Welcome to Biggar
Biggar is a sizeable town with ancient origins in South Lanarkshire, around 40 miles from both Edinburgh and Glasgow. This advantageous location makes it a great base for exploring southern Scotland. Surrounded by the gentle, occasionally bleak but always beautiful landscape of the Southern Uplands it is ideal walking country. The number of museums, both in and around Biggar, have led some to call it Scotland’s ‘Museum Town’.
The area has been settled since at least Neolithic times. It seems that Scotland’s prehistoric peoples recognised the site’s significance; occupying a prime position between two of Scotland’s most important rivers, the Tweed and the Clyde. In Biggar Common archaeologists came across the largest horde of Neolithic pottery ever unearthed in Scotland.
The Roman period was the next significant epoch in Biggar’s history. Development of a settlement at Biggar was well underway during the reign of Emperor Verspacian. A Roman coin bearing his image has been found in Biggar. There were two major developments during the Roman period. The first was the building of a road, linking the Clyde Valley with the Roman Fort in Musselburgh, near Edinburgh. The road had a revolutionary design using a wooden foundation as a ‘raft’ to support the road through the area’s boggy ground. The current A702 follows the Roman road’s route as it passes through the town. The second development was the construction of a wooden bridge over the Biggar Burn.
Shortly after the withdrawal of the Romans from Britain Christianity emerged as the new force in Scotland. Biggar’s Christian origins date from around this time. There has been a church on the site of Biggar Kirk since at least the 6th century when the first wooden building was erected. The first stone church was built here in 1164, before being reconstructed in 1546 by Malcolm, Lord Fleming. This beautiful and fascinating church lies just to the north of Biggar’s town centre.
Christianity was just one force which put Biggar on the map. The invitation of Norman noble families into Scotland in the 11th and 12th centuries, partly in order to promote the development of Scottish feudalism, helped to change the face of many Scottish towns. In Biggar a typical mote and bailey wooden fort was built as the centrepiece to the town around this time. There is record of the building of a bridge across the burn, presumably on the site of the earlier Roman Bridge. It was likely at this fort on February 23, 1303 that some 8,000 Scots, including William Wallace, gathered, before heading to confront and defeat an invading English army led by Sir John Seagrave at the Battle of Rosslyn.
Slowly but surely Biggar developed over the following centuries as a significant market town. The town’s first school opened in 1608, the Post Office in 1715 and a gasworks in 1836. In the 1970s the preference for natural gas over coal gas led to the closing of Biggar Gasworks, which was then converted into Biggar Gasworks Museum, which is now just one of the several interesting museums in the town. In 1860 the railway arrived, which boosted Biggar’s development further, although the advent of the car meant that it was not missed as much as many had feared when the railway was ultimately closed in 1953.
Biggar and the surrounding area have connections with a number of famous people. Thomas Muir, internationally recognised scientist and mathematician, grew up here in the mid 19th century. The highly influential Scottish poet, Hugh MacDiarmid, lived out his final 27 years in a cottage in Brownsbank, just outside Biggar. The cottage has been converted into a writer’s residence and a museum dedicated to the poet’s life and work. Four miles outside Biggar, in Broughton, is the John Buchan Centre, a museum dedicated to the writer of The 39 Steps who once lived there.
Biggar is now a charming town full of life and character. Its long history, museums, lovely buildings from several eras, great selection of pubs and restaurants mean that there’s probably more to see and do here than in any other similarly sized town in Scotland.