Powfoulis House

Powfoulis lies on the southern shore of the Forth Estuary between Grangemouth and Airth.  Andrew Bruce, the third son of Robert Bruce of Auchenbowie, received a charter of Powfoulis in 1512 and gradually the size of the holding was increased.  The Bruce family were to possess the barony for three hundred years.  Within a few decades a three storey tower house was built there and is depicted on Pont’s map which dates to c1580.  According to tradition Andrew’s grandson, Sir James Bruce, built a residence at Powfoulis around 1610, but if so this must have been an extension.  His initials, along with those of his wife, Dame Margaret Rollox, are to be seen in the gable of the Bruce of Powfoulis Aisle at Airth Old Parish Church.

Illus 1: Pont’s Map of c1580.

This tradition may have arisen from the grant of a charter by the king in 1612 of the extended lands “with fortalice and manor place” which was to be the principal messuage of the new barony.  Importantly, the grant included the privilege of “the ferrie-boit of Powfowlis upon the water of Forth, the ferry-boit of Dalbayth upon the water of Carroun.”  Typically the new wing of the house would have been a narrow two storey block with an attic floor and crow-stepped gables.  Dormer windows would have broken through the wallhead into the roof and one of these survives, built into the north gable of the later coachman’s house.  It is triangular in shape, inscribed in raised letters on sunk fields, “D/ M R/ TO GOD.”  It seems to have been the sinister member of a pair, with a dexter neighbour bearing a corresponding inscription S/ I B/ GLORIE. The two together would then have commemorated, with the text “Glory to God”, Sir James Bruce of Powfoulis and his wife Dame Margaret Rollox.  That the old tower survived is implied by a passing reference to it in the Old Statistical Account.

In 1612 the barony of Powfoulis consisted of 3 oxgangs of land known as Powfoullis, 2 oxgangs of the lands of Bothkenner, and 7 oxgangs of the Halls of Airth.  This was to remain the core of the estate which grew and contracted according to the family’s fortunes.  In the early 17th century it was added to by an oxgang of land at Dalbeath, but in the 18th century 5 rooms of land were sold to Thomas Dundas who later sold them on to Joseph Stainton.  National events also impacted upon the family and in September 1650 James Bruce, 5th of Powfoulis, was killed fighting the troops of Cromwell at the Battle of Dunbar.

Illus 2: The White Gate at Powfoulis fronting the coastal road.

J Lothian in his 1862 book notes the arms and supporters of James Bruce remaining, with the following inscription – Sir James Bruce 1660, and the motto to “Faithful.”  This is not a reference to the White Gate, which he also mentions.

The 1612 charter contained a reference to the sea greens.  This was a narrow strip of grass land along the coast which was occasionally inundated by the highest tides.  Its western boundary was marked by a track which hugged the coastline all the way from Newton to Higgins Neuk.  It was valuable grazing land and towards the end of the 17th century the neighbouring landowners took a case to the Court of Session to prove that it was common land.  The case took several years to reach a conclusion and during this time two ornate gate piers were erected at the east end of the drive through Powfoulis at the point on the coastal road where the sea greens started.  The piers are of sandstone with V-channelled joints and moulded capitals.  The north gatepost bears on its east face a shield on which the date 1688 appears; the south post bears a shield dividing the word FAITHFULL and charged, for Bruce: A saltire and chief.  The lettering seems to have been recut (around the year 2005 the gate piers were repaired and their upper stones reversed to face west so that now the south one bears the date).  The case of the sea greens was finally decided against Powfoulis in 1714.  Meanwhile, in 1791, the runrig at Haughs of Airth was subjected to a legal division and the tenants of Bruce of Powfoulis were forced to move.  The agricultural landscape was changing.

Up until the middle of the 18th century the coastal road would have been relatively busy.  To the south, at Newton, there was a bustling harbour called Greenbrae Reach and small vessels were able to proceed up the River Carron to Carronshore.  Straightening the river in 1782 removed this natural anchorage.  To the north was the short crossing of the Forth at Higgins Neuk where there was an inn and lodgings for travellers.  The Powfoulis crossing operated from a small pow, just to the north-east of the White Gate.  As well as the coastal road this could be reached by cross-country roads running from west to east, and it is likely that the drive running along the north side of the enclosures at Powfoulis to the White Gate was one of these.  Cattle would have been driven along it to the sea greens.  The imposition of the gate may mark its formal closure.  The ferry continued into the late 18th century, but by then it was much less frequented and its service was ended.

