WHAT is a pint? At one time this was an important question as it varied throughout the country.

In Stirling, the standard pint measure, being over 500 years old, sits in the Smith Art Gallery and Museum, where it has been held since 1897.

By an Act of the Scottish Parliament in 1457, during the reign of James II, various burghs in Scotland were appointed to keep the standard weights and measures and it was up to them to issue duplicates to the burghs when necessary.

At the time, Edinburgh was the principal market for cloth and was assigned the Ell wand. Perth was the principal market for yarn and assigned the reel, with Lanark, the chief wool market, assigned the stone. Linlithgow traded in grain and had the firlot and half firlot, while Stirling, which was especially famous for distilled and fermented drinks, was responsible for the pint.

Three identical jugs were made and sent to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, and Perth, each one holding the equivalent of three imperial pints.

However, during research carried out by staff at the National Museum of Scotland the Stirling jug held at the Smith has been dated to 1511, when it was made at Edinburgh Castle by Robert Borthwick, the king’s master gun-maker whose main role was to cast canon.

It is made of brass and is in the form of a hollow truncated cone. It is six inches (around 15cm) deep and just over four inches (approx.10cm) in diameter at the mouth, but just over five inches (approx. 12.5cm) at the bottom. It weighs 14 pounds 10 ounces (6.65kg).

The handle is fixed with two brass nails and the whole thing has the appearance in keeping with the period.

On the front near the mouth in relief, there is a shield with the lion rampant, and near the bottom is another shield.

Some believed the figure on the second shield, which is considerably faded, was a wolf, possibly reference to the burgh arms, especially due to the letter S being present, perhaps signifying Stirling.

However, others believed it was the She-Wolf with twin infant pups and bears reference to the Roman system of weights and measures. Others still believed it may have been the infant Jesus.

Within the Stirling burgh records, on 19th October 1599, Robert Robertson, a peuterer, was given the order by the council to make all the stoups, agreeing to the measure of the jugs, and to stamp them with the town’s stamp. He was to present the stamp to the council annually.

BY AN ACT OF PARLIAMENT passed in 1618 it was decreed the wheat and pease firlot was to contain 21 ¼ pints, while bere barley and oat firlot was 31 pints, of the Stirling jug measurement.

In connection with the statute the jug was taken to Edinburgh and on January 17, 1618, the records show the stoup or jug was to be sent to the appointed commissioners in order to make the weights and measures conform, and on the 19th the jug was to be sent to Edinburgh with Dougal Galloway to 'John Shearer, bailie, being presently there, to the effect he may produce the same before the said commissioners’.

On May 4, 1618 John Shearer, James Forrester, both bailies, and John Williamson, a clerk, were to write to Edinburgh the next council day ‘to deal for one warrant of the jug to be dispersed throughout the whole burgh as Linlithgow has done for the firlot’.

Following the adjustment of the weights and measures, sets of standard liquid measures were supplied by the Stirling municipal authorities to the several free burghs throughout Scotland.

The question of Stirling to have the right to hold and issue the standard liquid measure came about the time of the union in 1707 and steps were taken to prove the town’s authority on its claims.

On November 1, 1707, the town asserted its rights with regards to the jug, as well as the Scots pint. The following year a reissue of standard measures was made on July 24, 1708.

In 1750, inquiries got underway in Stirling as the jug went missing. The Rev Alexander Bryce of Edinburgh had come to see it, then held by the council, but when the magistrates showed it to him, he concluded it could not be the original. Searches got underway immediately.

Two years later it was finally found by mere chance amongst a heap of timber in an attic in Broad Street.

The man who had it, Mr Urquhart, had been testing it as he was a coppersmith. He had tossed it under a heap of other goods he had not managed to sell and had simply forgotten about it.

Today, the jug rarely leaves The Smith Art Gallery and Museum, where it is on public display. However, in days gone by it was often used at civic functions such as the laying of the foundation stone of the Wallace Monument on Monday June 24, 1861, when it was carried by the Guildry Officer to Abbey Craig.