The demise of many of the old feudal baronies in the eighteenth century allowed a multiplicity of small estates to arise from their ashes. The Barony of Dalderse was broken up in the 1770s. The northern part, including the mill and farm of Dalderse, went to Charles Gascoigne and was adjoined to his Abbotshaugh estate. Along the western fringe a number of smaller parcels of land were used as the seats for “country homes” and the 1780s saw the development of mansions at Forganhall, Kersehill and Thornhill.
By 1782 William Greig from Inverkeithing had a modest house at Thornhill which stood on the eastern side of the road now called Thornhill Road near to its northern end. It was only half a mile north-east of Falkirk town centre. It is likely to have been of a similar style to that at nearby Kershill at that time – a two storey Georgian house with a central doorway and a window on either side and three windows on the upper floor. The house was demolished in the 1850s when a villa was constructed 30yds to the north. The name “Thornhill” was introduced into the area by William Greig and seems to have been a family name. It is notable that his eldest son, who was born in 1778 and died whilst still young, was named Charles Thornhill Greig. William Greig’s father was a shipmaster and he himself made his money in the service of the Honourable East India Company.
On settling at Thornhill he figured prominently in the business of the Heritors and Road Trustees. In 1777 he had married Martha Swinton, the daughter of Andrew Swinton, merchant in Inverkeithing. When his father-in-law died in 1796 William Greig became his trustee. William and Martha’s second son, Sebastian Holford Greig, also worked in the Honourable East India Company, but died a little before his father in 1839. William Greig died on 26 August 1839 and Sebastian’s son, also called William, was served as heir.
However, William Greig senior had already disposed of the house and lands of Thornhill in 1800 to George McCallum, a retired naval surgeon. He had had a memorable service in the Navy, being present at Lord Howe’s great victory over the French Fleet on the Glorious 1st June 1794, for which he received a clasp and medal. He bought Thornhill shortly after his retirement from the Navy. In the year that he acquired Thornhill be married his cousin, Margaret, daughter of Lieutenant James Dalgleish RN, second laird of nearby Reddoch. He too took a lively interest in local affairs such as the business of the Heritors, the formation and improvement of the roads in and around Falkirk and served as a Justice of the Peace for Stirlingshire. He was summoned as a juryman in the trial for treason of John Baird at Stirling in 1820, but, being challenged by the prisoner, was not called upon to serve. On his leaving Thornhill in 1821 to settle in Edinburgh, several of the inhabitants of Falkirk presented Surgeon McCallum with an elegant silver snuff-box “in testimony of their esteem.”
The new owner was Alexander Macfarlane, the son of Robert Macfarlane, shipowner, Alloa. Alexander Macfarlane had been the Alloa agent of the Perth Union Bank and then the Commercial Bank of Scotland where he was extensively employed in shipping transactions. For many years after his removal to Falkirk he owned vessels trading to Alloa and other ports. Although he had sasine of the house and lands of Thornhill in 1821, Alexander Macfarlane does not seem to have taken up residence there till 1826. On 16 August 1830 he succeeded Alexander Ramsay and his son (see Kersehill House) as agent for the Falkirk branch of the Bank of Scotland.
At the time of the Macfarlanes’ acquisition of Thornhill it was not in the burgh of Falkirk but, as part of the extension of the burgh in the 1830s, it came within its remit. Long arguments subsequently ensued between the owners of Thornhill and the burgh council about the payment of the taxes. The owners usually pointed out that they were not connected to the water mains and that the street lights stopped well short of the house. The council usually noted that the owner benefited from the use of the facilities within the town and the role of the police in maintaining order. Late payment was therefore the norm.
With a growing family it was decided to build a more modern and larger mansion to the north of the old one. During the years 1851-52 the new edifice slowly rose from the ground. The architect was James Brown of the firm of Brown & Carrick, architects, Glasgow, and the builder was James Law of Falkirk. The house was in a Tudor-Jacobean style similar to Kilns House. There was a prominent use of pointed and stepped moulded gables surmounted with small pillar and ball obelisk finials; square hood-moulded windows; stone corbelled roofs to low projecting elements such as the porch; and tall-shafted chimneys.
