Falkirk Town Centre 2

Starting at the Steeple, the walk follows the the blue route map numbered

Falkirk walk 2

1.  The Steeple:

The present Steeple is the third to occupy this site.  The first was built during the late 16th or early 17th century, but by 1697 it had become dangerous and was demolished.  The replacement survived until 1803, when damage to its foundations caused serious subsidence, leading to demolition. This Steeple was completed in 1814 at a cost of £1,460.  It was designed by David Hamilton and built with sandstone from the local quarry at Brightons by Henry Taylor, a Falkirk mason.  The Steeple stands over 140 feet high, and is 22 feet square at ground level.  The top 40 feet had to be replaced after it was struck by lightning in June 1927.  Falling masonry killed a horse belonging to Barr & Co, Aerated Water Manufacturers, and injured the driver. The Steeple housed the town jail and still contains two cells on the upper levels.  Access to these is by a narrow spiral staircase.

2.  Roberts Wynd and the Howgate

 Access to the Howgate Shopping Centre from the High Street follows the line of Roberts Wynd, also known as Bantaskine Port.  The Port was one of the medieval entrances to the town and led from the High Street to the Pleasance. In January 1746, following the Jacobite victory at the Second Battle of Falkirk, part of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army under the command of Lord George Murray entered Falkirk through Bantaskine Port.  The Prince spent the night after the Battle in lodgings on the site now occupied by Dixons. The same lodgings were occupied by the Duke of Cumberland shortly afterwards. The Battle is commemorated by the preserved stained glass windows on display in the Howgate Centre.  The windows, known as “The Soldiers of Fortune”, were originally installed in South Bantaskine House and show the Prince, Lord George and Sir John Drummond.

3.  John Logie Baird:

Among the buildings demolished to make way for the Howgate Centre was the former Falkirk public baths, which had in turn replaced shops and houses in the Pleasance. One of these shops was owned by a radio engineer named John Hart, a close collaborator of John Logie Baird, and much early work on the development of television was done here.  Baird was a regular visitor, and arranged a number of demonstrations of his invention in the Falkirk area.  In 1926 Baird presented the people of Falkirk with one of his early transmitters in gratitude for the help he had received.  John Hart later moved to the East end of the High Street, with his business eventually being acquired by Samwell Smith.  The Falkirk Transmitter is the earliest surviving authenticated piece of Baird’s equipment and is in the care of Falkirk Museum.

4. The Site of the Falkirk Roman Fort:  

Near this spot in the Pleasance stood the Roman fort of Falkirk, part of the defensive system associated with the great 37 mile Antonine Wall constructed around 142 AD.  The Wall itself and its huge V shaped ditch crossed the town from Callendar Park in the east to Watling Lodge, Camelon, in the west and over the centuries a great deal of evidence for its location had been uncovered by archaeologists.  The location of the fort was confirmed in 1992 when a team from Falkirk Museums excavated the site where the Scout Hall stands.  There was some evidence of a pre-Roman settlement as well as extensive ditching from the Antonine period.  There were also the remains of kilns, charcoal and iron slag suggesting the likelihood of an annexe used for semi-industrial activities attached to the fort.

5. The Tattie Kirk:

This unusual building dates from 1806 when it was built by members of the Anti-Burgher movement. The building has not been used as a church since 1879, when the congregation moved to Grahams Road Church.  It has since been used as a joiner’s workshop and a store.  The adjoining graveyard, which contains many interesting stones, went out of use in 1869.  Octagonal Churches, while unusual, are not unknown in Scotland and they are said to have been built to this unusual plan so “there was no corner for the Devil to hide in”.  Why the building is known as the “Tattie” Kirk is uncertain, but it has been suggested that the site may have been a potato field before the church was built, that the Minister’s stipend was paid in part in vegetables or that it was at one time used to store potatoes.

