Before the late eighteenth century most of the land in the area around Falkirk consisted of unimproved pasture. To the east, in the area which became Laurieston, the ground was covered in whins and broom and there were only a handful of houses in the vicinity at the time of the 1745 Jacobite rebellion. These included a steading at Langton, one at Swinedyke, one at Woodend and a small hamlet at Mumrills. Langton was the main holding and the Lands of Langton extended from the Westquarter Burn in the south to just beyond Grahamsdyke in the north and from the Callendar Policy in the west to Mumrills in the east. The lands of Langton with the mill of that name appear in a charter of 1598. Although they lay within the lordship of the barony of Callendar they were, at that time, a subsidiary of the estate of West Kerse.
In the late 1740s William Maitland traversed the Antonine Wall in preparation for his account of it. To the east of Callendar Park he noted the “villages” of Swinedyke and Langton, but not Laurieston. On the other hand, General William Roy during his survey of c1755 observed that the Wall
“hath proceeded by the village now called New Merchiston, which appears to be the same place formerly named Langtown, where a fort existed on the wall in the time of Timothy Pont. This probably stood near the east end of the village” (i.e. at Mumrills).
Francis, 6th Lord Napier, purchased Westquarter in 1734 and changed its name to “Edinbelly,” the family’s country seat in the parish of Balfron. It is called Edinbelly on Roy’s Great Map. In 1740 Napier also bought Langton and set about developing the planned village on the king’s highway there which he called “New Merchiston” after another family home. He may have witnessed the success of the foundation of a new village on the highway a similar distance to the west of Falkirk at Camelon in the early 1740s. A sasine of 1751 granted by Francis Lord Napier to Alexander Mitchell, weaver, for land on the north side of the king’s highway which he already occupied shows that the process was already on the way by then (Falkirk Archives a1805.67). The traditional foundation date for New Merchiston is usually stated as 1756 and this may relate to the creation of the village square. It is clear that Roy’s maps were drawn up at the birth of the village and he shows that all of the early dwellings were on the north side of the main road from Falkirk to Linlithgow. Here the upcast mound of the Roman Wall was used as the bed for a new road, appropriately called Grahamsdyke Street (or North Back Raw), and it is highly probable that the stone base of the Wall was used as a quarry for some of the houses. The Roman frontier followed the ridge of the Gallow Hill which overlooked the Carse of Falkirk. All of the houses lay on the north side of the road with garden plots to the rear. At the same time the main road was realigned and widened as part of a turnpike to run on a straighter course to the south and houses were then constructed on its northern side. From these beginnings the settlement was laid out on a more regular grid pattern.
At its heart was a formal square, known simply as “The Square,” or officially as “Mary Square,” some 50m square. This was roughly surfaced with gravel from channel (i.e. gravel) pits to the south-west of the village and served as a market place. It was here that traders set up stalls on market days to sell food, produce and household goods. In July each year the “Laurieston Fair” was staged. To attract outsiders, it was held on the day following the Falkirk Summer Fair which was on the second Thursday of the month. Although an agricultural fair, entertainment included games of chance, sweet barrows, boxing booths, climbing a greasy pole, roundabouts, and races. The event was used as an excuse for drinking and partying.
The Square was also the scene of public gatherings. These might be rallies objecting to the demon drink, gala day processions, coronation celebrations, victory celebrations, bonfires, recruiting parties, cycling displays or political demonstrations.
The buildings around The Square were built in stages. The single storey buildings on the north were first; followed in 1760 by the substantial two-storey houses on the south-east side. The south side to the west of Boyd Street came next, but it was the 1880s before the west side, south of Mary Street, was completed. Throughout the village it was not long before the original feus, which were relatively large plots, were divided up or sub-feued. In 1763, for example, Thomas Russell, feuar in New Merchiston, sold to Alexander Bryce, weaver, also in New Merchiston :
“All and hail that part of my portion of ground being part of the Lands of Lantown lately feued by me from Lord Napier extending to five hundred and sixty square yeards and six foot of ground being twenty eight foot in front to the street at New Merchiston called Mary Street and extending from said street southward one hundred and seventy five foot, with the dwelling house lately built by me thereon fronting the said street bounded as follows, viz. by Mary Street on the north, by that part of my said portion of ground and house built thereon sold by me to James Lowdon weaver on the east, by the said Lord Napier’s land on the south, and by John Bachop’s house and land upon the west parts”
(Falkirk Archives a1806.917).
In 1750 Francis Lord Napier married Henrietta Maria Johnston, the daughter of George Johnston of Dublin, and they had the following children:
- George Napier (1751–1804).
- Hester Napier (d. 1819).
- James Napier (d. 1760), who died young.
- Capt. Patrick Napier (d. 1801) of the Royal Navy.
- Lt. James John Napier (d. 1776) killed aboard the frigate HMS Fox.
- Lt. Stewart Napier (d. 1778).
- Mary Napier (d. 1765).
The official names given to the new roads in New Merchiston are interesting. The main street or “Middle Raw” in the village became Mary Street and the road parallel to it on the south side was named James Street (South Back Raw). These are the names of two of Francis Napier’s children who died in 1765 and 1760 respectively and so they would have been very much in the thoughts of their father at the time that the streets were laid out. The north/south traverse road at the west end of the village was called George Street – George was the eldest son from Francis’ second marriage, having been born in 1751. The origin of the name of the main north/south road that ran into The Square is far less certain, it became Boyd Street. One possibility is that it was named after James Boyd who lived at Callendar House throughout the 1750s. He was the son of Anne Livingston of Callendar and William Boyd the Earl of Kilmarnock and was known as Lord Boyd until August 1758 when he succeeded his maternal great-aunt, Mary Hay, 14th Countess of Erroll, as the 15th Earl of Erroll, simultaneously changing his surname from Boyd to Hay (an early nickname for Mary Square was Hay Willie’s Square).
At its west end James Street met a pre-existing north/south road which was known as “The Houff” (Scots for meeting place) where there was a steep hill. Later on, it took on the name of the “Beggar’s Houff” because tramps slept in the empty houses there. The equivalent return road at the east end of James Street became known as “Cotton Wark Brae” after a cotton works there. This has now been shortened to Cotton Lane.
Cotton Lane is a reminder that weavers were amongst the first settlers and created the nucleus of the community. The small plots of land were feued to the workers, most of whom worked on their own premises. At the time weaving was a prosperous business and it is said that at one time Laurieston was a great hand-loom weaving centre with as many as 80 looms filling the air with the constant clicking noise from their machines. A large trade was also done in the manufacture of handkerchiefs – a process called tambouring, in which lace or silk was embroidered by the women of the household. In the autumn some of the weavers would take a break from the loom and join the drovers to take cattle from the Falkirk Trysts into England and earn an additional income. Prominent Laurieston weavers in the early nineteenth century were Archibald Ure, John Speedie, John Bishop, William Taylor and Sandie Bryce (Falkirk Herald 16 August 1902, 7). The weavers were generally well learned and conscientious, and took an active role in village politics, forming committees of feuars when necessary.
Opposite to Cotton Lane, on the north side of Mary Street, was the property of the Society of Gardeners of Falkirk. The society had been instituted in 1725 and received much encouragement from Lord Napier, who built the Gardeners’ Hall at the east end of the village and then sold it to the society, together with a large garden adjoining. The hall was used as a meeting place and public house, the grounds as a market garden.
