Cornerstone House Centre brings something a little bit different to its online features today as Cumbernauld Community Anchor Network (CAN) takes a look at the history and changing face of Cumbernauld.
Delighted to be a Community Anchor Organisation for Cumbernauld, Cornerstone House Centre has a great affinity and warmth for the town it serves. Hence, the organisation has taken some time out to scratch the surface of the area’s roots and heritage for the interest of local citizens.
Today, with a population of almost 52,000, Cumbernauld is commonly identified as one of Scotland’s New Towns and one of its largest urban settlements without city status. It is only seven miles from the beautiful Campsie Fells, just over 20 miles from Loch Lomond and is conveniently situated centrally within the geographical triangle formed by Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh.
However, some people don’t know that Cumbernauld has a unique and long history dating back hundreds of years which makes it a captivating subject for many Scottish historians.
It is thought that Cumbernauld’s name comes from the Gaelic comar nan allt, meaning ‘meeting of the burns or streams’. Its earliest known origins date back to Roman times, when the area was an important strategic base on the Antonine Wall, the fortification that is the northernmost frontier barrier of the Roman empire. The Wall became a World Heritage Site in the 21st century, with sections located at Westerwood, Dullatur and Croy Hill now under the care of Historic Scotland.
A significant Roman find from Cumbernauld is a sandstone slab depicting Triton, a Greek god on the sea. The slab, which was found at a farm between Cumbernauld Airport and Westerwood Golf Course, can now be viewed at the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow. Cumbernauld is also home to the Carrick Stone, the only Roman altar still in the open air in Scotland. The Stone has been linked with Robert the Bruce, being the place where he reportedly planted his standard en route to Bannockburn for the famous battle in 1314.
Another fascinating strand of the area’s history is Cumbernauld Castle, a twice-built 14th century tower which was extended over the centuries and ultimately replaced by the 18th century mansion Cumbernauld House, which stands today. Cumbernauld Castle is steeped in rich and royal history, with visitation connections to King James IV, King James V and Mary Queen of Scots. The motte of the earliest Castle still survives within Cumbernauld House Park, with the stones of the second Castle embedded in the present building structure.
Fast forward to the Victorian era, and farming, weaving, mining and quarrying formed the foundations of the early industrial revolution in Cumbernauld. Extraction of limestone, coal and clay was prominent after completion of the Forth and Clyde Canal in 1790 and as railways were built during the 19th century. Indeed, evidence of the old mines is still visible today in areas such as Glencryan. Development of such industries resulted in growth of a small settlement as a population of around 4,500 materialised by the mid-1800s. Much of this settlement was located around the area known as Cumbernauld Village today.
THE BIRTH OF A ‘NEW TOWN’
Cumbernauld remained a relatively small village into the 20th century and during the First and Second World Wars; its population at 1956 was around 3,000. In fact, it was the shortage of housing after the Second World War that led to the growth of Cumbernauld as an overspill town to alleviate the population pressure on Glasgow. As such, in 1955, Cumbernauld was designated as the third of what would become five post-war New Towns in Scotland (the others were East Kilbride, Glenrothes, Livingston and Irvine).
An inaugural ceremony for Cumbernauld was hosted in 1957, and the town design that resulted over the coming two decades was built in two main phases. At that time, Cumbernauld provided perhaps the most striking example of what was deemed a model New Town in Scotland, with a range of housing communities surrounding a hilltop town centre.
New Town design elements are still very distinctive in Cumbernauld today, with a specifically structured road network, several pedestrian footbridges, and a series of foot and cycle paths and connecting underpasses. In this respect, it looks and feels very different to many nearby towns. The geographical neighbourhoods that developed in the New Town period by and large remain the same areas that exist today, if somewhat evolved. These include Abronhill, Carbrain, Condorrat, Cumbernauld Village, Greenfaulds, Kildrum and Seafar.
As time progressed during the second half of the 20th century, the initial impetus and industry which helped project Cumbernauld as a New Town started to fade. By the 1980s, the design and composition of the town was considered somewhat outdated and cumbersome and many social, economic and environmental issues were evident and of concern to local governors.
REGENERATION AND MODERN DAY CUMBERNAULD
In 1996, the local authority boundaries in Scotland changed and since then Cumbernauld has been administrated by North Lanarkshire Council, replacing the defunct Cumbernauld and Kilsyth District Council. Over the last 20 years, a concerted effort has been made to regenerate the town and refresh its brand, although unwanted publicity for receiving accolades such as the Carbuncle Award in 2001 (for being the ‘worst place in Scotland’) and infamy for having the town centre voted as the ‘worst building in Britain’ in a 2005 Channel 4 television show were not helpful in the town’s efforts to shake off a negative image.
Despite this bad press, the town has made significant strides forward since the year 2000. The town centre was modernised with the opening of the £40million Antonine Shopping Centre in 2007. This has provided a bright and airy alternative to the older parts of the town centre. The arrival of large new Tesco Extra and Asda superstores have also contributed to a remodelling of the town centre. Furthermore, last year, the green light was given to a longstanding proposal to develop a new cinema and restaurant complex in the older part of the town centre.
Outside the town centre, a major economic boost has been generated from the opening of the £20million Cumbernauld Retail Park. Broadwood Stadium, the home of Clyde FC which is managed by Active NL, has also brought jobs and modern sports and leisure facilities to the local area. Additionally, some well-known companies have set up base in Cumbernauld, including Farmfoods, Mackintosh, and A.G. BARR (makers of Irn Bru). The town today is also home to the Cumbernauld Campus of New College Lanarkshire, which was formed in 2013 from a merger of Cumbernauld College, Motherwell College and Coatbridge College.
Faith, worship and religion are an important feature of Cumbernauld society today. There are about 20 Christian churches in the town, including Cornerstone Christian Fellowship, Freedom City Church, Cumbernauld Abronhill Parish Church, Craighalbert Christian Fellowship and Cumbernauld Baptist Church. A purpose-built mosque was also opened in Cumbernauld in 2011 for the local Islamic community.
Notably, the Cumbernauld of 2020 has a significant green footprint, with more than 50% of the area consisting of greenspace. Greater Cumbernauld has many parks and areas in which people can enjoy the advantages of being outside, including Palacerigg Country Park, Cumbernauld House Park and Cumbernauld Community Park, as well as some golf courses. In 2013, Cumbernauld won the Beautiful Scotland Award for Best Small City, and received the Garden for Life Biodiversity Award in 2017.
And of course, it would be amiss not to acknowledge the strong community spirit and thriving voluntary sector which contributes positively in Cumbernauld today. Organisations such as Cornerstone House Centre, CACE Older People Active Lives, Cumbernauld YMCA-YWCA, Cumbernauld and Kilsyth Citizens Advice Bureau, Cumbernauld Poverty Action, North Lanarkshire Women’s Aid, Watch Us Grow and Recap North Lanarkshire have made a tangible difference to the quality of life of local citizens over the past 20 years. The resilience of the Cumbernauld community is epitomised by how local people, neighbourhoods and organisations have come together in recent months during the coronavirus pandemic to help and support individuals and families in need.
So, all in all, Cumbernauld, from its remarkable and historic Roman connections to the current New Town era of the past 67 years, has a lot to reflect on and smile about. Like all other towns and cities up and down the country, it is facing a challenging period right now. But one thing we know is that Cumbernauld is a place of great character, heart and soul, and that it will emerge stronger once again. It may have its critics, but it’s our home, our Cumbernauld, and Cornerstone House Centre is proud of its history, its communities and its people.
More about the history of Cumbernauld can be read by visiting the Our Cumbernauld website at www.ourcumbernauld.org.uk