I have always admired College Buildings at the top end of East High Street partly because of its distinctive architecture but also on account if its unusual history . A story written by author and artist Constance Frederika Gordon Cumming many years ago relates that the building was built by a Dr Malcolm to “ educate medical students ” . Its later usage as a boarding school known as St Margaret’s College confuses matters even further ! Even in the present age of post codes and general anonymity Crieffites still refer to it as “ College Buildings ”. Who then was Dr Malcolm and to which “ college “ do we refer ?
My investigation into Dr Malcolm begin in the confused mode ! I had received a copy of Perthshire in Bygone Days from a respected long established inhabitant of the town . I have become attuned to being the repository for a fascinating assortment of historical nick nacks and this one indeed proved quite fascinating . Published in 1879 ( Whittingham , London ) , it was sub titled “ One Hundred Biographical Essays ” and the author was a PR Drummond FSA. It was dedicated to the “ Presidents and Members of the Perthshire Societies of Edinburgh , Glasgow and Dundee . ” To my delight it included a piece on “ Dr Malcolm , Madderty “ but surprise , surprise , it was included within a section headed “Perthshire Poets” I was becoming quite intrigued at this stage According to the author Malcolm was born in the house attached to the school house in Madderty in 1763 , the son of the local school master and session clerk of the local kirk . The genalogist in me felt this somewhat bare so I checked out the old parish registers of Madderty and discovered that he had been born not in 1763 but on the 29th of April 1765 and baptised on the 10th of May of that year . ” Mr John Malcolm and Jean Murray in schoolhouse had son born and baptised and named between 1 and 2 afternoon - David ” In 18th century Scotland , the minister , doctor and the dominie were top of the tree in the local social stakes and young David seems to have benefitted from his father’s comparitive prosperity . My researches revealed that young David was not alone in the schoolhouse . The prolific Malcolms produced some eight bairns - five boys and three girls . David was the third oldest behind sister Mary and brother John . The large family did not seem to hinder John Malcolm giving the best of opportunities to young David . After a sound start under the tutelage of his father , David moved to Edinburgh “ where he obtained distinguished academical honours ” It seemed that he had more than just a flair for languages but was anxious to become a minister , a decision which appears to have been endorsed by his supportive father . He was so proficient in Greek , Latin and Hebrew that he applied , as it happened unsuccessfully , for Chair of Oriental Languages at Oxford University at the age of thirty . The power of the family was such that David returned to Madderty where he not only assisted his father in the school but was “ licensed “ as a preacher and appeared regularly in the local pulpit .
After his father’s death his attributes as a teacher came to the fore . It was at this time that David built what we know as College Buildings in East High Street . They were built as three separate houses and it was his intention to start an “ academy ” . For some reason this did not materialise and the houses were let out . Eventually the school got under way and seems to have been quite successful . Malcolm authored the “ Genealogical History of the House of Drummond ”, a work of considerable research which was published by Henry Drummond the London banker . His ambition to be a poet was realised when his “ The Sorrows of Love ” was published . Despite his great intellectual and academic abilities it is generally considered that as a poet he was somewhat indifferent . Malcolm did not marry and on the death of his father it was his mother who helped run the boarding school in College Buildings . His biographer PR Drummond who had been a pupil of the school gives a quite depressing account of life within its hallowed walls .
“ After the family troubles began , poor old Mrs Malcolm got blamed regardless , and the boarders were absolutely driven away by the filthy state in which the house was kept .Charles Penney , the last of his race , called one day at William Oswald’s , and being treated to a piece of bread and butter , unfortunatley let it fall , but picking it up smartly , he explained , “ What ! the buttered side up ? If it had been in our ain dirty hole , it was down as sure as death ! ”
Despite the obvious inadequacies of the school , Malcolm continued to lead a varied an intersting life . He was made an LL.D ( Doctor of Laws ) of Edinburgh University in 1814 and was appointed on of the Chaplains in Ordinary in Scotland to the Prince of Wales , later to be George lV . He also acted as part time factor to Miss Preston of Ferntower prior to her marriage to Sir David Baird . She of course was the owner of the lands and farms in Madderty where David had grown up. His biography is sad in that a person of such intelligence and intellectual ability failed to have the necessary acumen to achieve success commercially Perhaps he should have stuck to what he did best . His attempts to receive recognition as a poet in reality failed despite the second edition of his poems being published . The school in Malcolm’s College Buildings slumped out of existence . He died on the 25th of May 1833 and was buried in the churchyard at Madderty . No stone marks the last resting place of a man who deserves to be remembered
David Mallet (c. 1700- ),
“Wi' haffit locks sae smooth and sleek,
John look'd like ony ancient Greek.”
History often treats individuals cruelly. The passage of time frequently pushes individuals out of our perspective into comparative obscurity. In the annals of Crieff, the name of David Mallett is now virtually forgotten. Mallett’s real surname was Malloch and it was only when resident in London did metropolitan pressure decide him to soften the pronunciation by changing it to the former. His origins seem to be in doubt. One school of thought claims he was the son of an innkeeper in Crieff born about 1700. Malloch’s Inn was the Pretoria of its day and indeed was located close to its modern counterpart. These Malloch’s were connected to Rob Roy and it was a favourite haunt of the outlaw when he visited the town on business during the Michaelmas Tryst.
Malloch was educated in Crieff before moving on to Aberdeen and then to Edinburgh where after a short menial spell as a janitor at the High School of Edinburgh, he landed the position as an unpaid tutor to the family of a Mr Home of Dreghorn. His ambition led him to a similar position to the family of the Duke of Montrose but with a salary of £30 per annum. Eventually he moved with the family to London where his poetic propensities began to flourish and he found himself associating with such notables as Alexander Pope and Frederick, Prince of Wales. Another of his friends was fellow poet and Roxburgh born Scot, James Thomson. It is commonly believed Thomson was the author of Rule Britannia that beloved anthem of the Prom last nighters but more than one literary authority claims that was Malloch (aka Mallett) who was in fact its composer.
