A History of Camelon

The Village of Camelon – Origins

The village of Camelon, like its contemporary at Laurieston, was a child of the agricultural revolution that swept through central Scotland in the mid-eighteenth century, and was made possible by the opportunistic decline of the old feudal lairds.  In the case of Camelon that feudal superior had been the ancient Callendar family of Dorrator, descendants of the Callendars of Callendar House.  The Lands of Dorrator extended from the River Carron in the north to the Tamfourhill Burn in the south and east, and to Stirling Road in the west, though they at one time included Glenfuir to the south.  They were bisected from east to west by the main road from Falkirk to Glasgow which had originally followed the line of Nailer Road.  This road was realigned in the early 18th century and from the valley of the Tamfourhill Burn (here called the Tophill or Rosshill Burn) it took a straighter more southerly route.  This new turnpike road was wider and better engineered than its predecessor, in keeping with the fresh demand for improved transport which resulted from a sharp increase in trade.

Illus 1: Roy’s 1755 Plan of New Camelon.

Ludovic Callendar’s daughter, Jean, married John Willison and being childless they seem to have sold the estate to William Sumerville in July 1727, but were allowed to live on the estate until they died. It then came into the hands of Patrick Haldane of Bearcrofts (near Grangemouth) one of the king’s solicitors. He had been instrumental in prosecuting the Jacobites after the 1745 rebellion and had grown rich and powerful.

He started to feu out small parcels of land alongside the turnpike road in order to establish a village. The feuars were businessmen such as merchants, skilled professionals, such as lawyers or wrights, or minor gentry, and before long each plot was sub-feued and occupied by lower classes such as agricultural workers. This was a time of revived antiquarian interest in the classical heritage of the country and in 1755 General Roy surveyed the nearby Roman fort of Carmuirs, which the common people in the neighbourhood called Camelon. The nascent settlement was shown on Roy’s plan as a neatly arranged model village called “New Camelon” to distinguish it from the Roman site.

Over the centuries a legend had grown up that Camelon Roman fort was occupied by the Picts and became a city with twelve brass gates. Iron anchors were found nearby showing that it served as a seaport and many other discoveries demonstrated its great importance. The ancient origins of Camelon were a source of great local pride and run like a golden thread throughout its history.

Around 1754 the estate of Dorrator was acquired by James Burns, one of Scotland’s two Principal Clerks to the Bills serving in the House of Commons, a post he held from c1755 until 1762. By 1758 James Burns of Dorrator was styled as James Burns of Camelon. To encourage the development of the village the feuars were given the “privilege to dig stones in Thomfuir quarry for building.” Tamfour quarry was in the poorer quality higher ground to the south; the remainder of the area included good arable land in the centre with pasture at the margins and patches of heath land such as Newhouse Muir. Much of this was improvable and the new owners set about doing so with a will. In the days before chemical fertilisers agriculture was reliant upon animal waste and the proximity of the town of Falkirk was helpful. Drainage was introduced and thorn hedges and fruit trees planted.

The new houses were substantial.  Those of the original feuars were two stories in height, often slated, with central architecturally framed doorways, whilst those of the sub-feuars and tenants tended to be single-storey with pantile roofs.  They all fronted the wide sidewalks of the Main Street, with outhouses behind.

Illus 2: The House of James Stark on the south side of the Main Street.

James Stark of Camelon held the important legal post of Messenger at Arms and was followed by his son Thomas.  His other son, James, farmed Carmuirs and was one of the first to grow flax in the area. Other feuars included the merchant Edward Park who went bankrupt in 1775 and had to dispose of his “hertitable subjects belonging to him on the north side of the street of Camelon, in the parish of Falkirk, and county of Stirling, consisting of betwixt three roods and an acre of garden ground, well enclosed with a thorn-hedge, and a number of fruit trees thereon, and of five fire-rooms or low dwelling houses, with a byre at the back”.

Illus 3: Camelon Feuing Map c1760.
  1. Major Chalmers
  2. John Wardrop
  3. Alexander Buckie
  4. James Buckie
  5. Andrew Leishman
  6. William Smith
  7. John Leishman
  8. John Leishman
  9. Alexander Fiddes
  10. John Spears
  11. Thomas Gentle
  12. James Smith
  1. Robert Moorhead
  2. James Walker
  3. John Aitken
  4. James Stark
  5. John Hay
  6. John Hough
  7. Richard Stark
  8. Thomas Gentle
  9. George Rannie
  10. Sam Graham
  11. James Patterson
  12. Edward Park
  1. John Sinclair’s heirs
  2. John Greenhan
  3. Alexander Moorhead
  4. Smith
  5. William Dobie
  6. Elisabeth Moorhead
  7. Widow Robison
  8. Alex Douglas
  9. W Douglas
  10. Janet Graham
  11. James Baird

On the south side of the Main Street Edward Wardrope, merchant in Falkirk, built a substantial stone three-storey tenement with blue slate roof (between plots 13 and 14 on the feu plan) which was sold on his death in 1797 “with the Baker’s Oven at the back thereof, and Yard or Closs thereto belonging, as presently possessed by John Bell, David Wright, Archibald Stark, James Steven, and Alexander Fergusson.” That this was no slum can be judged from the fact that John Bell was a founding partner in the Falkirk Banking Co in 1787. Tenants of smaller portions of land were known as portioners, and in 1789 one of these was John Lean, sometime cabinet-maker in London.

John Dobie, was a wright in Camelon, who sold his feu to Alexander Fiddes, a well-known merchant in Carronshore. He built a new house on the half acre plot and leased it to the Carron Company for twenty years from the term of Whitsunday 1762 – the arrival of that large iron foundry quickly led to a shortage of suitable property to rent. The resident manager of Carron Works was one of the partners, William Cadell junior from Prestonpans. He rented Dorrator House from James Burns.

Place Names

CAMELON1522 BoeceGaelic meaning “broad bend”, in this case the now infilled bend in the River Carron on the east side of
Stirling Road where Mariner’s Day is frequently held.
DORRATOR1429The first element may be British “duro” meaning a fort on low ground;
the second being “Dubron” for water.
BANKHEAD1751In the Lands of Dorrator.
CARMUIRS1310British “cair” meaning fort compounded with the Welsh equivalent of “mawr” for large or great.
The plural is used because there were to major divisions of the lands – Wester and Easter.
REDBRAE1760British “ritu” (Welsh “rhyd”) meaning ford; so the hill leading to the ford.
NEWHOUSE OF DORRATOR1610“Novalia” was a Scots legal term used of lands brought under cultivation for the first time by monks and not subject to tiends.
It also seems to have been used in connection with early divisions of commonties or muirs.
NEWHOUSE MUIR1654The common muir of Dorrator
ROSSHILL BURN1753Possibly an earlier name for the Tophill Burn.
It may come from Scottish Gaelic “ros” meaning promontory
TOPHILL BURN1723Topographical term.
LOCK 16This was the sixteenth lock for barges using the Forth and Clyde Canal from Grangemouth westwards.
As the canal was built from east to west the locks were numbered in that direction and as a result the Arabic numeral rather than the word is used in the place name.
THREE BRIDGESWas so called because three railway bridges cross the road from Camelon to Glasgow at this point.
LIGHTWATER BURN1723Small stream
TAMFOUR1588A small hill in Gaelic is a “tom”, and is here combined with “pòr” (which becomes “phŭir“) or crop-land.
Tamfourhill is mentioned in 1632.
GLENFUIR1643“Gleann” and “pòr” meaning glen of the crop-land.
CASTLE HUBBLES1765In the lands of Dorrator. Scots “hubble” means confusion or disorder.
Could this be a reference to the ruins of the fort from which Dorrator takes its name?
SUMMERFORD1784This appears to be a transferred name.
CAULDHAME1600Literally means cold home.