One of the privileges given to the feuars was the use of a dipping well located up some steps on the south side of Mary Street at the west end of the village. A feu contract by Francis Lord Napier in favour of Alexander Cowie, brewer, at New Merchiston, of a piece of ground lying to the north of Mary Street, dated 7 August 1768, contained the clause:
“Providing also 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 same words appear in the 1751 sasine. This spring produced good quality water and a reservoir was constructed to capture it. Stoups or buckets were required to transport it to the houses. It had become known as “Tommy Mill’s Well” from the fact that a frail old man named Tommy Mill used to sit at the well and sell the water to thirsty people as they passed. In the hot summers of the stage coach days, with what he got from people in this way and with what was thrown to him from the stage coaches, he made a fair sum for an old man.
A second well occurred at The Square and a pump drew the water up. Both wells were looked after by a Well Committee made up from the feuars. The publicans found that the water from Tommy Mill’s Well mixed well with whisky. Laurieston also had breweries and James Nicol, brewer in New Merchiston, is mentioned as early as 1765 (Reid notes). It was quite a common thing for people to brew their own ale, and to use it instead of milk at a time when milk was scarce. Robert Cowie, William Black and Robert Easton were well-known brewers of ale in Laurieston (Robertson’s Reminiscences). Two brothers named Stark even established a whisky distillery in Laurieston beside the Gallow Syke. Their business grew so rapidly that they found there was not sufficient water to make the quantity of whisky which they were required to turn out and so they removed to Camelon and set up the Rosebank Distillery. A tannery is also mentioned at Laurieston which must have taken much water.
Another privilege probably given to the feuars was the right to graze animals on the commonry to the south known as The Knowe. They were allowed the use of building stone from Langton Quarry as long as they worked it in a regular way as directed by Napier’s agents and paid any damages done to the tenant’s grass adjoining the quarry.
The huge increase in trade in the mid eighteenth century led to a boom in the construction industry and a demand for nails. The establishment of the Carron Iron Company in 1759 meant that bar iron was available locally and in 1761 that Company brought John Raybould and six other men from England (probably from Stourbridge) to teach local men how to make nails. They were given free houses in New Merchiston (Watters 2000). They constructed small workshops to the rear of the houses which contained a forge and anvil where they manufactured hand-made nails. The nails were then hawked as far as Bathgate. As a group they were not as well educated as the weavers and had a reputation for their poor behaviour. They often claimed to have a spark in their throats as a result of the work at the forge and drank alcohol to quench it! Young girls in the village were warned not to marry a nailer. Indeed, Raybould did not set a good example. He was executed in 1768 for forging Thistle banknotes.
The third largest group in the village were agricultural workers. These were mostly labourers who worked on the local farms which were witnessing vast changes and increases in productivity as a result of the agricultural improvements of the time. There was also a handful of colliers working at the pit to the north-east of the village. This had been worked for some time:
“There is a Going COAL to be let in tack for one or more Years, as can be agreed upon at Langtoun, 5 miles west from Linlithgow, and one Mile East from Falkirk, about a Mile from Water Carriage. Enquire at Mr. William Henderson Merchant in Falkirk, or at any of Lord Napier’s Servants at Langtoun or Edinbellie.”(Caledonian Mercury 11 November 1740).
The houses varied hugely in size. From the beginning those on the main road were expected to be larger, as the 1751 sasine makes clear
“Alexander Mitchell obliges him and his foresaids that whatever houses he or they shall have occasion to build upon the fore-street or fronting to the highway above mentd, that they shall build the same two storrie high at least.”
Beyond the high street most were single storey stone buildings forming rows with pantile or thatched roofs. In most cases these consisted of two rooms – a but and a ben. In many of the houses one of these rooms would have housed the loom.
The floors were of stone or mine-dust. The front doors opened straight onto the pavement and the windows had external wooden shutters. To the rear they had long back gardens where they grew vegetables and kept hens and pigs. Here too would have been found the washing houses and the dung heaps.
In 1802 Alexander Campbell published “A Journey from Edinburgh, through parts of North Britain.” Speaking of Laurieston, he says:
“It is pleasantly situated on a rising ground. An air of comfort and cleanliness is everywhere apparent about it; which adds greatly to the pleasures felt in observing the habitations of those ‘who toil in the lower employments of life,’ happy and contented in their station, regardless of aught but how to gain sufficient to supply their immediate wants; for concerning much more they seldom seem solicitous.”(Love 1908).
It was by way of being a garden city.
Francis Napier sold his interests in Langton in 1762 to the feudal superior, Sir Laurence Dundas of Kerse, and the crown charter dates to 15 March 1763. Laurence Dundas subsequently changed the name of New Merchiston to “Laurieston.” He continued the feuing process to expand the village.
Some of the early businesses had already grown and began to change hands:
“That there is to be SET or SOLD upon Friday 31st day of July 1772, by way of public roup, in the town of Laurieston, alias Merchiston,
THE WHOLE of that BREWERY possessed by Alexander French, to be rouped in his house on said day, viz. A Brew-house, Store-house, Malt-barn, Steep, Kiln, and Malt loft; a good pump-well, that serves both brewery and cistern, with convenient spouts to either, and a small garden belonging to the same, with a good dwelling-house with two good rooms and kitchen; also a barn for threshing of victual, and granary and lofts, all under one roof, with three or four acres of land, to be set along with the brewery, and a number of other houses and gardens besides to be set or sold said day, all belonging to Robert Arthur, feuar in Laurieston… the brewery is free of all thirlages.”(Caledonian Mercury 27 July 1772, 3).
The Falkirk Gardener’s Society was an elite one and once a year the members attended a meal at the hall in Laurieston. The hall was licensed and was let to a tenant. It was used as a social centre where dancing was held on Hansel Monday. Even the Rev Dr Wilson, the parish minister of Falkirk, called there when he went to Laurieston to catechise his hearers who provided him with biscuits and cheese from the menu. In 1830 the tenant of the Gardener’s Society garden placed twelve seats in an old gean tree there from which seven counties could be seen. The property was substantial, as can be seen from the following advertisement:
“LICENSED HOUSE, LARGE GARDEN, SMALL HOUSES, & c., TO LET. To be Let for Nineteen Years, or such other period as may be agreed on, THE Whole PROPERTY in the VILLAGE of LAURIESTON, belonging to the “FALKIRK GARDENERS’ SOCIETY,” and consisting of –
- A licensed two-storey house, with stables, and other offices attached.
- A garden extending to 2 Scots Acres or thereby.
- Several small houses, which may be sub-let.
The House is situated about a mile from the Town of Falkirk, on the public road to Edinburgh, and is in every way well suited, in connection with the garden, to do a large trade.
The Garden, which is attached to the House, extends, as above stated, to 2 Scots Acres or thereby. Is well stocked with fruit trees, gooseberry and current bushes, & c & c and is well adapted for the production of strawberries and other fruits, which may be readily disposed of.
The present tenant – who is removing to his own property – has occupied these premises on a nineteen years’ lease, which expires at the term of Martinmas next.
Further information will be given, and all particulars will be learned, on application to David Draper, Falkirk, Deacon of the Society, by whom sealed offers will be received up till the 1st September next…”(Falkirk Herald 21 July 1859).
