(written 1951,final revision 1961)
PARISH OF MUIRAVONSIDE
by the REV. JAMES C. DOWNIE.
Muiravonside is the most easterly parish in Stirlingshire and, as its name suggests, is bounded by the river Avon on the south, east and north while a considerable part of its area has a rather bleak, moorland aspect, mellowing towards the north-east into the richer farmlands which are part of the Forth valley. Although the parish is mainly rural the large proportion of its inhabitants is concentrated in the villages of Maddiston, Whitecross, Standburn and that part of Avonbridge to the north of the river Avon. The area of the parish is given in the 1951 census returns as 7,963 acres. The highest parts are some five hundred feet above sea level and the land descends, in ridges which lie mainly north-west and south-east, to the north-east where the hundred-foot contour is reached.
The main Stirling-Edinburgh road (A9) passes through the northern part of the parish, as does the Glasgow-Edinburgh railway line, but travellers on these routes are generally unaware of the existence of the parish, there being none of the centres of population on these direct routes. while a large volume of traffic from Kincardine Bridge, Lanark and the south passes through Maddiston there is little tc, distinguish the area from the other villages along this thoroughfate. Indeed to the people in the nearby towns the name is generally unknown and this indicates the modern trend away from the parish as a unit, a trend which is quite marked within the parish itself, each village having its own sense of community but having no real feeling of kinship with the others.
The early history of the parish is obscure; there are remains of fortified mounds near the river Avon at Easter Manuel and Sighthill, both close to the Edinburgh-Glasgow road and at Castlehill. farther to the west; some stone coffins have been found behind these defences, but it is impossible to determine whether these were erected for defence against the Romans or against the Danes.
The Priory of Manuel, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, was founded in 1156 by Malcolm IV and housed a community of Cistercian nuns but the name suggests an earlier foundation by the Culdees dedicated to our Lord in His title Emmanuel. Haining Castle is a fifteenth century manor consisting originally of an L-shaped building of ground floor and three upper floors. The name Haining is derived from an old Scots word for an enclosure. Its lands were granted to Reginald de Craufurd, a member of a family of note, in the reign of James 1 and, according to a charter dated 17 January 1424/5, they included a large part of the present parish. They passed by marriage in 1540 to the family of Livingstone who were lords of Callendar. The castle contained a chapel on the second floor, and a Papal mandate dated 1454 directs the Bishop of Dunblane to grant the inhabitants of the area the right to elect a clerk-minister to assist the priest who was chaplain at the castle. This would indicate that, although the district formed part of the parish of Falkirk, the people enjoyed the services of their own priest at Haining before the Reformation and before the erection of the first church at Muiravonside.
In 1600 the building was enlarged by the addition of an eastern wing; this no longer survives. The castle and lands continued in the Livingstone family and in 1646 a charter of Charles 1 confirms them to James, Earl of Callendar, a title granted to James, Lord Livingstone, in 1641. His nephew and heir, Alexander, became Lord Livingstone of Almond and the estate took the name of Almond. This is borne out by the inscription on the two silver communion chalices dated 1676, 'Hoc potulum ad ecciesiam de Almond pertinet.' The estates of the Earl of Callendar, including the lands of Haining, were forfeited because of his complicity in the Jacobite rebellion of 1715 and were sold to the York Buildings Company in 1720, from which company they were purchased in 1783 by William Forbes, the ancestor of the present laird who is still the prineipal landowner in the eastern part of the parish. The castle itself seems to have declined in status after the attainting of the Earl of Callendar; it was let to tenants and fell gradually into disrepair; by 1797 it was recorded in the first Statistical Account that 'ii is not now inhabited.'
With the departure of a resident landowner the parish history ends on a sad note. The next era, consequent on the industrial revolution, saw the coming of the Union canal within a field's-length of the castle to the west, and close to the churchyard, and the laying of the railway line a litfie to the east, while the recent extension of Manuel brickwork has brought modern industry up to its very walls.
