This was the first time I had visited Falkirk, and shame on me. The town is steeped in Scotland's history. With my trusty copy of DESIRE LINES at the ready I set off to investigate. The RomansĀ  invaded Britain almost 2000 years ago the under the Emperor Claudius, but it was approximately 35 years later before they managed to penetrate Scotland, and they were never to conquer the Northerly areas of Britain.

Falkirk lies on the border of what would have been the most Northerly Frontier of the Roman Empire, and the most enduring memorial to the Roman presence in the town is the ANTONINE WALL, which was built around 142AD. Substantial lengths of this remarkable monument can still be seen at various sites in the Falkirk area today.

A wee drive further on now and we reached the Town Centre, there are so many bits and pieces to see in Falkirk and there's lots of info available on the many historical walks in the area, I preferred to just have a wee wander by myself. First stop was Anne Summers shop, relax, calm down now, this shop is opposite the Tolbooth and above the shop is where Bonnie Prince Charlie made his headquarters after his victory at the second battle of Falkirk in 1746.

Further down the High Street, you'll find the Cowgate Shopping Centre, this route was originally called, "Bantaskine Port" where Charlie and his army entered the town after their victory at Falkirk. If you go to the back of the mall to the escalators there are some fantastic stained glass windows which were rescued and restored from Bantaskine House, they really are quite something, only in Scotland would you find items for sale in front of treasures like these!!!! On then, back to the High Street.

Just down the street you'll find an old Churchyard with a huge Celtic Cross in memory to the men of Bute who fought and died for Wallace in 1298.

Behind the cross you'll see a tomb encased in a Cupola. This is the tomb of one John de Graeme, not only one of Wallace's captains but a beloved friend, it is said Wallace shed tears when he found his de Graeme's body on the battlefield.

Sir John Stewart who led the men of Bute also lies here, as does two other officers who fought for the Hanoverian forces against Charlie, unfortunately there's a lot of graffiti on them, sad.

There are plans to completely refurbish this wee graveyard and give it a well deserved facelift. If you didn't know it was here you'd walk past it, hopefully not anymore.

Back to the car now, we head for the monument for the second battle of Falkirk, I won't bore you with the travel details but if you buy DESIRE LINES I guarantee you won't get lost.

It's quite a fitting monument and I found myself standing by it awhile thinking of what went on in the field and surrounding area beyond.

A very useful book if you come here is BATTLEFIELD WALKS by David Clark, armed with this you can take a walk around the battlefield and read in great detail what went on that day in 1746. For those of you who want to know about the battle now! Read on.

The battle fought on the south muir of the town on 17th January 1746 was the last Jacobite triumph on the battlefield and the last time the famous Highland charge swept the clansmen to victory.

Bonnie Prince Charlie's attempt to march on London had ground to a halt in Derby and the subsequent retreat harried all the way by Government troops had demoralized and depleted his army.

Arriving in the Falkirk area from Glasgow in the first days of 1746, the man in effective command of the Jacobites, Lord George Murray spotted a opportunity to deliver a counter blow against the pursuing Government forces.

General Henry Hawley in command of nearly nine thousand men had made camp in Falkirk on land to the west of the town where Hope Street now runs down towards the present Dollar Park.

The Jacobite commanders besieging Stirling Castle decided that a carefully planned attack might rout the redcoats and begin a revival in the fortunes of their luckless Prince.
On the morning of January 17th aided by Sir Archibald Primrose of Dunipace - under duress, or so he claimed at his subsequent trial - the highland armies

moved from Pleanin a southward circle across the rivers Carron and Bonny towards the south muir of Falkirk.

By late afternoon they were closing in on the high ground above the town. In the Jacobite ranks were were eight thousand men, highland infantry from all the major clans supported by cavalry of the lowland Jacobite gentry.

The Earl of Kilmarnock husband of Lady Ann Livingston then resident in Callendar House was 'out with the rebels' and his Falkirk tenants were with him .