Illus 3: Roy’s Map of 1755 showing the Coastal Route.

Illus 4: Cupid built into the garden wall.

The two walled enclosures provided a quiet secluded area for its owners with formal gardens, orchards and walks.  In common with other comparable houses it is probable that there were such garden features as sundials, sculptures and topiary.  The Renaissance style statue of a cupid now built into the garden wall above a doorway may belong to this category.  The three-dimensional figure holds a sphere aloft and may once have been one of several supporters of an ornate sundial.

Illus 5: The 1820s House with later porch and ramp.

In the mid 1820s James Bruce (10) rebuilt Powfoulis House on the site of the original tower house.  The architect of this Gothic Revival house is not known but the builder was Henry Taylor who had been responsible for the new parish church in Falkirk and for the Steeple there.  It is built of droved grey freestone ashlar which probably came from the Dunmore quarry.  The house was three storeys in height with an attic and measured 56ft 2in by 40ft 8in over walls 2ft 6ins thick.  The roof is hipped and slated.  The central portion of the west front is advanced, and is flanked by shallow pilasters which finish in crocketed pinnacles.  At each corner rises a thin, false turret decorated with narrow dummy lancets and finishing in a crocketed finial higher than those on the pilasters. The floors are defined by string courses at the levels of the window-sills, and the wall-head is topped by a pierced parapet designed to give emphasis to the central portion of the facade.  

The main entrance was placed centrally on the first floor and was approached by a broad flight of steps.  The doorway has a four-centred arch above a transom, and is set within an elaborately moulded recess of the same shape. On either side are mullioned windows with a transom and a square hood-mould. On the floor above, the central window contains three round-headed lights, and there is a narrow round-headed light in each of the pilasters.  To the right and left there are square-headed two- light windows.

The east facade was generally similar but simpler having the same false turrets at the corners, the same advanced central portion, although without pilasters, and the same string courses and parapet. There are three square-headed windows of two lights on each floor, symmetrically spaced.

Illus 6: 1862 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).

The grounds were well-wooded and an elliptical carriage drive delivered visitors to the front door.  To the west of this was an orchard.  The plain stable block lay to the north-east with the walled garden beyond.  To the north-west was a rectangular structure which probably functioned as a water tank.  To the north of the enclosures was a rectangular doocot – its size and shape suggesting that it was of the 17th century lectern type.  A lodge stood on the approach from the west.

Despite having such a large modern mansion James Bruce spent much of his time in Edinburgh and in 1855 sold the house and estate to William Dawson, the manager of the Carron Company.  Like Bruce he had property elsewhere and was styled “of Gairdoch and Powfoulis.”  On 27 January 1867 his only son, William Dawson junior, died at his father’s house of Kirn, Dunoon, Argyleshire, aged only 24.  William Dawson senior and his wife continued to live at Blacktoun House at Carron and Powfoulis was occupied by his daughters.  He devoted his time to the ironworks and its management and took little part in public life.  He died on 8 April 1874 at Carron, aged 79.  Dawson was a very rich man and despite a financial scandal his two daughters inherited a vast fortune.

Ann Dawson, the eldest daughter was the main beneficiary, though ample provision was made for her sister, Dinah Margaret Dawson.  Ann married Thomas Brodie in 1876 who then took the name of Dawson Brodie.  His father had a law firm in Edinburgh, which Thomas eventually took over.  The couple fully engaged with the local community and made a great contribution to the area.  The charitable gifts were extensive and often given without any form of publicity.  They were liberal subscribers to the Bainsford Poors Coal Fund.  A park was gifted to the public at Carronshore.  They took a deep interest in the workmen employed at Carron Iron Works, and it was chiefly due to their liberality that many of the old employees were provided with pensions.  Much support was given to the emerging burgh of Grangemouth.  In 1883 the Brodies gave £200 towards the new town hall there and Miss Dawson a further £100.  This was augmented by further donations as the work progressed.  Likewise they subscribed to the Victoria Public Library.  Ann was particularly interested in the work of missionaries in Carron, Larbert and Carronshore.  

