Monday, 31 December 2012

New Year : Hogmanay in the Strath and the Comrie Flambeaux


Crossing Dalginross Bridge
Hogmanay -  Seekin' Their Cakes In Fife

Burning The Clavie At Burghead

Hogmanay ( New Years Eve ) is an old and much celebrated occasion  throughout Scotland . The word itself however  is something of a mystery . Amongst the theories regarding its origins is that it is from the word “ Hagmena “ – a corrupted Greek word  meaning “ holy month “ . Another “ learned “ school of thought  implies that the  word is  of French origin and  was  brought over with the Normans in 1066 !This latter line is  based on the  old Norman word “ Haguillennes “ . To add to the  general confusion a third source promotes the theory that the Hogmanay source lies in the  ancient Norse festivals that was celebrated at Yule time . The night  before it started  was called “ hoggin – nat “ or  “ hogenat “ which  meant the slaughter night when the cattle  were  killed to allow   the prepararation  of  food  on the great day . Confused ? – well join the club  !

There is  no doubt that the Scottish Hogmanay and Neerday ( New Years Day) have  changed radically over the last  few  decades . By tradition the “ first foot “ after mid night determined the  luck of the household  in the ensuing year . It was regarded as bad luck if the  first  person to cross the thresh hold after “ the bells “ was a woman or  a fair haired  person . To quote an old Scots rhyme :

If the first foot is a woman

And that woman

she be fair

In all the days that follow

You will have a care

Luckiest first foot was a tall dark haired man who would  enter the house without  speaking and poke the fire and add a lump of coal thus  bring  good  fortune  for the New  Year . The origins of the Dark haired first foot as opposed  to a fair one  is said to date  back to the period of the Norse attacks  on the coast of Scotland !

Despite the intrusion of TV and its pre packed entertainment – many customs pertaining to New Year celebrations can be found throughout Scotland  and indeed the North of England  . In the East Neuk of Fife many of the towns and villages  celebrated  the New Year in a particular fashion  up  until the  start of World War 2 . Mumming or Morality plays  were acted out by the  children who went from door to door “ to seek their cakes “ They either carried baskets or bags or else dressed up in sheets which were folded  at the front to form a sack .

“My feet’s cauld , my shoon’s thin

Gie’s  my cakes  and let me rin”

In Galloway in the  south west a tradition  prevailed that water drawn a mid night before New Year had luck bringing properties particularly in allowing a young lass to find a suitable beau ! In Fordyce in Elgin there was  great stone known as the “ mortar stone “ . It  would  be laid  at the door of local lass selected by the community  and kept there for  a full year during which time  she would in probability get  m arried  to her choice . Stonehaven  south of Aberdeen has an annual fire ball swinging procession akin to  our Comrie Flambeaux  . Biggar in South Lanarkshire has a New Year bonfire  around which the citizens dance and parade A similar custom exists 400 miles north in Wick in Caithness  whilst a Burghead  on the Moray coast holds  the burning of the Clavie . The Clavie  is  a a long handle  to which a wooden  half barrel is  attached and filled  with tar and tarred  wood , set alight and marched around the old town .

What then of our own Comrie Flambeaux ? Below  is a description of  what  happens in the  early 21st century taken from the “ web “

One of Scotland's traditional celebrations of New Year takes place in the village of Comrie, Perthshire where virtually the whole village, with numbers swelled by residents of the surrounding area, assemble in and around the Square in Comrie await the arrival of the New Year , celebrating with an old tradition - the Comrie Flambeaux. The origins of this "Pagan" festival are lost in time but the tradition of the Comrie Flambeaux is that a torch lit procession is led round the village by the Comrie Pipe Band to drive out the evil spirits and to cleanse the village for the year ahead.. The procession includes several floats , often with a humorous theme, which commemorate significant events of the old year.

The torches are 12 foot birch poles which have been soaked for weeks in the River Earn, then wrapped in hessian sacks which are then soaked in flammable liquid. Carrying these is a significant test of fitness for the bearers!

The Square in front of the Royal Hotel is set aside for Comrie Flambeaux dancing and this can be interesting, especially if there is snow and ice on the ground as in 2004!! Dancing styles vary from traditional country dancing to jiving and perhaps even to no style. The age range of the dancers is wide and the whole emphasis is on having fun. The Square and surrounding streets are full of people and it is strictly standing room only. Fans of the architect Charles Rene Macintosh may wish to admire the white harrald building on the left of the Square on the corner of Dunira Street which was designed by him and which shows some typical features of his style. He may not have been particularly happy to know that a bargain store now occupies a large part of this fine building.
The spectacle of this torch lit procession, the parade of floats, and the pipe band itself finding its way through the packed village streets is well worth watching as the villagers and visitors mill about in the streets , greeting old friends, exchanging drinks from the many bottles being carried and generally having a good time.
The following account of the Flambeaux was written in the 1930s :
In Comrie in Perthshire , the young men  and boys  of the town dress up in weird and wonderful  costumes , some with  horned head dresses , and parade  at mid night through the town carrying burning torches with which a street bonfire is finally lighted . Shopkeepers and house wives lay in  a good stock of cakes and fruit and , even if the original Hogmanay cake , a kind of sweet bread , is  not universally baked ready for the guisers, still there are  few houses which fail to respond  to the children’s demands.
Get up , good wife , and shake your feathers
Dinna think that we are beggars
For we are bairns  come out to play
Get  up and  gie’s  our Hogmanay
The Flambeaux alike Hogmanay itself has a degree  of uncertainty about its  origins .Peter McNaughton in his fascinating web page "Highland Strathearn – Papers in a Trunk "  posts  this interesting piece :

