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Strathmore Past and Present
Eassie and Nevay

After driving two miles eastward from the village of Newtyle along a most excellent level road, we enter the united parishes of Eassie and Nevay. The time-honoured boundary-mark is a conspicuous old ash, which popularly goes by the name of the Temple-tree. Tradition cannot guess at its age. It is of considerable diameter, but quite hollow from the ground upwards for twenty feet. The bark is stripped off in several parts, and the thin shell of wood exposed is quite worm-eaten; here and there being quite worn through, forming a rude door and rugged windows for the weird-like interior. Large branches spread out, half dead-and-alive, with some foliage, scantily furnished with the life-giving root-sap. Could it speak it would tell of many a strange incident in its vicinity or underneath its arms. It3 appearance might almost take one back to the time when the Templars left tho neighbourhood; thus fixing its curious appellation. We drive eastward on this beautiful day in the end of August; tliu sun shining with medium brightness, and his fiery rays being mellowed by thin clouds. On our left we see, laid out for six miles, the many-chequered fields, some approaching to the ripe gold-tinge, the rich green hue of turnip and potato squares bringing into relief the white crops nearly ready for the reaper, and the verdant hedges and woodlands of dense foliage, till our eye reaches the distant slopes, which enclose the Howe of Strathmore. The towering ridges of the Grampians, with their numerous intervening spurs, make a background of surpassing grandeur; the cold outline clearly marked against tho kindling azure of the heavens. A rugged road on our left hand leads down to the ruined Church of Nevay, in the village of Kirkinch. Soon we pass the new Manse and Church, the handsome school and schoolhouse, the finely-situated farm-house of Ingliston, and the railway station of Eassie on the Caledonian Railway; till we come to the old Manse and the ruins of the Kirk of Eassie. Leaving our conveyance, we walk into the churchyard. The grass is carefully cut, and the moss-green pediments and grey tombstones are exposed to view. Spectral silence points to decay all around. Stepping inwards we are shocked at the nettle-possessed enclosures, where rank weeds reeking grow. What means this? Surely common decency—to say nothing of fitting reverence—should rouse the public mind to get this shocking eyesore removed. The roofless walls of the old place of worship should yet be dear to the memory of worshippers. The ivy clings around one gable, keeping the stones dry in many a shower, its web-like roots exuberantly issuing from every portion of the branches ; and so binding everything together with intricate lace-work that not a stone can be removed without first tearing away the protecting safeguard. The earth and grass have filled up a considerable portion of the doorways; and on the lintel of the principal entrance we decipher “ 1753, Mr T.H. Minr,” rudely carved. But no yew-tree, green even amid the snows of winter, tells there of immortality. No drooping willow stands there as the suggestive symbol of the perpetual mourner. No beauteous natural flowers are there to soothe the melancholy spirit, which dwells too sadly on life’s close. Never there does the sad-hearted visitant behold the primrose on a little infant’s bed, or modest rose on bowed stalk to grace the grave of some sweet maiden taken away in her blooming years, or pansy planted by children round their playmate's tomb. But on the symbol-stone of death alights a gladsome butterfly, which, once a worm creeping on the bare earth, now twits its gaudy wings in the summer’s sun, as if to remind us of our immortality—that soon from his cell of clay the departed man “will burst a seraph in the blaze of day.” Time’s gradual touch has mouldered into beauty the rude stones; and with Schiller we can say:—

“Time conscerates,
And what is grey with ago becomes religion.”

The united parishes of Eassie and Nevay extend for four miles from west to east, and three miles from north to south. In a very old map (about the sixteenth century) the names are written Esse and Nevoy. They are bounded on the east and south by Glam is, on the south-west by Newtyle, on the west by Meigle, and on the north by Airlie. The Dean, which flows from the Loch of Forfar, forms the northern boundary of Eassie. Silent but deep is its course, scarcely moving through some reedy pool, or gently diffused into a limpid plain—

“So calm, the waters scarcely seem to stray,
Anil yet they glide, like happiness, away.”

But on account of the sudden and frequent bends in its course, it often, when swollen with rains and melted snow, breaks through its banks and inundates the neighbouring fields. It is noted for the large size and delicious taste of its trout; but they are difficult to catch, the angler requiring to conceal himself behind a bush or keep a respectful distance, “the better,” as Jzaak Walton says, “the scaly people to betray.” Here and there may be seen the great white Water-Lily (cradled in the dimpling tide to rest its lovely head); and the handsome Comfrey (with its two-fold clusters of white and pink and purple flowers). The rare Wood Clubush, among many other interesting flora, was found on the sides of the Dean by Miss Annie Ogilvy of Ruthven. Eassie Bum rises in the north of Auehterhouse; and, running for six miles through Denoon Glen, in Glamis, in its course bathing the wall of the churchyard of Eassie, falls into the Dean.