Thomas Dawson Brodie was a liberal supporter of the Eastern District Agricultural Association and gave subscriptions and special prizes to it.  For a good many years he attended its gatherings, particularly its Christmas show, as chairman.  Some of the annual shows were held at Powfoulis.  For a number of years he took a keen interest in the home farm of Powfoulis and specially the breeding stock.  He was the Honorary President of the Bainsford Bowling Club, and gave the club a green, and subscribed to the fund for the erection of a new clubhouse.  He was a member of the Stenhouse and Carron Curling Club, and gave that club a medal to be played for annually.  Thomas also manifested a deep interest in the Carron Science and Art classes, in the local company of volunteers, and the Carron Brass Band, to which he presented a complete set of instruments.  He was knighted and received a baronetcy.

Work continued on improving the estate.  In 1878 the sea embankment at Powfoulis was extensively repaired.  The two sisters were very enthusiastic gardeners and the floral displays and greenhouses at Powfoulis were much enhanced, as were those at Carron House which they now owned.  In 1877 the head gardener from Powfoulis, Alexander Paxton, moved to Carron House to rebuild the walled garden there.

The grounds of Powfoulis were made available to worthy groups for picnics and galas.  These included such societies as the Good Templars, and Star of Peace, (juvenile lodge), and church schools from Airth, Larbert, Grangemouth and Carronshore.  The latter groups might number over 300 children and teachers.  Headed by brass bands they would proceed to the grounds in carts or wagons loaned by local farmers and businessmen.  By the end of the century such gatherings were more focused on the Dovecote Park at Carron House where swings and shelters were erected for them.

The entries for the 1881 census show that the owners were not in residence at the time.

ForenamesSurnameRelationStatusAgeOccupationWhere Born
AgnesRAEServantunmarried37General ServantSlitehall, Berwick
JaneDUNNServantunmarried18General ServantDenny
Powfoulis House
ForenamesSurnameRelationStatusAgeOccupationWhere Born
GeorgeSMITHHeadMarried36Gardeners LabourerAirth
ElizabethSMITHWifeMarried31New Monkland, Lanark
WilliamSMITHSon10ScholarNew Monkland, Lanark
GeorgeSMITHSon5 mAirth
Powfoulis Offices
ForenamesSurnameRelationStatusAgeOccupationWhere Born
William F.RUSSELLHeadMarried36GardenerGlasgow
Powfoulis Lodge

Illus 7: The Doocot Tower at the Coachman’s House, looking north-east.

In February 1890 the dovecote at Powfoulis was the centre of attention as three labourers from Falkirk paid it a visit late one night.  They blocked up the exits so that the pigeons could not escape and then broke into the building.  Using nets they captured over fourteen birds and then made their way home.  Unfortunately for them they were spotted on the deserted road near Skinflats by two policemen doing their night rounds and the live birds were seen flying off as they approached.  The birds were taken live so that they could be used for shooting. 

It may have been as a result of this incident that a new doocot was built on a two-storey extension to the coachman’s house and the old one demolished.  The replacement was in the Scottish Baronial style.  A tall corbelled tower with a candle-snuffer top is attached to the southern corner of the crow-stepped gable.  Two sets of pigeon holes are set at first and second floor levels on the west and south sides consecutively.

It may have been as a result of this incident that a new doocot was built on a two-storey extension to the coachman’s house and the old one demolished.  The replacement was in the Scottish Baronial style.  A tall corbelled tower with a candle-snuffer top is attached to the southern corner of the crow-stepped gable.  Two sets of pigeon holes are set at first and second floor levels on the west and south sides consecutively.

Illus 8: The Water Tower at Powfoulis House looking north.

The old water tower had already been replaced with a square brick structure with a slated ogee roof.  It had an arched entrance door on the ground floor and small circular openings on the upper floor.  In 1894 the Falkirk & Larbert Water Trust agreed to supply Stenhouse and Powfoulis with water, but the proprietors of each had to pay for the pipes.

The grass parks around Powfoulis House were let each year for grazing and brought in additional income.  There were four main fields, their sizes being:

1. Field, Mains of Powfoulis25 acres3 rds1 pls
2. Field south of Mansion House35026 ¾
3. Field west of Mains of Powfoulis34322
4. Field on Mains of Powfoulis1801

William Innes was employed as the land steward.

The main income of the family was derived from the Carron Company in which they were the main share holders. Besides owning Gairdoch and Powfoulis in Stirlingshire, Sir Thomas Dawson Brodie had two estates – Idvies and Coulmony in the counties of Forfar and Nairn. He was also head of the legal firm of John Clerk Brodie & Sons WS.

