Falkirk’s old buildings are a present from the past

An old picture of Grange Church in Grangemouth

An old picture of Grange Church in Grangemouth

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It goes without saying that I love old buildings. They make our towns more beautiful and are a tangible link with the people who designed and built them and the past generations who lived, worked and worshipped within their walls.

Our district has dozens of these presents from the past and it’s heartbreaking to see any of them come crashing down when they are deemed no longer useful. The listing system helps a bit but is far from perfect.

The Carron building and the Police Station were listed and a fat lot of good it did them, but there are happier stories and many of our old churches are good examples of what can be done.

A century ago great stone buildings were so valuable that our forefathers would do anything they could to recycle them. The old Erskine Church in Silver Row became a picture house and later the Roxy Theatre. The former Bo’ness Parish Church in Corbiehall turned into the Star Cinema and Broompark Church in Denny became a community centre.

Even the little Tattie Kirk in Cow Wynd found a series of new uses since it closed in 1879 and more recent days have brought a different approach. The Methodist Church in James Street, the Congregational Church in Meeks Road and Grahams Road Church were all demolished with hardly an attempt to save them. Add to that the YMCA building and the Grange School in Grangemouth and many more. What a waste of scarce resources!

Happily things are better today and there is a feeling on the part of the community to stop demolition. The conversion of the former St Modan’s Church in Cochrane Street into flats in the 1990s preserved a wonderful building designed by Peter MacGregor Chalmers in 1914. And down in Grangemouth three handsome churches now serve the community in very different ways.

The former Grange Church (1903) was converted into flats and the old Free Church building at Charing Cross (1884) is now the Earl of Zetland pub. Some former members of the congregation may find this a bit hard to take but from the heritage point of view a fine building has survived and many of its decorative features have been repaired and preserved. The nearby Dundas Church is an A listed masterpiece designed by celebrated architect John James Burnet in 1893-4. It closed in 2006 following a merger with Kerse Church and was later turned into a funeral home thus preserving its external and internal appearance.

Scotland’s turbulent religious history with its regular divisions and disruptions in the 18th and 19th centuries meant that the Falkirk area had many new buildings all well supported by large congregations including well-to-do ironmasters and businessmen. But as we moved into a more secular world many were surplus to requirements and the process is not over yet.

Rolls continue to fall and the resulting mergers will no doubt mean more fine buildings standing empty in the future. It is a severe challenge especially in the current financial situation and I am well aware of the argument that we simply cannot find new purposes for all them all. However, we must not just shake our heads and say that nothing can be done. Our communities will be much the poorer if we simply look the other way.