Merchiston Hall

Illus 1: Grassam’s 1817 Map (National Library of Scotland).

It took quite some time to find a buyer for Mungal House but on 13 November 1782 Michael Ramsay and the remaining trustees sold it to Hon Captain Charles Napier of His Majesty’s Navy.  It was described thus in the sasine:

 “All and Whole the Mansion house of Mungal now called Merchistonhall with the offices, houses, garden, greens and planting contiguous thereto, with the two inclosures to the east and north thereof called the Coatland and Waterfurrs; And also the three inclosures  on the west of the foresaid two inclosures called Crofthead, Stephens Croft and Goosedubs, including the little Cott house (afterwards converted into two houses) and yard thereto belonging acquired by us the Trustees of the said deceased Michael Ramsay from Agnes Muirhead and her husband by disposition dated the fourteenth day of March seventeen hundred and seventy five; together with the inclosure immediately upon the west of the garden of Mungal, called the Westpark; all lying contiguous within the barony of Kerse, parish of Falkirk and shire of Stirling, consisting of fifty nine acres and twenty two falls of ground or thereby and bounded as follows, vizt by the lands of Alexander Sword portioner of Mungal, and the house, yards and lands belonging to the said Michael Ramsay and possest by William Leishman and James Dougllas, and the rope work possessed by George McTaggart on the east; by part of the lands belonging to the York Building Company, the Earl of Erroll, William Whyte and Robert Brown and the north bank of the canal from the Forth to Clyde on the south; by an inclosure belonging to the said Alexander Sword, and the burn or rivulet which runs into Mungal mill dam on the southwest and west; and by a hedge hereby declared mutual dividing the lands hereby disponed from the other lands belonging to the said Michael Ramsay, and the road leading  from the house of Mungal by the house of the said Alexander Sword to the high road leading from Falkirk to Carron on the north; with houses, biggings, yards, parts, pendicles, annexes, connexes, dependencies, tenants and whole pertinent thereof; together with the tiends, parsonage and vicarage  of the lands and others hereby disponed.  As ALSO All and Whole that piece of ground lying upon the south side of the said Canal presently possest by James Williamson bleacher at Burnside consisting of one acre two roods and eleven falls of ground or thereby bounded upon the north, east and west parts by the banks of the Canal, and on the south by the lands of Parkhouse belonging to Thomas Smith, and by the grounds belonging to John Meek surgeon in Falkirk, Alexander Nimmo tenant in Kills. John Livingstone of Parkhall, and John Horne heel maker in Falkirk…”

(Falkirk Archives a1807.37)

That same year, using the money from the sale, Michael Ramsay purchased land from Colonel Adam Livingstone of Bantaskine to the south of Mungalend for his brother, Andrew, who then built Kersehill House.  The furniture at Mungal House was sold before its new owner took over:

“Sale of Household Furniture, at Mungal House, near Falkirk, by public roup, on Tuesday the fifth day of April 1783.  A great quantity of kitchen furniture, two good kitchen grates, cylinder oven, oven, boiling table, and a dresser of two-inch plaintree plank, with many conveniences.  Also, mounted beds, feather beds, settee bed, and settee chair; blankets, mattresses, carpets, napery, mahogany tables, a handsome set of mahogany joining tables; sets of chairs, drawers, looking glasses; two eight-day clocks; steel and Carron grates; with many other articles, such as China table furniture, & c.

The roup will begin at ten o’clock precisely, and continue till all are sold off.

NB. As Mungal House lies close upon the Canal, strangers will get any thing carried by water with the greatest safety.”

(Caledonian Mercury 22 March 1783, 4).

Captain the Hon. Charles Napier (1730-1807) had a career in the Royal Navy.  He had become a lieutenant in 1754, master and commander in 1758, and post-captain in 1762.  He was the brother of Francis Napier of Westquarter.  He had several children, in order of birth these were Francis, Gabriel, Charles, Thomas, Agnes, Henrietta, Agnes Dundas and Christian.  Robert Russell of Fife was appointed as the tutor for the Napier family at Merchiston Hall, and lived there for four years.  While tutor there he met many distinguished men – amongst others, James Bruce of Kinnaird, the Abyssinian traveller, whom he spoke of as a very tall, handsome, well-built man, but distant and reserved.  He also met Patrick Miller of Dalswinton, whose share in the development of steam navigation is well known.  The experiments on the Forth and Clyde Canal with Symington’s boat were witnessed by Russell.  On 18 June 1788, he was licensed to preach the gospel by the Presbytery of Linlithgow and on 5 February 1790 he was presented by Francis, Lord Napier, to the church and parish of Ettrick, this appointment being no doubt secured for him through the influence of the Hon. Captain Napier of Merchiston, uncle of Francis, Lord Napier. Before leaving Merchiston Hall for his charge in Ettrick, Russell received many tokens of goodwill from the Napiers, including a handsome well-bred horse and a set of saddle-bags, then essential for gentlemen travelling with dress-clothes or luggage of any kind (Love 1908).  His place as tutor in Merchiston Hall was taken by William McCall.  McColl helped Mrs Napier with the running of the estate and in 1803 became the minister for Muiravonside Parish, again probably through the influence of the Napier family.  Charles Napier jnr was subsequently sent to the school of John Shaw, land surveyor, in Falkirk, where he was taught, among other subjects, navigation (Love 1928).

