Estate, History, Kinneil House

100 years since ‘Scotland’s biggest sale’ – including offers over £400 for Kinneil House: Centenary of public heritage at Kinneil _ Part 3

The first property auction in what an Edinburgh Evening News headline described as ‘Scotland’s Biggest Sale’ took place 100 years ago today, on Monday 19 June 1922, at the Star & Garter Hotel, Linlithgow. Kinneil House was among the properties on offer, for a starting price of just £400, but by the end of the auction it was left unsold.

The Star & Garter Hotel, as it looks today, during Marches Week, 2022

For the third in our series marking the Centenary of the process of Kinneil House and Estate first becoming public heritage assets (see also Part 1 and Part 2), we are posting original documents and newspaper coverage of the auction.

The auction was the first of five in the astonishing and unprecedented sale (“probably the largest ever having taken place in Scotland”, said the Evening News) by the Hamilton family of over 30,000 acres of their prime land across Central Scotland. It featured the Kinneil Estate of over 3,500 acres, including all its farms in the surrounding countryside between Bo’ness and Linlithgow, as well as the Reddingmuir Estate. Four subsequent auctions, including of the main Hamilton Estate, were held in Lanarkshire over the next ten days. We are very grateful to our previous Chair, Maria Ford, who has passed on a photocopy of the original auction catalogue.

An extract from the catalogue of the auction which took place 100 years ago today

A full report on the sale was published in the local Linlithgowshire Gazette on Friday 23 June 1922, and is reproduced below for interest. Some of the farms mentioned still remain in the same families to this day. There were no bids, however, for Kinneil House – the story of its subsequent acquisition, by Bo’ness Town Council, is to be continued!



Farms Bought by Sitting Tenants

Among the farming community of the Lothians much interest was aroused by the disposal by auction in the Star and Garter Hotel Linlithgow, on Monday of the unsold lots on the Kinneil and Reddingmuir estates belonging to the trustees of his Grace the late Duke of Hamilton and Brandon, K.T.

In the extent of the territory involved, the sale of the estates is probably one of the most important that has ever taken place in Scotland, the total area of the properties offered being upwards of 30,000 acres, divided into 450 lots. At Monday’s proceedings there was a crowded attendance of farmers, agents, and of the general public. The auctioneers were Messrs Knight, Frank and Rutley, London and Glasgow, acting in conjunction with Messrs Tuckett, Webster, and Company, London. Mr Forbes, of Messrs Moncrieff, Warren, Paterson, and Company, solicitors, 45 West George Street, Glasgow, was present, and also Mr A. K. Foulis, factor, Hamilton Estates Office, Hamilton, and Mr. John Bowie, factor of the Kinneil estate.

At the outset the auctioneer announced that there had already been sold 14,376 acres, consisting of 156 lots, the purchase money from which came to £250,000. The original area of Kinneil estate was 3500 acres, but that had been diminished by 24 lots sold privately and 12 lots which would not be offered for various reasons. The first lot offered was the arable mixed farm of East Bonhard (tenant, Mrs Dalgleish), extending to an area of about 136 acres, and including fully two acres of timbered woodland and two cottages, known as North Bonhard Cottages. The farm buildings comprise a dwelling-house, eight rooms, kitchen, scullery, bathroom, and a farm cottage; rental, £235 15s. The first bid was one of £300, followed by an increase of £500 and then by offers of £100 to £4300, at which figure it was sold to Mr Hugh Rankine, butcher, 60 Strathearn Road, Edinburgh. Lot two, Northbank Farm (tenant, Thomas Kirk, sen.), having been sold privately, the next property offered was Northbank cottage and garden, situated on the farm of Northbank. An offer of £225 was declined. Not a single bid was made for Redbrae Cottages and Bonhard House, which is divided into six dwelling-houses and let to tenants. Kinglass and Gauze farms were also privately disposed of, and the subjects next publicly offered with those of the arable mixed farm of Borrowstoun, tenanted by Thomas Kirk, jun., and having a rental of £332 15s. The farm extends to about 206 acres, including about 13 acres of woodlands, a whinstone quarry, and also a cottage and garden. Starting at £4000 – a long figure – the bidding stopped at £4800, when the subjects were withdrawn. For the desirable farm of Bo’mains, extending to about 340 acres and with a rental of £542, a bid of £5500 was made, but this was also declined. Balderston Farm (133 acres, rental £252) was sold privately on the morning of the sale to Mr Geo. Crawford, Crosshill, East Kilbride, Lanarkshire. East Kerse Mains of 108 acres, rental £193, was put up as a conveniently situated farm with a frontage to a good road. The bidding started at £2000, and by stages of £100 it rose to £2750, when it was sold to the present tenant, Mr George Kirkwood.