Illus 4: Camelon Mansion House built in 1758.

By this time James Burns had built himself a new mansion to the south-west of the village.  It faced east towards Falkirk and the main facade contained four large Venetian windows.  The courtyards and outbuildings included a doocot.  The grounds were planted with tree-lined avenues to the north, south and east.

James Burns also looked at exploiting the minerals of the estate.  Coal was found and its extraction was considered to be potentially profitable.  At this point he decided to sell the southern part of his lands as a going concern, retaining the old house of Dorrator and the area around it.  In July 1759 the Caledonian Mercury advertised:

“To be sold, THE lands of CAMELON, including Thomfuir, New-House, and South Bankhead… There is upon the above Lands, a neat well finished House, which has a very fine situation, and consists of seven Fire rooms and a Kitchen, & c. with proper Office-houses, all in good Order… The Lands in general are very improveable, particularly the Lands of Thomfuir, consisting of about 60 Acres, Pasture Ground (commonly called the Moor, but of good Soil) and about 50 Acres, rich arable Grounds, which tho’ lying within a Mile of the Town of Falkirk’s Dung, is at present rented something below 22L. Sterl.
There is a Coal within the Lands, for a nine Years Tack of which a good Tenant has proposed to lease a regular going Coal-work, at the expiration thereof, free of all Charges to the Proprietor, and, in the mean time, after the first three years, to pay yearly 500 Merks, and 100 Horse Loads Coals of Tack-duty, and 50 Merks more for each Pick employed above five… If the Lands are not sold soon, the Proprietor will commune with any Person inclining to have a Tack of the Mansion-house and inclosed Grounds in his Possession.”

The land concerned is shaded grey on the plan of the original feus.  The purchaser was Major John Chalmers (born 14 October 1709) whose career had been in the Royal Artillery. 

In order to provide a stable outlet for its iron, William Cadell advised Carron Company to produce nails, which would bring a handsome profit.  Accordingly the company purchased the Slitt Mill at Cramond in December 1759 so that iron blocks from Carron could be made into sheets and then into rod iron – the basic material of the nail trade.  In 1761 seven men were enticed north to Laurieston from Stourbridge to train Scots in the nailmaking process.  More men soon followed and naileries were set up in Camelon, Glenfuir, Stenhouse and Carron.  The original outlay for these was relatively small.  The tools merely consisted of bellows, anvils, hammers, chisels and tongs.  An outhouse with a hearth for heating the iron was necessary and these were usually located in the back plots of the houses and were known as “shops.”  The first nailers seem to have been located together on John Wardrop’s feu and occupied a row backing onto what became Union Road, surprisingly close to Camelon House.  Before long a row was placed parallel to it and the intervening space became known as George Square, presumably named after the king.  Another early row on the same feu developed into Fairbairn Square, named after one of the later nailmasters.  In 1769 Carron Company divested itself of direct responsibility for the naileries and the slitting mill and William Cadell, who had just resigned as the works manager, took over.  He had to keep a tight control over false accounting around the materials and the quality of the nails.  In 1772 he prosecuted Josiah Cox and Sam Hill for defrauding him.  Shops sprang up throughout the village, even to the north of the main road.  By the turn of the century there were between 400 and 500 nailers working in Camelon.

Illus 5: George Square looking SSE.  Union Road is behind the buildings on the right.  Note the two-storey building in the centre of the row on the right which would have belonged to the nailmaster.

The English nailers brought with them some of their own customs.  One tradition was the annual election of the King of all the Nailers, a sword-bearer and a hammerman.  The role was purely symbolic and ceremonial with the occasional perambulation of the village, attendance at galas, the opening of the school and so on.  Apprentice nailmakers started as young as seven years of age and were indentured for six or seven years.  The boys might be the nailers’ own children, or those of relatives; others were from the local poor house and in the early days they were brought from a House of Refuge in Edinburgh.  They were worked extremely hard and were poorly paid.  It is said that when William Cadell inspected his naileries he saw boys with bare feet and ordered them to be shod at his own expense.

Nailers employed at Camelon in 1767.

Nailers entrusted with stock of ironBoys belonging to Carron CoBoys employed by NailersHearthsSide HearthsQuantity of nails made weekly (lbs)
John Jape4121340
Samuel Hill42330
H Jaffrey170
William Hill1100
John Munro1180
William Fleming70
William Burt111140
Josiah Cox (Glenfuir)130

Major Chalmers was an able man and in March 1768 he was appointed to the committee for managing the affairs of the Company of the Forth and Clyde Navigation.  His interest in this venture was personal as John Smeaton, the engineer tasked with taking it forward, had just produced a suggested line.  Starting near Carron Iron Works it was proposed that the canal should follow the lay of the land, noting: “From Carron-shore to Tophill, a little below Camelon bridge, the ground is gently rising, and accommodated as well as possible for a canal.  From thence to the point above Camelon between New Hall and Glenfuir, the ground rises near 60 feet in half a mile, and is more uneven…”  New Hall was Camelon House.

Illus 6: Plan of Camelon in 1781.

The canal was built from east to west with the first sod being cut by Sir Lawrence Dundas at Grangemouth on 10 June 1768 and within weeks a large workforce, in the region of 1,000 men, spread out over several miles making the cut.  Initially they were recruited from Central Scotland to provide employment to the poor at 10d a day.  Many of them left to work on the harvest and so Highlanders were also employed.  The work was hard and the men were often drunk and abusive – quite a shock for the locals.  A tall boundary wall was erected between the towpath and the grounds of Camelon House in anticipation of similar behaviour from the boatmen.  In the summer of 1769 the main road from Falkirk was placed in a pend under the canal and an ornate facade on either side provided a grand entrance to the village.  By the end of December the following year six locks had been completed and the remainder were well advanced.  In September 1772 water was introduced into the lower end of the canal to test the locks and in early January 1773 the canal was officially opened as far as Kilsyth reaching Kirkintilloch in October.  The businessmen and local landowners were elated.  However, for the carters of Falkirk who had earned a living from road transport it spelled disaster.   In November that year two carters were charged with emptying the great canal, by opening two locks in the neighbourhood of Camelon, and were committed to prison.  Within days an even greater disaster befell the new waterway when the aqueduct-bridge immediately west of Camelon gave way: the water in the canal, for several miles, came down with the greatest rapidity, swept away part of a bridge on the high-road, and did other damage.  A great number of workmen were diverted from continuing the navigation westward to deal with this and before the week was up the canal was again full of water, the vessels daily passing and re-passing between the Firth of Forth and Kirkintilloch.  One of the first items to be unloaded at Camelon was the rod iron from Cramond on board the Christian.

Illus 7: The eastern approach to Lock 15 at Camelon.

