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The History of Blairgowrie
Chapter VII


Statistical Account of Parish, 1796—Population and Statistical Table— Conditions and Professions—Births, &c.—Religious Persuasions— Stock, Rent, &c.—Population—Character—Origin—Extent, Surface, Situation, Soil, &c.—Cattle—Prices of Provisions and Labour—Bleach-fleld, Cloth, Stamp Office—Climates and Diseases—Rivers, Cascades, Fish, Birds, Scenery, &c.—Lakes, Islands, &c.—Minerals and Mineral Springs —Woods — Manufactures, Mills, &c. — Ecclesiastical State, Schools, &c.—Poor—Village and Markets—State of Property, Inclosures, &c.—Agriculture, Produce, &c.— Improvements, Farm Rents, &c.—Roads and Bridges—Gentlemen’s Seats—Eminent Men— Antiquities—Disadvantages.

THIS chapter is devoted to the “ Statistical Account of the Parish of Blairgowrie, by Rev. James Johnstone, 1796.”

Population.

No dependence can be had on the parish registers for the number or proportion of births and burials. This may, in some measure, be accounted for from the large influx of emigrants from other parishes, especially from the Highlands, who settle here as servants, &c. By comparing the report made to Dr Webster, however, with the result of an accurate enumeration made in October, November, and December, 1703, we are enabled to state the exact increase, which is but small in proportion to the influx of strangers within these years.

Character.

The inhabitants of the parish are, in general, sober, industrious, attentive to their respective callings, and exemplarily regular in their attendance on divine ordinances. They are charitably disposed, and seem contented with their condition. They enjoy in a remarkable degree the benefits and comforts of society, and their houses, dress, and manners of living are considerably improved.

Origin.

The name of the parish of Blairgowrie, so called from the village near which the church stands; in old papers it is sometimes written Blair in Gowrie. Various etyT mologies and interpretations of it have been suggested. Like many other names in the parish, it is probably Gaelic. In that language “ Blaar ” is said to be descriptive of a place where muir and moss abound. Tims Ardblair is the “ Height in the Muir or Moss.” The Muir of Blair abounding with moss is in the near neighbourhood of the village. The Walton of Blair, the Loohend of Blair, Little Blair, and Ardblair are names of places on the borders of the muir.

Extent, Surface, Situation, Soil, &c.

The extent of it is considerable, being about 11 English miles long from S. to X., in some places not less than 8 (as may be seen from Mr Stobie’s map of Perthshire). The figure is irregular, being frequently intersected by the parishes of Kinloch, Bendochy, and Rattray.

The connected part of it is only about 9 miles long and from 1 to 2 broad. The parish is divided into two districts by a branch of the Grampian Mountains which is the north boundary of this part of the beautiful valley of Strathmore.

The southern district, which lies in the strath, is about 4 miles long and 1 to 2 broad. In general it is flat. The northern district, which includes the detached ground, i9 high ground, very uneven in the surface. The arable land in it is, in general, sloping, and in many places very steep. The hills are mostly covered with heath. Some of them may be about 600 feet above sea level. The soil in both places as may be supposed is various. Alongside of the Isla it is a deep rich loam, free from stones. Immediately north of that is a stiff loam upon a till bottom, wet and spoutty. This last is a prevailing soil in the parish, and also a light dry earth full of stones on a gravel bottom; in many places there is a thin stratum of a light black earth, eithei upon gravel or cold till. There are considerable tracks of hill, muir, and moss, and more than 1000 acres are covered with wood. Not. above a third part of the parish consists of arable land.

Cattle.

A good number of horses are reared in the parish.

They are of very different sizes and value. A considerable portion of them are very good draught horses, but a still greater proportion are small and ill kept. The former kind are worth from £15 to £25 each ; the latter from £8 to £12.

