Falkirk Town Centre 1

Starting at the Steeple, the walk follows the the red route map numbered 1-14.

town centre1

1.  The Old Market Place

This widened area of the High Street is the old Market Place of Falkirk.  The site of the Mercat Cross is marked in the cobbles and it was here that the twice weekly markets and four annual fairs were held.  Public proclamations were read and public executions carried out here, with the last public hanging taking place in 1828.  The Market Place also saw lesser forms of punishment such as branding or flogging.  The Cross Well also stands in the Market Place.  The present circular structure dates from 1817, replacing the original well and water supply which was gifted to the town by the Livingstons of Callendar in 1681. The well is credited with giving Falkirk natives their nickname of “Bairns”.  When the Earl of Callendar drew the first water from the well, he is said to have toasted “the wives and bairns o’ Fa’kirk”.

 2.  Manor Street: 

Until the end of the 19th Century Manor Street was known by its proper title of the Back Row which in early Scottish towns signified a secondary street lying behind the main thoroughfare.  In fact there is some evidence to suggest that the street may even predate the High Street as the principal road of the old burgh linking the route from Kerse to the Parish Church.  In the Victorian period the Back Row was grim and narrow and its overcrowded and insanitary buildings were notorious for their dilapidated condition and the regular visitations from the dreaded cholera and typhus. (See Falkirk Police Act 1859) So abandoned were the inhabitants that the Free Church even appointed a missionary to work among them! The narrow Woo’er or Weaver Street once contained many small workshops associated with the products of the fleshmarket including glue, bone meal, and leather.  The smell was said to have been almost unbearable.

3.  Bank Street:

Bank Street takes its name from the Falkirk Union Bank, which stood here from 1803 until 1816.  It is thought to be one of the oldest road alignments in the town centre. On the North side of Bank Street stands the former Bank Street Picture House, now a bingo hall.  Built in 1843 as an Evangelical Union Church it also housed the congregation of St Modans until 1915.  Converted into a cinema, it showed Falkirk’s first “talkie”, Al Jolson’s “The Jazz Singer”, in 1927.  The lower stone walls of this building are from the original church which had its roof removed and a new brick structure built on top. The street contains a number of significant buildings including a cottage called Violet Grove, apparently named after a hymn tune, the Salvation Army Citadel and the former Temperance Hotel, once used as the Sheriff Court House and owned for many years by Young’s Stores.

4. The Grammar School, Park Street:

From the late 16th Century the education of children was regarded as a major responsibility of the church and over the decades a variety of buildings in the town were used to house the growing band of scholars.  By the early years of the 19th Century the parish school in the Pleasance was so overcrowded and unhealthy that a new school was proposed to cater especially for those children who were able to benefit from study beyond the elementary level. This site was chosen for the new Grammar School despite opposition from those who thought it was “an out-of-the-way, low and unwholesome place”.  It was officially opened in May 1846 when the children walked in procession from the old school.  The building served as a Grammar and High School for over half a century and later housed the County Mining Institute, formerly part of Falkirk Technical College.  On the opposite side of Park Street is the School of Arts and Sciences, opened in 1878 by Lord Rosebery, which later became a department of the old High School.

5.  The Burgh Buildings:

From the establishment of a town council in 1833 until 1879 when this building was completed, the councillors like their forerunners the Stentmasters met in rooms connected to the town steeple in the High Street.  The creation of an effective local government structure in 1859 (See Falkirk Police Act) greatly extended the powers of the council and this eventually led to demands for proper municipal buildings to house both council and officials.  This building in the popular Scottish baronial style was designed by local architect William Black.  High up on the side of the building is the coat-of-arms of the town with the motto “Touch Ane, Touch A’ – Better Meddle Wi’ the Deil then the Bairns o’ Falkirk”.  The Town Council moved to new premises in the 1960s.  On the other side of Glebe Street stands the Christian Institute built in 1880 which served for a time as Falkirk’s first public library before the present building in Hope Street was completed.

 6.  The Old Town Hall:

A fragment of window and part of a side wall are all that remain of one of Falkirk’s best known buildings, the old Town Hall. The building, designed by William Black, dated from 1879 and replaced an earlier corn exchange.  It remained at the heart of the town’s cultural life, hosting concerts, political meetings, displays and presentations until the new Town Hall was opened in the mid-1960’s.  At that time it was planned to demolish the old building and construct a suite of halls for the Old Parish Church.  However, when demolition work began, a section of the north wall of the Church, including part of the organ, fell down into Newmarket Street.  The area of light coloured stone on the Church wall shows the extent of the damage.  It has since proved impossible to build on the site which has instead been landscaped.

7. Aitken’s Brewery:

The Aitken family began brewing near this spot around the year 1740 and the company remained in business for well over two centuries.  From here the famous Falkirk ales and porters were carried to all corners of the British Empire winning international awards in many countries.  For some years the Brewery was located on the other side of Newmarket Street to the west of Lint Riggs. In 1757 this new site was chosen which eventually included most of the land behind  Newmarket Street down as far as the railway line and from Hope Street to Glebe Street. In 1900 the Brewery was completely reconstructed with its distinctive red brick building and 180 foot chimney dominating the Falkirk skyline for over half a century.  Mergers and takeovers in the 1960s brought an end to brewing on the site in 1968 and the chimney was eventually demolished by army engineers in 1970.   The only remaining link with James Aitken is the building opposite above the Newmarket Bar which was the Company’s Office.

