(written 1951,final revision 1961)
PARISH OF LARBERT
by the Rev. W.J. GORDON.
Name. The name of the parish is derived from Lar-Beart in Celtic, meaning Field of Action. To ascertain the source of this name, it appears necessary to go back to the time of the Roman occupation. The river Carron, which flows through the parish, practically marked the boundary of that mighty empire. The Roman Wall of Antoninc was no great distance away and much military action would certainly take p lace within the parish and the river would often be the scene of bloodshed. Incidentally, a Roman road ran through the western end of the parish while traces of what was believed to have been a Roman bridge over the Carron were found when the lead from the river to Carron Works was constructed in 1773.
Size. The area of the parish is 3,926 acres, its utmost length from east to west being about three and a quarter miles, and its breadth north to south about three miles. It is bounded on the north by St. Ninians. on the south by Falkirk, on the east by Bothkennar and on the west by Dunipace. The parish is in four distinct parts Larbert at the western end; adjoining it is Stenhousemuir, the most populous part; then Carron; and Carronshore, formerly Quarrol, at the eastern end.
In its very early days Larbert was a sparsely populated village, the inhabitants of which were engaged mostly in tending a rather indifferent soil. The coming of the industrial age, with the founding of Carron Works in the parish, brought great changes and the district is now a busy industrial centre. Over the past 160 years there has been a steady increase in the population of the parish as these figures show:
Although now a populous and important industrial centre, Larbert has not yet been raised to the status of a burgh. It possesses a High School and it may therefore seem strange that the primary school at the western end still retains the name of Larbert 'Village' School.
Disappearance of Mansion Houses. In former times many well known Scottish families occupied large mansion houses within the parish, but with the passing of the years many such houses have disappeared and the descendants of these families no longer reside locally. Larbert House, formerly the home of Sir John Graham, has become the Labour Colony of the Royal Scottish National Institution. Kinnaird House, formerly the home of the Bruce family, is now part of the Bellsdyke Hospital. Carronvale House, which was until a few years ago the home of the Sheriff family, has been purchased by the Boys' Brigade and equipped by them as a training and conference centre. Torwood Hall, for many years the home of James Jones, ironfounder and timber merchant, and afterwards of his eldest daughter whose husband was much loved in the parish as one of the 'old school' family doctors, Dr. John Ronald, has been taken over by the county council and was opened in 1952 as a Home for Aged People. Stenhouse is now the property of the Carron Company and houses some of its workers. Carron Hall is no longer standing. having been dismantled a number of years ago.
Public Buildings. The principal building in the parish is the Dobbie Hall, gifted by Major Dobbie of Beechmount in 1902. Adjoining it is the public library, the gift of Andrew Carnegie. The Dobbie Hall is an imposing building situated almost in the centre of the parish, with seating accommodation for nearly one thousand people, and it is in great demand for all sorts of functions. Previous to its erection, the main building was the drill hall, now part of the confectionery works of Messrs. Robert McCowan and Sons. Many important functions, such as political meetings and concerts, were held here, and older inhabitants still talk with some enthusiasm about the famous men and talented artists who appeared on its platform. The brethren of the Masonic Order Lodge Carron No. 139 have their own hall and in addition another building which was formerly the Universalist Church. The district council offices are situated in Stenhousemuir. In this fine substantial building are to be found the registrar's office, the sanitary inspector's office. a large room in which the members of the district c6uncil meet to administer the affairs of the community, a smaller committee room, and the police premises. There are, of course, the halls of various churches, while the Falkirk and District Co-operative Society has a suite over the society's premises in Main Street, Larbert.
