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Falkirk, Stirlingshire

Historical Description

FALKIRK, a burgh, market-town, and parish, in the county of Stirling; the parish including the villages of Barleyside, Bonnybridge, Glen, and Laurieston, the quoad sacra parish of Camelon, and part of the former quoad sacra parish of Grangemouth; and containing 15,621 inhabitants, of whom 8209 are in the town, 11 miles (S. E.) from Stirling, and 25 (W. by N.) from Edinburgh. This place, which is situated on the ancient boundary between the Roman territories on the south, and those of the Caledonians on the north, is supposed to have derived its former name, Eccles-brae, from the position of its church on the brow of a hill, of which position that appellation is accurately descriptive. According to some writers, the present name arose from the place being near the wall of Antonine, and was originally Wall-Kirk, of which the term Falkirk is considered a modification. From its situation, it became at a very early period the scene of numerous sanguinary conflicts, in one of which, between the Roman forces and those of Fergus II., in the year 415, Robert de Graham, the commander of the king's army, was slain, and his remains interred in the churchyard, from which circumstance that portion of the wall within the parish received the appellation of Graham's Dyke. In 1298, a battle took place to the north of the town, near the present village of Grahamston, between the army of Edward I. of England and the Scots under William Wallace, in which Sir John Graham of Dundaff, and Sir John Stewart of Bonkill, who commanded divisions of the Scottish army, were both killed. The Scots, dispirited by the fall of their leaders, and overpowered by numbers, were compelled to give way; and after a dreadful carnage on each side, crossing the river Carron, they retreated northwards. Sir John Graham and Sir John Stewart were interred in the churchyard, where their grave-stones are still preserved. In the reign of James III., the town was for some time in the possession of the discontented nobles who had risen in rebellion against their sovereign and assembled a numerous army at this place; but previously to the arrival of the royal troops, which were on their march to attack them here, the rebel forces advanced to Sauchie-Burn, near Stirling, where a battle with the royal troops took place, which terminated in the defeat and death of the king. In 1543, a meeting was held at Callendar House, the seat of Lord Livingstone, in this parish, between the Earl of Arran, regent of Scotland, and Cardinal Beaton and the Earl of Moray, when a treaty was concluded, which put an end to the projected union of Mary, Queen of Scots, and Prince Edward, son of Henry VIII. of England. Callendar House was frequently visited by Mary, who, with part of her retinue, halted here on her route to the north in 1562, and in 1565 became sponsor at the baptism of the infant son of William, sixth Lord Livingstone. In 1567, the queen, with her infant son, afterwards James VI., spent a night at Callendar on her route to visit her husband, Lord Darnley, at Glasgow; and also, on her return, accompanied by Darnley, spent a day here, and on the following morning proceeded to Edinburgh. After the queen's escape from the castle of Lochleven, Lord Livingstone welcomed her arrival at Niddry Castle; and at the battle of Langside, after distinguishing himself for his fidelity and valour at the head of his vassals, accompanied her in her flight from the field, and, with Lady Livingstone, attended her in the various prisons in which she was afterwards confined by Elizabeth. These faithful adherents of the queen, and companions of her misfortunes, both died in England in 1573, and their remains were conveyed for interment in the church of Falkirk.

During the minority of James VI., the Earl of Morton, who had resigned the regency of Scotland, having seized the person of the king, and obtained possession of Stirling Castle, assembled a considerable army of his friends, and encamped at Falkirk, where, also, the army of his opponents soon arrived to offer him battle; but just as the engagement was about to take place, a truce was agreed to on both sides, and a treaty was subsequently concluded, which was published at the market-crosses of Stirling and this town in 1578. In the parliamentary war in the reign of Charles I., James, first Earl of Callendar, who was a firm adherent of the king, became a commander in the army which marched to his relief when a prisoner in the Isle of Wight, the earl being attended by a large body of his Falkirk retainers. On the defeat of these forces, the earl retired to Holland; and the partisans from this place, forcing their way through the ranks of the victorious parliamentarians, returned home. After the battle of Dunbar, in 1650, Cromwell marched to the Torwood, in the vicinity of Falkirk, in pursuit of the royal army, and on his route stormed and took possession of Callendar House, in which a garrison had been placed. The siege was carried on with great obstinacy, and many fell on both sides before the garrison surrendered; the houses in the town were plundered by the troops of Cromwell, and the church was occupied by his soldiers as stabling for their horses. On the removal of the old gates of the mansion of Callendar, by the late proprietor, numerous remains of those who fell during the siege were discovered. During the rebellion of 1745, a battle occurred on the moors to the south-west of the town, between the forces under General Hawley and a party of Highlanders in the service of the Young Pretender, in which the numbers engaged on each side have been estimated at 8000. The combat terminated in the total defeat of the royal forces, of whom nearly 300 were left dead on the field; and among those who fell were Sir Robert Munro of Foulis, and his brother, Dr. Munro, to whose memory a monument was raised nearly in the centre of the churchyard.

