Comely Park House

Falkirk was one of very few walled towns in Scotland.  The dwellinghouses were packed into the centre of the town with infields consisting of runrigs outside.  The town walls constrained the physical growth for several centuries and it was only in the first half of the 19th century that the grip of this straitjacket was broken (Bailey 2018).

Three of the 18th century runrigs lying to the south-east of the town were amalgamated by Thomas Walker in 1798 to form the small estate of Comely Park (Falkirk Archives En 596/Walker/3a).  The three feus were:

  1. An acre belonging to Helen Marshall and Anne Hay her daughter lying on the south side of the town of Falkirk.
  2. An acre adjoining belonging to John Wise, maltman in Falkirk.
  3. A feu consisting of a tail rig or butt of land to the east of the above possessed by Alexander Nimmo.

Walker built a small single storey villa on the crown of the small hill there in 1800 and it remained the only dwelling in the area for the next three quarters of a century.  The house had an ornate central doorway facing northwards towards the town.  The door-light was in the shape of a segment from a circle which extended to either side of the door and above that was a broken segmental pediment with a vase finial.  A single window to either side imposed symmetry to the main block, emphasised by the hipped roof descending to the gable chimney stacks and plain skews.  A west wing consisted of a smaller backset room.  To the west there was a stable and coachhouse and to the south a fine orchard was planted on the hill slope.

Illus 2: Extract from Grassom’s Map of 1817 showing Gartcows and Comely Park as the only two residences of note south of the town of Falkirk.

The approach to the house was by an L-shaped drive off Cow Wynd.  Before long Comely Park Cottages were built on the north side of the first leg of this track (which later became St Crispins Place leading into Arnot Street).  The south-facing slope to the south of the House became a productive orchard and nursery, whilst the field to the north was leased out for pasturing cattle.  At one time dairymen kept these animals to provide fresh milk to the townsfolk, and latterly they were maintained by fleshers in order to keep the meat fresh.

Thomas Walker had been a captain in the merchant navy and seems to have held a part share of a ship.  He was therefore away from home for much of the time leaving his wife, Jean Graham of Plean, to look after the family home and his son James.  James went to sea in 1817 at the age of 18 years and made a will of his moveables (he was too young to include his heritable property).  His reason for doing so seems to have been because his father and brother had both died intestate.  James became second mate in 1820 on a ship called the “George Canning,” of which he became a part owner and subsequently first mate.  When he reached the age of 21 in 1820 he was able to include heritable property in a new will in which he left Comely Park to his mother in life rent and gave it in fee to James Walker junior, merchant in Falkirk, one of his cousins.  After a brief visit home in 1826 he returned to sea and joined the Royal Navy on board HMS “Ganges” in Portsmouth.  On board the Ganges he arranged for his mother to have power of attorney during his absence.  This meant that she could more easily collect the rent on the fields around Comely Park and on property that they held in Grangemouth.  He now also left her Comely Park in her own right, excluding his cousin.  James Walker does not seem to have prospered in the Navy and returned home in 1830 to live at Comely Park House with his mother.  She ran the household and they had a servant, Agnes Paterson, and then Janet Dunn.  It should have been possible for him to have lived within the means of the estate, but he was not particularly frugal in his ways and drank more whisky than he should have.  On a couple of occasions his mother had to bail him out of debt.  He died in 1836 and his mother inherited the estate and lived at Comely Park until 1860 when she too died.  It was only in 1862 that Miss Margaret Selby Walker, presumably his cousin’s daughter, petitioned the court to have James’ will overturned on the grounds that he was not of sound mind, partly due to the effects of drink, when he left Comely Park to his mother.  The claim was rejected.

Illus 3: The rural setting of Comely Park House in 1860, Ordnance Survey Map. (National Library of Scotland).

The area was still rural in character.  Potatoes, oats and barley were grown on the fields.  Part of the fields was let out as a nursery in the 1850s and the Booth family, who had a nursery further west, took a lease to provide extra capacity for their thriving trade.  The Comely Park Nursery was taken over by Joseph Gartshore in 1862 and he continued to grow forest, fruit and ornamental trees and shrubs as well as garden plants such as roses.  In 1857 the cattle show of the Eastern District of Stirlingshire Agricultural Association was held in Comely Park – entry by the back of the Bowling Green Tavern off Cow Wynd.  When, in 1868, Falkirk Town Council was searching for a site for a new cemetery, Comely Park was seriously considered but was too close to existing residential property to allow for future expansion.

By this time the whole area bounded by the Callendar estate wall on the east and south, Cow Wynd on the west and the southern fringe of the town on the north, had become known as Comely Park – which causes some confusion in the records.  In 1865 one of the fields at Comely Park was suggested as an ideal site for a public park for the town, its close proximity being a virtue.  It, however, belonged to Dr Henderson of Springfield, ex-Royal Navy, and was occupied by Alexander Stewart, confectioner.  The bowling green was part of Henderson’s feu and he gave the club a flagstaff to be used during competitive matches.  This property covered 3 ¾ acres and included a market garden.  It was sold in 1882, after the death of Dr Henderson, to Thomas Cochrane, druggist, for the sum of £1,350 giving him possession of almost all of the land on the south side of the town.