The origins of this mysterious celebration lie in the misty swirls of time. It is the cause of much speculation. As a mid-winter festival many have suggested that the Flambeaux celebrated customs from the time of the Druids. They suggest that the Druids held it to celebrate the changing of the seasons and to drive away evil spirits. To accomplish this rather Herculean task they bound and swathed the tops of birch poles in hessian or canvas, covered them in pitch, and then set them ablaze carrying them through the village preceded by a pipe band. This sounds rather fanciful. Others favour the notion that after the Vikings visited our community principally in search of plunder and sack it was instituted for celebratory purposes. Questions have been raised about this philosophy as well .However, the reality is that there was no mention of Comrie as a village prior to 1750 although it was known as a meeting place since around the twelfth century.There had been no mention in the records before 1750 of a fire festival called the Flambeaux in the village. It was during the period 1750 to 1820 that Comrie grew into a village.

Peter’s analysis  is  sound but  it is evident from the abundance of similar customs  throughout Scotland  that our Strathearn New Year Festival – the Comrie Flambeaux – has a truly ancient origin albeit that the locus  may well  have  been somewhat different prior  to 1750 !
A happy New Year to you all when the bells chime  and  the last flaming torch is cast into the Earn!!






Thursday, 13 December 2012

The Perthshire Clearances and Glen Beich

OS Map showing the area of Glen Beich in this "blog"
Loch Earn from Glen Beich

I recall about ten years ago being asked  by a lady from Ontario  in Canada to look into her Scottish roots and in particular those of her ancestors  who had  come  from Glen Beich near Lochearnhead . At that time I was totally  ignorant  of the significance  of this , one of the most beautiful and unheralded  parts of the Strath . Apparently  her family  had  been small crofters in a n area of the Glen on an  elevated part above the settlement of Ardveich . Ardveich which in Gaelic is Ard-Bheathaich or “ height of the birch woods ” lies  less than half a mile from the shores of Loch Earn on the east side of the Beich Burn . On the west side was another small settlement known as Dalveich- Dal-Bheathaich- “ the field of the birch woods ” .It is  clear that this area had been  inhabited  for countless generations back into the mists of time . A castle had  been built  near by and had been constructed as a fortified  tower  house for the  chief of the Clan McLaren . It  has been referred to as both Ardveich and Dalveich Castle over the years and now is sadly a mere pile of  rubble surmounted  by a clump of trees .These lands were originally as noted the fiefdom of the McLarens . The origins of the clan are uncertain, but by tradition the MacLarens are descended from Loarn mac Eirc of Dál Riata, who landed in & settled Argyll in 503 A.D. The clan name is supposedly derived from Lorn (variations Loarn, Laurin, Laren); these variations are all ultimately pronounced Lawrin in Gaelic. However there is no concrete evidence of Lorn being the progenitor of the family. A more likely origin of the clan is that they take their name from a 13th century abbot called Laurance of Achtow. This theory is also supported by the MacLaren rallying cry which in gaelic is: "Creag an Tuirc" which means "Boars Rock". The rock in question is near Achtow in Balquhidder . Dalveich of course is not that  far  from there and in the 17th century this powerful clan held all the land in the lower part of  the Glen . They were however in something  of a decline  and the lands came into the possession of the Marquis of Atholl and eventually the powerful Marquis of Breadalbane . From the extremely informative Stewarts of Balquhidder Discussion Forum ( , it is explained that the lands of this part of Glen Beich  were occupied  by the Stewarts  from about the middle of the 17th century on leasehold tenure ( wadset ) . These Stewarts were a  branch of the well known Stewarts of Ardvorlich  on the south side of the Loch .
In those far off days this would have  been a thriving  community with the tenants living a crofting  existence relying  on fish ( from the Beich Burn and no doubt the adjoining Loch ) as well as root crops such as potatoes , seasonal barley or bear for food and beer and flax which was spun and  woven into linen cloth . A hard but satisfying existence in this  idyllic  spot . The old parish records show  countless generations of Stewarts being born , living out life and dying in this so beautiful airt . Alas, by the mid 19th century all was to change . The rapacious  Marquis of Breadalbane realised that sheep were more profitable than people and the Perthshire clearances began both here  and in Glen Quaich near Amulree . En masse the people  moved away having  been thrown off their lands and the roofs of their cottages  stripped and burned . It is part of our history which in a Perthshire context has been overlooked . It should  not  be forgotten . These people should be remembered for the suffering they endured prior  to reaching the promised land of Canada . Not a few failed to make it  .
Ruins of Ardveich/Dalveich Castle
 Deserted croft


The Beich Burn



Where was that ? The Crieff of yester year !


The top of Church Street was known as the " Shambles " 


There is  an incredibly detailed  map of Crieff  drawn up in 1822 by John Wood . Wood was a Scottish surveyor resident in Edinburgh. Between 1818 to 1830 he engraved 52 plans of Scottish towns, of which 48 were published in Atlas form in 1828. He also surveyed numerous Northumberland and Durham towns during the period 1826 and 1827. Fortunately his  work  has been  preserved   by the National Library of Scotland in digital form on the internet : (

By clicking on the image  you can increase or decrease the size  making it  so easy  to take  a town tour of Crieff as it was nearly two centuries  ago ! For the  genealogist / family historian with  roots in the town there is an added  bonus  in that the houses are clearly delineated  with the owner or  occupier’s  name shown . Indeed in some cases the  occupations are also listed !