The Society helped the community in many ways, including setting up the Laurieston Band in the late eighteenth century, providing the instruments. For two centuries the band was present at all the major events in the village and successfully competed with other bands in the area. Latterly it became a brass band.
The broad toll road which bisected the village from west to east was a dominant feature. It was a busy thoroughfare used alike by the coaches of the Royal Mail and those carrying passengers over long distances, as well as by the carts of the carriers and farmers. It was continually improved to ease the contours and the valley of the Gallow Syke was traversed by a tall causeway. A toll bar and house were placed at the top of the western bank of the valley just to the west of where the Skew Bridge is now and this slope became known as the “Toll Brae.” This location, however, gave the users of the road the opportunity to evade payment of tolls and this had to be stopped:
“Falkirk 10th September 1798 The Right Honble Lord Fincastle in the Chair at a Meeting of the Turnpike Trustees of Stirlingshire Many complaints having been made by the former and present Barkeeper at Gallowsyke, of evasions of the Toll duties, by Travellers, with horses and Carriages going by Mr Forbes’s gates and Park, and shunning the Bar, while they neither Stopt, not had any business at Callendar house, And several Trustees conceiving that these Evasions and this loss to the funds, might be prevented, by moving the Bar a little to the eastward of Callendar East Gate, The meeting appoint this subject to be taken into consideration at the next meeting, and to be notified accordingly; – and in the meantime direct and authorise the Barkeeper at Gallowsyke, to demand and levy a Toll from Travellers passing thro’ said Park
(not having business at Callendar house), and if requisite, to prosecute all evaders, for the penalties of the Statute, Requesting the aid of Mr Forbes in the business. To whom appoint a copy of this minute to be sent by the Clerk Tho Wingate Clerk”(Forbes Papers 639/23).
Each year the tolls were let out to the highest bidder and for almost twenty years thereafter the Gallowsyke Toll was taken by James Mitchell. However, in 1828 the financial viability of the road changed. At Whitsunday the Abbotshaugh Distillery gave up business and soon afterwards the heavy coach betwixt Edinburgh and Glasgow which had been running for a number of years also stopped. That July John Wilson opened up a coal work at Bantaskine and all of the former traffic in coal to Falkirk from the east dried up (Falkirk Archives a717.08). Drovers too had to pay for every score of cattle or sheep that passed that way and there were often queues as the beasts waited. Some drovers gave local children a penny to shoo the sheep quickly through the Toll gate so that the old lady who was the toll keeper in the 1850s would lose her count.
The importance of the road attracted the attention of the Excise Board and by the 1820s two officers were stationed at Laurieston. In March 1823 they seized a horse and cart with 14 ankers of illicit whisky, containing about 130 gallons. It was supposed to be from Breadalbane, and intended for Edinburgh (Scotsman 26 March 1823, 7). Whisky was made secretly in the general area and the officers duly hunted out the hidden stills. One still was in a rented house at the Houff and when the owner found out the tenancy was terminated, but the authorities were not informed. The Falkirk Almanac of 1836 shows that the Excise was still in the village at that time. There was also a heavy duty on salt and so naturally it was smuggled. Several hawkers of salt lived in Laurieston and because they travelled far and wide to sell the material they were known as cadgers. They obtained their salt from Bo’ness, sometimes without it appearing in the books! In a superstitious age some of the smugglers dressed up as ghosts to deter people going about at night and discovering their illegal business.
Laurieston was considered to be an accessible and central location for the members of the Linlithgow and Stirlingshire Hunt. The Hunt had been established in 1800 with Colonel Murray of Polmaise as one of the early masters of the pack. In 1816 Sir Thomas Livingston of Westquarter was a committee member and it was probably then that he built the kennels on his land to the south of the main road, east of Laurieston, and leased them to the Hunt. The complex became quite a well-known landmark for the next century and a half. In 1857 when the lease was advertised it consisted of three dog kennels, stabling for horses, loose boxes, dwelling houses and other accommodation. It was taken up by Thomas Rintoul, who had been the huntsman, for breaking horses and putting them into condition. He also sold hunting horses from there. The Linlithgow and Stirlingshire Hunt renewed its lease in 1866 and resumed hunting from there. However, shortly thereafter the complex was converted into Braehead Cottages.
The importance of Laurieston on the communications network was also demonstrated in May 1828 when the last public execution took place in Falkirk. Expecting trouble, the Sheriff Depute of the county went to Falkirk and swore in about 200 of the principal inhabitants as special constables. Not trusting wholly to this, a squadron of dragoons was sent from Edinburgh and took up their station at Laurieston. They were not needed. Until the First World War it was common to see cavalry regiments passing through Laurieston to and from their new postings. In 1842 Queen Victoria was greeted on her way to Edinburgh by enthusiastic supporters at the Square. One disadvantage of its position was that strangers carried diseases into the village. Typhus fever raged in Laurieston, Polmont, and Grahamston, in 1831.
The village had grown rapidly is size. In 1797 the population had reached 858, outstripping Camelon with 568 (OSA). By 1831 the population was 1,306, but there was still no baker or butcher in the village. Bread and meat were brought in and sold from stalls on market days. More land was feued on the south side of the main road at the east end of the village in the 1830s. Here four good quality detached “cottages” were built – Ard Zetland, Zetland, and Pilton Cottages. These were occupied by the likes of Thomas Gaff, a vintner in Falkirk, Macdonald, the contractor for the construction of the Midland Junction Railway, Thomas Rintoul, huntsman and horse breaker, and Smith, a solicitor.
A school had been established at the north-west corner of The Square from an early date and in 1813 it was noted that
“Lord Dundas of Aske gives a dwelling-house and school-room here, for the encouragement of a school-master; but no salary is annexed.”
Over the following decades this changed and in 1841 the Earl of Zetland contributed £5 5s per annum to the salary. For the common branches of education the fees were from 2s 6d to 4s per quarter; for the higher branches, such as geography, navigation, and surveying, and mensuration, the fees were 7s 6d and 10s 6d per quarter (Topographical Dictionary). By 1858 the average number of scholars was 110, about half of whom were females. The schoolhouse was one storey high, slated and in good repair (OSNB). Mr Hardie was the schoolmaster in the 1840s and used to get his schoolboys to go to the “Icehouse Well” to bring cans of soft water for his laundry. There was also a private school with a tile floor in Grahamsdyke Street taught by William Bryce. When Dr Belfrage, minister of the Falkirk Erskine Church, came to Laurieston twice a year to visit Bryce, who was one of his hearers, the scholars got a holiday. On Hansel Monday the pupils here subscribed and gave their schoolmaster a present of money, and on New Year’s Day he gave them a small treat.
About 1830 David Allan, a thatcher, and Duncan McMartin, a mason, began Sabbath Schools in Laurieston. McMartin was from Falkirk and used a house at The Toll; Allan’s school was conducted in a house in Easton’s Land (Falkirk Herald 27 December 1902, 6). Later on a Miss Young taught the Scriptures on Sundays and on week days taught a day school at her own expense. Her school was held below her own house in Laurieston. Her father was John Young, mason, Laurieston.
