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 .