Neuk is Scots for a corner or recess and is consequently often found as a place name. There are two such places in the Falkirk district – one in a meander of the Pow of Airth and the other in a crook of the River Avon and now known as Muiravonside Park. The spelling is often phonetic and can change with time. The most common variants are Neuck, Nuicke and Newck. Compounded examples are also found and Headswood Neuk, Mossneuk, Parkneuk, Polmont Neuk (Avonside), Lady’s Neuck and Manor Neuck are all found in Stirlingshire (Reid 2009. 155). The Neuck in the parish of Airth which is the subject of the present article was owned by the Higgins family for many generations and so part of it became known as Higgins Neuck. Their gravestones can be seen in the old parish churchyard nearby. The family had initially been connected with Halls of Airth but in 1681 Patrick Higgins received a charter from Richard Elphinstone of Airth of “all and haill that room and mealling of land commonly known as Newk” (Reid pers com). The name Halls of Airth is derived from Haughs of Airth – haugh being a river meadow.
Roy shows a substantial building at the southern end of two enclosures at “Neuk” in the mid 18th century. A stone lintel incorporated into the stable courtyard bore the incised initials PH and IC with the date 1620 (RCAHMS 1963, 342) and presumably came from the early mansion; PH would have been for Patrick Higgins. No record has been found to indicate what this early mansion looked like. It was rebuilt in 1812 by John Alexander Higgins as indicated by an inscribed stone on the apex of the pediment on the main façade which read: “JAH/ STATUIT/ 1812.” JA Higgins was a Writer to the Signet and also had a residence in Edinburgh.
Illus 2: Neuck House looking south-east, c1958 (RCAHMS).
The building was a simple substantial rectangular block comprising a basement, two principal storeys and an attic. The masonry was of droved ashlar, the grey sandstone probably coming from a quarry at Dunmore. A plain band ran round the house at first-floor level and the walls finished in a moulded eaves-cornice above which there was a plain blocking-course. The roof was hipped and slated and the large chimney stacks were of dressed stone. The principal facade faced north-west towards the entrance drive from Airth. The focus of the façade was the central main entrance with its semi-circular fanlight framed by a Tuscan portico approached by a semi-elliptical perron with dual ascent incorporating an ornamental cast iron balustrade.
The central portion of the facade projected, and was surmounted by a triangular moulded pediment in the centre of which was a small circular window. On either side of the entrance was a single large architraved window with a plain frieze and moulded cornice. The three smaller architraved windows on the floor above were placed symmetrically.
The rear or south-east façade also had an advanced central pedimented bay containing a large circular-headed window with a sunk surround to light the stair. The side walls were much plainer, with three windows on each of the principal floors, the southern ones on the first floor being blind.
Illus 3: Plan of the principal floor of Neuck House (after RCAHMS).
The front door led into a vestibule or lobby with a curved niche and in turn led into an elliptical hall or saloon. The saloon rose to the second floor where there was a gallery giving access to the bedrooms and was lit by an ornate skylight. The gallery was reached by a geometric staircase on the opposite side of the hall from the vestibule. From the hall all of the ground floor apartments opened up. These comprised a drawing room and morning room on the left and a dining room and library on the right – all of which possessed marble fireplaces.
The offices were arranged around an open square and were located to the west. They included the usual range of stables, a coachhouse and a doocot. A little further on was Neuck Farm with a lodge beside it to control access to the house. Throughout the 19th century the proprietors of Neuck let the farm out to tenants on nineteen year leases. It had around 80 acres of land associated with it, leaving between three and thirty acres for the policies at different times. This included a large walled garden and orchard to the north-east and an area of tree planting near to the house.
A broad avenue ran through the trees to the turn of one of the meanders of the Pow to the east and lined up with the ferry on the Forth. The woodland and shelter belts provided habitats for the game on the estate and the shooting rights were considered to be important. The mill leat for the 16th/17th century mill of Patrick Higgins (Reid 2004, 64) still ran through the estate and its water was used to support a bleaching green and washing house. The lade began a little to the east of the A905 and followed the contour to the lodge building which guarded a bridge over it. The early mill building had probably stood just behind the lodge where vestiges of water courses can be seen on the later maps. The land around Neuck is quite flat and the water did not have much of a fall, consequently this mill was abandoned in the early 17th century in favour of a tidal mill at Higgins Neuck – New Mills.
