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CHAPTER 1 The Town of Stirling in Central Scotland


Stirling occupies an impressive and defensive position at the centre of the communications network of Scotland. It was, until the building of the Kincardine Bridge in 1936, the first road-bridge crossing over the Forth and its castle commanded views to all the compass points. Given such a situation it is not surprising that, from an early time, Stirling has been an important town for trade and commerce. The following synopsis of the Burgh has been adapted from the early chapters of "Notes for a New History of Stirling, Kings Park" that I co-authored with Peter Aitken and Bob MacCutcheon in 1984.

With the melting of the glacier ice the crag and tail formation that marks both the town of Stirling and the City of Edinburgh, was revealed. Ice, pushing its way past a huge volcanic plug (the crag ), deposited debris on the far side of that plug ( the tail). In the fullness of time Native people, possible the tribe of the Damonii realising the defensiveness of such a natural structure started to build there. Later the Romans to no doubt appreciated the situation as they had a major fort nearby, close to where Bridge of Allan is today, called Allauna.

While a settlement in some form must have existed at Stirling prior to the eleventh century no documentary or archaeological evidence has been found to confirm this. In time the castle resulted and the citizens built houses near to the castle so that they could easily retreat inside when danger threatened,

The first known map to show Stirling's town plan is Pont's sketch dating to about 1590 which essentially shows the townsfolk within defensive walls and ditches no doubt reflecting the history of Scotland in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. In peacetime the purpose of the walls and Ports or gateways was to act as a toll or customs point. The ports could be shut at night or in times of danger.

For a period of almost 150 years from 1600 the town stopped its outward growth turning instead to the consolidation and expansion of older areas within the town walls. This internal development is confirmed by Laye's plan of 1725 which reflects essentially the same structure as seen in Pont's sketch. The only apparent difference was slight expansion to the lower town with a few dwellings outside the Barras Yett or Burgh Gate towards St. Ninians.

The plan of 1746 ( commissioned to show the attack of the Jacobites) shows the Medieval core of the town to be intensely developed. The tofts, or plots, being mostly infilled and the streets narrow and congested.

At the beginning of the 19th century, as we have seen, most of the population of just over 5,000 lived within the Town Wall in tenement type property. These houses were crowded into the old Burgh roods or plots on each side of the ancient routes leading to the castle perched high above the carse. The streets, with except for the Hie Gait or Broad Street, were narrow and congested with houses shutting out much of the sunlight. Narrow closes led to the backlands with the houses built gable end on to the road. In these backlands the inhabitants kept animals to provide food.

Facilities such as toilets, water and sewage were non existent. Water was always in short supply. A common sight being queues of people waiting their turn to fill pails, jugs and pitchers at the few wells and pumps provided. Sewers were open channels with only rainwater to flush away the human and animal waste. Pigs and hens were kept all over the place even in the houses. Local butchers slaughtered sheep and pigs within the confines of their shops and houses. All types of household refuse littered the streets.

As late as 1842 Mr Forrest on his account of the sanitary conditions of the town of Stirling, states that: 'The drains or sewers, called "sivers", are all open and sloping. On the public streets they are, in general, well constructed, but in the closes their construction is so very bad that scarcely any of them run well. The only supply of which they receive, is from the heavens. The inhabitants of Stirling, during many months of the year, do not obtain water sufficient for their domestic wants, and they cannot, therefore, have any to spare for their sewers." (Report on the Sanitary conditions of the labouring population of Great Britain, from the Poor Law Commissioners, p107, July 1842.)

Thankfully these conditions no longer exist and successive local and national government legislation and private initiatives, about health and housing, have helped to sweep away the slums. Extensive demolition and rebuilding on the castle hill, especially during the 1930s to 1950s, have radically changed the face of the old town.

Here then we have a picture of the town developing initially from the castle and gradually down the 'tail'. Eventually spilling outside the walls when conditions are so cramped as to be uncomfortable and times of war are past.

This situation was radically altered in the late seventeen hundreds and the early eighteen hundreds and is, primarily, the story of one person, Alexander Bowie who, with other local tradesmen, started to alter the face of the burgh and create more elegance than earlier times had allowed.

The following links lead you to the full story of Bowie, his buildings, family and his descendants.

In these pages there are interests for Genealagists, local Historians and some learning experiences for those researching their own family and want to use the internet to help them.

Please feel free to contact me by e-mail with your comments,suggestions, praise or criticisms.

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