Calatria – recording Falkirk’s history

Map of Falkirk area from around 1590.
Map of Falkirk area from around 1590.

Regular readers of this column will forgive me if I use this week’s article to celebrate a personal historical milestone.

Twenty five years ago this month Falkirk Local History Society published the first issue of a journal designed to provide an outlet for research into the rich history of the district. The plan was that the society would produce two issues a year each with around seven new articles and we hoped that we might keep going for four or five years! Surprisingly this week we publish number 33, not quite two a year but given that we also produced more than a dozen books as well it is not a bad return!

We decided back in 1991 to call the journal Calatria which was a very early name for the huge area between the Carron and Avon which today contains a large part of our district. We were fortunate that two of our members Geoff Bailey, who first had the idea of the journal, and John Reid, who suggested the name, had accumulated a backlog of unpublished articles on a wide variety of subjects. Other researchers came up with their own topics and that first issue not only explained the meaning of ‘Calatria’ but also described local doocots, the history of the old Falkirk Sheriff Court, the Tar Works in Camelon and the fascinating local diary of farmer Thomas Johnstone of Hallhouse.

Since then John and Geoff have provided a steady stream of material and are still our major contributors. As well as free standing articles both developed themes over several issues such as Geoff’s detailed description of many local graveyards and John’s examination of the Feudal Parishes of the district.

My own task was to act as editor and gather the material, find the illustrations and lay out the pages on what was back in 1991 a primitive and very slow PC! Things are so much easier now.

Over the years we have published 230 articles by 63 different contributors adding up to over 4000 pages.

The journal is now regularly used by historians at home and abroad, and writers from America, Australia and even Italy with Falkirk connections have had their work published for the first time.

Of course the articles are not the rather light-hearted rambles through local history that make up this column each week but serious research producing new insights into what may have happened from the distant past to the modern era. For example, with the current restoration work in Falkirk town centre well underway, we have devoted the new issue to tracing the evolution of the town from pre Roman times through the Dark Ages and medieval period to the industrial and Victorian eras. This edition of Calatria begins to tell this story and, in the spring of 2017, we will complete the saga.

Up to now the journal has been printed for us by Ron and Simon Sanderson in Larbert and their skill and patience has been a big help to the Society. Ron has now retired so we have taken the opportunity to mark our 25th anniversary by relaunching Calatria in a new and more modern format which we hope will help it reach an even bigger audience.

Over the years it is been hard work, especially for Geoff and John, but very worthwhile: when we are all pushing up the daisies Calatria will provide our descendants with a solid historical foundation which will help them understand where they came from. It is our gift to the future.

Calatria 33 is available from Waterstones or from members of the society.