The Recent Battle of Bannockburn: Controversial Modernism Rehabilitated (Full Article)

Fig.1: The rotunda and hilltop scheme at the opening for the 650th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn in 1964 (Image © Tom Scott / NTS)

On the 23rd and 24th of June 2014, it will be the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, in Stirling. It will also be the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of the Modernist scheme at the commemorative site of the battle (Fig. 1), which is managed by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), a non‐governmental conservation outfit. As if that does not give plenty of reasons to celebrate, the new Battle of Bannockburn visitor centre also finally opened its doors on the 1st of March 2014 after over a decade of planning and fundraising efforts. The new visitor centre development was a partnership between the NTS and Historic Scotland, an agency of the Scottish Government, and was the ultimate result of a lengthy and painstaking process to upgrade the facilities in time for the 700th anniversary.

All of this makes it an opportune time to look back at the history of the commemorative features and visitor facilities at the site, the years of planning and challenges surrounding the site’s redevelopment and the controversies regarding its Modern architecture and hilltop scheme.

 [This article was published in MoMo World Scotland 2014, the annual magazine by Docomomo Scotland. The full MoMo World magazine can be found at the Docomomo Scotland website, as a pdf (18 mb) or in e-reader format.]


The Battle of Bannockburn, a key battle of the Scottish Wars of Independence, was fought on the 23rd and 24th of June 1314. Against overwhelming odds, the Scots celebrated an unlikely victory over the English, led by King Edward II. The battle is now seen as one of the most important events to have taken place on Scottish soil and, in the Scottish psyche, stands for ideas of heroism, freedom, independence and nationalism (Alexander and Cairns, 2002). The Borestone site is by tradition the place were Robert the Bruce positioned himself on the 23rd of June 1314. By the early 20th century, the site was still an open field, with Brock’s Brae Road running through it, along which the Borestone was positioned and where Dumbarton and Stirling Lodges erected a flagpole in 1870 (Fig. 2).

When, in the 1930s, Stirling Council planned to acquire the site for housing, this hallowed ground was saved by a National Committee and came under the management of the NTS, after its founding in 1931. In 1957, a new commemorative stone cairn was built by the Guildry of Stirling. With the 650th anniversary of the battle approaching, the NTS developed an ambitious, Modernist scheme, with new visitor facilities near the roadside, a concrete rotunda at the hilltop, encircling the flagpole and cairn, and nearby a bronze equestrian statue of King Robert the Bruce, by Charles d’Orville Pilkington Jackson (see Fig. 1 above). The Queen unveiled the scheme on the occasion of the 650th anniversary in 1964.

Ambitions and failure of memorial project

Fig 3: In the first 2003 masterplan proposal for the site redevelopment of the Bannockburn Battlefield Memorial Project, the 1960s hilltop scheme and rotunda would be demolished with a new visitor centre and tower placed at the hilltop location. (Image © Allan Murray Architects and John Richards Landscape Architects)

By the 1990s, many were of the opinion that the by then much altered visitor centre was impractical, demanded high maintenance, was of poor 1960s design and was poorly positioned on the site. The grounds had an appearance of a public park and were used as such, and it was argued that the rotunda, an interpretative vehicle to channel the visitors’ views and the site’s most controversial structure, no longer carried out its original function, presented numerous management problems and detracted from the visitor experience. The overall presentation did not show the NTS in a good light and was called “unworthy of the national importance of the site in historic terms, and of those who gave their lives there” (Walker, 2004). Towards the late 1990s, some ideas had already been gathered for a new visitor centre, with funding applications to the Millennium funds campaigns that were running around that time in the United Kingdom. The removal of the rotunda was frequently raised in such planning meetings, but, with no funding materializing, no major developments occurred on the site (Haenraets, 2010).

