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The History of Stirlingshire
Chapter XX. Stirling


Overlooking the town of Stirling towards the Ochil hills.
Overlooking the town of Stirling towards the Ochil hills. Photograph by Scottish Panoramic.

Few royal burghs have had a more remarkable history than Stirling. A frontier town for some five hundred years prior to the tenth century, it was originally built of wood. Thrice it fell a prey to incendiarism – first in March, 1244; again, in 1298; and, later still, in 1385. Then followed its years of abject poverty, while its paupers became an intolerable annoyance to the surrounding districts. Hospitals for the relief of decayed tradesmen or burgesses were built, until the town was veritably a colony of asylums. Spittal’s, although not the most important, is the oldest of the number. A house in the Back Row has the following inscription, with the scissors en saltier: - "This hovs is fovndit for svpport of the pvir be Robert Spittal, tailyovr to King Jaemes the 4, in anno, 1530. – R.S." Cowan’s, which is the most richly endowed, stands in the highest part of the town. It was founded, in 1639, by John Cowan, a substantial merchant here, for the support of twelve decayed guild-brethren. A third hospital is Allan’s, originating from the bounty of John Allan, writer; who, at his death, in 1725, bequeathed it for the maintenance and education of the children of poor townsmen. In 1809, Alexander Cunninghame, merchant, also left to the town council 4,000 pounds, of which the interest was to be applied to the clothing and schooling of boys, sons of the guild-brethren and of mechanics, equally. Connected, too, with these hospitals are the salmon fishings of the Forth, extending over many miles of that serpentine river, both up and down stream; and the additional revenue thus derived, though variable, is always considerable.

The castle, no doubt, gave rise to the town, by encouraging the neighbouring populace to settle under its protection. And, when that fortress had become a royal residence, many of the nobility and State officers built here, for conveniently attending the court.

Stirling, which first appears as a royal burgh under Alexander I., was one of the towns that constituted the "Curia Quatuor Burgorum," or Court of Four Burghs. This court was a commercial parliament, invested with full powers to determine in any question, whether judicial or legislative, relating to the Scottish burghs. At a meeting of the Curia Quatuor Burgorum in Stirling, 12th October, 1405, various laws were enacted concerning the internal order of burghs, and the qualifications of burgesses. In those days, the appeal from the sentence of the burgh-courts was to the chamberlain, at Haddington; who was empowered to summon an assize of three or four respectable burgesses, one from each of the following towns: Edinburgh, Berwick, Roxburgh, Stirling; or, when Berwick and Roxburgh were in the hands of the English, from Linlithgow and Lanark. The verdict was final. Circuits, or "chamberlain-ayres," as they were called, were held in the different burghs of Scotland by the chamberlain, whose decrees were reviewed by the Curia. In 1454, the convention was removed to Edinburgh, and Haddington struck off the list. Under James III., this court was changed into what was called "the Convention of Royal Burghs," to be held yearly at Inverkeithing. From the Record, however, it appears to have been 1552 before it met. Meanwhile, the sentences of the burgh magistrates came to be reviewed by the ordinary courts of law, instead of the chamberlain of the Curia. By a statute in 1535, magistrates were to produce their accounts yearly at the exchequer, after a public notice of fifteen days. By a statute of James VI., the convention was to meet four times every year, in any burgh it pleased, with one commissioner only from each, except Edinburgh, which was to have two. By a subsequent statute of the same monarch, a majority of the burghs, or the city of Edinburgh with any other six, could call a convention as oft as they saw meet, and all the others were to attend, under penalty. The Convention of Royal Burghs now meets in Edinburgh. The Lord Provost of the Scottish metropolis, though not a member, is perpetual preses.

For about a century before 1773, the town council of Stirling, consisting of twenty-one members, elected, in a great measure, their successors. Fourteen were of the guildry or merchants, and seven of the incorporated trades. The provost, four bailies, treasurer, and dean of guild, were annually, or, it might be, for two successive years, but no longer, chosen out of the merchant-councillors; seven merchants by the common council, in place of seven merchant-councillors who had vacated their seats; and each of the seven incorporated trades made up a list or leet of four of their members, to be sent to the council, two from each of which were cut off by the council, and two returned to their respective incorporations, that they might elect one to be council-deacon for the ensuing year. A magistrate might, and by practice often did, remain in council as one of the seven ordinary merchant-councillors, or be made dean of guild, who was preses of the council, and could again be elected provost or bailie. This succession and interchange of official dignity might last for a life-time, without any practical responsibility.

