West end is a history hotspot in Falkirk

The West Church in Falkirk in 1960
The West Church in Falkirk in 1960

The west end of Falkirk is not only an attractive gateway to the town but a historic hotspot with many links to the past.

Just opposite the Municipal Buildings the main road crosses the West Burn, which for centuries marked the town boundary and has, since 1871, run underground. The name West Bridge Street reminds us of the footbridge that stood at this point, though for Falkirk folk it has always been the ‘Tanners Brae’ after the leather works which stood beside the burn and was one of Falkirk’s most important industries.

The rickety buildings with their open-slatted roofs were demolished in the 1980s when the new Tanners Road from Cockburn Street was created. Further up the brae stands the old West Church – home today to the congregation of the Peoples Church. It is Falkirk’s oldest public building opened in 1799 as a breakaway from the Church of Scotland.

In 1761 the Minister of Carnock, Thomas Gillespie reacted against interference in church matters by calling for a new body to relieve “Christians oppressed in their church privileges”. Thus the ‘Relief Church’ was born and Falkirk was not long in finding sufficient people to form a congregation and find a small building for worship. By the 1790s they were able to build a proper church designed by Thomas Stirling who was unfortunately severely injured in a fall from the roof along with two craftsmen who were killed.

Despite this bad omen the church flourished, becoming eventually a United Presbyterian and United Free Church before rejoining the Church of Scotland in 1929. It served as the West Church until 1990 when the congregation joined with St Andrews and the Peoples Church purchased the building.

Back in 1883 the attractive sandstone frontage was added with its distinctive crowned head above the main door. This represents God the Father according to some, Arbraham to others and King David to more than a few – take your pick!

Opposite the church stands the modern police headquarters which replaced the handsome classical building which served the town from around 1900 first as the local HQ of Stirling County Council and later as the police station. Despite a campaign to save the building, those whose neglect had allowed it to deteriorate were rewarded with permission to demolish. Very sad.

Sad too was the fate of the beautiful group of early 19th century buildings across the road behind the little pend. Though much admired they were destroyed at some stage though when and by whom I have no idea.

Until 1927 West Bridge Street joined High Street without a break but with access to the planned new infirmary in mind the street was opened up and Cockburn Street was the result.

It was the age of art deco design and the unusual sausage-shaped building with its flat roof and round ends appeared on the new corner. It was known at the time as Kidd’s Buildings after the Falkirk blacksmith who built it as an investment. It still graces the corner and is a fine contrast to the surrounding buildings including the baronial style Sheriff Court on the opposite corner.

Opened in 1868 it replaced an earlier Court Building in Bank Street. After the new court opened in Camelon in 1990 it was home to the Voluntary Action Resources Centre and is now a funeral home.

Much has survived and much lost over the years but none quite so damaging as the disappearance of Peter Moscardini’s little West End Café.

Now that was a real tragedy!