In 1801 the population was 1,070; this total had more than doubled by
the middle of the century and by 1901 the population was 5,332. Until 1931 there was very
littie variation but in the next twenty years the population had dropped below 5,000 to
4,813, a decrease of 13.5 per cent. Muiravonside was one of only two parishes in
Stirlingshire which showed a decrease from 1931 to 1951. The population is concentrated in
the villages, Maddiston having 2,769 inhabitants, Whitecross 1,134 and Standburn and the
part of Avonbridge in the parish about 100 each, the remaining 700 being scattered
through- out the area. Of the 1951 total of 4,813, 2,444 were males and 2,369 were
females. The density of population was 70 people for each 100 acres in 1931; this had
become 60 for each 100 acres in 1951. The 1961 census return reveals a further small
decrease to 4,407.
The original parish school still exists as a dwelling house and was still the schoolhouse until the 1930s. Muiravonside School was built in the last part of the nineteenth century and was closed in 1955, when a new school was opened in Whitecross. This was part of the post-war building programme and it is a modern building with five classrooms, one of which is specially designed for infant teaching, with an outside play area. There is also a general purposes classroom with a screen for films and filmstrips, as well as a television set. A branch of the county library has its bookshelves in this room. The assembly hall is well-designed and serves both for school gatherings and as a meeting-place for various organisations. There are 159 pupils and a staff of five teachers. Maddiston School, built in the 1 87Os and enlarged in 1911, has eight classrooms and a central hail. In addition the infant department is a separate building. opened in 1956, which contains three modern classrooms and a general purposes room large enough to allow the children freedom of movement for physical exercises. Provision is made for medical facilities. There are 300 pupils and ten teachers. Drumbowie School in the village of Standburn is much too large for the present population, having been built when Standburn had a large mining community. Now only two of its twelve classrooms are occupied, by nineteen pupils with a staff of two teachers. Some Roman Catholic pupils attend local schools; others travel to Roman Catholic schools in Falkirk. The proportion of Roman Catholics is small. Senior secondary education is provided in Falkirk while other secondary pupils attend Redding Secondary School. In addition to education for local children day release education is provided in the former primary school in the now deserted village of Blackbraes which has been adapted as a further education centre. Courses in commercial studies, engineer ing theory, radio and television servicing for day release students are offered and there is a catering course for full-time students. There are some 200 students and eight members of staff. ( This centre dosed and its students were transferred to Falkirk Technical College in January 1963.)
There is no resident doctor in the parish but the area is served by three practices in Polmont while some Whitecross people are patients of Linlithgow doctors. Falkirk and District Royal Infirrnary is the main hospital for this area although some patients are sent to Bangour or to hospitals in Edinburgh. Until recenfly the district nurses lived in the parish but the nurses' home now is at Rumford, immediately beyond the boundary. The area served is part of Polmont and Muir avonside. The county health department provides clinics for infants in Maddiston and Whitecross; these offer a very helpful service in an area of this kind.
Other Public Services
The water supply is drawn from the Stirlingshire and Falkirk board's reservoir at Carron, and while there is now an adequate supply. new pipes having been laid some years ago to cater for the developing housing schemes, the quality of the water is often poor, frequent discolouring, the result of rust in pipes and other causes, having unpleasant consequences; a side effect is that housewives are advised against buying certain types of spin driers because of the danger of rust affecting clothes in the machine!
Sewage disposal and drainage are good the county sanitation authority having stringent regulations for all new buildings. There are waste disposal works near Parkhall farm for Maddiston and near the gpiris of Manuel Priory for Whitecross. The villages are well-lit and c'ectricity is generally laid, even to remote farms, but this is an improve ment effected only in the last five or so years. Previously there was 'some degree of truth in the contention of rural dwellers that their lighting and cooking facilities were poorer than those of remote Highland areas although their homes were only ten miles from the sources of power supplying the central area of Scodand. Even now there is some juitafion at the fairly frequent load-shedding and cuts in supply which take place; these are felt the more keenly because of the large number of electrical appliances of all types in use in homes. Gas is available in Maddiston, mainly in the older private houses and pre-war housing schemes; the main pipe from Polmont does not go beyond Maddiston.
Since the war of 1939 the number of vehicles on the roads has increased greatly and much has been done to adapt roads originally laid for rural traffic. Widening, levelling and the removal of dangerous tends and bridges have improved conditions hut a great deal more is required before the roadways will be suited to present-day vehicles and, although longAerm plans have been prepared, it is, unfortunately, true to say that some of the most dangerous spots in the district are to be found within the parish; there is, moreover, a great deal of justification for the criticisms, which are generally heard, of the road surfaces.
