I was walking through the Windsor Road area last week and reminiscing about my childhood in Balmoral Street back in the 1950s.
Apart from cars parked everywhere, it looks pretty much as it was back then but with one big change – it is missing the looming presence of the grim old building we called Blinkbonny Home known to our elders as ‘the puirs hoose’.
Old Windsor Road which linked the new housing scheme with Gartcows consisted on one side of houses built between the wars and on the other the Home.
Surrounded by a high stone wall, this old people’s refuge had started life in 1900 as a replacement for the Burgh of Falkirk’s Asylum for Lunatic Paupers which stood at Parkfoot, on the corner of Cow Wynd and High Station Road. This was later used as the County Trades School in the 1950s and is now the site of the new Comely Park School.
This original ‘Puir’s Hoose’ had served the town for 50 years but its proximity to the houses of the affluent Falkirk folk led to a campaign to have the ‘poor’ moved to some new place out of town and out of sight! The answer was the new building next to the park at Gartcows then known as Blinkbonny. The name is common in Scotland and, of course, it means a pleasant outlook which you can still appreciate from the top of the park.
Back then the man in charge of Blinkbonny Home was a Mr Clarke, an ex-military man with only one eye ... or was it one arm? His official title was Governor. The old men used to wander about the local area and they always looked so old and tired though they were almost certainly younger than I am today!
By the 1960s the institution became a hospital for the elderly and the name changed again to Windsor Hospital. Then in 1988 it was replaced by the new Windsor Unit at Falkirk Royal Infirmary and the building was eventually demolished.
Another historical relic in the vicinity is Greenhorn’s Well set into the old hospital wall as it sweeps round from Windsor Road to Gartcows Drive. The ancient spring once emerged at the top of the little road known as Well Lane just below the railway. It is probably a later name for the old Chapel Well following the arrival of a James Greenhorn who held lands to the south around 1700. Legends claim that it was a place of pilgrimage in the early Christian era and emerged from a cave visited by William Wallace, one of many such hideaways to have sheltered the great hero! Each tale is as unlikely as the other.
Around 1824 a group of enthusiasts in the town formed a club with the aim of restoring the well and it was probably them who had the water piped down to the main road. As the inscription tells us, they provided the stone basin which in 1904 was reset within a handsome red granite surround by the Town Council. There was a metal cup on a chain and I remember older people taking a daily drink and claiming that it was full of health giving minerals like iron. I tried it once and it tasted pretty foul I must say, more like sulphur than iron!
Some years ago when the health and safety lobby gained power the water was cut off and the cup disappeared.
Let’s make sure that the well doesn’t suffer the same fate and that it remains to remind us of an earlier, simpler age.