Illus 9: Ordnance Survey Map of 1897 (National Library of Scotland).

Sir Thomas Dawson Brodie Baronet of Gairdoch and Idvies died at Idvies House on 6 September 1896 aged 63 and the baronetcy died with him. His widow and sister-in-law continued to live at Powfoulis. Lady Dawson Brodie spent much of her later years in Nairn and then Edinburgh. She was very fond of flowers and when in the Falkirk area much of her time was occupied in her fine gardens at Powfoulis and Carron House. The immense quantity of flowers grown there were at her instance mainly devoted to some of the larger national hospitals and infirmaries where they brightened up many a sick room. She had been responsible for erecting a cross-shaped greenhouse on the north side of the garden in front of Powfoulis House in the 1880s.

Dinah Dawson took on the running of Powfoulis House. She too was keen on flowers, particularly carnations and orchids. At Powfoulis she had one of the largest displays of carnations in any private garden in the country. There were over 1000 plants of numerous varieties grown by James Ewart, the head gardener. He was an expert in this branch and promoted the autumn planting as opposed to spring planting of carnations. In 1899 John Forbes of Buccleuch Nurseries near Hawick produced a new variety which he named “James Ewart” after the gardener at Powfoulis. It was a fine flowerer – white, pencilled scarlet – and did not burst its calyx. The following year Forbes created another carnation which he named “Miss Dawson.” It was white, heavily flaked rose scarlet, and intensely clove-scented. That year James Dalgieish, foreman gardener under James Ewart, was promoted to the position of head gardener at Lady Brodie’s residence at Firthview, Nairn. Ewart was a stalwart of local horticultural shows and often judged entries. He also gave talks on the subject and was well respected. His son took a degree at Glasgow University. A Falkirk Herald reporter wrote of Dinah Dawson that “Her gardens at Powfoulis and Carron House were to her a source of continual pleasure, and in them she spent a great deal of her leisure time. She was passionately fond of flowers, particularly orchids and spring flowers. To her estate workers, many of whom have been in her service for a long period, she was most kind and considerate, and delighted in personally chatting with them, and inquiring after the welfare of their families.”

Like her sister and brother-in-law, Dinah was a generous patron. She contributed finances and time to the Falkirk Infirmary, the Falkirk Town Mission and the Falkirk Victoria Memorial Nursing Association. She had built a mission hall at West Carron and maintained the missionary there as well as a Bible woman in Carronshore. She aided the Howe Mission in Stenhousemuir and the Kinnaird Mission. She not only sold the land for the “William Dawson Park” in Bainsford at a very low price to Falkirk Council but she paid for the gates and railing for it. The park was named in memory of her father.

Around the year 1901 Dinah Dawson decided to enlarge Powfoulis House. This allowed her to modernise the interior and to introduce water closets – though it was rather a large house for one person! New wings were sympathetically added to the north and south and a ramped access road provided to the main door now placed inside a heavy wood and glass porch. The wings were slightly lower than the central block and their fronts were set a little back from it. The parapets had blind arcading complimenting that on the main section and ended in corbelled and Gothic-panelled corner turrets. They hid the low-pitched piended roofs. On the main west façade the new end bays had triple-light windows on the first and second floors, the lower ones being much taller and hood-moulded.

Illus 10: Powfoulis House looking east, c1910.
Illus 11: Powfoulis House, 2010.

The elevated carriage sweep is essentially a barrel-vaulted bridge which hides most of the lower floor of the house.  It is revetted with ashlar walls, and its central stretch is supported on the west by two splayed buttresses which correspond with the advanced central portion of the house-front.  Its parapets are also pierced with pointed openings and end in short, stout piers which are decorated, like the false turrets on the house, with dummy lancets.  Beneath are three cellars, entered from the basement.  The central cellar is lighted by a small pointed opening set between the buttresses.

Illus 13: Powfoulis House looking north-west.

Two unequal-sized two storey canted bay windows were inserted into the east façade. The extensions hid the original north and south facades. The new south façade was given a projecting five-light window on the first floor to light the drawing room, its roof corbelled. Below was a central door and above an advanced chimney breast. The north façade was plainer, with two square-headed windows.

