A roll call of famous faces in Falkirk over the years

Winston Churchill in Falkirk.
Winston Churchill in Falkirk.

Hunting through the random pile of papers that passes for my filing system, I came across this old Falkirk Herald picture of Winston Churchill addressing a group of men in Falkirk.

The great man was in town in June 1945 to speak on behalf of the Conservative and Unionist candidate in the General Election but, in the immediate aftermath of victory, patriotic fervour brought 10,000 people to the old market square in Callendar Riggs to greet the PM.

He addressed the crowds from the top of an air raid shelter on which over 100 guests were perched. He was back again in 1950 on the same business but once again the cheers failed to turn into votes.

Of course Winnie was not the first famous face to appear in the streets of Falkirk.

Every monarch from Queen Victoria to Queen Elizabeth has been here either while on the throne or beforehand like Edward VII, who was in standby mode for donkey’s years, or Edward VIII who opened Princes Street in 1933 while Prince of Wales.

Earlier centuries brought fleeting and unwelcome visits from Malcolm Canmore, Edward I of England and, of course, Mary Queen of Scots who often came to Callendar House in the 16th century and probably did her shopping in the High Street. We even had an overnight stop from future Czar Nicholas I of Russia in 1817 who stayed in the Crown Hotel at the west end of the town.

Like so many others he came here to visit the “greatest foundry in Europe” at Carron and endeared himself to the local poor by throwing handfuls of coins out of his coach.

Benjamin Franklin, the great American politician and inventor was another drawn here by the works and we remember Robert Burns’ hard luck story when he arrived at the foundry gates in 1787 and was turned away.

At least he was better received in the Cross Keys as the plaque reminds us.

I was surprised to discover some years ago that the celebrated author and society playboy, Oscar Wilde was the guest of the School of Arts which used to meet for cultural activities in what is now Wetherspoons in Bank Street and was formerly St Modan’s Church.

On one occasion in 1884 Oscar’s title was ‘The House Beautiful’ and later the same year he was back to tell the audience about ‘Dress’ which he certainly knew plenty about.

Tickets were one shilling (front seats) and six pence (back seats). After his fall from grace in the 1890s these speaking tours not surprisingly came to an abrupt end.

I suppose we had quite a few famous sportsmen playing at Brockville over the years but without doubt the greatest of all was the ‘Wizard of the Dribble’ Stanley Matthews, possibly the best player ever to play for England. In 1955 he turned out in the maroon colours of Stenhousemuir as a fundraiser to help the club and fulfil a promise he had made some years before.

Ten thousand fans (including me) turned out on a miserable wet night at Brockville to see Stan face the Falkirk bairns. Despite a 5-2 defeat the great man dazzled the crowd with his brilliance and if the Warriors had been able to convert the chances he made then it would have been a different scoreline.

Incidentally, the two Falkirk fullbacks, Alex Parker and Ian Rae, who had the task of facing Matthews as he switched from right to left, were part of the cup winning team two years later, as were Eddie O’Hara and Alex Wright. But that’s another story!