Stirling 900 – Walking the Marches – the Registers of the Perambulation Court

The Burgh Council, comprised of the Provost, Bailies and Councillors, has been responsible for the maintenance of the boundaries of the Burgh since its creation in the twelfth century. This was an important responsibility and was not taken lightly. The procedure of Walking the Marches was originally undertaken every year, attended by some of the most important and influential people in the Burgh, and marked with some ceremony.

First of all, the Court would appoint the officers who were responsible for the proper conduct of the walk. There were four Birlawmen for each of the areas to be walked – the Burgh was split into two for the purposes of the assessment – one part being known as the ‘north and west’ and the other as the ‘east and south’. These eight Birlawmen were essentially the Burgh court officials who were responsible for taking the official record.  Additionally, each area had a Birlaw Officer who was appointed to oversee the walk. These ten officers were paid a wage for their services by the Burgh Treasurer.

The purpose of the regular walking of the Burgh boundaries or marches was twofold. First of all it was to ensure that the boundaries were being properly marked and observed and that no incursions had been made into Burgh property by neighbouring landowners. Secondly it was to examine the infrastructure of the Burgh – roads, bridges, walls, dams, wells, mills and other structures, to ensure that they were being well maintained and that there were no public nuisances. It is for this reason that this function of the regular inspection of the Burgh boundaries fell under the responsibility of the Burgh Court, as the court had the power to both order that maintenance work should be carried out, and to prosecute those burgesses who failed to undertake any obligation placed upon them by the Council, along with any neighbour who had encroached upon the Burgh lands.

The primary record of the Walking of the Marches is therefore a court register, known as the Register of the Perambulation Court. The Court would be convened on the occasion of each ‘perambulation’ and the registers provide a record of each instance of the walks. This includes the personnel involved – the Birlawmen, Officers and accompanying pipers, as well as the presence of Council Officials and those from the Stirling Guildry and the Incorporated Trades of the Burgh. The record then goes on to give the details of all the problems found with the infrastructure of the Burgh, who was defined as responsible and how they were charged to remedy them. If those found to be responsible failed to undertake the maintenance or remove any public nuisances they had caused, they could be fined or brought before the Burgh Court for further prosecution.

Unfortunately, owing to the history of the Burgh records, the Council holds no perambulation court register dating from before 1695. For the example I am giving, I have chosen an entry from 1698 from the first volume held, as the handwriting is clear and relatively easy to read. The entry is written in Latin for the salutation at the beginning of the session, and then in the vernacular – Scots – for the bulk of the entry.

As may be seen from the register entry, quite a few maintenance problems were found including the following:

  • John Monteath is blocking access to a croft of land on the west side of the road leading to the Whins and is told to rectify the problem or be fined twenty pounds Scots.
  • The tenants of the Airthrey Estate are to see to it that the path is cleared between the Burgh boundary at Airthrey and ‘the Spittal at the back side of the Whinnhill’ and pay for the work or be fined ten pounds Scots.
  • It is noted that the roadway between Stirlingand Causewayhead, known as ‘the calsie’ at this time, is damaged in several places. The Burgh Treasurer is ordered to pay for repairs apart from at those places on the road where others are deemed responsible for its upkeep – for example, John Johnstone, whose livestock have damaged the part of the road outside his property and who is charged with mending this section.
  • The Burgh Treasurer is also instructed to repair the Borrowmill dam and the road between the Kersemill and the Town Burn.
  • The Raploch Burn bridge is in need of repair.
  • The Bridge Mill Dam above the Raploch Road has been damaged by the tenants of the Craigforth Estate driving carts of produce along it, and is to be repaired.
  • Torbrex Moss has flooded into land belonging to Cowane’s Hospital making it impossible to use the land for the raising of crops,

The Treasurer’s account book for 1698 records the expenses associated with the ceremony. This includes the wages paid to the Birlawmen and Birlaw Officers – four pounds Scots in total, money spent on twelve pints of ale and a ‘muchkin’ of ‘aquae vitae’ or whisky consumed by the officials on the day – the marching was clearly thirsty work. Money was paid to various artisans who accompanied the marchers to assess any structural damage to roads or walls on the way – in this instance John and Andrew Kidd and Alexander Dick, ‘calsay layer’ who was evidently a roads specialist. Finally fourteen shillings and sixpence paid to the piper who kept spirits high as the walk progressed.

The pageantry associated with the Walking of the Marches served both to remind the populace of the presence of the Council as its administrative body, and as a practical demonstration that the authority was fulfilling its obligations with regard to the infrastructure of the Burgh, and by doing so, justifying all the local taxation and customs dues paid by those living and trading in the Burgh. It made the Council, with its Provost, Bailies and Councillors, visible to those living in the Burgh, and was a potent reminder to whom they owed the peace and prosperity of the Town.

