Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Ancient History and Heritage of Strathearn Begins to Be Recognised

There  were more than  a few stares and  scratching of  heads last week  when well known  Civil Engineering contractor Murphy started  to erect  a circle  of  timber adjacent to the entrance to the Strathearn Campus !

This was in fact  the culmination  of  much work , talk and discussion  following the discovery in 2011 at Pittentian near Crieff of  what appeared  to be a timber circle of  great antiquity . It  had  been identified  during  a  survey in advance of the  construction  of  the Beauly to Denny power line  which was  scheduled  to bisect the Strath transmitting power to the Central  Belt  .

Thanks  to the funding provided by Scottish and Southern Energy , Northlight Heritage undertook a detailed  excavation on the site which lies  approximately half a mile east of the Campus and the ancient Cursus unearthed during its construction .

One of the problems  when dealing  with archaeology of this vintage is that in most cases  there are no  physical remains left  to see in the aftermath  of the dig .In the case  of both the Cursus and the timber circle ,  awareness was highlighted  by involving both Crieff High School pupils and the community generally in  an event held as part of  the Perthshire Archaeology Month . The project archaeologist , Ally Becket of Northlight  Heritage  and his  distinguished colleague  and Cursus  expert Dr Kenny Brophy of  Glasgow University involved the pupils  in preparation for an event  held  last June  in the Campus .Thanks  to the sponsors and the backing of Campus leader Christine Ross a  very positive  outcome was achieved .An enthusiastic  audience enjoyed a   fascinating  and informative discourse from both  culminating  to a visit outside  to inspect the pupils’ work !  To quote the report  by Ian Hamilton ,Chairman of Strathearn Archaeology and History Society :

 “Several dozen white buckets used on digs, and two lengths of nylon rope, were laid out to replicate the circle's post holes and the line of the cursus to the south of the school. The buckets were laid out on a rugby pitch, marking the outer ring of posts (c.23 metres in diameter) and the inner ring (c.14 metres in diameter), and other significant post holes.”

It  is  so important  due  cognisance is taken of  the importance of  such discoveries . The generosity of Scottish and Southern Energy in funding the recently erected circle  is a step in this direction . Much more  is still to be achieved  to reflect the significant importance of these finds in Strathearn .

New Blog Site For Perthshire Crieff and Strathearn Pictures Old and New

MacRosty Park Crieff

I know that if you have  been following this local history Blog on Perthshire Crieff and Strathearn you will be interested in  my new Blog  site  which  will display a  wide variety of pictures old and new covering this  most beautiful part of Scotland .The first  one has  just been launched and shows  the wonderful MacRosty Park in Crieff throughout the seasons . Have a look and see if  you like it !

Sunday, 11 May 2014

The Strathearn Heritage of Prince William and Kate Middleton and more about Kinkell -the "Terrible Parish " !

Perhaps I am being parochial but it  is regrettable  that the Royal couple  who  are due  to visit  Strathearn in late May  are  virtually always  referred  to as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge  rather  than by  their  Scottish titles of the Earl and Countess of Strathearn !  I ran  a Blog on my Blog site

some two years  ago on the Pictish origins  of the original Earls and  how they ruthlessly maintained  their  power base in Strathearn – the successor  to the ancient kingdom of Fortren or Fortriu .  My last  Blog  concerned the unfortunate minister of Kinkell who was the last person to be hung in Crieff . Richard Duncan found  guilty  by the Earl of Strathearn  duly dispatched on the “ Kind Gallows “  in 1682 despite  the fact  that a reprieve  had  been  issued  for  his pardon for the killing  of his own child .There is a fascinating if  somewhat odd connection between the sad  fate of the Reverend Duncan and the  present incumbents  of the Cambridge  aka Strathearn Royal titles ! Some  weeks  back  the newspapers and media  were  filled with details  of the  visit  of Pippa Middleton and her  parents  to Trinity Gask House  for  a “ society “ wedding .

Trinity Gask House just happens to be  the  present name of what was the Trinity Gask Manse  , home  of the unfortunate Reverend Duncan dispatched at Crieff all those centuries ago on the orders of the Earl  ! One wonders  whether  the unfortunate cleric  enjoyed  this  modern spectacle  from the comfort of his ecclesiastical cloud !