Churches. The former parish church, now known as Larbert Old Church, has been united with that of Dunipace for over 340 years. since shortly after the Reformation. The united charge has a member- ship of close to 2,700 and can therefore claim to have one of the largest memberships in the whole Church of Scotland* Although at the time of the Reformation and for many years afterwards, Larbert was the smaller of the two, it is now the much more important. its congregation numbering over 2,200. The present church was built about 1820. replacing what is believed to have been a pre-Reformation building. It is a handsome edifice, occupying a commanding site at Larbert Cross where it is seen and much admired by travellers both by road and rail. Visitors frequently pass laudatory remarks about the church, with its beautiful stained-glass windows, its large three manual pipe organ, said to be one of the finest in the provinces in Scotland. its pleasing chancel and delicately carved screen behind the communion table, its pews of rich. fumed oak and its pillars encased in the same wood. Altogether it is a church possessing the proper atmosphere for prayer and worship. It has seating accommodation for almost one thousand people. although at the special service held to mark the victorious conclusion of the war of 1939 it was estimated that 1,400 were present on that memorable occasion. It is worth noting that the church is filled to capacity at each half-yearly communion. The chancel was added in 1911 and at the same time the halls were built on a convenient site between the church and the Glasgow Road. The manse, which had been occupied by the parish ministers since 1790, was considered to be uninhabitable in 1944 and was demolished the following year. Ii is interesting to find that in the New Statistical Account the Rev. John Bonar, the parish minister, writes, 'The stone of the building is of good quality. though it is frequently porous, and by reason of its porous structure it absorbs the rain water to which it is exposed, so that the walls of the house built with it are apt to be damp.' His contention was proved abundantly true in the case of the manse where the dampness and dry-rot had become so widespread and deep seated that its demolition was considered a necessary and wise step by almost everyone in the Presbytery of Linlithgow and Falkirk and by the General Trustees of the Church of Scotland. A temporary manse was purchased in the centre of the village, and within eighteen months the congregation raised almost £2,500 to help to pay for a new building.
* Disjunction took place on 31 December 1962.
One or two notable figures have been associated with the parish church. Outstanding among these was the Rev. Robert Bruce of Kinnaird, at one time minister of St. Giles, Edinburgh. We quote again from the Rev. John Bonar in the New Statistical Account, 'Robert Bruce of Kinnaird, whose memory must be ever dear to the Church of Scotland, for his bold and uncompromising defence of Presbyterianism against the encroachments of Popery, and forced Episcopal usurpation.' Having made himself obnoxious to the court, he was compelled to flee to England. He was afterwards banished to the country, and, residing at Kinnaird, he became the unpaid minister of Larbert parish where his ministration was highly prized. He was esteemed over Scotland as a preacher of the truth, and after a life spent in the service of God he expired at Kinnaird about the year 1632, aged seventy-two years. The tomb stone placed over his grave, and inscribed to his memory, still exists in the Larbert churchyard. A descendant of this eminent man was James Bruce of Kinnaird, celebrated for his travels in Abyssinia, who died at Kinnaird in 1794 at the age of sixty-four.
In November 1835 a young man, Robert Murray McCheyne. was appointed assistant in the united charge and within a short time his fame as a preacher spread far and wide throughout Scotland. In the following November he was elected minister of St. Peter's Church. Dundee, and it is with this church that the name of Murray, McCheyne is invariably associated. Although he died in 1843 when only thirty years of age he left behind him a considerable and well merited reputation as an accomplished scholar, a gifted preacher and a saintly minister of the Gospel.
The minister of the united charge to whom Murray McCheyne was appointed assistant was the Rev. John Bonar, brother of the famous hymn-writer Horatius Bonar. and to whom we have already made reference. At the time of the Disruption in 1843 John Bonar was one of those who 'came out' from the established church and formed the congregation of Larbert Free, now known as Larbert East. This church, situated in the centre of the populous Stenhousemuir district, has some 800 members. One of its ministers. long after he left Larbert, was elected to the highest office which the Church can bestow upon any of its members. This was the Rev. Dr. Andrew N. Bogle, who in 1930 was chosen as the second Moderator of the General Assembly of the re-united Church of Scotland.
In 1898 a congregation was formed under the United Presbyterian Church and is now Larbert West Church of Scotland with a membership of some 550. To meet the growing needs of its people in the Stenhouse muir part of the parish, and to mark the jubilee of the Rev. Dr. John McLaren, minister from 1847 to 1898, the parish church undertook the erection of a new church in the Stenhouse estate. It is a distinctive building, to the design of the well-known Scottish church architect, Dr. Macregor Chalmers, and similar to many others of his design which are to be seen all over Scotland - Norman with a stone interior. Dedicated in January 1900 as the McLaren Memorial Church, it is now Stenhouse Parish Church with a membership of more than 700.
In Carron there is a church of some 400 members, formerly a U.P. Church but now part of the Church of Scotland, while in Carronshore a former mission station attached to Larbert Old was united with Bothkennar in 1943 to form the charge of Bothkennar and Carronshore, with a membership of above 500.
Other Protestant churches within the parish include one belonging to the Baptist denomination and a still smaller one known as the Pentecostal Church. The Salvation Army Corps, though few in numbers, are enthusiastic and vigorous. In addition. there are several missions, such as the Gospel Hall in Stenhousemuir and the Dawson Mission in West Carron. Those who hold to the Episcopal belief are obliged to go to Falkirk where there is a branch of the Scottish Episcopal Church.