Meanwhile, with the death of Jean Walker nee Graham in 1860 the property associated with Comely Park House went to her daughter Elizabeth Walker who was married to John Cochrane of Grangemouth, veterinary surgeon.  When Elizabeth died in March 1875 it was settled on her daughters, her husband already having died.  Mary and Elizabeth Cochrane were totally unrelated to Thomas Cochrane who owned the adjacent property to the west and was from Paisley.  The two sisters lived on the income from the property in Grangemouth and at Comely Park.  Mary started the process of feuing land at Comely Park for housing and in 1880 advertised three plots near the Entry for sale.  The location was very apt as it had street lighting nearby as well as progressive access to drinking water and sewers.  There was an enthusiastic uptake and in 1882 a larger area was feued for “villas and cottages.”  They had started the ball rolling and over the next few years Thomas Cochrane also feued out land resulting in the construction of Oswald Street and Comely Park Road.  The better quality houses were to the south and one of these was called Comely Park Villa – not to be confused with Comely Park House!  In the 1880s Falkirk was a boom town with new foundries opening up yearly.  This resulted in much speculative building and Comely Place and Oswald Street were built for artisans as investments by the Free Society of Gardeners and the St Crispin’s Friendly Society.

For many years Comely Park Nursery was tenanted by Joseph Gartshore, Sons & Co, who also leased the gardens at Kerse Road from the Callendar Estates (now Garden Street).  In October 1883 Mr Veitch retired from the firm, having acquired the chemical work at Lock 16 carried on by the late John Wilson of South Bantaskine.  Consequently the whole nursery stock growing in the nurseries was sold by public auction.  This consisted of ornamental deciduous, coniferous and evergreen trees, specimen shrubs, rhododendrons, hollies, golden, silver and green; trained yews, thujopsis borealis and cupressus lawsonians, hybrid perpetual roses, gooseberry bushes, fruit trees, herbaceous plants.  Several million tree seedlings went under the hammer.  Three years later James Gordon took over the Comely Park Nursery and grew many of the vegetables consumed in the town.

ForenamesSurnameRelationAgeOccupationPlace of Birth
MaryCOCHRANEHead50Income From Land & Interest ofGrangemouth
Table: Extract from the 1881 Census for Comely Park House.

The development of the area allowed a sewer to be laid to Comely Park House for the first time in 1888.  The feuing of land belonging to the house continued.  The two sisters never married and continued to live together.  One of their joys was the large garden with its ample fruit trees and bushes.  Currants were often entered into the shows of the Falkirk Horticultural Society and won prizes.   As they got older the garden became more difficult for them to manage.  In January 1896 Mary Cochrane, then aged 65 years, was feeling depressed.  She got hold of a knife and attempted to commit suicide by cutting her throat.  Her sister saw what she was about to do and managed to prise the knife from her but only after she had inflicted a deep gash.  A doctor was immediately called and dressed the wound and Mary was taken to Stirling District Asylum.  After recuperation she returned to Comely Park.  The fruit garden was then let so that it could remain productive.

Shortly thereafter Elizabeth Cochrane died and in November 1899 Mary too passed away.  The household furniture was put up for sale.  It included an antique mahogany sideboard, large mahogany dining table, mahogany round table, side and window tables, pianoforte, mahogany easy chair in haircloth, a quantity of mahogany chairs, framed oil paintings and engravings, hand organ, escritoire, chests of mahogany drawers, toilet tables, and toilet glasses, washstands and ware, iron and mahogany bedsteads, feather beds, hair mattresses, and other bedding, mantelpiece mirror in gilt frame, hall hat, coat and umbrella stand, carpets, floor-cloths, fenders, two-roller mangle, cutlery, dinner ware, crystal, napery chests, quantity of veterinary instruments, collection of books, kitchen furniture, cooking utensils, crockery, and other household requirements, wash tubs, wearing apparel, and a great assortment of other articles.

By the terms of Jean Walker’s will the remaining property at Comely Park was to pass to her Graham relatives.  It had been forty years since her death and so an advert appeared in the Falkirk Herald of 6 January 1900:

“HEIRS WANTED.  WANTED, the HEIRS of Mrs JEAN GRAHAM or WALKER, who died at Comely Park, Falkirk, on 21st March, 1860.  She was a daughter of DUNCAN GRAHAM, who was a Farmer at Plean, near Stirling upwards of 60 years ago.  Her husband was THOMAS WALKER, a Master Mariner, who died at Comely Park aforesaid upwards of 80 years ago.  ROBERT MURDOCH GRAHAM – a Cousin of Mrs Walker – was in 1861 a Merchant or Silk Mercer in Edinburgh, and at that time he resided at 14 Pitt Street, there – If he or any of his family, or other Heirs of Mrs WALKER, will apply to RUSSEL & AITKEN, Writers, Falkirk, the Agent for Mrs Walker’s Testamentary Trustees, they may hear of something to their advantage.”

