Landmarks of Bridge of Allan


By an Occasional Correspondent

This being J. J. Mackay.
 All articles published separately
 in the Stirling Observer (in the mid 20c)

John J. MacKay

From a historical or industrial stand-point, the interest these old cottages inspire in the rise and progress of the village is only one of the outstanding features that merits attention. Modern though the village may be as a commercial community, it has, as already referred to in a previous article, right down from the time it was a mere hamlet or clachan of houses scattered here and there, enjoyed fair prominence as an industrial centre.

In the course of our task in compiling the matter and information to be recounted on the different subjects comprising this series there was one outstanding characteristic which we feel our readers will not have failed to observe, viz. the shrewd business ability of those at the head of affairs. This strong acumen or aptitude, for the management of business concerns is most noticeable. Some of those businesses, in the course of time, by force of circumstances, ceased to exist, the advent of machinery and the keen competition of other manufacturers more conveniently situated, both as regards production and delivery, having not little to do with their downfall.

In public life Bridge of Allan has been fortunate in securing the services of gentleman who, from experiences derived from the management of their own business, inculcated these principles into their deliberations to the general welfare and prosperity of the burgh. In connection with public affairs, the community of Keirfield always played a prominent part. The inhabitants of this particular district – just like other sections of the burgh – had their champions. A late Provost of the village designated it “the contagious village of Keirfield.” No doubt he had some unwelcome forebodings of defeat at a forthcoming election, of Councillors, and his remarks were inspired as a warning to his fellow-Councillors of strong opposition to be encountered from that quarter of the community. Its voting power is, and always has been, very strong, so much so that any Councillor desirous of Municipal promotion whose opinions differed fro the feelings of this community invariably fared badly on election days. On the other and, if the candidate was fortunate enough to expound views favourable to the ideas of the community, his chances of success were considerably strengthened.

In their day, these old buildings, known as “The Old Mill,” latterly was the hub of a busy community. From the earliest times we read that the village possessed a mill. In the first picture we have the original meal mill, the white-washed building on the right side of the picture. Naturally, what machinery it possessed was primitive and insignificant compared with present-day requirements. Like its vis-à-vis at the foot of Station Road, it was built on the storey principle. The section above was used as a loft, and the part below for handling of the grain. The motive power was derived from the water of the lade, a section of which was diverted to serve the purpose, and which has now long since been closed up, when the old building was converted into a tenement of dwelling-houses.

In picture No. 2 we have an old well-known scene. At the time the photo was taken operations had already commenced to demolish the buildings on the right. The building on the left, the gable end of which is shown, is – or at least part of it is – of more than passing interest. Immediately underneath the room with the window facing the square, shown in the picture, was an apartment in which many of the community spent many happy evenings. The room was only a ben – the houses were of but-and-ben orders in these days – and also had a window facing the square, as well as one fronting the roadway. It was in this apartment that the association now known as Keirfield Institute was instituted, and up till 1879, when the members removed to a new hall a little further down, many pleasant nights were spent in this single room. Penny readings, lectures and entertainments of a varied nature were of frequent occurrence, and many of the present generation of older inhabitants can recall the pleasure these gatherings afforded. At ten o’clock every Sunday morning for many years a Sabbath School was conducted here by Mr Middleton, an M.P. for one of the Glasgow divisions. The superintendent was Miss Trotter, whose father was for a long number of years a member of the kirk session in Chalmers Church. As this Sabbath School grew both in size and importance, some of the classes, after the opening exercises, crossed the roadway, and the scholars were taught their lessons in the rooms of the residenters of the thatch cottages. On the Sabbath evenings a service was held in this reading-room, and the accommodation being limited, the roadway was often completely blocked up.

All these things, however, have passed away, the religious teaching and its teachers too. We cannot, however, refrain from noting the kindly feelings of regard and respect which our informants refer to these long-past times, and to the help, spiritually and materially, which they received from these old associations. It means something for the sympathetic attachment that existed between teachers and scholars that after all these years the members of that Sabbath School, now grown men and women, should retain such vivid recollections of that early training. In their case the truth of the old adage is amply proved, that first impressions are most lasting. A goodly number of the present residenters in the village were born in one or other of these houses.