The Falkirk Parish register has the following entry under the date of baptism, 11 March 1786:

Charles Napier, lawful son of the Hon. Captain Charles Napier and Mrs Christian Hamilton. Born 6th March curt.” 

He spent the first seven years or so of his life at Merchiston Hall in Falkirk and in a dazzling career in the Royal Navy attained the rank of admiral – and with it became one of the most famous people of his generation.  At a dinner held at Falkirk in his honour he gave a speech in which he said :

It can easily be supposed, after so long an absence, that the first place I would visit in coming to this part of the country, would be my paternal roof; and there, owing to the kindness of Miss Liston, I was allowed to go through every corner of Merchiston House.  There I saw the nursery where I was brought up, and the dark closet where my good old nurse used to put me when I was an unruly and obstreperous boy.  Going a little height up, I came to the school, where many a “palmy” I received from my teacher – who, good honest man, had only one idea of teaching, and that was to thrash it well into you.  Well, I daresay the discipline I went through under him, and also the discipline under your neighbour, Sir Thomas Livingstone – under whom I had the honour to serve – did me a great deal of good in my youth.  I has also the honour to serve under the uncle of Lord Zetland, Admiral Sir George Dundas – one of the best of officers, and one of the worthiest men in the British Navy…

(Falkirk Herald 6 November 1851, 4).

Given the size of the family it is probable that Charles Napier added the wing on to the south of the existing house.  This can be seen on the right on the only surviving photograph of the house.  Although of two storeys it did not have a garret and was therefore lower in height than the old block.  It projected slightly ahead of the main façade of the old building and although it too had a plain string course, the windows were more closely spaced and the roof was hipped, making a marked contrast.  The design suggests that a matching north wing was anticipated, but never built.

It is often stated that Napier’s logarithms were invented at Merchiston House in Falkirk.  They were indeed invented by John Napier at Merchiston – but that was shortly before 1617 and it was the Merchiston in Edinburgh.

Captain Charles Napier died 19 December 1807.  He had already established a Trust consisting of his widow, Hon Francis Lord Napier, John Hamilton Dundas of Duddingston, and Harry Davidson WS.  After the death of his widow in 1814 the remaining trustees continued to look after the estate.  The house and lands were leased:

“To be let for such a number of years as may be agreed on, from Martinmas next 1826, the following FARMS situated in the parishes of Falkirk:

Lot 1: The LANDS of MERCHISTONHALL, consisting of about 67 acres Scotch measure, all inclosed and subdivided with hedge and stone dykes.

2.  The LANDS of MUNGALL, consisting of about 51 acres Scots measure, subdivided and inclosed with hedges. 

As these two los lie contiguous, they will be let either together or separately.  The whole lands are capable of producing any species of crop and superior pasture, and as they are in the immediate vicinity of Falkirk, Bainsford and Carron, a ready market is afforded for the produce.

3.  A SMALL FIELD at GRAHAMSTON consisting of about four acres Scots measure, well inclosed, and capable of bearing any species of crop.

The lands of Mungall and Merchistonhall, and the field at Grahamston, will be shown by John Campbell, gardener at Merchistonhall…”

(Caledonian Mercury 1 April 1826, 1).

The Trustees of Charles Napier, with consent of Charles Napier Esq Captain in the Royal Navy his eldest son, sold Merchiston to Joseph Stainton for £11,000 on 25 June 1815 and this was registered on 3 May 1817, (Falkirk Archives a1807.40).

Stainton lived at Mungal Cottage and Merchiston Hall was let.  One of the tenants was Rev David Liston (1799-1881) who became Professor of Hebrew and Oriental Languages in the University of Edinburgh.  It was whilst he was there that his father, Rev Henry Liston the minister for Ecclesmachan in Linlithgowshire, died at Merchiston Hall on 4 February 1836.  Henry Liston had been a writer on music and had invented the ‘Eucharmonic’ organ.  On a happier note David Liston got married to Esther Wallace, the daughter of Thomas Liston writer in Falkirk, at Merchiston Hall on 1 December 1852.  David’s brother, Robert Liston (1794-1847), was the first professor of Clinical Surgery at University College Hospital in London and performed the first public operation using a modern anaesthetic in Europe.  It was Esther Liston who showed Admiral Napier around on his nostalgic visit in 1851.

Merchiston Hall was too large for the couple and so they decided to sublet part of it.  The new tenant could have either the main block or the south wing:

“VILLA TO BE LET.  The Wing of MERCHISTON HALL, or the principal MANSION HOUSE, as may be arranged. Apply to Mr LISTON, the principal tenant, who wishes to Let part of the House for the sake of agreeable neighbourhood.” (Falkirk Herald 10 February 1853).

