California and Shieldhill

 Both California and Shieldhill are situated in what was the feudal parish of Polmont and within the pre-Reformation barony of Abbotskerse which became, following the Reformation, the barony of Polmont. Before the industrial revolution the California / Shieldhill area served as an important facility in the lives of those who lived in the barony for the tract of land that the two villages now lie in was part of a huge common muir. It was the normal practice in earlier times for cattle and other domestic livestock to be taken in the summer months to pastures remote from the arable lands and all of the feudal tenants of the barony of Polmont had the right of grazing animals there as well as other privileges such as taking turf and stone from the muir. The wording of the relevant charters usually takes forms such as “with the pasturage of bestial and priviledge of commontie within the bounds of the common mure of Reddingrig and Quheitsyderig”. Shieldhill lies on Reddingrig and California on Whitesiderig. It is worth noting that Shieldhill is a recurring place-name found in areas formerly used for the practice of common grazing.

California, on the other hand, is an introduced name and, indeed, there are six instances of it found in Britain: this local one and five in England. In the eighteenth century the great annual cattle trysts moved from Crieff to Falkirk district. When this happened the common muir of Reddingrig and Whitesiderig was the first location of what came to be known as the ‘Falkirk Trysts’. The focal point of these activities was at the place we now know as Shieldhill. In a field on the south side of what is now Main Street, close to the cross, were set the tents that housed the bankers, publicans and caterers. A contemporary map names it ‘The Place of the Tents’. All around the muir were stances where the animals were herded during the course of the tryst and some of these are reflected in local place-names such as Standrig and Standburn. Other names related to the pastoral activities, although not necessarily to the trysts, are Herdshill and Divoties, the latter relating to the temporary dwellings built of turf or divots called shiels erected by the herders. In the 1770s the commonty was divided amongst the feudal heritors and, as a consequence, the trysts were no longer held there.

Shieldhill Main Street
Shieldhill Colliery

 Coal has been worked for centuries in that area. This is evident from ‘Culloch Burn’ an alternative names for the Shieldhill Burn; it is a corrupt form of coal-heugh burn and, indeed, the ancient coal workings can still be recognised along its length. The earliest recovered record for that name comes from 1539 by which time the activity must have been well established.   In 1724 we find James Niven described as “coalhewer in Sheillhill” and in the 1790s several records refer to “James Fish, manager of the coalworks at Sheildhill”. With the coming of the industrial revolution huge quantities coal were required and by 1875 Carron Company owned and were working the coal mines at Shieldhill where they extracted coking coal, household coal, manufacturing coal and steam coal. Coke was essential for iron smelting and coking ovens were an important part of the operations at the Shieldhill colliery. Coal mining had ceased there by the middle of the twentieth century. Like many of the villages in the district, California and Shieldhill began as settlements for the coal miners. Neither existed as such when John Grassom drew his map of Stirlingshire in 1817 but by 1860, when the first Ordnance Survey map of the area was published, a cluster of miners’ rows are evident at what is now the south end of the village of California. By that time Blackbraes, then a significantly larger settlement with school and post office, had also come into being. Similarly, Grassom shows no village at Shieldhill in 1817; only isolated cottages and rows and he names what is today the centre of the village ‘Crosshall’.

John Reid (2005)