Bridgend and Crieff in the Early 19th Century

McNee's Jamary about 1900
My recent  piece on cock fighting in Crieff in the  early part of the 19th century proved an interesting look at  the way of  life  of yesteryear . The same little book “ Crieff in the Victorian Era “ contains  numerous  little gems . I have  singled out a brief essay looking at the Bridgend circa 1830s . Bridgend  was  very  much its own place in those days  and Bridgenders did  not consider themselves part  and parcel of the “ toon up the hill ” !As one  drives  south towards the bridge note the higgledy  piggy nature of the street scape  with  houses and cottages jutting out  at awkward  angles in total disregard  for a  uniform building line ! Many of these old cottages  still have  an appendage  at the rear which in days  gone by was  the loom shed – now transformed  by Ikea or its likes into  modern fitted kitchens ! This was a community dependant on weaving - initially wool, then  linen and then eventually cotton. The web – masters or  middle men such as the father of James MacRosty lived in  the “ up market  “ part of Bridgend  which  is  now named Earnbank Road . From Earnbank Road  there is a  narrow  winding access  to what was once the Earnvale Woollen Manufactory  erected  by James Mitchell from Comrie . This  was on the site of an old saw mill and was erected about 1860 according to Porteous . The use of  water power was significant as the Lade  was taken from the Weir at the top end of what is  now MacRosty Park  ( near the old Morgan’s Wood ) , and was used to power the machinery  before it  joined the Earn upstream from the  Bridge . The history of the building is  quite fascinating . A fire ravage its fabric  and it was rebuilt .  On the death of Mitchell it was rented out by Messrs McKenzie, Campbell & Co in 1877 . Just one year later, the mill was again burned down in somewhat strange circumstances, to be rebuilt yet again and eventually run by the spinning company R & H Hay from  Whins of Milton near Stirling . After closing it was eventually used as the head quarters of well known Crieff  landscape gardener and nursery man  , the late Derek Halley .

Another interesting little building in Bridgend is the wooden mission hall at the entrance to Park House Dairy . No doubt the good people of Bridgend resented the good intent of their Crieff neighbours!

What things were like in the early part of the 19th century is fascinatingly accounted in this little essay from “Crieff in the Victorian Era” :

A lovely cloud of dust – not of the crushed metal order – has its being  somewhere  about those parts of South Bridgend  where at present a prosperous jamary holds sway ;and, sweeping  over the bridge before a delightful summer’s breeze , curls and circles in the air and forms into any number of fantastic  looking shapes – the favourite representation  being the ponderous bows of the old Norse  warship . Before the breeze  has lost its playful  influence , the dust  reaches the Gallowhill , where it feels  the want of sufficient encouragement , and drops dead opposite  somebody’s door . The track of the phantom can be followed if one cares to do so , and if anyone  wants  to take a different route , he may be slipping off his shoes  and stockings  and rolling up his trousers  wade the Earn , and arrive at any desired  destination  on the other side , without let or hindrance . But in this ( past ) age  of achievement and advancement people hold no very decided superstitions  about the bridge- though it looks  as unstable  as a dromedary  in a travelling menagerie , and the usual custom is not to wade through  the water  but to go across the river in the manner  common to  later- day pedestrians .  ( It may be mentioned that the bridge referred to was rather a deformed  looking arrangement . Local historians of more or less importance  have endeavoured to solve the question of its deformity , but in giving a satisfactory answer they have all ignominiously failed . The fact is that  the disfigurement  was caused by a big Comrie earthquake which took place many years ago , before reporting became “ extraordinary “and before the extent of the upheavals was measured by the wavy movement of liquid ink in the office of the senior magistrate . The present bridge over the Earn  as built in 1868 .)

When one reaches the north side of the bridge and takes  a step or two up the hill he finds he has got at last to Crieff. I say at last , as anyone not acquainted  with the place  may not know exactly when he is in or out of it . Scattered  here and there , in various shapes and sizes , and facing in all directions are a few thatched houses , Some face north and south , while others are due east and west . \There is no interfering  Dean of Guild Court   to  instruct the peaceful householders  as to what is regular  or irregular , or to direct them  in the law  regarding oriels ; so they fix  their windows and their doors just where and how they please , and consult no one as to whether they have done right or wrong. Here indeed, the flag of freedom waves triumphantly. On the street side the grass grows for the benefit of about a dozen cows , and all manner of wild  flowers prosper in abundance .The seeds  from this wayside paradise flit hither and thither as the prevailing  winds direct , and when you see a fair exhibition of the cottage garden on the thatched roof , you know that Nature has been exceedingly kind in presenting her beauties unsolicited . Up near the chimneys  , which have their faces delightfully coloured with soot generated from the fumes of Auchnafree peats ,dandelions and poppies rear their heads  side by side with buttercups and bluebells , while along the rigging , grass grows in a healthy form , competing each year  for the highest blades .Somewhere about the gables , from which the rain has been running in streams on to the kitchen floor, the spaces are closely turfed , and heavy stones are added to keep the wind from doing further  damage . If the cow is at all  a cleanly beast – sometimes whether it is or not – it is permitted  to hang its  hat on the door  “ ben the hoose “ , and to bellow at its convenience ; but generally speaking , the animal is apportioned a room at the back , with a through entrance from the kitchen. The family pig – a lower animal- for reasons which need not  be stated is allotted a separate house in the yard, and there it grunts the the livelong day as it stares between the gaping spars at the green kail which grows temptingly outside . Sometimes it raises itself on its hind legs, with the usual grace, and looks over the top spar to admire the scenery and general crops in the garden .The trough , however slips out from below, and as the beast falls  back with a semi – summersault into three feet of filth an extra special grunt is foerth coming by way of expressing its contempt for “ sour grapes “ .

Further up the street you are in a nobbier community. A clay pipe and a few sample groceries denote a merchant’s shop, and if you find a shoe or two in the window you know this is a shoemakers. Here there is some attempt at decoration. The holes in the window panes are padded up with old shirts and trousers, red creepers try to climb the door posts and a bull finch chirps at the outer door . Up the street you may see some children playing with the dust; here and there dogs lie  basking in the sun , and occasionally a  busy weaver appears at his door to note the progress of the sun on its  journey west ward. Further up the hill, there a few better class houses . You know what that means . the addition of a chimney pot in a falling condition, and a sneck on the door which works every sixth trial. There is also an effort at white washing.

Here ,then ,is Crieff in which prosper a noble class of worthy and contented weavers , whose sons  may live to see their families grow up  brilliant  schollars , or to learnof their success as highly intelligent poachers .




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