The house was two storeys high above a half-sunk basement floor separated by a plain offset plinth course. It was made of coursed rubble with backset margins to the quoins and a slate roof. The main façade faced west-south-west with the sweeping drive approaching it from Dalderse Avenue in the northwest. This meant that the most prominent feature lay at the north end of the façade in the form of a gable containing a canted bay window on the basement and ground floors with a corbelled roof, above which was a triple light window. To its right was another advanced gable, set slightly further back, with triple light windows on the basement and ground floors and a plain window on the first. Between the two gabled bays was the porch with a depressed arch surmounted by the Macfarlane coat-of-arms set in a stepped raised frame. The porch was reached by a flight of stone steps with a stone balustrade to the right. Above the porch was a dormer window with a steeply pitched pediment. The chimney stacks on this side of the house rise from arched corbels and are twisted above offset courses. Two recessed bays at the south end of the building provided articulation. At the end of the drive was a lodge on what became Thornhill Road. A second lodge was located at the end of a service drive to the north. This lodge stopped public traffic heading east along Dalderse Road (later called Etna Road at this point) which had been closed up when the Forth and Clyde Canal was constructed. Beyond the lodge was Thornhill Farm. The 1862 OS map shows an icehouse a little further up this private lane. The walled garden was located on the south side of the house.
Illus 3: Thornhill House and grounds
Shortly after the house had been completed, in 1853, Alexander Macfarlane accompanied Provost Adam and James Russel, writer, on a visit to Edinburgh to view an exhibition on the Calton Hill of statuary, the work of Robert Forrest, a Lanarkshire sculptor, who had died the year before. The sculptures were being sold off for lower prices than normal and Russel bought the “Prodigal Son” for his grounds at Arnotdale (Dollar Park). The town of Falkirk subscribed to buy an equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington; and a third piece was bought by Macfarlane for the grounds of Thornhill House. It can be seen in the accompanying photograph.
Thornhill retained its rural aspect for most of that century. Eight acres of the Thornhill Estate were used for growing cereals – usually barley – and the grass parks were let for grazing. More land in the vicinity was accrued. In 1853 Alexander Macfarlane bought the neighbouring farm of Middlefield for £6,100. It consisted of 68 acres of good carse land as well as a substantial farmsteading. The following year he let it to a tenant farmer, having added 62 more acres and a steam-powered threshing mill. The farm was capable of growing good quality cereal crops and brought a high rent. Macfarlane always took an interest in the agricultural operations. Whilst the presence of the canal meant that the produce could be readily shipped to the markets it also raised a slight problem. Passing bargemen occasionally entered the fields and stole parts of the crop! To the south of Thornhill House was a small nursery and here there was a large yew tree which, it was said, had for centuries marked the place where Sir John de Graeme was killed at the Battle of Falkirk. It was hewn down in the 1850s – the area was changing.
Alexander Macfarlane was a notable figure in the neighbourhood. He became a Deputy Lieutenant for Stirlingshire, a Justice of the Peace, and a Commissioner for Property and Income Tax. One of his duties as Deputy Lieutenant was to ensure that there was an adequate local militia force. As a Commissioner of Supply he was also responsible for the Constabulary force. Having sizeable property in the parish of Falkirk he became a Heritor and often chaired meetings – usually resisting additional expenditure. He did, however, spend his own money on good causes and supported the Charity and Ragged Schools and the Town Mission.
The mansion houses of this period employed large numbers of servants. One of those whom Macfarlane employed in 1821 as a message boy was a nine-year old orphan from Jaw Farm in Slamannan. After faithful service the boy apprenticed as a mechanic at Carron Iron Works. Having completed his time there he went to Glasgow and then Liverpool and was appointed as a manager of an engineering and foundry establishment in France. After two years he took a better situation in Russia where he remained for four years but had to return to Scotland due to ill-health. On recovery he inaugurated the Camelon Foundry with Smith and Miller and seven years later commenced the Union Foundry at Camelon – his name was R W Crosthwaite. Another servant was 28 year old Ethel Wotherspoon who worked in the house for two years until 1859. Upon leaving she took with her over 34 articles of clothing, linen and bedding which she had accumulated over her time there. The items were found at her sister’s house and Ethel got three months imprisonment.
