Monday, 28 October 2013

Our lost heritage

The language of Crieff and Strathearn in the 1790s and how a concerted  effort was made in the 18th Century to remove Gaelic as the spoken language of the people



Like  many Scots , I have a thoroughly mixed pedigree .I do believe that this factor , perhaps  more than any  other , allows  one to analyse and appreciate  one’s genetic heritage without the innate prejudice that all too frequently mars true objectivity in Scottish  discussions especially those  concerning politics and religion  ! My maternal great grand parents Archibald and Mary McFarlane  were  born and raised in the  delightful Kintyre village of Clachan some miles south of the fishing port of Tarbert on Loch Fyne in the County of Argyll – the ancient Kingdom of Dalriada  . They were first cousins – their  fathers Duncan and Archibald McFarlane  being brothers. Archibald  was  some eleven years older than  Mary and  was a widower at the time of their marriage in Campbeltown in 1864 . Both were native Gaelic speakers and were educated at the small  village school in Clachan . Family anecdotes passed  down through the generations tell us that the only non Gaelic speaking  person  in the  school at the time  was the teacher ! This  somewhat bizarre situation  was not  to uncommon in Highland  Scotland in the 18th and early 19th Centuries  . Clachan  school was run by an organisation known as the SSPCK  or to give it its  full “ handle” – The Society in Scotland  for the Propagation Of Christian Knowledge . It was formed by Royal Charter in 1709 for the purpose of founding schools and they proudly proclaimed  where religion and virtue might be taught to young and old in the Scottish Highlands and other uncivilised areas of the country.” 

Their schools were part of a programme  by the Established  Church of Scotland – known as the “ Kirk “  to extend its influence throughout the country and to include those  parts of Scotland known in Gaelic as   a' ghĂ idhealtachd  or those parts of Scotland where Gaelic  was spoken as the dominant and  first language by the  local population. This  ,remember,  was still in the aftermath period of the Jacobite rising and the Presbyterian Kirk was somewhat  paranoiac  about those who espoused  the old faiths – the Episcopalians and  the Catholics  . Many of the Highland Clans still adhered to these traditional Christian forms of worship but to those of  Calvinistic disposition they were now an anathema in Scotland amongst the  established  Presbyterian society . The fact that Kirk had already started  to fragment  with the first Secession  in 1733 is perhaps  indicative of its  failure  to appreciate the importance of other viewpoints in those far off days .

The Kirk  was already working with support from a tax on landowners to provide a school in every parish.  The SSPCK had 5 schools by 1711, 25 by 1715, 176 by 1758 and 189 by 1808 with 13,000 pupils attending.  Initially the SSPCK avoided using Gaelic with the result that pupils learned by rote without understanding what they read.  My great grandparents experience appears  not to have been that unusual in Highland Scotland . In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the attitude of most Lowland Scots towards the Highlanders was one of disdain and contempt  for both their language and their way of life .

Indeed the following is an extract from the published Statistical Account of the Parish of Kilcalmonell in which Clachan was situated .

“ Language : The Gaelic is the vernacular language of the parishioners but the English is displacing it and the sooner it overmasters it the better “

One  can examine the written words  contained  within the Statistical Accounts  of Scotland produced for every parish in the country in the 1790s and the 1830s .   

The two Statistical Accounts of Scotland, covering the 1790s and the 1830s, are among the best contemporary reports of life during the agricultural and industrial revolutions in Europe.

Based largely on information supplied by each parish church minister Statistical Accounts of Scotland provide a rich record of a wide variety of topics: wealth, class and poverty; climate, agriculture, fishing and wildlife; population, schools, and the moral health of the people. ( University of Leicester )

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet one can access them all on the Edina ( Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow ) web site

Go to “ For non subscribers “ and click on the “ browse scanned pages “  . You then enter the  Parish ( or County )  name in the appropriate box .

What then were  conditions like in Strathearn and particular in the town of  Crieff situated  right on the  border  between Highland and lowland Scotland ?The following extracts from the aforementioned Statistical Accounts written in the 1790s is  self explicit regarding the prevailing  attitude in some quarters towards Gaelic and its culture .


