Balfron in 1846

Extracted from A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, by Samuel Lewis

BALFRON, a parish, in the county of Stirling, 6 miles (E. by N.) from Drymen; containing 1970 inhabitants, of whom 1568 are in the village. There is an opinion that this place has been called by its present name, which is said to signify “the town of sorrow” or “mourning,” from a dreadful calamity experienced by the original inhabitants, who, having left their children in their tents, and departed to a spot at a short distance, for the performance of religious rites, found, upon returning, that they had been all destroyed by wolves, with which the neighbourhood was infested. Others, however, interpret the name, Balfron, “the town of burns,” and imagine that it received this denomination on account of the situation of the old village, now fallen to decay, at the confluence of two small streams. The parish is eleven miles in length, from east to west, and three in breadth, and comprises 14,080 acres, of which 3320 are under cultivation, 105 plantations, and the remainder waste. The surface is diversified with pleasing eminences, on one of which, gently sloping to the south, is the neatly-built and interesting village, enlivened by the stream of the Endrick, winding through a richly-wooded vale at its foot, and supplying, to the lovers of angling, an ample stock of trout, of a peculiarly fine flavour. The lofty hills called the Lennox fells, rising 1500 feet above the level of the sea, form here a singularly striking feature, bounding the scenery in one direction; and the distant view embraces the Grampian range, displaying to great advantage the majestic Ben-Lomond, with many subordinate, yet imposing, elevations. The farms, in general, are of small size, and the soil, which, in some places, is light and sandy, but more frequently wet and tilly, is cultivated with much skill; dairy-farming is a favourite branch of husbandry, and the stock, consisting of the Ayrshire breed, has been very much improved, as well as that of the sheep, in consequence of the liberal patronage of the Strath-Endrick Agricultural Club. The rateable annual value of the parish is £4704. Limestone is abundant; but it has not been wrought to any extent, through the want of coal, which, however, is supposed to exist here, on account of the usual accompanying trap-rocks having been found, though all attempts to discover it have hitherto failed. The ancient mansion of Ballindalloch, in the parish, formerly belonged to the Glencairn family, celebrated in Scottish history, and of whom Alexander, the fifth earl, was the friend, associate, and patron of John Knox.

The population was once entirely rural, and the chief point of interest was the old village, with its spreading oak, where the church and burial-ground are situated; but, about sixty-five years since, manufactures were introduced, and a new village quickly sprang up. In 1780, the manufacture of calicoes commenced; and in 1789, cotton-spinning succeeded, when a mill was erected, known by the name of the Ballindalloch cotton-works, now employing upwards of 250 hands, chiefly females, and driven by a stream supplied by the Endrick, augmented, in case of failure, by the water of a large reservoir in Dundaff moor. In the village are between 300 and 400 hand-looms, employing the larger part of the population in making light jaconets and lawns, and all kinds of fancy dresses and shawl patterns, which branches, however, have been, for some time, greatly depressed. Good roads run to Stirling and Glasgow, from which Balfron is nearly equidistant, and with which latter the chief communication is carried on, there being a daily post, and numerous conveyances; a large cattle-fair is held in the neighbourhood, on the last Tuesday in March, and another in the last week in June. The parish is in the presbytery of Dumbarton and synod of Glasgow and Ayr, and in the patronage of the Earl of Kinnoull; the minister’s stipend is £158. 6. 4., above half of which is paid from the exchequer, with a manse, and a glebe of 17 acres, valued at £25 per annum. The church is a very plain structure, rebuilt in 1832, at a cost of £930; it contains 690 sittings, and is conveniently situated in the village, but too remote from the eastern quarter, in consequence of which the minister preaches there, once every six weeks in summer, and once every quarter in winter. The Relief, United Secession, and Burgher denominations, have each a place of worship; the parochial school affords instruction in the ordinary branches, and the master has a salary of £25, and £10 fees. The parish also contains a library of 400 volumes in miscellaneous literature, for circulation; and one of religious books, with about 150 volumes. This place, with some others, asserts its claim to the honour of being the birthplace of Napier, the inventor of Logarithms.

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