Episode 2 - The National Wallace Monument
Listen to Episode 2 - National Wallace Monument
Interviewer: Grant Stott (GS)
Interviewee: Ken Thomson (KT)
GS: Hello and welcome back to our second installment of Tour Guide Tales, brought to you by VisitScotland. I'm Grant Stott and each week I'll be speaking to different tour guides to hear the eclectic and often incredible rich history of Scotland through their knowledge, stories and experiences. Today I will be speaking to Ken Thomson of the National Wallace Monument. Since 1869, the National Wallace Monument in Stirling has arguably been one of Scotland's most iconic attractions commemorating the legendary Guardian of Scotland, Sir William Wallace. Those that ascend the 246 steps of the spiral staircase, are taken on a journey through the incredible history of the iconic Scot who inspired the movie Braveheart, whilst learning about some other notable Scots along the way, before culminating in stunning open top views across the Stirlingshire countryside. So, let's hear some tour guide tales of the National Wallace Monument with Ken Thomson.
GS: So, Ken, before we get to this magnificent monument, let's find out a little bit about you. What's your background and how did you become the tour guide to the Wallace Monument?
KT: Yes, it's Ken, Ken Thomson. I work as marketing manager with a local independent charity. The charity is called Stirling District Tourism and Stirling District Tourism has had the responsibility of managing and operating the National Wallace Monument as a visitor attraction and they have been doing that since 1995, so just over 25 years now that the charity has been managing the monument and I have been working with them since 2004.
GS: Do you have a background in history or is it a passion of yours?
KT: I don't really, my father was a very passionate Scotsman and he was very proud of his roots, so I guess I have probably taken some of that from him. My mother, being Irish on the other side, she was a very enthusiastic storyteller and a very gifted public speaker so maybe I've inherited something from both of my parents and I very much enjoy communications as what I do. In my other work, I work as a lecturer at The University of Stirling and engaging with students, talking to students and having that teaching role is something I find very fulfilling as well.
GS: Well let's start then, and let's start with the monument itself because it really is quite a remarkable thing, structure, because it's kind of a living and breathing monument. Unlike so many, people can just go and look, this is something you can actually get involved in, you can go in it, you can look around all the different levels. But let's start with the history of the monument, how it came to be. Take us back.
KT: Yes it is, as you say, it's very recognisable, it's one of the best known landmarks in Scotland and indeed it's a very, very distinctive feature on the Stirling landscape. I think it was a visitor a couple of years ago and she recorded in the visitor's book at the monument that the National Wallace Monument is to Stirling is what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris and we thought that was a lovely comparison actually. But yes, it's a 220ft high stone tower and it was built in the Victorian period and it stands on top of the Abbey Craig which is itself a 300ft high rocky outcrop, a crag and tail, a volcanic feature which is a very distinctive landmark itself in the Stirling area. It's not the first structure to have stood on the top of the Abbey Craig. Back in the years 500-700AD, there was an iron aged fort which stood on the Abbey Craig and the only surviving part of that is a crescent shaped bank that you can see running around the back of the monument itself. It's now one of the principle heritage tourism destinations in Stirling, along with Stirling Castle and the Battle of Bannockburn centre, and it welcomes almost 140,000 visitors every year who come there. But it was built in the Victorian period, it was in the 1850s really, that there was a tide which gathered momentum and it was an expression of a national interest to build a monument to William Wallace, and there was a culture in the Victorian period of recognising and commemorating famous individuals and north, south, east and west across the country, there were fountains being erected, there were statues being erected, there were sculpture and public marks and the people of Scotland wanted a memorial or a monument to celebrate William Wallace. And that's how this came to be built in Stirling with a great national meeting taking place back in 1856 at which wonderful speeches were made and the voice of the people of Scotland was expressed that they wanted a national monument to stand to recognise Wallace as he had become recognised himself as a national hero.
GS: Was it always going to be built in Stirling, was there not discussion about other big cities in Scotland?