William McLean evidently took up the situation, for on 29 November 1870 his wife gave birth to a son there.  David Liston died on 26 January 1881 and was buried in the Grange Cemetery in Edinburgh, where he was joined by his wife in 1896.  David Macfarlane seems to have been the sole occupant when the Merchiston Hall, the large garden, and three acres of the grounds were again advertised to let in January 1874.  The rental was put at £46 10s per annum.  Macfarlane was in financial trouble and his possessions were sequestered the following year.  The next family known to have rented the house was the Shaws.  They were followed by the Pattersons and Hendersons.

1881 Census

AlexanderPATTERSONHeadM53Free Church ministerInverness
AnnPATTERSONWifeM53ministers wifeKinross, Elgin
AnniePATTERSONDaughterU20minister’s daughterKinross, Elgin
MaryMCBEATHServantU37General domestic servantNew Pitsligo, Aberdeen
Merchiston Hall
JamesHENDERSONHeadM30iron moulderFalkirk
IsabellaHENDERSONWifeM30iron moulder’s wifeBurntisland, Fife
James TurnerHENDERSONSon6mGrahamston
HelenPRENTICEHeadW37Outdoor workerLinlithgow
Gardener’s Cottage

Joseph Stainton had died in 1825 and eventually the property fell to his granddaughter, Josephine Gillespie Stainton (see below).  She now lived at Bitteswell House, Lutterworth, in Leicestershire and decided to sell her Scottish holdings:

“STIRLINGSHIRE. FOR SALE, BY PRIVATE BARGAIN. THE ADJOINING ESTATES OF MERCHISTONHALL and MUNGALL, lying adjacent to the town of Falkirk, Extending to 168 Acres or thereby. Let in one Arable Farm on a 19 years’ lease, expiring at Martinmas 1869, with the Mansion-House and others, at a yearly rent of £446 10s.  Public burdens, £20.  The whole lands are of excellent quality, and bear all kinds of crops.  Minerals are wrought on the immediately adjoining lands, and the Estate, lying in the vicinity of Grahamston and Falkirk, is valuable for feuing purposes…”

(Glasgow Herald 18 June 1887).

In 1889 the whole Stainton estate was finally sold to James Aitken of Darroch for the low sum of £7,000 (Falkirk Archives a1807.99).  It was a good investment and before long Aitken was busy feuing land off:

“Ground to feu on Estate of Merchiston and Mungal, for dwelling houses, at rates varying from £14 to £20 per acre… apply to Russel & Aitken.”

(Falkirk Herald 7 February 1891, 1).

The first to be built upon was Mungalhead Road where the Falkirk Building Society erected a series of double cottages along the north side and created Philip Street and Gibsongray Street to the south.  A water pipe laid along Mungalhead Road in 1895 was extended to serve Merchiston Villa.

Merchiston Hall was in a poor condition and by 1900 was standing empty.  In 1901 two apprentice moulders were convicted of stealing lead from the roof in broad day light (Falkirk Herald 26 January 1901).  Three years later 84ft of lead ridging was stripped off the roof along with 17ft of lead gutter.  The value of the lead was put at £3 10s but it would have cost far more than that to put it back.  The thief’s legal representative said that the house was going to ruin and that his client should be dealt with leniently – the judge did not see it that way (Falkirk Herald 10 December 1904).

Illus 2: St Mungo’s High School looking north across the Forth and Clyde Canal with the tall boundary wall for Mungal House beside the towpath, 2021.

The year in which Merchiston Hall, formerly Mungal House, was demolished is uncertain.  It must have been around 1912.  The walled garden and the park around the demolished house remained vacant until the construction of St Mungo’s High School in 1960.   The janitor’s house occupied the site of the former mansion.  Today the street names are redolent with the places that composed the historic estate – from the 1920s we have Napier Crescent and Napier Place, Merchiston Avenue and Merchiston Gardens; the 1990s brought Longdales Road and Longdale Avenue; 2000s saw Cotland Way and Cotland Avenue, Brownieknoe Place (presumably a corruption of Broomyknow), Goosedubs Place, Waterfurs Drive and Swords Way.  All are geographically displaced from their namesakes – but they are reminders.  There is no “Lethandy.”  Mungal Cottage is still in existence.

Owners of Old Mungal (tenants in bold)

1712David Ramsay    c1733
1735Michael Ramsay (son)      1775
1775Michael Ramsay (nephew)1782
1782Charles Napier (purchase)1807
1815Joseph Stainton (purchase)1825
1830sDavid Liston
1853David Liston & William McLean
1881Alexander Paterson & James Henderson
1844Joseph Stainton (son)         1845
1850Josephine Gillespie Stainton (daughter)1859
1889James Aitken (purchase)  

G.B. Bailey, 2023