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Falkirk

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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Falkirk, a town and parish of SE Stirlingshire. A parliamentary burgh, a seat of considerable trade and industry, and the virtual capital of the south-eastern portion of the county, the town stands near the southern bank of the Forth and Clyde Canal, and 3¼ miles SE of the right shore of the Firth of Forth. By road it is 1¾ mile SSE of Carron Iron-works, and 7½ miles ENE of Linlithgow; whilst from two North British stations — Grahamston, on the Polmont and Larbert loop-line (1852), at the town, and Falkirk, on the Edinburgh and Glasgow section (1842), ¾ mile SSW — it is 25½ miles W by N of Edinburgh, 3 SW of Grangemouth, 11 SSE of Stirling, and 21¾ ENE of Glasgow. The site is partly a gentle hill-side, partly low level ground on the southern skirt of the Carse of Forth, and commands magnificent views of the Ochils, the Denny and Campsie Hills, and the Grampian Mountains. The town itself, as seen from vantage grounds to the N and NW, presents a striking appearance, and forms a fine foreground to the beautiful prospect beyond, but, when one enters it, disappoints expectation, and, for its size and importance, has few attractions to offer. Falkirk proper, as a whole, is still old-fashioned and irregular; but its far-spreading suburbs, Grahamston, Forganhall, Arnothill, etc., comprise a number of good recent streets, rows, villas, and cottages; and its euvirons are beautified by the woods of Callendar, Bantaskine, and other mansions.

The town steeple, in the market-place, rebuilt in 1813 on the site of a tower of 1697, is 146 feet high, and contains a clock and two bells; immediately W of it is a stone equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington, erected by public subscription in 1854. The burgh buildings and prison (1866-69) are Scottish Baronial in style, and comprise a mansard-roofed SE tower, 60 feet high, a spacious court-hall, and a council-room; the prison, containing nine cells, since 1878 has merely served as a place of imprisonment for terms of not more than fourteen days. The town-hall, Italian in style, and seated for upwards of 1600 persons, is the corn exchange of 1859, reconstructed in 1879 at a cost of over £5000. Italian, too, is the Science and Art School, which, opened by the Earl of Rosebery in 1878, has a lar hall and five smaller ones, among them a chemical laboratory. Other noteworthy edifices are the National Bank (1863), the Young Men's Christian Association Hall (1880), and the Catholic Institute (1881).

The cruciform parish church, said to have been founded by Malcolm Ceannmor (1057-93), and to have been granted in 1166 by the Bishop of St Andrews to Holyrood Abbey, was razed to the ground in 1810, when two 'most interesting 'inscriptions were found in the débris — inscriptions whose faulty Latinity and faultier chronology should at once have stamped them for palpable forgeries. The present church of 1811 is a plain be-galleried edifice, with stained-glass windows and 1300 sittings. The ancient steeple of its predecessor, 130 feet high, upborne on four lofty arches, serves for its vestibule, and contains a marble monument to the Rev. John Brown Paterson (1804-35), with four life-size effigies, which, believed to be those of the earliest feudal lords of Callendar, lay in the S transept of the old church, and were transferred to their present position in 1852. There are, besides, Grahamston quoad sacra church, Falkirk and Bainsford Free churches, West, East, and Graham's Road U.P. churches, Evangelical Union, Congregationalist, and Baptist chapels, Episcopal Christ Church, and Roman Catholic St Francis Xavier's. Of these, Grahamston quoad sacra church (1874-75; 800 sittings) is an Early French Gothic edifice, whose high-pitched front gable is flanked by two steeples, 120 and 62 feet high; Grahams Road U.P. church (1878-79; 600 sittings) is a striking example of Gothic, with square tower and octagonal spire, 110 feet high; and Gothic also are Bainsford Free church (1879; 450 sittings), Christ Church (1864; 200 sittings), and St Francis (1843; 600 sittings).

Since the passing of the Education Act of 1872, much has been done in the burgh in behalf of education, £8592 having been expended between 1873 and 1879 in enlarging the Central or old Free Church school, and in building the Northern, Comely Park, and Bainsford schools. ln the year ending 15 May 1881, the five public schools under the burgh board — Southern, Central, Northern, Bainsford, and Comely Park — with respective accommodation for 402, 348, 401, 300, and 300 children, had an average attendance of 365, 265, 416, 205, and 302, and grants of £354, 7s. 6d., £221, 17s., £.408, 2s. 3d., £176, 15s., and £278, 3s. 7d. A handsome new Roman Catholic school, accommodating 200 children, was opened in 1881; and there are also a Ragged and lndustrial School (1857) and Falkirk Academy, which gives instruction in English, classics, modern languages, mathematics, science, and music.