There are upwards of 300 private houses in the parish, about a dozen being small mansion houses with wooded policies, 78 being farm houses and holdings and the remainder mainly small cottage types of one storey although some have upper floors with dormer windows. More than 200 are owner occupied and a great number of those in the villages are of late nineteenth century date. Probably less than a dozen have been built since the war of 1914.
Of the 814 county council houses 374 were built between the wars, 248 in Maddiston and Rumford, making these two villages continuous along the Falkirk-Bathgate road, and 118 in whitecross after 1931 when the Manuel brickworks commenced operations. Standburn village became depopulated in 1936 when the new village of Westquarter was built and most of Standburn's inhabitants were rehoused there, but eight council houses had been built before that date.
After 1945 when the housing problem became acute the county council built 440 more houses, 236 in Maddiston, 174 in Whitecross and 30 in Standburn. In Maddiston 36 houses were of the prefabricated pattern; although they were intended to last for only ten years they are still occupied. Some houses being built in Maddiston at the moment are intended to replace these houses. Among the post-war houses are twelve built for agricultural workers, four in Maddiston (none of these is at present occupied by a farm worker) and eight in Whitecross (not all of these are occupied by workers on the land). County council houses are generally of three or four apartments but there are a few with five apartments. One large family was allocated two adjacent three- apartment houses. About 20 are two-apartment houses for elderly couples or single people. There are no council houses in the part of Avonbridge village within the parish.
While the villages have grown and the hamlets of Almond, Redford, Crosscroes and Blackbraes have all but disappeared. there is still a demand for houses for younger married couples and while each new building scheme is watched with some degree of anticipation by those without homes of their own it seems that some years must elapse before supply of houses exceeds demand.
In the past century coal-mining has been responsible for the growth of population in what was previously an agricultural parish. The number engaged in agriculture is relatively small although almost the whole of the parish is farmed in various ways. The closure of the pits between the wars with no marked diminution of the population has created the problem of finding employment for the majority of the inhabitant&. This has in part been solved by the development of industry outwith the parish itself, in Falkirk and Grangemouth, and in part by the establishment of new industries. In the 1930s mining of the fire-clay at the eastern end of the parish began and it was found more convenient to build a brickwork where the clay was than to transport the clay some dozen miles to an established factory.
The industry at Manuel has grown rapidly until now, when about 1.000 men and women are employed in making firebricks; most are for the iron and steel industry of this country but thirty per cent. of pro duction is exported to Europe, Australia, South America and the Middle East. The village of Whitecross has grown from a hamlet of, perhaps, six or seven houses to a community of more than 1.000 people. although only a quarter of that number is employed in the local works. The employees come from Linlithgow and from the shale-mining areas of West lothian where employment in that industry has declined.
In the Maddiston and Standburn districts there are still some small coal mines but operations are sporadic and production is not great. The waste materials from the old collieries are used in the manufacture of building bricks at Craigend where approximately 100 men and women are employed. mainly from the Maddiston area. Firebricks are also produced. the clay coming from near Larbert; a quarter of the production is exported and the remainder is sent to the steel industry in the midlands of England; some products are used by local authorities for housing development.
In Maddiston itself a flourishing road transpon concern has grown from a pre-war family business with one lorry into a firm with a fleet of 370 heavy. six-wheeled vehicles operating trunk haulage services which link Falkirk, Grangemouth, Glasgow and Edinburgh with London. Portsmouth, Southampton and other southern ports as weil as with the industrial midlands. The company also has a coach-building section and storage warehouses throughout central Scotland. Employee:, obviously. arc drawn from different areas but local people are among those who arc absorbed by this undertaking.
The main Glasgow-Edinburgh railway line passes through the parish and Manuel station, once a busy passenger station with a line linking Bo'ness and Glasgow by way of Bathgate, now has only four passenger trains daily. The volume of goods traffic handled, however, is fairly large; this is mainly bricks from Manuel itsell and from Craigend. along a branch fine to Bowhouse. In 1956 261,000 tons of goods were handled and in 1961 the total was 214,611 tons. Again the number of local employees is small, especially since the engine sheds were trans ferred to Polmont many years ago. Numbers of railway workers still live in the parish but it is likely that in future these numbers will decrease as a result of the introduction of diesel locomotives.
