Falkirk district buildings which aren't quite what they seem

Last week I was over in Airth Castle which hides a genuine 17th century tower house behind a mock frontage designed by David Hamilton of Falkirk steeple fame in the 1820s.

By Ian Scott
Thursday, 2nd June 2022, 12:30 pm
Denny Town House.
Denny Town House.

It looks more like a Disney version of a castle than the real thing.

This got me thinking about buildings that are not quite what they seem and there are quite a few in the district not including all those churches that are now pubs, funeral homes or private houses.

Take the familiar Bridgeness Tower to the east of Bo’ness.

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Glenskirlie Castle.

With its crenellated top it looks for all the world like a castle rising above the surrounding village.

In fact when it was built back in the early 18th century it was a windmill grinding corn or pumping water from the coal pits.

Back then our windmills had round stone bases with wooden superstructures on which the sails were mounted.

Once abandoned, the wood perished quickly leaving a stone "tower”.

The Bridgeness windmill was purchased by a shipmaster called David Stevenson who turned it into a house and outlook tower.

His initials are carved on a door lintel with the date 1750.

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The following century it passed to the Cadell family of Grange who were local landowners and coalmasters.

In 1895 an architect with the amazing name of Hippolyte Blanc remodelled the building for Henry M. Cadell extending it upwards and creating the castle features including the stair tower within a small additional turret.

After this the tower had a chequered history with families living in each of its five floors but by 1950 it was empty.

It was eventually restored as part of a housing project in 1988 and since 2002 has been a private house, surely one of the most interesting in Scotland.

At the opposite end of the district in Banknock stands Glenskirlie, a very popular venue for weddings.

One of the attractions is a fine Scottish “castle” with all the external features of a fortified tower house of the 15th or 16th century.

However it was built from scratch in 2004 as an annexe to the established hotel and restaurant.

Another building that has always fascinated me is the Town House in Denny.

It looks like a typical Victorian public building in the popular Scottish Baronial style.

In fact it was only built in 1931 as a home for the town council which was abolished back in 1975.

The building is now on the market after years of use by the social work department.

Finally in Falkirk we have the Tudor House which, as the name implies, reflects in its outside appearance the half timbered buildings that Henry VIII and Elizabeth I might have patronised.

Sadly, as most folk know, the former restaurant dates back only to 1933 when the new Princes Street was cut through towards Callendar Riggs.

Most of the other new buildings in the street are of their time, that is Art Deco style, but the good old Tudor House was a throwback to a time that never was!

I suppose we could also include the York Café which is also an echo of a different place and time though intriguingly behind the mock façade lies one of Falkirk’s oldest buildings, indeed the only one left with its gable end facing the main street, which was common in the medieval period.

The truth is in there if we dig deep enough.