It is exactly a year since I started writing this column and I am grateful to the Falkirk Herald for providing me with the opportunity to spread the word about how great our town has been and still is.
One part of that story is the role of the Falkirk Herald itself in recording the life of the community for nearly 170 years and the way in which the paper helped bring about much needed change.
Take for example the crumbling old town which greeted the first Falkirk Herald in 1845. Falkirk was in a desperate state with ancient buildings huddled together in insanitary rows in unpaved and uncleaned streets. In the overcrowded hovels of the Garrison and the Back Row the dreaded cholera and typhus claimed many lives and the council seemed unable or unwilling to do anything about it.
Enter the fledgling Falkirk Herald to take up the battle for reform against the incompetent Stentmasters and the hereditary Feuars. Who were these people who refused to act? What was being done by a few committee men behind closed doors?
For the first time the people read about the causes of their plight and the consequences of inactivity. In August 1859 Parliament passed the necessary legislation and modern Falkirk was born.
A few years later came the acrimonious fight over a new water supply. No commodity was more important to health and Falkirk’s expanding population needed four times the available supply. Schemes came and went and councils did the same.
By the 1880s the columns of the Falkirk Herald were full of the great debate. The paper demanded action.
The first proposal to extend the inadequate pit water supply was ‘the cheapest, the nastiest and the worst scheme’.
The next, involving Loch Coulter, was so badly handled that huge losses were sustained.
‘The money,’ said the Herald, ‘might as well have been flung in the sea, or in Loch Coulter’.
Eventually the pressure brought success and in 1891 the happy reporters described the joyous scenes as water from Denny Hills reached the town at last. By then another campaign, which started in the letters column of the Falkirk Herald, had produced Falkirk’s first little cottage hospital in Thornhill Road which opened its doors in July 1889.
The outbreak of war in August 1914 unleashed a tide of patriotic fervour and the Falkirk Herald played a large part in ensuring that the recruitment message was always to the fore. But as the bitter harvest on the Western Front hit home the columns were filled with harrowing stories of heroism and the faces of the young men of the district who would not be coming home.
When the pit disaster at Redding claimed the lives of 40 miners in September 1923, the Falkirk Herald took the lead in organising a great appeal which, within a year, had raised an amazing £63,000.
And when the aviation age arrived in July 1939 with the huge new airport at Grangemouth the most advanced passenger plane in the world, a Douglas DC3, paid a visit. Up in the air went the brave man from the Falkirk Herald in a demonstration flight over the Forth Bridge. ‘Sensational’ was his breathless verdict in the next edition.
For the local historian the back numbers of the Falkirk Herald are a treasure trove of information on the Victorian and Edwardian eras as well as the last hundred years.
Falkirk and Grangemouth libraries have copies on microfilm and the machinery is not difficult to operate. But allow yourself plenty of time, once started you will be completely hooked.
Craig Martin asks if there were there any cannons made at the Carron Iron Works used during the battles of Trafalgar or Waterloo?
Nelson’s flag ship Victory and all the other big fighting ships in his fleet at Trafalgar in 1805 had carronades mounted and in fact one of them was the first gun fired to signal the start of the battle. You can still see them on board the Victory in Portsmouth. At Waterloo ten years later we can be fairly sure that Carron guns played a part because there is a letter in the company archives from Wellington in 1812 saying he wanted only guns from the works because they were reliable.