Town hall anniversary passed without notice

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One 50th anniversary which slipped by unnoticed last month was the demolition of Falkirk’s Town Hall in Newmarket Street.

After the Steeple it was the town’s most important building and many Falkirk bairns at the time were at a loss to understand why it was given over to the bulldozers when it could have served the town as it had done for nearly a century.

For all that time it was at the heart of the community where people gathered by the thousand for school prizegivings and concerts, drama festivals and operas, great public appeals, dances, political rallies and even wrestling and boxing matches.

The site in Newmarket Street was once referred to as ‘‘Dr Corbett’s garden’’ as it was attached to a doctor’s house called Mount Vaccine!

The Feuars of Falkirk, the property owners who collected fees from the farmers at the markets, decided that the town needed a sheltered market place to replace the medieval site in front of the Steeple.

In 1830 they purchased the garden and built lean-to shades at the back of the parish church which served until 1858 when it was replaced by a ‘‘new market’’.

As well as a great success as a corn exchange, this building quickly became a major centre of municipal entertainment, so that 20 years later, the feuars decided to replace it with the building we still call ‘‘the old town hall’’.

Designed by Falkirk’s leading architect, William Black, in an Italian classical style it was intended to serve as both corn exchange and town hall though it was not long before the municipal activities overtook the agricultural ones.

The hall was officially opened with ‘‘full masonic honours’’ on June 6, 1879, the same day as the new Falkirk Lodge 16 which stood next door.

The feuars expressed the hope that their new hall would “in generations to come, be looked upon as the home of music in our town and from which would proceed elevating and refining influences in this and the sister arts”. Their dream was fulfilled but sadly not for as long as they probably expected.

In the mid 1960s a modern town hall was erected at Westbank in the ‘‘glass and concrete’’ style of the period and the old favourite was described as ‘‘redundant’’.

Plans were approved for a hall for Falkirk Old Parish Church on the site and, in April 1968, the bulldozers moved in. Near disaster followed.

As the back wall came down so did part of the organ chamber of the church and, for a moment, it looked like the medieval tower and much of the precious building would be lost.

Swift action saved the day but the site was considered unsuitable for future building and the congregation had to wait nearly 30 years for the present St Modan’s Hall next to the church.

With hindsight, there was a providence at work because, as the plans for the church hall show, it had many of the 1960s features that are widely disliked these days.

One final story. High up on the façade of the Town Hall on either side of the clock, were figures of a lion and a unicorn.

As all lay in ruinous piles after demolition a passing gentleman spotted the unicorn’s head minus the horn and decided to take it into ‘‘protective custody’’.

Today it sits in a garden in London the pride and joy of an exiled Falkirk bairn. The lion was never seen again!

The space stands empty today as a reminder to those who still recall the Town Hall with affection and regret.