Grassom in 1817 has his conventional symbol for a country seat at “Neucks.” Given the many meanders the plural form seems more appropriate and is also found at a small settlement between Slamannan and Avonbridge adjacent to the River Avon. However, it does not recur at Airth. As well as farming and milling the Higgins family had interests in shipping.
JA Higgins died at Neuck on 26 September 1822 and being childless the estate went to his nephew John Burns junior. The new owner was the son of Marion Higgins who had married John Burn of Coldoch. John Burn junior had married Ann Maule Murdoch in 1820 and adopted her family name and estate of Gartincaber in Perthshire where he spent much of his time and became a magistrate and deputy-lieutenant for the county. In 1830 he inherited yet more property, this time in Easter Greenyards, from his cousin James McGibbon. His aunt continued to live at Neuck – Margaret was the widow of William Bell, a merchant in Leith. She died at Neuck House on 23 July and the house was subsequently advertised for let:
“TO BE LET, FURNISHED, For such number of years as may be agreed upon, Entry immediately, NEWCK HOUSE, parish of Airth, Stirlingshire, with Garden, Orchards, and Office houses. The House is modern, and contains four public rooms and eight bed-rooms, with ample accommodation for servants. The whole completely furnished. Newck is distant 27 miles from Edinburgh, and the Stirling and Alloa steam-boats call regularly at Kincardine Ferry, within about half a mile of the house. Upwards of 20 acres of ground, as also, the right of shooting over the lands of Newck, and over the property of Easter Greenyards, can be let along with the house if required.
The Gardener will show the house and grounds; and application may be made to John Burn Murdoch, Esq Coldoch, Doune; or to Dallas and Innes, WS, Frederick Street, Edinburgh…” .(Edinburgh Evening Courant 4 August 1832)
Thomas Charles Burns was in residence at Neuck House in 1838, but the following year it was once more available to rent, now with water closets:
“TO LET, FURNISHED, NEWCK HOUSE, Parish of Airth, Stirlingshire, containing four Public-rooms, eight Bed-rooms, Water-closets on the different flats, and ample accommodation for servants, with Coach-house, Stabling for twelve horses, and other usual Office-houses.
Newck is distant 27 miles from Edinburgh, 9 from Stirling, and 5 from Falkirk. The Stirling and Alloa and Newhaven Steam-Boats call regularly at Kincardine Ferry within half a mile of the house, and coaches ply daily from that Ferry to Falkirk, to join the Edinburgh and Glasgow Coaches.
The House will be let either with or without the Garden and Orchard. The Right of Shooting over the Property of Easter Greenyards, extending to upwards of 750 imperial acres, as well as over the Lands of Newk, can be had, if required.
Robert Stoddart, at Newck, will show the house; and application may be made to John Burn Murdoch Esq, Edinburgh, of to Alex Fleming WS.”(Scotsman 4 May 1839, 2)
The new tenant was George Dunlop. When he left the premises were advertised with additional features such as the pigeon-house and fox hunt:
“COUNTRY HOUSE TO LET FURNISHED, with Entry at Martinmas. NEWCK HOUSE, Parish of Airth, Stirlingshire, with garden, Orchard, and Pigeon-House, and also Pasture Fields, if wished. The House is comfortably Furnished, and contains 4 Public Rooms and 8 Bed Rooms, the Offices, Stabling for 11 Horses, with other usual Out-Door Accommodation. Newck is about 4 Miles from the Larbert Station on the Scottish Central Railway, which is within an Hour’s distance of Edinburgh or Glasgow, and the Granton and Stirling and Alloa Steamers land and take in Passengers at Kincardine Ferry, within Half a Mile of the House. The Linlithgow and Stirlingshire Fox-hounds hunt the district, and a Pack of Harriers are kept in the immediate neighbourhood.