The cottages in their day were very comfortable, and though lacking conveniences of accommodation, still they were just as up-to-date as any of their neighbours, and in some respects were superior. With the completion of the modern houses known as Avenue Park, all the buildings shown in the foreground of the pictures were taken down about twelve years ago. The only relic of the old order of things now remaining is the row shown in the distant ground of the second picture, and which has appropriately been named “Chuckie Row.” It might be worthy of mention that there was another very old cottage situated immediately behind Avenue Lodge. Of these old buildings, this one was the first to be taken down. When in the process of demolishing this house the workmen came across some old domestic utensils of a very early period stored in the loft above the living rooms. Amongst other articles, there were two oil cruises, these being in good preservation. Instead of wick, the illuminating agency used in these days was the juice of a reed, which after being extracted and dried, strongly resembled wick. There was no gas then; this, as well as electricity and acetylene gas, were undiscovered. Now we have all these, and besides illuminating, they can be used for heating and cooking purposes. These cruises were made of iron, and comprised two pieces shaped in the form of a ladel minus the handle. One of these had an upright support, which had an inverted hook at the extreme end, with which it was suspended from the roof when hung up. Midway up on this support was a notch, to which the second vessel was attached. This latter vessel contained the oil – the under one preventing any overflow from falling on the floor.

In their description of Bridge of Allan previous writers on local folklore have described the original village as being composed of “A confusion of straw-roofed. white-washed cottages, rich, massy trees, a bridge, and old inns giving entertainment to man and beast.”

In order to realise the picture thus portrayed I would ask my readers to look back seventy or eighty years, and in their imagination consider what the village would be like. The very few cottages which then existed all stood in the vicinity of the bridge, and the mere hamlet – it was nothing more was embosomed in foliage. This latter adornment gave the place a rustic appearance. Nature has been lavish with her favours upon the village in the matter of lovely scenery, and even today it is vastly superior to and surpasses many other places in this respect.

In the bygone era to which I have referred much of the eastern portion of what now forms the burgh was forest and fields. It was not till the year 1820 that the first steps were taken to form the village. According to Erskine’s Guide to Bridge of Allan, the first house of what might be termed the new village was not built till 1837. It might be interesting to mention that the vast majority of the houses on the hill were built with stone procured, from the quarry situated at Wolf Crag. As an item of local history I may mention that, as the name implies this place was the last haunt of the wolf when this animal used to abound in the district.   At that time Bridge of Allan was comparatively unknown. The days of the stage coach, travelling was a slow and tedious ordeal, arrival at destinations uncertain, and accommodation in conveyances was limited, besides expensive. But the scarlet-coated driver and the lumbering bus was a cheerful sight, and a welcome variation in the humdrum of village life.

The Scottish Central Railway was formed in the early “forties,” the first sod of the local section being cut by the late ex-Provost Drysdale. The circumstances relating to this interesting event have, so far as I know, never been published and though bereft of any fuss or ceremonial which one would have naturally expected in connection with such an important occasion, they are well worthy of recording. Young Mr Drysdale, as he was then, was on his way to Keir House with bread when the navvies engaged in the work of cutting the section wore busy debating who they could get to cut the first sod. One of their number espied the young baker coming towards them. The foreman stepping forward briefly explained to Mr Drysdale what was required of him. Surrounded by the navvies, 6O in number, the young baker took a shovel, and in a true workmanlike manner cut the first sod, a task which was greeted with cheers from the onlookers. Immediately thereafter Mr Drysdale repaired back to the bakehouse and in due time sixty pies were delivered for distribution amongst the navvies. Needless to say, the choice of the navvies proved a popular, and as the later career of the late ex-Provost Drysdale showed, a singularly appropriate one.

