An outstanding landmark and one of Scotland’s most striking visitor attractions – commemorating the life of Sir William Wallace, Guardian of Scotland, the patriot and martyr who came to be Scotland’s National Hero. Whatever your direction of approach to Stirling you cannot fail to be impressed by the visually striking exclamation mark of the Wallace Monument. Inside the Monument you will find yourself transported back to the 13th Century as you discover the story of the warrior who led the Scottish army to victory at The Battle of Stirling Bridge. In The Hall of Arms you will see the sword which struck fear into the hearts of Wallace’s enemies, and which is today a powerful symbol of his bravery and courage.
But let’s wind the story back to the mid-1800s. Scotland, with more than a little help from Sir Walter Scott, was going through an earlier phase of the rediscovery of its sense of national pride and identity after a period during which for many it had become “North Britain”. Then Blind Harry’s William Wallace was a perfect focus for the celebration of this new sense of identity and as a result statues of him and monuments to him began to spring up all over the country, with more than 20 being built in all. But many wanted a national monument to William Wallace that could be venerated by everyone in Scotland. Reverend Charles Rogers first proposed a national monument to Wallace in 1851. At the time, he was serving as the Chaplain to the garrison at Stirling Castle. Four years later, he set up a building committee. Rogers himself wrote over 20,000 letters to raise money from the public. A few years later he was forced to resign but he continued to believe in the project and went on raising money on his own to support it. Then a competition was launched for a design for the monument after an initial proposal was deemed too anti-English (of a Scottish lion in the act of killing a mythical English creature). 106 entries were submitted and the design that was selected was by the Scots Baronial architect J.T. Rochead, his approach was to marry together two uniquely Scottish features. He took the traditional design of a Scottish tower house castle, complete with an external stair turret, and stretched it vertically. Then he added to the top a stone crown spire, of the sort seen atop the towers of St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh.
The question of location had been decided some years earlier when both both Edinburgh and Glasgow wanted to be home to the monument however Stirling was chosen mainly because it could be seen as neutral territory.
Having decided on Stirling, the choice of the rocky outcrop of Abbey Craig a volcanic crag above Cambuskenneth Abbey was an obvious one for the monument, for three main reasons. Firstly, if you are going to build a monument intended to make a statement, putting it on top of a high outcrop of rock allows it to make the biggest statement possible. Secondly, Abbey Craig could be quarried to provide the stone needed to build the monument and finally the most important and the third reason for the location was that Abbey Craig overlooks the site of William Wallace’s most notable victory over the English, the Battle of Stirling Bridge, which took place on 11 September 1297. This was fought around the original wooden bridge over the River Forth at Stirling, in the shadow of Stirling Castle and just below Abbey Craig. The original bridge lay a short distance upstream from the stone bridge known today as Old Stirling Bridge. The Scots attacked from the Abbey Craig when the English were half deployed across the bridge and won an overwhelming victory. After the battle, Wallace was knighted by an unnamed Earl and became Sir William Wallace “Guardian of the Kingdom of Scotland and leader of its armies.” His friend and his co-leader, Andrew Murray fared less well, dying some time later from the wounds received during the battle. Wallace followed up the victory by leading the Scots into Northumberland and Cumbria, retreating only when the weather became too bad to continue the campaign.The true historical significance of the Battle of Stirling Bridge is debatable. The English returned to Scotland in early 1298, trying to draw Wallace into open battle. This eventually happened at the Battle of Falkirk, on 22 July 1298. Defeat there was the beginning of the end for Wallace who was eventually executed in London on 23 August 1305. But as we’ve already said, none of this is really about history: the myth of Wallace has a life of its own that remains hugely influential. On Monday 24th June 1861, the anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, Scotland at last made an effort to atone for its neglect of the memory of Sir William Wallace, and if numbers and enthusiasm could make up in any manner for that neglect, the effort proved a decided success, for never had so vast gathering been seen in Scotland’s ancient Capital of Stirling as thousands of men, women, and children made their way from all across Scotland to witness the laying of the Foundation Stone on the Abbey Craig.
