Bailies, Makars and Snow

Bailies and Makars

One of the more unusual roles I have as a Stirling Councillor is as “Bailie Chris Kane”.  The title is a ceremonial one today, but for hundreds of years while Stirling was a royal burgh, a Bailie was the precursor to a modern councillor.  The official position of Bailie was abolished in law in 1975, but in 2008 Stirling Council revived the position with four Bailies to assist the Provost undertake the civic duties of the council.  In Stirling the modern custom is that each political party can nominate one Bailie to ensure it is a civic rather than a political role – so we’ve got one from Labour, SNP, Conservative and Green.

"The Poet" Stirling Head from Stirling Castle
“The Poet” Stirling Head from Stirling Castle

Another ancient role that Stirling has revived in recent years is that of Makar.  Stirling’s current Makar, or official poet, is Clive Wright.  Makars date back to the court of James IV in the fifteenth century and Clive is the third modern Makar since 2009 (after Magi Gibson and Anita Govern).  It’s a three year term and comes with a honorarium of £1000 per year.

At this week’s meeting of the Provost’s Panel, Clive was there to provide an update on his work over the last year.  I snapped this picture of Clive performing his latest poem for Stirling all about the life of King James IV, with Provost Christine Simpson looking on.   I wonder how many previous Provosts over the centuries have sat and listened to previous Makars in a similar situation – I was certainly aware of the long continuity of local history and felt very fortunate to be there to see it.

The Makar works with schools and local writers to promote poetry, along with composing an annual “poem for Stirling”.

The Weather

The unofficial snow gauge
The unofficial snow gauge

I’m writing this at the kitchen table on Thursday afternoon, looking out of the window as the snow continues to fall as it has done for most of the day.  My patio table has for fifteen years been the yardstick (perhaps literally) by which I measure snow depths.  It’s currently at 14 inches and growing.  The most my trusty table has ever had is nine inches, back in 2010.  So today has officially seen the most snow to fall in my back garden since kane family records, and the kane family house, began, in 2002.  I’ve given up clearing driveway after having been out with a shovel three times already today. I cannot remember colder days, but I cannot remember a day with as much snow lying on the ground.  All of Stirling’s schools are shut for a second day and they’ll be closed again tomorrow.  Stirling Council has gone into emergency mode, with all available staff on gritting / ploughing / assisting the vulnerable.  The council staff are doing a remarkable job under difficult circumstances and I hope they all realise how much of a debt of thanks we owe them and how much they have my respect and admiration.

There is no f in milk
You can’t argue with facts like this

One of the things about spending so much time at home with family is that nerves can get a little frazzled – which can lead to little outbursts of passive aggressiveness on the fridge!

Community Garden

Normally on an unexpected day off I’d head over to the Community Garden to do some weeding.  I’m not sure I could find the weeds today, but I did head over with my camera to see what was happening.  The hens were all under cover and the braehead bees are well insulated anyway, but the extra coating of snow will probably help even more.  Today’s “Dr Bike” session has been cancelled, but it will be back in a fortnight.  We’ve teamed up with our friends at Recykabike and the Stirling Cycle Hub to offer free “health checks” for your bike.  Simply turn up on 15th March between 4pm-6pm with your bike, and one of the technicians will give it a quick tune up.  If, if, if the weather is good on Sunday, there’s an Active Travel Day in the garden between noon and 4pm and and I’ll be leading a bike tour around the Braehead Heritage Trail.  I was persuaded to do it with the promise of a loan of an electric bike for the afternoon – it should be fun!

The #beastfromtheeast hits Braehead Community Garden
The #beastfromtheeast hits Braehead Community Garden

Stirling and the 1746 Jacobite Uprising

Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites laid siege to Stirling Castle in January 1746.  They didn’t make it beyond the drawbridge.  In 2018, the Jacobites are back in the city, inside the castle … and made out of Lego.