The people speak the English language in the best Scotch dialect ; although Gaelic be commonly spoken at a distance of three miles north , or four miles west of Crieff , yet no adult natives of the Lowland part of the Parish can speak or understand it .They have not even contracted the peculiar  tone of that language by their intercourse with the numerous Highland families now residing in the town . Many of these indeed understand  no other language but the Gaelic , and their children born in Crieff speak that alone as their mother tongue . The great number of these Highland families , their general poverty , their frequent ignorance in the grand subjects of revelation , their incapacity of deriving benefit  from the public religious service performed in the English language , the happy effects to themselves and society that may result from a proper regard to their interest and comfort , are all such , as justify to merit  the  humane attention and friendly aid of the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge. A small annuity allotted to a prudent man qualified to instruct and catechise these people on Sundays , would be an act of piety and  beneficence .


Character and Language

Like the generality of the common Highlanders , the lower ranks here are here modest , peaceable and very obliging .There are few law suits among them and there have been none for these 10 years , except  about legacies , multures and marches , They are frugal , moderate and industrious , and except at merry meetings are not much addicted to drinking – the common language of the people is Gaelic . All the natives understand it , but many , especially of the old  , do not understand English well .All the young people can speak English , but in order to acquire it , they must go to service in the Low Country.  The Gaelic is not spoken in its purity, neither here , or in the bordering parishes ,

Fowlis Wester

The inhabitants of the northern half  of the Parish use among themselves the Gaelic  tongue ; all of them can however speak English which is the only language spoken or understood on the south side of the hill .
This parish being situated on the borders of the Highlands , and having much intercourse and connection  with the natives , we need not be surprised to find that Gaelic is spoken in the back part of it , and the old Scotch dialect in the fore part , spoken with the Gaelic tone and accent . There are , however , very few persons in the whole Parish who do not speak or understand Gaelic . Most of the names of places are evidently derived from that language and are expressive of their local situation .

The Society in Scotland  for the Propagation Of Christian Knowledge .

The expansion of the Society was only possible by the generous and sometimes large accessions of capital particularly from its wealthy Presbyterian  supporters in Lowland
Edinburgh .   In the second charter by George II of 1738 the Society was empowered over and above the purposes of the original patent “to instruct pupils in husbandry, housewifery, trading, manufacturing or manual occupations”.  The Society main ambition  would  appear to have  been the establishment of charity schools throughout the Highlands  . Their attitude  towards the Gaelic language and its  culture went a long  way to destroying an already vulnerable but established way of life . A ban on teaching Gaelic literacy was not lifted until the 1760s and is  generally regarded as part of their overall strategy to  attempt  to destroy the language “ in the hopes  of producing a greater civilisation  in the Highlands”
Today when I leave Crieff for a day out  to enjoy the  beauties  of Strathearn , I am conscious that the vast  majority of the hills , mountains  and lochs shown on my map are still named in the language of our fore fathers . For that  we should be deeply thankful How sad that not  enough was done  to maintain  our very old  and rich heritage and that so much has been lost .


Wednesday, 9 October 2013

The Ancient Secrets of Glenlednock above Comrie – a look at this Highland glen in the 18th and 19th centuries

I'm not saying what glen it belonged to
and its not the Clans I'd be thinking of then
When I came at the turn of the evening
To the mouth of yon Glen
Twas a desolate Glen as I'd known it
With never a stick upon stone
And a scattering of sheep on a hillside
That was bare as a bone
( Robert Bain 1865 - 1955, father of Elizabeth Colvin Bain  )

I recall many moons  ago talking  to three charming elderly sisters  in a pleasant end terrace house in Nellfield Road Crieff . In those  days the houses  overlooked  the green expanse of what were the girls’ hockey pitches of Morrison’s Academy , a well established  seat of learning in our small town . The eldest of the ladies  was Elizabeth Colvin Bain  - a retired  geography teacher  from the Academy and unbeknown to me then a more than competent amateur archaeologist !

