Glen Ellrig

The extensive estate of Ellrig lay in the parish of Falkirk on the north side of the River Avon to the north-east of Slamannan.  To its north was a large area of mossland called Darnrig and Ellrig Loch.

The feudal superior of the Lands of Ellrig was the Duke of Hamilton.  During the 17th century the Lands of Ellrig were owned by the Russell family but in 1721 were sold to William Coubrough of Falkirk.  They passed to Henry, his son, in 1741, and thence to William Coubrough in late 1797.  By 1810 the next generation held them and by tradition the eldest son was called Henry.

Illus 1: Roy’s Plan of 1755 showing the area around Ellrig.

The family had invested in the Falkirk Union Bank, which in 1817 collapsed.  The assets of the partners were then sold to pay the creditors and Ellrig was put up for sale:

“To be SOLD by public roup, within the house of John Thomson, vintner in Falkirk, upon Thursday the 21st day of August 1817, at twelve o’clock noon,

Lot I – THE LANDS of ELLRIG, REDBRAE, LOCHEND, LEPPY, BLACKBRIGS, and THREAPRIG, lying in the parish of Falkirk, and county of Stirling, and extending to about 400 acres, Scotch measure.

Upon the Lands of Ellrig there is a handsome house of two stories, containing ample accommodation for a genteel family, with suitable offices.  On the other farms there are substantial farm steadings, all in good repair.

The whole lands have an excellent southern exposure, and are bounded on the south by the Water of Avon.  They are in general of a fine rich soil, and capable of bearing any crops; and the Lands of Ellrig have of late been highly improved by the proprietor.”

(Caledonian Mercury 23 June 1817, 3).

Lot II consisted or 45 acres at Balmitchell, Lot III the 12 acres of Newk and Lot IV the 12 acres of Newmill.

All of the lots were eventually sold in October that year to Robert Ralston for £5,990.  Upon his death in 1828 his daughter Catherine took possession.  She and her husband John Braid of Castlehead in Paisley adopted the surname Ralston and she resigned the estate to him.  Around this time the name of the estate was changed to Glen Ellrig.  He continued the process of improvement and enclosure, as noted by the Rev Alexander Davidson in his 1841 Statistical Account of the parish of Slamannan:

Several proprietors have set a spirited example to others, in dividing their lands, in draining, and enclosing them by many judicious belts of planting, so that in a few years their estates will attain a much higher state of cultivation.  Mr Ralston of Glenellrig, who is a resident heritor, has been at great pains in laying out the grounds in the vicinity of his mansion house; and the farm-steadings which he has lately erected on his estate may vie with any of the same class in the country for neatness and convenience.  Mr Waddell of Balquhatston has commenced to make similar improvements on his estate.”

Broad shelter belts were established and the area to the west of the house was planted with trees to provide shelter from the west winds.  The house had been built near the head of a small valley that descended to the River Avon and so the appellation of “glen” was appropriate.

Illus 2: The North Lodge looking south-west.

By 1848 J.B. Ralston Esq of Glen Ellrig was one of the founding members of the Eastern District of Stirlingshire Agricultural Association.  The construction of the Slamannan Railway to the south made it easier to get goods and material to the estate and farm produce out.  For a short time there was a station nearby named after the estate.  It was at this time that the designed landscape was laid out.  A long sinuous tree-lined drive led from the Shieldhill Road near Snowhill across a small bridge over a burn.  A small lodge was built at this entrance.  It is constructed of the local brownish-grey whinstone with sandstone backset margins and pointed arched windows.  The gables terminated in roll scrolled skewputs at the bottom and the tall octagonal chimney stacks at the top.

The north avenue and lodge were only made possible by alterations in the layout of the local roads.  Prior to this the minor road going from east to west passed through the farm of Lippy (later renamed Broom), along the east avenue of Glen Ellrig and just to the north of the house.  It then crossed the stream west of the house by a substantial stone bridge, the remains of which can still be seen.  As late as 1819 the Road Trustees for the Eastern district paid David Gardner £2.10s to repair this bridge – making it four feet broader adding parapets 3.5 feet high.  Continuing westward it passed north of Redbrae and entered Slammanan via Balmulzier (Plan of Slamannan Parish by William Forrest, 1806).  This was replaced by a road skirting the estate from broom to Snowhill where it connected with the existing road to Easter Jaw.

