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Strathmore Past and Present

There is now only a small portion of this parish in Perthshire; but, before the Ordnance Survey changed the boundary, the Manse, Church, and glebe (all north of the Kirkton Burn), were in Perthshire. But since, for levying taxes, the parish, when divided into separate counties, was fixed as in the county where the Parish Church stood, it was anomalous to have the whole of Ruth ven taxed in Perthshire; accordingly, an alteration was made, and it is now taxed in Forfarshire. By the Roads and Bridges’ Act (1878) this law was so altered, that a detached portion of one parish pays road-money and other county rates in the one which surrounds it; as in the case of Kettins and its detached portion. These anomalies may have countenanced the popular opinion that, because the name is pronounced Riven, and spelled Riven C. in Edward’s map and another old map in 1678, this small parish was originally an offshoot from the large parish of Alyth. But if the writers of the Statistical Accounts had taken the trouble to look into the original charters of the parish, they would not have penned such nonsense. Jervise considers that the name is derived from the raths or forts on the banks of the Isla; but, as in the oldest record the name is spelled Rothven, we are more inclined to accept the derivation given us by a good Gaelic scholar—the Rev. Neil M‘Bride of Glenisla— that it is from roth, “a corner,” and avon, a “river,”—‘the corner of the river Isla.’ We have, with considerable trouble, deciphered the contracted Latin charters in the Jicghtrum vctus dc Aberlrolhoc, and have found conclusively that, in 1180, Robert de Londres, the son of King William the Lion, dedicated the Church of Rothven (which was then in an independent parish and had been in existence as a church long before), to the Abbey of Arbroath, “with all the tithes and other aisements justly belonging to it.” This was confirmed by King William’s royal charter signed at Forfar in the same year. What an egregious mistake then, in the Statistical Accounts, to assert that the Church and Parish originated in the fifteenth century, in consequence of the quarrels between the vassals of Inverqueich and Balloch on their way to the Parish Church of Alyth! In the map of Angus and Mearns, planned by Chalmers the author of “ Caledonia,” about 1640, the parish is marked Ruffen. Though Jervise incautiously says, “all subsequent history of the Church is lost,” we find that Ruthven was a vicarage in the Diocese of Dunkeld, and its Church was dedicated to Saint Molouach. This Saint was, according to Bishop Forbes in his “ Lives of the Saints/’ a Bishop and Confessor (A.D. 592) who was said to have founded one hundred monasteries. He was brought up by St. Brandon. While his fellow disciples built houses for profane uses, he erected churches and altars. One day, requiring a square iron bell, he asked a neighbouring artificer to make it, who excused himself from want of fuel; whereupon St. Molouach went out and collected a bundle of rushes which miraculously supplied its place, and the bell thereby fabricated is still held in great honour in the church of Lismore. The accession of Ruthven Church to Arbroath Abbey was confirmed in several charters by Richard, Bishop of Dunkeld, in 1211 ; by John, in 1214; by Hugh, in 1229; and by the Chapter of Dunkeld, in 1229. In 1219, Pope Honorius gave a charter, in which he declares that, “as the Infallible Roman Church is wont to cherish her beloved children by her protection from the assaults of wicked men, he takes the Monastery under his protection, and confirms by Apostolie authority, and secures to the Abbot and his Monastery at Arbroath, the Church of Rothven with all its lands and other belongings ; and that, if any one should presume to infringe this in the least, he shall incur the anger of God Almighty and the blessed Peter and Paul his Apostles.” In 1271, Richard, Bishop of Dunkeld, “computed the vicarage and assigned to the vicars the tithes and the land in the farm of Kirkton of Ruthven, lying west of the water of Isla.” In 1275, the Church is rated at 16s. 7d. in the Taxatio of Dunkeld. Again, in the Registrum Nigrum of the Abbey of Arbroath, the church-land of Rothwen, “lying on the north side of the Kirktown,” was given up to Peter, clerk of Rothwen, by the Abbot Galfridus, for 10 years at 6s. 8d. silver annually. In 1365, the Abbot William let the “ whole church-land, with all the liberties, commodities, aisements, customs and belongings,” to Thomas Lipard, for 8s. sterling by instalments. In 1453, the Abbot Richard let the tithes and church-lands of Buwen to Patrick Henry, for 5 years, at £6 Scots annually. In 1485, the tithes and glebe of Ruwen were let for 13 years, at the annual rent of £9 Scots. In 1492, the Bishop of Dunkeld gave judgment in favour of the Abbot in a dispute between him and Henry Halls, the vicar of Rothven, about the abuse of the glebe. In 1500, the Abbot David presented Ilenry Scott to the perpetual vicarage of Roven. In 1527, a lease of 19 years, at £10 Scots annually, was given of “ the tithes, with glebe, toft, and croft,” to John Crychton of Rowthwen. On 11th Sep. 1531, the Abbot presented William Petillok to tho perpetual vicarage of Rothven, in the Diocese of Dunkeld—tho last Roman Catholic priest of the parish.

