Nostalgia: Bruce paid little regard to Stenhousemuir's Roman icon

Our district has lost a number of fine buildings during my lifetime but the one I most regret not visiting is Stenhouse.

By Herald Reporter
Friday, 20th November 2020, 4:45 pm
The long demolished Stenhouse mansion.
The long demolished Stenhouse mansion.

This 17th century fortified mansion stood overlooking the Carron Dams and the iron works in the Castle Drive area of Stenhousemuir and was, for centuries, one of the Bruce family’s residences along with Airth Castle and Kinnaird.

Records of the estate go back to the 12th century and by the 1450s we know that it was in the ownership of the Bruces.

The building pictured here is thought to have been erected in 1622 though some authorities offer 1655 based on the reported existence of a plaque with that date.

An artist's impression of Arthur's O'on. Long disappeared it would have been a massive tourist attraction had it survived.

The earlier date would place the house in the time of Sir William Bruce who had inherited Stenhouse as a child from his grandfather Alexander, the ‘’knight of Airth’’.

The building was in the Scottish baronial style which was revived all across the country in the Victorian era and is seen in public buildings throughout Falkirk district.

With its turrets, crow-stepped gables and distinct decorative features it was a fine example of the style that still delights me and most other lovers of our Scottish heritage.

In 1836 the architect William Burn designed an extension which effectively turned an L shaped tower house into a symmetrical E shape which it remained for the next century.

The name ‘’Stenhouse’’, which gave rise to the name of the village, is itself an echo from the distant past and the celebrated ‘‘stane house’’ known to all as Arthur’s O’on (or oven) for some obscure reason.

It was a unique circular Roman monument said to be a temple to the god Mars constructed in the second century at around the same time as the Antonine Wall.

Although it was well known to 18th century antiquarians as a relic of great significance it was demolished in 1743 by the then laird of Stenhouse, Sir Michael Bruce, who was in financial distress with a large family to support and needed a supply of ready dressed stone to repair his mill dam.

For this act of vandalism he was cursed at the time and ever since for removing what would have been one of the most important buildings in the land had it survived.

Sir Michael is also known to history as the man who sold 14 acres of land to Dr John Roebuck and his partners as the site for the great ironworks in 1759.

As the company expanded, more and more bits of the estate were acquired for new furnaces, moulding shops and forges though the family did retain the house and grounds until 1888 when they were purchased for £40,000 by John Bell, Sherriff of Carronvale, whose grandson Christopher sold it to Carron Company in 1919.

The Company converted the building into apartments and it served in this way until after World War Two.

From 1961 on the residents were rehoused and, with the Company declining to repair or refurbish, it was allowed to fall into disrepair and the decision to close the building was made.

Over the following years its condition deteriorated until it was said to be dangerous.

It was demolished in 1967 with hardly an objection.

An ignominious end to a building which would, like its Roman predecessor, have been an asset to the community. It’s a sadly familiar story.