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The History of the Robroyston Wallace Monument

As told by Dr Gilbert T. Bell, formerly of Springburn Museum Trust for Glasgow 1999.


A few years ago Springburn Museum mounted a very popular exhibition on William Wallace. We had the exhibition because it tied in with a recently released and highly popular film but chiefly because Wallace had substantial local links which deserved to be recalled. This Information Sheet has been produced to provide an account of Wallace's Springburn Connection. Glasgow 1999 and the arrival of a new Scottish Parliament also provide good reason for celebrating the life and lamenting the death of Scotland's greatest political figure but also to celebrate the fine monument erected at Robroyston in his honour.

The distinguished statesman and one-time prime minister A. J. Balfour stated "Nothing matters very much; very few things matter at all". It was maybe a rather cynical view but nonetheless it may be an accurate assessment. Things that truly matter are indeed very rare. In all history very few things matter very much. One of the very few people to have mattered as far as Scottish history is concerned was William Wallace.

Visiting bookshops these days one cannot fail to be impressed by the number of books on Wallace that are for sale and which include the one based on the film Braveheart. Wallace 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 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. Wallace still matters.

He is, however. not simply a national hero but a local one. At Robroyston was the scene of his capture and betrayal. Because Wallace matters, Robroyston also matters. Placed of real historical significance are thin on the ground. It is because he matters that we have this little leaflet in his honour.

Many Monuments

The inscription "If you would seek his monument look around you" (the epitaph to Sir Christopher Wren, on his memorial in St Paul's Cathedral) seems particularly apt if applied to Sir William Wallace. There are many monuments to Wallace sprinkled across Scotland. Though he is remembered as Scotland's greatest patriot there are a dearth of real facts about his life and times. This has not deterred myths and legends from developing and he has become one of the most colourful figures in Scottish history. To add further romance there are a fair scattering of Wallace's Caves and Wallace's Leaps to suggest places where he might have sought refuge or made an especially daring escape. There are more than a good story or two to be told about Wallace's life. There have thus been near countless books about him, a few plays, and, of course, more recendy the film Braveheart with Mel Gibson as Wallace, has firmly returned our hero to centre stage. The romantic and lively story of Scotland's past would be infinitely the poorer if shorn of all good stories. Wallace, more than most, has fuelled a fund of good stories.

Wallace was more than simply superstar among the dramatis personae of Scottish history. Wallace has become an icon - the symbol of national identity and a focus of patriotic fervour. He was a hero who has ever remained heroic.

In the wake of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars there was an upsurge of nationalism throughout Europe. In Scotland as the Nineteenth Century developed so too did a growing sense of history and national pride. This led to the creation of monuments to celebrate important events in Scottish history and to commemorate heroic figures who had made their mark in the shaping of the Scottish nation.

The Nineteenth Century also witnessed a great age of monument making and the commemoration of Wallace, not unexpectedly, was to be the van in this fusion of patriotism with this thirst for monuments. Statues were erected at Ayr (1810, William Reid), Dryburgh in the Borders (1814, John Smith), Lanark (1820, Robert Forrest), Ayr (1834, James Thorn), Stirling (1858, A Handyside Ritchie), Aberdeen (1888, W Grant Stevenson) and at Edinburgh Castle (1929, Alexander Carrick). Even far away Ballarat, Victoria, Australia, got its Wallace statue (1889, Percival BalD and Baltimore, Maryland, acquired its Wallace in 1893 (D W Stevenson, another| casting of his Wallace Monument statue of 1887).

Other types of monuments have also been erected. A simple stone monument was erected 1810, at the now aptly named Wallacestone, near Falkirk, while more impressive monumental towers were erected at Ayr in 1834; at Barnweil, near Tarbolton, in 1855; and, of course, the superbly sited and impressive baronial tower (1869) at Causewayhead, near Stirling, overlooking the scene of his greatest triumph - the Battle of Stirling Bridge (1297). The statue of Wallace on the exterior was erected in 1887 and was by David W Stevenson. In 1912 a monument was erected at the supposed site of his birth at Elderslie, near Paisley. In 1955 a plaque was placed at St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, marking the spot where he had been put to death on 23 August 1305. In 1929 a cairn to commemorate both Wallace and Burns was erected at Leglen Wood near Ayr.

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Glasgow very nearly had its very own Wallace Monument, to 1819 William Reid, a Glasgow architect, designed a magnificent Triumphal Arch which was to be erected on the banks of the Clyde at the foot of Stockwell Street. It was proposed to have an equestrian statue of Wallace on top of the monument. Sadly of course, the project came to naught but nevertheless Glasgow was part of the Wallace story.

