Last week I had the pleasure of attending the 100th birthday of Walter Sharp, a true Camelon Mariner, born at 50 Glasgow Road a few days after the outbreak of World War I.
With the exception of the years he spent in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, Walter lived and worked in the village and was an eyewitness to the massive changes that transformed Camelon over the last century.
As a child looking out from the window of his house Walter could see nothing but iron foundries. All along the north side of Glasgow Road were the moulding sheds, pattern shops, chimney stacks and warehouses of five companies employing nearly 1000 local men.
These firms had opened up alongside the main railway line and all had special sidings to transport their products. Starting from Stirling Road there was Dorrator (1898), the Grange (1889), R and A Main (1889), Carmuirs (1899) and, at the far end, the Central Iron Company (1902).
When it came time to start work Walter joined Carmuirs Ironworks – small compared to its next door neighbour, the giant Gothic Works of R and A Main. Main’s was one of the most successful of all the Falkirk foundries manufacturing stoves and grates, cookers, pipes, gates, fences, fireplaces and mantelpieces to satisfy the seemingly unlimited worldwide demand for cast iron products.
But, of course, it could not last. The decline started in the 1930s and by the end of World War II tastes had changed and new materials and fuels brought the iron age to an end. R and A Main closed in 1964 making 650 workers redundant following Central (1947) and the Grange (1963). Dorrator struggled on until 1993 but Walter’s company Carmuirs closed in 1968 and he moved to another job in Alexander’s.
The gradual disappearance of the foundries was mirrored by the transformation of the village. Almost all the Victorian and Edwardian buildings on the north side of Main Street were demolished in the 1960s and ‘70s to be replaced by ‘modern’ buildings which have neither the style nor lasting quality of the ones that bit the dust.
The trams which once rattled through the village disappeared in 1936 and Camelon Station fell victim to the Beeching cuts in the 1960s. Firms like Wranglers, that occupied the site of Walter Sharp’s old firm, have themselves come and gone as the village went through difficult economic times.
But as Walter has proved, if you are lucky enough to live a long life, the wheel of fortune will turn and better days will come back. Now the view across Glasgow Road is very different. The Sensory Centre, the Mariner Centre, Aldi and Tesco fill the former foundry sites bringing a new buzz to the community as well as much-needed jobs and business opportunities.
The new Camelon Station opened in 1994 and, of course, the restoration of the Forth and Clyde Canal and the construction of the Falkirk Wheel have helped put the village back in the spotlight. Today, as he enters his 101st year, Walter lives a quiet life in the village.
He has seen so much change since he watched the men returning from the trenches to the moulding shop floors and is a living link to a part of our history which is long vanished.
Happy birthday Walter and many more of them.