The old East Burn is a thread through Falkirk’s history

The bridge over the former East Burn in Callendar Park
The bridge over the former East Burn in Callendar Park

One of the features in Callendar Park which often intrigues visitors is the dried up valley of the old East Burn which lies to the south and west of the house close to the golf course.

Today it is an attractive grassy feature crossed by an old stone bridge, though there are swampy stretches which gobble up golf balls and act as mud baths for nice clean puppies.

Marion's Well at the East Burn bridge

Marion's Well at the East Burn bridge

The burn is fed by springs which were used to create the artificial Callendar Loch by the Forbes family in the 19th century. From here its three-mile course to the Carron runs like a thread through the history of Falkirk, although today most of it is hidden from sight. There are a few places where the sluggish waters are still visible but they mostly lie below the surface in pipes and culverts.

Near the Kemper Avenue boundary there is an ornamental stone-built cascade now in a very dilapidated condition and not far away the burn was crossed by the East Bridge. The street of the same name was once the main entrance into the town before Callendar Road was built around 1830.

Close by was Marion’s Well, a familiar Falkirk watering place apparently named after a young lady of the Livingston family who had become a nun and regularly used the waters for medicinal purposes. Here the burn supplied a tannery in the 19th century.

A similar situation existed at the west end of the town where the West Burn serviced the works at the foot of ‘Tanners Brae’ – known as West Bridge Street.

In the medieval period both East and West Burns provided the people of the town with their main water supply which often failed during dry spells. After crossing underneath Callendar Road the stream enters the grassy valley of Bell’s Meadow and here its local name became the ‘Meadow Burn’.

Stretches of the burn were visible around 30 years ago down behind the slaughterhouse not far from Ladysmill where the waters once turned the wheel of the baronial corn mill of Callendar. Ladysmill is an interesting name. Does it refer to one of the Livingston ladies? Or is it possibly ‘Our Lady’s Mill’ from some pre-Reformation religious devotion?

Nearby Millburn Street recalls another local name for the burn which skirts Victoria Park and Middlefield before heading north towards Abbots Road where it runs under the Forth and Clyde Canal in a culvert. After merging with the Bainsford Burn flowing from the west it once powered Dalderse Mill before entering the Salt Pow a little to the east of the great loop on the Carron.

In the 17th century the Pow was Falkirk’s legal port where goods were landed from ships arriving via the Forth from the continent. Carting goods from here was a slow and difficult task and John Reid has suggested that to counter this the burn was engineered to form a continuous canalised waterway.

For decades afterwards goods were landed at the Pow and carried in small vessels all the way to the town. If so it must surely be Scotland’s first ever canal the best part of a century before the construction of the Forth and Clyde.