The Jacobite lego model at Stirling Castle
The Jacobite lego model at Stirling Castle

We had a family trip to Stirling Castle this week to see a huge model depicting the history of the Jacobites.  Made out of lego.   The model is spectacular and contains more than one million bricks.  There are over two thousand mini-figure soldiers.   The lego Jacobites may have made it into Stirling Castle, but the real Jacobites never did.  However, in January 1746, you would have seem a fair few thousand of them in the streets of Stirling.

I’m one of four Stirling Councillors who have the title “Bailie”.  It is a civic role and Bailies assist the Provost in her duties throughout the year.    The duties of a modern Bailie are ceremonial.  In January 1746, it was more of a matter of life and death for Stirling’s Provost and his Bailies.

The Jacobites arrive in Stirling

Christmas 1745 would have been a nervous time for Stirling’s Provost.  The Jacobites were retreating north from Derby, chased by the Duke of Cumberland.  They were back in Scotland by 20th December and spent Christmas in Glasgow.  On 2nd January, a letter arrived at the council offices.  The Jacobites gave notice that they’d be at the town gates at 2pm on 6th January and they wanted in.  Or else.  The Provost and his Baillies met and agreed it best to open the gate, or “porte” which was located in what is now Stirling’s Port Street.  At 2pm precisely, the gates opened and the Provost presented Charles with the key to the town and then got out the way as the troops entered.  Major General Blakeney, in charge of the garrison at Stirling Castle, wasn’t quite so accommodating.  He shut the castle doors, content to wait for Cumberland to arrive.  The Jacobites spent the rest of January laying siege to the castle while enjoying the hospitality of the citizens of Stirling.  The government forces in the castle no doubt watched the Jacobites setting up a cannon battery on the adjacent Gowan Hill.  With the bedrock inches under the soil, digging in the cannon wasn’t quick and it wasn’t easy.  In some regards it was nice of the Castle troops to let the Jacobites finish their work and fire one cannonball.  Before they unleashed the many powerful cannon of their own and obliterated the Jacobite position within thirty minutes.  The Earl of Mar was less impressed;  that one cannonball flew over the castle and landed on his house at the top of Broad Street, destroying the roof.  The building, Mar’s Wark, is still there today.  It is still without a roof.

With Cumberland nearing the town, the Jacobites packed up and left at the start of February.   Cumberland caught up with them on 16th April.  At a wee place near Inverness called Culloden.  Before they left Stirling, there was one final Jacobean incident that became part of Stirling’s history.  The Jacobites took over the church at St Ninians as an armoury.  Just before they left, their gunpowder caught light and the church was blown to pieces.  Only the clock tower survived.  It is still there today.

In 2015, there was a Community Archaeology Dig at St Ninians Old Kirk looking for evidence of the Jacobites visit.  Here’s my podcast of the event:

The Jacobite departure initially caused the town council to breath a sigh of relief.  But it was short lived.  They realised they were going to have to explain to the victorious forces of George II why they’d been so accommodating to the King’s enemies.  The minutes of a town council meeting on 10th February record ten pages of reasons in support of the town’s actions.  The general gist of which boils down to a desire to avoid “streets strowed with the corpse of the inhabitants” and “the whole affects in the town become their plunder”.   There then followed a few months of nervous diplomacy, brought to a head on 7th July when the town took out an advert in the London Gazette to publish a loyal address to the King.  It had the desired effect and I would imagine the entire town breathed a sigh of relief.

Find out more

The letter sent by Bonnie Prince Charlie is kept in Stirling Council archives.  The key the town council presented to him is on display at the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum.  On 2nd February, the lego Jacobite soldiers will depart Stirling exactly 272 years after the real Jacobite soldiers.  The exhibition, made by Brick to the Past, is well worth a look while it is still in Stirling.  There’s also a great blog post by one of the lego builders telling more about how the model was constructed.   If you’d like to find out more about the Kirk at St Ninians, I can recommend the St Ninians Heritage Trail.

* The image at the top of the page is an 18th century depiction of the old kirk at St Ninians being blown up, as depicted on a lady’s fan of the time – it is from the collection of the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum and on permanent display there.