Tuesday, 25 February 2014

The Rev McAllister And A Religious "Punch Up" In Crieff

Rev Finlay McAllister

I have written on several occasions  in these  blogs  about churches and in particular church buildings . Crieff has had  over the last  two centuries a host  of  large  and small places of  worship . Some  like  the old Relief Church hidden and inaccessible between Addison Terrace and High Street are sad remnants of different way of life . Of  all the church buildings in Crieff , two I find unique and worthy of preservation .The Catholic  Church in Ford Road is a wee gem having  been built  in 1871 to the design of  Andrew Heaton Jr who believe it or  not  designed Keillour Castle  near Methven some  eight years later . My other  favourite is  the dominant sand stone  edifice  of the old Crieff Free Kirk and latterly designated  the Crieff South and Monzievaird Church . Built in 1881- 82 to the design of JJ Stevenson and Robert Ewan  it is  modelled on nearby  Dunblane Cathedral and is built  from Alloa sandstone  , a richer  coloured and more workable  stone than its local equivalent. Sadly it has  been lying empty since 2006  and the last Minister ,The Rev Henry AG Tait, better  known as Sandy , died last year .

The  story  about its  construction  and history  is a fascinating  tale of Victorian Presbyterian hypocrisy and dissension  and not a little skulduggery ! It starts  at the time of the “ Disruption “ in 1843 when 450 Ministers walked out of the General Assembly of the Established Presbyterian Church of Scotland – the Kirk as it was generally known .The reasoning  behind  this was over the  rights of the congregation  to choose  their  own Minister and not appoint  someone  chosen by the  local Laird or the person who was seen locally as the “ Lord of the Manor “ in an English context . Known as “patronage “ it  was deeply resented  by many Scots Presbyterians and it was reason that they all got up and walked away from the Assembly . In Crieff there were at the time , two  Established Church of Scotland churches , the Parish Church in what is now Church Street and the West Church on the Comrie Road  which  was a
“ Chapel of Ease “ or  an extension to the main church . The Minister was one Finlay McAlister who had  been appointed in 1839 when the church opened . McAlister appears to have  been a fairly strong individual if perhaps  not  a bit opinionated ! We have an account of his demeanour in the little  pamphlet  produced  in 1982  to mark the church’s centenary :

“ He seemed  to be at loggerheads with one of his elders Alexander Menteith of Broich House, perhaps  because  both men were autocratic and unbending. Whether  there was any other reason for their antagonism is not recorded  but certainly Mr Menteith was not happy until the Minister 
retired ”.

McAllister had  been born in the Parish of Rothesay in the Island of Bute – incidentally the same place  that my maternal ancestors hailed  from  over many generations . He  had quickly determined that the  secession from the Kirk and the setting up of  an independent Free Church was what  had to be  done . He  must have  been a persuasive individual because the  vast  majority of  his  congregation  supported his decision . This began some four  years of vituperative  behaviour from both the seceeders and the establishment . McAllister and his followers refused to leave the building . The  bitter  tension eventually saw the Church of Scotland achieve a valid  title  to the building  and  a legal enforcement  was enacted  to  get the  keys  handed over and the protesters summarily ejected . They did  not  leave however in a passive mood  or indeed in the spirit of Christian fellowship ! Our Victorian Presbyterian forbearers had a pretty strong feeling of  “ we are right and you are wrong “! Before  departing the building they wrote the word “ Ichabod ! ” on the walls and  defaced many of the pews .The term Ichabod was a biblical reference to the Book of Samuel in the Old Testament and indicates that the building was no longer the House of God . The break away congregation did  more than  just desecrate  the building , they took away the Communion Plate and all the Church documents  bar one ! It was  nearly one hundred years  before they were duly returned !

View of the West Church taken about 1900 from Carrington Terrace

Religion played an important  part in the Scottish way of life in the 19th  Century . The national or established  church , the Presbyterian Church of Scotland had throughout the 18th and into the 19th Century held a strong grip over the morality  and general behaviour  in most of  Scotlands’s 900 plus parishes . The Kirk Session  ( the committee of  senior members  of the congregation or elders ) ruled in a virtual dictatorial manner and could summon members to appear  before them or indeed the whole congregation to  “ seek repentance “  for  crimes  ranging from adultery  to  milking your cows on a Sunday morning ! Scotland’s national  poet Robert Burns  was  a regular occupant of the penance  seat in his local church . Burn’ s penned the phrase “ the fornication police “ for that august body of men !