An area shown with cross hatching is described as the “ Shambles ” . I had always associated The Shambles with the lovely City of York in the North of England and certainly not here in the heart of Strathearn ! . The name also occurs in both Manchester and in Lutterworth in Leicestershire . Historical evidence indicates that the word is used to denote  a place where cattle  were slaughtered or butchered . Crieff’s “ Shambles ” is located  opposite  The Cross at the junction of Church Street , East High Street and High Street . Old timers  will recall that the little shop now trading as the Community Council Charity Shop  was  once the Coop butchers ! Although it  was  certainly not around in 1822 when Wood produced his master piece – the area was the  focal point of The Tryst when 30 000  beasts  invaded our little town ! It was here that Rob Roy – drover – rustler – bandit and folk hero – toasted the health of King James –“ the King across the water ” despite the presence of a somewhat immobile contingent of Hanoverian Redcoats .

 Other places  which have disappeared or  just  changed  name include Cross Street or Kirkgate now Church Street , Pudding Lane  now Bank Street , Brown’s Lane now Ramsay Street , McFarlane’s Lane now Roy Street , The Octagon  now Burrell Square and Cowper’s Lane  now Cornton Place . Late Victorian Anglicisation saw Hall or Hill Wynd  become Hill Street and Lodge Brae become Lodge Street







Thursday, 22 November 2012

The Last Thatched House In Crieff


The Last Thatched House In Crieff

Extracted from Crieff Past & Present published 21 January 1888

Hill Street or Hill Wynd 

Among the many new and fine buildings in the town, the churches are a leading feature with their handsome outlines and lofty spires. Within the past few years The Established, Free, UP and Episcopalian Churches have erected noble edifices costing over £20 000 the hotels are also splendid buildings, and the banks are well represented in the architecture of the town All kinds of property have rapidly improved during the last 30 years and , with one exception in Hill Wynd , all the thatched houses have disappeared

In the mode of living there is a very great difference from what it used  be . It is not so long since a room and closet were considered sufficient for a family , and ventilation was never taken into consideration . According to the size of the family there would be from one to five beds in the two apartments We have seen four beds placed two and two like those in the cabin of a ship , and beds were common with castors to wheel from underneath others to the middle of the floor . Box beds of Rannoch fir were much in use . They closed like a press and were favourite haunts for insects The sleeping room was also the kitchen Pigs were indispensable household gods and were at all convenient the piggeries were placed as near the dwelling house as possible Most families had two and many three swine . Not infrequently the piggeries were close to the back windows of the houses and in warm summer weather the smells and fly annoyance were terrible . When fevers visited the town the results were always severely fatal . The rearing of pigs caused an extraordinary amount of labour on the wife and younger branches of the family . As a rule there were no scarcity of potatoes previous to the disease of 1846 , but bedding for the pigs , consisting of ferns , fog or moss and grass had to be carried regularly from the neighbouring plantations . Draff and burned ale were conveyed in barrows from the distilleries and breweries . There was a goodly number of cows which also required continuous attention , but such labour in a monetary point of view was seldom thought of .

Many of the wives had been more or less brought up amongst the farmers , and agricultural habits often remained with them . The room of the house often resembled a miniature farm steading . The fire had a succession of pots to boil from morning to late at night , and the floor – generally an earthen one – was studded with buckets  , pails , pots  , pans , miscellaneous basins , bowls and plates with detachments of firewood – generally tree branches , large and small .If large , the end of the stick was put below the boiling pot , and as it burned it was pushed into the fire . This was much easier in the older style of hearths where the fire was on the hearthstone on a level with the floor and the smoke had a choice of exit either by a square wooden funnel suspended above the fire or by any of the windows , doors or crevices of the dwelling . It was in the funnel that hams were smoked .In doing this properly peats had to be used as fuel .

The kindling of fires required some art in those days . Where the old hearths were in use a peat would smoulder all night and a little blowing would make blaze nicely in the morning but where there  were grates , other means were resorted to. At that time there were spunk makers who vended their wares  from house to house .The spunk was a piece of fir root some 4 inches long , split thin and narrow with a top of brimstone on each end . Each family had a tinder box , a tin box about 3 inches in diameter and 1 inch deep , into which was placed the remains or tinder of burnt cotton . On a piece of steel being struck on flint , sparks were emitted out which on reaching the tinder kept red till touched with the top of the spunk . The brimstone took fire , and the old cruisie or lamp was lighted . When the matches or “ Lucifer matches “ as they were called , were introduced about half a century ago  , the match was placed between a folded bit of sand paper and by a quick pull , the Lucifer ignited . Things improved  in a year or two  , and the present system of casting matches was invented . A not infrequent practice was to look for a neighbour’s chimney smoking and then enter the house and borrow a light .

The parish minister writing nearly a century ago , says : “ Instead of the grave and solid productions of the country , the gay cloths , silks , muslins , and printed cottons of England adorn on Sundays almost every individual “ . The grave and solid productions were plaiden and other woollen stuffs and linen . Blue plaiden was , and still is , much in use in rural districts , but other articles of dress change with the fashions .

The old women wore “ soubacks “ or clean mutches peaked up at the back , and almost all the young women and girls went bare headed and bare footed . About the beginning of the century boys had blue kilts and jackets , and ran without bonnet or shoes till they were seven or eight years of age .