Mallett was not averse to dirty deeds. The Duchess of Marlborough left him a £1000 as a bequest plus a pension for life to write the memoirs of the Duke. On Mallett’s death it was discovered that not a word had been written! He maligned the memory of his old friend Pope as well as ascertaining the cowardice of Admiral Byng in battle. Byng was subsequently court marshalled and shot for cowardice despite public opinion being on his side. Mallett received yet another pension. Samuel Johnson wrote a strong piece of vengeful sarcasm about Mallett and his fawning admiration of the two faced politician Viscount Bolingbroke. “ Bolingbroke was a scoundrel and a coward – a scoundrel to charge a blunderbuss against Christianity and a coward, because he durst not fire it himself, but left a shilling to a beggarly Scotsman to draw the trigger after his death “
On reflection, the obscurity of the memory of this son of Crieff is perhaps, understandable.
Andrew McCowan ( 1874- 1951 ) is the person responsible for putting money in the pockets of generations of school dentists . The Muthill born entrepreneur moved from the Strath when in his teens to Falkirk and ended up founding the company famed for its Highland Toffee . That gooey bar in the wrapper with the big Highland cow beaming out at you ! Penny Dainties and other school day treats earned his fame and fortune . The oft repeated biographical tale of the boy born and brought up on the farm some four miles from Crieff does not properly reveal what was , to put it mildly , a chaotic early life . In the Victorian era , the morals of society were often focused on family life . Underneath the veneer of respectability lurked a two faced hypocrisy .Birth certificates were designed to ensure you were accurately labelled from infancy . The word “ illegitimate” was clearly included in the name column if the mother had been guilty of an indiscretion . Andrew was born in the village of Muthill on 7th of July 1874 to Catherine Robb , a forty year old farm worker or day labourer as it was then termed . He was described as being “ illegitimate “ despite the fact that his mum was described as being married . The certificate carried a hand written statement from Daniel McIntosh the Registrar of Muthill . It stated “ Catherine Robb ms ( maiden surname ) Mcowan ( sic ) wife of James Robb , soldier who informant states has been separated from for several years and that he is not father of the child “ .Catherine signed the certificate with a cross witnessed by McIntosh . Seven years later in the census of 1881 , Catherine and Andrew and his big sister Ellen are living on Castleton Auchterarder . Catherine is described as being married and working as an out door worker . She was aged 47 and sadly died in the October of that year from on going heart disease . Interestingly , the informant to the death was her oldest child John who was living in Glasgow and signed his name not Robb , nor McCowan but Carmichael ! Catherine is described as the widow of James Robb , shoemaker . Further research discovered that Catherine had married James Robb on the 13th of June 1862 in Pittenzie , Crieff . A son Joseph was born to the couple on the 2nd of March the following year but as to the parentage of John there is some doubt . He was born in Muthill some five years prior to the marriage but there appears there is no record of his birth . Andrew was left an orphan aged seven . Perhaps it is understandable that he considered that the Strath did not owe him very much and some ten years later at the ripe old age of seventeen he moved to the Falkirk to find his fortune. He met and married Jessie Ross in 1897 . His first job was as a lemonade delivery man , he quickly realised that he could earn a little extra cash by selling sweets into the shops as he went around with the lemonade. It was only a small step from this to owning his own shop in Stenhousemuir just beside Falkirk. By the start of the First World War he had started manufacturing his own Tablet over an old coke burner. By 1920 he also made Rock, Snowballs, lollypops and macaroon, and in 1922 he moved into the current premises. During the depression Andrew realised that he had to find another market so he struck upon the idea of small, cheap, toffee chews, McCowan’s World Famous Highland Toffee was launched. Andrew died in Falkirk of a heart attack in 1951 .He was seventy seven .
Witchcraft in Strathearn – Part Two of Two
The following survey into witchcraft in Scotland in the 17th and 18th centuries was carried out some years back by the Department of History in Edinburgh Univrsity and makes interesting reading !
How many witches were there in Scotland ?
A. We have identified a total number of 3,837 people who were accused of witchcraft in Scotland. 3,212 of these are named and there are a further 625 unnamed people or groups included in our database. This is not a complete figure (see How complete is the database?), but it is probably fairly accurate.
Older accounts of the subject tended to produce much higher figures, such as 4,500 or 30,000. Sometimes these figures are still repeated, but they are based on speculation rather than detailed research. Usually they are given as figures for executions, making them even more misleading. Similarly, a figure of 9 million witches executed in Europe is sometimes given, when most scholars agree that it was about 60,000. These exaggerations are unfortunate. We think that 3,837 people accused of witchcraft is a lot.
How many witches were executed ?
A. It's hard to tell, but certainly not all. Of the 3,212 named individuals, we know the sentence of a trial in only 305 cases. 205 of these were to be executed, 52 were acquitted, 27 were banished, 11 were declared fugitive, 6 were excommunicated, 2 were put to the horn (outlawed), 1 person was to be kept in prison and 1 person was to be publicly humiliated. In addition, a further 98 were recorded as having fled from prosecution. This seems to suggest that 67%, two-thirds, were executed.
But this figure is probably not very accurate. It is based on only 305 cases—less than a tenth of the 3,212 people known to have been accused. The question is whether the 305 cases were typical, and in two ways they were not. Firstly, most of them come from trials in the central justiciary court (see What courts were involved?). This probably acquitted a higher proportion of witches than local courts—and most trials were in local courts. Secondly, however, our 3,212 people include a number whom we found being investigated by the church authorities. Probably some of these went on to receive a criminal trial, and may then have been executed; but others' cases were probably dropped before they came to trial. The first of the problems would suggest that the overall execution rate was higher than 67%; the second problem would suggest that it was lower. That does not mean that the figure of 67% is correct; it means that there is a good deal of uncertainty about it.
How many were women ?
A. Most, but not all: 84% were women and 15% men. The sex is not known for 1% of those accused.
Were they old?
A. Based on the age of the accused that we were able to record:
7% were aged under 20
8% were between 20 and 30
22% were between 30 and 40
22% were between 40 and 50
31% were between 50 and 60
7% were between 60 and 70
4% were over 70.
Thus about half were over 40 when accused, at a time when life expectancies were considerably lower than they are today. The age of the majority of people accused is not known.
It should also be remembered that many 'witches' were defined as witches by their neighbours, through a process of gossip and quarrelling. Witches were believed to be malicious and vengeful. If someone suffered a misfortune after a quarrel, they might conclude that the other person had bewitched them in revenge. In trials involving neighbours' testimony, the accused witch is often seen to have lived with their reputation for a long time—twenty or even forty years. These witches were old when they were tried, but they were younger when they first acquired their reputation.