Writing in 1777 Nimmo was able to say

The canal hath already made a visible alteration upon the face of the country through which it passeth.  Dwelling houses and granaries are erected in sundry places upon its banks; as also brick-works, and yards for the sale of foreign timber; boats for the navigation have been built upon the brink of it; the adjacent fields begin to be enclosed and better cultivated, and the bustle of trade gives an enlivening aspect to several places which were formerly quite desert and lonely.” 

Camelon shared in this prosperity.

The canal had its problems.  On 14 April 1781 it was reported that “On Tuesday, by the violence of the wind, a man was blown off one of the locks into the Canal, near Camelon, and drowned.  He has left a wife and three children.”  Over the decades there were to be many more drownings.  The canal also impeded the driving of cattle to the great Trysts at Rough Castle.  The beasts did not like crossing the wooden bascule bridges which moved under their weight and the pend on the drove loan at Carmuirs was rather narrow.  It was partly for this reason that the Trysts moved to Stenhousemuir.

In October 1783 the Canal Company announced that it had built two vessels to carry passengers and cargoes on a daily basis through the canal.  Goods could be loaded at Grangemouth, Bainsford and Camelon, where suitable warehouses were built.  Passengers from Glasgow could alight at Camelon and continue to Edinburgh by a new stagecoach service.  Camelon was now at the centre of the transport infrastructure!

The centre of the village was the junction of the road from Tamfourhill in the south with the main street.  Not surprisingly a public house soon occupied the west corner of this junction.  In front of the houses on the opposite corner was the public well.  Those living on the south side of the main street at the east end of the village were able to obtain water from the Tamfourhill Burn, but for those to the north of the road or at the west end of the village this was quite a trip.  So the well was built at an early date by public subscription and a Well Committee made up of feuars was established to maintain it.  This was the beginning of Camelon’s proud record of public service.

Illus 9: The School rebuilt in 1869.

In 1791 several of the feuars obtained a feu disposition from William Forbes of Callendar for a plot of land at the western margin of the village opposite to the road to Stirling for the purpose of erecting a school, schoolhouse and garden and formed a School Committee.  Money was raised and in 1794 the school, a thatched but-and-ben, was opened.  Schoolmasters were appointed by the public without regard to sect.  After five years it was decided to amalgamate the two committees into the “School and Well Committee” – the members were largely the same. 

Consequently, in 1799 Camelon was first subjected to a regular system of local taxation.  For this purpose stent masters were appointed whose duty was to determine the assessment of each inhabitant by judging their ability to pay.  Notice was then pronounced by the village bellman and the stent master called to collect it, though not always successfully.  The income was spent on periodically re-thatching the school or repairing the well and introducing hand pumps.

Illus 10: The locks up to the Union Canal with the later railway on the left.

In 1818, after many years of discussion, the course of a new canal eastward to the capital city was agreed.  This was the Edinburgh and Glasgow Union Canal and its point of junction with the Forth and Clyde Canal was Lock 16.  Once again large numbers of labourers flooded the area, with much work required on the flight of eleven locks that cut across the face of the hill to join the two waterways.  Stone for these was quarried from Falkirk Muir and the rock face can still be seen in South Bantaskine Park.  The first boat to make the entire passage through the new canal did so on 11 May 1822.

One of the farmhouses, now at the top of the flight and partly cut off from its land, became a public house known locally as Nanny Jones Inn where passengers could refresh themselves before walking down to Lock 16 where the proprietors of the new canal had built another pub appropriately called the Union Inn (now known as Auntie Kate’s after Kate Struthers a later proprietrix).  This substantial three storey Georgian building also served as the ticket office and hotel for travellers.  In front of it was an expansive basin called Port Downie after Robert Downie of Appin, one of the directors.  Needless to say the imposition of these features greatly impacted upon the estate of Glenfuir and its owner was able to insist that the Canal Company buy the entire small estate, which it did for 12,000 guineas.  In 1823 the canal was extended by 560yds to a new terminal called Port Maxwell after General Maxwell of Parkhill near Polmont, another of the directors.  This shortened the walk between the two canals and meant that passengers could simply change vessels rather than wait for their first one to go through all the locks.  Alternatively, a local operator ran a coach service to take them and their luggage this short distance.

Illus 11: The Union Inn in the centre with the Forth and Clyde Canal on the right and Port Downie Basin on the left.

Tophill, next to Camelon Bridge, had become the maintenance depot for the eastern half of the Forth and Clyde Canal.  Shades were built for the masons to prepare stone blocks and carpenters to repair lock gates.  In 1794 a dry dock was dug out so that boats could also be looked after.  It was but a short step to building new boats here.  Between 1808 and 1838 fifteen vessels were built at Tophill; many of these carried the latest innovations and the yard became famous for its successful experiments.  Thomas Wilson had launched Scotland’s first iron ship, the Vulcan, on 14 May 1819 at Faskine, Monklands.  In 1822 he took up the post of resident engineer at Tophill and just three years later produced his second iron ship there called the Cyclops.  In 1832 a stern paddle steamer Edinburgh was launched.  Soon after the Union Canal opened boatbuilding also took place at Port Downie.  In 1836 Thomas Wilson’s son, Robert, took a lease of a new yard there and most of the business from Tophill was transferred to it.  It had a dry dock and a patent slip and was far more suited to the work.  He continued his father’s approach of installing the latest technology and design.  In 1860, for example, he placed the rudder around the propeller – the first time this had been done in central Scotland.  The yard employed around twelve men.  Boatbuilding continued under different owners, until 1890 – the last builder being Gilbert Wilkie.

There were many public houses in the village were the workmen consoled themselves from their life of drudgery.  Over the years drunken and disorderly behaviour increased.  At the east end of the Main Street was the Bluebell Inn where the boatmen from the canal would drop in for a drink.  Around 1900 a new pub was built on its east side to take over and appropriately named the “Hop Inn”.

Illus 12: The Bluebell Inn with the publican Alf Webster at the door.

The nailmasters’ treatment of their apprentices was brutal.  On 16 August 1804 David Callendar was struck on the head with an iron rod and died four days later.  His master, Andrew Burt, was found guilty of culpable homicide and sentenced to be publically whipped on his bare back – ten strokes in front of the smithy or shop where the attack had taken place, then ten at seven different locations in the town of Falkirk, and the last ten at the door of his shop.  Then he was to be transported to Australia for 14 years.  Having been detained on the hulks on the River Thames until September 1806, he was pardoned thanks to the intervention of William Cadell.  He returned to Camelon.

The rapid industrialisation of the nation had led to huge inequities in society and disgraceful living conditions for the poorest.  It is not surprising that some of the working classes decided to fight back against the system of government that they held responsible.  A new provisional government was proclaimed in Glasgow with the slogan “Liberty or Death” and on 5 April 1820 Andrew Hardie with twenty or so men set out for Condorrat where they met John Baird, who raised ten more to join them.  An agent provocateur for the government told them they would be met by more rebels from Anderston, Camelon and Falkirk on their way to Carron.  Some of the workers at the Carron Ironworks, he said, were waiting for them with arms and ammunition from the factory as well as two pieces of ordnance.  They were to take these back to Glasgow to capture that city.  On their way to Carron they took shelter on Bonnymuir where they were met by a detachment of the 10th Hussars and some Yeomanry Cavalry.  A skirmish took place in which several were injured and nineteen prisoners taken.  Immediately after the Battle of Bonnymuir three men in Camelon were arrested – John MacMillen and Andrew Dawson, nailers, and a man by the name of MacIntyre.  Subsequently five Camelon men were brought to trial, James Burt, nailer, Andrew Burt junior, nailer, John Aitken wright, Daniel Turner nailer and Andrew Dawson nailer.

