Airdrie is a town in North Lanarkshire, Scotland. It lies on a plateau roughly 400 ft (130 m) above sea level, and is approximately 12 miles (19 km) east of Glasgow city centre. Airdrie forms part of a conurbation with its neighbour Coatbridge, in the former district known as the Monklands. As of 2006, the town had a population of 36,853. Airdriehill, Chapelhall, Calderbank, Caldercruix, Glenmavis, Greengairs, Longriggend, Plains, Stand, Upperton and Wattston are generally considered satellite villages of Airdrie.
The history of Airdrie might be dated back to AD 577, which was the year of the Battle of Arderyth However, the historicity and location of the battle are the subject of debate and shrouded in myth. The battle was believed to have been between the Gododdin, Rydderych The Bountiful, King of Strathclyde, and Aeddam The Perfidious, the Scoti King of Kintyre. While few might have heard of the main protagonists, amongst Aeddam's contingent was the legendary Celtic bard, Merlin. The history of Airdrie between the Battle of Arderyth and AD 1162 is unclear, due to the scarcity of written historical records.
1162 to 1850
Airdrie owes its existence to its location on the 'Hogs Back' - a ridge of land running from east to west. One very important aspect of the town’s history were the Cistercian monks of Newbattle Abbey, hence a name for the wider area; Monklands. The monks were farmers and most of the land they used is known today as 'The Four Isles' (a housing estate named after four Scottish islands): Mull, Islay, Iona and Luing in the Petersburn area of modern Airdrie). The monks of Newbattle had numerous establishments throughout the area including a farm grange at Drumpellier, Coatbridge, a court house at Kipps, a chapel in the area of Chapelhall and a number of corn mills. The Monks were also expert in the construction of roads. In the 12th century they established the original Glasgow to Edinburgh road via Airdrie and Bathgate, to link up with their lands in Newbattle in East Lothian.
In those days travelling was often dangerous. Horses were still very rare and could only be afforded by the rich. Low lying ground was usually extremely difficult to navigate because of the numerous bogs, forests and burns - not to mention the possibility of ambush by a footpad or robber. Hence, it became much more practical to travel on the high ground (the 'High Way') where one could avoid the mud and the robbers. These roads (or rather tracks) became known as the King's Highway.
Definitive evidence of the existence of Airdrie as a tenantry was only made clear in 1503. The old monks' road was via Cliftonhill (an area now in neighbouring Coatbridge), Airdrie House (now the site of Monklands Hospital), Aitchison Street, High Street, Hallcraig Street, Flowerhill Street and Colliertree Road. It was along this road that the first houses in Airdrie were built. Development was slow and it was only around 1650 that evidence of the number of inhabitants was known at around 500 for the Airdrie area. A large contingent of Airdrieonians fought at the Battle of Bothwell Brig during the Covenanter Rebellion of 1679; their banner can still be viewed at the local library.
A significant event in Airdrie's history was the 1695 passing of a special Act of Parliament in the Scottish Parliament allowing Robert Hamilton of Airdrie to hold four fairs yearly and a weekly market in the town of 'Airdry'. This helped develop Airdrie from a 'farm town' into a thriving 'market town'.
However, Airdrie really came to prominence through its weaving industry. Airdrie Weavers Society was founded in 1781 and flax was being grown in sixteen farms in and around the burgh. In the last decade of the eighteenth century, coal mining was in progress and around thirty colliers were employed. Weaving continued to flourish making up a substantial part of the population of over 2,500 around the turn of the 19th century. Given its large number of weavers, its geographic location, and a large number of unemployed soldiers following the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Airdrie became a major centre of support for the Radical War of 1820. The rapid pace of population growth continued and by 1821 there were 4,862 inhabitants. At this time the number of houses being built increased dramatically and in 1821, by a private Act of Parliament, Airdrie became a free and independent Burgh of Barony. Due to the fact it was 'independent', it had all the powers of a Royal Burgh.
Voting in the early part of the nineteenth century was rather hit or miss as not only locals but residents outside the burgh were allowed to vote. In 1821 the first election of a town council took place and by August it had appointed an assessor, procurator fiscal, master of police and a town crier.
In 1824 it was decided to build the Town House, which was originally designed by Alexander Baird and is now a local landmark known as the 'town clock'. In 1832 the Town House was used as a hospital due to the cholera outbreak of this year.
By 1850, the population had grown to 12,418.
