At the beginning of the 18th century there were just a few scattered farmhouses and cottages in the area known today as Laurieston. One of these stood in what later became James Street, for in 1745 the familial home of the Gibbs was raided by the Jacobite army. Then, in 1756, Francis Lord Napier started feuing out parcels of the lands of Langton according to a regular plan designed to create a new model village; increasing the rented value. In honour of his family seat he named this new settlement “New Merchiston”. It was to be centred round a large square straggling the King’s highway between Falkirk and Linlithgow. This square, known locally as Hay Wullie’s Square, was intended to form a market place. The village then extended along the main road in either direction with some buildings on parallel streets.
On 7th August 1762 part of the land on the north side of Mary Street was feued by Alexander Cowie, brewer, “Providing that the said Alexr Cowie and his foresaids have the Liberty of the water of Tammy Milns Well in common with said Lord Napier’s other vassals at New Merchiston”. The well was named after an old infirm man called Thomas Mills, who used to sit beside it with his wooden cup to serve travellers with water in the hope of receiving a donation. The water from this well was better than that provided by the Cross Well in the village square, or from the Ice House Well to the north-east.
The lands of Langton, the site of New Merchiston, were sold to Sir Lawrence Dundas on 31 December 1762. In the middle of 1765 the name of the village changed to Lawrencetown, presumably the new owner’s Christian name. Before long this became Laurieston.
The feus were taken up quickly and by the time of General Roy’s survey in c1765 the village had taken on much the form that it was to have for the following century and a half. The houses were substantially built with two-storey dwellings at the Square and at the foot of the Toll Brae. Most houses were of the single-storey variety forming long rows.
About 1770 an annual fair was commenced. This was not a trade fair, but one for the general entertainment of the populace with horse racing, gambling and drinking. Another early feature of the social life was the Laurieston Band. A Gardener’s Society was formed and acquired two acres of land to the north of the main road, stocking it with fruit trees and vegetables. By the 1820s a hall had been built on the street front for public meetings and part of the land was sub-feued for the construction of Laurieston House. Another form of social gathering resulted from the establishment in 1784 of a congregation of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. In 1788 a meetinghouse was erected at the west end of the village and Rev John Reid of Bonnyhill was appointed. It was completely rebuilt in 1863.
Toll Brae and Skew Bridge
The population continued to increase, in 1821 it was only 858, but by 1860 was numbered at 1,350. As well as Robert Cowie’s brewery there was another run by Robert Easton. The Rosebank Distillery of the Stark Brothers had its origin here, but in the 1820s moved to Camelon due to shortage of water. Like Camelon there was also a large number of nailmakers in the village. Another home-based industry was that of the weavers with over 80 looms at the height of production, specialising in handkerchiefs (Cotton Row may be associated with the weaving). Further employment was provided by coal mining and agriculture. As with most villages there were also blacksmiths, masons, cartwrights, bakers and so on. Extra money could be had by acting as drovers during and after the Falkirk Trysts. In 1842 they all lined the road to cheer the passage of Queen Victoria to Linlithgow.
Geoff Bailey (2005)