Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Strathmore Past and Present

No satisfactory account can be given of the origin of the name of this important parish in Strathmore. Some conjecture that the town arose on the ruins of the Roman Arrea, but the most probable derivation is from the Gaelic fuar, “cold,” and barr, “a point”—that is, “the cold point.” The common people pronounce it Farfar. In the writings connected with the patronage, the parish is designated Forfar-Restennet, Rostinoth probably being the original parish. It is of irregular shape—six miles by five in extent—and is bounded by Reseobie, Dunnichen, Inverarity, Kinnettles, Glamis, and Kirriemuir. The parish is divided into burgh and landward, having distinct interests : for a considerable time, separate collections at the Church-door were made for the poor in each division; and now they have separate School Boards. The landward part presents a level prospect to the eye, intercepted only by Balnasliannar hill (572 feet), directly to the south.

Before the extensive draining, there was a chain of throe lochs, abounding in pike, perch, and eel. The Loch of Forfar—a mile in length, and a quarter of a mile in breadth—stretches from the town westwards; but, above a century ago, a communication was made—at the cost of £3000—to allow it to discharge part of its waters into the Dean River. Before that drain was cut, the loch was about sixteen feet deeper; but it is still from two to twenty-two feet deep in summer. No arable land was gained by the draining, but large quantities of moss and marl. At some very far distant date, there was made near its north aide an artificial island, composed of largo piles of oak and loose stones, with a stratum of earth above; but now it is only a very curious peninsula. The loch and drained land belong to the Earl of Strathmore ; and as much, as £700 per annum was realised for the moss and marl. Loch Feithie is a beautiful little sheet of water—a mile, in circumference—belonging to Mr. Dempster of Dunnichen. Before its banks were cleared of thriving wood, it had a singularly romantic appearance ; but now it is bleak and uninviting, except to the keen anglers—old and young; for, according to George Dempster—

“Even school-boys perches in Loch Feithie take,
And the sun’s shadow dances on the Lake.”

At the northern boundary of the parish lies Loch Restennet; but only a loch in name, for it has been for a long time drained. The extent of ground recovered is about 250 acres, and the value of moss and marl was computed at above £50,000.

Several excellent stone and slate quarries are within the parish, and immense quantities of pavement are sent to Dundee and Arbroath. The soil is various: to the north and south, it is (in general) light and thin, with a gravel bottom; in the middle, it is spouty clay, where, however, excellent oats, barley, and green-crop are produced; and all along, the state of agriculture has been highly creditable to the skill and enterprise of the farmer.

The botanical enthusiast, Mr. George Don, when residing in Forfar, collected the flora of the parish. Among these, he mentions the rare variety of the Hawk-weed (found by him, for the first time in Britain, in the fir-woods); the Lesser Winter-green (distinguished by its large stigma, included in the flower); and the Wood Melic-grass. In Forfar Loch, he found the club-like, spiked Reed-mace; the Water-Soldier (rising to the surface, to spread its white flowers); the minute floating Duck-weed; the rare Lesser Bladderwort (with small yellow flowers, which float till the bladders become filled with water); and the Maiden Pink (easily known by its rose-coloured flowers, with white spots and a dark ring in the centre). In Loch Feithie, he discovered the Quillwort—supposed to be found only in Alpine lakes ; and, in pools in the marsh of Restennet, he found the Hispid Chara.

