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Strathmore Past and Present

Many have puzzled their brains trying to find out the correct name, and the accurate meaning of the name, of this quiet semi-highland parish. The two most celebrated ministers of the parish differ widely in their views. Mr. Playfair in 1797 and Dr. Barty in 1843, in the two valuable Statistical Accounts, have their own theories, which we cannot pretend to comment upon. The former adheres to the name Bendothy, as the Communion cups were thus inscribed in 1786. The latter styles this spelling as clearly unwarrantable and without authority. In 1760, it took the name which it still retains, and which we cannot trace exactly beyond 1595, when the teinds were granted to Leonard Leslie, tlie Commendator of Cupar Abbey. Although the popular pronunciation has always been Bennethy, probably its derivation is from ben, “a hill,” do., a verbal particle prefixed to the future in Gaelic, and chi, the future of the verb to see, thus meaning, “the hill with the good view.” This is borne out by the situation; for the rising ground, on the southern base of which the church and manse stand, is midway between the Grampians on the north, and the Sidlaws on the south, of the great valley of Strathmore; and here the view is extensive, varied and beautiful.

This parish lies near the eastern boundary of Perthshire, the Church being two miles from Cupar-Angus, fifteen from Perth, and seventeen from Dundee. Originally it consisted of a Highland and a Lowland portion. The former is now, along with parts of the neighbouring parishes, within the quoad sacra parish of Persic; the latter is divided into two nearly equal parts by the Ericht ; the part which lies west of the river, and in which the Church, Manse, and Schoolhouse are situated, being separated from the parish of Cupar-Angus on the south by the river Isla, and bounded on the west and north by Blairgowrie; the other stretching north between Rattray and Alyth across the main road which joins Dunkeld and Kirriemuir. The Ericht has, before joining the Isla, lost its rapid flow; and silently the Isla glides on, unless swollen by heavy rains or melting snows. The Isla is here about 225 feet in breadth and 10 feet in depth; but in high floods it has reached half-a-mile in width and 24 feet in depth. In 1774, the river rose within six inches of the top of the lowest arches of the Bridge of Coutty ; and it took nine years to let the land recover its soil and vegetable powers. Some farmers used to drag their corn in harvest-time to higher grounds ; others trusted to the season. Two neighbours had adopted these respective methods; one jeered the other for want of faith in Providence; but in a few days the “rain descended and the floods came,” and the provident farmer retorted, “Wliaur is your faith now, neighbour? It’s doun the water wi’ your corn.” This reminds us of an occasion when the late Drs. Norman Macleod and Archibald Watson (the two extremes of physique), were boating in a western loch. The wind rose suddenly and fiercely. A nervous old maid in the boat asked the clergymen to beseech the protection of Providence. But the shrewd old boatman retorted, “The little ane can pray if he likes, but the big ane mun tak’ an oar.” Generally, however, the Isla meanders gently at its own sweet will,

“In many a winding bout
Of linked sweetness long drawn out."

The low haughs on its banks are composed of transported soil, being the alluvial deposit of many centuries. When the Isla overflows, a fine sediment of the nature of virgin earth is deposited, forming with the natural clay a soil of great fertility, and adding annually to the staple of the soil. The principal property in this locality is Cupar-Grange, which at one time was one of the country seats of the Abbot of Cupar. According to the Rev. Dr. Robertson in his “Agriculture of Perthshire,” published in 1799, there was discovered at Coupar-Grange some years ago a Druidical temple of a construction similar to the greatest one in the County of Kirkmichael, and nearly of the same dimensions. The diameter of the inner circle was sixty feet, the wall itself was five feet high. At the distance of nine feet, an outer wall of the same height was carried round. The space between these concentric circular walls was filled with ashes of wood and bones of different animals, particularly sheep and oxen. A paved way led across the area, from west to east, to a large free stone, standing erect between the circles and rising feet above the pavement. This stone, which seemed to have been the altar, was flat at the top and two feet square. At Cupar-Grange the Abbot’s steward resided, who, managing the affairs of the Monastery, often in troublous times prepared there a retreat for his brethren. A century ago it was celebrated for a particular quality of seed-oats, which for a long time went by the name of the Cupar-Grange oats; and which rose cleaner, whiter, and more substantial from kindly soil, sometimes three feet in depth. The principal property in the other portion of the parish, east of the Ericht, is the Grange of Aberbothry. It is all level, manageable ground, with a gentle ascent north-eastward. Most of the lands are of clay of a whitish nature in the bottom, but enriched with dark vegetable deposit, excellent for producing oats. Here and there through the parish are singular ridges of natural formation, called dru ms, from dorsum (Latin), the back ; all having a parallelism to one another, and declining eastward. Whatever cause may have produced the mountains and the strath, these drums appear to have been produced by the tides of the ocean, of which Strathmore was then a channel, and to have been formed (like banks in channels of the sea), by the tide of the flood. They are in length nearly perpendicular to the line of ascent of the Grampian ridge, and are most prevalent in that part of the ascent which is flattest Several subterraneous buildings, supposed to be of Pictish origin, were about a hundred years ago discovered in the grounds of Mudhall. When cleared of the ashes and earth with which they were filled, these were found to be about six feet wide within walls, five feet deep, and upwards of forty feet long; built in the sides and paved in the bottom with unhewn whin-stones. They answer to the description which the Roman historian, Tacitus, gave of some buildings of the Germans:— “They dig in eaves in the earth, where they lay up their grain and live in winter. Into these they also retire from their enemies, who plunder the open country, but cannot discover these subterranean recesses.” Mr. Playfair, in referring to this, quaintly remarked, “If people were obliged again to creep into a hole, they would know the value of good government by the want of it.”

