Originally published at suit101.com on 21/12/08, now hosted over at Xomba.
Incongruously set within the Thistles Shopping Centre, down a wrought iron staircase, a piece of Stirling’s early history has been preserved for all to see.
Passing the entrance to the Bastion and Thieves Pot, with its flaming torches the casual visitor could easily mistake it for a historically themed eatery or bar, yet follow the wrought iron stairs down and you enter another time – far from the glass and tiles of the centre above. The Bastion below was substantially renovated during the construction of the Shopping Centre that was built around it during the mid 1970s.
The Bastion was built in the 1540s, at the same time as the town walls were strengthened. The structure’s remains are a listed building and scheduled as an ancient monument. Though it appears an unimposing site, the Bastion is considered to be of both historical and architectural importance; being one of the last remnants of the security system that guarded Stirling in the days when to hold Stirling was to hold Scotland.
The Original Structure
The circular structure that survives is thought to be only part of a larger guarding tower, one of several set into the angles of the town walls. The guardroom, which is open to visitors, and the prison below, which can be viewed through a glass panel in the floor, are all that remain of this larger structure and are both barrel vaulted.
Below the guardroom with its historical presentations lies the prison, or Thieves Pot as it is better known, a dark cramped 16th century dungeon complete with somewhat creepy model prisoners. The only entrance into the prison below is through a trapdoor in the guardroom floor, which now serves as a viewing panel.
The Justice Figure and Stirling Heads
A Justice figure takes pride of place within the Bastion, watching over the ‘prisoners’ in the Thieves Pot below. She is a copy of the original wooden figure, which watched over proceedings in the Tolbooth courtroom until the 1890s, when she was passed into the care of the Smith Art Gallery and Museum.
One of the oldest figures of Justice known to exist in Scotland, she is thought to date from the 15th century and unlike more modern representations, while she bears a set of scales, she is not blindfolded. A plaster copy remains in the local Sheriff Court to watch over proceedings.
Two of the thirty-eight surviving Stirling Heads grace the Bastion’s walls. Carved in oak, they were part of the sumptuous decoration of the king’s presence chamber at nearby Stirling Castle. The Renaissance palace they were designed for, is contemporaneous with the Bastion, having been built for James V (1513-1542) with the heads themselves being in the style of those which have adorned the ceiling of Wawel Palace in Cracow, Poland since 1530.
While the heads look somewhat garish on close inspection, it should be remembered that in their original setting they stood 35ft (10.6 m) from the ground and were likely designed so that their details could be seen from this distance. The two displayed in the Bastion represent the God Apollo and a king thought to be James V himself.
Opening Hours and Getting There
The Bastion stands within the Thistles Shopping Centre in Stirling town centre and is best accessed from the Port Street entrance. Visitors travelling from further afield will find the centre next to the bus station, close by the railway station, and Stirling itself is just off the M9 for motorists from both North and South.
Admission to the Bastion is free and it can be visited whenever the shopping centre is open:
Monday – Saturday: 9am – 5.30pm
Sunday: 11am – 5pm