Callendar House is a mansion set within the grounds of Callendar Park in Falkirk, central Scotland. It has belonged to the burgh of Falkirk since 1963 and today is an important asset for the town, as a very large public park and a major tourist attraction.
The house lies on the line of the 2nd-century Antonine Wall, built by the Romans from the Firth of Clyde to the Firth of Forth. In the 12th century, Thanes Hall or Thane House, located to the east of the present house, was one of the seats of the Thanes of Callandar. Callendar passed by marriage to the Livingston family, who built the oldest part of the present building, a 14th-century tower house. The Livingstons were one of Scotland’s greatest political families, never far from the center of public affairs. During its 600-year history, Callendar House played host to many prominent historical figures including Mary, Queen of Scots; Oliver Cromwell; Bonnie Prince Charlie; and Queen Victoria.
The 7th Lord Livingston was created Earl of Linlithgow in 1600 and his younger son was created Earl of Callendar in 1641. The titles merged in 1695. The 5th Earl of Linlithgow & 4th of Callendar was forfeited for being a Jacobite in the ‘1715’ and lost all his titles and estates. The representation of the Livingston family passed to his sister’s son, William Boyd 4th Earl of Kilmarnock, who was forfeited and beheaded for being a Jacobite during the 1745 Uprising.
In 1783 the Callendar estates were sold by the government holding company by public auction. The heir of the Livingstons, James, 15th Earl of Erroll, bid for it but was outbid by William “Copperbottom” Forbes (1756–1823). Forbes was a cadet of the first Newe family and made an enormous fortune from the contract to sheathe the hulls of the Royal Navy’s battleships with copper, hence his nickname. When challenged by the auctioneers how he was going to pay, he simply pulled a banker’s draft for £100,000 out of his pocket (the equivalent today of about £50 million).
William Forbes made significant alterations to the house. He also developed magnificent gardens and a large park, with many ornamental structures including the family mausoleum. When construction of the Union Canal was proposed, William objected to it passing through his estate, in view of Callendar House. This necessitated building a 700 yd (636 m) tunnel through Prospect Hill to the west. William’s son and grandson further altered the building based on designs by David Hamilton. Later in the 19th century, the house was redesigned and extended in the style of a French Renaissance château fused with elements of Scottish baronial architecture.
As of 1873, the Forbeses of Callendar were the richest branch of the Forbes family, owning 57,000 acres and a rental income of £25,000 - some four times larger than Lord Forbes. While they sold the house and its park to the town of Falkirk in 1963, the family still owns most of the estate.