From rural hamlet to a busy commuter village

Smiddy Brae, Polmont at the start of the 20th century
Smiddy Brae, Polmont at the start of the 20th century

When I was a child in the early 1950s I remember being taken to visit family friends in Polmont.

This was long before the great expansion of housing and the disappearance of several fine mansion houses along with the families who had lived there for generations.

It was a much smaller and quieter place than it is today and seemed a million miles away from the smoke and clamour of Falkirk’s multiple foundries.

The original village, ‘‘Old Polmont’’, lay close to the old and new churches where the school and smiddy were built to serve the needs of the farmers of the carse lands to the north.

The earliest church which stands as a picturesque ruin in the churchyard was built in 1733 about the time Polmont parish was disjoined from Falkirk.

It survived until 1844 when the present Polmont Old building with its distinctive twin towers was erected as a replacement.

Before then, in the late 18th century, the track leading from Linlithgow to Falkirk was upgraded to a turnpike road and the Laird of Whiteside, Patrick Bennet, allowed ‘‘developers’’ to build along the line of the road.

One of the conditions was that the new community would be called ‘‘Bennetstown’’. It is now the main street of the village.

The next piece of the Polmont jigsaw came in 1842 when the new Edinburgh to Glasgow railway passed a little way to the south.

The railway company decided to create a halt not far from the great stone quarry at Brightons and the coalfields of the Braes.

The place chosen, and the small community which developed, was called Polmont Station. In the century that followed the spaces between ‘‘Old Polmont’’, Bennetstown and Polmont Station gradually filled up creating something like the village we know today.

No doubt the arrival of the train encouraged wealthy folk to come to the village and make it the place of the mansion houses.

For John Millar, the chief engineer of the railway, the village was the ideal spot and Millfield was the result. It stood in Millfield Drive and later became the home of the Stein family.

Elsewhere Sir Gilbert Lawrie, the Provost of Edinburgh built Polmont House south of Millfield. These houses shared the Polmont Burn as a feature running through the grounds which were enhanced by waterfalls, bridges, ponds and formal gardens.

Polmont Park which lay to the north of the main road was the home of Azariah Griffiths, Provost of Falkirk in 1892 and the owner of the Bonnybridge Silica Company. His son Arthur was a distinguished surgeon at Falkirk’s little cottage hospital. All three houses were demolished in the1960s to make way for the new private housing estates.

One survivor is Parkhill which has a longer history than most of the others.

It was built in 1790 for a man called James Cheape of Sauchie though there had been a house called Parkend there from the 1500s.

Latterly it was the home of the Gray-Buchanans and the elderly sisters, Nellie and Annie, were formidable players in the life of the community. After a spell as a restaurant it was converted into flats a few years ago. There were other losers like Polmont Bank once a family home then a nursing home and finally a hotel.

Today the older population take great interest and pride in the history of the village helped by folk like Ian Rule, Margaret Slater, the late Richard Hotchkiss and many more who gather the stories and images of past years and save them for future generations to enjoy.