(written 1951,final revision 1961)


(written 1951, revised 1961)





The history of the county of Stirling has been determined, as has that of many areas, by its geography and, later, its geology, as much as by the character of its people. The county has often been, like early Palestine, or, in modern times, Belgium, the battleground on which great forces met to reach decisions which have had national and international significance. The river Forth seems to have been the channel along which very early peoples entered the area Neolithic axe-heads and other artefacts have been found in various districts as far south as Kilsyth. These early tribes were followed by peoples with knowledge of the working of iron and it was they who faced Agricola in his steady, season by season, march north to the Tay and the battle of Mons Graupius. On the line of fortified camps which he erected from the Forth to the west was ultimately built the wall of Antoninus Pius.


The date of the wall's construction is not easy to establish firmly but undoubtedly it followed very closely on the successful conclusion of the campaigns of Lollius Urbicus in North Britain late in A.D. 142 or early in A.D. l43. Thirty-seven miles in length and built of wood and turf on a stone base, which was rarely less than fourteen feet wide, the wall stood probably ten feet high and it is likely that it was surmounted by a wooden palisade so that the total height may well have been some sixteen feet. To the north of the wall ran a ditch generally of about forty feet in width and perhaps twelve feet deep. To the south, forty or fifty yards away, ran a road, well built and some sixteen to eighteen feet wide, along which very rapid troop movement might be accomplished. Each of the three legions in Britain at the time supplied men to assist in construction work, the Sixth from York, the Twentieth from Chester and the Second, the headquarters of which was at Caerleon in South Wales; this last, in its entirety, may have been present on the wall at times.

The forts on the wall within the county lay at Mumnlls. in the eastern part of what is now the village of Laurieston, the present junction of Sandy Loan and the road to Beancross lying within the fort area; at Rough Castle; at Seabegs. although no traces of this fort have been found in recent times; and at Castlecary. A fine section of the ditch remains still, immediately to the east of the private villa of Watling Lodge in Camelon.

An altar found in 1963 at Westerwood (Dunbartonshire) is now in Falkirk Museum. It was dedicated to the Silvani (? ae) and Quadriviae, woodland or cultivated ground gods, and goddesses of crossroads, (a combination elsewhere recorded oflly in Upper Pannonia) by Vibia Tacata (? Pacata), wife of Fl. or Cl. Verecundus of the Sixth Legion. The date is presumably second century.


With the withdrawal of Roman garrisons from the wall and, indeed, from Scotland, the county became again a battleground over which Picts, Scots and, on occasions, Britons from Strathclyde ranged and fought. It is probable that during this period Stirling Castle came into existence, with a growing village close to it. Certainly when the new burghs were created Stirling was so highly regarded as to be considered among the 'Four Burghs' which made up the 'parliament' of burghs and to which by 1292 disputes between burghs were being referred. Erection of Stirling into a burgh, however, may have taken place as early as 1100. The earliest charter, so far as is known, granted to Stirling was that of Alexander II in 1226: a weekly market was confirmed in the burgh; trading was limited to the confines of the burgh, and a merchant gild was established. This fortunate state of affairs meant for the royal burgh of Stirling very considerable freedom to develop trade, which was denied for long to other villages and towns in the county area. By the late fifteenth century, however, the creation elsewhere of free burghs of barony and, on occasions, of regality provided to other areas opportunities to begin the development of trade. Airth, which had for long been a royal dockyard, became a burgh of barony in 1597, Falkirk in 1600 and Kilsyth in 1680. Falkirk became the market of the agricultural area round it and craftsmen were able to organise societies to improve conditions and standards. Trade, however, took some considerable time to develop. The manufacture of salt, which had been a local industry. was of little importance by that time and the mining of coal was carried on only on a small scale.


