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Annals of Auchterarder and Memorials of Srathearn
Auchterarder 1837-97

AT the time of the joyous celebration of the Diamond Jubilee of the Queen in the resuscitated burgh of Auchterarder, it was interesting to contrast its state and condition at the Accession in 1837 with what it was in 1897. Comparatively few within its bounds are now privileged by memory to recall these clays of > ore, but a recapitulation of some of the leading features of the differences between that time and the present may prove interesting to the rising generation.

In Church connection, Auchterarder was then destined to play a leading part. The Act for Political Reform had been passed in 1832, and the contagion spread from the political into the ecclesiastical arena. The popular party in the Church, having obtained a preponderance, passed the Interim and afterwards the Veto Act, regulating the admission of ministers. Mr Young happened to be amongst the first presented to a charge, and the male heads of families availed themselves of the right conferred upon them by the Church to forbid his admission. lie was an excellent scholar. an able and evangelical preacher, and a good and honourable man, and the sole and only objection which could be brought forward against him was that his discourses were read. In consequence of the objection taken to the presentee, the parish remained for many years without a settled minister, and in the interim was supplied either by members of Presbytery by turns, or by resident probationers acting by the authority of the Presbytery. About the time of the Queen's accession the Rev. James Aitken discharged the duties, and was much admired and run after for his pulpit appearances. He afterwards became minister of the High Kirk of Kilmarnock, and died some years ago. Parochial affairs, including the charge of the poor, were managed by the Kirk-Session, consisting of Messrs David Miller, senr., George M'Laurin, Andrew Morison, and William K. Thomson. To their credit, be it said, they discharged their duties during the long vacancy and under trying circumstances faithfully and well. Mr Young was ordained in 1843, and 1865.

The Rev. William Pringle was minister of the United Secession Church. He was a man of varied attainments, and an excellent classical scholar. He translated a number of works from the Latin, and was an examiner in Classics for his denomination. The degree of Doctor of Divinity was latterly conferred upon him, and he died in 1873, after a faithful ministry of fifty-five years. The other minister in the, town was the Rev. George Jacque, of the Relief Church. He might be styled "the golden-mouthed preacher," as his sermons were characterised by strains of stately and imposing eloquence. lie had the true poetic vein, and his published writings, both in prose and verse, were much admired. He was also an accomplished musician. He died in 1892 at a great age, lamented and beloved by an attached congregation.

By the Disruption of 1843 the large congregation of the Parish Church is now split in three, by the addition of the Free Churches in Auchterarder and Aberuthven. The Secession and Relief Churches now belong lo the same body— the United Presbyterian—and both have got new places of worship. In addition to the Presbyterian Churches, the Mother Church has got a neat place of worship built, and a costly church of elegant architecture in connection with the Episcopal Communion has also been erected. In 1837 there were three churches in the parish; now there are several.

But in addition to this over-churching, should a Rip Van Winkle re-visit the ancient burgh, he would be struck by the change in worship which he would observe. He would, in the cradle of the Disruption, now listen to a sermon read, not delivered as formerly; instead of the psalms of the Sweet Singer of Israel, he would hear a profusion of uninspired hymns; instead of the musical strains of Bangor, St Paul's, and Martyrdom, he would be treated to a modern lilt, to the accompaniment of a kist of whistles ; while he would find the old postures of worship adopted in Calvinistic. Churches since the Reformation reversed—sitting at ease being now substituted for standing at prayer, and standing, instead of sitting, at praise.

