Falkirk gets switched on

Inventor of the television John Logie Baird has connections with Falkirk and this invention was known as the Falkirk televisor
Inventor of the television John Logie Baird has connections with Falkirk and this invention was known as the Falkirk televisor

As every schoolboy knows television was invented by John Logie Baird of Helensburgh.

What all Falkirk Bairns should know is that our town has a strong claim to the inventor whose ancestors were Camelon farmers and who did much of his pioneering experimental work in the town.

Baird’s great-grandfather was the tenant of Sunnyside Farm and his grandfather farmed at nearby Sunnybrae. Had his father decided to follow the family business then the young John Logie Baird might have been a ‘mariner’ but John senior chose the Ministry and was called to serve in the West Church in Helensburgh. So it was in the Manse there on August 13, 1888, that the great inventor was born.

As he grew up we can be fairly sure that Falkirk, and his grandparents’ farm, was a regular port of call and so we should not be surprised to find him at a much later date working in the town on his most famous project.

Historians who have studied Baird’s life are often exasperated by the gaps and contradictions which they cannot explain. Keeping secrets is the mark of the inventor fearful of the prying eyes of a rival and, in Baird’s case, we have the added suspicion that he was doing work for the Secret Service.

We do know that in the early 1920s he came into contact with John Hart the owner of a radio supply shop in Falkirk. Hart was a highly talented electrical engineer with special knowledge of radio transmission so the pair had much in common.

It seems that Baird came to Falkirk and worked with Hart in his workshop in the Pleasance and that members of the local Radio Club were familiar with Baird and aware of his work. It may have been during this time that the first public demonstration of television took place. I say may because this event, if it did take place, is shrouded in mystery and is not acknowledged by the official biographers of Baird. They will tell you that London’s Soho was the real venue in January 1926. The Falkirk claim is based mainly on an account by the late George Shaw, a celebrated pattern maker of Larbert.

Some years ago I heard George tell the story of how as a boy he was sent by his teacher from the Science and Art School in Park Street to see a special demonstration in the Temperance Café in the High Street.

That was in December 1925. He says that during the evening Baird invited him to be the subject of a transmission and that his image was sent to a receiver in another part of the building. It seems perfectly plausible but so far no confirmation by way of newspaper reports or other eye witness accounts has been found.

When Hart visited Baird in London in 1926 he was given a piece of apparatus with instructions to place it in a Scottish museum. Known as the Falkirk ‘televisor’ it is acknowledged as Baird’s work and was probably a prototype of the machine used in London.

John Hart moved to premises at the east end of the High Street where the machine was displayed in his window. It may have been used in 1927 in a special transmission between Glasgow and London and is now a treasured possession of Falkirk Museum and our photograph is used here with permission.

You will find much more about this topic in an excellent article written by John Walker for the local history journal Calatria (No.9) back in 1996.

‘Ask Ian’

I have heard of Jenny Mair’s burn but where was it and who was she?

The burn is part of the West Burn most of which is piped underground. Jenny’s bit was close to the front of the old infirmary at the bottom of Cockburn Street. It survived the recent demolition and you can still hear it.

Jenny was an old lady who lived nearby at the end of the 18th century. One writer said that she ‘sat at her spinning wheel with a plain old fashioned mutch on her head’.