The last formal entry in the surviving Registers of the Perambulation Court is dated 31st May 1820. By this time it is clear from the minute that the Walking of the Marches is taking place every 6 years, as it is noted that the previous occasion was in 1814. The format is not that different from that of one hundred and twenty two years earlier although the presence of the representatives of the Guildry and Incorporated Trades is noted, along with those newly admitted as Burgesses.

The reports given for the two areas perambulated include references to repairs required at the Craigs, Burgh and Bridge Mills and an encroachment made by Mr Murray of Wester Livilands on the banks of the Burgh Mill lead, which he is requested to rectify.

There are no further specific records relating to the Walking of the Marches after 1822, although it is known that the tradition continued every six or seven years after this into the twentieth century.

There was a gap during the Second World War, the Walk being resumed on 30th September 1947. The Stirling Observer carried an article which gives a detailed account of the route taken by this time:

Walking the Marches was resumed after a fourteen year gap because of the war. Traditionally, the Marches were walked every seven years. The previous March had been in 1933.

Gathering place was The Whins – the junction of Cowane Street and Upper Bridge Street at 10 o’clock in the morning… Each group was headed by a piper, these being Pipers: J. Laffertey, Harry Kellie and Lieutenant Corporal McLachlan of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Two birlawmen carrying spades and picks accompanied each group. T. Knox and J. Scott accompanied the Provost, T. Chalmers and W. Donaldson accompanied Dean of Guild Miller and A. McPhail and A. Kemp accompanied Deacon Convener Harris.

The routes taken by the groups were as follows:

  • Provost’s Party – Lower Bridge Street, Drip Road to Raploch Farm, then through Raploch to North Kersebonny, South Kersebonny, Hayford, Cambusbarron, Weaver Row, St Ninians, Shirra Brae and along the burnside home.
  • Dean of Guild Miller’s Party – Over New bridge to the Western March at Bridgehaugh, thence through Causewayhead to Craigton then by the eastmost at Craigton by Craigmill to Ladyneuk Farm, Tower Orchard and Hood Farm over the bridge and by Abbey Road.
  • Deacon Convener Harris’s party – Upper Bridge Street, Bow Street, Back Walk, Royal Gardens, Queen’s Road, Park Terrace, Snowdon Place, Pitt Terrace, Well Green, Springkerse, Whitehouse, Muirton and return by Craigs.

Refreshments were served for the three groups at North Kersebonny, Craigton and Springkerse.

By the 1970s, enthusiasm for the ceremony was on the wane. The abolition of the Royal Burgh along with the office of Provost (temporarily) in 1975 probably contributed to this tendency. There is evidence of a walk in 1970 in the minutes of the Stirling Guildry:

Minute of the Stirling Guildry 26th February 1970

Walking of the Marches

The Dean reported on conversations that were taking place between the Town Council, the Seven Incorporated Trades and the Guildry regarding the Walking of the Marches, which according to the rotation should have been held in 1969. The Brethren agreed that it would be regrettable to allow this ancient tradition to drop and supported the Dean’s intention to endeavour to have the Ceremony on 8th April 1970. It was further resolved that a joint Dinner with the Seven Incorporated Trades should be held on the same evening.

A.B. Learmonth, Dean

The last recorded walk happened on 31st May 1978. The Guildry were involved as indicated by this minute:

Minute of the Stirling Guildry 12th April 1978

Walking of the Marches

The Dean reported that Stirling District Council were preparing to carry out the ceremony of Walking the Marches of the former Royal Burgh on Wednesday 31st May, 1978 in the afternoon and it was agreed that the Guildry would participate. The Dean’s Council had the matter in hand, including a contribution towards expenses of refreshments in the Albert Hall after the Walk.

The Walk was also covered briefly by the Stirling Observer, again giving details of the route walked:

Stirling Observer 7th June 1978

The party gathered at the foot of Upper Bridge Street and walked accompanied by Pipe Major Lawrie Georgeson along Lower Bridge Street, Back O’Hill Road, Raploch Road, Dumbarton Road, Royal Gardens and the Back Walk to the Albert Halls.

After this, the custom was abandoned until its revival in 2014.

The Walking of the Marches on this anniversary year is taking place on the 25th May. Everyone is invited to come along and join in. There will be short speeches to commemorate the 900th anniversary of the Royal Burgh of Stirling and a convivial atmosphere is guaranteed. Details may be found on the Walking the Marches website