Having researched the sad  story of the Rev Duncan , minister of the parish of Kinkell , I decided  that it  would  be interesting  to look at this old Parish in some detail and find  out  more about it . Kinkell is  perhaps  best  known to those of  w us who live in  Strathearn as  the place  where there is a narrow bridge crossing the turbulent River Earn .The bridge is of  some age having been built in 1793 to replace a ferry crossing that  operated for  many centuries  prior  to this  date . Indeed this  part of the river became a key link in the route south and was in probability  used  by the Drovers in preference  to the Innerpeffray crossing as a means  of  getting over the Ochils  to the Falkirk Tryst - the cattle market which was the successor to  the Crieff Tryst .An interesting relic  of those  ancient days  is the old Toll House on the north bank of the river . Toll Houses  were erected  as  a result of the various Turnpike Acts which were  passed by Parliament  between 1750 and 1800 .This  one at Kinkell would  have  had a  barrier  across the  and any cart or  horse  wishing to proceed  would  have had  to pay  the due toll . The  monies taken were to pay for the construction and upkeep of the highways .  

Kinkell was  a  very small parish and such was its  fate that it  was  merged about 1640  into its  larger neighbour  Trinity Gask opposite it on the north bank of the Earn.  The name Trinity Gask is unusual – the Gask part is the area (  as in the adjoining Gask Ridge with its  fascinating Roman heritage ) .The Trinity prefix  refers  to the church’s  dedication to the Holy Trinity  . There was a Trinity Well located just south of the church .  The subject of  study however  is not the that  but a far older  and indeed more fascinating building which stands on  raised hillock overlooking the river . It is  sadly a decaying ruin but has a fascinating background . It is the Church of St Bean . Interestingly there is also a church dedicated  to  Saint Bean  at nearby Fowlis Wester.  It is  somewhat unclear  as to why there was veneration  for this particular individual. The origins of the name is  shrouded  in the mists  of time  . It  has  been commonly  claimed that the saint was  the grand son of the King   of  Leinster and preached amongst the Picts  in this area  of Strathearn . It  is  perhaps  more likely that he was the St Bean who ruled the ancient Culdees monastery  at Mortlach in Banffshire . Both the  church in Fowlis and one at nearby Kinkell venerated  the Saint and an annual fair and a holy well were dedicated to his memory . 

Whilst the Fowlis church is medieval in its origins  and was  rebuilt in the 19th century , its  name sake  down the road  has lapsed into virtual oblivion . Many years  ago I recall visiting it . Adjoining it  was somewhat run down but occupied  farm cottage . That was purchased shortly after my visit , demolished and a new dwelling erected . There is no signage telling the public  that the old church  lies awaiting . You park  your car  on the gravel hard  standing in front of the  house  and  walk the short distance  to the church and grave yard . Remember you do have  right of access but common sense tells us to respect the neighbour ! 

The  old church is  completely roofless and shrouded in ivy with  mature trees  both inside and out . It is very old with part of the fabric  probably dating  back as far as 13th century. Research indicates that it was rebuilt possibly in the late 16th century  and repaired about 1680 . It served as the parish church up until probably the early 18th Century when Kinkell was absorbed  into Trinity Gask parish .

It is a comparatively small building  being overall some 20 metres in length by 7 metres  wide – similar to another medieval local church – St Cattans at Aberuthven near Auchterarder . This  size  equates  in modern terms  with the floor area  of a modern bungalow so perhaps  the small congregation  was always  in danger  of  being assimilated into a larger neighbour . When I looked inside there  appeared  to  be  two cross walls dividing it into three  distinct areas .The eastmost one  was inaccessible  and the mid  on seemed to  be  a burial area with  memorials  to the Hepburn family who  were lairds of nearby Colquhalzie estate .

Historically St Beans  was granted to the Augustinian Inchaffray Abbey in Madderty about 1200 by the founder  of the Abbey , Gilbert , Earl of Strathearn .Charters  tell us that this  grant  was confirmed  by Pope Innocent III in 1203 and “ to the uses of the Abbey by the Bishops of Dunblane before 1239 , in which year a vicarage settlement was confirmed. The parsonage thereafter remained with the abbey, while the vicarage appears to have been served by one of the canons.”( Cowan 1967 ) .