1850 to 1920
The enormous growth in population was not due to high birthrate, but instead due to an influx of residents from the Highlands and predominantly Ireland. This followed the Highland potato famine of the mid-1840s and also reflected the change from cottage industry to heavy industry in the area. Most of the Irish immigrant population were involved with mining and labouring. This led to an increase in ironwork foundries around the area. Because of this explosion in industry, railway links were soon established (circa 1830) and by 1862, the Airdrie and Bathgate Junction Railway provided a direct link to Edinburgh with Airdrie South Station providing the starting point for trains to Glasgow.
The dramatic rise in population and industry prompted the need for more accessible water supplies. Until the mid 1800s, various wells were put in place feeding from surrounding streams in the area. These served to provide many houses with private wells. By 1846 Airdrie and Coatbridge Water Company was founded to construct (along with Forth and Clyde Canal Company) the reservoir at Roughrigg.
Around the mid 1800s, several local newspapers began appearing and notably the Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser, which is still the most popular local paper today. Also at this time, football and cricket began to emerge as popular sports. Following the codification of association football rules a local team called Excelsior was formed in 1878 which would later be renamed Airdrieonians F.C. Horse race meetings were also held in the town (1851–1870) but this land became the golf course for the newly formed Airdrie Golf Club in 1877.
Education posed a major problem with severe overcrowding in the few schools available, therefore three new school boards were established. Fees were routinely charged within the schools with the belief they should be self-supporting until a parliamentary act of 1889 relieved some of the infant classes in schools of this burden. Airdrie Academy was built in 1895 and by 1919 all school boards were dissolved and Lanarkshire Education Authority took over responsibility for education throughout Lanarkshire.
Airdrie Public Observatory, one of only four public observatories in the UK (Second Oldest and Smallest)- all in Scotland, was founded in the first library building in 1896, and is still operated in the present building by the Airdrie Astronomical Association a Scottish astronautic and astronomy society and registered charity.
By the turn of the century variety shows were becoming popular in the area and by 1911 the Pavilion in Graham Street was built which after initially being used as a music hall started showing cinematographic pictures. Unfortunately it was destroyed by fire in 1917 but was rebuilt in 1919 and finally closed in 1970. The New Cinema was opened in 1920 in Broomknoll Street but too has since closed. The town had no suitable venue for larger functions so in 1912 the Sir John Wilson Town Hall was opened (following a generous offer from Sir John Wilson covering the total cost of £13,500). This still stands and is used for major events in the town.
At the end of the First World War, Airdrie was hard hit with many casualties from the war. Many inhabitants also chose to emigrate around this time. Consequently the population only rose by 3% to around 26,000 by 1931. The depression years had made a great impact on the town and several well known manufacturers ceased to exist and few replaced them. It was reported that 50% of the registered population were unemployed. Church groups tried to provide some comfort for the poor folk in the area and set up educational and work experience projects to help and by 1936 the Airdrie Churches Council had attracted national interest through their work culminating in a building in Graham Street being provided for them (the Mutual Service Club). This is now Airdrie Community Centre.
The current Airdrie Public Library building was eventually constructed on its present site in 1925 after years of moving from one site to another.
Conditions in the town did not really improve until well after the Second World War but in 1949 the Boots pharmaceutical company and Banner Textiles Ltd were attracted to the town (between them employing 1200). With this impetus, new companies began to consider Airdrie as a viable option for business and in 1958 Pye opened employing over 1000 people. The emergence of industrial estates was also prevalent around this time (Newhouse, Chapelhall, and Brownsburn). The Airdrie Arts Centre opened in 1967 in the former Airdrie Library building and remains a popular venue for concerts and plays.
The 1970s saw the opening of Monklands Hospital, which replaced an older hospital on the Airdrie House estate that had been closed in 1962 and demolished in 1964.
Airdrie town centre has changed much in the last ten years with a new road scheme and a shift in emphasis with the type of shopping it offers. Graham Street, the main pedestrianised street, has recently been refurbished and has had the pedestrian precinct area upgraded. New housing complexes are being built around this suitably situated commuter town, notably in Chapelhall, Rochsoles and Glenmavis, the former Boots factory site in Rawyards and the former Imperial Tube Works in Cairnhill.
Airdrie also has signage in the Scots Gaelic language around the town centre, (alongside English) this was first introduced for the 1993 Royal National Mod. The signs were originally erected by Monklands District Council, but have been maintained by North Lanarkshire Council.
Sources for Old Parish Registers Records, Vital Records and Censuses
For vital records, consult the holdings for the Parish of New Monkland.
Further Sources of Reference
Please note and respect the copyright warnings on these websites.