24TH JUNE 1861

J.S. Donaldson. Dis.S.Dip.


Just to the North of Stirling, there is an outcrop of rock 300ft high called the Abbey Craig. Standing on the summit of this feature is the 200ft Wallace Monument, built to commemorate Sir William Wallace. The design by J.T. Rochead represents a Scottish Baronial tower and was funded by public subscriptions. Completed in 1869 and handed over to custodians, this is story of the laying of the foundation stone 8 years previous.


On Monday the 24th of June 1861 an event which has been described as ' one of the most interesting Masonic spectacles ever witnessed in Scotland ' took place. Astute nationalists will at once recognize the date as being the anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn and Masonic brethren will recognize the date as being the Festival of Summer St. John. The date chosen for this event was not a coincidence, neither was that of the venue, close to Bannockburn and overlooking the site of the Battle of Stirling Bridge, for on this, the most historic date in the history of Scotland, the Scottish population witnessed and participated in one of the largest gathering of masons and general public ever to occur in Scotland.

The Grand Lodge of Scotland had been invited to conduct the ceremony of the laying of the foundation stone by the Acting and Building Committee of the National Wallace Monument in Stirling, to which they readily accepted. Invitations were dispatched from Grand Lodge to its Daughter Lodges all over Scotland declaring that there would be a procession through the town of Stirling to the Abbey Craig in full regalia, after which, His Grace the Duke of Athole, Most Worshipful Grand Master Mason of Scotland would lay the foundation stone. In all, 135 Lodges throughout Scotland were to send deputations to Stirling and take part in the ceremony, some Lodges sending as many as 50 brethren to attend.

When word of this historic event reached the populace of Scotland, it seemed that everyone wanted to be at Stirling that day. The railways, keen to get in on the act, responded by laying on extra trains and printed special tickets which could be bought well in advance. Indeed, such was the demand that two weeks before the great day, the sale of tickets had to be stopped. To give some idea of the numbers involved, somewhere in the region of 30,000 train vouchers were sold in Glasgow alone. Steamship companies laid boats on of every description to sail up the Forth to Alloa, and there transfer the passengers by train or coach to Stirling. Omnibus companies diverted the majority of their coaches away from their normal routes leaving most of the people of Scotland without transport that day. In fact, every type of transport that could be had was hired, and descended on the town of Stirling for the people to take part in, or watch the great procession.

Eventually the big day came, all the preparations had been made and Stirling woke to what was to become the busiest day the town had ever seen, or was ever likely to again. Train after train poured into the railway station from early morning - from North, South, East and West - it has been estimated that there was a train arriving every 5 minutes that day. A caravan of 50 buses decorated with evergreen and overloaded with passengers arrived from Glasgow at 10 o'clock, having left many disappointed people behind, and by eleven, it was scarcely possible to push through the crowds of people who filled every street where the procession would pass. One report of the time states that there were upwards of 100,000 people in Stirling that day to watch the great pageant, the same authority said, ' The Brethren of the Mystic Tie turned out in honour of the occasion in great force. ' According to the local paper of that period, anywhere between 7000 and 9000 people took part in the procession, of which more than half were Masons.

The gathering point for those taking part was at the King's park in the town of Stirling, and as the various bodies arrived there they were marshalled behind banners, the Mason's banner being coloured blue with a white cross to indicate their position in the procession. Grand Lodge arrived at Stirling in great style by special train, and were met at the station by the Bannockburn Rifle Volunteers, who were to act as guard of honour for them. Leaving the railway station the Grand Lodge Office-bearers were escorted to the Court Room in the Broad Street, where a Grand Lodge  was opened at 11 o'clock. The Lodge was then adjourned and in still in full regalia, Grand Lodge was accompanied by the same corps to the King's Park where the Daughter Lodges were waiting, along with the other public bodies. The Grand Lodge of Scotland took up its position and at precisely 1 o'clock, the procession was started by a signal gun from Stirling Castle.

