Garrulous boys welcome but tobacco definitely not

The library when it first opened at 12 Stirling Street in Denny
The library when it first opened at 12 Stirling Street in Denny

The opening of the brand new library in Denny reported in last week’s Herald is great news for the customers and staff who have been living with really difficult conditions for a very long time indeed.

I was there on the day and while most of the other guests were no doubt looking forward to happy days I was thinking back to where it all began.

Denny Library

Denny Library

Not too far away as it happens, for Denny’s first library opened its doors across Stirling Road at number 12 in the space now occupied by William Hill.

This was where, on November 9, 1872, the Denny Peoples Club was inaugurated by a group of influential citizens who thought that the town needed something like the ‘mechanics institutes’ found in many Scottish communities.

There had been earlier initiatives but nothing had lasted for long and, in this new era of self improvement, reading rooms with books available were seen as a way to counteract social evils – especially the demon drink.

As well as the printed word there were to be public lectures, like the first one delivered by Stephen Wellstood a week after the opening.

Instead of talking about the iron foundry that bore his name he chose as his subject: ‘Bible Lands with Illustrations’!

The Peoples Club was founded by shareholders, mainly Ministers and local business men, and members paid five shillings per year, which was the equivalent of about a penny a week.

What was on offer included games like draughts, dominoes and billiards along with a reading room with newspapers and books purchased or donated by supporters.

By all accounts the new venture was very popular but constantly underfunded – a good example of this came in 1877 with the death of one Alexander McFarlane.

In his obituary he is described as the village grocer, school truant officer, local sanitary inspector and the librarian at the Peoples Club. In his spare time, he was Denny Total Abstinence Society secretary!

There was also some early friction between the games players and the readers which is well illustrated by an angry letter to the Herald from a man who called himself ‘shareholder’.

He said he had to beat a hasty retreat from “the garrulous noise of a crowd of boys around the fire, the click of the draught board and dominoes and the stinging fumes of coarse tobacco from a dozen pipes”.

Surprisingly perhaps this club provided Denny’s library service for more than 50 years, despite attempts to take advantage of the Carnegie funding which supported new library buildings in Grangemouth (1890) and Falkirk (1901).

The problem for Denny seemed to be the difficulty in raising through the rates the necessary additional cash to keep the facilities going.

Eventually Stirlingshire County Education Committee came up with the funding and in 1931 the new Denny Town House included a new library.

With the opening of the 1960s Stirling Road development it moved again for another half century before this month’s happy event. Garrulous boys are welcome these days but coarse tobacco is a definite no-no!

JAMES MORRIS

In last week’s article about Polmont’s World War I air ace James Morris, I used the name ‘Fitzmorris’ several times, including the headline. This was a bad mistake on my part for which I apologise to members of the Morris family who are rightly proud of their illustrious relative and not too chuffed to see the wrong surname in the paper.

‘Fitz’ was James’ middle name and he has often been referred as ‘Fitz Morris’. Hence my careless mistake.