The farm of Nether Kinneil, of about 112 acres, with good dwelling-house, ample steading accommodation, and one farm cottage (rental £163), was knocked down at £3150 to the sitting tenant, Mr Peter Jamieson, the bidding in this instance also commenced at £2000. No offer was made publicly for the residence known as the Dean, nor for the structure of the historical Kinneil House. The auctioneer tried hard to get a starting bid for the old fabric, which, he said, was approached by a fine avenue, and had very great possibilities. There was available a great deal of building material, and he expressed the hope that the famous house would be bought and devoted to some worthy purpose. Kinneil House, a fifteenth century* keep bestowed on the Hamiltons by King Robert the Bruce, is rich in historical associations. It was in this house that Dugald Stewart wrote many of his works, and that James Watt brought some of his improvements on the steam engine to perfection. The auctioneer suggested £500, and later £400, as a bid, but there was no response, and so the structure went unpurchased. Offers were then invited for three houses, out-buildings, large garden, and Ladywell grass park, comprising about seven acres, and about nine acres of woodland, the whole extending to an area of about 18 acres. A condition of the sale was that the purchaser, if required, was to grant a lease up to five years to the head gardener and head forester at a rent of £10. The initial offer was one of £400, rising to £550, but this was not regarded as acceptable, and the lot was withdrawn. The same fate befell East Brewlands Park, a bid of £650 being declined for the lot. Feuing plots and lands described as ripe for development did not command a single offer, and all were withdrawn.

It was intimated that tack-duties on the sawmill, public bleaching green, and gas works, Bo’ness, had been sold privately. An offer of £25 tack-duty by the County Council for the police station, Bo’ness, was declined: while in the case of Lochhouse, near Linlithgow, an offer of £260 on behalf of Thomas Chalmers and Son, paper millowners, was accepted.



All the farms on Kinneil estate have now been sold, with the exception of Borrowstoun, Bo’mains, Inveravon, Polmonthill, and Jinkabout. The three last named were reserved at the sale. Borrowstoun and Bomains were put up, but offers did not reach the upset price and the lots were withdrawn.

Included in the sale of the Duke of Hamilton’s Kinneil estate is the farm of North Hainings, situated midway between Bo’ness and Grangemouth, which was sold to Grangemouth Co-operative Society. The farm extends to fully 123 acres, and the lease of the present tenant expires in Martinmass, 1922. The farms of Kinglass and Gauze, the leases of which expire in 1928, and the West Lothian Golf Course had been purchased by Mr Wm. Alexander, potato merchant, Bo’ness.

Woodhead Farm, the lease of which expires in 1926, has been acquired by Mr William Nimmo, Inches, Larbert, and Rousland Farm has been bought by the sitting tenant, Mr James Meikle. Kinneil Kerse, the lease of which expires in 1924, goes to Mr Turnball, Linksfield, Airth. The present tenant, Mr James Jackson, is retiring.

The foreshore rights at Bo’ness (so far as these belong to the Hamilton estate trustees), all to the east of Kinneil Coal Company debris heaps, but expressly excluding the mineral in and under the said foreshore, were withdrawn. These rights, it seems, have still to be identified.

