The Romans in Dunblane
Even before Dunblane was founded in the 7th century it had an exciting history. The Roman army marched through the parish leaving behind the remains of three camps, a signal station, a small fort and traces of the road north. At Ardoch, in Braco, just to the north of Dunblane you can view the massive defences of the best preserved Roman fort in the United Kingdom
The Foundation of Dunblane
Dunblane is one of the oldest settlements in Scotland. St Blane after whom the town is named lived in the late 6th and early 7th centuries and had his base at Kingarth on the Isle of Bute. His precise association with the town is unclear though in the first written recording of the town in the 10th century it is called Dulblaan or Blane’s meadow. If you walk upstream along the river Allan to the edge of the town you will come to Laighhills Playpark round which the river curls. Is this Blane’s meadow?
The Cathedral is built on the site of a much earlier building which may have been constructed as early as the 9th century. The only survival from this earlier building are the first four storeys of the tower. It is Romanesque in style (see its round windows) and probably dates from c 1150 though a case can be made for it being built nearly a century earlier c 1070. It is one of Scotland’s oldest buildings.
Today’s Cathedral, one of the six best mediaeval buildings in Scotland, was erected in the 13th century and is well worth a visit. It was constructed on the initiative of Bishop Clement 1232-1258 and completed by Bishop Robert de Prebenda 1258-1284. It was built all in one style and today has a cool beauty all of its own though in its early days as a Catholic Cathedral it was much more ornate with many bejewelled altars and colourful paintings on the walls.
About 1600 the roof of the nave collapsed and the building became a ruin except for the Chancel which continued to serve as the parish church. This situation was remedied in the early 1890s by a highly successful Restoration funded almost entirely by Janet Wallace of Glassingall and supervised by the distinguished architect Sir Rowand Anderson who restored the building without losing anything of its mediaeval character.
Today the Cathedral which is in the care of Historic Scotland is open daily. It is also the home of the congregation of Dunblane Cathedral.
A Stroll through the Old Town of Dunblane
It is worth strolling through the Old Town of Dunblane with its pleasing mixture of 18th century, Victorian and contemporary buildings. It is strung along the Old Great North Road from Bridgend, to the High Street, round the Cathedral, up the Braeport and through Ramoyle. Along this road came the armies of William the Conqueror and Edward 1st, “The Hammer of the Scots”, who told his son, later Edward II, to strip the lead off the roof of the Cathedral to help with the siege of Stirling Castle. Back down the road came the followers of Wallace and Bruce to fight at the Battles of Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn.
As you wander along the narrow streets of the Old Town there is a lot to see. After crossing the old bridge by the Stirling Arms look under the bridge and you will see the yellow stone work and the single arch of the original bridge built in 1410 by Bishop Finlay Dermoch.
As you approach the Cathedral you will see on your left the Leighton Library. It was built in the late 1680s to house the library of Bishop Robert Leighton which he had gifted to Dunblane together with money for the building. He was Bishop of Dunblane from 1661 to 1670 and then Archbishop of Glasgow. The Library is frequently open to the public in the summer months.
On your right on the corner facing the Cathedral is the Dean’s House some of it dating from the early 17th century and which contains the Dunblane Museum which has recently been handsomely refurbished and modernised with the help of a large grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. It is open daily from Easter to the end of September.
Then walk round two sides of the Cathedral and up the Braeport. On your right you will see the old Victorian school, now the Braeport Centre, with its three large classrooms where teachers struggled with classes of up to 90 pupils. During your walk up the hill you will have deduced that the word Braeport means “Gate on the Hill”. In the Middle Ages there was indeed a gate at the top of the hill and one at the old bridge by the Stirling Arms which were shut at night to keep out undesirables. On to Ramoyle, home in the early 19th century to artisans especially weavers, where many of the houses still betray their origins.
The Battle of Sheriffmuir
On 13 November 1715 the Battle of Sheriffmuir took place three miles North East of Dunblane and directly south of the Sheriffmuir Inn. The site of the battle is easily accessible on foot or by car. The Battle was the culmination of the Jacobite Rebellion of that year. The Jacobite army mainly clansmen under the Earl of Mar numbered 8,000 men and the Government or Redcoat army only 2,500 led by the Duke of Argyle. The Highlanders charged sweeping away the Redcoats on their right but on their left they were held and eventually defeated by the Government Army. Ever since the battle has been described as a draw but it makes more sense to see it as a victory for the Redcoats because the Jacobites did not cross the Forth which had been their aim before the battle. Instead they retreated to Perth and quite soon disbanded their army. Read more.
Bonnie Prince Charlie
On 11 September 1745 Bonnie Prince Charlie spent a night in Dunblane at Balhaldie House on his way south with his Highland army. Balhaldie House is next door to the Library. There he was the guest of Alexander Drummond of Balhaldie who was the Grand Old Man of Jacobitism in Dunblane. He had fought at the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689, led a bold but unsuccessful attempt in 1715 to seize Edinburgh Castle for the Jacobites and had fought at the Battle of Sheriffmuir. He crowned it all by naming one of his daughters Jacobina! Amazingly he was never arrested by the Government or had his estate confiscated.
Six months later the Duke of Cumberland spent a night in Dunblane while pursuing the Prince and his army which was in retreat. As the Duke was riding past the Leighton Library the next morning a servant girl from Balhaldie House, who had taken a fancy to the Prince, threw a pail of boiling oil over the Duke from the upper window of a house. He was thrown from his horse but not otherwise hurt. She was not caught probably escaping up the Minnie Burn which runs underground through the centre of Dunblane. If you walk up to St Blane’s Church on your left down a passage way between the houses you will be able to hear and see the Minnie Burn running beneath you.
