Bo’ness Hippordrome is fitting memorial to Steele

The Hippodrome is the most striking of Matthew Steele's work, but there are other examples dotted around Bo'ness
The Hippodrome is the most striking of Matthew Steele's work, but there are other examples dotted around Bo'ness
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This weekend, way down yonder in Bo’ness, the annual festival of silent cinema will draw enthusiasts from all over to Scotland’s first purpose-built house - the Hippodrome.

If last year’s event is anything to go by they are in for a treat because the programme was terrific.

Every time I walk through the doors I give thanks for the genius of men like Louis Dickson, who dreamed up the idea of the cinema, and Matthew Steele, the architect who brought the dream to reality.

What a fantastic debt we owe to great architects. Long after they are gone their work enriches our lives and makes our towns and villages great places to live and work and play.

The converse is also true.

The rotten ones who burdened us with their flat-roofed, uninspiring 1960s dull piles of glass and dirty concrete deserve our contempt for the depressing effect they have had.

However, Falkirk has been fortunate to have the work of local men like William and Alexander Black, James Strang and J. G. Callender, as well as the giants of the profession like John James Burnet, Peter MacGregor Chalmers and David Hamilton. Their combined efforts have given us fine churches, public buildings and houses to rival any town in the land.

Bo’ness is a bit different. Head and shoulders above all other architects who have worked there stands Steele. His hand is everywhere to be seen and his stylish and original work decorates almost every corner of the old burgh.

From 1905 when his first work, a double cottage on Dean Road was completed until his death in 1937, Steele produced fantastic designs for houses, tenements, shops and industrial buildings.

Take Corbiehall, for example, where he was born in 1878. Falkirk Council has just refurbished three ‘coffin blocks’ which now form Matthew Steele Court.

The nickname comes from the shape of the doorways and the overall design is amazing. The buildings were completed in 1932, the same year as the equally attractive Queen Mary flats along the road.

Up in Stewart Avenue is the unusual Lodge Stewart with its strange entrance pillars and down at 11 South Street, a particular favourite, a shop front designed in 1907 but not completed until 1981 using Steele’s drawings.

The private houses in Cadzow Crescent and the shops and flats in the East and West Partings are full of lovely little decorative features that make them that bit more special that the run of the mill streetscapes of the post war years.

All these and more are there to be admired but almost inevitably it is the Hippodrome that stands out from the others and attracts the attention of visitors to the 
town.

There is an excellent illustrated biography of Matthew Steele by Roger Emmerson and Mary Tilmouth published by the RIAS in 2010.

And you can find out more about the Festival of Silent Cinema by visiting the Falkirk Community Trust website or the Hippodrome Facebook page.