In the above-mentioned year, three leading members of the town council had entered into a combination, unknown, as appeared in evidence, to the majority, to preserve themselves and friends perpetually in office. This abuse of power was, by certain injured persons, brought before the Court of Session, then consisting of one chamber; and the election of magistrates and councillors of the burgh made at Michaelmas 1773, was, by a casting vote, declared "null and void." The case was appealed to the House of Peers, and the decree affirmed. The effect was to annihilate the burgh.

Matters had remained in this position for nearly eight years, when, on the 23rd May, 1781, his Majesty in council was pleased to grant the petition of the burgesses and inhabitants, setting forth the facts stated, and humbly praying that his Majesty would be graciously pleased to restore the said burgh, and to direct a magistracy and town council to be chosen by a poll election, and that some part of the former set or constitution of the burgh might be altered, in order to prevent in future the abuses which had occasioned the present disfranchisement. The alterations are said to have been suggested by the then lord-advocate of Scotland, whom, as the order in council bears, his Majesty had consulted, Henry Dundas, Esq. afterwards Lord Viscount Melville. By the new constitution, the merchants were to elect the fourteen merchant-councillors; the seven incorporated trades and their respective deacon, who was thereby to become a constituent member of the town council; the merchants at large were to choose one of the fourteen merchant-councillors to be dean of guild; the seven new deacons, with a delegate chosen by each incorporated trade, to elect one of themselves to be deacon-convener; the said fourteen to compose the convener court till the next election; and the fourteen merchant-councillors, with the seven deacons of the trades, to choose the provost, four bailies, and a treasurer, out of the fourteen merchant-councillors, exclusive of the dean of guild, the provost to be chief magistrate and preses of the council, in place of the dean of guild, who was preses of the former set.

It may be proper to state that the burgess-oath of Stirling, which had not been affected by the great municipal revolution above commemorated, is couched in such general and liberal terms as to admit those who in relation to the oaths of other burghs are termed antiburghers. To illustrate this point, we may quote an instance of the stricter burgess-oath. "I protest before God and your lordships, that I profess and allow with my heart, the true religion presently professed within the realm, and authorised by the laws thereof. I shall abide thereat and defend the same to my life’s end, renouncing the Roman religion as Papistry." At Stirling, on the other hand, a milder oath is administered. "I swear to be a faithful burgess to the burgh of Stirling, to obey the magistrates thereof, and town officers having their lawful commands, in matters purely civil, so far as agreeable to the Word of God." The restriction of obedience to matters "purely civil," is asserted to have been introduced at the particular desire of the antiburgher-burgesses. It may thus be said, that, in relation to their own burgh, there are no anti-burghers here.

In keeping of the town-clerk, there are one or two ancient and interesting curiosities. The silver key, for example, about seven inches long, which belonged to the gate of the old bridge; another of the same, connected with the burgh port; and the famous "pint-jug" that was fixed by law as the standard in Scotland for dry measure. The material of the latter is a sort of yetlin, and of very rude manufacture. Outside, and opposite the handle, are two shields in relief; one of which, near the mouth, has the lion of the Scottish arms; the other, a rudely designed quadruped, in a horizontal position, intended, probably, for the wolf as being the crest of the burgh arms. This jug is mentioned in Acts of Parliament, as being here before the reign of James II. By Act 19th February, 1618, entitled, "Act anent settling the weights and measures of Scotland," "it is statuted and ordained, that the wheat firlot shall contain twenty-one pints and a mutchkin of the Stirling jug;" and that "the firlot for bear, malt, and oats, shall contain thirty-one pints of the same." The contents of the firlot were 2,688 1/4 solid inches. To Edinburgh was assigned, by parliament, the keeping of the standard ell; to Perth, the reel; and to Lanark, the pound. The Stirling jug, however, was lost for many years, until discovered by the late Rev. Alexander Bryce, of Kirknewton.

A good story, by the way, is told of a Mr. Finlayson, who was town-clerk in the latter part of the seventeenth century, and noted for the marvellous in conversation. He had been on a visit to the last Earl of Menteith and Airth, in the castle of Talla; and, on taking leave, was asked by the earl whether he had seen the sailing cherry tree. "No," said Finlayson, "what sort of a thing is it?" "It is," replied the earl, "a tree that has grown out at a goose’s mouth from a stone the bird had swallowed, and which she bears with her in her voyages around the loch. It is now in full fruit of the most exquisite flavour. But Finlayson," he added, "can you, with all your powers of memory and fancy, match my story of the cherry tree?" "Perhaps I can," said Finlayson, clearing his throat, and adding: "When Oliver Cromwell was at Airth, one of his cannon sent a ball to Stirling, which lodged in the mouth of a trumpet that one of the troops in the castle was in the act of sounding." "Was the trumpeter killed?" asked the earl. "No, my lord," replied Finlayson; "he blew the ball back, and killed the artilleryman who had fired it."