KT: Absolutely, there was quite a bit of debate because there was a strong body of opinion that said it should be built in Glasgow, there was a strong body of opinion that said it should be built in Edinburgh, as the country's capital city, but eventually there was an overwhelming enthusiasm for building it in Stirling and putting it in a very prominent distinctive place so that it would be seen by everybody, and people would not only see the monument but they would know what it stands for. And indeed at the great public meeting held in 1856, two of the supporters of the building of the monument in Stirling were the provosts of Glasgow and Edinburgh. They were keen to see it constructed in Stirling and they were very enthusiastic advocates of the building of the monument.
GS: And just to perhaps underline just how big a deal this was for Scots and for the people of Scotland at that time, give us an overview of what the day was like when the foundation stone was laid, because before they even began construction, the actual beginning of it was like this massive event?
KT: Yeah, I mean there was a huge gathering as I said in 1856 to actually get the project underway and it was quite a few years then before they actually had a competition to select the designer of the monument and then they had to carry out the initial phases of fundraising, so it wasn't until 1861 that they were actually able to get the project underway and they actually arrived on the Abbey Craig on a day that was specifically chosen for the occasion, 24th June 1861, was the anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn and that was the day in which the foundation stone was laid. But it was a huge event, it was described as one of the greatest gathering events of Scotsmen in living memory, people travelled literally from all across the country, and it's reckoned that a hundred thousand people or so gathered on the Abbey Craig to watch the ceremony. The railway companies of the day, they stopped selling tickets for people to travel to Stirling when they suddenly realised they had sold 32,000 tickets for people to reach Stirling by train that day and they suddenly realised 'how are we going to accommodate, how are we going to carry so many people' and yes thousands of folk gathered on the Abbey Craig for that occasion. And we've discovered more recently that one of the things that took place on that day, was that there was a specially commissioned crystal glass decanter containing a number of artefacts, bones of the realm, a copy of the works of the poet Robert Burns, a copy of the new testament, lots of other documents sealed in this special Edinburgh crystal vase decanter and buried in the foundations when the monument's foundation stone was laid on that day.
GS: Wow that's absolutely incredible, and it's just staggering to think how popular an event this really was back in that time. And you talked about the location of it and you talked about the significance of the location now and give us an idea of just how important this is, in Scotland's landscape, where this monument stands, how important is that?
KT: Well yes, Wallace had come to be recognised and claimed by many as the greatest of the Scots. He had become the leader of the Scots Resistance against the English occupation at the beginning of the Scottish Wars of Independence and most famously he defeated the army of England's King Edward at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 and was subsequently appointed as Guardian of Scotland and it is believed that he might have masterminded his battle victory, his triumph, from the location of the Abbey Craig. It overlooks the scene of the battle, it overlooks the battlefield and the most recent research which has been done by archaeologists and historians, it actually identifies the area where the rugby club now stands in Stirling on the banks of the River Forth as the location where most of the hand to hand fighting would have taken place on the occasion of the Battle of Stirling Bridge and it's quite conceivable that Wallace himself would have come to the Abbey Craig, he would have met there with his co-commander Andrew de Moray and they would have been able to discuss their strategy and plan their tactics for the battle from that vantage point. They would have been able to look down over the fields or the surrounding the River Forth, they would have been able to see where the English army would have been approaching from because one of the historical records tells us that Wallace actually arrived in the Stirling area on the Saturday prior to the battle and the battle actually took place on the Tuesday morning and there was some degree of interaction or communication between the English forces and the Scottish army, it wasn't quite a case of looking at the diaries and comparing notes and saying 'are you free on Tuesday? Would that be a good time to hold the battle? Would that suit you? Oh I have something else on' but there was some level of interaction according to some of the historical records. So Wallace obviously had a battle plan, he was able to mastermind his victory and that's why the Abbey Craig was strategically so important. But it's not just the Battle of Stirling Bridge that is significant in the context of the Abbey Craig because from that vantage point, you're looking down on Stirling itself and of course it's said that in the Middle Ages, whoever controlled Stirling, controlled Scotland, because it was the central crossing point through which everything had to pass, travelling between the north of Scotland and the south of Scotland. Men, horses, armies, produce, whatever your journey might have been - if it involved travelling north to south or south to north, you came through Stirling. So, it was literally the crossing point, it was of critical significance in terms of the geography and also the political situation at that time. And the old name for Stirling means 'a place of strife' so it's not surprising therefore that so many significant battles took place in and around Stirling and from that vantage point, where the monument stands today, you can look down and you can see the sights of so many important battles in Scottish history - the Battle of Cambuskenneth, which was an early encounter between the Scots and the Picts, the Battle of Falkirk, the Battle of Bannockburn, the Battle of Sheriffmuir and of course the Battle of Stirling Bridge itself.
