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In the Shadow of Cairngorm
XLVI. Rise of a Highland Village


IN the Library at Castle Grant there is a picture of some significance. It represents a noble of the time of George II. sitting in a chair, and holding in his hand the plan of a village, which he is eagerly examining. The noble was Sir Ludovick Grant of Grant, and the village was Grantown. The picture is a prophecy. By an Act of James VI., 1609, Cromdale had been erected into a burgh. The terms of the edict are curious and suggestive—" We, understanding that the toune of Cromdaill lyes in ane wyld and barbarous pairt of oure said Kingdome of Scotland, far distant from the sea, about the quhilk thair cluellis and remnaines ruid people wanting civilitie aild guid maneris—thajrfoir we to the intent that the inhabitants of the saidis bounclis may be maid the mair riche and civile, we of oure nationall inclination quhulk we have to reduce oure people to civilitie and guid maneris, and for policie and decoration of oure said realm cif Scotlniid, have maid, constitute, erectit, and creatit all and haiti, the said toune of Crouidaill, with all and sindrie lioussis, biggingis, tenementes, waist places, yeardis, aikeris, toftis, croftes, by and in the territorie of the said toune, in ane free burgh and baronie, with special free and plaine powar to the said complainar, his aires, baillies, ane or mar within the said burgh, with persanes of counsull, clerkis, servands, and all other officeris necessary within the samyn for rewling and governing thairof, &c.’~ ‘The site of the burgli was the moor on which the house and offices of the Mains Farm now stand. Here was the village with ale house and cottages, in one of which the late Sir James Macgregor was born. Here were the court-house and jail, the remains of which, called the Toll-dhubh (Black-hole) may still be seen at the back of the old school-house; while a little above, to the left of the old road, was Tom-na-croiche, the hanging hill. Cromdale did not succeed as a burgh. Its fall is said to have been brought about by a fight at one of the fairs between two factions of the Grants, in which lives were lost. Be that as it may, Sir Ludovick resolved upon a change. There had been a village near the gate of Castle Grant, no doubt of the sort depicted so graphically in the opening chapters of Waverley, but it was in a low condition. Sir Ludovick looked farther afield. He was ambitious and far-seeing, and had an eye to the possibilities of the future. About two miles south of the Castle, and at a lower level, there was a wide moor, part of one of the gravel terraces, common in Strathspey, called the Feith-mhòid. Bounded on the west by the heights of Dreggie, sloping on the east to the mosses and fir-woods of Anagach. and on the south opening out into the birch clad knolls of Kirkton, the meadows of Ballintomb and Ballieforth, and the far-stretching pine forest of Abernethy, with the Spey gleaming in the midst, and the Cairngorms as a grand back-ground, it formed a model site for a Highland village. If Sir Ludovick shewed much judgment in the selection of a site, he shewed no less resolution and skill in the carrying out of his scheme. It was a great advantage that Grantown was not built at haphazard, but according to a fixed plan. The main idea was a long street with a wide central square or mercat place, and strips of land, called tenements," attached to the houses. It was called New Grantown to distinguish it from the old village, and it still bears this name among the Gaelic people—Am Baile-Ur. The first advertisement as to the erection of the town was published in 1764, and the first house was erected in 1766. The process was at first slow. From a plan made in 1768 by Mr Alex. Taylor, it appears that at that time only about sixteen feus had been taken up. The names of the first feuars are as follows, beginning at the north-west corner of the square ~.----—No. 9. Delmanny, manufacturer, where Macdougall & Co.’s establishment now stands; 10, Minister of Abernethy; 11, Mrs Grant of Duthil 12, Altcharn ; 13, left out for a road or street; 14, 15, Mullochard, manufacturer; 16, John Grant, weaver; 17, John Burges Taylor; 18, William Lyon; 19, James Grant, clerk, Castle Grant; 21, John Clark, mason ; 22, James Innes, schoolmaster ; 33, 34 (south side of square, at the east end), James and Archibald Houstans ; 35, John Mackenzie, vintner; 36, John Hastan, merchant ; 37, Brewery Company; 38, left out for road or street; 39, Lady Anna Duff; 40, Minister of Cromdale ; 45, Angus Cumming, piper. Alexander Fraser had a house and smithy on the moor to the north of the road to the Castle, and James and John Birnie, James Grant, officer, John Mackenzie, vintner, David Rose, John M’Grigor, and Allan Grant had houses on the Upper and Nether Faemoit, further to the south. In the notes to Mr Taylor’s plan, it is stated, among other advantages, that "there is a considerable part of the moor ground lying south and south-east from New Grantown, plowed in by Mr Grant’s oxen, and still continuing to plow more, which, as it is well adapted for lime, will soon be of singular use to the town, both for corn and grass." It is interesting to think of Mr Grant’s oxen patiently toiling, where now the nimble golfers ply their task, and bright—eyed maidens make the air merry with their glee!

In 1768, a second advertisement was issued, setting forth the advantages of the village, from its centrical position and surroundings, and inviting "persons of circumstance, manufacturers, and others," to take up feus. ‘‘Ther’s nine annual mercats or Fairs holds at Grantown, for Cattle, Horses, Sheep, Tissiker, Wool, &c., and Weekly Mercats. Its centrical for the South Country. Badenoch and Strathern Dealers, or Drovers in the Low Country, as it is not above 18 miles either from Inverness, Fort-George, Nairn, Forres, Elgin, Keith, or Strathboggie and good patent Roads to each of them. The Mercats are and will be for some time custome free. There is established a good schoole, for teaching Latin, English, Writing, Arithmetick, and Book-keeping, and two Weemen Schools for Sewing and Knitting of Stocking, and a fine new Church is to be built within the Town."