There is no doubt that some of the Camelon men had intended to rally to the cause.  On 3 April John Baird had collected 13 pike heads from Andrew Burt junior in Camelon, which he paid for.  These were probably the ones used at Bonnymuir, by which time they had been fitted onto the ends of straight branches about 6ft long.  Despite this, Andrew Burt and his brother James were acquitted at the trial.  However, as James left the court he was re-arrested for maltreating his apprentice, William McManus.  The boy had run away on several occasions and upon being brought back was whipped and beaten – so much for liberty!

Illus 13: The Benches on Camelon Main Street with the Roman bar behind the tree. The small retaining wall in front of the houses gave the place its name.

It was not just poor treatment that caused animosities between masters and apprentices, so too did personalities and when this combined with drink it was an explosive mixture.  On 1 September 1827 Francis Cockburn attacked his drunken master at the Benches (or Binches as is was pronounced).  The knife went through William Burt’s eye and into his brain.  Three days later he died.  Francis Cockburn was hung in Falkirk High Street on 8 May 1828, the last person to face the gallows in the town.  William Burt was the son of the Andrew mentioned above.

Population Statistics

1797568 (compared to 858 at Laurieston)

The people of Camelon were keen to support the reform acts that followed.  When a parade was announced at short notice for 7 May 1832 on the Callendar Riggs in Falkirk almost 10,000 locals turned out, including the nailers of Camelon with their banner proclaiming “Constitution,” surmounted by their crown.

Robert Smith had founded a flute band in Camelon in 1830 and in 1832 this became a brass band.    A 1913 sketch of the band notes that:

the Nailers, whatever other virtues and vices they possessed, could not be accused of closefistedness.  To a man they assisted their musical brethren to accomplish their purpose.  Out of their comparatively slender earnings they contributed so liberally that in a short time the Band was furnished with all the instruments then considered necessary, namely, Keyed Bugles, French Horns, Trumpets, Trombones, Ophicleide, and a brass instrument called “The Serpent.”” 

The band thrived for over a century.

Illus 14: Camelon Brass Band in 1873.

A newspaper correspondent writing in 1851 saw the effect the band had:

compare the present state of its population with what it was fifteen or eighteen years since, the change for the better is very great and very gratifying.  The causes are various, we admit, that have contributed to produce this pleasing alteration, but we are assured that the possession of a good set of musical instruments, and the diffusion of a taste for musical recreations, are among the principal. 

As an almost necessary consequence of the more refined feelings which have been thus diffused, we are assured that the drunken brawls, and the scenes of riot and concomitant misery which used to be so common in this village, are now comparatively rarely met with.  Instead of these, in the homes of many of the workmen will now be found periodical publications of an improving character.”

The village had been established to create a new economic centre and nailmaking was just one of many trades carried out there.  At the same time investment went into another new village on the other side of Falkirk.  In 1798 the Stark Brothers opened a distillery in Laurieston, but due to a shortage of water there it was transferred in 1827 to a site on the west bank of the Tamfourhill Burn just north of the main road and became the Camelon Distillery.  A waterwheel provided some of the motive power.  John Stark ran it until his death in 1837, after which it was run by Thomas Gunn and his father.  Thomas Gunn of nearby Parkhouse owned a large nailerie in the village and had been one of the original partners of Falkirk Iron Co.  In 1826 he acquired two dwellings on the other side of the canal in the lands of Tophill which in 1807 had been renamed “Rosebank”.   In 1840 it employed only five men and the Gunns were approached by a Falkirk grocer, James Rankine, to sell all or part of the distillery. He took over the buildings on the east side of the canal which had been converted into malthouses.  Rankine produced a quality product and the new distillery quickly expanded.  In 1861 Thomas Gunn went bankrupt and after the Camelon Distillery had lain empty for three years Rankine was able to buy it for a low price.  He demolished most of it and laid out a new and extensive malting there.

Illus 15: Camelon Bridge on the Forth and Clyde Canal with Rosebank Distillery in the background and Gillespie’s transit shed on the right, c1900.  The ‘Afghan’ on the right had been launched at Port Downie in 1880.  The vessel coming through the bridge was a Carron Company lighter.

Another important trade was timber.  In 1838 Tom Jones began selling wood in the village and seems to have provided material for the boatyards.  The family subsequently continued this trade in Larbert as James Jones & Son.  Tom bought the Union Inn in 1849.  His son James set up a nailmaking business with James Forbes.  James White had a woodyard at Woodvale (he died in 1859 and later the site was used for the bonded warehouse of Rosebank Distillery, now the Beefeateater) and brought in pine from America, mahogany from Asia and red pine from the Baltic and Norway.

In 1837 Pigot and Co’s National Commercial Directory of Scotland described Camelon as :

a neat village, situate on the road from Stirling to Falkirk, about a mile and a half west from the latter town, on the line of the great canal; it consists of one tolerably well built street; the inhabitants, in number about one thousand, are chiefly employed in the manufacture of nails.” 

Traders listed were:

Dickson, James WCamelon Housegentry
Fulton, William EsqSunnysidegentry
Aitken, MissCamelonacademies & schools
Knox, JohnCamelonacademies & schools
Allan, RobertCamelonbaker
Stewart, JohnCamelonbaker
Kincaid, ThomasRosebankcorn merchant
Gunn & CoCamelondistillers
Binnie, AlexanderCamelongrocers & spirit dealers
Stark, ThomasLock 16collector of canal dues
Kincaid, ThomasRosebankmaltster
Fairburn, GeorgeCamelon Parknail maker
Gunn, ThomasCamelonnail maker
Muir, John Camelon rope & sail maker
Spier, John Camelon smith
Cowie, Alexander Camelon vintner
Foulton, John Camelon vintner
Hendry, John Camelon vintner
Jack, Archibald Camelon vintner
Leishman, James Camelon vintner
Nicol, John Camelon vintner
Rinkillor, John Camelon
(Union Inn, No. 16 Lock)
Taylor, Alexander Camelon vintner
Aitken, Thomas Camelon wright
Campbell, James Camelon wright
Nimmo, Robert Camelon wright
Illus 16: Camelon Main Street looking west. c1900.

The civilising influence of the Camelon Brass Band and the Glee Club, which taught singing, were to be continued by the erection of a Chapel of Ease just a little further west than the school. William Forbes gave the site free and £300 towards the building, the total cost being £1100. Most of the remainder came from the national Church Extension Scheme. St John’s Church was opened for worship on 23 August 1840. The church bell is said to have been used in the previous year to call workmen to the building of the railway viaduct, known as the King’s Bridge, at Greenbank, and was then given to the church by the contractors. The first minister was William Branks (1841-1843), but the Disruption caused much confusion and the church lay partly disused for five years. In May 1849 Rev John Oswald was appointed and he served until his death at Dorrator House in February 1867.

Oswald was very active in the community, intent upon continuing the moral improvement. Seeing that the school was in disrepair he made a bid to take it over and even managed to persuade William Forbes to sign over the land. There was an instant backlash from the population. With Ralph Stark at their head they not only retook possession, but raised enough money to have the structure rebuilt in 1869.

