A few years ago a regular reader of this column told me I must be obsessed with pubs because I wrote about them every second week! I think it was said tongue in cheek but it forced me to sign the pledge and forget for a wee while these favourite haunts of my youth.
However a couple of things have dragged me back to the sights, sounds and smells of yesteryear and reminded me of the happy way things used to be.
The first was a marvellous evening spent at a unique Burns event in the Canal Inn (known to all as the ‘War Office’) close to Lock 16 in Camelon in the company of a small group of enthusiasts under the watchful eye of our genial host Robert Heeps – very good company, great verse, song and music and patter galore in a very historic setting. The inn dates back to the 1820s when the Union Canal opened for business and this was the place where it met with the Forth and Clyde. It quickly became a hive of industry with ship building, chemicals and foundries clustered round the big water basin with barges, fishing boats and craft of all kinds.
How the pub earned its nickname is anybody’s guess. Some say it was used as a recruiting office during the First World War and others claim that during the Boer War folk came there to hear news from South Africa read out from the newly arrived newspapers.
On the other side of Lock 16 is another watering hole with a nickname. This time the famous Union Inn which also dates to the 1820s and goes by the name of Auntie Katies. Catherine Struthers was the widow of the proprietor who died in very tragic circumstances in 1897 and she assumed the licence for the next 40 years. Until recent times her name still appeared above the door.
Elsewhere in Falkirk there were other puzzling nicknames like the ‘Gluepot’ for the Masonic Arms on the junction of Silver Row and Manor Street. It’s long gone of course but well remembered by one woman who told me: “Gluepot right enough! When my man went there he was stuck for the night”.
The Soo Hoose is the popular name for the Carronbridge Inn and folk say its name derives from a big sow feeding her litter of piglets just like the molten iron in the works next door running out into the interconnected ‘pig’ beds – hence pig iron.
The other thing that dragged me back to thoughts of pubs was noticing that the good old Argyll is now called ‘The Wine Library’ though not long ago it was No 1 Princes Street. Down at the east end, the Callendar Arms had a short spell as J D Rockets and now goes under the name of Kate’s Bar, while my old favourite the Burns Bar had a few years as Firkins and is now known as the Freebird Bar and Kitchen! Further down the road the R B Buffet had a spell as The Edge and is now Baristas Coffee Bar!
Today the Blackmill Inn is The Shore, the Commercial is the Scotia, the Gaff Inn is The Tolbooth and we have a new one called The Artisan Tap.
I suppose there is some good marketing reason for the changes but I must confess that it drives me nuts to see much loved names that hold many happy memories given handles like the The Goose on Newmarket thankfully quickly abandoned.
I only hope I’m long gone before the Wheatsheaf becomes the Flying Tumbler.