In 2002, the NTS decided to launch a new major Bannockburn Battlefield Memorial Project to drastically redevelop the site. A competitive tendering process resulted in design proposals for a new state‐of‐the‐art visitor centre with a battle theatre, iconic viewing tower, parkland with interpretative walks and artworks, reflecting the idea of the existing setting at the time of the battle (Kliskey, 2004). Under these proposals, the rotunda, visitor centre, flagpole, cairn and existing landscaping layout would all be removed (Fig. 3). The selected project consultants were Allan Murray Architects with John Richards Landscape Architects. A strong element of the selected concept was that the importance of the wider landscape was recognized as a potential strength of the new redevelopment of the site, with the project consultants and senior conservation Heads of Department at the NTS all advocating for the incorporation of a landscape masterplan as part of the proposals and interpretative emphasis of the project (Haenraets and Bluhm, 2008).

Fig 4: One of the original sketches by Sir Robert Matthew from ca. 1961‐62 for a wooden rotunda, with the position of the statue of King Robert the Bruce, and a small interpretation centre attached to the rotunda (Image © Sir Robert Matthew)

The intention to redevelop the visitor facilities was in general welcomed by the wider public, but the intent to demolish the rotunda raised concerns amongst experts in architectural heritage of the 20th century.

Professor Miles Glendinning confirmed that by coincidence the original sketches by Sir Robert Matthew for the rotunda concept were discovered in 2003 amongst Matthew’s papers in his private archives (Glendinning, 2013) (Fig. 4). These archives were transferred around 2004 to the University of Edinburgh Special Collections. Sir Robert Matthew, co‐founder of the RMJM architectural firm, is seen as one of the most renowned Scottish architects of the modernist era.

The sketches again awakened involved specialists to the fact that Sir Robert Matthew played a key role in the 1960s scheme. In response, Historic Scotland undertook a new investigation into the significance of the 1960s features and decided to ‘fast‐track’ the hilltop features, including the rotunda but excluding the visitor centre, for listing at category A. The listing was seen as positive by key 20th century heritage experts, but comments were that it lists the structures rather than the concept and that a non‐integrated listing of the landscape and the structures potentially goes against the philosophy of the 1960s vision (Haenraets, 2010). Your author was also of the opinion that the listing not yet acknowledged the role of the site within the wider significance of NTS’s ‘Reception by the Roadside’ programme (Haenraets, 2010).

The team of the Bannockburn Battlefield Memorial Project, as a result, had no option but to adapt their redevelopment proposals. A new masterplan proposal was prepared, with the visitor centre repositioned and the rotunda, cairn and flagpole retained (Fig. 5).

There was now a recognition that the rotunda was ‐ within in the context of its time – a good effort to try and connect the site with the wider setting and actual battlefield. The team’s new proposals set out to built on this by enhancing the visitor experience and integrating the rotunda into a more comprehensive experience, rather than making the rotunda and hilltop features the experience. The objective of this new approach was ‘to reengage the whole landscape, to bring the events out of the visitor centre experience into the landscape itself’ (Murray, 2014).

Fig 5: In the adapted 2003 masterplan proposal, after the listing of the hilltop features by Historic Scotland, the redevelopment proposals for the Bannockburn Battlefield Memorial Site now retained the hilltop scheme and rotunda, with the proposed new visitor centre and tower repositioned. (Image © Allan Murray Architects and John Richards Landscape Architects)

Nevertheless, given time restrictions, neither the project team nor the NTS did yet undertake further in‐depth conservation surveys and research on the significance of these features, before the major funding applications went ahead. Ultimately, the Bannockburn Battlefield Memorial Project did ground to a halt, because of a failure to get the needed financial funding for the project.

An evaluation of the project and proposals was required. Several obvious factors appeared to have contributed to the failure of the project, including a funding‐led approach, a poor understanding of the NTS’s past development of the site, project management and planning shortcomings and the simultaneous (successful) fundraising for the NTS’s Culloden Battlefield Project. The NTS also had opted for an interpretation‐led redevelopment, as the property is seen as a key educational resource that attracts about 16,000 school children annually. Nevertheless, the NTS’s project managers requested design teams to put design proposals forward under a competitive tendering process. This might have encouraged designs that favoured more landmark approaches, instead of resulting in more subtle proposals. As a result, it appeared that, instead of being landscape‐ and interpretation‐driven, the project had become strongly design‐ and funding‐driven (Haenraets, 2010). It also appeared that the NTS lost control over budgets and individual aspects of the project, by appointing a consultant team, rather than relying more strongly on internal expertise and specialist advice and keeping stronger management control over external consultants (Haenraets, 2010).

