Spittal’s Bridge

by John Dreczkowski 18th October 2009

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Before Spittal’s Bridge was built in 1516, local trade, goods for Stirling’s market, pedestrians and horse drawn carriages were required to be transported across the Bannock burn at this location. 

This situation was the cause of much frustration to all users of the Bannockburn Ford. Depending on local weather conditions, such as high rain fall over a few days, the waters at the Bannockburn Ford would then rise to a very high level, making it nearly impassable for all users. This position was much more prevalent in winter conditions, resulting in severely restricting local trade, business movements and curtailing the movements of the local population. This had a negative effect on the local economy, along with restricting the movements of passing travellers going about their business.

One of these travellers was Robert Spittal, who was tailor to King James 1V of Scotland. Robert had become very frustrated with the constant interruptions to his travels between Stirling and Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace carrying out his royal duties. Robert at this point decided to donate monies, to facilitate the building of a bridge at the Bannockburn Ford in the hope of relieving the restrictions to his travels and helping the local community to enhance their business opportunities.

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The 1516 Bridge was duly built under the supervision of the local justices of peace. The first construction seems to be of a narrow bridge capable of ensuring passage the widest horse drawn carriage of the time. The bridge was widened by 12 feet in 1781 to facilitate the increase in traffic and the larger width of the present horse drawn carriages. The decision to build the 1516 bridge has proven over time to be an inspired decision and has had a tremendous effect on the continuing growth of Bannockburn and its economy, helped by the Napoleonic wars and the Industrial Revolution taking hold in Scotland around the 18th and 19th century and continuing into the 20th century.

The bridge formed a part of the main route from the Edinburgh to the north of Stirling and beyond. Laying in what could be called a small gorge with steep access roads namely the Brae and the Path, the construction of the roads at this time would be of hard package stone with a covering of dust on top. To help overcome the steepness and bad condition of the roads, a stable was situated next to the bridge. All goods were carried on a small cart and a set of packhorse and to assist a set of trace horses were employed to assist with braking control of the downward journey and to assist in pulling on the upward journey. This practice would continue until motor vehicles were developed to take over this task.

From the initial construction of the bridge, Bannockburn started to grow from a small village to an important manufacturing town. As a direct consequence of the population growth, there was an increase in demand for residential homes to full fill the needs of the increasing population. The Wilson Mill’s, famous tartan and carpet producers, Smarts Tannery hide producers both benefited greatly during the Napoleonic War period with the high demand for uniforms, blankets, boots and other equipment for the armies engaged in the War.
Graigfords Cat Craig stone quarry along with the lime from producers at Murrayshall and Graigends Limekilns, these products were very much in demand. Due to major expansion of Stirling’s merchants, homes in the area of Kings Park, along with Wilson family residences in Bannockburn and various other magnificent domestic and industrial buildings in the area. Bannockburn area’s sandstone blocks and superior lime mortar were much in demand for construction of these outstanding buildings.
The Industrial Revolution meant coal from the fields of Muir of Bannockburn, Auchenbowie and Greenyards collieries along with surrounding developing coal fields were much in demand to meet the needs of the ever expanding local industries and Glasgow shipyards and steel industries. Much of these products were shipped to Glasgow via rail from Stirling station and colliery shunt yards, thereafter also by water from Stirling and the Fallin shores through the Forth and Clyde Canals en route to Glasgow. Although traffic at the ford was much reduced by the construction of the Telford Bridge in 1825, the 1516 bridge would remain in use until mid 20th century.

The bridge is still in use today, serving houses in The Path, The Brae and Carpet Close. The bridge now has a weight restriction, but nevertheless, the structure is a real testament to our forefathers engineering skills. A structural appraisal was carried out to the bridge in 2009 and as a result, repairs are due to be carried out to the structure in the next year.

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