Falkirk landmarks that aren’t what they seem

Bridgeness Tower near Bo'ness was originally a windmill
Bridgeness Tower near Bo'ness was originally a windmill

Last week, writing about Airth Castle, I described the mock frontage added to the medieval building to create what is now the recognisable face of the hotel. 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. With its crenellated top it looks for all the world like a castle rising high above the surrounding village and overlooking the Forth. 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.

Unlike the familiar Dutch variety, 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 and those of his wife are carved on a door lintel with the date 1750.

The following century the Cadell family of Grange, landowners and coalmasters, installed a sophisticated six inch telescope to create an astronomical observatory. 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 an 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 House, a very popular venue for wedding receptions. One of the attractions is a fine Scottish ‘castle’ with all the external features of fortified tower house of the 15th or 16th century. However, it was built from scratch in 2004 as an annexe to the 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, but it was only built in 1931 as a home for the town council of Denny which was abolished back in 1975. The building is now used 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 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.