Ecclesiastically, Bendochy has all along, up to the Reformation, had very intimate connection with the Abbey of Cupar, and it was the Parish Church of Cupar before the Reformation. In 1105, Persic (under the name Parthesin) and Aberbothry were granted by William the Lion to the Abbey. We add a few notes from the Cupar.

Registers which will show the connection and give the varied forms of spelling the name. In 1443, the revenue of the church of Benachty, along with the small teinds of Keithock, were let for £20 Scots yearly, and the tenants of Aberbothry were restricted by the Abbot to two hogs each, on account of the recurrence of some pestilential disease. In 1462, Abbot David Bane let the church of Benachty to David Blair for £20 Scots annually. Aberbothry was let eleven years after this for 42 merks, 2 dozen capons and 2 hens. In 1477, a commission was granted by the Abbot of Dunfermline to David Rush to grant a piece of land belonging to the Monastery, and contiguous to the south part of the cemetery of the Parish Church of Bennachty for the enlargement of the said cemetery. Two years afterwards, John Coul, clerk of the office and church of Bendachy, resigned said office. In 1508, Abbot William of Cupar petitioned the Bishop of Dunkeld to confirm the presentation of Sir Paul Brown, chaplain to the vicarage of Bendachi. In 1542, £25 were given for the rent of the vicarage of Benethy. Seven years afterwards the tenants of Aberbothrie were bound to do “their dewi-ties ielelie and trewlie, but [without] fraud or gyle to the lady-priest and paroche clerk of Bennothy.” The years following, similar injunctions were given, when the name is spelled Bendocthie, Bendochty, Bennethe, Benathe, and Benathy. In 1558, the tenants were to do “their det to oure miln of the Blacklaw, boitman of Ilay, lady-priest and paroche clerk of Bennathy;” but immediately afterwards the last part is altered to “the dominical chaplain and the chaplain of the blessed Mary and the parish clergyman.” The teinds of Bennethie were valued in 1561 at 68 chalders (two-thirds meal and one-third barley), and the vicarage £6 13s. 4d. Scots. In 1569, this parish and Kettins were conjoined with a stipend of £22 4s 5d. Collace was afterwards added—James Anderson being the minister of the three charges. In 1663, Henry Malcolm, minister of Bendochy, was clerk of Synod. In 1692, David Rankin, author of several works, was minister. In 1740, James Ramsay dissented from the resolution of the General Assembly to depose the eight seceding brethren.

