LARBERT AND STENHOUSEMUIR - (PART 3)
The arrival of the Caledonian railway in the 1840s and the villages' subsequent importance as a junction provided the impetus for a wide range of new industries which appeared as the century progressed. In the late 1830s one Thomas Jones had established a timber business in Camelon where he eventually became 'mine host' at the Union Inn. His son James worked for at time in Fairbairn's nail-works and in 1864 established his own nail-making business at Port Downie extending it to include the production of other ironware. A few years later his brother-in-law Peter Forbes a partner in the business joined with Major Robert Dobbie and others to create Dobbie, Forbes and Company with premises in Larbert and three years later in 1875 James Jones opened a sawmill on a site next door to the new foundry. Under the careful hand of the 'grand old man', the firm expanded to become one of Scotland's leading timber merchants with over forty different premises across the country. Everything from simple window frames by the tens of thousands to the timbers of Captain Scott's Discovery came from the Jones yard and a century and a half later the company continues to thrive.
James Jones had not completely severed his connection with the iron industry and in 1888 he formed a partnership with Dermont Campbell, the Dobbie Forbes cashier, in a foundry that still bears their names today. By then of course iron mania had swept through the whole of the Falkirk district so that by the 1890s there were twenty-five foundries with nearly nine thousand men. The village's first venture already mentioned was the Larbert Iron and Stove Works of Dobbie-Forbes which was by then employing over 200 hands. The firm are probably best remembered in the village for the handsome public hall which Major Robert Dobbie of Beechmount presented to the people in 1900 possibly as a memorial to those lost in the wars in South Africa. The company became part of the Allied group, later Glynwed, in 1929 and, like Jones and Campbell, remains in operation today. Other celebrated enterprises followed. In order to supplement the earnings of her husband Andrew, an aerated water and confectionery salesman, a Mrs McCowan began to sell toffee from the window of her house in Stenhousemuir. It was soon more popular than the lemonade and the family took to working full-time in the sweetie business. Together Andrew and his son Robert turned Highland Cream Toffee and the famous cow into a huge national institution and established a factory in the Tryst Road. It continues today, still very much part of the fabric of village life.
The Dobbie Hall and Major Robert Dobbie of Dobbie Forbes, Ironfounders
As late as 1927 when other ironfounders in the district were preparing to band together for survival, Robert Taylor started Muirhall Foundry, a completely new venture in the village. Judicious management and regular modernisation ensured survival and expansion for many years against the tide which swept all but a few from the scene by the middle of the century. Indeed Larbert was singularly successful in remaining in the iron industry with all three companies still operating at a time when the town of Falkirk, once the major centre, has none. However more recent years have brought the same fate to all three of the Larbert foundries and nothing now remains except a few buildings waiting it seems for the bulldozers and housebuilders.
Another development which in its own particular way put Larbert on the national map was the Scottish National Institution for the Education of Imbecile Children established at a cost of £13,000 in the 1860s on more land bought from the Stenhouse estate. At around the same time on a nearby site the £20,000 Stirling District Lunatic Asylum opened its doors and for more than a century the two provided through changing times for those unfortunate enough to suffer from mental handicap or illness. These were enormous undertakings with huge numbers of patients living in great Victorian baronial style buildings as was the fashion of the times. The word Royal was added during the first world war and the RSNH was born. 'Larbert Asylum' became Bellsdyke Hospital as a new age wrestled with the difficulties of providing adequate care and security without creating a world of isolation and despair cut off from and misunderstood by the community beyond the high walls. The modern world continues to search for a solution and, at the time of writing, the 'care in the community' initiative has brought about a significant reduction in the number of patients in both hospitals. Buildings are being demolished or sold and a modern industrial 'park' has appeared on the Bellsdyke Road. The RSNH site to the west of the main Falkirk-Stirling Road is to house the new Forth Valley Hospital due to open in 2009.
Back in Victorian Larbert the new captains of industry like Dobbie and Jones built superb villas in the village which like Polmont was distinguished by an array of fine mansions and estates. Unlike Polmont many of them have survived to serve the community in different capacities and Kinnaird, rebuilt for the third time in the 1890s, Torwoodhall, Beechmount, Carronvale and Carrongrange among others remain as a small reminder to today's villagers of the splendour of their local heritage as well as the sweat and struggle of the working men whose hard labour paid for most of the grandeur.
Ian Scott 2005