There has been such an increase in the number of Roman Catholics m the parish within recent years that it was considered necessary to build a chapel to accommodate them. This was named St. Bernadette's and it is situated in the centre of the parish.
The Protestant churches unite for joint action under the auspices of the Christian Council. This body arranges meetings of office-bearers throughout the winter months, and also united services of worship, with the chief object of showing to the community that a true spirit of unity exists among professing Christians of all denominations.
Education. The schools of the parish reflect its growth. There has been a tremendous increase in the number of scholars in the various schools, and this is due, not only to the rising population. hut also to the post-war legislation raising the school leaving age from 14 to 15 years. This legislative act has had a double effect all over the country large extensions to school buildings, and a considerable increase in the number of teachers, were both necessary. 1948 was an interesting year, educationally, in the&parish. Three changes took place in the biggest and most important school. For generations it had been known as Larbert Central School but in 1948 its name was changed to Larbert High School. The new name was well received by the public and it was surprising how soon the old one was forgotten (except by a few die-hards) and the new became generally accepted. Originally it had been a purely elementary school and then for a number of years a junior secondary school. In 1948 it was raised to the status of a full secondary school, and now, along with such schools as Falkirk High and the High School of Stirling, it ranks as one of the senior secondary schools of the county. To mark the changed name and status, new colours were chosen for the school. These are royal blue and silver. and the blazers and ties worn by the pupils are of these colours. The school badge. in which the letters L.H.S. are clearly depicted. is proudly worn by the young people and can be seen every day in the streets of the parish. Such small things help to create an atmosphere and a tradition in a school. A school atmosphere and tradition. may be very valuable assets, giving to the pupils a certain wise pride in belonging to the school and, in recalling the fine achievements of former pupils, inspiring them to emulate these outstanding heroes or geniuses of the past. As the years pass it is hoped that such an atmosphere and tradition will be created in Larbert High. The third change was the introduction of a system of zoning. Before 1948 the young people of the parish were free to go to any school for their secondary education, and many of them went to Falkirk High while quite a number travelled to the High School of Stirling Both these schools were very overcrowded and their buildings were quite inadequate to cope with the large numbers of scholars. For that good reason, and also for the obvious reason that we now had a full secondary school within our own parish, a zoning system was introduced by which all young people in the parish were compelled to attend Larbert High for their secondary education. Although there was some talk of 'dictatorship' and 'loss of freedom' at the time. again it is surprising how soon the public have become accustomed to this new zoning system, which is now recognised as a necessary step Indeed, the general public are very well pleased with Larbert High which compares most favourably with the other senior secondary schools of the county. It has 1,030 scholars on its register. and a staff of 54 teachers. Its buildings and equipment are modern and up-to-daate. In very recent years there have been further extensive reconstructions and additional building. This includes the provision of a swimming-pool As in all schools of its kind nowadays, an all-round education is pro vided. It caters for different tastes and aptitudes, whether academic or commercial, technical or domestic. In addition to the normal subjects in which the young people are expected to secure Senior Leaving Certificates, the cultural side of education is looked after by means of such societies as debating, dramatic and philatelic, while for the athletic student there are teams to play football. hockey and net-ball. A large and well-kept playing-field is part of the school grounds; The High School Magazine is a very readable and interesting one, produced each June entirely by the scholars. The annual sports and the annual concert and prize-giving in the Dobbie Hall are two important events which are always well supported by the general public. One final feature worth mentioning is the fact that in recent years teachers have taken the initiative in arranging a holiday in Paris or some other desirable place on the Continent for a number of children, and such holidays abroad prove of great educational value and are much enjoyed.
There are four primary schools within the parish. Larbert proper is served by the Village School, which has 502 pupils and 15 teachers. Stenhousemuir Primary School was built in recent years to accommodate the junior pupils who had until then formed the primary department of Larbert High School. It is a fine single-storey school in the post-war tradition of school building. The present roll is 597 and the teaching staff numbers 16. In Carron and Carronshore there are schools with rolls of 362 and 383 respectively. Carronshore School provides secondary education up to school leaving age. A day nursery in Queen's Drive in Larbert fulfils a very useful function in these days when so many mothers have jobs in industry in addition to their very considerable household tasks.
