Tucked away behind the shops in the Cow Wynd is one of Falkirk’s hidden historical gems, the old burial ground attached to the building known for generations as the Tattie Kirk.
Although it has not been used for well over a century the graveyard has survived despite the damage wrought by weather, vandalism and neglect and remains as a reminder of the long disappeared congregation it once served, and of the hardships of Victorian life they endured.
The Tattie Kirk, now separated from the graveyard, is one of Falkirk’s best known buildings and local historians are always being asked about its unusual octagonal shape.
Some say it was designed to ensure that ‘the Devil had no corner to hide in’, and it has a nickname which no one can really explain.
Dating back to 1806 the building was once home to one of the many breakaway congregations from the Church of Scotland which appeared in the 18th century.
Ebeneezer Erskine’s original ‘secession’ had led to a new church building in Silver Row, but it wasn’t long before their followers at national level fell out among themselves and the outcome was a new group known as Antiburghers who refused to take the ‘Burghal Oath’ which required magistrates and others in public office to declare their support for the ‘established’ church.
They acquired land near St Crispin’s Place in the Cow Wynd in 1782 and erected a temporary church building. Two decades later and firmly established in the community the congregation decided to build a bigger, better sanctuary and the Tattie Kirk was the result.
It served until 1879 when a new building in Grahams Road was erected and the congregation, by this time known as the South United Presbyterian (UP) Church, moved away leaving both graveyard and kirk building behind.
The graveyard was first laid out in 1827 and in December that year Janet Storrie became the first person to be buried there. Over the years more than 600 people followed, half of them children under the age of 10 years. This was, of course, the period when overcrowded and insanitary towns were ravaged by cholera and typhus and whole families were decimated.
Even at this distance of time it is shocking to read the names and ages on the stones and a pointed reminder of the painful reality of Victorian life.
Today only about 90 stones survive and many are in a poor condition and reading the inscriptions is difficult or impossible.
Fortunately Geoff Bailey compiled an inventory of the stones and their inscriptions and this was published in the Local History Journal Calatria 12 back in 1998.
I was delighted by the news that the historic centre of Falkirk is to be refurbished and pleased that the Tattie Kirk and graveyard lie within the area covered by the initiative.
I hope that along with the Steeple and the old closes and wynds the graveyard will
attract a bit of cash and TLC, and that more people will come to know about these hidden treasures.
One welcome initiative has already come from Carrongrange school. Local historian John Walker, who has written much about the Tattie Kirk over the years, is a teacher there and he has helped his students form a ‘Friends of the Tattie Kirk Graveyard’ group with the aim of raising the profile of the place and of helping to keep it neat and tidy.
You can find out more by visiting their Facebook page. I will when I find out the right buttons to press!
Where does the expression ‘Dirty Bonnybridge’ come from?
It doesn’t refer to the state of the village but harks back to a famous football match between Falkirk and Bonnybridge Grasshoppers around the turn of the century. The ‘Hoppers’ underhand tactics, such as hoofing the ball out of play every five minutes, brought about the shout of ‘Dirty Bonnybridge’ from the Brockville crowd. It still means unsporting behaviour and I have heard it shouted at Westfield.