In 1645 a pestilence had come from England, by Kelso, to Edinburgh. The parliament removed to Stirling, but being overtaken by that dreadful enemy, were obliged to adjourn to Perth. It raged in Stirling from the middle of July till October. The town council then held their meetings in the open fields, in an inclosure called the Cow-park, on the south side of the town wall. Great care, however, was taken of the infected. Tents were erected for them at the north end of the bridge, on Sherriff-muir, and every method used that could administer relief or comfort. Cleansers, as they were called, were appointed for the different quarters of the town; a small tax was laid upon the inhabitants for paying them; and a spot of ground, near St. Ninian’s well, allotted for burying the dead. Many of their bones have, from time to time, been dug up there. Six members of the council, whose humanity had rendered them particularly active upon that mournful occasion, died of the infection. Their gravestones are still to be seen in the old churchyard north of the building.

In James VI.’s time the town was considerably enlarged towards the east. Formerly the east wall passed a little below the meal-market, and the south port stood a hundred yards more to the west. The last built port was erected about 1591. When taken down seventy years ago, to render the entry to the town more commodious, a silver piece of the size of a crown was discovered in the foundation. Three cinque foils occupy the shield, on which are emblazoned the helmet, surmounted by the crown of royalty. The legend around is "MARGARETA. D: G PRIN. COM. AB. ARBURGH." On the obverse is the Holy Child, in the centre, holding a globe, with a cross on the top. Around the Child is a Glory, and around the latter "PROTECTOR MEVS ES TV. 1576."

The two principal entries to the town are the burgh port upon the south, and the bridge upon the north. No certain information can be obtained of the first erection of the bridge. It had four arches, with a gate at the east end. In 1745 the southernmost arch was broken down by order of General Blackney, to prevent the Highlanders from passing. Before its existence the passage was by a bridge half a mile more to the westward at Kildean. The foundations are still to be seen. It appears to have been the bridge mentioned in Regiam Majestatem, as the place where the inhabitants south of the Forth, challenged as having in their possession stolen goods belonging to the people on the north, were appointed to produce their warrants within six weeks.

Stirling has, in these days, utterly got quit of its ragged notoriety. It is, in fact, rapidly taking rank as one of the fashionable places of resort; and many of the villas on the outskirts of the burgh are little short of princely in their elegance of architecture. Within the town, too, are several very handsome buildings – Drummond’s Tract Depot, at the corner of King Street; the North Established Church, a fine Norman building; the Allan U.P. Church, a stately structure in the Gothic style; and the County Buildings, recently erected, which furnish accommodation in the most ample form for the Justiciary Court and all other judiciary assemblies. Nor should we omit to notice the regard for the fine arts, which has found its expression in Smith’s Institute, with its museum and library; the latter not connected in any way with the public library, properly so called, which has proved so great a boon to the community.

The old town still retains a great deal of its ancient characteristics and peculiarities. In Baker Street especially there are some quaint old houses, on one of which is inscribed –

"Here I forbear
My name or arms to fix,
Lest me and mine
Should sell these stones and sticks."

Here, in addition to the ruins of Mar’s palace and the castle hospital, also stands the High Church – a splendid specimen of Gothic masonry – within which James VI. was crowned, when John Knox preached the coronation sermon. In 1656 the building, originally single, was divided into two, and to this day consists of the east and west churches – the latter having been the place of worship allied with the Franciscan monastery, founded by James IV., the hero of Flodden, in 1494; and not further gone than 1868 the old timber roof was discovered somewhat unexpectedly. Mr. M’Lean, acting for Mr. Rochead, architect for the new transept to be erected at the joint entrance, having had the gallery of the west church taken down, made an examination of the unoccupied space above the modern plaster ceiling, when what should appear but the beautiful arched roof of oak, in excellent preservation. A window at the western end, decorated with stained glass, contains in the centre the arms of the burgh. After being disused as a place of worship for three-quarters of a century, the church underwent complete repair in 1816. Various cenotaphs now surround its interior. The tower, which rises at the west end of the building, is 90 feet in height, and may be ascended by a convenient stair. The east church presents, in the interior, double rows of handsome columns, with a chancel at the eastern end containing a large and beautiful window, which, having been added by James Beaton, Archbishop of Glasgow, gives this portion of the structure the name of Beaton’s aisle. In the course of alterations and improvements which were lately carried out, a quantity of human bones, in addition to those found on the outer stair, were thrown up from the floor of the interior. An aperture was also discovered built in the wall near the entrance on the north side, which is supposed to have been a tomb; and a few yards from this, about five feet from the floor, a small basin cut in the stone was likewise observed, that had probably been used for holding water in the services, near the altar.