GS: Let's talk about Wallace himself Ken, give us an overview of this man, of this huge figure in Scottish history.
KT: Well, his birth place is sometimes disputed but most likely or the accepted place which most people would recognise as Wallace's birth place is Elderslie, near Paisley and he has been recognised or he has been hailed as one of the greatest Scotsmen of all time. He became the leader of the Scots Resistance against the English Occupation at the start of the Wars of Independence and yes he is recognised for that battle at which he was triumphant at, the Battle of Stirling Bridge. But yes, he had become an enormously significant figure in Scottish history. It's interesting that the movement, the build of the monument, didn't really gather momentum until some 500 years or more after he had been killed and it took people like Burns to write about Wallace and to bring his story into the public domain and to build up interest and to build up knowledge so that people came to recognise, particularly in the Victorian period, just what a significant role he had played in shaping the country.
GS: It is interesting that it's taken so long perhaps for him to get the recognition. How much now do you think we really do know about him?
KT: I think a lot of it is based on the earliest records which to be honest are quite scant and don't always sort of conform with each other, so historians have had to join some of the pieces together to try and join the story that we know of Wallace in the best information we have. Yes, there is some historical facts and there are some other pieces which are supposition which people have tried to bridge the gap in terms of our knowledge and to put together the life story of Wallace, but certainly he was a hugely significant figure and what he stood for was he wanted Scotland to be free from oppression. Scotland was a country without a King, it had gone through a period of turmoil and uncertainty since the death of King Alexander and therefore he wanted some degree of settlement of those outstanding issues. But he didn't want the people of Scotland or the country that he loved to be oppressed. He fought against injustice, he fought against discrimination and he fought against exploitation of the people of Scotland.
GS: We will no doubt talk about the Braveheart connection shortly in the podcast. But Ken, let's get back to the monument, it's obviously been built in the late 1800s, hugely popular attraction, people were learning about Wallace and indeed it's more than just a tribute to Wallace himself isn't it, when you go there you will also learn about Scottish history.
KT: That's right, it's very significant that the custodiers who had responsibility for the monument in it's early days, they designated one of the galleries within the building itself as the Hero Room and they said that 'they had the objective of furnishing the room with the busts of eminent scotchmen, whose genius and whose achievements had given to our native land the fame it enjoyed' and that's interesting because it tells us about their approach to how they wanted people to experience the monument in those early days. And it was Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish philanthropist and industrialist, he wrote to the custodiers and he said 'allow me to contribute the first bust, and let it be that of our national poet who sang a man's a man for a' that' and Stevenson's sculpture of Robert Burns was donated to the monument and it stands there today. It was the first of the sculptures which went into what is now the Hall of Heroes. But there was a theme there because Burns was the first person commemorated in the Hero room, the second person to be commemorated there was King Robert the Bruce and he was regarded as to quote 'the noble champion of our civil freedom and independence' and the third person to be commemorated in the Hall of Heroes was John Knox, the reformer and he was described as the 'champion of our religious freedom'. So, you can see there that theme in the selection of the first busts that were installed in the Hall of Heroes.
GS: The Hall of Heroes sits kind of midway as you make your way up the tower itself, it starts with the Hall of Arms on the first level, tell us about that.
