Crieff is a small market town situated at
the Southern end of the Grampian Mountains in Scotland. The town nestles
on the Southern slopes of the hill known locally as ‘The Knock’, a
small hill over which many generations of local children have played out
their jungle adventures and war games. It is generally accepted that the
name Crieff is derived from the 12th century Gaelic word ‘Crubha
Cnoc’ meaning ‘haunch of the knock’.
Author, Crieff 2001
The town is often referred to as the ‘Gateway
to Perthshire’ and is situated in the valley of the River Earn, (Strathearn)
a tributary of the mighty River Tay, flowing Eastwards to the North Sea
from Loch Earn, situated approximately 10 miles West of Crieff.
It has a population of approximately
8,000 people of all age groups and considers itself to be a holiday
town. It probably is a holiday town, but does not seem to have the
appeal of other towns with a similar claim. The reason for this is
probably due to the fact that Crieff has a significant percentage of ‘dyed
in the wool’ locals, and is therefore not disproportionately geared
towards tourism, which some similar towns are often criticised for.
At least two centuries before Robert the
Bruce, the Celtic earls chose Crieff, as the administrative capital for
the Earldom, and sited their open air court of Justice on a Neolithic
burial mound to the south of the town. At this ‘Stayt’ or ‘Skait’,
the Steward, appointed by the Earl judged on disputes and administered
justice. The office of Seneschal or Steward of Strathearn became
hereditary, but was claimed by both the Drummond and Murray families,
who were the fiercest of rivals. The centuries long quarrel of these
families eventually resulted in the power of the court being transferred
to the Kings Sheriff at Perth, seventeen miles East of Crieff.
The political overthrow of King James in
1688 brought strife to the people of Scotland including Crieff. The
prominent lairds of the area were Catholic, and therefore Jacobites,
supporters of the ousted Stuart monarchy; Most of the prominent
townspeople however, were Presbyterian and anti-Jacobite. Following the
defeat of ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ at Culloden retribution was swift
and savage. Steps were taken to ensure that there would be no more
Jacobite risings, and a ban was placed on the wearing of the kilt and
playing of bagpipes. Many of the local lairds had their lands’
forfeited to the Crown.
Indicative or not, Crieff today has the
outward appearance of a town in economic decline, testified to, by the
large number of shops which appear to close down after a short period of
time, their windows boarded up, like some frontier town, for which the
good times have dried up and the townsfolk moved on to pastures new.
This comparison with frontier towns is
not entirely inappropriate as in the 1700’s Crieff was like the
frontier towns of the Old West, where Highlanders, as Cowboys would
later do in the United States of America, drove their herds of cattle
Southwards to the large markets known as Trysts, which were regularly
held in Crieff and Falkirk. A great Michaelmas cattle sale was held once
a year at Crieff and the surrounding fields were ‘black with some
30,000 cattle beasts’ some of which had been driven south from as far
afield as Caithness and the Outer Hebrides.
This was illustrated in the Hollywood
film, ‘ROB ROY’ which starred Liam NEESON in the title role. In a
scene from the movie, which was filmed largely around the Crieff area,
Rob ROY is seen herding his cattle to the market at Crieff, during which
time Crieff is given prominent mention.
Due to the large influx of Highlanders
with money to burn from the sale of their cattle, Crieff apparently had
no fewer rowdies than it’s American counterparts in that drunkenness
and wild behaviour was commonplace. Crieff has been referred to in these
times as the ‘Dodge City’ of its day in Scotland. Indeed, Rob Roy’s
outlaw son was pursued through the streets of Crieff by soldiers and
Cattle and sheep rustling were also
commonplace, and because of its rich pickings, Crieff was often raided
by hoards of the northern caterans (raiders) who descended on the town
for that purpose. However, if caught, justice was swift, and the
culprits would end their days swinging on the ‘kind gallows’ of
Crieff, which were sited at Gallowhill at the Southern end of Burrell
It follows from this that Crieff probably
enjoyed a lengthy period of relative prosperity and in the 1800s the
town appears to have been heavily industrialised.
Maps of the time show that there was a
large amount of mills throughout
Crieff, among them Saw Mills, Lint Mills,
and Flax Mills. A large area situated to the South of the town, known as
Bleachfield was so named because of the large Bleachworks which occupied
that site, in an area known today as Turretbank.
A flavour of these industrial times can
be found in this extract from ‘THE HISTORY OF
CRIEFF’ by ALEXANDER PORTEOUS.
‘Principal and oldest mill in CRIEFF
is the mill at Milnab built in 1748 by Mr John CAW. About 1831, Mr
Daniel JACK erected a meal mill at Dalvreck, which carried on an
extensive and well-known business manufacturing oat and barley meal and
also flour meal. At one time it had a mill for pot barley. It had
extensive granaries and other outhouses and for many years did a large
trade. It has burned down a few years ago, the tenant at the time being
Mr Robert TAYLOR who had also a large meal mill at South Bridgend’
Whether the entrepreneurial Mr Daniel
JACK was related to the subject of this work is not known, but the
similarities are clear.
Handloom weaving was another industry,
which was important in Crieff, and these occupations as well as
agricultural work were the most common occupations of the time. By 1830
the town population had doubled and when the railway arrived in 1856,
Crieff was the second largest town in Perthshire.
Crieff has always been regarded as a
divided town in that there is an apparent demarkation line between what
are referred to as the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. This line is
generally considered to be the High Street. Those people residing North
of this line, nearer to the ‘top of the hill’, occupy the large
Mansion type houses, and below this line, on the lower reaches of the
town, are the council type dwellings.
For many people over the years, moving
house from below this line to above it, was a sure sign of economic
improvement, and ‘upward’ mobility in more than just the Geographic
sense. This particular form of class snobbery was captured in a recent
Biography of the Crieff born Film Star, ‘Ewan McGregor’ when the
Author points out just such a class leap by the McGregor family during
the Actor’s youth. Anyhow, by this, or any other measure, the future
multi – millionaire David JACK was born into the ‘wrong’ side of
Crieff’s economic and class divide. It is perhaps hardly surprising
then, that the young David Jack, from the economically deprived and
austere background of Crieff, should, like a kid handed the key to the
candy store, gorge himself on the seemingly endless opportunities laid
before him in the ‘land of milk and honey’. Of course it may also be
contended that coming from the background that he did, Jack should have
had more empathy with the poor people, he was later accused of wronging
as a rich land baron in America.
In point of fact, the foregoing was not
entirely the case in the 1700 and 1800s as many of the poorest people of
the town lived in Hill Street, which is situated North of the High
Street, near to the present day, exclusive boarding school, Morrison’s
Academy. Some of the houses in that area were once referred to as, ‘
bad as the worst Glasgow hovels’.
It was into early 1800s Crieff that
William JACK brought his family.