Religion dominated lives in the late eighteenth and mid nineteenth centuries. The Laurieston people were traditional and fiercely independent and despised the use of musical instruments at church. In the 1770s open air meetings were held by the Reformed Presbyterian Church on The Knowe and this may account for the name of Houff Brae. This hill extended into the corner of Callendar Park where it was known as “Congregation Hall.” People travelled for miles to attend and included folk from seven different parishes. In 1784 Laurieston was chosen as the site for a new church building and in 1788 John Reid was ordained as its first minister. The church was built in James Street in 1789 (the dated keystone is in Falkirk Museum) but Communion was still held on the Knowe in August each year. The church was strict and was known as the Cameronian or Macmillanite Church. As it was the only one in the area Mr Jarvie of Castlecary would walk barefoot to attend, carrying his boots which he put on before entering. On his death he left £200 for a manse to be built at the Knowe in the 1820s. The Rev John Reid occupied a house at the north-east corner of The Square and died in December 1820, never having seen the new manse. He had been passing some carts laden with hay at the Boat-house Bridge, near Linlithgow, when he was forced from his horse and a wheel of one of the carts passed over his head. He died shortly afterwards and was buried at the family farm at Bonnyhill near Bonnybridge.
Most of the weavers in Laurieston were Radicals and supported political reform. They used to nail horseshoes to the doors of their workshops in the belief that their looms would never want work. But it was a delusion. In the 1830s machinery put an end to hand-loom weaving. Some of the weavers became masons, colliers, joiners, or moulders. The number of workers in the building trade proliferated – masons, plasterers, contractors and joiners. Men from Laurieston were responsible for the construction of many public works in the Falkirk district including shops and bridges. John and James Bryce of Laurieston built the first Grangemouth Dock. Further afield, Walker had the contract for rebuilding London Bridge in the 1830s and employed many of the Laurieston masons on it.
One of the builders, James Hardie, mason, built the Callendar Toll. He did all the mason work for Forbes of Callendar and built a number of his farmsteadings. Perhaps his best known work was the mausoleum of 1818 in Callendar Park which made his fortune. He also erected an unusual house for himself on the west side of Boyd Street just south of the James Street junction. The “cottage” had a barn, byre, milk-house and garden. What made it unusual was its mode of construction. Hardie seems to have disliked wood, perhaps because it was a fire risk. He therefore dispensed with wooden floors and ceilings by constructing stone vaults. The stone slabs on the roof were supported by stone columns placed on these vaults – as can be seen in the photograph showing its demolition in the 1950s.
It was known locally as the “Stane Hoose” and decades after Hardie’s death much conjecture took place concerning its design. Speculation led to the belief that it may have been built to house French prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars – but few guessed that it was merely the product of an eccentric Lauriestonian.
Tam Bain was a Laurieston joiner who had a good deal of household property in Laurieston and Falkirk. He became a building contractor and got into loggerheads with the Laurieston feuars by trying to erect an external stair on the Square for a house that he was building in the south-west corner there. They held that this was an encroachment on public ground and stopped him. Tam Bain was very annoyed and so he got fellow Lauriestonian, John Morrison, a stone mason, to make him a figure of himself which he erected on the chimney as a sign of his resistance. Over subsequent decades stories grew up of how Tam’s wife would not let him smoke and he had the chimneyhead erected so that whenever the fire was lighted it smoked – alas that was not the case.
Andrew Sorely was a mason to trade residing at Laurieston Toll. He was a prominent member of the Laurieston Band and was known as the Laurieston poet – his best poems being about the Langton Linn and the Westquarter Glen.
Laurieston even had a village drummer and crier. In the 1830s this was John Aitken. Watches and clocks being not so common then, he went through the village at five o’clock every morning, beating his drum, to waken people, and in the winter evenings he paraded the streets in a similar way to warn people that it was time to go to bed. When it was too wet to go out with the drum he blew a bugle. If he had a public intimation to make, his charge was 4d to villagers, and 6d to strangers. For his labour morning and evening, he went from door to door every year, and took up a subscription, which amounted to £7 or £8, and which was considered a substantial supplement to his earnings as a weaver. Other villager criers over the years were Archibald Ewing, George Brown, William Clawson, and the last was Samuel Kidd.
John Grossart was the bellman and scavenger of Laurieston in the early nineteenth century. He rang the bell at the church and also looked after the minister’s books. His duty as scavenger was to clean the streets of horse manure, which was sold to local farms. He also emptied the cess pits. There were no fire brigades in those days, and whenever there was a fire the villagers all helped to carry water stoups to extinguish it. There were no policemen in the village either. Instead, six local batonmen were sworn in and did the duties of the police. These included Alexander Walker, Robert Leishman, Thomas Boag, and James Buchanan. In the 1830s, Musselburgh was said to be fearfully infected with cholera and the batonmen exercised the greatest vigilance in turning beggars and packmen out of the village, the former being given a 2d loaf each, as people felt that beggars had a claim upon their assistance. The batonmen of Laurieston on another occasion sought to distinguish themselves by capturing a famous set of thieves, known as ‘Peerie’s gang,’ who were reported to have set out from Edinburgh on their way west, and would likely pass through Laurieston. Many a weary hour did the six amateur policemen spend in waiting for the thieves who never arrived.
The feuars of Laurieston were thirled to Langton Mill and the following clause appeared in their sasines:
“carrying their hail corns that shall happen to grow yearly upon the foresaid portions of land disponed to the said Lord Napier’s miln of Landtoun to be grinded thereat and to pay Multure and Knaveship therefore conform to use and wont.”
Around 1810 Mr Harley, who had the tack of Langton Mill, had a big stock of meal which he would not sell to the Lauriestonians in the hope that the price would rise. The Laurieston folks were furious and David Buchanan went to the mill with a band of young lads and lasses to demand that Harley put it on the market. Harley was terrified and fled to Sir Thomas Livingstone at Westquarter and told him that there was a riot and that the mob was going to burn down his mill. Sir Thomas immediately called out the six batonmen of Laurieston and they took David Buchanan prisoner. This only made the people of Laurieston angrier and Sir Thomas was surrounded by a crowd and was hit on the head by one of the women. David Buchanan was released and Sir Thomas and the batonmen retreated to Falkirk to call out the Yeomanry to quell the Laurieston riot. When they arrived they were pelted with old boots and all sorts of missiles. The next step was to call out the Sheriff to read the Riot Act in the village. This having been done, the village soon assumed its normal appearance, and the affair, together with the part Sir Thomas took in it, became for long a standing joke. As James Robertson put it:
“There was no riot in the village at all. There was certainly some uproar, but the whole thing originated with this money-grabbing miller, and a number of Laurieston youths, who wanted him to sell his meal at a cheaper price”(Falkirk Herald 29 Nov 1902, 7).
Amongst the earliest sporting clubs in the village was the Laurieston Curling Club, officially named Zetland Curling Club. This was instituted in 1839 and was admitted to membership in the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in 1841. In those days the harsh winters lasted longer and ideal conditions for playing were more frequent than now. An artificial curling pond was constructed at the bottom of the Icehouse Brae.
A good deal of money was expended on road improvements by the Stirlingshire Turnpike Road Trust, but when the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway opened in 1842 it drew the bulk of the through-traffic from the road. From then until the abolition of the tolls in 1880, there was little traffic on the turnpike road and it was allowed to deteriorate. On the removal of the toll gates the traffic returned and as a result almost the whole length of it from Laurieston to Linlithgow Bridge broke up and it had to be bottomed throughout. Fortunately, an ample supply of stones which had accumulated on the road sides from years of field clearance was available for this purpose (Ballantine 1998).
