Airdrie lies on a plateau at a height of about 400ft or 130m, some 10 miles east of Glasgow in the area known as the Monklands. On a map it appears to form the eastern end of a binary settlement with Coatbridge, a mile to its west and 200ft lower. Though while the two do share many elements of their joint industrial history, their origins are rather different.
Airdrie, whose name comes from the Gaelic for high hill pasture, can be dated back to AD577. This was the year of the Battle of Arderyth or Airdrie, fought between Rhydderch Hael ("the bountiful"), King of Strathclyde and Aidan ("the perfidious"), King of Kintyre. As histories are inevitably written by the victors, you only need look at the kings' descriptions to realise that Strathclyde came out on top, securing its future as an independent kingdom for another five hundred years.
But while few have heard of the main protagonists at the Battle of Arderyth, amongst Aidan's contingent was the Celtic bard Merlin, whose patron Gwenddolan was killed during the battle. Merlin did rather better, later being awarded a golden torc for his verses recording the battle. There must be some suspicion that this was given to him by King Rhydderch of Strathclyde, and that it might have been Merlin who wrote him into history as the bountiful and his own ex-boss as the perfidious.
Airdrie developed only slowly, and by 1840 the High Street still comprised only single storey weavers' cottages. When a certain Mr Paton built a two storey house it was known by locals as Paton's Folly. Meanwhile neighbouring Coatbridge had benefitted from the building of the Monklands Canal to Glasgow and was industrialising rapidly.
But much of the ironstone and coal needed to feed the iron industries was found around Airdrie and the sleepy market town was rapidly swept away to become an industrial centre. The impact of rapid industrialisation, mass immigration from the Highlands and Ireland, and poor housing was predictable. One worthy, on arriving in Airdrie, wrote: "I am now located in a town socially and atmospherically the most benighted in Scotland." Other accounts suggest that because of its extra 200ft of altitude, Airdrie was actually rather less afflicted by smoke and bad air than nearby Coatbridge, despite usually being downwind of it.
Because of this the more uphill parts of Airdrie became the preferred residential areas for those making money from the industries of Airdrie and Coatbridge. Airdrie golf club was formed in 1877 and the Airdreonans Football Club in 1878. In 1891 the town's Broomfield Park football ground saw the world's first penalty kick. For a short time in the 1890s, Airdrie was even home to a racecourse.
Heavy industry continued to form the core of Airdrie's economy through most of the 1900s. Steel pipes were a particular speciality: the pipes used to feed fuel direct from southern Britain to Normandy in 1944 as part of the PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean) project were made in Airdrie.
Although it missed out on Coatbridge's early access to a canal link with Glasgow, Airdrie benefitted from the railways that followed later in the 1800s. In 1856 Airdrie South station was built on the Bathgate and Coatbridge railway, which provided a direct link from Edinburgh to Glasgow. Airdrie retains its rail links to the west, but the line from Airdrie to Bathgate was closed in 1982. It reopened in 2010 as part of a £300m project to improve links between Scotland's two largest cities and take traffic off the M8. It has certainly achieved the first of those two objectives.
Airdrie also benefitted from the coming of trams in 1904. The service was brought by Glasgow Corporation in 1922 and it became possible to travel on trams running all the way from Airdrie across Glasgow to Paisley. Their resurrection has yet to be proposed, but it can only be a matter of time.
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