A few weeks ago I wrote about the 1930s model village of Westquarter which was a modern response to a particular social problem.
Modern maybe, but certainly not a new idea.
We don’t have to look too far to find another planned village. Carefully designed and laid out, Westquarter’s next door neighbour, Laurieston, was created over two centuries ago by the famous Napier family of Merchiston, Edinburgh.
Before their arrival the land on which the village now stands was little more than a few scattered farms lying immediately east of Falkirk crossed by the narrow ‘King’s Highway’ from Edinburgh.
Why the Napiers (one of whom was famous as the inventor of logarithms!) decided to invest in our area is not certain but by the 1750s they had acquired the lands of Langton and set about creating a settlement, which would act as a market centre for the produce of their newly acquired farms. This was not uncommon at the time and all over Scotland new towns, often called ‘Newton’, were appearing as the revolution in agriculture got under way. They are recognisable by the grid pattern of streets with a central square, and Laurieston was no different.
As soon as the people began to settle, the Napiers gave the place a name, New Merchiston.
The square, known for a time by the locals as ‘Hay Willie’s Square’ sat astride the highway with other streets running parallel.
One of the earliest trades in the village was nailmaking. Like Camelon, many of the nailers of ‘New Marcheson’ as it was sometimes called, came from England and the trade soon became very profitable. One of them, John Raybould, was arrested and hanged for forging bank notes, but that’s another story!
Having established this growing community, the Napiers decided to move on and in 1762 they sold the village to Sir Lawrence Dundas (of later Forth and Clyde Canal fame) who thought he had owned it all along!
He changed its name to his own, and ‘Laurie’s Town’ or Laurieston was born. The Napiers didn’t vanish from our area. They bought a parcel of land in Mungal and built a fine mansion, Merchiston House, which stood where St Mungo’s High School is today.
The wall along the banks of the canal is a survivor from the grounds and, of course we have Merchiston Avenue and Napier Place as a reminder.
Back in Laurieston, religion seems to have played a big part in village life and there was a flourishing congregation of MacMillanites, an unusual sect more properly called Reformed Presbyterians. But to counter this serious streak the villagers soon established an annual fair with a great deal of time devoted to horse racing, gambling and drinking. There was a brewery too, and the forerunner of Falkirk’s Rosebank distillery as well as a gardeners’ society.
Along with the nailers, the village had many weavers with eighty looms recorded in the 1820s, by which time the population was over 800. There were miners too and the usual crop of bakers, smiths, wrights and shopkeepers. Later in the century McKillops opened their famous foundry at Thornbridge which survived until the 1940s.
In 1909 the village was linked to the Falkirk tramway system and it served the villagers until 1924.
The story of Laurieston maybe shorter than that of many other local places but for its interesting beginnings and the variety of village life in those early days, it does take a bit of beating.