Elizabeth Bain died in 1999 aged  94 years but left behind an incredible  legacy of applied logic and analysis in her examination  of  the deserted  settlements of Glenlednock . The study has been published  in an abbreviated form by  the University of Edinburgh in a small booklet ( ISBN  0 907692 47 8) . I first read about her findings in the old Crieff Library in Comrie Street . They were typed out in the old " foolscap " paper on an old typewriter and carefully bound . I copied numerous  pages for  my own benefit and realised that it  was  not  the presentation of her  work  but the quality that was really relevant ! The study  was not  solo effort by Elizabeth Bain as she gratefully acknowkledged those who had  assisted her over the long years  ! Names  listed included Mr and Mrs Robert Miller of Crieff, Sheila Rimmer ( McIntyre ),Lucy and Hunter Smith , B Phillip and Jean Comrie , Tail Farm , Fowlis Wester.
The Glenlednock study was based on the cartographer Stobie’s map of 1783 which delinated the  existing  settlements at that time . The date is significant as  we are still in the period   of the  Crieff Tryst and  the glen  was on one of the main cattle  routes from the west  to Crieff in the heart of Strathearn . Although the Crieff Tryst declined in popularity between 1760 and 1770 whilst that  of Falkirk increased , the map is indicative  of the number of established  settlements in that period . Bain’s quantification of the glen’s population is based on  both the parish registers  and the Census  returns . The parish records for Comrie commenced  in 1693 and those of Monzievaird in 1729 so birth, baptismal and marriage records for  the people of the glen are accessible although  as these  were not compulsory registrations  they are more indicative than exact .Likewise the Census information  is restricted to the period  from 1841 when the first National census  with household  details was undertaken . These National censuses  were done every ten years and Bain  has  utilised population figures from 1841 ,1851, 1861 , 1871 , 1881 and 1891 somewhat later than  when the glen  was at its highest occupancy .The foreword to the study clearly  confirms this point : “ Later census returns did not cover all sites since some had already been deserted by 1841 ”

The Glen was chosen for one main reason namely its comparative isolation and enclosed nature  with only one direct access, the old road  shown on Stobie’s map , going up mainly by the left bank of the River Lednock and fording it in several places. A second route may have been in existence later , up the short glen of the Milton Burn leading to the habitations of Lurg , Carroglen and Balmuik .What  is interesting .

The Lednock rises  about  eight miles  to the north west of the village of Comrie at s height of  about 2 000 feet and flows east as the Allt an Druichd. It is jpines  amile downstream , by the Allt na Creiche , from the north  and  becomes the Lednock flowing in a south east direction  along a flat valley floor  at 1100 feet. Till it  debouches  to the lower valley at Spout Rollo.

The Glen was greatly altered  by the construction of the Hydo – Electric above Spout Rollo .Two settlements , Baluachker and Boven , were demolished during the construction period and these  can be identified  on the attached  copy of Stobie’s map . The third one in this vicinity , Keplandie , survived and was recorded  as being in ruins on the  first 6 inch ordnance survey map of the area published  about 1870 .

Half a mile downstream  lies the second level section ,broader to the west of the river at 730 feet , till it is joined on the right bank by the Daden Burn . Thereafter the plain broadens out on the left bank  producing the most extensive area of level land in the whole glen .

The side streams  here were of considerable importance  as they cut down into the alluvium , each producing its own little terrace suitable  for settlement buildings  without prejudicing the use of better land for cultivation .

The Daden site was particularly interesting as an example of this . The burn dropped from its source at 1800 feet  to 750 feet in only one mile and in spate had altered course several times on reaching the Lednock valley , and had strewn large boulders at no distance from th settlement . There appeared  to have  been two periods of building  and yet the people had persisted in using the site in spite of great dnger , because just up stream was the one good area  suited  to cultivation  , as the good corn drying  kiln proves . The right bank  of the burn was a high gravel bank liable to collapse into the water.

Below the confluence of the Geldie Burn from the north east , a rocky stretch constricted the main stream till beyond Ballindalloch it suddenly changed direction  to the south east  and then east north east as it met a belt of diorite , forming another level area .

