Looking after Falkirk’s architectural gems

Falkirk is full of fine Victorian and Edwardian buildings
Falkirk is full of fine Victorian and Edwardian buildings

Over the last 30 years or so I have turned from a ‘glass half-full’ optimist into a grumpy old man who shouts at the telly.

It’ll come as no surprise that my annoyance is often directed at those who knock down or neglect the beautiful buildings left to us by our forefathers whose sense of style is seldom replicated by today’s designers.

I am not daft enough to think that we can save everything put up before 1950 but we can certainly make a better job of looking after the gems that remain so future generations will thank rather than blame us.

Gems we certainly have. The High Street, Manor Street, Kirk Wynd, Vicar Street, Cow Wynd and Newmarket Street are full of fine Victorian and Edwardian buildings, many of them listed, but often expensive to repair and maintain.

Take a stroll around and see what I mean: the Vicar Street building once home to the Salon cinema, the old YMCA on the corner of Glebe Street, the fantastic former bank on the corner of Vicar Street and Newmarket Street and many more, including shops and even the mock ‘Tudor House’ from the 1930s.

That’s why this week is really important for Falkirk and for everybody who loves the history of our area. Saturday sees the launch of the Falkirk Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI) which will provide funding for a range of building improvements in these areas. Last year saw the completion of a similar heritage-led regeneration around the historic churchyard where the Falkirk story began over 1000 years ago and Falkirk Council Development Services followed this up by applying to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a THI centred on the heart of the old medieval town. The total fund of £5.5 million will include grants to owners of properties in the designated area as well as specialist advice on stone repair and conservation, windows, signs, shop fronts and the like.

Along with the physical improvement of the town centre there will be a programme aimed at improving our knowledge of the history of the town over the centuries.

At the heart of the project is Falkirk’s town steeple which will celebrate its 200th birthday in a few months time. I will be writing more about this nearer the anniversary – suffice to say that since 1814 “the auld grey spire” has witnessed all the great moments in the life of our community and quite a few grim ones as well.

As well as renovating the outside, the THI might include some restoration on the inside which could allow access to the old jail cells above the shop where many a hapless ‘Bairn’ passed a few miserable hours before being whipped, branded or even hanged on the town gallows down below in the market place.

If you want to know more about what is going to be happening then pop along to the Howgate Centre on Saturday between 11 a.m. and 3.30 p.m. As well as seeing an expert stonemason and a signwriter at work there will be photographs of the old town and the screening of a couple of Falkirk films from the Scottish Screen Archive. You can meet the team responsible for the THI and let them know what you think. I’m certainly going along to put in my pennyworth, so why don’t you?