Lint Riggs: From rat-infested close to prestigious Falkirk street

Lint Riggs in Falkirk town centre was completely rebuilt in 1903
Lint Riggs in Falkirk town centre was completely rebuilt in 1903

More than any other street in Falkirk, the Lint Riggs links the town’s ancient past with the dereliction of the Victorian era and the elegance of the 20th century.

The very name conjures up a time when the cultivated infield land lying close to the small community was used by the farmers to grow flax (lint) for the hand looms in Woo’er (weaver) Street. This cottage industry lost out in the 19th century cotton boom and the old riggs, by then part of the expanding town, were crossed by a narrow lane just wide enough to take a horse and cart.

SFFH Lint Riggs circa 1890

SFFH Lint Riggs circa 1890

At the High Street end stood an iron gate which the carters opened and closed and at the other it met the fine ‘New Market Road’ serving the Corn Exchange which in due course became the Town Hall. By the 1890s the Lint Riggs was in a pretty poor state with old crumbling shops and houses plagued by rats and other assorted vermin.

The rag store was particularly bad and, looking across the road from his window in the Burgh Buildings, David Ronald the Burgh Engineer watched the rats each morning as they assembled on the roof to drink from the roof gutters. He and his colleagues kept a note of the numbers which topped 30 on more than one occasion! But there was an even worse sight: “On a warm summer morning it was quite common to see the pavement with numerous maggots crawling and one had to avoid them to prevent slipping”.

His chance to help bring about change came with a major improvement programme in 1903. The Town Council purchased properties on both sides of the street, demolished them and approved new building designs which are the ones we have today. At this stage David Ronald proposed what was at the time a revolutionary plan.

Deep below the street would be a passageway, six foot six inches high and four foot wide carrying water, gas and telephone services with pipes leading to each property. It was expensive and some Councillors were far from happy. One told him “That is the worst of employing high-falutin’ engineers with their high collars and bowler hats who went to Paris for the weekend”. Despite this opposition the scheme was approved and Ronald recalled later that the excavations were so deep that the Herald headline read THE NEW SUEZ CANAL! As far as I know the passage is still used today over a century later.

The new Lint Riggs was certainly an architectural improvement on what had gone before. All four corner buildings have little domes which is unique in Scotland according to one local worthy and there are several handsome buildings not least the magnificent Masonic Temple built for Lodge Callendar 588. For me though the buildings that really mattered were the 1960s coffee bar run by the Temperance Café (now Johnston’s Bar Bistro) and the Newmarket Bar across the road. The café was a place for us cool dudes to hang out and many a day, rigged out in my ice blue shorty raincoat with the collar turned up, I sipped my milky coffee and eyed up the talent. A few years later it was the bar across the road where good old ‘George Washington’ in bowler hat, white gloves and silk scarf downed a pint after an hour or two haranguing passers by on the evils of drink. Happy days!

Dryburgh no proof of abbey link

I have been quite rightly taken to task by John Reid over the suggestion in my article last week about Herbertshire Castle that the place name ‘Dryburgh’ in the Denny area was evidence of the influence of the Templar Knights in the area. John points out that there is no evidence to link our Dryburgh with the famous Abbey of that name and anyway there is no recorded connection of the Abbey to the Templars. Although Dryburgh was an alternative name for the Templelands of Denny John thinks the name probably refers to some early stone building in the vicinity.