Before taking up the ecclesiastical edifices and royal castles which have surrounded this district with hallowed and historical associations, we shall say a few words about the minor antiquarian remains. A Roman causeway ran through the greater part of the parish, between the camp of Battledykes, in Oathlaw, and Haerfaulds, in Inverarity; and some indications of this road can still be traced, where the land has not been cultivated. Midway between these camps—a mile and a-half east of the town—the remains of another camp of considerable size are still distinctly visible. This is understood to be a Roman camp, built upon what was once an old Pictish camp ; but of far larger dimensions than was necessary for the army of Agricola Between the Lochs of Forfar and Restennet was a fosse, strengthened by a rampart, which some believe to have been a work of defence formed by the Picts. Occasionally, coins, urns, and pieces of armour have been found, some of which are now in Glamis Castle. When some of the rubbish of Forfar Castle was being cleared away, about 17G0, a vessel, of conical form, and a bunch of arrows, were found. At the same time, a pit was discovered, built of hewn stones—eighteen feet deep—in which was a human body in an extreme stage of decomposition ; the unfortunate man having fallen in, and died of starvation. For a long time, there hung in the steeple of the Parish Church the Witch’s Bridle; but this, according to Mr. Daniel Wilson, the late Secretary of the Antiquarian Society, has been given to the collection of Alexander Deucliar, Edinburgh. The Bridle is a skeleton iron helmet, having a dart-shaped gag of the same metal, which entered the mouth, and effectively “brankit” the tongue. On the circle is punched—“1661 Angus S.” With this the wretched victim of superstition was led to execution in the Witches’ Howe, where the public washing-green is now situated. The object aimed at, in applying so dreadful a gag to those who were condemned to the stake as guilty of witchcraft, was not so much the purposed cruelty attending it, as to prevent the supposed witches from pronouncing the potent formula by which it was believed they could transform themselves at will into other shapes. From 1650 to 1662, in consequence of the passing of the celebrated statute by James VI. for the punishment of witches, no fewer than nine victims of fatuous stupidity suffered at the stake in the Witches’ Howe of Forfar. The trials of these poor beings are extant, of which extracts were printed in the Strathmore Journal of 1829. According to one document, a Royal Commission was addressed to the Heritors and Magistrates, to deal with certain women who confessed themselves guilty of witchcraft. One, for example, confessed—“That, about three years the last oate-seed time, she was at a meeting in the Kirkyard of Forfar, and that yr were first there the devill himselfe, in the shape of a black iron-heived man, and a number of other persons; that they all danced together, and that the ground under them was all fyre flaughten;” and on another occasion—“That, after dancing a whyle, she and the other women went into a house and sat down, the devill being present at the head of the table; that, after making themselves mirrie with ale and aqueavitae, the devill made much of them all, and especiallie of Marion Rinde.” The Town Council, with all duo solemnity, approved of the care and diligence of an inn-keeper, who brought over the “pricker of the witches in Trennent,” to assist in the detection of suspected culprits. They had to secure the services of the executioner and “scourger of the poore” of Perth, to administer the extreme penalty of the law. The site of the gallows—when that alternative was employed—was either in that part of Forfar where a saw-mill is now (and where human bones have been dug up in great quantities) ; or on the western part of Balnashannar Hill. The last execution which took place there was in 1785; and that was of the last criminal in Scotland who was executed by the sentence of a Sheriff. In the Old Church steeple are the jougs—an instrument consisting of a flat iron collar with distended loops, through which a padlock was passed to secure the delinquent from Church discipline in his “durance vile.”

Ecclesiastically, the parish takes a prominent place as to antiquity, influence, and work. Spottiswood states that, in 697, St. Boniface came from Italy to Scotland; and among the Churches erected by him was Restennet, on the Loch of the same name. It was encompassed by the water except at one passage, where it had a drawbridge. But narrow and poor was the church-life of that early period, though retired from the rancour and storm that raged without; for the religious devotees, uneducated and unrefined, consecrated themselves by ascetic fastings and scourgings, till the time when they were “doomed to die as the world’s life grew.” Upon the old site of this primitive Church, the Priory was erected, in 1120, by King Alexander I., as a repository for the public records which were not so convenient for reference in the Cathedral of Iona. The Priory was dedicated to St. Peter, and occupied by monks of the Order of St. Augustine. Robed in white, with a black cloak, and a hood covering the head, neck, and shoulders, these monks trod the sacred courts, and made the “grand old psalm peal through the pillared calm.” Of a different tone and training from their predecessors, they encouraged the arts and education, becoming the practical instructors, as well as the religious teachers, of the whole neighbourhood :—

‘"But something of wisdom the monk would know,
Something of gladness here below,
Something of beauty, and what it can!
He was not sinless, and yet he brought
A larger heart, and a freer thought,
And a fuller life to the sons of man.”

We find from the charters regarding Rostinoth (in the possession of, and arranged by, the late Patrick Chalmers of Aldbar), that, about 1140, King David I. gave to the monks the rents of certain thanages, bondages, and other royal lands. From its foundation until 1160, very considerable grants and privileges were made to the Priory. Among these in the parish was the Church of Craignathro, which had existed for some time. Of others, we may mention the Churches of Forfar, of Petterden (between Forfar and Tealing), of Tealing, of Duninald, of Dysart, and of Egglispether. The Prioiy also possessed the Crown teinds in Angus, including those in money, wool, chickens, cheese, and malt, and those of the mill and fish-market of Forfar; also 10s. out of Kynaber, and the teinds of the King’s lordships of Salorch, Montrose, and Rossie. It had the free passage of Scottewater (Firth of Forth) ; and tofts in the burghs of Perth, Stirling, Edinburgh, and Forfar. But, between 1159 and 1163, King Malcolm IV., by a charter signed at Roxburgh, made the Priory of Rostinoth, along with the chapel of Forfar, a cell of the Abbey of St. Mary of Jedburgh; and granted all its pertinents to that Abbey — Rostinoth being the mother church, and the chapel of Forfar (which was dedicated to St. James) being dependent thereon. This royal charter was, in 1242, confirmed by Bishop Arnold of St. Andrews; the Priory being in his diocese.