Alexander Macfarlane died at Thornhill House on 18 March 1863 and was buried at Alloa. His first son, Alexander Macfarlane, had had a prominent military career and retired with the rank of captain, and died in 1871. However, it was the second son, Robert, who inherited the estate. Robert Macfarlane was also a military man and took the rank of major in the Aberdeen Militia Regiment. Having a career elsewhere he put Thornhill up for sale in 1866:
“FOR SALE BY PUBLIC ROUP Within the GOLDEN LION HOTEL, Stirling, on FRIDAY, 12th October, 1866, at Half-past Two o’clock Afternoon,
1st, THE LANDS of THORNHILL, in the Parish of Falkirk, half-a-mile from the Grahamston Railway Station, extending to 86 imperial acres. The Mansion-House, a modern erection, standing in a well Wooded Park, contains Three Large Public Rooms, Eight Bed-Rooms, Three with Dressing-Rooms, and other accommodation complete. The Garden is large, has a fine exposure, and a Vinery in full bearing. The Private Stables and Farm Steading are suitable for the Property. The Annual Value, including Mansion-House, is about £400.
2d, The FARM of MIDDLEFIELD contains 83 acres of first-class Carse Land, marching with the above, and within a mile of the Town of Falkirk. There is an extensive Steading, excellent Dwelling-House, and large Garden.
These Properties will be exposed in cumulo, and if not thus sold, it is intended to expose them separately.
For printed particulars, apply to ROBERT MACFARLANE Esq, Thornhill…”(Falkirk Herald 20 September 1866, 1)
It initially failed to find a purchaser and in 1867 the upset price was reduced to £10,000. In June 1868 it was lowered further to £9,000. Middlefield was set at £6,300. That month Middlefield sold to William Forbes of Callendar, with whose lands it marched, for £6,310. Towards the end of the following year Thornhill was finally sold to George Adinston McLaren.
At this point it may be convenient to summarise the owners of Thornhill House over the years (those in maroon were tenants):
|c1780||William Greig (purchase)|
|1800||George McCallum (purchase)|
|1821||Alexander Macfarlane (purchase)|
|1863||Robert Macfarlane (son)|
|1869||George Adinston McLaren (purchase)|
|1881||James Sceales (nephew)|
|1906||George Adinston McLaren Sceales (son)|
|W S Barr (1907-1915)|
|Mrs A M Kennard (1918-1932)|
|1932||Falkirk Council (purchase)|
McLaren had conducted a successful wine business in Leith and for ten years, from 1841 to 1851, had been the provost there. He remained resident in Edinburgh and spent his summer months in Falkirk. His sister, Mary, lived at Thornhill where she died in 1873. G A Mclaren continued the tradition of disputing the water rates with Falkirk Council and in 1870 sank an artesian well in the grounds of Thornhill in order to procure his own supply. The surplus water was then made available to the public. He too contributed to the local charitable institutions.
Thornhill remained an oasis of green as slowly the surroundings changed. In the 1860s the first of many houses had appeared on the west side of Thornhill Road, but the process of feuing accelerated dramatically in the 1870s and by 1880 most of Thornhill Road as far north as Wallace Street was built upon. The Lands of Firs were completely engulfed. In 1875 the Glasgow ironfounders Watson, Gow & Co bought 12 acres of land in the north part of the Thornhill estate and erected the Etna Foundry. An indication of the complete urbanisation of the area was the installation of gas lamps and sewage pipes along Thornhill Road in 1879. Formerly, a ditch commencing at Campfield and striking north-east through Thrornhill had acted as an open sewer discharging into the Meadow Burn. The artesian well at Thornhill, which had originally yielded enough water to fill a four or six-inch pipe, by 1887 only filled a pipe of l ½ inch diameter, and water had eventually to be brought in with the Falkirk and Larbert supply scheme. A further sign of the times was the inauguration of the Falkirk Cottage hospital in 1889 and the opening of Victoria Park – two important public institutions.
