Stirling: city of culture

In this blog, we explore some of the hidden culture around Stirling and the lesser-known historic structures that are part of the fabric of our city.

We are proud to be supporting Stirling’s City of Culture 2025 bid. Culture is part of the fabric of the city, from Bannockburn House up to the Wallace Monument you can find cultural hubs residing in the historic buildings of Stirling.

In this blog, we explore some of the hidden culture around Stirling and the lesser-known historic structures that are part of the fabric of our city.

The Alhambra Theatre, Crawford Arcade


The Crawford Arcade was constructed between 1879 and 1882, connecting the streets of Murray Place and King Street. Designed by John Mclean (c1833-1888), it was the idea of enterprising businessman William Crawford (1836-1894), a local china merchant. The unique development comprised 2 hotels, 39 shops, a 1200-seat theatre, and 6 dwellings and cost £30,000.

The theatre was a fine example of its type, with elaborate decorative plasterwork. However, despite its elegance, it had a rather chequered history and its use changed many times since being first opened in the 1880s.

As a variety theatre, the Alhambra hosted famous names, including Sir Harry Lauder. In 1931, it was converted to a cinema, following the boom in cinema construction during the interwar period.

However, its life as a cinema was to be short-lived, closing in 1939, and left empty until it was re-purposed by Menzies Department Store in the 1960s. With the closure some years later of Menzies, the large but much altered space became vacant once again, although the shops in the shopping arcade remain.

The Alhambra Theatre forms part of the Historic Environment Scotland-funded Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme for Stirling and it is hoped a new use for this historically important building will be found when it is fully repaired.


Stirling Arcade today


Stirling Arcade today

North section of the Arcade, image courtesy of The Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum.

The Athenaeum, King Street

This distinctive A Listed Building, with its spire and horseshoe shape sits at the very top of King Street, one of Stirling’s most important and historic streets. Its ambitious architecture a celebration of King Street’s ambition and pride, with learning at its heart.

The Athenaeum was designed by architect William Stirling I (1772-1838) from Dunblane and was built on the site of a meat market. It opened in January 1817 as a reading room and library, with a ground floor shop. The library had an annual subscription of 15d in 1866 (circa £6 in today’s money) and non-members were welcome free of charge for up to a month. This was not the only hub of learning on King Street at the time, a further library opened at 10
King Street in 1855, the Macfarlane Free Library, by John Macfarlane.

In 1859 the statue of local hero William Wallace was added to the porch of Athenaeum, and from 1875 it was used as Burgh offices.


Wolf Craig, Dumbarton Road

 “here in auld days the wolf roam’d in a hole of the rock in ambush lay.”

Sitting on the corner of Dumbarton Road and Port Street, the Wolf Craig is one of the many buildings around Stirling that has a tribute to a local legend, the Stirling Wolf. The legend tells of how Stirling was saved from Viking raiders by a howling wolf which alerted the sentry of the impending attack.

The Wolf Craig building was designed in 1897 by Stirling architect John Allan (1847-1922), created as a grocer’s emporium for Robertson & MacFarlane. The building reflects his enthusiasm for both the history of Stirling, new architectural techniques, and technology as well as his interest in symbolism.

The design makes extensive use of steel, a material which still considered to be experimental in the last decade of the 19th century. The first steel-framed building in Scotland may have been the Scotsman building, Edinburgh by Dunn and Findlay in 1899. The building even had its own electricity generator, the first retail building in Stirling to be lit by electricity.

The external design is striking. The five stories of Welsh Ruabon brickwork sit below a lead-covered ‘cup and saucer’ dome. On the Dumbarton Road elevation, next to John Allan’s signature, you can find the carved wolf.

There are also nine mysterious panels across the building. Some are known; the letters as a swirling rope, R and M for the owners of the building; and the Castle Rock and Stirling Bridge with two keys. A panel depicting an archer may be a reference to Diana, the Huntress who is referred to in a number of his writings including ‘Monastery Days and Archery’. Other panels, such as the one of coloured tiles, are harder to understand and make the building even more intriguing.


The Bridge Clock Tower

The Bridge Clock Tower was presented as a gift to the people of Stirling by Provost David Bayne in 1910.

Today, it stands as you enter the city from the north, located close to Stirling Bridge and it was designed by Stirling architects McLuckie & Walker.

The clock was an important feature in the landscape, providing visitors and locals with an accurate method of keeping the time, many years before the BBC would provide a time check on the wireless and the creation of the Speaking Clock in 1936. It also included a very unique feature; the pendulum contained a barometer.

The Bridge Clock by Jo Cound

You can find out more about Stirling’s City of Culture bid and help to boost Stirling’s bid by pledging your support at:

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