From the Registers of the Abbeys of Cupar and Arbroath we find that the chaplain of King William the Lion bestowed on the former a tenement in the burgh of Forfar (of rental 26s. 8d.); and that, in 1211, the King himself gave to the latter a toft in the same burgh, which was formerly possessed by the Bishop of Caithness. William also signed, at Forfar, charters for the confirmation of tho grants of eighteen churches to the Abbey of Arbroath, and two to the Abbey of Cupar. The same King likewise gave to the Abbey of Jedburgh the lands of Cossans, in exchange for those of Foffarty (in Kinnettles); and during his reign, Adam, Abbot of Forfar, in the event of his dying “without offspring,” constituted the monks of Forfar his heirs. Besides the Priors, who are witnesses to many royal charters, we find, in 1227, the only trace of tho existence of a steward of the Convent, viz., “David Senescalle de Rostynoth,” who was the perambulator of the marches of lands in dispute between the Abbey of Arbroath and Kinblethmont.

In 1234, Alexander II. built the chapel of the Holy Trinity, near the ruins of Queen Margaret’s Castle, on the island in Forfar Loch ; he likewise gave ten merks yearly from lands in Glenisla, and pasture for six cows and a horse on the lands of Tyrbeg, for the sustenance of two monks, who were pepetually to celebrate Divine service there. In 1508, the Abbot of Cupar granted to Sir Alex. Turnbull, the chaplain, the whole chaplaincy, on certain conditions. A century ago, the vestiges of this chapel were seen by the incumbent of Forfar, in the shape of an oven and the furnishings of a pleasure garden.

King Alexander, in 1234, also confirmed, at Forfar, seven charters for the Abbey of Arbroath, and one for the Abbey of Cupar. Eleven years afterwards, he gave to the Abbey of Arbroath a hundred shillings stg., from the Royal Manor of Forfar, for the relief of thirteen poor people. In the Taxatio of 1250, Rostynoth and Forfar are assessed at 24 merks, and the lands of Rostynoth at 40 merks. King Alexander III. gave the Prior and Canons a right to the tenth of the hay grown in the meadows of the Forest of Plater; and granted them the privilege of uplifting so much bread and ale every day the King resided in Forfar Castle. In 1289, the Prior of Rustinoth was one who signed the letter of the Community of Scotland, consenting to the marriage of Prince Edward of England with the Scottish' Queen Margaret. In 1296, “Robert, Prior de Rostinnot, et les Chanoines,” swore fealty to the English King Edward I. “Be vertew of ane antient gift, in 1299,” the minister of Finhaven (Oathlaw) had a small annuity from the burgh mails.

After the Castle of Forfar was destroyed in 1308—

“And all the towns tumlit war Down till the erd'’—

King Robert the Bruce resided occasionally at the Priory, from which he issued two charters to the Abbey of Arbroath, and granted to the Prior of Rostinoth power to cut wood in the forest of Plater at all convenient seasons. In 1322, he granted to Roustinot 20s. 10d. from the thanage of Thanaehayis (Tannadiee) ; and appointed Alisaundre de Lamberton to inquire into the aneient rights and privileges of the Priory. In 1333, the first Lindsay of Glenesk mortified a small sum to the Priory from the thanedom of Downie; and three years afterwards, the Bishop of St. Andrews made over to it his whole lands of Reseobie. King David II., in 1344, out of special regard for the Priory as the place where his brother John was buried, granted 20 merks stg. from the great customs of Dundee. The last gift to the Priory was £4 annually out of the thanedom of Menmuir, by Dempster of Careston, about the year 1360. It may be well said, with Keble, of both Kings and Monks :—

“They gave their best. O tenfold shame
On us, their fallen progeny,
Who sacrifice the blind and lame,
Who will not wake or fast with TheeI”

The Abbot of Arbroath, in 1434, feued the land in the burgh of Forfar; and nineteen years afterwards, exactly defined the property there belonging to his Abbey. In 14G5, a long-standing dispute about the commonty was brought to a bearing by this writ of King James III., at Edinburgh:—“For as meikle as thair is certauc debaitis betcux the Abbot off Abirbrothoc and the communite of our burgh off Forfar for certane landeinairis we grant lieiens and fredome to the said par tees to accordc in the said caus as suir pleisis tham sa that it be na prejudice till us nor our successors.” This was about the rights of the inhabitants of “Ouclitcrloony” and the tenants of the lands belonging to the monks of Arbroath, about the occupation of Kings Muir; and in the preceding year the Magistrates had drawn up a deed when “devly gaderit in our tolbuth obligin us to defeudc the saide Abbot in iosyng off the said coinmonc.”

For a hundred years there is merely a register of the Priors and their occasional signatures to charters. But at the time of the Reformation in Scotland, in 1560, the Commendator of Jedburgh and Rostinoth had charters of the dominical lands; and his sister had a charter of confirmation of the “house and enclosure of Restonneth.”

