Avonbridge – scene of my summer of discontent

Waugh's Mill in Avonbridge pictured in 1911. It closed in 1935
Waugh's Mill in Avonbridge pictured in 1911. It closed in 1935

When I was 16 my father thought it a good idea if I had a summer job and so I spent two weeks – that’s all I survived – working as a farm hand in Avonbridge.

It was the most punishing and ill-rewarded fortnight of my life; rising at 6 a.m. fetching the cows, mucking out byres, filling the churns all before breakfast – and all for a about two pounds a week less my board and lodgings! I ran away back to my Mammy.

For this reason I have always felt uneasy at the very mention of Avonbridge and maybe explains why it is about the only village I have not included in these articles over the years. However, my friends in the village think it about time I let bygones be bygones so here goes!

The village, as the name suggests, is clustered on both sides of the stone bridge across the River Avon and although there were scattered farming communities on both sides from ancient times, they lay in separate parishes, the south side in Slamannan and the north in Muiravonside. The only bridge across the river lay far away in Linlithgow where it was called ‘Avonbridge’, now of course, Linlithgow Bridge.

By the end of the 16th century there was a bridge known as the ‘west bridge of Avon’ to distinguish it from Linlithgow and the present stone bridge probably dates to the late 18th century.

It was an important crossing point for the droves of black cattle on their way from the trysts at Redding and elsewhere, but the arrival of the railway in the mid 19th century encouraged the industry of coal mining and likely helped create the village by expanding the settlement and drawing the various communities together.

Despite the coal and a couple of local stone quarries, agriculture and things connected to it, mining continued to dominate village life. There were several nearby mills like Waugh’s grinding corn and others for flax and wool and at least three blacksmiths shops.

The village has an interesting and complicated religious history. The present Church of Scotland building near the bridge began life in 1803 as part of the ‘Burgher Church’ and went through a series of name changes until the reunion with the established church in 1929.

The congregation originally met in a barn and a tent at Wester Strath farm before their first church opened in 1804. It was replaced in 1890 by the present building.

In 1970 the congregation joined with Torphichen in West Lothian which seems an unusual linkage. At the south end of the village is the little Congregational Church, built in 1860. The founders of the congregation were the Bathgate and Falkirk Evangelical Union who set up a meeting place in Bulliondale Cottage in 1844 _ known thereafter as ‘the auld chapel’. Today the congregation have a link with Grahamston United in Falkirk.

In the 20th century coal mining continued as open cast and for 20 years or so from the 1950s there was a successful brickworks known for some reason as the ‘Tinplate’.

However, all trace of these activities is gone along with the mills and quarries but one modern success story is Stevenson Brothers haulage company whose fleet of lorries carries the Avonbridge name all over the country. Farming is still important (despite my rapid exit in 1959) but today many of the 700 or so villagers travel to work outside the village which has returned to the quiet ways of the distant past.