Two miles Lady Ann was entertaining the unsuspecting Hawley, who,on hearing the news, rose from the table in some disarray according to one account, found his horse and galloped towards his army to begin a belated response. Chevalier Johnstone was with the Prince and he later recalled the scene as the dragoons of Cobham, Ligonier and Hamilton led the Government forces up Maggie Woods Loan towards the advancing Jacobite lines in the foulest winter weather. After receiving a blast of fire from the highland lines which killed eighty men, the cavalry charged forward:

The most singular and extraordinary combat immediately followed. The Highlanders, stretched on the ground, thrust their dirks into the bellies of the horses. Some seized the riders by their clothes, dragged them down, and stabbed them with their dirks; several, again, used their pistols, but few of them had sufficient space to handle their swords .... The resistance of the Highlanders was so incredibly obstinate that the English, after having been for some time engaged pell-mell with them in their ranks were at length repulsed and forced to retire.

It was a ferocious clash with the highlanders on the right wing-charging hard downhill towards their fleeing enemy. On the other side of the line the clansmen met much stiffer resistance and the ravine which separated then from the enemy prevented a straightforward charge. Many fled westwards away from the battlefield and thought they had lost. However, although confusion reigned for a time, the overall outcome was a near complete Jacobite victory.

Government forces fled in disarray from the town, setting fire to their tents and abandoning great quantities of equipment. Later in the day three columns of highland soldiers entered through the town ports - Lord George Murray by Roberts Wynd, Lord John Drummond by the Cow Wynd and Cameron of Lochiel by the West Port.

A century later the event was commemorated in the beautiful stained glass windows of South Bantaskine House on whose land the battle was fought. Now appropriately enough they grace the new shopping centre not far from the point where the Prince's soldiers entered the town and where he spent several nights in the 'great lodging', the former home of Livingston of Westquarter, now Ottakers Bookshop.

Casualties were high among the redcoats with between three and four hundred killed and many more taken prisoner. The Jacobite losses were less, some say as few as forty men.

As with the other battle centuries before, great pits were dug the following day and the naked bodies, stripped bare in the night by the country people or victorious clansmen, were laid to rest. A little copse beside Dumyat Drive is thought to mark one of these places and another lay close to the present High Station.

Several prominent people were buried in the Falkirk churchyard including Colonel Robert Munro and his brother Dr Obsdale Munro cut down by the Camerons in the rout after brave resistance, and the young officer William Edmonstone of Cambuswallace.

The Church itself along with the tolbooth and the cellars of Callendar House were used to hold the prisoners. Little depredation took place in the town and an old tradition suggests that the highlanders found the product of the ale and porter brewery founded sixteen years before very much to their liking!

The site of the battle on the south muir is today marked by an obelisk unveiled by the Duke of Atholl in 1927. It is a modest memorial of such a great encounter and a more chilling reminder of the battle can be found in the many eye witness accounts of the battle which survive. Among the most graphic was that of Chevalier Johnstone who was sent with a sergeant and twenty men to guard the captured cannons on the battlefield:

The sergeant carried a lantern; but the light was soon extinguished, and by that accident we immediately lost our way, and wandered a long time at the foot of the hill, among heaps of dead bodies, which their whiteness rendered visible...

To add to the disagreeableness of our situation from the horror of the scene, the wind and the rain were full in our faces.

I even remarked a trembling and strong agitation in my horse, which constantly shook when it was forced to put its feet on the heaps of dead bodies and to climb over them.....on my return to Falkirk I felt myself relieved from an oppressive burden:
but the horrid spectacle I had witnessed was for a long time, fresh in my mind.

Only once more would British soil witness such carnage and that just three months later on Drumossie Moor at Culloden. On that day Lord Kilmarnock was taken, as the Jacobite cause perished. In August he was beheaded on Towerhill in London.

But what of the first battle of Falkirk in 1298 I hear you cry, well there's arguments about where exactly the site is. There is a long tradition in the district that the battle was fought in and around the Grahamston area, perhaps a mile north of the town centre. Certainly our Victorian ancestors were quite happy to accept this version, hence they gave local streets names like Campfield, Wallace, Bute and Stewart and marked the maps accordingly.

However a site to the north of the town doesn't fit too well with what we know of the movements of troops and the topography of the battlefield.

We know that the Scots were drawn up on sloping ground with the town of Falkirk behind them. We also know that the two armies were separated by a water course of some kind or possible a piece of swampy ground. This helps us narrow the range of suitable candidates.