Since the start of the county's participation in the industrial era the history of the area has tended to be written in terms of the towns. It is not that industrial development was in the beginning limited to the towns; indeed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the upsurge of endeavour in industry was remarkably widespread. Bannockburn, St. Ninians. Balfron, Cambusbarron and Lennoxtown developed weaving industries; the village of Camelon produced a hardy race of nailers; from the Forth near Stirling, through Denny and Airth to Slamannan, the mining industry, pressed by increasing demands and assisted by advancing techniques, began its own considerable expansion; and, of course, there was Carron Company. It is almost possible to believe, from scrutiny of records and diaries of travellers in Scotland in the late eighteenth century, that the only purpose of their visits was to view, from afar in a state of emotional excitement or from near in technical appraisal, the workings of Carron Company, and, throughout the nineteenth century, of the many other companies which followed.


At the same time as was arising the new industrial force, there was developing a vast trade along much older lines. 'From time immemorial', wrote Nimmo in his History of Stirlingshire, first edition, 1777, 'the highlands of Scotland have produced great quantities of cattle; these... are reckoned superior to English beef'. Before 1603 the highlander's ready appreciation of this truth and his willingness to trade with English dealers had been hampered by various Acts of the Scottish parliament designed to stop such trade. After the union of the crowns, however, the transporting of cattle to England became lawful provided that an excise duty was paid, and a very considerable trade arose. Until late in the eighteenth century the principal market was at Crieff but from that time Falkirk, or the area near it, grew in importance until in the nineteenth century the market there was the largest of its kind in Scot-land. Nimmo has written, 'At one of these trysts, which usually last two days, sometimes above fifty thousand head of cattle have been assembled and all sold off'. The trysts were held originally on Reddingrigmuir which was part of the barony and regality of Polmont, but after litigation involving division of the land, the market place was moved, first to Bonnymuir and then to Stenhousemuir. A further very successful cattle market developed at Kippen in the nineteenth century. The development of transport from the middle of the nineteenth century gradually removed the importance of, and indeed the need for, a market of this type and the old trysts, which were not only market-places but the scenes of competitions in which skill on the pipes was tested, have disappeared.


When armies have met in battle in Stirlingshire the cause has been of national and not of local importance. The effect on local people has been twofold: as Scots they have been influenced by the result of the conflict; as local citizens they have often been hit hard by the depredations of the rival armies. Indeed, two years after Bannockburn, when rents due from salt pans and lands in the carse of Stirling were demanded from Holyrood by Newbattle, a plea that 'the terrible upheaval of the war between the kingdoms of England and Scotland' had caused such devastation that revenue from the land could not be raised was successful; some four hundred years later in 1745 the ships and boats in the harbours of Airth and Dunmore were burned by government troops, a disaster from which the port of Airth never recovered.

Six considerable battles were fought in the county between 1297 and 1746 including one of the most remarkable and important battles in any country's history. The battle of Bannockburn in 1314 is remarkable for its significance to the Scotland of that day and since, for the wealth of incidents recorded from it, for its outcome, completely unlikely when the sizes of the two armies are compared, for the magnitude of the defeat sustained by the English army and for the amount of discussion and, indeed, argument which even to-day arises when the site of the battle or the sequence of events in it is considered. A force of probably some twenty thousand effectives, including two to three thousand cavalrymen and perhaps two thousand archers, was destroyed by some seven thousand Scots who included in their ranks only a small proportion of horse. Research continues and it is possible even now that much more of the full story of the battle that was fought near the Bannock burn will be known.

Although they were outnumbered Sir William Wallace's troops at Stirling Brig in 1297 did not face quite such daunting odds. Walter de Hemingburgh in his account of the battle compresses the strategy and skill in tactical manoeuvre of Wallace into the sentence 'Nor was there in the whole kingdom of Scotland a spot so favourable for enclosing the English in the hands of the Scots . . .' A year later in the bitter first battle of Falkirk Wallace's spearmen, in their circular schiltrons, were destroyed by the archery which was later to give English armies such great superiority on the Continent. Falkirk's second battle, in 1746, was the last successful attempt of the Jacobite army to throw back the pursuing Hanoverians. Of the battle of 'Sauchieburn' in 1488 very little is known. In the retreat which followed it James III was killed. The fight at Kilsyth, in 1645, was again of considerable national significance although its effects were short-lived. By his victory, achieved at tiny cost, the Marquis of Montrose secured for a time control of all Scotland. The people of Kilsyth, however, suffered, then at the hands of the armies of Montrose and later when Cromwell entered the area. A skirmish at Larbert Bridge in 1651 in which Cromwell and Leslie exchanged shots is, perhaps, worthy of note.