Understanding 20th century development

The halting of the project provided an opportunity for the NTS to study the history and evolution of the visitor facilities on the site and the significance of the Modernist scheme. However, no dedicated funding was allocated to this by the NTS, and, as a result, no major internal studies materialised. Nevertheless, a survey and historical research into the NTS’s involvements at the site since the 1930s was developed by your author as part of a doctoral research (Haenraets and Bluhm, 2008).

This research investigated Bannockburn as one of the case studies for a study into the conservation of designed landscapes of the recent past (Haenraets, 2010). This survey work was assisted by student and volunteer research and studied the 20th century design philosophy of the site, its evolution and layout. (Haenraets and Bluhm, 2008). The lack of a proper understanding of the 20th century layers of the site was seen as one of the fundamental shortcoming of the Bannockburn Battlefield Memorial Project by your author (Haenraets, 2010).

From the survey, it became clear that the stone cairn was erected in 1957, after heated debates about proposals by Charles d’Orville Pilkington Jackson and William Kininmonth for a battle hall, recreation park with children’s playground, cafeteria, tower viewpoint, diorama and stone statue of Robert the Bruce (NTS, 1955). The more modest cairn was felt to be more appropriate, and local residents had strongly protested against a tower on the site (Haenraets and Bluhm, 2008).

Fig 6: Drawing from ca. 1961 of the Cyclorama centre at the Battle of Gettysburg, PA, USA, by Richard Neutra and Robert Alexander (Image © National Park Service, USA)

The research also investigated the 1960s scheme and concluded that it was part of the NTS’s newly launched ‘Chain‐Link’ programme of ‘Road Halts’, which would provide ‘History on the Spot’ across Scotland (Lord Wemyss, 1962). This was at a time when tourist development plans and ‘Reception by the Roadside’ were being encouraged across Scotland (Lord Wemyss, 1962). This confirmed that the Bannockburn scheme was part of a daring concept and innovative approach towards visitor centres – in many ways much like the Mission 66 campaign by the National Park Service in the United States. Concepts were often developed through collaboration between renowned artists, architects and landscape designers. The Mission 66 programme also resulted in many new visitor centres, with involvements by architects such as Richard Neutra, who designed the Cyclorama Building at the Gettysburg Battlefield(Fig. 6) (Madrid French, 2004).

Within this philosophy, Bannockburn would become the gateway for visitors to Scotland and the sites of the NTS (Stormonth Darling, 1960). Towards the 1960s, Pilkington Jackson and Kininmonth again put their ideas forward for new visitor facilities, a 50 feet tall viewing tower and the Bruce statue (Lord Elgin, 1960), but, in a controversial move, the NTS appointed Professor Sir Robert Matthew as project architect, with Eric Stevenson as assistant. Pilkington Jackson was only asked to sculpt the equestrian statue of the Bruce, while Kininmonth only got to design the statue’s granite pedestal. The partnership between Matthew and Pilkington Jackson, as set up by the NTS, never seemed to have been an amicable one (Haenraets and Bluhm, 2008).

Fig 7: A sketch illustration by Eric Stevenson from 1962 of the proposed hilltop scheme, which still followed Matthews sketch ideas with a small interpretation centre attached to the rotunda. The visitor centre near the roadside also illustrates the piazza idea as a starting point of the main axis to the Hilltop scheme. Plantations frame the main vistas from the rotunda. (Image © Stevenson / NTS)

In Matthew’s concept for a hilltop scheme and roadside facilities, the visitors would arrive via a covered way at an open piazza, with a visitor centre, restaurant, hotel, shop and petrol station. This adding up to possibly Scotland’s first service halt (Fig. 7). From the piazza, a landscaped walk with banks of trees and shrubs would lead up to the rotunda. Planting had to screen views and create a feeling of informality with tree clumps, bushes and mown and scythed grass. Renowned landscape architect Frank Clark provided planting advice (Stormonth Darling, 1962). A new technique of transplanting large semi‐mature trees was used for a first time in Scotland during the planting project.

