Laurieston House

The elegant Georgian villa on the north side of Polmont Road in the village of Laurieston stands out from its neighbours as a historic building.  It seems to have been built a little before 1820 for James Walker.  There were several men of that name in Falkirk at that time, notably James Walker the merchant who lived in Cow Wynd and was instrumental in reconstructing Falkirk Parish Church.  His son of the same name became one of the most respected civil engineers of the mid 19th century and worked in London, donating large sums of money for educational use in his home town.  The James Walker connected with Laurieston seem to have been his cousin and also had an interest in engineering.  This was probably the road surveyor responsible for the design and building of Dunipace Bridge over the River Carron in 1826.  All were descended from the Walkers of Weedings and Mumrills.

In 1820 James Walker of “Lawrieston,” near Falkirk, won a prize of seven guineas from the Highland Society of Scotland for a model, with a relative description, of a railway calculated to surmount elevations.  The first note of “Laurieston House” comes two years later.

The house is two storeys and a basement high with the main façade facing south onto the road.  This has three bays in the typical symmetrical arrangement of a central door with a window on either side and three windows on the first floor.  These upper windows are architraved and aproned.  The door is covered by a Doric-columned porch with a later iron balcony over it.  It is built of the local sandstone with ashlar on the main façade and random rubble elsewhere.  The ground floor on the south elevation has V-jointed rustication and above a broad banded string course it is polished with rusticated quoins.  A low parapet occupies the wallhead.    The skews are plain and the roof slated.  A rare survival is the low boundary wall to the street and the lintelled gateway.

Illus 2: Ordnance Survey Map of 1862 (National Library of Scotland).

At the time that it was built, Laurieston House was at the east end of the village.  Its north side was bounded by a 5ft tall wall, on the other side of which was the large well-laid out garden and orchard of the Falkirk Free Gardeners’ Society of Gardeners which had been instituted in 1725.  The main garden of Laurieston House lay to its west alongside the street.  40 falls of the garden to the east of Laurieston House was sold in 1851 and Laurieston Cottage was erected by the Earl of Zetland to be let out.

On 15 July 1851 Rev William Begg of Falkirk performed the ceremony at Laurieston House when John Thomson, banker, Tillicoultry, married Jane, daughter of the late James Walker.  John Thomson was the second son of Provost John Thomson of Stirling and became the agent of the British Linen Bank at its Tillicoultry branch.  After fourteen years there he set up a successful cabinetmaking business with Messrs McLelland and Dickson in Glasgow.  Mrs Thomson spent her time between there and Laurieston.  They had family property in the area, including on the south side of Mary Square in Laurieston and in the town centre of Falkirk.  They also invested in addition property in the village and Mrs Thomson moved across the road to Hawthorn Cottage and Laurieston House was let.

“TO LET, furnished or unfurnished, Entry at Whitsunday first. THAT commodious DWELLING HOUSE, with Offices and Garden, generally known by the name of LAURIESTON HOUSE, situated at the East end of the Village of Laurieston. Apply to Mrs Walker, Hawthorn Cottage, Laurieston; Mr Boyd, 2 York Place, Edinburgh; or John Thomson, banker, Tillicoultry by Stirling.”

(Falkirk Herald12 January 1854).

James Russell of Bonnyfield was the tenant for a few years but around 1862 John Thomson retired from his work and he and his wife moved back into Laurieston House.  Now Hawthorn Cottage and Zetland Cottage on the south side of the turnpike road were let.  John Thomson settled into the community and became an elder of Laurieston Free Church.  In 1876, together with DM Peebles of the Falkirk branch of the Bank of Scotland, he founded the Laurieston Savings Bank.  He delivered talks on the benefits of teetotalism and self help.  Like so many of the new property owners he opposed the introduction of a special drainage district into the area – Laurieston House had its own well which was considered adequate.  He was a bit of an antiquarian collector and lent a wooden armchair to a forestry exhibition in Edinburgh in 1884.  The chair had been made from a pile taken from the piers of the 14th century bridge at Rochester.

St Mary St

ForenamesSurnameRelationStatusAgeOccupationWhere Born
JohnTHOMSONHeadMarried70Acct Insurance AgentStirling
Jane M. WTHOMSONDaughterUnmarried21Govan
JaneWALKERMother-in-lawWidow91Kilmadock, Perth

The 1881 census shows Mrs Thomson’s mother living at Laurieston House.  She died there on 12 May 1886, having outlived her husband by a considerable number of years.  John Thomson died there on 20 July 1896 aged 85 years.  Jane Walker or Thomson died in February 1907 and her only daughter, Miss Jane W Thomson inherited the estate.  Change was also being wrought in the area around Laurieston House.  Between 1900 and 1914 the land to the east was developed for housing as far as a newly constructed street called Dundas Road.  This included houses fronting onto Grahamsdyke Street which was also rapidly becoming occupied.  The Falkirk Free Gardeners’ Society had ceased to exist and in 1908 the Gardeners’ Hall which contained five rooms and a large meeting hall was let out; as was the associated byre for 8 or 10 Cows, with its boiler house and barn, and the large fruit garden.

Jane W Thomson spent a lot of her later years travelling abroad, though she hated modern transport.  When at home she was often seen in a smart pony trap.  At Laurieston she became a helping hand to those in need and the villagers called her “Lady Bountiful.”  The Garden Society’s ground was used in the late 1920s for the erection of Namayo Avenue and Jasper Avenue – two street names in Edmonton, Canada.

Miss Jane MacNie Walker Thomson died at Laurieston House on 12 July 1934 in her 75th year.  Her antique furniture and household goods were sold off the following year and in June the house was sold by private bargain to Thomas Hunter, crane driver.  It was not long before it was on sale again:

FOR SALE, LAURIESTON HOUSE, POLMONT ROAD, LAURIESTON, consisting of 3 public rooms and large kitchen on ground floor bedrooms, boxroom and W.C upstairs; and sunk flat of 4 apartments.  Electric light.  Outhouses consisting of garage, stick-house, coalhouse and pump-house.  Large garden..”.

(Falkirk Herald 1 September 1951).

It was bought as an investment.  The western end of the garden was sold off in 1953 and the house was modernised and then put back onto the market.  The land sold was used to construct a hall for “old age pensioners.”

Despite all of the changes the house still stands proud as a link back over two centuries.  Even its original grounds can still be made out.

Sites and Monuments Record

Laurieston HouseSMR 95NS 9123 7947

G.B. Bailey (2020)