The titles of Linlithgow and Callendar became united in James, fifth Earl of Linlithgow and fourth Earl of Callendar, on whose joining in the rebellion of 1745 they became extinct; the estates had been sold in 1720 to the York Buildings' Company, and on its dissolution were purchased by the late William Forbes, Esq., father of the present proprietor. The lands of Kerse, in the parish, were bought in 1683 from Sir William Livingstone of Kilsyth, a branch of the Callendar family, by Sir Thomas Hope, king's advocate, from whom they descended to his second son, one of the lords of session, and afterwards lord justice-general. They were subsequently purchased by Lawrence Dundas, Esq., of Edinburgh, whose son. Sir Thomas, was created a peer in 1794 by the title of Lord Dundas; on his demise they passed to his son, Lawrence, created Earl of Zetland in 1838, and they are now the property of Thomas, the second earl.

The TOWN is situated on the road from Linlithgow to Glasgow, and consists of one principal street nearly a mile in length, and of several smaller streets parallel with it, or diverging from it in various directions. The houses, many of which are of modern date, are handsome and well built. In the high street is the townhouse, erected in 1813, on the site of an ancient steeple built in 1697 and taken down in 1803; the edifice has an elegant spire 140 feet high, and forms a great ornament to the town. Falkirk is well paved, lighted with gas, and amply supplied with water. Owing to its situation on an eminence, from which is a gentle declivity on both sides, it is always dry and clean; and, admitting a free circulation of air, it is regarded as a healthful place of residence. From the main street, a street called the Kirk Wynd extends for more than a mile to the north, connecting the town with the villages of Grahamston and Bainsford, and having handsome ranges of modern houses on each side. About a mile westward of the town is the populous village of Camelon. Nearly at the same distance to the east is Laurieston, and beyond this, close to the junction of the Forth and Clyde canal with the river Carron, is the populous and flourishing town and port of Grangemouth, which, with the various other villages in the parish, is noticed under its own head. There are several libraries in the town, supported by subscription, the principal of which, established in 1792, has a collection of more than 3000 volumes; a circulating library contains 1200, and a United-Presbyterian-Church library 1000 volumes. Public subscription reading and news rooms are also well supported. A school of arts was founded in 1827, and has continued to increase; it possesses a library of 600 volumes, and lectures on natural history and the arts and sciences are delivered weekly by the members. A horticultural society has been some time established in the town, under very extensive patronage; the members hold meetings four times during the season, when exhibitions of fruits and flowers take place.

Many of the inhabitants are employed in the Carron iron-works, a most important concern in the adjoining parish of Larbert. The principal manufactures carried on in Falkirk parish are in the immediate vicinity of the town, and in the several villages. Of the establishments in the vicinity of the town, the most extensive are the Falkirk iron-works, on both sides of the Forth and Clyde canal, about half a mile distant, and in which about 700 persons are occupied in the manufacture of small castings of every description, including pans, kettles, stove-grates, and various other articles for the home trade and for exportation. There are four tanneries near the town, in three of which the currying of leather is also carried on, and in the other the dressing of sheep and lamb skins; they together afford employment to about fifty persons. The weaving of muslin and coarse linen, formerly much more extensive, is carried on by about forty of the inhabitants, chiefly for the Glasgow manufacturers. Here is a large brewery for porter and ale, of which latter considerable quantities are sent to London. Several persons are also employed in building vessels for the trade on the canal, for which there is a yard upon its banks. The making of nails is carried on at Camelon, where is also a distillery: at Castlecary, Bonnyside, and near Bainsford, are extensive saw-mills; and at Grahamston are works for the manufacture of pyroligneous acid.

