The Nimmo family seem to have come to Falkirk from Torphichen in the 1720s and acquired part of the Lands of Easter Bantaskine called Kilns. That name may derive from the presence of malting kilns for a distillery. Before long they owned land on the other side of the West Burn of Falkirk which they called Westbank where they operated a tannery.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century Alexander Nimmo was carrying out a very successful tanning and currying business with buildings on the east bank of the stream both north and south of the main road west out of Falkirk. In 1803 he became one of the original members of the local rifle volunteers. He was a very good shot and won a silver medal in competition. It was probably Alexander Nimmo who built the mansion a little to the north-east of the tannery.
The Ordnance Survey Name Book compiled in 1860 describes Westbank as:
“A substantial and commodious dwellinghouse, two storeys high with ornamental grounds and gardens attached. Pleasantly situated on elevated ground. It is approached by a neat avenue from West Bridge Street.”
Alexander Nimmo died at Westbank on 31 January 1859 and his widow, Mary Crawford, died there on 25 April 1866. The house went to their eldest son, also Alexander, who continued the family business and acquired another tannery and glue factory in Linlithgow. Alexander Nimmo, junior, was even more involved with the voluntary defence of Britain than his father. When the Falkirk Volunteers were reformed in 1859 he took a prominent part and in February 1860 he was appointed a lieutenant in the 3rd Stirlingshire (Falkirk) Rifle Volunteers. On 20 November the following year he was gazetted as a captain. Whilst captain he was presented with a sword by the members of the volunteers which is now in the collections of Falkirk Museum. He too won several shooting medals and also presented medals to the movement for those taking part in competitions. On 10 January 1877 he was promoted to major and on 26 May 1885 gazetted as lieutenant-colonel; this was elevated to honorary colonel in command of the battalion the following month. He was already elderly and so resigned from regular service on 9 March 1888 after 27 years and 11 months in the volunteers. He had already retired from his business concerns, but he still continued to attend the annual gatherings of the volunteers, present long-service medals, and so on. Often too he entertained the members of the volunteers to dinners, either in town or at Westbank.
Alexander Nimmo was also very active in the welfare of the town. He was vice president of the Trustees of the Falkirk Charity School. He was an original member of Falkirk School Board in 1873 and, having bought the farm of Howkerse, he was on the Bothkennar Parish School Board. His role in the sphere of education did not stop there for he was a prime mover in the formation of the Falkirk Science and Art School which he supported for the rest of his life. He had the foresight to promote the siting of the Falkirk Cemetery at Camelon. Like his father he was a Trustee of the Falkirk Trustees Savings Bank. Naturally, being a gentleman of good character he was also a Justice of the Peace, and became a Sheriff-Substitute. Closer to home he bought up some of the slums fronting the main road into Falkirk, known as West Bridge Street, and replaced them with sound substantially built dwellings. The largest of these was built in 1898 in Westbank Place and consisted of a dining room, parlour, 4 bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen, and other accommodation. It was leased to Peter Bell, a veterinary surgeon (and later to his son who was a dentist).
In his youth Alexander Nimmo, junior, was a keen sportsman and sat on the boards of various curling and cricket clubs. He is credited with having introduced the first bicycle into Falkirk which he bought on a trip to Paris. Like his neighbours to the west he was a keen gardener, employing James McMurrich for many years. The large collection of stove and greenhouse plants were kept in the glass houses beside the burn and were often exhibited at horticultural shows.
Alexander Nimmo junior married a daughter of James Russel of Arnotdale, and after she died he then married Margaret Robertson of Candie. The household was a happy one and instilled loyalty. When William Dalgleish died in 1873 he had been for upwards of 50 years a faithful servant and friend in the family of Alexander Nimmo. Less fortunate souls were often invited to Westbank and Captain Nimmo had a particular connection with the Camelon Working Boys’ Society and the residents of the Poorhouse. He entertained these groups with magic lantern shows – the lanterns illuminated by gas lighting. On such occasion he would distribute buns, oranges, milk and sweets.
Sometime after 1860 the southern part of the original rectangular block was raised by another storey and a wide eaves was put on giving Westbank House an Italianate appearance. The accommodation was augmented in 1876 when a lower two-storey extension was built onto the south side. This was set slightly back from the front of the old building and had a strange barge-boarded pediment at its junction with it. A neat open wooden porch provided a fitting new entrance.
