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Sir William Forbes of Callendar



Sir William Forbes, 1st of Callendar (1756–1823), was a prosperous copper smith and landowner who purchased Callendar House in Falkirk, Scotland. He was descended from Sir Alexander Forbes, 2nd Laird of Pitsligo, and Alexander Forbes of Newe (died 1561.) Sir William was a third-generation copper smith, following the footsteps of his grandfather George Forbes (died circa 1720) and his father William Forbes (born 1709.)

William and his elder brother George maintained the family copper smith business in Aberdeen and were the inspectors of weights and measures for that city. William opened a second office in Bishopsgate, London, for copper smith’s and brazier’s wares. In 1780, he established a business relationship with Welsh copper miner Thomas Williams. William was the first to patent cold-rolled bolts with grooved rolls and secured a contract for manufacturing copper bolts for the Royal Navy. He subsequently entered into lucrative government contracts for sheathing ships with copper and amassed a fortune. This was the source of his nickname “Copper-bottom” Forbes.

In 1783, William purchased the estate of Callendar and Callendar House in Falkirk, the ancestral home of Alexander Livingston, 7th Lord Livingston and 1st Earl of Linlithgow (died 1621.) The 5th Earl of Linlithgow (and 4th Earl of Callendar) was attainted in 1716 for his participation in the Jacobite Rising of 1715. All his peerages were forfeited and his property was seized by the government, through the Parliamentary Commissioners. The York Buildings Company purchased the estates in 1720 and leased the house back to the earl's daughter, Lady Anne Livingston. After Lady Anne's death in 1747, her son James Hay, 15th Earl of Erroll (1726–1778), remained at Callendar House until his death. In 1783, the estate went to auction after the York Buildings Company was forced to sell its assets. The 16th Lord Errol bid for the estate but was outbid by William for the sum of £80,000. Through this purchase, he was styled Sir William Forbes, 1st Lord of Callendar. He purchased further vast estates in Ayrshire, Earlstoun, Kirkcudbrightshire and Dumfriesshire.

Sir William made significant alterations to Callendar House by ripping out old rooms, building a new wing, and adding the various turrets and exterior decoration. He also developed magnificent gardens and a large park, with many ornamental structures including the family mausoleum. His son and grandson further altered the building in the style of French Renaissance Revival Châteauesque.

Sir William’s first wife was Margaret McAdam, daughter of John McAdam of Craigengillan. She died at the age of 28 in March 1793. Sir William remarried in 1806 Agnes Chalmers, daughter of John Chalmers of Old Machar in Aberdeen. This union produced two sons and three daughters: William (2nd Lord of Callendar), John (a Colonel in the Coldstream Guards), Katherine (who married J. Russell of the Royal Navy), Jessie (who married E. L. Gatacre), and Agnes (unmarried.) In 1794, Sir William gave his brother David greater control of the business in London and retired to Callendar House to become a full-time landowner. There he died in 1823 and was interred in the Forbes Mausoleum in Callendar Park. His first son William, 2nd of Callendar, went on to become Conservative MP for Stirlingshire.

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. In 1963, William Dudley Henry Charles Forbes, 5th of Callendar, Stirlingshire, sold Callendar House and the surrounding grounds to Falkirk Town Council as part of a compulsory purchase order. The majority of the estate is still owned by the family company Callendar Estate, which remains the largest landowner in Falkirk. Callendar House now serves as the headquarters of Falkirk Council Cultural Services.

For more information, see:
House of Forbes
Callendar Estate - History
VisitScotland: Callendar House
Naval Marine Archive

Left, top: Sir William Forbes by Scottish painter Henry Raeburn, 1798, now hanging in Callendar House.
Left, center: Callendar House, Falkirk, Scotland
Left: bottom: Forbes Mausoleum, Callendar Park

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