There are quite a few historical hotspots in the Falkirk area where clusters of old buildings, each with an interesting story, stand within a few yards of each other.
The west end of Falkirk is one, or at least it used to be before the beautiful classical police station was bulldozed in favour of the current modern block, and the lovely range of Georgian buildings behind the opposite end were destroyed by neglect.
Charing Cross and the entrance to Zetland Park in Grangemouth are other examples but the area I am interested in today is in Reddingmuirhead. Not far west of Wallacestone Brae on the Redding to Shieldhill Road we have a group of three very different buildings with different histories which shared the common purpose of serving their local community at a time when mutual support was essential if working people were to survive in the harsh years of Queen Victoria’s reign.
The earliest of the three is the handsome building known as the Reddingmuirhead Institute, which began life as a school in 1858, funded by the Duke of Hamilton, who owned local coal mines. The school was intended to provide basic education to the colliers’ children.
When it was no longer required the Duke gave it to the community becoming, in 1910, the institute used for reading, social functions, billiards and bowls. It even had a shooting gallery at one time.
Next door is Wallacestone Methodist Church which opened in 1873. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, did visit Scotland on an evangelical tour in the 1750s, but the dour Presbyterians weren’t keen on his message – too much like the Church of England they thought.
However, as religious fervour in Victoria’s time grew, denominations of all kinds flourished and the local adherents decided they were strong enough to have their own building.
Although the Wallace-stone building is plain enough in design it stands back from the road surrounded by trees that make it very easy on the eye. On the other side of the street is the most recent addition – the Red House – with its three brick gables built for Redding Co-operative Society in the 1920s.
The co-operative movement began in earnest in the north of England in the 1840s to encourage working people in industrial areas to own and control their own supplies of food and other essentials. Redding Co-op opened in 1862 and served for many years until it was replaced by the brand new Red House. To make sure that the passing world knew what it was all about the designers set in stone the clasped hand symbol of shared endeavour which remains today as a reminder of the struggles of the past.
Today the church congregation is strong and active, the Red House has a number of busy shops and businesses and the Reddingmuirhead Institute is home to several groups including the local community council. Not for the first time I take my hat off to Danny Callaghan and his colleagues who have done a great job in keeping the history of the area alive, not least by organising the historical story boards in the new Tesco store.
Should there be something similar in Camelon? I certainly think there should be – but who will take up the challenge?
If you have a question for Ian, e-mail it to him at ianqscott@ blueyonder.co.uk