The Barnwell Brothers

 From Balfron were the Barnwell Brothers, Harold and Frank, who began their love affair with gliders and planes in the grounds of Elcho House, Balfron and after a subsequent trip to meet the Wright Brothers in America they returned to Scotland and began building innovative designs in Bridge of Allan.

They were the sons of Richard Barwell and Ann Sowter, who were living in Lewisham, Kent at the time of their birth, but moved to Balfron in 1882. 

Read more in the Balfron Heritage website.

In 2013, Taylor Wimpey commissioned Pete Hill, artist blacksmith at P. Johnson & Company to design a memorial to the Barnwell Brothers to be located atop a stone plinth close to the site of the brothers engineering works, the Grampian Motor & Engineering Company at Causewayhead, Stirling.

The monoplane, created at Ratho Byres Forge from mild steel, depicts Harold Barnwell in the cockpit on that historic mile long flight in 1911.  The galvanized sculpture has been acid etched to give the grey mottled finish & was unveiled at Causewayhead on 27th August 2013.

Commemorative plaque placed outside Balfron Library

William Cooper Thomson

William Cooper Thomson was a missionary in Nigeria. Born 11 January 1804 in Balfron, he was the son of John Thomson and Elizabeth Cooper, and a nephew of Alexander Greek Thomson.

Described as ‘the eldest of the second family’, William was a brilliant student. He acted during one session for the Professor of Humanity in Glasgow University. He had great linguistic gifts. Latin and Greek, French and Italian, Hebrew and Chaldee, Syriac and Arabic he mastered with what seemed ease. He graduated MA from Glasgow University in 1824.

In Balfron he taught French to a Highlandman who, in turn, taught him Gaelic. During the summer vacation he is mentioned as ‘having been most useful on his father’s farm during the summer vacation from Glasgow University’.

Later he showed a remarkable capacity for mechanics. He seems to have anticipated the discovery of the screw propellor. His studies in gunnery led to the invention of a gun which he called the Govanade. With youthful precipitance he fell in love, married, and had to settle down to work for the maintenance of his home. This gave the death-blow to hopes of entering the ministry which he had cherished. He turned to the teaching profession, for which he was well equipped.

Leaving Balfron, he lived for a time in Glasgow, and removed to London in 1834. His thoughts were directed to Sierra Leone, where the Church Missionary Society (CMS) required one with linguistic gifts for the work of translation. The region was known as ‘The Englishman’s Grave’, but, notwithstanding, he offered his services, was accepted, and sailed thither with his wife and family in 1837. One of his sons died with his wife “within a year having fallen a victim to the climate.

William Cooper Thomson arrived in Africa at a point when the CMS was attempting to revive itself in Sierra Leone following the failure of earlier missionary attempts. Much of the emphasis was on education.

Cooper Thomson (sic), the CMS linguist, led the mission to Timbo, starting off in December 1841 accommpanied by his twelve-year old son, who had been born in Sierra Leone. Well received at Timbo he proposed to go further, but was delayed by war. In 1843 he died.

His son, Billy (William Cooper Thomson Jr), who returned from Timbo with the news, later became a missionary himself at Calabar. The bleeding-heart vine Clerodendrum thomsoniae, which was discovered by Billy, was named after his first wife, who died in 1858.

William Cooper Thomson Snr’s nephew, George Thomson was a missionary in Cameroon.

George Thomson

George Thomson (26 May 1819 – 14 December 1878) was a Scottish missionary in Cameroon who collected plants to send to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and to the British Museum.

Thomson was born in Balfron and trained as an architect. His brother, Alexander Greek Thomson (1817–1875) was an eminent Glaswegian architect and architectural theorist who was a pioneer in sustainable building. George and Alexander were partners in an architectural practice in Glasgow early in their careers.

In 1870, George Thomson was sent by the Baptist Church to West Africa as a missionary in Limbe, Cameroon (then known as “Victoria”), where he combined his religious activities with a passion for botany. In 1877, he was host to the German botanist, Wilhelm Kalbreyer who had been sent by James Veitch & Sons of Chelsea, London to search for plants in “that unhealthy region”. Amongst the plants discovered by Kalbreyer was an epiphytic orchid of the Pachystoma genus, which was named Pachystoma thomsonianum in Thomson’s honour.

Thomson died in Victoria from malaria on 14 December 1878.

His nephew, Rev. William Cooper Thomson (1829–1878) was a missionary in Nigeria, after whose first wife the bleeding-heart vine Clerodendrum thomsoniae was named.

Balfron’s history

Primary School logo c 1990

Balfron’s story begins with a legend. While the men-folk were at the Ibert – the place of sacrifice above the village – they heard screams from the settlement below and rushed to discover that the children of the village had been taken by wolves. This gave the village its name “bail’-a-bhroin”, Balfron, the town of mourning. Excellent bedtime story as this might have been, the first documentary reference to Balfron – one of the charters of the Abbey of Inchaffray – in 1303 alludes to the village as Buthbren and only later as Balfron.

Other early evidence of life in the parish is a Bronze Age standing stone, the possible remains of a Roman road north-west of the village, and Woodend Motte, a striking mediaeval landmark on the road towards Kippen.

