James Love, Falkirk’s celebrated choirmaster and historian

Choirmaster James Love with his family
Choirmaster James Love with his family

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting the family of James Love, one of Falkirk’s most famous men who died back in 1928.

They had travelled to the town from different parts of the country to visit Trinity Church where the great man served as choirmaster for 51 years, and to hear more about his life as Falkirk’s most distinguished antiquary and local historian.

The grave of James Love in Falkirk

The grave of James Love in Falkirk

Few men have made a greater contribution to the understanding of our history and heritage and his publications are still the bible for folk like me who follow in his footsteps.

James was a Dundonian by birth but spent his early years in the Vale of Leven where his musical talents were soon in evidence.

He joined the local Harmonic Society and Bonhill UF Church choir and learned the art of sol-fa, the method by which people who could not read music mastered complicated choral arrangements.

James, who trained as a designer in calico printing, moved to Glasgow and it was not long before he was directing his own choir while still in his teens.

For decades no public event was without a musical contribution from James Love

In 1877 he applied for the vacant post of precentor and ‘conductor of music’ at what was then Falkirk Parish Church and despite his youth (he was only 19 years old) was chosen over far more experienced candidates.

It was the start of a half century of service to music in Falkirk, not only in the church but in most of the local schools and with the Falkirk Choral Union which he formed with 180 members.

He researched and published several books on church music and was an authority on the history of the great choral composers.

For decades no public event was without a musical contribution from James Love and few would argue with the inscription on the plaque in the church which says: “His presence filled each heart with joy, tuned every mouth to sing.”

His second great love was retelling the story of Falkirk’s past and he spent hundreds of hours in the great national libraries and archives.

He wrote letters by the score to lawyers, librarians and historians seeking the answers to historical questions great and small and he published his findings in many scholarly articles for this very newspaper and in books like his marvellous four volumes of ‘Antiquarian Notes and Queries’ books to which I refer almost everyday.

James Love was just 70 when he collapsed suddenly on May 6, 1928 during a Sunday morning service.

He never recovered consciousness and died at his home an hour or so later.

His funeral was one of the largest seen in the town for many years with hundreds of people lining the streets, the tolling of the Parish Church bell, the school children standing with heads bowed and the choir members walking on each side of the hearse.

At the graveside they sang his favourite hymn, ‘Bright shall the crown of glory be, When we have borne the cross’.

Before leaving Falkirk his grandson Alistair Wem and the rest of the family visited James’ former home in Neilson Street and paid their respects at the handsome memorial stone over his grave in the cemetery which was raised by public subscription.

He was, says the stone, “an unwearied worker in voluntary service” and members of his family are justifiably proud of their great ancestor.

Those of us who live in his adopted home town look back with gratitude that he gave so much of himself to our community and left a powerful legacy which we enjoy today .