There are also suggestions that Matthew’s inspiration for the concept and rotunda came from Gunnar Asplund’s Woodland Cemetery in Stockholm, much admired and visited by Matthew. The original visitor centre building was designed by Ninian Johnston (Fig. 8) and, only in a later phase, extended by the NTS, using the architectural services of Wheeler and Sproson (Haenraets and Bluhm, 2008).

Another point of interest is that the rotunda at Bannockburn, the Cyclorama at Gettysburg and the Diorama at Waterloo, in Belgium, are all circular, interpretative structures and devices, each at a significant battlefield. For instance, the rotunda, initially, had interpretative panels against its walls, and the gaps provided real landscape views, like real interpretative windows that function like a ‘diorama’ or ‘cyclorama’. The significance of such devices, their variations and how designs and designers influenced each other are a subject area which still demands further research. It is for instance documented that Pilkington Jackson and Kininmonth had visited Waterloo, when they proposed their 1950s Bannockburn plans for a battle hall, tower viewpoint, diorama and stone statue of Robert the Bruce (NTS, 1955).

Fig 8: The original visitor centre by Ninian Johnson in ca. 1977, before the later 1980s extension was built (Image © NTS)

Matthew’s original design for a timber rotunda (see Fig. 4 above) suggested a temporary stockade, as might have existed here during the battle for the ‘wheeling action’ by which the Bruce brought his troops out of concealment (NTS, 1962).

Matthew’s original design for a timber rotunda (see Fig. 4 above) suggested a temporary stockade, as might have existed here during the battle for the ‘wheeling action’ by which the Bruce brought his troops out of concealment. (NTS, 1962) The research into the development of the project also con‐ firmed that Matthew resigned from the project, with Eric Stevenson taking over as lead architect. (Haenraets and Bluhm, 2008) Stevenson modified the designs of the rotunda to reduce costs, and, as a result, concrete, a timber ring‐beam and display panels were used (Fig. 9).

The new Battle of Bannockburn Project

Fig 9: The concrete rotunda in 1964 with interpretation displays, light gravel surfaces and the wooden ring-beam, at the unveiling at the 650th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn (Image © MacPherson / NTS)

By 2008‐2009, the NTS decided that a new attempt for the redevelopment of the Bannockburn site should be launched, given the rapidly approaching year of 2014, with the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannock‐ burn. Scotland’s ruling political party was at that time the Scottish National Party. They also looked favourable at the completion of a redevelopment project for the site by 2014, given the obvious iconic, Scottish, nationalistic symbolism of Bannockburn. For Scotland, 2014 is set to become a year full of key initiatives, closely linked to its identity and nationalism. For instance, 2014 will be the second Year of Homecoming celebration in Scotland; the Commonwealth Games will be hosted in Glasgow from 23rd July to 3rd August; and, most significantly, the Scottish independence referendum will take place on 18th September 2014. The opening of new facilities at Bannockburn in 2014, therefore, fitted well in many (political) stakeholders’ agendas, which is often the key factor in successful fundraising for projects of this scale and subject.

In light of this, it was no surprise that Historic Scotland, as a government agency, was instructed to establish a collaborative partnership with the NTS to successfully complete the new Bannockburn redevelopment project. This provided the needed impetus for the NTS to finally be in a position to move again forward with the project. The Heritage Lottery Fund also agreed to part‐fund the new project with about £3.69m, while Historic Scotland committed £5m, bringing the total budget of the redevelopment to about £10m (Ferguson, 2011). The aim was that a new visitor experience will offer a cutting‐edge, immersive, digital experience and will re‐establish Bannockburn as a key educational resource, culturally important place in Scotland and world‐class tourist destination.