The Church of Scotland endured  numerous  breakaways  and “ disruptions ” or schisms over the years . The first of many occurred in 1733 and it  was over the question of patronage  an issue that was to raise its head  again more than a century later . After 1843 there  were more adherents in Crieff of the non Established Presbyterian  Churches than the of the original body . The two largest were the Free Church and the  United Presbyterian  Church which were  to amalgamate in 1900 . It would appear  from the records  that many of the town’s leading  citizens and local land owners were members of the breakaway bodies .Apart  from Menteith of Broich ( Menteith Street iss named after him ) there were others  such as Dr Thom of McDuff Lodge , Mrs McDougall who was  a Wright of  Milnab Tannery . She donated £ 1000 to the Free Kirk plus  £ 200 to aid the poor in or  around 1870 - a large sum of money at that time . Lewis Miller - the ploughboy who made a fortune out of timber  and  built  Bennachie ( Richmond Hosuse ) when only in his 30s paid  for the cost of the steeple  to  the UP North Church to ensure it  was at least 3 feet  taller than the adjoining Parish Church ! 

The newly formed  Free Kirk in Crieff had  left the old Kirk in a somewhat shaky state . Problems occurred  over filling the  vacancy in the West Kirk now that Mr McAllister and his followers had departed .The following was written in 1912 in Porteous ‘ History of Crieff  :

For some years there was no settled minister , the pulpit  being filled by members of the Presbytery or licentiates . Finally one Mr Mucklewraith was chosen , who is only remembered from the circumstance that on one occasion he rebuked the members for coughing in Church . He was succeeded by a Mr Law  ,who left in 1856. Both of these were  shadowy ministers  , whose names are barely remembered “.

After being ejected from the West Kirk the  Free Churchers  arranged a temporary use of the premises of the old established Crieff Masonic Lodge in Comrie Street . They then  procured a site  in Commissioner  Street and erected a simple  structure that today is the Crieff Primary School Dining Hall . 

The first Free Church in Commissioner Street

With the congregation expanding a move  was made to construct something considerably grander . They  had  already  built  a “ mission hall “ and bought a site  at th junction of Comrie street and Coldwells Road – very  close to their old base of the West Kirk . It opened  for worship in August 1882 . The design was imaginative  and  based on  many of the features of Dunblane Cathedral . An impressive feature  was the  130’ high steeple  which still dominates  much of the landscape  in this western part of the town. It  perhaps  was a sign of growing “ women power ” as the Victorian era  drew  slowly to a close , that the  church bell was gifted by the female  members of the congregation from monies  raised .

A somewhat unique picture  showing the Free Kirk under construction in 1881

In 1929 the breakaway was healed  when the Free Kirk ( now known as the United Free Church ) at last re-joined the established Church of Scotland . As the years  passed Crieff  found  itself with a multiplicity of church buildings and dwindling congregations . In 2006  it  eventually closed as a church and  although it  functioned   for a short while as an antique centre it too eventually shut its doors . This  grand  building  was  sadly slipping into the inevitable decay pattern – a malaise  that seems  to strike small towns  like Crieff .

There is however a glimmer of hope on the horizon as a local  design and build company have lodged  a planning application to transform the building into a 13 bed roomed  hotel to  include a Hammam-style spa and self-catering accommodation. The church tower, inspired by Dunblane Cathedral  will be turned into a VIP guest suite, with a bedroom at the top of the structure. The ground floor would house seven rooms and the Moroccan-style spa .

It  would  be a great reprieve for a great building . Wonder what old McAllister is thinking about up there !

An impressive edifice ! 

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Strathearn Perthshire Past and Present In Pictures

Barvick Bridge on the south  facing slopes above Crieff . This old  pack bridge saw the " pack man " ( travelling salesman ) with his ponies visit the many isolated habitations  with his goods . 
The boathouse at GlenTurret is  quite striking in its design perched on the edge of the dam built in the late 1950s  to  provide  water  for  the Central Belt's  new  industries  especially  Grangemouth and its petro chemical complexes . Now  owned  by Famous Grouse ( whisky distillers )  it hosts the occasional " soiree " for  privileged guests . 
Cuthberts  was a small grocer's  shop in East High Street Crieff . The shop is  now  run by Mike Sweeney as  a gents hairdressers .Pic  dates back to about early 1900s .

Dewars was a plumber's business also located in  East High Street Crieff. Again the pic  dates to the early 1900s 

This is Scrimgeours Department Store at the corner 
of Comrie Street and West High Street Crieff . Somewhat dominating architecturally it was perhaps more  suited  to a  larger city location  than country town of  Crieff . It was destroyed  by fire in the 1970s  and is now  replaced  by an an award winning residential complex ( below ) .

Here is an old pic  of  the picturesque village of  Comrie some 7 miles  west of Crieff taken in the 1860s . The curious structure on the roof  of Brough and MCPhersons , Drapers is a " seismic observatory " . Comrie  lies on a geolical fault and  has  suffered  numerous " tremors " over the years . The observatory was  replaced later in 1869  by a small stone  structure  to the  west of the village in Drumearn field in the Ross. It is  known as the "Earthquake House "  . History tells us that one , James Drummond , a Comrie shoemaker , kept a tally of all the tremors . He together with the local post master Peter MacFarlane had  founded  the Comrie Pioneers in the 1830s and devised  an early scale to measure seismic intensity . By 1874 a seismoscope , designed by local man Robert Mallet ( or Malloch ) , had  been placed in the little building . ( see below ).