The men about the beginning of the century wore clothes mostly of blue and gray , knee - breeches and shoes with buckles were much in fashion , as were also tartan cloaks .

About 50 years ago shepherd check plaids came into use and various modes of folding them exercised the ingenuity of the lieges . When the Queen was at Crieff in 1842 , the troops of Ferntower farmers had them on in the newest style . The plaid was folded narrow , the middle placed in front of the body , the ends passed back below each arm , crossed at the back , passed over each shoulder , then down in front and fixed under the part , in front of the body .

When a tradesman prepared for marriage he secured a beaver hat a guinea and long boots also costing a guinea . A brown or blue swallow tailed coat having brass buttons with a fancy silk or velvet vest covered the body . The linen shirt had a very high collar reaching the ears , round which was wound a big neckerchief like a brecham which held the starched  collar firmly up , so that the head could scarcely move to either side . These wedding “ braws “ often served a lifetime , and occasionally his grandson got the vest made down to suit his wear.

The tailor about the end of the last century did not sit cross – legged . He was usually a knowing tradesman . His visit to a rural family was an event , and usually some of the neighbours made it a point to be present to hear and enjoy his funny stories and news . The tailor got from 10d to 1s and his food for a day’s work . Shoes and boots were made to suit either foot , and were by most people carefully shifted each morning , so that what the right foot wore one day , the left had the next . Shoemakers then , like the tailors , whipt - the – cat that is  , went to the house of the customer and did the work there . Such was the style of shoe or brogue  making that one shoe maker , after softening the upper leather early in the morning , could make the shoes for the family before he ceased work at night , getting 8d or 10d and his food for so doing .

Packmen or “ dusty feet “ did a large trade . Woollen , linen and cotton cloth with the necessary accompaniments of needles , thimbles, scissors , thread &c, formed their principal stock , which they carried hither and thither through the country . Chapmen or booksellers , were numerous . Their pamphlet usually sold at 1d and 2d , and included the Histories of William Wallace , King Robert the Bruce , George Buchanan , Leper the Tailor , and any amounts of stories , ballads and songs . The last confessions and dying speeches of condemned criminals sold well . Tinklers roamed in squads , and sold and mended pots and pans . They supplied the inhabitants with horn spoons , from the short “ cuttle “ to the elegant ornamented “ broth spoons “ . It is not so many years since metal spoons came into general use .

At that time bowls and other domestic utensils were made of wood . Bickers , turned bowls , stoups , pails and buckets , &c, &c , gave the coopers plenty of employment . In 1800 there was a severe dearth , and the poorer classes had much ado to find and pay for food . One old man , named Sinclair , learning that pease meal could be got at the Mill of Gask – some nine miles away – set out one morning for two pecks of it . On his way home he foregathered with a pedlar who had bowls of earthenware . A bargain was struck , and Sinclair carried home a small bowl , which was exhibited to the neighbours as something really new . it was for long carefully kept for show in a press with a glass front .




















Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Trades and Industries That Have long Gone

Trades and Industries That Have long Gone

Crieff Past And Present


There is an old Scots word " couthie " which conveys a meaning oft lacking in the" Queen's
 English ". Perhaps gentle - agreeable or kindly is an apt translation . The following extract is from one of my favourite collections " Crieff : Its Traditions and Characters " written in 1881 by a certain D McAra . MacAra is somewhat  overshadowed  by the rather  patrician historian Porteous whose 1908 epic “ A History of Crieff ” is still regarded  as the ultimate account of things in and around the town . MacAra – a couthie individual by all accounts, captures  much of the lost sentiment of yester year when the pace  of things  in that pre technology age was that little  bit slower ! The appended tale of trades of the past  depicts a world of rural artisans working at things  which in this  modern  age are  all but forgotten !

Many kinds of tradesmen etc have disappeared from the district including spunkmakers , weavers and sheriff officers . Many sawyers were constantly employed with their large frame saws . Being “ top sawyer “ was a common saying . There were several wood yards where sawing was done on the premises but the various joiners and workers in wood had generally  a saw pit of their own where the sawyers cut the timber required . Thrashing grain was much in vogue during winter and spring and many old farm hands found employment in the numerous barns in the town . It is rare now to see the old fashioned flail doing duty . Dykes , except as boundary walls have now given place to wire fencing .Most farms are now well drained and employment of this sort is becoming very scarce . As fencing , the old world system of herding cows and sheep in the low districts went out of use and it is now the exception to have herds . Spinning took up much of the female labour , but spinning wheels are now seen only in lumber rooms and museums . Dyers were also abundant and a thorough hand made a good thing of it . Lint or scotching mills were on several of the burns and were fully employed in winter. This was a “ stoury “ job and the farmers when delivering their lint to go through the mill had to remember a  bottle of whisky with each cart .At one mill which was at Bridgend this was rigidly enforced . The cart would not be allowed to disload till the customary dues were produced. Waulk mills were numerous and were in use for waulking or thickening woollen fabrics including blue bonnets and kilmarnocks.
A paper mill was for many years in full operation beside the lade at “ Cook’s Brae “ . There were several wheelwrights celebrated for making spinning – wheels . . Hecklers abounded who gave the finishing touches to flax previous to spinning , the last practitioner being Johnnie Brown , the beadle . Blacking for shoes was also made and vended over the country , the last maker being Johnnie Miller who had himself carried goods through the country by a Shetland pony . Several blacking makers visited the district amongst them being “ Black Willie “ who , with his wife , managed to get drunk daily . One dark night they were at South Bridgend , and she fell into the mill lade and was drowned and found in the heck in the morning . Clockmakers did a good business and many substantial eight – day clocks are still to be found .Some fifty years ago the town could boast of a hat maker and it is not so long since Jean M’Ewan or “ Leuchar “ made and mended umbrellas , genuine whale bone articles which , with a little care and repair would last a lifetime . Harvesting created much employment fathers and sons usually hired themselves to harvest work all over the country .Many went to the Lothians and Stirling , and squads of highlanders from the Grampian Hills marched southwards for the same purpose . Not a few men and women from the Island of Skye would be found among them . The women and families went to the surrounding farms where the children enjoyed a thorough holiday and the mother s plied the hook and sickle , “ thraving “ amongst the grain . A thrave consisted of two stooks of twelve sheaves each , the allowance being from 2 ½d to 3d a thrave . .Many women could net from 2s 6d to 3s daily . This is all done away with and people wonder how such things could have been . The scythe came into general use about forty years ago . Now shearing  machines do the work , and stream thrashing and winnowing prepare the grain for the market .