The haughs on the banks of the Dean are only 160 feet above the level of the sea; but southwards the surface gradually rises to the Sidlaws, attaining 371 feet near Murleywell, 621 at Ingliston, and 947 in the border. The rocks of the uplands are partly eruptive and partly sandstone; and though the soil is cultivated well up to the summits, it is poor and better fitted for planting or pasture. The soil in the Strath is a soft sandy loam of high fertility, with moorish portions interspersed; the crops are generally excellent, and the heart of the husbandman now rejoices,

“When large increase has bless’d the fruitful plain,
And we with joy behold the swelling grain.”

Dr. Playfair, afterwards the Principal of St. Andrews University, who wrote the “Old Statistical Account” of the United Parishes, in 1794, states that a greater quantity of rain falls in this district than in the low country south of the Sidlaws; because “all clouds and vapours from the south-west are divided near the mouth of the Earn, and are attracted partly by the Sidlaws and partly by an elevated ridge stretching along the north coast of Fife; so that little rain from that quarter falls upon the interval between those mountains.”

The Sidlaws are rich in botany. There can be seen the insectivorous Sundew; the Milkworts little humble flowers of red and white and blue; a peculiar specimen of the Eye-bright (an infusion of which makes a useful eyewater); the handsome Meadow Crane’s-bill (with purplish-blue flowers); the purple mountain Milk-Vetch; and the heart-leaved T way blade. Among the mosses can be found the Leafy Diphyscium, the Rock And raja, the Sharp-pointed Weissia, the Zig-zag Fork-moss, the Curve-stalked Applc-moss, the Dwarf and Heart-leaved Jungermannire, and the Crisped Neckera. There is also a great variety of Crypto-gamie plants; while the little dells through which streams pass from the Sidlaws have each peculiar floral treasures.

There is nothing particularly noteworthy in the antiquities of the united parish. About a mile west of the old Church of Eassie are the remains of an ancient fortification, surrounded on the west, south, and cast sides by a very deep and broad ditch, and on the north by a rivulet, from which the ditch was filled with water when required. Within a vast earth cm circular mound there is an area (of 120 yards by 60 yards), on which the handsome farmhouse of Castle-Nairne is now situated. The rampart went by the name of Castletoun, and is thus marked on the quaint old “Map in Edward’s County of Angus,” in 1678. Some coins of Edward I. and a very ancient spear-head having been found in this area, it is probable that the fort was constructed by the army of that English invader. This is borne out by the fact that on the farm of Ingliston (English town), in the neighbourhood, there were, a century ago, vestiges of a large encampment. A few miles north is the farm of Brucctowii ; and on the 2nd of July, 1296, Edward left Invcrqueich Castle, on the Isla (a few miles north-west) to take up his quarters in Forfar Castle; but on his way he callcd up his men from their encampment at Ingliston to join battle with the forces of The Bruce, at Saddle-hillock, in Ruthven, where, under a huge cairn in the moor, the English dead were buried. Outside the wall of the churchyard of Eassie stands a large sculptured stone, of the same character as the famous stones at Meiglo and Aberlemno. It had evidently lain for many years in the Eassie Burn; but about thirty years ago it is stated that a lady, passing and noticing the stone, gave a workman a pound to have it removed and erected in its present site, in order to preserve the sculptured marks on it. We were accustomed to point it out to our visiting friends, when driving past, as the likely tombstone of some suicide, whose remains were generally deposited in such a place or where cross-roads meet. But we have carefully inspected it and found out our mistaken guess. In the centre is a massive and beautifully-wrought cross, covered with circles; two figures in the corners are like angels with huge wings ; a figure on the left hand is like that of a tall, thin man with a long spear and square shield ; and on the right are representations of a stag and a hound. The forms on the other side cannot be deciphered ; but, according to old accounts, there are four figures, like priests, and oxen below. When it was cut cannot be ascertained ; but evidently in a time of peace. The beautiful execution of the devices and characters attest the skill to which the people had attained in sculpture; and give evidence that, at remoter periods than the historian has been able to reach, there existed communities in a fairly advanced stage of civilization. The chase was the national amusement of Scotland from a very remote period ; and as, in the days of Canute, the keeping of deerhounds was restricted to the nobility, this stone may be a memorial of some one of high rank. The Cross was intended to commemorate the introduction of Christianity into Caledonia; and Pinkerton assigns the period from 843 to 1056 for such engraven obelisks; but that may only be a guess. They are certainly not of Danish origin; for they are not like the famous Danish monument in the churchyard of Ruth well in Dumfriesshire, which is curious from having been ordered, by the General Assembly, in 1644, to be thrown down, as it might be an object of idolatry to the common people. The tradition, connecting it with the death of Lulach, the great-grandson of Kenneth IV., who fell in the battle at Eassie, in 1057, has no foundation; for the Eassie referred to is in Strathbogie. Accordingly, whether it records a domestic or national story, whether it marks the grave of a noble or the tombs of the fallen in battle, are points which still bring forth different opinions; yet it is a feast for the antiquary.

