Upstairs, downstairs andin the Queen’s chamber

Back in 1925 Falkirk was in a frenzy of fundraising to pay for a new infirmary to replace the original Thornhill Road hospital which was far too small.

Saturday, 1st February 2020, 10:52 am
The drawing room in 1925.

A site at Gartcows had been acquired and all that remained was to raise the £120,000 required to put up the building.

It was no easy task (£3 million at today’s prices) and every possible method was used to gather in the pounds, shillings and pence.

Concerts, sports events, street collections, dances, road races, highland games, jumble sales, street parades, student’s rag weeks, basket teas and lots of other activities dominated the life of the community.

Folk were even urged to strap a collection box on their dog and “teach him to make collections but not in thoroughfares without a special permit”!

I’m particularly interested in one of the most popular initiatives which made a big contribution to the campaign.

Callendar House, at the time the home of Charles Forbes and his family, was pretty much a closed book to the population.

Few of the ordinary folk had crossed the big front door to see the treasures within.

Charles was the great-grandson of the first William Forbes who had purchased the former Livingston lands in 1783 and the house contained the furniture, ceramics, old master paintings and much else collected by the wealthy family throughout the 19th century: works by Rafael and Titian, a complete dinner service of solid silver plate, a large collection of 17th century Bohemian ruby and gilt glass, a priceless Chinese cabinet and much more.

Realising the attraction of a visit, the fund-raising committee approached Mr and Mrs Forbes with a proposal to throw open the doors during the month of June and they agreed.

On the first of the month at 3.30pm and every afternoon thereafter, according to the advert: “The guests will be received by Mrs Forbes herself, who will show them round the house and give them tea”. The charge was five shillings and parties of 20 were admitted at a time.

In addition visitors could purchase a special brochure for one shilling as a souvenir of their visit.

For us today this 20 page booklet is of great interest with its historical information and contemporary photographs of the inside of the house.

I have a copy in front of me and it contains details of many of the treasures including the full length portrait of the first William Forbes by Sir Henry Raeburn which then hung in the morning room.

It is now in the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh.

There are descriptions of many of the rooms and their decorative features and visitors were able to see the suite which Mary Queen of Scots was said to have occupied during her visits in the 16th century.

The two rooms were full of memorabilia – paintings, engravings, sculptures and documents relating to the Queen – but sadly they left the town in 1963 when all the contents were sold. Last time I laid eyes on them they were stored in an old stable in Bridge of Weir.

The Local History Society borrowed them in 1987 on the 400th anniversary of the Queen’s execution and they were on display in the Park Hotel. A week later they were back in the stable!

The brochure is also very informative about the hospital campaign with an artist’s impression of what the new infirmary would look like when complete – all intended, of course, to encourage the fundraisers to maximum effort.

In the end the money was raised and the new hospital opened in 1932. By then the doors of Callendar House were again firmly closed.