Further Entertainment

In the late 1950s and early 1960s Jack Read was the rink manager, affectionately nicknamed “Cocopops.”  Over the years the music changed and in the early 1970s the skaters moved to the sounds of the Top Twenty in the pop charts.  Even then the themes of the big bands did not completely disappear and in 1973 they still had Roy Marsden and His Seranaders playing the music of Glen Miller and the others.  1961 saw the first of several Central Scotland Brass Band Championships at the Falkirk Ice Rink and on that occasion eleven bands competed.  Such competitions were promoted by the rink management in order to broaden the entertainment available.

Illus: The 1958 Caledonian Horse Show (Falkirk Herald).

This already had a wide base which even included horse shows.  The first annual Caledonian Horse Show was held indoors at the Falkirk Rink in September 1958 and was broadcast by the BBC.  For the occasion the ice was removed and almost a foot of soil spread over the upper concrete floor.  It continued to be held at Falkirk for several years, the second and third shows being sponsored by the Glasgow Herald and Evening Times allowing the scale of the event to grow in size.  As well as top class jumping there were sheepdog trials and musical interludes provided by such bands as the Royal Marines.  At the 1959 annual show it was the band of the 7th Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and the horse side of the event included dressage, a parade of Scottish breeds, a “Tom Thumb” coach, and a competition for the best decorated Clydesdale gelding.

Concurrent with the horse shows were the Ideal Home Exhibitions.  The arena was partitioned up using massive panels to create furnished rooms for the display of new interior furnishings with each room represented.  These too were sponsored by the Glasgow Evening News.

The venue was also being used for large meetings of all kinds – from trade unions conferences to religious gatherings.  One of the more publicised Christian evangelist rallies occurred on 15 April 1955 when Howard Butt, one of the leading members of Billy Graham’s team then visiting Scotland, addressed a United Christian Rally at the Falkirk Ice Rink in front of over 4,000 followers.  Some years later it was the turn of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  From 4-7 September 1958 they held an international convention at the Rink and some 4,374 witnessed a mass baptism.

R J Buck1938-1945Assistant Streatham Ice Rink
George McNeil1948-1955?Ice Hockey Player
Miss Buchan1946-1951Manageress
Jack Reid1956-1963?
Table: Managers of the Falkirk Ice Rink.

Around 1961 the Forth Bingo Hall was added to the back of the Ice Rink.  The single storey building with its multi-hipped roof and windowless brick walls looks like a factory on an industrial estate but was ideal for the ever popular bingo and other group activities.  Within a few years it boasted that it had the largest bingo club in Britain.  A public house and restaurant called “Pennies” made visits a social occasion.  Latterly the pub featured pool tables as an attraction but seems to have closed around 2014.

Illus: The Forth Bingo Hall with the Ice Rink behind, looking south in 2021.

Sports of all kinds continued in the main hall.  The Scottish table tennis team played against Ireland at the Falkirk Ice Rink on 25 March 1949.  In June that year ordinary tennis was also catered for when the Falkirk management engaged Dennis Dinny Pails, the winner of the 1947 Australian Championships, to give two exhibitions.  In July 1957 the world famous Harlem Globetrotters put on a demonstration of basketball.  Wrestling continued to be popular and in June the bill was headed by the infamous Mick McManus who was fighting Vic Faulkner.   On the same evening Andy Robins was up against the Giant, Gargantuan Warrior Nagasaka was against Albert Wall, and Les Kellet against Jim Hussey in a tag match.  1967 also saw exhibition fishing at the Ice Rink!  1,400 anglers turned up to watch Peter Anderson, the British Professional Casting Champion, giving a demonstration on casting.  Ever versatile, the management of the ice rink also hosted five-a-side football matches which proved to be a crowd puller.

The Duke of Edinburgh at the Falkirk Ice Rink. 22 July 1964.

Curling remained a steady game pleaser.  The 1964 annual general meeting of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club at the Falkirk Ice Rink was attended by the Duke of Edinburgh who was its president that year.  He presented trophies for the men and Winnie McPherson, the first SNP Member of Parliament, presented the trophies for the ladies’ matches.

Ice shows continued until 1969.  By the mid-1970s the refrigeration equipment was getting old and failing.  The cost of replacement was inordinately expensive and it was decided to end ice-skating.  After the closure of the ice rink in 1977 the cavernous building was converted into an indoor sports arena known as Coasters and at various times has catered for roller skating and racing.  It had a climbing wall in 2017.  Indoor football has been the mainstay and in January 1984 the Tennent’s Sixes was first staged there and was televised on BBC Scotland.  Nine teams from the Scottish Premier Division competed with Rangers, beating Dundee in the final.  Today the venue boasts four FIFA grade five-a-side football pitches.  There is also a dance studio, fitness classes (including hot yoga and kettle bells) and pool and table tennis hire.  Externally the building is readily identified but has lost some of its former grace by the infilling of the windows.

G.B. Bailey, 2021