It was constructed  by Donald Carmichael and was made of wood . Each arm had three inverted , truncated cones , fitting loosely  into holes in the arm , allowing the cones to tilt  but not fall out . It gave a rough indication of  maximum intensity and the horizontal  direction of a tremor .

I conclude this " blog " with a charming 19th century painting of the Ward area  in the ancient and delightful village of Muthill just  south of Crieff . The bucolic bliss captured  by the artist has,   apart  from the disappearance  of the horse and cart , not really changed that much with the passage of time . The  dominating tower of the 12th century church is still with us,  are indeed those  cosy little  cottages of yesteryear . 

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Saint Fillan And His Cures For Sundry Ailments

Let  me commence  this blog  by an extract  from a superbly informative  book written  by a Presbyterian Minister , one William Marshall DD from Coupar Angus . The book " Historic Scenes of Perthshire"   was  written in 1880 and although perhaps  tainted  by a somewhat myopic  view  of  other Christian faiths , it does contain  some  real gems  and is  superbly researched . 

St Fillans in yester year 

Dunfillan - the hill of Saint Fillan 

The ruins  if the pre Reformation church of Dundurn

"As we approach Loch Earn, we come to a scene consecrated by its connection with the famous St Fillan, who evangelised the country here and in the wilds of Breadalbane, and whose arm did such wonders on the field of Bannockburn. The beautiful hill covered with verdure to the top, and the green of which contrasts so strikingly with the brown and the grey of the adjacent heights, is Dunfillan, the hill of St Fillan. The rock on the top of it was the Saint’s Chair. The spring, now days at the foot of the it, was the Saint’s Well. It was originally on the top of the hill; but, disgusted with the Reformation from Popery, which, like Archbishop Laud, it regarded as rather the “ Deformation “, it removed to the foot of the hill. St Fillan drank of the waters of this Well, and blessed them. The consequence was that they were endowed with miraculous healing powers; and, till even a late date, crowds resorted to them for cures, more especially on the first day of May and the first day of August. They walked, or, if unable to walk, they were carried around the well three times from east to west, in the direction of the sun; and they drank of it and were bathed in it. Then, as now, rheumatism was a peculiarly obstinate malady; and for a cure, rheumatic patients had to a ascend the hill, sit in the Saint’s Chair, lie down on their backs, and be pulled by the legs down to the foot of the hill. The Well was an infallible remedy for most of the diseases, which flesh, is heir to. It was especially efficacious for barrenness, for which it was most frequented.  When it was at the hilltop, the Saint most considerately and kindly spared certain patients the labour of climbing to it. He made a basin, which he placed at the foot of the hill, inn that there was generally some water even in the driest weather; and those afflicted with sore eyes had only to wash them three times in the basin, and they were made whole.

The erection of three chapels in the parish is ascribed to St Fillan. One of the three was at Dundurn, in the immediate neighbourhood of the pretty modern village of St Fillans; another was in Strathfillan; and a third was at Killin. The Saint died at Dundurn in 649. His worshippers about it would fain have buried him there; but the people of the other two places claimed his remains. They transported them through Glen Ogle, till they arrived at appoint within two miles of Killin, where the road branches of to Strathfillan. There the funeral train stopped, and a violent dispute ensued as to which road to take. Swords were drawn, and blood began to flow freely, when, low! – Instead of one coffin with which they had started from Dundurn, two coffins, exactly alike, were seen before them! Each party seized one of the coffins, and took its own way with it; and hence it is to his day a question whether Killin or Strathfillan has the relics of the Saint, or whether he is divided between them.

The Saint’s chapel at Strathfillan had a wonderful bell, for which the Strathfillanites had a great regard. It usually lay, untouched and deeply reverenced, on a gravestone in the churchyard. It possessed preternatural healing virtue. It cured patients by being placed, in crown fashion, on their heads. The bell had likewise this marvellous property, or prerogative, or whatever it may be called. It could not be stolen! If an attempt was made to steal it, it jumped out of the thief’s hands, and returned home, ringing his shame, and its own triumph!

St Fillan owed a little of his repute to Robert the Bruce. The MacDougalls of Lorn were perhaps the most relentless and formidable of Bruce’s enemies. In the Battle of Dalree with the Lord of Lorn, Bruce made a very narrow escape. The preservation of his life he ascribed to St Fillan, whose aid he invoked in his extremity, and who therefore became his favourite saint.”

Parish of Killin

Strathfillan took its name from the famous St Fillan. The Strath was the scene of his residence and his labours in the latter part of his life .We wrote of him when at Comrie, and told of his wonderful Well at Dunfillan.  Here was a pool, called the Holy Pool, which the Saint had endowed with like miraculous healing powers. Among other wonders ascribed to it, it cured madness. The insane were dipped in it. 

