Since time immemorial mankind has built bridges, from simple tree trunks to mighty steel and concrete creations spanning the world’s great rivers.
Today people travel miles to see the Forth Rail Bridge or the Golden Gate in San Francisco and no visit to Avignon is complete without dancing a few steps ‘sur le pont’!
Our own locality has dozens of more humble but equally valuable bridges each with a story to tell and when any one of them is damaged by accident or neglect local people are quick to rise in their defence.
On Saturday the people of Denny and Dunipace will celebrate the success of just such a battle with the official opening of the new Dale footbridge over the Carron at Denovan. The campaign which began when the old bridge was damaged by storms in 2010 has resulted in a fine new bridge which restores the centuries old link between the two communities.
Towards the end of the 18th century Dunipace began to change from a rural parish with a scattered population into a manufacturing centre. At Herbertshire in 1783 the art of calico printing was introduced and workers were drawn to the area to learn the skills involved in reproducing beautiful coloured cotton prints and shawls like those imported from the town of Calicut in India. By 1800 a second printworks opened at Denovan employing hundreds of workers most of them from the Denny side of the river.
The first Dale Bridge made of timber dates from around then and it seems that the name is a corruption of ‘deal’ meaning planks of cut timber. Indeed the bridge and its successors were often referred to as the ‘Deal Bridge’.
The Denovan works were a great success and occupied a huge area just north of the bridge below the new Denovan Kirk which opened its doors in 1843. By that time the works was employing over 600 people and had bleaching works and a gas plant as well as a complex lade system and many buildings for printing and dyeing. But fashions changed suddenly and after a fire in 1854 the works fell into disrepair and eventually closed around 1860.
However the path across the river was a by then vital part of the life of the community and in 1866 public demand brought the replacement of the old wooden bridge with a new construction of metal.
This survived until 1890 when it was said to be in a very poor condition. When a child was drowned after falling through the footpath the public once again rose to the occasion by funding a second metal bridge which opened in 1891. Despite storm damage the following year the new bridge survived for more than a century until the disaster of 2010.
The new bridge has a single 100 ft. span crossing the river and looks very like its predecessor. For walkers it offers once again a pathway from Denny through Denovan to the new hospital in Larbert and on to Torwood. For the whole community it restores a fascinating part of our local history.
The Denny and Dunipace Heritage Society, Communities Along the Carron, Falkirk Council and all others involved in the project deserve our congratulations and thanks. In one sense the original Dale Bridge was the making of Denny and Dunipace and it’s comforting to know that people have not forgotten this vital moment in the story of their community.