On a smaller scale there is one other haulage firm and a sand and gravel quarrying company employing nine men near the Avon at the northern end of the parish, close to the main Edinburgh road. Some 500-600 tons of material are extracted daily for use in building opera tions in the Falkirk area. It is expected that these materials will be available for the next twenty years.
Of the 7,963 acres of the parish more than 5,500 were under crop or in grass in 1960; oats accounted for nearly 1,000 acres, potatoes 200, wheat and turnips 100 each and barley and rape nearly 100 each. Almost all the farms follow a four year rotation with two to three years in grass although some areas with only rough grazing (954 acres) are not ploughed. The dividing line between the good land and that which may be called marginal is roughly the Falkirk Bathgate road running north and south through the parish. To the east lie the farms which are naturally more productive while the western areas are generally harder to work and less fertile.
Dairying is carried on in ten farms, some having modern milking parlours; in one, tuberculin tested milk is sealed in cartons ready for delivery to households. These farms are not confined to any one part of the parish; they lie in various areas from the extreme east to the farthest west. The number of dairy cattle kept, 1,200-1,300, has varied little since the end of the war of 1939. All farms not engaged in dairying carry beef cattle, at least wintering if not feeding. The number of beef cattle, more than 1,500. is two and a half times the number kept in 1945. Although the area lies outwith the sheep-rearing districts five farms raise sheep, two specialising in the fat lamb trade; the number of sheep has almost doubled since the war, being now above 1,700. Apart from the five farms noted there is some wintering of sheep on a few other farms. Pigs are reared in some four piggeries separate from the larger farms; there has been a steady increase in numbers from about 60 in 1945 to 400 in 1960. The poultry population, nearly 10,000, has risen considerably in recent years; the increase is accounted for by a few establishments which specialise in the production of broilers. The widespread use of mechanical implements drawn by tractors is the cause of the decline in numbers of horses; there were 169 in the parish immediately after the war; in 1960 there were 28 and it is likely that the few farmers who still have horses will not replace them when their working days are over.
Although the roads and the size of some of the fields make the use of combine harvesters difficult, they are to be seen at work throughout the district; among the farmers op~ons vary about the advantages of this form of harvesting against the disadvantage that the grain must often be artificially dried. Some prefer to accept the risks involved in drying in the stook and clajin that a better grain is obtained. Farms vary w size from ten of less than five acres to nine of between 150 and 300 acres, while there is one of more than 300 acres. More of the smaller holdings are owned than rented, but of those exceeding 50 acres rather fewer than half are owner occupied. There has been a decline in the number of agricultural labourers since the war. In 1960, including casual labourers, a total of only 81 people was recorded. The proximity of industry with the prospect of higher wages is a factor in this decline although many industrial workers are willing to take part-time work on the land at harvest time.
One unfortunate feature of both industrial and housing development in
the eastern part of the parish is that some of the best land is no longer available for
agricultural purposes. It is to be hoped that, for the future, consideration will be given
to this problem, which is not confined to this district There is considerable
dissatisfaction that local authorities are enabled to issue compulsory purchase orders for
land which land- owners and farmers are, naturally, reluctant to lose.
