IN this latest column on the ancient towns of Scotland I will be writing about a place that is inextricably linked to the story of Sir William Wallace, Scotland’s most inspiring hero.

If only for that association, Lanark would be worthy of its place in this series but there is of course much more to one of our most ancient towns.

Lanark may be one of the smaller towns in terms of population but it has a long history at the centre of events that shaped Scotland.

I have already written about Ayr, Paisley, Dumbarton, Dumfries and Falkirk. To be included, towns have to be “ancient”, which I interpret as being founded before the Reformation. And they must have played some part in our nation’s history.

READ MORE: Ayr has a special place in Scotland's ancient history

The columns all deal with towns up to the year 1900, as I will be revisiting them in a future series on 20th-century Scotland that I am planning for later this year.

Like all the other ancient towns I’ve chosen, Lanark has a history that has been thoroughly researched by proper historians so that a history writer like myself can base my column on their facts.

Many of my chosen towns became the county town for their area and for centuries Lanark gave its name to one of the greatest “shires” in Scotland, which at one time included Glasgow and stretched from the city to the Southern Uplands.

The Town

Right at the heart of central Scotland and in a dominant position in the Clyde Valley near the confluence of the Clyde and its tributary, the Mouse Water, Lanark’s strategic importance was appreciated by the Roman invaders of the first and second centuries.

Roman remains have been found in the area and it seems pretty certain Lanark was a staging post on the road northwards from the forts at Castledykes and Crawford with another fort at Bothwellhaugh – which now lies in Strathclyde Country Park – north of the town.

There have been some assertions that the Romans camped around Castle Hill to the west of the town but in truth we just do not know the extent or the location of any Roman settlement in and around Lanark.

Like most of Scotland, Lanark disappears in the Dark Ages that made up much of the first millennium, but tradition has it that the town grew around some sort of fortification and in 978 it was important enough to host the first ever Scottish Parliament of King Kenneth II, King of Alba, who reigned from 971-995.

The National: Lanark High Street, Lanark (pictured)

The only problem with that assertion is that Lanark was in the Brythonic Kingdom of Strathclyde then, at a time when Alba and Strathclyde were frequently in conflict – indeed, some historians point out that Kenneth II only got his throne because his predecessor was killed by a ruler of Strathclyde named Rhydderch ap Dyfnwal.

Lanark’s name derives from the word for glade or clearing, Lanerc or Llanerch, in the Cumbric dialect of the Brythonic language spoken in the southern half of Scotland at the time.

Scotland’s great modernising king, David I, who reigned from 1124-53, intervened dramatically in the town’s history by building Lanark Castle, a large structure consisting of a wooden palisade around Castle Hill.

It was during his reign that the Lanimer celebrations, now part of the common ridings of communities across southern Scotland were traditionally first held, though the current Lanimer procession and Lanimer Queen crowning only dates from the 1890s.

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David I was intent on importing continental practices into the governance of Scotland and he did so by creating burghs and sheriffs across the land. One of these was Lanark, which he made a royal burgh around 1140, giving the town all sorts of privileges that encouraged trade.

By 1183, Lanark had a school that had received church approval and the town was further royally benefited by the long-reigning King William the Lion, who visited the castle regularly.

Its growing importance as a town was shown when Scottish parliaments were held in Lanark in the last years of the 13th century.

Lanark had also become a sheriffdom and it was one of its sheriffs who sparked the Scottish rebellion against King Edward I of England in 1297. The English invasion of Scotland the previous year had seen Longshanks defeat the Scots army at Dunbar before his forces occupied much of the country.

At this time there was an English garrison at Lanark Castle under the sheriff of the area, William de Hazelrig or Hazelrigg.

In early 1297, William Wallace married a Lanark woman

Marian (or Marion) Braidfute (or Broadfoot) married Wallace in St Kentigern’s Church in the town and the couple are said to have lived in a house near the church.

There is a plaque at the location which states: “This plaque marks the site of the house reputed to be the marital home of Sir William Wallace and Marion Braidfute.”

Thanks to the film Braveheart, the world knows what happened to the hero and his wife. Marion is said to have helped her husband escape from rabble-rousing English soldiers, and Sheriff Hazelrigg either killed her himself or had her executed. Wallace exacted terrible revenge, as we know from the charges that were laid against him by Longshanks’s law officers – he literally chopped the sheriff to pieces, before burning down the soldiers’ quarters.

The National:

That Wallace then gathered a band of followers and rampaged against the English is beyond doubt, even if we have to rely on Blind Harry’s epic poem The Wallace, written 150 years later for the saga.

But there are other accounts to verify what happened in Lanark, most notably the chronicles by Andrew Wyntoun and Sir Thomas Grey, whose father was in the garrison when Wallace attacked, and who barely escaped with his life.