The public road between the Kennels in the east and the Toll Brae in the west was also the venue for horse racing. When these big race meetings were held thousands of people were attracted to the village. A man named Joe of the Jaw, Slamannan, and another named Dick, of Maddiston, were prominent horse runners. The stakes seldom exceeded £6 or £7, but the working folks delighted in the excitement and it is said that many were in the habit of associating the event with a day’s debauch! To such an extent was liquor consumed that the more respectable members of the community began to see that the Laurieston races were being run for the benefit of the publicans. Latterly a woman of strong temperance views, named Mrs Calley, applied to the authorities to have them stopped, because of their Bacchanalian character, and the Sheriff said that if an accident happened the publicans would be responsible. Through the exertions of the Rev. Hugh Young, the races were stopped around 1850. For doing so he made himself very unpopular amongst a certain class.
Strangely enough it had been the church that had been partly responsible for another day of debauching! The Grossart Fair was used to stage days of preachings under the auspices of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. The name came from the fact that it was held when gooseberries were in season – groset being Scots for gooseberry (there were also Groset-Fairs in Kilmarnock and Doune). A tent was erected at the Knowe, and well-known clergymen came from Dundee, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. While the preachings were being held they were attended by thousands of people, many of whom came to benefit from the remarks of the ministers, while a large number of others came for a dram. The publicans had a number of tents pitched at the Knowe and from these spirits of all kinds were dispensed. Ultimately the preachings too had to be stopped because they had become very unruly through the excessive quantity of liquor consumed.
“Old Hansel Monday” was another great day in Laurieston at the beginning of the nineteenth century, with dancing at the Gardeners’ Hall and raffling and drinking participated in. Hansel Monday was the first Monday of the New Year (though many places in Scotland refused to adjust the calendar by eleven days in the early eighteenth century) and traditionally gifts were exchanged – the forerunner of Christmas. Some of the activities were pretty harmless – such as a shooting competition on the east side of the Kennels. There was another competition called “Striking the pin.” A pin, two feet high, was placed in the ground, and those who struck the pin twice blindfolded out of a certain number of tries got the prize, which generally consisted of a bag of potatoes, or such like. Other activities were less endearing. These included cock fighting, dog fighting, and badger fighting, which attracted large audiences. Like Grossart’s Fair and the horse races, Hansel Monday too fell into abeyance. Hogmanay night was and remains the occasion of an all-night carousal.
Robert Easton, the son of the miller at Langton served on a Carron Company ship which was seized by a privateer and he spent seven years in a French prison. When he settled back in Laurieston he became a publican. Other Laurieston early nineteenth century publicans were George Ritchie, William Black and Andrew Duncan. The latter kept the Gardeners’ Hall which was licensed. There were also two licensed grocers – Alex Walker and William Taylor. It is not surprising therefore that the ardent church-going portion of the village supported a thriving Band of Hope.
There was still a handful of weavers in Laurieston into the early 1850s. The last of the weavers was James Taylor who carried on with his hand loom in a single storey cottage in Mary Street just to the west of the Square. It was then that mechanisation also began to impact upon the nailers and within a couple of decades that trade too was more or less over. After that only specialist nails were made by hand. Once again, the people had to adapt to the situation and shoe and boot making came to the fore.
The Stirlingshire Midland Railway was constructed in 1848 and created a physical barrier between Laurieston and Falkirk. Hard blue till was taken out of a cutting to the east of Callendar Park and transported on temporary rails to create a large embankment across Callendar Road. The Falkirk Herald reporter was greatly impressed by the scale of the work:
“The contractor has had no less than four miles of temporary rails laid, and the number of wagons tipped is not less than five to six hundred daily, – a number unprecedented, we believe, in the annals of railway works. The bridge across the turnpike road at Laurieston is all but completed, the centering having been last week removed. The appearance which this bridge presents is very striking, the skew being so great that the two abutments stand clear of each other by about eighteen inches. This, it is believed, is the greatest degree to which the principle of the skew arch has been carried in Scotland. The mason work is of the best description, and the whole has been executed in an unusually short space of time. From the manner in which Mr McDonald is carrying forward the works, there is no doubt but that he will complete them within the contract time.”(Falkirk Herald 12 October 1848).
By the mid century bakers began to appear along with tailors and other service industries. One little-appreciated industry in Laurieston was the manufacture of matches at the Beggars’ Houff by Edward Jack. He went through the country selling half-penny bunches of these brimstone matches and his residence became known as “Brimstone Row.” He was quite enterprising and when he successfully applied for a job in Edinburgh he used his experience with the match stalks to describe himself as a timber merchant. Other unusual jobs included a horse-breaker, a bird-stuffer and a herring hawker. It was probably the herring barrels of the latter which were used as improvised gasometers when some villagers decided to make gas for themselves! With the growth of Grangemouth Docks and the local coal pits there was a large influx of Irish workers and part of South back Row became known as the Irish Back Row.
Over the years the number of shops increased and branches of shops based in Falkirk appeared. 1871 saw the formation of the Laurieston Co-operative Society which set up business in a single end dwelling house at 189 Mary Street, fourth house westward from Cotton Lane, on the south side of the street. The membership at the start was 30. Operations were carried on there for about four years, when the need for more room saw a move to 11 Boyd Street; all of the staff being women and girls assisted by the committee. Still larger premises were needed and around 1890 a site in Mary Square, which the Co-op still occupies, was acquired and a bakehouse was immediately added to the rear so that it could make its own bread. The front buildings were rebuilt in 1897. Over the years it fought off attempts to merge it with the Grangemouth Co-op and the Redding Co-op, but eventually it formed part of the Falkirk and District Co-op.
In 1863 the church on the corner of James Street and George Street was rebuilt on the same site to a larger design by the architect Binnie of Glasgow. Unusually, the contractors also came from Glasgow. The congregation lost some of its uniqueness when, in 1876, it united with other churches to become the Laurieston Free Church and later still the West Church.
The Laurieston or Zetland School taught by William Geddes was examined by a Committee of Presbytery in 1859 and the scholars’ knowledge of writing, arithmetic and geography was tested. Of the 121 pupils on the roll, 88 were present. Despite the apparent success, an inspection by the newly formed Falkirk Parish School Board in 1873 showed that the school building was in a poor condition and only capable of accommodating 56 children, whereas the census showed a requirement to provide for 200. Inevitably it was decided to close the school once a new one had been built on a site to the south of the village belonging to a Mr Walker. Plans were drawn up by the Falkirk architect, McFadzen, and the new building opened on 7 February 1876 with Mr Davidson as headmaster. At first the old Zetland School tried to continue, but within a couple of years it was forced to close and William Geddes became a postman and the parochial board officer. His son was the first policeman in the village. The old school building was then used as a village hall, known as the Zetland Hall, and as the place where feu duties were collected.
|DATE STARTED||HEADMASTER||NO. OF SCHOLARS|
|7 February 1876||Mr D Davidson||102|
|25 October 1878||David McRorie||265|
|25 October 1887||Charles Johnstone||271|
|15 May 1894||John Smith||423|
|12 August 1902||James Mather||514|
|3 March 1930||L A B Rae||518|
|30 June 1935||Ireland||492|
|11 January 1937||James Hogg||462|
As the population increased the school had to be constantly expanded. In 1889 two classrooms by Deas Page, architect, were added increasing the accommodation to 380 pupils. Another extension was opened in 1893. Even this was not enough to keep pace and in 1902 an additional school block to the east, designed by A & W Black of Falkirk, was completed for the infants. It added five further class-rooms capable of accommodating 350 children as well as a cookery room.
