The Sad Demise Of An Historic Part of Crieff : Part Two

 The Old Parish Church in Church Street Crieff

July 2014


Why this part of Crieff is so important to our fragile  heritage ?

Now a sad site 

One of Crieff’s saddest sites is that  of the old decaying  parish church in Church Street in the  heart of the  old town  .The location of the  Church and its grave yard is  why the town of Crieff expanded  outwards  from this particular  locus .  Close  by was situated  the old Cross of Crieff . The place  where the drovers of old  gathered  for  a  “ blether “and  perhaps a wee dram or two   in the adjoining  hostelry – the place where Rob Roy taunted the redcoats in the aftermath of Sheriffmuir and the ‘ 15 Uprising . This is old Crieff – the original Crieff !

The gradual demise of this  old building is sad  but perhaps  inevitable.  It has  been  badly neglected over the last few decades . The grounds surrounding the  building functioned  for centuries as  the burial place of Crieff . The place where  countless local worthies  and  their families  were interred and  recorded  either  by an elaborate  stone or , more  likely , by a simple wooden cross.

What is  important  to remember  that this is in all probability  the  site of the first place to appear in  maps and records  as “ Crieff “.

Although one cannot be specific as to why this site is of such significance , authoritative opinion has  come up with some  pretty sound  reasons .In days   gone  by, the Alligan Burn  flowed  from the Knock  rapidly  downwards along what is  now Mitchell Street and   its lower part  known appropriately as Water Wynd . It  would have flowed  then in a south east direction to the rear of what is  now  Frank Thomson’s store . In or around the 7th Century AD the holy men – the priests of the old Culdees or Celtic Church would  baptise people , young and old , as a sign of their new faith . The waters  of the Alligan were pure  and somewhat languid after their  rapid  descent from  the Knock . An ideal spot for the traditional Christian baptism  !

It is conjecture  but probable that the first building erected on the site  would have  been  a simple timber structure  with a thatched  roof . The Church of Crieff is  an ancient establishment and one of the most important links  with the past  in Strathearn . There are, however, few early references to the church or its clergy. A parson of Crieff, Brice or Brucius , is recorded in the time of Bishop Abraham of Dunblane (c.1214-1223), but there is no further contemporary evidence for the status of the church until 1274-5 when it is listed in Bagimond’s Roll.

There were various charters granted to Inchaffray Abbey and signed at Crieff by the Celtic Earls of Strathearn . Nicholas was the second son of Earl Malise who was granted  a charter to lands at Muthill . He acted as Chamberlain to his cousin Malise ll in 1257 – 1258 . He was involved as a witness to a charter involving a dispute regarding the patronage of the vicarage of Strageath . He was Rector in Crieff for at least 30 years .

In 1450 we find a signatory to another  charter . One , Thomas de Builly who was  at the time , Rector of Crieff and proprietor of the lands of Duchlage  and Pittacher .

In 1501 , Andrew Graham  , Vicar of Crieff witnessed a charter by James lV of the lands of Inchbrakie granted to William Graham .

The Rev John Broune or Brown succeeded him  and ( says Porteous ) “ it is in great part owing to the latter’s determination a perseverance that the Church in Crieff maintained and still maintains its important position  in the religious life of Strathearn “ Porteous was referring to the fact that King James had received a Papal Rescript from Pope Alexander lV endowing the Chapel Royal at Stirling Castle to be a collegiate church and the revenues of the Crieff Church and its lands  were  to be paid directly to it .

Porteous again : “ The Church in which John Brown and his predecessors and many of those succeeding him , laboured , was a Gothic building and  dated from a remote antiquity . No records remain to show when or by whom it was originally erected . It may have been a gift of the Earls of Strathearn but it is not mentioned in the Charters of Inchaffray .

It is said that this Church was built on the site of an earlier church . The early churches were next to running water to facilitate baptism – the water of the Alligan Burn flowed by the site .  Porteous goes on to say  that  the Church seemed capable of accommodating some 500 persons.

From this we can see that Crieff in its  early  days was tied to Stirling rather than  its strongly influential neighbour – the Abbey of
 Inchaffray at Madderty  . It is clear however that Inchaffray  did extend its influence into these parts . It is believed also that there was a religious house at Milnab known as St Thomas which belonged to Inchaffray .  Milnab  means Abbots Mill according to some sources . There is however no mention of Milnab in the list of possessions of the Abbey when it was erected into a temporal Lordship in 1609 . Local Crieff residents  will know that there is a small cul de sac off Milnab Street called Abbot’s Walk .

