Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Significant Scots
James Ronald

Bailie James Ronald

JAMES RONALD [Baillie, Historian, Stonemason and Housing Developer in Stirling]

Christening:  01 JUN 1838   Stirling, Stirling, Scotland
Death:  13th April, 1906, James Street, Stirling, Scotland
Mother:  JEAN FORREST    

Extracted christening record for the locality listed in the Old Parish Records.

Baillie James Ronald was a very able and versatile man, and, among his contributions to the historical literature of Stirling were lengthy and skilfully researched books and articles about the ‘Blackfriars of Stirling’, and the ‘Landmarks of Old Stirling’, plus a convincing critique with William B. Cook Esq. on the  controversy over the location of the bridge during the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297.

Around the turn of the century, Baillie Ronald arranged for a number of streets in the Riverside Area of Stirling, where he had built tenements, to be named after some of his family members, v.i.z. RONALD PLACE after the family surname; FORREST ROAD after his mother Jean Forrest; JAMES STREET after his father James Ronald and himself; and EDWARD AVENUE after two of his sons, Edward Ronald and James Edward Ronald.

Here follows a collated .pdf file of the Stirling Bridge Critique and References :-

Download the pdf file here!

Bailie Ronald

David B. Morris.

JAMES RONALD, the author of this volume, was born in Stirling in 1838. After three or four years of early childhood spent at Charters-hall, he returned to the town, where he received his education at Mr. Michael Jacob’s school in Friars Street, and at the mathematical classes of the late Mr. Duncan M'Dougall. His father was a builder, and when James left school, at the age of fifteen, he became apprenticed to that trade. The first work at which he was engaged was the building of the High School, for which his father was contractor. In his young manhood he was greatly influenced by his uncle, William Forrest, a nailer at Chartershall, who seems to have been in some ways a remarkable man. What struck young Ronald chiefly in his uncle’s character was his unbending uprightness, and there can be little doubt that this influence was wholly for the young man’s good, and that it bore fruit in after years. To the last Mr. Ronald bore testimony to the great respect in which he held the memory of his relative.

After finishing his apprenticeship, Mr. Ronald spent some time in London, where he superintended the erection of a building for Messrs. Nelson, the publishers. On his return to Stirling he began business with the late Mr. William Dougall, under the firm name of Dougall & Ronald. On Mr. Dougall’s retiral, Mr. Ronald carried on the business until it was taken over by his two sons about a year before his death. Many important buildings in Stirling and district were built by him. So thorough was all his work that he enjoyed the most implicit confidence of the architects and of all who employed him. Among his workmen Mr. Ronald was regarded with great respect and affection, and many of them were for a lifetime in his service. Mr. Ronald had a great knowledge of buildings and their value, and his services were frequently called in as arbiter, or valuator, or adviser in all matters concerning house property.

For many years Mr. Ronald took a deep interest in the public affairs of his native town. His first appearance as a municipal representative was in 1876, when he was elected by the ratepayers to the Stirling Waterworks Commission. Two years afterwards he entered the Town Council, sitting for Baker Street Ward, and he continued in the Council until 1892. He was elected a Bailie in 1884, and after serving in that capacity for five years he was appointed Honorary Treasurer. He was a Governor of the Stirling Educational Trust for ten years. Of Mr. Ronald’s work in the Town Council and the strenuous doings in which he was a participator, this is not the place to speak. Suffice it to say that in all he did he carried the respect of friend and opponent alike. In the words of his old colleague, Provost Thomson,—“What he did he did with all his might, giving his best energies to his own business, of which he was a capable master, and also to the service of the town, of which he was so worthy and respected a citizen. I think the word, thorough, was specially characteristic of him and his work.”

Mr. Ronald was a member of the Free South Church, in which he was for many years an elder, and was the close friend of its succession of worthy ministers, the Revs. Alexander Leitch, W. F. Goldie, and John Arnott. The old church, and all that concerned its welfare, were close to his heart When, in 1902, the centenary of the erection of the church was celebrated, shortly before the congregation removed to their present church in Murray Place, it was suggested that Mr. Ronald should write the history of the old building behind the High School. This he did, and at the afternoon service on 4th May, Mr. Arnott read it to a keenly interested audience. The paper was published in a little booklet, under the title of “The Story of the South Church, Stirling.”

