Merchants and Burgh expansions

Following the departure of the Royal Court in 1603 when James VI became King of England, the Burgh continued to prosper but through the activities of its merchants and the Burgh Council. Industries grew around weaving, tanning, brewing, and Stirling established strong links through its port on the River Forth with Holland and Scandinavian countries.

The Burgh Council developed the harbour, the Kirk, Tolbooth, bridges, markets and grammar school. It controlled building regulations, weights & measures, and set market prices.
It's many merchants and tradesmen, most of whom were on the Council, created its wealth. The most notable of these was John Cowane who served on the Council for 22 years and was Dean of Guild. He was also the Burghs outstanding benefactor, leaving a hospital and much land which is still held in trust for the relief of poor families in Stirling. This trust still plays a remarkable role in the conservation and development of modern Stirling.

The end of the Jacobite years saw the town begin to change to something like the shape and feel it has today. The town gates disappeared as the burgh spread beyond its old defensive walls. By the early 1800s, the recently- turnpiked approaches to Stirling passed through the elegant Georgian suburbs which still stand today

The Merchant Guildry of Stirling

The Merchant Guildry of Stirling cannot trace its exact origins.  The Guilds of Europe stem from the establishment of city life after the end of the Roman Empire. Although Scotland had a small population, its burghs were well established by the 11th century.  The famous Laws of the Four Burghs (of which Stirling was one along with Edinburgh, Roxburgh and Berwick) became the municipal laws for all the Scottish Burghs.

From the beginnings of the Guildry no-one could engage in commerce unless he was a burgess of the town.  It was formed to protect trading rights.  Guildry members were not manual workers and were forbidden by the Laws of the Four Burghs to be so.

The Burgh Reform Act of 1833 provided for the election of Town Councils and the Burgh Trading Act of 1846 abolished the privileges of Merchant Guilds.   The Guildry then assumed its present form as an interesting survival, with the Society maintaining the ancient traditions of the Town.

The Dean of the Guildry and members of the council can be contacted by email.

Anyone interested in becoming a Guild Brother should live within the Stirling Area and can contact us by email on the above address for more information.  

The Railway

During the late 1840s, the railways came to Stirling and probably did more than any other single development to create the town we know today. Fine new Victorian suburbs appeared as Glasgow merchants and businessmen moved into the town, happy to live in an attractive scenic area but now able to commute easily to work in the city. With their arrival, a greater sense of civic pride also developed. No great industrial magnate emerged to provide the town with civic amenities; it fell upon the town council and local ratepayers to erect the water reservoirs, schools, hospitals, bridges, courthouse, shopping arcade, public halls and other civic buildings of today.

Step by step the town developed. Stagecoaches improved Stirling's links with the rest of Scotland, just as the industrial revolution was impacting on the area. Before long Stirling became a significant woollen-making town, powered by local streams. Neighbouring Bannockburn became a famed tartan weaving town, manufacturing around 90% of all tartan made in the world, thanks to mills established in the 1770s. In 1819 the Prince of Wales gave Stirling cloth a great boost by having a highland outfit made locally.


As Stirling established itself as a county town, related industries developed to serve the district - coal mining, brewing and coopering, brickmaking, nail making, tanning and the famous Kinross coachbuilding company (which received its Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria in 1837). The town also became a market centre with a wide selection of shops and services ranging from grocers, butchers and dairies to the photographers, milliners and hairdressers which served people from a wider surrounding area. Railways also spawned a thriving tourist industry, still a vital part of the local economy.

Even the famous Wallace Monument was built by local subscription.
During the 20th century, this gradual evolutionary progress went on. While the town lived through two world wars at a great human cost, but virtually undamaged, the town council tackled slum housing and deprivation in the 1920s, poverty and unemployment in the 30s, and urban regeneration in the post-war years with few financial resources but a great feeling of social responsibility. 
For all its royal history, Stirling is still a people's town.

Last updated: Tuesday, January 26, 2021 2:52 PM