The peaceful setting of St Beans worth a visit  in itself . The graveyard appears  to have been  used starting  towards the end of the church’s regular use  and  the oldest stone  is dated 1740 . According to the Statistical Accounts of Trinity Gask Parish published in 1796 we  know  that services had still been held at St Beans  on every fourth Sunday in the summer until shortly  before that date but the building had fallen into disrepair and was by then ( 1796 ) abandoned for worship .

Despite its small size Kinkell actually had a  second church  The Antiburgher Church was  built  about 1790 adjacent  to the Auchterarder road  about  half a mile south of St Beans .The Antiburghers were a  breakaway body from the established Presbyterian Church of Scotland who  had  objected principally  to what was termed “ Patronage “  , with the minister  being  chosen  by the lairds or land owners  and  not the  congregation . The church  eventually re-joined  the established  church  and  functioned locally until about the 1970s . It lay empty for a while  and I recall looking  inside  it  and  found a  rather attractive  little kirk with a  small balcony to the rear . It was sold and converted  to a house about 1985 .

Thus concludes  the synopsis of  the history of  one of Strathearn’s most attractive and smallest parishes . Deemed the “ terrible parish “ on account  of it’s unfortunate minister hung on the gallows of Crieff , it’s precentor  or choir master  drowned whilst  crossing the Earn , the church ( St Beans ) without a steeple and a bell which had been sold off to another congregation !

"Was there e'er sic a parish, a parish, a parish;
Was there e'er sic a parish as that o' Kinkell?
They've hangit the minister, drooned the precentor,
Dang doon the steeple, and drucken the bell."

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

The Last Hanging In Crieff ; Kangaroo Court ?

The Last Hanging In Crieff

The Gallows of Crieff : The importance of Crieff as a place of significance in Perthshire was emphasised  rather  strangely  by the fact that it  not only was it  an established place for executions  but also had a full time hang man to carry out the prescribed  sentence . This  was  somewhat  unusual in Scotland  in the 16th , 17th and 18th centuries and his services  were often called upon  for from not only the “ Fair City “ of Perth but places  much further afield . Although there has  been  some debate over the years  as  to where the actual location of the gallows  was in the  town , circumstantial evidence  points  pretty convincingly to the appropriately named  Gallow Hill , a small knoll once the locus of  cattle pens  but now given over to a small development by Hillcrest Housing Association . When the news  broke that houses  were to be built on the site I contacted  Hillcrest  pointing out that because of the  historical importance of Gallowhill in the annals of our local heritage I felt it incumbent upon them to recognise this  in some way to preserve  such an important part of our past . I do wish that other developers had the same community attitude as Hillcrest . I  had  a meeting with their architect and they came up with a proposal  to erect a granite cairn on the  site . I was  asked to write an appropriate text and it  gives  me great satisfaction  that despite the hustle and bustle of  today’s  society there is now  a  physical reminder  of what was  such a traumatic part of yesterday’s society .

Why  did  Crieff  have a   gallows  and a hang man from such an  early date ? The answer lies in the fact  the this  was  the  centre  of the ancient Kindom of Fortren or Fortriu ruled over  by the all powerful Pictish Earls of Strathearn . The hub of their  control over their Kingdom lay in the Stayt a court of administration and justice . The original Stayt was located  in what is  now a farmer’s filed virtually opposite the good’s entrance  to the Strathearn Campus  and High School . The Earl’s  representative  was the Steward of Strathearn who  sat  on top of  a large  mound on  a throne like chair where  he  listened  to a passed judgement on a variety of cases ranging in magnitude from boundary disputes   to cattle theft and physical assault . He was judicially omnipotent and if  he felt it required  the ultimate  sanction  you were dispatched a mile   down the road  to Gallow Hill !

