The sad passing of my good friend Bill Anderson a fortnight ago has robbed Falkirk district, and especially the village of Polmont, of a tireless and dedicated worker whose prodigious energy was used for the good of the whole community.
Bill was a longtime member of Falkirk Local History Society and had a special interest in the story of his village which had changed so much during his lifetime. Today I want to remember Bill by telling a little bit of the Polmont story which began back in the 17th century.
The original village lay close to the old and new churches where the school and the smiddy were built to serve the needs of the farmers of the carse lands to the north. In the late 18th century when the track leading from Linlithgow to Falkirk was upgraded to a turnpike road, the family of the Laird of Whyteside, Patrick Bennet, allowed ‘developers’ to feu plots of land along the line of the road provided the new community was called Bennetstown, and so it remained for a few decades. It is now the main street of the village.
The next piece of the Polmont jigsaw came in 1842 when the new Edinburgh to Glasgow railway passed a little way to the south. The railway company decided to create a halt not far from the great stone quarry at Brightons and the coalfields of the Braes.
The place chosen, and the small community which developed, was called Polmont Station. In the century that followed the spaces between ‘old Polmont’, Bennetstown and Polmont Station gradually filled up creating something like the village we know today.
No doubt the arrival of the train encouraged many wealthy folk to come to the village and make it the place of the mansion houses.
For John Millar, the chief engineer of the railway, the village was the ideal spot to build a house and Millfield was the result. It stood in Millfield Drive and became the home of the Stein family. Elsewhere Sir Gilbert Laurie, Lord Provost of Edinburgh, built Polmont House south of Millfield.
These houses shared the Polmont Burn running through the grounds which were enhanced by waterfalls, bridges, ponds and formal gardens.
Polmont Park, which lay to the north of the main road, was the home of Azariah Griffiths, Provost of Falkirk in 1892 and the owner of the Bonnybridge Silica Company. His son Arthur was a distinguished surgeon at Falkirk’s little Cottage Hospital. All three houses were demolished in the 1960s as part of the drive to create new private housing estates.
One survivor is Parkhill which has a longer history than most of the others. It was built in 1790 for a man called James Cheape of Sauchie though there had been a house called Parkend there from the 1500s.
Latterly it was the home of the Gray-Buchanans and the elderly sisters, Nellie and Annie were formidable players in the life of the community. After a spell as a restaurant it was converted into flats a few years ago.
There were other losers like Polmont Bank and a few survivors, Weedingshall, Haypark and Avondale among them, though they are much changed.
Polmont’s history is in much safer hands than these buildings.
The Polmont History group are building on the longtime efforts of Ian Rule, Richard Hotchkiss and others, and Margaret Slater and her committee are making certain that new arrivals as well as the next generation will understand the Polmont story. Bill Anderson would be delighted.
Lorna Buchanan asks a question that comes up fairly regularly, who was Maggie Woods Loan named after?
For a while I shared the old notion that this name came from ‘magpie woods’ but the truth is simpler and more obvious. The road leads towards Bantaskine and in the 18th century a lady called Margaret Woods owned property there. It’s just the same as Maryhill in Glasgow but I’m not sure about Bellahouston!