How Tanning Developed in Crieff
Tanning in the Strathearn area had been carried out for many years and was known as “ peat moss tanning " . The hides were immersed in a peat hole and left to allow the tannin from the peat to seep into them thus producing a primitive sort of leather . This method began to die out towards the end of the 18th century . As a result of the Jacobite Uprising in 1745 , the Commissioners of the Forfeited Estates had taken over the lands of the Drummond Family ( Duke of Perth ) who were feudal superiors to much of the land in and about Crieff including the Barony of Milnab to the west of the town In 1782 , a saddler called David Blair , was encouraged to come to Crieff by the Commissioners to establish a tan works . He was given £300 by them plus some four and half acres of ground in the
East Meadow and erected thereon a
building and constructed the tanning pits . I believe the locus of this was to
the north east of the Town Green where the Somerfield/Coop supermarket now operates
and in or around Meadow Lane next to the old Drill
Hall and what was an old distillery building. His business flourished and in 1790 , he
engaged a tanner from . His name wasThomas Wright
and he acted as an assistant to Blair . When Blair died and left his business and
property to his wife Elizabeth , Wright rented the tan yard from her on a
twenty one year lease . Unfortunately Mrs Blair seemed to have been a real fire
brand with a strong temper . She fell out with Wright who relinquished his
occupancy of the tan yard . He joined up
with another tanning firm in the town trading as James McVean and Company .This
company were the successors to D Smith and Company who had in 1789 feued some
ground in Edinburgh Milnab Street and erected their tannery
. In 1791 , they rented Blair’s tan yard and Thomas Wright was appointed
manager of both . In 1792 he was made a partner in the company .
The rapid developments did not suit the loud mouthed and belligerent Mrs Elizabeth Blair . She raised an action in the Court of Session in
Some three years later in 1804 Thomas Wright introduced his son John, a boy of only twelve years into the business . ( John had born circa 1792 in Crieff ) The young lad was adept at learning the trade and he and his father worked together for nearly forty years . The tannery was situated in
In 1828 , father and son erected a new and larger tan yard , slightly to the west of the original which was sold to one of his partners , David Arnot for £ 1299 . In 1837 Thomas Wright continued to expand his business interests . In 1799 Andrew Bayne had as recorded in Porteous History of Crieff (lawyer in Crieff who in turn sold it , in 1837 , to John Wright .
: 1912 ) built a tan yard at Croftnappock to the east
of the town . There is at present a Edinburgh Crofnappock Place set amidst an immediate post war housing development
. The original place of that name I believe was located on what is now Leadenflower Court at the south end of Ramsay Street . It was described in the 1863 Ordnance Survey map
of Crieff as “ Pittenzie Tannery “. This old tannery was demolished about 1990
to make way for the present co- ownership housing development. Bayne sold it in
1817 to John Philips , writer /
In 1841, Thomas Wright became sole proprietor of both
John Wright died in 1846 leaving the business to his son John .John Wright who had started in the business at the tender age of twelve now had the whole tanning industry of Crieff in his own hands . He enlarged and improved the tan yards in 1848 . At this time he found that he had no need for the old tannery in The Meadows and he terminated his lease. For a while they were worked by David Scrimgeour but this ended in the 1880s . The buildings had entirely disappeared by the end of the 19th century .
The Wright business was flourishing and the company developed into Perth where the tan yard at Bridgend was managed by two of John’s siblings .Sadly they died at an early age . The reputation of the company was now high throughout the land on account of the high quality of its products . Wright appeared to have been a generous man and it was quoted locally “ no deserving appeal for help was ever unheeded “ . He acquired great wealth and built for himself a substantial house of some ten rooms to the east of the West Kirk – the local Chapel of Ease . The house was called originally Viewbank House . This was changed later to Greenbank and thence Rockclyffe . It became laterally a boarding house for Morrison’s Academy ( Knox House ) . John died there on 29th June 1865 aged 72 years of heart disease . According to Porteous in his History of Crieff “ he left a large fortune of about £180 000 to his sister Margaret " .This incredibly was about £10 million in modern parlance !
Margaret had married John McDougall . He and his brother Hugh had started life in a modest way and worked themselves through university . They came to Crieff and ran a school in the Bridgend area of the town . John held a school in North Bridgend in an old barn . When they graduated the brothers entered the Free Church of Scotland – a strong force in those far off days . Hugh became a Minister in the Milton Free Church in Glasgow whilst John was ordained in the Chapelsade Free Church in Dundee .Shortly after this he married Margaret . With her vast inheritance , John retired from the ministry and purchased the estate of Orchil between Braco and Crieff and built a large mansion .On the death of Grace , sister of Margaret , more money flowed to the McDougalls. When his brother Hugh died all his money passed to John .
John McDougall was a good bloke but devoid of business acumen . He invested badly . His investment in the to fail City of Glasgow Bank was disastrous . Things went badly . He sold Orchil and the the tan yards in in both Crieff and Perth . Shortly before his death he sold Croftnappock and a small house in Milnab Street . In a short period , all the substantial assets left by John Wright had been dissipated . Sadly the Wright saga had been drawn to a sad end .
Croftnappock Tannery in Leadenflower
The site of the old tannery is now
Court – flats
which were developed by Hillcrest Housing Association some years ago . Local business man George McOmish
kindly explained to me what was rtevealed prior to the demolition of the existing buildings .
The tanning pits were located adjacent to
Ramsay Street opposite Croft Cottage . They were constructed with 9” x 2” pine timber
battens and there were remains of oak wood chips at the base . Scottish
Natuaral Heritage examined the site at this stage .
( as described in Macara’s “ Crieff: Its Traditions and Characters” Published in 1881 )
John Wright was one of the most industrious , upright and successful men of the district . He commenced business in his father’s tanworks when twelve years of age . Two of his brothers afterwards also became connected with the works , but in the course of years they dropped off the scene , and John was left sole master of the celebrated establishment .Things continued to prosper with him , and he died in 1865 , aged seventy three , reputed to be worth far beyond £100 000 . He was much respected , and those who were favoured with his intimate acquaintanceship knew how worthily he deserved it . He was tall and of stern and commanding appearance , possessed a warm and sympathetic heart , and preferred to do his alms without ostentation . Any shoemaker , or other customer , however humble , who acted in an , straightforward manner , always found him to be a friend . If they found difficulties in the way , such as sickness, accidents , or other cause which they could not foresee nor prevent , and which made the needful short on settling days , he heeded not if he had faith in their integrity . He took what they offered and they got what they desired , without comment .