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Strathmore Past and Present

On a bright afternoon in the beginning of June we left the railway station of Newtyle to ascend Kinpurnie Hill, and get the much-spoken-of view from the ruins of the Observatory on its summit. Walking nearly a mile east, we turned south at Denend Farm, and sauntered up the Den, where the “burnie wimply” over round washed stones, through fern posies, shaded by spreading bushes and bright flowers blushing unseen, which, for shadowing trees, never saw the sun. Again, suddenly we came out into the blaze of sunlight, and commenced a half-an-hour5s hard climb. But just when we were reaching the summit, the sky suddenly lowered, a boding silence reigned ; then came a dull sound over the muttering earth, shaking the gnarled and stunted firs around the ruined walls. The dark veils of gauzy texture gradually descended from the troubled clouds, and the grey, trailing shower o’ertook us. For half-an-hour we sheltered in the ruins, the blackness of the storm raising melancholy notes in our disappointed breast. Was it to be labour in vain? The wild winds and lashing rain smote the mountain’s forehead with the violence due to increasing height, “the common fate of all that’s high and great.” Yet, suddenly, the sun, as with a giant hand, thrust back the dark, encircling canopy, and gladness possessed earth and soul:—

"See, the sun gleams; the living pastures rise,
After the nurture of the fallen shower.”

As quickly as the change from tears to laughter on an urchin’s face was this change in Nature from rain to sunshine. Soon the clouds rose; and below, the valley lay asleep in sunshine, westward fading into the dim horizon. We watched the lights and shadows on the landscape’s face; and, high though we were, we heard the welcome song of the lark relieving the shrill notes of the curlew, and the “certain voice” of the cuckoo dispelling the complaining croak of the many-wintered crow, whose sanctum we had so ignominiously surprised. There below we now saw Newtyle, lying snugly at the base of Hatton Hill, its handsome church-tower catching the sunlight; Ardler village, with its fine new church; Cupar-Angus, compact-set in trees, joined to Blairgowrie on the northern slope by the Coutty Bridge, which stood distinctly marked against the sheen of the Isla. Alyth, Kirriemuir, Forfar were all distinctly seen. Beyond, range above range, and peak above peak, the Grampians displayed a commanding panorama, inviting us, with immortal arm, to cross and see the chasms full of glistening cloud and undulating mist. In the grey horizon the beautiful cone of Schiehallion (3546 feet), massive Ben Lawers (3984 feet), commanding Ben More (3843 feet), attractive Ben Voirlich (3092 feet), and Ben-y-Gloe (3724 feet), reared their massive heads; and nearer Glas Meal (3000 feet), Mount Blair (2260 feet), the wooded Knock of Formal (1500 feet), and the conspicuous Catlaw (2264 feet) in their more purple garb. Through the valley the Isla, like a stream of haze, shone in the sunlight, drawing along its slow length until it lost itself in the woods beyond. Numberless mansions of the great, ornamented with fine woods and gardens, caught the eye. Westward we saw Lundic Loch, o’erlooked by the distant hills; south we saw the happy hamlets, drowned in apple blossom, encircling the Church of Auchterhouse; the high stalk of Lochco Works, the Law of Dundee, the broad estuary of the Tay, the Fife coast and hills, the square tower of St. Andrew’s, and the Lomonds, sharply drawn against the hills beyond. With rapture we swept for a time the boundless landscape, with an almost eagle’s eye descrying the marks of twelve counties; till a faint sense of the vastness of immensity possessed us, and our higher nature expanded beyond its “cribbed, cabined, and confined” mould, to realise the half-divinity of our being. The joyful smile of Nature after her tears may have added a charm; yet we consider that there are few places of such easy access which will better reward the tourist, who has a soul enamoured of the grandeur of Nature, and capable of greeting radiant Summer in all her opening pride.

The parish of Newtyle is in Forfarshire, and lies in the very centre of Strathmore. We can get no reliable derivation of the name, for philologically it has no more connection with New slates than with Old hats! The name is variously spelled, as will be seen in the several charters and histories. It is bounded on the north by Meigle, on the west by Kettins, on the south by Lundie and Auchterhouse, and on the east by Eassie. It is about two miles in length, and the same in breadth. The hills bounding it on the south side are part of the Sidlaw range (marked in a map of 1640, Sidlow—Kinpurnie, Hatton, Newtyle, and Keillor, all verdant to their summits, and forming valuable sheep walks. Kinpurnie is derived from the Gaelic Mn-fuaran, “the head spring,” on account of so many springs being on that hill.

