Falkirk's Callendar House: The Callendars’ story is shrouded in the mists of dark age Scotland

The history of Callendar House is often associated with two great dynasties, the Livingstons who held the estates for 400 years from the mid 14th century, and the Forbes who came into ownership in 1783 and remained until 1962 when the house and lands were purchased by the Burgh of Falkirk.

By Ian Scott
Thursday, 4th November 2021, 4:30 pm
Callendar House pictured from the south side.
Callendar House pictured from the south side.

But there was another family, the Callendars, less often discussed but just as important, whose name survives but whose story is shrouded in the mists of dark age Scotland.

It’s frustrating that for something like 700 years from the time the Romans departed until the first dependable records appear in the 11th century, we know very little about the people who were living working and fighting on the lands we inhabit.

We do have archaeological and place name evidence and a scattering of chronicles and annals written long after the events they describe, but that’s about all.

A reconstruction of the thane's hall by John Reid.

However when the records do appear we find Falkirk district is part of a huge area called ‘Calateria’ or variously Calatria, Kalentyr, or Calentir, lying between the Rivers Avon and Carron which in turn gave the name to a powerful ruling family often referred to as ‘thanes’, a social rank or position of responsibility familiar from Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

The lands of Callendar included rich woodlands and pasturage, fertile plains, river fishings and saltpans.

We know the names of some of these thanes from their signatures on charters and other legal documents.

For example in the early 12th century we have ‘Dufoter de Calateria’ and later a Duncan, a Malcolm (described as ‘Theino de Calentar’), a Patrick and an Alwyn.

Many of these names were common in the old Celtic royal family which suggests that the powerful Callendars were related to the highest in the land.It is impossible to tell how long they had been in power but in 1990 an archaeological dig by Geoff Bailey to the east of Callendar House, on the site of the former college, uncovered the foundations of a large wooden building which has been radio-carbon dated to the 10th century.

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This ‘thanes hall’ which was almost certainly home to the Callendars, stood on a piece of land known for many centuries as ‘Palace Hill’.

During the Wars of Independence the family supported the English against Wallace in 1298 and probably against Bruce a few years later, but they somehow managed to survive after Bannockburn.

They were not so lucky 30 years later when they again sided with the English against Bruce’s son David II in his renewed fight with the Baliols.

In 1346 all the lands of Patrick de Calantyr were forfeit and given instead to one William Livingston, who had stayed loyal.

William’s main concern was to secure the new possessions for his family, and he did so by the traditional method of marrying Christiane, daughter of the deposed Patrick, which went a long way to ensure their descendants survived against the unpredictable winds of political change.

And so began the Livingston years which brought the move from the thanes hall to a stone tower which remains today within the fabric of Callendar House.

Next week I will tell the story of these new barons who shaped so much of our history.

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