Were they widowed ?
A. It's hard to say. Of those women whose marital status was recorded the majority were married—78%. Those who were recorded as widowed accounted for 19%. But marital status is unknown for the great majority of those accused. The problem is that a married woman would be more likely to have her status recorded, because she had a husband with an interest in his wife's trial. An unmarried woman or widow did not need to have her marital status mentioned. So these figures are probably untypical, and at present we don't know how untypical.
Where did they come from ?
A. 32% of named accused witches came from the Lothians. Strathclyde and the west produced 14%, and 12% were from Fife, 9% from the Borders, Grampian including Aberdeen produced 7%, Tayside and the Highlands and Islands produced 6% each, 5% were from Caithness, Orkney and Shetland, and 2% from Central region. The remainder came from unknown locations. The population of early modern Scotland was more evenly distributed than it is today, so the preponderance of witches in Scotland's central belt is really striking. The top county for witch-hunting was Haddingtonshire (East Lothian).
When were they prosecuted ?
A. The Witchcraft Act was in force between 1563 and 1736. Between these years there were five episodes that stand out as periods of high level accusation and prosecution of witches: 1590-1, 1597, 1628-30, 1649 and 1661-2. These episodes of high level accusation were not national but were the result of a number of local or regional activities, particularly the Lothians. Prosecution in other parts of Scotland was more varied and many areas follow a very different chronological pattern to that of the Lothians
Were the witches known as midwives or healers ?
A. Not usually. We have recorded 9 individuals whose occupation was recorded as being a midwife, and for 10 people midwifery practices were included as part of the accusations of witchcraft levelled against them. This is a tiny percentage of the overall total. Folk healing was more common and featured in the witchcraft accusations of 141 people—about 4%. Even so, it was not something that the typical witch seems to have engaged in—though the beliefs that underpinned folk healing were closely related to witchcraft beliefs. If magic could be used to heal, it could also be used to harm.
Were these witches poor ?
A. No, at least not by contemporary standards. It is difficult to classify early modern people into socio-economic categories, but of those individuals whose status was indicated the majority fell into the middle range—64%. The total of those who came from lower socio-economic categories—lower, very poor and landless—accounted for 29%, with upper, lairds and nobility accounting for 6%. We do not know this information for the majority of those accused, but these figures may be typical
How does Scotland compare with England and the rest of Europe ?
A. Comparisons are interesting but at the same time can tell us relatively little. They are also influenced by which part of Europe is used as a comparison. A gender division of 85% women and 15% men is seen in most other parts of Europe, but in areas like Estonia, Russia and Finland the percentage of men accused is as high and in some areas higher than of women. In Iceland the percentage of men executed was as high as 90%. It is possible therefore to say that Scotland is quite similar to the rest of mainland Europe, but France and many parts of Germany, where many of the European witch trials occurred, were politically, religiously and culturally quite different from Scotland. The Scandinavian comparison should not be ignored even if it demonstrates very different patterns.
Were the witches tortured ?
A. Yes. Torture was used to exact confessions—though we don't know how often, as the records that survive in most cases aren't the kinds that mention it. In theory, torture was only to be used with the permission of the state; however in reality it would seem that torture was frequently used without any official permission. It was not until after the 1661-2 period of high level witch accusations that the privy council issued a declaration that torture was only to be used with its permission. Despite this, torture continued to be used in many cases, even as late as 1704.
What kinds of torture were used ?
A. The most common form was sleep deprivation—a very effective way of obtaining confessions, because it leads to hallucination. Before 1662 this was rarely regarded officially as torture at all. It was usually done by local authorities—burgh bailies, or elders of the kirk session—in order to get the evidence that they needed before they went to the privy council to obtain a commission to hold a criminal trial.
Occasionally, physical tortures were used—particularly in the 'North Berwick' witchcraft panic of 1590-1, where the witches were accused of treason against King James VI. The pamphlet Newes from Scotland (1591), from which our illustration comes, describes these tortures with relish. But they were unusual.
What about the swimming test ?
A. This was hardly ever used in Scotland, though it was in some other countries. It's often said that witches were detected by dropping them in water. If they floated they were guilty; if they sank they were innocent—but they drowned. This is a misunderstanding, since ropes were tied to them to pull them out of the water. In Scotland the swimming test was used for an unknown number of suspects in 1597, but it seems to have been discredited on that occasion, and we have found no evidence that it was ever used again.
What evidence was used in the trials?
A. Four main types were used.
1. Confession evidence, often extracted under torture. Typically if a suspect was interrogated they would be expected to confess to making a pact with the Devil and to harming their neighbours by maleficent witchcraft, though one or other of these was often omitted.
2. Neighbours' testimony. Statements by neighbours usually ignored the Devil. They usually described quarrels with the suspect followed by misfortune they had suffered.
3. Other witches' testimony. When witches were interrogated they were sometimes asked about their accomplices. The people they named could then be arrested and interrogated. This was an effective way of increasing the numbers of suspects; it seems mainly to have happened during short periods of intense witch-hunting.
4. The Devil's mark. The Devil was believed to mark his followers at the time when they made a pact with him, as a parody of Christian baptism. A physical search of the suspect's body could find this mark—either a visible bodily blemish or an insensitive spot. The insensitive spot was discovered by pricking with pins, sometimes by the interrogators themselves and sometimes by itinerant professional witch-prickers (of whom about 10 are known to have acted in Scotland).
Was it a rapid process from accusation to execution?
A. Not necessarily. The length of time between initial accusation, or denunciation, to trial and possible execution was not set and could vary greatly. Some individuals appear to have had a long reputation before they were investigated or may have been in trouble with the church authorities a number of times before they were investigated for witchcraft. In some cases there may have been some investigation decades before the official date of prosecution. On the other hand some cases appear to have been processed very quickly. There were also numerous acquittals, as well as other occasional outcomes—escape from prison, or death in prison either from natural causes or from suicide.
What courts were involved?
A. Several types of court, often with their own specialised roles. More than one could be involved in the same case at different stages.
1. Local church courts (kirk sessions and presbyteries). These were often the bodies to which people complained about witchcraft; they interrogated suspects and gathered evidence from neighbours. But they had no criminal jurisdiction; they couldn't execute witches. So they had to pass the case on to one of the following:
2. Privy council, committee of estates or parliament. These were central bodies that didn't hold trials themselves, but they did issue commissions (known as 'commissions of justiciary') authorising people to hold trials. See no. 6 below.
