Rosebank and Falkirk: Shared History, Shared Future
Rosebank clearly matters to its hometown of Falkirk, partly through a shared history. The distillery was founded when the town was busy driving Scotland’s industrial revolution, and when it closed in 1993 there was a feeling that Falkirk’s best days were in the past. Today there’s a palpable sense of regeneration of which Rosebank is a part.
“The Rosebank distillery is an institution to Falkirk. People worked there, people knew the families of those who worked there, and they knew the importance and significance of the whisky,” says Pete Reid, acting head of economic development at Falkirk Council. He describes its closure in the 1990s as “just another part of the loss of what had been a really loved local industry, and that’s why I think it’s so dear to people’s hearts.”
The resurrection of Rosebank has stirred plenty of fond memories. “It’s a name which many of us who travelled into Falkirk by double decker bus over the canal bridge will know incredibly well,” says the town’s MP John McNally. “The fact it is being restored and renewed is a true boost for Falkirk and its businesses.”
One local resident, Bill Neary, recalls how in the early evening “the still lads used to come outside and stand on the pavement if it was warm, and you could really smell the aroma coming through.” While Scott Jackson, remembering the tales from his uncle Jimmy who worked at Rosebank, used to think how magical it was that people made whisky at night.
Scott, now among the whisky’s greatest fans, is one of the few to have seen inside the old Rosebank when it was closed – “a surreal experience,” he says. Like Bill Neary he shared the common view that the distillery would never come back, and would soon be bulldozed into history
However, behind the scenes, Falkirk Council hadn’t quite given up. “It’s an incredibly important site and we worked really closely with Scottish Canals [Rosebank’s then owners] to look at regeneration,” says Pete Reid. All manner of ideas were discussed including a brewery and Swedish bakery to keep the bulldozers at bay, but he knew a distillery would be best. One of his first projects was the Falkirk Hippodrome, Scotland’s first ever purpose-built cinema that closed in 1980. It finally reopened in 2009, beautifully restored to its original purpose.
By then, that engineering marvel - the Falkirk Wheel was up and running. “It was an incredibly strong statement of regeneration that Falkirk was staring to see itself reborn, and that was cemented with the arrival of the Kelpies,” says Pete. Rosebank, bringing jobs, opportunities and visitors in its wake, continues that journey. “There’s a thrill in the local community and within the whisky-drinking community that Rosebank is coming back.”
Falkirk Wheel photos credit: Brian Vass