The rich history of Kirkintilloch

From a tiny market settlement to having Scotland's first railway, the country's first inland port, its first canal and being the home of red telephone boxes, Kirkintilloch has come a long way in 800 years.

It's eight centuries this year since the East Dunbartonshire settlement officially became a town in 1211, and residents are gearing up to celebrate its anniversary.

It was the powerful Comyn family, who had a castle in what is now Peel Park, who applied to King William the Lion, King of the Scots, to make the town a Barony Burgh.

This status meant they could hold a market and set the foundations for the growth of a thriving town from a settlement of just a few hundred people.

Today it's home to 20,000.

Though the original document no longer exists, a 16th century copy is in the town's archives.

Peter McCormick, curator at the Auld Kirk Museum, said: "It allowed you to hold a market, people moved in and out, people were allowed to trade and it was a way of raising taxes that would go towards the family and the king. It's important people are made aware of their history.

"People in Kirkintilloch do have quite a good awareness of how old their history is."

There will be a church service on October 2 this year to mark the date the charter was signed.

But 'Kirky' was on the map long before then.

The remains of the Roman-built Antonine Wall, once the Roman Empire's most northerly frontier in Britain, passes through the area.

The wall, which was actually made of turf and crossed Scotland like Hadrian's Wall to the south, was built around 142AD under the orders of Emperor Antoninus.

Kirkintilloch was home to one of the forts built along the wall, and the town's name in its original form, Caerpentaloch, means 'The Fort at the Head of the Ridge.' The 37-mile long wall achieved World Heritage Status in 2008 but it's history stretches back even further than the Romans.

A New Stone Age carved ball from around 2000BC found in a garden in the 1970s was sold by the National Museum of Scotland to the Auld Kirk museum last month.

It's on display at the library - but historians have no idea what it was for.

MR McCormick, 53, said: "We're still high about it.

They're never usually found this far south.

"They're mainly found in Aberdeenshire. It could have been a weapon, an art object, an oracle, or currency, we don't know.

"A lot of people are aware of the Roman presence and that's why it was great to get that neolithic ball. It reminds people there was a presence before the Romans."

Like many places in Scotland, early industry in the town included linen making. By 1790 there were 185 weavers in the town and in 1867 a mill opened by James Slimon in Kelvinside employed 200 women making cotton cloth.

Vital transport links allowed industry in the town to boom.

The Forth &Clyde canal, which opened in 1790 was the first between the North Sea and the Atlantic and allowed goods to be shipped across the country.

The Monkland & Kirkintilloch Railway, the first in Scotland to successfully run locomotives, opened in 1826 to transport coal, iron ore and passengers from Monklands and Coatbridge to the canal. And as in Glasgow and Clydebank, shipbuilding also became important - the town was one of only a few places where craft were built inland.

Kirkintilloch had two shipyards, J&J Hay which opened in 1867 and Peter McGregor, and both were based on the canal. They produced 'Kirky puffers' made famous by 1953 film The Maggie.

The ships were used for transporting goods as well as for pleasure cruises on vessels such as the Gipsy Queen.

A launch was a big event but unlike the large boats on the Clyde, they had to be released into the canal sideways. Peter said: "People used to get the afternoon off to go and watch. It was a big industry for the town.

"They went on into the 1950s repairing ships, when the last yard shut."

Coal mining and iron works were also once vital industries, with the town's Lion Foundry the most famous.

Set up in 1880, it made red telephone boxes which can still be found around the world, as well everything from drain pipes to bandstands.

Iron work for the London Hippodrome and Lambeth Bridge were also made at the works and in 1977 foundry staff even worked on repairs to the Houses of Parliament.

Lion Foundry closed in 1984 and these days East Dunbartonshire Council is the biggest employer.

The canal closed in 1963 and came close to being filled in, but it was finally officially reopened in 2001 by British Waterways as part of the £83.5m Millennium Link Project.

The town's new £12m Southbank Marina - built near where the town's shipyards yard once stood - was created in 2008 to encourage boats and businesses to return to the canal which was once such a hub for the town.

KEY DATES in Kirkintilloch's history:

142AD World Heritage site the Antonine Wall was built.

1211 Kirkintilloch became a barony burgh meaning it could hold a market.

1644 Kirkintilloch's oldest building, the Auld Kirk built. It now houses the museum which is 50 years old this year.

1790 Forth & Clyde canal finished. 1814 Barony chambers, town hall, council chambers, court house, school and jail built. Now museum offices.

1826 Opening of Monkland & Kirkintilloch Railway.

1836 The town's first foundry opened.

1919 Council houses started to be built for people to move out of Glasgow slums to the area. 1967 J&J Hay shipyard opened. 1963 Clyde and Forth canal closed.

1964 Railway closed. 1984 Lion Foundry closed. 1992 Regent shopping centre opened by Princess Diana. 2001 Clyde and Forth Canal reopened.

2008 Southbank Marina opened.

What have we forgotten? Let us know your memories in the box below.


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