3. Court of justiciary. The highest criminal court, held usually in Edinburgh. Tried numerous witches.
4. Circuit courts. Travelling versions of the court of justiciary that occasionally visited the localities. Often tried witches when they were held.
5. Regular local courts (sheriff courts, burgh courts). Witchcraft was a serious crime, normally beyond their jurisdiction.
6. Local criminal courts held under commissions of justiciary (issued by the bodies listed in 2 above). These were usually ad hoc courts convened to try just one person for one crime. Most Scottish witches were tried in such courts. Few of their records survive, though we do usually have a record of the issue of a commission.
How were witches executed?
A. Those convicted were almost always strangled at the stake and then their dead body was burned. We have records of 141 sentences specifying an execution method; 120 were for strangling and burning. Of the 17 sentenced simply to burning, many may have been strangled first—though a very small number are known to have been burned alive. In the sentences of beheading (3) and hanging (1), crimes other than witchcraft were also involved.
Who profited financially from witch-hunting?
A. Hardly anyone. Witches' goods were often confiscated by the courts, but most witches were too poor for this to be lucrative; only rarely would it cover the cost of pre-trial imprisonment, obtaining a trial commission, holding a court and organising an execution. Attempts to organise the prosecution of richer suspects were sometimes mounted, but these usually failed. The main people to benefit financially from witch-hunting were low-level official servants—jailers and executioners—plus a few witch-prickers. By contrast, most of the people involved in witch-hunting gave up time and money to do it. They did so because they believed in what they were doing. Witches were hated and feared, and it was important to eliminate them.
Did witches meet in groups of thirteen?
A. No. There are some cases where people described meeting in groups and indulging in communal rituals. However, the numbers involved varied greatly: from 2 to over 100, and in one case 2,400. Moreover, most of these meetings were probably invented by suspects under heavy pressure to confess. The stereotype coven of 13 is a modern invention. The idea derives largely from the confession of a Scottish witch, Isobel Gowdie, but there are so many fantastic elements in this confession that it cannot be taken as a literal account of what she had done.
Did they worship the Devil?
A. No, but they were thought to do so. Descriptions of meeting the Devil and entering a relationship or pact with him feature in the majority of our records that have detailed information. This relationship with the Devil was crucial to the church and the law in proving someone was guilty of witchcraft. 90% of those whose records show demonic features were women. Many people were tortured into confessing to Devil-worship. We have not seen any evidence of an organised witchcraft cult.
Did they have drug-induced hallucinations?
A. No. Television has recently popularised the dubious idea that the symptoms of demonic possession were really ergotism—a disease caused by eating rye contaminated by the ergot fungus. Those afflicted accused others of 'bewitching' them, thus causing witch hunts. The theory of ergotism was originally developed to explain the witchcraft panic of 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts; it has largely been discredited there, and has had little success anywhere else. There is certainly no evidence for it in Scotland, where very little rye was eaten.
What did witches look like?
A. Some contemporary Continental woodcuts show so-called witches with strange or grotesque appearances, but in reality there is little evidence for what those accused of witchcraft looked like or wore. Probably they were much the same as everyone else. Our illustration shows witches wearing the normal dress of the period.
Did they fly on broomsticks and own cats?
A. There are a few descriptions of accused witches shape shifting, mostly as animals or some form of apparition, and sometimes they were said to have flown. However, in Scotland they did not claim to use broomsticks—this is a Continental idea.
Familiars—particularly in the form of cats—are another feature commonly associated with witches today. However, at the time, familiars were mainly found in England. There are only 9 cases where we have identified what could categorically be defined as a familiar, so this does not seem to have been an important aspect of Scottish witchcraft.
How did witch-hunting come to an end?
A. The lawyers in charge of the central courts gradually became less convinced that the usual kinds of evidence could prove guilt. The validity of confessions made under torture was questioned, and pricking for the Devil's mark came to be seen as fraudulent. During some of the major panics, notably in 1661-2, there were miscarriages of justice which led to tightening up of procedures. After the Glorious Revolution of 1689 the state became more secular and no longer needed to prove its godliness by executing witches. A trickle of local prosecutions continued—the last was in 1727. The Scottish Witchcraft Act was repealed in 1736 when the British Parliament decided to repeal the parallel English act. The 1736 Act abolished the crime of witchcraft and replaced it by a new crime of 'pretended witchcraft' with a maximum penalty of one year's imprisonment.
This is fascinating, where can I find out more?
A. This 'Introduction' has given some idea of the kind of information you can find within the database; check it out for yourself. But the database won't tell you everything, and this project isn't in a position to answer enquiries. At this point, you probably need to read a book. The Internet is full of poor-quality and downright misleading information on witchcraft, whereas there are some really good books. For these, see our Further Reading section. We do have some Links to other websites, but most of these tell you about books.
Survey of Scottish Witchcraft,
Scottish History, School of History and Classics,
The University of Edinburgh,
17 Buccleuch Place,
Edinburgh, EH8 9LN
Witchcraft in Strathearn – Part One of Two
The 17th century was a time in Scotland when the Kirk and the King , James the Vl were somewhat paranoiac about witches and witchcraft . In 1643. John Brughe, "the notorious Crook-of-Devon Warlock" had long been a terror to the Kinross district. It was proven at his trial that he had "met the devil at the Rumbling Brigg"; and that he and others had "met Satan thrice in the Kirkyard of Glendevon, and at such a time there had taken up there several dead corpses, one of them being a servant man named John Chyrystiesone, other corpses were taken up at the kirk of Muckhart and the flesh of one of the corpses was put in the byres of certain individuals to destroy their cattle “. For these, along with several other "horrid crimes" John was tried in Culross in November this year, and his "doom" was that he be "first strangled and then burnt," which was done, it seems, on the gallows knowe of Crook-of-Devon between the years 1560 and 1700. It now appears extraordinary that such an amount of faith should have been placed in the existence of "Warlocks and Witches." and in their capabilities. These instances appeared immediately after the Reformation. The reasons behind this are in all probability to do with the sudden change in attitudes that prevailed .