G A McLaren died at his residence in Royal Circus, Edinburgh, on 9 March 1881, aged 80 years. Not having any children of his own, the estate fell to his nephew, James Sceales, who held a position in the firm of D & G McLaren, wine merchants, Leith, and became head of the firm. The estate was opened up to a larger degree and in July 1881 the first of many annual grand promenade concerts was held in the beautiful grounds of Thornhill. The band and pipers of the 42nd Royal Highlanders (Black Watch) performed on that occasion and the Falkirk Tonic Sol-Fa Association raised a considerable sum for charity. The entrance fee was 2d and some 2,000 people are reported to have attended. James Sceales’ gifts to the poor of Falkirk were liberal. His wife, Maxwell Sceales, was particularly active in providing comforts for soldiers. In July 1898, for example, she held a sale of work and drawing-room meeting at Thornhill in aid of the Soldiers’ Home at Piershill. The South African War caused her to redouble her efforts and earned her unstinted praise.
James’ brother, John, spent as much time at Thornhill House as he did and together they were often referred to as the Messrs Sceales. Neither had much of an interest in farming the land themselves and the fields were let out. At the end of 1898 the small farmsteading of Thornhill on Etna Road was sold off:
“To be Exposed to Sale Public Roup, within the Crown Hotel, Falkirk, on THURSDAY, 1st December, 1898, at Two o’clock Afternoon, THE FARM STEADING of THORNHILL, North Side of Dalderse Avenue, Falkirk, consisting of Two-Roomed House, Stable, Byres, Barn, and other Buildings. Extent of Ground, about One third of an Acre. The Premises are very suitable for a Dairykeeper, Contractor, Builder, or for a Small Manufactory. Upset Price, £700… .(Falkirk Herald 5 November 1898)
It was bought by Gilbert Rae, aerated water manufacturer, who also manufactured ice there. In April 1899 the council began the process of transforming Thornhill Lane from a narrow country lane into a 50ft wide highway. It had watched the inexorable increase in population of this district and realised that it required more facilities. It also began to think about actively encouraging even greater growth. Until now most of the urban development had been confined to the south end of Thornhill Road. By the end of the century the frontage up to Dalderse Avenue was almost entirely built upon and tenements began to be erected between Victoria Park and the Thornhill Policy. King Street appeared first and then in 1896 the new street along the south side of the tall boundary wall was named Mary Street.
Around 1893 Falkirk Town Council approached James Sceales about the possibility of acquiring land adjacent to the canal some distance to the east of the Etna Foundry for the construction of their new gas works. The indecision of the councillors and the bickering over the choice of site meant that it was 1900 before the negotiations really started in earnest for 13 acres. Work finally began on site in December 1904. The works required the branch railway to be extended along the south side of Etna Road from the Falkirk Iron Works and the land came from Thornhill estate. A new boundary wall was built at the railway’s expense along its south side and it still remains. It also meant that in 1906 a new gatehouse had to be built to the south of the old one which had been cut off by the railway. The Messrs Sceales were also feeling the impact of the growth of the town. The fruit trees in the orchard were the subject of many juvenile raids, undeterred by courtroom appearances. On the other hand they were able to sell off small parcels of land at good prices. The council bought land to enlarge Victoria Park and had to erect fences to stop its users trespassing. Five acres of land to the east of Etna Foundry was advertised for industrial use. Moving with the times, the Sceales welcomed the Boy’s Brigade and other groups into the grounds for special events.
John McLaren Sceales died at Thornhill House on 16 June 1900. James Sceales died there on 26 October 1906 and was succeeded by his only son, Lieutenant-Colonel George Adinston McLaren Sceales, DSO who had been born there. He had served in the South African War with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and was present in the engagements at Modder River, Magersfontein, Koodoosberg, Paardeberg, Poplar Grove, Waterval Drift, Houtnek, Bloemburg, Roodepoort and Heilbron as well as in the operations in the Transvaal under Major-General Hamilton. For his services in the South African campaign he received the Queen’s Medal with four clasps and the Kings Medal with two clasps.
During the First World War George Sceales was appointed to command the 4th Black Watch, and in 1916 to command the amalgamated 4th and 5th Black Watch. In 1917 he was three times mentioned in despatches and received the DSO and gazetted lieutenant-colonel. He commanded the 14th Battalion Tank Corps and was Brigadier-General commanding the 1st Tank Brigade from December 1917 to 1919; and raised and commanded the 5th (Regular) Tank Battalion. He retired from the Army in 1921 and went to live in the Isle of Thanet.