With the completion of the railway, visitors attracted by the climate and the beneficial properties of the mineral waters, were very numerous. As the village grew in popularity as a health resort its commercial interests, increased considerably. In the year 1870 it was raised to the dignity of a burgh managing its own affairs and controlling its own interests. These were stirring days in Bridge of Allan, when conveyances from the station had two men on the box, the extra man being required to assist with the luggage of the passengers. Of late years the town has become more a residential one, but in the affection of holiday-makers it still holds favour, and in this respect – not withstanding the prominence of other resorts – still meets with a fair measure of prosperity. To recall the scenes and customs of a bygone era is a fascinating and interesting occupation. The pursuit is educative as well as instructive, and serves to link up the old and ancient historical associations with those of the Present day. To the uninitiated this series will provide a wider range of acquaintance in information – historical and otherwise – relative to the different subjects under review.

The pictures shown will be readily recognised as those of buildings which stand at the top and bottom respectively of the Station Road. Both are old houses and bear unmistakable evidence in their appearance that they formed part of the original village. Although they differ in roof covering – the one being of straw and the other tile – they possess externally and internally many things in common. The thatch cottage is the only representative of its kind in the village. This style of roofing, which was once so general, possesses many peculiar advantages, in-as-much that it makes a cosy, warm house in winter and in summer cool and open. In a picturesque sense both possess distinctive features which invite the admiration of everyone, and particularly those of antiquarian pursuits. The thatch cottage is supposed to have been built about 200 years ago. This, and the adjoining buildings and outhouses, which still exist, was originally a farm, and the thatch cottage at that time was used as a bothy for the single men employed. The house presently occupied by Mr E. Jardine, to whom I am indebted for these particulars, was the farmhouse. In those days the subject of our sketch was not all occupied as a bothy. The eastern end with an entrance from the back was used as a shed.  The circumstances which occasioned this part being converted into a dwelling are

peculiar and interesting, as showing the thoughtfulness and kind-hearted neighbourly feeling abroad in those days. The minister of Lecropt at that time was the Rev. Peter McLaren On his death after a ministry in Lecropt of 22 years, his housekeeper, one Margaret Wright, was rendered homeless. Hearing of her unfortunate position, the late Mr Jardine, father of the present tenant of the adjoining house, at his own expense had this part of the cottage entirely reconstructed internally, and there in the eastward half Margaret Wright spent the remaining days of her life. After some years the place ceased to be a farm, and as a natural consequence the main buildings in course of time became residential cottages. The level of the main roadway was lower then, and in order to reach the cottage the visitor had to ascend steps at the entrance, as shown on our second picture.

Notwithstanding its age the thatch cottage is in good preservation, and quite habitable. Rumours are current that its covering of straw is to be substituted by one of slate but personally I doubt very much if any such change will be made. In these days, when every habitation must possess modern conveniences, this building is naturally somewhat deficient One could not expect it to be otherwise, yet not withstanding these drawbacks there would be general regret on the part of the residenters to see the obliteration of this old landmark which has stood there a dumb witness of all the vicissitudes of Bridge of Allan. Without affecting its appearance very much the house could be renovated internally and  externally. Were this done its preservation would he assured for a long number of  years.

The other picture shown is that of Inverallan Inn. The building, which was erected in 1710, occupies a central position on what may be termed the original village. Situated on the main highway to the north, this quaint old-fashioned house of “entertainment for man and beast” arrests attention. Many generations of inhabitants have had refreshment within its walls, and no doubt many a happy and jovial company has met under its roof. Here friendships would be formed and renewed, and many a pawky story told.

It was by general consent an old trysting place for the old characters or worthies of the village – a company whose numbers have very considerably thinned in recent years. Many of the old cronies, who were amongst the best customers of the Inn, have joined the great majority, but the house still enjoys a fair amount of popularity. There have been very few changes in its tenantship, and the old associations of the building have been well preserved. It is recorded by late ex-Provost Drysdale, in “Reminiscences of Bridge of Allan” that in the year 1885 Inverallan was a brewery, did a large trade, and was famed for making good beer.

