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Alexander Bowie moves from Muthill to Stirling

At some point and for some reason Alexander Bowie must have left Muthill and settled in Stirling. The earliest, authenticated, documentary detail of Bowie's life, after he arrives in the Burgh of Stirling comprises an entry in the muster rolls of the Stirling Volunteers, which were raised when Great Britain was threatened with an invasion by Napoleon. On the 13th of June 1803 Alexander Bowie, aged 24 enrolled in the 2nd Company under Captain Edward Alexander. His height is recorded as being 5 feet 7 inches and his occupation is described as a wright. (Muster Rolls of the Stirling Volunteers) Question if this should stay in.

To establish his right to work within the Burgh Alexander Bowie, on the 3rd of August 1804, applied as a wright to join the Incorporation of Mechanics, a Society for an assortment of trades including Masons, Coopers, Slaters, Plasterers, Carvers and Dyers. As was the practice of the time he was required to carry out a practical task, called a "sey piece, to illustrate his skill and prove that he was worthy of joining the Society. he was asked to submit a "Wainscott Clockcase" within ten days but no record of his fulfilling his commitment is to be found in the minute book.

Membership of a Guild such as the Incorporation of Mechanics was essentially a means of regulating the labour force as, broadly speaking, all work within the Burgh could only be undertaken by Guild Brothers or Burgesses. This, restrictive practice, ostensibly controlled the work and kept out unregistered workers. In 1804 for, example, the Mechanics Committee met to discuss the case of a Cooper employed at the local Sugarhouse. Initially they decided to seek an interdict to stop him working until such time as "he was entered" Later, however, they relented and agreed to meet the Sugarhouse employers and entered into an agreement whereby the Sugarhouse paid an annual fee of one guinea and had the right to "employ any cooper that they think proper". In the event, a few days later, we read of an application of one William Gardner to join the Society as a Cooper. He was ordered to make as his "sey piece" a "puncheon the same as he is making at the Sugarhouse."

Again in 1805 we read that Robert Henderson was carrying on as a wright in the Craig Milnes (mills) without being entered Burgess with the town or a member of the Incorporation of Mechanics. He too had to join. (Minutes of the Guild of The Incorporation of Mechanics.)

The next reference that we find for Alexander Bowie is contained in the Town Council Minutes and Accounts during the years 1806 to 1808 when, along with Thomas Traquair, a local joiner, he undertook the building of a new town prison which still stands today at the corner of St. John Street and Jail Wynd. It is likely that Traquair, created a Burgess in 1804, was the senior partner in the contract as Bowie was still not, at that time, either a member of the Burgh Guildry or a Burgess and his only official standing within the Burgh was to be registered as a wright.

Discussion about the construction of such a prison and courthouse to extend the then 100 year old Tollbooth in Broad Street had begun in 1805 when the Town Council met to 'concert a plan'. They retained the Edinburgh architect Richard Crichton, who earlier in his career had worked for the famous Adams brothers in Edinburgh and was responsible for Gask House and the Smith's house at Blairdrummond in Perthshire, Rossie Castle in Angus and for the extension and development of Balbirnie House near Glenrothes in Fife. Crichton eventually submitted two sets of plans but both were judged by the Council to be too costly and the matter was passed to a group of councillors who were to meet the builders to discuss simplifying the building in order to bring down the costs. Instead, therefore, of the classical styled ornate building that was envisaged by Crichton, there stands today the simple utilitarian prison structure built by Bowie and Traquair. According to the Burgh Accounts for 1806--1807 for their work they were paid 800 in three instalments and in the accounts for 1807--1808 four instalments amounting to 1,178 but their tender for the adjoining courthouse could not have been acceptable as the contract for this was undertaken by Messrs. Oatts, builders of Doune.

NB Pictures of the prison and the windows

The effect of the Council's cost cutting exercise in the building of the prison can best be judged by the comments made in the Report by the Inspector of Prisons after his visit to Stirling on the 24th November 1836. He writes;

" I had heard a bad account of the Stirling Gaol from two or three quarters before visiting it, and my examination fully justified these unfavourable reports. The prison, nevertheless is not an old one having been built more than 30 years. Great ignorance, however, of all the legitimate objects of imprisonment is manifest both in the choice of site and in the construction of the building. The prison is placed in so public a situation that it would be almost impossible to prevent communication from without ; an object indeed which does not seem to have entered the heads of those who made the plans. The masonry, too, is so bad that holes can be easily made through the walls ; so that, even security, the most evident of all requisites in a prison has not been attained or apparently cared for. As to the reform of the offender, that is quite out of the question ; nay, it is hopeless to try to prevent his becoming worse. it would not be safe to set him to work, lest he should employ his tools in making his way through the frail tenement in which he is confined ; and so insufficient are the means of separation, that all the females, of whom there are sometimes 12 or 15 at one time, are huddled together in the same room. In the absence of the keeper, too, who does not reside on the spot, conversation can readily be kept up between the females and the males ; and about 12 months ago one of the females bored a hole through the wall into the adjoining males cell, to render the communication easier." ( Second Report of The Inspectors of Prisons 1836)

On the 3rd of February, 1807, when the prison project was well under way, Bowie again applied to join the Society of Mechanics, this time as a mason. He was set the task of ' hewing an outband ribatt' ( ribatt--rebate, a smooth sandstone facing stone for the surround of a door or window) in order to ' ascertain his knowledge of his profession'. At the same time he ' paid his speaking drink' . Perhaps he too had been directed to formally join the society as a mason because he was already working on the building of the prison and he was not a registered mason.

Two days later he submitted a line from his seymasters stating that his sey was done to their satisfaction. At the same time he paid the Treasurer 2.5/- as his entry money, 5/- for the Michaelmas dinner, 2/6d, for the March dinner and 2/6d for 'meeting the Lord's'. From all this we can assume that the Mechanics were equally keen to wine, and dine and collect the dues of members as they were about controlling the workforce of the Burgh, or, ensuring that their members were of a necessary standard before being employed within the Burgh. They were, nevertheless, more or less effective. It was not until 1846, with the passing of the Burgh Trading Act, that the ancient trading privileges of merchant guilds and crafts incorporates were finally extinguished. ( Minutes of the Incorporated Society of Mechanics)

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