The original parish church of Muiravonside was founded in 1648 and the present church, built in 1804, replaced an earlier building which must have been on the same site; no ruins exist nor are there traces of foundations elsewhere. The belfry is obviously much older than the nineteenth century building it surmounts and is typical of those seen on seventeenth century churches; the bell has an inscription with the date 1699 but there are no records to say whether or not this is the first bell of the church. The church is almost as broad as it is long and the internal arrangements were typical of the period of its origin. the pulpit being in the centre of the south side wall with pews on three sides and a semi-circular gallery on east, north and west sides
In 1947 it was found that wood-worm and dry rot had so badly infested the building that a complete internal renovation was necessary. A new vestibule was added at the cast end with vestry and session house and the old session house at the gateway was demolished. A carved stone cross, again older than the session house which it surmounted. was placed above the east gable of the church. The interior of the church was replanned so that the main axis was east-west. The chancel furnishings have been placed on a raised platform against the west gable. Despite some sentimental regret that the familiar interior had completely disappeared and the probable disapproval of certain architects who deplore the alteration of old church buildings, there is general agreement that a light, pleasant1 worshipful and, it may be said. more comfortable sanctuary has been provided. The building seats 400 and is adequate for the congregation of about 700 communicants. Attendances vary but about forty per cent of the congregation &c regular worshippers with sixty per cent at communion services. In addition Cairneymount Church, situated rather inconvenienfly at the top of the hill at the south end of Maddiston. also serves the eastern part of the parish now allocated to the charge of Muiravonside. Built in 1904 from funds made available by a local landowner, it is a pleasant building seating about 200; it is used for evening services, the attendances at which rarely rise above 40; there is a Sunday school of approximately 100 children. The parish church is also the meeting place for the Sunday school for the Whitecross district while the primary children meet more conveniently in Whitecross School and in the church hall at Maddiston. The various organisations, Woman's Guild, Men's Guild, Girls' Guildry, Boys' Brigade and Life Boys, under keen and devoted leaders, contribute to the strength and witness of the congregation.
The western half of the parish is served by the former United Free Church in Avonbridge. The building is of mid-nineteenth century date and accommodates some 300 people, of whom about forty per cent. attend regularly and sixty to seventy per cent. at communion seasons. There is a Sunday school of 40 children. Organisations for young people include Girl Guides, Brownies and Cubs while an active Woman's Guild sqpports the work of the congregation. The congregation has its origin in the eighteenth century praying societies associated with the Secession movement. In addition there is the mission church at Standburn, a corrugated iron building erected by the Congregationalists when Standburn was a busy community and taken over by the parish church soon after its erection. Since 1935 it has been administered by Avonbridge Kirk Session and, although numbers in the village have declined, some twenty to thirty people worship on Sunday afternoons; there is also a Sunday school of 19 children.
The north-west corner of the parish in the area of the non-existent village of Blackbraes is served by the qucad sacra church of Blackbraes which stands in the village of California in the parish of Polmont, part of which was also disiomed to provide a parish area. Since the population of this part of the parish has been moved to California, Shieldhill and Maddiston, there is no church life which concerns Muir avonside although at one time both the minister of Blackbraes and the minister of the former United Free Church at Shieldhill cared for the inhabitants.
In common with other mining areas the parish has been influenced by Christian Brethren, Faith Missions, Salvation Army and Church of Christ groups; now these are represented by the Christian Brethren who have a fine modern hall in Maddiston and exercise a vigorous evangelical witness in the community; and by the Salvation Army whose hall in Maddiston is still a centre of some activity, mainly among children and the women folk; numbers, however, are small.
The Roman Catholic chapel at Rumford is over the parish boundary and serves the Polmont, Shieldhill and Muiravonside areas with a combined Roman Catholic population of nearly 800 people. of whom, perhaps, 350-400 live within Muiravonside parish while many of the population have no formal religious attachments the services of the various denominations arc expected for marriages and funerals, and baptisms are requested although in many cases the parents are not churchgoers.
As long as the area had a predominantly mining community the miners' welfare institutions in Maddiston and Whitecross provided recreational and social facilities in the villages. Nothing now remains of either the Maddiston or Standburn institutes; the former used to have a fine bowling green and tennis courts with a well-built club room in which indoor games were available to members, all at a nominal fee. In Whitecross the welfare institute has been given a new lease of life as a licensed club, with membership by sub scription.
In place of these, two local committees provide summer and winter outings and entertainments for children and old people, and co-operate with the county health department in providing a chiropody service for older people. The Women's Voluntary Service has recently established a branch in the parish and enthusiastic work is done for local and national purposes to assist the less fortunate. Civil defence and first aid classes are held under these auspices with the purpose of preparing citizens to be able to help themselves in the event of nuclear war. The Women's Rural Institute branch meets in Standburn School but draws its membership from the other villages and is well attended.
