Ian Scott: Timeless sound of bells rings through the ages in Falkirk district

The Carron Iron Works 'triangle' with its bell on top.The Carron Iron Works 'triangle' with its bell on top.
The Carron Iron Works 'triangle' with its bell on top.
There is something timeless about the sound of bells ringing across the town whether from the church tower signalling the start of Sunday worship, or from the steeple marking the passing of the hours.

In these high tech days it is interesting to think that this ancient method of communication is still part of our lives and that our forefathers once heard and responded to those same sounds.

The recent restoration of the steeple means that once again the great bell cast by Thomas Mears at London’s Whitechapel foundry is doing the job for which the town paid the princely sum of £100 in 1815.

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It replaced the faithful old bell of 1697 made by John Meikle of Edinburgh which is now on display in the steeple.

The Dollar Bells are raised to the Trinity belltower in 1926.The Dollar Bells are raised to the Trinity belltower in 1926.
The Dollar Bells are raised to the Trinity belltower in 1926.

The earliest surviving bell in the town is probably the simple little handbell belonging to Falkirk Trinity.

According to some experts this dates to before the 1560 Reformation and might have been used as a ‘deid bell’ at funerals.

Trinity is also home to what must be the most unusual addition: the 13 bells cast in Baltimore and gifted to the church by Robert Dollar in 1926.

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Larbert Old has another early handbell bearing the inscription ‘Lerbeirt 1669’ which tradition says used to hang on a tree in the years before the present church was built in 1820.

This seems a bit unlikely though we do know that Bothkennar did employ a similar arrangement in 1789 while their bell tower was under construction.

This story was told by the late Rev. William McLaren who described how a new bell for Bothkennar was paid for by members of the congregation who thereby obtained the right to have the bell rung at their funerals and their families for all time coming. No pay, no play!

Almost every church in our area had a bell, sometimes more than one, and there were a huge number of new buildings including schools opened in the late Victorian era.

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Sometimes old bells were melted down and reused and occasionally they were gifted to other congregations.

Of the new ones there are just too many to mention but one or two things are worthy of special attention.

The Gorbals foundry of John C. Wilson was especially busy in our area with bells cast for Brightons (1857), Grahamston (1875), Laurieston (1876), Grangemouth (1881), Stenhouse and Carron (1899) and Erskine (1905) among others.

One departure from this near monopoly is St Andrew’s where the bell installed in Newmarket Street in 1895 was cast by John Murphy in Dublin and is decorated with shamrocks and other symbols.

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The Kirk of the Holy Rood which opened in 1963 has the bell which once served Crathie Kirk in Balmoral.

In Camelon the 1839 bell in what would later become St John’s was gifted by the Union Canal company managers who had used it to call the workers to their labours while the railway viaduct was under construction.

A reminder that industrial companies often used bells for this purpose, most famously the one that hung on the ‘triangle’ at Carron Iron Works.

Geoff Bailey has just completed an inventory of the local bells cast for churches, schools and works and his full report will be published in the next issue of the local History Society journal, Calatria.

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