From its vicinity to the Carron and Falkirk ironworks, from the extensive collieries around, and the great cattle-trysts which are held on Stenhouse Muir, the town of Falkirk derives its chief traffic; and it is generally the resort of the dealers attending those markets, and of numerous persons connected with the works in the vicinity, who make it their head-quarters, and for whose accommodation there are commodious inns, and shops amply supplied with stores and merchandise of every variety. The post-office has a considerable delivery, and there are branch offices at Grangemouth, Camelon, Grahamston, and Laurieston. The old Falkirk Bank has been superseded by a branch of the Bank of Scotland; there are branches of the National Bank and the Clydesdale Banking Company, and the Commercial Banking Company have a concern here, for which a very handsome building has been erected in the High-street. Facilities of communication are afforded by good roads that intersect the parish, by the Forth and Clyde and the Union canals, and by the railways that pass through the parish. The Forth and Clyde canal was commenced in 1768, under an act of parliament enabling the company to raise a capital of £150,000 in shares of £100 each, and was completed in 1790 by a grant of £50,000 from government. Its total length is thirty-eight miles and a half, from Grangemouth, in this parish, to the Clyde at Glasgow. The summit level is 141 feet above the sea, and is attained by twenty locks on the eastern, and nineteen on the western side; the breadth of the canal at the surface is fifty-six feet, at the bottom twenty-seven feet, and the average depth is nine feet. It is navigable for vessels of eighty or ninety tons, and passes through the entire length of the parish. The Union canal, extending to Edinburgh, was commenced in 1818, and completed in 18'22; the breadth is forty feet at the surface, and twenty feet at the bottom, and its mean depth is five feet. It enters the parish on the east, and runs through it for above three miles to its junction with the Forth and Clyde canal: in its progress through the parish it has a long tunnel. The Edinburgh and Glasgow railway enters the parish from Polmont, on the east, and passes in a direction almost parallel with the Union canal. At Callendar is a tunnel 345 yards in length, twenty-six feet in width, and twenty-two feet in height. Near the termination of the Union canal, the railway is carried over it by an arch 130 feet in span; the line then runs in nearly the same direction as the Forth and Clyde canal, and at Redburn has a lofty viaduct of seven arches, soon after which it quits the parish. This railway, which passes south of the town, for eight miles through the parish, was opened in 1842; and the Scottish Central railway, which runs through the north-western part of the parish, in 1848. The latter railway, and the Caledonian railway, terminate in the western part of the parish, in junction with the Edinburgh and Glasgow line. In 1846 an act was obtained for the construction of a short line from the Edinburgh and Glasgow railway near Polmont, to proceed on the north side of the town of Falkirk, to a junction with the Scottish Central railway near Larbert. The market, which is amply supplied with grain and provisions of all kinds, is on Thursday; and exclusively of the great cattle-trysts on Stenhouse Muir, in the adjoining parish of Larbert, nine fairs are held in the town on the first Thursdays in March, April, and November, the second Thursdays in June and July, the third Thursdays in May and August, and the last Thursdays in January and October. They are chiefly for cattle and horses, and are very numerously attended.

The inhabitants received a charter from James VI., erecting the town into a free burgh of barony; and in the reign of Charles II., the Earl of Callendar obtained a charter constituting it a royal burgh, with liberty to elect magistrates, create free burgesses, to hold courts, and have a prison, and the privilege of two weekly markets and four annual fairs. The control has been for many years vested in two separate bodies, called the stent-masters and the feuars; the stent-masters are twenty-four in number, of whom four are chosen by the merchants, and two by each of the several trades. Both these bodies elect from among themselves a president and treasurer; the former body attend to the lighting of the town and the supply of the inhabitants with water, and the latter principally to the tolls and customs, and the management of the town estates. The burgh exercises no magisterial jurisdiction j courts of justice are held monthly under the superintendence of a sheriff-depute who resides here. By act of William IV., the municipal government of the burgh was formally vested in a provost, three bailies, a treasurer, and seven councillors; but no funds having been assigned for defraying expenses, the corporation do not interfere with the established management. The police is under a constable appointed by the sheriff of the county, and in cases of emergency the town is watched by a body of the inhabitants, called the town guard; the only prison is a small apartment for temporary confinement, in the town-house. Under the Reform act the town is associated with the burghs of Airdrie, Hamilton, Lanark, and Linlithgow, in sending a member to parliament, Falkirk being the returning burgh.

