At the same time as the Forth and Clyde Canal was reviving the ancient settlement of Camelon, it was bringing to birth a completely new community at the mouth of the Carron. Reporting in 1797 the Minister of Falkirk described the initiative of Sir Lawrence Dundas regarding the “propriety of building a village and quay” at the east end of the canal:
“The place which he fixed upon for this purpose was the angle which is formed by the junction of the river Carron and the canal. They were begun to be built in the year 1777; the village is now of considerable extent and is called Grangemouth.”
At first the new community was called Sealock but later it became Grange Burn Mouth from the proximity of a stream of that name which at that time meandered over the flat lands to join the Carron close to the village. Conversion to Grangemouth followed in the 1780s by which time it had a population of nearly four hundred. The provision of harbour facilities and the direct link to the rapidly expanding town of Glasgow via the canal brought swift success to the port and it soon displaced Carronshore as the principal landing place on the river.
Trading vessels from all over Europe landed cargoes of grain, flax, hemp, iron and timber which were transferred in the new basins to canal lighters which carried them to factories and farms across the breadth of Scotland. In return went the coal of Lanarkshire as well as manufactured goods from foundry and mill and even the products of the new American states. In 1810 the village had a Customs House of its own at last and no longer had to pay duties to its ancient rival Bo’ness a few miles away along the river Forth. As early as the 1790s canal boats were being built in the village including, of course, the Charlotte Dundas, from Alexander Hart’s yard. The patron provided a dry-dock in 1811 and the business expanded in line with the remarkable growth of the port itself.
By the late 1830s, demand had reached record levels with 750 vessels each year arriving and leaving and over 3,000 passing through to the canal. Facilities were inadequate and a great improvement scheme was started involving the re-direction of the Grange burn to take it away from the harbour area to a new meeting with the river a mile away to the east. A new dock, known today as the ‘old dock’ was built, the river Carron deepened and the major timber basin enlarged. This work was completed by ‘200 artificers and labourers’ in 1843 by which time the population of the village had grown to over 1,500. Even more rapid growth followed the new developments and, less than twenty years later, yet another, the Junction Dock, was added. These additions firmly established Grangemouth as Scotland’s principal timber import centre and soon the storage, saw-milling and distribution of redwoods and pines from the Baltic and Canada became Grangemouth’s most important activity and the foundation of much of its prosperity. More than a century on and the wood yards of the port area remain of key importance to the economic wellbeing of the town with new investment reversing some of the decline of recent years.
The Old Town Canal Street
Long before these mid century developments the people of the small village of Grangemouth had, like their opposite numbers in Camelon, petitioned their Dundas patrons regarding the two special needs of every aspiring Scottish community of the period, namely a church and a school. As early as 1817 over £750 was collected towards the provision of a church but nearly twenty years passed before a building was erected with the support of the Presbytery, the Minister of Falkirk and Lord Dundas, grandson of the founder. In 1837 he, “from due regard for the spiritual instruction of the district, erected a substantial and commodious church” and, when the Minister and the majority of the congregation left the established church six years later to join the new Free Church the patron, by this time Earl of Zetland, allowed the building to be transferred to the new church since it had never been legally conveyed to the Church of Scotland. This caused a mighty ecclesiastical and legal furore but when the dust settled it was still with the Free Church, possibly their first building in Scotland. The newly established Parish reverted to Falkirk’s control and it was not until the 1860s that the established church had a building in the parish – the short lived building at Charing Cross.