The foundation stone was laid by the Duke of Atholl in his role as Grand Master Mason of Scotland, with a short speech given by Sir Archibald Alison, The National Wallace Monument you see today was completed in 1869 after eight years’ construction at a cost of £18,000. It stands some 220ft or 67m high, and Abbey Craig adds a further 300ft or 91m, meaning that the top of the monument stands 520ft above the (tidal) River Forth below. You start your visit in the attractive visitor centre, shop and cafe next to the car park at the foot of the Abbey Craig. From here you can follow the path to the monument itself, remembering that it is a 300ft climb, or use the monument’s own minibus service. From the top of Abbey Craig, views of the monument itself are obviously foreshortened. It is worth looking out for the Wallace Statue, set into a corner of the monument. It’s difficult to appreciate the true scale of the statue, which was added in 1887, but it is a 4m or 13ft tall bronze weighing some three tons. It is a slight hint of “what might have been”: an early proposal for the monument had been for a colossal statue of Wallace, on the scale of New York’s Statue of Liberty. Inside is also a Hall of Heroes, a series of busts of famous Scots, effectively a small national Hall of Fame. The heroes are Robert the Bruce, George Buchanan, John Knox, Allan Ramsay, Robert Burns, Robert Tannahill, Adam Smith, James Watt, Sir Walter Scott, William Murdoch, Sir David Brewster, Thomas Carlyle, Hugh Miller, Thomas Chalmers, David Livingstone, and W. E. Gladstone. In 2017 it was announced that Mary Slessor and Maggie Keswick Jencks would be the first heroines to be celebrated in the hall.
This level is also a good place to appreciate some of the monument’s magnificent collection of eleven stained glass windows. To the north of the monument you are immediately struck by the closest and highest of the Ochil Hills, Dumyat. To the east is the Forth Valley, with the river itself snaking away into the distance. To the south is the historic city of Stirling, dominated by its Castle. To the west are the Trossachs and Loch Lomond and, on a clear day, a far-reaching panorama of many of the southern highlands’ most striking mountains. In 1996 Tom Church carved a statue of Wallace called “Freedom”, which was inspired by the film Braveheart. It has the face of Mel Gibson, the actor who played William Wallace in the film. Church leased the statue to Stirling Council, who in 1997 installed it in the car park of the visitor centre at the foot of the craig. The statue was deeply unpopular, being described as “among the most loathed pieces of public art in Scotland”.and was regularly vandalised before being placed in a cage to prevent further damage. Plans to expand the visitor centre, including a new restaurant and reception, led to the unpopular statue’s removal in 2008. It was returned to Church, who, after an unsuccessful attempt to sell it at auction, reportedly offered it to Donald Trump’s Menie estate golf resort. However, it remained in the garden of the sculptor’s home, where it was incorporated into a replica of a castle, and with additions to it that included the head of the decapitated governor of York. In April 2016, it was reported in local press that the statue might be moved to Ardrossan’s old Barony Church. However in September 2021, it was moved to Glebe Park stadium in Brechin In 2019 an extensive refurbishment was undertaken the largest in its 145 year history and a major redevelopment of the interior galleries has been carried out. Each of the three distinctive galleries within the tower, designed by the Victorian architect J. T. Rochead, have been completely re-modelled, providing visitors with a new perspective on the life of Scotland’s national hero, and on his famous victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. The first floor of the Monument, originally known as the Hall of Arms, with its stained glass windows depicting the arms of Great Britain, of Scotland, of Wallace, and of the Burgh of Stirling, have been re-designed to provide visitors with an engaging and authoritative presentation on The Battle of Stirling Bridge. This will draw on research which has been undertaken by eminent historians with specialist knowledge of the mediaeval period. The story of Wallace’s life and of how he came to be recognised as Scotland’s national hero, will be told to visitors in The Hall of Heroes, on the second floor. Here busts of Scottish heroes from Robert the Bruce to Robert Burns, celebrate Scotland’s contribution to science, engineering, industry and the arts. The centrepiece at this level is one of the most symbolic artefacts housed at the Monument, the Wallace Sword, with which Scotland’s national hero struck fear into the hearts of his enemies.On the third floor visitors can learn just how significant a character Wallace was in Victorian Scotland, when the Monument was built, and how he inspired so many other memorials since the unveiling of one of the first monuments at Dryburgh in the Scottish Borders, in 1814.