Current favourite site is Mumrills to the east of Laurieston with the Scots army drawn up on the on the slopes just opposite the Beancross Restaurant.

In front of them to the east is the Westquarter Burn. Another site which finds favour with quite a few observers is on the road from Redding to Hallglen around Woodend Farm with the Scots and English placed on either side of the Glen and, once again, the Westquarter Burns.

Polmont Hill where the ski slope is located is another candidate and one author writing a life of Wallace places the battle much further to the south not far from Avonbridge with the Avon separating the armies.

These are only three of many; others include Bells Meadow, Wallacestone and Grangemouth.

Unless we are very lucky and somebody turns up a huge stack of bones somewhere then we will probably never know. However, there would be a down side to such a discovery - it would deprive us all of our favourite sport, that is, thinking up new possibilities and arguing about them!


In the early summer of 1298, King Edward I of England, the redoubtable 'Hammer of the Scots', assembled a huge army and crossed into Scotland.

His express aim was to avenge the defeat at Stirling Bridge the previous September and to restore English control north of the border.

By the early days of July they had reached Linlithgow and though seriously short of supplies, and racked by internal dissent they advanced towards Falkirk on hearing that Wallace's army was nearby.

Records show that in Edward's pay that day there were over 14,000 soldiers and, along with one hundred and eleven noble families with all their retinues of foot and horse, made up a huge force, perhaps 15 to 20 thousand strong which faced a smaller number of Scots, possibly 12,000 in what must have been one of the biggest land battles ever fought on British soil.

On 22nd July 1298 the two armies came face to face near Falkirk but where the clash took place remains something of a mystery.

Over the years antiquaries and local historians using the few clues available have suggested a number of places but without agreement.

Tradition, for what it is worth, places the centre of the battle in the area of the present Victoria Park and street names like Wallace and Campfield remind us of the connection.

We know from the few eyewitness accounts that the Scots were drawn up on rising ground with the town of Falkirk behind them and that they were separated from the English by a stream or an area of muddy ground, or both.

This would fit two of the current favourite sites, the Mumrills farm area opposite the Beancross Restaurant and the land on either side of the Hallglen to Redding Road near Woodend Farm. In both cases the rising ground is present and the Westquarter Burn provides the water course and muddy ground.

We know quite a bit about the conduct of the engagement itself which was to prove such a disaster to Wallace and the Scottish cause.

The English knights formed columns led by the King himself in the centre, the warlike Bishop of Durham, Anthony de Beck on the right and the Earls of Lincoln, Norfolk and Hereford on the left. The Scots were drawn up into three or four great schiltroms - massive defensive circles or 'phalanx rings' as they are sometimes called - bristling with twelve foot spears, for all the world like giant porcupines.

Behind them on the high ground were the Scottish horse though their numbers were few. The English attacked repeatedly using knights on horseback to weaken the schiltroms but the Scots held. Though they failed to dislodge the Scots main defence it would appear that both the Scottish horse and archers encountered the charging knights and were destroyed in the early part of the encounter.

At this critical stage Edward called up his archers, whose longbows would later win the honours at Agincourt and Crecy, but who were now put to the battle test for the first time. Wallace looked to his horsemen to scatter them but found that they were no longer there. We do not know if this was because of the action of the knights already described or for a more sinister reason.

Certainly some some have suggested that many of the Scottish nobility were unhappy to be under the command of Wallace whom they though a man of lower rank and withdrew deliberately at an early stage. Whatever, the Scots were doomed. Great swathes were cut in the rings as wave after wave of arrows pierced the defence. And now the knights could do their worst on the open and dispirited Scottish ranks.

The rout followed quickly and Wallace with many of his men fled north and east towards the Carron and the relative safety of the Torwood. Many hundreds, perhaps thousands, did not escape and they were finally buried in common pits near the field of battle as was the custom. They have never been found despite seven centuries of agricultural and industrial development. .

The Paisley Tartan Army would like to thank IAN SCOTT & FALKIRK LOCAL HISTORY SOCIETY for all their help with this project

Artwork of Sir William Wallace, John DeGraeme & Sir John Stewart used with kind permission from artist Murray Robertson


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