The PARISH, which is situated in the eastern division of the county, is bounded on the north by the Carron, except that, from some alteration in the course of that river, a few small portions are now on the northern bank. It is about nine miles in length, and varies from two to five miles in breadth, comprising an area of nearly 15,000 acres, of which 11,000 are arable, 2000 meadow and pasture, 1800 woodland and plantations, and the remainder waste. From the banks of the river to the town the surface is an extended plain of level carse land, in the most luxuriant state of cultivation, with a gentle acclivity towards the town, to the south of which the ground rises gradually to an elevation of 600 feet above the sea, and towards the east and west is pleasingly undulated. The higher parts command extensive and beautifully-diversified prospects over the adjacent country, comprising various towns and villages, with numerous elegant mansions and pleasant villas, encircled by the heights of Kilsyth and Denny, with the Ochil and Saline hills, and, to the north-west, the far distant and lofty mountains of Benledi and Ben voirlich. The river Carron, which flows in a winding course for about fourteen miles past the parish, into the Forth a little below Grangemouth, is navigable for vessels of 200 tons to the village of Carronshore, beyond which it is a limpid stream abounding with trout, perch, and eels. At Castlecary, on the west, a rivulet, dividing the parish from Cumbernauld in the county of Dumbarton, forms in its progress a picturesque cascade of eighty feet; a little to the north of which it joins a stream called the Bonnywater, falling into the Carron near the village of Bonnybridge. The Grange burn separates the parish for nearly two miles from that of Polmont on the east, and afterwards flows into the Carron. Near the village of Camelon, the Lightwater burn, now a small streamlet, runs through the centre of a wide channel which appears to have been once the bed of a very considerable river, the banks, with their several windings, being clearly defined. The adjacent lands have every appearance of a coast indented with bays, and marked by projecting headlands; and in the immediate vicinity is the site of an ancient town, supposed to have been the city of Camelon, which, according to tradition, was a sea-port: indeed, fragments of anchors and boats of antique form have at various times been found embedded in the soil. There are three small lakes in the higher portion of the parish, but they are not distinguished by features of importance.

The SOIL is generally fertile, and in the lower lands luxuriantly rich. The system of agriculture is in a very advanced state, and has been brought to great perfection under the auspices of the Agricultural Association of the eastern district of the county, which was established here in 1839, and of which the Earl of Dunmore is patron, and Mr. Forbes of Callendar president. The crops are wheat, beans, barley, and oats, with rye-grass and clover; and the breed of cattle has been much improved. The farm houses and offices are substantial and commodiously arranged, and the lands are well inclosed. Lime is extensively used, and considerable quantities of manure are supplied from Grangemouth; tile-draining is generally practised, and belonging to the Earl of Zetland are three kilns for the manufacture of the tiles. The parish abounds with coal, particularly in the higher districts, where are several collieries, producing not only an abundant supply for the vicinity, but also for exportation.. Ironstone, limestone, and sandstone are also plentiful; and veins of silver, copper, lead, and cobalt have been found, but not in any considerable quantity. Freestone is extensively wrought, and there are not less than seven quarries in operation, affording employment to 160 men; a whinstone quarry has also been opened, from which blocks were raised for the Edinburgh and Glasgow railway. The annual value of real property in the parish is £28,748. The woodland at Callendar is supposed to have formed a portion of the ancient Caledonian forest that occupied a considerable tract of this part of the country. The timber is generally oak, beech, ash, hazel, and birch; and the plantations, which are under good management and in a thriving state, are chiefly Scotch fir and larch, adding greatly to the variety and beauty of the general scenery. Callendar House, the seat of William Forbes, Esq., is a spacious and ancient mansion with walls of great thickness and turrets of antique character, retaining much of its original baronial magnificence, though in some parts modernised by the late proprietor. It is situated in a park of more than 500 acres, embellished with timber of venerable growth; and within the grounds is the family mausoleum, a handsome circular building of the Grecian-Doric order, in which are the remains of the late Mr. Forbes. Kerse House, the seat of the Earl of Zetland, is a very ancient mansion with numerous additions of more modern date, and chiefly in the Elizabethan style, which forms its prevailing character; it is beautifully seated in a well- wooded park forming the chief ornament of the eastern carse lands, and the pleasure-grounds are tastefully laid out. Bantaskine House is a handsome modern mansion on an elevated spot about half a mile from the town, and ornamented with thriving plantations: the grounds comprise a pleasing variety of scenery, and command some extensive prospects.

