Plans for Larbert's James Bruce monument to be restored

The campaign to restore a “nationally significant” monument of a Larbert-born adventurer and explorer is slowly gaining momentum.

By Kirsty Paterson
Tuesday, 9th November 2021, 10:17 am
The monument is in need of restoration.
The monument is in need of restoration.

Last year, the Provost of Falkirk, Billy Buchanan, was dismayed to hear that a cast-iron obelisk marking the life of James Bruce of Kinnaird – a descendant of the most famous King of Scots – was sitting rusting in a car park.

The monument in Larbert – made by the renowned Carron Iron Works – is a nationally significant treasure in its own right, a reminder of the craftsmanship and ingenuity that once led the world in the industrial revolution.

It was commissioned by James Bruce himself on the death of his wife Mary in 1785 and was such a triumph that the poet Robert Burns asked to see it when he visited the area.

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And yet the Bruce Obelisk now sits separate from the family tomb in the churchyard of Larbert Old Parish Church, left in the car park after a previous restoration attempt.

Like many before him, when he heard the story, Provost Buchanan was captivated by Bruce and his adventures, which are worthy of any novel.

Immensely tall, Bruce spoke 13 languages and charmed his way behind closed borders into Ethiopia (then Abyssinia).

He became a courtier to an Ethiopian emperor, lover of a princess and was thought to be the first European to make the difficult and dangerous journey to the source of the Blue Nile.

Falkirk’s archaeologist Geoff Bailey also thinks he should be celebrated for bringing to the UK three copies of the Book of Enoch – a priceless text related to the bible and held in the Bodleian Library – which but for Bruce would have been lost to the world forever.

In fact, the laird’s adventures were so astonishing that fashionable society in 18th century London refused to believe them – and it is only in recent years that his achievements have come to be recognised.

Initially, the Provost offered to pay for the obelisk’s restoration, but after consulting experts, he realised that the task was much greater than he had imagined – and the costs will be significant.

So he was delighted that Falkirk Council is developing a project to conserve, repair and re-locate the obelisk.

The overall aim of the project is to reinstate The Bruce Obelisk in its original location, atop the family tomb within the churchyard of Larbert Old Parish Church, following professional repair and restoration.

And the historical venture will involve some young people from the community.

A council spokesperson said: “We are developing this project in partnership with other organisations, including Falkirk Made Friends, a local heritage group and pupils from Larbert High School, to research and develop interpretation to help tell James Bruce’s story.

“Pupils from the Film & Media department will play a key role in documenting this project.”

“This project is at an early inception stage and will be informed by a detailed condition survey and cost schedule.

“At this stage, the project programme and funding for this project is not known.”