The fame  and notoriety of this continued  for centuries . Sir Walter Scott and Lord Macaulay both mentioned the “ Kind Gallows of Crieff “ in their writings . The gibbet was a multi capacity unit allowing  for more than  one cadaver  to dangle from its arm. Although the last  execution   took place prior  to the height  of the annual Tryst after the end of the ’45 Jacobite Uprising , it  was  an undoubted  deterrent to the approaching catarans with their beasts . They would doff their  Highland bonnets  in respect and indeed  awe  as they  passed the dreaded knoll .The term  the “ Kind Gallows “ was  born and survives  in writings  to this day . The original gibbet  was  kept  in Wright , the blacksmith’s smiddy at the top of King Street , a site  now  occupied  by the Police Station . Mr Wright  may  have  been excellent at  shoeing horses  but he  was also a  capable entrepreneur ! It is  said that  he  would cut up pieces  of the scaffold  and sell them as souvenirs to eager  visitors  to the town ! Eventually enough was  enough  and  what remained  was  placed in a glass  case and displayed  for  many years in the meeting room of Crieff Town Council . With the advent of Regionalisation  it  was  finally removed  to the safe  keeping of the basement of Perth museum where it still remains despite  an effort  some  twenty  or  so years ago to  display it back  in Crieff .

The Last Execution : On the 8th of June  in 1681 The Bishop of Dunkeld heard a complaint against the incumbent minister of Kinkell. Kinkell was  a small parish which had  been amalgamated  with its  larger neighbour , Trinity Gask, to the north on the other side of the  fast  flowing River Earn .The minister , Richard Duncan was accused  of “ scandalous offences “  and it was written “ a visitation  shall be held  at the Kirk of Trinity  Park for the tryal of ane scandal, laid  to the charge of  Mr Richard Duncan , minister there “ . The inspection  duly took place and Duncan was  deposed  from his office .After he  had  left his manse  some alterations  were  required and to the horror  of those carrying out the work , the body of  a child  was  found  under the hearthstone . Duncan was  alleged  to have  been the father of the child  born  to  him by  his maid – servant .He was charged  with that if he had  not murdered the  child he had  been  an accessory to it’s killing . He was tried  at the Steward’s Court , presided over by the Earl of Perth – the Drummond family were the heirs  to the old jurisdiction and as one of the local land owning families wielded  considerable  power including that of  being responsible  for the annual Tryst and being allowed  to levy  monies  on each beast sold . The minister  was found guilty and condemned  to be hanged on the gallows of Crieff . In modern day talk we often refer to “kangaroo courts “ where  individuals are condemned  without  proper evidence  and with out  independent juries . The Reverend Duncan had  support for his innocence  from several quarters . Lord Fountainhall , an eminent expert , stated  that “ he had  been  convicted on very slender  presumptions , which however they might amount to degredation , and banishment , yet it was  thought hard  to extend them to death “ . His parishioners   and others  held similar compassionate  views and efforts  began to try to obtain a reprieve . In those day power  very  much lay in the hands of titled  classes  and it was  James Drummond  , son of the very  Earl of Perth , who took the case in hand  and after much effort  was duly successful .

This  is the stuff of  our present day  Sunday broadsheets ! Although Drummond had  secured  a reprieve  for the unfortunate Duncan it  is  quoted in Porteous ‘s  History of Crieff   that “ the hour of the executions was anticipated by the ill-will of some pretentious busy body dressed in a little authority “. Duncan was led  to the scaffold and summarily dispatched . The  person bearing  the reprieve  had  by then reached Muthill,  a mere three  miles  distant but too late ! . The tale is told that Duncan professed  his innocence  to the end  and declared that after he  had  been executed  a white dove would  land on the scaffold in token of his stand  . It is said that  in fact this  did indeed happen !

The tragic  demise of Richard  Duncan was preserved in a verse in the Scot’s language :

Oh! What a parish Oh !What a parish
Oh !What a  parish  is that o’ Kinkell
They hae hangit the minister , droned  the precentor ,
Dung doon the steeple  and drucken the  bell .

A “ precentor “ was  the person in the Scottish church who led  the congregation in the singing of the psalms or hymns prior  to the introduction of the organ . The Kinkell Precentor  was drowned accidently one day while trying to ford the River Earn  at Kinkell . At that period  there were two churches , one at Trinity Gask  and the other  at Kinkell on the  south side of the river and the Precentor  was  making  his  way to one from the other . The present building that was Kinkell Church is  that of St Beans near the present bridge  ( I will be covering the history of the church in my next Blog ). The steeple  was removed and  the bell , for  some reason was sold and  discovered many years later  in the possession of a church in Cockpen in the  
Lothians !

This sad tale  was  perhaps  one of the reasons that the power of the Strathearn Stewards was lost  when in  Scottish Law abolished heritable  Jurisdictions in  1748 .