On 13 September 1842 Queen Victoria rode through Camelon on her way from Stirling to Edinburgh and the Main Street was lined with an enthusiastic crowd. The Camelon Band played the national anthem as she left Falkirk.

Illus 17: The King’s Bridge from the top of the locks on the Union Canal.

The opening of the Edinburgh-Glasgow Railway in 1842 caused an immediate drop in the number of passengers using the canals and local traders suffered.  The Union Inn, in particular, saw a great decrease in customers.  However, freight continued to use the canal.  A far darker cloud appeared on the horizon at this time due to the mechanisation of nail manufacture. 

Illus 18: Workmen and boys at the Port Downie Dockyard – nailers employed by Jones & Forbes, c1871.

In the mid-century the two largest nailmaking firms were owned by George Fairbairn and Thomas Gunn who lived at Camelon Park and the Union Hotel respectively. Despite the odd strike over pay the nailers benefited from the improvements going on around them and the first nailers’ excursion took place in July 1859. They gathered at George Square at 6am and marched along the towpath behind the Camelon band to Grangemouth where they took a steamship to Edinburgh.  Slowly, however, the nail trade declined.  For a while Jones & Forbes of the Camelon Nail Works bucked the trend by concentrating upon horseshoe nails, but it too succumbed by the end of the century.

As one door closes another opens and in 1845 James Ross left the shipbuilding trade at Lock 16 and entered into a partnership as a chemical manufacturer at the east end of Camelon.  Recognising developments in the industry he wanted to take up tar distillation – he had used tar in the boatyard – but his partners were reluctant to invest.  He therefore took over the company and moved the works to Limewharf on the south bank of the Forth and Clyde Canal to the south-west of the village.  Crude tar arrived by barge from gas works along the east coast from Lerwick, Leith and Newcastle.  As the years passed the number of by-products increased and so did the size and complexity of the works – and the profits.  In 1879 Ross sold out to Robert Sutherland and Robert Orr and built Wallside House for his retirement.  The works continued to expand.

Some of the early Chemical Works:

Limewharf Chemical Worksest. 1845 by James Ross & Co.benzine, naphtha, sulphate of ammonia, carbolic, pitch, anthracite, creosote, etc.
Hurlet Chemical Worksest. 1851 by Henderson, bought 1862 by Hurlet & Campsie Alum Co.dyes.
Camelon Chemical Worksest. 1878 by H.C. Fairlieiodine, bichromates of potash and soda. 1900 employed 120.
Cross’s Chemical Co.est. 1904sulphuric acid.

In 1868 Gillespie could see the changes happening:

A sentence will suffice for a note of the present industrial resources of Camelon.  For upwards of a century nail-making has been its chief, indeed only trade, giving bread to hundreds, and for the foreign article especially it has got a really wide and promising fame.  There are, however, in the immediate vicinity of the village, several embryo foundries, which are rapidly expanding their iron wings.  Many too, in these days, have been made familiar with the name of the ‘ancient city’ though the ‘kingly’ prestige of its accomplished instrumental band.  But a more heaven-forsaken village could not be imagined.  Everywhere over it hangs the air of squalid misery and filth; while its houses – or rookeries, rather, of rottenness, pestilence, and dirt – are wretched beyond description, and ought at once to be condemned as unfit for human habitation.  But there is at present good promise of a happier state of matters.  Mr Ralph Stark, together with other philanthropic gentlemen, are deeply interesting themselves in the sanitary improvement of the village and the social elevation of its inhabitants.  Through their exertions chiefly a Savings Bank.”

The Penny Savings Bank had already been open for several years by then and in 1866 it had over 170 savers.  It was open every Saturday evening, in the Camelon Hall, from eight till nine o’clock

List of Iron Foundries in and around Camelon.

Name of WorksDates of operationCompany Names
Camelon Iron Works1845-1953Camelon Iron Co.
Crosthwaite, Miller & Co.
Smith, Fullerton & Co.
Union Foundry1854-1882Crosthwaite, Ure & Co.
R.W. Crosthwaite
Grahamston Foundry1868-1990Grahamston Iron Co.
Rosebank Foundry1870-1875(see Forth & Clyde)
Forth & Clyde Iron Works1870-1963Rosebank Foundry Co.
Baird Cowie & Co.
Forth & Clyde Iron Co.
Forth & Clyde & Sunnyside Iron Co.
Portdownie Iron Works1875-1982Walker, Turnbull &Co
Walker, Hunter & Co
Gael Foundry1875-Robertson & Whitelaw
Gael Iron Co.
Parkhouse Iron Works1876-c1910Parkhouse Iron Co.
Grange Iron Works1883-1963Grangemouth Iron Co.
Grange Iron Co.
Sunnyside Foundry1896-1963Sunnyside Iron Co.
Forth & Clyde & Sunnyside Iron Co.
Carmuirs Iron Works1899-1968Carmuirs Iron Co.
Dorrator Foundry1898-1994Dorrator Iron Co.
Gothic Iron Works1899-1964Glover & Main
R & A Main
Kilns Foundry– – –(see Camelon Foundry)
Central Foundry1902-1947Scottish Central Foundry Co.
Stirlingshire Stove Works1903-1922Stirlingshire Iron Co.
Summerford Foundry1903-1946Summerford Iron Co.

The first foundry was set up in on the south side of the Forth and Clyde Canal at Lock 16. Named the Camelon Iron Works it was owned by R.W. Crosthwaite, John Miller and John Smith (writer of Camelon House).  Crosthwaite was in charge of the outdoor work and sales, Miller of bookkeeping and correspondence.  Crosthwaite left in 1854 to set up the Union Foundry next door and the partnership was dissolved.   Camelon Iron Works was purchased by John Smith and Mr Fullerton became a partner.  In 1870 the foundry moved to Bleachfield, but retained its name.  Crosthwaite’s new partner at the Union Foundry was George Ure.  The first cast took place on 22nd September 1854 and between 1855 and 1860 this foundry made all of Smith and Wellstood’s stoves.  At that latter date Ure moved to Bonnybridge and Henry Crosthwaite took over.   In 1878 the works moved to Thornby-on-Tees to be closer to its markets.

All of these foundries had been on the banks of the canal.  The construction of the Midland Junction Railway in 1848-1850 provided the platform for later investment in foundries and after 1875 all of the new iron works were served by it.  This branch line also provided a passenger station at Stirling Road.  During the construction of the railway large quantities of Roman objects were found, including a rare alabaster vase.

Illus 19: The Canal Steel and File Works looking north from the canal with Burnside Terrace in the background.

The foundries spawned ancillary industries such as the blacking mill at Sunnyside and a file works.  The file work was started by Jake Brotherton shortly after 1870 using the old buildings of an acid works at Springpark and became the Canal steel and File Works.  William B. Henderson from Sheffield bought over the works at Camelon and made it the centre for file production in the whole of Scotland.  Families came from Sheffield, Glasgow, Larbert and Chapelhall to settle in Camelon.

