Local history enthusiasts in Falkirk were among the many groups and individuals saddened by the recent death of William F T Anderson, formerly senior partner in Russel and Aitken, known to one and all as Bill.
Those who attended his moving (and amusing) funeral service in Bridge of Allan last Monday week were astonished to hear of the range of his activities – cultural, musical, legal, social and religious.
In the packed church there were representatives of so many different organisations that have benefited from his help over many decades and I was among them.
Bill’s work over the past 20 years or so on the Russel and Aitken papers has provided us and future generations with a window onto 19th century Falkirk which has thrown new light on the evolution of the town as it expanded from a centre of agriculture to a hive of industry and commerce.
Russel and Aitken was established in 1818 but its roots go back well into the 18th century and Bill was aware of the treasure trove of material resting in the office in King’s Court which the firm has occupied since its beginnings. As he approached retirement he began what became a major preoccupation: The examination, selection and classification of thousands of letters, plans, property deeds, family papers, company records and more and passing these to the archive in Callendar House.
As this complex labour of love continued the picture emerged of his predecessors in the firm at the very heart of the life of the town ‘‘networking’’ – as we might say today – with the most powerful families in the district. This had its beginnings in the remarkable career of James Russel of Arnotdale who had a finger in just about every pie.
He was a man of business who owned coal mines and farms and ships trading across the world.
As the manager of the hugely successful Falkirk Banking Company and the first agent in Falkirk for the Clydesdale Bank, he helped fund a host of new ventures which laid the foundation for the town’s later prosperity.
For a decade James Russel had served as Falkirk’s first town clerk and his son, John carried on the tradition of service as provost for 12 years.
In partnership with James Aitken of Darroch, Provost Russel continued encouraging and supporting enterprise and many of the foundries that arose from the middle of the 19th century owed much to their investment and canny advice.
The Falkirk Building Society, the Falkirk and Counties Savings Bank, the extension of the docks at Grangemouth, the local railways, the Falkirk Gas Company and many more were linked in one way or another to that office in King’s Court, the engine room of both town and district.
All of this activity is reflected in the material emerging from Bill Anderson’s dedicated research and analysis. Each week for many years he spent at least a day in the research centre in Callendar House working on the papers and always took the trouble to send me handwritten summaries of each file he compiled.
It is an amazing collection and it will take years for archivists and historians to explore its fascinating contents.
Bill Anderson carried his great distinction very lightly and his gentle and kindly manner won him many friends. I was very fortunate to be numbered among them and his loss will be keenly felt here in Falkirk.
The rich gift he has left to future generations of Falkirk bairns will help them better understand the story of their community and that, of course, is exactly what he had in mind.