A village with a fantastic past and positive future

A few years ago members of the History Society were walking through Slamannan when we passed a group of young lads on a street corner.

By Roy Beers
Friday, 23rd August 2019, 4:40 pm

One of them asked (very politely I must say) what we were doing and, when I told him, he laughed and said, “You must be jokin’, there’s nae history up here!” Of course he couldn’t have been more wrong!

Take the name for starters. It has confused folk for centuries and you can take your pick from a Pictish God called ‘Tremanna’, the ‘Mannau’ home of the powerful dark age tribe called the Gododdin, the Gaelic name for ‘Blind Man’s Valley’ or my favourite, the local saying that the unyielding soil of the muir would ‘slay man and mare’.

Even John Reid, our placename expert, is not sure and his best offering is from Gaelic sliabh and mannan giving us ‘hill of the muir’ which would be quite appropriate.

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Whatever the truth we can be sure that the settlement is very ancient and existed by the end of the 11th century when the parish system first appeared in Scotland.

The original church built in 1176 was dedicated to St Lawrence and for centuries the village had the same name. Nearby, guarding the River Avon crossing, are the remains of a mound called a ‘motte’ from the same period which would have had some kind of fortified structure on top, the home of one of the leading families - maybe the Malherbs or Livingstons.

The scattered population were mostly farmers and the village itself was little more than the church, a few houses and the workshops of blacksmiths, masons and other tradesmen.

The industrial revolution changed everything. From the mid 18th century demand for coal brought many new families into the area and mining became the principal activity. Coal was carted northwards to Carron ironworks, a considerable journey across rough unmade roads.

It was no surprise that one of the first places to be served by the railway was Slamannan. From 1840, when the line opened, the local coal industry expanded even faster and all over the district, pits with names like Binniehill, Bawbee, Wet Meg, Klondyke and Nappyfaulds opened up, each with a link to the new network.

More and more miners arrived with their families and the village expanded with miners’ rows and shops as well as the new church which had been built in 1810 to replace the pre-Reformation building.

A miners’ co-operative was established and two hotels opened at the Cross - the St Lawrence in 1846 and the Royal in 1866 by which time the village had gas lighting.

By the end of the 19th century village life was at its height with eleven football teams, several bands, a Masonic Lodge and churches galore.

And of course there were pubs aplenty like the Wee Thackie as well as Temperance Societies determined to keep the locals on the straight and narrow.

But the good times didn’t last.

The coal was getting more and more difficult to extract and by the start of the 20th century miners were moving away.

The railway and many shops closed and the village experienced a long period of decline from which it has not fully recovered.

But while the Cross area is certainly run down elsewhere there are some really beautiful spots. Today it is a dormitory village and a very popular place to live high above the Forth Valley. I certainly hope that by now the young man we met has discovered that his village has a fantastic past as well as a promising future.