Alloa History – an Overview

Alloa history portrayed in an old postcard.

Alloa history dates back to medieval times when it was closely linked to Alloa Tower.  The tower was built before 1300 and it is the oldest building in Alloa.  Over the centuries, the town relied heavily on trade through its port, exporting goods such as coal, glass and alcohol.  Today it is the administrative centre of Clackmannanshire Council.

As part of my series on Scottish parishes, this post looks at the history of Alloa to help with your Scottish genealogy.

Alloway

The old village of Alloa was once known as Alloway.  It was located near the original St. Mungo’s Church which is no longer there.  

In the early 18th century, Sir John Erskine of Alva House proposed rebuilding the village around a central square.  The plan included a village green with the parish school in the middle.  The square is still known as Green Square, but the original houses have disappeared.

Alloa Tower and it history

Alloa Tower is a prominent landmark and one of Scotland’s largest and earliest tower houses.  It was built by the Erskine family in the late 14th century.  The family later married into the Earl of Mar’s family who used the tower as their residence.  In addition, Alloa Tower served as a stronghold for the village.

Alloa St Mungo’s church

St Serf, who was at Culross monastery and whose name is attached to the parish church in Crook of Devon, looked after a young boy called Kertingem.  He later became known as Mungo, meaning Dear One.  Together with St Serf, it is believed that both brought Christianity to the Alloa area in the 6th century.  Consequently a shrine was established in Mungo’s name and acted as a chapel for local villagers in Alloa.  

By the 14th century a chapel dedicated to St Mungo occupied the site where the ruins of a later parish church still stand.  Today, only the west gable of St Mungo’s parish church with the bell tower remains. Alloa history - gable end of Alloa St Mungo's Church on a lovely day.

Alloa history and its industries

Alloa history is defined by its industrial development. It was a strategic port town on the River Forth.  In 1710, the shipowners of Alloa requested the local landlord, the Earl of Mar, to establish a custom house, to help regulate the taxation of goods.  This was a significant step in the formal development of the port.

The town grew into a centre for brewing, weaving, coal mining, and glassmaking especially during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Brewing and distilling

Brewing and distilling were pivotal industries in Alloa from the mid-18th century.  The town’s access to high-quality water sources and its proximity to the River Forth made it an ideal location for brewing and distilling.  This trade became very prosperous until taxation killed it.

At one point, Alloa had up to 9 breweries including George Younger & Son Ltd (founded in 1762),  Maclay’s Thistle Brewery (founded in 1830) and Candleriggs Brewery.

The spinning industry

Spinning was another crucial industry in Alloa.  John Paton (1768–1848) founded a wool spinning mill at Kilncraigs in 1814.  Under his and his descendants’ guidance, John Paton Son and Co. Ltd became a renowned global business.  It merged with J & J Baldwin and Partners of Halifax in 1920, becoming Patons and Baldwins, famous for its high-quality yarns and knitting patterns.

Knitting pattern from Paton's yarn business.

The history of Alloa glass works

The glass industry in Alloa began in the early 18th century when John Roebuck established a prominent glassworks in 1750.  His company mostly produced bottles.   This is because they were in high demand due to the thriving brewing and distilling industries in the area.   These industries required a substantial number of glass bottles for their products, making the glassworks an essential part of the local economy.

Alloa history and its pottery industry

The town also became known for its pottery production in the 18th and 19th centuries.  The abundance of natural resources, such as clay, and the town’s strategic location near the River Forth facilitated this industry.

One of the most notable pottery works in Alloa was the Alloa Pottery which was established in 1790.  This pottery became well-known for producing a variety of earthenware products.  Greenfield Pottery was another local pottery recognised for its high-quality stoneware and ceramic products.

You can see examples of Alloa Pottery at the Speirs Centre.

Coal mining

By the 1640s, coal had been extensively worked in the Alloa area.  The port’s proximity to coal mines made it a central point for coal export.  It was shipped to various parts of the UK and Europe, contributing to the town’s economic growth.

Today

The rapid industrial growth in Alloa brought wealth to business entrepreneurs, enabling them to build grand homes and gifting several fine public buildings.  Today, there are over 90 listed buildings in the area including the Speirs Centre.

This was once a swimming pool and a gymnasium built by the Paton family for the local people.  After a refurbishment in 1987 it was named after Tommy Speirs who was the lightweight champion of Scotland in 1933 and 1934. Today the Speirs Centre is no longer a gymnasium.  It now serves as a community hub with the local library, museum, registrar offices  and archives.

Alloa history - photos of Tommy Speirs at the Speirs Centre.

To conclude about Alloa history

Starting as a small village beside the banks of the River Forth, Alloa evolved into a thriving industrial centre in the 18th and 19th centuries.  If your ancestors came from his Alloa, I hope this post has added value to your Scottish genealogy.

Thank you for joining me on this historical journey about the history of Alloa.  Please remember to leave a comment below and if you want me to write about a Scottish parish or village, then let me know below.

Good luck with your Scottish genealogy research.

Until my next post, haste ye back.

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