Illus 3: The Stables.

To the south-east of the house a stable block and range of farm offices was constructed fronting the south side of the east avenue.  This was a shorter and straighter access road than the winding northern one and so more suitable for these utilitarian purposes.  The frontage of the block included a series of gables – the central and end ones containing large arched gates and the intermediate ones arched windows.  Between these the single storey north range was capped by a running battlement in chunky Gothic style.  The central one was used as an entrance pend to the courtyard behind and was surmounted with a pyramid-shaped roof sporting a glover for a doocot.

Illus 4: The southern Standing Stone looking north-east.

To the south of the house two standing stones were erected to form visual features.  The nearest was in the paddock below the house and was only 0.4m in width, 0.2m in thickness and 1.0m in height. It was aligned east-west so as to be prominent from the house.  The second stone still stands on a small knoll 100m south of the house overlooking the River Avon. The knoll is surrounded by a low drystone retaining wall erected to provide a landscaped setting for it.  This stone measures 2.0 m in height and 0.23 m thick.

It is now necessary to go into the family in some detail in order to show the line of succession at Ellrig.  John and Catherine Braid Ralston had two sons and five daughters; Robert William Baird was the eldest son, and John the second; the names of the daughters, and the order of their births, were – Catherine, Henrietta, Jane Sarah, Elizabeth Gaston, and Ann Anderson.  Catherine and Henrietta died young.  Jane Sarah Ralston, married Archibald Colquhoun Wood of Glasgow in October 1837 at Ellrig House.  However, she died a few years later.  His next surviving daughter, Elizabeth Gaston, married George Waddell of Balquhatstone on 1 October 1844. 

John Braid Ralston died on 31 August 1851 at 6 Montgomery Street, Ardrossan, aged 73.  He was buried in a small tomb enclosure created to the east of the main drive at Glen Ellrig, overlooking the stream.  Robert, the eldest son inherited Glen Ellrig estate.  His mother, Catherine Ralston, the widow of John Braid Ralston, when she had surrendered it in 1828 had arranged that she would have an annuity to herself of £120 from her father’s estate in the event of her husband’s death.  She died on 30 April 1853, aged 71.

Illus 5: Left – the Tomb at Glen Ellrig looking south-east through the gate. Right – the setting for the headstone collapsed in 2019.

In the following month Robert sold his father’s land at Castlehead to Messrs Ronald, shawl manufacturers, for the sum of £4,000.  In September 1853 Anne Anderson Ralston married James Crawford Douglas of Polmunckshead, Lanarkshire, at Glen Ellrig.  Robert died without issue in June, 1858.  His brother John and his three sisters, Catherine, Henrietta, and Jean, had already died without having had issue, and so the estate fell to Elizabeth.  Alexander Braid, the son of John Braid Ralston’s brother, launched a legal challenge stating that being cousin-german of Robert Ralston, he was the rightful heir-male general.  The claim was dismissed in 1859.

Elizabeth’s husband, George Waddell of Balquhastone, died on 10 April 1850 at 12 Lynedoch Place in Edinburgh and she is subsequently referred to as Mrs Waddell Ralston.  Around 1860 John Colquhoun was appointed as the joint factor for Glen Ellrig and Balquhatstone.  In that year he arranged the lease of the brick and tile work at Glen Ellrig, located just beyond the north-eastern boundary of the policy.  The Ordnance Surveyors describe Glen Ellrig House at this time:

GLEN ELLRIG (IN RUINS) The remains of a mansion, the residence of the Ralstons of Glenellrig.   On the death of the late  proprietor,  failing  male issue,   the   property  fell  into  the  hands  of  Mrs  Waddell of Balquhatstone,   Slamannan.   Since that time the house has been unoccupied and allowed to fall into ruin.   The extensive offices are still in good repair.”