The proper season for dipping was the first day of the quarter year, old Style, after sunset, and before sunrise next morning. The patients were directed to bring up three stones from the bottom of the Pool.

On the bank of the Pool were three Cairns. Around each of these the patients walked three times, and put a stone on each cairn . They were then taken to the ruins of St Fillan’s Chapel  , and in a corner of it  , called St Fillan’s Bed they were laid on their back , and left tied for the residue of the night . If they were found loose in the morning, the cure was perfect , and thanks were duly returned to the Saint  . We read in New Statistical Account , written as lately as 1843 : - “The Pool is still visited , not by parishioners , for they have no faith in its virtue , but by people from other and distant localities .We have not heard of any being cured ; but the prospect of the ceremony , especially in a cold winter evening , might be a good test for persons pretending insanity “ .

Of the wonderful bell belonging to St Fillan’s Chapel , this statist says that it was stolen by an English antiquarian  about the beginning of this century , and carried to England ; and that it has not come back  , either because it has lost its marvellous power of returning home , ringing all the way , or because it preferred England as a more congenial home to the wilds of Breadalbane . He adds :- “At the Mill of Killin there was along kept a stone called Fillan’s Chair  , and several small round stones that had been consecrated by the Saint , and endowed with the power  of curing diseases. Each of them had its peculiar merit . They got a fresh bed every Christmas Eve from the straw and the weeds cast ashore by the river . Five of hem are still preserved at the mill , where they may be examined by the curious “ .

The first Chapel here was built by King Robert the Bruce in honour of St Fillan, to whose patronage and intercession he attributed the victory at Bannockburn  ; and in the tenth year of his reign , he gave the Chapel to the Abbey of Inchaffray , on condition that one of the canons of Inchaffray should regularly officiate in it . It will be remembered that Maurice , Abbot of Inchaffray carried with him the arm of St Fillan to that battlefield  , on which Bruce vindicated so gloriously  the freedom and independence of Scotland . In after times the chapel rose to the dignity of a Priory . Its ruins are still to be seen, measuring 1230 feet long and 22 feet broad  . At the dissolution of Religious Houses at the Reformation , this Priory with its revenues and superiorities , was given to Campbell of Glenorchy  , ancestor of the Earl of Breadalbane  , in whose possession it still remains . Near its ruins is the Presbyterian Chapel raised by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge  and which now forms the church of the quoad sacra parish of Strathfillan , erected in 1836 .

St Fillan's Cave

A cave in the cliff face at Pittenweem in the East Neuk of fife  ('The place of the cave') associated with St Fillan, an early Christian missionary from Ireland whose bell and crozier are still preserved in the Royal Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. It was perhaps one of these relics that was carried by the Abbot of Inchaffray into the Battle of Bannockburn after which the Scots attributed their victory to the support of St Fillan. Many miracles of healing were attributed to the saint and to Holy wells associated with him. One of these wells is to be found within the cave which was rededicated as a shrine in 1935 by the Bishop of St Andrews and is still a place of worship . 

Origins of Saint Fillan

St Fillan was born in Ireland, the son of Feriach and St Kentigerna. Early in the 8th C., Fillan arrived in Scotland with his uncle (later St. Comgan), mother and brothers. They settled at Loch Duich, just east of the Isle of Skye. Fillan later moved south to make his home in Strathfillan, at the head of Glen Dochart, where he built a church. Legend has it that, during the construction, a wolf killed an ox which was being used to carry materials. Fillan is said to have convinced the wolf of the error of its ways and it took the place of the dead ox. Next to the church, near Auchentyre in Strathfillan, was the Holy Pool, which is said to have been blessed by the Saint, and consequently developed healing powers, proving particularly curative for the mentally ill who were attracted in large numbers over succeeding centuries. St. Fillan is closely associated with Killin, where he is said to have built a mill and set up a market. His healing stones are now kept in the Breadalbane Folklore Centre in the village.

Fillan travelled around Scotland; he visited Islay, moved to Luncarty and then Struan (Perthshire). He later visited Forgan (near Pickletillem, Fife), proceeding to St. Andrew's Monastery, before spending time as a hermit in St Fillan's cave at Pittenweem. It is also likely that he travelled to Wigtownshire, because the villages of New Luce and Sorbie both had churches dedicated to St. Fillan.

He died at an old age and was buried in Strathfillan. Much later, his relics were taken to Bannockburn, where they are said to have helped Robert the Bruce win victory. Bruce later founded a Priory in Strathfillan - 2 miles (3 km) SE of Tyndrum - in Fillan's honour. Other relics, including Fillan's staff and bell, were originally kept at the church in Strathfillan. These items were both removed from Scotland, but returned in the late 19th C., when they were deposited in what is now the Museum of Scotland.