Crieff had a candle making establishment but it ceased work many years ago . There was also an oil mill , where linseed oil made and oil cake manufactured . The introduction of gas in 1843 led the way to the relegation of these and kindred employments .

Burking created a terrible sensation in the country in 1828 and subsequent years and resurectionists who lifted grave sof newly interred bodies caused much anxiety . Though the Burke and Hare tragedies and trials passed away there was a prevalent belief that they had followers and many people were terrified to move out of doors after dark . Practical jokes after dusk were often played on respectable lieges such as passing a bit of paper across the mouth and chasing and threatening to burke . One woman got fearful fright at the meadow . After running home a bit of paper was discovered sticking on her umbrella which to her was sufficient evidence of a burker’s intention. The graves of newly interred relatives were nightly watched for some weeks the guard consisting generally of two . A loaded gun was not unfrequently one of the weapons of offence . To such an extent did the feeling go that several parishes got large iron cages  made to fix over the grave for a time , so as to prevent the snatching of the dead . Up until forty years ago it was not uncommon practice for friends to stick bits of wood and slate on and around the grave turf . , and then regularly examine to see if anything was disturbed . One book traveller of doubtful character and belongings frequented the town and districts shortly after Burke’s day and his mysterious actions and boxes created such a furore that the inhabitants treated him so roughly that he narrowly escaped with his life an d bade adieu to the district . For many years nothing would frighten youth into obedience like stories and threatenings of burkers and resurectionists .


Sunday, 4 November 2012

William McGregor ( 1846 –1911 ), football pioneer

Staute of William McGregor outside Villa Park

Grigor McGrigor was a tailor born in Balquhidder in about 1796 . He married  Jean McNicol in Muthill Parish in 1825 and settled down to raise a family in the village of Braco . Eleven children were born to the couple including William in 1846 . The family live in Front Street near the Braco Hotel ( now known as the Frog and Thistle ) . Young William according to legend witnessed his first football match with his three older brothers near to where the Ardoch Roman Camp is situated . He seemed a bright lad being described in the 1861 Census for the village as a “ pupil teacher “. Shortly after this he headed to Perth where he was apprenticed as a draper. Seeking opportunities that were not readily available in the Fair City, young William headed south to Birmingham where he established his own drapers business in the town and rapidly prospered.

McGregor became associated with Aston Villa Football Club and eventually rose to be their Chairman. In 1887 the Scottish Football Association ordered all its member clubs to withdraw from the English FA and cease further participation in the FA Cup. In the same year in England, McGregor, came up with the idea of a “ league “ competition to replace the ongoing diet of friendlies, which was only interrupted by the occasional FA cup tie. His idea was that the clubs would play each other twice in a season, on a home and away basis, with two points being awarded for a win and one for a draw. The team with the highest number of points when all the fixtures had been played would be declared champions. Discussions between the clubs led to 12 clubs from the North and Midlands contesting the first English League season in 1888/89. What is said to spurred McGregor into making this revolutionary move is that a fellow director Joe Tillotson (so legend has it) blew a gasket when Aston Villa’s opponents failed to show up one Saturday afternoon. In rage he threw down the bloater he was frying in his Summer Lane coffee shop and stormed into the drapers next door owned by McGregor declaring that something must be done to ensure fixtures were honoured!

McGregor, a committed teetotaller, did what he could to enforce his views about the dangers of drinking alcohol. Annoyed that many players were regularly missing training preferring to spend time in the local pubs, he decided to rent a room at a coffee house and to compel the players to attend social gatherings and musical events each Monday during the season!
William McGregor - the Braco man who created league football in England

It was McGregor who circulated letters to all the clubs and successfully established the Football League in September 1888. He died in Birmingham in 1911. Such was the importance of McGregor in establishing football in England that in 2009 a 7’6” bronze statue of the Braco lad was unveiled at Villa Park by Lord Mawhinney, chairman of the Football League .








Sunday, 28 October 2012

The Witches Maze At Tullibole Castle Crook of Devon

The Witches Maze At Tullibole Castle Crook of Devon


This week  my  eye  caught the  newspaper article and the BBC News story on the opening of the “ Witches Maze “ at Tullibole Castle in the Crook of Devon . Quite an appropriate “blog “ as Halloween approaches  complete with witches , black cats , turnip lanterns and the inevitable guysers !