Falkirk has a new post office (1882), with money order, savings' bank, insurance, and railway telegraph departments, branches of the Bank of Scotland and the Clydesdale, Commercial, National, and Royal Banks, a National Securities Savings' Bank (1845), offices or agencies of 27 insurance companies, 6 hotels, and 2 newspapers- the Thursday and Saturday Liberal -Falkirk Herald (1846) and the Saturday Conservative -Falkirk Express (1880). Thursday is market-day; and cattle markets are held on the last Thursday of January, the first Thursday of March, and the Thursday before the third Friday of April, cattle and horse markets on the third Thursday of May and the second Thursday of July, and hiring fairs on the first Thursday of April and the last Thursday of October. The famous Falkirk Trysts on Stenhousemuir, 3 miles to the NN W, are held, for cattle and horses, on the second Tuesday and Wednesday of August, September, and November; for sheep, on the Monday before the September and October Trysts; and for hiring, on the last Thursday of October and the first Tuesday of November. Transferred hither from Crieff about 1770, these Trysts are among the largest cattle markets in the kingdom. The town conducts an extensive retail trade, and serves as the centre to a busy and populous district. in or close to it are Aitkin's large and long - established brewery, 3 distilleries, 7 chemical and dynamite works, 3 fire-brick and tileyards, and a leather factory; but iron-founding is the staple industry.* The Falkirk Iron-works, started in 1819 by a colony of workmen from Carron, came to its present proprietors, the Messrs Kennard, in 1848, and now is second only to Carron itself. The buildings cover 8 acres; and the employees, 900 men and boys, turn out weekly more than 300 tons of castings-stoves, grates, viaduct girders, garden seats, verandahs, etc. Here, during the Crimean War, 16,000 tons of shot and shell were manufactured. Other works, with date of establishment and number of hands employed, are the Union Foundry (1854; 100), Abbot's Foundry (1856; 120), Burnbank Fonndry (1860; 140), Gowanbank Ironworks (1864; 300), Grahamston Iron-works (1862; 350), Camelon iron Co. (1872; 180), Parkhouse iron Co. (1875; 100), Gael Foundry (1875; 40), Port Downie (1875; 100), Forth and Clyde iron-works (1876; 80), Springfield Iron-works (1876; 20), Etna Foundry (1877; 120), and Callendar iron Co. (1877; 80).

The town was made a burgh of barony in 1600, and a burgh of regality in 1646, its affairs being managed till 1850 by a body of 28 'stint - masters' or feuars elected by the different trades. Now the burgh — since July 1882 divided into four wards — is governed by a provost, 3 bailies, a treasurer, a town-clerk, and 9 councillors, who also are commissioners of police under the Falkirk Police and Improvement Act of 1859. With Airdrie, Hamilton, Lanark, and Linlithgow, it sends one member to parliament (always a Liberal since 1857), Falkirk being the returning burgh. The corporation revenue was £4480 in 1881, and the parliamentary and municipal constituency numbered 1508 in 1882, when the annual value of real property amounted to £43,209, against £23, 487 in 1874. Pop. (1841) 8209, (1851) 8752, (1861) 9030, (1871) 9547, (1881) 13,170, of whom 6743 were males, and 6427 females. Houses (1881) 2721 inhabited, 114 building, 9 vacant. Pop. with suburbs (1881) 15,599.