A century ago, the seats of Keithock in Cupar parish stood in the Church of Bendochy. The walls of the Church arc understood to be very old. The pulpit is in the style of John Knoxs, to be seen in the Museum of St. Andrews University. In the back wall of the church is a stone created, in 1587, to the memory of Nicol Campbell, proprietor of Keithock, son of Donald, Abbot of Cupar, and grandson of the Earl of Argyle. Another, in the west passage, was erected, in 1584, to the memory of Ins brother David, proprietor of Denhead, in Cupar parish. There is also a stone to Leonard Leslie, Commendator of Cupar Abbey, who died in 1605, aged 81. And there is a figure in the wall, of date 1606, representing John Cummin, proprietor of Couttie, in Bendochy parish, dressed in a coat of mail, and standing on a dog. On account of the inconvenience of crossing the Ericht, especially when in flood, there was in the good old times a chapel at St. Fink, under the name St. Findoce, for the people on tho cast side. The houses near it arc called the Chapelton; and the ruins of the foundations still remain. Around the chapel there had been a burying-ground; for on several occasions skulls without a body each enclosed between four square stones fitted to hold the head, were dug up, evidently of soldiers who had been slain at a distance. Below a cairn of stones, among tho loose earth, which was black with burnt ashes, were found human bones half burned; and further down two inverted urns, adorned with rude sculpture and containing human bones, both in perfect preservation. This chapel and another at Callie gave evidence that, so far at least as providing religious accommodation for the people was concerned, the Abbots of Cupar had done their duty. For the last few years the minister of the parish—the Rev. George Brown— has been doing something to meet the wants of the old and the convenience of all, by having a place fitted up for occasional services on Sunday evenings. This laudable movement deserves all encouragement, and the great numbers, who avail themselves of this opportunity of attending Divine service, satisfactorily prove that there are chapels planted and supported in less necessitous places by our Home Mission Committee. To show the attachment that the people of Bendochy parish had to the work done by the Catholics and Episcopalians, they retained the Episcopal minister twelve years after the Revolution, and adhered to him even after the settlement of his Presbyterian successor. It was in Bendochy Church that the deputation from the Tron Church of Glasgow heard Thomas Chalmers, then minister of Kilmany, who was awakening from the sense of failure of his work, when conducted with the nicety of mathematical exactness, to the broad evangelical life which so marvellously stirred the souls of a generation, For nearly half-a-century the parishioners had the rare privilege—rare in a small country parish without even a village—of having as their minister Dr. James Barty, a man of distinguished scholarship, legal acumen, and preaching power, who was raised to the Moderator’s chair of the General Assembly. With indefatigable energy he set about improving the position and strengthening the work of the preacher at Persie chapel, which had been erected in 1785, by having a manse built, a glebe allotted, and the parish endowed; and all this he lived to see accomplished according to his best wishes. The old ecclesiastical hauteur, blended with poetic taste, was strongly marked in his countenance and manner, which can be easily inferred from this note in his article in the New Statistical Account of the parish:— “The manse is sweetly situated on the banks of the Isla, snugly embosomed in its own little grove of wood, and oh! ye my successors, lift not up the axe against the trees. Touch not the old ash that has stood for a century the sentinel of the manse, guarding it from the eastern blasts, and protecting from the storm the graceful birches that weep and wave their branches below.” The highest prize for entrant students of divinity at the four University seats—the Barty prize—is derived from the interest of money raised after his death, by his well-wishers, as a memorial of his worth. Principal Playfair of St Andrews was a native of the parish of Bendochy; and for a time the Rev. J. Honey was minister, a man of gigantic stature and remarkable strength ('the true type of muscular Christianity), who will be long remembered for his daring and heroic feat, when a student at St. Andrews in 1800, in rescuing from imminent death five shipwrecked sailors by successively swimming with them—one by one —through the boiling surf, at the hazard of his own life ; for which he had the honour of the freedom of the City conferred on him.

The Parochial registers are contained in seven volumes, from 1642. They give the usual ample proof of rigid discipline and inquisitorial surveillance exercised by the kirk-sessions of those days. One offender “ the session thou yat fitt to bring in sackcloth, till he acknowledge his guilt on his knees.” Another female delinquent appeared for the twentieth time before the congregation on the stool of repentance. A young lad having struck a boy on the Sabbath day for throwing a stone among the children, confessed that “he went out, and only shot him over; the members, after discoursing of it, thought fitt to dismiss him with the session rebook.” A laird was rebuked for going out with his gun on the Fast-day “only to fleg the tod from his sheep.” The session accepted four pounds nine shillings from a farmer “as satisfaction for his daughter’s resiling from purpose of marriage after the publication of banns.” The elders used to go through the parish during divine service to pick up any straggler who should have been at church; but with all their supervision, the parish statute-book shows the occasional black marks of the secret sin, engendered by the old Adam.

According to the report by a Committee of the Presbytery of Meigle in 1808, two acres of ground were being set apart for “minister’s grass,” when some of the heritors protested, that, as the minister then had been in possession (from time immemorial) of the right of pasturage for his cows and horse over kirk-lands in the parish, belonging to the Hon. Stuart Mackenzie, therefore no recourse should be had against the other heritors for the grass ground so set apart; and that at one time £20 scots was set apart by decreet of the Presbytery in lieu of grass for the minister. In the Government Return issued on the 6th October, 1884, we observe that the unexhausted teinds belonging to this Parish amount to £22.