In 1574, one minister, David Murray, did the work in Ruthven, Meigle, Alyth and Glenisla, for £10 sterling a year; but he had a reader, Walter Lindsay, at Ruthven. In 1634, the Marquis of Hamilton, proprietor of the Abbey-lands, by gift, made the minister and his successors Titular of the tithes. Mr. Patrick Crichton, brother of the proprietor, was minister from 1644 to 1680. Ochterlony in his “Account of the Shyre of Forfar ” in 1684, thus writes of Ruth vine, mentioning the patron:—“A little parish, belonging altogether to a gentleman of the name of Crightoune, ane ancient family, a good house, well-planted, and lyes pleasantly upon the water of Dean (sic) and a pretty oakwood. He hath ane estate equivalent thereto in Nether Glenisla; it and the former lye in Strathmore. Mr. Fyfe minister. In the Diocese of Dunkeld. The Earl Panmure Patrone.” In 1709, two silver Communion cups, still in use, were doted by James Chrichton ; also 500 merks, the interest of which was to be paid to the deserving poor; but the present incumbent, though tracing it for several years in the Records of the Presbytery, cannot now tell anything about either principal or interest, owing to the loss of the volume of Session Records before 1823. In 1720, Mr. Pitcairn, the minister of the parish, did not take possession of the manse for 20 years, as he considered it unsuitable. On 20tli August 1745, William Cruickshank intimated, “that by reason of the present troubles and confusions and divisions among the people, he was obliged to defer the celebration of the Lord’s Supper for six years.” In 1807, Patrick Maclaren was clerk both of the Presbytery and the Synod. The present incumbent (the author of this volume) is the twelfth since the Reformation. According to a return sent by the minister to the Government in 1837, he claimed a right to pasture his cattle and dig feal and divot on the Muir of Coldham; but as this right was disputed by the Earl of Airlie, “he was not disposed to litigate the matter with so powerful an opponent." In compensation for emoluments which he may have derived from the market known as Symaloag’s Fair (St. Molouach), which was held on the glebe, the inhabitants of Alyth were said to have given some land to be added to the glebe. There is no “grass glebe” in the decreet of locality for this parish; for fifty years the minister received a fat wedder at the Communion-time in lieu of it; but for ten years past this has been discontinued. The old Church was taken down in 1859, and a most beautiful new Church erected; and a new Manse was built in 1874; both of dark red sandstone, found in a quarry near. The situation of these, on a knoll sloping down to the Isla, which there breaks in white over the large stones, when looked at from the main road between Dunkeld and Kirriemuir, is exceptionally beautiful; especially in the month of June, when the oak-copse behind is assuming its rich varied tints and curving warmly into the river.

