Falkirk’s other wall and five town ports

A 19th century map showing position of the five ports
A 19th century map showing position of the five ports

When Falkirk folk talk about the ‘Wall’ they most often mean the barrier erected by those pesky Romans to keep barbarians from Fife and further north away from the peaceful territories here in the south.

But there was another wall not often mentioned which played an important part in Falkirk’s mediaeval development.

It was certainly not of Antonine proportions or as big as the town walls of Stirling or Edinburgh – probably much more like a low dyke surrounding the core of the town which then consisted of the High Street, a network of closes and wynds and the garden grounds stretching north and south behind the properties.

We know from surviving records that the lands on each side of the “the Kingis Streite” were being feued in the 16th century though who exactly was doing the feuing and subsequent building is not clear.

In the early 1800s a local writer called Robert Kier described stone buildings with the date 1513 being demolished.

He also identified the five ‘ports’ or gates of the town which were placed at various points in the wall. One of these, the East Port not far from where the York Café stands was still there in the late 1700s though in a poor condition.

Kier says that “the ports were built in 1585; they were arched gateways of stone, battlemented on top, with arrow and hagbut loopholes in the side walls ... there was a circular vizzying hole through which the armed porter might reconnoitre those who demanded entrance.”

They probably resembled the surviving West Port of St Andrews from the same period though not quite so fancy or substantial.

We know the location of the other gates: the West Port stood on the High Street near the Lint Riggs, the North Port on Vicar Street near Bank Street, the South Port on the Cow Wynd probably near Bean Row and Westquarter (or Bantaskine) Port close to the top of the Howgate now beneath the shopping centre.

It was called Westquarter Port because of its proximity to the Great Ludging, the town house of the Livingstons of Westquarter where Waterstones is today. The wall itself was probably constructed around the beginning of the 17th century and that the “indwellers” were responsible to the Livingston’s Regality Court for building and maintaining both the wall and the ports.

Whether they were a real deterrent to people planning bad things for the town or a way of containing or deterring wandering animals is not clear.

It was certainly a method of marking the boundary of the burgh and even today we can see that the historic centre is still in outline much the same.

It is difficult to be exactly sure of the line of the wall but it probably followed today’s Bank Street and Newmarket Street to the north and Bean Row and the Pleasance to the south. No doubt as more peaceful times arrived and visitations of the plague ceased the wall fell into disrepair like much else in the old burgh and eventually disappeared.

Some years ago John Reid gave an interesting talk to the History Society about this ‘other wall’ and at the moment he and a couple of other members are re-examining the surviving records in a new attempt to trace the evolution of the town from the earliest days.

We are doing this as part of Falkirk’s Townscape Heritage Initiative which is bringing about the welcome refurbishment of some of our most interesting and important buildings including Johnston’s butchers in the Cow Wynd now completed and the Town Steeple just about to start.