Many black cattle are also reared in the parish. Those in the northern district are small, but they are considerably larger in the other. Great numbers are sold out of the parish when 3 or 4 years old, particularly the stots. The stock of sheep is much diminished. They are mostly of the white-faced kind, of a very small size, and are sold at from 6s to 9s each. Their wool sells about 14s per stone.

Prices of Provisions and Labour.

A boll of oatmeal, weighing 8 stones, sells on an average at from 14s 8d to 16s; a boll of wheat at 20s; a boll of barley at 15s; a boll of oats at 13s; a boll of peas at 13s 4d.

Beef, mutton, and pork are sold at from 3d to 4d a lb. Dutch weight. Little good veal is sold in the parish.

A hen sells at from lOd to Is; a chicken at 4d ; eggs, 3d a dozen; butter at 8d to 9d a lb.; cheese according to quality and age.

A day labourer receives, during 3 months of the year, 6d per day, and 8d during the other months, with his maintenance.

Masons and wrights, when they furnish their own provisions, receive Is 8d.

A good ploughman receives £8 to £10; a maid-servant £3 with a crop of 2 lippies of lint seed sown in her master’s ground or an equivalent for it if he be not a farmer.

Bleachfield, Cloth, Stamp Office.

There is a bleachfield in the parish of Rattray, about a mile from Blairgowrie. The cloth is whitened as it is sent from different quarters. About 50,000 may be the average numbei of yards annually wove in the parish; the cloth sells at about 8|d. Considerable quantities of household cloth and some Hessian stuffs are also wove in the district. There was formerly a stamp office in the village. This was discontinued for some, years, but was again established in 1785. The following abstract was taken from the books containing the number of yards stamped for the last 8 years, and refers not ouly to tlie cloth wove in the parish of Blairgowrie, but also what comes from the neighbouring parishes, as well as what is whitened in the bleachfields:—

ANNO.

NUMBER OP YARDS.

1785, ...

17,197

1786, ...

50,380

1787, ...

128,559

1788, ...

130,602

1789, ...

165,364

1790, ...

190,682

1791, ...

220,371

1792, ...

252,185

Total, ... 1,155,610 yards Or about 141,455 yearly.

Climates and Diseases.

The climate varies in the different parts of the parish. It is often mild and temperate in the southern district, while it is sharp in the northern.

A remarkable difference is felt on leaving the former to go to the latter. In both, however, the air on the whole is very salubrious, and the inhabitants are not subject to any peculiar distempers. Formerly, indeed, the lower part of the parish was much distressed with the ague, but since some of the lakes have been drained that disease has totally disappeared. The rheumatism is the most common disorder, particularly among the poorer class of people when well advanced in life. Inoculation for the smallpox is now a good deal practised, and is almost Always successful in preventing the fatal effects of that disease. There are no instances of extraordinary longevity in the parish at present, yet there are many persons living and vigorous who are above 70, and some above 80. There is only one person above 90.

It may be here mentioned that the lady of a considerable proprietor in the parish died not long ago, who saw, .n her own house, 84 returns of Christmas. The mansion-house is close to several lakes.

The Isla, which washes the northern part of this parish, is the most considerable of our rivers. It has been frequently mentioned in former reports. As its banks are low in this parish, it often suddenly overflows them and occasions considerable loss and disappointment to husbandmen. This was remarkably the case in harvest, 1789.

The next in size is the Erich t, which, from its rapidity, has acquired the appellation of the “Ireful Ericht.” It is formed by the junction of the Ardle and Blackwater. It runs along the east side of the parish for about 9 miles. Its channel in general is very rocky and uneven, and it often varies in its depth and breadth.

, The banks in many places are so low that the river frequently overflows them and does considerable damage, especially in harvest. In other parts the banks rise to a great height, are very rugged, and often covered with wood. About 2 miles north of the village of Blairgowrie they rise at least 200 feet above the bed of the river, and on the west side are formed, for about 700 feet in length and 220 feet in height, of the x>erpendicular rock, as smooth as if formed by the tool of the workman.

