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Strathmore Past and Present

In the very “Howe” of Strathmore lies the parish of Cupar-Angus. The greater part is situated in Perthshire, but the original part is in Forfarshire, hence it is designated “of Angus.” The origin of the name of Cupar is as uncertain as is the correct way of spelling it; but this has been fully discussed in our article on the Abbey (on page 5). More than likely the name was given in honour of the famous Saint Cuthbert, monk of Melrose, who is said to have had twenty-three churches consecrated to his name. According to Skene, in his “Celtic Scotland,” Cubert was one of the four royal manors or thanages of the division of Gouerin (Gowry), which paid “Can” to King Malcolm the Fourth.

The river Isla separates the parish on the north from Bendochy. From the Taxatio of the Abbey of Arbroath (1275), the river is called Uliffe, which means a flood, or inundation; and this is characteristically appropriate, for the haugh-land, of considerable extent, was, before embankments were erected, very often subject to sudden submersion, which often occasioned very great loss to the crops, especially during harvest-time. These embankments average in height above seven feet, and in breadth, thirty-six feet at the base, and three at the top. Rising in Canlochan Glen, the Isla winds its serpentine way for forty miles; and, fed by the Ericht and Dean, falls into the Tay three miles beyond the western boundary of the parish.

North-east of Cupar lies the parish of Meigle, which now quoad sacra contains Kinloch and Balmyle, formerly in Cupar parish, and still quoad civilia in it. Kettins bounds Cupar on the south-east, and Cargill on the southwest. The whole parish, about five miles long and two miles broad, is divided by a ridge of some height, along whieh runs the great road from Perth to Aberdeen. The soil in the lowlands is of a clayey or loamy nature, producing excellent crops of grass and grain. In elevated parts the soil is light and gravelly, more suitable for potatoes, when well manured. There was a common of 250 acrcs, called the Watton Mire, to which in olden times the parishioners used to go for turf and sods to eke out their fuel; but since the railway has given facilities for the eonveyanee of coal up to the very door, no advantage is now taken of this. Dr. Robertson in the “Agriculture of Perthshire,” in 1799, mentions that the common then belonging to Cupar consisted of sixty Scotch acres.

The view from Beach Hill, north of the town, is singularly beautiful. On the one side, you see the Isla meandering through a fertile plain, “ like a wounded snake, dragging its slow length along.” On the other side, you are entranced with the grand panorama of the majestic Grampians, towering in their CDld beauty into the clouds; the prominent peaks of Ben More, Sehiehallion, and Ben Voirlich being quite distinct on a clear, hard day. Looking south, you have the wooded Sidlaws and Dunsinane, on which, in Macbeth, Shakespeare has thrown a tragic charm.

In quiet nooks and secluded dens some rare plants arc to be found, especially the Water Soldier, which throws out from the mud, near stagnant water, rigid prickly leaves, like those of an aloe, and in July a six-inch stalk with delicate white flowers at its summit. It is said that this very rare plant (though common in ditches in the east of England), was planted in Forfar Loch, by the enthusiastic and talented discoverer of Forfarshire flora, George Don; and found its way by the Dean to the Isla.

The rare plants, tufted Loosestrife (with its small yellow whorl), Henbane (dangerously narcotic), and the dwarf Elder (with its herbaceous stem), are found in the parish; but in these days, when any mention made of the favourite haunts of noted ferns causes a “Sennacherib” rush for specimens, which sooner or later extirpates them, we will not name the locus of these plants.

The remains of a Roman camp are still visible immediately to the east of the churchyard. Maitland describes it as nearly a regular square of 1200 feet, fortified with two strong ramparts and large ditches. It is said to have been formed by the army of Agricola in his seventh expedition. Here the half of his army encamped, while the other half remained at Campmuir, in Lintrose, two miles south-west from this place. These camps commanded the passage of Strathmore, and, according to Wilson in his “Pre-historic Scotland,” guarded the passages leading down Strathardle and Glenshee. ’Wilson also states that, in 1831, a spear-head was found in the lands of Denhead belonging to the Archaic period, made of bronze, 19 inches long, and extremely brittle. One of the fractures near its point shows that a thin rod of iron has been inserted in the centre of the mould to give additional strength to this unusually large weapon. A Roman urn was found on Beach Hill, where, according to legend, justice was strictly administered in ancient times. We are unable to trace any instances of summary execution on Witch Know, opposite to Cronan.