Tullibole Castle
Lord Moncrieff and Lesley Riddoch (  who used to live in Fowlis Wester )at the opening

The memorial however is a somewhat sad reflection on the evil and indeed  bizarre behaviour of our ancestors and in particular our  Established  Church . These pillars of society undertook a spate of trials  which on reflection  make the Salem Witch Trials across the “ Pond “ resemble a Sunday school picnic ! The Witches Maze at Tullibole Castle commemorates the victims of the Crook of Devon witch trials in 1662.

The castle was once home to William Halliday and his son John who held court over the 'covens' in the village. Lord Moncrieff, who now owns Tullibole, commissioned the maze as there is no memorial in Crook of Devon.

In 1662 the court sat five times and resulted in the death of 11 suspected witches. Those who survived the trials were taken to a small mound near the current village hall and strangled by the common hangman and their bodies thrown on a fire.

Victims remembered

Lord Moncreiff commenced on the maze in 2003. The finished memorial is a circle 33m (100ft) wide and consists of 2,000 beach trees.
At the centre of the maze is a one and a half ton elaborate sandstone pillar, with the names of the victims etched on it. The five sided pillar was created by Gillian Forbes, a stone carver from Path of Condie.

Lord Moncreiff said: "I dislike public art that has nothing to say and commissioned Gillian because I believe she understands the sensitivity of the task. "It is my hope that the memorial will also question our understanding of the past and issues of blame and judgement in modern day society."


In 1899 ,the Auchterarder author AG Reid wrote in his ” Annals of Auchterarder and Memorials of Strathearn “ , the following : “ the Reformers after the Reformation  decided  to dissipate darkness and remove superstition – the Presbyter  of the New Church considered it his duty to expiscate  and clear out  even to the cleansing  by fire rumoured delinquencies  in the exercise of  magical arts . In Scotland this feeling was intensified in the Reformed Church by the Act of Queen Mary , 4th June 1563 to purge the country of diabolical influences , It seems however , not to have  been called much into requisition  until after the return of James Vl from his matrimonial  expedition to Denmark  in 1591 . The revelation of unholy practices  against the Lord’s anointed in the course of that memorable  voyage  , and after his return , threw the timorous  King into a state of terror  and inspired him  with the desire , as a sovereign prince , to exterminate the practisers of that of devilish arts  from his dominion .Not only  did he encourage  prosecutions  but he wrote  a  book  to prove the reality of the crime the credibility  of  which had been impugned by the catholic Weir .From 1591  to the death of King James in 1625, thirty five trials  for witch craft  appear  in the Justiciary records  and from that date down to 1640  only eight trials  are recorded . From 1640  to 1660  there were thirty trials   although under the Commonwealth  the judges  generally discouraged  such prosecutions .

After the Restoration  the prosecution for witch craft  greatly increased and in the year immediately following  1661 not fewer than twenty persons  were condemned  to death  for witch craft  before the High Court of Justiciary and in addition instead of the cases  being brought before the ordinary criminal courts , Circuit and Justiciary , commissions  were also granted by the Privy Council to understanding  gentlemen , empowering them  to deal with the cases of reputed  witch craft  occurring  in the special localities with which they were connected . On one single day – the 7th November  1661 – not less than fourteen commissions  were granted and during the first eight months  of the following year  fifty additional commissions , each of them containing  from one  to ten names of reputed witches . The reports of these commissions  have not  been preserved but the recorded  executions  alone  during  1662  are stated  at not less than one hundred and  fifty in number “

The Accused – The Innocent Victims

Agnes Murrie, Trial 1

On the first of these trials Agnes Murrie, Bessie Henderson, and Isabella Rutherford were condemned, and strangled and burnt on the following day.

Bessie Henderson, Trial 1


On the first of these trials Agnes Murrie, Bessie Henderson, and Isabella Rutherford were condemned, and strangled and burnt on the following day.

Isabella Rutherford Trial 1

On the first of these trials Agnes Murrie, Bessie Henderson, and Isabella Rutherford were condemned, and strangled and burnt on the following day.


Agnes Pittendriech, Trial 2

Only one escaped, which she owed to being pregnant at the time of her trial, and being respited under an obligation to come up again for trial when required. As there is no record of any ulterior proceedings being taken against her, it is to be hoped that her respite resulted in their ultimate withdrawal


Margaret Hoggan Trial 2

In the case of Margaret Hoggan no conviction or sentence against her is recorded, although the evidence against her was equally strong as against the other panels ; .but in the dittay against her she is described as a woman of threescore and nineteen years, and she may have been either spared on account of her old age, or she may have died in the excitement and terror in the course of her trial. She is referred to as deceased at the next diet of Court, which took place two months afterwards.

Robert Wilson, Trial 2

On the second trial Robert Wilson, Bessie Neil, Margaret Lister, Janet Paton, and Agnes Brugh were found guilty and sentenced to be burnt on the following day,

Bessie Neil, Trial 2

On the second trial Robert Wilson, Bessie Neil, Margaret Lister, Janet Paton, and Agnes Brugh were found guilty and sentenced to be burnt on the following day,


Margaret Lister, Trial 2

On the second trial Robert Wilson, Bessie Neil, Margaret Lister, Janet Paton, and Agnes Brugh were found guilty and sentenced to be burnt on the following day,

Janet Paton, of Crook of Devon Trial 2

On the second occasion Robert Wilson, Bessie Neil, Margaret Lister, Janet Paton, and


Margaret Hoggan Trial 3

At the third diet, Margaret Hoggan and Janet Paton were brought to trial. There is no conviction against Margaret Hoggan ; but Janet Paton was sentenced and strangled and burnt the same day.

