Pits, pints and poverty – the story of Standburn

Standburn folk, pictured in 1936.
Standburn folk, pictured in 1936.

The little war memorial in the village of Standburn lists the names of 28 men from Muiravonside and Redford Colliery who died in World War I.

It’s hard to comprehend what a shock this must have been to a small community but time and again the people of Standburn have proved themselves to be strong and resilient in the face of all manner of difficulties including a plan to effectively remove the village from the map.

Standburn is not an old community, dating back only to the mid 1800s.

It acquired its name from the stream that passed close to a grassy area or ‘‘stand’’ set aside as an overnight stop for cattle and drovers moving south from the famous Falkirk trysts.

As demand for coal increased, a number of miners’ rows were built by the coal company and the population rose steadily.

The houses had only the most primitive of facilities but that was the norm in those Victorian days and few were prepared to do much about it.

As late as the 1920s one visitor said that: “The system of dry closets is in operation and they are cleaned daily but still are very offensive, having no doors on them. The water is got from street wells. Many of the washhouses are kept as stores by tradesmen. The back windows of some of the houses have corrugated iron sheets and wooden shutters instead of glass. The streets are laid with ashes and the water makes its way all over the street in every direction.”

Despite this the village had a very active social life with a school opened in 1878, a football team, an orchestra, a busy Welfare Hall, an annual gala day and a highly popular ‘‘Gothenberg’’ pub called by the locals ‘‘The Squech’.

The late Frank Thomson, one of The Falkirk Herald’s best known and most admired reporters was a Standburn man and his little book called ‘‘Pits, Pints and Poverty’’ published in 1984 is full of anecdotes which confirm just how lively and close knit a community it was.

More recently, village exile Tom Leslie using the nom de plume ‘‘Rab Gib of Carriber’’, has compiled two excellent books of memories which tell the same story.

However in 1934 a public inquiry into the health of the 800 inhabitants ruled that three-quarters of the 170 houses were unfit for human habitation and should be closed.

Mining was already in steep decline and the coalmaster James Nimmo who owned the houses was unwilling to pay the bill to have them repaired.

The local authority decided on a bold move that ended with the building of the model village of Westquarter.

Many of the folk living in Standburn did not want to uproot and move a few miles away despite the attraction of houses with electricity, baths and toilets but those who were in the condemned houses had little choice.

It dealt a very heavy blow to Standburn which came close to becoming a deserted village.

The Welfare Hall closed, abandoned houses were left to fall down, the ‘‘Squech’’ burned down and social life dwindled away.

But the village did not vanish from the map.

The families who were left, supplemented over the years by newcomers, helped revive village life and a new Drumbowie School was built in the 1970s.

Today Standburn is a quiet country village and few folk now remember the days before the great flittings in 1936.

But, standing in the shadow of the war memorial is a long-abandoned ruined house, itself a memorial to generations of hardy mining folk who once lived out their lives there.