Ecclesiastically, we find that about 1180, William the Lion, King of Scotland, by royal charter, signed at Forfar, granted to the Abbey of Arbroath the Church of Newtyl, with all its just belongings, in lands, tithes, and other rights and privileges ; and this charter was confirmed by his son, King Alexander II. in 1214. According to the Registirum vetus de Aberbrothoc, Hugh, Bishop of St, Andrews, confirmed the royal charter, in 1180. In 1200, Pope Innocent gave his imprimatur to both royal and ecclesiastical charters. In 1198, according to its Register, a carucate of land in Neutile was conferred on the Abbey of Lindoes. According to the Taxatio of 1250, by the Bishop of St. Andrews, the vicar of' Newtyl, besides his vicarage, had one bovate of land by use and wont; and the parish was assessed at 30 merks. In 1211, Ylif, Clerk of Newtyl, signed as a witness to the confirmatory charter of Richard, Bishop of Dunkeld, for the Church of Ruthoven. On 20th September 1365, David II. confirmed the gift by King Alexander of the lands of Balmaw to the Abbey of Lindores. After a considerable lapse, we find that, in 1458, an excambion was made by William of Strathaclun, a burgess of Dundee, of lands in Latham near Forfar, for the Church lands of Newtile. In the following year, his son resigned into the hands of the Abbot of Arbroath his lands of kirkton of Newtile, with the tithes of lands at Latham. In the Registrxim nigrum we find that, in 152G, the tithes were let to James Ogilvy, in a lease of 19 years, for £80 Scots. In 1533, the lands of Kyrkton of Newtild, with tithes, were sold to John Inglis by the Abbot. In the Assumption of the  Tlirid of the Abbey of Lundoris,” in 1561, the lands of Balmaw and Newtyld are set down at £17 Ss. These lands are in the charter of “Feu-Ferine” by King James VI., in 1600, to Patrick Leslie, enumerated and erected into tho Temporal Lordship and Barony of Lundores, and valued at the same amount with the addition of 36 capons.

In 15G7, John Novay was minister of Newtyle, Nevay, and Essie for £8 6s. 8d. Ten years afterwards John Anderson, from Newtyle, in the General Assembly “com-peirit in linnen clothes, and, prostrated on his knees, confessed he had offended his minister, Robert Boyd, by drawing his blood, whereof he repented and asked forgiveness, promising by the grace of God not to fall into the like wickedness.” On August 28th 1651, George Pattullo, minister of Newtyle, was captured in the Sidlaws by spies sent out when General Monk was at the siege of Dundee, and, “taken prisoner on board a ship at Dundee, lay five weeks in his clothes on the deck of the ship Tinmouth Castle;” whence he was carried to London and kept there in prison for twenty weeks. In 1684, Thomas Black was deprived for not appearing before the Privy Council when cited. In 1695, Alexander M'Kenzie was deprived for non-jurancy, but continued to preach in the meeting-house till 1716.

The parish has not many historical associations. Near the village of Hill of Keillor there is a field called Chester-park, from castra, which points to a Roman station in early times. Tradition points out Graham’s Knowe and King’s Well, in the north-west of the parish, as the route of King Macbeth from Dunsinane fortress, when pursued by Macduff, Thane of Fife. Crew-Well in Auclitertyre is beside the remains of a camp, in a square form, where tradition suggests that Montrose once stationed his army during the civil wars. South of it was discovered, a century ago, a Weem or Pictish dwelling, a subterranean cavern made for protection during the early dangerous times. Near the village, on the farm of Hatton, the grey, ruinous, ivy-clad tower, is all that remains of Hatton Castle, which was built, in 1575, by Lawrence, Lord Oliphant. It is finely situated in the opening of the Glack (or valley) between Hatton and Newtyle hills, commanding at the same time the Strath. From the remains we see that it had been a fortified residence of very substantial workmanship. It was garrisoned by the Earl of Crawford for the Covenanters in the year 1645. Browne, in his valuable work on the “Scottish Highlands,” tells us that Montrose, after defeating Hurry at Auldearn, on the 14th of May of that year, was so pressed by General Baillie that he came south by forced inarches ; and, being out of reach of his worst enemy, set about attacking the Earl of Crawford to put off the time. It so happened that this nobleman, who stood next to Argyle, as head of the Covenanters, had often complained to the Estates against Argyle (whose rival he was), for his weakness and inactivity, and was then put in command of the army ; but he was without military experience and quite unfit to cope with Montrose. However, just when Montrose had completed his preparations, the whole of his men deserted him, and left him to fight alone. Malcolm’s lines aptly occur to us as we look on the noble ruins of Hatton Castle:—