The building was thoroughly renovated three years ago, and in the course of alterations then effected externally, the remains of the brewery were removed. Internally there are many evidences of ancient handicraft. In the present bar, which previously did duty as a kitchen, an object of much interest is to be seen. On the floor immediately fronting the fireplace is a stone of circular shape resembling a grinding stone of fairly large proportions, and in one solid block is cemented into the floor. A square cavity in the centre has been filled in with cement to the required level. This stone is supposed to have been the grinding stone used in the adjoining flour mill. It measures four and a half feet in diameter and is an object of much interest to all who enter the Inn.

I am indebted to Mrs Drysdale, Drummond Place, for the use of the painting from which the picture of the thatch cottage, as it was when transformed into a dwelling was taken and to the Rev. R. Menzies Fergusson, D.D., for the use of the block of Inverallan Inn.

This building, standing adjacent as it does to the Bridge of Allan Inn, ranks as one of the oldest in the village. It is one of the few remaining houses in Bridge of Allan that boasts of a tile roof. Judging from its position and age, it would appear to have been erected at a time when the village was little more than a hamlet. Built on the old-fashioned principle, the scanty accommodation it afforded is entirely out of date, and a long way from the standard now demanded. This old relic of a bygone day still stands, but is now uninhabited. It has been empty since the death of what in all probability will be its last occupiers – a respectable old couple, who, sad to relate, died within a few weeks of each other some months ago. Since then the old house has been demolished.

It is difficult to convey a more beautiful description of this old relic of a bygone age than the realistic conception of a visit paid to the spot by the late Dr Charles Roger, F.S.A., as narrated by him in “A Week at Bridge of Allan,” and published in the year 1852.

 “After entering the  grounds of Keir by the southern avenue, which is first reached, we immediately cross a bridge over a small ravine, where a narrow footpath becomes noticeable leading to the left. This conducts us to the old churchyard of Lecropt.

It is impossible adequately to convey a conception of this sequestered and solemn spot. It is the beau ideal of a place of rural sepulture; solitude is blended with sweetness, the romantic with the beautiful; nature has been aided by art, and art has been tastefully exercised. The dimensions of the old church of Lecropt, which stood here, but of which there is not a stone remaining, are beautifully indicated; the breadth of two rows of sombre yews, the eastern end of a handsome column, and the western gable of a horizontal dial, dated 1844, constructed in the form of a font.

On the column is an inscription bearing that the church was erected in the year 1300 and on the dial are several mottoes expressive of the shortness of time and uncertainty of life. The extreme narrowness of the structure will arrest the attention of the visitor. It explains the joke of a former minister who declared on the building of the new church, that during the previous part of his ministry he had preached in a “trance’ – that is a lobby.”

The old stones are rapidly disappearing. The trees are particularly fine, some of them being over 25 feet in height. To the left is an Iona cross bearing the words

“In memory of H.A.S., ” on a brass plate on the back of the monument, written by the late Sir William Stirling Maxwell to the memory of his sister, Hannah Ann Stirling:

“Sister these woods have seen ten summer’s fade
Since thy dear dust in yonder church was laid;   
A few more winters, and this heart, the shrine
Of thy fair memory shall he cold as thine.
Yet may some stranger lingering in these ways,
Bestow a tear on grief of other days:
For if he too, have wept o’er grace and youth
Goodness and wisdom, faith and love and truth,
Untinged with worldly guile or selfish stain,
And ne’er hath looked upon thy like again,
Then, imaged in his sorrow, he may see
All that I loved, and lost, and mourn in thee.”

The following extract from “Reminiscences of Bridge of Allan,” by the late ex-Provost Drysdale, published in 1894, will be of interest to my readers (I am deeply indebted to Mrs Drysdale for permission to insert these extracts in this series, and for helpful assistance on other matters pertaining to local folklore.)

“There was a square of houses adjoining the old churchyard, consisting of the manse, the school and the schoolmaster’s house and other cottages. In the chief of the latter refreshments were in those days supplied to the large number of people, many making long journeys on foot, who came to the great communions or ‘Holy Fairs’ held at Lecropt. The schoolmaster was a Mr Anderson, and he was teacher in Lecropt for the long period of 54 years.” 