Sir James Grant completed what his father had so well begun, and this policy of unity of aim, and continuity of action, has been a characteristic of the family to our own time. It is said that Sir James spent more than £5000 on Grantown. He made roads, built bridges, and erected a Town house and jail. He also did much to foster various industries, such as baking, weaving, dyeing, wool-combing, and brewing, "to keep people from drinking spirituous liquors," and so forth. He also projected a school or asylum for the education of children, where riot only ordinary education, but instruction in arts and trades might be given, in this anticipating the technical education of the present day. With regard to this latter scheme, he consulted Lord Kames, who was considered a great authority on education. Lord Kames suggested that a preferable mode of giving technical instruction would be the bringing to the town ‘‘ the best artists that work in such things, for which there was a demand in the Highlands, wheel-wrights, plough-wrights, house carpenters, smiths, masons, weavers, &c.," and he promised aid from the Annexed Estates Fund to provide for apprenticing children to such trades (Letter 31st August, 1767) Lord Kames’ advice seems to have been taken. The Rev. Lewis Grant, in the O.S. Account (1792) says that in twenty years Grantown had increased to a population of from 300 to 400 inhabitants, and that there were in it ‘‘ bakers, shoemakers, tailors, weavers of wool, linen, and stockings, blacksmiths, wrights, and masons, and twelve merchants who kept regular shops,’’ and ‘‘ as good tradesmen as any in the kingdom." In marking the progress of Grantown, he makes the suggestive remark that ‘‘ herein was irresistible proof how far the country at large was capable of improvement."

Sir James gave special attention to education. The endeavour to establish a Strathspey Academy at Cromdale did not succeed. It was therefore transferred to Grantown. The first school was a low building, with one long room, the master’s desk at the north end, with the writing desks and forms in front. This gave place to a much larger building, divided into four sections, with ample space for classes and drilling in the centre. It had a bell tower, which gave it quite an imposing appearance. The plan, it is said, was supplied by Mr Gill, Postmaster. In this school much good work was done, under the Rev. John Wink, Mr James Weir, M.A., and other successive masters. The present splendid building, with its admirable staff and equipments, is the product of the School Board.

The Speyside Charity School, commonly called "The Hospital," was established by a Deed of Covenant, dated 10th August, 1795, from bequests made by Dame Jane Grant and Dr Gregory Grant of Burnside. Various benefactions have been since made to the institution. The female school was established from bequests made by the late Captain Grant, Congash, and others. In 1890 it was transferred to the School Board of Cromdale. The Parish Church of Inverallan was originally at Kirkton, and the remains of the foundation are still to be seen in the Churchyard. In 1803 a new church was built at Grantown. It was for some years occupied as a Royal Bounty Station, but in 1869 it was erected into a parish quoad sacra. In 1886 the present handsome church was built in the place of the former Parish Church. On a brass slab within the church there is the following inscription : This Church was erected to the glory of God by Caroline Stuart, Countess of Seafield, in memory of John Charles, 7th Earl of Seafield, K.T., 26th Chief of the Grants, who died 31st March, 1884. Presented by her to the Church of Scotland as the Parish Church of Inverallan. Consecrated to the public service of God, 1st May, 1886. The Rev. John Thomson, D.D., Minister. Alex. Smith, Architect.’’ Besides the church, Lady Seafield erected and endowed the "lan Charles Hospital," which was opened 19th May, 1895, and has proved an immense benefit to the country.

The Highland and Speyside Railways were opened in 1863, and since then Grantown has made great progress, and the number of visitors coming to the town in summer and autumn is very large, and increasing every year. The contrast between Grantown as it was in the first half of the century, and as it is now, is very striking. Sixty years ago, the square was the place where the fairs and trysts were held, and at George and Figgat Markets, it presented a gay and lively appearance, from the lines of tents amid the crowds of people. Now it is better kept, with a broad roadway, bordered by ornamental trees, and open spaces on each side, with seats, and pleasant runs for children. Sixty years ago, the houses were mostly of one storey, and many of them thatched with heather; now the dwelling-houses are handsome and substantial, and provided with all modern comforts. Sixty years ago, there was but one bank, the National, well known as Culfoichs.’’ It was next the Charity School, a little dingy hole, with hardly room for two people to stand together, and where the attention of the agent was divided between the bank and the shop, with which it was connected. Now there are three banks—-the National, the Caledonian, and the Royal, with excellent accommodation and ample business. Sixty years ago, there were but few shops, and the trade, chiefly in cloth and groceries, was of a very limited kind. Now there are hotels, large and well equipped, and establishments such as those of Macdougall & Co.’s, A. C. Grant, G. Anderson, and others, well lighted and spacious, amid with supplies of cloth, ironmongery, house furnishings, and all sorts of goods, equal to what could he obtained in any of our large towns. Sixty years ago letters were few, and newspapers fewer, the mails being brought by a postrunner from Forres. Now there is a large post-office, with three deliveries daily, and the Edinburgh, Aberdeen, amid other newspapers are received by the morning mails. There is also telegraphic communication and despatches daily to different parts of the country. Sixty years ago it was managed as part of the Grant estate under a Baron Bailie, now it has been erected into a burgh with the new designation of Grantown-on-Spey, and the Provost and Councillors have already made some improvements, and much more is expected of them, as they come to the full knowledge of their powers and duties. Sixty years ago Grantown was a "quiet habitation," with little signs of life and progress, now it is visited by thousands, and, amply provided as it is with shops, hotels, villas, and lodging-houses, with churches and schools, with Parish Council and Town Council, with railroads and telegraphs, and the attractions of a Christian institute and a beautiful Golf course, with free access to the woods and mountains, it is no wonder that its popularity is growing from year to year, and that it promises to reach and rival the fame of "Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain."


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