Remembering Ian and Malcolm

The 2022 Annual General Meeting  of the Dr W. H. Welsh Trust took place in Bridge of Allan Library on the 1st November 2022:

At this public meeting, Craig Mair gave a tribute to Ian Mclaren, a Trustee, who had died in the past year. Peter Gordon gave a tribute to Malcolm Allan, a former Secretary of the Trust who died two years ago.

This film of the AGM includes Craig Mair’s tribute to Ian Mclaren:

To play the film please click here or on the image above

Below is the text of Dr Peter Gordon’s tribute to Malcolm Allan:

Malcolm Allan – the Owl Man of Bridge of Allan

Welcome all to the Annual General Meeting of the Welsh Trust and thank you for attending. Malcolm Allan of Coneyhill House, Bridge of Allan, died 2 years ago this month.

The Welsh Educational and Historical Trust was the idea of William Steel who had served as Provost for Bridge of Allan. His successor, Provost McAlley, helped found the Trust which was named after Dr William Welsh in gratitude for his long-service as village doctor and for a £1000 donation that he gifted to support the Trust. This was in the summer of 1970 and I was 2 years old at the time and so do not remember. The Welsh Trust would not have survived without Malcolm Allan. He was the longest serving secretary.

My grandfather, Rab Scott, was a close friend of Dr Welsh, and in his letters recorded visits from the doctor to Drumdruils and Orchard House:

11th August 1968: “Dr Welsh came in today for a wee chat for about two hours – he was in great form and I noticed he had his golf clubs in the back of the car!”

9 November 1969: “We had Dr Welsh up last Sunday evening a real dark stormy night with lashing rain he drove himself and was in great form – he comes up once a week. I must be one of the veterans of this area now!! As I look at the various older people the few in number I begin to realise it is almost fact.”

18 March 1970: “Dr Welsh is the only visitor we ever get, even the Minister has not been since before Christmas, he has been twice but was told I was out and not asked in – not that I enjoy his company – but a little kindness can be shown when he does call.”

20 April 1971: “I have a visit from Dr Welsh about one evening per week and have some real good cracks – still driving his own car in his 93rd year.”

My first meeting with Malcolm was last century. I visited Malcolm at Coneyhill to seek what he knew about the Victorian pharmacist Gilbert Farie who in 1851 established Strathallan Pharmacy that still runs today. Arriving at Coneyhill by foot I walked through the impressive stone gates surmounted by eagles and walked down the path to Malcolm’s home. I was a bit nervous as Coneyhill is an imposing building. Through the basement, but light-filled, windows I could see a gentleman with long flowing white hair reading a book. At the door, with owls perched around, I rang the bell. This was my first meeting with Malcolm. My life was to be enriched thereafter.

Bridge of Allan has had few more community-minded than Malcolm. His dapper kenspeckle figure was as familiar as the Wallace monument to all villagers as he took his daily walk down Henderson Street to pick up his messages. He was always smart, stylish and would happily chat to anybody about the life of the village both old and new. His voice had a rich intonation that words alone cannot describe. He had that glint in his eyes of a man truly fascinated by life and who lived it fully, and just like the motto on his old school cap, he “dared to be wise”.

I used to chat with Malcolm about all sorts and conversation with him was always a joy. His knowledge of the village may never be surpassed. Yet he was also worldly. Malcolm was also wary of some aspects of progress, progress which often seems to hardly break its stride.

Malcolm loved to recall stories and how I now wish my memory was a better retainer. A favourite story that I do recall Malcolm telling is that of a stuffed giraffe shipped from England to Scotland for the MacFarlane museum. Sent by sea it arrived at a Scottish port north of Bridge of Allan. It was then to be transported to Bridge of Allan by rail – however, as it was stuffed, its long neck had to stick out from an opening in the train wagon roof. The train had to stop at Dunblane as there was not enough clearance in the Kippenross tunnel. So the giraffe’s final journey to Bridge of Allan was by horse and cart.

When our children were wee I took them to visit Malcolm and he gave them a delightful tour of his owls and objets d’arts. He delighted in hearing wee Rachel, then little more than a toddler, pronounce the Wallace Monument as “Wally Mint”. Following this Malcolm shared with me the incredible story of Rev Charles Roger of Bridge of Allan and his instrumental role in the erection of the Wallace Monument on Abbey Craig. It is a story of intrigue, scandal, truths and untruths. A story that Malcolm brought to life like no other. In later years I added a bit more to the story of Dr Rogers in that I traced his wife who never featured in Dr Rogers’ extensive writings. She spent much of it in Edinburgh Lunatic Asylum and died there. Apparently her delusion was that it was her husband “who was mad”. There are good reasons to conclude that she may have been right. I called this story “Monumental madness” and in a double-act with Malcolm we presented the story as a Lecture to the Stirling Smith Museum. I remember how dull I was in contrast to Malcolm – so dapper in his kilt and green velvet waist coat.

In 2012 Malcolm was delighted to be asked to plant a tree in Cleopatra’s triangle and spoke as follows: “So here we are now at the Diamond Jubilee of the great great granddaughter of Queen Victoria who Dr Paterson honoured with a tree planting. Elizabeth II honoured Bridge of Allan in 1971 when she came in the centenary year of our little burgh. Now is our turn to honour her by planting a tree, a Magnolia Elizabeth”.

It was Malcolm who encouraged our daughter to collect hedgehogs. He even began her collection.
Malcolm’s Typewriter Christmas letters, neatly folded in 8, were hand-posted by him to villagers. They were delightful: witty, observant, generous, honest and gentlemanly – just like Malcolm.
Like Malcolm, I have always been a bit of an archivist-stroke-hoarder so I have kept these special letters. Here are a few extracts:

December 2011: “Hope hedgehogs survive the winter – and the rest of us too!”

December 2012: “By the way: owls 4200+, owl books c500, owl cards probably about 3000 . . . I give up – but don’t!”

December 2014: In sharing the news of a Blue plaque gift from his grandsons “GRANDAD ALLAN: Master of Owls; the best homework helper, top egg hider, Jubilee Tree planter by Royal Command – hides here”.

December 2017: “It occurs to me that you are not just becoming the Antiquary but turning into a reincarnation of Dr Paterson, Antiquary and gardener. Blessings and hoots, the Owl Man”

December 2018: TYPEWRITTEN: “So, after 50 years in Bridge of Allan things are looking up again and change is to be welcomed”. THEN HAND-WRITTEN BY MALCOLM: “Just accept the ‘decay’ element. A shorter letter but I am shrinking, 7½ stone and 5ft 5’ – days get longer as life does, remarkably so – so I use what’s left of it . . . begin negative but be positive”.

Malcolm Allan died in his home, Coneyhill House, Bridge of Allan, on 2nd October 2020. Almost two decades before, in an interview for the Bridge of Allan Times, Malcolm concluded: “we must acknowledge history and build on it. We can’t ignore it and we must try and understand it in order to create a better future for ourselves and our children”.

Malcolm loved his family: his son David [who sadly died as a result of cystic fibrosis] and his daughter Lizzie [who I believe is here tonight]. Malcolm used to delight in telling me about his grandchildren: Archie and Fergus. His eyes twinkled as he did so and his resonant, indescribable voice, became even more wonderfully indescribable.

I wish to leave the final words on Malcolm Allan to Ian McLaren, recent Treasurer of the Welsh Trust who is now also sadly missed: “Bridge of Allan is poorer for his loss but richer for his life”.

Peter Gordon’s films on Bridge of Allan can be found here.