Strike up the burgh band

Falkirk Burgh Band in 1892
Falkirk Burgh Band in 1892
Share this article

I am writing this before Hogmanay so I have no idea how many folk assembled at the Steeple this year.

Back in the early 1960s there were hundreds of us shaking hands and passing the bottle round to friend and stranger alike when the bell chimed in the new year, just as our fathers and grandfathers had done for a century or more.

Of course their world was very different from ours as I found on reading the eye-witness accounts of Falkirk in the late Victorian age.

One of the earliest comes from 1870 when, “The High Street during the night was somewhat noisy but with the exception of several slight street brawls nothing unusual occurred”.

Our observer added that, “The badly played melodeon was in evidence as usual and the night was rendered not the less hideous in consequence”.

Not much change there then. On New Year’s Day itself, “The town presented a lively appearance from morning ‘til night and, as usual, there was a pretty large number of inebriates strolling about”.

Each year the Falkirk Burgh Band, resplendent in their handsome uniforms, marched from the Burgh Buildings to the Steeple at 10 a.m. to entertain the crowds and across the district.

The great and the good performed their annual acts of charity for the benefit of the ‘poor’ – of whom there were an astonishing number.

In 1897 for example the Town Hall was the venue for a ‘breakfast’ for over 700 poor children who were given ‘a large meat pie, cups of coffee and fancy bread and cake’ before listening to six speeches from Provost Weir, councillors and ministers urging them to work hard, stay away from the demon drink and so grow into decent citizens.

Chilling to think that many would be in the trenches or the graveyard before they had much of a chance!

There was always a similar event in the Poor’s House in Cow Wynd where ‘tea, a fourpenny pie and a bag of pastry’ were on offer along with entertainment like magic lantern shows, lectures and hymns galore.

The Ragged School in Kerse Lane where street children were housed, put to work and given ‘instruction’, and the much vaunted Charity School in the Pleasance, celebrated in similar fashion.

With the foundries and public works closed many people took the chance of visiting the cities and it was not unusual for three or four thousand to take the train to Glasgow or Edinburgh.

But with many more staying at home there was a fear that idle hands might cause mischief so every effort was made to “provide the working classes with healthy amusement during the holiday”.

Most years the Temperance Federation hired the Odd Fellows Hall in Grahamston which opened as an entertainment centre offering games such as bagatelle, carpet bowls, draughts, dominoes, ludo and quoits, along with the very popular ‘summer ice’ and something called hamla!

In most years over 1500 people turned up during the three days.

Over in the Town Mission the public were invited to hear

a choir of 40 children sing a cantata called ‘Won for a Child’ and the next night listen to Mr David Kay 
lecture on ‘Lord Kitchener’s recent campaign in the Sudan’.

It is a long lost world far removed from our own and few would want to return to anything like it. That is except for one thing.

Today in Falkirk we have the excellent Tryst orchestra but what about a Burgh Band? Now that would be a welcome blast from the past.

Ask Ian

Grant Barker wonders if there has ever been any excavation to find the site of the 1298 Battle of Falkirk?

The problem is that we have very little idea where to begin. There are at least a dozen possible places between Falkirk and Linlithgow which fit the limited evidence so it would be guesswork which the people with the money and expertise don’t like!

I’m afraid that only an accidental discovery of mountains of bones will solve the puzzle.