According to Dr. Scott’s “Fasti,” the Churches of Forfar, Restennet, and Aberlemno .were served, in 1566, by the same minister, at the salary of £16 13s. 4d., and the glebe lands. Fourteen years afterwards, Kinnettles and Tannadice were added to this incumbent’s labours. In 1590, Forfar and Restennet were given to one minister; but, six years afterwards, these were made one charge, Restennet being suppressed, though originally it had been the mother-charge. In 1606, the Earl of Kelly received from James VI. a grant of “the haill temporal landis and rentis quhilkis pertenit of befoir to the Priorie of Restenneth, with the richt of the patronage of the Kirkis of the said Priorie.” On two occasions has the minister of Forfar been Moderator of the General Assembly, viz.: James Elliot, in 1610; and John Kerr, in 1776. Until 1643, the glebe of Rostinoth-Forfar was situated within the Priory; but the incumbent (Thomas Piersone, whose books were estimat at £200 Scots, and debts at £1900), succeeded in getting it removed nearer to the town.

In 1657, three very handsome bells—cast in Stockholm —were presented to the Church of Forfar by two brothers, of the name of Strang, who also gave money for the relief of the deserving poor. When the principal bell arrived in Dundee from Stockholm, it was thought by the magistrates of that town too good for a small place like Forfar. A struggle ensued for possession of the bell, during which the tongue of it—made of silver—was wrenched out and thrown into the Tay. After a time, Forfar got possession of the Strangs’ gift; but only on condition that Forfar would buy all the ground to be passed over in conveying it from the quay to the northern boundary of Dundee parish. This was done at great cost; and the place in Dundee goes still by the name of Forfar Loan. The bell was without a tongue for a century; and the one now in it has not power enough to bring out its rich tone.

As a reward for tho determined opposition which the Magistrates had taken against the “Nationall Covenant” and the “Solemne League and Covenant,” King Charles II., in 1663, gave a new charter to the town, confirming all that had been lost of the charters during the raids of the Revolution period ; among which was the patronage of the Kirk of Forfar, previously disponed for a certain sum to the town by Sir George Fletcher of Balinsho who had secured the patronage. In 1687, James Small was driven from his Church “without so much as a shadow of a sentence against him.” In 1690, the Burgh-records show that Forfar owes £933 Scots to the Church of Dundee; and that the minister received £600 Scots for "teynd corn eaten and destroyed by yr Majesties forces and their horses.”

The Presbytery of Forfar was erected by the Archbishop in 1611. The Records are contained in eight volumes; but one of the early volumes is said to be in private hands. It was re-arrranged in 1717.

The Parochial records go back to 1659. The Session Clerk, Mr. John Knox—a scholar and antiquarian— has very kindly furnished us with some extracts from these volumes. On July 6th, 1718, “the Session, considering the great offence, given and taken, by reading from the desk intimations of roups that prove occasion to people to break the Sabbath by unnecessary talking thereabout, unanimously discharge the same in all time coming.” In 1720, a representation was made to the Session, “that the scandals of drunkenness and Sabbath-breaking are too prevalent, some by carrying in their water and cutting their kail; others by shaving their faces and carrying homo ale in stoups, &c and a joint consultation with the Magistrates was resolved upon to punish such unchristian vices. In the year following, two worthies were “delated guilty of drinking the whole of an afternoon’s sermon;” and, while their case was being under process, it was resolved that the elders “should search the public-houses in time of divine service.” As it was proved on oath that the accused had only had “three chappins of ale between sermons, the last being finished before the first psalm was ended,” the Session, considering the matter a “little in tricat,” referred both to the Presbytery “for their advice.’' In 1723, a farm-servant, having been “delated as guilty of an act of drunkenness when he came in to provide a coffin for his child, with apparent sorrow confessed his fault on his knees, and was duly rebuked.” In the same year, the minister, having a substitute in the pulpit, went out with the elders and made search for people that “ might be drinking or profaning the day by idleness, and found loose vagrants in certain houses. In 1724, more elders and deacons being required, and the Session being advised that the four nominated “were as fit as could be found in the town,” in the emergency, these, such as they were, had to be appointed. Shortly after, one who had been frequently before the Session for drunkenness “got a token to come to the Table, but he had neither observed the fast nor preparation days;” accordingly, the officer was ordered to take the token from him. Next year, the minister and elders “perlustrat” the town, when the pulpit was being supplied by the minister of Tannadice. They found two drinking ale, a third “ gathering in his lintseed bolls with his coat off and a belt about him; ” and a fourth with his family “at dinner in time of sermon ! ” One of the "drouths” was dismissed with an exhortation, because, “being lame of a foot,” he was waiting in the public-house for a horse to take him home, as well as his wife, who was at sermon. The man, without the coat and with the belt, was ordered to be rebuked in presence of the congregation, but this “he obstinately refused, and swore by his faith before the Session he would not do it;” the man who had to dine, “obstinately refused to be rebuked, and would not even acknowledge it a breach of tho Sabbath, thinking the less of himself for even waiting on the Session,” for which he was declared contumacious, and therefore incapable of receiving “sealing ordinances.” The Provost and Magistrates ordered this free-thinker to give satisfaction to the Session for his offence; but he “continued obstinate.” In 1726, the church-officer was accused of “not joining in the praise of God, and of keeping silent among the rest who were disaffected, so that the minister was left alone in this work; ”but on being penitent with a seeming sorrow,” he was rebuked, and got another chance. Next year, a scold was accused of calling a young man “the bad name of him,” and of wishing that a young married woman’s first child  might be shorn out of her broadside;” this case occupied several days in process before proof of guilt could be brought home, and the penalty of the Session duly paid. For repeated offences, especially habit and repute carrying water, sleeping at home, ale drinking during sermon on Sabbath, the delinquents were ordered to be “nailt bo the lug,” to the church-door, or “put in the jougs” during the interval between the forenoon and afternoon services.