There is still a close co-operation between the teachers and the ministers. As school chaplain. the minister pays frequent. in many cases weekly. visits to the school in his own area, and in this way maintains a useful and friendly contact with the pupils and the staff. The children of the Roman Catholic faith go to primary school in Falkirk and later to St. Modan's High School, Stirling. Continuation classes in the evenings are well attended in Larbert High School and financial incentives to successful students are provided by many employers. For those who wish to proceed further in their studies there are colleges in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Industry. The coming of the industrial age meant much to the district. Before 1759 when Carron Company was established, the district had been sparsely populated and mainly agricultural, but the new company brought with it big changes and a considerable increase in population. It was Dr. John Roebuck. a Sheffield scientist. Samuel Garbett, a manufacturer from Birmingham, and William Cadell. a Scottish merchant, who were the three men chiefly responsible for the formation of the corporation now known as Carron Company. Several places were under consideration before it was finally decided that the banks of the river Carron were the most suitable site for the ironworks. In the beginning conditions were by no means easy. Steam power was unknown, railways were non-existent, roads bad and shipping unreliable. Skilled labour had to be brought in from Birmingham and Sheffield. Despite these drawbacks, the Company proceeded on its way, and on 1 January 1760 Dr. Roebuck tapped the furnace to give birth to the first batch of Carron iron. So was begun the iron industry in Scotland. In 1773 the Company received the Royal Charter of Incorporation under which charter its affairs are still regulated.
This is not the place to give the history of the Company. Suffice it to say that Carron has been closely associated with the country's industrial history through the years and that it has grown and prospered to such an extent that Carron works are the largest of their kind in the country. From them comes almost every description of iron-work for the home - baths, cookers, grates, as well as large items of cooking equipment for the institution, hotel, or liner. The making of pig-iron is also carried on - to such an extent that the wants of many other firms in addition to Carron are supplied.
Other ironfoundries, employing hundreds of men, are situated within the parish. These are Dobbie, Forbes and Company, now merged in Allied Ironfounders, and the firm of Jones and Campbell. Each is well known for its own particular make of equipment for the kitchen and the home. A new foundry. to be known as Larbert Foundry, is under construction at the moment. This is an enterprise of the Allied Ironfounders group. There are, too, the firm of Robert Taylor and Company, whose very famous boiler is to be found in many houses, and the firm of Drysdale, brassfounders, apart from smaller firms.
In Larbert we find the sawmills and chief offices of James Jones and Sons. This firm has a wide connection all over Scotland, and its sawmills - at present more than 40 in number - are to be found in many parts of the country. Indeed, it has gained a considerable reputation as one of the biggest home timber firms in Great Britain. For some time there was in existence, as part of the firm, a joinery department, as a contribution to the housing programme of the country. Here window-frames and doors were made entirely by machinery and turned out in large numbers. This department was closed in 1953. Incidentally there is in the parish an avenue of timber bungalows - attractive to look at and comfortable to live in - erected by Messrs. Jones.
Other industries are allied to ironfounding. such as enamelling (The Scottish Enamelling Company) and chromium plating (Charles Carpenter).
A factory producing chemicals is a relatively recent addition to the industrial strength of the area.
Throughout the summer months nowadays, one sees scores of caravans, on the roads, by the sea-side and in the country. The caravan holiday, with its sense of freedom, makes a strong popular appeal, Thomson Caravans are in great demand. This is one of the newest industries in the district, and this Carron firm is finding that its well- finished products are commanding a ready market.
The confectionery works. Robert McCowan and Sons, and McNicol Bros. and a laundry provide opportunities for female labour, although in recent years many women have been trained to duties in the foundries which were formerly carried out by men. An ice-cream factory employs a further number of local people.
An important development in the welfare of the worker has been the provision of baths. This progressive step began at the pits but it has now come to the foundries, and almost all of our local foundries have provided baths for the workers so that the moulder may leave his dirt, and also his dirty clothes, behind him. Again, a fully qualified nurse is in attendance in several firms. First aid treatment and accident prevention are now recognised as essentials in the modern foundry, and stress is wisely laid upon both.
Although much work is provided within the parish the whole of the available labour force is not absorbed locally. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that work to suit all local people is not available. Some go outside the parish area to work and, of course, some jobs in the parish are held by people from other areas.
