The study of place names is a fascinating but often complicated business involving old Gaelic or Pictish originals which have altered over the centuries and frequently refer to geographical features and land use that may also have changed through time.
Thankfully we have experts like John Reid whose forensic skill has given us ‘The Place Names of Falkirk and East Stirlingshire’ a master work which answers most of our questions. However, there is an easier area of study which can help explain the early days of our communities, that is, the names given to our streets.
In Falkirk town centre we have Wooer (weaver) Street, Lint Riggs (fields of flax for linen manufacture) and Baxters (bakers) Wynd. Fleshmarket Close was where the butchers slaughtered the cattle and Tolbooth Street probably dates to 1663 when a new tolbooth with court room and jail cells was built.
When the traders finally moved their stalls in the 1820s to their ‘new market’ behind the parish church another street was born and named. Tanners Brae and Cooperage Lane remind us of other important trades, as does Nailer Road in Camelon, once the centre of the nail making industry.
The Cow Wynd (recorded in the 1640s as Koowynde) has nothing to do with the 18th century Falkirk Trysts but dates back several hundred years to when the inhabitants would hand over their cattle to the ‘common herd’ who would lead them off for the day to the south muir of the town near Princes Park. At dusk they would return to the safety of the town.
Bean Row, just off the Cow Wynd (and the disappeared Bean Market Close), reminds us of when Falkirk was famous for ‘Peas and Beans’ according to an old rhyme. Manse Place, Vicar Street and Kirk Wynd obviously relate to the parish church which was at the heart of the first community and Manor Street was originally called ‘The Back Raw’ but the council in the 1890s thought it sounded vulgar so changed it to something a bit classier.
Many closes off the High Street have had names linked to people who played a part in the life of the burgh. Dundee Court was named after George Dundie, a shoemaker from 1626, Sword’s Wynd from James Sword, Procurator Fiscal in 1643, Burns Court for another baillie and Roberts Wynd, Buchanan Court, Bell’s Wynd and others whose origin is unclear.
Kings Court has nothing to do with visiting royalty but was originally King’s Arms Court where a popular tavern stood. Princes Street was opened in 1933 by the Prince of Wales though.
Victorian Provosts have been honoured by Cockburn Street, Griffiths Street, Watson Street, Hodge Street, Russel Street and Weir Street – the modern equivalent were the multi-storey towers in Callendar Park called Symon, Leishman, Paterson, Marshall and Maxwell.
The streets named after the Heughs of Gartcows and the Meeks of Campfield are a reminder of two of the most important families in 18th century Falkirk and elsewhere we know that Maggie Woods owned property in Arnothill and gardener William Booth owned land near the Pleasance from 1812.
And there are many more in every village and town in the district. How did your street get its name? There may be a story there if you look for it.