But what made Cupar most famous in the middle ages was its Abbey. This was built on the centre of the Roman camp by order of King Malcolm IV., in 1164, for the Cistercian Monks. As a very exhaustive account —considering the limited materials in the hands of the historian—has been already given of the Abbey at tho beginning of this volume (pages 1-46), it would be out of place to give again an outline sketch. The parish church and churchyard now occupy part of the fifty acres of its original site. The Abbey was well endowed by kings and nobles, and at the time of the Reformation its income was as good as £8000 a year in our day. In 1489, Dempster of Careston, with the two profligate sons of the first Duke of Montrose, earned off “twa monkis” and some horses belonging to the Abbey; and for this “husting of the privilege and fredome of hali kirk” was ordered to place himself in ward in the Castle of Dumbarton. In 1G18, the spirituality of the benefice was transferred to the Protestant minister, and a new church was erected. In 1G45, two hundred soldiers attacked the town by order of the Marquis of Montrose; and Robert Lindsay, the parish minister, took the leadership of the defence, but at the cost of his life. His widow wrote to Parliament about this attack of Alister M‘Donald, alias Collkittach, stating that her husband “was murdered by a number of merciless rebels for his zeal and forwardness in the cause of God.” In the year following, an Act of Assembly recommended her for charity, which was readily responded to by many congregations in various parts of the Church. Henry Guthrie, Bishop of Dunkeld (1600-1676), was a native of Cupar. In 1679, George Haliburton, minister of Cupar, was promoted to tho Biahopric of Brechin. On the 20th of May 1689, “ there was no Session, the town being in a confusion with Englishmen (General M‘Kay’s dragoons being then quartered in the town). In the same year George Hay was deprived by the Privy Council for contumacy. On the l6th June 1742, James Spankie (who had been ordained on the 10th of March 1741), was, on the casting vote of the Moderator of Presbytery, deposed for his irregular marriage and dissimulation; but this judgment was reversed by the Synod, who ordered him to be solemnly rebuked. He was parish minister for thirty-seven years. There were for many years in early times two other chapels in the parish—the chapel of the blessed Mary at Balbrogy, and the chapel of St. Ninian at Keithock.

Two important decisions were given by the Court of Session in connection with ecclesiastical and parochial matters in Cupar. In re Hill v. Wood (1863), it was decided anent churchyards (1) that long-continued possession of burial ground in the churchyard will be held to presume, and will be practically treated as equivalent to, a formal allocation of it; (2) that an allottee of ground in a churchyard, whether he be an heritor or merely a parishioner, does not by the allocation acquire a right of absolute property in it, but of use merely, though from the sacred nature of the use (i.e. burial accommodation to successive generations of the parishioners), the allocation confers on the allottee a right to the exclusive possession of the ground so long as it is tenanted by the dead, or while unallocated ground exists in the churchyard which can be assigned as a place of burial; (3) that the right of sepulture may be acquired by a family or a number of individuals in ground not belonging to them (including the churchyard), in virtue of possession thereof by way of burial therein of their relatives for a period of forty years; and (4) that the site for the erection of a vestry for a church will not be sanctioned if it involves an encroachment on the existing churchyard. And in re Scot. N.E. Railway v. Gardiner (1864), anent ecclesiastical assessments, it was decided (1) that the term “heritor” applies to a corporate body, such as a railway company; (2) that as to real or valued rent for such assessment the rule of liability is not regulated by the Valuation Act (whieh is not a taxing statute, but merely one for valuing properties), but by the rules of law in foree prior to its date (1854).

In 1618, the town of Cupar was erected into a “haill and free lordship and barony,” being originally, like Arbroath, what was called an abbot’s burgh, to distinguish it from a royal burgh, like Forfar, or a bishop’s burgh, like Brechin ; for towns and villages gradually acquired their dimensions round the seats of kings, bishops, and abbots. Stuart Gray, Esq., of Gray and Kinfauns, is now the superior of the burgh.

The date of the oldest of the Parochial registers is 1682. These carefully written volumes contain entries of rigorous discipline similar to those of Blairgowrie and Bendochy. We lately examined them in the Register House, Edinburgh, where all parish records, which contained notices of births or baptisms in the ordinary minutes (baptisms being then in the church) are now collected; but we found nothing specially calling for notice.

The parish has always been noted for the longevity of its inhabitants. At the end of last century a well authenticated ease is given of a woman who died at the age of 116 years; and the three venerable clergymen, who, for upwards of half a century, walked the streets of Cupar, gave ample evidence of this happy trait in the climate. For sixty years did Dean Tory officiate, with a mind which remained fresh to the end; for about half a century Dr. Marshall sustained with indomitable vigour the Voluntary principles; and Dr. Stevenson, for fifty-two years, with the honour and respect of the whole community and Presbytery, carried on his unobstrusive but powerfully lasting work, in the development of liberal theological thought.