The two principal cases in which the ecclesiastical affairs of tho parish had to be settled by the Court of Session, when civil rights were involved, were in 1793 and 1863. In the one caso, the Court decided that, Forfar being a burghal-landward parish, the cumulo assessment for the expense of a new church must be imposed on the two sections of the parish, according to a standard, not of the value of the property in each district, but of that of the population ; though this was afterwards reversed by the House of Lords in the case of Peterhead. In the other case, the Court decided that the principal incumbent alone, and not an assistant and successor, can sue for an augmentation of stipend ; and that the alleged immorality of a minister does not form a relevant objection on the part of the heritors against his obtaining an augmentation. According to the Parliamentary Return of last year, the unexhausted teind amounts to £157.

The ruins of the Priory are still of considerable extent. Grose, in his “Antiquities of Scotland,” written in 1797, has a beautiful engraving of the ruins of “Restenote Priory.” The tower is about sixty feet high, and of the first pointed style of architecture. The walls of the Church are pretty entire. The ruins are beautified by many fine old trees. Even now, at little expense, the belfry could be put into decent repair. The area of the Church has long been used as the burial-place of the proprietors, the Dempsters of Dunnichen. In olden times the ruffian bands “came to reform when ne’er they came to pray.” Many a one was nursed in these sacred aisles “to more than kingly thought.” We cannot help treading the ruins with a reverent step; for all is hallowed ground. In these quaint old lines, we, in a word, express the devotion of our historic soul:—

“I doe love these auncyent Abbayes.
We never tread within them but we set
Our foote upon some reverend historie.”

Historically, Forfar can trace itself back for a considerable period; it being in early times a hunting-ground for the early Pictish and Scottish Kings. We very much doubt Boece’s statement that it had a Castle at the time of the Roman Agricola’s invasion in the first century; but we have reason to accept Buchanan’s assertion that a bloody and indecisive battle was fought at Restennet about the year 830, between Feredith, the Pictish usurper, and Appin, King of the Scotch. The Pictish usurper was killed; and, according to Boece, Apin commanded the body of his opponent to be “laid in Christian buriall not farre from Forfaire”—that is, within the walls of the first Church of Rostinoth. Doubtless a Castle was the nucleus around which houses gradually accumulated; and we have reason to believe that the first of three Royal Castles, under the name of Forfar, was built during tho reign of Malcolm Canmore, about 1057, on the island (now a peninsula) in Forfar Loch, called Queen Margaret’s Inch. This Inch was a “crannog,” or lake-dwelling. Up to 612, Monipennie traced the ruins of its tower. Queen Margaret was a lady of the most lovable disposition and singular piety, giving instructions to the young women of Forfar, during her residence on her island-home; where, among other good advices, she is said to have laid down the custom “that none should drink after dinner who did not wait the giving of thanks”—which accounts for the phrase of the “graco drink.” For centuries she lived in the affectionate memory of the inhabitants; and in her honour, as patroness of Scotland, the young females frequently went on the 19th of June in solemn procession to her Inch. It is not unlikely that King Malcolm built a fort on the Castlehill, which was subsequently raised to a Castle. That hill is a conical mound, fifty feet high, in the north-east of the town, where are still the remains of the third Castle. Still we have in its vicinity Canmore Street and the Camnore Linen-Works, as traditionary evidence. In one of these Castles, Malcolm held his first Parliament; where he instituted titles of distinction, restored forfeited estates, and, by abolishing Evenus’s cruel law, raised the social position of women, doubtless by the advice and entreaty of his exemplary queen. The associations of the early kings have been handed down to us by names of places—viz., the King’s Muir, Palace Dykes, Queen s Manor, Queen’s Well, Court Road, Wolf Law, &c.—in the neighbourhood.