8. Hope Street:

The former Sheriff Court House was opened in October 1868, replacing a number of temporary premises.  The building, designed in the baronial style by Brown and Wardrope of Edinburgh, contained not only the court room but also the prison and, later, a police office, since demolished.  A second court was added in the late 1970’s and the building remained in use as the Sheriff Court until replaced in late 1990. Further down Hope Street can be found St Francis Xaviers Church.  The present building dates from 1961, replacing an older church which was built in 1843 and seriously damaged following a fire in 1955.  Beside St Francis stands Falkirk Public Library.  Andrew  Carnegie donated much of the cost of the library, which was opened in 1901.  A much needed extension opened in the early 1990’s.  Hope Street was also the site of Brockville Park, home of Falkirk Football Club from 1882.  It is now a supermarket. Falkirk won the Scottish Cup in 1913 and 1957.

9.  The West Church:

In 1761 Thomas Gillespie, Minister of Carnock in Fife, left the Church of Scotland to establish a new Presbyterian church which would offer relief to those who shared his dislike of patronage and the enforced settlement of ministers on unwilling congregations.  Within a few years there were a number of relief congregations in central Scotland, the Falkirk one being formed in 1767.  The present building was completed in 1799 to the design of Thomas Stirling of Dunblane who was killed during the construction.  The more ornate fore building was added in 1884. The congregation joined the United Presbyterian Church in 1847 and in 1900 became the West United Free Church.  From 1929 it was once again within the Church of Scotland fold as the West Parish Church until 1991 when the congregation joined with that of nearby St Andrews.  The graveyard was cleared in the 1960s though a number of very interesting memorials remain.

10.  West Bridge Street:

The main road from the town to the west slopes  down to the West Burn which was piped underground in 1870 .  The waters of the burn were used for many centuries to supply the tanneries which give rise to the other name by which this street is known, the Tanners Brae.  Close by was  Burnfoot, or Barrs, Lane from the aerated water works which lay at its south end near the Howgate. The Government army of General Henry Hawley camped along the north of West Bridge Street before their fateful encounter with the highlanders of Bonnie Prince Charlie in January 1746.  The handsome classical style building which housed the Police Station and served for a time as the Falkirk headquarters of Stirling County Council was demolished a few years ago and replaced by the present building.

11. Barr’s Irn Bru:

Robert Barr began business in Callendar Riggs as a cork cutter and in 1873 his son began the manufacture of aerated water at Burnfoot Works, located near the current Cockburn Street roundabout.  His range of products grew rapidly and included the famous “Iron Brew”, which was changed to the more familiar “Irn Bru” in 1946. Falkirk’s iron founding industry led to the establishment of several aerated water businesses, many of which were bought by the expanding Barrs company.  They were in turn taken over by A.G. Barr in 1959, bringing both sides of the family business under common management. Barr’s used delivery horses extensively, the most famous of which was Carnera.  Bought in Perthshire in 1930, he was over 19 hands (6ft 6ins) tall and was said to be the largest working horse in the world.  Carnera slipped on frost in the Cow Wynd in January 1937, and had to be destroyed.

12. The Lint Riggs:

Lint Riggs or ‘fields of flax’ is a reminder of Falkirk’s agricultural past also present in names like Cow Wynd, Bean Row and Newmarket Street. Until the middle of the 18th Century linen was the major clothing material in lowland Scotland though there is no record of major production in or around Falkirk. Before 1903 the Street was just wide enough to allow a horse and cart to pass through but the great improvement scheme of that year produced the present layout with several fine sandstone buildings.  Most striking is the Masonic Temple on the south‑east side with its classical Corinthian style of architecture and a fine inscribed door entrance complete with balustrade.  It is the only Masonic Temple in the district and was completed in 1906 for Lodge Callendar No 588, the second lodge of freemasons to be established in the town.  The internal decoration and furnishing is very interesting, especially the outstanding painted windows with their floral patterns.

13. The Parish Church Graveyard:

The graveyard was cleared in the 1960s leaving only a handful of memorials of historical significance.  The grave of Sir John de Graeme who died at the Battle of Falkirk in July 1298 fighting alongside William Wallace is surrounded by a decorative iron structure placed there in the 1860s.  The flat stone memorial to Sir John Stewart who fell in the same disastrous encounter lies close by and the granite Celtic Cross near the High Street gate is dedicated to the men of Bute who fought alongside Stewart.  Further to the east stand the Munro and Edmonstone tombs from the Battle of Falkirk Muir fought in January 1746 between the victorious army of Bonnie Prince Charlie and Government forces. At the east end of the church stands the Zetland tomb which was built on the traditional burial ground of the families of West Kerse including the Dundas dynasty, laterally Earls of Zetland.

Falkirk Old Parish

14.  Falkirk Old Parish Church (Now Falkirk Trinity):

The first church on this site was probably established in the 7th Century though there is some evidence to suggest an even earlier foundation.  Some time before the 11th Century the appearance of one of the early church buildings may have given rise to the name faw or speckled church, hence Faw Kirk. The square tower survives from the previous building of around 1450 to which the octagonal bell tower was added in 1733.  The main church was reconstructed in 1811 to the design of James Gillespie Graham and the south extension housing the upper hall was added in 1892.  The lower story of this part contained the traditional burial ground of the Livingston family of Callendar House and the effigies of two of the feudal Lords and their wives have been removed to the vestibule area of the church.  The modern hall to the west of the church was completed in 1995.

Ian Scott and John Walker (2005)