On her husband’s death Mrs Maxwell Sceales remained at their Edinburgh residence. Their son had no use for Thornhill House and so it was let. The advertisement for this gives us some impression of the large size of the building:
“To be Let, Furnished, with immediate entry, Thornhill House, Falkirk – 4 Public Rooms, 7 Bedrooms, 3 Dressing-Rooms, Bathroom, etc.; Good Kitchen, Servants’ Accommodation, and Offices; Servants’ Hall; gas Throughout House; Croquet and Lawn Tennis Grounds; garden can be Let with House if required…”(Falkirk Herald 5 January 1907, 8)
Amongst the tenants was WS Barr of the famous aerated water company. WS Barr readily gave permission for the Falkirk Trades Band to use the grounds for its sacred Sunday concerts. The band much preferred it as a venue than the nearby public park. One unforeseen advantage was that on hot sunny days the luxuriant trees of Thornhill grounds provided welcome shade. Falkirk Rugby Football Club also found the public park unwelcoming and was refused permission to mark out a pitch there. George Sceales was approached and readily granted the club the use of one of the fields on the estate. WS Barr gave up the tenancy in 1915 and it was taken on by Evelyn Kennard, widow of Major Kennard of the Falkirk Iron Company, who moved there from Kersehill House. Before long she had continued where she had left off at Kersehill House with annual garden fetes and privileged access to the grounds for meetings of groups such as the Falkirk Town Mission Women.
After a minor delay, Falkirk Council acquired 20 acres from Colonel Sceales at Thornhill at the rate of £8 per acre in 1920. The delay had been due to the need to adjust the terms of the feu-charter to meet the requirements of the Scottish Board of Health which was providing much of the funding. That Board also approved the plans. In 1923 construction began on fifty houses on Grange Drive and Adam Street and was completed by 1927. Following on from that, in November 1931, an agreement was made between the council and Colonel Sceales’ representatives – Mr Hole, W.S, Edinburgh, and Mr Black, architect, Falkirk – for the sale of the remainder of the estate and the house at a price of £3,200 with entry at Whitsunday 1932. Colonel Sceales was still the feudal superior for Mary Street and King Street and had to pay the stipend for this area. So in 1938 he reached an agreement with the council for this to be taken on by it and his connection with the estate came to an end.
At the acquisition of Thornhill House by Falkirk Town Council it was uncertain what to do with the building, but it certainly intended to build within a stone’s throw of it. Whilst it made its plans, the fields were leased to local farmers and the philanthropic tenant of the house moved out. One of her last letters from it was an appeal to the public through the columns of the Falkirk Herald:
“I am leaving Thornhill House to live in Perthshire, having been here fourteen years. In the name of humanity, I appeal to the Falkirk Town Council who have bought the house and grounds for building purposes, and to the citizens of Falkirk, through your widely read columns, to spare the tree in Thornhill grounds in which the rooks are now happily building their nests, that the trees be not cut down till the young rooks have flown in July, and be given a chance to “flit” with the parent birds. This rookery, I understand, is a very old one, dating back at least a hundred years. A pity it must go. Evelyn Kennard”.(12 March 1932. 10)
The lodge at Thornhill House was immediately occupied by Sergeant Stephen and Falkirk Council built a washhouse there for him and his family. The usage of the big house was still uncertain and some sections of the public appealed for it not to be demolished. The subject soon got caught up in national events. 1932 was a particularly bad year for employment and the foundries and coal pits in the Falkirk area suffered a great depression. A committee was established by the local churches, known as the Ministers’ Fraternal of Falkirk Churches, and a number of laymen, to alleviate the suffering of the unemployed men. In January 1933 the committee approached Falkirk Town Council for permission to use the main rooms of Thornhill House as a clubhouse for the men, having failed to find suitable accommodation elsewhere. This was granted and initially a small rent was paid, but before long the Council recognised the importance of the work and the rent was dropped. Three large rooms of the house were suitably equipped – one as a reading and waiting room, and two as recreation rooms. In the reading room was a selection of daily newspapers, weekly and monthly magazines and books.
Illus 5: Unemployed men playing draughts in the club rooms at Thornhill House (Falkirk Herald 1 March 1933, 16).
In the recreation rooms a small billiard table was installed, and sets of carpet bowls, together with draughts, dominoes, chess, were available. A gramophone was gifted and Hart Radio Supplies, East Bridge Street, provided a wireless set. An appeal was launched for a piano. The various churches gave forms, chairs and so on. They also provided the money required to heat, light and run the club-rooms which were opened every weekday from 10 till 12 in the morning, 2 till 5 in the afternoon and from 6 till 9 in the evening. The supervision of the rooms was initially undertaken by each church in turn, but as time went on the unemployed men took a share in this.
