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The History of Stirlingshire
Chapter XXII. Westquarter, Callendar, and Camelon


Westquarter Estate, by far the most picturesque of local pleasure-grounds, extends to 300 acres. The founder of the Livingstone family, in the male line, was the Hon. Sir George Livingtone of Ogleface, who was created a baronet on the 30th May, 1625. Sir George, being popular at the court of James VI., was appointed his Majesty’s Justiciary for the trial of various crimes, including that of witchcrafts. He was one of the adventurers for the plantation of forfeited estates in Ireland, and in 1608 received a grant of 2,000 acres in the county of Armagh, where he died prior to June, 1628.

The mansion, which is of considerable size, circularly built, with steep slated roofs and notched gables, is not unlike, in extent and character, the chief chateaux of Normandy and Brittany. On the walls of the southern and more modern portion of the building are the dates 1626 and 1648, but the original edifice is much older. The house contains some ancient arms, skull-caps, coats of mail, and several stern-looking pictures of old barons. The garden, though nothing beyond ordinary in its floral character, possesses various interesting memorials of the past; and the ground itself, part of a fine esker, is somewhat artistically laid out. A verdant knoll, crowned with a tree-shaded summer-seat, runs along its centre from east to west, and which was proudly called "my quarter-deck" by the late Sir Thomas Livingstone, as he Jack-like strutted from stem to stern of the close-cut sward. Built into the garden wall are a few historical and family stones. One of these was brought from Kilsyth, and bears the following inscription around a coat of arms: - "Dom. Wilem. Levingstone, De Kilsay, Baro. Aqves. Avrat. Et-Doma. Antonia. De Bord." Underneath is the motto, "Spe Exspecto." A similar sort of stone was some years ago taken from the front of Callendar house, and has also a place here. Its laconic story is, "Et Domi, Et Foris, 1641." Then in the wall facing the west we have a keystone from the aisle of the old church of Falkirk, together with a barley-stone from the ruins of Linlithgow palace.

But the great charm of Westquarter is its lovely glen, situated immediately west of the garden. The chief cascades are the "Lanton Linn" and the "Lady’s Linn;" and although these falls but rarely display themselves with the fury common to the "torture-riven chasm," there is still a grandeur in the leap of the brawling burn over the rifted rocks, and in the hollow rumble of its waters within the foaming gorge. Spanning the swirling stream at scenic points which only a gardener with a soul above the soup-pot could have selected, are a couple of rustic bridges constructed of natural larch; and from these elevated platforms a glorious view is got of the thickly-wooded dell, where, in the very heart of brushwood and brackens, the lover of ferns may find himself in an earthly paradise. Strange that William Gilpin the well-known writer on the picturesque, who did so much to create and foster a taste for the beautiful in nature, could see in ferns nothing but noxious weeds, and rank them with "thorns and briars, and other ditch trumpery." The gracefulness even of the waving bracken lends an additional charm to sylvan dells. And what could be more in harmony with the character and peculiar exigencies of Gothic design than the delicate tracery and exquisite filigree of the fern leaves and fronds? Yet we seldom find them employed. The study and cultivation of ferns, however, is essentially of modern and even recent growth. The poets and artists of the last century knew nothing of them. Their rehabilitation seems to have been primarily due to Sir Walter Scott; and they may be said to have come into fashion with oak furniture, ancient armour, and the revival of mediaevalism in general. Scott looked upon them with the eye of a forester and a poet, and pleads their case in that charming little pastoral, the "Essay upon Planting."

From several points of the winding foot-path, which, with commanding advantages, overlooks the glen, we get an excellent view of the famous esker that extends from Callendar eastward by Westquarter and Meadowbank to Gilston. We must be satisfied to know little about many of these alluvial relics; still there can be no doubt that this bank is simply a vast field of stratified sand which had been washed up by marine action when the extensive plain intervening between our present position and the Firth was completely under water.