The place where this phenomenon is to be seen is called Craighall, where the traveller may be furnished with one of the most romantic scenes in North Britain. Here hawks nestle, and their young ones have been frequently carried away by falconers from different parts of the kingdom. Here, also, the natural philosopher and botanist may find ample amusement.

Two miles further down this river is the Keith, a natural cascade, considerably improved by art. It is so constructed that the salmon, which repair there in great numbers, cannot get over it unless when the river is very much swelled. The manner of fishing here is probably peculiar to the place. The fishers during the day dig considerable quantities of clay and wheel it to the river immediately above the fall. About sunset the clay is turned into mortar and hurled into the water. The fishers then ply their nets at different stations below while the water continues muddy. This is repeated two or three times in the space of a few hours. It is a kind of pot net fastened to a long pole which is used here.

The river is very narrow, confined by rocks composed of sand and small stones. The scenery, especially on the west side, is very romantic and beautiful. Many gentlemen from all quarters repair to this river for amusement.

From the Keith for about 2 miles down the river there is the best rod fishing to be found in Scotland, especially for salmon. The fishing continues from the beginning of April to the 26th of August. The fishing with the pot net is confined to a small part of the river near the Keith. When the vsater is very small, which is often the case in summer, the fish are caught in great numbers in the different pools with a common net. They are neither so large nor so rich as those of the Tay. The fishing on this side of the river was long let at 100 merks; it now gives £30 sterling. Plenty of trout are found in the river Ericht. The Ardle also washes this parish for a short way on the north. Sometimes salmon are caught in it, and it abounds with trout. Like the Ericht and the Isla, it frequently overflows its banks.

There are two burns or ri\ulets remarkable only for their excellent trout and for driving some corn and lint mills.

Lakes, Islands, &c.

The parish abounds with lakes of different sizes. Till lately there were more, but some have been drained and now' supply the neighbourhood with peats and marl. In digging marl out of one of these the skeleton of a large animal was uncovered at least twelve feet below the surface. The horns resemble those of a deer, and are of a very large size.

In the lakes which still remain great quantities of perch and pike are caught, partly with the rod and partly with nets. They are much frequented by wildfowl of different kinds.

In the middle of one of them are the remains of an old building on a small island in it, in which tradition says treasures were concealed in perilous times. A district in this country is said to have acquired the appellation of Storemount from this circumstance. Curling is an exercise at which the inhabitants of this district excel.

Minerals and Mineral Springs.

There is no lime-stone in the parish, neither is it well supplied with freestone, though there are two quarries of this kind. Some whinstone quarries have been wrought, and muirstone is found in great plenty. There is one chalybeate spring in the Cloves of Mawes, which was formerly much resorted to by persons in the neighbourhood. It has been used, it is said, with success in scorbutic disorders. There are appearances of several more springs of the same kind in different parts of the parish.

Woods.

There are two oak woods in the parish, one along the western bank of the Ericht which is now cutting; this cutting sold at £320. There is a smaller wood of the same kind on the property of Ardblair, and there are several birch woods in the head of the parish. There are only a few ash, elm, and plane trees. In 1774 the muir of Blair, then a common of 500 acres, was divided, and in 1775 most of it was planted with Scotch firs and the rest of it has been gradually planted since that time, partly with larch and partly with Scotch firs. There are at least 900 acres planted partly with larch and partly with firs. It is to be regretted that .similar plantations have not been made on the moorish grounds in the northern districts.

There are vast tracts of muir which turn to little account in their present state. Shelter is much needed where they abound. The mosses, the greatest source of fuel, are nearly exhausted and every year become more difficult of access. Coal is at a considerable distance, and there is no water carriage.

Manufactures, Mills, &c.

The principal branches of manufacture carried on in the parish are spinning and weaving. The women spin it with their hands. Besides the flax raised in the parish, considerable quantities of foreign flax are spun, and the yarn is either wove in the parish or neighbourhood or sent to Dundee.