KT: The Hall of Arms was originally designed to hold weaponry and it would have held swords and other weapons from the medieval period however today what the visitor sees when they go in there is firstly, they'll see the stained glass windows which are in the Hall of Arms, depicting the coats of arms of Scotland, of Great Britain, of the Wallace family and of the Royal Burgh of Stirling. But in the Hall of Arms today, we now provide the information which tells people about Wallace himself, who he was, where he came from, sets the scene and provides the context to the situation in Scotland at the end of the 13th century when Wallace rose to prominence and helps people to understand better how significant his contribution was at that time. We also have a short film which we show in that particular gallery called 'Wallace - a hero in the making'.
GS: So as you go up the tower, we mentioned the Hall of Arms which you've just spoken about, then we have the Hall of Heroes, then there's the Royal Chamber before we get to the Crown at the top, tell us what visitors can expect when they get there.
KT: In the Royal Chamber, what we wanted to do when we refurbished the monument in 2019, was to give people a better understanding of the geography and the landscape of the Battle of Stirling Bridge so they're able to look at the viewfinder there and as they look at the video, they're able to see the setting of the monument as it is today but then the film changes and takes them right back to the landscape to see what it would have been like in Wallace's day, what he would have seen standing on the Abbey Craig in 1297, whenever the only prominent buildings in the area were Cambuskenneth Abbey to the south of the monument and over to the west, Stirling Castle, standing on the castle rock. We provide that information so that people have a better understanding of the geography. We also provide information on the weapons that would have been used in Wallace's day to wage warfare and we also provide information on the movements of the armies, where the different forces would have come from, how they would have approached the battle site and how Wallace tactically used the river to his advantage on the occasion of the battle. It is said that Wallace had two wonderful weapons, he had his sword, the famous Wallace sword, and he had the River Forth, and he used them both tactically to his advantage on the occasion of the battle.
GS: And I want to talk to you about the sword in just a moment as well, but just finally, as we are on our sort of ascent, if you like, up the monument, as we leave the Royal Chamber, we get to the Crown and this has been set up beautifully now to take in this view. Give us an idea how popular a point in the monument this is.
KT: Yes, very much so. J.T Rochead, John Thomas Rochead, the architect who designed the monument, he said that he was inspired by the spire of St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh whenever he was designing the Wallace Monument. And if you look at the shape and design of St Giles Cathedral and the monument, the Crown is very, very similar. And it was his idea that it would provide an outlook and he wanted it to provide a place where people could look down on the battle site, but not just the battle site, take in that 360 degree panoramic view and it is, it's one of the things which many, many people talk about, it's the memory that they take away from visiting the monument and it's that lasting impression that they gain whenever they reach the Crown and they come up to the top of the monument. Of course, it's at the top of a 246-step spiral staircase, famously described by one travelled writer in the 1930s as a 'stone corkscrew', which is a perfect description. You ask anyone to describe a corkscrew and that's exactly what the spiral staircase in the monument is like.
GS: On your way up, on your way down, is there one particular spot, one area which stands out for you as a favourite?
KT: I certainly think that the Hall of Heroes is very, very significant and very memorable. In the Hall of Heroes, we have four wonderful stained-glass windows and those four stained-glass windows depict Wallace himself, depict Robert the Bruce and depict two medieval warriors. One is a pike man or a staff man holding his weapon and the other one is an archer with his bow and with his arrows. They are incredibly impressive, particularly if you're in the monument at the right time of day when the light is penetrating into the gallery through one of those windows. But the stories which are told by the characters, by the people who are depicted within the gallery, within the Hall of Heroes, right from the first bust that we talked about, Robert Burns and right up to the last two busts that were installed in 1920.
GS: Now clearly these busts that are in the Hall of Heroes were all put there in a, well let's just say, a very male dominated era in history and you all at the monument decided to do something to approach that and change things.
