Falkirk Council

Falkirk Council
Telephone: 01324 506070

History of Falkirk Town

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The first Falkirk dwellers we know anything about were the Romans who built one of the Antonine Wall forts in the Pleasance area in the second century AD. 

The wall with its forts, ditches and roads ran through the town from Callendar Park in the east to Camelon in the west. 

Towards the end of the dark ages, maybe as early as the 6th or 7th century Christian missionaries arrived and the appearance of one of the early church buildings gave the town its Gaelic name EGGLESBRECH, the speckled church, which, over the years, was translated into Scots as FAWKIRK. 

A new settlement emerged in the vicinity of the church with a few houses and shops set in narrow closes and wynds. The new village continued to grow in size and by 1298 it was sufficiently important to give its name to the great battle fought nearby. Following the defeat of William Wallace, the principal Scottish casualties were buried in the Falkirk parish graveyard. 

Much of the town and district's early history is linked to the lands and families of Callendar House especially the Livingstons who held sway for the best part of 400 years from the mid 14th century. They played an important part in national events – Mary Queen of Scots was a regular visitor to the house – and the town grew in size and importance as a result.

In 1600 it was made a burgh of barony and many new stone buildings began to appear along what is now the High Street. One of the new buildings was a tolbooth and the wide area at the front of the steeple was known as the cross of Falkirk. It was here that the Mercat Cross stood as a mark of the town's status and here the weekly markets, public hangings etc. were held until the early years of the 19th century. A first steeple was built in the late 1500s and replaced in 1697. The present one was erected in 1814. 

The establishment of Carron Company in 1759, and, even more importantly, the construction of the Forth and Clyde canal in the 1770s began the process of change which transformed Falkirk from small market town to industrial centre over the following century. The canal passed to the west of the town and soon development along its length brought a variety of new 'industries' like saw-milling, tile manufacture, distilling, chemicals and, of course iron founding. The population began to increase and the industrial villages of Camelon, Bainsford and Grahamston became increasingly important. 

Although Bonnie Prince Charlie had defeated the redcoats at Falkirk in January 1746 his cause was lost and with him went the Livingstons. The town was ruled by a variety of bodies like the Stentmasters and Feuars who represented the trades and property owners within the town. William Forbes who arrived in 1783 brought a new power to the area and his energetic land improvement policies generated considerable revenues and had a significant influence on the growth of the burgh. 

A weak Municipal Council was first elected in 1833 and in 1859 it was given real powers to improve the town for the growing population. By this time, with the iron industry continuing to expand, the villages of Camelon, Grahamston and Bainsford had grown into suburbs of the town; by 1900 they had all been incorporated into the burgh which had a population of close on 33,000, four times what it had been in the 1840s. The huge revenues from the new industries as well as from the still fertile carse lands, helped reshape the town with a host of fine new municipal, commercial and church buildings. 

In the 20th century the steady decline in demand for iron goods saw a series of amalgamations and eventual closure of foundries all over the town and beyond. Housing Acts brought the removal of many of the worst slum houses and after the second World War there was a major programme of council house building away from the town centre. 

In the town itself buildings like the Garrison and Glasgow buildings disappeared under car parks and the old Howgate vanished in the new shopping complex. Despite the setbacks there has been a good deal of investment and much optimism about the future with commercial and business parks restoring Falkirk's reputation as a shopping centre and attracting small businesses in the modern technology and service sectors. 

Content provided by Ian Scott©