Edward Graham was named as the heir.  It would appear that the Graham family had little interest in the Falkirk property and it was immediately put on the market:

 “To be Exposed to Public Roup and Sale, within the ROYAL HOTEL, Falkirk, on THURSDAY, the 6th Day of march, 1902, at Two o’clock Afternoon, THAT PROPERTY called COMELY PARK, which belonged to the late Mrs Jean Graham or Walker, and is situated in or near Falkirk, adjacent to High Station Road, and within Five Minutes’ Walk of High Street.  It consists of (1) Comely Park House, with Ground attached, and also of a considerable extent of Nursery and Garden Ground, extending in all to 4 Acres and 19 Poles or thereby; and (2) of the Superiority and Feu Duties (amounting to £21 17s 11d) of the Feued Portion, extending to 2 Roods 39 Poles and 23 Yards or thereby.  The main bulk of the Ground is available and well adapted for Feuing.

UPSET PRICE, £1800…”

(Falkirk Herald 15 Feb 1902, 1).

Comely Park House and the land attached were bought by Mr Buchanan, timber merchant, Falkirk, at £2,210.  It is clear that he had no interest in the house and went into partnership with John Main, joiner and builder, to accelerate construction of housing and the feuing of the land.  Within a few months Comely Park House was disposed of to James Bell, butcher, for the moderate sum of £200.  The fruit garden remained with the house and Bell, who was an entrepreneur, sold off the fruit each year.  He dabbled in the sale of just about anything.  He was the local agent for a coal depot as well as for paint and wallpaper.  Amongst the many items he put up for sale were geese, goats, bicycles, a motor lorry, furniture and animal feeding stuffs.  He even started to quarry part of the ground in front of the house and sold gravel, poultry grit and silver sand.  His quarry was found during recent excavations on the line of the Antonine Wall.  Comely Park House was divided up into six flats for rent and was soon tenanted by working class people.  One of the tenants was Mrs Annie Wanns or Weir, widow.   She was a pauper in receipt of parochial relief.  She acquired her furniture from George Walker, who removed it when he realised that she did not intend to pay for it.  She unsuccessfully tried to sue him for illegal entry! 

Predictably, in November 1902, James Bell also feued out enough land to erect two terraces of six cottages each.  Perhaps also inevitable was the worsening of his financial situation and the following year he tried to dispose of the house:

“TO SELL or LET, COMELY PARK HOUSE (The Feu, 1 ½ Acres, is admirably adapted for the Erection of any class of Buildings.)  The House consists of 10 Apartments, in good order, 4-stalled Stable, hay Loft, byre, and other Outhouses, and Well-stocked orchard.  Further particulars, apply at House.”

(Falkirk Herald 2 May 1903, 1)

The sale took place in September but there were no bidders at the upset price of £315.  By now Bell was in dire circumstances and when the sale was repeated in December 1903 at the reduced upset price of £250 it included 120 tons of stones suitable for building purposes, part of which were dressed.  This time the contact was Turnbull, Ketchen & Stevens of Melville Street who were presumably acting for the creditors.  Early the following year James Bell was declared bankrupt.  He had bought Comely Park House for £200 but listed it in his assets at £360.  He told the Court that he had carried out a lot of repairs to the house which had increased the value.  George McCulloch was appointed as the trustee of the Estate.

It seems to have been re-acquired by J & A Main, builders, West End.  When the house came up for sale again in January 1907 it was with the garden and stable, but not the additional land which presumably was to be used for building purposes.  James Gordon’s lease of Comely Park Nursery had come to an end and in 1901 he sold off his remaining stock.  The nursery, much diminished in size, was leased to John Fleming who grew vegetables there.  It remained as allotments into the 1990s.

Illus 4: 1918 Ordnance Survey Map showing the setting of Comely Park House after all the feuing. (National Library of Scotland).

Comely Park House declined in status and wooden cart sheds were constructed on the east side of the drive.  In 1908 The Lord Roberts Rifle Club set up a shooting range immediately to the north-east of Comely Park on land purchased from William Forbes of Callendar.  Its presence led to the construction in 1940 of a large wooden hut opposite the cart sheds for use by a platoon of the Home Guard.  After the war the hut was taken over by the Army Cadets and clad externally with rendered brick.  Comely Park House survived into the late 1950s when it was demolished and in 1960 the present house took its place on much the same footprint.

Sites and Monuments

Comely Park HouseSMR 1898NS 8905 7953


Bailey, GB2017‘The Making of Falkirk: 1830 to 1860,’ Calatria 34, 1-92

G.B. Bailey (2020)