William Stirling was the principal member of a family of builders and architects. The bulk of his work consisted of stables, offices, farm houses and country houses. His most important commission was the Royal Exchange which was finished in 1844.
He was born at Dunblane on 15 October 1772, the eldest son of James Stirling, wright and cabinetmaker, who came of a long-established Dunblane merchant family which may have had landed connections. He commenced practice as an architect builder as his father's partner c.1798, the firm then becoming James Stirling & Son, although William Stirling I practised solely under his own name from the early years of the nineteenth century. On 4 December 1803 at Kirkintilloch he married Jean Erskine, daughter of David Erskine, WS of Dundas & Wilson, who had died in 1791; her maternal grandmother was Mrs Graham of Airth, who was a Stirling of Ardoch. This brought family links with other branches of the Erskine, Stirling and Graham families, and with the related Masterton family, resulting in him gaining the architectural business of the Linlathen, Airth, Gartmore, Ardoch, Braco, Gogar and Strowan estates in addition to those of Kippendavie, Kippenross, Tillicoultry, Airthrey, Tullibody, Dunira and Cardross.
From about 1807 Stirling's practice had intermittent links with David Hamilton's. This appears to have originated at Airthrey where Stirling was replaced by Hamilton as architect but retained as contractor. Since both the calligraphy and the style of Stirling drawings becomes identical to that of the Hamilton office from about 1816, it is probable that Stirling's 'chief assistant and superintendent', his cousin William Stirling II (born c.1789), who had served his articles with him, was sent to Hamilton's office to gain experience which would bring the firm more up-to-date and designed most of the firm's work thereafter. Airth Parish Church, where they competed against Hamilton, seems to have been William II's first major design, and he appears to have done most of the designing from at least 1818, although on at least one occasion, at Lecropt, Hamilton and the Stirlings were joint architects.
From 1806 onwards Stirling began buying land and property around Dunblane and out of some eleven purchases created the small estate of Holmehill on which in 1826 he erected a fine Tudor mansionhouse, very much in the Hamilton idiom. He died on 5 February 1838 and was buried in Dunblane Cathedral Churchyard alongside his younger brother Robert who had returned from Jamaica in 1819 and had died on 27 January 1832. He probably had some part in the firm, perhaps more in an administrative capacity than an architectural one.
Stirling left a very substantial estate. In addition to the estate of Holmehill, £600 in furnishing and personal effects, and house property in Dunblane and Millrow, he left £13,338 in secured loans, bonds and accounts due and £3,300 in consolidated annuities.
The practice, though not the cabinetmaking business which seems to have been at a low ebb, was inherited by William Stirling II.