by Ken Wright
Dalyell (or Dalziel), the scourge the Covenanters, is probably the
most famous or infamous local character about which much has been
written. The Dalyell's have inhabited The Binns for over
300 years, Sir Tam (Thomas) Dalyell, Baronet (Bt NS 1685) MP being
the current inhabitant. Like the apes of Gibralter it is said that
while peacocks parade on the lawns of the Binns (which is Gaelic
for hills) it will remain in the hands of the Dalyell family.
Eerie tales about the Commander-in-Chief have transcended the years since
his death. It was said that Tam and the devil played cards on a regular
basis. Auld Nick usually beat Tam but one night the General won. The devil
was so enraged that he hurled the heavy marble table that they were playing
on at Tam's head. The table missed the General and landed in a pond, which
lay outside the house.
Tam had added a west wing to the building creating a "U" shape
around the cobbled courtyard. He had also added turrets to the corners
of The Binns, which puzzled his tenants, as
they couldn't figure out exactly what the fortified towers were for.
Rumour said that Tam had had an argument with his old friend the devil.
Auld Nick had threatened to blow The Binns down and the General
had replied that he would make sure he wouldn't by fortifying the building
with walls. The devil had said Tam's walls wouldn't be strong enough to
protect The Binns, but the General replied that he would reinforce the
building's corners with turrets to anchor his property down.
In August 1685 Lieutenant-General Tam Dalyell died at his town house just
off John Street in the burgh of the Canongate where he lived with his fourth
wife Marion Abercrombie. Following military tradition his boots were hung
in reverse from the saddle of his horse while his martial baton was carried
on the top of the coffin. Troopers of the Royal Scots Dragoons, the red
coated Scots Guards and six field guns escorted his funeral procession.
Watched by hundreds of citizens, who lined the route, the sombre military
procession with muffled drums beating wound its way slowly up the hill
through Portsburgh leaving the city by the west gate.
"Old Tom of Muscovy" as he had been nick named by King Charles II was
buried beside his parents in the family vault at Abercorn Church not far from
The Binns. Tam's third son John took his father's cavalry boots back to his home
at Lingo in Fife but he was forced to return them to The Binns. Every night when
he took them off they wakened the sleeping household as they marched round the
house. It was said that if cold water was poured into them, it would quickly
come to a boil.
Although he was gone, Tam's legend continued to grow. On pitch black nights
the General mounted on a white charger could be seen entering his estate
by the Black Lodge situated on the road between Bo'ness and Queensferry.
Clattering across the ruined bridge over the Errack Burn, the ghostly horse
and rider would gallop up the old road to The Binns.
During the long hot summer of 1878 nearly two hundred years after the General's
death, the Sergeant's Pool outside the Binns where the troopers of the
Greys had watered their horses dried up. A heavy table of carved marble
that Tam might have used when he was playing cards was found buried in
Pict or Monk. Another spectre, which has been seen
roaming the grounds of the Estate, is that of a small figure clad
in a brown habit collecting firewood.
Water Sprite & Spirit. The now overgrown Sergeant's
pond is said to be the home of a water sprite that lures the unwary
to their death in the once dark waters of the pond. In Victorian
times the old entrance on the Bo'ness Queensferry road was known
as the home of a spirit which is said to have made horses bolt.