The refurbishment of each gallery involved the installation of new displays, with tablet computers making use of the latest technology, as well as the introduction of new facilities for younger visitors, an important proportion of the many thousands of visitors who come to the Monument every year. Visiting bookshops these days one cannot fail to be impressed by the number of books on Wallace … [he] has become hugely popular. In one sense it is odd that so much has been written about Wallace for what we really know about him you could write on the back of an envelope. Countless myths and legends have taken the place of solid historical facts. Why so much has been written is not that we know so much but because he fires our imagination. We have heard the many stories and we imagine the kind of exploits he was likely to have been involved in. We can picture the man. We think we know him for we have heard so much about him and what we have learned we admire. He has become a symbol of what patriotism is all about. He really did fight and die for our ‘Wee bit hill and glen’. He was Guardian of Scotland – a charismatic leader who truly led by example. He was the Scottish patriot par excellence. He, like few others, put national interests above self-interest. His was a truly noble life and he died a martyr’s death. He puts present politicians in the shade, for he was a man of conviction, dedication and honour. He was a hero. He still remains a man to admire. All nations need their heroes and Wallace is one of ours because he stood for values that mattered and put his nation above personal glory, Or just maybe we would all liked to have been him to have his conviction and his belief that every man woman and child has the right to self-determination and above all never to be oppressed.
Fact or Fiction
It’s estimated that there have a total of 4.3 billion steps taken by visitors climbing the 246 steps of the Monument’s famous spiral staircase (equivalent to almost 9 million visitors) in the last 149 years
30,000 tonnes of stone was used in the construction of the Monument. That’s the equivalent of 10,000 elephants.
The Monument was built for £18,000. Although that might be sound pretty cheap, in today’s money that would be around £1.4m!
The Wallace Sword was stolen from the Monument on 8th November 1936 by four masked men. The sword was then recovered at Bothwell Bridge in 1939 after the group realised the distress the theft had caused. The Sword was stolen again in May 1972 and returned in October of that same year
There is a time capsule buried in the Monument’s foundation stone. Fascinatingly there is a sealed crystal vase in a specially prepared cavity of the foundation stone. It contains a number of items including Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Lady of the Lake’, the complete works of Robert Burns and ‘Wallace and his Times’ by James Paterson
Around 100,000 people showed up to witness the laying of the Monument’s foundation stone in 1861. That’s more than the capacity of Wembley stadium.
A suffragette vandalised the case that held the Wallace sword. Ethel Moorhead smashed the case in 1912 to draw attention to the plight of the suffragettes.
William Burns became conveyor of the building committee during its construction after Charles Rogers resigned. Under Burns, the monument was finally completed. Burns – a lawyer from Glasgow – was a vocal Scottish nationalist. He is most remembered for his two-volume history The Scottish Wars of Independence, published in 1874.
In 1886 the first busts – of Robert Burns, and of King Robert the Bruce, were installed in Monument’s Hall of Heroes. The philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated the bust of Robert Burns, and the bust of King Robert the Bruce was donated by the Marquess of Bute. Over the years more busts were donated, and by 1907 there were 16 individuals altogether commemorated in this gallery.
.The Wallace Sword was first recorded in Dumbarton Castle in 1505. William Wallace was held at Dumbarton Castle after his capture in 1305. A common belief is that his sword was taken from him and left undisturbed in the castle until King James IV (reigned 1473-1513) ordered the handle to be repaired. The Wallace Sword was eventually moved to the Monument in 1888.
In 2017 the campaign ‘Scotland’s Heroines’ was launched to recognise the achievements of Scottish women in the Monument’s Hall of Heroes. Thousands of votes were cast by the public which resulted in the missionary Mary Slessor and Maggie Keswick Jencks, co-founder of the Maggie’s Centres, being selected to join the gallery
When the money for the construction ran out, the tower sat incomplete for years, with a thatch covering provided by Hillhead Farm, Cambusbarron. In 1865 with the continuing embarrassment of an unfinished structure, it was proposed that the project should stop and the materials be sold at auction. A further fund raising campaign secured the completion.
The land the monument stands on was gifted by the Patrons of Cowane’s Hospital and for this reason the first accounts for the monument appear within Cowane’s Hospital material (held in Stirling Council Archives, who also hold the Minutes of the Custodiers of the Monument).