Charing Cross '“ a reminder of a King's homage

Charing Cross in Grangemouth is one of those local historic hot spots I have written about often in this column.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 18th June 2016, 11:00 am
Charing Cross with the library and Free Church. On the far right is the former Parish Church.
Charing Cross with the library and Free Church. On the far right is the former Parish Church.

There are several fine old buildings there which have served the community in different ways for well over a century and are very much part of the growth of the village into a large and important town.

The very name Charing Cross has an interesting and romantic story though it relates to the original London version of the name which I suppose inspired the powers-that-be in Glasgow and Grangemouth.

It dates back to the 13th century when the beloved wife of King Edward the first, Eleanor of Castile, died in the city of Lincoln.

Her body was brought 100 miles to London with 12 overnight stops. The Hammer of the Scots ordered an elaborate stone cross monument to be raised at each resting place with the last one close to the village of Charing, now in the city centre.

Only three survive and Charing Cross is not one of them. However the name lives on as a reminder of a bereaved King’s homage. He was a big softie after all!

Back in Grangemouth in the Victorian period the population was spilling out of the old town and erecting fine new buildings which reflected their growing prosperity. The earliest was the Parish Church opened in 1866 in what is Union Road today.

However, it was too close to the new railway and was replaced by the present church in Ronaldshay Crescent in 1911.

In the meantime the Free Church, which already had a building in the old town, opened a new one in 1884 at the cross.

Today it is a restaurant appropriately called The Earl of Zetland.

As well as churches there were new public buildings like the classical Town Hall (1886) and the Victoria Public Library (1890) both designed by Falkirk’s most prolific architect of the period, William Black.

The library was built for Queen Victoria’s jubilee using money gifted by Andrew Carnegie. The Town Hall was a grand replacement for the building with the clock tower which survived until recent times.

However, the two surviving Charing Cross buildings I like best are the old bank buildings on the gusset site facing east along Bo’ness Road and the former La Scala picture house.

The old Commercial Bank with its very fine clock tower and copper dome dates to 1911. It has a carved panel with the coat of arms of the bank but today it is an evangelical church.

It is a fantastic building just like the old cinema which began life two years later as the Empire Electric Theatre which is the name carved above the doorway.

It was a variety theatre and a cinema changing its name to the La Scala in 1916.

In the 1930s as part of the switch to talking pictures there was a major refurbishment to the design of the architect Alister MacDonald, the son of the Labour Prime Minister Ramsay.

It closed as a cinema in 1971 and had a new life as the Carlton Bingo Club until the smoking ban brought the end in 2006.

I love the design with its red brick and white sandstone trim and the ‘towers’ at the each end of the façade. It could do with a bit of TLC but I hope very much that it will survive and be put to some good use.

Far too many people think of Grangemouth as nothing more than a big industrial town. A walk round Charing Cross with eyes open will surely change their minds.