Falkirk in Latin is termed Varia Capella, and still is known to Highlanders as Eaglaisbreac. Both mean 'the speckled church,' or 'the church of the mixed people; 'and Falkirk, or rather Fawkirk, is the Saxon equivalent for the same, being compounded of A.-S. fah, 'of various colours,' and circe, 'kirk or church.' Antoninus' Wall passed just to the S, and various Roman relics have from time to time been found. St Modan, fellow-worker with St Ronan, on a mission connected with the Romish party, appears to have been here about the year 717; and in 1080, in revenge for Malcolm Ceannmor's devastation of Northumberland, William the Conqueror sent his son Robert to Scotland, ` who, having gone as far as Egglesbreth, returned without accomplishing anything.' Prior to Sauchieburn (1488) the discontented nobles occupied Falkirk, whose old church witnessed a solemn subscription of the League and Covenant in 1643, and which two years later was decimated by the plague. These are the leading events in Falkirk's history, besides the two battles and passing visits from Robert Burns (25 Aug. 1787), from Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy (14 Sept. 1803), and from the Queen and Prince Consort (13 Sept. 1843). 'Like the bairns o' Fa'kirk, they'll end ere they mend,' says a popular by-word, but Falkirk has produced one most illustrious 'bairn' in Admiral Sir Charles Napier (1786-1860), who was born at Merchiston Hall. Another native was Henry Belfrage, D.D. (1774-1835), an eminent Secession minister; whilst residents were William Symington (1760-1831), a claimant to the invention of steam navigation, and James Wilson, D.D., author of a History of Egypt, and minister of Falkirk from 1794 to his death in 1829.

Of the two battles of Falkirk, the first was fought on 22 July 1298 between Scottish and English armies, led by Sir William Wallace, then guardian of the kingdom, and Edward I. of England. The invading host is said by the English chroniclers of the day to have numbered 7500 mounted men-at-arms (3000 of them clad in coats of mail) and 80, 000 foot-a force before which Wallace's poor army, less than a third of the enemy's, was fain to retreat, leaving Edward a desert to tread where neither was there food to eat nor man to direct him on the way. The plan bade fair to succeed, but treachery revealed the whereabouts of Wallace, and Edward at once advanced from Kirkliston to Linlithgow, so eager to bring the matter to an issue that not even the breaking of two of his ribs by a kick from a horse could make him defer the fight. For Wallace there was no alternative. 'In the battle of Stirling,' says Dr Hill Burton, 'the great point made was the selection of the ground; in this he showed even more of the tactician in the disposal of his troops where they were compelled to fight. It is a strong testimony to skill in the ordering of an army that it should be not only distinct, but hold a shape of which we can estimate the merit by knowing how valuable it is in modern warfare. The English chronicler describes the marshalling of the Scots army with such clearness that a picture or diagram would not have improved it. Taking up a slightly inclined plain, Wallace drew up his small body of 1000 mounted cavaliers in the rear, and distributed the footmen into circular clumps. In each circle the men knelt down-those in the outer rim at least-and held their lances obliquely erect; within the circle of lancers were the bowmen. The arrangement, save that it was circular instead of rectangular, was precisely the same as the' 'square to receive cavalry' which has baffled and beaten back so many a brilliant army in later days. It seemed at first as if Wallace's circles were to have a similar history. The first efforts against them were ineffectual, and the horsemen seemed shy of charging the thick clumps of spears. The inequality of force was too great, however, to be neutralised by skill. The charges of Edward's mounted horsemen at last crushed the circles, one after another, and when this was done the rest was mere rout and slaughter. Wallace managed to carry a small body out of the field, and marched to Stirling. They found it useless to attempt to hold the place; so, destroying what they could, they marched on no one knows whither, the commander and his followers alike disappearing from the history of that war '(Hist. of Scotl., ii. 200, ed. 1876). No monument marks the field of battle itself, midway between the Carron and the town; but on the top of a hill, 1 mile SE of Callendar Wood, stands 'Wallace's Stone,' a pillar 10 feet high, erected in 1810 to replace the smaller original slab, a little to the W. In the churchyard of Falkirk is the gravestone of Sir John Graham of Abercorn, who fell in the action, and who, as well as Sir John Stewart of Bonkill, was here interred. The gravestone has been trebly renovated; or rather there are three superincumbemt stones, each of the upper ones being a copy of the one beneath it. On all are the following inscriptions:

'Mente manuque potens, et Vallæ fidus achates.
Conditur hic Gramus, beilo interfectus ab angiis.
'xxii. Julii, anno 1298'

'Here lyes Sir John the Grame, baith wight and wise,
Ane of the chiefs who reschewit Scotland thrice.
Ane better knight not to the world was lent.
Nor was gude Grame of truth and hardiment.'