As could be at once inferred from its fore-lying situation, the parish is on the whole healthy and of a fine climate. The lowest reading of the thermometer during last century was 8 degrees Fahr. in December 1794. The hoar-frost on the ice of the river was half-an-inch long (reminding us of the marvellously fairy-like appearance of the hoar frost of December 1882); but for all the frost, there was a pool of still water in the Isla (100 feet above sea level), that did not freeze. According to Dr. Barty, on the 10th February 1838, the thermometer read 8 degrees below zero (or 40 degrees of frost); when water spilt in a bedroom, in which there had been constant fire night and day for ten days previously, almost instantly congealed. The crop of 1795, which followed the intense cold of the winter before, was so deficient that the price of grain was doubled. In March of that year there was rain with a flood ; on May 9th it was snowing heavily— the thermometer never rising above 48 degrees during the whole month, nor above GO degrees during the whole summer ; so that, on account of very broken weather, the cars of the uncut oats sprang, standing upright in the fields, and the harvest was not taken in till the 24th of October, when from Loch Brandy (due north) a reeving wind helped the husbandman’s labours.

The state of agriculture has altered very materially since the accounts of 1750. Then it was conducted in the runrig system, i.e., each field was divided into as many parts or ridges as there were farmers in the village. In Cupar-Grange alone there were fifty families, having its brewer, carrier, miller, and shop. It was a self-protection policy to ward oft the Highland depredators. In these ridges the good and bad land was equally divided among all, but the pasturage was common. They ploughed with eight oxen ; and their corn was very good in quality. They used tumbler sledges for carts. There was no glass in the windows, but only wooden boards; and the houses were vile with smoke for want of vents. All the time of harvest a piper was kept for playing to the shearers at the usual harvest fee, the slowest shearer having always the drone behind him. The population of the parish was therefore very much higher than now, when there are no small pendicles, but all is absorbed in large farms. In 1750, the population was 1293; while, in 1811, after the change in the farming system, the population was 748. Now it is 499, but this excludes the part in Persie. In 16.30, the valuation of the parish was (according to the minutes of the Presbytery), equal to 115 chalders of victual, which then would be worth about £1000; nowit is £12,075. At the beginning of the present century a ploughman’s wages were £10 (though some years before they were only £5), a woman’s wages £4, a day labourer’s 8d. to 10d. a wright, mason, or smith’s 20d. to 22d. per day; the price of a new cart was £6, and new harrow 7s.; a fat ox, 40 Dutch stone weight, £10, and a good horse £12.

Things are now vastly changed for farmers, with the lower prices and higher expenses and rents. We agree with Dr. Barty’s experienced remark in 1843, equally applicable now—“It is in his byre that the farmer looks for his rent,” He would need now to do so. For unless grain rises in value, or some latent productive power in the soil be discovered, or the farmer’s outlay be diminished, it is not easy to see how he can continue long to pay his present rent.” The poor are now very indifferent, being more so on account of the working of the mistaken Poor-Law Act; the old spirit of independence is dying out. In the beginning of the century the poor—even the deserving poor —only received from two to five shillings a month; and, as Mr. Playfair quaintly remarked, “That is only 2d. a day, which cannot detain them long from that country where ‘the weary are at rest.’”

As already remarked, there is no village in the parish. In 1840, Mr. Archer erected a farina-work at Coutty Bridge, which is occasionally a great boon to farmers when potatoes are either diseased or plentiful; and nothing can be finer or more beautiful than the flour there manufactured. The Coutty Bridge over the Isla was built by the Government in 17G6; but it is now inconveniently narrow for the increased traffic. The parish is purely agricultural; but few parishes can equal it in the value of its stock or the weight of its grain. Quietly, in general, do the people live. Daily viewing the Creator in His works, they contemplate the Divine economy in the arrangement of the seasons; “ away from the madding crowd/' their natural affections are cherished more purely than in the bustle of town life ; their habits become their principles, and they are ready to risk their lives to maintain them. Long may this continue, without the contamination of the foul disease of Communism which is being generated in the great centres of population ! Virgil’s inimitable description of the pleasures of a rural life may aptly suit Bendochy :—

“An easy, quiet, and a safe retreat,
A harmless life devoid of foul chicane,
And home-bred plenty the rich owner wait,
With rural pleasures sporting in her train.
Unvex’d with quarrels, undisturb’d with noise,
In peaceful industry time glides away;
He, living lakes and flow’ry fields enjoys,
Woods, hills and dales, and streams that thro’ them play.”

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