Millfield, now the property of Mr. Thomas H. Campbell, is another pretty estate. Its adornment, indeed, has for years been a matter of special study; and the late proprietor, Mr. Miller, C.E., who was engineer of the old E. & G. railway, opened in 1842, was certainly most successful in making it an altogether pleasant spot. To the south of the house, which scarcely exceeds the proportions of an ordinary villa, there is a sweetly picturesque dale; and, although to a great extent artificial, still, with its bubbling water-course and other rustic auxiliaries, it most effectually enlivens the grounds. Amongst other estates throughout the district are Lethallan, Tarduff, Vellore, and Parkhall.

Polmont ("pool of the moor") which had its parish from Falkirk in 1724, is, as times go, an altogether unimportant place. According to the Reformation chroniclers, it consisted originally, for the most part, of church lands. The old kirk of the village stands in the centre of the burial-ground, with ivy-draped ruins and simple belfry. A clear passage runs through the building from east to west; while the interior is filled with a fine assortment of rose plants, yews, and rhododendrons. The new church, which was erected in 1844, has been founded on sand unfortunately, and the key-stone of one of the principal windows has already fallen an inch or so.

Few public roads are so richly wooded as that in front of the Callendar estate. For well-nigh half a mile, the wedded muster of trees, magnificent in limb and foliage, meet overtop, and form one of the finest of arcadian highways. The majority of these ancestral beeches were planted by Sir James Livingstone of Brighouse, the first Earl of Callendar, and consequently must have seen over two centuries of sunshine and storm.

The Callendar property, which embraces about 400 Scotch acres, 200 being now covered with wood, was originally a grant by Alexander II. to Malcolm de Callendar. Forfeited, however, in the reign of David II. by one Patrick de Callentyr, for his allegiance to Baliol, the lands were subsequently bestowed upon his son-in-law, Sir William Livingstone; and in the possession of that family they remained for several successive generations. Of the chief historical families of Scotland few have experienced more of the "ups and downs" of life than the Livingstones. During the days of their feudal power, they were not more remarkable for the extent of their estates, and their almost regal influence, than for the great alliances which they formed; but, on the other hand, few such families have fallen into more complete and disastrous decay. There is not now a single landed proprietor of the name either in the counties of Stirling or Linlithgow, where they were once so powerful. Their principal residences were the castles of Callendar, Herbertshire, Brighouse, Haining, and Midhope. Of these, the largest and most important appears to have been the castle of Callendar – a place of considerable strength before artillery was invented. According to Nisbet, and others whom he quotes in his Heraldry, the fortress was built by a Roman, whose office it was to provide fuel for the camp, and who called it after his own name, Calloner, from Calo, a faggot or log of wood. Pinkerton, however, is of opinion that the name may be with more likelihood derived from kelydhon, which in Cumraig signifies woodlands. At any rate, according to the Dane, Van Basson, the author of a treatise on armories, such was the ancient manner of spelling the name; and in reference to its origin, the chiefs of the family, when arms came into use, adopted the six billets which still form part of the escutcheon of Callendar. But others allege that the billets represent sheets or scrolls of paper, because the heads of the family of that ilk were comptrollers, or clerks, to the kings of Scotland for several centuries.

In 1634, the barony of Callendar was acquired by James, Lord Almond and Falkirk, afterwards Earl of Callendar; and in 1637, he became proprietor of the barony of Falkirk. In 1646, the same nobleman obtained a charter from Charles I. erecting his whole estates into a regality, and the town into a free burgh. George, fourth Earl of Linlithgow, died in August, 1695, without issue, when he was succeeded in his titles and estates by his nephew, James, fourth Earl of Callendar, who, engaging in the rebellion of 1715, was attainted as earl of Linlithgow and Callendar, and his whole lands and dignities forfeited to the crown. In 1720, the entire property was purchased by the York Buildings Company, a London corporation which speculated largely in the purchase of forfeited estates; but the "bairns of Falkirk," as these natives delighted to style themselves, and the other vassels and tenants of the Livingstones, were, even under their feudal lords, little inclined to yield "suit and service," and far less to pay rents to an association of London tradesmen. The company soon discovered that the only mode of deriving anything from the estate was to transfer it to the heiress of the family, and a long lease was accordingly granted to the Earl and Countess of Kilmarnock, who were thus re-established at Callendar, and might, like the Panmure family, under somewhat similar circumstances, have eventually recovered permanent possession of their original domains. This lease did not expire till 1773; but long before that, the earl, not taught wisdom by the ruin of his predecessor, joined Charles Edward after the battle of Prestonpans; was captured on the field of Culloden, and sent a prisoner to London, where he was beheaded, on Tower Hill, in 1746. To an eminence, above Callendar house, now crowned by a circular plantation, tradition points as the spot where the earl, as he rode away to join the unfortunate chevalier, lingered behind his armed followers; and, turning his horse round, took a parting look at the grand old Livingstone estate which he was never to see again.

