Leslie Park

On 5 February 1816 Matilda Morehead, daughter of William Morehead of Herbertshire, married Captain John Stedman Christie at Herbertshire House.  It would seem that the couple were given part of the Herbertshire estate at Headswood as a wedding present.  This land lay between Cuthelton and Headswood and included a large field on the south side of the main Denny to Falkirk road known as Leslie Park.

The following year game licenses were issued to Captain John Christie of Headswood Cottage and Captain J. Stedman Christie of Leslie Park.  As these two large houses were both built in 1817 it would seem that these were father and son.  Captain Christie senior had been made an adjutant with the Stirlingshire Volunteers, appointed in 1804, and had Headswood Cottage constructed in a traditional style.  During its construction a stone-lined coffin was found.

Illus 2: The geometry of Leslie House showing the roof plan (north to the bottom).

The house at Leslie Park was most unusual.  It consisted of two large octagonal two-storey blocks laid side by side.  The side that the octagons shared was left out and a hall with a conical roof inserted.  The apex of the cone was made of glass to form a skylight that let natural light flood into this connecting space.  Long chimney stacks were placed on what should have been ridges of the blocks to either side of the cone so that they were perpendicular to one another but skew to the front of the house.  These sections of ridges were then used as the centre points for two wings projecting to the back (south) of the house, terminating in shallow bowed walls.  Between these a much longer bowed wall extended the building in that direction.

The house faced to the north from whence the drive connected it to the Denny road.  The space between the fronts of the two octagonal blocks on this face was filled by a single storey porch with a flat roof containing the main entrance.  It was fronted by cast iron columns and a decorative iron pediment.  The walls were of random rubble covered by harling with a short plinth course.  All in all the building had a very modern appearance.

The very occasional use of octagons in architecture had been developed in the previous decades.  The curious house near Exeter known as “a la Ronde” has an octagonal core with a sixteen-sided outer wall and was completed in the 1790s.  Its bedrooms were located on the east side and as the day progressed the occupants followed the sun clockwise around the house by moving from room to room.  The house at Leslie Park certainly allowed much to be made of the sunlight and also provided sheltered corners on its outside.  The use of double octagons became quite fashionable in America in the 1850s.

Illus 3: Extract if the 1835 Estate Plan for Herbertshire showing the holdings of Leslie Park labelled as “Sheep Parks.” (Falkirk Archives).

Like so many of his society contemporaries Captain JS Christie went to live in Edinburgh where there were more facilities and events.  He moved to 2 Norton Place and put his country residence up for let:

“COUNTRY RESIDENCE IN STIRLINGSHIRE.  To be LET, for one or more years, Unfurnished, LESLIE PARK, containing three public rooms, six bed rooms, five light dressing closets, water closet, kitchen, two servants’ room, & c. stable, out-houses, and garden, with or without the park, containing 20 acres.

A tenant can have four acres of grass, if desired.  The house is newly painted, and in complete order, the park and adjoining scenery extremely beautiful, on the river Carron, where there is excellent fishing and shooting can be had in the neighbourhood; the fox hounds regularly hunt the covers.

Should the proprietor meet with a good tenant for some years, the rent will moderate.

Twenty-eight miles from Edinburgh, one from the Edinburgh and Glasgow Canal; coaches in every direction, and letters delivered at the house daily; market and schools one mile.”

(Edinburgh Evening Courant 17 April 1828, 4).

To imply that it was on the River Carron was worthy of any modern estate agent.  However the advertisement for 1832 was wrong to say that canal boats passed within sight of the windows.

 “To be LET, Unfurnished, for one or more years, LESLIE PARK, containing three public rooms, five bed-rooms, four light closets, water do., two servants’ rooms, laundry, & c, garden, and stables.  The house is situated in the centre of a varied and finely wooded park of twenty acres, on the banks of the Carron, one mile from the post town of Denny, where every necessary article can be procured.  The house is newly painted, with grates in all the rooms, and stove in the inner entrance hall.  The garden (which is cropped) cannot be surpassed for soil and situation, is surrounded on all sides, except the south, by beautiful sloping banks, 50ft high, laid out in shrubbery to the extent of three acres, and on which height the house stands, commanding delightful views of local and distant scenery.  The place is altogether in complete order.  Steam and track boats, mail and other coaches, pass within sight of the windows, one mile distant.  Excellent fishing, and arrangements might be made for killing game.  Four or five acres of grass, or more, will be let with the house.” 

(Edinburgh Evening Courant 9 April 1832, 1).