Considerable quantities of household cloth are wove here and about 50,000 yards of yard-wides, part of which is bleached in the neighbouring parish of Rattray, but a greater proportion is sold in the village of Blairgowrie aud seut- green to London. There are 7 meal mills, 2 lint mills, and 1 fulling mill in the parish. The rate of innlture paid at the meal mills is, in general, about l-12th part of what is ground.

Ecclesiastical State, Schools, &c.

The stipend, as fixed by a decreet of the Court of Tiends, in 1791, is five chalders of grain, two-thirds meal, and one-third bear, with £15 sterling, and £5 foi communion elements.

The glebe contains 9J acres, of which are good ground, the other five, lately obtained in place of grass ground, are of an inferior quality and a considerable distance from the manse.

The right of patronage is vested in Col. Allan Maepher-son of Blairgowrie and Col. William Lindsay of Spynie in consequence of his marriage with one of the co-heiresses of Ardblair.

The church stands on high ground about 200 yards north from the village of Blairgowrie, having a deep glen planted w ith different kinds of trees n immediately behind it. It was built in 1767, and is a plain substantial edifice, at present in good repair but cold in winter.

It would be much improved with being ceiled and having porches at the doors which are iii the ends of it. The manse and a set of offices were built in >1771, but the offices were so ill executed that, after the present incumbent was settled, it was found more expedient to repair than rebuild the greater part of them, which was accordingly done.

Both manse and offices are now in good order, as also the school and sehoolhouse.

There is one established school in the parish in which reading, writing, arithmetic, English, book-keeping, and some branches of mathematics are taught. From 30 to 50 pupils attend, according to the season of the year. The present teacher, who has long taught successfully, lately obtained a small augmentation of salary, but even with this addition it is only 200 merks.

The school fees are, per quarter, Is for reading, English,

1s 6d for writing, arithmetic, and Latin. The whole emoluments exclusive of a free house do not exceed £22 a year, a reward by no means adequate to the abilities and application of so important an office.

There is one charity school occasionally taught in the head of the parish. In the winter season there are two or three private schools kept up by the tenants in remote corners from the parochial school.

Poor.

There are no begging poor belonging to the parish. For many years past the average number on the poor’s roll has been 14. The heritors and Kirk Session meet twice a year to settle the roll; from 2s to 5s are given to each, monthly, according to their respective circumstances. They also receive occasional donations, especial in winter; occasional charities are likewise given to individuals and families not on the roll, which is attended with good effects and often prevents them coming on to it. The fund for the support of the poor arises from the interests of a small stock, from the collections at the church doors, from the dues of the mortcloth, and from the rents of the seats in the galleries of the church, amounting in all to about £35 sterling. The sum expended has not varied very much for these last 16 years, except in 1783 when it was much greater than in any other year of the period mentioned. The members of the Kirk Session are very careful in guarding, on the one hand, against imposition, and on the other that no necessitous person be neglected. In 1782 the harvest was late and the crop was much injured. In 1783 the meal was scarce and high priced. The Kirk Session employed the poor’s stock in purchasing meal at a distance, which was sold at prime cost.

A small proportion of the barley meal voted by Parliament for the relief of the Highlands was sent to this parish. Many of the heritors provided good seed corn for their tenants where it was necessary. Though there are no begging poor belonging to the parish, yet the parishioners are much oppressed with beggars and vagrants from other districts, many of whom are very worthless.

Village and Markets.

The village of Blairgowrie is pleasantly situated 011 the north side of Strathmore, almost close upon the River Ericlit. It was made a burgh of barony by a charter from Charles I. in 1634. The whole of it belongs, in property or superiority, to Col. A. Macpherson, who is proprietor of about J of the parish.

The situation of the village is Very healthy, and it is well supplied with water.

Their are three fairs held in it annually and some attempts have been made to have a weekly market in it, but with little success.