The wooden entrance porch has a curved hood under a triangular pediment. The windows are fitted with leaded glass and the glass panelled doors slide. It gives access to a plaster vaulted entrance hall with three bays, its arches springing from corbels modelled in smiling and grimacing human faces. Two doors open on either side of the hall. That on the front right leads to the drawing room in the south extension which has an elaborate frieze and beamed ceiling, its panels decorated with thistles and acorns in relief. A Doric columned chimneypiece dominates the room. The door at the back left of the hall leads to the old dining room which had a rounded end. The doors and panelling here reproduce late Gothic ornament and compliment the black marble chimneypiece. At the back of the hall, opposite the porch, is the main stair. Its lower flight is geometric and the upper one scale-and-platt. A service stair descends to the ground floor. James K Millar executed the plaster and slater work on the new extensions and it is likely that A & W Black were the architects.

Lady Dawson Brodie of Gairdoch and Powfoulis died on 8 February 1903 at 9 Ainslie Place, Edinburgh. She left a personal estate worth £154,068. Her trust disposition made many bequests ranging from the gift of a picture by Eckford Lauder entitled “Baillie MacWheeble at Breakfast” to the National Gallery to sums of money to her staff. William Innes, land steward, received £200; Margaret Stronach, kitchenmaid, £50; Jane Hay, cook, an annuity of £30; Elizabeth Graham, her maid, £100; Jessie Leith, her housemaid, £30; Mary Jamieson, Falkirk, formerly cook at Powfoulis, £100. Her whole shares in the Carron Company went to charitable institutions.

Her sister, Dinah Dawson, carried on at Powfoulis which she had in liferent. She continued to help local charities and care for her garden. In March 1906 she went to the nearby shore where a stranded whale had been found. It had been spotted by a number of boys out for a Saturday walk along the coast and measured fully ten feet in length. Miss Dinah Margaret Dawson of Powfoulis died 15 May 1910 aged 62. More substantial bequests followed including £1,500 for the congregation of Carronshore Church and £600 towards a larger church hall at Bainsford UF Church.

Her death brought to an end the occupation of Powfoulis House by the Dawson family. Her many personal effects were sold off by her trustees to bolster the funds of the Dawson Trust. They included the furniture and fittings of the house:

The very superior and elegant furniture, handsome bedroom suites, cabinets, Chippendale and Sheraton furniture, bracket and eight-day clocks, pianoforte, bronzes, statuary, Dresden, Berlin, Sevres and Oriental china, finely cut crystal, & c. Removed from POWFOULIS HOUSE, Stirlingshire, including mahogany inlaid sideboard, telescope dining table, luxurious chesterfield and other settees and easy chairs, elegant Kingwood, ormolu, and inlaid writing and occasional tables; handsome Italian ebony and mahogany hall cabinets, blanket chests, rich-toned grand pianoforte by Erard, elegant occasional chairs, handsome fire-screens, satinwood, jewel, Pembroke, tray, and choice occasional tables; lamp stand, handsome chiming bracket and eight-day clocks, mahogany cabinet and dwarf bookcase, finely sculptured marble busts and statues, bronze statuettes of “Bruce,” handsome bronzes, marquetrie and ash inlaid bedroom suites, superior wardrobes, handsome mahogany inlaid, brass, French, and Italian bedsteads, with excellent bedding; superior pedestal and other toilet tables, washstands, bedsides, sets toilet ware and other bedroom requisites, valuable Oriental vases and plaques, rare Dresden, Berlin, and Sevres groups and figures and other decorative china; secretaire and mahogany inlaid chest drawers, neat bureaus, handsome cheval mirrors, rosewood Davenport, superior couches, finely cut crystal, dinner, tea, and desert services; handsome ormolu candelabra, powerful field glasses, very superior lit and dressing bags and suit cases, excellent travelling rugs, driving aprons, lawn bowls, pair curling stones, Axminster carpets, handsome curtains, and other miscellaneous property…”

(Scotsman 3 December 1910, 15).

Not to mention the extensive wine and spirit cellar and the library collection of books (Scotsman 7 January 1911, Scotsman 11 October 1911). There was also a collection of vehicles:

“various carriages, & c, removed from Powfoulis House, Stirlingshire. Which were the property of the late Miss Dawson of Gairdoch and Powfoulis, including Landau, rubber tyred, complete; 3 Broughams, complete, in splendid order; Victoria, roofed double bus, 4-wheeled dogcart, 2-wheeled dogcart, waggonette, pony carriage, 7 sets harness, riding saddles, bridles, & c.”

(Scotsman 7 April 1914, 12).

