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Strathmore Past and Present

This parish—the metropolitan of the Presbytery—is situated in the centre of Strathmore and the east of Perthshire. It is bounded on the north and north-west by the Dean and Isla; on the east and south by Eassie and Nevay and Newtyle; on the west and south-west by Cupar and Kettins. Its length is about five miles, and its breadth two miles. The two Statistical Accounts of the parish were written by shrewd and carefully observing men, viz., Dr. James Playfair and Dr. Mitchell. The latter considers that the name of the parish was derived from its local situation—Midgill, or between the “gills” or marshes; the Church and Manse being built on a plain between two marshes. But Jervise supposes that it comes from Migdel, “the plain with the dales.” The name has various ways of spelling—Miggil, Megill, Migell; in an old map of 1640 Migle, with a large shaded part for Migle Moss; and in the return of Presbyteries to the General Assembly of 1593, Migel. The Dean is a sluggish, deep river, issuing from Forfar Loch, twelve miles distant; and is particularly noted for its excellent trout, generally very heavy, red-fleshed, and flavoured to meet the taste of the most fastidious gourmand. It flows into the Isla about half a mile from the village of Meisle. This river, in floodtime especially, is far more rapid; occasionally, after melting snows or a spate, it overflows its banks, and with resistless force sweeps away whole harvests, irretrievably destroying -

“The well-earned treasures of the labouring year.”

The parish has very little variation of surface, the soil in some places being sandy, in others clayey, but generally of a rich black loam, and all is well cultivated.

There are many remains of antiquity, but we are left very much to tradition for any explanation, which is certainly very meagre and unsatisfactory. The tales and stories which have been handed down through successive generations are far too wild and extravagant for this matter-of-fact and utilitarian age. Abandoning, therefore, the most improbable, we shall examine the more remarkable monuments of antiquity in the parish, taking notice of the most plausible accounts which have come down to us concerning them. A little south of the village is situated Belmont Castle, once the seat of Lord Wharncliffe, an elegant modem quadrangular pile, agglomerated .with the old tower of a former mansion. It is situated on the highest eminence in the parish, 204 feet above the level of the sea, and commands an extensive view of the plain. By a most unexpected accident it was, a year ago, almost entirely burned down to the ground, destroying some elegantly built and furnished apartments. Before this unfortunate fire this Castle, with its nice gardens and fine enclosures, beautiful lawn, and very old stately trees, rendered it the most delightful residence in Strathmore. Dr. Robertson of Callendar, in his “Agriculture of Perthshire” (1799), mentions it as a “magnificent place, and next to Glamis the ornament of Strathmore.” The Castle, policy, and two adjoining farms have been recently sold to the Right Hon. H. Campbell-Bannerman, M.P., the Chief Secretary for Ireland, for £52,000. In Roman Catholic times it was the residence of the Bishops of Dunkeld, under the name Kirkhill which it retained till about a hundred years ago. To show the connection of the parish with the Abbey of Dunkeld, the greater part of the stipend of Dunkeld is still paid out of Meigle; and to implement the last augmentation granted by the Court of Teinds to the minister of Meigle, it was found necessary to take so much off the stipend of the minister of Dunkeld. Some of the most majestic beeches ever we saw are in the policies of Belmont Castle, the solid wood of one being calculated, below the offset of the branches, to measure 276 cubic feet. Taken as a whole, the ornamental timber in the park is unequalled in Scotland for size and beauty. In the enclosures of the castle there is a tumulus called Belliduff, which tradition gives as the spot where, in 1056, Macbeth was killed in battle by Macduff. Taking the most reliable facts out of the mass of fiction, we see that Macbeth, after murdering King Duncan, was crowned King; but this soon roused up the revengeful ire of Malcolm, Duncan’s son, who was heartily assisted by the English King, Edward the Confessor. The English forces marched as far north as Dunsinane, one of the Sidlaws, where they had a furious hand-to-hand conflict with Macbeth, who commanded his troops in person. After many displays of courage Macbeth was obliged to retreat; and tradition fixes Belliduff as a likely place where Macduff, Thane of Fife, to gratify personal revenge, slew the King in single combat We are glad to see that the learned historian, Burton, has thin assigned Macbeth a higher place than many others give him :—“The deeds which raised Macbeth and his wife to power were not in appearance much worse than others of their day, done for similar ends. However, he may have gained his power, he exercised it with good repute, according to the reports nearest to his time.” We know that Macbeth is the first king who appears in the ecclesiastical records as a benefactor of the Church ; for, according to the Register of the Priory of St. Andrews, he granted some lands to the Monastery of Loch Leven About a mile distant from Belliduff stands, almost erect, a large whinstone block of twenty tons in weight, to commemorate the death of some military commander, and is called by tradition “Siward’s or Macbeth’s Stone.”

