THE CLEOPATRA NEEDLE
By J.J. McKay
Frankly listeners will probably be astonished to find this figuring in this series, but it concerns the small triangular square we know as Cleopatra Gardens in Keir Street. This is neither the time nor place to go into full particulars regarding it. I have already given these details in a chapter I wrote in 1947 and published in the “Bridge of Allan Gazette.”
Originally this ground was an open space of waste ground without hedges or fences, and away back – before my time – the village lads used to play cricket, and it was here where a travelling circus gave performances. It was not till 1897 Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee that the Town Council took the necessary steps to have the place fenced and generally tidied up. That occasion of course was a “Red Letter Day” in Bridge of Allan.
How these gardens derived this name however is an interesting story. I am only giving a brief summary regarding it here. This obelisk had been presented to the British Government by Mehmet Ali in recognition of the services rendered to Egypt by Lord Nelson and Sir Ralph Abercromby of Airthrey, and though reminded of it several times the Government made no attempt to remove it. The ground on which it lay at Alexandria was sold to a Greek, who threatened to break up the monument if it was not removed. At this juncture Sir James E. Alexander of Westerton journeyed to Egypt in 1867 and arranged for the obelisk to remain until arrangements could be made for its transmission to Britain.
The British Government could render no assistance. Sir James discussed the whole circumstances with his friend Professor Erasmus Wilson F.R.S. who generously offered to pay the necessary cost – £10,000. A Mr John Dixon, C.E. was next consulted, and his plan of an iron cylinder was adopted. The encasing having been finished and fitted with a cabin, bridge and rudder, the craft named the “Cleopatra” set sail from Alexandria in tow with the S.S. OLGA of the Johnston Line in September 1877. Owing to a violent storm it had to be cut adrift in the Bay of Biscay, but 60 hours later was picked up by a passing steamer and ultimately reached the Thames “to be an object of great interest and a record of martial achievement.”
For all his labours in this cause Sir James received no pecuniary reward from the Government. But for the initiative of Sir James it would never have been brought even to London. It was his intention I understand that the “needle” was to be shipped to Alloa to be placed on this site. It seems that stress of circumstances ruled otherwise. Naturally the difficulties encountered both before and after embarkation were innumerable. Even to get it successfully transmitted to London was a miracle.
Had Sir James’s kindly and considerate intentions been fulfilled what a combination of attractions Bridge of Allan would have had with Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument just near by, and the Cleopatra Needle in Cleopatra Gardens! The latter would have added considerably to the attractions of this district.