Forfar was erected into a burgh of royalty by David I. about 1150. About twenty years afterwards, in William's reign, we find from a charter of Robert de Quincy, in the Register of the Priory of St. Andrews, that the king had given him the “place of the old Castle of Forfar,” which he made over to Roger de Argenten for one pound annually. In this reign Forfar was recognised as one of the “steddis of warranty in Scotlande.” In 1202, King William in person held an Assembly there ; and appointed William Cumyn, the Sheriff of Forfar, to be Justiciary of Scotland. Successive sovereigns frequently resided and held their Courts and Parliaments in the Castle. There, in 1225, Richard of Abernethy resigned into the hands of King Alexander II. some lands in Fife, which, fourteen years afterwards, were given at the foundation of the Abbey of Balmerino. Already had the town been growing in size and importance; but, in 1244, it was almost totally destroyed by fire. At the Court held in 1250, King Alexander III. adjudged the disputed lands of Inverpepper to be the property of the Abbey of Arbroath. Horticulture was then patronised and encouraged by the King; for it is mentioned that the King’s gardener at Forfar had a yearly wage of five merks. It is also recorded in this reign that William of Hamyll, hunting at Forfar with the King’s hawks, had a fixed allowance, as well as the grooms for the King’s horses; that 16 pipes of wino were carted from Dundee, and a number of sheep were driven from Strathylif (Glenisla); and that 24 cows and 50 hogs were received as rent from the Royal Manor of Forfar.

When, in 1291, Edward I. of England received the Kingdom of Scotland from the four Regents, the Castle of Forfar was held by Gilbert d’Umphraville, an English nobleman (but Earl of Angus in right of his wife), who only yielded possession to the English monarch upon receiving a letter of indemnity from the claimants to the Crown and the guardians of the Kingdom, along with a reimbursement of his expenses. This being easily arranged, the King gave the Castle in charge to an Englishman, named Brian Fitzadam, one of the five Governors of Scotland. Five years afterwards, the English King and his suite took up their abode in the Castle for four days. The town had so far recovered from the fire as to receive the appellation of the “bonne ville” in the King’s Diary, which was not always so appreciative of the Scottish towns. Here Geoffrey Baxter, of Loch Feithie, performed homage to the King; probably this man or an ancestor had received his property for services as bakester (or baker) to the Royal household there. In the following year the Castle was captured by Sir William Wallace; but it soon again fell into the hands of the English, who kept possession of it till 1308; for then the English King granted a mandate to John of Weston, “Constable of our castlo of Forfare,” to supply it with the necessary provisions and fortifications. But in that year Philip, the Forester of Plater, made an escalade under night, let down the bridges, and secured a passage for Robert the Bruce and his followers, who put most of the inmates to the sword, and captured and destroyed the Castle. Thus does Barbour, in 1489, quaintly describe the brave deed:— (Dr. Jamieson’s edition) :—

“The Castell off Forfayr wes then
Stuffyt all with Inglis men.
Bot Philip the Foraster off' Platane
Has off his freyndis with him tane,
And with leddrys all priuely
Till the Castell he gan him hy,
And wp our the wall off stane ;
And swagate has the Castell tane,
Throw faute of wach, with litill payne.
And syne all that he fand has slayne :
Syne yauld the Castell to the King,
That maid him richt gud rewarding.
And syne [he] gert brek donn the wall,
And fordyd well and Castell all.

From the records of 1372 we find that King Robert II. held Parliaments in Forfar, and enacted that Torbeg and Balnashannar should be held for the cartage of three hundred loads of peats, when the Court were residing at Forfar. Possibly Heatherstacks was held under a similar tenure, for furnishing “heather” for the use of the Royal kitchen. There is little of interest recorded for two hundred years; but, in 1593, King James VI. by special Act of Parliament “changis the mercate daie of the burgh of Forfar from Sondaie to Fridaie, and the samen to stande with the like privileges and freedoms as the Sondaie did before;” yet six years afterwards he inconsistently fixed the market of Arbroath to be held on Sunday. In 1627, King Charles I. created Walter, Lord Aston, Baron Forfar, a title which became extinct in 1845. When Alexander Strang went as Provost and Commissioner of the burgh to the Parliament of 1647, “the renowned Sutor” stood alone, boldly denounced the sale of Charles I. to his English enemies, and, “with a tongue most resolutely denoted in loyal heart and pithie words —‘ I disagree, as honest men should doo.’” [The Rebell States, by Sir Henry Spottiswoode.] The bitter strife between the sutors of Forfar and the weavers of Kirriemuir, in 1648, we have already noticed in our article on Kirriemuir.

