William Ramsay of Barnton & Stirling Racecourse

1 May 2018

Bannnockburn House Links

Between 1787 and 1883, Bannockburn House was owned and occupied by various members of the Ramsay family of Barnton in Edinburgh. In 1787, William Ramsay, an Edinburgh merchant banker who also owned Barnton House in Edinburgh, Sauchie House and the Sauchieburn Estate, bought the house from Mary Paterson, the daughter of Sir Hugh Paterson.

When he died in 1807, his entire estate and the Barony (which came with it) passed to his son, George Ramsay who was also a banker. Sadly, George Ramsay died just three years later, leaving his six-month old son, William Ramsay to inherit his fortune and estates.

Barton Street, Stirling

William Ramsay of Barnton was born in 1809, and still being an infant when his father died, he was widely referred to as “the richest commoner in Scotland”. In 1831, and at the age of 22, following the suggestion of his relative, Thomas Stirling of Airth, he became the Liberal Member of Parliament for Stirlingshire, and later, Midlothian. He was also a prominent and well-respected figure within the town, as it was William Ramsay of Barnton who would later give his name to Barnton Street in Stirling.

stirling racecourse


William Ramsay’s main interest was always horses. He was a keen sportsman and very skilled horseman and during Queen Victoria’s visit to Stirling in 1842, he was entrusted with driving the queen’s carriage safely to the Castle and back, negotiating the notoriously steep bend of The Bow (now Bow Street). During 1830 and 1850, he was Master of the Linlithgow and Stirlingshire Hunt, and he actively promoted the Stirling race course in King’s Park.


For a long time, horse racing had proved a popular sport in Scotland, and Stirling was no exception. Annual horse racing events, such as the Chapmen races, took place in King’s Park prior to, and during, the 19thcentury.

The earlier races tested stamina and strength and were said to have followed the edge of the high ground in the park. Around 1800, the park loch was drained, and in 1805 a raised embankment created to form a flat horse racing circuit. This new race course took a circular route around the park.

The Grandstand

Horseracing in Stirling was at its peak from around 1837. A grandstand was added to the racecourse in 1841 and was situated near the site of the old park quarries, with stables nearby for the horses.


During the first half of the 19thcentury the Stirling Races became very popular annual events with the Stirling Gold Cup, donated by William Ramsay of Barnton, with prize money to the value of one hundred sovereigns, featuring as the main attraction. Other prizes included the Milton Trade Cup paid for by working men at Whins of Milton.

Stirling, the place to be!

People travelled from all over central Scotland by coach, steamer, or train to attend the events. Much of the credit for the popularity of the Stirling Races was due to William Ramsay of Barnton, he saw Stirling becoming “The Doncaster of Scotland”.

On the day before a race meeting, King Street would be full of sideshows, boxing booths and sweetsellers, while on race days betting was in full swing.

Too much trouble!

Leaders of the temperance movement in Stirling, notably Peter Drummond and the Stirling Tract Enterprise, strongly supported by the Stirling Observer raised concerns that these meetings were contributing to drunkenness, gambling, and thieving among the local population. These reported accounts gained local support and in 1854 the last race meeting was held.

For years the grandstand survived, neglected and vandalised, until it burned down in 1872.

Stirling Golf Club

William Ramsay of Barnton died in 1850 and the racecourse and his dream of turning Stirling into “The Doncaster of Scotland” sadly died with him. This area of King’s Park was later developed as Stirling Golf Course.

His estates passed to his son, Charles William Ramsay.


Alan Clater, Bannockburn House History Group (April 2018)