In 1857 twelve of the inhabitants of Camelon, having heard of the success of the new method of trading inaugurated by the Rochdale pioneers some eight years previously, held a meeting, and agreed to subscribe £1 each as capital, forming themselves into the “Camelon Pioneer Industrial Society Limited.”  They rented a small shop (now demolished) on the south side of the Main Street at the corner of Deantree Terrace, and having stocked it with grocery goods as far as their limited capital would allow, opened three nights weekly, the Committee taking turns in manning the shop.  The shop started business on 25 April 1858. The concept of people grouping together as a co-operative was seen as antagonistic to more open forms of commerce and some tradesmen tried to oppose it.  The beginning was small, but the progress, if slow was sure.  In a comparatively short time a large shop was rented and kept open for more days, and according to one history “females” were appointed to take charge of the business.  Actually, it started in 1862 with a single saleswoman who seems to have been employed due to her low costs. That person was Ann Drummond, who the Falkirk Herald reported “despite youthful age” was a great asset and increased sales and membership dramatically due to her hard work.

Illus 20: Camelon Co-op in Burnside Terrace with the park in the foreground.

In 1862 Camelon was perhaps the first community in the Falkirk district to acquire a public park – only it was for bleaching as well as bowling and quoiting. The School and Well Committee acquired the land and the park was opened with due ceremony. With the consent of the “King” flags were hoisted, the “crown” was carried to the “Palace Square,” the “King” then proceeded with regal dignity to join the Camelon Brass Band, which started from Lock 16. The procession, headed by “King Evans,” with his “Crown,” and Bailie White with a drawn sword, marched to the park where a very large number of people had congregated. The band paraded the park twice, formed a circle, with the “King” in the centre and the park was declared open.

Illus 21: The Forth & Clyde Canal with the Public Park to the right.

St John’s Church at Camelon was one of the last churches in the area to be provided with a burial ground. The proximity of dwellings made them unsuitable for future use and in 1868 Falkirk became one of the first areas to adopt the Burial Ground (Scotland) Act of 1855. This empowered them to raise loans to be offset by future burial fees. Due to the influence of Ralph Stark, who sat on the committee,11.4 acres of land were purchased from the Earl of Zetland at Dorrator and in October the following year work began on laying out the new cemetery. It opened in August 1870 having cost £6,000. Soon it became the preferred burial place and grand monuments were raised to celebrate the lives of the people who had contributed much to the vitality of the area, creating a sculpture park that is well worth a visit and giving Camelon another park. It even has some Roman hypocaust pillars used as legs for the table tomb of the antiquarian J McLuckie.

It was some time before the Free Church of Scotland had a permanent meeting place in Camelon. In 1863 the indefatigable Rev Lewis Hay Irving, then living at Dorrator House, had the Irving Memorial hall built. The church, in Dorrator Road, only followed in 1889, and in 1906 the old hall was demolished and replaced by two new ones.

Gas was introduced on a limited scale to Camelon in 1858. The first public lamp was lit at the village well. The Camelon Band played and Ralph Stark, preses of the School and Well Committee made a speech. Ralph Stark farmed Carmuirs and played a leading role in improving the village. For his good works he was affectionately known as “the King of Camelon.” In 1863 he had the Main Street illuminated to celebrate the wedding of the Prince of Wales and there was great rejoicing. It was on this occasion that the Ceremony of the Keys was inaugurated – the people of Camelon handed over a symbolic set of keys to the ‘Ancient City’, that is to say to the twelve brass gates of the legendry Pictish city where the Roman fort had stood. The villagers were proud of this heritage and constantly referred to it. Dr James Simpson, who went on to promote the widespread use of chloroform, worked in Camelon when learning to be a doctor and in 1861 excavated part of the Roman sewer there. In 1864 Falkirk Corporation introduced gas “throughout the village”, that is all the way along the Main Street. It was 1877 before lighting was provided by the railway companies at Lock 16 and Greenbank due to the risks of falling into the waterways. Union Road was lighted at the same time as it was widened from its original 15ft in the 1880s.

One of the biggest changes for the betterment of Camelon was the improvements to the drainage system. In 1874 the Parochial Board threatened to take action, which would have involved greatly increased expenditure. The Feuars and tenants of Camelon, under the chairmanship of Ralph Stark, decided to undertake their own much cheaper scheme and by 1880 the sewers were flushed weekly by water from the Forth and Clyde Canal.

In 1873 the Camelon School Board was set up by the parochial board and the old School and Well Committee offered to hand over the school it had rebuilt in 1869. They were not, however, prepared to do so unconditionally and wanted the public to be able to continue to use it for meetings. As the building was too small the School Board bought a larger site in Abercrombie Street and built a school there instead in 1874. The old school became known locally as the “Town Hall” – Camelon had delusions of grandeur. Despite all their great efforts, they were soon to be shattered. In 1890 the County Council took over the control of Camelon’s lighting and water supply. The six public wells and ten private wells were condemned as unsafe and the following year Camelon got a supply from the Falkirk and Larbert Water Trust. The final nail in the coffin came in 1900 when Camelon was incorporated into the Burgh of Falkirk.

Coleridge’s poem “The Ancient Mariner” was very popular at this time and undoubtedly the constant references to Ancient Camelon that were being made reminded someone in the village of the discovery of Roman anchors at Dorrator in the early 18th century. It is perhaps no coincidence that the first mention of someone from Camelon being called a “Mariner” that I can find says that: “An ancient “Mariner” has returned to Camelon F.C.” from London, and was printed in the Falkirk Herald on 28 December 1889. Before long it was not just the footballers who were called Mariners and this allowed Camelon to reassert its identity at a time when it was in danger of being lost.

Illus 22: Camelon Fever Hospital (later Rossvail School).

In 1896 the Camelon Fever Hospital was opened to the west of the village.  It had a central administration block with an enteric fever block to the west and 12 beds in the scarlet fever wards to the east.  Eight more beds were added in 1911, but were placed in smaller wards.  The fever hospital had been built outside the bounds of the settlement for good reason.  However, the village was already bursting at the seams and the sale of Camelon House and its grounds in the late 1890s saw a great spurt of building activity in that direction.

Illus 23: The Camelon Gymnasium in Union Road.

In the 1890s gymnasia came into favour in Scotland and most of the high schools in the area were provided with one.  Camelon naturally aspired to one and in 1897 Boyd’s Hall in the Main Street was hired and converted to this purpose.  It proved very popular not only as a place of exercise but also as a reading room and meeting hall.  The antiquarian John McLuckie delivered the first lecture in the rooms when he talked about the local Roman remains.  The hall was too small and after an incredible fundraising feat a new gymnasium was opened on 3 May 1902 by Bettie Wilson of Bantaskine, the main fundraiser, at the corner of the Camelon House estate adjoining Union Rd.  The estate had just been opened up for feuing and a new street soon ran from Union Road to Hamilton Street past the new Carmuirs School.  The halls acted as a new social centre and showed, according to one local representative, that Camelon was really a town rather than a village – they still hung on to the idea!

Illus 24: Carmuirs School.

By the turn of the century the school in Abercrombie Street had grown too small for the ever expanding population.  A report of 1901 noted that

The inconvenience of extending the present school, the great increase which has recently taken place in the population, and the influx which will shortly be made owing to the erection of new works and, practically speaking, streets of tenements, were factors which weighed with the parish School Board when they decided to erect a new school.

