Fire sparked the end for Dunipace castle

Herbertshire Castle in Dunipace pictured during a visit from children from an orphanage circa 1890
Herbertshire Castle in Dunipace pictured during a visit from children from an orphanage circa 1890

Last week’s Herald had items about Herbertshire Castle in Dunipace which was badly damaged by fire 100 years ago with the loss of three lives.

Charles Forbes of Callendar House, his wife and six children had gathered for Christmas with 15 staff and two guests when fire broke out in the small hours of December 20. The family escaped via the roof but the guests – sisters Cynthia (14) and Clare Graham (16) from Airthrey Castle and their governess Rachel Littlejohn - were trapped in bedrooms and perished in the flames.

Despite the efforts of the staff, the people of Denny and the fire brigades the castle was gutted and stood in a ruinous condition for decades before it was demolished in the early 1950s when the Barnego Road housing estate was built. It was a double tragedy, for as well as the terrible loss of life, it signalled the beginning of the end for the lands of Herbertshire which had a long and interesting history dating back well before the castle was built in the 15th century.

As usual with such distant periods of history, it is difficult to be certain about the origins of estates and families but we do know that a man called Herbert de Camera possessed the lands of Dunipace in the early 1200s so it is reasonable to assume that he or his son, also Herbert, erected a first wooden ‘fortalice’ or motte on top of the hill where the stone castle was eventually built. For a time the lands were owned by the celebrated Douglas family before passing to the Sinclairs, Earls of Orkney, around 1407. They were in occupation for the next two centuries, building the new castle in 1474.

The Sinclairs were the famous family who 30 years earlier had founded Rosslyn Chapel with all its intriguing associations with the infamous Knights Templar – ‘stars’ of the best-selling yarn by Dan Brown. The Templar Order had been disbanded a century before the Sinclairs came to Dunipace but many Templar holdings had passed to another related order of Christian Knights – the Hospitallers whose main place in Scotland was at Torphichen.

Interestingly, they did hold some lands in the Denny area preserved in the names Dryburgh and Temple-Denny which at one time encompassed almost a third of Denny parish.

Unfortunately there is no surviving evidence linking Herbertshire with either the Templars or Hospitallers, but it is an intriguing thought. At a later period the Stewart Kings used the Dunipace area for hunting and falconry and Herbertshire Castle would no doubt have become a royal residence for these occasions. Around 1600 the Livingstons of Callendar bought the lands and castle, followed in 1632 by the Stirlings who were in occupation for over a century.

The original L-shaped tower house was extended with all kinds of additions creating a cocktail of turrets, towers and side buildings we see in photographs. The Moreheads from London arrived in 1768. Their ancestors were Muirheads from Hamilton. During their period the castle was used as a residential school for boys before it was purchased by William Forbes of Callendar in 1835.

It seems to have been used as a family dower house during the 19th century until that tragic night in December 1914 when lives were lost along with a fascinating part of our local history.