The Dobbie Hall is not only one of our best known buildings it is a permanent reminder of the time when Larbert and Stenhousemuir were the ‘Constantinople of Scotland’ and a powerhouse of the iron industry.
Robert Dobbie was one of the great Falkirk ironmasters who rose from the foundry floor to build a hugely successful company manufacturing and exporting cast iron stoves, ranges and a hundred other useful objects to every corner of the world.
Robert himself began his working life as a moulder in the Camelon iron works. By 1864 he was warehouse manager with Smith and Wellstoods in Bonnybridge, but was dismissed for planning to set up his own company.
Although he won compensation for unfair dismissal he did just that by selling stoves made for him by the Union Foundry. In 1872 he and his brother-in-law Peter Forbes went into partnership in Larbert making stoves using Smith and Wellstood’s products as the pattern with the name filed off.
They tried to sue him but had to admit that they had actually pinched the patterns from America in the first place! Dobbie-Forbes prospered and Robert built himself a fine house in Carronvale Road named Beechmount with telephone number Larbert 1. He died in 1908 and was a pillar of the local community. The firm continued throughout the whole of the 20th century and survived long after its rivals had closed their doors.
It became part of Allied Ironfounders in 1934 and ended as Falcon Catering in 2003. He carried the honorary title of Major from his involvement with the local volunteers, but Robert Dobbie wasn’t a military man.
He lost his son in the Boer War and decided that the best memorial would be something of lasting use to the community. At the time the Drill Hall in Tryst Road was the main meeting place for villagers but it was in poor repair. Robert acquired land in Main Street and commissioned Falkirk’s leading architects A and W Black to design a new public hall. It cost £12,000 and was built by local firm J. J and P McLachlan of Stenhousemuir. The Duchess of Montrose did the opening ceremony in August 1901 when she unclipped a jewelled bracelet from the handles on the main door.
As one observer said: “Not any of the South African victories could have been celebrated in a more tangible form.” From that moment the Dobbie Hall became the very heart of the growing community and so it has remained despite setbacks.
Over 20 years ago the late Findlay Russell led a campaign to save it from a drastic change of use and it passed from the Council to the care of a Trust. Their efforts have kept the hall busy with young and old and I’ve no doubt that dear old Robert looking down from above (or maybe up from where he is managing the furnaces) would be delighted.
I wonder though what he would have made of the other innovation that carries his name. The ‘Dobbie Shuffle’, a unique form of dancing popular in the early 1960s, is etched firmly on the memory of those of us lucky enough to have given it a go. I fear the old boy would have passed away at the very thought of young men and women in such close proximity whizzing round the floor of his beloved hall.