This parish, which was formerly much more extensive, including the parishes of Denny, Slamannan, Muiravonside, and Polmont, separated from it at various times, is ecclesiastically in the presbytery of Linlithgow, synod of Lothian and Tweeddale. The minister's stipend is £339, with a manse, and a glebe valued at £20 per annum; patron, the Crown. Falkirk church was originally founded by Malcolm Canmore, in 1057, and was a cruciform structure with a central tower: the present church was built in 1810, with the exception of the ancient tower, the area under which now forms a porch; it is of quadrangular shape, and contains 1300 sittings. Churches have been erected at Camelon and Grangemouth; and a place of worship once belonging to the Old-Light Associate Synod, is now in connexion with the Independent body. There are places of worship for the Free Church, United Presbyterian Church, and Baptists. In the summer of 1843 there was opened a very handsome Roman Catholic chapel, built in the pointed style, and capable of accommodating from 700 to 800 persons with sittings. Attached to it is the residence of the priest, in a corresponding style of architecture. These buildings are delightfully situated, and, in point of appearance, are by far the most attractive in Falkirk. Two parochial schools are maintained, in one of which are taught the Latin, Greek, and French languages, and in the other only the English language, writing, and arithmetic, with the usual branches of general education. The master of the former has a salary of £17, with a house and garden, and fees averaging £35 per annum; the master of the English school has a salary of £34, with a dwelling-house and garden, and fees amounting to £48. There are numerous other schools in the parish, together affording instruction to more than 1200 children: one of these, at Falkirk, is exclusively for the gratuitous instruction of the poor, of whom about eighty are in attendance, and the master has a salary of £40, arising from an annual collection at the parish church, and private donations.

The remains of several of the forts erected by Agricola may still be seen in the direction of the vallum built afterwards by Antoninus. At Castlecary, at the western extremity of the parish, the site of one of these forts, a field six acres in extent, now covered with grass, may be distinctly traced; part of the vaulted foundations is remaining underneath the surface, and many of the stones belonging to the fort have been used in the inclosure of the field. The old tower of the castle of Castlecary, which is a very ancient structure, and said to be Roman, is still tolerably entire, and is inhabited by the Earl of Zetland's forester. At this hamlet, also, is a landing-place for passengers by the canal boats. Stones with various inscriptions, now preserved in the college of Glasgow, have been dug up in various parts of the ditch which defended the Roman wall, and of which portions are yet discernible in Callendar Park, and in the grounds of Bantaskine House. Vestiges remain of a Roman road that entered the parish at Castlecary, and passed along the south side of the wall, nearly to Roughcastle, then crossed the wall, and led to the fort at Camelon, and thence to the river Carron, where it entered the parish of Larbert; and in excavating the Forth and Clyde canal, at no great distance, a Roman granary has been discovered, in which was wheat of a blackish colour. Part of the vertebrae of a whale has been found embedded in the clay at Grangemouth, while making excavations there; also in the brick-field of the Earl of Zetland, about three miles from the sea; and in excavating the tunnel for the Edinburgh and Glasgow railway in 1840, the trunk of a petrified tree, about five feet in circumference, was discovered at a depth of 129 feet below the surface.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851 by Samuel Lewis