A site was secured almost behind the Camelon Parish Church, in a locality which is just being opened up for building purposes, so that in all probability the proposed school will soon be surrounded by tenements, the erection of which will have been found necessary by the increased prosperity of the place. The Board agreed to take in competitive plans, and at their meeting on Thursday last, guided by the advice of Mr Wilson, School Board architect, Edinburgh, decided to accept the plans of Mr Strang, architect, Falkirk, as being most suitable for the requirements. The school, which will be built at the junction of two new streets

In 1901 a feu was sold on the west side of the avenue of Camelon House where it met the Main Street and here the Roman Bar was erected.  During the construction of the foundations a beautiful Roman gravestone was found at a depth of about 3ft and that is how the public house got its name.  However, the stone was a forgery.  Just three years later another forgery, this time an altar, turned up on the site of the Roman fort itself.  At the time both were accepted as genuine and no one ever owned up to the deception!

Illus 25: The Gothic Iron Works of R & A Main with Glasgow Road in the foreground. South of the road is Easter Carmuirs Farm. At the back of the foundry the Midland Scottish Railway can be seen with its works’ sidings.
Illus 26: The Packing and Dispatch Department of the Gothic Works in 1913. Gas appliances were a speciality of the company.

Early in 1905 construction began on the circular route for the Falkirk and District Tramways and the tramway was opened on 21 October that year taking passengers from Camelon to Falkirk, Grahamston, Bainsford, Carron, Stenhousemuir, Larbert and back to Camelon.  The wooden bascule bridge over the canal had to be replaced with a 70ft long steel one that rotated on a turntable.  The old pend was subsequently used to house gas and water pipes as well as telephone cables.  The first tramcars were double-decked with an open top which was found to be unsuitable for the local climate.  In 1907 covers were put on them which meant that the roadway under the railway bridge at Stirling Road had to be lowered.  The trams were very popular and operated successfully until 1936 when the operating company was taken over by the Scottish Motor Traction Company and the line was closed.

Illus 27: Main Street looking east in 1906

In 1902 Walter Alexander, aged 23, had opened a bicycle shop at the west end of the Main Street in Camelon. Alexander’s Motor Services began running ‘omnibus’ services in the area from 1913, and by 1924 the company was registered as W. Alexander & Sons Ltd. Due to the intervention of the First World War the company initially grew slowly:
1913 1st bus
1919 4 buses
1922 15 buses
By comparison the Falkirk and District Tramway Company, based in Stirling Road, had 22 buses in 1919 and formed the Scottish General Omnibus Co Ltd. However, Walter Alexander was taken over in 1929 by the newly formed Scottish Motor Traction Company (SMT), controlled by the London Midland Scottish and London North Eastern Railway companies. Expansion thereafter was rapid, mostly achieved by acquisition. An early gain was the Scottish General Omnibus Group which now took the W. Alexander name. The blue livery of the buses became a familiar sight.

Illus 29: Bluebird bus.

In addition to running bus services, Alexander’s had also been building bus bodies since 1924, initially for their own use and then for their subsidiary operators.  In 1931 the coachbuilding department moved to Stirling and in 1934 the “Alexander Bluebird” was launched setting new standards for style and comfort.  The new livery was cream with blue trims and an elegant emblem of a bluebird.  The business became Walter Alexander & Company (Coachbuilders) Ltd in 1947 and in 1958 coachbuilding returned to Camelon.  Today Alexander Dennis is the world’s largest manufacturer of double-decker buses.

Illus 30: The workforce of Alexander Laurie and one of its many trailers.

There was also a second coachbuilder in the village based behind the Irving Church in Nailer Road.  Alexander Laurie was begun as a smithy around 1860 but by the 1930s was building trailer and motor bodies.  It became well-known for its trailers and promoted the use of tipping trailers in the refuse disposal trade, finding ready markets in England amongst the county councils.  Exports went all over the world and particularly to the Commonwealth.

Illus 31: The Railway Station with Falkirk Cemetery in the background.

Camelon Station, opened in 1850, was renamed Falkirk (Camelon) in 1903.  It was a simple island platform with a ticket office and waiting room. Access was from a set of stairs on Stirling Road set between two railway bridges.  It closed on 4 September 1967, but was re-opened in 1994.

Some Camelon shops from a 1913 Brochure

NameType of ShopLocationDate Established
J. Erskine*tobacconistRenton’s Buildings
William Renton*grocer & tea merchant1876
G & A Smith*butchers & poulterersopposite the schoolhouse1875
Andrew Smithcarriage hirer1900
George Boyd*baker, confectioner & restaurateur153 Main St
John Roy*grocer & provision merchantMain St1899
Joseph Scott*wholesale confectionerMain St opposite schoolhouse

The size of the village had not increased greatly with the increase in its population. The village of 1860 occupied the same area that it had almost a century before, though there had been infilling of the street frontages. The situation had changed little by the time of the second edition Ordnance Survey map of 1898 – just a little ribbon development along the sides of Dorrator Road towards the cemetery and the roads north of the Main Street – that is Orchard Street, Thistle Street and Gordon Street. The feuing of the grounds of Camelon house in the 1890s made the west side of Union Road available and within a decade stone tenements appeared. Building began in Hamilton Street and Mansionhouse Road. New streets were formed along Baird Street, Brown Street and Carmuirs Street shortly after the construction of Carmuirs School. Housing spread west along the south side of Main Street and ground around Sunnyside was infilled. After the First World War new housing became a priority and Falkirk Burgh Council erected a large scheme to the west including Wall Street, Carmuirs Avenue, Watling Street, Watling Avenue and Watling Drive – a bit of a Roman theme going on there.

In the 1930s the council extended the housing to the south and west. Another large scheme in the 1950s and 1960s saw this engulf the fields of Easter Carmuirs Farm. The valley of the Lightwater Burn was filled with refuse and then landscaped to serve as a recreational open space.

Donald Mackintosh described the multiplicity of small shops in 1930. Starting at the junction with Stirling road he mentions the following shops going eastwards as far as 139 Main Street opposite the Co-op:
Mungal’s Dairy and sub post office – the old couple who served in the shop had the business for years; then Morrison’s Garage at the top of Orchard Street; Lemetti’s chip shop in Irvine Place, better known as the Four-Storey; McCallum’s clothing shop; Jimmy Hill the barber; Jenkin’s home baker; a clothing shop; auld Peter Cefelli’s chip shop; then there was a pend where we had Kidd the blacksmith; Lizzie Burt had a wee shop; the pub at the top of Thistle Street; on the other side of Thistle Street was a confectioner shop – it belonged to a Mrs Bisset, and then a Mrs Robertson and a daughter took over the business and had it for a number of years; auld David Mowat the butcher and son Danny, who latterly took over the business; Cassidy had a second-hand furniture shop; Jane Stalker’s fruit shop, she also made potted meat; another small drapery shop; then Crawford the baker; McAinsh the jeweller; the Camelon Hotel owned by Bob Kirkwood; a newsagent by the name of Hendry; Lemetti’s fish and chip shop and the Florence Cafe next door where you could sit and have fish and chips or ice cream; an entrance to the old school at Abercrombie Street; the headmaster’s house; the Clydesdale Bank; the wireless shop of David Nicol and later Bell; Burt’s Close led into auld Jimmy Burt’s billiard room; then Miss Beatson the jewellery shop; Crawford’s bakehouse was at the back; another opening then Arthur McLaren the chemist; auld Chipper Henderson’s chip shop; another baker’s shop by the name of Williamson and which was 139 Main St. And there were further shops on the other side of the street, in Union Road and in the Hedges!

