Explosion in iron heralded new sports era in Falkirk

Bowlers at Talbot Street Bowling Club circa 1900
Bowlers at Talbot Street Bowling Club circa 1900

Last week I was over in Stenhousemuir attending a civic reception marking the bowling club’s 150th anniversary. It was an excellent night in great 
company which was no surprise since bowlers are, in my experience, among the most hospitable of hosts.

Although I’ve never ever threatened the jack I have 
attended social events in clubs all over the district – and there are certainly plenty to choose from. At the last count there were around 25 in the Falkirk area and 
although we have lost a few in recent years – Castings and Glen Village come to mind – the game is in very good health if Stenhousemuir is anything to go by.

Bowling is, of course, a very ancient sport tracing its history back over 600 years. There was a famous green in Stirling Castle laid down around 1620 and both Haddington (1709) and Kilmarnock (1740) claim to be the oldest surviving in Scotland. In our area it was the growing population and prosperity in the 19th century that brought the rapid spread of the game in our area.

In those early days it was usually ‘professional and businessmen’ who banded together to create the first bowling clubs long before golf or football had places of their own. This was certainly true in Stenhousemuir. John Bell Cochrane, a very successful merchant who played a leading part in important local educational and religious developments, was one of the leading lights along with Allan Carswell, the Larbert Parish schoolmaster.

The group they formed in 1865 persuaded the local laird, Sir William Bruce, to make available a piece of ground on his Stenhouse estate on what is now Church Street. With financial help from Sir William and others the green was completed the following Spring. By that time the district had quite a number of other successful clubs. The earliest that I am aware of is Grangemouth which was formed in 1820, not far short of 200 years ago.

Their first green sat precariously on a narrow strip of land between two of the great timber basins in the old town before the move to Talbot Street in 1883. Denny followed in 1845 not long after Falkirk’s first club in 1838 on a piece of land purchased from James Boyd, the Comely Park nurseryman.

The founders were men of substance – lawyers, bank agents, brewers, drapers – and before long it was over-subscribed. It was nearly impossible for new members to join and there were complaints about ‘closed shops’.

In 1859 a group of the disappointed met in the Wheatsheaf and formed the ‘Falkirk Pleasance Bowling Club’, now the Adrian. The green was laid out the following year on land acquired from mine host at the Wheatsheaf, James Cowie, who was himself a founder member.

Following the Stenhousemuir opening in 1865 there was an explosion of new greens as the iron revolution brought change to the whole district. Camelon opened in 1872, followed by Larbert (1873), Bonnybridge (1875), Grahamston (1877), Bainsford (1878), Polmont (1879) and Slamannan (1894). The growth continued into the 20th century and bowling clubs became a major part of the social fabric of our society. They still are today with both men and women now enjoying both the sport and pleasure of good company. Long may it continue.

To mark their 150th anniversary Stenhousemuir have produced an excellent short history of the club written by Duncan McIntyre. Anyone interested will find copies in the local library.