It was as a local antiquary that Mr. Ronald performed the work for which his name will be chiefly remembered, and it was through the medium of the Stirling Natural History and Archaeological Society that most of the results of his research saw the light. He became a member of the Society on 14th November, 1889, the evening on which he read the first part of his first paper, namely, that entitled “The Story of the Parish Church of Stirling.” The great value of the paper as a bit of original research was at once recognised, and Mr. Ronald was henceforward looked upon as an authority on the subject of local antiquities. It was thus somewhat late in life that Mr. Ronald took up literary work, and it is interesting to have his own explanation of the circumstances which led him to undertake what proved such a congenial task. In the preface to his volume on “Landmarks of Old Stirling,” he says, “When holding office in the Town Council of Stirling some years ago, I had frequent opportunities of scanning the interesting old records and other documents in the Burgh Chambers, and I had not gone far in my perusal of them until I discovered that they contained a perfect mine of materials fitted to throw light on the ancient buildings, lands, and crofts of our good old burgh. The papers contained in this volume are in great measure the result of these researches.” The first subject to which he gave attention was the localising of places mentioned in the Burgh records. In the course of his investigation he came across many interesting entries as to the Parish Church, and, leaving the ancient localities to another day, he plunged into the story of that building. This was to him a most congenial subject, owing to the deep religious element which was in his nature, and to his knowledge of, and keen interest in, all matters pertaining to architecture. He had also a strong sympathy for the human story which the fine old building on the hill could tell to the patient investigator. He believed the words of Ruskin, which he quoted, to be specially true of our church, “that the greatest glory of a building is not in its stones or in its gold; its glory is in its age, and in that deep sense of voicelessness, of stern watching, of mysterious sympathy, which we feel in walls that have long been washed by the passing waves of humanity.” Such were Mr. Ronald’s sentiments in regard to the Parish Church of Stirling. In this paper he set for ever at rest the belief that the Greyfriars ever had anything to do with the building.

Mr. Ronald was from time to time asked to conduct over the church societies or parties specially interested in the subject, and to explain its architectural features. Such requests brought about a struggle between his natural diffidence, which inclined him to say “No,” and his enthusiasm for the ancient structure, which influenced him to say “Yes.” If the latter prevailed, the party found in Mr. Ronald a most reliable guide, whose words, if few, threw a flood of light on what he believed to be the most ancient and interesting building in the town, and on the development of ecclesiastical and burghal life, of which for centuries it had been a silent witness. He read a paper to the Aberdeen Ecclesiological Society when they visited the church in September, 1899, and another paper to the Edinburgh Architectural Association, on their visit in May, 1903.

Having finished his paper on the Parish Church, Mr. Ronald returned to' his investigations into the “Names and Localities of the Old Lands and Crofts in and around Stirling,” under which title he read a paper to the Stirling Natural History and Archaeological Society in October, 1890. When Mr. Renwick, Depute Town Clerk of Glasgow, was preparing for the press one of the volumes of the Burgh Records of Stirling, it occurred to him to ask Mr. A. B. M‘Donald, City Engineer, Glasgow, to prepare a plan of Stirling in the seventeenth century, a task for which Mr. M‘Donald, being a native of Stirling, was peculiarly fitted. Mr. M‘Donald agreed, and meeting Mr. Ronald soon after, the matter was discussed, and Mr. Ronald promised to assist in getting information. This set him to reading the old records in the possession of the Town Council, and was the circumstance from which all his antiquarian labours grew. Mr. M‘ Donald’s plan was published in the volume of Burgh Records, but by the time Mr. Ronald read his paper, some farther facts had been ascertained, and the plan, with some additional detail, was re-published along with Mr. Ronald’s volume on “Landmarks of Old Stirling.” At the close of the paper, he added a note on “The Ancient Bridge of Stirling in 1297,” to which reference will hereafter be made.

In all Mr. Ronald’s investigations, one subject led to another. His previous paper had suggested “The Story of the Old Bridge of Stirling” (by which is meant the old bridge still standing). Indeed, he had contemplated telling that story as part of the paper on “Names and Localities,” but the materials grew upon him in such a way that he had to postpone dealing with the bridge until the following year. In December, 1891, his paper on that subject was read. This paper, dealing as it did with the defence of the town, led naturally to that on “The Town Wall of Stirling” read in November, 1893. Referring to the portion of the wall still standing, the paper concluded with the “hope that the wall may long be allowed to stand as a memorial of the past history of the burgh and a witness to the struggles of our forefathers for independence and freedom,” a sentiment which we should like to see shared by every inhabitant of the buigh. In this paper Mr. Ronald identified with great exactness the sites of the various “ports” or gates, and at his instance the places where the “Barrasyett,” at the junction of Port Street and Dumbarton Road, and the “New Port,” in the middle of King Street, were situated, were marked by letters formed of red granite blocks inserted in the causeway of the street In January, 1894, the late Mr. T. L. Galbraith, Town Clerk, received from the late Marquis of Bute a memorandum stating that he had in contemplation a heraldic work dealing with the Municipal Arms of the Burghs of Scotland, including Burgh Seals, and desiring to be supplied with information as to the seals of Stirling. Mr. Galbraith spoke to Mr. Ronald, and what information could be gathered was sent on. The volume was published in 1897, under the following title, “The Arms of the Royal and Parliamentary Burghs of Scotland," Messrs. J. R. N. Macphail and H. W. Lonsdale being associated with the Marquis of Bute in the authorship. Due acknowledgment was made of the authors’ obligations to Mr. Ronald for the use of his valuable and interesting notes. It occurred to Mr. Ronald to go a little farther into the subject, and so he put together a good deal of information bearing on the old seals of the burgh and interesting occasions on which they had been used, and the result formed a paper read to the Society in October, 1895.