When the Knight Templars were in pomp (from the foundation of the order of military monks in 1118), they had considerable interest in Meigle, several lands in the parish being still known as the Temple Lands. We prefer this derivation to the common one of templum, any religious house. The earliest recorded lords of Meigle belonged to a family who assumed it for their surname. They had their lands from William the Lion; in his time (1180), Simon de Miggil was Lord of the Manor. The last notice of the surname is that of Rogier de Miggel, who along with the Perthshire barons swore fealty to Edward I. in 1296. The first Earl of Crawford, in founding the choirs of our Lady of Victory and St. George at Dundee (in 1398), gave an annual of 12 merks out of the lands of Balmyle. Meigle was for some time part of the lordship of Crawford, from which the scapegrace, Lord Lindsay, over-ran and up-lifted the rents in the time of his father, the Duke of Montrose, who was compelled to crave Parliament, in 1489, to protect him; in answer to which the offender was ordained to remedy all the evils which the lands of “Megill and Rothuen” had sustained.

Drumkilbo, a mile east of the village, is a fine mansion embosomed in wood. Kinloch, the residence of Sir John Kinloch, is pleasantly situated a mile and a half west of the village. When Mr. Murray of Simprim lived at Meigle House, Sir Walter Scott was more than once his guest. And near Simprim, at Cardean, there are still the vestiges of a camp,

But it is the antique and curious monuments in the churchyard which have most of all attracted the public eye to the parish. The accounts of antiquarians so stirred up the enthusiasm of the community, that a few 3rears ago the late Sir George Kinloch, the Superior of Meigle, thought it advisable to protect them from the ravages of the weather and the hammering tourist. Accordingly, without consulting the Kirk-Session or Presbytery (the custodiers of all pre-reformation remains in the churchyard or church), he, by mistake, removed some to the old school, which at a very high figure he had purchased for the purpose of forming a parish museum. Decided action was taken by the Presbytery, and a compromise was at last come to between the two conflicting parties, by which the sculptured stones, that had already been removed, would not be ordered to be returned to the churchyard, as Sir George had agreed to enclose the old school within the churchyard, with free admission to any parishioner. In the churchyard (for the stones in the old school are now also in the churchyard), are the remains of the grand sepulchral monument of Guinevere, the wife of King Arthur, who flourished in the sixth century, but whose history is involved in fable. Before describing the remains in these remarkable stones, we will mention a few points brought out so beautifully by the Poet Laureate, Lord Tennyson, in his “Holy Grail” and “The Idylls of the King.” It happened that

“Leodogran, the King of Cameliard,
Had one fair daughter, and none other child ;
And she was fairest of nil flesh on earth,
Guinevere, and in her his one delight.”

Till Arthur came near, the country was in a very wild state, where the “beast was ever more and more ; but man was less and less.” Passing by the Castle walls, a strange sensation possessed Arthur; for though he looked down, he “Felt the light of her eyes into his life Smite on the sudden;” and in deep and charmed meditation, he resolved to be “join’d with her, that reigning with one will in everything, they might have power to lighten all the land.” After some negotiating, Arthur’s chief knight, Sir Launcelot, was sent for Guinevere to make her Queen. Happy for a short time only did they live, for strangely had she given Launcelot her love, in spite of the “dear face of the guileless King.” Meeting by arrangement to sin and part, “passion pale they greeted; hands in hands, and eye to eye, they sat stammering and staring low on the border of her couch.” It was a madness of farewell, for in guilt she exclaimed—“Would God, that thou could’st hide me from myself! Mine is the shame, for I was wife, and thou unwedded.” They parted; and she went to a nunnery, unknown among them, till one day the cry, “The King!” startled her, and so great was her misery that “There with her milk-white arms and shadowy hair She made her face a darkness from the King.”