“A spectre of departed days
Yon castle gleams upon the gaze,
And saddens o’er the scene so fair,
And tells that ruin hath been there ;
And wheresoe’er my glance is cast,
It meets pale footprints of the past;
And from these high and hoary walls,
AH mournfully the shadow falls,
Dark’ning, amidst the garden bowers,
The farewell of the fading flowers
Which seem for gentle hands to sigh,
That tended them in days gone by.”

Near this, a little south, are discernible some traces of the Castle of Balcraig, where several urns in a broken state were some time ago turned up by the plough. West of the Hill of Keillor, there is a tumulus with a large standing-stone, of great antiquity, with rude hieroglyphics on it ; but of which even tradition tells us nothing. The rough stone is formed of gneiss, convex in front, and rugged behind. The tumulus on which it is situated is formed of earth and stones; and several cists containing bones have been found in it. Some years ago it was broken across about a foot from the ground; but the parts have been clasped together and replaced. Dr, Hibbert, when he visited it, thought that a Gaelic inscription was at the top, meaning “the burying-place of the slain;” but no trace of this inscription is now to be seen. In a field below the Kirkton there are two very old artificial mounds, which were used as archery butts in ancient competitions. In the MSS. of Panmure, there is this curious note, in the handwriting of Henry Sinclair, Dean of Glasgow, to the Extracta e Gronicis Scotiae of 1569 At Newtylde thair is ane stane, callit be sum the Thane stane, iii. eln of heiclit, v. quarteris braid, ane quarter thik and mair, with ane cors at the heid of it, and ane goddes next that in ane cairt, and twa hors drawand hir, and horsman under that, and fuitmen and dogges halkis and serpentis; on the west side of it, ane cors curioslie gravit, bot all is maid of ane auld fassane of schap It is allegit that the Thane of Glammis set thir twa stanis quhen that Cuntrey wes all ane greit forrest.” Probably this is one of the stones now in the valuable collection at Meigle.

The name Templeton gives evidence of the lands possessed there by the Knights Templars of the twelfth century. A short distance westward from Newtyle stands a small castellated building, still inhabited, called Bannatyne House, which was once the house of the Manor. It was erected, in 1589, by Mr. Thomas Bannatyne, a Lord of the Court of Session. The building has obtained a celebrity in the annals of Belles Lettres from the fact of the Bannatyne manuscript having been composed there. The writer of it was George, a younger brother of the Judge. At one time he held an office in the Supreme Court, although he afterwards became a Leith merchant. But when the plague was raging in Edinburgh in the sixteenth century,George came to Bannatyne House, and occupied his time in collecting the early poetry of Scotland. This arduous work has handed down his name to our day; and in his honour the Bannatyne Club was founded. The manuscript extends over 800 closely-written folio pages, and was composed in the short space of three months. In the north side of the building there is a capacious circular turret, which, tradition says, George made his study. Instead of being stained with blood and polluted by crime as other castle-towers, the turret of Bannatyne House is hallowed by the associations of unexampled literary devotion. He thus concluded his work, which is now in the Advocates’ Library :—

“Here endis this buik, writt in tymo of pest,
Quhen we frae labor was compeled to rest.
Swa till conclude, God grant us all gude end,
And aftir deth eternall lyfe us send.”