In March, 1896, Mr. Ronald contributed a paper on “The Ancient Parish of Stirling,” written in a style more controversial than was his wont. The paper was compiled with the object of refuting an opinion expressed by the Rev. David Smith, in a paper read to the Society a year before, that there is evidence of a time when Stirling was in the Parish of St. Ninians. Mr. Ronald’s firm opinion was that the parishes of Stirling and St. Ninians never were other than separate and distinct.

In 1899 the papers which have been mentioned, and which had all been published in the Transactions of the Stirling Natural History and Archaeological Society, were reprinted and published by Mr. Eneas Mackay, of Stirling, in a handsome volume entitled, “Landmarks of Old Stirling.” Whoever made the suggestion to Mr. Ronald did an excellent thing, as the papers were well worthy of being collected and published in a more convenient form than scattered through the different numbers of a Society's Transactions. The volume is now a standard work on old Stirling, to which the future antiquary must needs refer, and is a model of what such a book should be. Included in the volume is a chapter on the Old Manse of Stirling, which was situated in St. John Street, with a short account of the ministers who lived in it, and also a chapter on the Old Market Cross of Stirling. When the cross was re-erected in 1891, Mr. Ronald had been consulted as to the form of the restoration, and some difference of opinion had arisen as to whether the surrounding steps should be circular, as appeared should be the case from certain records, or octagonal, as might have been thought likely from the pillar being eight sided. Mr. Ronald took the former view, and the cross now stands in Broad Street with four circular steps for its base.

Mr. Ronald’s next work was a paper read to the Society in January, 1902, on “The Crafts of Stirling,” in which the story of the Incorporated Trades and their association with -Spittal’s Hospital was fully disclosed. It is understood that Mr. Ronald contemplated a farther paper on this subject, dealing with the history of the different incorporations separately, but this, like various other projected pieces of antiquarian work, it was destined he should not live to accomplish.

“On finding part of an old wall in Murray Place,” was the cautiously-expressed title of a paper read in April, 1904. Mr. Ronald had been engaged in taking down a tenement of houses in Murray Place for re-erection, when he came upon a mass of building, under the tenement, and extending into the garden. There is little doubt that Mr. Ronald was right in his conjecture that he had thus accidentally hit upon part of the foundation of a wall of the church connected with the old Blackfriars Monastery. This was a most important antiquarian find, and it was a piece of singular good fortune that Mr. Ronald should have been the builder engaged in the work, as otherwise the discovery might never have been made or followed up.

In November, 1904, the Society listened to still another paper, the last to be read in Mr. Ronald’s lifetime, entitled, “The Earl of Mar’s Ludging.” Shortly thereafter it was published by Mr. Mackay, in a separate volume, as an introduction to the Household Book of Lady Marie Stewart, the volume also containing a series of drawings of the building by Mr. J. W. Small, with explanatory notes. This -paper was not so complete as had been expected, but Mr. Ronald had made it only, what it purported to be, an introduction. It by no means exhausted Mr. Ronald’s store of information, and it is satisfactory to know that a supplementary paper on this important subject was left completed among his papers at his death, and is to be given to the Archaeological Society next session.