Some years later in 1662., Crook-of-Devon, was, it would appear from old Registers and trials, "greatly infested with witches and warlocks " .At least 10 persons were tried for their "wicked practices and several of them "brunt quick," that is to say burnt alive at Crook of Devon.
Not far from Crook of Devon lies the village of Dunning Dunning has a memorial to Maggie Wall a so called witch . Her story has been covered in many books and pamphlets over the years The historian and author Archie McKerracher in his book on Perthshire says that a wreath is left at the cairn each year, with a card saying 'In memory of Maggie Wall, Burnt by the Church in the Name of Christianity'.
Nobody knows what her 'crime' was. Perhaps somebody's cow took sick and died and Maggie got the blame. Maybe she just knew too much for her own good about the special properties of herbs and flowers. There again, perhaps the 'Witch Pricker' was called in to look for the 'Devil's Mark' on her body, and found it. This was a patch of skin stained red, brown or blue where his three-inch blade gave no pain when he pushed it in.
The truth is blacker. Probably it has more to do with politics than spells, for Maggie Wall lived and died in troubled times. She also had the bad luck to live in an area with a terrible reputation for persecuting witches. Six more were executed in Dunning in 1663, in a wood on the other side of the village. That number is terrifying for a village of perhaps a few hundred souls. Fear and hysteria were in the air and no woman was safe. A recent theory concerning Maggie Walls has been put forward by author Geoff Holder in his book Paranormal Perthshire (The History Press.2011) . Geoff states that in fact there was no such person as Maggie Walls . Indeed examination of the records do not reveal a person of that name suffering with the other unfortunates of the time . His theory is that that it was a mistranslation from an Estate Map of Lord Rollo of Duncrub produced in 1755 The map showed a field close by Duncrub House with a stone dyke referred to as Maggie’s Wall ! So Maggie may well have been around a s a witch but her surname was not Walls !
Another local legend that has been oft quoted is that of Kate McNiven. Kate from Monzie near Crieff was condemned as a witch and was publicly burned on the Knock of Crieff . Her tale is well remembered and oft repeated in this part of the Strath and indeed there are still persons of that name living in the vicinity . The cliff upon which the poor lass met her final fate is still marked on the map as Kate McNiven’s Crag . What then was the nature of the crime for which she was accused of and condemned those centuries ago ? Kate worked for one of the families of the area namely the Graemes of Inchbrakie . Kate walked each day the 2 or 3 miles from the village of Monzie to the mansion of Inchbrakie now no longer standing having being been sadly demolished about 1880 . The young nursemaid was blamed for the regular bouts of sickness of her charge , young Master Graeme . Eventually Inchbrakie sacked her to the relief of the other servants . From that moment onwards a succession of weird happenings began to occur most being attributed to the malevolent nature of the recently departed Kate .
One day in the course of business , the laird travelled across the Strath a short journey to visit his cousin at Garvock near the picturesque village of Dunning which coincidentally was another Graeme stronghold . In those days it was the custom to take with you on trip your own cutlery . During the meal, he could not get peace for a bumble bee buzzing around him . In exasperation ,he managed to get hold of it and put it out one of one of the windows. When he returned to the table he discovered to his astonishment that his knife and fork had vanished ! Together with the servants he searched high and low but to no avail . They had truly vanished ! To his utter surprise, when he returned to Inchbrakie the missing implements were there in there usual place . This together with a succession of other inexplicable events galvanised action from the authorities . Kate was brought to court , tried and convicted of witchcraft . The punishment was strangulation and burning . Inchbrakie pleaded for her to be set free but it was no good !. She was dragged up the north east face of the Knock ( the big hill behind Crieff ) to the steep cliff where such sentences were carried out . She was tied to the stake and wood was piled round about her . Inchbrakie had just arrived to ask them to set her free . Kate spotted him in the crowd and called for him to come towards her . As he did this , she lowered her head and bit off a blue bead from her necklace and spat the stone at him . As he bent to pick it up she shouted that she was grateful for his attempts to obtain her release and that she was giving him this as a keepsake . Kate however declared loudly to the gathered assembly that as long as the family kept the stone in Inchbrakie House itself , their house would br there for ever more .
The stone was set in a golden ring and kept as Kate had instructed . It was kept in a little jewel box and only daughter in laws were permitted to touch it . Many years later in the mid 1800s it is recorded that , when most of the family were abroad , the then head one Patrick Graeme opened a box of papers which had been left in his care only to find amongst them the stone set in the ring , but no longer protected within the walls of Inchbrakie . Within a few years , some ground was sold . Now , the Graemes of Inchbrakie are no longer the family they were and there ancient house has long since been flattened . The built a small memorial from its stones and that still remains today adjacent to the original site .
Another tale pertinent to Strathearn is that of the Witch of Pittentian . Pittentian strangely enough means “ the place of the witch “ in Gaelic ! The tale goes that friends were walking a long an old path and hurrying home as it was getting dark .They suddenly had the feeling that they were being followed . Turning around they surprised to see an old
woman with long grey hair and a green cape immediately behind them . They stopped to let her catch up when all of a sudden a high pitched squeaky voice yelled at them asking what they were doing here . Somewhat puzzled and taken aback they retorted that they were just out for a walk . The response was sudden and belligerent . “Go away – go away ! “
With that she twirled a round and her cape flew out from around her . To their horror they old harridan had no legs and just a body ! With a loud scream the small group started backwards just to see the creature vanish under a large adjacent boulder by the pathway . Summoning up sufficient courage they took a few steps forward to look closer at the large rock . To their amazement there was no sign of anything – she had completely vanished ! Similar tales have been told regarding this particular apparition . Once such appeared in the Strathearn Herald back in
September 1985 and is recounted verbatim :
Was there a witch of Pittentian ? A woman who can still appear in human form hundreds of years later ? Mrs Margaret Mills , Pittentian Cottages , a member of the staff of the Crown Inn Hotel in East High Street believes so and has corroborative evidence albeit it from a young son who like herself saw the apparition .
It was last Sunday afternoon around 4.30 pm when Margaret took her four children Barry ( 9 ) Scott ( 6 )Louise ( 4) and a friend Darren Grant( 6 ) along with a very intelligent dog “Lassie “ – on a nature walk where the children could pick flora and fauna on the public path near Pittentian Farm . Scott , Darren and Barry were about 10 yards ahead of Margaret , Louise and lassie . Suddenly from a bush , a small woman with a wizened face dressed in a long coat and wearing what looked like a head square jumped out at them .She raised her fearsome looking fingers , cackling all the time and the only words the six frightened people could hear was “ tee hee “!
