Feuars of Falkirk

      Not long after William Forbes purchased Callendar estate in 1783 he began a process of having the common muir on the south side of the town brought under cultivation for his own profit. This was a far from simple operation as many people in the town held feus there and held proportional rights and privileges on the muir. Eventually, he was successful but the courts ruled that those who held the feus, the feuars, were to receive recompense for the loss of their hereditary rights. Forbes had to make over to them several properties including two portions of the muir, the market place in the town along with the Customs of the town.

      A meeting of eligible feuars was held in 1808 and a group was elected from amongst them to be ‘The Committee of Feuars’. These, and the subsequent members of the Committee, are the men usually referred to as ‘the Feuars’. Unlike the Stentmasters of the town, they never functioned directly in the governance of the town; the intended and stated purpose of the Committee was to administer their collective properties granted by the courts to the Feuars. Nevertheless, the revenues derived from these was largely directed towards the common good of the town and so the Committee often acted along with the Stentmasters to promote improvements such as lighting and water provision. From time to time there were frictions between the two bodies but for the most part the Feuars were instrumental in bringing about changes to the town through their financial support to the Stentmasters. Sometimes, while acting in their own interests, they brought further benefit to the town such as the provision of the Corn Exchange.

      The function of both the Stentmasters and the Feuars came to an end with the creation of a Town Council  in 1833 but it lacked any real force as it did not have the power to raise revenues other than the most basic of rates. However, after years of attempts by those in favour, the Falkirk Police and Improvement Bill was approved by Parliament in August 1859. The Feuars were independent of this although the promoters of the bill had attempted to take their communal properties into the control of the Council, especially the market and customs.  But, the Feuars argued, the property was theirs and that when it was awarded to them by the courts it had been stated that any profit generated by this communal property was to be applied to the common good of the Feuars of Falkirk, not to the townspeople in general.

      The Feuars continued to play a part in the affairs of the town and in 1877 replaced their Corn Exchange with a new Town Hall which was opened in two years later.   But their days were numbered.   Eventually in the 1890s their property passed into the hands of the Town Council and, suitably compensated, they faded into history.

John Reid (2005)