The earliest known proprietor of Ruthven was the Earl of Mar. In 1329, he granted the lands to Alexander de Lindsay, which was confirmed by royal charter in 1363. King Robert III. granted a charter to the Earl of Crawford, adding Ruthven to the other baronies. David, Earl of Crawford, the last of the Lindsays who was Laird of Ruthven, married a daughter of Cardinal Beaton, in 154G, with prineely magnifieenco and handsome dowry, four months before her father was murdered. But, in 1510, Ruthven estate was sold to James Crichton of Cairns. Ono James Crichton of Ruthven was Lord Provost of Edinburgh, Sir James Chrichton of Ruthven was “Master of the Horse” to Charles II.; and when the King pecularly handed him a sum of money (equal to £42 sterling), to “creish his boots,” he resigned office in high dudgeon. But the extravagance of the Court had so mastered him, that he soon dissipated his fortune, and gave a blow to the family estate which it never recovered. In 1744, the property was bought by Thomas Ogilvy of Coul; and, in 1790, his son James pulled down the ruinous Castle of Ruthven and built an excellent mansion near it. According to the Statistical Account of 1842, “the family were equally distinguished for their kindness to the poor and their attachment to their tenantry.” The late proprietor, Peter Wedderburn Ogilvy, was a shrewd, business man, trained in the merchant service, who for over sixty years acted as his own factor, and thereby knew his tenantry intimately, encouraginger discreetly exposing or assisting as the varied circumstances required; and who died at the honoured age of 93, respected by all who knew him. The present proprietor, and sole heritor, is his son, Colonel Thomas 'Wedderburn Ogilvy of the Life Guards, who succeeded in 1873. His brothers are Colonel John Wedderburn Ogilvy residing at Bedford, and Colonel James Wedderburn Ogilvy of Runnagulzion who married the only daughter of the late Professor Ramsay of Glasgow. Emeritus-Professor Blackburn of Glasgow, Judge Blackburn of the Court of Appeal, and the late Professor James Clerk Maxwell, are his distinguished cousins. We observe, in Professor Lewis Campbell’s Life of Maxwell, that Mrs. Blackburn (the celebrated artist, J. B.) when a child (in 1841), “being desirous of inspecting a water-hen’s nest in a deep pond at Ruthven House, where there was no boat, adopted Maxwell’s plan of putting a block of wood in the centre of a tub (to keep it from spinning), and sitting on this and tucking her legs on either side ; and was thereby able to paddle about steadily so as to make the voyage both ways alone without the slightest uneasiness.”

The parish is pleasantly situated on the north side of Strathmore. It is nearly square, with two miles a-side; bounded on the west and north by Alyth, and on the east and south by Airlie. The soil is in general of a light hazel mould with a gravelly subsoil, producing excellent grain, which, though abundant in a “dropping year,” is very short in a parching summer. The farmers could take a shower every day. From the prejudices of education, the tenants were at one time very reluctant to introduce any of the modern improvements in agriculture ; but by the perseverance of the proprietor it was accomplished, and for the last century they have experienced the great advantages of them. The climate is dry and temperate, and the situation healthy. The lowest thermometric reading in the parish was observed in December 1882, at 3? below zero at the Manse (when the very ink was freezing), and in Ruthven Gardens at 60 below zero Falir; and the lowest barometric reading was in January 1884, at 27.15 inches, on the occasion of the last terrific hurricane which swept the land. The river Isla intersects tho parish, through a deep ravine with bold banks, covered with natural coppice and plantation, rendering the scenery very beautiful. Over it are two stone bridges, adjoining each other ; the one of two arches, very old and originally without parapets, and a largo central pier; the other of one large arch, built in 1855. After passing the bridges, the Isla runs over several ledges of broken rock, and falls over Craigy Linn into a deep pool; and soon, dividing into two parts, embraces Stanner Island, of about six acres in area. Few trouts are now found in the upper part, where the pollutions from Alyth are brought in by the Alyth Burn—and many wonder why this is tolerated ; but below, it is fairly stocked, and many salmon come up in the spawning season to the shallows.

