People getting friendly with Falkirk’s parks

Zetland Park in Grangemouth circa 1900
Zetland Park in Grangemouth circa 1900

A couple of years ago I wrote an article for one of the Herald’s supplements about our public parks. At the time I was concerned about the impact of funding cuts on these important gifts from the past which play a crucial role in the lives of people of all ages.

Since then a couple of things have happened. Firstly, the financial climate has got even worse, with more reductions in public expenditure still to come. The better news is the rise of formal groups of ‘friends’, members of the public determined to do all they can to ensure that the case for protecting and developing their parks is made loudly and often.

We now have ‘friends’ of Kinneil, Dollar Park, Muiravonside and Zetland Park and they really make a difference. New plans are under development which, when implemented, will help keep the parks at the very heart of our communities for future generations.

Although I am delighted to see the growth of the parks for leisure and recreation my main interest is in their history and the part each plays in re-telling our story. Take Grangemouth’s Zetland Park, for example. It is probably our oldest public space having been gifted to the people of the burgh in 1882.

Ten years earlier the Dundas family, Earls of Zetland, had handed over the small town of Grangemouth to a first elected council. Up until then all decisions about the management of land, buildings and people had been in their hands, despite them living in Richmond.

Once the new municipal masters were firmly established the Earl gifted a piece of land to be used as a public park for the community. He would, he said, be delighted if they decided to name it Zetland Park, and the council were pleased to oblige!

On June 3, 1882 the Earl handed over the park including the fine fountain, which was the personal gift of Hugh McPherson, the Chief Magistrate (or Provost) of the town. I was recently sent a medallion by a generous friend in London which records the great day and includes a lovely engraving of the fountain.

Over the years a handsome bandstand (now sadly in the United States), an open air swimming pool, a paddling pool, a bowling club and recently refurbished tennis courts were installed and Zetland Park became the focal point of community activities and celebrations.

The area around the beautiful main gates is a real historical hot spot surrounded by the former Kersey Church of 1899 (now Abbots Grange), the Sacred Heart Catholic Church (1927), the site of the old Grange School and the controversial but striking War Memorial designed by J. J. Burnet in 1919.

Within the park itself are the rocky remains of the Abbot’s Grange dating back to the medieval Abbots of Holy rood Edinburgh who were the feudal overlords of the barony of Kersey within which the modern town of Grangemouth lies.

Friends of Zetland Park want the development plan to include some kind of illustrated historical time line that charts the growth of Grangemouth from the first cut of the canal in 1768 to the flare stacks of the refinery. It’s a great idea and I hope the people of Grangemouth will make their thoughts known to the planners.

I strongly support all the Friends groups and hope more will be formed in the months and years ahead.