Interestingly there was a holy well attached  to the old Church which was  dedicated to St Thomas  . This is shown on Woods  map of Crieff drawn in 1822  ( .If you look at this web site , click on the map and it will enlarge  in graphic detail . You will note that  Bank Street was  then known as Pudding Lane and Ramsay Street as Brown’s Lane . The well was located  in what is now the garden  of the  end terrace house in Bank Street , once the home of the Robertson family and  now  refurbished and extended . In pre Reformation Scotland  it was  quite  usual for  churches  to have  a “ holy well “ in close vicinity  . These  wells  tended  to provide remedies  for a variety of ailments ranging from rheumatism to the curing of barren  women.   They were  usually dedicated  to a particular  saint usually with some local connection. Locally we  find  St Patrick’s Well  at nearby Strageath or St McKessog’ s in Auchterarder .

According to the author of the entry in the First Statistical Account of Crieff, the church then in use ( ie  the one that was to be demolished )  was an antique Gothic pre Reformation  building with an internal length of 95 feet’ (28.6 metres). It appears to have been a two-compartment structure, since the choir was said to have been internally 14 feet (4.27 metres) wide and the other part – presumably the nave – 18 feet (5.49 metres) wide. Assuming a wall thickness of perhaps 75 centimetres, that would indicate extreme overall dimensions of 30.46 by 6.99 metres.

Dr Cunningham , the parish minister speaking at a dinner in connection with the foundation stone of the Strathearn Terrace Church in 1882 made this interesting comment about former Churches :

“Previous to 1787  an older church stood here surrounded by the graves of former generations . How far back the Church goes I do not know . Probably to the time of the Reformation . Most of the churches of the Reformation were poor structures – some thatched with heather . Probably there was an edifice on this spot for 800 or 1000 years “.
( Heavenor )**

**When the old Church was being demolished the discovery was made in a niche in the wall six feet above the floor of forty gold pieces  Of King Robert the Bruce inscribed Robertus Rex Scotorum  and on the reverse St Andrew with his cross . Despite what Dr Cunningham stated , it is  clear that the  coins found during the  demolition  show   that the building  would  have  been functioning in the 14th Century and  may  indeed have been older.

The “ new “ church was erected to  cater  for a growing  population  but the  religious  climate prevailing at that time ( 1780s ) seemed  to have  been somewhat vitriolic and very petty . Squabbles over  who should  appoint  the minister – the congregation  or the lairds or landowners was the main source of discord This “ patronage “ disagreement  saw the Kirk fragment and schisms prevail .

The original key escutcheon to the main door  bearing the date of the building's  construction

The building took over 40 years  to be constructed and occupied – even  being discussed at the Court of Session in  1781 . Services  were held in a tent until it  actually opened in  1827 . The people of Crieff  were not allowed in unless they had  bought a pew seat ( each measured 18inches !! ) and had to sit  on stools  in the aisles ! Seat rents prevailed in our old Kirk ! Its life span as an active church  was remarkably short and ceased to function as the Parish Church when in 1882 its replacement was  opened  in Strathearn Terrace Crieff . It had  functioned as the parish church  for a mere 55 years ! Thereafter it  became the Church Hall until warning bells  began to ring as  described in Part One

Did You Know ?

The Parish Clerk's house and  the locus of Crieff's first school in 1593 . The building was demolished  about 1900 

Back in 1593   , Crieff was a very small settlement – not a town  but a village. The importance of its Church and the new post Reformation drive  against all things non Calvanistic was hard to swallow in Crieff. Here  support  for the old religion in its Episcopalian format was dominant for a long ,long time . One particular  aspect of Knox’s evangelism was that each parish should have a school . By having a school the children , per se , would  be likely adherents  to the Reformed  faith . As a  result  Crieff set up its  first school in the Parish Clerk’s  house nestling at the  foot of the churchyard and the raised hump of ground  that is  still clearly visible in the sad “ jungle “ is significant .

NOTE : In  Part Three of this  “ Blog “ I will conclude  by  listing the known priests and  ministers who played  such an important part in the growth of our town . I will also list  from  my records the names  of  some of the  people buried here but , in many cases , forgotten  by the passage of time or  physical memorial .


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