The village is well supplied with butcher meat and other articles. As it is situated on a military road, any of the inhabitants may retail ale and spirits on payment of Is annually.

There are no less than 19 dram shops in it, which must be attended with bail consequences to the morals of the people.

State of Property, Inclosures, &c.

There are 22 heritors and a great many feuars in the village of Blairgowrie; only one of the greater heritors resides in the parish. Many of them are possessed of considerable estates in other parishes. Most of the smaller proprietors reside upon and far m part of their own property.

The real rent cannot, therefore, be easily ascertained. Good ground in farms gives from 15s to 21s and some of it 30s per acre. The land around the village lets at from 30s to 43s. The number of acres in the parish is not known, as part of it has not been measured. Some progress has been made in enclosing within these six years, but still, at least, three-fourths of the parish lie open, and very few farms have been sub-divided.

The enclosures are either stone dykes or hedges with ditch; probably sufficient attention is not paid to this last kind of fence; the young thorns should be more cherished and better defended in order to secure good fences.

One property at the northern district is almost completely inclosed and sub-divided and lets, from year to year, considerably higher for pasture than it would do upon an ordinary lease for tillage. About four years ago above 5th of the parish was sold at 36 years’ purchase, and is likely to turn out a good bargain. The rent of land continues to rise in the parish.

Agriculture, Produce, &c.

The plows are of the Scotch make, considerably improved. Within these twelve years there has been a considerable alteration in the inode of plowing. In general the plow is now drawn by two horse’s and driven by the man who holds it. In breaking up old ley or in giving the first plowing to stiff land 3 horses are sometimes yoked, and in one or two corners the plough is driven by 4 horses yoked abreast and driven by a man who holds the horses by the halters and walks backwards. In general the farmers in the northern' districts are very industrious, but they are only emerging out of the old method of culture. The distinction of outfield and infield takes place in some degree. Turnips and sown grass are only beginning to find their way into this district.

The want of inclosures and winter herding are great obstacles to their progress, particularly in those places where sheep are kept. The tenantry here labour under many disadvantages. Much of their time in summer is consumed in procuring fuel; they are far from manure, the ground lies open, is full of baulks and large stones, and in some places is very wet and spouty. This last circumstance, with the coldness of the climate, many plead as an apology for not having more of their farms in sour grass for summer feeding and hay. They allow that white clover and ryegrass succeed with them, but complain that the roots of the red clover are frequently thrown out in spring.

Inclosing, draining, and clearing of the ground of stones are much wanted in this district.

The crops raised in it are barley, oats, potatoes, a small proportion of pease, turnips, sown grass, and some flax. All the flax raised in the parish is spun in it and the rents of many of the smaller farms are mostly paid with the money got for the yarn spun in the winter months.

Improvements, Farm Rents, &c.

Greater progress in improvement has been made in the southern district than in the other. Here the new method of husbandry is more generally practised, and excellent crops are raised of wheat, pease, barley, oats, potatoes, turnips, grass, and also some flax. But even here sufficient attention is not paid to a proper rotation of cropping. The following rotations ai’e most universally observed. Where w heat is raised the rotation is thus:—After grass comes oats with grass seeds, then summer fallowing, then wheat, pease, barley. The dung is given to the wheat. In the division for pease, potatoes and turnips are raised along with the pease and get a little dung; sometimes the grass is kept two or three years, but more frequently only one year. On the farms where the wheat is not sown, the following rotation takes placeAfter three crops of grass the ground is broken up for oats, of which one crop is taken. The oats are followed with turnips, potatoes, and pease in one division. Barley with grass seeds succeed the green crop; the dung is given to the green crop.

In the division for oats a proportion of flax is sown, and not infrequently a crop both of barley and oats is taken after the green crop, and the grass seeds in that case are sown with the oats.

