Old photos are window to Falkirk’s past

The old Bishop's Store in Falkirk which was in Kerse Lane at the foot of Manor Street
The old Bishop's Store in Falkirk which was in Kerse Lane at the foot of Manor Street

One of the great delights of local history is the range and quality of the old photographs of the streets, buildings and people which we have inherited from our forebears.

From the mid Victorian period on we can see the way the old towns and villages have changed and how the people dressed, worked and transported their goods and themselves from place to place. Lost buildings like the old town halls of Falkirk, Denny, Bonnybridge and Grangemouth are recorded for all time along with churches, schools, foundries, factories and shops which people remember and love to see again.

Surviving buildings are often much changed with long defunct banks housing bookmakers and ex-churches serving as pubs or funeral homes. Seeing them in their original form tells us a lot about the way society has evolved during our lifetime. For some years I have given a talk called ‘Gone but not forgotten’ to clubs and societies all over the district and it is clear from the reaction that the old images mean a great deal to folk, especially those of a certain age!

At the beginning of the 20th century there were dozens of professional photographers in Falkirk district and they produced tens of thousands of images many of which were mass printed as postcards which were the text messages and e-mails of their day. The Falkirk archives in Callendar House have amassed close to 50,000 photographs which chronicle the life and times of the generations before ours. But what about the younger generation and those who follow?

When they reach the stage of looking back will there be an archive of images to remind them of their past and chart the changes in their lifetimes? With the advent of the sophisticated digital camera phones we certainly have plenty of images but what exactly are people snapping, and will the pictures survive in a form that will serve as a record?

‘Selfies’ in front of the steeple or the Wellington statue certainly tell us about the current obsession but not much more and today’s professional photographers have fewer outlets for pictures of buildings and streets than their Edwardian counterparts. Over the years members of Falkirk Camera Club and others have created many images which will prove invaluable in the future but I think we also need a more systematic and continuous photographic project not intended as works of art but to capture the town of today and tomorrow for the future.

One short project currently underway is a photographic competition called ‘Your Town, Your View’. This is part of the Falkirk Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI) in the town centre organised by the THI team and Falkirk Delivers and it is open to anybody to submit images of anything in the town centre from small architectural details to full streetscapes. Application forms can be downloaded from www.falkirkthi.com but you will need to get your skates on because pictures must be e-mailed by August 10.

The THI is designed to help transform buildings in the town centre through grants for refurbishment, repair and restoration and much of the early planning is near completion. We’ll soon see the practical work begin and the appearance of many of our buildings will change for the better.

But before that happens we need to record things as they are today good, bad or indifferent.

Whether our grandchildren think they are ‘gone but not forgotten’ remains to be seen, but at least they will know what the Falkirk of 2015 looked like.