Clackmannanshire is the smallest county in the British Isles covering just 55 square miles. However small it may be, but the county town Alloa was once Scotland’s premier brewing town having at one time no fewer than nine breweries. It was in the ideal position for brewing, surrounded by barley fields, a constant supply of hard water from the Ochil Hills and within easy reach of coalfields for the boilers.
Not only this, but Alloa was the largest producer of bottles in Britain with easy access to all the markets. George Younger established the first brewery here in 1764 with local boy James McLay starting a family brewery in 1810. In 1870 McLay built the Thistle Brewery which dominated the town for a while. But before you all decamp to Alloa, today there is only one brewery left Williams Brothers who brew Froach Heather Ale from a secret recipe. Nearby is Clackmannan once the county town and a busy port on the River Devon, but when the local river silted up it lost its trade and its role as county town to Alloa.
It is now a very sleepy town but it does have some interest for us to consider as beside the old Tolbooth built by William Monteith in 1592 stands the mysterious ‘Clach mannan’ or ‘Stone of the Sea God Mannan’ which gives the town its name. Who the sea god Mannan is I do not know but the stone stands on a plinth quarried from the same stone as that of the Abbey Craig near Stirling on which now stands the Wallace Monument. However there is another story of how the name came into being and it relates to Robert the Bruce who when resting on the ‘Clach’, he removed his gloves or ‘mannan’ and left them behind when he moved on. Bruce had apparently a hand in building Clachmannan tower beside which stood a large stone mansion which was lived in by the Bruce’s until the end of the 18th. Century. All interesting but to this I can add another tale which concerns Robert Burns who was apparently ‘knighted’ by Mrs. Bruce of Clackmannan a direct descendant of Robert the Bruce.
The lady used Bruce’s massive two handed sword to bestow this honour claiming that she had more right to do this than many others no doubt referring to the ‘unspeakable’ Hanoverians. The lady was in her nineties at the time so it requires some convincing to imagine that she could comfortably wield the two handed sword to such effect without harming Burns. It is amazing what one comes across when searching through historical records. I will continue to do so and will see you next week.