Only Connect – Diary gives insight on life in old Stirling

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King Street and Athenaeum ©Stirling City Heritage Trust

Les longs souvenirs font les grands peuples. (Long memories make great peoples)

-Montalambert, c. 1830

Down in the darkest depths of the Stirling Council archives, reside the diary of one Dr Thomas Lucas, a surgeon who lived between 1756-1822. As a Burgess and Guild Brother, he was a prominent member of Stirling’s local society, and his diary affords a fascinating insight into life in Stirling in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

For instance, we read that, on 2 August 1808, the local Grammar School where his two sons attended (sitting in the shadow of Stirling Castle), was examined in the presence of Magistrates. Here, the 36 scholars went through their oral Latin and Greek exercise “with considerable activity”, albeit seemingly insufficient activity for Dr Lucas who went on to criticise the falling proficiency of those studying the ancient languages there.


A few year later, and on 21 June 1815, we read that, as the foundation stone of a new building was laid at the head of Quality Street, there was a procession held to mark the occasion attended by Stirling’s dignitaries. Also attending were those masons of the various local mason’s lodges who had been engaged to construct the edifice. A formal dinner was held in the local inn, before the night, as Dr Lucas informs us, was subsequently “spent in riot and drunkness as is usual on such occasions…”.

The Golden Lion Hotel (formerly Gibb’s Inn) in the 1950s ©Stirling Council Archives

Some four years later, on 4 January 1819, the shoemakers of the local community held a procession in honour of Saint Orispin (the patron saint of shoemakers). The procession proceeded down from near Stirling Castle, and reached a conclusion at Gibb’s Inn on Quality Street where a Ball and Supper was held, commencing around 3pm, and not concluding until 6am the next morning. The shoemakers of Stirling seemingly knew how to have a good time.

So, looking back over 200 years, of what value are the diaries of Dr Lucas to us, and can we relate to him, and his society, today? How can we better understand his life, and the life of those citizens of Stirling that came before us, against a backdrop of formal ceremonies, ancient language school lessons, and processions of riotousness and drunkenness?

Perhaps the most tangible, the most accessible, and the most valuable records of history, which link us directly to Dr Lucas and the society in which he lived, comprise all of the buildings referred to above, all of which still stand today.

One can visit the Grammar School Dr Lucas refers to, which is now the Portcullis Hotel, standing in the shadow of Stirling Castle. Where the young boys used to recite Greek and Latin, one can now sit and drinks pints of beer.

King Street and Athenaeum ©Stirling City Heritage Trust
Statue of William Wallace, The Athenaeum, King Street
Statue of William Wallace, The Athenaeum, King Street ©Stirling City Heritage Trust

The building – the foundation stone of which was laid amongst a formal procession followed by a not-so-formal procession – was completed in 1816. It is now the Category A listed Athenaeum sitting in a commanding position at the top of King Street (the name was changed from Quality Street in 1821).  A porch was added in 1859, and on that porch is a stone statue of William Wallace who looks down upon the hoards of summer tourists who target their cameras back at him in response.

Gibb’s Inn, where shoemakers ate, drank, and danced until 6am in honour of Saint Orispin, is now named the Golden Lion Hotel. This hotel has witnessed a rich history of the City of Stirling, including a visit by Robert Burns, in August 1787, where he etched some controversial lines on to a glass pane of the hotel, yearning for the past Stuart Kings, and critical of the new Hanoverian dynasty.

It is these buildings, still standing today, that help form the tangible connections to the intangible aspects of our past (stories, traditions, and concepts). They allow us to stand in the feet of Dr Lucas and to look on Stirling as he looked on Stirling; to stand in the Greek classroom, to watch the foundation stone being laid, and to view the processions in honour of St Orispin hosted by a community of shoemakers. It permits us to reflect on our identity as a community, but also as a nation. As Historic Environment Scotland note, the historic built environment around us is intrinsic to our sense of place, community, and wellbeing. I encourage you, the reader, to take time to visit Stirling, hunt down these three buildings, and reflect upon the stories they have to tell us.

We at Stirling City Heritage Trust recognise and champion the tangible connection our historic buildings afford us to connect with the past, and we enjoy the privilege we have in playing our part to care for these buildings of our forefathers, including Dr Lucas.

Michael Wright is a Board Trustee with Stirling City Heritage Trust, and an Associate Building Surveyor with Watts Group Limited.

For those interested in reading the diaries of Dr Lucas, diary entries can be found on the Dr Lucas Diaries website.

There is also information on the history of King Street in the Stirling City Heritage Trust booklet: King Street: A Place of Quality

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