Perhaps one of the greatest changes is now in the facility of communication afforded by the advantages of the rail, the cycle, the penny post, the telegraph, and the parcel post. These benefits are, however, common to the country at large, and do not require special mention when speaking of Auchterarder. Auchterarder had long to struggle with its inland situation, being, in the words of the Act of Parliament establishing the winter market, "far from seaports." Communication to Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Perth by mail coach was expensive, and the result was that people seldom went from home, a journey to Perth once or twice a-year being about the outside of the travelling of an ordinary Auchterarder citizen, while a visit to the Scottish metropolis was the event of a lifetime. With all the increased facilities of communication, it is a matter of regret that the Scottish Central Railway was not made to sweep along the South Crofts instead of the line adopted, and that another golden opportunity was again lost of remedying the evil, and bringing a railway into easy access of Auchterarder, when the Crieff Junction Railway was formed. The blame lay with Auchterarder. We have good grounds for saying that had a desire been expressed for bringing the Junction Station east, so as to tap the top of the burgh, the directors would have listened to the request; but the fitting opportunity to improve the town by railway facilities was looked upon with apathy, and allowed to pass. Had the same energy been directed towards this end which was spent in political, ecclesiastical, and civic disputes, it would have resulted in the permanent improvement of the town. Perhaps it is not yet too late to hope that the people of Auchterarder may take a leaf from their Crieff neighbours—make an effort to ensure connection with the railway, and raise the status of the capital of Upper Strathearn. While Auchterarder has had to contend with being left in the cold by the distance of the railway from the town, it has be^n fortunate in the development of manufacturing enterprise. Handloum weaving, principally for the Indian trade, was sixty years ago the staple industry of the place. In the town and neighbouring village of Aberuthven there would be upwards of 500 weavers. This is now a trade of the past. The click of the shuttle is not heard in the streets; instead, the introduction of steam-power gives employment to many hands, and without it Auchterarder would be left behind in the race. Productions of its powerlooms have a world-wide celebrity, and its manufactures are the staple industry of the place, and it is to be hoped they will long continue, be more largely developed, and afford employment, as in the past, to many a willing worker.

In the Post Office there has been a remarkable development. At the Accession the office was managed by Mrs Stewart. That worth)- old lady did the work alone, and there was no regular delivery of letters. Now there is a staff of 15 in number, and a delivery of letters three times a-day in the town, and by rural messengers to all parts of the district. The telegraph and parcel post bring the town into communication with all parts of the world.

In 1037 there was no light known but candles and oil. In 1842 the Gas Work was established, and its benefits are now felt in not only lighting the interior of houses and shops, but in a profusion of public lamps in the streets.

At the Accession the housing of scholars attending school was miserably defective. The Parish School consisted of one low, ill-ventilated room at the gate of the Parish Church, while the teacher lived above in equally cribbed and inconvenient apartments. There was, in addition, John Shedden's School, and an adventure school at the Townhead, but these were kept in similar unsatisfactory accommodation. Now there is a palatial building, which cost about 5000 to erect, and which might be sufficient for a small university. There is a staff of ten teachers, and the annual cost of the establishment is about 900.

At the commencement of the reign the tract of land at the west end of the town known as the Common Muir, extending to upwards of 2a) acres, was enjoyed by the inhabitants as one of the old burghal rights. It was in a state of nature, being covered with broom and whin, and the inhabitants generally enjoyed the rights of pasture and casting feal and divot thereon. A flock of goats in charge of a town's herd were collected in the morning, returning in the evening. The Common Muir was the subject of protracted litigation, begun in the early part of the century by the proprietor of the Barony for the purpose of division. Not long after the Queen commenced her reign the parties alleging interest in the Common came to an agreement, and it was on the point of division when the inhabitants, under the leadership of the late Mr Andrew Christie, Townhead, struck in, alleging that the Common belonged to a Royal Burgh, and was consequently by law indivisible. This had the effect of staying progress, and in 1860 an Act of Parliament was obtained—being carried through by Mr A. G. Reid—for vesting the Muir in Commissioners for the benefit of the burgh. Under the powers conferred by the Act the Muir was reclaimed, and is now in a state of cultivation, and forms a. valuable source of revenue for the burgh.

