was removed and it became a tearoom.  The drawing room had been restored as a conference room where weddings, book launches, international meetings and gatherings were held.  It was fitted with a plush carpet and curtains and a wall sized back-projection screen.  These were unfortunately discarded in 2018 in order to extend the tearoom.  Changing with the times has been – and still is – the story of Callendar House.

Illus 37: The Morning Room before conversion into a tearoom.

The house has a rich mixture of styles and the museum themes are varied and fascinating – ranging from the story of the house itself to the archaeology of the Antonine Wall, from the industrial revolution to clockmaking. The changing exhibitions in the house make it well worth a return visit.

Illus 38: Plan showing the various building phases of Callendar House.
1 – 14th century; 2 – mid-16th century; 3 – 1670s; 4 – 1680s; 5 – 1690; 6 – 1785; 7- 1843; 8 – 1870s.

Architects Associated with Callendar House

1785James CraigOctagonal stair turrets, kitchen, west wing.
1786-8Edward B BrazierPorch, lodges & internal decoration.
1825John RaffieldInternal changes including WCs.
1826David HamiltonLibrary, kitchen store and decorative plaster.
1841-3Patrick WilsonEntrance hall & porte cochere.
1869-79James WardropChateau style remodelling including two new stairs.
1990sFalkirk Architects Department
(Robin Millard and Stan Berman)


Fleming, J.S.1902Ancient Castles and Mansions of the Stirling Nobility.
Forbes PapersHeld at Callendar House
Gifford, J. & Walker, F.A.2002The Buildings of Scotland: Stirling and Central Scotland.
Meikle, J.1879Callendar House: its place in Scottish history (Falkirk Herald).
RCAHMS1963Stirlingshire: An inventory of the ancient monuments

G.B. Bailey (2021)