The school added significantly to the facilities available to the population – though it was only with the last addition that it had running water. Prior to that rainwater for washing was collected in barrels from the roof and the cleaner carried drinking water from the public well! In 1895 the Laurieston Brass Band rented a school room for band practice.
Just before that, in 1892, the established church got the use of a room as a mission. The mission station of Falkirk Parish Church had been set up three years earlier in an old bake-house at the corner of George Street, Laurieston. Work began on a new church building on land feued from Mr Rankine of Pilton Cottage at the east end of the village and was completed in 1896 to the designs of A & W Black. It was designated as a chapel of ease. The design is Gothic and the construction was so arranged that, although complete in itself, the south gable could easily be removed and transepts and a choir added to give a cruciform plan and a larger church. A slightly different extension was indeed added in 1905 to plans by Messrs Hamilton, architects, with Ramsay Brothers of Laurieston as masons. It was promoted to a Quoad Sacra parish on 10 July 1914.
New industries were created in and around Laurieston by local men. In the 1860s William Dempster, wire weaver, started to make wire equipment such as riddles and as his business expanded it employed more and more people. It was eventually taken over by James Murphy Ltd. George McRoberts of Laurieston established a chemical works beside the Union Canal at Westquarter in 1870. He went on to become the first manager of Nobel’s Ardeer Works and in 1876 Nobel’s Explosives’ Company (Limited) took over the Westquarter Works and began to make detonators there. All of the time that McRoberts was in Ardeer he sent a Christmas gift of coal to the poor of Laurieston.
The Falkirk district is best known for its ironfounding heritage and inevitably this touched Laurieston. In 1899 James McKillop MP established the Laurieston Foundry at Thornbridge on the south side of the NBR railway line to Grangemouth and that company built a passenger platform adjacent to the foundry to accommodate the workforce. It initially used coal from the Laurieston Pit which was re-opened for this purpose in 1900. Two rows of 2-storey buildings were built at Thornbridge to house part of the workforce and were known as “McKillop’s Buildings”. Although strictly speaking these were in Grangemouth they were cut off from it by the railway and the nearest community was Laurieston. The Company produced coal-burning stoves, fireplaces and ranges. In 1904 the works were sold to J McDowell and A W Steven, a Glasgow foundry firm and over the following year they transferred all their production to the Laurieston site. It employed up to 600 people at the Laurieston site.
The coal pit off Icehouse Brae did not work for long, but it was started up again in 1912 by Robert Sneddon who sold out to the Laurieston Coal Company and was worked until 1923. In the year before its final closure it had an output of 11,373 tons.
In 1909 a new bootmaking factory was erected at the east end of Grahamsdyke Lane by Young Brothers to increase the mechanisation in that trade. William Young had been born in Laurieston in 1832, the son of William Young, weaver there. He apprenticed as a shoemaker to Thomas Carlow in the village before joining the army and serving in Gibraltar.
Upon leaving the army he began business for himself as a shoemaker using his father’s house as a workshop and the business developed. The factory was later used as a book bindery by Dunn and Wilson.
Football was all the rage in the 1880s and the Laurieston Football Club was formed. It came to an arrangement with the Earl of Zetland that it could use the grass park at the foot of the brae north of the village, except for the four summer months when the grass was cropped by a farmer tenant. This was one of the first public parks in the Falkirk district and until around 1900 was known as “Zetland Park.”
For years Laurieston had been poorly represented on the Stirlingshire County Council which supposedly provided for the cleaning of the streets and provision of drainage and sanitation. In 1900 the Laurieston Village Association was formed – ostensibly as a debating forum, but before long it championed street lighting, a railway station and road improvements. Paraffin lamps were installed on the back rows by private individuals and the Laurieston Band sponsored one at the top of the steps to the well. In 1901 the Village Association paid for a lamplighter. The headmaster of the school (John Smith), the local MP (James McKillop) and the road surveyor (William Ballantine) all contributed to debates. Controversy came in 1906 when the Redding Gas Light Company installed thirty gas lights to replace the paraffin ones and the County Council added the cost to the rates. This resulted in an application for Laurieston to be incorporated into the Burgh of Falkirk.
The relief of Kimberley and Mafeking in 1900 were celebrated enthusiastically in Laurieston. This suggested to some residents that an annual celebration of some kind, which would serve to bring the inhabitants together in a bright, happy gathering, should be staged. A May Day Festival was ultimately decided upon and arranged to take place on Victoria Day. It was decided to give the children a prominent part – and thus was born the Laurieston Gala Day. It was such a success that it was repeated for many decades, with gaps caused by the two world wars. The procession started at the School and proceeded to the Toll, where it turned back on itself and traversing Main Street turned down the Sandy Loan to return along Icehouse Brae to enter Public Park from east.
The size of the village had not changed much for half a century. Dilapidated properties were replaced from time to time, resulting in buildings of varying heights and quality occurring next door to each other. In 1901 double cottages were built on the north side of the main road to the east of the village, soon followed by villas. This marked the beginning of ribbon development which by 1926 had reached Sandy Loan. Here they prompted archaeological investigations on the site of Mumrills Roman fort.
James Robertson had witnessed many changes to the village. He was a native of Laurieston and for fifty years looked after Tommy Mill’s Well. Analysis of the water at the well showed that it was contaminated by sewage and that it was responsible for an outbreak of enteric fever. Piped water was gradually introduced from Falkirk from 1895 onwards and in 1908 the well was officially closed. Robertson had started work as a nailer in his uncle’s business and saw that trade come to an end. The last working nailmaker in Laurieston, John Prattis, died in February 1902 and had been working almost to the end. In that year Robertson provided the Falkirk Herald with a series of reminiscences which made him a celebrity. He was already well known for his cycling and in 1890 covered over 3,000 miles on his boneshaker bicycle which he kept in repair using the old nailer’s forge in his back garden.
He saw for himself the huge increase in road traffic. When he had been a young boy walking was the rule – to school, church, and market.
John and Peter McMartin contributed to the traffic by making and renting horse-drawn carriages of all sorts, including waggonettes. Some of these they used to offer holiday trips to Blackness, or to the Linlithgow Marches. Horse-owners in the village had often been urged to start a bus service of some kind between the village and Falkirk, but the invariable reply was that it would never pay. Eventually, around 1895, David Shields, who had a dairy in Laurieston, was bold enough to make a start with a waggonette drawn by a white horse. He was successful and before long other competitors arose.
Foremost amongst these was the tramcar. Although the Bill for the construction of the tramway to Laurieston was passed in 1906, it was not until June 1909 that construction began and it opened on 3 September for the Falkirk & District Tramways Company. There were tramcars every twelve minutes from the Square to Falkirk Steeple with the last one leaving at 11.12pm each night. A parcel service was begun using the trams, meaning that purchases from the Falkirk shops could be collected from an office in the Square. The value of houses in the village increased.
