Stirling for Business
From 1130, as a Royal Burgh, our burgesses enjoyed special trading rights, at home and overseas. An active inland port on the River Forth allowed local merchants, such as prosperous 17th-century Dean of Guild, John Cowane, to buy and sell goods from Norway, Germany, Belgium, Holland and the Low Countries, and thus ensured the Merchant Guild’s strict control of all business and commerce in the town.
With the 1707 Union of Parliaments, however, the Guidry were shocked to find that they no longer enjoyed these long-cherished monopolies and were liable to the same levies and legislation as everyone else. Stirling was ill-prepared for such a sea-change in its financial fortunes.
What industry remained was local – wool weaving and brewing in the area largely serving the needs of the native population – or the preserve of artisans, such as Walter Allan, Deacon of the Hammermen, whose basket-hilted swords were highly prized. The Burgh had been a prominent manufacturer of such blades for decades but, again Stirling’s past success hastened hard times ahead. Having profited from sales of weapons to both sides in the years before the 1745-46 Jacobite Rebellion, Allan’s trade was wiped out overnight, as the Act of Proscription – described by Dr Johnson as ‘the last act by which the Highlanders are deprived of their arms’, prohibited Scots from bearing arms of any kind.
The Industrial Revolution
As the Industrial Revolution transformed British trade, Stirling was left behind. Burgesses moved their investments to businesses outside the town, such as Falkirk’s Carron iron works, which opened in 1759, and in the coal mines of Denny, Bannockburn and further afield.
The weaving trade flowered briefly, and Stirling enjoyed a brief flirtation with carpet manufacture: the St Mary’s Wynd home of the great John Cowane briefly serving as the premises of Messrs Scott and Gilfinnan’s Carpet House Company. The Ordnance Survey Map for 1858 shows the current Port Street entrance to Thistles Shopping Centre to have been a pend granting access to the Dye Houses of the Port Mill: its boiler tightly housed within The Bastion, once a watchtower on the 16th-century Burgh Wall. Such successes were, sadly, short lived.
From 1865 until the construction of Thistles in the 1970s much of the neighbouring site, now occupied by Marks & Spencer, served as workshops of William Kinross & Sons: ‘Carriage and Motor Car builders to the Nobility and Gentry of Great Britain, His Highness the Rajah of Jowar and many other Native Gentlemen of India’.
The collieries and iron works closed their doors long ago; the mills and carriage makers replaced by modern retailers. Of the Burgh’s traditional industries only Brewing appears to have endured the test of time – through the Allanwater Brewhouse and Black Wolf Breweries.
Today Stirling has grown its profile as leading destination for both tourism and business growth, attracting visitors and investors from around the world to our innovative and creative city.