Housing. As has happened in most other places, there has been a tremendous improvement in the housing of the population since the end of the war of 1914. In many areas where one found only green fields and pleasant pasture-land forty years ago, one finds whole colonies of new houses. We have several housing schemes. all of which have been built since 1919. This is very largely the work of the county council, the total number of houses erected by the council since 1919 being 2,798. In the twenty years between the two wars 777 houses were erected of the following sizes: 498 of three apartments, 228 of four apartments and 51 of five apartments. A number of these was actually completed after the war of 1939 had begun. In the period since then the very high total of 1,850 houses has been built. The trend has been towards houses of four apartments but some small specially-designed houses for old people have been included. The greatest building effort has been made in Stenhousemuir where 1,095 houses have been built since the war. Carron's share has been 487, the part of Carronshore which lies in the parish has had seven houses and Larbert has had 261. In addition four houses of four apartments each for agricultural workers have been built and 167 temporary three-apartment houses erected, All of these are still in use. They are made of prefabricated material, are known throughout the country as "pre-fabs," and were said to have a life of ten years. It will be noted that more than twice as many houses have been built in the period 1945-61 as in the twenty years between the wars. The obvious conclusion is that both the Labour Government and the present Conservative Government have been doing their utmost to tackle the serious problem of shortage of houses and consequent overcrowding.
These council houses are a big improvement on the old tenement type of house. They are comfortable and possess most of the modern conveniences. even to the extent of having 'built-in' wardrobes and cupboards. Perhaps the bathrooms and hot water systems are appreciated most of all, because the tenement houses never had the former and seldom the latter. Each tenant is provided with a garden. and on the whole the gardens are neat and well kept. This whole development is of considerable benefit to the health of the people, as nowadays we see little sign of overcrowding and very few 'unfit' houses are still occupied. An interesting addition to the housing areas was one at North Broomage where 140 houses were erected and all of these were occupied in the first instance by people from the village of Plean. because there was not sufficient ground there for the re-housing of the population. This was an example of the wholesale transportation of people from one village to another.
Perhaps it should be said here that the housing interests of our community are well looked after in the county council by our four local councillors, one of whom, the late George McLaren, occupied the important and responsible office of county convenor for many years.
One must pay tribute to private enterprise so far as house building is concerned because it has been responsible for many beautiful bungalows throughout the district. This private development is still continuing, particularly in South Broomage in Larbert. The parish has been well served by its own Building Society which, through loans to its members, has assisted many artisans to become owners of their own houses. There is, of course, a certain amount of 'tied property' where workers in the various industries find accommodation in houses belonging to their employers.
Agriculture. There are 27 farms and holdings within the parish; fourteen of these are occupied by tenants and thirteen by the owners. The acreage of the farms is of this order: five farms are of more than 150 acres, six are between 50 and 150 acres and sixteen are under 50 acres each. The area in crops is 959 acres and there are more than 1.600 acres in grass. Rough grazing accounts for a negligible area, a fact reflected in the livestock figures which record nearly 1,200 cattle but little more than 300 sheep. Market gardens, nurseries and a chicken hatchery are to be found in the parish, the nurseries in particular having widespread markets. Almost half the cultivated area of the parish is in oats with potatoes and barley each accounting for approximately one seventh. The area of land left in rough grazing has been reduced year by year for several years.
Transport. Larbert is well situated for rapid transport. It has been for many years an important railway centre, affording direct Contact with Glasgow and Edinburgh, and also with Carlisle and London in the south and Oban, Aberdeen and the far North. There are branch 'lines to Grangemouth and Alloa, and a 'goods' line to Denny and Bonny- bridge. Before British Railways came into being, the station was served by both the Caledonian and North British Railways and later by the London, Midland and Scottish (L.M.S.) and the London and North- Eastern (L.N.E.). Many local men are employed on the railway.
The district is also exceedingly fortunate in its service of buses. Situated quite near are the chief offices of Messrs. W. Alexander and Sons, now part of the huge nationalised undertaking, and a large number of Larbert people, male and female, find employment with that company. There are frequent and direct services to Glasgow, Edinburgh. Stirling and the Fife coast by way of Kincardine Bridge, while the most common route is the 'Circular' which runs from Falkirk to Larbert either through Carron or by way of Camelon. Bus tours are popular. especially in the summer season.
Youth Work. Considerable attention is paid to work among the young people and the voluntary bodies deserve much praise for the enthusiastic spirit with which they carry through this good work. The Boy Scout movement is particularly strong, and the local troops are all active and flourishing. In 1963 the fiftieth anniversary of the formation of the Torwood Scout troop will be celebrated. This strength of the movement is due in no small measure to the keen practical interest which has been taken in the Scouts for almost fifty years by Sir Ian Bolton, who has been the Chief Commissioner for Scotland. He lives at West Plean and, although he leads an exceedingly busy life, he always makes time for this worthwhile pursuit. He visits the homes of the boys, he corresponds with those who leave the district, and in many varied ways he gives his help and guidance to the Scouts. Few men of his generation have exerted such a profound influence for good over the youth of the parish as has Sir Ian Bolton. Attached to the West Church, there is a company of the Boys' Brigade which has within its ranks a large number of boys who turn out on their weekly parades in a very smart and orderly fashion. This movement received a distinct impetus some years ago when Carronvale House was acquired by the Boys' Brigade as a conference and training centre. Officers and leaders from all over Scotland come frequently to Carronvale for week-end conferences and courses of instruction. One important feature common to both boys' organisations is the summer camp, when for one week the boys live under canvas either in the country or at the seaside.