The woman apparition , call it or her what you will , then jumped back into a bush . An obviously shaken Margaret took up the story on Monday when she spoke to the Herald .
“ I saw her – let there be no mistake about that . At the back of the bush she disappeared into there was a face There was no hanging of wires and she certainly could not have got over the fields unseen by us . We made a complete search of the area but nothing could be found . Another extraordinary thing is that the Lassie , so intelligent was completely unruffled and when we sent her into the area to search she came up with nothing and looked puzzled .”
Letter from a Mrs Margaret Smith Tigh an Nilt Inverae Minard the following week contains the following :
Pittentian is phonetic Gaelic for Pit - an - t – sithean “ the pace of the fairies “ or the place of the fairy mound .
What Maggie saw was “ bean – shith “ – a fairy woman .
“ He he “ was the fairy saying in Gaelic “ shith “ pronounced “ hee “”
Tigh n Shith “ – fairy house
Scotland is estimated to have been Europe's biggest persecutor of witches. In the 17th and 18th centuries Scotland put to death over 4,000 alleged witches. By the end of the 17th century burning had gone out of fashion so most of them were hanged instead. The last hanging took place in 1728.
A small well , on the eastern corner of the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle, marks the spot where, over a time span of 250 years, 300 women accused of witchcraft, were burned to death.
A study by the Department of History of the University of Edinburgh makes interesting reading . It will be quoted in detail in Part Two of this “ Blog”
Transport in the Strath
The Roman occupation of Strathearn saw the construction of the first recognizable road system as the occupants in their established tradition built a road system to enable communication between their various outposts . The road over the Langside from Braco to Comrie connected the main camp at Ardoch with the Dalginross “ glen blocker “ . The Gask Ridge represented a frontier of forts and watch towers stretching from Ardoch to Bertha where lies modern Inveralmond . The Romans constructed a military road to connect these various outposts and these have been partially excavated as part of an ongoing research programme undertaken by Dr DW Wooliscroft and a team of archaeologists many of whom are from Liverpool University . Various excavations have been carried out to determine how these roads were constructed . Although construction techniques may have varied dependent on the location , the Parkneuk and Roundlaw sections of the Gask road indicated that the Romans laid turves over the existing ground and made up the foundations in hardcore comprising small stones from a local source . The road was between 20 and 24 feet ( some 7.25 metres ) wide and laid to a camber and blinded on the surface with gravel . At Roundlaw , the existing farm road is thought to be the actual Roman road constructed all those centuries ago !
Tradition , nay legend tells us that part of King Street in Crieff was a Roman way . It should be remembered of course that when they occupied Strathearn some 2000 years ago , Crieff as a town or village was not there . The straight lines of existing roads such as those from Muthill to Crieff ( the A822 ) and the back road between Garrick Cottage and Muthill , off the A822 and skirting the Muir of Orchil depict characteristics of the roman road building ethos concerning the shortest way between two points ! It may well have been the shallow ford across the Earn at Bridgend in Crieff that saw them choose this line as a way to their glen blocker camp at Fendoch in the Sma’ Glen .
Archaeologists have known for a number of years that a well preserved road cutting adjacent to Innerpeffray library was almost certainly of Roman origin. A dig was organised in June 2004 funded by the Perth & Kinross Heritage Trust. It coincided with the Exhibition being held that month in the Library “Crieff from 1745 “. The Library itself sits atop an eroded “drumlin “(a hillock formed by glacial deposits) besides a sheer cliff overlooking the Earn. The theory was that this road was constructed by the Romans to bring traffic up from the crossing of the river at the old ford connecting with the road in and around Parkneuk further northwards. The Romans had a fort at Strageath on the south bank of the Earn and this was part of the road system linking then Gask Ridge watch towers and fortlets.
The initial survey levelled the area and discovered that the road had a gradient of about 1:5.7 which would have allowed the passage of wheeled traffic from the bottom to the top of the cutting. Wheel ruts were discovered when the top soil was removed. Excavations failed to reveal any suitable deposits of datable carbon or pollen or other organic material. The diggers did find a small piece of 18th century glazed pottery as well as a small piece of medieval green glazed pottery. Conclusions as to the originality of the road were difficult to arrive at. No Roman remains were uncovered .It is likely that this stretch of road was an integral part of the local system of communications back as far as the medieval days long before the Turnpike Acts of the 18th century and the bridge building in the area which significantly altered the route pattern that was existing .
Why then are we to believe that this road was constructed by the Romans? The line was , as noted above , part of the chain of the Gask Ridge defences . Secondly the manner of construction was typically Roman with an engineering style that was in advance of that found later on in these parts. Calculation indicated the extent of the engineering work carried out. In excess of 2 000 tons of material had been removed and a durable hard core bedding lay. The gradient was gentle, indicating an engineering technique that was too sophisticated for periods up until the 18th century. The only known complex road building carried out in Scotland between the Roman occupation and the arrival of General Waid in the 18th century was carried out by the Cistercian monks who were skilled in such matters ( Hoffman .2004 ) The nearest Cistercian abbey was at Couper Angus and there appears no evidence of their involvement at Innerpeffray . There is evidence that the road was in use during the Tryst at Crieff in the 17th and 18th centuries. To quote Hoffman:
“Rather more can be said of the cuttings likely later history. The early modern period brought increased traffic to this part of Strathearn. In 1672 and Act of Parliament (***Note: this refers to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh as it was prior to 1707) granting the earl of Perth the right to establish a large cattle market (The Tryst) at Crieff. This was held in mid October and quickly became the chief Tryst in Scotland with reports of 30 000 beasts changing hands in one week, to be exported to land s to the south. While the majority of cattle were brought in via the Sma’ Glen and the glens further west, cattle from Angus and Aberdeenshire tended to be driven from Perth via the “Old Gallows Road “. Described in 1715/1716 as “ the road to Stirling “ this leads out of Perth , past Long Causeway , Burghmuir Road , the Old Gallows Road at Glen Devon Farm and continues today as a line of hedgerows , field tracks and short roads past the old farm of Gateside , East and West Cultmalundie , Westmuir , Clathymore , Clathy , Roundlaw , Ardunie and Shearerston . It eventually crossed the Earn at Innerpeffray, with further branches leading to Crieff and Kinkell. As the name suggests , it appears to have run past the Gallows to the west of Perth , whilst the 19th century “ Notes of the Statute Labour Trustees “ already describe it as old and confirm its use as a drove road . ”
The importance of Innerpeffray in the road system in the pre Statute Labour Days of the late 18th century can be seen by reference to old Perthshire maps by cartographers Moll and Stobie. The old Roman road or street running parallel to the Gask Ridge watch towers became an important road to Perth . It followed the fort line before turning north near Windygates to reach the old Gallows Road near Tibbermore . According to Hoffman the road appears to have degenerated into a mere track east of Gask House. According to the Statistical Account for 1773 for the Parishes of Gask and Trinity Gask it ” saw little use despite being in a good state “ .