In 1894 the ratepayers resolved by a majority to adopt the Burgh Police Act, and since then they have been governed by Magistrates and a Town Council. The necessity for this step was doubted by many, seeing that the benefits of local government could have been carried out equally well, at much less expense, by the newly-constituted authority of the Parish Council. Having adopted the Act, it is the duty of every resident within the burgh to promote its interests, and to give a cordial support to the civic rulers in every well-devised scheme for increasing its prosperity.

In 1895, the Honourable Mrs Georgiana Lake Gloag with munificent generosity endowed the Lake Request, under which she handed over a sum of 5000 to Trustees for the purposes of paying a professional nurse to attend to the deserving sick poor of the parish, and to expend the remainder of the revenue arising from the investment of the principal among such poor persons as the Trustees might consider worthy of being benefited. The sufferings of many a one on a bed of sickness have been alleviated by the kind attention of the faithful nurse, while the considerate donations from the fund have assisted many old and infirm persons. The name of the donor will be long held in remembrance as the chief benefactor to the parish in which she spent her early days, and the bequest will prove an inestimable boon to the present and future generations.

A number of other beneficial changes have been made during the Queen's reign, to which we shall briefly allude. We may draw attention to the decided improvement of the dwelling-houses. During that time many elegant and substantial houses have been erected, which add much to the appearance of the town. The internal arrangements are also of a much better character and more conducive to health, particularly in the height of apartments. Through the abolition of the duty on window lights, the benefits of light and air are now freely enjoyed without let or hindrance, and the number of windows in houses of modern erection forms a striking contrast to the spaces of dead wall contingent on the former impost to save grievous taxation. Not long before the commencement of the reign the invaluable boon of a supply of good water was, through the engineering skill of the late Captain Aytoun of Glendevon, introduced into the town, and has since been of incalculable advantage in promoting cleanliness and health.

The general list of modern discoveries and improvements now available could be largely extended, not only as regards the domestic economy of the dweller in the burgh, but also outside, in lessening the labour of the cultivator of the soil. We may mention the invention of lucifer matches superseding the old flint and steel; of the sewing-machine minimising the labour of the tailor and seamstress; and of the photograph, enabling us to gaze on the features of departed friends, now the dwellers In the silent land. To the agriculturist, reaping and binding machines, the portable thrashing machine, and other inventions to save manual labour have proved great boons ; and the substitution of wire-fencing, which can be obtained at a moderate cost, instead of the old expensive dykes, has had the effect of causing nearly all the farms in the parish to be enclosed: while the system of tile drainage, promoted by the foresight of the Government, has done much for the improvement of the land, and turned the unproductive into fruitful fields.

There has also been a great change for the better in the farmhouses and steadings, particularly on the estate of Auchterarder, not only adding much to the comfort of the tenants, but also enabling them to exercise their calling to the best advantage by affording facilities for conducing the labour of the farm, and proper housing of horses and cattle.

A conspicuous change has taken place ir. the mode of sale in the flocks and herds of the farmer. The old-established cattle fairs of Auchterarder, one of them dating back to the twelfth century, and another sanctioned by the Scottish Parliament in the sixteenth, have now become things of the past. The cattle salesman now relieves the farmer of haggling at the market or disposing of his fat stock in the byre to the cattle-dealer. The weekly or bi-weekly visit to Perth to attend the sales now usurps the place of some half-dozen cattle fairs held at Auchterarder. Whether this is an unmitigated blessing or not may be questioned. Under the old system, the charges of the middleman, the expense of taking the cattle by rail to the place of sale, and the farmer's personal expenses of attendances thereat, were saved. Resides, he was not taken away so often from superintending his agricultural operations at home. On the other hand, it may be urged in favour of the change, the greater certainty of getting full value for the bestial.

We could enumerate many other changes, both general and local, and could dilate upon the inventions and discoveries of the present age. It would be an endless task. Looking to the mighty progress which has been made during the currency of the last sixty years, we may well inquire what will be the record when the next sixty years have been added to the roll of time? Sed trempora mutantur et nos mutamur in illis,

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