Bring and Buy

Shopping in Stirling for most of our history meant a visit to the weekly Market, held each Tuesday for the better part of seven hundred years around the Mercat Cross, in the shadow of the Tolbooth.

To hold a Market was a privilege which could only be bestowed by the Crown: an honour granted to our fortunate Burgesses in 1130, by David I. To the Cross would be fixed the Tron, the public scales, ensuring that the Burgh’s system of weights and measures was honoured. Such measures varied from town to town: one ‘Stirling Pint’, for example, being a little less than three Imperial Pints. In the 16th-century the original wooden Mercat Cross was replaced by a much grander stone pillar, capped by the ‘Puggy’, or Royal unicorn.

The Market was a place of business, gossip, public punishment and proclamation: the town-crier, or Bellman, began his thrice-daily tour of the town here. Attendance at the Market was almost a social obligation, and remained so until the Burgh Wall was demolished in the 1760s. At that time trade regulations were relaxed, allowing locals to seek bargains in surrounding towns and villages, and the Market Street began to be better known, as it is today, as Broad Street.

All trade was licensed. The manufacture and sale of most goods at Market was largely undertaken by members of the Seven Incorporated Trades: the Hammermen (blacksmiths and metal-workers), Baxters (bakers), Fleshers (butchers), Skinners, Tailors and Shoemakers. Their members traditionally occupied one third of places on the town council. Their right to do business, however, was strictly regulated (and taxed) by the Merchant’s Guild – who occupied the other two thirds. Woe-betide anyone foolish enough to trade without Guildry approval. In 1700 Bessie Murris challenged the Guild’s ruling that only members of the Incorporation of Weavers were licensed by them to buy and sell wool, cursing them all as ‘brozie [brazen] faced rascals’. Fined, the poor woman was promised imprisonment in the Tolbooth if she ever dared repeat her offence.

As Stirling expanded in the 19th-century, shops began to cater for the prosperous residents of the now fashionable Allanpark. John Allan’s grand ‘Wolf Craig’ in Dumbarton Road, was originally designed as a grocers-shop for the local gentry. It would later become Stirling’s first department store. In 1881, William Crawford opened what may be the very first purpose-built ‘shopping mall’, The Crawford Arcade. Covered markets were nothing new, but leasing shops to a diverse array of private vendors under one roof was a radical innovation. This emporium boasted several pubs, a gentlemen’s club and a fully functioning Music Hall. The Stirling Arcade, as it is now known, is still open today: Victorian haberdashery and millinery supplanted by more contemporary consumables – healing-crystals, comics, skateboards and bridal-wear.

A more modern shopping centre, Thistles, opened in the 1970s and continues to expand, offering ‘the ultimate shopping experience’, in its 90 chain stores and speciality shops. With most major supermarkets and retailers represented in the town, and surrounding area, shopping in Stirling has come a long way in the last thousand years!

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