Arthur met her, and in pity and broken love addressed her with pathetic appeals to penitence; he loved her, yet he could not restore her altogether. Bitterly he must say

“Thou hast not made my life so sweet to me,
That I, the King, should greatly care to live :
For thou hast spoilt the purpose of my life.
I hold that man the worst of public foes
Who, either for his own or children’s sake,
To save his blood from scandal, lets the wife
Whom he knows false, abide and rule the house.”

According to the tradition, Guinevere was put in captivity on Barryhill, in Alyth, and ultimately torn to pieces by wild beasts; though Tennyson, throwing back on heathen times the Christian spirit, does not adopt any so cruel denouement for his series of beautiful idyls. One thing is pretty certain from all accounts, she was buried at Meigle, and a monument was erected to perpetuate her sin. This memorial originally consisted of many stones artfully joined, and decorated with a variety of symbolical characters, strangely monstrous in their nature, and representative of revengeful violence on a woman. “ On one stone are three small crosses, with many animals above and below. On another is a cross adorned with various flowers, and the rude representations of fishes, beasts, and men on horseback. On a third is an open chariot drawn by two horses, and some persons in it; behind is a wild beast devouring a human form lying prostrate on the earth. On a fourth is an animal somewhat resembling an elephant. On another, eight feet long, and three feet three inches broad, standing upright in a socket, there is a cross. In the middle are several figures with the bodies of horses, or camels, and the heads of serpents; on each side of which are wild beasts and reptiles considerably impaired. On the reverse is the figure of a woman, attacked on all sides by dogs and other furious animals. Above are several persons on horseback, with hounds engaged in the chase. Below is a centaur, and a serpent of enormous size fastened on the mouth of a bull.” Such is the description given by Dr. Playfair, minister of the parish in 1790, and afterwards Principal of the University of St. Andrews. Pennant in his “Tour,” Jervise in his “Sculptured Stones," but especially Dr Stewart in his very costly volumes, give accurate drawings of these stones. However, there seems no satisfactory accounting fur the strange hieroglyphics; many guesses have been made by antiquarians and historians^ but there is none sufficiently consistent for insertion here. Superstition went the length of saying, according to the fabulous Boece, that, if a young woman walked over the grave of Guinevere, she would entail on lierself perpetual sterility: “All wemen that stampis on this sepulture shall be ay barrant, but ony fruit of their womb sichlike as Guanora was.” Certainly there is no such superstition now! A property adjoining Meigle, called Arthurstone, contains some strange monoliths suggestive of the legendary connection of Arthur with the district. It took its name from one enormous block or outlier of sandstone of such dimensions that a cottage was built out of it. Dr. Robertson says of this mansion, that “by the time the proprietor has had time to ornament his fields in the same style as in the architecture of his dwelling, it will be esteemed by posterity as a specimen of the elegant taste displayed in the end of the eighteenth century.” More than half a century ago, when the body of the old church was taken down, a font for holy water, of very hard stone, was dug out of the rubbish. Its form is octagonal, each side bearing some emblem of the crucifixion upon it, as the “ mock robe,” the “ spear and sponge,” &c. For some time Dr. Mitchell kept this on a pedestal in the manse garden. But about thirty years ago it was granted for the baptism of one of the Kinloch family, and is now in the Episcopal Chapel at Meigle.

The church, originally dedicated to St. Peter the Apostle, along with its pertinents, was in 1177 given to the Prior of St. Andrews by Simon of Miggil, lord of the district. From the Register of the Priory of St. Andrews (written in very contracted Latin), we have been able to ascertain that, in 1183, Pope Lucius confirmed this grant of “the church of Miggil with the chapel belonging to it, and the ecclesiastical seat and the returns which Simon, lord of the manor, and his ancestors were annually accustomed to receive.” Pope Gregory VIII. in 1187, Clement in the same year, Innocent III. in 1206, Honorius in 1216, and Innocent IV. in 1246, renewed this confirmation of the grant to the Priory of St. Andrews. The chapel belonging to the church, and dedicated to the blessed Virgin, stood one mile west. About twenty years ago the ruins, ivy-clad, still remained on the ground called Chapelton ; but in its place was then built a handsome Mausoleum for Kinloch of Kinloch. The two—the Church of St. Peter and the Chapel of St. Mary—were in the Tavatlo of 1275 rated at 20 merks.

