As a centre of population Falkirk has occupied
an important place for centuries. Even before the dawn of recorded history its
position on a high ridge of land between the moorlands to the south and the wet carselands
to the north must have appealed to the primitive inhabitants of the country as a desirable
place in which to erect their rude huts and to throw up their defences against the
possibility of attack.
Then too, the ridge of
Falkirk was on the direct route between Edinburgh, Linlithgow, Stirling and the North, and
it would be early seen that it was advantageous to have a settlement which was not more
than a day's journey between those other ancient places of habitation, Linlithgow and
Traces of the occupation of the district by these early
settlers are still occasionally dug up, but the recorded history of the Falkirk district
cannot be said to begin until the year A.D. 82, when the Roman general Agricola launched
his invasion of Caledonia. Agricola did not find the wild Caledonians an easy prey,
meekly prepared to resign themselves to suffering the Roman yoke, and he was compelled by
sheer force of circumstances, to build a line of forts from the Forth to the Clyde in
order to keep them in check and to protect his Legions from retaliatory raids.
This chain of forts strung along the waist of Scotland was
reinforced sixty years later by the building of Antonines's Wall, the ditch and rampart
fortification which ran right through the site of the present town.
The records left by the Romans make no mention of a town at
Falkirk, but it is probable that there was a settlement there which may have been
abandoned at the time of the invasion by the withdrawal of the native Caledonians to the
shaggy woodland fastness to the north. There were, however, Roman forts at Roughcastle and
Mumrills, on either side of the present site of the town, and the Romans, during their
occupation, also built residences at Camelon, just north of the wall.
Roman Stones at Dollar Park
Sir John de Graeme's Tomb
There was, however, nothing like an attempt on
the part of the Romans to colonise the district. Their occupation of the area was a
purely military one. The Roman residences at Camelon would in all likelihood be
built for the convenience of time-expired men and for the women and children of the
serving Legionaires. Nor is it likely that Camelon was ever used as a port by the
Romans, although it is possible that Camelon in Roman times was the highest point to which
small ships could come.
For a period, after the Roman garrisons were withdrawn, the
Falkirk area disappears from the pages of history. There is a mention - but the evidence
for the truth of it is somewhat scanty - that St Modan, who became the patron saint of the
town, came from around Loch Etive and planted the first Christian church in the district
round about the year 700.
It was this, or a later, Christian foundation which gave
Falkirk its name, which means the "speckled church" or "the church built of
mottled stone". Incidentally, Falkirk can make the unique claim of having a name for
itself in no fewer than six languages - Gaelic, Welsh, Norman, French, Latin Lowland Scots
and English - a fact which in itself indicates the vicissitudes through which the town has
Falkirk again comes clearly into the light of History in the
year 1080, when Robert, son of William the Conqueror, has his army turned back at
Egglesbreth, the Welsh name by which the settlement on the ridge of land above the carse
was then known. The town again emerges from the mists of the past in the record that
Malcolm Canmore built a church there in 1090, probably at the prompting of his saintly
Saxon Queen, Margaret.
By that time the district as far west as the valley of Carron
was thoroughly Saxon. Among the Saxon families which lived in the area was one names
Levings, the original members of which came over among the early immigrants, and were
granted lands in the Lothians. This family was destined to occupy a high place in
the affairs of their adopted country and to become overlords of the district containing
the settlement which was to become the town of Falkirk.
About 1150 one Malcolm received the great local estate of
Callendar - a name, incidentally, which is of far older lineage than that of the
Perthshire town. After the fall of John Baliol, however, the estate was taken and
given to the Levings whose family name had then become Livingston.
The Livingstons continued as lairds of the lands of Callendar
until their forfeiture at the first Jacobite Rebellion in 1715.
In July 1298, the first battle of Falkirk was fought on a
site which has been a subject of historical dispute. It has generally been believed,
however, that the fields of battle extend from what is now the High Street of Falkirk to
Bainsford. During the battle the "schiltrons" of Sir William Wallace bravely
held their own until they were mown down by the English archers. The Scottish
schiltrons were circular formations of spearmen with their weapons pointed outwards.