Charing Cross Zetland Park and Grange School
Education was another of the priorities and here we are told that as early as 1797 “Lord Dundas gives to a schoolmaster in Grangemouth, a house to dwell in, a schoolroom and 5 pounds a year.” In 1827 this was replaced by a new building with schoolrooms for both boys and girls, a library, houses for the teachers and “extensive playgrounds” which makes it quite a contrast to the dingy overcrowded buildings serving the more populous parts of the district. Again it was personal patronage of the Dundas family which ensured that the village was ahead of their rivals. This was very much in keeping with their whole approach to the design and construction of Grangemouth itself which was laid out quite deliberately in a grid pattern with streets forty feet wide and substantial dwellings built in regular fashion. The same principles were applied when the inevitable expansion of the town followed the dock extensions in the mid century. By then Grangemouth had spilled out over the canal and a whole new town was emerging on the unoccupied land to the east. But there was to be no uncontrolled sprawl as so often happened elsewhere. Careful planning again ensured that the streets were wide and well laid out and that they were filled with houses of quality each with its own garden. For 1861 this was astonishingly far-sighted and the splendour of Grangemouth’s ‘new town’ today owes much to the vision and, of course, the massive wealth of the founding fathers.
North Basin Street The Town Hall
In 1872 responsibility for municipal affairs passed from the Dundas family to a new burgh council and soon the marks of civic pride began appearing all over the prosperous town. A magnificent public park was opened in 1882 named after the Earl of Zetland and two years later he laid the foundation stone of the new Town Hall. In 1888 the handsome new Victoria Public Library was erected with the help of Andrew Carnegie’s vast fortune.
Fine new churches of various denominations, public buildings and schools graced the elegant streets with Bo’ness Road, Charing Cross, Abbots Road, Talbot Street, and Ronaldshay Crescent among the most attractive. Here the well-to-do merchants and traders built high quality homes while ensuring that the working population in Marshall and Lumley Street were better served than their opposite numbers elsewhere.
By the turn of the century the population was over 8000 and by then the large Carron Dock was in operation and in 1906 facilities were further improved by the opening of the Grange Dock. By then a new factor had emerged in the industrial expansion of the town. In 1897 the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society established a large factory in the town making soap and glycerine. It was Grangemouth’s first chemical works and was followed in 1919 by James Morton’s pioneering Scottish Dyes which eventually became part of the ICI’s dyestuffs division in 1928. From the huge factory which developed near the Earl of Zetland’s long demolished Kerse House, that is at the Earl’s Gates, came a succession of famous and money earning dyes, like the Caledon blues and Monastral greens, which secured the future for many a Grangemouth family. Four years before that Scottish Oils had opened the first Grangemouth plant to refine crude oil from the Persian Gulf and from these small beginnings the massive Grangemouth petro-chemical complex has grown to dominate all other activities in the area. It would be impossible to do justice in the space available to this particular part of Grangemouth’s fascinating story; suffice to say that what became the British Petroleum refinery, processing oil brought in the through the overland pipeline from the tanker terminal at Finnart on Loch Long, attracted an array of giant chemical companies to the area anxious to convert the feedstock from the BP into the products demanded by modern societies all over the world. Since the mid 1970s the crude oil has come from deep below the waters of the North Sea and there have been a number of major new developments in the processing and manufacturing facilities.
This has inspired a steady growth in population with the inevitable demands for new housing and other facilities. Much of the empty land to the south and east of the ‘new town’ has disappeared under massive housing schemes and what almost amounts to a third town has grown up on the site all too briefly occupied by what was to have been a major airport in the Bowhouse area.
It was in February 1939 that Scottish Aviation announced their plans to provide central Scotland with what would be the largest airport in the country. Over 500 acres of land were secured and only five months later Grangemouth Aerodrome was officially opened by Air Marshall Viscount Trenchard. During WW2, Grangemouth was a centre for the training of fighter pilots and many young men, from Britain and all parts of the Commonwealth as well as Poland and Czechoslovakia, died while practising the daring manoeuvres demanded in those incredible times. Most are buried in a special part of Grandsable Cemetery. After the war, ideas on civil aviation changed and the great plan was gradually abandoned leaving nothing now but two hanger buildings used as warehouses. Now the grass and runways have all but vanished and the chemical industry has expanded to fill the space along with new houses, shops and recreational facilities like the fine sports stadium.
Ian Scott (2005)