Janet Paton, of Kilduff Trial 3

At the third diet, Margaret Hoggan and Janet Paton were brought to trial. As before stated, there is no conviction against Margaret Hoggan ; but Janet Paton was sentenced and strangled and burnt the same day.

Janet Brugh Trial 4

Janet Brugh and Christian Grieve. The former was convicted and executed the same day,

Christian Grieve Trial 4 and 5

Christian Grieve was put to her trial in July, 1662, and although the evidence against her appears to have been strong, the "hail assize in one voice declare that they will not convict her in no point of witchcraft, nor clenze her in no point," and yet within a period of three months the same jury, under the same presiding judge, and apparently without any additional evidence, convicted her, and she was strangled and burnt on the fifth day thereafter.


Sunday, 7 October 2012

St Fillans Perthshire - a look into it's past

St Fillans – a look into its past


Much of the input in this  blog  was published in the “Guide to St Fillans “ about 1980 . It is said that Queen Victoria swithered at  one  time  between St Fillans and Balmoral when she  was seeking a Scottish Estate . I  my self  was delighted  to  be invited to appear in the BBC TV  Landward programme in 2010 concerning the village  and its origins .

Some two hundred years ago it was known as  Port of Lochearn and consisted of a few  thatched biggins or cottages  . The largest one was  called Portmore and another was called  Portbeag or Littleport . Above  St Fillans as we know  it  today lies the remains  of an old township called Morell located to the west of Glentarken Wood . It  was eventually abandoned at the beginning of the 19th Century when the occupants  moved down the hill and settled in the cottages  which had been built at  Port of  Lochearn .
Neish Island
In 1817 Lord Gwydyr , whose wife Clementina Drummond  , daughter and heiress of James , Duke of Perth , had inherited the vast Drummond Estates , commenced an imaginative  development policy  which saw  land  being feued ( A Scottish perpetual lease) for  building purposes  along the lochside . These  feus were taken  by local people and  others  from the nearby towns and villages . The purchasers  inevitably built substantial properties either   for  retrial purposes  or for a bolt  hole in the summer  for themselves and their families . It was at this time that the name St Fillans  was adopted as the name of the  village .


DUNDURN : The reasoning  behind this was that at nearby Dundurn , adjacent to where the Golf Course  now stands , was where the saint is deemed to have lived and  worked  at propagating the gospel amongst the Pictish natives about 500 AD . St Fillan was of Irish extraction from Munster and his name was originally written as Faolan. Variations such as “ Faolan  the  Leper “ , Faolan the Stammerer “ or “ Faolan the Eloquent “ have all been passed  down in various documents and all seem to refer to the same person . If you follow the road past the Golf Course  you come to the ruined Dundurn Church nestling  below the “ dumpling “ that is Dundurn Hill ! The hill stands  about 600 feet above the flood plain and is the site of a Pictish Fort .  The importance of this is  clear  when one realises that it  was here , at the west  end of Loch Earn the Irish/Scottish Kingdom of Dalriata , et the Pictish Kingdom of Fortriu or Fortren . It is  mentioned  in the Iona Annal for the year 683 when it  was under siege  by the Celts  from the West . A number of  archaeological excavations  under the auspices of Glasgow University have  take  place , most recently in the 1970s . Two stone and timber forts  have  been discovered near the hill top . St Fillan’s Chair the rock at the west end of the hill top  was built into a rampart wall some 4 metres thick ( 13 feet) , This surrounded an oval area 20 metres  by 15 metres (  65 by 50 feet )  with a  flat  roof .  Most of the stone used ( now scattered over the hillside )  consisted of river boulders  carried up from the valley bottom  but in the  floor and elsewhere were flags and blocks of old red sandstone probably quarried  beyond Comrie  . Many iron nails have been found  , proving Dunfillan to have been only one of only two stone and timber   forts in Britain  constructed with nails . Lower terraces a re evident where animals   may have been kept temporarily or indeed , crops raised . The fort  had its own water supply in the form of a well which figured  later on in the miracles attributed to the Saint . The well’s healing powers included  the cure of rheumatism  of the back . Sufferers lay on St Fillan’s Chair and then were dragged   by their feet   all the way to the bottom of the hill!


Artefacts  found  during the  digs  include a small but exceptionally fine  glass ornament  in the form of a dome   of black and white  swirled glass decorated with five inlays and five bosses  of blue and white spirals . In the ashes of the  earlier citadel wall was found  a silver  strap fastener  shaped a s a horse’s head with bulging eyes and  nostrils , a design fashionable in the 7th century .


To the south of the hill is a ravine  known as “ Bealach an t’Sagairt ” or “ The Priest’s Pass “ .


THE NEISH ISLAND : Originally called the Isle of Morell – it lies  just off the shore of  present day St Fillans .There is an old legend  associated  with it which bears repeating ! Early in the 17th century the isle was  used a s a place of refuge  by the chieftains  of the Clan Neish – a sept of the MacGregors . The Chief of the MacNabs from across the hill in Killin on Loch Tayside had a sent a body of  men to Crieff to purchase  provisions for their Christmas Dinner and on the way home laden with a multitude of good things , they were waylaid  by the Neishes who overpowered them  stole their provisions  , and let them go.