The river is rich in botany; a dozen kinds of ferns adorn its rocky banks, including the Oak, Wall-rue, Black Spleenwort, Hart’s-tongue, and Maiden-hair; there are to be found the wild Lily of the Valley (with its pure white, scented flower); the Winter-green (with its terminal cluster of drooping flowers); the Willow-herb (with its large rose-coloured flowers on the top of a pod-like seed-vessel); the Giant Bellflower (with its very large, deep, blue, stalked flowers); the Viper’s Bugloss (with its curved spikes, changing in the season from bright rose to brilliant blue); the Grass of Parnassus (with its solitary cream-coloured flowers); the wild Succory (whose large blue flowers first attracted the founder of the Linnsean Society to the study of botany) ; and the purple Cow-wheat (with flowers buried among rose-coloured bracts). Miss Annie Ogilvy of Ruthven House, an enthusiastic and accomplished botanist, found among others the “Smooth Field Pepperwort and Hairy Rock-Cress” in the parish. The finest black (or copper) beech, which we ever saw, is within the manse policy, measuring 8 feet in circumference before it breaks off into three commanding limbs.

There are few antiquities in the parish. On the south and west side there is an enclosure, nearly a square in form, and an acre in extent; but tradition gives no clue to its use. Its walls, which are of earth, must have been originally of considerable height and breadth; and a deep and wide ditch on the outside, filled with water from a neighbouring morass, is still there. It went by the name of the Castledykes; and was probably a place of retreat in times of turbulent barbarism. It is now occupied by travelling tinkers. Near the village of Balbirnie is the Gallows-bank, or Candle-hill, where the barons of Ruthven made short work of delinquents in the feudal times. The four acres of land adjoining go by the name of the Hangman’s Acres. The north part of the parish was the scene of an engagement between Edward I. and Robert Bruce. It is a fact that, on July 2nd 1296, Edward left Inverqucich Castle (adjoining) for Forfar Castle; and there is ample evidence, from the remains found, that an engagement took place, though the record of it, like many others, was destroyed by that tyrannical monarch. Brucetown is situated on the north; and south, in Eassie parish, there is lngliston (or English town): and a conical mound in Ruthven, called Saddle-hillock, had been used by the English to command the ford at Delavaird. This hillock stands upon a very level field, and is of considerable height, with the remains of an earthern fort. It appears that the English were repulsed in their attempt to ford the Isla, and were brought to an engagement on the hillock; where, under a huge cairn in the moor, their dead were buried. Several relics arc being occasionally ploughed up by the farmer of Dryloch; a fact which strengthens this account. Several stone coffins have been dug up in the parish, containing fragments of human bones, apparently of great size. There was a cairn, known by the name of Crian’s Gref, erected over the grave of a noted robber. South of the church a Weein or Peght’s House was discovered some time ago, when the road to the Church was being altered. It contained bits of cinerary urns, human bones, and a flattened ring. Some of the stones were built into the walls and mullions of windows of the new Church. Similar Weems have been found at the Barns of Airlie, thus described by a rhymster—

“In form like to an arm they bend,
Arc rounded slightly towards the end;
’Bout six feet high, and near as wide,
And with a door a gnat might stride.”

A coffin slab, upon which are incised a cross, a hunting horn, and a sword, is built into the manse offices. In 1850, the parish jougs and branks and an iron crown were found in the press of the Old Kirk. Unfortunately, these branks are not now to be found; for their loss occasionally gives some an opportunity of using the “ unruly member ” with more unwise license than would have been permitted with impunity a century ago. In the churchyard are some quaint old stones, on which such expressions as, “My glas is run,” or “Hear lys ane honest man,” regularly occur.

A century ago the school was very primitive. Then each scholar in winter brought a peat daily to help to warm it. The fire was placed on a hearth-stone in the middle of the floor; and when it required reviving, the dominie used his broad blue bonnet as a fan. The desk was made of divot, with a board laid across the top. Behind this was the awful black-hole for delinquents, indicated by the slanting trunk of a tree, against which the dominie leaned to rest himself and take his afternoon’s nap. In 1813, Mr. Loban left his training there to be parish schoolmaster in Airlie. He is the oldest teacher living ; and, though long retired, is yet able to dig his garden at Philpie. What a difference now; what advantages the young have now, with a new school, handsomely furnished, and every convenience!