Between the closely formed spearmen stood a few archers of the Scottish army, and behind
was a squadron of horse numbering about a thousand.
Reviewing his army, Wallace, the most heroic figure in
Scottish history, is said to have remarked with dry humour "I have brocht ye to the
ring; hap git ye can" - an invitation to a dance which turned out to be a sorry
occasion for the Scots. The Scottish horse, which should have ridden the English
archers down, fled from the field, and despite one of the most gallant stands in the
history of warfare, the schiltrons were broken and defeated.
Edward, however, was unable to complete the destruction of
the Scottish army, and was compelled to lead his own forces south again, Falkirk once more
faded from the pages of history, although it is certain that all the magnificent array of
English chivalry which marched to the slaughter of Bannockburn in 1314 have passed through
In 1488 a great conspiracy of nobles against James III, was
hatched in the town of Falkirk, and this was followed by the little battle of Blackness.
Previously, in 1450, the King had ennobled the Livingston family, and Sir James
Livingston, the 6th Baron of Callendar, became the first Lord Callendar. He was followed
in direct succession by five heirs, the last of which, in 1485, accompanied the girl Mary,
Queen of Scots, to France, where he died. His son John was slain at the Battle of
Pinkie, and the succession then went to his brother, William, whose daughter was fated to
play a part in the romantic history of Mary's unhappy reign. Mary Livingston was one
of the "Four Maries". When the young Queen Mary returned from France she found
in Callendar House a place of peace and rest during her journeys through her unsettled
realm, and it also formed a safe retreat for her when she was in danger during the period
of plotting engineered by her half brother, Moray. It is recorded that the fair and
gallant young Queen acted as god-mother to a Livingston infant in 1563. The small,
square apartment in Callendar House, in which she is said to have slept, still bears the
nae of the Queen's room.
Second Battle of Falkirk Memorial
Falkirk was never a Royal Burgh, but it became a
Burgh of Regality with Lord Livingston as overseer, in 1646. For a century nothing
of note seems to have occurred until the second battle of Falkirk in January, 1746. This
was a far different battle to the one in which Wallace's schiltrons has made such a heroic
Prince Charles and his Highlanders were
on their way back from England, and on the heights above Falkirk they signally defeated
the English troops under the command of General Hawley, who must have been a most
negligent and inefficient commander indeed. It is recorded that the English lost
about 400 dead and 700 prisoners, while Prince Charles' Highlanders only lost about forty
Despite these dramatic events, Falkirk was
slowly developing as a municipality. An old rhyme runs "Glasgow for bells,
Linlithgow for wells, and Falkirk for beans and pease" - an allusion to the
predominantly agricultural basis of the burgh. The time was to come however when the
town was to become a centre for far more than the sale of pulses. About 1710 Duncan Shaw,
a great cattle drover of Crathinard, Glenisla, recognised the great cattle trysts of the
These trysts were held every year - the first in August, the
second in September, and the last and largest in October. Nimmo, the historian of
Stirlingshire, writing in 1777, states that "at one of these trysts which usually
lasted two days, sometimes above 50,000 head of cattle have been assembled and sold
off". Originally the trysts were held on the common lands to the south of
Falkirk, and later at Roughcastle. The construction of the Forth and Clyde Canal,
however, formed an obstacle to the movement of cattle and sheep, and the trysts were again
transferred - this time to Stenhousemuir, where cattle, sheep and horses continued to come
until the beginning of the present century. Gradually, however, these cattle fairs began
to dwindle in importance, and half a century ago they practically ceased to exist.
Their place was taken by industry. These is some word
of the Dsrien Company contracting for Falkirk smith and cutlery work as early as 1695, but
there was no really important industry in the district until 1760, when an Englishman, Dr
Roebuck, founded Scotland's first iron foundry of any consequence in Scotland at Carron to
the north of the town. In doing so he set Falkirk on its career as a centre of the
light castings iron trade, Falkirk Foundry starting up in 1819, followed by Abbot's and
about a dozen others considerably later. Tanneries came next, a distillery, timber
yards, chemical works - Ross's works at Lime Road were started in 1845 - and Falkirk
gradually changed from an agricultural market town to a busy centre of industry.