KT: Yes, in 2017, we launched a project which we called Scotland's Heroines, because yes as the custodiers in those early days had said, they wanted the Hall of Heroes to be 'a room in which they would be furnished with the busts of eminent scotchmen', and yes that reflects something of the culture of the period and the Victorian era and yes all of the 16 busts that were in there at the start, or finished by 1907 when the last bust was installed, were all of men, were all of male characters. We wanted to address that so we launched a project called Scotland's Heroines and initially we asked people coming into the monument 'who are the women who you'd most like to see commemorated here in this room?' and the list of suggestions that we got was absolutely amazing, I think we had a list of over 400 women's names suggested to us. And we then invited a number of people to join a selection panel to help us bring it down to a shorter list. We ended up with 40 or so names, we shortened it again and we then went out to public consultation with the popular names, we asked people coming into the monument to vote and we asked people worldwide to vote via the monument's website and thousands of people literally from all over the world sent in their selection, made their choice and told us who they would most like to see selected as the two women going into the Hall of Heroes.
GS: And it was a very close-knit vote at the very end wasn't it?
KT: It certainly was. We kept the voting open for three months and at the end of March in 2017, we closed it. And there were only 5 votes separating the two women who had received the greatest number of votes. And the selection panel decided unanimously that yes, both of these women should be recognised. Both of them had made an incredible contribution to the life and to the story of Scotland and we subsequently commissioned two Scottish based female artists to prepare and produce the busts of those two women. The two women that were selected were Mary Slessor, the Scottish missionary and Maggie Keswick Jencks, the co-founder of the Maggie's Centres.
GS: And what was the reaction like to those choices?
KT: It was phenomenal because we unveiled the two, the two busts, the two sculptures in the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh in October 2018 and we were delighted to be joined with us on that occasion with members of Maggie Keswick Jencks' own family, and by representatives of The Mary Slessor's Trust of Dundee. Mary Slessor had been born in Aberdeen, in very, very difficult circumstances, in poverty. By the age of 11 she was working in a mill in Dundee and she herself was inspired by the story of David Livingstone, and she wanted to give her life to see what she could do to help people who were worse off than she was, incredible as that might seem. And she volunteered to travel to Africa, and she travelled to the Culebra region of Nigeria and amongst the many things which she achieved when she was there and in her lifetime, was the work that she did to address the problem of infanticide because in Nigeria, and in that particular district at that time when she went there, if a pregnant mother had given birth to twins, that would have been seen as an indication that she was possessed by an evil spirit and one of those babies would have that same evil spirit. But because they couldn't tell which one it was, both children would be taken from the mother and ritually killed and this was something which Mary thought was absolutely dreadful and she made it her life's work to rescue and to save as many children as she possibly could. And what amazed us was when people decided to go onto our website and vote for Mary Slessor, they didn't just do that but they wanted to write to us, they wanted to contact us, they wanted to explain to us why she meant so much to them and time and time again it was somebody writing to us to say 'my grandparents, my great grandparents, well my grandmother was one of twins and it was Mary who rescued her, it was Mary who saved her and I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for her', and it was wonderful to see that response. Similarly, whenever people were voting for Maggie Keswick Jencks to be recognised, they were able to share with us very openly and very honestly their own stories about how much the Maggie's Centres had meant to them at a point when they were facing particularly difficult challenges, either individually or within their families, and patients who had been benefitting from the treatment and from the services and from the support the Maggie's Centres provide, wanted to vote for her as somebody who had the vision to say 'there has to be a better way of caring for people who are going through such a difficult period in their lives'. Particularly people who found themselves in the position that she was in, because when she first had cancer it was treated and she was in remission but then the cancer came back a second time and the second time it was terminal. She faced the problem of being told that terrible news and being left with no support and with nobody to help her and guide her at that particular time, and Maggie famously said that 'no one should lose the joy of living in the fear of dying' and she said 'there has to be a better way' and when people contacted us they explained to us what she had achieved meant to them and why they wanted her to be recognised.
GS: She's absolutely a remarkable woman and fitting of that place in that hall.