The closing months of Mr. Ronald’s life were much occupied by a subject to which he had given a good dead of time and thought. In his paper on “Old Landmarks,” in 1890, he took up the site of the Ancient Bridge of Stirling, that was destroyed at the Battle of Stirling, in 1297. In spite of the prevadence of the belief that the bridge was situated at Kildean, Mr. Ronald held that it stood at or near the site of the present old bridge. He gave a short, but convincing, statement of the reaisons which induced him to form that opinion. Mr. Ronald’s view commended itself to many who haul previously given the matter little thought, and, although some have not been convinced, may be said now to hold the field. To the accomplishment of this result there contributed, in no small degree, an exhaustive paper by Mr. W. B. Cook, on the Battle of Stirling Bridge, read to the Society in January, 1905. Mr. Cook’s paper had revived interest in the subject, and Mr. Ronald, in the enforced leisure of failing health, again turned his attention to it. Matters were in this position when the exceptional drought of the spring and summer of 1905 came on, and the River Forth sank to a level lower than the oldest inhabitant could remember. What followed I shall give, as far as possible, in Mr. Ronald’s own words, in an autobiographical fragment, entitled “A Bit of Private History,” sent by him to me a few months before his death. “I was born in Bridge Street, right opposite the Rev. J. Angus’ church. My mother died a few weeks after. I was then sent to my grandmother’s, at Chartershall, where I lived for three or four years, after which I was taken back to Bridge Street. At that time our supply of water came from Lessfeerie, and was miserably inadequate. Householders had to be very careful of the water, even for cooking purposes, while for washing-days it had to be carried from the Forth. We youngsters had to do all this, so that it seemed as if the river was more useful then than now. Things went on in this quiet way until I reached my tenth year, when I witnessed the drowning of a man, just opposite to where the piers are, in a deep, dark pool, beneath an overhanging tree, on the Winchelhaugh side of the river. I did not get the cries of that man out of my ears for a twelvemonth; indeed it had an influence on my whole life, and ever since I have had a horror of water, and have been very seldom on it.” In Mr. Ronald’s employment was a man named Connelly, who, from having been a pearl fisher, was familiar with the bed of the river. He had mentioned to Mr. Ronald the existence of two projections, apparently of stone wprk, which rise from the bottom of the stream from 65 to 75 yards above the present Old Bridge, and were known to pearl fishers and others who had occasion to be on the river. Mr. Ronald conceived the idea that these might be fragments of the piers of the ancient bridge, and he had often turned the matter over in his mind. Now, when the river fell so low that a sandbank, which had accumulated on the southmost of the projections, was exposed above the surface, so that the sea birds gathered on it from day to day, the unusual sight spurred Mr. Ronald to action. He says, “At this time I was forbidden by the doctor to go up streets, and ordered to keep to the level. My walks were thus confined mainly to the riverside. I usually sat on the seat nearest to the bridge, where I saw the cars passing, and heard the rumble of town life. While thus engaged, I observed the low state of the river at ebb tide. This went on day by day, and was a great temptation to me, for though my body was weak, my mind was strong, and my brain ever busy. I said to myself I had often wished to examine those piers, and here was an opportunity I might never get again. I had the man Connelly, who had known all about them for many years, everything was favourable, some mysterious force was urging me: the temptation became too strong, I forgot my horror of the river, and spoke to Connelly about the matter, and arranged a day for it The rest you know. All the same it was a most foolish and foolhardy action on my part in my then state of health.” The result of Mr. Ronald’s investigations was made public in two letters to the "Stirling Sentinel,” published on 13th and 20th June, 1905. The position of the piers and their dimensions, though approximate only, were set forth with considerable detail, and also the depth of the water at various points, showing that Mr. Ronald’s examination had been conducted with his usual care and thoroughness. The matter has not meantime been any farther cleared up, but it is possible that future investigation may determine definitely the real nature of these structures.

The last work upon which Mr. Ronald was engaged was that which now appears in the present volume, “The Story of the Argyle Lodging," the last fruits of a busy career. During the closing weeks of his life, although his strength was ebbing fast, Mr. Ronald stuck to his voluntary task, and he had the satisfaction of seeing it completed. The final proof sheets had been corrected, he put aside his pen, and then laid himself down to take his eternal rest. Mr. Ronald had planned out two papers for which he had collected a quantity of information, but these were never written. One was the history of the Old Tolbooth, and the other that of Stirling Castle. It was his opinion that the latter would be his most important work, and we can well understand what a valuable historical volume it would have been, had Mr. Ronald been spared to write it. He felt the magnitude of the task, and realized keenly the necessity for its being done thoroughly and well, and had his health allowed, he was prepared to brace himself for a work which would have been of national importance. But, alas, it has been ruled otherwise, and where is the man to take his place?

Words of eulogy are not needed to sum up this inadequate account of Mr. Ronald’s life. His work and achievements speak for themselves; his character was what every one knew it, honourable, unassuming, sternly upright and quietly kind,—more, it was, what his more intimate friends knew well, founded on a deep sense of religious feeling, and in spite of an apparently unpoetic exterior, full of intense sentiment He had the practical man’s love of exactness and plain statement of fact, qualities essential to the antiquary, but he had also in his being a spring of imagination, which, in spite of repression, burst out from time to time, a quality not less necessary to the successful worker in any field of research. We wonder how one, whose hands were so full of business, could have found time to overtake so much careful investigation of records, and to accomplish so much literary work, but we have only to recall what was Mr. Ronald’s outstanding characteristic, to find the explanation in his tremendous tenacity of purpose. There are few of Stirling’s sons whose remains have been followed to our beautiful cemetery on the hill who could be less spared than our old familiar friend, Bailie Ronald.

15th June, 1906.

The Kildean Myth (pdf)

Return to our Significant Scots page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus