Falkirk had a resident population of 32,422 at the 2001 census. The population of the town had risen to 34,570 according to a 2008 estimate, making it the 20th most populous settlement in Scotland. Falkirk is the main town and administrative centre of the Falkirk council area, which has an overall population of 156,800 and inholds the nearby towns of Grangemouth, Bo'ness, Denny, Larbert and Stenhousemuir.
The town lies at the junction of the Forth and Clyde Canal and the Union Canal, a location which proved key to the growth of Falkirk as a centre of heavy industry during the Industrial Revolution. In the 18th and 19th centuries Falkirk was at the centre of the iron and steel industry, underpinned by the Carron Company in the nearby village of Carron. The company was responsible for making Carronades for the Royal Navy and also later many UK pillar boxes. In the last 50 years heavy industry has waned, and the economy of the town relies increasingly on retail and tourism. Despite this, Falkirk remains the home of many international companies like Alexander Dennis, the largest bus production company in the United Kingdom.
Falkirk has a long association with the publishing industry. The company now known as Johnston Press was established in the town in 1846. The company, now based in Edinburgh, produces the Falkirk Herald, the largest selling weekly newspaper in Scotland.
Attractions in and around Falkirk include the Falkirk Wheel, Callendar House and Park and remnants of the Antonine Wall. Soon to be a feature of the town is the Falkirk Helix, a new recreational area with walk and cycle paths with the main attraction being a new boat lift and extension to the Forth and Clyde Canal. In a 2011 poll conducted by STV, it was voted as Scotland's most beautiful town, ahead of Perth and Stirling in 2nd and 3rd place respectively.
An Eaglais Bhreac is a derivative formed from the Scottish Gaelic cognate of the first recorded name Ecclesbrith from the Brittonic for "speckled church", presumably referring to a church building built of many-coloured stones. The Scottish Gaelic name was translated into Scots as Fawkirk (lit. "variegated church"), then later amended to the modern English name of Falkirk. The Latin name Varia Capella also has the same meaning. Falkirk Old Parish Church stands on the site of the medieval church, which may have been founded as early as the 7th century.
The Antonine Wall, which stretches across the centre of Scotland, passed through the town and remnants of it can be seen at Callendar Park. Similar to Hadrian's Wall but built of turf rather than stone so less of it has survived, it marked the northern frontier of the Roman Empire between the Firth of Forth and Firth of Clyde during the AD 140s. Much of the best evidence of Roman occupation in Scotland has been found in Falkirk, including a large hoard of Roman coins and a cloth of tartan, thought to be the oldest ever recorded.
In the 18th century the area served as the cradle of Scotland's Industrial Revolution, becoming the earliest major centre of the iron-casting industry. James Watt cast some of the beams for his early steam engine designs at the Carron Iron Works in 1765. The area was at the forefront of canal construction when the Forth and Clyde Canal opened in 1790. The Union Canal (1822) provided a link to Edinburgh and early railway development followed in the 1830s and 1840s. The canals brought economic wealth to Falkirk and helped with the town's growth. Through time, trunk roads and motorways followed the same canal corridors through the Falkirk area, linking the town with the rest of Scotland. Many companies set up work in Falkirk due to its expansion. A large brickworks was set up at this time, owned by the Howie family. During the 19th century, Falkirk became the first town in Great Britain to have a fully automated system of street lighting, designed and implemented by a local firm, Thomas Laurie & Co Ltd.
Battles of Falkirk
Two important battles have taken place at Falkirk: