Falkirk’s Bank Street looks a bit worse for wear these days which is a great pity because it is full of history, some lost, but much still in evidence.
In the 18th century the street marked the northern limit of the built-up area and was the location of the ill fated Falkirk Union Bank.
This early local venture, which was popular with farmers and cattle dealers, opened in 1803, but failed to make much progress and closed 13 years later amid a mighty row as investors clamoured for their precious savings. The Commercial Bank took over for a while and in the 1840s it was a school for ‘young ladies’ run by a Miss Ingleton and later the Inland Revenue office.
The bank which stood at the north east end of the street is long gone but one survivor with a very chequered history is the three storey building at the west end which once housed Young’s pram store and, until recently, the Roxy Café.
It was built in 1802 for the Congregational Church and was the place of worship of Dr Robert Moffat, the African Missionary and father-in-law of David Livingstone. The church was later used by the Baptists and other denominations before its conversion in 1846 to a coffee room and temperance hotel.
Around 1852 it was purchased by Sheriff Handyside and converted to a court house. There is a long-standing tradition that there is an underground passage from the basement to the town steeple so that criminals could avoid facing abusive crowds on their way to the jail.
Directly across the road in more recent times was Young’s main store which stretched down to its front entrance in Princes Street. It was a wonderland of glass, porcelain and silverware as well as toys galore.
There were two other religious centres in the street. The earliest was the old Evangelical Church which is now Wetherspoon’s ‘Carron Works’. You can still see the 1843 single storey stone building with its brick extension on top. The newly formed congregation of St Modan’s met here in 1897 before moving to the Pleasance in 1915. Later it was one of Falkirk’s cinemas, The Picture House and then a bingo hall when the ‘flicks’ fell out of favour. It was the place where Falkirk bairns first enjoyed the talkies courtesy of Al Jolson in the Jazz Singer.
The other place of worship was the Salvation Army Hall which was demolished just a few years ago. The Army arrived in Falkirk in 1886 with premises at the east end of the High Street. The early days were not too promising because their enthusiastic and very public approach to worship did not appeal to the existing churches and most hoped they would soon fade away. Thankfully attitudes changed and the Army prospered. On July 23, 1910, their new Bank Street building was dedicated by Army Commissioner William Eadie, Provost Archibald Christie and many of the town’s most prominent citizens.
The Army moved in recent years to their new centre on High Station Road and sadly the Bank Street hall disappeared along with James Murphy’s Wire Works next door. Most folk will remember the little house sitting in the middle of the works once the home of ‘Cooper’ Henry Weir, the Precentor of the West Church. He called it Violet Grove after his favourite hymn!
Sadly the site of both Hall and Wire Works stands empty, screened by a big wooden fence. Hopefully it will soon be home to a new and exciting development which some starry-eyed scribe will be writing about 100 years from now!