KT: Yes, yes and Mary Slessor has been recognised in so many ways. She was the first woman to ever be depicted on a Scottish bank note and we were delighted to be able to continue and to play our part and contribute towards her recognition.
GS: Let's talk about something else that's obviously very popular for all visitors of all ages and that's got to be Wallace's sword, this magnificent weapon that you have on display there. Give us a bit of an idea of the size of this thing first of all?
KT: Well, the sword is almost 6ft in length which means it's basically almost as tall as I am standing up. It's an incredibly striking weapon, it's almost 2 and a quarter inches broad at the top and it is indeed a very, very famous sword, a very famous weapon. The sword was installed in the monument in November 1888, and whenever it was installed in the monument, there was a wonderful speech made by the provost of Stirling and he said 'no true Scotsman could look upon this sword without having a new feeling of gratitude for the patriot who wielded it and who bled and died to secure for his country that liberty which to him was dearer than life'. And that tells us about the passion that was felt at the time whenever the sword was installed in the monument and of course the question which so many people ask us is 'are you sure that's Wallace's sword? Is this actually the weapon that Wallace would have held and would have used?'. And of course it dates back to Wallace's capture on the night of the 5th August 1305. Wallace was betrayed by Sir John Menteith and he was captured at Robroyston on the outskirts of Glasgow and Monteith at that time was the Governor of Dumbarton Castle, and it is said, and in history records, that he carried off as a prize to Dumbarton the sword which Wallace had beneath his head at the time of his capture. Now was that the same sword that was eventually brought to the monument from Dumbarton Castle in 1888? We don't really know. We know that, for example, whenever William Wordsworth, the poet, visited Dumbarton Castle in 1803, he asked what there was there which would be of interest, what he could see, and he was told that 'Wallace's sword is still lying here, you might like to have a look at that'. And indeed, in 1849, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were brought to Dumbarton Castle so that they could see Wallace's sword and apparently Her Majesty was very impressed indeed by the fearsome weapon that she saw on that occasion. And the sword was carried aloft triumphantly in the procession at the laying of the foundation stone in 1861 but the following week, the Glasgow Herald newspaper said that 'of course this is the first time the sword has been seen in public since it was inspected by Her Majesty at Dumbarton Castle, and since then', the newspaper recorded, 'the sword has been broken and it has been seen fit to add a few inches to it'. So, if it's Wallace's sword or not, it's probably a little bit longer maybe than it was at the time whenever he wielded it or held it at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. We know that it is very, very fragile, it has been carbon dated and it has been very carefully analysed and it is held in a secure place at the moment and last year we were able to add new interpretation to tell people the story of the sword and yes it's one of the highlights for many people. That's why we have it on the first floor of the monument because we actually have visitors who come who don't want to climb all the way up but they just want to go as far as the first floor and to see the sword.
GS: Well let's just say it was his, let's not argue with it anymore. But what we can say, and this is interesting, just to recap on what you said earlier on, it is of that period, it is of that time.
KT: Yes, it is typical of the swords which would have been used in medieval warfare and yes, wouldn't have been used on horseback necessarily but it would have been used to disable a rider, bring him down, to dismount him and to carry out an initial attack. And yes it's what it symbolises, it's what it represents, it's what it stands for and it's what it means to the people of Scotland that gives it its true worth and its true value today.
GS: It gives you some sort of idea of how big a man Wallace must have been to be able to wield that above his head.
KT: Yes, absolutely.
GS: Let's talk about, well it's interesting you mentioned earlier on that Wallace's name wasn't really spoken about or celebrated much for 400/500 years after his death until the likes of Burns started writing about him. That obviously had a massive impact in his legacy and his historic relevance to Scotland. Let's now talk about a more recent event and a more recent film, I'm talking about Braveheart. What difference did the Braveheart effect make to Wallace's legacy and indeed to the monument?