The lands of Newtyle and Kinpurnie, which once formed a barony, were granted by King Robert I. to Isabella, daughter of Sir James Douglas, and wife of Walter de Oliphant, Justiciary of Scotland. One of their descendants, we noted, built Hatton Castle. In 1G05, Lawrence, Lord Oliphant, was served and retoured heir in the lands and barony of Newtyle and Kinpurnie. In 1627, these, with Auchtertyre and Balcraig, passed to William Hallyburton of Pitcur; thence, in 1G94, to George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh, son of the “Bloody Mackeenie;” but having taken part in the rebellion of 1715, his estates were forfeited to the Earl of Bute, one of whose descendants, Lord WharnclifTe, is now in possession. The Hill of Kinpurnie, the highest of the Sidlaws, being 1151 feet above the sea-level, was once a station for signal fires; and in the course of last century an Observatory was erected and fitted up on it by the proprietor, the Hon. James Mackenzie, the Lord Privy Seal of the day. The roofless ruins give evidence of substantial workmanship, the walls being three feet thick. The Observatory was 30 feet long, 20 feet broad, and 40 feet high. There were two doorways facing tue south'; one window in the east side, two on the north, and one on the west. On the top of the walls are still rough turrets, one in each corner, with one in the centre of each end, and three on the north side, the south being kept quite clear for the instruments. It is a useful land-mark for vessels at sea. From the Observatory never having been applied to the purpose intended, it has been designated by the peasantry, “Castle Folly.”

Keillor is another property in the parish, but as the mansion-house is in Kettins parish, we will reserve details about it for that parish. Suffice it to say that it was once a part of the Earldom of Strathearn, and that Randulph de Kelore, a vassal, did homage to Edward I. at Berwick, in 1296. Watson, tenant of Keillor, was the most celebrated breeder of Angus Cattle. Couston and Davidston are the other properties.

The soil is in general a mixture of black earth and clay, with patches of sand and gravel; but it is fertile and well cultivated. The air is dry and healthy, except in the marshes in the north, where slow fevers and scrofula used to be frequent. In 1684, John Ochterlony in his “Account of the Shyre of Forfar” thus describes Newtyle:—“Ane excellent country, fertill in cornes, abounding in grass for pasture and meadows for hay, with extraordinare good pasturage for multitudes of sheep on the hills of Kilpurnie.”

Among the flora of the parish, there are to be found the Redrattle (with its large crimson flowers, overtopping all the surrounding herbage); Butter wort (with its very handsome purple flowers); the elegant Grass of Parnassus (beautifully veined and cream-coloured); the Rockrose (whoso bright yellow flowers open only in the sunshine) the Sneezewort (with white flowers and pungent smell); the highly ornamental Milkwort (with its variegated starlike flowers); and the Sea Plantain (with its narrow fleshy leaves and yellowish cylindrical spikes). On the ruined walls of Hatton Castle Dr. Barty found the Grom well; and in the parish, though rare, the common Bird’s-foot.

In 1755, the population of the parish was 913, there being a considerable number of handloom weavers with a small croft of land each; now it is about the same in population, though differently occupied. The valued rent is .£2730; and the assessed property about £10,000. The old Church was built in 1767 ; but this gave place, in 1871, to a very handsome new edifice, which does great credit to the architect and proprietors. One curious inscription is found on a tombstone in the churchyard (of date 1771):—

“Here lies the body of Robert Small,
Who, when in life, was thick, not tall;
But, what’s of greater consequence,
He was endowed with good sonse.”

The Parochial records go back to 1G48, and contain an instructive historical epitome of the parish and curious documents illustrative of the customs of b3rgone ages. For example, on 8th May 1698, “The Prisbitry violently entered the Church by breaking up the doors thereof; so that the parishioners did conveen to the Haltoun, where they are to have sermon maintained by the Bishop of Aberdeen and this service, by the Bishop or his deputes, was continued for twelve years. In 1715, the minister, George Chephane, was prevented by armed interference from preaching in the Church; his house was outrageously entered by soldiers; and he himself was threatened, and forced to “abscond” for a time. The soldiery barbarously frightened his wife and family, stabbed the very beds with naked swords, and carried off a considerable part of the goods. Yet afterwards, by prudence and patience, he ingratiated himself to his parishioners, and became a very useful and efficient, as well as a zealous and faithful, minister. According to the Records of the Presbytery, 19th July 1808, “In the parish of Newtyle it appears the minister had right of pasturage over Hatton, a very considerable farm, and that the minister and Presbytery consented to give up this right for two acres of ground.” In the recent case of Newtyle in the Court of Session, in re Whitton v. Lord Wharncliffe, 1869, the point was raised (but, under an arrangement of parties, withdrawn from judicial consideration) whether, after a particular course of action — such as rebuilding, as opposed to repairing merely, the parish church — has been adopted by a resolution duly passed at one meeting of heritors, such resolution can be, at a subsequent meeting of heritors, competently negatived by a counter resolution. The conclusion come to is that where nothing of a practical nature has followed upon the first resolution, it can be recalled at a subsequent meeting.