Football clubs rise and decline in the villages as generations of young people grow up, but an attempt is being made to establish a new football and athletic club, with a basket-ball team for girls, in Maddiston while a newly-formed youth club in Whitecross promises to give fresh interest to boys and girls. Playing fields exist in both villages but the lack of any pavilion is a serious handicap and presents difficulties in keeping fixtures with teams accustomed to such facilities. While a great deal is written and said throughout the country about the provision of recreational opportunities for youth, villages such as ours seem to go largely untouched by these schemes and local support, either financial or in service, on any large scale, is not forthcoming.
The Army Cadet Force, Girl Guides, Boys' Brigade and Girls' Onildry are flourishing organisations under enthusiastic leaders, but these organisations touch upon the lives of a minority of young people and by their very nature appeal only to those who are willing to accept some form of discipline in the various activities. For those who have been described as 'the unclubables' no satisfactory form of recreational activity is available and these young people and their needs constitute a problem to those who have their welfare at heart.
Way of Life
The general changes in the past fifty years have not left Muiravonside untouched, yet the parish still suffers from that 'isolation which a community six miles from the nearest town in the county experiences. Although Maddiston and Standburn were growing villages they were unable to be focal points for the whole parish. To-day there is no real sense of parochial unity in the parish. The various villages have their own loyalties and prejudices and ~ipling's words to some extent are applicable, 'east is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet.'
Within the villages themselves the legacy of isolation, hardship and poverty still affects the outlook of the people. There is a tendency to accept only slowly ideas which may generally be more readily accepted elsewhere. The motto which might in justice be applied is, 'We have never done that before.'
Nevertheless the trend is for people to look outside the parish for many of their social and recreational activities. The town of Falkirk claims the villages here as members of the belt of satellites which surrounds it. A regular bus service, every twenty minutes, connects Maddiston with Falkirk; the other villages are less frequendy served: yet movement is generally away from the parish. Although the local Co-operative Society has its grocery and drapery departments in the villages and numerous private businesses sell a large variety of com modifies, there is no butcher, baker or pharmaceutical chemist in the parish. Vans and travelling shops are frequent callers but for variety and some freedom of choice the housewife must go farther afield to shop.
This is also true of those in search of entertainment, whether it be cinema, dancing or sport; the town provides the quality and variety that we have come to expect. This is not to say that the people are always on the move. Indeed the advent of television has meant the end of local drama groups, concerts, whist drives and social evenings, which had played an important part in the leisure-time activities of the villages. and many people have become unwilling to stir out-of-doors in the evenings. Even the newest craze, for 'bingo,' seems to claim a minority in this district.
There are two public houses in Maddiston; the older has been renovated and a new one was bnilt some years ago. Both are well patronised but there is no high level of drunkenness. The other two inns in the parish are at Greyrigg near Blackbraes, formerly serving the mining hamlets, and at Linlithgow Bridge, more than a mile from whitecross yet well patronised from that village. The new Act allowing licensed betting shops has permitted the erection of a wooden betting establishment in Maddiston. While, undoubtedly, some use both the public houses and the betting shop immoderately the gene~ patronage is of a reasonable nature.
With the rise in the standard of living there is a more widespread desire on the pan of parents for their children to have greater advant ages in life than they themselves knew. This is seen in the interest in education, in the recognition of the value of allowing able children to continue at school for a senior secondary course; it is true that enthusiasm may sometimes blind parents to the inability of a child to benefit from such a course, but the desire to have the best available opportunity is good to see. A reasonable proportion of young people attends continuation classes in the evenings and the encouragement of their parents is a welcome sign of a new attitude to educational facilities. A few of the young people reach university standard but the fact that the parish has no professional stratum and no real outlet for their talents means that they must of necessity regard their education as both a means towards and a cause of their settling elsewhere.
In general it is true to say that poveny is a thing of the past but the legacy of the coal mines for some of the men in middle years is poor health and an inability to work up to retirement age. There are, occasionally, families whose standards of cleanliness and general behaviour leave much to be desired but the vast majority of the inhabitants of the parish comprises people who are hard-working and respectable in their daily lives and are anxious to improve themselves and their families, materially and by the enjoyment of modem appli ances and methods, and to some extent to raise the general standard of society within the community.
Tom Paterson (last updated 26th Oct 2020)