Up until 1875 the fields surrounding Westbank were planted annually with such crops as potatoes and oats. In that year they were sown with grass to provide permanent pasture for sheep. However this rural scene was somewhat spoiled by the sewage entering the West burn and in the late 1870s various parts of it were placed in a brick culvert.
Colonel Nimmo died at Westbank on 18 June 1898 aged 73, survived by two sons and four daughters.
He left £59,385 in his will, but his eldest son, Alexander Nimmo, inherited Westbank. In 1921 he was also made an honorary Sheriff-substitute. He was one of the main partners in Russel and Aitken, writers, Falkirk. The grounds continued to be maintained, with William Erskine, the gardener, living at Westbank Lodge.
The family’s charitable work was a prominent part of the next two decades and Mrs Eliza Brown Nimmo was extremely active with the Red Cross, Falkirk Hospital and several women’s movements. The grounds were more freely opened to help with fundraising. In April 1922 a village fair and fete was held in the grounds of Westbank for the Falkirk Victoria Memorial Nursing Association. The stables were decorated to resemble Banbury so that the white lady could ride on horseback from it. In May 1933 it was a flower market, this time to raise money for the Red Cross. In May 1935 the flower market at Westbank was in aid of the new Girl Guide headquarters in Falkirk’s Pleasance. April 1936 saw the garden fete and daffodil tea at Westbank run for one of Eliza’s favourite projects – the Falkirk and District Personal Service Scheme. The stalls at these events were manned by the women of the big houses in the area, such as the Gairs of Kilns House and the Wilsons of South Bantaskine.
These activities continued into the war years. In May 1940 a spring market flower stall, a cake and candy stall, and a bring-and-buy sale was held in the laundry of Westbank over several Saturdays and raised £50 for the Red Cross. Eliza Brown Nimmo died on 13 August 1940. Her eldest son was in New Zealand where he was a sheep farmer. Three other sons were in the armed forces. One of her two daughters, Helen Nimmo, was the county commandant of the Auxiliary Territorial Service for which she was later awarded an OBE. The fourth son, Captain Patrick Nimmo of the Argyll and Southern Highlanders, was killed in action in the Middle East in December 1940 aged 25. Major George Robertson, the second son, was killed in Burma in May 1944, a week after being awarded the Military Cross. He had been a partner in Russel and Aitken. Major James Russel Nimmo, the third son, was killed in action during a patrol on 15 February 1944 in the Far East – he had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order that January. Alexander Nimmo did not get to hear of the deaths of the last two sons because he had died on 28 March 1943.
The landscape around Westbank was also changing. In 1935 some twenty bungalows and semi-detached houses, designed by JG Callander, were built on the lands of Kilns and Westbank. Many of these were on the main road frontage stretching from Kilns Entry to the West Burn, but some lay on the back lands requiring two new streets called Burnbrae Gardens.
In June 1946 Westbank, consisting of the house and 8.5 acres of land including Hector’s Brae, was purchased by Falkirk Town Council for use as accommodation for municipal staff. The total cost was £10,000 which was obtained by a loan along with £1,000 for the necessary conversion work. Considerable discussion ensued as to what should be done with the property with suggestions about council housing, bowling greens, maternity clinics and the like. The following year the Town Chamberlain’s office was the first to move into Westbank from the Burgh Buildings; the year after it was the turn of the House Manager’s office which moved from Arnotdale. Soon the Burgh Architect and engineers were ensconced. The Direct Labour department moved into the stables.
Illus: 1947 Ordnance Survey Map.
In 1953 a Civil Defence Control centre was built on the “grazings” at Westbank, sometimes referred to as Bleachfield. In 1959 Westbank Clinic was erected at a cost of around £50,000 with the aid of a grant from the Department of Health. Finally the council carried out its original intention of demolishing Westbank House in 1962 and constructing a purpose designed set of offices, council chambers, district court and town hall which were completed in 1965.
Sites and Monuments Records
|Falkirk Civil Defence Centre||SMR 1172|
|Westbank House||SMR 2210|
|Reid, J.||2009||The Place Names of Falkirk and East Stirlingshire.|
G.B. Bailey (2020)