The demise of the fairs and markets in the Square meant that its visual appearance could be improved and in 1910 the Village Association oversaw the installation of garden squares and a stepped concrete plinth for a bandstand. Costs were kept within manageable limits by villagers donating their labour to dig over the soil. John Maxwell of Laurieston superintended and gave the imported soil, carting, and turf as a gift. Others donated trees and shrubs.
The trams were well liked by the local people and well used. However, by the early 1920s they faced stiff competition from motor buses which were more flexible and the trams became unprofitable. The line was consequently abandoned in August 1924 and the rails were uplifted, and the road restored. David Shields was one of those running the motorised vehicles and he continued until 1930 when, upon his death, his son sold out to Alexander’s.
Polmont Gas Company presented a handsome lamp stand for the centre of the bandstand. Laurieston Band frequently performed here. The setting was also improved that year when Alexander Wardrope demolished the ruinous old public house near the north-east corner and erected a splendid public house called the Royal Bar with an ogee-domed corner octagonal turret. The upper room was let to John Simpson as a billiard hall. Part of the rebuild included a Masonic Hall. Opposite the Royal Bar, on the south side of the road, the Marquis of Zetland donated a cast iron drinking trough. The transformation was remarkable and the source of much pride.
The late 1890s had seen the opening of a penny saving bank in Laurieston, but by 1900 it had largely fallen into abeyance. It was revived in February 1910 and in the first week of business attracted 81 depositors, mostly young people. The Laurieston of 1910 was a world removed from that of 1890. James Mather had been appointed as the headmaster of Laurieston School in 1902 and soon became very active in village affairs. Chrysanthemum and bulb shows were held in aid of the school library and limelight lantern fund. When the war broke out in 1914 the teachers and the villagers interested in gardening switched to raising funds to send presents at Christmas to local soldiers. Mather knew the young men who went off to fight and kept in touch with many. The detonator works at Westquarter expanded rapidly during the First World War and employed many of the Laurieston residents for decades to come. Laurieston Foundry was also kept busy. In normal times it would employ about 500 at its peak, but during the war years that number would probably be doubled.
“During those four memorable years, whole families, mothers included, from Laurieston, were employed at the foundry, and at knocking-off time, for a quarter of an hour or so, the road between the foundry and Laurieston would present an unbroken procession of workers”(Riddell 1937, 49).
After the war a fitting memorial was erected in the school to mark their appreciation of the services of the former pupils. It included the names not just of the fallen but also the many gallant men who had gone off to fight and returned. Mather kept a scrapbook which included photographs of the young men from his school in their uniforms. This was handed down to prominent historians in the community and eventually found its way to Falkirk Museum. It is a poignant reminder of the sacrifice.
A larger memorial to all of the local people who served in the war was erected in the south-east corner of The Square (SMR 593). It takes the form of a 22ft high Celtic cross on a rustic base, made from Creetown Granite, and was designed and sculpted by William C Roberts of Falkirk. The unveiling, by Major Glyn MP, took place on 27 August 1921 and it was dedicated by Rev James Hunter.
Amongst those who were killed during the war was James Fitz Morris. He had attended Laurieston Public School and was just 17 when he joined up in 1914. Before long he was in the Royal Flying Corps and became a fighter ace. His youth and good looks made him a poster boy for the service and he was sent to America to help with the recruiting drive there. He died in a flying accident near Cincinnati on 14 August 1918 and was given a state funeral. After the war his body was repatriated and he now lies in Polmont Churchyard (Bailey 2004). Another local hero of the First World War was Nurse Margaret Crowe who served with the Scottish Women’s Hospitals in Serbia in 1915. The following year she went to Petrograd in Russia, and when the Revolution occurred moved to Kursk. She spoke Russian. After the war she became the resident nurse at the Westquarter Works. Laurieston has produced many people of note. These include four clergymen from four different denominations – Alexander Sorley of the Burgher Church, William Morrison of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, John More of the Methodist Church, and Edward Sawers, a Free Church minister, who moved to America. Captain Bogle who frequently sailed out of Grangemouth was a native of Laurieston (died September 1892). Colonel Simpson, who built and endowed the Sailors’ Home at Plean, was a native of Laurieston, and was brought up in a house at The Square. He made a large fortune in the West Indies, and also left £500 to the Falkirk Parish Church, the interest from which was to be distributed amongst the poor. Another philanthropist was Thomas Gaff, vintner in Falkirk, who died in December 1853 leaving a substantial sum for the education of infants within the bounds of Falkirk burgh (which did not include Laurieston). He was a native of Laurieston and had Pilton Cottage built. Likewise, James Mitchell, endowed a charitable educational trust.
Amongst the best known Lauriestonians were two brothers, William and Robert Gibb. William was a water colour painter and Robert the King’s Limner in Scotland. William is best known for his series of images on the Royal House of Stuart. Robert’s battle scenes were renowned and included “The Thin Red Line,” “The Retreat from Moscow,” and “The Charge of the 42nd Highlanders at Alma.” The two were born in James Street near the church in a small house built by their grandfather, and their father, David Gibb, was a builder to trade.
There was a dramatic change in social conditions after the First World War and people were able to indulge in more recreational activities. In 1920 a constitution was drawn up for the Laurieston Bowling Club but it was 1923 before the green and clubhouse were ready. These were located almost opposite to the Kennels, behind the houses on the north side of the main road.
In 1922 the Bowling Club let part of its ground to the Laurieston Tennis Club which erected courts and a pavilion there. James Mather continued as the headmaster of Laurieston School until 1930. The Falkirk Mail noted that he was:
“an outstanding personality in the village, so much so that no movement of any kind having for its object the welfare of all resident in the district was complete unless Mr Mather was associated with it”.
During his public career he held many and varied positions including Justice of the Peace, president of the local curling club, secretary of the Falkirk Natural History and Archaeological Society, Substitute Master of Lodge St John No 16 and founder of the Village Library.
In 1901 David Shields had built a village hall at the corner of George Street and Grahamsdyke Street. The “New Century Hall,” as it was known, was rented out to organisations and was a success. So much so that, around 1921, the YMCA erected a hut at the south-west corner of the public park to provide additional capacity. The number of organisations in the village multiplied and dancing became very popular. The red triangle of the hut became a familiar feature of the social landscape and was used by football teams, first aid parties, fund-raising groups for the Falkirk Hospital and the Village Nursing Association, church missions, concerts, political meetings and so many others. Laurieston Nursing Association was formed in 1901 and a committee of twelve ladies was appointed to carry it on. The patronesses of the Association were – The Marchioness of Zetland, Mrs Forbes of Callendar and Mrs McKillop. The Marchioness of Zetland promised to give a sum annually, equal to that collected by the village, up to £25. The first nurse appointed, on 21 November 1901, was a Miss Minnie McGregor, a staff nurse from Glasgow Infirmary. Miss McGregor stayed only a few months, and was succeeded by Nurse Holden, followed by Nurse McGillivray, Nurse Copland, Nurse Campbell and Nurse Hayworth.