The Parochial Registers from 1744 to 1818 are in the Register Office, Edinburgh. They have been very ill kept—baptisms, accounts, and cases of discipline being all mixed up. The volume from 1818 to 1823 cannot be found by the present incumbent. Very likely the cases of scandal were entered with such uncalled-for minuteness that some chance had been seized to get them destroyed. No one cares about having the iniquities of his fathers handed down thus literally to future generations; and it is not for edification to adhere to such strictness. We find that on August 20th, 1745, the minister intimated from the pulpit:—“That, by reason of the present troubles and confusions, and the distractions and divisions among the people, he was obliged to defer the celebration of the Sacrament of the Supper for this year;” and again, on the 20th July 1740:—“Thomas Crichton was rebuked before the congregation for his great sin and scandal, as having been engaged in the late wicked and unnatural rebellion.'’ At the same time another keen Jacobite could not be “cried” (proclaimed) or married by the minister, till he and his intended wife were suitably rebuked in the open church. In an old account of the church collections, we find that, in 1799, “no sermon” is marked 10 times. In 1800, “there remain in the box 19s. sterling of silver and one pound three shillings of bad copper;” and “no sermon” is marked 8 times. Meal was so scarce and dear that the Session bought some in Dundee at 58s. per boll and sold it to parishioners at Is. per peck; in all spending £49 from the accumulated fund. In 1802, on a Thanksgiving Sabbath, the collection was Is. In 1803, Thomas Whyte, kirk officer, received Gd. for sweeping the church for the year, and 8s. Gd. for his other duties. In 1814, there was no beadle ; and the minister’s herd-boy got 4s. Gd. for ringing the bell, which was raised to 5s. during the two succeeding years. The bell must have been rung vigorously and long; for every short time there is an entry of 1s. 6d, for a “bell-tow.” The church bell is large, and was once in a merchant’s vessel; bearing this inscription:—“The Enterprise, W. W., 1735." This was Mr. Wedderburn, the father of the late Peter Wedderburn, Esq., who married Miss Ogilvy and obtained the estate, and son of Sir John Wedderburn of Blackness, Bart., an officer in Lord Ogilvy’s regiment at Culloden; where he was taken prisoner and afterwards executed at lvennington Common in 174G. From Edward’s “County of Angus,” we find tliat the Wedder-burns were of a most distinguished and respectable family. From the very ancient stock of "Wedderburns sprung Mr. Alexander Wedderburn, who became so distinguished by his political talents that James VI., of whom he was a great favourite, frequently solicited his advice in matters of the most secret nature and greatest importance, and always dismissed him with signal marks of royal favour. In 1678, his grandson by the eldest son, Alexander of East Powrie, was the chief of the family. Two grandsons by the second son were knights, viz., Sir Alexander Wedderburn of Blackness, and Sir Peter Wedderburn of Gosford, who was an able and worthy judge for many years in the Supreme Court of Scotland. John, third son of the before-mentioned Alexander, was, when a young man, several years Professor in St. Leonard’s College, St. Andrews. He afterwards visited foreign nations, particularly their seminaries of learning ; and applying himself to the study of physic, he became so eminent that he was made king’s physician and knighted. He adorned and augmented the library of St. Andrew’s University with many thousands of valuable books.

In many parts of the parish the scenery is very beautiful. It is well watered, as the names Bridgend, Brigton, Craigylinn, Milton, Barbers wells, and Fountainblow show. Excellent springs are found, impregnated with the oxide of iron. It is crossed by the well-kept high-road from Dunkeld to Kirriemuir; but, in consequence, for half the year it is infested with tramps.

