What was Balfron 700?

Balfron 700 was probably the most ambitious and successful project that Balfron Heritage Group has mounted to date. The Heritage Group did not do it alone – its village partners were Balfron Community Council, Balfron Community Futures Development Trust and Balfron Millennium Group as well as other individuals who made up its dynamic steering group and committee. The schools and the churches were also involved. There were, of course, the unsung heroes who manned exhibitions.

Provost Colin O’Brien played an integral role in the preparation for the festival and encouraged Stirling Council to support the project both advisory and financially. He also hosted a Civic Reception for representatives of all the organisations involved on the Charter Day – 3rdOctober – itself.

The Heritage Lottery Fund gave substantial backing to Balfron 700 and “in kind” sponsorship was given by Jarvis plc (use of Balfron Campus), the John McLintock Hall Trust (use of exhibition space for the ‘Greek’ Thomson Exhibition), Sandy and Sue Stephen of Ballindalloch for the use of their beautiful grounds and Glasgow School of Art (loan of original Thomson drawings for the GT Exhibition).

Why Balfron 700?

While doing some research to update his book “THE BALFRON HERITAGE”, Jim Thomson discovered mention of a charter of Inchaffray Abbey in Perthshire in which Balfron (Buthbren, as it was called then) was named for the first time on any document.The seeds for a huge 2003 anniversary celebration were sown!

Unfortunately, the real ‘star’ of the show could not be present at any of the events. The Inchaffray Charter which had survived for 690 of those 700 years was turned to papier maché in a Perth storeroom during the city’s floods of 1993! (The charter image above is the facsimile we were permitted to use to illustrate it. The Inchaffray seal is genuine.)

What follows in simply a ‘snapshot’ of some of the ways the anniversary was marked.

The Mediaeval Fayre

With the uncertainty of Scotland’s autumn weather, it was decided to start the programme in August with a Mediaeval Fayre … everything from Viking Re-enactment and Falconry displays to bouncy castles and “Beaver Tails” (a fried dough snack with a choice of sweet or savoury toppings)!

For the more historically-minded visitor, a tented Local History Fair allowed historical societies in the area to exhibit their work.

Ballindalloch Day –  Craft Fair & Classic Cars

This was another family day. The grounds of Ballindalloch House were festooned with stalls with all sorts of crafts and Mrs Sue Stephen had compiled an exhibition showing the history of the house – a very popular attraction on the day.

An old SMT “Bluebird” shuttle-bus ferried people from the village to Ballindalloch and a Classic Car rally had been organised to coincide with the event with Ballindalloch as the final destination of its round-Campsies tour.

Alexander “Greek” Thomson Exhibition

An excellent exhibition on the life and work of Balfron’s most famous ‘son’ – Alexander “Greek” Thomson – was held in the John McLintock Hall and attracted ????00 visitors. As well as Balfron Heritage Group’s own collection, Holmwood House (National Trust for Scotland) had given several of its photographs on loan and Glasgow School of Art had donated original Thomson drawings for the duration of the exhibition. 

Good Sports

Two sports trophies were donated as part of Balfron 700 – one for golf and one for bowling, both traditional pastimes in the village.

These are now played for annual … just one legacy of the 700th anniversary.

The Inchaffray Connection

The Charter which led to the anniversary – as we have seen – was from Inchaffray in Perthshire, one of the richest abbeys of its day. Its abbot and Bishop Robert Wishard(t) mentioned on the Balfron charter also had another famous connection. They both blessed the Scottish troops before the Battle of Bannockburn 11 years later.

Because of the ecclesiastical nature of the Charter, Balfron 700 was a Christian as well as a community celebration. Cappella Nova’s Alan Taverner brought Strathclyde University Choral Society to St.Anthony’s Church in the village to perform a ‘collage’ of 700 years of music.

Balfron Church marked the occasion with a superb flower festival.

The big Christian celebration of Balfron 700 was an ecumenical service in Balfron Campus. As well as Provost O’Brien and clergy from the local churches Archbishop Keith O’Brien attended as a special guest … one that turned out to be VERY special. Archbishop O’Brien having arrived in Balfron for morning Mass in St.Anthony’s announced that of 12 o’clock that day he had been elevated to Cardinal to great applause from the ecumenical audience. In his typically jocular style he thanked the organisers of Balfron 700 “who must have friends in high places” that they could organise his elevation to coincide with the event!

The end of Balfron 700 was celebrated in true village style with a good old-fashioned ceilidh and a firework display. A great success for all the organisations and individuals who had put so much planning and effort into the festival.