The Innerpeffray road may have seen an upturn in traffic when the Tryst moved to Falkirk in the 1760s but this was brief . It had ceased to be part of a major route when the Crieff bridge over the Earn opened in 1740- 1741 . In 1758 , Maitland described the Roman road from Strageath fort as “ descending the eminence and , crossing the Earn , mounting the hill to the village of Innerpeffray in the neighbourhood of which it became the common road ”. The fact that he was able to cross the and that the route still appears on Stobie’s map of 1783 , suggest that the ford and the cutting were still usable at this time . His statement that the common road did not begin until he reached the village might imply that this was no longer a major crossing point . If so , this would fit in well with Moll’s map , produced a decade earlier in 1745. This still marks the Old Gallows Road but shows Kinkell , not Innerpeffray , as the Earn crossing point . Kinkell was originally a ferry crossing ( as Innerpeffray became ) but in 1793 was replaced with a toll free bridge . This cut travel times and drovers ‘ costs still further and would have had an impact on the importance of Innerpeffray .
The old Roman Road became redundant as with the advent of the Turnpike and Toll Roads drovers and other travellers were avoiding paying toll s by taking these old routes . Pressure was brought upon the adjoining proprietors to close non statute roads . The Old Gallows Road and a series of branch roads were formally closed in 1813 “on application by Lord Kinnoul and Robert Smyth of Methven ” .
The departure of the Romans from Scotland , saw a deterioration in the road system they had established . For centuries . transportation and population movement utilised this network and eventually they became virtually unusable due to lack of maintenance and upkeep .
ARB Haldane in his classic publication “ The Drove Roads of Scotland “(Nelson.Edinburgh .1952) relates the following : “ The tracks followed by the drovers up to the middle of the eighteenth century were for the most part ill- defined , marked principally by the passage of that very traffic for which they themselves were responsible . The duty of maintaining the roads of rural Scotland , which had been laid on the Justices of the peace in 1609 , was largely ignored , and the system of Statute Labour introduced in 1669 , for the same purpose brought little improvement . Matters improved after the Union of the Parliaments in 1707 , but trade in rural districts was carried on mainly by pack horse throughout the greater part of the eighteenth century ……In some parts of the Highlands , too , the routes followed by the drovers were routes also used by pack- horse , sledge and foot traffic , often dating from a very early period , and it is in many cases now hardly possible with any certainty to distinguish the marks made by one type of traffic from those made by another .” The main droving routes into Crieff for the annual Tryst were through the Sma’ Glen bringing the beasts from Caithness , Sutherland ,the Western Isles and Aberdeenshire and from Loch Tayside via Ardeonaig and Glen Lednock and along Loch Earnside bringing cattle from Kintyre , Mull and other parts of Argyll . This seasonal traffic must have caused a fair bit of congestion to those going about their normal business as the Michaelmas Fair approached . The pack horse traffic however probably served the Strathearn area for most of the year . An account by Anne Gordon in “ To Move With The Times ” ( Aberdeen University Press. 1988 ) says “ Before the days of proper road and bridge building , the use of pack horses was essential . They could carry loads of up to 2- 2 ½ cwts in panniers or packs on their backs of all sorts of goods – wool , grain , peat ,coal , lime , ironstone , salt , lead or anything else that needed to be moved , including smuggled goods taken by devious routes during the night to their destinations , and they needed nothing more than paths - the so called pack roads - and fords to do so , although they might have to go far out of their way to find paths firm enough to give them a firm footing . They usually travelled in strings of thirty to forty , sometimes even as many as one hundred and fifty , moving in Indian file , tied halter to tail . The first animal was led and the rest pulled forward by the tail of the one in front until they got to their destination . , when they were unloaded and the halter of the leading horse tied to the tail of the rear one , so that they were tied in a circle and could not run off .”
In Strathearn there are two fine examples of what appear to be pack horse bridges . If one goes out of Crieff heading past the Glen Turret Distillery at the Hosh and follow the road up to the Turret Dam you come to the bridge over the Barvick Burn . Park your car here and follow the arrows up the steep path for about half a mile to the old Barvick Bridge . The views are spectacular and although the tumbling falls of the Barvick Burn are mostly obscured by thick afforestation , it is splendid walk . The bridge itself is narrow and constructed from local stone with a majestic arch enhancing its simple architecture .
Barvick Bridge built probably about the 17th century by the local laird to give access for tenants to Crieff market and also allow the packmen to gain access to the habitations on the Brae of Monzie
Another example of a pack bridge at Monzie next to the kirk . Commonly if somewhat erroneously referred to as the Roman Bridge
Porteous in his History of Crieff recounts a horrendous tale involving Lord Lovat on the aforementioned A822 ( as it is now ) in 1740 . Making his way from Drummond Castle south towards Dunblane en route to Edinburgh from Inverness with his two daughters , he writes , “ I got to Drummond Castle where we were storm stayed by the most tempestuous weather of wind and rain I ever remember . Setting forth eventually , I was not three miles gone from the castle when the axle – tree of my fore wheels broke in two in the midst of the hill betwixt Drummond and the Bridge of Ardoch , and we were forced to sit in the hill with a boisterous day till Chamberlain Drummond was so kind as to go down the Strath and bring wrights , carts and smiths to our assistance who dragged us to the plain , where we were forced to stay five or six hours till there was a a new axle – tree made , so that it was dark night before we came to Dunblane , which is but eight miles from Castle Drummond all much fatigued . Eventually we reached Edinburgh in safety , having taken eleven days for the journey “ .