Weekly concerts were provided by church choirs and local bands. Lectures on a broad range of themes were also organised and there was even an annual excursion. St. Margaret’s School in Polmont was one of many organisations that helped to raise the necessary funds.
The club-rooms were well used and much appreciated, particularly during the winter months. As the warmer weather came around thoughts turned to getting the men outside but in May an application for the use of the lawn at the side of Thornhill House as a bowling green was turned down. The following winter was promising to be a difficult one for the unemployed and so in September 1933 the Stirlingshire Branch of the British Red Cross Society asked if it could use the basement of Thornhill House for the Society’s Red Cross Personal Service scheme. Before long two sewing classes were formed where garments were made and mended. Other rooms were used for the reception of parcels of clothing and other gifts which were later distributed to the unemployed and other necessitous people. Thanks to the help of a band of willing volunteers led by Mrs Hendry this scheme was tremendously successful and continued until the start of the Second World War.
Government spending increased in anticipation of the war and together with an upturn in trade 1934 saw a diminution in the numbers of the short-term unemployed and the numbers using the club-house correspondingly declined. Falkirk Council therefore decided to accept an offer of a rent of £100 per annum for Thornhill House from HM Office of Works as an office in connection with the transitional payments scheme for the unemployed. Rev J A P Dean, Rev T M Linkie, and Mr A B Black, representing the Ministers’ Fraternal Committee, had an urgent meeting with the Burgh Property Committee asking for an extension of the time during which they might occupy the premises or for alternative accommodation. It was not forthcoming and the unemployed men’s clubroom was forced to move to other premises in the Howgate. That year Thornhill House became the headquarters of the Unemployment Assistance Board.
Incredibly Falkirk Council had developed the whole of the estate around Thornhill House between 1923 and the end of 1938. This included: Braemar Drive, Bruce Street, Kennard Street, Grange Drive, Grange Avenue, Adam Street, York Street and York Drive.
Early in 1939 the Falkirk district started making preparations for the coming war. Thornhill House was designated as an ARP depot and the basement became the warden’s post for the area (James Valentine head warden.) From here gas masks were dispensed, mothers taught how to use those for the babies, and masks were periodically checked or upgraded. The furniture used by the Red Cross Personal Service Scheme was made available for the war effort. In 1940 allotments were created in the grounds immediately around the house so that the residents of the area could dig for victory.
Illus 6: Members of the Thornhill Community Service Club.
Four large Anderson shelters were installed for the staff of the Unemployment Assistance Board. Within the house a small room was set aside for the use of the Thornhill Community Service Club – a small but active group of women that met every Tuesday to construct useful and attractive articles from remnants and to knit and sew for themselves and for war comfort schemes. The Women’s Voluntary Service also met at Thornhill House.
The allotments were abandoned after the war and became weed infested. The tenants of the adjoining houses started to dump rubbish in the open area around Thornhill House and by 1950 the place looked shoddy. During the war people had become accustomed to using the grounds as a right of way and consequently the Ministry of Works refused to fulfil the obligations if its lease to undertake maintenance. Falkirk Council had already decided to erect dwelling houses for elderly people in the grounds and found it hard to enforce any order. Their plans, however, were for construction at least two years into the future. These plans were approved by the Dean of Guild Court in October 1953 for a two-storey block comprising 16 houses. Two years later plans for the erection of a laundrette by Falkirk Town Council at Thornhill House were approved. The Unemployment Assistance Board moved out of Thornhill House and in 1960 it was demolished. Two years later the construction of Braemar Crescent was completed – the grass covered traffic island at its heart reflecting the turning area in front of the old house. Today the only signs of this once significant estate are the northern boundary wall along the south side of Etna Road, and a tall stone boundary wall opposite Wallace Street.
Sites and Monuments Records
|Thornhill House Ice-House||SMR 76||NS 8929 8099|
|Thornhill House||SMR 671||NS 892 808|
|Love, J.||1910||Antiquarian Notes and Queries, Volume 2.|
G.B. Bailey (2020)