Miscellaneous Musings about St Fillan

Little is known of St. Fillan's ministry at Breadalbane but he has left behind him here an imperishable and gracious tradition. His memory has given a peculiar charm to every part of the long and romantic glen between Killin and Tyndrum. His mill and healing stones are at Killin; his seat where he meditated and taught, is at Suie; while the broad strath with its beautiful stream from Crianlarich to Carndroma bears his name, Strathfillan. Legend tells us that St. Fillan was born with a stone in his mouth and that his father threw the child into a lake but that angels watched over him until he was found by Bishop Ibar, who brought him up as his own child. He instructed St Fillan in the Christian faith.

Breadalbane, until the dawning of the 8th century, had been neglected by Christianity so it fell to St. Fillan to enlighten the people. He is said to have received the monastic habit from St. Mundu, who was one of St. Columba's companions and the founder of a monastery at Kilmun (in Argyllshire).

The quigrich or pastoral staff of St Fillan 

St Fillan came originally from Ireland and arrived at Glendochart around 730 AD. He built a priory near Auchtertyre in Strathfillan. Little is known of his work in Glendochart though he was certainly held in great veneration and summer and winter feasts were held each year in Killin in his honour. When the saint died he left certain relics which, rather unusually, were entrusted not to the monks of his priory but to the custody of laymen living in Glendochart who were given a free grant of land by the king in virtue of their office.

Such men were called deoradh which is Gaelic for stranger. This referred to the fact that the relics were often carried as a ‘stranger’ to other areas as they were considered to possess special powers. The relics of St Fillan were handed down from father to son and in the course of time the families entrusted with the relics were given the surname deoradh or Dewar.

Perhaps the most important relic of all was the quigrich or the pastoral staff of St Fillan. This was often taken to distant places where it was considered to have magical properties in the recovery of stolen goods. The fact that the family having custody of the quigrich should possess such a potent relic was not popular with the Priors of Strathfillan and in 1549 there was an attempt to compel “Malise Doir of Quigrich to deliver and present to the kirkis of Strathphillan certain reliques, and nocht to be taken furth agane without the licence of the said prioure.”  Failure to agree was to lead to excommunication. However the Lords of the Council threw out the decree and Malise Doir retained the relic.

The quigrich stayed with the same family in Glendochart for about 900 years, when, because they had fallen on bad times, they sold it to the McDonnells of Glengarry. This breach of trust brought them nothing but trouble and eventually with some difficulty they were able to buy it back. Though it was no longer used to locate stolen property it was believed that water in which the staff had been dipped was most efficacious in curing sick cattle.

No charges were made for this service but the realisation seems to have dawned on the Dewar family that possession of the quigrich did confer certain financial advantages. They found that tourists in Killin were prepared to reward them for a view of the relic. In 1808 Alexander Dewar even took it to Edinburgh where according to the Caledonian Mercury “there is to be seen at the first entry below Covenant Close a most curious antiquity, in the family of the proprietor since before the time of Robert the Bruce. Admittance two shillings.” 

Eventually the quigrich passed to Archibald Dewar who in 1818 emigrated from Scotland to Canada taking the crosier with him. That might have been the end of the story had it not been for the efforts of the Rev Eneas McDonnell, a catholic priest in Canada and a descendent of the McDonnells of Glengarry who had possessed the quigrich for a short time. He wrote to Dr Wilson who was secretary of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and between them efforts were made to secure the return of the staff to Scotland, but without success.

There was to be yet another twist to the story. Dr Wilson was appointed to a chair in the University of Toronto and was able to visit Alexander Dewar, son of Archibald, who now owned the quigrich. By this time Alexander was almost ninety years old and was worried that his own sons would not show the same interest as he had done in preserving St Fillan’s staff. He agreed to part with the staff and on December 30th, a deed was drawn up to surrender the quigrich to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland “there to remain in all time to come for the use, benefit and enjoyment of the Scottish Nation.” 

The quigrich was placed and may still be seen in the National Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh.

Some Facts About Saint Fillan

He was also known as Fhaolain , Foellan, Foilan,  Foelan , Foillan or Fulan . He was the son of Feriach and Saint Kentigerna, and related to Saint Comgan. Became a monk, taking the habit at Saint Fintan Munnu Monastery

Accompanied Kentigerna and Comgan to Scotland in the 8th century. Became a hermit, living some of his life in prayer at Pittenweem near the Saint Andrew monastery. Became Abbot of Saint Andrews and his bell and staff survive to today. Hermit at Glendochart, Perthshire, where he built a church. Legends and large tales naturally grew up around Fillan. For example, a wolf is reported to have killed the ox Fillan employed to work at the church construction site at Glendochart; when the wolf realized whose ox it was, it took the ox's place. For centuries after his death, the mentally ill were reported miraculously cured by being dipped in a fountain in the church, tied up, and left overnight near Fillan's relics; those whose bonds were loosed in the night were cured of their disorders. The victory of Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn was attributed to the presence of Fillan's relics at the battlefield.

Saint Fillan is the patron saint of insanity, mental disorders, mental illnes and the mentally ill .