Beyond  Tigh na shee it is deeply incised for over quarter of a mile till it reaches another level stretch at the confluence  with the Lurg Burn . Here an old course is plain to see on the left bank , while on the right several levels and terraces are seen . Thereafter  it has a series of entrenched sections , till at the Deil’s Cauldron it has  cut a deep gorge with rapids  for the most  of the remainder of its course , till it meets the River  Earn in Comrie .
Deil's Cauldron

It has been noted that the best land lay near the Innergeldie Farm but the lack of any remains there , was regarded as proof of its greater prosperity and the likelihood  of more frequent replacement of  old and outworn buildings  . It also led to a search  being made  much higher up into the hills  and the discovery of . it is thought , both settlements and sheilings at 1450 feet of altitude .   
Glenlednock Dam

Land Use in the Past

By analysing the census  returns  from 1841 to 1891 we learn that the population of the Glen declined by one third over that period . The employment pattern is , as one  would expect , related  to the land with farmers  , farm labourers or outdoor  servants , ploughmen , gamekeepers and shepherds dominating with  females and children as young as 12 years carrying  out duties as dairymaids , housekeepers and servants .

On 14 sites there were small gardens or in some cases small fields . One site at Keplandie  there was  found  a circular kail yard ( cabbage  patch ) with a diameter  of  some  22 feet with no entrance  thus  preserving the  produce from damage  by invading  stock .These  small areas supplied the  family with vegetables such as potatoes , turnips , kail , grain, oats, bere or barley . Examination of  a number of the sites  showed that nearly every site had a corn drying  kiln  even if located at a high altitude .

What size were the farms in the Glen? Again the study relies on the census returns and the following are all located on the appended map .

  1. Balnacoul (1)  10 acres
  2. Balnacoul ( 2) 10 acres
  3. West Ballindalloch  40 acres arable and 250 acres hill .
  4. East Ballindalloch 40 acres arable and 50 acres hill . In later census  returns it  had  grown in size  to 200 acres  in total with 19 acres arable  and in the  final census ( 1891 ) 200 acres  with some 30 arable .
  5. Tynashee  35 acres
  6.  Tynacroy  35 acres
  7. Carroglen  700 acres   growing later to  1140 acres  with  60 acres arable and finally  to 1200 acres  with  50 acres arable
  8. Balmuik  1200 acres   growing later to 1230 acres   with 50 acres arable and finally  1230 with 50 acres arable .

By 1871 Numbrs 1,2, 5 and 6 were no longer on the census It could be noted that fter the demise of the several sites at  Balnacoul , Ballindalloch across the river increased its acreage , perhaps taking in that land . Strangely it was found that the acreage  for the largest estate Innergeldie , was never given yet it had  more  employees than any other property in the Glen.

One of the structures most resistant to decay was the kiln of which nearly every settlement had one and sometimes two . Three were completely grassed over , making it uncertain which type they were . Nine had an external diameter of around 5 metres, seven of four and two, less than four . All were built of water worn boulders except that in the several lime burning kilns , the central flue was of large cut slabs reducing in size to the base . Some had more extensive wings  to the flue . in nearly every case the flue faced  each other across the burn ( stream ) , presumably to get the down draught on the hill slope .

Two large lime kilns were  seen between East and West Ballindalloch , one built into the terrace edge and now often seen smoking with burning rubbish . The other is a roadside bank, the top now a repository for old barbed wire and farm ironmongery . It is in very good condition . One near Tighnasithe had been converted from corn drying to lime burning .

The nearest source  of lime may have been to the west end of Loch Earn whence it was brought by boat to Port More ( now St Fillans ) . A difficult route  may have been used  to bring it from the Loch Tay area  to the north .

The corn drying kilns were found  at varying altitudes , the highest being at Keplandie  at 1100 feet  OD . The chances of grain ripening at that height must have been very slight indeed. It was one of the half dozen which had a back store.