In 1238, Galfridus, Bishop of Dunkeld, settled the church lands of Megill, having with Fuleo, lord of Megill, made a personal inspection. In 1260 Michael of Migell bestowed the Moss in his property on the Abbey of Cupar. In 1443, the lands of Balmyle, which belonged to the Abbey of Cupar, were leased for thirteen chalders of barley and flour with other due services to the Abbey. In 1495, David, Duke of Montrose, mortified lands for the soul of his benefactor, James III, in the Church of Meigle. In 1500, James and Andrew Hering of Clony held the lordship of Megill for five years. According to Alexander Myln, who wrote the lives of the bishops of Dunkeld in 1515, John Locock, vicar of Megill, was Prebend of Capeth, in his time, “a most faithful man, who, though ho did not abound in many emoluments of the benefices, yet cherished a sufficiently largo family of friends; banqueting at his table with merry countenance; built his manse from the foundation; increased by twenty shillings annually the endowment of the church of St. Peter, which had been endowed by his paternal uncle Chancellor James Locock.” At the Reformation it was styled, “ane of the common kirks of Dunkeld.” In 1574, David Ramsay was minister of all the four parishes of Meigle, Ruthven, Alyth and Glenisla. But in 1585, James Nicolson was minister of Meigle and had for his stipend the “haill fruits’’ paying the minister of Alyth out of it. He was a member of fifteen Assemblies, and was elected Moderator in 1595 and 1606. In 1607, he became Bishop of Dunkeld, purchased for him by the King from the former incumbent; but this he did not live to enjoy, as he died in seven months. In 1639, a petition was presented to Parliament, craving to have the parish dissolved from Dunkeld; and this was referred to the Commissioners for the Planting of Kirks. But in 1677, William Lindsay, Bishop of Dunkeld still held Meigle in his charge. His successor, Bishop John Hamilton, possessed the same privilege ; but he, as well as his helper in Meigle, was deprived by the Privy Council in 1689, for not reading the proclamation of the Estates, and not praying for their majesties in terms thereof, but “praying for King James, and that God would give him the necks of his enemies.” In 1800, Dr. Playfair left Meigle to be Principal of the United College, St. Andrews; and, in 1809, Daniel Robertson left to be Professor of Hebrew in the same University. In 1808, a Committee of Presbytery reported that two acres of ground had been set apart for “minister’s grass” for two cows and one horse.

Meigle is now the seat of the Presbytery of the same name. In 1581, the General Assembly proposed to call it the Presbytery of Kethenis, but changed it to Meigle before 1593 ; when it included, besides the present parishes, Kirriemuir, Kinnettles, Cortachy, Rattray, and Glamis. The Presbytery Records begin on the 8th November, 1659, and continue till 15th March, 1687; when the Presbytery of Cupar-Angus was erected by the Bishop and Synod of Dunkeld, and continued for two years. But on the change of church government, the old arrangement was restored. The Presbytery for a time formed part of Angus and Mearns; but was afterwards joined to Dundee and Forfar, until 2’Ist April 1703. The Records of the Presbytery of Meigle as at present constituted, commenced 19th October 1704, and are contained in twelve volumes; the two volumes up to 1G59 being unfortunately lost. Dr. Robertson in his “Agriculture of Perthshire,” states that the Fiars of the county in 17S0, were :—Bear first sort, 11s. 6d. per boll, and meal 13s. 4d.; in 1788, 12s. and 11s. 6d. respectively; and in 1795, 22s. 6d. and 22s. 8d. respectively. The present fluctuation of stipends had therefore a corresponding change at the end of last century. The Clerk of Presbytery (The Rev. Dr. Chree of Lintrathen) has very kindly gone through a considerable part of their Records for important information ; but he has not found much to reward his labour.