In 1937 Laurieston had one grocer, one licensed grocer, two part grocery and part anything that would turn a penny, one boot and shoe shop, one butcher, two drapery shops, one baker, one dairy, one fish and chip shop, two newsagents, one chemist and two sweetie shops. There were also two public houses. The dividend of the Co-operative Society, together with the nearness of Falkirk with its many multiple shops and frequent means of travel, meant that there were never going to be many traders. 1937 also saw the opening of W Forsyth Central Garage on Mary Street adjacent to the new Century Hall.
Manufacturing at Laurieston Foundry ceased in 1934 and work was transferred to Castlelaurie in Bainsford. The Thornbridge site was taken over by Christie & Vesey and used as a timber processing yard. McKillop’s Buildings were slowly emptied. However, new housing was constructed by the burgh council and by private developers, vastly expanding the area of the village which over the previous century had hardly changed. Grahamsdyke Street was extended eastwards by the council and a section of the Antonine Wall, which in the 1920s was described as one of the best preserved, was built over.
In the mid 1930s two unusual avenues of small bungalows were constructed in the old Gardeners’ Society’s grounds to the north of Laurieston House. The two rows face each other and have foot paths to their front doors with vehicular access from service roads to the rear. They are called Jasper Avenue and Namayo Avenue after two intersecting roads in the heart of Edmonton’s original business district in Canada.
The Laurieston Park housing scheme began in the late 1930s and was extended in the 1950s to the Icehouse Brae. The brae was named after an ice-house that served Kerse House in Grangemouth from around 1810. Meanwhile, houses in the core of the old village were replaced ad hoc as ownership changed. The County Council condemned many as unfit for human habitation and drew up plans for replacing whole swathes of the rows. These plans had to be put on hold due to the outbreak of the Second World War.
Laurieston had contributed some 400 men to the First World War and when war returned in 1939 around 350 served in the forces. On the Home Front a Home Guard platoon was formed in the village and wardens saw to the air raid precautions. A mobile first aid unit was set up in the YMCA Hut and saw action at Clydebank after the bombing there. Visible signs of the war appeared throughout Laurieston. These included black-out arrangements, blast walls, air raid shelters and a 5,000 gallon capacity steel water tank for National Fire Service purposes on The Square Gardens. Down at the Park in 1942 the 36th Independent Infantry Brigade camped for several months in 1942. They were training in house-to-house fighting techniques using the now empty houses at Thornbridge. Local farmers were refused permission to graze their cattle in the Park but were granted permission to cut the grass and take it away. Six allotments were formed in the Park and a further 28 were created on Ice House Brae.
The biggest addition to the village was the construction of a Bevin Boy camp by the Ministry of Fuel and Power in The Bog which opened in 1944. It accommodated just over a hundred conscripts who worked in the local coal pits instead of serving in the armed forces. In November 1945 the hostel was transferred to the Welfare Department of Labour and now housed industrial workers as well as those who wanted to work in the mines. Amongst these workers were refugees, euphemistically called Displaced Persons. These became “European Voluntary Workers” and in 1954 included 19 Poles, 4 Latvians, 12 Ukrainians, 1 German, 2 Lithuanians and 2 Yugoslavs, some of whom were accompanied by their spouses.
The Lum Man, as Tam Bain’s statue had become called, attracted many bus tours on their way to Edinburgh. In 1955 the house supporting it was demolished and the head went missing. It was just after the Stone of Scone had also disappeared and the Falkirk Herald ran the fake headline “Tam Bain” – English Nationalists cornered at Gretna, Tam safe and sound” (Falkirk Herald 8 October 1955, 1). It was placed in a new lounge in the Royal Bar public house at the opposite corner of The Square which eventually also took on the name of the Tam Bain.
In 1945 the West Church united with the Parish Church and the West Church building was sold. For a short time it was used as a crisp factory. The New Century Hall was also sold off in 1953. To many living in Laurieston at the time it was as if the guts were being ripped out of the village and this was multiplied many times over when the town planners got hold of it. The houses at the foot of the Houff were demolished in the late 1940s to make way for a bypass road from near the Skew Bridge towards Redding – a road that was only built in the 1990s! Further devastation occurred in the 1950s when huge swathes of James Street were removed as part of a slum clearance scheme and the garden character of the village disappeared.
In 1966 detonator production was finally transferred to Ardeer and the Westquarter Works closed. The enlargement of the road junction in the centre of The Square destroyed its tranquil village green appearance. Ironically, another bypass road was constructed in 1992 to the north of the village relieving this junction of most of its traffic. On the plus side, the primary school was rebuilt and a church hall was added to the south of the parish church. New meeting places were built – The Old People’s Welfare Hall at 120 Mary Street opened c1960, followed by the Laurieston Community Centre in Park Avenue. A health clinic was placed on the corner of James Street and Boyd Street.
The old Bevin Boy camp was used as a cannery and by small local businesses, including joineries. At its north end the Territorial Army established a headquarters in 1950 which for a period in the 21st century served as Oakwood School. This was not the first private school in Laurieston since the formation of the public school board. In 1928 Miss J A Wilson had set up the Calstock School, named after her home town in Cornwall. She retired there in 1950 and a few years later the school moved to Falkirk.
Yet despite all of this modern redevelopment much remains of the old village. The footprint of The Square can still just about be made out with its war memorial, elegant public house and Co-operative Society building. So too can the line of the Roman Wall along Grahamsdyke Street. The east end of the Main Street (i.e. Polmont Road) is still occupied by gracefully designed villas ranging from 1910 to the 1950s. The timeless Georgian mansion of Laurieston House remains sentinel on Mary Street and more historic gems can be found here and there. St Columba’s Church has a fine display of stained glass. The 1930s bungaloid growth of the settlement along Grahamsdyke Street is a classic example of the good architectural taste of that period. The historic village is well worth a visit.
May Day Queens
Sites & Monuments
|Laurieston Village||SMR 1414|
|Stone (Stane) House||SMR 1630||NS 9100 7940|
|Laurieston Ice-house||SMR 70||NS 914 797|
|Laurieston House||SMR 95||NS 9123 7947|
|1 Polmont Road (Hawthorn)||SMR 96||NS 9117 7944|
|Laurieston War Memorial||SMR 593||NS 9105 7946|
|Laurieston Foundry||SMR 705||NS 913 804|
|Laurieston Parish Church||SMR 830||NS 9132 7940|
|Laurieston Macmillanite Church||SMR 831||NS 9091 7945|
|Gallow Syke (Laurieston) Toll House||SMR 1074||NS 9071 7952|
|Laurieston Distillery||SMR 1861|
|Castle Towrie||SMR 1862||NS 9150 7945|
|Laurieston School||SMR 1936||NS 9103 7933|
|Laurieston Parish Church- stained glass||SMR 830||NS 9132 7940|
|Stirlingshire Hunt Kennels||SMR 1073||NS 9148 7935|
|Tam Bain||SMR 1520||NS 9106 7949|
|Mile Post (Polmont Road)||SMR 1521||NS 9126 7945|
|Tammy Mills’ Well||SMR 1791||NS 9084 7950|
|Bailey, G.B.||2004||‘James Fitz Morris: Polmont’s First World War fighter ace,’ Calatria 20, 81-93.|
|Ballantine, W.||1998||‘Reminiscences of road maintenance; 1880-1925,’ Calatria 12, 59-84.|
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|Love, J.||1928||Local Antiquarian Notes and Queries. Volume 4.|
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|Roy, W.||1793||Military Antiquities of the Romans in Britain.|
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