On September 6, 1963, 50 years ago yesterday, the Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Noble, was in town to officially open the spanking new Falkirk Technical College.
In last week’s Herald my old colleague Ken Thomson, the new Principal of Forth Valley College, acknowledged that the Falkirk building may be nearing the end of its useful life but fifty years ago it was a state-of-the-art facility to rival any in Scotland.
As the Second World War drew to a close there was a growing recognition that if Britain was to compete in the new world then the workforce at every level required better education and training. In Falkirk the result was the four trade training centres where craft apprentices and technicians were offered off the job training to enhance the skills learned at work.
The first was the County Trades School for building trade apprentices in the old Poors House in High Station Road which opened in 1944 followed three years later by the Mining Institute in Park Street. In 1950 the former Blackbraes Primary School was converted into a centre for young workers in retail and manufacturing where there was no obvious apprenticeship available. At the time the district still depended on our 30 odd foundries and in 1952 the old Burnbank Foundry in Bainsford was converted into the Foundry Trades Training Centre.
Over the next decade all four ‘schools’ expanded their range of subjects and the numbers attending increased dramatically. By then the Stirlingshire Education Committee, influenced by developments in further education in England, decided that an industrial area like Falkirk needed to keep up with the times and the plan for the new College emerged. Former Falkirk Provost Peter Symon and then Director of Education William Goldie battled hard to win the approval of their colleagues for a large integrated college with the best facilities in Scotland. By 1958 the land next to the Ice Rink was earmarked and building work began in January 1960. It was not easy going. The soft glacial clay meant that 308 huge concrete piles were required, driven to an average depth of 100 feet, to support the weight of the building.
Much of the building work took place under the eagle eye of Dr William Easton who had been appointed in late 1961 to oversee the transfer from the four training centres and set the new College on course forthe considerable success that followed.
In August 1962 Andrew Prentice and a group of chemistry teachers and students were the first to test out the new facilities and in the months that followed the other centres closed and the workshops, laboratories and classrooms began to fill up. By August 1963 there were 75 full-time teachers and 2500 day release and 160 full time students, well over the College’s designed capacity.
The following month Dr Easton welcomed Michael Noble to Falkirk and invited him to declare the building officially open. It had cost over a million pounds and was the largest further education centre built in Scotland since the war. The Herald declared ‘educational project leads the country’ and in his speech Mr Noble said: “the door we are opening today should not be closed on anyone who could benefit from turning the handle”. Tens of thousands of students have turned the handle over the last fifty years and whatever the future holds in store I have no doubt it will stay faithful to this guiding principle which has served the people of Falkirk district so well.