Whilst there is  no visual proof that flax was grown , several sites seem to suggest the existence of retting ponds which were basic  to the production of flax for the making of linen . Tighnacroidh still has a small pond between the site and the River Lednock . One site at Balmuik  had a small circular area built up on one side and at Glaslarich  there is a wide area  built up on the north east side , now enclosing reeds and bracken .Two settlements  were on this hill ridge with  thirty two structures which suggests a good source of the labour force required in flax production .

The Keeping of Stock

The study  revealed the considerable  extent of cattle  husbandry . At Glenmaik , the remains of one building  revealed a central drain with its  exit still visible . This was the byre  with the house at the western end . On the three sites ( Balmuik , Glaslarich and  Lurg ) there were short stretches of cattle road , about 5 metres   across the top of the v shaped cut . These   seem to lead from the lower ground  to the higher settlements or sheilings  attached  to these properties .

On several sites there was  evidence of  what were folds for the animals and on others  higher up there was evidence of stone  sheep shelters  or stells . There  was also evidence of the presence of shielings  at Innergeldie  and Carroglen Hills  ( a sheiling is a summer habitation used  when the  cattle  were grazing on the higher summer pasturage )  .

In the early life of the Glen , the economy would have  been based on cattle and garden  or field produce . By the middle of the 18th century  sheep of the Linton breed had reached the Strathyre – Lochearnhead region .

Two large sheiling groups  were noted at about 1450 feet some two miles up the Geldie Burn . This  extensive group numbered  30 on the right  bank and a further 29 on the right bank of the tributary . The former was arranged  both horizontally , rising up from the terrace edge and separated  vertically by shallow wet flushes into five groups . The latter  was much more compact in one large  on the slope . To this day , the site is green and grassy  , whilst immediately to its right  is nothing but heather and to the left the burn .

The People

Because of the non compulsory nature of  pre 1855 ( the date of commencement of Statutory Registration ) parish records there is  no way in which to ascertain with any  degree of accuracy the population of the Glen . Names that predominate in the parish records are McOwan ( a variant of McEwan ) and Campbell . Male  Christian/ forenames  that dominate are John , Duncan , James ,Donald and Archibald  whilst the female  names  have Janet , Margaret , Katherine , Elizabeth , Christian, Ann , Mary , Helen and Jean with Jessie only appearing post 1841.

The census returns show  that the overall population of the Glen  fell from 170 in 1841  to 108 in 1891 . In 1841  there were 90 females and 80 males  whilst 50 years  later in 1891 there were 56 males and 52 females . Several families did not live long in the Glen Fergusons were at Lurg in 1802  and were still there in 1891 . Innergeldie was occupied  by Craigs from 1881 till 1945  and a family of McEwan’s with children born between 1800 and  1812  were the last  family recorded  in Tighnashee in 1851 .

Halfway through the 19th Century many new surnames   and Christian names  appear in the Glen . These were new arrivals  from all over Scotland  and some from England. The Scots incomers  came from a variety of airts including   Argyll , Perthshire  , Skye , Lanarkshire , Glasgow, Fife , Roxburgh and Dumfries .

This influx undoubtedly changed the character and homogeneity of the Glen but the closeness  of the  various  communities that  existed  within the Glen undoubtedly produced a close and familiar society .

The language  particularly  in the 19th Century was Gaelic - Comrie until into the 19th Century was Highland and Gaelic speaking . By the  late 19th Century it  had  all but gone !  


It is  often assumed that every community  , every  town and indeed every small village  in Scotland had its school from  an early date . Glenlednock  seems  however to have missed out from what can be  deduced  from archival evidence . Between 1693 and the first census in 1841   there  appears  a mention of the occupation of schoolmaster only once  and that is   in 1804 / 1805 . There is  no evidence  held to indicate the presence of a school in the Glen prior to 1838  and no log book or register has been located . The Statistical Account of 1844  ( a record of every Parish in Scotland )  mentions that “ endowments are lacking in this glen where the people can only afford a  teacher in the winter time ”.It is possible that any master in the type of small school for which a fee was paid would  only continue if remuneration was forthcoming . It  seems clear that schooling did not play much of a part in the life of the children in the Glen . Life was hard  and work  even for the young was  essential if they were to survive .