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Two Years of Our PerthshireCrieffStrathearn Blog

Happy Second Anniversary to the PerthshireCrieffStrathearn Local History
Blog ! Since I started  my “ blog “ back in February 2012 I have logged  up some 100 blogs covering a wide range of local history in the Crieff and Strathearn area  with a  few  from further afield .

This old blogger keeps an eye on who is reading  his scribing which homes in on Strathearn -  our beautiful and fascinating  part of  “Auld Scotia ”.These stories  have attracted  close on 30 000 hits in some twenty four months and what is  quite incredible is the diversity of nationalities logging  in to  see what our past has to reveal . The “ top ten “ countries  are perhaps  somewhat surprising and here they are  with hits to date shown :

1.United Kingdom

2. United States


4. Russia

5. France

6. Canada

7. Australia

8. Poland

9. China

10. Ukraine

Apart from the above , the blog  has regular  hits  from such diverse  parts of the globe as the Netherlands , Norway , Denmark , Brazil ,Colombia and Ireland ! I have been quite surprised  to record  the  regular  viewing of a guy ( or indeed  perhaps a lass ! ) from the remote island of Vanuatu in the Pacific east of  Australia and near New Guinea !

Eratap Beach in distant Vanuato 

I do wonder who that person is - and  that in all probability  sits under a shady coconut palm, no doubt with glass in hand , surfing  his  tablet  for tales of Strathearn in  those far off days !

To me , it is important  to know what subjects  attract the most interest . Sometimes  I will run a  story  on perhaps a more obscure topic  than would  be normal . I believe  an expose of as many of the more obscure  topics as possible is important as is the coverage of  those that attract a wider  interest . What then were the  top blogs in Crieff and Strathearn out  of the one hundred that were posted  ? Here  is  the position at present :

 1.    The Story of Weaving in Strathearn ( in 3 parts )    1085 hits

 2.    Witchcraft in Strathearn ( in 2 parts )   980 hits

3     3.          The Story of Transport in the Strath  914 hits
       4.    The Breadalbane Campbells ( in 2 parts ) 743 hits

5     5.    Lewis Miller – Crieff farm boy , lad o’ pairts and entrepreneur    446 hits

6     6.      The Burning of the Strathearn Villages  410 hits

7     7.     The Cursus of Crieff   316 hits

8     8.   The Gask Ridge – the oldest Roman Frontier in Europe   300 hits

9     9.  The leather and tanning industry in Crieff    298 hits

     10.   ( equal )   Ferntower House – a lost treasure  288 hits

1   10.  ( equal ) Sir David Baird – a monument of a man   288 hits

Thanks  for joining us  and “ lang may yer lum reek ! ”- which in everyday English means may you continue to prosper from participation in my little Blog !

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Drummond Arms Hotel Crieff And Our Neglected Heritage

Like most  citizens of Crieff , I am pleased  that the Crieff Community Trust are making  strenuous  efforts  to save  the rapidly deteriorating  Drummond Arms in the centre of the town . The Community Right To Buy legislation is a useful tool  that has been added  to the statute  books and has  already proved successful particularly with the crofting communities and of course nearby Cultybraggan.

The present Drummond Arms  is a comparatively modern building  being Late Victorian having been  designed  by David Rhind  and built between 1872 and 1874 . The building  which predeceased it was The Drummond of Perth which was noted in the post Jacobite era as a popular  social centre for the local gentry of the time . Prior  to this Bonnie Prince Charlie held  a war council in all probability in premises  to the rear of  the Drummond whilst  staying at nearby Ferntower House en route to  the disaster that was Culloden .

The present state of the building is  due  to the total neglect of the last two decades. A  feasibility study and cost analysis was  carried  on the building a year or  so ago by Crieff Hydro , the town’s largest employer , into the possibility of  the  conversion of the building into flats  . They  chose  not to proceed  . The practicality of  developing the Drummond for  community purposes  remains,  as yet, to be answered .  It my well be that a fa├žade  retaining frontage with  a purpose  built interior is the solution but that is for the professionals  to consider in due  course .

Crieff  recently  hit the headlines  when it emerged  that  air  pollution  by traffic in the centre of the town had reached  crisis point and we understand that the local authority  have now designated the area an Air Quality Management Area .History really  told us of this  eventuality many  moons ago . A Public Enquiry was held in 1958 by the old Perth County Council into a proposed  relief  road or by pass  for the town . The then Planning Officer James McGavin stated that  unless  this  was implemented it  would  result in total traffic chaos within twenty years ie 1978 .Some fifty six years  later , the good  citizens of Crieff are blighted by unacceptably excessive traffic  on the A85 . This is  the main east to west trunk road for Central Scotland which literally bisects  the town and  destroys much  of the ambience of what in by gone  days  was known as the Montpelier of Scotland . Surely the time  is nigh to act without further prevarication.

