(written 1951,final revision 1961)
PARISH OF SLAMANNAN
by the REV. A. CAMERON.
The Physical Basis
The underlying rocks belong to the upper coal-bearing groups, surrounded by outcrops of millstone grit. The subsoil is mainly boulder clay and coarse sand. As the gradients are flat the natural drainage is sluggish and the old field drainage schemes have been damaged by underground workings. Wide stretches of peat are found on the more level ground and the hollows are often filled with swamp. The rainfall is high. The topsoil is then cold and unproductive.
The river Avon rises in the neighbouring parish of New Monkland and is joined shortly by a stream issuing from Fannyside Loch in the parish of Cumbernauld. The river then flows on fight through the parish. The Culloch burn rises to the south of the village and is fed by natural drainage and also by water from flooded underground workings. It joins the Avon at the Glebe. This stream is a great nuisance to the district, because after heavy rain or a quick thaw it floods, overflows, and enters the many old houses which have been foolishly built on its bank. At such times the Avon also overflows and floods the fields on both sides. There are two lochs, the Black Loch and Glenelrigg. On the latter there is excellent shooting.
History of the Community
The name of this parish is very old. About its meaning, there have been many conjectures each as likely to be accurate as any other. Some think there is a reference to a Pictish god 'Tremanna.' Others think that the name simply indicates a river ford or a grey heath.
There comes to us down the years the forceful Opinion of a servant of the Earl of Callendar after a day's ploughing on the newly acquired lands of his master, that Slamannan soil would slay man and mare. At the time of this incident the name, of course, was already ancient.
Local historians think that old baules were fought here. Some think that the Caledonian Forest thinned out on this moor and that it was at just such a point that the Picts usually chose to make a stand, fighting with their backs to the forest and entering to its shelter after the battle. Since the dawn of history, however, no event of historical importance has been sited within the bounds of the parish.
In 1470 Lord Livingstone received from James III a grant of these lands, and his successors, the Earls of Callendar and Unlithgow, held them until the troubles of 1715 when they were forfeit to the crown.
The east of the parish, however, seems to have been the property of Lord Torphichen held under a charter from Robert II. The presence of two mills, one at Balcastle and one at Avonbridge, is taken as evidence that the lands were divided at an early date.
·The ancient parish lay on the south bhnk of the Avon, but in 1730 when the parish of Polmont was disjoined from that of Falkirk a considerable portion of that parish was annexed to Slamannan, making the whole parish six miles long and five in breadth. This land was transferred quoad sacra and Falkirk retained the teinds. This was the subject of long controversy which was settled only by a decision of the General Assembly in 1940 when £50 was given to Slamannan from the surplus teind of Falkirk.
The only trace of antiquity in the parish is the Moat Hill, an artificial4ooking mound near the church, commanding an extensive view of the valley of the Avon. This may have been the council hill or it may commemorate some battle. It is thought that there were two hills, but that one was levelled when the church was built.
The history of the population is largely the history of the mining industry in the parish. The Reverend Alexander Davidson could write in 1841 that there were no viflages in the parish. The people must all have lived on the small crofts of thirty acres or less into which the estates were divided. The ruins of these old steadings are scattered all over the parish.
In the last half of the century mining developed and soon there were many small villages throughout the area. These hamlets sprang up round the different collierie~ Some of them inust have housed almost eight hundred people; such were the villages of Barusmuir, Drumclair, Southfield, Lochside, Hamrow and Pirnielodge. Of these villages there is now hardly a trace. When the pits closed down the miners moved off in search of work. They were hardly a settled population at best - miners moving in as others moved on. The old rows were eventually pulled down as roadmaking increased in extent in the parish. Some landowners, such as the Alstons, planted trees to conceal the unsightly ruins and old refuse bings. By 1921 very few pits were active anywhere near the parish so that miners who chose to live in the area had to travel long distances to work. At the time of the depression this was a very distressssl area, and large numbers of local people were unemployed.
There is now great industrial activity in Falkirk and Grangemouth. which are near enough to employ all the available labour in this district. Many villagers working in these areas would gladly live nearer their place of employment but the general shortage of houses gives tnem little choice but to remain in the village. So in spite of much opportunity elsewhere the population has stabilised itself about the three thousand figure.
The population is mainly centred in the village of Slamannan which had,
in 1951, 1,530 inhabitants. To the south is the small village of Limerigg with about sixty
families. Part of the village of Avonbridge, south of the river, is also in the parish.
The agricultural community is very small as groups of old farms have been gathered into
one holding. The people are mainly lowland Scot, there being less than a dozen families of
Irish extraction. There is much inter-marrying in the village and the young people have
not often sought partners outwith the parish boundaries.
The oldest Session Records commence in 1681. From that date until the beginning of the nineteenth century they have been lodged with the Trustees in Edinburgh. What is reputed to be the oldest house in Avonbridge bears the date 1638.
