A golden time for Falkirk’s Silver Row

Roxy Theatre on Silver Row, Falkirk.
Roxy Theatre on Silver Row, Falkirk.

If I had a magic wand and could restore a lost corner of old Falkirk I would pick the Silver Row without hesitation.

Exactly 50 years ago the bulldozers were consigning this famous and ancient cobbled street to the dustbin of history leaving nothing but fading memories of buildings and people.

As older readers will remember Silver Row ran from the junction of Bank Street and Manor Street up the hill to where it came to an abrupt end at what we called the Sandy Hole.

In earlier centuries it had carried on to meet the High Street near the east end but that part consisted mainly of houses deemed unfit for human habitation and they were demolished in the 1920s.

Why it had its intriguing name is still a mystery. No silver mines here I’m afraid and not many silversmiths either. Maybe it was a family name or a corruption of something else altogether.

The part that survived until the 1960s had most of the really interesting buildings.

At the junction with Manor Street on the right was the Masonic Arms, known to everyone as the ‘Gluepot’.

One lady told me that it got this name because “if your man went in there he was stuck for the night”.

It had been the meeting place of Falkirk’s first lodge of Freemasons and the interesting coat-of-arms and inscription from the building have been preserved in the lodges present home in Graham’s Road.

On the opposite corner was Falkirk’s main pawn shop, Smellie and Weirs and further up the hill, on the left, St Francis Catholic Primary School.

The front building had been added around 1900 to the original small school building which looked a bit like a church and was really on Callendar Riggs.

I can well remember the Headmaster, Johnny Farrell, who was a Falkirk Town Councillor and had been the commander of the Falkirk Home Guard. He was a smallish, round man, a bit like a barrel so you can imagine the nicknames! Opposite the school was the town’s variety theatre, the Roxy, where the cream of Scottish talent . . . and Max Bygraves … packed them in.

The building had been the Erskine Church from the 1740s until 1905 when the congregation moved to their present home in Hodge Street and it had spells as the Empire and the Electric Theatre.

Famously, one of the last acts to perform was ‘Syncopating Sandy’ Strickland, a non-stop pianist who broke the world record by playing for 130 hours or thereabouts. People queued up to see this phenomenon and the sound of Sandy was relayed to the crowds by loudspeaker.

On the other side was McCann’s second hand shop and on the corner, Mrs McMillan’s Silver Row Dairy kept going by the school bairns and the ‘turns’ from the Roxy.

Round the corner in what was really Horsemarket Lane was the church hall which I remember as the Olivet Gospel Hall. It stood close to the old graveyard which was cleared along with everything else in the early 1960s. Older residents thought that disturbing the graves was a risky business and that “no good will come of it”.

The chequered history of the area since then might just prove the point!

I really loved Silver Row. In fact I’m nearly greetin’ thinking about it. If I ever get a Tardis for my birthday I know where I’m going first stop.