History is  not  kind  to the heritage of Strathearn . We have lost in the last  hundred or so years great buildings such as Abercairney, Ferntower and  Inchbrakie . We have  neglected the protection  and publicising of  one of Scotland’s great abbeys Inchaffray at Madderty . We have on our  doorstep the oldest Roman frontier in the World namely the Gask Ridge . We have unearthed a fascinating Neolithic  past in the excavation  of the Cursus  on the site of the Strathearn Campus . Both these  have seen  tremendous archaeological investigation  by dedicated teams . As an area very  much dependent on tourism we must  ensure that a positive  approach be adopted  to  saving what we can and  developing the future .

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Cultoquhey - " at the back of a snowdrift "

Designed by Sir Robert Smirke and built some time after 1816, Cultoquhey has changed little in the past two centuries although, when the estate was broken up and sold in 1955, the house became - and still is - an  hotel. The Cultoquhey estate had since 1429 been owned by the Maxtone family, who added the name Graham in 1860 when they inherited another property owned by a relation of Thomas Graham of Balgowan, later Lord Lynedoch.

Perhaps the most famous Maxtone Graham in recent years has been Joyce Anstruther who married into the family in 1923. A writer, she altered her maiden name of J Anstruther to read Jan Struther, under which name she penned a number of hymns, including 'Lord of All Hopefulness', and the bestseller, 'Mrs Miniver', which was later made into the classic wartime film.

This pencil drawing comes from a large album of sketches which was donated to the Sandeman Library [replaced by the A K Bell Library in 1994], Perth, in around 1944 by Gladys Graham Murray. She was the daughter of Viscount Dunedin, a former Conservative politician, who was descended from the Grahams of Garvock and the Murrays of Murrayshall. There was also a family connection with Thomas Graham of Balgowan, later Lord Lynedoch, whose home is one of those featured in this book. The unknown artist was possibly a member of the Graham family. The work has been described by a senior curator at the National Gallery of Scotland “as that of a competent amateur.”

There have been at least three houses at Cultoquhey. A "fortalice and tower" is mentioned in a charter of 1545. Then the house here illustrated was built (perhaps in the 17th century - a drawing of an old model cut out of paper makes it look older than McOmie's drawing) and was occupied until 1830, when it was pulled down on the foolish advice of Robert Graham of Redgorton, "to get rid of all taxes". The present house of Cultoquhey was built between 1822 and about 1830 on a nearby site. (Robert Maxtone Graham scripsit)

During the 1930s, Margaret Ethel Blair Oliphant wrote: "The estate lies about three miles to the east of the town of Crieff at the gate of the Highlands, between the Ochil and Grampian Hills. The name signifies in Gaelic, "At the back of the snowdrift".

Never losing or gaining an acre and in unbroken descent from father to son, the Maxtones lived and died at Cultoquhey for 600 years. Robert de Maxtone had a charter of the lands dated 1410, but that the family held the estates from an earlier date is proved by mention of them in other charters. Robert Maxtone of Coltoquhey fell at (the battle of) Flodden in 1513.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Huntingtower Castle

Huntingtower Castle

Huntingtower Castle is to be found just west of Perth beside the junction of the A9 and the A85 Crieff road. Its location is unspectacular, and the margins of Perth seem to be growing steadily out towards it. But both the grounds and the castle are beautifully cared for and what you find is a unique time capsule with a wonderful atmosphere.
Huntingtower is medieval in origin but has seen significant redevelopment during its colourful history. Two families, the Ruthvens and the Murrays, made it their home and it also played host to royalty: twice to Mary Queen of Scots and once to her son James VI, who was held against his will there for ten months in 1582 during the episode known as the Ruthven Raid .

The Ruthvens held the lands from the 1100s to 1600. One resident in the early 1500s was Katherine Ruthven who later became Lady Glenorchy. In 1600 James VI's patience with the family finally ran out as a result of yet more plotting against him. As a result they were first killed and then tried for high treason; their lands were forfeited; and even the very name of the place, until then Ruthven, was changed - to Huntingtower.
The property was later given by the Crown to the Murrays of Tullibardine. During the occupation of John Murray, the first Duke of Atholl, the castle became run down and with the death of his wife in 1767 it was abandoned as a place of residence.

During the occupancy of the House of Ruthven, Huntingtower consisted of two quite separate tower houses built three metres apart, one for each of the sons of William Ruthven. Other buildings were set around the courtyard of the castle precincts. Huntingtower today offers an interesting glimpse into the past, and holds some surprises for its visitors. Entry is either by steps from the courtyard into the first floor of the Western Tower, or into the ground floor of the East Tower.

The West Tower originally had three storeys and a garret and was the larger of the two properties; what remains today is a spacious hall with traces of wall paintings and coat of arms still apparent in the west window recess.
The Eastern Tower was originally built as a gatehouse but was converted in around 1500 into a residential tower house. The first floor hall boasts a painted wooden ceiling and intricate painted plasterwork representing a bird amid luxuriant foliage. This building is three floors and a garret, and on the second floor the fine 15th Century fireplace also survives.