Farming in general is probably more prosperous now than ever in the history of the parish. The steadings are in good condition, the dairies are modern and tractors and machines are everywhere in use. The land is not fruitful and tends to be bleak and windswept but much is being done by drainage, wind-belts of trees and artificial fertilisation to try to mitigate the harshness of the area. The number of holdings in the parish is 83, of which three are in heath and moorland entirely. The number of agricultnral workers of all types employed in 1960 was less than 60. a total which indicates clearly the development of the use of machinery. This is less than half of the number employed some fifteen years ago. Approximately three in every four farms are owner occupied, the process of purchase by the tenant having gone on steadily for many years. More than half of the farms are of less than 75 acres in extent. Nearly 3,000 acres are in rough grazing and the greater part of the arable acreage, of which there are some 1,100 acres, is in oats. There are upwards of 2,700 catlle in the parish and more than 1,700 sheep. Horses, however, have dwindled steadily in numbers. In 1945 there were 169 while to-day there are no more than two dozen.
The work of the Forestry Commission in recent times is a fine effort to improve the area which should prove valuable in the future. Two sections of land in the Limerigg-Slamannan area are being planted, a total area of more than 400 acres. One section lies near and round the Little Black Loch and the second is north and north-west of the Black Loch. The tree planted is, on deep peat, the pinis contorta or lodgepole pine while the Sitka Spruce is used on shallower peat. In addition local shelter-belts have been created in various areas. A charming tree-planting ceremony at Limerigg was carried out in March 1961, in which local children planted a number of hardwood trees. By this and other methods interest in and appreciation of the woodlands may be fostered in young people and a permanent improvement effected in the landscape. An acre has been set aside by the Commission and each child who joins the school will plant a tree.
Coal mining on a large scale ceased because of flooding. There is as much coal under this plateau as was taken out in the great days of its prosperity. If the water problem could be solved it would be possible to produce abundant coal. Some small pits and mines have been sunk by families working under licence granted by the National Coal Board. These groups work at odd corners of coal left by the big companies of other days. The profit made is good because of the current price of and demand for this coal. Farther east. in Avonbridge, the same trend is visible. A little opencast coal and clay mining is carried on and grain milling and brickmaking absorb a number of the employed people of the village but these industries are all at a distance from the village. Very many people travel from the villages to Falkirk or Grangemouth and, 'to a slight extent, to Bathgate to work. Some miners travel as far afield as Bo'ness and whitburn. The thriving industries in the Falkirk and Grangemouth areas are still expanding and can provide work for all available labour. Bus fares are not yet sufficiently high to make travel difficult and so there is no immediate danger of unemployment in the village.
The railway which so impressed the Reverend Alexander Davidson in 1841 has gone. All that remains of this once busy line with its network of sidings and branch lines are the old cuttings, embankments and the ruined bridges. Of the station buildings only the foundations now remain.
The parish is well served with shops and tradesmen. The Co-operative Society with its various departments has much of the custom and the retail and distributive trades generally and the various services are well represented. There are six licensed premises.
Public and Social Services
The county council supplies the usual services. These are adequate in effect. Refuse is collected twice weekly and a special collection of waste paper is made once a week. Lighting of the main streets will be further improved by 1962.
Three doctors live in and serve the parish and district nursing and visiting is well organised. The child welfare clinics in Slamannan and Avonbridge provided advice. treatment and guidance to 144 families in 1960.
Primary education is provided at Limerigg where 26 pupils attend a two teacher school, at Avonbridge which has a roll of 125 pupils and a staff of four teachers and at Slamannan where there is in addition to the primary department a secondary department pro viding education to school leaving age. The roll in Slamannan Secondary School is 450 and there are 16 members of staff. Roman Catholic pupils travel to Falkirk as do pupils who wish to continue education in secondary schools to Senior Leaving Certificate level.
At the Disruption in 1843 the entire Kirk Session resigned. The Free Kirk was soon built. The two congregations were at last united in 1946 under the present ministry. The parish church, built in 1810, is now used for worship and is in itself a very attractive building, architecturally. There is a Roman Catholic community whose priest travels weekly to Avonbridge to say mass in the welfare hall there. It is interesting to note that while twenty years ago there were, perhaps. three Roman Catholic families in the village of Avonbridge, there is now a congregation of considerable numbers on Sundays. In Limerigg, on the other hand, there have been numbers of members of the Roman Catholic Church for a long time. There was a Roman Catholic chapel and school in Limerigg for some seventy years and the village was populated largely by Irish Catholics until about 1918. When the collieries declined these people moved to Bannockburn, Plean and other villages in the carse. The chapel fell into disrepair and a new one was built two years ago in Slamannan. The Roman Catholic families in Slamannan all come from Limerigg. A small Church of Christ exists in Slamannan, a Congregational Church in Avonbridge and a mission church of the Church of Scotland in Limerigg. The churches in Slamannan and Limerigg are very well attended and all the fabrics have been restored.