Glasgow and Wallace

The great patriot, Sir William Wallace, the renowned Victor of Stirling Bridge, also figured in Glasgow's story. Glasgow in rum played an important part in the Wallace story.

Wallace, reputedly fought a battle in Glasgow and though it was not one of his major successes it was nonetheless a victorious one.. Known as the Battie of the Bell o' the Brae, it was fought in the High Street near the present junction of Duke Street and near to the site of the old university: A plaque used to tell of the university site (although it now seems to have disappeared), but nothing ever commemorated the battle.

The events of the Bell o' the Brae are obscure but it would seem that, about the year 1300 AD, William Wallace, after a success at Ayr, set his sights on Glasgow. Edward I, the Hammer of the Scots', had appointed Anthony Beck as Bishop of Glasgow and an English force under Earl Percy was stationed there to support the bishop. Wallace led a force of some 300 men while Percy had 1000 men quartered at or in the Bishop's Castle, near the Cathedral. Wallace marched up the High Street with part of his force while two of his lieutenants, Adam Wallace of Richardtown (Riccarton) and the Laird of Auchinleck, came by the Drygate. Percy's troops met Wallace and his men at the Bell o' the Brae (the highest point of the slope of a hill). Percy was slam and when Auchinleck's men appeared, the English force, not knowing how many men were attack them, were supposedly thrown into confusion and fled. They were pursued, so it is said as far as Bothwell Castle.. The Battle of the Bell o' the Brae seemingly lasted minutes rather than hours but its valiant outcome, whether real or imagined, became part of the heroic myth attached to William Wallace.

Wallace and Robroyston

Wallace's other link with Glasgow was a much less happy one than the Battle of the Bell o' the Brae. It, however; happened about three miles or so from Springburn, at Robroyston - so named we are told, after its one-time owner Rau Raa, or maybe Ralph Rae, who it is claimed was. given this land as reward for his part in Wallace's capture. Over time, it is supposed, the name was converted to Robroyston. (The spelling of the name has changed many times over the years so a more simple explanation might just be that it was named after one Rab Rae or such-like name or maybe even Robert Roy but its links with Sir Walter Scott's Rob Roy seem to be non proven).

However; to return to the story, Wallace's one-time ally; Sir John Monteith, at Rutherglen's Old Kirk made an arrangement with the English Commander; Sir Aymer Vallance, to betray Wallace. Wallace was asleep in a cottage in Robroyston, supposedly waiting to make contact with Robert the Bruce, when he was captured and taken to Dumbarton Castle, held by Monteith for Edward. From Dumbarton, Wallace was taken top London and there was given a mockery of a trial and put to death.

The little cottage at Robroyston apparently stood until 1826 but now a handsome granite cross marks the spot. For a time the outline of the cottage's foundations could be seen, probably in the site to the east of the monument, but some imagination would be required to discern them today. Some of the roof timber was used to make a chair for Sir Walter Scott, so presumably a visit to Abbotsford would allow an opportunity to see this lasting link with the patriot. The shaft of the cross bears a sword and shield and the cry 'In Defence' while on the base is the inscription: "This memorial erected 1900 AD by public subscription is to mark the site of the house in which the hero of Scotland was basely betrayed and captured about midnight on 5th August 1305 when alone with his faithful friend and co-patriot Kerlie who was slain. Wallace's heroic patriotism as conspicuous in his death as in his life within nine years of his betrayal the work of his life was crowned with victory and Scotland's independence regained on the field of Bannockburn."

Raised by public subscription, the monument was unveiled at 4:30pm on Saturday 4 August 1900 by Miss Emmeline McKerlie, a direct descendant of Kerlie, Wallace's companion. The Memorial Committee handed over custody of the monument to Cadder Parish Council. A crowd of about a thousand people were present at the ceremony and in those days it was possible to take a train from Buchanan Street to Robroyston Station which was about a twenty minute walk to the monument.

The cross is 20 feet high and of red Peterhead granite which is set on a high base and sited within a railed enclosure in a walled recess off the road. Messrs Stewart McGlashen & Son of Edinburgh were the sculptors of the monument and it was erected at a cost of �125. Mr McGlashen stated, in a letter to the Memorial Committee of 6 October 1900, that "carrying out this piece of work was a real pleasure". It has for almost 100 years given much pleasure to many. A focal builder. John B. Calder, of Muirhead. carried out all the ancillary site work associated with the monument - such as constructing the foundations, erecting the railings, and building the boundary wall with its handsome little stone ball embellishments. He was paid �63 1s. 3 l/2d for all his work. Tradesmen of such diverse talents, doing work at what seems most competitive pricing, were probably as rare then as they are now! The Press in 1900 might have given little credit to Mr Calder but he still merits our thanks today for he did a really good job. He is one of the unsung heroes of the story of Scottish monument making. The cross stands near Royston Mains Farm on Royston Road and is set in a rural setting on the very edge of Glasgow. It was once remote in the countryside but increasingly urban sprawl has swept out to within sight of it.