Captain Christie of Leslie Park died at Lisbon in September 1837.  The following month his daughter, Matilda Mary Ann, married Rev James MacFarlan of Muiravonside at Glenfuir.  For the time being they lived in the manse at Muiravonside and Leslie Park continued to be leased.  For a shot spell, in 1844 just after the Disruption Rev John Bonar of Larbert Free Church was living at Leslie Park having been ejected from the established church manse next to Larbert Parish Church.  Whilst at Leslie Park he raised money to build a new manse in Larbert

The next tenant was William Bain.  He was a typical entrepreneur of the period.  Starting as a farmer at Cultenhoop, he became a timber merchant and then a pyroligneous acid manufacturer at Headswood.  The works were beside the stream opposite the farm of that name (adjacent to the present motorway slip road) and made use of the timber on the estate to produce the pyroligneous acid, also called wood vinegar or wood acid, by the destructive distillation of the wood.

He was declared bankrupt August 1845 and his estates were sequestered.

William McLaren then took up residence at Leslie Park and was there until 1868.  Again the house was put up for let, with an option to sell.

 “TO LET on Lease, at Whitsunday (Unfurnished), THE HOUSE OF LESLIEPARK.  It is prettily situated near the banks of the Carron, within a mile of Denny Station, and contains good-sized Dining-room, Drawing-room, and parlour.  Five bed-rooms, with Two Garrets, Laundry, and other conveniences.  A large GARDEN with southern exposure is attached…”

(Edinburgh Evening Courant 15 February 1868, 3).

Illus 4: The Leslie Park Curling Club on their home pond, c1925.

The undulating landscape around the house was very picturesque.  The rolling hills on the west side of the estate were later used for Denny Cemetery – terraced and planted with specimen trees.  Around 1845 the Leslie Park Curling Club was established and a low lying enclosure to the north-west of the house (No. 1 on the 1835 plan) was converted into a curling pond.  From that date until the Second World War curling took place here in most years.

Illus 5: Ordnance Survey Map of 1862.

The house was still owned by Matilda Christie and Rev James MacFarlan.  It would seem that they now took it back into use as a family residence for on 1 March 1872 her father, William Morehead late of Herbertshire Castle, died there at the age of 73.

The 1881 census gives the following individuals as residents:

Christian NameSurnameMarriedAgeOccupationPlace of Birth
Matilda M.MCFARLANEWidow61Minister’s WidowDunipace, Stirling
Annie MoreheadMCFARLANEUnmarried38Minister’s daughterMuiravonside, Stirling
EleanoraMCFARLANEUnmarried27Minister’s daughterMuiravonside, Stirling
Catherine LouiseMCFARLANEUnmarried23Minister’s daughterMuiravonside, Stirling
HelenLITTLEUnmarried19HousemaidMoffat, Dumfries

Matilda Morehead Christie or MacFarlan had been born in Herbertshire Castle.  She died at Leslie Park on 16 September 1890.  The Misses MacFarlan of Leslie Park were well known in the district and held in high esteem for their charitable work.  As was usual, they held the family archive of letters and drawings.  One of the married daughters, Mrs Douie of London, gifted a lectern to Dunipace Parish Church in 1925 in memory of her mother.

The gardener, Patrick Kellery, lived at Leslie Park until he retired in the early 1930s.  The sisters spent the remainder of their lives at Leslie Park.  Anne Morehead McFarlan died there on 12 April 1923; Catherine Louise McFarlan, the last surviving, died there 22 September 1935.  Their brother, Patrick, having already died in San Diego, California, the house was put up for sale:

“LESLIE PARK, NEAR DENNY – FOR SALE, this Desirable Property.  The house comprises Three Public and Five Bed Rooms, Bathroom, ample Domestic Offices, Servants’ Rooms, Garage, & c: Assessed Rental, £31.10s; Feur-Duty £6; Immediate Possession…”

(Scotsman 19 October 1935, 5)

It was bought by Cruikshank & Co Ltd for £450 to provide accommodation for the manager of Denny Iron Works.  Thomas Shanks was also a director of the company, and the elder son of ex-provost James K Shanks.  In 1936 he had the house enlarged by adding an extra storey onto the western octagonal block.  It was given inappropriate iron-framed windows and a flat roof.  A dormer window was also inserted into the eastern octagon.  The porch was given a sloping roof which required the blocking of the window above it.

The iron foundry and its owners had been keen on promoting the Territorial Army and many of them were in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.  Consequently they were immediately called up in 1939, Captain Tom Shanks amongst them.  In July 1940 he was reported as missing, but later found to be a prisoner of war.  He returned after the war and became the chairman of Cruikshank & Co Ltd.

Curling does not seem to have resumed at Leslie Park after the war, though the club continued until 1970.  Back in February 1931 an unfortunate incident occurred when the body of John Campbell, iron grinder, was found in the Leslie Park curling pond.

Thomas Shanks died in the 1960s and in 1963 WR Filshie & Sons, who had been working the site to the east, applied to extract sand and gravel from the estate.  This resulted in the removal of not just the house but also of the very hills that had been its setting.  Today the area is scrubland.

Illus 7: Aerial Photograph of Leslie Park, c1950, with the Cemetery on the left.

G.B. Bailey (2020)