The incursions of Rob Roy into the area gives Balfron its first mention in the history books and, indeed, in literature, appearing in both “Kidnapped” by R L Stevenson and “Rob Roy” by Sir Walter Scott. It is the sons of Rob Roy, however, who carry out one of the most notorious incidents in the history of the parish when they abduct the local widow-heiress Jean Key of Edinbellie.

Balfron Cotton Works
Balfron Cotton Works

The building of Ballindalloch Cotton Works by Robert Dunmore of Kelvinside in 1790 utterly transforms the village taking the population to (as the Old Statistical Accounts puts it) “981, and of these 930 were new settlers” – a twenty-fold increase!

Balfron is by now a thriving cotton town of spinners and weavers. The excess gas from Ballindalloch is used to light the village staking its claim as Scotland’s first gaslit town. Balfron is also a hotbed for the Radical Movement in 1820 at the same time as its most famous ‘son’, architect Alexander “Greek” Thomson, is growing up in the village. The later building of Loch Katrine pipeline and the Forth & Clyde Junction railway further adds to the cosmopolitan population of Balfron.

Although the mill lasted just over 100 years, the rail and road network which has grown up around Balfron makes the village a popular tourist resort where people can spend their ‘fresh-air fortnight’. This only declines with the advent of the family car and Balfron is now a growing village still happy to make newcomers and visitors welcome.

There was a time when Balfron issued its own currency.  Click here for the story.

The residents of Balfron, share their village name with a well-known Star Wars planet. The fictional Balfron is an unwelcoming place inhabited by cave-dwelling folk and is also where Lando Calrissian met up with twin con artists, the Tonnika sisters after he met them at the High Stakes Casino.

Heritage Group logo

Text and Images From “A Brief History of Balfron” © Balfron Heritage Group 2000. Balfron Heritage Group was founded in 1989 to organise an exhibition of the village’s past to mark the 200th Anniversary of the building on Ballindalloch Cotton Works – an event which transformed this sleepy Stirlingshire hamlet into a bustling village at the heart of the Industrial Revolution.

After the success of the Exhibition the need was seen to continue the Heritage Group which has gone from strength to strength over the past decade. The Heritage Group believes in the importance of modern technology in the promotion of Local History and have launched their website with that in mind.

Enjoy your visit to Balfron’s heritage. Please visit their website, Balfron Heritage Group, for a fuller insight into Balfron’s history and heritage. A Forum has recently been added where you can post family history queries.

Additionally, a visit to Tom Paterson’s website may be of use to those researching their family’s roots, or seeking information on our older buildings and monuments. Enjoy!

See also:
Balfron in 1846
Balfron personalities
Places of worship for links to 18th and 19th century churches
Listed buildings and other places of interest in Balfron
Wolves or Vikings?
Unveiling the War Memorial
Church bells
Articles in the History category

Fascinating Facts

Balfron   700 years old   Glasgow visitors
The village name “bail’-a-bhroin”, Balfron, means the town of mourning.   The first documentary reference to Balfron – one of the charters of the Abbey of Inchaffray – in 1303 alludes to the village as Buthbren and only later as Balfron. More…   The village was once a popular tourist resort where people came to spend their ‘fresh-air fortnight’
Famous resident   All lit up   Logarithms
The architect Alexander (Greek) Thomson was a native of Balfron.   The village claims to be Scotland’s first gaslit town.   John Napier, the inventor of logarithms, was born here in Balfron in 1550.
Star Wars   Abduction   Balfron coins and notes
The residents of Balfron, share their village name with a well-known Star Wars planet. The fictional Balfron is an unwelcoming place inhabited by cave-dwelling folk and is also where Lando Calrissian met up with twin con artists, the Tonnika sisters after he met them at the High Stakes Casino.   In the year 1750 Rob Roy‘s son carried off Jean Kay, then a widow and heiress of Edinbellie, and Rob Oig, the youngest, who had married her, was hanged in Edinburgh three years afterwards on account of her abduction.   There was a time when Balfron issued its own currency.  Click here for the story.

Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson

Balfron is the birthplace of the architect Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson (1817 – 1875).  The son of John Thomson, a bookkeeper at Ballindalloch Mill, and Elizabeth Cooper Thomson, he was the ninth of twelve children. His father, who already had eight grown children from his previous marriage, died when Alexander was seven. The family consequently moved to the outskirts of Glasgow. His brother, George, was a missionary in Cameroon who collected plants to send to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and to the British Museum.

He became an eminent Glaswegian architect and architectural theorist and a pioneer in sustainable building. Read more…

Amongst the buildings he designed was the United Free Manse on Dunmore Street, Balfron.

Plaque placed outside Balfron Library


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.

William Lockhart

William Lockhart
William Lockhart

Mr William Lockhart was a Master Baker.

The Lockhart family were well-known bakers in Strathendrick.  William Lockhart started his bakery in 1860. Vans made deliveries daily to Aberfoyle, Gartmore, Buchlyvie, Killearn and Fintry.

Their shortbread was famous, being dispatched in tins all over the world.  They made wedding cakes for all the large weddings in the area.

There was a break of a few years before his son, Malcolm, took over the business in 1922, which the Lockhart family carried on until 1936.

Source: Strathendrick in Old Photographs, 1990