It seems to have been at the prompting of Elizabeth Waddell Ralston that plans were laid to replace the old house at Glen Ellrig with a larger new one.  An unattributed note from Glen Ellrig in the family archives, dated September 1878, gives directions for the nature of the work to be undertaken.  The old house apparently measured 42ft 6in from west to east and 30ft 2in north to south, being 19ft tall.  It seems to have been a plain two-storey mansion with a small (3ft) extension on the dining room on the east.  Behind it was a narrower two-storey northern block of more recent date, measuring 22 ½ feet from north to south (outside) by 19 feet from east to west.  By the time of the note the old house had been demolished to make way for the new one and the northern block already had an additional storey added to it to turn it into a tower.  The stone stair of the old house was left so that it could be incorporated into the new design.  It stood against the tower, extending slightly further west than it.

The rooms of the new house are given as follows:

“Instructions for making a plan for Glenellrigg…

Drawing room to be 25 feet long exclusive of a large bow window to the south which is the front of the house.  The width to be 19 feet & to have a large window in the south end of the house.

Dining room to be 24 feet by 17 exclusive of bow window to the south.  This room to have a large divided window to the east.  The space between these two rooms to contain the library with folding doors into the drawing room and the front door (with flight of steps) and handsome entrance hall  this arrangement so as to give a good appearance to the front  the ceilings of the three principal rooms to 13 ½ feet high.

A room to be behind the drawing room for a school room about the size of an ordinary bedroom with a window to the west and to the north if easily done, the kitchen to be behind the dining room and also on this floor a butler’s pantry and small bedroom for man servant, laundry washing house store room, & scullery, pantry & C—-  also a back stair, the principal stair to use from the entrance hall the dining room to have a down service door as well as the one to the entrance hall, the house to have 6 bedrooms 3 of them with dressing rooms & 2 rooms for nurseries – a bath room on bedroom floor and water conveniences in each flat & for the nursery  The house to be plain so as not to increase the expence unnecessarily.”

This written description can be used to annotate a rough sketch to provide the following plan.

Illus 6: Plan of the intended new House at Glen Ellrig, 1878. South to bottom.

Illus 7: Left – the Grand Entrance to the unfinished House looking north with the tower behind.
Right – The old Stone Staircase in front of the Tower given a rustic wooden Handrail and Balcony.

Elizabeth Gaston Waddell Ralston died at Balquhatstone on 25 July 1883, aged 65 years, and was buried beside her husband in a mausoleum to the east of Slamannan Parish Church.  The building work at Glen Ellrig had only progressed as far as the first floor and was halted.  It never seems to have been completed and the house is depicted on the Ordnance Survey maps as “in ruins.”

Illus 8: Ordnance Survey Map. It was surveyed in 1860 and published in 1896, evidently with modifications.

Thereafter the main house was abandoned and the family made Balquhatstone its principal residence.  Glen Ellrig was simply used as a picnic area by the family.  The single storey dwelling to the north continued to be lived in and the stables were used as a home farm.  The walled garden too was used to grow vegetables.

Illus 9: The northern single-storey Dwelling with the Tower to the right, looking south-east.
Illus 10: Chauffeur with Car at Glen Ellrig.
Illus 11: Tea on the paving at the foot of the Tower 18th August 1909.
Illus 12: Ordnance Survey Map of 1916. The roofed parts of the buildings are shown shaded.

The remains of the house were demolished in 1991 as part of the opencast coal mining operations that engulfed a large area. After these operations had been completed the land was “restored” to flatter contours and a storage shed erected north of the old house. The north lodge is now a private residence and the north drive is used by tractors – its route slightly modified. The northernmost of the standing stones was removed, but that on the knoll overlooking the river is still to be seen, standing sentinel over this once rich landscape.

Illus 13: The remains of Glen Ellrig House in 1990 shortly before demolition (courtesy L Main).

The family records for Balquhatstone and Glen Ellrig have now been deposited in the archives at Falkirk Museum.  The owners and occupiers of Glen Ellrig may be summarised in the following list:

Russell family
1721William Coubrough
1741Henry Coubrough
1797William Coubrough
1810Henry Coubrough
1817Robert Ralston
1828Catherine Ralston who had married John Braid
1851Robert Braid Ralston
1858Elizabeth Ralston who had married George Waddell
1883 –Waddells of Balquhatstone

Sites & Monuments Records

Ellrig HouseSMR 508
Standing StonesSMR 503 & 504
TombSMR 506

G.B. Bailey, 2021