Bringing in the New Year in days gone by

Falkirk Burgh Band in 1892
Falkirk Burgh Band in 1892

Like most folk I am an enthusiast for old traditions but there are some that are better consigned to the past.

For example, just before my time as a Hogmanay reveller, it was apparently the done thing to mark the coming of the New Year by smashing empty beer and whisky bottles against the steeple.

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

I have no recollection of this crazy activity though I was a regular at the steeple from the late 50s on.

Hundreds spilled out from the pubs and when the bell rang in the New Year we passed the bottle round to all and sundry before heading off on a round of first footing that lasted well into early morning.

There were very few taxis and we walked every-where in the frosty air which didn’t seem to bite the way it does today!

My memory of New Year’s Day itself is hazy but my impression is that the town was pretty quiet unlike the late Victorian days when the public celebrations continued throughout the holiday.

One report from 1870 says “the High Street during the night was somewhat noisy but with the exception of several slight street brawls nothing unusual 
occurred”.

The writer added that “the badly played melodeon was in evidence” and that the Wellington statue provided many a tipsy bairn with an aerial view of the night’s proceedings! It was this annual ‘sport’ that led to its removal to Newmarket Street in 1905.

On the day itself “the town presented a lively
 appearance from morning till night and, as usual, there were a pretty large number of inebriates 
strolling about”.

Each year the Burgh Band, resplendent in their handsome uniforms, marched from the Burgh Buildings to the Steeple at 10am to entertain the crowds.

Down in Crichton Park off Kerse Lane there was a fair with a switchback railway, fireworks, an ‘aerial figure’ (whatever that was) and ascents by balloon.

Across the district the great and good performed annual acts of charity for the benefit of the ‘poor’ of whom there were an astonishing number.

In 1897 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 many speeches from ministers and politicians urging them to work hard and stay away from the demon drink.

There was a similar event in the Poor’s House in Cow Wynd where “tea, a fourpenny pie and a bag of pastry” were on offer along with magic lantern shows, lectures and hymns galore.

The ‘Falkirk Abstainers Union’ gathered in the Christian Institute to sup orange juice and see a lamplight presentation telling the sad tale of ‘Little Tiz’ as well as hearing “concerted pieces by the choir”.

Sounds like a ball!

With the foundries closed it was not unusual for up to 4000 folk to take the train to the big cities. For those who stayed at home “the working classes” were offered “healthy amusement during the holiday”.

The Temperance Federation opened an entertainment centre in the Odd Fellows Hall with games like bagatelle, carpet bowls, draughts, dominoes, ludo and quoits along with the popular ‘summer ice’.

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

I have no idea how many stalwarts will shake hands at the steeple this year, but I know I will be adhering to my new Hogmanay tradition by staying warm, safe and sober indoors.

Happy New Year!