There are similar organisations for the girls of the parish - Girl Guides and Girls' Guildry. In recent years, too, the county youth service has opened youth clubs in the schools of the county, and we have two in the parish - at Larbert and Carronshore. The Larbert club produces many fine young athletes.
We hear and read a great deal these days about 'juvenile delinquency' and it is undoubtedly true that an alarming amount of crime has been committed by young people during the war years and since the war. This is not the place to discuss the causes of this distressing phase of our times, but here in our splendid youth organisations we have one of the most hopeful ways of counteracting this evil tendency. The more our young people receive training and guidance in such bodies as the Scouts and the Brigade, the more likely are they to grow up into useful, honest and upright citizens. Socrates spoke very truly when he said, 'No man goeth about a more godly purpose than he who is mindful of the right upbringing not only of his own, but of other men's children:
Sport. All forms of sport and recreation have their keen followers throughout the district. Working men have a much greater opportunity than formerly of taking part in sport as most of them work only a five-day week and Saturday is no longer a working day. Since football is considered to be the national sport, we shall make mention first of all of the Stenhousemuir Football Club, whose players are known locally as the 'Warriors.' Although the club sometimes occupies only a humble position in the second division of the Scottish League, yet more than once in recent years it has attained considerable success in the Scottish Cup. Thanks to the efforts of an energetic Supporters' Club. Ochilview Park is quite a commodious enclosure, and the club receives encouraging support from the community. There are several juvenile clubs catering for the teenager while schools' football is popular with boys of school age. Various public works have their own teams and the Works' Tournaments attract a large number of followers during the summer season.
For some eighty years cricket has been played on the Tryst by the Stenhousemuir Cricket Club. This club occupies a prominent position in the game in Scotland, and many outstanding first-class clubs are on the fixture list each season. The Tryst players are very fortunate because the turf on which they play is considered to be among the finest in Scotland and even to compare most favourably with the turf at the famous English cricket grounds. There are three elevens at the Tryst. There is a cricket club at Bellsdyke Hospital, and for periods there has also been one at Carron.
Bowling has been played for a longer time than any other game in the parish. There has been a bowling green in Larbert since 1867 and a former president of the Larbert Club has in his possession two bowls with the year 1869 clearly marked on them, which were presented by the late I. C. Bolton, of Carbrook House. Now there are four clubs, at Larbert, Burnhead, Stenhousemuir and Carron, and more than once Scottish titles have been won by local members. This is a summer pastime very much in favour these days, and ladies' clubs have been formed at the Stenhousemuir and Larbert greens. It used to be called the old man's ' game but that is now a misnomer as many younger men are enthusiastic bowlers.
Golf is also a popular game with both sexes and the Falkirk Tryst Golf Club has been in existence for more than seventy years. It is the oldest club in the whole neighbourhood, but within the past forty years two clubs, Falkirk Carmuirs and Glenbervie, have been formed, the former at the southern edge of our parish and the latter at the northern edge and these draw a proportion of their membership from Larbert.
There are two tennis clubs in the parish - Carron and Larbert Old Church. The latter club was formed more than thirty years ago by the young people in order to develop the fellowship which they had already found in the church and its organisations. While proficiency in play was originally a secondary consideration, this has now been developed sufficiently to enable the club to take a leading place in the competitions arranged by the Central Districts Lawn Tennis Association. Two public tennis courts have been opened for play at Crownest Public Park.
At one time the pond at Larbert House was the scene of many stirring games of curling. The erection of an ice rink at Falkirk in 1938, with its certainty of play, has now made the "roaring game" in its natural conditions little more than a memory. Only once or twice during recent years has there been curling on the pond, but many skaters still find enjoyment there when conditions are favourable.
During the winter two or three badminton clubs function in the parish, while for more than fifty years there has been a miniature rifle range in Larbert. Several of the churches have a men's club which meets weekly during the winter months and at these meetings the men play such games as dominoes, draughts, carpet bowls, darts and table- tennis. While the river Carron at Larbert no longer provides facilities for fishing there are still many keen anglers in the district who with patience endeavour to secure their catch. There are a few bird-fanciers and some men who find pleasure. and also profit, in rearing homing pigeons.