Near Castleton there is a mineral spring, and another a mile south of the old Manse of Eassie; but their qualities and virtues are unknown. In the south-east of Eassie parish a small vein of silver ore was discovered, a century ago; but the amount of the metal realized would not pay the working. There was a fine freestone quarry in the south of Nevay, the stones of which admitted of a good polish. The Temple-tree and the farm of Templeton suggest the ancient property of the Knight-Templars of the twelfth century. They gave their estates to the Knights of St. John, who went by the cognomen of the Knights Hospitallers; hence the name Sitittal in so many districts.

In 1390, Isabella Douglas, Countess of Mar, granted to Walter Ogilvy a charter of the Kirkton of Eassie and other lands. His successor, Alexander Ogilvy, possessed the barony of Eassie, and was Sheriff of Forfar. In 1400, King Robert III. granted a charter to William Cunningham of Neve and other lands. Very little is known until 1528, when John, Earl of Buchan, had a charter of the barony and lands of Eassio and Nevay ; united with Auehterhouse, Blaeklunans, and Druinfork into the barony of Glendowoquhy. A new charter for the same was given, in 1547. In 1615, Lady Mary Douglas, Countess of Buchan, granddaughter and heiress of Lady Christina Stewart, was retoured in the lands and barony of Eassie and Nevay; Eassie A.E. £12, N.E. £72; Nevay A.E. £5, N.E. £20. In 1619, James, Earl of Moray, was retoured in the lands and barony of Eassie and Nevay. In 1621, Lady Elizabeth Nevay, wife of Lord John Hay of Murie, was retoured in the lands and barony of Nevay, with the teinds as principal, A.E. £5, N.E. £20. In 1695, John, Earl of Strathmore, was retoured in the lands of Nevay. In 1745, the estates of Nevay and Kinloch were forfeited because of Sir James Kinloch’s participation in the Rebellion. Now the estate of Nevay is in the possession of the Earl of Wharncliffe.

The property of Dunkenny was once possessed by David Lindsay, Bishop of Edinburgh, who, on the 23rd of July 1637, read the Collects in the High Church there; and occasioned the well-known episode, when Jenny Geddes threw her stool at his head, exclaiming, “Dei’l collick ye! will ye say mass at my lug?” The bishop was excommunicated by the General Assembly held at Glasgow in the following year, and died in England, in 1640. He was succeeded in the property by his son John, who survived him only three years. John’s sisters got possession as heir-portioners. About 1661, the Lindsays were followed in Dunkenny by Peter Blair. When John Ochterlony wrote his interesting “Accounts of the Shyre of Forfar,” in 1684, it was possessed by John Lammie, ancestor of the present proprietor, Major John Ramsay L’Amy. Ochterlony called it “a pleasant place."

The patron saint of the Kirk of Eassie was St. Brandon, Abbot and Confessor, who flourished in 532 and died in 577, at the age of 95, after training 3000 monks. The Kirk was dedicated, in 1246, by David, Bishop of St. Andrews. In the Taxatio of 1275, in the Register of Arbroath Abbey. Essy gave 20 merks to the Abbey ; and in the Taxatio of 1250, in the Register of the Priory of St. Andrews, it gave the same to the Priory. In 1309, King Robert the Bruce gave the advocation and donation of the Kirk of Eassie, in the Diocese of St. Andrews, to the monks of Newbattle. In 1400, Robert III. gave a charter to found a chaplaincy within the Kirk of Brechin by Alexander Ogilvy, of 10 merks sterling, “furth of the barony of Eassie.” In 1450, the Chapel of the Blessed Mary of Balgownie, in the parish of Eassie, is mentioned in a charter; in the extreme east of the parish, two houses and a mill still bear the name of the Chapel of Balgownie, as evidence of the religious edifice which once stood there.

