The History of an Estate: Annfield House

This month’s focus is on the history of a house and its owners, and the changes it witnesses and is part of through the centuries. Our specific focus is Annfield House, found in the Kings Park area of Stirling, and which has been a feature of the town for over 230 years. Whilst there are some gaps in the information available, we can chart fairly accurately its story over the years. Likewise, the House and Estate would not have been the primary home for some of the owners, and it would have been let out to other tenants over the course of its history.

Annfield Estate was founded in 1785, when creditors of one James Nathaniel Rind sold the larger Wester Livilands estate to the Stirling Magistrates, who then feud it out for a number of smaller properties, including Springbank and Viewforth.

Our chartulary records (SBC/7/1) show the origins of ownership granted to Mr John Campbell “of the Lot of Ground No1 in the Town Park near St Ninians Well, measuring 5 acres, 1 road, 20 falls and 33 ells on the conditions within mentioned”. As the heir of his father, also John Campbell, then inherited the lands from his father in 1798.

1831 saw the inheritance of the Estate pass to writer Alexander Littlejohn Esquire, Campbell’s nephew, before his own nephew Duncan Littlejohn Esquire, in service of the Honourable East India Company then became owner a short time later in 1834. The family were very involved in Stirling life, and Alexander’s brother, Thomas, was the Provost of the town in the early 19th century.

Mr Thomas Colville, the following owner, was also a prominent member of town life in the 1840’s until his death in February 1851. This may have been unexpected as Thomas had just renewed his position as part of the Committee of the National Security Savings Bank. The Colvilles were also known to be charitable and donate to funds such the Ragged School, to which Mrs Colville donated 89 books in April 1851. The Holyrude kirk session minutes for 1851 (CH2/1026/11) at their meeting on 7 April of that year record an application from Mrs Colville of Annfield “for liberty to erect a headstone and flat stone to cover her burying ground”. The Committee on Lairs concluded that they would firstly need to receive a sketch or plan of the contemplated monument submitted from Mrs Colville before being able to grant approval for her request.

An article in the Stirling Observer from March 1851 contains an advert for the sale of Annfield after the death of Thomas, but a follow up on 3 April revealed that the estate was no longer on the market as it had been “otherwise disposed of”. No further information was supplied, so this period of time regarding ownership is rather mysterious.

The fate of Annfield, and of education within the town, was to be dealt a kind hand with the visit of Colonel Hamilton Tovey Tennent in 1852, a Stirling native but who had long left the town, entering into service in the Indian army, before being based in Stanmore, Middlesex. On a visit to his hometown, Colonel Tennent was impressed by the many attractive buildings and advancements that the town had achieved, but also saw the need for an improvement in the current school buildings to ensure the young population had the facilities to receive the best education possible. Offering £1000 to this end, the council gratefully received the Colonel’s offer and finally presented him the Freedom of the Burgh which he had actually been awarded in 1829, but for which there had been no opportunity previously for a ceremony.

The Colonel also became the owner of Annfield in the late 1850s/early 1860s, and when he died in 1866 at the age of 84 after injuries sustained from a bad fall at Stanmore, the Estate was inherited by his relative, Helen Howarth Graham. Annfield saw some renovations during this period, evidenced by an article in the Stirling Journal from September 1874 which publicised details of a loan that Helen took out of £110 to make improvements to the Estate.

The subsequent owner that we can find record of was Major General John Spurway of Devon who took over the Estate until 1894. Major Spurway was a veteran of the Crimean War, for which he received much recognition, and was a recipient of the Legion d’Honneur medal. He died in 1903. Spurway married Caroline Dundas Stirling, who belonged to the Stirling of Gargunnock family. Their daughter, also Caroline, bequeathed a stained glass window depicting St Elizabeth of Hungary to Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Stirling in 1944 in memory of her parents and older sister.

The Estate changed hands in 1894 when Bailie Lawson moved into the property with his family. Bailie Lawson was a well known Stirling figure who had started a very successful family draper business in 1856 which extended to include branches throughout the country. An article in the Stirling Observer from 1900, part of which is shown here, discusses the opening of new premises in Argyle Street, Glasgow and provides some historical information regarding the firm. The Lawsons appear to have lived happily in Annfield until they sold the property to Robert Forrester, local colliery master in 1913.

A full account of Robert Forresters’ life can be found in a Stirling Observer article following his death in September 1940 (PD72/150). Shortly after acquiring the Estate, Robert submitted plans for additions to the mansion house, approved by the council Works Committee in December 1913 (SBC/11/46). During World War Two, the family had offered Annfield as a base for the Red Cross to operate from, and had loaned the remainder of the house for the “Parcels for POWs” fund. The sale of the Estate in the summer of 1944 appears to have been contentious, leading to Mrs Forrester publicly writing to the local newspapers to clarify the circumstances of the sale. Her affection towards Annfield appears evident.

The following chapter brought a huge change in the life of Annfield House and the Estate. The local town football team, Kings Park FC (1875-1945), had been forced from their ground at Forthbank Park thanks to a bomb dropped by the Luftwaffe in July 1940 which had destroyed their site. A new team was formed who were also in need of a home. In spring 1945, Thomas Fergusson, coal merchant, applied on behalf of the newly formed Stirling Albion Football Club for permission to convert the Annfield Estate into a stadium for the team. Though not unanimous, the minutes of the town council meeting from 21 May 1945 (SBC/11/77) show that the proposal was carried. Football was then played for almost 50 years there, witnessing the first match in Scotland to take place on a synthetic pitch in 1987, and the team becoming the first in Britain to play the game in Japan.

Had a 1969 application by the club been accepted, Annfield House itself would not still be in existence today. The club had applied to demolish the property in order to erect a new grandstand, social club and administrative buildings, with additional car parking being made available directly of the site of the former mansion house. Fortunately, this was declined but the need for more space was accepted and a social club was built in Cowane Street in the early 1970’s.

The club faced bankruptcy in 1981 and were forced to sell the estate to the council and rent it back from them. Although the stadium was advertised as an inclusive venue for everyone, it was decided that the regular upgrades and modifications required were too expensive, and in a full circle event, it was decided to demolish the stadium and erect a new ground for the club back at Forthbank.

This leads up to the current chapter in the history of the Estate which has seen Annfield developed for residential housing in the mid 1990’s, with the mansion house itself adapted to function as a care home for the elderly which is still in operation today, having been renovated after falling into disrepair.

Annfield has seen many changes over the centuries, from being surrounded by other large estates and mansion houses to the present, modern day, in the middle of the expansion and development of the town. Only time will tell what function the House may perform in the future.

If you have any further information regarding the House, Estate or those who may have lived or worked at Annfield, feel free to get in touch.

Sources used:

“Notes for a New History of Stirling: Kings Park”- R and B.D. McCutcheon