The Gardener will show the Premises; and further particulars will be given by Mr Burn Murdoch, the Proprietor, Gartincaber, Doune; or by Messrs Dundas and Wilson CS, 16 St Andrew Square, Edinburgh.”(Glasgow Herald 25 October 1852).
The 1860 advert lists the four public rooms as the dining-room, large and smaller drawing-rooms and library. One consistent feature of these mid-19th century adverts is the emphasis on travel to Glasgow and particularly to Edinburgh. The latter was favoured with water transport on the Forth Estuary and the passenger picking up place at Kincardine was close to Higgins Neuck – though across the water. In 1859 the tenant was another entrepreneur, the tanner Robert Galloway. He died there in April 1860. The house was becoming more difficult to rent out and it stood empty for months at a time. John Burn Murdoch died at Gartincaber on the 24 August 1862 aged 68.
By 1867 the trees on the estate had matured and some 114 trees, principally oaks, elms and planes, were sold as growing timber. Throughout the different tenancies the gardener at Neuck had brought the grounds to a beautiful state of display and this was appreciated by the Airth Free Church Sabbath Schools who started to have their annual trips there. In 1871 some 65 children were treated to fruit from the garden, as well as buns and cake and milk, by the tenant. The rain meant that this was partaken within the house. In 1876 the fare included sandwiches, cookies, cake, bread of various kinds, biscuits, shortbread, tea, milk, cream, jelly, gooseberries, strawberries and so on. 140 people played games in the grounds such as cricket, bowls, lawn tennis, croquet, swings and racing.
|Margaret||TOLE||Servant (Head)||Unmarried||22||Cook Domestic Servant||Carluke, Lanark|
|Julia||CORBET||Servant||Unmarried||19||Housemaid Domestic Servant||England|
In 1910 Colonel John Francis Burn succeeded his uncle, General Sir James Clark-Rattray, in the estate of Craighall, Rattray, Perthshire, and adopted his surname. At the same time he handed Neuck over to his younger brother, James Victor Burn Murdoch. In 1909 James, with William Speirs Bruce, had established the Scottish Spitsbergen Syndicate for the mining of coal in that region and many Bo’ness miners were involved. JV Burn Murdoch frequently travelled abroad and died in Berne in Switzerland on 30 August 1924 aged 60.
The owners and tenants of Neuck House can be summarised in the following list (tenants in maroon):
|c1600||Patrick Higgins (Halls of Airth)|
|Patrick Higgins (Halls of Airth)|
|1681||Patrick Higgins (Neuk)|
|c1700||John Higgins (son)|
|c1729||John Higgins (son)|
|c1753||John Higgins (son)|
|c1790||John Alexander Higgins (son)|
|1822||John Burns Murdoch (nephew)|
|Thomas Charles Burns (1838)|
|George Dunlop (1846-47)|
|Robert Galloway (1859-60)|
|1862||Rev John Alexander Burn Murdoch (son)|
|c1880||Colonel John Francis Burn Clark-Rattray (son)|
|Alexander Mills (1891)|
|James Miller (1898)|
|1910||James Victor Burn Murdoch (brother)|
|Edward L J Blyth (1924-27)|
|Colonel D M Taylor (1937)|
|Fred G Griffiths (1942)|
|Mrs Howe (1954-|
Sites and Monuments Records
|Neuk House||SMR 888||NS 910 867|
|Neuk House Doocot||SMR 40||NS 910 867|
|Pow Burn Bridge||SMR 1382||NS 9151 8728|
|Bailey, G.B.||1991||‘Doocots in the Falkirk District,’ Calatria 1, 33-56.|
|Bailey, G.B.||1999||‘The Graveyards of Falkirk District: Part 5 – Airth Old Parish Churchyard,’ Calatria 13, 1-46.|
|RCAHMS||1963||Stirlingshire: An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments.|
|Reid, J.||2004||‘East Stirlingshire Mills: Part 1,’ Calatria 21, 61-89.|
|Reid, J.||2009||The Place Names of Falkirk and East Stirlingshire.|
Geoff B. Bailey (2020)