6. Kings Court:

 Kings Court is the best preserved example of the many courts, wynds and closes which once distinguished Falkirk High Street.  This area takes its name from the Kings Arms which stood here in the 19th Century and it was here that James Aitken began practice as a solicitor in the late 1700s. For over two hundred years his successors have carried on the business in Kings Court as Russel and Aitken.  Elsewhere on the south side of the High Street were Burns Court, Wilsons Close, Swords Wynd, Buchanan Court, Roberts Wynd, Dundee Court and Baxters Wynd many of which disappeared or were greatly changed in the 1960s.

7. The Cow Wynd:

 From at least the 17th Century and possibly much earlier, the Cow Wynd was one of the five entrances to the town with its own port or town gate. The wynd or loan led out of the town towards the south muir where the feuars of Falkirk had the right to pasture their cattle.  From the mid 18th Century the road was used extensively by carts carrying coal from Sheildhill to the great ironworks at Carron and for a time it was called Coalhill Road.  With the opening of the High Station in 1842 the name High Station Road came into use and officially replaced Cow Wynd for eighteen years until popular opinion forced a change in 1906.  The handsome building in the Greek style opposite the Cow Wynd on the High Street was built in 1832 for the Commercial Bank.

8. The Silver Row:

 The Silver Row ran from Manor Street to the High Street through the area now occupied by the Callendar Square Centre.  It was crossed by Horsemarket Lane, which ran from the High Street to Callendar Riggs. Among the buildings in Silver Row were the Masonic Arms public house, said to have been visited by Robert Burns in 1787 and St Francis Primary School.  Opened in 1880, it could accommodate 300 pupils.  Extended in 1904, it remained in use until the new St Francis School opened in the late 1950’s.  Perhaps the best known building was the Roxy Theatre.  Originally built in 1742 for the Erskine Church, it had many changes of ownership and use, including spells as the Electric and Empire Theatres before opening as the Roxy in 1938.  The Roxy became part of the Scottish variety circuit, hosting many famous names.Although part of the Silver Row was demolished in the 1920s, most of the buildings survived until 1961.

9. The Crosskeys:

The Crosskeys was one of dozens of inns and public houses in the Falkirk High Street in the 18th Century.  The poet Robert Burns spent the first night of his Highland tour here in August 1787 before visiting the grave of Sir John de Graeme in the Parish Churchyard. He later travelled to Carron where he was refused admission to the ironworks because it was a Sunday. The Crosskeys remained in business until the 1960s. Other celebrated taverns in the High Street were the Cat, the Kings Arms, the Guildford Arms, the Black Bull, the Swan, the Victoria Bar, the Gaff, the Pie Office and the Red Lion which was the town’s principal coaching inn in the 19th Century.  It stood on the opposite side of the High Street, a little further west, and its close or pend led through to Horsemarket Lane and Silver Row.

10. East Bridge Street:

East Bridge Street was the main entrance to the town from the east before the section of Callendar Road, from Callendar Riggs to a point close to the present Graeme High School, was opened in 1829.  The street was the site of the town’s first gas works. At the bottom of the hill the road crossed the East Burn of Falkirk, and the area around this was known as the Cleddans.  The Cleddans was an area of common ground which had a multitude of uses.  It was the parade ground for Falkirk Volunteers in the early years of the 19th century, and had previously been the site of the gallows.  At least two executions are on record at this site, both dating from the late 17th century, one for sheep stealing and one for child murder.  The name is preserved today in the Hotel Cladhan.

11. The Falkirk Tartan:

In 1934 a horde of almost 2000 silver Roman coins was discovered by workmen on the site now occupied by Tesco’s store. The coins were found in a clay vessel, together with a piece of cloth.  The cloth was woven in a checked pattern using two colours of natural wool, one dark brown and one a paler cream, and is widely believed to be the earliest example of tartan yet identified. Examination of the coins showed them to cover the reigns of several Emperors, the latest being dated 230 AD, and it has been suggested that they were part of a payment to local tribes to encourage them to keep the peace. Both the coins and the “Falkirk Tartan”  cloth are today in the care of the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Ian Scott (2005)