Dalquhairn House

(SMR 865)

Dalquhairn, pronounced Dalwhairn, is situated almost a mile to the west of Avonbridge on the south side of the River Avon.  Here the land is slightly undulating and provided good pasture.  With the rise of the Trysts at Reddingmuir around 1700 the area saw many droves passing through using the bridge or the ford across the river and the grazing increased in value.

Dalquhairn Roy Map
Illus: Roy’s map of 1755 showing Dalquhairn.

James Shaw of Paixwell and his wife, Agnes Fleming, were granted a charter by Alexander Livingston, the Earl of Linlithgow, in 1613 of the Lands of Dalquhairn, with meadows, moors, mosses, extending to 6 shillings 8 pence of old extent.  Over the following centuries the fortunes of the family ebbed and waned and this was reflected in the size of the land holdings.  The centre of the estate, that is to say the policy land of Dalquhairn, was bounded on the north by the river, on the south by the public road from the bridge over the river to Airdrie and on the east by a small stream and the Lands of Paixhole.

In 1667 a substantial stone dwelling was constructed on the site of the later house.  An ornate datestone from this was re-used over the latter’s north doorway.  It seems to have been the broken-off top of a curved and moulded pediment, surmounted by a device resembling a fleur-de-lys.  The RCAHMS surveyors observed evidence in their visit in 1954 for the existence of this older house by the re-use, here and there, of other dressed stonework such as bead mouldings on the back door and on one jamb of a salt-box in the kitchen, and socket-holes for bars in the soffit of a window which showed no corresponding sockets in the sill.   The appearance of the masonry also changed at a ragged race-bond between the back door and the window to the west of it;   all four windows east of the back door had rounded arrises, while those to the west of it had backset margins and sharp arrises; the same distinction applied to the voids in the west and east gables, with the exception of the east attic window.   All these facts suggest that the earlier building occupied the north-east end of the later one.

In 1711 the house was transformed.  The new house measured 49ft 9in by 20ft 3in over rubble-built walls 2ft 1in thick.

The front of the 1711 house had a central doorway, flanked on each side by two windows and a small oval light, and on the first floor five windows symmetrically placed.   The oval lights were designed to mimic pistol loops.  The architrave of the doorway was lugged and had roll-and-hollow moulding surmounted by a convex frieze, moulded cornice and broken segmental pediment, the latter  bearing on the tympanum the initials J S and I M flanked by the date 171[?1].   The initials are those of James Shaw and his wife Isobel Miln.   The windows had backset margins but the arrises of the rybats were rounded.   The rear lintels of all windows and outer doors, as well as those of internal doors and presses, were of wood.   Wall-heads, both front and back, finished in a heavy ogival-moulded eaves-course, and the plain tabling of the gables rested on rebated cavetto skewputs.   At the apex of each gable there had been a finial.

Dalquhairn Plan and Elevation
Illus: Plan and elevation drawing of Dalquhairn House (based on RCAHMS 1963, fig 144).

Internally the space was divided into three portions, the narrowest being in the middle; the two end rooms of almost square shape on all three storeys.   On the ground floor the central hall, the kitchen to the west and the parlour to the east, measure respectively 9ft, 15ft 2in, and 15ft 7in, and each occupied the full internal width of the house (16ft 3in).   The upper floors contained bedroom accommodation similarly arranged.   The kitchen contained a fireplace; plain except for ogival-moulded corbelled caps on its jambs.   Beside the south jamb was a small recess, and north of the fireplace and in the north wall there were cupboard-recesses, both originally shelved.   There was also a cupboard recess in the north wall of the parlour, and another, which was once shelved, in the north-west corner.   The jambs and lintel of the fireplace here are worked with a roll-and-hollow moulding.   A stone wheel-stair, which had a press underneath it, rose from beside the back door, at the back of the hall.  It served the first floor, but the upper flight, leading to the attic, was of wood.   The small mid-room on the first floor was provided with a fireplace with plain upstart jambs and lintel, and in the south-east corner there was a locker with a rounded arris on its north jamb.   In each of the end rooms a window in the gable had been blocked up and converted into a shelved press; the fireplaces were similar to the one in the living -room.   The mid-room on the attic floor was simply a closet, but each end-room was dimly lit by a small window in the gable and furnished with a plain fireplace.   All the internal wall-faces had been finished in plaster.