Robert Tannahill and Jessie 'the Flower of Dunblane'
One of Scotland's finest love songs is undoubtedly "Jessie, the Flower o' Dunblane". The words were composed by the famous weaver-poet, Robert Tannahill. On Tannahill's untimely death in 1810 at the age of 36, a search began to identify the girl immortalised in the poem. Although there were many contenders, it is believed that the real 'Jessie' was Jenny Tennant. Born in Braeport and then moving to work as a weaver in Paisley, Jessie/Jenny had in fact been Tannahill's sweetheart and muse for some three years, yet the poet believed she had been unfaithful. Tannahill then composed another poem to Jessie, this time entitled 'Farewell'. Read more
Jane Stirling and Chopin
Jane Wilhelmina Stirling of Kippendavie (1804 – 1859) has been recognised for supporting Frédéric Chopin in the last years of his life, when he was reportedly bankrupt and terminally ill, and in preserving his legacy. Her involvement with her teacher and friend did not end with the death of the composer. It continued after 1849, clearly indicating how genuine and sincere her loyalty and commitment to Frédéric Chopin had been. Jane helped to organise and finance the transportation of Chopin's heart from Paris to Warsaw. She also purchased many Chopin-related artefacts and handed them over to his family, including his piano, exhibited now in the Frédéric Chopin Museum in Warsaw. Go to Jane Stirling Festival website
Dunblane - a Victorian Spa and Mill Town
In 1813 a spring was discovered on the Cromlix estate three miles north of the town which the experts believed would improve the health of those drinking the water. Eventually after the Hydro was opened in 1878, and it had acquired the rights, the water it was distributed at the lodge at the bottom of the drive leading up to the hotel.
The town itself also had much to offer. There were romantic walks up and down the River Allan (there still are), there was a ruined Cathedral to visit (even better when it was restored) and there was fishing, shooting and eventually golf and bowling. As a result a large number of villas were built in Dunblane mainly to serve as accommodation for visitors. All this was capped by the magnificent Hydro hotel which still dominates the town. At the start it had various types of “medicinal baths”, its mineral water and numerous activities designed to help the sick and calm the nerves of the “Worried Well”.
But similar to many towns in Central Scotland Dunblane was also a mill town. In the centre of the town beside the river was the Springbank Mill, now housing, which spun wool much of it used for weaving carpets. Upstream at Ashfield was Pullars Dyeing Works with its model village built to house the workers. The factory is derelict but the village is still worth visiting.
A mile further upstream there was a much older mill at Kinbuck. Add to this the paper mills lower down the Allan Water and Dunblane was a significant industrial centre.
From 1760 to 1960 Dunblane’s population hovered around 3,000 people. Since then it has grown steadily with the Argyle, Newton and Barbush estates so that the population has nearly tripled.
Tragically Dunblane’s quiet and dignified reserve was shattered for ever by the murder of a Teacher and 16 Primary One pupils on 13 March 1996. There are several memorials to those who were killed. A stone designed by Richard Kindersley is in the Cathedral, stained glass windows at St Blanes and the Church of the Holy Family, etched windows at the Dunblane Centre, a small garden at the Four Ways Roundabout and a beautiful fountain at Dunblane cemetery. If you wish to read more about this tragic event, please click here.
James Huffam VC
In August 1918, towards the end of the First World War, James Huffam from Dunblane undertook, what are considered to be, herioc acts on the field of battle. There is a memorial to James Huffam by Stirling's railway station. References: VConline; Wikipedia; Stirling Observer 13 September 2017
Dunblane's Andy and Jamie Murray
On 5 August 2012 Andy Murray electrified Dunblane, where he grew up, by winning a gold medal at the Olympics and then following it up on 9 September by victory in the US Open, the first Grand Slam title won by a British player since Fred Perry in 1936. Dunblane now has its own gold post box in the High Street which has been visited by thousands of people since the Olympics. On 7th July 2013, the town and nation proudly witnessed Andy making history again by winning the Wimbledon men's final in 3 straight sets against the then world number 1 player Novak Djokovic. In November 2015 Andy and brother Jamie helped GB win the Davis Cup for the first time in 79 years. In 2016 Jamie Murray became the world's top ranked mens doubles player following grand slam successes at the Australian and US Opens with partner Bruno Suares. Not to be outdone, Andy won Wimbledon again and also the gold medal at the Rio Olympics, followed by a run of ATP tour wins taking him to number 1 mens singles player in the ATP rankings on 7th November 2016. To top off a spectacular season and year, Andy was awarded a knighthood in the 2017 New Year Honours list.
For Further Information about the History of Dunblane you can consult the following
- Alexander B Barty, The History of Dunblane, Eneas Mackay, Stirling, 1944
- Bill Inglis, Dunblane From the Stone Age to Mary Queen of Scots, Jamieson and Munro, Stirling, 2011
- Bill Inglis, A Scottish Town : Dunblane from 1560 to 1919, John Jamieson Munro Trust, Stirling, 2016
- Bill Inglis, The Battle of Sheriffmuir Based on Eye Witness Accounts, Stirling Council Libraries, 2005.
- David Tate, The Dunblane Hydro, Dunblane 2005
- The In Dunblane leaflet
The Leighton Library, the oldest purpose-built library in Scotland, was founded on the collection of Robert Leighton, Bishop of Dunblane, 1661-1670, later Archbishop of Glasgow, 1670-1674. In his will, Leighton left a sum of money for the building of the library for use by the clergy of Dunblane diocese. The library is situated close by Dunblane Cathedral, part of which dates from 1240. The library was built in part from fallen stone from the nearby ruined Bishop's Palace.