Immediately beneath the castle esplanade to the south, lies the town cemetery. To catch at a glance the many adornments of the ground, an ascent should be made to the "Ladies’ Rock,"" which, with picturesque grace, rises from the sepultural valley. The scene, while full of impressive loveliness, is also very deceptive. From the natural beauty of the situation, and the exquisite skill with which statuary, shrubbery, and rockeries are arranged throughout the burial garden, it is hard to be convinced that what is seen is for the most part artificial. On the north side of the cemetery stands a pyramidal emblem in stone of the permanence of Scripture. The building, which was erected by one of Stirling’s most generous sons – Mr. William Drummond – is not less curious-looking than imposing; and, in addition to a formidable array of hieroglyphic signs, displays a variety of biblical quotations. Down in the valley are many interesting, though less striking objects; a pretty pond, a tasteful water-fountain, and several fine statues of Scotch martyrs.

Then there is the "Wolf Crag" in Port Street, of which we have the following legend. During the reign of Donald V., near the close of the ninth century, two Northumbrian princes, named Osbrecht and Ella, had acquired by conquest all south of the Forth from Stirling, and toward the eastern coast. The town was under the rule of these Anglo-Saxons for some twenty-eight years. About the same period the Danes, under their magical flag, the "Black Raven," had visited Britain for pillage. Pursuing their depredations to the north, each town inhabited by Anglo-Saxons was as well guarded and watched as could be for the approach of these invaders. At the "South Port," a sentinel had been set; but, overcome with fatigue, he fell asleep on duty, and was awakened by the growl of a wolf which had left the woody wilds for a rock in the immediate neighbourhood. Getting roused in time to see some of the northern hordes on the advance, he at once alarmed the garrison, who speedily caused a retreat. The incident of the cries of the wolf having been regarded as a favourable omen, the rock received the name of "Wolf Crag." Mottoes had previously been introduced into England by the Saxons, and the Northumbrian Anglo-Saxons who ruled in Stirling adopted the design of the wolf recumbent on a rock as the armorial bearing of the town. In an ancient seal belonging to the burgh, it is understood that there are seen seven stars set in the sky, and the rock on which reclines the wolf is strewn with branches of trees, apparently indicative of the Druidical or Pagan idea of the deities specially superintending the affairs of this part of "Sylvae Caledonia."

Stirling, within the last forty years, has made vast progress in proportion to her capabilities. In that time she has about doubled her population, and more than tripled her manufactures and her commerce. By a return made in 1755, there were only 3,951 inhabitants in the town and parish; in 1792, they had increased to 4,698; in 1801, to 5,256; in 1811, to 6,523; in 1821, to 7,333; in 1831, to 8,499; in 1841, to 8,914; and in 1871, to 14,279. Throughout the fifteenth century, the manufacture of worsted cloth, shallon, stockings, thread, and serge, formed the chief branches of trade prosecuted by the populace. These articles were sent over to Holland, Bruges being the staple port for all such commodities. In the sixteenth century, it was impossible to meet with a Stirling merchant who had not been in Holland, as no one was received as an apprentice to any of the industries mentioned unless he agreed to go twice there as supercargo of the gods. About 1700, we find different bonds given to the traders by strolling craftsmen, not to sell their wares to the inhabitants except upon market days; while, even in 1762, no person could open shop in town without first satisfying the guildry, by a statement of his affairs, that he was possessed of the necessary funds. At present the leading manufactures here are carpets, tartans, winceys, tweeds, and shawls. There are also an extensive wool-spinning factory; two coach-building establishments; and two agricultural implement works. The banking offices are eight in number – the oldest being the Bank of Scotland’s branch, which was established as far back as 1776.

