The Last Thatched House In Crieff
Extracted from Crieff Past & Present published 21 January 1888
Among the many new and fine buildings in the town, the churches are a leading feature with their handsome outlines and lofty spires. Within the past few years The Established, Free, UP and Episcopalian Churches have erected noble edifices costing over £20 000 the hotels are also splendid buildings, and the banks are well represented in the architecture of the town All kinds of property have rapidly improved during the last 30 years and , with one exception in Hill Wynd , all the thatched houses have disappeared
In the mode of living there is a very great difference from what it used be . It is not so long since a room and closet were considered sufficient for a family , and ventilation was never taken into consideration . According to the size of the family there would be from one to five beds in the two apartments We have seen four beds placed two and two like those in the cabin of a ship , and beds were common with castors to wheel from underneath others to the middle of the floor . Box beds of Rannoch fir were much in use . They closed like a press and were favourite haunts for insects The sleeping room was also the kitchen Pigs were indispensable household gods and were at all convenient the piggeries were placed as near the dwelling house as possible Most families had two and many three swine . Not infrequently the piggeries were close to the back windows of the houses and in warm summer weather the smells and fly annoyance were terrible . When fevers visited the town the results were always severely fatal . The rearing of pigs caused an extraordinary amount of labour on the wife and younger branches of the family . As a rule there were no scarcity of potatoes previous to the disease of 1846 , but bedding for the pigs , consisting of ferns , fog or moss and grass had to be carried regularly from the neighbouring plantations . Draff and burned ale were conveyed in barrows from the distilleries and breweries . There was a goodly number of cows which also required continuous attention , but such labour in a monetary point of view was seldom thought of .
Many of the wives had been more or less brought up amongst the farmers , and agricultural habits often remained with them . The room of the house often resembled a miniature farm steading . The fire had a succession of pots to boil from morning to late at night , and the floor – generally an earthen one – was studded with buckets , pails , pots , pans , miscellaneous basins , bowls and plates with detachments of firewood – generally tree branches , large and small .If large , the end of the stick was put below the boiling pot , and as it burned it was pushed into the fire . This was much easier in the older style of hearths where the fire was on the hearthstone on a level with the floor and the smoke had a choice of exit either by a square wooden funnel suspended above the fire or by any of the windows , doors or crevices of the dwelling . It was in the funnel that hams were smoked .In doing this properly peats had to be used as fuel .
The kindling of fires required some art in those days . Where the old hearths were in use a peat would smoulder all night and a little blowing would make blaze nicely in the morning but where there were grates , other means were resorted to. At that time there were spunk makers who vended their wares from house to house .The spunk was a piece of fir root some 4 inches long , split thin and narrow with a top of brimstone on each end . Each family had a tinder box , a tin box about 3 inches in diameter and 1 inch deep , into which was placed the remains or tinder of burnt cotton . On a piece of steel being struck on flint , sparks were emitted out which on reaching the tinder kept red till touched with the top of the spunk . The brimstone took fire , and the old cruisie or lamp was lighted . When the matches or “ Lucifer matches “ as they were called , were introduced about half a century ago , the match was placed between a folded bit of sand paper and by a quick pull , the Lucifer ignited . Things improved in a year or two , and the present system of casting matches was invented . A not infrequent practice was to look for a neighbour’s chimney smoking and then enter the house and borrow a light .
The parish minister writing nearly a century ago , says : “ Instead of the grave and solid productions of the country , the gay cloths , silks , muslins , and printed cottons of England adorn on Sundays almost every individual “ . The grave and solid productions were plaiden and other woollen stuffs and linen . Blue plaiden was , and still is , much in use in rural districts , but other articles of dress change with the fashions .
The old women wore “ soubacks “ or clean mutches peaked up at the back , and almost all the young women and girls went bare headed and bare footed . About the beginning of the century boys had blue kilts and jackets , and ran without bonnet or shoes till they were seven or eight years of age .
The men about the beginning of the century wore clothes mostly of blue and gray , knee - breeches and shoes with buckles were much in fashion , as were also tartan cloaks .
About 50 years ago shepherd check plaids came into use and various modes of folding them exercised the ingenuity of the lieges . When the Queen was at Crieff in 1842 , the troops of Ferntower farmers had them on in the newest style . The plaid was folded narrow , the middle placed in front of the body , the ends passed back below each arm , crossed at the back , passed over each shoulder , then down in front and fixed under the part , in front of the body .
When a tradesman prepared for marriage he secured a beaver hat a guinea and long boots also costing a guinea . A brown or blue swallow tailed coat having brass buttons with a fancy silk or velvet vest covered the body . The linen shirt had a very high collar reaching the ears , round which was wound a big neckerchief like a brecham which held the starched collar firmly up , so that the head could scarcely move to either side . These wedding “ braws “ often served a lifetime , and occasionally his grandson got the vest made down to suit his wear.
The tailor about the end of the last century did not sit cross – legged . He was usually a knowing tradesman . His visit to a rural family was an event , and usually some of the neighbours made it a point to be present to hear and enjoy his funny stories and news . The tailor got from 10d to 1s and his food for a day’s work . Shoes and boots were made to suit either foot , and were by most people carefully shifted each morning , so that what the right foot wore one day , the left had the next . Shoemakers then , like the tailors , whipt - the – cat that is , went to the house of the customer and did the work there . Such was the style of shoe or brogue making that one shoe maker , after softening the upper leather early in the morning , could make the shoes for the family before he ceased work at night , getting 8d or 10d and his food for so doing .
Packmen or “ dusty feet “ did a large trade . Woollen , linen and cotton cloth with the necessary accompaniments of needles , thimbles, scissors , thread &c, formed their principal stock , which they carried hither and thither through the country . Chapmen or booksellers , were numerous . Their pamphlet usually sold at 1d and 2d , and included the Histories of William Wallace , King Robert the Bruce , George Buchanan , Leper the Tailor , and any amounts of stories , ballads and songs . The last confessions and dying speeches of condemned criminals sold well . Tinklers roamed in squads , and sold and mended pots and pans . They supplied the inhabitants with horn spoons , from the short “ cuttle “ to the elegant ornamented “ broth spoons “ . It is not so many years since metal spoons came into general use .
At that time bowls and other domestic utensils were made of wood . Bickers , turned bowls , stoups , pails and buckets , &c, &c , gave the coopers plenty of employment . In 1800 there was a severe dearth , and the poorer classes had much ado to find and pay for food . One old man , named Sinclair , learning that pease meal could be got at the Mill of Gask – some nine miles away – set out one morning for two pecks of it . On his way home he foregathered with a pedlar who had bowls of earthenware . A bargain was struck , and Sinclair carried home a small bowl , which was exhibited to the neighbours as something really new . it was for long carefully kept for show in a press with a glass front .