Organisations. Several organisations interested in the welfare of the community function with varying degrees of success. Prior to the nationalisation of the health services, there was a flourishing Nursing Association which supervised the work of three nurses, two at Larbert and Stenhousemuir, and one at Carron and Carronshore The two Larbert nurses occupied the comfortable Nurses' Home, now taken over by the state. The Association was largely kept up by an annual sub scription of 5s. from most of the inhabitants, who appreciated the excellent work done by the nurses. The funds of the Association have been transferred to the Larbert Samaritan Trust, a body which provides extra comforts for the sick and aged.
There are two Voluntary Aid Detachments of the British Red Cross Society which have done valuable work over the years in training their members to perform practical nursing duties. They are commonly known as the V.A.D.s and they rendered useful service during the wars. Linked with this nursing work is an ambulance class carried on at Larbert station. It is a branch of the St. Andrew's Ambulance Association and is primarily intended for railway workers, but among its members are to be found some of the general public. The first-aid work taught there has proved itself of real benefit, although fortunately there has been no major disaster on the railway to reveal its true worth.
Within recent years the needs of the aged have been brought before the community to a greater degree than formerly and now there is a well organised society known as the Old People's Welfare Association. In addition to provision of an annual summer outing and a New Year treat, loads of firewood are delivered to the needy old people and assistance is given to them with various domestic duties. Club premises have now been obtained next to the Dobbie Hall. Support for the association is given by an annual contribution from householders, from the managements and workers in most of the public works and from interested public bodies.
The interests of the ex-servicemen are looked after by a branch of the British Legion. This branch has its own colours, procured in memory of its first chairman, the Rev. J. J. S. Thomson, and a new ball has been built by this organisation. Another group with associations with the war of 1914 is Toc H which continues its devoted work, based on a hut in the parish. The local branch of the National Bible Society does its work quietly but effectively, with the aim of distributing the Gospels throughout all lands.
Freemasonry is in a flourishing condition in the district, and Lodge Carron No. 139 is so popular that there is a long waiting list for membership. Associated with it is a Royal Arch Chapter. These orders possess their own Masonic hall and also a Lesser hall, formerly the Universalist Church, or 'the brick kirk' as it was perhaps best known. These halls are so central and convenient that they are often used for social functions, such as wedding receptions, when they are not required by the brethern themselves. The Order of the Eastern Star in its Carronvale Chapter No. 64 is a healthy organisation and its meetings are well attended. A recent addition to this type of society is a chapter of the Order of the White Shrine of Jerusalem.
The two most popular friendly societies are the Rechabites and $shepherds. Although the National Health Service has curtailed the activities of these bodies, they still do much good with their provision for sickness and death.
One of the most successful of all the organisations is the Larbert Amateur Operatic Society which stages an annual production - some- times two in a year in the Dobbie Hall over a period of eight nights before large and appreciative audiences. The Stenhousemuir Co-operative Society Dramatic Club also has a strong following, and its annual performances are well attended and much enjoyed. The operettas of the junior choirs attached to the various churches invariably attract good attendances. One should mention the three Co-operative Women's Guilds which seek to create interest in the Co-operative movement and further the cause.
The Women's Voluntary Service has a strong and active membership, the Toastmasters' Club is continuing to train its members in public speaking, there is a Business and Professional Women's Club, a branch of An Comunn Gaidhealach which received fresh stimulus from the excitement of the National Mod in Stirling this year, a branch of the Townswomen '5 Guild, a Trefoil Guild and an active Owner-occupiers' Association. In addition to all of these are the various industrial and hospital social clubs, and a club of nurses who served in the base hospital at Bellsdyke during the war. They number 108 and they 'keep in touch' still and, very fittingly, call their club by that title. Politics are represented by three clubs, Conservative, Labour, Liberal, all active and energetic. There is, in fact. no lack of useful and interesting organisations in the parish.
Hospitals. More than eighty years ago some gentlemen in Edinburgh were responsible for equipping a small institution for the education of imbeciles. This establishment became known as the Scottish National Institution for the Training of Imbeciles, and it later received royal patronage. It is now a very considerable concern, with many large modern buildings and the finest of equipment. Here much ".excellent work is done among those who are handicapped in life.
