The powerhouse behind Falkirk’s industry

The old power station in Falkirk's High Station Road
The old power station in Falkirk's High Station Road
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I can’t recall the last time we suffered a power cut of anything more than a few minutes, though I do remember the occasional scramble for candles and the silent prayer of thanks for a gas cooker and fire.

Our dependence on electricity is total and the lack of it would surely send us back to a genuine dark age where neither work nor leisure as we know them today would be possible. Little wonder then that our Falkirk fore-fathers marked the opening of their very own coal-fired ‘electric light station’ in March 1903 with such gusto and self-congratulation.

By the end of the 19th century the cities of Scotland and most other large towns had embraced the new technology, while in Falkirk such supplies came from a couple of entrepreneurs with their own small generators.

In 1896 for example the Town Hall, Masonic Lodge and Free Church in Newmarket Street were illuminated for the three days of a great fundraising bazaar and the crowds flocked in to admire the modern wonder.

The fear that a private individual might apply for a licence to supply the area led the council to secure its own approval and the Burgh Engineer David Ronald was given the task of designing a suitable system in 1900. The site in High Station Road, which then housed the Burgh Stables, was chosen and construction work started in the summer of 1902.

Soon the red brick building with its 120-feet chimney appeared and the complex equipment – boilers, dynamos and the like – began arriving in the town. Three main feeder cables were laid to carry a 460-volt supply to High Street, Newmarket Street and Grahamston from where power was laid to the first 40 subscribers’ homes and shops and 35 lampposts.

The great switch-on took place in the spring of 1904. It cost £21,000, millions by today’s measure, and huge crowds turned out to watch Mrs Fairlie, wife of the convenor of the Electric Light Committee, who “in a very graceful manner switched on the current amid loud applause and immediately the building was brilliantly lit up with festoons of vari-coloured lights which were suspended throughout the engine room”.

The ratepayers not invited inside partied outside as the street lamps burst into life and the Town Hall, to which the guests now retired for the usual bun-fight, was itself “brilliantly lit with the new illuminant”. Seventeen speeches later they emerged, no doubt the worse for wear, into a brighter and safer place than before.

From then on growth was rapid. By 1912 there were 74 lamps and 467 subscribers for lighting, 63 of whom were also supplied with power. Through two wars the power station kept the wheels of Falkirk’s industry turning and lit and heated the homes of a growing population.

But the days of town enterprises were ending and 1947 brought the nationalisation of electricity. By then the Falkirk output was 70 times what it had been in 1914. Sometime in the 1950s the High Station Road station was reduced to a service centre and the building was eventually demolished.

The site is now home to the new Salvation Army Citadel and only part of the outside red brick wall remains as a reminder of what was once the powerhouse of the community.