From Lanark, the rebellion spread across Scotland, with Wallace and Sir Andrew Murray, or de Moray, winning the famous victory at Stirling Bridge on September 11, 1297.

So in a very real sense, Lanark was in at the beginning of the Scottish Wars of Independence. The plaque in the town is definite: “It was at Lanark in 1297 that Wallace firstly drew sword to free his native land. He was captured and cruelly executed at Smithfield London on 23rd August, 1305.”

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Although there has been a statue of Wallace at St Nicholas Church since the 19th century, Lanark has only more recently woken up to the possibility that the Wallace connection is worth exploiting and I wish good luck to the local people behind various tourist-attracting schemes.

King Robert the Bruce was another royal with connections to Lanark, according to an article on South Lanarkshire Council’s website entitled Lanark From Kings To Covenanters: “Robert the Bruce, who was made the Sheriff of Lanark in 1303, destroyed the castle after it had been retaken from the English in 1310 as part of his policy to prevent strongholds being used by the enemy.

“The site of the castle was eventually levelled in the middle of the 18th century and is now used as a bowling green.”

The common muir of Lanark, which later became the racecourse, was used as an assembly area for various armies over the years, most notably the gathering place for King Charles II’s army in 1651.

READ MORE: Falkirk: A battleground that became a hive of industry

The Covenanters made Lanark one of their main centres in the latter half of the 17th century and there is a large stone in St Kentigern’s Churchyard to the memory of the local people who were martyred, imprisoned or banished for their adherence to the Covenant.

The Scottish Covenanter Memorials Association states: “Following the Pentland Rising at St John’s Town of Dalry in Galloway on November 13, 1666, the Covenanters decided to march to Edinburgh. They arrived in Lanark on Sunday, November 25, around 1000 in number.

“On Monday, November 26, the Covenanters filled the town centre. The Solemn League and Covenant was renewed. This was the first time this had occurred since it was drawn up in the 1640s.

“Rev John Guthrie, who had been evicted from Tarbolton Church in Ayrshire, stood on the Tolbooth steps and addressed the infantry. At the Townhead, Rev Gabriel Semple preached to the horsemen. Those assembled raised their hands and swore their allegiance. The Covenanters then marched towards Edinburgh, where they were defeated in battle at Rullion Green [near the Pentland Hills], on November 29, 1666.

“On January 12, 1682, the Covenanters marched into Lanark where they published the Lanark Declaration. The leader was Rev James Renwick, and he and 60 men read the declaration from the Cross, which they had defaced with hammers.

“The Declaration was entitled The Act and Apologetic Declaration of the true Presbyterians of the Church of Scotland. In it, they adhered to the declarations of Rutherglen and Sanquhar and ‘repudiated the unconstitutional acts of Charles II’.

“The magistrates of the council were fined 6000 merks for their slackness in apprehending the ‘desperate villains’.”

The National: New Lanark

By 1800, Lanark was noted as a market town with huge cattle sales that brought considerable revenue. Unlike so many other places in central Scotland, Lanark town itself was never ravaged by the Industrial Revolution, and the coming of the railways to the area in the 1850s brought in tourists rather than industrial workers.

Long known as the county town of Lanarkshire, that accolade was based on history rather than the reality, which was that Lanark became dwarfed by Glasgow and its hinterland. Indeed, Glasgow became the formal county town of Lanarkshire in the 1890s.

George Vere Irving (1816-69), a prominent local lawyer and noted antiquarian, wrote in his 1864 book The Upper Ward Of Lanarkshire Described And Delineated a description of Lanark which is quoted on the quite brilliant website the Gazetteer for Scotland: “Though many of the houses in the burgh must occupy the sites of buildings erected at a very early date, the progress of improvement and alteration has left little or nothing to interest the archaeological inquirer into the domestic architecture of our ancestors.

“A local antiquary, following up a house-to-house visitation, may discover some faint traces of earlier work but he will fail to find any building which, in its main features and as a whole, can date prior to the commencement of last century. Many of the houses were till recently covered with thatch, and some instances of this style of roofing still exist.”

New Lanark is simply unique

No such remarks could apply to New Lanark, the extraordinary village of spinning mills and houses just over a mile from Lanark begun by Glasgow banker David Dale in 1785 and turned into a model community by his son-in-law Robert Owen. Beautifully preserved, New Lanark is simply unique and if you have not visited it, I urge you to do so, and in the meantime visit its website.

A World Heritage Site, Unesco says of it: “The creation of the model industrial settlement at New Lanark, in which planning and architecture were integrated with a humane concern on the part of the employers for the well-being of the workers, is a milestone in social and industrial history.

“The moral, social and environmental values which underpinned Robert Owen’s work at New Lanark provided the basis for seminal material and intangible developments that have had lasting influences on society over the past 200 years.”

If you do go to New Lanark, be sure to visit the ancient town of Lanark. It’s worth it.