Another hospital for those who are afflicted with disease of the mind is Bellsdyke Hospital. formerly known as the Stirling District Mental Asylum. It serves the counties of Stirling, Dunbarton and Clackmannan. It is also a very extensive hospital, performing an invaluable service for the people of these counties.
As mentioned already, Torwood Hall was acquired by the county council and is now a home for the aged.
Twenty-five years ago Larbert had only two doctors, each with an assistant. The growth in population has meant that more medical men are required, and nowadays we have six doctors practising within the parish.
Public Trusts. In 1910 Miss Dawson left £4,100 to the Kirk Session of Larbert Parish Church so that the interest could be devoted to the relief of aged poor women in the parish. At present there are about 70 beneficiaries.
In 1829 William Simpson of Plean left £500 to the Kirk Session of Larbert, the interest to be given to needy people of the parish. Miss Rachel Bruce left £250 for a similar purpose, and, with the addition of some smaller sums, these form the Simpson-Bruce Bequest which is administered by a representative body consisting of members of the district council and of the Kirk Session of the Old Parish Church.
Banks. Prior to the war of 1914 there was only the Clydesdale Bank in Larbert, with its branch in Stenhousemuir. The industrial development of the district brought in the Commercial Bank, which also has its branch in Stenhousemuir. of course, the Clydesdale has amalgamated now with the North of Scotland to form the Clydesdale and North of Scotland Bank. In Stenhousemuir there is a branch of the Falkirk and Counties Savings Bank which makes its appeal to the small investor and encourages thrift among the people.
Falkirk Tryst. For many years there was held in the parish the Falkirk Tryst, a large cattle and horse market. This was an important event as it was the chief contact between the Highland sellers of livestock and the buyers in the Lowlands. The old members of the community can recall the crowds of people and the stirring scenes when the Trysts were held, and practically every piece of ground in the district was used for grazing. These were three in number - on the second Tuesdays of August, September and October. With the coming of the auction mart the Tryst as a market has disappeared, and now it is observed only as a 'Fair,' with its boxing booth, hoop-la, 'throw-the- penny' tables and chair-o-planes. The Monday before the second Tuesday of September is Tryst Monday and is recognised as the autumn holiday.
Public Parks. The parish has a few open spaces, the principal one being the Crownest Park, which is laid out with tennis courts, putting green and paddling pool. It is popular and much frequented, especially by young people. The Maclaren Memorial Children's Ground was a gift from Carron Company in memory of a former chairman, J. J. S. Maclaren. There children enjoy swings and boys play football. Carron Company also gave ground at West Carron for the use of the children, while the space in front of the offices has been converted into the Burder Park and is a favourite haunt of the workers during their mid-day meal hour in summer. There are also smaller playgrounds at the various housing schemes.
Closely associated with the provision of parks and other 'breathing spaces in an industrial area is the campaign for purer air. The south side of Main Street is destined to be soon a smokeless zone and it is hoped that, eventually, the whole area will be smoke free. Much smoke is still poured out over the area by locomotives entering and leaving Larbert station but this too will be eliminated in time by the introduction of yet more diesel trains.
Shopping. The chief shops are those belonging to the Co-operative movement. There are three societies in the parish - Falkirk and District, Stenhousemuir and Carron - and all three have large member- ships. Most working people are strong co-operators, and buy nearly everything from Co-operative shops. A political factor enters in here, as the Co-operative movement is definitely affiliated to, and exerts a powerful influence over, the Socialist Party. Considerable numbers of people do their shopping in Falkirk, and even Stirling, where there are greater selections of goods
Social Life. There is an up to-date cinema which is quite well patronised by the public. Dancing is very popular and dances are frequently held in the Dobbie Hall and other halls in the parish. Older people prefer a whist drive or a basket tea, and these are regular events, much enjoyed by a large section of the community. Most organisations arrange from time to time a 'bring and buy sale' or a 'kitchen shower,' and these functions not only raise money but play a considerable part in the social life of the parish.
Behaviour. We read in the New Statistical Account that "it is much to be lamented that the sale of spirits is so great." We regret that there is still a good deal of drinking, although there is much lessndrunkenness than formerly. Unfortunately gambling in its various forms, football pools, sweepstakes, horse racing and the newest form, 'bingo,' which is even ousting film programmes in the local cinema, is very prevalent. Large sums of money are spent weekly in this social evil. Indeed, pools and sweepstakes have become quite big business, so strong a hold does gambling have over people. However, the general behaviour of the community is very good, and the work of the police, inspector. sergeant and constables, is comparatively light.
Final Revision, 1961.
Tom Paterson (last updated 26th Oct 2020)