The lots previously sold, it was announced by Mr Barrows, the auctioneer, were:– Northbank farm (tenant, Thomas Kirk, sen.), lease expires Martinmas, 1923; Kinglass Farm (tenant, Thomas Imrie), lease expires Martinmas, 1928; Gauze Farm (tenant, James Tait), lease expires Martinmas, 1928; West Lothian Golf Club, lease expires 1923, rental £20; Lochhouse Farm (tenant, Mrs Jane Brown), lease expires Martinmas, 1928; Balderston Farm and woodland (tenant, Wm. Brown), lease expires Martinmas, 1923; Kinneil Mills Farm, woodland, etc. (tenant, Hugh S. Fleming), lease expires Martinmas, 1928; Rousland Farm and woodland (tenant, James Meikle), lease expires Martinmas, 1928; Upper Kinneil Farm (tenant, A. Galbraith), tenancy, tacit relocation; cottage and smithy, Upper Kinneil (tenant, Andrew Cumming), yearly tenancy; North Hainings Farm and woodland (tenants, John and Wm. F. Baxter’s heirs and others), lease expires Martinmas, 1922; Kinneil Kerse Farm (tenant, James Jackson), lease expires Martinmas 1924; Peddie’s Toll Cottage, Avon Bridge (tenant, D. Kincaid), tenancy quarterly; house, gardens, and grass parks, situated in Kinneil policies (tenants, Mrs Laird and another), yearly tenancy; accommodation ground at Kinneil (tenants, Calder, Dixon and Co. Ltd.), lease expires Whitsunday, 1928; football ground occupied by Bo’ness F.C., lease expires Martinmas, 1934; ground at Links, Bo’ness (occupied by Thomson and Balfour), lease expires Whitsunday 1992; ground at Links (occupied by Bo’ness Town Council), lease expires Whitsunday, 1977; ground at Links, Bo’ness (occupied by Bo’ness Gas Light Co.), lease expires Whitsunday, 1976; ground at South Street, Bo’ness (occupied by J. H. Aitken), lease expires Whitsunday, 1988; ground at Corbiehall, Bo’ness (occupied by Bo’ness Town Council), lease expires Whitsunday, 1975; cottage and workshop at Bonhard (occupied by Thomas Turnbull), lease expires Whitsunday, 1967; site of reservoirs, filter houses, etc., at Bo’mains (occupied by Bo’ness Town Council), lease expires Martinmas, 1981.

The lots not offered for various reasons were:– Todsmill, mill buildings, and woodlands, cottage and garden (tenants, Alex. Galbraith and others), and an estate employee cottage and garden, near Todsmill (tenant, Mark Hurll and another); Inveravon Farm, woodlands, etc. (tenant, Alex Taylor), lease expires Martinmas, 1923; Jinkabout Meal Mill, land, 3 cottages, and outbuildings (tenant, Wm. Wilson and others), lease expires Martinmas, 1923; Polmonthill Farm and woodland (tenant, William Meikle and others) tenant tacit relocation; the Dean, with garden and grounds, Kinneil (tenant, estate factor); cottage and garden situated in Kinneil policies, and tenanted by estate employee; accommodation ground at Slaghill (tenanted by John Denholm and Co., Ltd.), lease expires Whitsunday, 1928; foreshore rights at Bo’ness and the plot of ground at Coalgate, tenanted by James Tait, farmer.

[*Footnote – Kinneil House is now believed by experts to be originally at its core a 16th-Century keep, or tower house, not 15th-Century].

The newspaper’s diarist, in his separate weekly column entitled Pencillings of the Week, reflected on the momentous auction as follows:

Little can be said regarding the disposal of the Hamilton policies, except that it comes as a very painful reminder of the times we are living in. There is something pathetic about this passing of the land from its ancient proprietors, to whom Scotland, and indeed Great Britain, owes so much“.