Not without influence in the development of the town was the
construction of the Forth and Clyde Canal. This canal - first envisaged by Daniel Defoe,
author of "Robinson Crusoe", and first surveyed by the famous engineer, Smeaton,
1763 - was not completed until 1790. In view of the importance of its opening, the town of
Grangemouth was founded by Sir Lawrence Dundas in 1777. The Union Canal, linking the
Forth and Clyde Canal with Edinburgh, did not come through until 1822.
It is interesting to note that a few years later the Rapid,
the first of the swift boats to Glasgow, was built at Tophill at the west end of Falkirk,
whilst the engine of one of the earliest paddle steamers was built at Carron as far back
as 1789. The Edinburgh and Glasgow railway had tunnelled through to Falkirk High
Station by 1840, and the pattern of the town's communications was set for a considerable
From the middle of the 17th century to 1859, the affairs of
the burgh of Falkirk were managed by the Stentmasters, a body elected by the trades of the
town and latterly also by districts of Falkirk. Their duties, while largely
financial, included repairs to the market place, the streets, water pipes, cisterns and
wells, the Town Steeple; and the prevention of encroachments on the public streets by any
of the inhabitants or others. They also had the duty of appointing a billeting
master and a town drummer, and were responsible for the management of the general policy
of the town and also for the laying of assessments on the corporations and inhabitants
according to the apparent ability of the persons assessed to pay them. The
Stentmasters continued to exist side by side with the Town Council for some years, the
first Falkirk Town Council having been elected in the Red Lion Inn in November 1838.
The number of members then composing the Town Council was twelve.
By coincidence I've just
consulted the "Minute Book of the proceedings of the Magistrates and Town
Council of the Burgh of Falkirk 1833-1868" at Callander House and the first
election (in the Hall of the Red Lion Inn) was held on the 5th November 1833
- not 1838. (My great-great-great grandfather James Potter, Timber merchant
of Grahamston, with only six votes failed to be elected, though was elected
the folowing year 1834).
The Town Council was established in 1833 following the Burgh Reform Act of
The newly elected Council was informed that if it encroached
on the duties of the Stentmasters and the Feuars, the two bodies which had hitherto ruled
the town, they would be responsible for the debts of these bodies, and the Council,
therefore, confined themselves at first to duties which were merely ceremonial.
In 1859 a private Act of Parliament was obtained which
enabled the Town Council to levy rates for much needed improvements. At the same
time the functions of the Stentmasters were taken over by the Council, and also the debts
which had occurred during their efforts to provide the necessary services for a growing
town. The new Act applied to the whole Parliamentary burgh. The euars as
administrators - their task mainly was to collect the customs, the market dues and the
rents from the South Muir on which they had rights - were not absorbed by the Council till
1990, but they were then compensated for their loss of privileges by the payment of
The Coat of Arms of the Burgh of Falkirk is
described by the Lord Clerk as follows - Sable on a bend bretessed accompanied by six
billets or, three in chief and three in base, the Church of Falkirk, between two swords
and two Highland claymores both in saltire, the former surmounted of a shield of 1298, the
latter of a targe of 1746, all proper. On a compartment below the shield with the motto,
"Better Meddle wi' the De'il than the Bairns o' Fa'kirk" is placed behind the
shield for supporter, a lion rampant, affrontee gules armed and langued azure, crowned
with a mural crown argent, masoned sable, and in an escorel over the same, this motto,
"Touch ane, touch a'."
The bend is
embattled on each side to represent the Roman Wall of Antonius Pius. Above the
representation of the Church of Falkirk the two crossed swords symbolise the first Battle
of Falkirk in 1298, while the targe and two cross claymores symbolise the second Battle of
Falkirk in 1746.
The motties are "Touch ane, touch a'" and
"Better meddle wi' the De'il than the Bairns of Falkirk". These motties
seem to indicate that the townspeople are ever ready to unite for defence and that if one
of their number is interfered with the rest will at once rally round to his support.
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