There was also the silverware, ornaments and jewellery:

The choice valuables, diamond jewellery, rare decorative and ornamental objects removed from POWFOULIS HOUSE, Stirlingshire.
The SOLID SILVER included magnificent equestrian groups, “Hunting,” elegant loving and double-handled cups, Monteiths, bowls, wine coolers, gilt dessert service (thirteen pieces), handsome dinner set (eight pieces), epergnes, comports, and fruit dishes with rich cut crystal dishes; candelabra, candlesticks, inkstands, choice caskets and tazzi; tea and coffee sets, teapots, chocolate pots, coffee trays, salvers, breakfast dishes, & c, & c.
PLATED ARTICLES – Tea and coffee sets, hot-water kettles, breakfast, vegetable, and soufflé dishes, dish covers, coffee trays, salvers, epergnes, cake baskets, wine slides, liquer and pickle rrames, candelabra, table and chamber candlesticks, snuffer trays and snuffers, lamps, cigar lighters, the table requisites, cutlery, & c.
JEWELLERY, WATCHES, & c – Superb diamond necklace, choice diamond star pendant, lustrous diamond crescent and flower spray brooches, very choice diamond and pearl pendant, diamond and carbuncle bracelet, diamond, pearl, sapphire, and other rings in gipsy, half-loop, and various settings; very choice pearl pendants and brooches, unset pearls, bracelets, brooches, necklets, lockets set with diamonds and a variety of precious stones, & c. & c.
BRONZES, IVORIES, CHINA, & c – Very choice bronze statuettes, “The Crouching Venus,” group, “Una and the Lion,” figures, deities, vases, candelabra, & c; miniature inlaid cabinets, pebble and brass inlaid caskets, ivory powder flask, tuck, distaff, graters, rosaries, figure, busts, plaques, wood carvings in tankard, groups, and boxes, porcelain vases, bowls, figures, tea sets and plates, & c.
MINIATURES, JADE, CURIOS, & c – Small collection of fine miniature portraits on ivory, Chinese jade bowl, carved panel, and flowers on stands, rock crystal fish and inkbottle, agate dishes, tortoiseshell boxes, inlaid gold and enamel boxes, crucifix, curios, bric-a-brac, & c.
ANTIQUE FURNITURE, CABINETS, & c – Italian tortoiseshell ebony and ivory inlaid cabinets, ebony miniature cabinet’ inlaid carved oak, and other chests, bureau and cabinet, writing table, corner cupboard, card, work, gilt and nest tables; spinning wheels, commodes, miniature showcase, oak linen presser, music stand, and other valuable property.”

(Scotsman 11 February 1911, 19).

Not to mention the extensive wine and spirit cellar and the library collection of books (Scotsman 7 January 1911, Scotsman 11 October 1911).  There was also a collection of vehicles:

“various carriages, & c, removed from Powfoulis House, Stirlingshire. Which were the property of the late Miss Dawson of Gairdoch and Powfoulis, including Landau, rubber tyred, complete; 3 Broughams, complete, in splendid order; Victoria, roofed double bus, 4-wheeled dogcart, 2-wheeled dogcart, waggonette, pony carriage, 7 sets harness, riding saddles, bridles, & c.”

(Scotsman 7 April 1914, 12).

The house then stood empty for several years. The gardeners continued to maintain the grounds and groups continued to visit them. Some youth groups from Falkirk even camped there.

Illus 14: Ordnance Survey Map of 1915 (National Library of Scotland).

Powfoulis was not untouched by the First World War.  In 1915 Sergeant Ewart, the gardener’s son who had worked hard to get his degree from university, was killed by a bullet wound in the neck in France.

Eventually, in 1925, the trustees agreed to let Powfoulis House to the Church of Scotland for a nominal rent.  It was to be run as a home for the aged by the Social Work Committee with accommodation for up to 50 people.  Several months were spent in making the necessary alterations which presumably included the steel stair for a fire escape on the east front.  It may have been at this time that the three large dormers were inserted behind the parapet.  There was plenty of water but no gas.  Candles being considered unsafe for the new residents, machinery was installed to generate electricity.  This was the first home for the elderly to be run by the Church and had three sections – one for old men, one for old women, and a section consisting of separate rooms for aged couples.  It was agreed that these old couples could bring their own furniture as it was meant to be a home not an institution.  All the residents ate together in the dining room.  Miss McEwan was appointed as matron and some residents were in occupation before the end of the year.