The patron saint of the Kirk of Nevay was St. Nevyth. Bishop Forbes, in his “Kalendar of the Scottish Saints,” says, “St. Neveth, martyr, was one of the sons of Brychan, a bishop of the north, slain by the Saxons and the Picts, and buried at Nevay.” The Kirk of Nevay (Newyth) was in the Diocese of St Andrews; giving 14 merks to Arbroath Abbey, and the same to St Andrew’s Priory. There is no notice of either parish in the Register of Cupar Abbey. It went popularly by the name of Kirkinch (or the kirk on the island), as the hillock on which it stood was at one time surrounded by a marsh or swamp. In 1400, King Robert III. granted a charter assigning 10 merks sterling, from Nevay for the foundation of a chaplaincy in the Kirk of Auchter-house; and, in 1420, Sir Walter Ogilvy of Liutrathen made payments out of the lands of Nevay to the same; for the safety of the souls of the king and queen, and of the knights who fell at Harlaw. In 1531, Walter Tyrie of Drumkilbo was interred in the churchyard : an dd stone bearing this inscription :—“Here ly the Tyries of Nevay ; honest men and brave fellows.” The date, 1651, is on the ivy-clad ruins of the old Church, and “16 D. N. 95” on the lintel of the door. On the enclosing walls is this inscription :—“Built by subscription, 1843.”

The Parishes were united with the approval of the General Assembly on the 21st March 1600; and the union was ratified by Parliament prior to 1610. In 1614, the Synod “concludit that in tyme coming the parochiners sail conveine two Sabothes at Essie, and the third at the Kirk of Nevay.” There were formerly two places of worship, at the eastern and western extremities; but these are now in ruins. The Manse was at Eassie ; and after a time, divine service was conducted in each church on alternate Sabbaths in the summer months, but only at Eassie in the winter months. It is said that, on one occasion in the end of October, the minister, who was of far broader views concerning the Sabbath than most of his time, seeing that it was a reevin day after weeks of muggy weather, told the people from the pulpit of Nevay to go and take in the corn, though it was Sabbath, as this was an act of necessity and mercy ; but, alas ! for this so-called desecration, the roof of the Church fell in, during the ensuing week, and no minister’s voice was ever again heard in that sacred edifice. Fortunately times are now changed; for science has educated most now to discern the naturalness of the judgments of the Ruler of the Universe.

A handsome new Church, midway between the two, was built in 1833, and a commodious Manse close to the Church in 1841. The churchyards are, however, still in the old places. The heritors made an excambion of the old glebes for a new one adjoining the new manse. But we notice in the report of the Committee, appointed by the Presbytery, in 1808, to investigate into the state of the several benefices within the bounds, that Eassie and Nevay had no grass-glebe designed for them by decreet of the Presbytery. By the aet abolishing patronage, in 1874, the patron, the Earl of Wharnclifte, was entitled to one year’s stipend, when the next incumbent was inducted, but he handsomely returned it to the living. The present incumbent —Rev. Nathaniel Law, M.A.—has very kindly furnished us with extracts from the Kirk-Session records, which date from 1721. On Jan. 15,1725, “The minister reported that this day, about three in the morning, there was a man-child laid down at his gate, and that he had sent for them to advise what to do.” Temporary arrangements having been made, and the minister having written to the neighbouring parishes to endeavour to find out the unnatural mother, but without success, “ the matter is reported to the Presbytery and their help requested as to maintaining the exposed child.” In answer to this appeal Airlie contributed 30s. Blairgowrie, 30s. Newtyle, 30s. Kingoldrum 24s. and Lintrathen 24s. Then Mr. Angus of Castleton agreed, on receipt of a bill for £25 Scots, to maintain the child till he be 14 years of age ; “so the Session was to be no more troubled with the exposed child, whieh the Session approve of.” One female delinquent had to sit the cutty stool “in sackcloth” for several days; but scarcely had her compearances for fault number one been completed than we find her again as, on 31st May, 1725, “ having laid down a child in Invcrarity Parish on Thursday was a fortnight, about bed-time, but could not tell the man’s house sho laid it at;’’for which she was sent for a time to Forfar gaol; and after her liberation she had to sit the “stool” no fewer than twenty-three times. This extreme rigour in punishment by the Session had no restoring effect on delinquents. In April 4th 1725, a collection was made, “according to order,” for building a a bridge betwixt “Never and Leihnot,” to the amount of £1 13s. 6d. Scots. The mortcloth must have been handsome in those days ; for on April 5th, 1733, is the entry for 9| yards of velvet and fringe, £420 Scots. On August 5th, 1734, the rent of the seats in the loft (which had been erected by the Session and taxed by them for behoof of the poor), amounted to £2 18s. for the year. In 1730, for beating another man’s child on the Sabbath, and thereby causing “ public scandal and offence,” one transgressor had to be publicly rebuked. The minister’s man was publicly rebuked for “giving scandal and profaning the Lord’s day by drinking.” Two men had to express sorrow for “ scolding one another and thereby profaning the Sabbath,” in order to escape the severe admonition. A miller got off with a Sessional rebuke for “setting on his mill on Sabbath night,” because he alleged it was necessary. In 1744, a mason had been fined £6 Scots for some misdemeanour; but being a poor man, and having, with other work, “made a dyal for the west church,” he was let off. In 1745, an elder requiring to leave the parish when owing the box £4 14s. 5d. Scots, the Session “are to have patience with him till he make a new box;” but this gigantic work—the box at present in use —was accomplished only after seven years. In 1748, “it was reported that John Lunan had practised something that was looked upon as inclining to witchcraft or charming against John Spence, and that upon inquiry the minister found that there was some ground for the report to the great scandal of religion; the offence was that on 15th August said John Lunan, having his kiln burnt, came to John Spence’s house with two of his servants, and calling for a choppin of ale, desired the tapster to give him two sixpences for a shilling, which she did, and he went off. Then the company sitting in the house made John Spence uneasy, by telling him that this changing of money was a charm used with an intent, that the sufferer by fire should make up his loss at the expense of his neighbour. The sixpences were after some difficulty returned, and friendship restored; but the Session were not content with this. They must report the matter to the Presbytery.” After due deliberation the Presbytery appointed the minister to examine witnesses and report. Finally the following deliverance of the Presbytery was ordered to be read from the pulpit:—“Find the proof imperfect; could not find him guilty of bad intent; and appoint the minister to give public warning against such practices in time coming.”