The affairs of the York Buildings Company having fallen into disorder, the Callendar property was brought to a judicial sale in 1783, and purchased by Mr. William Forbes of London, who was a descendant of the family of Forbes of Colquhany, in Aberdeenshire. The coppersmith, into whose hands the estate thus passed, was most fortunate in his purchase. The sum paid for it was only 85,000 pounds; and it has been alleged that the timber alone on the grounds was worth double the money. But Mr. Forbes, from his first outset in business, seems to have been one of Fortune’s favourites – to have had rare opportunities of kicking her golden ball. It was, without doubt, his speculation in copper, when the idea of so sheathing the ships of the Line first occurred to Government, that put a substantial backbone to his purse; and for upwards of twenty years he held exclusively the trade of coppering the royal fleet, and the East India Company’s vessels. His capital of 1,600 pounds, with Admiral Byron as one of his generous securities, was thus soon turned to good account. With Callendar and its tenants he had, however, for a time, many a stiff battle to fight. The estate, for the most part, was lamentably moorish, and the farmers proved difficult to deal with. An amusing story is told of a dispute that took place between Mr. Forbes and the Rev. Mr. Bertram of Muiravonside, regarding the rent of a park attached to Haining castle. The minister was one day invited to dine at Callendar, and after dinner the adjustment of the rent was brought above-board. Bertram, who from all accounts was the reverse of a ready logician, had ultimately to yield to the clear and practical reasoning of the laird; but, out of petty revenge, preached for several Sundays from the text, "Alexander the coppersmith has done me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works."

Mr. Forbes was twice married – first to Miss Macadam of Craigengillian, who died without issue. The second marriage was with Miss Agnes Chalmers of Aberdeenshire, by whom he had two sons and three daughters. His eldest son, William, who succeeded to the entailed property, married Lady Louisa, daughter of the Earl of Wemyss and March, and was member of parliament for his native country over a considerable period. This latter couple were the parents of the present laird, who, in addition to the ancient thanedom of Callendar, and the baronies of Haining and Almond, is proprietor of other extensive estates in the counties of Stirling, Ayr, and Kirkcudbright.

The ancestral mansion, which lies in a grand lyceum, is interesting chiefly from its historical associations. Certain portions of the house are very ancient, carrying one far back into the past, and around these cling not a few reminiscences and traditions of the olden times. The room, for example, is still shown where the ill-fated Queen Mary slept, when she visited Callendar on the occasion of the baptism in the family of the Earl of Linlithgow. Another apartment is pointed out as the bedroom occupied by Prince Charles on the night of the 15th September, 1745. General Monk, too, made Callendar house his home during the stay of his troops in Scotland. And Cromwell – he who stands a giant among the pigmy race of the Stuarts – on an unlucky day for King Charles, advanced with a small force upon the "castle"; and, after a siege of short duration, took possession of stronghold and estate, mowing down in slaughter the gallant garrison and volunteers, who, in the absence of the royal army, snugly settled in the Torwood, were left as a fearless file of defence. Here the Protector seems to have shown no mercy to the weak numerically, in their brave defiance of his aggressive step; for the lawn is said to have been everywhere covered with the bodies of the slain. But be it a glorious victory, or a glorious grave, the most valiant have the best fortune in battle. The coward runs a hundred risks that the brave man escapes. Only in courage are honour and safety. Be the first to close with the foe, "shield on shield, spear on spear, knee on knee." Never wait to be attacked. Simple ideas like these, in the clarion tones of Tyrtoeus, still stir the pulse of warlike blood. The maunderings of our magazine minstrels only awaken laughter and the sense of shame. In Cromwell’s days, Callendar house was surrounded by a deep fosse, and further protected by a square projection of stone, whose niches were filled with a variety of statues. The lawn outside of this, for some few yards, was broken by a species of wall known as the "barbican."

