Bairns had a ‘smashing time’ at Hogmanay!

Idlers gather at the statue of the Iron Duke - who does not look amused.
Idlers gather at the statue of the Iron Duke - who does not look amused.

Back in the 1960s I was one of hundreds shaking hands and passing the bottle round to friend and stranger alike just as our fathers and grandfathers had done for a century or more.

At one time it was apparently the done thing to greet the New Year by smashing empty bottles against the steeple.

Ian Scott.

Ian Scott.

This was reported as late as the early 1950s without a hint of criticism, being part of a “quaint” Falkirk tradition.

Back in the 1870s eye-witness accounts tell us that “the High Street during the night was somewhat noisy but with the exception of several slight street brawls nothing unusual occurred”.

Another observer added that “the badly played melodeon was in evidence as usual” and that a few revellers were perched on the Duke of Wellington’s statue at the Steeple.

On New Year’s Day “the town presented a lively appearance from morning til night and, as usual, there were a pretty large number of inebriates strolling about”.

The Falkirk Burgh Band resplendent in their handsome uniforms marched from the Burgh Buildings to the Steeple at 10am to entertain the crowds and, across the district, the great and the good performed their annual acts of charity for the benefit of the ‘‘poor’’ of whom there were many.

In 1897 for example the Town Hall was the venue for a ‘‘breakfast’’ for over 700 poor children who were given “‘a large meat pie, cups of coffee and fancy bread and cake” before listening to six speeches from Provost Weir, councillors and ministers urging them to work hard, stay away from the demon drink and so grow into decent citizens.

There were similar events in the Poor’s House in the Cow Wynd where “tea, a fourpenny pie and a bag of pastry” were on offer and the Charity School in the Pleasance.

Down in Crichton Park off Kerse Lane there was a fair with a switchback railway, fireworks and “ascents by balloon”.

The Falkirk Abstainers Union gathered in the Christian Institute to sip orange juice and watch a lamplight presentation telling the sad tale of ‘‘Little Tiz’’. Sounds great!

With the foundries closed, many people took the chance of visiting the cities and it was not unusual for three or four thousand Bairns to take the train to Glasgow or Edinburgh. But with many more staying at home, there was a fear that idle hands might cause mischief so every effort was made to “provide the working classes with healthy amusement during the holiday”.

Most years the Temperance Federation opened the Oddfellows Hall as an entertainment centre offering games like bagatelle, carpet bowls, draughts, dominoes, ludo and quoits along with the very popular ‘‘summer ice’’ and something called hamla!

In most years over 1500 people turned up during the three days.

A century ago the 1919 celebrations were more muted since “sorrow sat in so many homes” in the aftermath of the Great War.

The Herald reflected this more sombre mood but reported efforts were made to celebrate the holiday and also noted that the traditional “marriage market” was carried on very briskly with 28 couples wed at the Registry Office over the two-day holiday. It was a custom that died away along with much else in the decades that followed though, thankfully, our salute to a New Year is still an important moment even if it is no more than a glass of port and a mince pie.