There is neither a Dissenting Church nor a public-house in the united parishes. Tlie population has varied little for a century and a half. In 1721, it was 657 ; in 1794, 630; in 1831, 654; in 1881, 561. The valued rent of both parishes is £100; the real rent about £9000. No heritor resides within the bounds, which is an especially unfortunate circumstance in these dull times, when tenants require every encouragement to keep them in heart and healthy social bearing to those over them. Dr. Playfair, with appropriate point and wisdom, thus spoke of a laird of Nevay in his day, who met his tenants fairly and took a fair rent from them, that they might, with industry, have a decent living :—“ Had the usual methods of screwing and racking tenants been adopted, the landlord might have greatly increased his revenue ; but he preferred the pleasure of making several hundreds of people comfortable and happy.” Lairds! listen to such advice, Heaven-sent to you, in these days, when you are on your trial in the eyes of a nation which knows, and will yet enact, that you hold your property as a trust in order that as far as possible, the greatest good may be afforded to the greatest number!

Dr. Playfair regretted, a century ago, that little attention was paid to the breed of animals; we are now glad to see such an enthusiasm abroad for rearing excellent stock. He asserted that “sheep are entirely banished;” now many flocks of Highland ewes are kept to improve the summer pasture, and crosses are plentifully seen on most of the farms. In 1684, Ochterlony remarked:—“In Nevay there is extraordinary good land, and well-served with grass.” The farm-houses and steadings are, on the whole, very much in advance of what they were half-a-century ago. Dr. Playfair gave a good account of the farmers of his day:—“In affluence they rival the middling order of proprietors, and in hospitality they excel them.” And we conclude this article with the record of the sage experience of that distinguished scholar and observer, which, we hope, is still a marked characteristic of those who now live under the mild influence of a country scene, and the soft obscurity of rural retirement:—“The inhabitants of this territory are sober and industrious ; strangers alike to intemperance and dissipation of every kind. The vice of dram-drinking, which, if we may rely on statistical information, so much prevails in many parishes of Scotland, is here unknown. There is not a tavern or alehouse in either parish. These people however are open, generous, and hospitable. That servile spirit, which diffused itself among the lower class during the rigour of the feudal system, no longer exists; and passions then predominant have subsided. They are neither proud nor parasitical. Mild and peaceable, they are neither ready to resent an injury, nor to harbour revenge. Attached to the National Church, and the present form of Government, they are not inclined to schism, nor prone to sedition, nor liable to change. Not a few of them enjoy the benefits and comforts of society, and all are contented with their condition.” Happy parish ! if, with Dryden, the people can thus contentedly say:—

“We to ourselves may all our wishes grant;
For, nothing coveting, we nothing want.”

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