MacNab when he heard of this was furious and plotted revenge. He called his twelve sons  together and told them his plan . As the Neishes  owned the only boat on Loch Earn , the sons  were to carry  a boat  from Loch Tay over the hill to Loch Earn . In the dead of night they were to launch it and attack the Neishes in their island stronghold. They waited for a suitable night and when there was a full moon when the old Chief spoke his Gaelic instructions  - “ Bhi’n oidche an oidche – nan ghillean an ghillean  ! “ This as you all know means – “ The night is the night , if the lads are the lads ! “ The 12 sons  of MacNab set out , shouldered their boat and started on the long rough trek up Ardeonaig Glen  and don Glentarken  to Loch Earn .


The Neishes thinking themselves secure in their island fastness were all asleep  and neglected to mount a guard . The MacNabs landed unobserved and made short work of their enemies . It is said  that the whole Clan were wiped out except  for one small boy who managed to swim ashore unnoticed and that from him  are descended all the Neishes  now extant ! Since then it has been called Neish Island .


The 12 sons of MacNab , their mission accomplished started  back for Loch Tay but some way up Glentarken they tired of carrying their boat and abandoned it and the remains were to be seen there many years after .  When Iain Min or Smooth John , the eldest son of the MacNab , told his father what had been done and exhibited the head of the Neish Chieftain , the old man said  - “ The night was the night , and the lads were the lads ! “


GLENTARKEN : The Glentarken Boulder or “ Rocking Stone “ is well worth a visit . It stands  by itself about  a couple of mils up the Glen . At the base  where it rests  on the ground , it measures 70 feet in circumference but  at 10 feet  up where it spreads out it measures  110 feet .An early writer stated that 60 or even a 100 men  could shelter under the over hang .


DUNDURN BURIAL GROUND : There is a curious tomb stone in the grave yard . It was at one time called the “ Adam and Eve “ stone because the figures on the front were  supposed to represent Adam and Eve and that on the back the tree – the Tree of Knowledge  of Good and Evil . In reality it commemorates one of a family of MacGregors  or long tenants of the farm of West Dundurn which is nearby . At the time , about 1700  , the name of MacGregor was  proscribed or outlawed , and that particular family had  taken the name of their  superior , that of Drummond . The tree carved  on the back represents  the MacGregor arms , a pine tree crossed by a sword bearing a crown on its point . The initials of Drummond and his wife are carved on the front of the stone .


THE MAJOR’S GRAVE : About one and half miles east of Ardvolich which lies  some  three miles from St Fillans and just below  the croft called  Cillemhor ( The Big Wood ) is a stone by the roadside :


This stone marks the place

Of interment of Major James  Stewart

Afterwards removed  to the family vault

At Dundurn . Died about 1660


James Stewart of Ardvorlich had had an eventful life  during which he had incurred  the enmity of several of the neighbouring Clans . These Clans had been seeking an opportunity for revenge but  he had been careful to avoid giving them any chance of catching him unawares . This man of many enemies , strangely enough , died in his bed ! His friends and retainers gathered  for the wake  at Ardvorlich before setting out on the long carry to the family burial place at Dundurn . heard of his death nd furious that they had been cheated of their  revenge  while he was alive  , determined  to wreak their revenge by dishonouring his corpse . Word came of their intention as the cortege was slowly and painfully wending its way along the 5 miles to Dundurn .


The road at that time was merely a track and did not follow the side of the Loch as it does now . It ran much higher  up the hill side , so they hurriedly left the track and descended  to the loch side and at a secluded spot  sheuched ( old Scots word meaning buried ) the corpse and dispersed .

Thus , in the nick of time , James ‘s enemies were cheated ! When times  were quieter  , his body  was exhumed  and taken and  buried in the little chapel of Dundurn .

THE GRAVES OF THE SEVEN MACDONALDS OF GLENCOE: Near the east gate of Ardvorlich and just across the bridge  over thr burn is a second stone which carries the following inscription :

Near this spot were interred

The bodies of  7 MacDonalds of Glencoe

Killed when attempting to harry


Anno Domini  1620

A Stewart , John Stewart of Strathgarry in Atholl had been murdered by the Glencoe men . This led to a raid by a confederation of all the highland Stewarts – Stewarts of Appin – Atholl and Ardvorlich – upon the homesteads of the MacDonalds of Glencoe , when the Chief and his eldest son were both killed . This was followed naturally enough by the MacDonald thirst for revenge . A party of MacDonalds , seven in number , guided  by a MacGregor from Glendochart called McClerich  ( or Clerk ) , raided Ardvorlich with the intention of burning down the house and “ biggins “ . James Stewart of Ardvorlich was at the time hiding in a cave  in the rock face  just above the present St Fillans . There he had a dream that rats were gnawing at the foundations of Ardvorlich . Three times he dreamt the same dream and so vivid was it that he judged it might be some kind of warning and determined  to go and see for himself what it might mean . He arrived at home  just in time to see a man with a lighted brand   trying to set fire to the thatched roof of the dairy . whilst a woman  was struggling with him  in order to prevent him from doing so .  James had his gun – the Gunna Breachd – with him , a famous  gun which never missed . He took aim and fired . commending the shot to God – and shot the MacDonald dead .

By this time some of his own men had  arrived on the scene  and  wasted  no time  in slaying the remaining raiders . Only Clark escaping to be chased and killed in the nearby wood  called ever since Coille Chlerich . They made hurdles and  dragged the bodies  down to the lochside  and buried them in a mass grave . Many years later when foundations  for the new road  round the haugh at Ardvorlich  were being prepared , the skeletons of 7 men were dug up . They were re buried  nearby and this stine  was erected  to mark the spot.