At the time that the 1711 house was constructed the main road from the crossings of the River Avon in the east to Slamannan or Airdrie in the west ran almost in front of it.  The enclosures associated with the house lay to its north and presumably included an orchard and perhaps a doocot.

In the late 1750s the estate of Daquhairn grew by the re-acquisition of Paixhole and then of Badcur and Cooper’s Land by James Shaw.  Part of the money for these purchases came from his brother, Alexander Shaw, a surgeon in the Royal Navy.  It was probably shortly after this time, around 1770, that a new building programme was embarked upon which saw the construction of a courtyard in front of Dalquhairn House with a sunken garden on the same axis to its south reaching down to the stream.  The walled garden measured about 180ft square; the courtyard 65ft by 44ft 9in.  This was only made possible by the construction of a turnpike road further south than the old road and the abandonment of the latter.  The new road was straighter and far better engineered than its predecessor.  A drive to the house from this public road lay to the west of the garden and crossed the stream by a bridge built of rough rubble with a segmental arch giving a span of 12ft over a width of 13ft in the centre.  The total length, including the approaches, was approximately 48ft.

The outbuildings flanking the courtyard had evidently been built later than the house as they butt against its walls obscuring the carefully worked corners.   However, the use of backset margins suggests that it was erected in the eighteenth century.  Both ranges measured 66ft 6in in length; that on the west was 18ft 10in wide, and the east one 17ft 9in, over walls varying from 1ft 9in to 2ft in thickness.   The W. range appears to have been divided into four apartments by three transverse partitions.  The southernmost compartment in the west wing was probably a coach-house or cart-shed, as indicated by the wide low-arched entrance and crooks for the doors.  North of this the 3in slit probably provided ventilation for a stable with opposing doors in the east and west walls.   About 12ft west of this range there was a masonry-lined well.  The east range was subdivided unequally into two apartments, the north one of which may have contained a byre and barn and the south one living accommodation for a servant as shown by the fireplace.  This room was later provided with a porch in the courtyard.

Dalquhairn OS Map

Dalquhairn Aerial Photo
Illus: Aerial photograph, c1950, showing Dalquhairn House in the centre. The tree belt to the bottom runs along the small valley of the stream, but the other trees can be seen to form a square pattern around the house and gardens.

In the nineteenth century Dalquhairn House and its courtyard took on the form and function of a farmsteading.  Doorways were inserted into the gables of the house leading to porches that may have communicated with the courtyard buildings.  The fact that some of the door-margins in both ranges of the courtyard were backset with square arrises, while others show chamfered or rounded arrises, shows that alterations and insertions were made from time to time.  The doorway between the servant’s room and the byre was blocked and another fireplace inserted into it.  The Shaw family moved to Bathgate and in the 1860s the Ordnance Survey Name Book describes Dalquhairn as “A farmsteading, dwelling house, two stories, offices one, former slated, latter tiled and in good repair.”

The OS map of 1897 shows that the west wing went out of use first and it is depicted as having no roof, apart from that compartment nearest to the well.  At some point the southernmost room of the east wing was partially demolished and a doocot, consisting of three perching ledges was inserted in the new south gable.  By the time of the 1921 OS map the east wing had also become completely derelict.

Ordnance Survey Map
Illus: Ordnance Survey map of 1897.

In 1937 it was reported that:

Dalwhairn has the appearance of having been cared for till comparatively recent times, and may even have been inhabited within these last fifty years or less.  It could still be restored, and is not unworthy of restoration… The walls of the house are in very good condition, but the staircase is partly destroyed, and the floors, having been of timber, have completely disappeared, though the put-holes for the beams are still in evidence.  The original beams over the doorways survive.  The chimneys, of which there are two in the centre of the roof, and the roof itself are in tottering plight.” (Scotsman 29 Sept. 1937).

Remains of Dalquhairn Bridge
Illus: Remains of the bridge at Dalquhairn looking north-east.

In 1963 the RCAHMS said that:

Everything is now in a more or less advanced stage of ruin, but the house is said locally to have been inhabited until the end of the 19th century… the slated roof, which has no dormer windows, still survives over the eastern half but only in a dilapidated condition” (RCAHMS 1963, 354).

The house stood derelict for many years.  By 1972 it was so dangerous that it had to be demolished.


Falkirk Archives          a1894.

RCAHMS        1963    Stirlingshire: An inventory of the ancient monuments.

G.B. Bailey (2020)