Looking back on the history of Westquarter Glen

Last week’s storms caused chaos in the district and one casualty was in Westquarter Glen, where a bridge was badly damaged.

Saturday, 22nd August 2020, 7:30 am
The trees and waterfalls of Westquarter Glen
The trees and waterfalls of Westquarter Glen

I’m not sure exactly how bad things are there, but I hope it will not stop us visiting this once-famous beauty spot.

When I was a child a trip there was regarded as a great day out among trees and waterfalls along the banks of the Westquarter Burn as it meandered from Redding to the Polmont Road.

For many centuries this pleasure had been limited to the friends of the Livingstons of Westquarter, relatives of the former Earls of Callendar. When they lost out after the Jacobite Risings, the Westquarter family survived and was still in place well into the 20th Century.

Westquarter House

They enjoyed a huge estate, with the glen and large parklands which included a house described by one visitor as “beyond comparison the most picturesque residence in the eastern district of Stirlingshire”. Though another observer thought it “an exceedingly rude piece of architecture with a plebian coat of faded yellow”.

It had date stones from 1626 and 1648, but was demolished in 1884 and replaced by the imposing baronial style Westquarter House which lasted around 50 years until the coming of the new model village.

Today, only the fine 17th Century doocot survives.

In 1909, the family sold up to Glasgow coal master James Nimmo, who owned Redding Colliery, the biggest pit in the Falkirk area.

His miners lived throughout the Braes area and their housing conditions were appalling, especially in Standburn where three-quarters of the 170 houses were condemned as unfit for human habitation in the early 1930s.

Nimmo was unwilling to make repairs and Stirling County Council was faced with a major problem.

It was a time when social planners thought that by providing people with decent living conditions you were not only doing the right thing, but also helping to make them ‘better’ citizens with fewer problems. This ‘social engineering’ was behind the model village which the authorities decided to create, and in 1934 they purchased half of the estate for £3000 and appointed architect John A Grant to design 200 houses. The work began in 1935 and cost around £70,000.

It was a work of true genius, with beautiful houses spread throughout the parkland, keeping many of the trees and open spaces.

There were little squares, each with its own ‘village green’, and at the bottom of the estate the valley park became a recreation space for the families who began arriving from Standburn and Redding in 1936. The new school did not open until after the war but it was worth waiting for because it is one of the most attractive buildings in Falkirk district. Nothing plebian or rude about it!

By the time the village was complete there were around 500 houses and a fast growing population.

The Glen was a natural playground for the new village children and many of the older residents have great tales of their adventures both in and out of the burn! Of course, like most places it has had its ups and downs over the years, but in recent times there have been determined efforts by environmental groups and volunteers to tidy up, help contain the undergrowth and restore the pathways.

More power to their elbow – this is a local treasure that deserves all the care and attention we can muster.