During the Commonwealth the town suffered much at the hands of the soldiery, on account of the loyalty of the inhabitants to the deposed King, Charles II. They secured in the Tolbooth “an intelligencer,” which so roused Colonel Ocky that he rushed north and pillaged the town, destroying all the charters and records. Hence the oldest record extant bears the date of 1660. After the Restoration, Charles II., in gratitude for their noble actions, ratified the ancient, and granted some new, privileges to the burgh; making Archibald Douglas, Earl of Forfar—a title which only existed for 54 years. We have not space to go into details about the events after this period; but we may mention the fact of the “scuffle” on the Muir between the giant M'Comies of Glenisla and the Farquharsons of Brochdarg in 1669; the murder of the Earl of Strathmore in 1728 (noticed in our article on Glamis); the “catastrophic” of Councillor Binny in 1741; the tyranny of the Tailor Association in 1844, which was the occasion of having the Act of Parliament passed, two years afterwards, to abolish corporation monopolies; and the Quixotic expedition of the Chartists from Dundee in 1842. At what time the third Castle was erased wo cannot ascertain; but a representation of it forms the dovice of the burgh seal, being a square-like building. In 1569, a writer says nothing about the state of tho Castle itself, but mentions the ruins of tho house “quhairin the constabill of Foirfair Castell duelt in the tyme of King Malcolmo Kanmoro.” In 1674, it is declared to have been “now long time ruinous;” and, ten years afterwards, Oehterlony says that “the ruins of Canmore’s Castle are yet to be seen.” There was a serious riot, in 1672, in consequence of the market being proclaimed by William Gray of Invereichty, hereditary constable of the Castle, who thus ignored the rights of the Magistrates. But, in 1748, the office, then held by the Earl of Strathmore, was, with other similar heritable jurisdictions, abolished; compensation being given by the Treasury.

The population of the parish has very much increased. In 1660, it was 1058; in 1755, 2450; in 1792, 4756; in 1881, 14,470. The valued rent is £215; the real rent, £46,346.

The town of Forfar is a singular instance in Scotland of a town of any note built at a distance from running water. It is 200 feet above sea level, 12½ miles from Brechin, 14 from Dundee, and 54 from Edinburgh. Like most old towns, it was originally without any plan; every man’s fancy dictating the site of his abode. In 1526, Boece speaks of it as having been “in time past a notable citie, though now it is brought to little more than a countrie village.” In 1684, Ochterlony says: “It is a considerable little toune, and hath some little trade of cremerie ware. It is presently building a very stately Cross.” This Cross was erected at the expense of the Crown, at the head of Castle Street (the ornament on its top being a representation of one of the Castles of Forfar. It was called, a century ago, “in the eyes of the police a nuisance as an incumbrance on the street;" and was, several years ago, removed to the Castle ruins. King James VI., shortly after he succeeded to the throne of England, when a banquet was given to him by a large English burgh, was twitted about the niggardliness of the Scotch . to which he naively replied—“The Provost o’ my burgh o’ Forfar keeps open house a’ the year round, and aye the mae that comes the welcomer”—a trite and well-known expression; but his hearers did not know that that Provost kept an alehouse. The first incorporation of trades took place in 1653 — the shoemakers, tailors, glovers, and weavers. Forfar was in those days chiefly famous for a particular kind of shoes, called “brogues,” light and coarse, and well adapted for hill-travelling. Dr. Arthur Johnstone, in 1642, wrote a Latin poem about Forfar, in which lie makes this comparison between the ancient Romans and the modern Forfarians in popular allusion to the staple trade:—

“They laid their yoke on necks of other lands,
But Forfar ties their feet and legs with bands.”

Since that time the chief occupation has been the manufacture of Osnaburghs, and other descriptions of coarse linen, carried on in a dozen large establishments, and employing a considerable number of hands. The increase in work has made a vast improvement in the buildings, the style and expense of living, and the dress of the community. Before the rebellion of 1745, there were not above seven tea-kettles and watches in Forfar; in fifty years “the meanest menial servant must have his watch, and tea-kettles are the necessary furniture of the poorest house in the parish.” At the one period, a leg of good beef, of 70 lb. weight, could be bought for 5s; a leg of veal, 5d; a leg of mutton, 8d. Very seldom was an ox killed till the greater part of the carcase had been bespoken. A man, who had bought a shilling’s worth of beef or an ounce of tea, would havo concealed it from his neighbours like murder. Yet Sir Thomas the Rhymer’s faith in the enterprise of the inhabitants never slackened; his prophecy will not come true; but by vast strides the town has improved :—

"An’ Forfar will be Forfar still,
When Dundee’s a’ dung down.”

In its municipal capacity, Forfar is governed by a provost, two bailies, a treasurer, eleven councillors, and four deacons of crafts. Before the great Reform Act, the Town Council had the privilege of choosing a delegate to vote for the election of one representative in Parliament for the burghs of Perth, Dundee, St. Andrews, Cupar-Fife, and Forfar ; now Forfar is united with Arbroath, Bervie, Brechin, and Montrose, in sending one member, the franchise being extended to householders.

Three famous men are claimed by Forfar, either for birth or residence. Dr. Thomas Abercromby, physician to King James VII., and the author of a “Treatise on Wit,” was born in Forfar in 1656. From 1780 to 1797, Dr. John Jamieson, of “Scottish Dictionary” repute, laboured as pastor of the anti-burgher congregation for the miserable pittance of fifty pounds a year; though the people thought he was “uncommonly well paid.” And Mr. George Don, whose high botanical attainments would have shed a lustre over any age, resided in Forfar in the early part of this century.