Just along the road from the monument is a well known as Wallace's Well, and it is reputed to have been associated with our hero. If he had lodged at Robroyston it is difficult to imagine that he would not have drank from its waters. Indeed some believe that it was actually at the well that he was finally captured. The well has been substantially altered over the years and the present one is believed to date from c1911. An earlier one had an inscription which was- commemorative of 1305 - the year of betrayal, capture and death. The well is set in a curved recess in a simply built stone wall by the roadside with the Gadburn rushing past in front of it.. On the red granite lintel over the well it proudly declares it to be 'Wallace's Well'. Who are we to argue?

Wallace Remembered

Here, in the countryside on the edge of the city, Wallace is remembered. It is right and proper that a city with a proud history should remember dark deeds and noble men. At Robroyston one can stand on soil which one can rightly and proudly assume to be the very place once graced by the footsteps of one of Scotland's greatest sons and certainly her greatest champion of freedom. It is a place steeped in history.

The 'cross' has been listed as being of historic interest and some time ago the City had an "adopt a monument" scheme and the Clan Wallace Society of the USA adopted the monument and undertook some restoration work. It could again do with a bit more loving care.

Sadly, however, the well which had been 'listed' has now been removed from the list because if is not regarded as being historic enough. It is difficult to see what criterion can possibly be applied to measure this. Nothing can now be proved or disproved about its historic roots. Wallace clearly has had long established traditional links with Robroyston so it is hard to see how he could not have been there or drank the water. Listing the well at least gave it some measure of official protection.

In July 1995 planning approval was given to restore the farmhouse and steading to convert them into flats, but at present they are a derelict shell in sore need of restoration. They are am eyesore yet have the potential to be something truly worthwhile. Consent was then given to demolish the two-storey cottages adjacent to the monument but as there are no plans to build on that site this ought to visually enhance the monument. This building has bricked up windows and is in poor condition—the site really should be worthy of its historic location. Land at Robroyston Mains Farm was recently for sale with outline planning consent for residential development. The 'green belt' is certainly fast disappearing. Once pleasant rolling countryside is all too quickly falling into developer's hands and little care or respect is being shown to the historic spot.

The City's Parks Department have also given consideration to a landscaping scheme whereby the well and the monument would be finked by a short walkway with a car parking area. So far this scheme appears to have come to naught, but is really is time for Glasgow, indeed Scotland, to treat these monuments with the respect which they truly merit.

The Wallace Clan Trust for Scotland have also shown considerable intercut in die monument in the past. They hoped to create a Visitor or Heritage Centre using Robroyston Mains Farm, Their | proposals for the Braveheart Memorial Park and Information Centre included multi-media exhibition hall, museum, and conference hall but lack of fending has meant the shelving of these proposals, The Trust also hoped to relocate the cross on a prominent hillside site, overlooking the site of the cottage, and have it set within a memorial garden. These proposals would have undoubtedly created an important visitor attraction but also would have heightened public awareness in the dramatic history of the spot, While the prospect of a cross intended to mark the sire' of something on a site other than on that special site seemed almost nonsensical, there may well have been greater accuracy in having it 'overlooking the site' since from this distance of time and space we will never know quite where it all happened.

Go and see Robroyston! If Wallace matters in the history of Scotland, then Robroyston matters. It is likely to have been the scene of one of the most major events in his career and Wallace's capture and death were undoubtedly key steps in rallying and unifying the Scottish people in order to wage a second phase in the War for Independence, This was ultimately achieved at Bannockburn in 1314.

The Italian Patriot, Giuseppe Mazzini, stated: "Wallace stands forth from the dim twilight of the past as one of the High Prophets of Nationality to us all, Honour him; worship his memory; teach his name and deeds to your children".

This is the measure of the man. Wallace did indeed matter He was a Local Hero who was Guardian of Scotland.

The inclusion of Dr Gilbert's words here, funded by Glasgow 1999, does not in any way constitute his approval (or otherwise) of this website. Dr Gilbert has no association with this website, however, his writing for the Springburn Museum Trust, funded by Glasgow 1999, and although written a decade ago, still offers by far the best available history of the Robroyston monument from a knowledgeable local perspective.