It was in the 1600s that work was undertaken to link the two towers and make Huntingtower look more like a regular country mansion of the time. This work was undertaken by the the Murray family, and the bridging work between the original two towers is clearly visible both internally and externally.

At this time the grounds still housed the ruins of an earlier great banqueting hall and these were still standing more than a century later. The Murrays also developed significant formal gardens to the south and east of the castle.

Huntingtower also has a romantic tale to tell. Dorothea, daughter of the first Earl of Gowrie is said to have leapt between the tops of the two towers of the castle, a distance of 9 feet 4 inches, in retreat from her mother as she was almost discovered when visiting her lover in his chamber (doubtless deliberately located by her mother in the other tower).
The mother was reassured to find her daughter in her own bed that night, and her lover alone in his: but was probably less impressed when the couple eloped the next day. To this day the gap between the towers is know as The Maiden's Leap.
Some castles' claim to fame is a resident ghost. Huntingtower is known more for is resident colony of pipistrelle bats, who live here all year round

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Strange Roman Apparitions in Strathearn

Ardoch Roman Fort  and more about the Romans

A few years ago photographs were taken of a ruined farm house near the camp which was being renovated . It is a curious fact that when they were developed the form of a legionary  appeared in every one !

Another Roman tale of the para normal was recounted to me by the occupant olf the little cottage at the foot of the path up to Baird’s Monument ( Tom na Chastille ) . Apparently a damp patch appeared on the upper wall of the sitting room despite there being no heavy rain for some time . It appeared  like rising damp but being at ceiling level was obviously not . Investigation failed to reveal any missing slates or evidence of where rain could have got in .When it dried out the unmistakable picture of a Roman soldier could  be made out . Coincidence that it transpired there had been  a Roman camp at Monzievaird ( The Quoigs ) ! Coincidence ?

The late Archie McKerracher the well known and excellent author from Dunblane recounts this strange tale. In 1974 he was living in a new housing estate on a hill above Dunblane . He was working late one September night when he went outside for some fresh air  . It was clear frosty night with not  a sound to be heard anywhere . As he turned to go back indoors , he heard a strange noise coming across the fields  to the south . It sounded like a large number of people on the move with feint voices rising and falling . He listened in puzzlement , then decided his imagination  was playing tricks  and went inside . He could not , however , get the matter out of his mind and some twenty minutes later went back outside .

The noise was much louder and was now passing immediately behind the house on the other side of the street . He felt the skin rise from his scalp and his hair bristle. He could now make out individual voices but could not understand what they were saying .He could make out the sound of the tramp of marching feet  and the jingle of what sounded like weapons and armour .

The noise went on and on until he turned inside and went straight to bed .He had been convinced that he had been overworking and put the experience from his mind  until a week later when he called on an elderly couple  who had moved in further up the street . He was talking to the man   when their dog rose up to stretch “ Sit down “ its mistress commanded “ You’re seeing things
again “. 

“ What things ? “ he asked .
“ Well the strangest thing happened last week “, she replied.” We were sitting  up reading about 1 am  when the cat and dog suddenly woke up . They stood bolt upright with all their hair bristling up their backs and seemed to watch something crossing the lounge for about twenty minutes . They were terrified “.

When he questioned them further, he was astonished to learn this strange episode had taken place on the same night and precisely the same time that he had heard the invisible army pass by . He was aware from his research that the housing estate was built on the site of two large Roman marching camps . Old aerial photographs clearly showed the outlines of the camps and they also showed the line of the Roman road which ran directly north behind the houses on the other side of his street. Archie McKerracher concluded this extraordinary tale by saying that many years later, he had been giving a history talk to a local club when on concluding a lady came up to him and commented that she had not appreciated that the Romans had come as far north as this . Then she added “ I wonder if it was the ghost of a Roman Army I heard “ When asked what she meant she replied that she was putting the cat out at night when she had heard what sounded like an army passing through her back garden. She had moved into a house opposite where Archie McKerracher had once lived and it turned out that this had occurred at 1 am on the same date in September that he had his experience some ten years earlier  !

As an epilogue to this tale , he had further researched the information pertaining to this period of Roman occupation in the area . In AD 117 the Caledonian tribes rose in revolt and destroyed the small Roman garrisons .Hadrian had sent the lX Hispanic Legion from York  to subdue the tribes .This unit had been known as the Unlucky Ninth ever since in 60 AD it had been responsible for flogging the captured Iceni Queen Boadicea and raping her daughters . The Queen had cursed the legion to eternity  and it was cut to pieces when she led all the tribes in revolt . It was the lX Legion who marched into Scotland in the autumn of 117 AD  and from there vanished  from the face of the earth !

Small addendum : The road junction on the Crianlarich / Killin road  happens to be called Lix Toll . Lix ?  The L = legion and lX = Ninth !!