The inhabitants of Forfar have always been of a wonderfully distinct and peculiar caste of mind and temperament; though doubtless their habits have been much exaggerated. Not that they are more particularly godless than in other manufacturing towns; yet Dr. Jamieson with hidden humour thus wrote of them:— “My worthy friends of the burgh of Forfar have never been accused of going to an extreme in religion;” and we cannot but smile at the jocular inventor of the legend that the evil one reserved this town as his peculiar care. There was a time when, as the writer of the “Old Statistical Account” remarks, there was an undue “multiplicity of low ale-houses, these seminaries of impiety and dissipation.” This was the occasion of the revengeful retort of a nobleman who had been “skinned” by a Forfar solicitor:—“If a few hogsheads of whisky were tumbled into the Loch, the drucken writers o’ Forfar would soon drink it dry.” Yet, strange to say, there was not a beggar in the landward part of the parish, and only five were found in the town; and these were furnished with a permission ticket by the Kirk-Session—the general character of the people being praiseworthy, so far as “industry, economy, and hospitality” go. In 1699, a remarkable warrant was issued by the Sheriff, that a certain thief should "have his right ear cut off, and his female accomplice should be burnt on the right cheek, by the hand of the common hangman, in the presence of the Magistrates of Forfar.” The rimes from the Loch kill the delicate, and strengthen the strong; yet, epidemics, though they sometimes appear, are not now more fatal than in other neighbouring communities, which may bo accounted for by the recent efficient drainage of the town.

Being the County-town it is now comfortable and well-built. Many of the shops are spacious and elegant. The Parish Church was erected in 1791; altered in 183G ; and had a new spire (150 feet high) built in 1814. Within it are some neat marble tablets. The Town-house is not now used as a prison, the lower part being employed for the Free Library, and the upper part for County meetings; in that hall there are some excellent portraits by Opie and Raeburn. The old County Buildings adjoining were built in 1830. The County Prison is outside the town, and close to it were built the Sheriff Court Houses, in 1871. A Hall for public meetings was erected, in 18G9, by Peter Reid, of “Forfar Rock” celebrity, at a cost of £6000, and presented to the town; for which ho was made Provost: that house must be substantial when founded on rock Besides the Parish Church, and the quoad sacra Parish Church of St James’s, there are two Free Churches (one of which was recently built, and is a handsome edifice); a United Presbyterian, an Independent, a Baptist, and a magnificent Episcopalian Church (erected in 1881 at the cost of £12,000).

Forfar is the seat of a resident sheriff; courts being regularly held for a considerable part of the county. There are five schools and an Academy in the parish. The Burgh Academy is well suited for a High-Class School, commanding as a centre a considerable distance around ; but it is unfortunately still under the equalizing Code-regime. A well laid-out cemetery of eleven acres has in it a commanding monument of Sir Robert Peel. There are six banks, five hotels, and one weekly newspaper. The Corporation revenue, arising from lands and customs, has increased from £400 per annum, in 1792, to £3094, in 1883. The Caledonian Railway from Perth to Aberdeen has a station at Forfar; and the direct line from Forfar to Dundee was completed in 1870. The roads are excellent.

There is a weekly market for com on Monday and Saturday—when changed from Friday we cannot trace; fairs, for cattle, horses, &c., on the 2nd Wednesday of April and October, 1st Wednesday (o.s.) of May, Wednesday after the 1st Tuesday of July and August, Friday after the 3rd Thursday of June, last Wednesday of September, and the 1st Wednesday of November ; and feeing markets on the Saturday after the old terms of Whitsunday and Martinmas. These special fairs go by the name of St. Valentine, All Saints, St. Peter (probably held at one time near Rostinoth Priory), St. James (the principal fair), St. Trodline (St. Triduana, once held at the kirk-style of Rescobie), St. Margaret (in honour of Malcolm’s Queen), and St. Etheman (to whom some chapel near had been inscribed).

The American war was a perfect “godsend” to the manufacturers of Forfar; one having been heard muttering to himself that though formerly they were making sovereigns in “gowpenfus,” they were now making them in “hat-fies.” There is considerable wealth accumulated about the town; though brisker times would now be a welcome blessing.

We have required to cramp ourselves very much in this notice, on account of our limited space; though we had ample material for much interesting writing and reading. But we conclude it by hoping that the town will keep up, even in these dull times, the high financial character and sterling business honour which the Rev. Mr Bruce ascribed to it at the close of last century “It has been observed, to the honour of the Merchants of Forfar, by the people from a distance who have had long and extensive dealings in this country, that there is no town in Angus, where they find fewer bankruptcies and more punctual payments.”

These sketches of the development of the past in the present of Strathmore have taught us by experience how to work on in the living movement of true progress. May we so work now that, when the time conies that we cannot work, we can look on our country and our lives with this gladdened retrospect:—

“Oh! through the twilight of autumnal years,
How sweet the back-look on our first youth-world!”


Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus