BROOMHALL, which was originally named Broom Hall, was built in the late 19th century for James Johnstone of Elmbank Mills in Menstrie.

Erected in 1874, in the baronial style popularised by Queen Victoria's Balmoral Castle, the mansion was designed by Stirlingshire architect Francis Mackison. And at three storeys high, its most prominent feature was its central square tower.

At the time, Johnstone ran the successful woollen mill with his business partner George Drummond.

The mill had been built in the 1860s at the height of the woollen industry in the Hillfoots, but the two men went their separate ways when Drummond decided to sell his share of the business to Johnstone following a disagreement.

Johnstone continued the business alone until around the turn of the 20th century.

Broomhall, as it is spelled today, remained a private residence until the 1930s. In 1931, the tenant was listed on the local valuation rolls as James Johnstone, Stockbroker, however it was sold around 1935 and became a boys' boarding school.

Clifford Park Preparatory Boys School was run under the auspices of William Herbert Leetham, a former member of the Northern Regiment, from which he retired in 1923, with a background in education.

In the early hours of Friday 28th June 1940, while the boys camped out in the grounds, the building was destroyed by fire. This was despite the efforts of the boys initially then the Alloa Fire Brigade which arrived at 3am.

The fire seemed to originate on the second floor towards the rear of the building and the alarm was raised by the Local Defence Volunteers who were out on their night-time patrol.

It took hold quickly and could be seen for miles as it lit up the sky. Under the direction of Fire Master Robert Cairns, water was pumped from the county mains near the old Menstrie railway station and it was eventually brought under control sometime before 9am.

By this time a large crowd had gathered to see what had happened and offered what help they could.

The climax of the fire was when the roof caved in. It was reported in the local newspapers, the Alloa Journal and Devon Valley Tribune, that a shower of sparks were sent skywards like a firework exploding, lighting up the whole area.

No one was injured but the building was completely gutted, although some furniture was saved.

The cost of the damage ran into several thousand pounds but luckily Leetham had the building insured.

Meanwhile, the boys were shipped elsewhere to continue their education.

A MYTH grew up around the fire at Broomhall in Menstrie. It was said, perhaps as a propaganda ploy while World War II dragged on, that it had been deliberately set alight, so it could be used as a beacon for the German Luftwaffe as a guide to bombing Clydebank.

That area was the heart of not only wartime ship building, but also where munitions were manufactured, and there was a large oil store for the Royal Navy nearby.

Due to industry and housing being in close proximity, it was inevitable civilian casualties would be high.

The Clydebank Blitz took place on the nights of 13th and 14th March 1941, nine months after the fire at Broomhall. Over 500 people were killed, and of 12,000 houses only eight survived.

In addition, enemy aircraft would have been detected by the Royal Observatory Corps posts positioned around 11 miles apart throughout the country and any enemy plane brought down or escorted to the nearest local airfield.

Following the fire Leetham moved to Canterbury and died in East Sussex in 1980 aged 81.

In 1946, and although most of it was in ruins, the proprietor of the house was Walter Alexander of Kork-N-Seal, a metal bottle cap manufacturer, but by 1950, he had moved on and it belonged to Walter McAlpine Chalmers who rented it out to radio operator William James Sillars.

It was also during the 1950s that the gardener’s cottage was sold to Tommy Kettles and the stables at the mansion were converted into a house in 1977.

Broomhall was left to rot and decay for years making it an ideal playground for the local children.

The darkness, the wet grass and the mud did not deter them, and it was likened to somewhere out of a horror movie, especially during thunderstorms. A tree grew out the top of one of the turrets.

However, in 1985, Bracewell Stirling Architects became involved and it was transformed into a nursing home with some large furniture being donated to it by local families.

In the summer of 1999 an application was made to Clackmannanshire Council for a change of use to a hotel and in 2003 it was sold for just under £500,000.

It is unclear when Broomhall adopted the title of castle into its name.

Many large estate houses in Clackmannanshire incorporated it into their mansions, such as Harviestoun Castle and Cowden Castle, but Johnstone never used it, referring to his home only as Broom Hall. It would appear this was a later addition, coined by others.