KT: Well firstly, in terms of the impact on which it had on Wallace's legacy, that was absolutely massive because it brought the story of Wallace to the attention of millions of people worldwide and you know, very often nowadays we welcome people to the monument, we greet them on arrival, we talk to them and sometimes people come because they have an interest in Wallace, sometimes because they may have seen the film and they know something about history, sometimes people arrive at the monument because it's a visitor attraction, because it's one of the things to see and do in Stirling and they don't maybe have that same knowledge of who he was, but if you ask them the question 'well have you seen the film Braveheart?' then they say 'Ahh' and suddenly the penny drops that that's who it is. But yes, it had an incredible impact, the script that Randall Wallace wrote for that movie, it brought Wallace to the attention of millions of people worldwide and it is still doing so today. It was 25 years ago just last month, 1995, the 18th May, that the film had its first public airing at the Seattle Film Festival and then in September that year, it had its first European showing, at the University of Stirling and everybody was here for that occasion in Stirling on that night in September 1995. And yes the impact which it had on the monument was phenomenal. In 1991, before the film was launched, there were 30,000 visitors to the National Wallace Monument. By 1998, a couple of years after the film, that figure had reached 184,000, it was just amazing. And the incredible thing about film tourism is that people would very often want to go and see where the film was shot, where the film was made, where it had been produced. That wasn't what happened with Braveheart, because if you wanted to see where the film was made, you need to go to a field in the middle of Ireland. It wasn't that people wanted to see the film, they wanted to find out more about this man, they wanted to find out more about this central character, they wanted to find out more about this person William Wallace, what he stood for, what he represented and what he achieved. And they came to Stirling, the place that was synonymous with him and with the story, to discover that for themselves. And to this day, it still is a major source of people wanting to come and visit the monument and yes find out the story of Scotland's Braveheart.
GS: You were telling me the story when we first met a couple of days ago about a couple who came literally halfway round the world after just watching the film, just to see the monument.
KT: That's true. They had seen it at home and it wasn't as if they had just got in their car and driven up the road to Stirling. They had seen it in at home in Singapore and had travelled thousands of miles around the world to come to Stirling,. And yes we hear that time and time again from visitors who have come from California, from visitors who have come from parts of the world where the film is still shown and yes as we were saying this is the 25th anniversary this year and it's still incredibly significant and incredibly important and yes it went on in 1996, at the Academy Awards to win numerous Oscars. It was one of the last major films depicting a battle scene which was actually recorded involving hundreds and hundreds of actors actually on the fields and it was before the days where computer generated imagery and graphics were used at the extent they are now used at recreating battle scenes.
GS: And the film itself, it's often been commented how historically accurate it is. But as we've talked about earlier on in the podcast, to get actual facts with regards to Wallace and his life is tricky enough so does it worry you that there is this debate about how accurate it is or do you just say this is all part of the magic of the film and the magic of Scotland at that time?
KT: Yes, of course there will always be details which are in the film that people will challenge because they conflict with the historical facts as we know them about Wallace, but certainly what you can recognise is the germ of the film, the foundation or the basis of the film was the Wallace story. Randall Wallace came to Scotland. He arrived in Edinburgh Castle and he visited the castle in Edinburgh, he wanted to find out more about the character of Wallace. He then went on to say what has been described as a 'romantic drama inspired by the story of Wallace', so yes we have to accept that perhaps he wasn't setting out to tell the factual or the actual story but he wanted to use it to convey a very powerful message about this person, about this man, and it was inspired by what he knew of Wallace.
GS: Tell us about the monument today and how much it has changed since it first opened.
KT: It has changed significantly and more so than ever last year because 2019 was the 150th anniversary year. The monument was eventually completed in 1869, and was opened to visitors for the first time on the 11th September and that date of course was chosen because it was the anniversary date of the Battle of Stirling Bridge on 11th September 1297. And last year we set out to deliberately completely re-transform the galleries within the monument because we wanted to tell the story of Wallace better than it has ever been told before and we invested over half a million pounds in the interpretation in the exhibitions, in the displays within the galleries, so that people would have a much, much better experience and they would be able to go away better informed, having a stronger understanding of who Wallace was, but they took away an emotional message as well and they were able to understand something about the spirit of William Wallace, his determination, his achievements and his bravery even in facing death when he was executed in 1305.