The farms in both districts are of different sizes, from ,£10 to £130. Part of the parish is let in small possessions of a few acres to tradespeople, and this is one reason for the great number of ploughs and horses, as there are often a plough and 2 horses where the possession does not exceed 12 acres. Where the faimer does not carry on his work with the assistance of his children, it is generally done by servants who live in the family, except in harvest, for which additional assistance is secured some months before. Sometimes a house, kailyard, and an acre of land are given to tradespeople who pay their rent by assisting: in harvest and at turnip-cleaning.

Oats are sow n about the middle of March to the middle of April, then pease and lintseed, bear is sown in Mayr, and turnips in June. The harvest generally begins in the end of August. It is somewhat later in the district to the north. The parish more than supplies itself with grain. Considerable quantities, particularly of barley, are sold out of it.

Roads and Bridges.

The great road from Coupar Angus to Fort George passes through this parish. It was made at the expense of Government, and is kept in good repair by the statute labour of the country, with the occasional assistance of military parties. It was regretted that a different direction was not given it after it reached Blairgowrie. Had it been made to cross the Ericlit at Blairgowrie, run along the east side of that river, recross it near Craig-hall, and keep lower down in its course through Mause, the high ground over whi»h it now passes would have been avoided, and the traveller would have been saved many a long and steep ascent. The great road from Dunk-eld to Kirriemuir also passes through the parish, and cuts the military road at right angles. It is kept in tolerable repair; the cross roads are many. Till lately the statute labour was enacted in kind; it is now commuted at the rate of from 8s to 12s for every plough-gate, or 10s for every £100 Scotch of valued rent. There are no turnpikes. Besides many small arches over small streams there are four bridges, two on the military road, one over the Blackwater, aud one over the Ericht. The last two were built by subscription.

Gentlemen’s Seats.

Newton House, once the seat of the Proprietor of the Barony of Blairgowrie, and lately possessed by the present proprietor, is an old building something in the style of a castle.

It stands about the middle of the south slope of high ground which bounds Strathmore on the north, and has a most commanding view, not only of Strathmore, bufr also of parts of different counties. About half a mile further west lies the mansion of the old family of the Blairs of Ardblair. That family were long the proprietors of a most extensive property in the parish, and are still possessed of a fifth part of it. The mansion-house seems evidently to have been surrounded with water on three sides. The lake has been drained, and considerable treasures of moss and marl have been discovered.

The proprietor of Blairgowrie and 3Iause lately built a most substantial and commodious house, with offices, about a fourth-of-a-mile south from the village of Blairgowrie, on a beautiful flat near the banks of the Ericht. Whew the planting has got up it will be a most delightful habitation.

Eminent Men.

George Drummond, Esq., who long distinguished himself as a public-spirited magistrate in Edinburgh, who was five or six times elected Lord Provost of that metropolis, and who had so active a hand in promoting the erection of the Royal Inflrmary, Royal Exchange, &c., was born in Newton House of this parish.

Antiquities.

There are the remains of several Druidical temples in the parish. Immediately behind the manse there is a circular mound or mote hill, where it is said Earl Gowrie held his Regality Courts. It consists of strata and earth, and is surrounded on the top with a dyke of the same materials. There are some large cairns. Besides these there are many smaller tumuli running through the parish in different directions from an encampment in the neighbouring parish of Kinloch.

Disadvantages.

The time consumed in providing seed, corn, and turf, and in bringing coals from Perth and Dundee, is a great bar to improvement. The distance from these towns is a great disadvantage. This will in some measure be removed by the proposed bridge over the Isla near its junction with the Tay, and the road leading from the bridge to Perth, which will shorten the distance from this parish to that town about four miles.

The tenants are beginning to bring lime from Perth; they will do it more easily when the road is made and the bridge built.

Converting into money the services performed by the tenants, enclosing and sub-dividing their farms, and making plantations of larches and Scotch flrs in the hilly and moorish grounds, would doubtless tend much to the cultivation and improvement of the country.


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