Ian Scott: Building blocks which led to modern Falkirk

Rosehall, one of the now almost forgotten properties which were an early part of ''modern''falkirk.
Rosehall, one of the now almost forgotten properties which were an early part of ''modern''falkirk.

This week sees the launch of the latest edition of Calatria, the Journal of Falkirk Local History Society.

It is the 34th since 1991 and, like other recent editions, it concentrates on Falkirk’s evolution as a burgh in this the final year of the Township Heritage Initiative’s (THI) refurbishment of the historic parts of the town. Earlier editions covered the impact of the Romans on our area with other articles describing the medieval period. This issue has two main articles which add to our understanding of two very important periods in the growth of the town.

The first – by John Reid – looks back to the Records of the Court of the Regality of Falkirk which survive from 1638 until the end of the Livingston era in 1715.

The late Doreen Hunter, known to many as the curator of the Dollar Park Museum, transcribed the original records and, with John’s help, the first volume was issued by the Stair Society in 1991.

It may be possible in future to have the rest published in full but that will not be any time soon so John has trawled through the transcripts and in his article names the people, the trades, the disputes etc. which paint a picture of a busy and successful trading community in the years before industrialisation changed everything. It is a fascinating read.

The second article – by Geoff Bailey – describes one of the critical periods in the creation of modern Falkirk.

Between 1830 and 1860 the foundation was laid for the modern burgh; before then Falkirk was a small market town with little in the way of industry, few public amenities or services and, with the exception of the steeple and the new parish church, old buildings, many dating to the 16th century. The trigger for change was political reform as well as the scourge of cholera and that 30-year period saw a massive physical change with many new streets and buildings and moves towards reform of the diabolical sanitation, water supply and overcrowding.

As I said in last week’s article, this was the period of huge expansion in the iron trade. In 1830 there were two foundries in the district and 30 years later there were 15. All this provided a new source of money.

In his article Geoff lists and describes the buildings which appeared in the period including some that are still in use like the former Commercial Bank in the High Street (1832) opposite the Cow Wynd, the old Grammar School in Park Street (1846) and the much changed building in Bank Street opened in 1845 as an Evangelical Church, later the Picture House and now the Carron Works pub/restaurant. There are houses too like Brockville House (1831) at the bottom of Hope Street and the former Gair and Gibson offices at the south end of the street, built as a manse for the Erskine Church in the 1850s. Another manse, this time for the Free Church was erected on Arnothill in 1855.

It later served as the Carmelite convent and is presently being restored.

Lost buildings also covered in the survey are St Francis Xavier’s Church (1843), Rosehall in the Pleasance (1852) the old ‘Asylum for Lunatic Paupers’ (or Poor’s House) later the County Trade School in High Station Road (1850) and the Corn Exchange (1859) in Newmarket Street replaced by the old Town Hall just 20 years later. And there are many more.

Calatria 34 is available from Waterstones and from Falkirk Local History Society.

Anyone who is interested in this issue or any of the earlier editions can contact the Society at falkirkhistory@virginmedia.com.