The estate of Kinloch, though quoad sacra in Meigle, is temporal iter in Cupar-Angus. There is no vestige of a Roman highway in the neighbourhood of Meigle. A very old bridge over the Dean connected Meigle and Airlie ; but a more commodious one has been built in its stead. Until about fifty years ago, the Isla had to be crossed, on the road from Dundee to Alyth, by a ferry-boat. Several attempts were made to have a bridge built there ; but these were frustrated by the Societies which were peculiarly interested in their success. At length, however, the fine bridge of three arches at Crathie was built. Though of high span (apparently needlessly high in ordinary weather), yet by sudden meltings of snow on the hills, or by heavy rains, the Isla has not been able to get sufficient room for its impetuous current, and has burst out upon the road.

The valued rental of the parish is £350; the real rent is now above £8,000. The population a century ago was 1148; now it is 966. The decrease is owing to the enlargement of the farms, the stoppage of hand-loom weaving, and the closing of the work-mill for dyeing and dressing cloths for umbrellas. Before the ’45 Rebellion the state of the country was rude beyond description. The bulk of the inhabitants was only semi-civilized. The common people lived in despicable huts with their cattle. The indolence of the farmers was astonishing. When seed time was finished, the plough and harrow were laid aside till the autumn; digging and carrying peat for winter fuel being the summer’s work. The rent of good ground in Meigle, before 1745, was from 8 to 14 shillings per acre; of outlying ground from 2 to 5 shillings. The wages of a male servant were £1 10s.; of a female 12s. The price of a horse was £4 6s., of an ox £2, of a sheep 5s., of a hen 4d., of a dozen of eggs 1d. A cart cost 14s., a plough 5s., a harrow 6d. A great effort was made, soon after the rebellion was quieted, to emancipate the inhabitants from the state of barbarism, and to rouse a spirit of industry. Farms were enclosed, sheep were driven away from infield grounds, marl was used from the myres, and in a few years a marked change took place. As Dr. Playfair pointedly puts it:—“The tenant, as if awaked out of a profound sleep, looked around, beheld his fields clothed with the richest harvests, his herds fattening in luxurious pastures, his family decked in gay attire, his table loaded with solid fare, and wondered at his former ignorance and stupidity.” Dr. Playfair, according to Dr. Robertson, was “no less amiable for his discretion than distinguished by his literary abilities.” Among the interesting notes which he left, we observe that the average rain per annum for five years amounted to 37 inches; the mean barometric reading for three years was 29‘63 inches (at the height of 203 feet) ; the mean thermometric reading for the same time, 42°; the average number of days per annum (taken for 5 years), when the wind was S.E 88, and from the S.W. 137.

The earliest date of the Parochial Registers is 1727; then the daily Sabbath collection for the poor amounted to less than 2s; in 1782 the suras received and those distributed in charity began to come more nearly equal. In 1833, when Dr. Mitchell wrote his Account of the parish, there were five inns or taverns; now there is but one: then the ploughmen had a friendly society which was working well; we do not hear of it now. The village of Meigle contains 300 inhabitants, and Longlees about 50. There is a railway station at Meigle, which once very inconveniently wont by the name of Fuliarton, after the farm through which the line passes. There are two banks, a first-class new school, a handsome new Parish Church, a Free Church, and an Episcopal Chapel. A monthly market is held on the second Wednesday, during six months of the year ; and on the last Wednesday of June and October, half-yearly fairs arc held for cattle, horses, and ordinary traffic, when a great crowd assembles. A century ago, when there wore fewer means of travelling, they had a weekly market on Wednesday. It is thirteen miles from Dundee and five from Cupar-Angus. A considerable quantity of potatoes and grain is taken away by the railway—a great benefit to many farmers who are struggling hard to keep up the well-earned prestige of Strathmore, against bad times and high rents. The Presbytery still adhere to the time-honoured custom of holding their meetings in the village inn, a circumstance which certainly speaks well for the character of the inn, and the heedless-ness of the ministers to the narrow criticism of would-be-purer men. A dozen years ago, when some of the younger members expressed a strong desire to have the meetings in the Church, after deliberation, as the Records show, “tho Presbytery agreed to abide in the inn.”

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