Falkirk’s old hall was built to last

Falkirk Old Town Hall was replaced by the current building in the 1960s but still stands today
Falkirk Old Town Hall was replaced by the current building in the 1960s but still stands today

A couple of weeks ago the Falkirk Herald carried a story about the state of the municipal buildings and town hall which were said to be well beyond their sell by date.

I don’t suppose many people will shed a tear if these ugly 1960s buildings bite the dust but the same cannot be said about the town hall’s predecessor in Newmarket Street.

Falkirk has lost quite a few fine buildings in recent years – the infirmary and police station for example – but none mourned quite as fervently as ‘the old town hall’.

For nearly 90 years it was at the very heart of the community where people gathered by the thousand for school prize-givings and concerts, drama festivals and operas, great public appeals, dances, political rallies and even wrestling and boxing matches.

The site in Newmarket Street which still stands empty today was once referred to as ‘Dr Corbett’s garden’ since it was attached to the good doctor’s house Mount Vaccine!

The Feuars of Falkirk who were property owners with the right to collect fees from the farmers at the town markets, decided that the town needed a sheltered market place protected from the weather instead of the medieval site in front of the steeple.

In 1830 they purchased the garden and built lean-to shades at the back of the parish church and this served until 1858 when it was replaced by a ‘new market’.

As well as a great success as a corn exchange this building quickly became a major centre of municipal entertainment, and just 20 years later, the Feuars decided to replace it with the building we all still call ‘the old town hall’.

Designed by Falkirk’s leading architect William Black in classical style it was intended to serve as both corn exchange and town hall though it was not long before the municipal activities overtook the agricultural ones. The hall was officially opened with full masonic honours on June 6, 1879, the same day as the new Falkirk Lodge 16 which stood next door.

In the mid 1960s with the new town hall in West Bridge Street open, plans were approved for a new church hall, which Falkirk Old Parish badly needed, on the site of the town hall which would be demolished.

In April 1968 the bulldozers moved in but disaster followed.

As the back walls came down so did part of the organ chamber of the church and for a moment it looked like the medieval tower and much of the precious building would be lost.

However swift action saved the day but the site was considered unsafe for future building.

The congregation had to wait nearly 30 years for the fine St Modan’s Hall next to the church building. With hindsight I think there was a providence at work because the plans for that church hall show that it was to be 1960s style with a kind of walkway from the back of the church reminiscent of the shocking ‘bridge’ between the unloved Callendar Centre and the old Market Square.

One final story.

High up on the façade of the Town Hall on either side of the clock, were figures of a lion and a unicorn. As all lay in ruinous piles after demolition a passing gentleman spotted the unicorn’s head minus the horn and decided to take it into protective custody.

Today it sits in a garden in London the pride and joy of an exiled Falkirk bairn. The lion was never seen again!

Ask Ian

Chris Hynd asks how Slamannan got its name.

This is an old favourite with a few choices. Some say it relates to ‘Manau’ the home area of the Dark Age Gododdin tribe. Then there is the Pictish God ‘Tremanna’ and the Gaelic for Blind Man’s Alley. One wag also said that the land was so tough it would ‘slay man and mare’.

John Reid says it is probably Gaelic/British
for ‘hill muir’ and I always believe what he tells me!