No part of Scotland surpasses the district of country, of which Stirling is the centre, in farming. There are no more skilful and enthusiastic agriculturists anywhere. The carse is one of the best fields for their operations; and the landlords, including the hospital patrons, are generally liberal. Added to this is the advantage of a ready market for every kind of farm produce. The soils of the country are locally classified into carse, dryfield, moor, and moss. The carse lands extend about twenty-eight miles along the firth from Bucklyvie to the borders of Linlithgow, and vary in breadth from one to four miles, making altogether about 36,000 imperial acres. This fine soil increases in depth and richness as it stretches towards the east, and in some parts of the Dunmore, Airth, and Zetland estates it will be found 20 feet in depth, and rented at 5 pounds the imperial acre.

The progress of the town is also marked by many improvement which have been carried into effect within comparatively recent years; such as securing an abundant supply of fine water from a source in the Touch Hills, 490 feet above the level of the Forth; also covered sewage, and a regular police.

We have elsewhere alluded to Mr. J.C. Bolton, of Carbrook, who represents the county in Parliament. His predecessor was Sir William Edmonstone, Bart., of Duntreath (Conservative), who succeeded Admiral Erskine, of Cardross (Liberal). Stirling also unites with the burghs of Dunfermline, Culross, Inverkeithing, and South Queensferry, in returning a representative to parliament. The present member is Mr. Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who was preceded by Mr. Lawrence Oliphant – a gentleman who had made some mark in the world both as literateur and politician.

Opposite Stirling, upon the north bank of the river, stands the Abbey Craig, now the appropriate pedestal of the Wallace Monument. Most fitting, we say, because the Craig, which is 360 feet above the level of the Forth, was the hill on which the Scottish army were found posted by the English foot and horse immediately prior to the famous battle in which Edward and his host were strikingly defeated. The monument, which rises on the highest point of the rock’s front, represents a Scottish baronial tower of an early period. It is 220 feet in height, and at the base 36 feet square. The walls, 18 feet thick at the foundations, graduate to a thickness of 5 feet at the top of the structure. To the tower on the east side is attached the warder’s lodge, a massive building of two storeys. On the ground-floor, there is an elegant waiting-room, and three halls above – each 24 feet square, and 30 feet high. The bartisan parapet at the top of the staircase is 5 feet wide, and is protected by a wall 6 feet high and 18 inches thick. An imperial crown 50 feet in height, and built of cube-stone, forms the apex. The foundation-stone was laid on the 24th June, 1861, by the late Duke of Athole, as Grand-Master Mason, when about 80,000 persons assembled on the occasion. On 11th September, 1869, the monument was formally handed over to the Town Council of Stirling as its permanent custodiers. The entire cost of the structure – the tribute of a nation to its greatest hero – was 14,000 pounds; and the amount proved extremely difficult to raise. But so long a period has elapsed since Wallace lived and fought, and so much of his character belongs to the legendary age, that the idea of erecting a monument to his memory could only take effective root in the minds of those specially endowed with the sentiment of Scottish patriotism. It happens, moreover, that the men who make money are not, as a general rule, men who are apt to be moved by mere sentiment, and this may be the reason why the placing of the Wallace Monument on the Abbey Craig proved, both literally and figuratively, such uphill work. A really pathetic document, written shortly after the above-mentioned victory by Wallace, was picked up in 1868 by a German antiquary, in Lubeck, and which "scrap of crumpled parchment," issued with the name of our national hero as one of the guardians of Scotland, explained how the corporations of his country had failed in the old reciprocity of trading intercourse with their continental friends, by reason of the despotic dominion of a foreign enemy; but now, by the aid of Heaven, a great victory had released them from their oppressors, and the good old fellowship with foreign traders might be expected, and be prosecuted with mutual advantage without interruption.

In 1784, eleven brazen spears were found on the Abbey Craig, by a Mr. Harley. These had, no doubt, got buried in the ruins of the castle which, at one time, stood on the summit of the hill. A small stone was also got here at a later date, having on one side a representation of the Scotch thistle, and on the obverse a variety of Saxon characters.

Bridge-of-Allan, that most romantic and fashionable of Scotch spas, lies to the west of the Craig. Until the discovery of its mineral waters, the place was only known as a quiet country hamlet; but, now, being a famed resort for the restoration of health on account of these saline springs, and the mildness of its climate, it has become of late years a large and very handsome village. The population of "the Bridge" in 1861, was 1,803. In 1871, when it was made a burgh under the provisions of the Lindsay Act, the inhabitants numbered 3,065.


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