Most Sunday mornings I walk my dog round the half mile circuit of Falkirk’s Victoria Park. Sometimes I’m the only one there but quite often there are football matches and occasionally visiting amusements at the north end.
It has been like this for well over a century since the town first decided to provide “a pleasant resort whither the toiling masses might resort to for health and enjoyments sake”.
The late Victorian era was a period of rapid industrialisation, growing population and overcrowded housing. Fairly late in the day the powers that be realised that working conditions were very hazardous to the health of the workers and that towns needed open spaces to provide fresh air as well as exercise.
Thus the parks movement emerged and in the 1890s it reached the burgh of Falkirk.
The first venture came in 1893 when the Council opened Princes Park on part of the old south muir of the town. It was not a great success since it was a bit of an uphill trek especially from the part of the town where the industrial workers lived. Hence the move just two years later to create a new open space in Grahamston.
The place chosen was Thornbank which at the time was leased by the Falkirk Trotting Club and an appeal for funds was reasonably successful helped by a donation of £1000 from Robert Rankine of Rosebank Distillery towards the estimate of £5500. The official opening on August 3, 1895 was performed by the recently elected MP John Wilson following the usual junket in the Burgh Buildings with many speeches, much self congratulation and ‘wine and cake’ galore. With the Falkirk Burgh Band in attendance the park which the Queen had ‘graciously allowed to be called Victoria’ was declared open.
Almost immediately it was put to good use for football matches, brass band concerts, public gatherings and ice skating which involved flooding the park in the winter months, a practice which continued until 1910.
There were circuses too and not long after, in 1901, the Falkirk Victoria Harriers whose first competitions featured a ten mile run round the perimeter track which is still there today.
Over the years there have been many additions to the facilities and a few regrettable removals. The biggest loss was the magnificent wrought iron gates which stood at the entrance to the park on Thornhill Road. These were installed in 1899 and bear the coat of arms of the town. Set in the middle of a 450 foot wall they were designed by David Ronald the burgh surveyor and made not by a local foundry but in Birmingham by Messrs Jones and Willis. When the front of the park was revamped in the tasteless post war years the gates were removed and now sit in the museum.
One thing that has survived from the early decades is the water fountain memorial to Sir John the Graeme. There was a long tradition that the battle of Falkirk in 1298 had been fought in the Grahamston area with the park near the centre of the battlefield.
We are pretty sure now that this was well off the mark, but in Victorian Falkirk the new streets were named Wallace and Bruce.
In 1912 Falkirk born Robert Dollar in one of his many gifts to his native town paid for this addition to the park to mark, or so the plaque says, the spot where Sir John de Graeme fell.
Anyone interested in the story of Victoria and other Falkirk district parks can read Geoff Bailey’s excellent series of articles at www.falkirklocalhistory.co.uk.