Tophill or Rosebank House

Tophill (1)
Illus: Tophill House in 1807, from a contemporary plan.

(NS 876 803)

Andrew Russell acquired part of the Lands of Tophill after the Forth and Clyde Canal had been constructed.  He was the son of William Russell of Forrester’s Saltcoats and in 1779 married Mary, daughter of William Glen, merchant. He was very successful as a merchant and held several properties in the area.  He erected a mansion-house at Tophill between 1786 and 1788.  Russell attained the rank of captain in the volunteers and around 1807 changed the name of the small estate from Tophill to Rosebank.  It was not a large estate and included two fields to the east of Tophill Entry as well as the grounds of the house itself.  The fields were sufficient to graze a cow and a horse.  The house is depicted on a plan of 1807.  It was a substantial dwelling of two storeys with a projecting central porch having a Venetian window above.  This may have used the roof of the porch as a balcony.  To either side there was a single symmetrically disposed window on each floor.  The parapeted wallhead was broken by a central pediment which formed the apex of a slightly advanced bay.  Framing the facade, were channelled quoinstones.  It was a neat Georgian mansion typical of the business class of the time.

Around 1790 the Forth and Clyde Canal Company exercised its right to erect a maintenance yard on the canal adjacent to the grounds of Rosebank and in 1794 dug out a dry dock.  This must have been a source of considerable annoyance to Andrew Russell and it continued as such for subsequent residents.

Andrew Russell died around 1815 and in that year the new owner is recorded as James Henderson, writer in Falkirk.  He was to be the first of many legal men to occupy it.  His daughter, Maria, married John Hardie, a Leith merchant, at Rosebank House on 20 June 1815.  James Henderson died at Rosebank in January 1818.  His eldest son, Peter, inherited the estate.  Peter became a merchant at St John’s, Newfoundland, and also died at Rosebank on 18 April 1829 at the early age of thirty-four. James Henderson’s second son, James McBriar Henderson became a merchant in Liverpool (Love).  The family evidently gave up Tophill, for Katherine Henderson, relict of James, died in Edinburgh in October 1834.  The cottages on the main road to the south-west of Rosebank House were acquired by Thomas Gunn in 1826 and converted into malthouses for the Camelon Distillery which lay on the other side of the canal.

In 1835 Thomas Kincaid was writing letters to William Forbes of Callendar from his home at Rosebank (Forbes Papers).  Before long, however, the property changed hands again.  James Clark from Airth set up business as a lawyer in Falkirk and from 1840 acted as the Procurator-Fiscal for the Eastern District of Stirlingshire.  He died at Rosebank, after a few days’ illness, on 27th October, 1843.  On 8 December 1840 he had married Catherine Paterson, daughter of John Hardie, formerly manager of Falkirk Iron Works.  Mrs Clark died at Carronflats on 29 December 1845.  James Clark’s sister, Jean, married Francis Steel, writer, Falkirk, in 1836.

After the death of James Clark a number of people are associated with Rosebank, suggesting that they were tenants.  In 1846 it was the Justice of the Peace James W Dickson, Esq, Rosebank.  Sheriff Dickson is recorded as dying at Rosebank in 1847, having acted as Sheriff-Substitute for thirteen years.

The following year it was up for let again:

The MANSION-HOUSE of Rosebank with OFFICES, GARDEN and LANDS attached.  The House is in first-rate order, and will afford ample accommodation for a genteel family.” (FH 10 February 1848, 3).

A year on we get:

To let unfurnished the mansion-house of Rosebank “The DWELLING-HOUSE is beautifully situated, in first-rate order, fitted up with excellent Grates, and contains ample accommodation for a genteel family.  There are, besides, suitable Offices, Fruit and Kitchen Gardens and Grass Lands, and Orchard surrounding the House, sufficient to graze a Cow.” (FH 8 March 1849, 3).

It appears that Thomas Gunn may have been the owner of Rosebank estate from 1826 and that he had rented the property out since then.  By the mid 1850s he was having financial difficulties and put it up for sale, this time without the two fields to the east of Tophill Entry:

VALUABLE PROPERTY FOR SALE BY PUBLIC ROUP.  THE MANSION-HOUSE, GARDEN, LANDS, DISTILLERY, & c, OF ROSEBANK, In the immediate Vicinity of Falkirk.  TO be Sold by Public Roup, within the BLUE BELL INN, Falkirk, on THURSDAY the 8th day of February next, at One o’clock afternoon, by virtue of the Powers contained in a Bond and Assignation in Security, ALL and WHOLE the LANDS, MANSION-HOUSE, OFFICES, COTTAGES, and SHRUBBERIES of ROSEBANK; together with the DISTILLERY, GRANARIES, MALT-BARNS, KILN, and other Buildings thereon, – bounded by the Great Canal of the Forth and Clyde Navigation on the west and north; by the road leading from Tophill to Burnhouse on the east; and by the Highway leading from Falkirk to Stirling on the south, – all lying within the parish of Falkirk, and Sheriffdom of Stirling.

Rosebank is beautifully situated on the Banks of the Forth and Clyde Canal, about a quarter of a mile to the west of the Town of Falkirk.  The Mansion-House contains Dining-room, Drawing-room, Parlour, Kitchen, and Scullery, on the ground storey, with Cellars below; four large Bedrooms, with 2 light Closets, on the second storey, and two large Rooms and a Store-room in the attic or upper storey.

The Mansion-house will be shown every Saturday from 12 to 3 o’clock

The Distillery has been in full and constant operation for many years; and, being situated close to the Canal, has an easy transit to the east and west.  It is likewise within a short distance of the Stations on the Edinburgh and Glasgow, the Scottish Central, and Caledonian Railways.

Entry at the term of Whitsunday next…” (FH 7 December 1854, 2).

The property does not seem to have been sold and in 1857 HB Webb Esq, was occupying Rosebank House.  In 1861 Thomas Gunn went bankrupt and after the Camelon Distillery had lain empty for three years James Rankine, a Falkirk grocer, was able to buy it for a low price.  He demolished most of it and laid out a new and extensive works with the malting on the north side of the canal.  Rosebank House was bought by James Steel the procurator fiscal, who also acquired Rosehill (OSNB).

OS Map of Rosebank
Illus: 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map showing Rosebank House and Distillery.

James’s son, Robert W Rankine, oversaw the expansion of the distillery in the second half of the nineteenth century.  He soon purchased Rosebank House and estate.  The works prospered and in 1891 RW Rankine bought Cunnoquhie estate in Fife and was thereafter titled Rankine of Cunnoquhie.  In 1894 he set up an incorporated company called Rosebank Distillery, Limited.   The property vested in the company included the mansion-house, shops, and dwelling-houses, with over five acres of ground.  RW Rankine remained as the chairman and the largest shareholder.  The distillery had been visited in 1885 by Alfred Barnard who wrote a short account of the works.  This mentions the House: “the grounds of Rosebank House, with their fine old elm trees, in which rooks have built their nests, add materially to the picture… The whole property connected with the Distillery covers five acres of ground, three of which are devoted to the works, and the remainder form the grounds and gardens of Rosebank House, one of the residences of Mr Rankine.”

The House was extended to the south-east and a new facade created on that side with a four-storey tower on the southern corner dominating the approach.  Slowly the distillery buildings were extended into its direction.  In the 1960s Rosebank House was demolished and a bungalow was built for the site manager on the higher ground to its east.

Aerial Photo
Illus: Aerial Photo of Rosebank Distillery with the House behind.

G.B. Bailey (2020)