The second battle of Falkirk was fought on 17 Jan. 1746, between the Highland army, 8000 strong, of Prince Charles Edward, and 9000 Hanoverians under General Hawley, 1300 of whom were horse, and 1000 Argyll Highlanders. The Prince was preparing to lay siege to Stirling Castle, but news being brought of Hawley's advance from Edinburgh to its relief, determined to give him battle. The English commander, arriving at Falkirk, encamped between the town and the former field of battle, there to wait till he should gather sufficient intelligence for the arrangement of his operations. The foe, so far from being daunted by his approach, resolved to attack him in his camp, and skilfully used such feints to divert and deceive the royal troops, that they were just about to cross the Carron at Dunipace before they were perceived. Hawley, a pig-headed disciplinarian, with an easy contempt for 'undisciplined rabbles,' was breakfasting at Callander House with the Jacobite Countess of Kilmarnock; and 'Where is the General?'- was his officers' frequent inquiry, till at length the General rode furiously up, his grey hair streaming in the wind. He found his men formed already, and, seeing the Highlanders advancing towards a hill near South Bantaskine, 1¼ mile SW of the town, sent the dragoons on to seize and to hold the height, and ordered the foot to follow. The author of Douglas, John Hume, who served as lieutenant in the Glasgow Volunteers, describes how, 'at the very instant the regiments of foot began to arch, the day was overcast; and by-and-by a storm of wind and rain beat directly in the face of the soldiers, who were marching up the hill with their bayonets fixed, and could not secure their pieces from the rain. The cavalry was a good way before the infantry, and for some time it seemed a sort of race between the Highlanders and the dragoons which should get first to the top of the hill.' The Highlanders won the race, and drew up in a battlearray of two lines, with a reserve in the rear. The royal troops, making the most of their circumstances, formed in two lines along a ravine in front of the enemy; but, owing to the convexity of the ground, saw their antagonists, and were seen in turn, only in the central part of the line. Their dragoons were on the left, commanded by Hawley in person, and stretching parallel to more than two-thirds of the enemy's position; and their infantry were on the right, partly in rear of the cavalry, and outlined by two regiments the enemy's left. The armies standing within 100 yards of each other, both unprovided on the spot with artillery, Hawley ordered his dragoons to advance, sword in hand. Meeting with a warm reception, several companies, after the first onset, and receiving a volley at the distance of ten or twelve paces, wheeled round, and galloped out of sight, disordering the infantry and exposing their left flank by the flight. The Highlanders, taking advantage of the confusion, outflanked the royal forces, rushed down upon them with the broadsword, compelled them to give way, and commenced a pursuit. The King's troops, but for the spirited exertions of two unbroken regiments and a rally of some scattered battalions, who checked the purusers, would have been annihilated; as it was, they had 12 officers and 55 privates killed, and in killed, wounded, and missing lost altogether 280 men according to their own returns, 1300 according to the Jacobites. Among the persons of rank who were left dead on the field were Sir Robert Munro of Foulis, Bart., and his brother Duncan, a physician. They were buried beside each other in the churchyard of Falkirk, and commemorated in a superb monument erected over their ashes, and inscribed with a succinct statement of the circumstances of their death. The Jacobites' loss was only some 40 killed and 80 wounded; and they remained at Falkirk till the 19th, when they returned by Bannockburn to resume the investment of Stirling Castle. See vol. i., pp. 619-630, of Keltie's History of the Scottish Highlands (Edinb. 1875).