One thing during this century which has brought Newtyle more prominently into notice is the fact that the first railway (or one of the first railways) in existence was constructed between Dundee and Newtyle. It was begun in 1826, and completed in 1831; with an authorised capital of £140,000 in shares and £30,000 in debentures. It left Dundee on an inclined plane half-a-mile long, with a gradient of 1 in 10, and proceeded through a shoulder of Dundee Law in a tunnel 340 yards long. Altogether there were three inclines, where stationary engines drew up the carriages; and two level portions, where the carriages were drawn at first by horses and then by locomotives. The last incline at Hatton was 1 in 12, reaching an elevation of 544 feet above sea level, from which a descent was made to the valley of Strathmore. The carriages were at first open; but when the sparks from the locomotive began to set fire to the passengers’ clothing, they were roofed in with canvas. On one occasion, a country wife was on her journey for the fir.^t time with her basket of eggs for Dundee market, when the rope of the ineline-engine broke, and the carriages ran down with increasing momentum till all were turned out; though her eggs were smashed, she had no idea it was an accident, for, when afterwards asked how she liked the train, she replied—“It was a guy glide ride, but it was a rough affpittin.” This railway terminated in a field of fifteen acres, whieh Lord Wham elide laid out on a regular plan, with streets named as in a town, building stances being disposed of in lots; but the projectors of the scheme were very much disappointed, though the village rapidly increased, and is now an active, compact place. The bone-mill, which was then erected to crush bones for agricultural purposes, is still doing an extensive business, though now more in dissolved bones. The old railway is now replaced by an entirely locomotive railway, passing through the Glack between Hatton and Newtyle Hills; and there suddenly opening to the passengers the magnificent panorama of Strathmore. There is a station at Newtyle connecting this line with the branches to Alyth and Blairgowrie. Last year the Dundee Water Commissioners put up a tank at Pitnappie, where the course of the water-supply from the Loch of Lintrathen to Dundee reaches its highest elevation—an experiment to relieve the pipes from pressure of air and so to prevent bursting. Whatever the cause, this has not been effectual ; for every two or three months the pipes have burst in the lower part of the Strath, where the pressure is enormous; and it seems that, as some miscalculation was originally made about the thickness of the pipes, a new set of relief pipes is indispensable for the convenient transit of the water through the valley.

Next in size to the village of Newtyle is Newbigging, now rather old-looking, with about 25 dwelling-houses and 10 pendicles. This was originally a manor called Newtibber, from which “Angos and Richard de Neutobere,” both designed of the shire of Forfar, did homage to Edward I. at Berwick in 1296. The history of the property is obscure; but from the Register of Arbroath Abbey, we find that in the fifteenth century a family of Ramsay of Auchterhouse were designed of it, and that more recently it belonged to the Scrimgeours. The name is derived from tobar, a “well,” and new, a prefix denoting a peculiarity of the well. A century ago there was only one dissenter. The U.P. Church became transformed, a few years ago, into a fine hall; but there is still a small F.C. congregation. The school is new, handsome and commodious. There is one hotel in the village, and one at Alyth Junction on the main line of railway from Perth to Aberdeen. There is an excellent public library, a branch of the Commercial Bank, and a Savings Bank; a surgeon also resides in the village. From 1740 to 1790 provisions tripled in price, and wages quadrupled; “yet the servants save no more money now than formerly, owing chiefly to their extravagance in dress;” though Air. Small adds (in the Old Statistical Account):—“The people are in general sober and economical, enjoying in a reasonable degree the comforts and advantages of society, and on the whole seem pretty well satisfied with their condition.” Mr. Moon, in the New Statistical Account in 1842, remarks:—“Complaints are general as to the lowness of wages; but employment continues to be afforded to those willing to work.” Such complaints, we are afraid, will be made to the end of the chapter, in the increasing struggle between capital and labour.

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