It might be interesting to relate in connection with this district that at that time there was a row of thatched cottages where Milsey Bank now stands. In one of these lived a Sandy McLaren or as he was popularly called “Old Grapps.” He owned the orchard there, and in the course of his employment as under-forester at Keir,pla nted the handsome row of fine beech trees extending from the present schoolhouse to the lower lodge of Keir. He was a character and many stories were told about him and by him.

From the publication I have quoted it appears that many eminent preachers have occupied the pastorate of Lecropt, and the different precentors who officiated in those days seemed to have considered themselves quite as important personages as the minister. There was no instrumental assistance to the praise at that time, and the worshippers had to depend entirely on the precentor, who as a rule sang lustily and with great heartiness. Then the worshippers stood whilst prayer was offered, and remained seated during the praise. Now the order of things is reversed; the old customs and practices of public worship have undergone a complete change. The services are much shorter, and the sermons preached nowadays are not the long, weary discourses to which our forefathers in the olden times were accustomed. Yet notwithstanding the vast and convincing progress made to brighten the services, to make them applicable to every-day life, and adapt them to modern requirements generally, evidences are unfortunately not awanting that the Church is losing its grip of the masses. The restraint, particularly where religion was concerned, which hung like a pall over the people of that bygone era has in the interval lost much of its severity. Whether the people as a whole, or the Church as an institution has benefited by the change materially I will leave to other and abler pens than mine to determine.

The picture shown here is perhaps one of the most fascinating scenes in the village. The view, taken a few hundred yards down the river, with the bridge in the foreground, is a very popular one with photographers. Stretched before the operator is an exquisite panorama. The combination of colouring is most effectively portrayed, and in the season of the year, when the wooded heights in the background are clothed in their autumn tints, the sight is a most attractive one. In the general change which has taken place all over the village in the last decade this particular part in the river has shared in the process.

At one time there was no bridge at all at this part, which seems to indicate that the traffic was very much smaller than it is now. In those days, when necessity demanded, a boat which was privately owned was brought into service. In times of flood, or when the river was in spate, as it occasionally is, anyone having business to transact on the other bank had to make the journey round by the village to reach their destination. This boat which did good service for a number of years was not immune from mishap. It was washed away on at least two occasions, and before being secured it had drifted down the Allan and Forth as far as Alloa. The stone to which the boat was moored when not in use may still be seen a few yards to the south of the present bridge.

In the year 1866 the first bridge was erected. Built entirely of wood supported in the centre by a strong upright beam firmly embedded in the river, it notwithstanding a few drawbacks, rendered good service for a few years. In times of flood the centre-beam had to undergo a constant buffeting from trunks of trees, and in winter from boulders of ice. The continual strain this occasioned very speedily cut its career short. During an unusually heavy flood, which loosened and carried in its course from the upper reaches of the river a vast amount of solid ice, the centre-beam of the bridge broke down and the entire structure was carried completely away.

Profiting by the experience gained and the fact having been firmly created that a permanent bridge was a necessity, bridge number two, the old white bridge was erected in the late seventies of last century. It was a strongly built erection, supported underneath with iron framework embedded in masonry on each bank, and held in position in case of emergency with stout wire ropes on either bank. For a long number of years no trouble was occasioned as to its stability, but on the 18th of January 1909, during an exceptionally heavy flood, it was wrenched from its supports and carried bodily down the river by the strong currents. Its progress was stopped by the hedge at the south end of the Public Park, where it lay till the waters subsided. The bridge was then secured and again placed in position, but, as was generally anticipated, the severe strain it had received by the buffeting of the waters brought its term of service to a close more expeditiously than would have been the case had it weathered the storm that wrought so much havoc.

In 1910 the present bridge was erected. Its appearance is a vast improvement on its two predecessors. Built of iron and of good proportion, it stands higher from the water level, thus obviating any danger or risk of being submerged by floods or spates. Like Tennyson’s brook, it seems to murmur to the heaving waters below –

“Floods may come and floods may go,
But I stand here forever.”