Since 2009, the new development plans were elaborated, while taking into account lessons learned from the previous, unsuccessful projects and some of the findings of the survey on the history of the development by the NTS of site in the 20th century (Haenraets and Bluhm, 2008). For instance, the new project suggested the retention, repair and incorporation of the 1960s hilltop features in the new scheme. The new Battle of Bannockburn visitor centre was designed by the Edinburgh‐based, architectural firm Reiach & Hall and was built near the car park and roadside, with the existing centre being demolished.

Fig 10: A site model from 2011 of the architectural proposals for the Battle of Bannockburn site, with the new visitor centre near the roadside and car park (Image © Reiach & Hall)

Ian White Associates was the appointed landscape architect firm. The landscape plan respects the 1960s axis from the visitor centre to the rotunda (Fig. 10), while the new visitor centre echoes the 1960s piazza concept, as seen in the original concept (see Fig. 7 above). In 2013, the rotunda was repaired and adorned with a new timber ring‐beam, which incorporated a new poem that was selected through public voting. The bronze statue of King Robert the Bruce also received conservation works, and the flagpole has been repaired (see article in the 2013 issue of MoMo World Scotland). The new Battle of Bannockburn visitor centre finally opened its doors on the 1st of March 2014.

Of interest is that, in the meantime, the National Park Service in the United States also redeveloped visitor facilities at the Battle of Gettysburg site and announced plans to demolish Richard Neutra’s Cyclorama Building (see Fig. 6 above), even though it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a building of exceptional importance (Madrid French, 2004). Many similarities in the contro‐ versies over protecting key 20th century features can be found between Bannockburn and Gettysburg. At Gettysburg, the proposals resulted in an outcry of key conservation organisations and the wider public, including by the Recent Past Preservation Network, Mission66, ReCyclorama (Madrid French, 2004) and the Neutra Institute for Survival Through Design (Haenraets, 2010). The Cyclorama Building was even included in the 2006 Watch List of the World Monuments Fund (WMF) of the hundred most endangered sites in the world. (WMF, 2006) All campaigns were however fruitless, as the Cyclorama Building, ultimately, was demolished in March 2013. This makes the successful protection and reinterpretation of the rotunda at Bannockburn possibly even more remarkable.

End note

Fig. 11: The rotunda and statue of King Robert the Bruce in 2006 (Image © Haenraets)

Various factors, such as an antipathy towards architecture and landscape architecture of the Modernist period, a funding‐driven approach, the poor understanding of the site’s evolution, project management ignorance, combined with a process of maintenance decline, all contributed to shortcomings in the unsatisfactory redevelopment proposals of the initial Bannockburn Battlefield Memorial Project. The new research into the 20th century development of the site showed that there was much more to the Modernist concept than initially appreciated, and the listing of the features meant that more attention was being paid to their protection. In addition, given that the new project had from the start a very tight and restricted budget, more modest proposals had to be developed. Positive was that the new Battle of Bannockburn project incorporated from the start the hilltop features and 1960s rotunda into the masterplan. Nevertheless, while the completed project achieved many objectives, a feeling remains that the project did much the same as before, by replacing a building that replaced the existing one and retaining a group of distant monuments. In doing so the project appears to have missed out on an opportunity to make greater use of the landscape to enhance the overall visitor centre experience and bring events out into the landscape, while creating a stronger connection of the commemorative site with the actual battlefield – as was suggested as part of the proposals for the initial memorial project.

Fig. 12: The unveiling of the Statue of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, and the Rotunda, in 1964 by the Queen, at the 650th Anniversary of the Battle (Image © NTS)

As a general comment, it should be noted that while a Conservation Management Plan has been completed by the NTS, errors of understanding of the historic evolution continue to appear occasionally in documentation, particularly in the correct acknowledgement of designers and the attribution of work to them. Most importantly, historical designers, including Sir Robert Matthew, Eric Stevenson, Charles d’Orville Pilkington Jackson, William Kininmonth, Frank Clark, Eric Robson (NTS’s Head of Gardens at that time), Ninian Johnston and Wheeler & Sproson, all made significant contributions to the 20th century scheme that we have inherited.

