Bainsford – Not ‘Brian’s Ford’ or ‘Bairn’s Ford’

Bainsford's Main Street pictured circa 1900
Bainsford's Main Street pictured circa 1900

Long before I took an interest in Falkirk’s history I had heard the famous story of how Bainsford had acquired its name.

Back in 1298 when William Wallace faced the might of England, the leader of the English Knights Templar, Sir Brian de Jay, was chased north to where his horse sank in the muddy waters of what was later called the Bainsford Burn.

He was caught and killed and the place was for ever after known as ‘Brian’s Ford’. Great story but complete bunkum, though that doesn’t stop it being repeated over and over again.

The truth is simpler and more obvious. In the late 1780s part of the lands of Mungal near the burn was feued to Thomas Bain. Within this land was the ford which allowed people and carts to cross and so the place became ‘Bainsford’.

Of course, the past has no monopoly of inventing place names: we now also have ‘Bairn’s Ford’ which falsely links the bairns of Falkirk with the village’s origins creating more confusion. If I had the courage I’d go out at night and paint over the signs!

Although the arrival of Carron Ironworks in 1759 began the process of change the real story of Bainsford started in the 1770s when the Forth and Clyde Canal reached the area. Its junction with the road from Falkirk to Carron created a growth point which soon filled up with inns and warehouses, coal stores and workshops, loading basins, shops and homes.

Carron Company built a horse drawn waggonway to Burnhouse Basin on the canal west of Bainsford Bridge. Even today the passage behind the houses on the west side of the road is sometimes called the ‘back waggon’.

Like everywhere else in Falkirk foundries appeared like Castlelaurie (1854), Abbots (1856) and Burnbank (1860), which attracted people to settle in the area. The little self-supporting school, opened in 1800 by the Bainsford Ploughman’s Friendly Society, was filled to bursting point with over 190 children in a small insanitary building with no wooden floors. The Free Church of Scotland sent a missionary to work in the village in the 1870s and the former North End Hall in Mungalhead Road was built to support his labours.

Later, in 1875, the present Parish Church was built in Hendry Street as the Bainsford Free Church serving the northern suburbs of Falkirk from Bainsford Bridge north to the Carron and to east and west of the main road.

The Victorian era for all its economic success brought real hardship to many in Bainsford who suffered from harsh working conditions, serious overcrowding and poor housing. The 20th century was not much better as decline and closure led to high unemployment which for many years was eased by the success of the British Aluminium plant in David’s Loan, which employed over 2500 in the 1960s.

It is gone now as well, leaving the village with little or no manufacturing jobs. Not too many old buildings have survived either and some like the magnificent red sandstone ‘Big Bar’ look set to disappear.

How on earth our community can allow such an asset to simply fall to pieces is beyond me.

Is it too late to save this symbol of Bainsford’s past which might be put to use as part of a new future? I certainly hope not.