As it was the first venture of its kind for the Church of Scotland and money was scarce it took some time to get going.    A reporter who visited in April 1927 noted that the grounds of Powfoulis House were run down and the interior was sparsely furnished with no pictures on the walls and no carpets.  The library shelves were empty.  At the time Mr and Mrs Black were the superintendent and matron and there were only 20 residents.  The official opening by the Duke of Montrose took place on 11 June.

The Christian community in the area rallied round. Books and items of furniture flowed in, funds were raised by charitable events and many visits ensued. Rev John Fairley of Larbert Parish Church became chair of the local committee and during the winter months an extensive programme of events was arranged each year. This featured numerous church choirs as well as dramatic societies, poetry recitals, musical groups and talks. An annual excursion using motorised vehicles lent for the day by local people also took place. Christmas was always a major event and in 1928 a little over 30 residents sat down to the meal and entertainments, followed by a Christmas service. Religious services were held each and every Sunday; the ministers of the district took turn about in officiating. Most of the residents had some connection with the church as elders or helpers – though this was not said to be a requirement.

The other buildings on the estate were also rented out. The entrance lodge was advertised in 1928 when it contained two apartments with outhouses and three acres of land for poultry.

By Burns’ Night in February 1929 there were just over 40 old folks in the house. This party assembled in the silk panelled drawing room where they were entertained by the Grangemouth Concert Party. There was now at least one event every week. Outdoor activities were encouraged in the summer months and the ground provided ample opportunity for walking. The newly constructed Kincardine Bridge was well worth a visit. The male residents constructed a bowling green behind the house which opened in July 1930. The success of the home encouraged the Church of Scotland to open a second home at Belmont Castle, Perth, in 1931. By then they were called “eventide homes.”

The numbers at Powfoulis never reached the anticipated 50. In 1934 there were 38 old ladies and gentlemen spending the eventide of their lives in the care of the Church. Ten of these were octogenarians and nearly all of the others were over 70. Rev James H Miller of the South Airth Church had taken over from Fairley, assisted by a committee of local ladies. Frank McVicar and his wife had taken over as the superintendent and matron. He was a lay preacher and often conducted the services at the house. He was outgoing and by reaching out to the local community by presenting talks about the eventide home he increased the social interaction there. Garden parties were hosted at Powfoulis. As some of the residents found it difficult to travel Alex MacLachlan of Larbert performed the first cinema entertainment in Powfoulis House in February 1934.

Illus 16: Powfoulis Lodge looking north.

The eventide home must have seemed like a haven from the bustle of the outside world where storm clouds gathered and another war.  A resident of Powfoulis Lodge, Private Thomas Nimmo of the Seaforth Highlanders, was killed in action in July 1944 aged 30 leaving behind a widow.  A war-related death also occurred to a resident of the house.  James Simpson Philip, a retired insurance superintendent aged 77, was knocked down by a military vehicle on the Kincardine Bridge Road in October 1944.  Excitement occurred when a plane from RAF Grangemouth crashed near Powfoulis and the pilot landed with his parachute on the top of some trees near Skinflats.  Initially the locals thought that he must be a German and behaved in a threatening manner until they realised their mistake.

However, Powfoulis House continued to receive the support of the local populace.  It therefore came as quite a shock when in January 1948 it was announced that the eventide home there was to be closed and the staff and residents transferred to Inglewood House in Alloa which had been gifted to the Church of Scotland by Mr and Mrs John Forrester Paton.  Almost as a last gasp Powfoulis House was the venue for a Sunday service broadcast on the radio that September and a few days later, on the 28th, Powfoulis officially closed.  The 35 old people, two of whom have been there for 22 years, were moved along with the McVicars.

Almost immediately Powfoulis House was rented by Scottish Oils.  The firm needed accommodation for American consultants and specialists who were employed in redeveloping the refinery at Grangemouth.  Annie Steedman obtained a position as an assistant organiser at the Powfoulis residential home and Mrs Ferguson was the housekeeper.  After a few years the refinery was finished and the lease ended.  In 1953 Stirling County Council took under consideration the possibility of acquiring Powfoulis House for £4,000 to use as either an old people’s home or a children’s home.  They had just become legally responsible for the latter and had been looking into the provision of the former for some time.  However, the Labour councillors of the time did not like old buildings which they saw as a symbol of the old aristocracy and capitalist system.  They therefore rejected any suggestions of such a usage, even after it was pointed out to them that a new building would cost £40,000. 