In front of the mansion are five splendid limes. But timber, as we have already hinted, grows here to perfection. Even St. Gingolphe could scarcely match many of the grand old trees which arch the beautiful basin that runs out from the house towards the public road. A magnificent arcade of planes also lies to the east, conducting to a lochlet full of aquatic vegetation. And now we enter the deeper forest glades.

"We hear the wind among the trees,
Playing celestial symphonies;
We see the branches downward bent,
Like keys of some great instrument."

In one of the leafiest of those arborial porticoes stands the mausoleum of the Forbes family. It is circular, 45 feet high, with a rustic cell 19 feet in height and 36 in diameter, on which stand twelve fluted Doric columns, which, with the capital, are 19 1/2 feet high. Over a Doric entablature rises what within is a dome, and without is covered with a stone tiling and rib-mouldings. Over the door, in the north side of the cell, is a Greek inscription. The following are two translations, by different scholars: -

"All things we mortals call our own
Are mortal too, and quickly flown;
But, could they all for ever stay,
We soon from them must pass away."

"All objects linked with mortal man decay,
And earthly scenes, like visions, fleet away.
On things so frail how vain to fix the heart,
Since we from them, or they from us, must part!"

The latest buried was the young and queenly wife of the present laird – a Miss O’Hara in maidenhood, born of an ancient and honourable family in the West of Ireland, and married to Mr. Forbes on the 23rd June, 1859. The deceased lady died in Dublin; and when the sad news of her death reached Falkirk, a general sorrow prevailed over the district, her short connection with Callendar having been such as to render her memory dear to all classes of the community.

Camelon is a sleepy old-fashioned looking place. Here lies the rural burial-field for Falkirk and its neighbourhood. And, sanitary considerations apart, it is well that country cemeteries have been brought into fashion. Formerly, families visiting the graves of the dead they had buried out of their sight, could enjoy little of that peaceful seclusion which the bereaved mourner covets above everything. Nothing surely could have been more trying than having to ask the beadle for the key of the churchyard gate every time they came to pay a visit; or having to make their way to the grave in the populous ground, with crowds staring in through the railings from the thoroughfares. The cemetery, which extends to 11 acres, was acquired by the Parochial Board at a cost of about 8,000 pounds – a sum which is being repaid by the selling of permanent ground. The main entrance was given gratuitously by the Misses Baird, of Camelon, and presents a broad carriage approach leading from the street to the lodge – a handsome little building treated in the modern Elizabethan style. Fortunate in possessing a fine situation, and having been tastefully planned and planted, the cemetery forms a rather notable feature in the view from the north.

A more wretched-looking village than Camelon, not many years ago, could not be imagined. Everywhere over it hung the air of squalid misery and mire. But Mr. Ralph Stark, together with other philanthropic gentlemen, have of late deeply interested themselves in its sanitary improvement and the social elevation of its inhabitants. Through their exertions chiefly, a savings bank was opened in 1867; and the scene presented on a Saturday night, by the crowd of children running proudly with their books and pennies to the bank, is a most interesting one. On an average, the money deposited in one hundred transactions will amount to six pounds, several of the adult members lodging, of course, the maximum sum of five shillings. The penny bank is thus proving a greater success than was anticipated even by its most sanguine promoters; and viewed simply as a moral training for the people, it is without question an admirable enterprise. "Pit ye in aye the ither stick, Jock," said the careful old Laird of Dumbiedykes to his son; "It’ll grow when ye’re sleeping."


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