The old Free Church building, Balquhatstone, was taken over in May 1961 by the county council for demolition, the intention being to develop the site as a housing area. An effort to improve the older part of the parish Kirkyard was begun at about the same time. It was this Kirkyard which was mentioned in some family papers found about a year ago by the Reverend James Waugh. They included, among other things, an original set of the regulations, dated 1826, drawn up 'to be observed in watching in Slamannan Church against the depredations of the 'resurrectionists.' The detail of the regulations suggests the fear and anger of the local people at the threat of such raids. The very fine iron gates and railings on the north side of the Kirkyard, incidentally, were the work of a jobbing blacksmith, Jock Gardner, of the Plains, in 1904. He was paid for this beautiful work about £59.
One hundred and more years ago, as has been indicated, no villages existed. Mr. Ellice Milton, a newsagent of Avonbridge, once unearthed in an old outhouse the minute book of a local Hearse Club, dated 1805. Its contents suggested that at that time local dwellings were dispersed widely. The centres of the area were Ballenbreich and Strathloanhead. Many of these houses, there and round Slamannan, are now derelict. In Avonbridge itself, as a result, partly, of new house construction, there has been a gradual move from the south to the north bank of the Avon. The river itself is becoming more sluggish, recovering its former power only in time of spate, and the banks are encroaching upon it. Slamannan is undergoing the same process of conversion from dilapidated old houses to new houses erected by the county authority.
In the period between the wars 120 houses were built by the local
authority, 76 of these in Avonbridge and 44 in Slamannan. Since 1945 further developments
have taken place, the number of houses built by the same agency totalling 474 of which 348
have been built in the Slamannan area and 126 in Avonbridge. In addition 25 prefabricated
houses of three apartments each have been erected in the parish. All of these are still in
use. A new attempt to provide suitable and well sited houses for agricultural workers has
produced between 1951 and 1959 eighteen houses throughout the parish area, deliberately
designed and placed to be of value to farm workers. There remains, however, a good deal of
re-housing to complete. Private building has in recent years been but little. Most of the
privately owned houses are of some age. The latest available figures indicate a total of
296 privately owned houses of which 188 are owner occupied.
In 1841 the valuation, including the annexation, was £3,416 4s. Sd. In
1952, the rateable valuation was £12,987 and the gross valuation £18,081. In 1960-1
rateable valuation was £20,808 lOs. The re-valuation completed during 1961 is expected,
when details are available, to raise this still further.
Recreation and Leisure
The youth organisations in the main centre on the churches, and are efficiently run and very strong. Scouts, in particular, are very active. There is a flourishing Women's Rural Instittite in Slamannan and in Avonbridge. A community hall in Avon- bridge is much used but a committee to administer it is hard to find. The children's gala day there is no longer held for the same reason of difficulty in finding organisers. The gala day in Slamannan has perished in like manner. The association in Avonbridge which is devoted to the welfare of older people is threatened, too, by lack of willing helpers. This is a saddening state of affairs but there is still a good deal of energy and activity in evidence. A dramatic group in Limerigg is flourishing and a pipe band in Slamannan is strong in numbers and enthusiasm. Masonic lodges are well attended by members outwith the village and there is a branch of the Order of the Eastern Star. A bowling club, a badminton club and an angling club are all strong and in the new playing field there is prospect of a tennis club when courts are constructed. Boxing has its devotees, including one local lad who has reached amateur international status. Several men in the parish keep greyhounds and pigeons and train them for competition.
Many of the young people travel to Falkirk for entertainment but some are members of the youth club which meets, under county youth service auspices, in the school at Slamannan. A country dance class meets in the school at Limerigg. Some of the young people are showing great interest in a new sport which is developing on the Black Loch. Some fifty members of a water ski-ing club with five motor boats have been practising their skill since 1959. There is considerable support, too1 for the local football teams in Slamannan and Avonbridge. Crowds. though not always large, are enthusiastic.
The Way of Life
Family life is good. Like most mining corn munities the village people have great regard for the welfare of their children. The standard of housewifery is high. The library is extremely popular and several hundred books are issued in some weeks to adults, which indicates a good deal of home reading. There is little intemper ance, but much gambling. A former public house in Avonbridge has become a betting office. Large halls were built at the beginning of the century by the Kirk Session and the Masonic Lodge and the public functions held in these are on a large scale.
It has been suggested that there is a tendency among young people who have continued education beyond school leaving age to move from the villages. This is, to some extent, true but it is a trend which is likely to be halted as social conditions in the villages improve. These improvements have begun.
Final Revision, 1961.
Tom Paterson (last updated 26th Oct 2020)