The procession was 3 miles in length, and was headed by Lieutenant-General Sir James Maxwell Wallace KCB, a direct descendant of Sir William Wallace, and who acted as the Grand Marshall. He was followed by the Deputy Grand Marshall's, and they by an instrumental band, after which came the various Artillery and Rifle Volunteer Companies, Curling Clubs, Gardner's' Lodges, Oddfellows, St. Crispin Lodges, Local Institutions, Municipal Bodies, The Wallace Committee, Masonic Lodges and finally The Grand Lodge of Scotland. Intermingled with the procession were various Brass Bands, Pipe Bands etc., and at the head of every body was a full Instrumental Band. The arrangements of the Masonic part of the procession were as follows :-


Masonic Lodges by Seniority on the Grand Lodge Roll
The Duke of Athole's Instrumental Band
The Bannockburn Volunteers
The Grand Lodge of Scotland
Grand Tyler with drawn sword
Compass        Level
 Square        Plumb
Cup (wine)   Cornucopia (corn)   Cup (oil)
Inscription Plates        Architect with Plans
Crystal Vase
Grand Bible Bearer
Grand Chaplain
Grand Secretary        Grand Treasurer
Grand Clerk
Senior Grand Warden        Junior Grand Warden
Depute Grand Master
Substitute Grand Master
Grand Steward        Grand Steward        Grand Steward
The Grand Master Mason the Duke of Athole


As the procession began, the public bells of Stirling started ringing to honour the occasion, and as each band passed through the gates of the park they struck up with their respective marching tunes. The procession made its way through the town passing under arches of evergreen, the crowds lining either sides of the Streets cheered as each body of marchers passed, and as the Masonic part of the procession reached the start of the crowd, they were met with awe and silence as the people there to view the spectacle were stuck dumb momentarily at the bright colours of the Brethrens Regalia, and the number of Masons gathered in honour of this momentous occasion. This reaction was met each time the Brethren came into view, but as soon as the crowd regained their senses, the largest cheers of the day were reserved for the Members of the Craft. The marchers at the head of this great procession reached the upper Toll House at Causewayhead at 2 o'clock, where the process of 'opening up' occurred.

On reaching the Village of Causewayhead, the procession had to pass under a triumphal arch covered in evergreen surmounted by two flagstaffs flying the national banners. Immediately after passing through the arch the respective bodies opened up to the left and right of the turnpike to await the arrival of the Masons. This operation took just over an hour and it was 5 minutes before 3 o'clock that Grand Lodge finally reached this point. As the Grand Lodge passed this waiting throng, the Master and Wardens of each Lodge present followed behind, accompanied by representatives from the other bodies. This was the main part of the procession for the ceremony of the laying of the foundation stone, the rest of the deputations proceeded to an adjoining park to wait the conclusion of the ceremonial. The Masonic Lodges were conducted through the crowd to the grounds of Airthrey, which had been thrown open for their use by the Rt. Hon. Lord Abercromby, where they would get an excellent view of the ceremony.

As Grand Lodge ascended to the summit of the Abbey Craig, all the bands struck up in one accord, the Masonic Anthem, at which some of the crowd ran forward making it almost impossible for the procession to continue. When the Grand Master Mason who was leading the parade reached the top of the Craig, he was received by John Tait esq, Sheriff of the County of Clackmannan, who escorted him to the site of the foundation stone. After the Lodges had taken the places assigned to them the ceremonial began by the Grand Master Mason calling upon the Grand Chaplain, the Rev. Dr. Arnot of Edinburgh to invoke the divine blessing on the proceedings. The usual Masonic honours were then proceeded with, by the spreading of Corn on the stone, and the pouring of the Oil and Wine, after which three cheers were given from those assembled, when the various bands struck up successively, 'The Merry Masons' and 'God Save the Queen'. This was the signal for the Union Jack to be raised on an adjoining flagstaff, which in turn acted as a signal to Stirling Castle, and a salute of artillery discharged from the ramparts.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Grand Lodge re-formed and headed by the Duke of Athole's band, descended the Craig followed by the Brethren from the Lodges who had crowned the crest of the hill, and in procession marched back to Stirling, where, after crossing the Stirling Bridge each body went its separate way with these words still ringing in their ears :-

                                Had Wallace fought for Greece of old,
                                His urn had been of beaten gold -
                                The children of his native land
                                Had hewn for him with cunning hand,
                                A MOUNTAIN for a Monument!
This article was first published in September 1986 in the RRA NEWS,  the Masonic magazine of Lodge Rutherglen Royal Arch No. 116.

This lecture is copyright, J. Stewart Donaldson Dis.S.Dip, and all rights are reserved by the copyright holder. Permission to quote from, redistribute or to otherwise use these materials must be obtained from the copyright holder directly by contacting the webmaster who will ensure that permission is granted.

[up] [back]