As in the neighbouring parishes, vast changes have taken place in Cupar, in agriculture and manufactures and the living of the people. In 1750 the population of the quoad civilia parish was 1491; it is now 3000. Then the valued rent was £556 ; now the real rent is £16,297. Then the runrig prevailed, with ploughing by oxen; now farmers have large farms, with vastly improved implements. Then lint seed formed a considerable part of the produce; now it is unknown. Then on the principal road any house could sell spirits and ale without a licence; now it is attempted to have entire prohibition. Then there was but one minister; now there are half-a-dozen, endeavouring to work out in religious polity Darwin’s theory of “the survival of the fittest in the struggle for existence.” Then there were ten carriers; now they have the Caledonian Railway. Then there were four whisky stills and nine brewers, forty-five public housekeepers and nine butchers to a third part of the present population. Happily what a contrast now ! The teacher’s salary was £11, as the writer in the “Old Statistical Account” says, “not equal on an average to that of the meanest mechanic or day labourer.” The turf and divot and cruisie-lamp now give place to coal and gas. The handloom-weaving is supplanted by machinery. A tannery was built in 1781, wherein 2600 hides were dressed annually. Now there are three linen-works, a tannery, a farina work, a brewery, and steam sawmills. To further the linen manufacture, George Young, a Cupar merchant, and a man of uncommon capacity for business, endeavoured, by petitioning the Board of Trustees for the “Forfeited Scottish Estates,” to procure a survey for a canal between Perth and Forfar by Cupar; but the expense was too heavy and the plan was laid aside.

The steeple, which marks the town at a distance, but is not connected with the church, was built in 1702 by subscription among the inhabitants. It stands on the spot where the prison of the Court of Regality stood; and the lower part of it is still employed as a temporary place of confinement. A few years ago Mr. Lowe, a native of Cupar, after his arrival from Winnipeg in North America, most handsomely repaired the partly dilapidated steeple at his own expense. Justice of Peace Courts and Circuit Small Debt Courts are regularly held here. There are several banks and hotels in the town; but the weekly farmers’ market, on Thursday, is dwindling down. Still, there is a regular auction mart for selling and buying cattle ; and fair attendances are occasionally seen on the third Monday of six of the months of the year.

The chief improvement in agriculture consists in draining—an ingenious plan of the late Lord Hallyburton being thus described by Dr. Stevenson in his “New Statistical Account of the Parish:”—“In heavy rains the standing water could not find any vent, the only drain— a small stream skirting the land—serving to increase the evil. In these circumstances his Lordship planned the following remedy :—A level was brought up from a point in the bed of the stream, 1180 feet 8 inches below the farm subject to inundation. In dry weather the stream was confined to one side of its usual channel, and a conduit of 18 inches square, well built, flagged, and puddled on the top, to prevent any water getting in, was constructed below the bed of the burn. Above that, a complete coating of broken metal was laid to render the conduit more secure, and the burn was then allowed to run in its former course. The rise is one inch in 42 feet 2 inches. The cost of the whole was £220. It was constructed in 1831, and has been found, with occasional trifling repairs, completely to answer the purpose for which it was intended.” Cupar Parish, like Kettins, has been famed all over the country for its breeding of cattle. Some years ago we saw at the Shorthorn sale at Keithock (Mr. Fisher s) the finest specimens of that breed which Scotland possessed; and the very high prices realised by Mr. Thornton’s sandglas from purchasers from all parts of the world testified to the rare qualities of the stock. At Balgersho Farm, Mr. Ferguson the other day realised a very high figure for some of his prime Aberdeen Angus breed. Messrs. Macdonald and Sinclair, authors of the history of that excellent stock, give him a very complimentary but well - deserved notice. Having secured several of Mr. Watson of Keillor’s best cattle, he blended the valuable blood of “the first great improver” with his own herd, which consists of the descendants of the famous Vines of Mr. M'Combie.

In 1874 a much-needed water supply was introduced into the town. Her gracious Majesty Queen Victoria has driven three times through Cupar—on the 11th September and 1st October, 1844, and on the 31st August, 1850.

We cannot close this article without making reference, in a word, to the princely gift by Peter Carmichael, Esq., of Arthurstone, of a very handsome church, with suitable endowment of £200 a year for the minister, in connection with the Church of Scotland, at a cost of £10,000. The parish of Ardler quoad sacra is to be taken from the parishes of Cupar, Meigle, and Kettins ; and after the necessary legal process of disjunction by the Court of Teinds it will be added to the Presbytery as a fitting and beautiful memorial of Mr. Carmichael’s deceased children. The design of the Church, as well as of the Manse, does great credit to the architect, Mr. Johnstone of Greymount May the people, to whom this convenient and beautiful place of worship has been given, show their life gratitude to the generous donor by regularly availing themselves of the religious services there!

Rental Book of the Cistercian Abbey at Cupar-Angus
Edited by the Rev. Charles Rogers LL.D. (1879)
Volume 1 | Volume 2

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