The Ceremony of the Keys was revived in 1949 as part of the first Mariners’ Day and took place on Camelon Bridge. The day was essentially a gala for the children interwoven with pageants from Camelon’s historic past. At Lock 16 a boat was launched to the strains of “Anchors Aweigh” performed by the Camelon Brass Band. Around 20,000 people attended and the day ended with sports, a gymnastic display, fairground amusements and a competition for the best dressed lorry. Mariners’ Day continued until 1957, and was reawakened in 1981. Betty Wilson of South Bantaskine had taken a keen interest in the welfare of the children of Camelon and due to her influence there was a flourishing Boys Brigade unit. The Mariner’s Day committee used the anchor and lifebelt of that organisation as the centre piece of its logo as it was appropriate to the theme.

YEARInhabited Houses
in Camelon Ward

The years following the Second World War saw local authorities taking drastic action to improve the housing stock.  Large numbers of dwellings were condemned and street by street they were cleared away.  Orchard Street, Thistle Street and Gordon Street were levelled.  In the 1960s the entire northern side of the Main Street was demolished and a new dual carriageway split the community in two.  An underpass near the police station was supposed to provide easy passage to the shops but even though the tunnel was built it proved impossible to provide access from the south.  In any case, the extra carriageways which should have speeded up the traffic soon lapsed into the function of car parks.  Pedestrian crossings further slowed the traffic to make it compatible with an urban centre.  In the new millennium this was taken a step further by yet more traffic lights that reduced it to a crawl.

A police office was built on the corner of Stirling Road and Main Street in the 1920s, but it was demolished as part of the road widening.  It was replaced further to the west and had a chequered history.  It closed as an operational police office in the early 1980s when there was an attempt to centralise policing.  In the mid 80s it became the Crime Prevention Office, only to re-open in 1992 before finally closing c2016.

Illus 32: St Mary of the Angels RC Church.

1923 saw a temporary Roman Catholic church opened in the Hedges.  It was 1961 before its replacement was completed as St Mary of the Angels on the corner of Glasgow Road and Watling Street – its modern design and buff bricks making it stand out.  It was closed in 2019 for conversion into a funeral home.

Illus 33: Built up areas: Green –1754-1890; orange – 1890-1915; purple – 1915-1945.

1 – site of Camelon Mansion
2 – St Mary of the Angels
3 – Camelon St John’s
4 – Union Inn
5 – Canal Inn
6 – Fever hospital
7 – George Square
8 – Carmuirs School
9 – Irving Church
10 – Town Hall
11 – Easter Carmuirs PS
12 – Old School (Abercrombie St)

A – Dorrator Foundry
B – Grange Foundry
C – Central Iron Works?
D – Carmuirs Foundry
E – Gothic Iron Works
F – Sunnyside Foundry
G – Gael Foundry (Union Iron Works)
H – Port Downie Iron Works (Camelon Foundry)
I – Forth & Clyde Iron Works

a – W. Alexander (coachbuilding)
b – Canal Hub (Barr’s Factory)
c – Rosebank Distillery
d – Camelon Distillery
e – Canal Steel & File Works
f – Baird’s Sawmill
g – Woodvale/ Bonded warehouse (Beefeater)
h – Fairlie’s vitriol & alum works
i – Camelon War Memorial
k – Sheriff Court

The new look Camelon was not to the taste of many of its older residents, but it did provide proper accommodation. The old school in Abercrombie Street closed and was reopened as Camelon Community Project Education Centre in 2000 after the rooms had been renovated and a computer suite installed. Further west the Gothic Foundry was demolished and replaced by Bluebell Apparel and then Wrangler’s making jeans. It closed in 1999 with the loss of 450 jobs and has since been demolished and replaced by Tesco’s supermarket. The Grange Foundry was replaced by the Mariner Centre for indoor swimming and sports, opened on 5 July 1985, with an indoor bowling centre nearby. Since then a tenpin bowling alley has joined this recreational hub. In 2005the Forth Valley Sensory Centre was built to the east of the Mariner Centre, and two more supermarkets to the west, giving Camelon a large retail park and a recreational area.

Camelon has changed much over the last twenty years and yet it is easier than ever to take a stroll along the towpath of the Forth and Clyde Canal which had been built in the 1770s. This article will hopefully show that change is the norm and that Camelon has adapted to the changing technologies and social conditions with spirit. It goes into the century with hope and determination.


1750sCamelon formed from the Lands of Dorrator.
1758Camelon mansion house built.
1760sWell Committee established.
1763Nailmaking established.
1768-72Construction begins on Forth & Clyde Canal and water let in as far as Kilsyth.
1791-94School built on a site feued from Forbes of Callendar and a School Committee set up.
1799The School and Well Committees amalgamated and a stent charged.
1820The Battle of Bonnymuir.
1880-22Union Canal completed.
1832Camelon Brass Band.
1838Aqueduct-bridge at Camelon Bridge replaced by a bascule bridge.
1840Camelon St John’s Church.
1845Limewharf Chemical Works established.
1858Gas brought in from Falkirk.
1862Field to the south of Camelon acquired as a public park, but normally used as a bleachfield.
1869New school built and known as the Town Hall. Irving Memorial Hall built.
1873Camelon School Board set up and school built in Abercrombie Street the year after.
1875New pump.
1890County Council took over responsibility for lighting and water and earlier pumps/wells closed.
1895Dorrator suspension bridge (the swing bridge) built.
1900Camelon become part of Falkirk Burgh.
1901Carmuirs School.
1902Camelon Gymnasium opened.
1906Circular tramway opened.
1949First Mariner’s Day.
1962Crematorium opened.
1960sNorth side of the Main Street demolished.
1965Canal File Works closes.
1973Fire at Scottish Tar Distillery.
1990Sheriff Court opened
1993Rosebank Distillery mothballed by United Distillers.
1994Railway station reopens.
1999Wrangler clothing factory closed.
2021Rosebank Distillery due to re-open by Ian Macleod Distillers.

Places to See

Town Hall (right) formerly the school.

Union Inn & Canal Inn

St John’s Church

Irving Church

Camelon Cemetery (Roman hypocaust pillars – right)

Walk along the Forth & Clyde Canal or up the hill to the Union Canal.



Famous People

Nine out of 25 provosts of Falkirk have come from Camelon!

Robert Wilson – son of Thomas, holds a claim to have invented the ship’s propeller.

Thomas Wilson – built the first iron vessel in Scotland before moving to Tophill where he continued to innovate.

James Simpson – worked in Camelon as a doctor before becoming famous for promoting the use of chloroform.

John Logie Baird –Baird’s grandfather owned Sunnybrae farm from 1840 onwards.

Tommy Douglas – A bronze bust of Tommy Douglas was placed in the visitor centre at the Falkirk Wheel in 2016.  It was created by the artist Walter Awlson and cast at the Powderhall Foundry.  Tommy Douglas was born in Camelon and became the Premier of Saskatchewan in Canada from 1944 to 1961, introducing free medical care.

James Stark, surgeon, brother of Ralph Stark.  Born Camelon 1814, died 1883.  Invented some specialist surgical instruments


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G.B. Bailey, 2021