The house was put on the market:

“POWFOULIS MANSION HOUSE unfurnished, to Let or for SALE with immediate occupation. The house is a very fine substantial building of two storeys together with attic and basement flats. All in excellent order, surrounded by attractive policy ground and situated between Airth and Bothkennar adjacent to Kincardine Bridge Road.  Accommodation comprises large entrance hall, 5 public rooms, 12 bedrooms with h and c., ample bathroom and kitchen accommodation (modern Carron Cooker), Staff accommodation consists of living room and 4 bedrooms.  Electric light and central heating throughout.  Large garage for approximately 10 cars, and other offices.  For further particulars and permission to view apply Mr Hugh Campbell, Carron House, Carronshore.”

(Falkirk Herald 5 December 1953).

From the following summer the house was to be run as a hotel.  James McAvoy, the hotel keeper, for the factors, John C Brodie & Sons. WS, Edinburgh, was granted a drinks licence in October so that he could cater for the emerging tourist trade.   The following month the local branch of the Royal College of Midwives held a retirement dinner in the Powfoulis Hotel and the site was launched as a party venue:

“ POWFOULIS HOTEL BOTHKENNAR STIRLINGSHIRE NEAR KINCARDINE BRIDGE. SOUTH. Telephone: AIRTH 267 FULLY LICENSED. SEVEN DAYS. 20 Bedrooms (centrally heated), hot and cold. Accommodation available. LUNCHES, DINNERS AND TEAS SERVED. Tables can be reserved. WEDDINGS AND PARTIES CATERED FOR.  Apply to Proprietrix.”

(Falkirk Herald 11 December 1954).

In 1972 the hotel changed hands within the family and was run by Jack Barrie and his wife Patricia who changed the name to the “Powfoulis Manor Hotel”.  A detached two-storey block of hotel bedrooms was built to the north-east to augment the accommodation.  This is architecturally typical of the period, which was not a good one for harmonising new buildings to their surrounds.  The Barries ran it until 1997 when Ann and Paul were brought into partnership and currently run the hotel.

The chain of ownership can be summarised as follows:

1512Andrew Bruce
1570Archibald Bruce (son)
1603James Bruce (son)
1639Archibald Bruce (son)
1644James Bruce (son) – killed at Battle of Dunbar.
1650James Bruce (son)
1691James Bruce (son)
1747Alexander Bruce (son)
1789?Alexander Bruce (son?)
1814James Bruce (nephew)
1855William Dawson (purchase)
1874Ann Dawson (daughter) married in 1876 to Thomas D Brodie who died 1896
1903Dinah Margaret Dawson (sister – in liferent)
1910Dawson Trustees
Church of Scotland (1925-1953)
1954JC Brodie & Sons
James McAvey (1954-1972)
Jack & Patricia Barrie (1972-1997)
Anne & Paul Barrie (1997-)

Sites and Monuments Records

Powfoulis HouseSMR 199NS 9180 8564
Powfoulis House DoocotSMR 49NS 9168 8570
Powfoulis Stables DoocotSMR 50NS 9184 8570
Carron HouseSMR 256NS 8974 8294
Powfoulis House Walled GardenSMR 896NS 919 857
Powfoulis LodgeSMR 1445NS 9156 8567
Powfoulis House dormer pedimentSMR 1446NS 9184 8571


Armstrong, W.B.1892The Bruces of Airth and their Cadets.
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.
Gifford, J. & Walker, F.A2002The Buildings of Scotland: Stirling and Central Scotland.
Lothian, J.1862The Banks of the Forth: a Descriptive and Historical Sketch
RCAHMS1963Stirlingshire: An inventory of the ancient monuments.
Reid, J.1999‘The Lands and Baronies of the Parish of Airth.’ Calatria 13, 47-80.
RHP1541Dated 1855
Dalrymple, H.1792Decisions of the Court of Session, from M,DC,XCVIII, to M,DCC,XVIII – Bruce of Powfoulis against Rashiehill, Newmiln and the lady Kinnaird.
Bell, R1794Cases Decided in the Court of Session: From November 1790 to July 1792 – James Bruce of Kinnaird Esq, pursuer, against James Bruce of Powfoulis Esq and James Bow, tenant of Powfoulis, defender

G. B. Bailey (2020)