Nostalgia: Falkirk’s refurbished fountain is a fitting tribute to Sir John de Graeme

Work has been completed to repair the damaged memorial fountain

Friday, 28th August 2020, 4:45 pm
The newly refurbished fountain
The newly refurbished fountain

If you have been anywhere near Victoria Park recently you will have noticed the brilliant refurbishment of the John de Graeme fountain following the damage suffered a year or so ago.

Thanks to the combined efforts of the Friends of Sir John de Graeme, Falkirk Council and the skilled men who designed and completed the work, the memorial is once again worthy of the man it commemorates.

Sir John was, of course, William Wallace’s right-hand man and fell by the great man’s side along with thousands of other Scots at the battle of Falkirk on July 22, 1298. The fountain was the gift of Falkirk born philanthropist Robert Dollar in 1912 and stands where people once believed the battle was fought and Sir John died.

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A 19th century likeness of Sir John de Graeme

He was a true local hero who came from Dundaff in the Carron Valley west of Denny where you can still see the scattered stones of his ruined castle.

Tradition tells us that Wallace carried Sir John’s body to his grave in the Old Parish Church yard (now Trinity Church) though it seems much more likely that he was well away from the town by then.

Some time later a stone in the form of a recumbent figure was placed on the grave and over the centuries, as this deteriorated, new flat slabs with inscriptions were put in place each a few inches above the other.

The last of these was paid for by William Graham of Airth in 1773 just a few years before Robert Burns passed by: “This morning I knelt at the tomb of Sir John the Graham, gallant friend of the immortal Wallace”.

His tomb at Trinity Church, Falkirk

The main inscription in Latin calls Sir John ‘‘fidus Achates’’, that is the faithful Achates, a reference to the man who stood by Trojan hero Aeneas in Greek mythology and whose name became a watchword for loyalty and steadfastness.

In 1860 the Sir John de Graeme Lodge of Oddfellows, whose building in Graham’s Road is now Megazone, launched a public appeal which led to the erection of a handsome wrought iron enclosure and nine years later they decided to place a replica of Sir John’s sword on the top of the tomb.

It was known that the Auchterarder Masonic Lodge possessed what was said to be the original and the members agreed that it could be brought to Falkirk so that a copy in bronze could be made by Falkirk Iron Company.

However, fearing that it might be damaged, the lodge sent a messenger to protect the sword until it was ready to come home.

He was quite a fearsome looking character so the old blade was probably safe enough in his care. The replica was mounted on the tomb in 1869.

In the early 1950s it lost its handle and point and when I first laid eyes on it in not long after there was only a blade held between the two mounts.

In 1998, the 700th anniversary of the battle, a new copy was made and this was unveiled by the Duke of Montrose the following year. Alas it was not too many weeks before it was wrenched from the tomb and later abandoned somewhere in the town. It was badly damaged and though everyone was anxious to see it back in place there was always the fear that the same thing would happen.

Time passed and the idea faded into the background until the restoration of the historic churchyard a few years ago when a new replica was commissioned.

Now, along with the cairn in Callendar Park and the restored fountain in Victoria Park, we have group of attractive places where our visitors as well as locals can recall the stirring events of seven centuries ago.