Just over 300 metres north of Muiravonside Church are the remains of Almond Castle. The tower castle is in the middle of a derelict site which has been marked for development . The tractors have moved in but it is not clear what the plan is for the site .
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In 1928 Manuel Brickworks was set up on this site and it expanded rapidly during the 1930’s and 40’s, but local housing struggled to keep pace. Kenneth Sanderson’s book, Stein of Bonnybridge, notes that in the early years “Manuel had no houses,” so John G. Stein’s grandson made repeated trips to Westminster to petition for an allocation of 80 homes. The new village of Whitecross was the result. Tied housing wasn’t unusual in the brick industry: Allandale village was built at the start of the 1920’s to house Stein’s workforce at Castlecary.
Manuel grew decade by decade until there were 20 acres of buildings, a labour force of 1200 people, and over 200,000 tons of bricks were fired each year. The works offices expanded several times, and housed the first computer to be installed in a British brickworks. Steins even wrote their own computer programmes!
Manuel reached its peak in the 1960’s, but fundamental change came when the oxygen steel-making process was introduced: demand for refractories plummeted. In reaction, Steins merged with General Refractories in 1967, then two years later the group was taken over by Hepworth Ceramics. Manuel won the Queen’s Award for Exports in 1987 although by then production had dropped to less than a quarter of its capacity.
The refractory industry was in retreat: Hepworth was taken over by Alpine in 1997, renamed Premier Refractories, then the firm was bought by Cookson in 1999. Manuel Works was operated by Cookson’s subsidiary Vesuvius until it finally closed in December 2001. Decommissioning began in the New Year.
Sensing an opportunity, Tom Farmer’s firm stepped in. Morston Assets bought the brickworks in August 2002, then drew up plans for a £150m redevelopment consisting of 1000 houses and half a million square feet of offices. Objectors argued that the proposals went against the intentions of the Local Plan: after much debate, planning approval was refused.
Morston regrouped and tried again. In 2006, they approached financial institutions to raise £1bn to fund their many brownfield projects, including Manuel – but the Great Recession came along in 2007 and the project was placed on hold. Meantime, the giant sheds were leased out to a catering firm, car repairers, a structural steel fabricator and builder’s merchant.
A couple of years later, the scheme re-emerged as a so-called SIRR or Special Initiative for Residential-led Regeneration, and joined the ranks of the SSCI or Scottish Sustainable Communities Initiative projects. Cadell2 formulated a masterplan joining the Manuel site and Whitecross village, which now ran to 1500 new houses, 225 of which were classed as “affordable”. The scheme included offices and industrial units, a science park campus, a primary school and new village centre.
The project represents a five-fold increase to Whitecross, which currently consists of around 340 houses and 800 people; despite that, it was allocated in the Falkirk Local Plan in January 2010.
In June 2010, Farmer’s company announced an architectural competition to lay out the first section of the site, which Malcolm Fraser’s practice won in conjunction with Stewart Milne Homes. In parallel, Morston Assets moved forward with the intention of demolishing the brickworks. In October 2010, the masterplan was agreed, and it achieved planning approval in principle in May 2011. Demolition began swiftly afterwards, but that’s as far as the regeneration of Manuel Works has gone.
Four years later, Manuel remains a wasteland of clay, rubble and clinker. When asked about the future of the Whitecross regeneration, neither Morston Assets nor their administrators KPMG had got back to Urban Realm by the time the magazine went to press.
At this point, it’s worth examining the motives of the main players. Cookson were presumably keen to sell the land and rid themselves of its liabilities, such as ongoing security and maintenance, plus eventual remediation. The site includes old fireclay workings and former Haining tip to the north, as well as the former brickworks.
Morston Assets bought the site and took the role of land developer. They planned to remediate the site, gain approvals, construct infrastructure – then invite other developers to build out smaller parcels of land. Falkirk Council saw an opportunity for the regeneration of derelict land, and potentially many new jobs. By allowing a private developer to carry out the regeneration, they minimised the cost to their taxpayers, although they retained some control over it through the planning process.
This was once the principal seat of the Barony of Manuel and, anciently, the castle and its immediate lands were known as Haining. William de Crawfurde de Manuel is on record in 1417. It remained with the Crawford family until the middle of the sixteenth century. William Crawford, the last of the male line, died in or around 1542. He was married to Margaret Livingston and he was survived by their two daughters, Agnes and Margaret. Agnes was married to Thomas Livingston, third son of Alexander, Lord Livingston of Callendar and, Margaret once she came of age, sold her half to Agnes in 1551. The estate was held by this branch of the Livingstons until the middle of the seventeenth century. Sir James Livingston, the younger son of Alexander, Lord of Callendar and Earl of Linlithgow acquired the lordship of the castle and lands sometime around 1640. He had been honoured with the title of Lord Almond by King Charles I in 1633 for his past services and, as was not uncommon, his title became attached to the property. A writ of 1694 has ‘Hayning now called Almond’. After the forfeiture of the Livingstons of Callendar in 1716 the castle and lands were held by the York Buildings Company until they were purchased by William Forbes in 1783.
The castle appears to have been first built as a tower-house in the fifteenth century by the Crawford family; the surviving part is that earliest structure. Major additions were made in the sixteenth century superficially transforming it into a mansion house. By the time it came into the hands of Forbes it was uninhabited and ruinous. In recent decades the ruin has survived within the work premises of Stein’s of Manuel. The recent closure of the works and the planned redevelopment of the area offers hope for repair and stabilisation of the castle in the future.
Information about Almond Castle provided by the Falkirk Local Historical Society