District captured on film for Empire Exhibition

The old Falkirk baths
The old Falkirk baths

I was not around in Falkirk in 1938 but thanks to a film camera team we know what the town looked like back then.

In that year the Town Council, anxious to promote Falkirk as a thriving modern place, commissioned a professional company to make a 20 minute silent publicity film for the Empire Exhibition in Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park.

Aitken's Brewery

Aitken's Brewery

They agreed to spend the princely sum of £100 on the project with Councillor John Stewart acting as historical adviser.

Soon the camera team led by Scottish cinematographer J. S. Nairn was on the streets, in the foundries and factories as well as the public places of leisure and social care.

It was money well spent because today we can look back on scenes that have disappeared for ever.

The film begins with a quick gallop through the history of the town starting with the Romans and including Callendar House and all the usual suspects like Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots, Cromwell and the Bonnie Prince.

However, it is of greatest value when the camera arrives at the gates of Carron Iron Works.

There is an amazing sequence as the blast furnaces pour molten iron into the pig beds and the moulders prepare their sand boxes in an atmosphere of smoke, overpowering heat and grime with scarcely a protective covering in sight. Other images come from Grahamston Iron Works and R and A Main’s in Camelon.

The long disappeared gas works in Grahamston and the electricity power station on High Station Road remind us of the days when the energy used in our homes and factories was produced or generated in our own town.

Elsewhere the rattling bottling halls of Aitken’s brewery and Barr’s works and the nimble fingered workers in Dunn and Wilson’s bookbinding factory are well to the fore.

The ‘‘new’’ Falkirk of the 1930s is on show with a very busy bus station with old style ‘‘Bluebirds’’ picking up the queues of happy passengers en route to who knows where and by inside and outside shots of the recently opened public baths in the Pleasance.

Other leisure activities include Dollar Park with its famous floral clock, goldfish pond, glass houses and a cheeky monkey next to the aviary.

The old market square where the multi-storey car park stands today is filled with pre-war cars under the care and direction of a cheery car park attendant.

There is also an amusing shot of the fire engine racing up the Lint Riggs from the old station.

However my favourite sequences are from the Meadow Street Nursery run by Miss Grey Buchanan where the happy looking toddlers were entertained and fed and the clinic in the Kerse Lane surrounded by lines of prams that look as if they came out of the ark!

Doctors and nurses examine and weigh the chubby Falkirk ‘‘bairns’’ who by my reckoning will be in their 80s today if they are still around!

The film was shown in Glasgow and to various groups in the town and today is part of the collection of the Scottish Screen Archive.

How useful it was at the time is hard to judge.

Within 12 months of its first showing the country was plunged into a second world war within a generation.

After 1945 the world, including Falkirk district, was a very different place.

A few years ago a commercial company produced an ‘‘Auld Falkirk’’ video which included some other old footage of Stein’s Brickworks, the Bo’ness Fair and Grangemouth Refinery along with the 1938 film.
I think it is still available and very well worth a look.