The retention of the hilltop scheme and repair of the rotunda now illustrates how valuable Modernist architecture and landscape schemes, which for years had been poorly maintained and as such became controversial points of discussion, can remain significant features at important heritage sites. The case study shows that to achieve this, it is crucial that the involved experts and decision makers allow international conservation methodologies to be implemented for not only the heritage of the past but also of the recent past.

Text by Jan Haenraets

Jan Haenraets is a Director of Atelier Anonymous Landscapes Inc., Vancouver, BC, Canada. From 2003 to 2009, he was Head of Landscapes at the National Trust for Scotland. He is a member of Docomomo Scotland and the Docomomo International Scientific Committee on Urbanism and Landscapes of Docomomo International.

A summary of this article was also presented at the annual conference of Docomomo Korea, held at the University of Seoul, South Korea, on 30th November 2013, under the title Controversial Modernism: Reinstating and Safeguarding Architectural and Landscape Modernism at the Battle of Bannockburn Memorial Site.


Alexander, D. & Cairns, V., 2002. Bannockburn property statement (20022005). Edinburgh, UK: NTS.

Ferguson, B., 2011. Lottery boost for Bannockburn experience. The Scotsman, 25 Jul.

Glendinning, M., 2013. [pers. comm., dated 22 Nov.]

Haenraets, J., 2010. Identifying key problems regarding the conservation of designed landscapes: Landscapes of the recent past. Unpublished Ph. D. thesis. Leicester, UK: De Montfort University.

Haenraets, J. & Bluhm, M., 2008. Bannockburn Battle field Memorial Site: The development of Bannockburn since 1930 by the National Trust for Scotland. Unpublished landscape survey report. Edinburgh, UK: NTS.

Kliskey, T., 2004. Project execution plan. Unpublished paper. Glasgow, UK: Turner & Townsend Project Management.

Lord Elgin, 1960. Meeting of the Bannockburn Field Committee, 15 July 1960. Unpubl. Edinburgh, UK: NTS.

Lord Wemyss, 1962. The continuing purpose. in: NTS, 1962. NTS Year Book 1962. Edinburgh, UK: NTS. pp.7‐13.

Madrid French, C., 2012. Save the Cyclorama! Designed by Richard Neutra and Robert Alexander in 1961 at Gettysburg, PA. [online]. Available at:

Murray, A., 2014. [pers. comm., dated 01 Nov.]

NTS, 1955. Summary of meeting held on 28 July 1955. Unpublished paper. Edinburgh, UK: NTS.

NTS, 1962. Bannockburn: Philosophy Proposal: NTS Press Note. Unpublished paper. Edinburgh, UK: NTS.

Stormonth Darling, J., 1960. Special note to members of the Executive Committee on Bannockburn, 7 October 1960. Unpublished paper. Edinburgh, UK: NTS.

Stormonth Darling, J., 1962. Bannockburn development: Note of Meeting held on 28 February 1962. Unpublished paper. Edinburgh, UK: NTS.

Walker, D., 2004. Bannockburn: Memorandum to minutes of the Buildings Committee Meeting on 22nd April 2004. Unpublished paper. Edinburgh: UK: NTS.

WMF, 2006. 2006 World Monuments Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites. New York, NY, USA: WMF.


Useful Links and Initiatives

The Battle of Bannockburn, The National Trust for Scotland

The Battle of Bannockburn New Visitor Centre Project, The National Trust for Scotland

Mission 66 Visitor Centers, the History of a Building Site, by Sarah Allaback, National Park Service, US

Mission 66, Modernism and the National Park Dilemma, by Ethan Carr, US

Mission 66, Modern Architecture in the National Park Service, US

DOCOMOMO International, International Committee for documentation and conservation of buildings, sites and neighbourhoods of the modern movement

DOCOMOMO ISC/U+L, International Specialist Committee on Urbanism and Landscape


Landscapes of the Recent Future: Preserving the 20th Century Landscape Design Legacy, DOCOMOMO ISC/U+L Conference proceedings, April 2011

Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative, The Getty Conservation Institute, US

ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on 20th Century Heritage

The Cultural Landscape Foundation, US

English Heritage, 20th Century Listing, UK

The Recent Past Preservation Network, US

The Twentieth Century Society, UK

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.