FALKIRK (surveyed in 1858-9)
The town of Falkirk is situated in the parish of the same name between the Forth and Clyde Canal and the Union Canal. Originally encompassed in the barony of Callander, Falkirk was erected into a free burgh of barony in 1600 and a free burgh of regality in 1646. For centuries, its central location in Scotland, approximately 23 miles east of Glasgow and 24 miles west of Edinburgh, ensured Falkirk’s standing as an important centre of trade and commerce. Close to the remains of the Antonine Wall and the remains of a Roman camp, it has also long been considered a place of great archaeological and historical significance. The name ‘Falkirk’ is derived from the Scots, fawe meaning speckled and kirk meaning church. References to ‘Faukirke’ and ‘Falkirk’ date from as early as the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries respectively. The population in 1851 was recorded as 8,752.
Wilson (1857), remarked that Falkirk, ‘seen from the soft eminences to the north and north-west, . . . presents, with its fine spire and thick grouping of buildings, a beautiful foreground to the brilliant landscape over which it presides’. Upon entering the town, his comments were far less favourable. Wilson noted a lack of planning and spaciousness and ‘an utter want of uniformity or tastefulness in the buildings’. At the time of survey, however, Falkirk did have a wide and spacious high street that stretched east to west for approximately half a mile. Whilst in most Scottish towns the High Street was the main thoroughfare, Graham Road, which stretches north of the High Street for almost a mile, was far greater in width and length. Taking in the villages of Grahamston and Bainsford, it was the main route between Falkirk, the canal and the Carron ironworks.
Trade and Industry
During the mid-nineteenth century, the town of Falkirk was home to a weekly agricultural market held every Thursday. There was also a healthy retail trade and the manufacturing of leather appears to have been significant. According to Wilson (1857), the town had no factories and had ‘even ceased to have any hand-loom weaving of cottons’. The town at this time was perhaps best known as the location of the Falkirk Tryst, the largest fair in the country for the sale of black cattle, sheep and horses. In the early 18th century, Falkirk replaced Crieff as the centre for the seasonal cattle market in Scotland. The trysts provided a meeting place for the livestock sellers from the highlands and the lowland buyers. Some animals were sold for slaughter, whilst others passed from rearer to fattener. The cattle markets usually took place over three days and were held three times a year, on the second Tuesday of August, the second Monday of September and the second Monday of October. Whilst the location of the tryst changed on a number of occasions, it always remained within the vicinity of the town.
Whilst the town was already established as an important centre of trade, with excellent communications links and the regular and nationally renowned trysts, the nineteenth century saw the area develop into an industrial centre. The Carron ironworks attracted skilled workers to the area and with the excellent transport network, comprising the canals and railways, the whole area rapidly began to open up. During the mid-nineteenth century around 20 foundries were established, each with a connecting railway line, and existing industries such as breweries, sawmills and tanneries all began to benefit from improved transport links.
During the mid-nineteenth century, Falkirk was served by a number of churches of different denominations. These included the old parish church on the High Street and a Roman Catholic chapel built in 1840.
As a centre for trade and industry, Falkirk attracted a large number of financial institutions. At the time of survey, the town was home to 21 insurance offices, a savings’ bank, and branches of the Commercial Bank, the National Bank, the Clydesdale Bank, the Royal Bank and the Bank of Scotland. During the trysts, many of the major banks in Scotland set up temporary booths to help facilitate financial transactions.
Culture and Society
A sudden influx of people into the area during the years of industrialisation created a serious housing shortage in Falkirk. Despite a rapid building programme in the north of the town, many people were forced to live in cramped and squalid conditions. In direct response to this, a number of organisations devoted to alleviating the suffering of the poor, infirm and sick were established. There was also a poorhouse, with accommodation for 200 people, and an almshouse big enough to house four elderly people. The cultural and social lives of the people of Falkirk appear to have been well catered for by two public reading rooms, two public libraries and a subscription library. There was also a school of arts, a horticultural society, an agricultural association and several sports clubs.