In the two centuries since the dragoons galloped up Maggie Wood's Loan to be faced by the Macdonalds, the history of the county has become one of industrial action, and legal battles where opinions have differed, as in, for example, such matters as the control of water supplies have absorbed local interest. In war, when it has been necessary, the local regiment, the Argyll and Sutherland Righlanders, has gained a long list of battle honours, among which, perhaps, the 'thin red streak1 of Balaclava is among those most proudly acknowledged. There is a charming tale in old Falkirk lore of the thirteen men of the town who fought in the Scots Greys at Waterloo and were called the 'Falkirk Dozen'. Volunteers from the county fought at Trafalgar.

It is perhaps not unremarkable that there should be such support for Scottish National politics as there is in Stirling. Wallace found support there as did Bruce; Charles Edward Stewart's army was given help in Stirling, Kilsyth, Dunipace, Denny and Falkirk. There is in the history of the county a willingness to face difficulties in support of beliefs. This attitude has been visible in two particular forms in the past century.


In the seventeenth century the divisions in the Church produced little reaction in the county area. During the last part of the century there were some periods of trouble and disorder but there was no lasting effect. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, however, the quarrels and disputes increased in numbers and intensity and secession followed. Even this was not enough, divisions of the Secession ensuing, so that numbers of churches bitterly antagonistic to one another were formed. The Disruption of 1843 produced in various parishes resignations on a considerable scale, further establishment of churches and a dislike and suspicion which only in recent years have been removed or allayed.


In 1820 the trial was held at Stirling of a group of men from various areas of the county, Balfron, Bonnymuir, Camelon and St. Ninians, who were accused of 'high treason'. This trial was only the second trial for high treason in Scotland since the union of parliaments. The men, nearly forty in number, were accused of very many crimes against the state. all committed during a period of four days. The charges included that of responsibility for the posting of notices calling on workers in Glasgow and the surrounding area to strike. 'We earnestly request of all to . . . consider it as the duty of every man not to recommence (work) until he is in possession of those rights which distinguished the free man from the slave, viz. that of giving consent to the laws by which he is to be governed'.

The appeal achieved a considerable success in Glasgow and a group of the Radicals, many of them armed, marched a day or two later in the general direction of Falkirk. On Bonnymuir they were met by a troop of hussars and after a skirmish in which at least one of the rebels and several soldiers were wounded nineteen men were captured, of whom one escaped. The leaders of the rising were executed.


During the past century the history of the east of the county has been largely one of industrial development and the rural areas have tended more and more to look inward to the towns. Of the burghs, Bridgeof Allan alone has retained the quiet atmosphere which characterised its early development as a resort in the 1 82Os. Stirling has become the administrative centre while, in the east, men wise in the newest branches of knowledge are building a new industrial structure. The most remarkable development of recent years has been the rapid growth of Grangemouth. Such is this growth that already Grangemouth is seeking the status of a large burgh and the suggestion that Grangemouth, Falkirk and Larbert unite to form a city has been mooted. At this moment it seems likely that the independence of outlook which has been visible in the county's history will prevent this last development, but that is for the future.

The steady movement of emphasis to the east is interesting. In the middle ages when Stirling in its maturity was playing a leading part in the country's affairs, Falkirk, partly unable and partly unready to develop, was making preparations to take the lead when the new era of trade and manufacture should replace that of civil war. Now Falkirk's place may well be taken by the thriving, energetic town which achieved the status of a burgh only eighty-five years ago. Some years ago the Earl of Home, then Minister of State for Scotland, made what may well be a most suitable and exact comment when he said, 'Keep your eye on Grangemouth: it is testing out the pattern of the second half of the twentieth century'.

Tom Paterson (last updated 26th Oct 2020)