Keeping Grangemouth’s history alive

Zetland Park war memorial
Zetland Park war memorial

Historic Grangemouth has been on my mind recently – especially the two names most associated with the early days: Dundas and Zetland.

The first has been prominent ever since Sir Laurence Dundas of West Kerse cut the first sod of the ‘‘Great Canal’’ in 1768 thereby giving birth to a new community. The great fortune he made passed to his grandson, also Laurence Dundas, who was able to ‘‘assist’’ the impoverished Royal Kents to prepare daughter Victoria for the throne.

Charlotte Dundas engraving

Charlotte Dundas engraving

In the subsequent coronation honours he was elevated to the Earldom of Zetland chosen because both Orkney and Shetland were other parts of his grandfather’s empire!

My recent preoccupation started a couple of weeks ago when the Friends of Charlotte Dundas announced that they had reached agreement with Scottish Canals to fulfil a long held and hard fought for vision of a historic trail along both sides of the new stretch of canal opened recently by the Queen.

This will celebrate the pioneering work of William Symington, who demonstrated the world’s first successful steam powered vessel on the canal in 1803.

The information panels will also describe the development of steam power and the growth of the Grangemouth shipyards where Charlotte was built using an engine fabricated at Carron. Work should start in the autumn and visitors will learn about another local contribution to the world’s industrial revolution.

Another group with much to celebrate is the Friends of Zetland Park who launched their fundraising campaign some months ago as the community contribution to a multi-million refurbishment of the park which was gifted by the third Earl of Zetland to the town in 1882.

It is one of the finest parks in central Scotland, loved and well-used by thousands but, like everything else, it does need the investment of funds and ideas to maintain its high quality for the future.

Tom Brown and his committee have produced a fantastic plan which will see a restoration of the beautiful but dilapidated fountain, a refurbishment of the old paddling pool which has been an eyesore for too long, a ‘‘history wall’’ telling Grangemouth’s story, a permanent setting for the annual children’s day and a multi-use space for all kinds of sporting, fitness and leisure activities.

There has been a great response from the community which has already contributed over 50 per cent more than the original target of £25,000.

Last week the Friends had a flying visit from their patron, Mark Zetland (the fourth Marquess), who wanted to see the park and hear about the plans.

At his request the visit was very informal and he proved to be a very gentle and genial man with a real interest in what was going on in his ‘‘ancestral home’’.

A walk though the park on a beautiful summer’s day was followed by a quick visit to Grangemouth Heritage Trust (he is their patron as well), a trip to see the Spitfire memorial and meet three of the cadets and then, of course, the Helix and the Kelpies.

His reaction to the whole day was very positive and he has promised to do what he can to support the lottery bid currently being prepared. He also made a significant contribution to the local funds.

Those of us, even Falkirk bairns like me, who love Grangemouth and celebrate its history, owe a great debt of gratitude to the two groups of Friends led by Ken Hutton and Tom Brown who have put in many hundreds of hours to take their proposals to the brink of success.

More power to their elbows I say – steam powered of course!