The soil is of a rich loam, but very thin, over a gravelly subsoil, quite unsuitable for wheat, which is rarely sown. Lately chevalier barley was introduced with marked success. In these depressed times of agriculture, this parish does not suffer to the same extent as the wheat-producing heavy lands. The land, however, is not self-supporting in point of manure; so that turnips have to be eaten with sheep where guano is used ; or manure must be brought in by rail from Glasgow and Dundee, which materially reduces the rental. One farm is noted for its rearing of shorthorned cattle and prize poultry; and another farm has been producing sheep for the fat market at Christmas, which are rarely equalled in the three counties’ competition at Dundee. The oak copse is thinned at regular intervals for bark to tanneries, sometimes realising £1270.

From an old document we see that in 1742 the wages of a man-servant were £2 ; of a halilin, 11s. 8d.; of a herd, 8s.; of a woman-servant, 13s. 4d.; of a day labourer, 3d.; that the price of a horse was £5 ; of a calf, 4s.; of a sheep, 4s.; of a cart, 15s.; of a plough, 2s. Gd.; of lib. of beef or mutton or pork, 1d.; of a hen, 4d.; of a dozen of eggs, 1d. Happy would some of limited means be to live in such times!

The population of the parish, in 1742, was 150 ; and the rental £230. Now the population is 180; and the rental £2510. In 1851, the population was 503; but there were then two mills for thrashing corn, a meal-mill, a flour-mill, a saw-mill, and two spinning-mills, driven by the water power of the Isla; now there is one meal-mill and one turning-mill. A considerable business is done in the construction of reaping machines and potato diggers by a skilled implement maker, who has received a silver medal, from the Highland Agricultural Society, for some of his mechanical improvements; and coach-building is executed for a good radius of district round—water power from the Isla being used in both establishments. The Dundee and Alyth Railway passes through the parish, having a handsome station at Jordanstonc; though, had it not been for the pressure of blinded private interests on the part of some proprietors, it would have been far more conveniently situated at the Bridge.

Rents have very considerably risen in this parish during the last century and a half. In 1746, the whole parish was purchased for little more than two years’ present rental. The tenant of Holl informs us that when his father took the farm, in 1804, he paid £150 for 325 imperial acres (of which 125 were under cultivation) ; that 19 years afterwards, when 60 acres of the best arable land were taken off and added to the Home Farm, the rent was £95; that having broken up and cultivated all the bog and pasture land during that lease, the rent was raised to £180 in the third nineteen; and for the last tack of 19 years a rent of £240 was paid for the 265 acres.

The Rev. Mr. Will, in the “Old Statistical Account,” made a very good suggestion:—“There would be a capital situation for machinery on the water ridge of the glebe, with an excellent freestone quarry within 200 yards of it. What would be greatly in favour of this situation is, that the low glebe, consisting of about 12 acres of fine soil, lies directly above the water ridge, is very level, and might be watered in every direction for bleaching ground by a small rivulet which never dries up, called the Kirk-ton Burn.” We may add that the higher part of the glebe, overlooking the Den of Ruthven, would be very suitable for the erection of country residences for the business men of Dundee.

The Rev. Mr. Barty, in the “New Statistical Account,” remarks:—“The labouring classes are better fed, better clothed, and have more comfortable houses than their fathers had; but they are, unfortunately, less provident. They are too apt to live up to their incomes.” Now, the wages are even double what they were then; but the same extravagance and want of thrift is too noticeable. There is far more poverty attributable to want of economy than to sickness in the bread-winner, or a large family, or even laziness. “Winies” are too often used, instead of “hale-some parritch, chief of Scotia’s food,” as the muscle-former of the labouring man. Half-a-dozen vans from towns around bring luxuries to the door, and entice the wives to substitute their commodities for the "oat cakes” and “soda scones” of olden times. There is quite a revolution in the manner of living; but, alas! it is not for the better, even for themselves.

There is no public-house in the parish, and no Dissenting Church; the “Laird” showing the laudable example of attending the Parish Church. This accidental connection reminds us of the quaint remark made by the minister of a neighbouring parish, who, when being rather impudently quizzed by a town dignitary— both a Free Churchman and a rabid abstainer—about public-houses in the Presbytery, answered:—“There are six parishes where there’s no Free Kirk; but in the same there’s no public-house.”

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