GS: It is a remarkable monument and it is. As you've just said, it continues to evolve, it continues to grow and there are many reasons to go and visit. Also, you are not shy with regards to well-known figures coming to visit you, you've had a few celebrities come and popping up to have a look through it.
KT: Yes we have, we have welcomed so many wonderful visitors to the monument over the years. We've welcomed pipe bands from New Zealand who have travelled around the world and said there was nowhere they wanted to play more than at the Wallace Monument. In 2014, when the Commonwealth Games were taking place in Glasgow, oh wow, we were amazed by the number of teams, officials, athletes, participants who said 'we've come all this way to Scotland and one of the things we really want to go and do and see in our spare time when we get a chance is, we want to go to Stirling and see The Wallace Monument'. And it's not just on that occasion, we've welcomed so many other people such as singers, Ellie Goulding, from famous tennis players such as Novak Djokovic who came on the recommendation and advice of Andy Murray.
GS: Good old Andy.
KT: To enjoy the experience of visiting the monument and to take away that same inspirational message that so many other people have taken away. But the most important visitors for us are everyone who comes to the monument, whether they know the story of Wallace or even if they've still got to discover it, we make it our mission to try and make sure that we want to welcome everybody the best we can.
GS: It's such a significant piece and you know, we've all driven past it so many times on routes to and from Stirling and beyond but I would also say it would be very important to perhaps underline how worthwhile a trip would be for locals, for people from Scotland who live literally, who do live just a car journey away who could come and take this in when perhaps travel is now, and possibly for the foreseeable future, be slightly tricky to go further afield. Let's perhaps revisit things that are on our doorstep?
KT: It's a story of passion, it's a story of Wallace, but we believe that it was told with pride but we believe that there are lessons for so many people on so many levels when they come to the monument because the story of Wallace didn't die whenever he died in 1305. He stands as a figure today that so many people can relate to and the story of Wallace resonates with people who face oppression and injustice and discrimination all around the world. And indeed every year we welcome visitors from over 100 countries normally to the monument and it's very sad that at the moment whilst we are closed, we are not able to do that in 2020 but we look forward to obviously welcoming visitors back in the future, particularly people, as you say, from the local area and people from around Scotland who want to come and find out more about the story of the monument, the story of all of those wonderful characters depicted in the Hall of Heroes and of course the story of Wallace.
GS: You talked about Stirling feels pride and passion for the monument, just spending this short amount of time with you I can sense your own pride, your own passion for this fabulous bit of Scottish history as well. Clearly you see your role as a tour guide there as a privilege.
KT: Absolutely, it has been a privilege and a pleasure to work with the monument and to welcome people to the building so many times over the few years. Do you know Grant, it's really interesting when we look around the number of companies and organisations in the Stirling area that have adopted the Wallace monument as their symbol, as their logo. Stirling Albion football club, what do they have at the heart of their crest, it's the Wallace Monument. Whenever the University of Stirling carries out its graduation ceremonies at one of its overseas campuses, for example in Singapore, in Singapore they build a backdrop featuring the Wallace Monument so that there in Singapore, you can have your graduation photograph taken with the Wallace Monument in the background as if you were in Stirling. It is a building that means so much to so many people.
GS: Well Ken Thomson, it's been a real pleasure to spend some time in your company today for our podcast and next time I make the trip to Stirling, I'll make sure you're on duty to accompany me up those 246 steps.
KT: We look forward to welcoming you and it would be good to see you there. Thank you, Grant.
GS: You've been listening to another Tour Guide Tales, with me Grant Stott, brought to you by VisitScotland. Be sure to listen next week, when I'll be hearing more incredible tales from another tour guide. If you liked the show, please subscribe and leave a review wherever you're listening.