The parish of Falkirk contains also the suburbs of Grahamston, Bainsford, Camelon, Parkfoot, and Gartcrow, and the villages of Laurieston and Glen, part of the town of Grangemouth, and part of the villages of West Carron Iron-works and Bonnybridge; and it formerly included the territories now forming the parishes of Denny, Slamannan, Muiravonside, and Polmont. It is bounded N by Dunipace, Larbert, and Bothkennar, E and SE by Polmont and Muiravonside, S by Slamannan, SW by Cumbernauld in Dumbartonshire (detached), and NW by Denny. Its utmost length, from ENE to WSW, is 93/8 miles; its breadth varies between 1¼ and 5¾ miles; and its area is 19,822½ acres, of which 13½ are foreshore and 258 water. Carron Water roughly traces all the northern border, and quits it within the Firth of Forth's foreshore, 1¾ mile from the open channel of the firth; its affluent, Bonny Water, winds 4 miles east-north-eastward on or close to the boundary with Denny; West Quarter Burn, rising in the SW of the interior, runs east-north-eastward to the boundary with Polmont, then north-north-eastward along that boundary to the Carron at Grangemouth; and lastly the river Avon traces all the Slamannan border. Lochs Allrig (5½ x 12/3 furl.) and Green (1½ x 1 furl.) lie 3½ miles S and 5 miles WSW of Falkirk town, but present no feature of special interest. The land, from the confluence of Carron Water and West Quarter Burn, southward and west-south-westward, to the entent of about a third of the entire area, is all but a dead level, and consists of rich carse soil in the highest state of cultivation. From the town onward the surface is partly undulating, partly hilly, rising west-south-westward to 405 feet near Standalane, 612 near Westside, and 596 near Sauchierig; southward and south-south-westward to 646 near Greencraig, 675 near Loch Allrig, and 581 near Greenrig. Most of that region is arable, and much of it is diversified by natural woods and thriving plantations, but a considerable tract, near the southern boundary, is moor and moss. Of the entire area, 11,000 acres are arable, 4851 are pasture, 1900 are waste, and 1800 are under wood. The rocks belong to the Coal Measures of the Carboniferous formation. Coal of excellent quality is so abundant as to be largely exported; sandstoue, limestone, and ironstone occur in the same district as the coal; and lead, copper, silver, and cobalt have been found, though not in considerable quantities. Vestiges of Antoninus' Wall occur in various parts; traces of the Roman town of Old Camelon existed till a comparatively recent period; some wheat, supposed to have lain concealed from the time of the Roman possession, was found about the year 1770 in the hollow of a quarry near Castlecary; funereal urns and stone coffins have been exhumed in various places; and several moats or artificial earthen mounds, used in the Middle Ages as seats of justiciary courts and deliberative assemblies, are in Seabegs barony. The Forth and Clyde Canal, commencing at Grangemouth, traverses the parish through nearly its greatest length, or about 9 miles; the Union Canal, deflecting from the Forth and Clyde Canal 1¼ mile W of the town, traverses the parish to the length of fully 3 miles, passing on the way a tunnel 3 furlongs in length; the Edinburgh and Glasgow railway makes a reach of nearly 7 ½ miles within the parish, and traverses a long tunnel immediately E of Falkirk station; the Polmont and Larbert loop-line of the North British railway, and the branch from it to Grangemouth, are entirely within the parish; the junctions of that line with both the Caledonian and the North British lines from the W, and with the branch line to Denny, are on the N border, about 2 miles W by N of the town. The Greenhill junctions, and the line from the upper one of them to the Larbert junctions, also are within the parish, about 2 miles from the western boundary; and the reach of the Caledonian railway from the lower Greenhill junction makes a curving sweep of fully 2½ miles to the western boundary. Callendar, Kerse, and Bantaskine, noticed separately, are chief mansions; and 7 proprietors hold each an annual value of £500 and upwards, 71 of between £100 and £500, 89 of from £50 to £100, and 236 of from £20 to £50. In the presbytery of Linlithgow and synod of Lothian and Tweeddale, this parish is ecclesiastically divided into Falkirk proper and the quoad sacra parishes of Grahamston, Camelon, Grangemouth, Slamannan, Cumbernauld, and Bonnybridge; Falkirk itself being a living worth £583, 9s. By the parish school-board £9793, 7s. has been expended since 1872 in the erection of the three new public schools of Bonnybridge, Camelon, and Laurieston. These three and Auchingean, with respective accommodation for 420, 350, 300, and 67 children, had (1880) an average attendance of 305, 309, 250, and 43, and grants of £296, 11s. 6d., £314, 10s. 6d., £249, 4s., and £44, 5s. Valuation of landward portion of parish (1882) £46, 233, 19s. 10d., plus £18, 461 for railways and canals. Pop. of civil parish (1801) 8838, (1821) 11,536, (1841) 14,108, (1861) 17,026, (1871) 18,051, (1881) 25,143; of q.s. parish (1881) 11,549. — Ord. Sur., sh. 31, 1867. See Robert Gillespie's Round About Falkirk (Glasgow, 1868).

* So long ago as 1695 we find the Darien Company contracting for Falkirk smith and cutlery work.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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