Lord Fraser and his daughters’ experiences gives vivid insight to the condition of the roads of the period. In an effort to remedy the situation , the government passed a number of Turnpike or Statute Labour laws which were attempt to enforce able bodied men to carry out six days manual labour on the roads each year . In Strathearn , the results were somewhat mixed . The Acts enforcing individuals to carry out the work was administered by local Justices of the Peace . As the statutory registration of births , marriages and deaths did not come in to being in Scotland until the 1st of January 1855 , they could not have had a formal list of people who were being requested to carry out the hard labour of the “ Parish Road Days “ . The existing old parish registers covering Crieff were not obligatory and only started in the 1690s . This period did however see the construction of two roads to Perth , the first being that via what is now Dollerie Terrace and the second by Highlandman . Porteous’s account gives a lot of interesting detail regarding the road construction in the mid 18th century . As the labour to be used was not voluntary or indeed by choice , the numbers turning out was disappointing . Mr Thomas Caw , know locally as the “ Provost “ , was appointed overseer for the task with the assistance of one John Galloway , the local constable .The Local Justices issued them with the following : “ You are hereby ordered to call out the inhabitants of the Parish of Crieff , according to lists to be given to you , and on the days appointed by Mr Thomas Caw , overseer for that road , and you are to intimate to all those you call out to work upon that road , the penalties of the law in case they delay , or refuse to come to the roads when commanded thereto ; and as there is another road intended on the north of the Pow , you are to summon such of the town and parish to the south road as live on the south side of street or great road going through Crieff from east to west , and such of the tenants as live on the south side of the present road leading from Crieff to Corrievechter Easter and Dollerie , and leave the others on the north thereof to assist at at the north road . ( The ‘ present road ‘ above mentioned is the old road by Kincardine . )
Despite the somewhat threatening attitude to the citizens of the town , work on the projects would appear to have progressed at a snail’s pace . Such was the dissatisfaction amongst the Justices and the local lairds that a meeting was convened in Crieff in 1742 to determine what steps should be taken to expedite matters . The Duke of Perth was prominent amongst the latter and the various proprietors along the routes to Perth were given the task of directing operations over that part passing through their lands . The meeting issued the following statement : “ The inhabitants of Crieff have shown an unwillingness to go to the making of the road and have made but small progress considering the numbers who have gone out , that it be made optional for the inhabitants to go out three days this summer or pay 12 shillings Scots on or before 10th May next “ . A fine of 20 shillings Scots was to be levied on defaulters and instructions were given to Thomas Caw to draw up a fresh list of those liable to work , while fourteen who had failed in their duty were to be summoned to attend a meeting of the justices . The tools purchased by public monies to construct the road were to be passed on to the next proprietor as the work was completed on the foregoing stage . About 1790 the road now called the Perth Road , starting from the east end of High Street was formed . It joined the old Perth Road near Callum’s Hill . The unsatisfactory nature of the system to construct a new road network was soon recognised as subsequent Acts amended the situation . A levy or tax superseded the statutory labour requirement and a rate of 1/6 ( 7.5 pence ) was imposed after 1751 . By the end of the 18th century the Turnpike Acts introduced tolls on the new roads and toll houses were set up to gather the revenue . In Crieff six were built , two at Bridgend , two at Dalvreck and two at “ Charing Cross “ , the guschet between Dollerie Terrace , Perth Road and East High Street . Of all the toll houses only these last two one remain having been renovated by J & R Robertson, local building contractors around 1980 and transformed into a pleasant single residence . During the renovations when the wall linings were stripped back , it became clear what the original lay out had been . The present Perth Road is much higher than at the time of the tolls . A window on the north wall had been built up and was some two metres below the present street level . This part of the property was the toll house dealing with traffic on the main highway to Perth whilst the southern part was the one serving the Gleneagles Turnpike .
We have examined elsewhere in this narrative the road building exploits of General Wade in Strathearn and north of the Sma’ Glen . His road system dates from the period after the Jacobite Uprising of 1714 from about 1725 . His road started from the Bridgend in Crieff , up King Street and over Ferntower . His construction methods have proven incredibly similar to those of the Roman occupants of the first century AD . Although many of his bridges have long since gone , some remain including a superb little one over a burn near Newton and of course the magnificent one at Aberfeldy which is still in use . It was built by Wade but designed by the architect William Adam . Before we leave the subject of bridges , mention should be made of the “Roman “ bridge at Monzie . The appended Edwardian post card was of a much photographed scene at the old mill of Monzie . Whether or not it was actually built by the Romans is a matter of great scepticism . It ‘s rustic rubble construction is similar to a number of bridges in the Strathearn area including the one over the Barvick some four miles to the west .
One benefit achieved by the construction of the new roads was that for the first time the towns and villages were at last within reasonable reach of the principal towns and cities of Scotland . Apart from the horses and carts of public carriers plying regular routes bringing and taking wares to Strathearn , a number of stage coach services were introduced . Crieff became a post town with the Glasgow to Perth mail coach being routed through its congested streets . It must have been an exciting scene as the daily coach and horses galloped in via the narrow approach of Duchlage Road which was,until 1823 , the main access from the south . Before long Crieff was also being served by the Edinburgh mail coach as well as a number of services for the public allowing at last access to the outside world . Coaches such as the Comrie Dasher , The Strathearn Lass , Bessie Bell , Mary Gray , The Victor and the Rapid plied their routes between the towns and villages of the Strath . There even was a “ lawyers’ coach “ laid on to transport Crieff’s solicitors to the county town and legal metropolis of Perth !
In 1820 , Robert Stevenson , grand father of the author Robert Louis Stevenson , presented a “ memorial “ , or in modern parlance , a feasibility study to a number of eminent personages including His Grace the Duke of Atholl, the Right Honourable the Earl of Strathmore, the Honourable W.R.Maule, M.P., James Wemyss, Esq. Younger of Wemyss, M.P. and the other noblemen, gentlemen and magistrates. This memorial was “ regarding the propriety of opening the great valleys of Strathmore and Strathearn, by means of a railway or canal “ . The presentation included a hand coloured folding, engraved map, hand coloured with blue printed wrappers. It outlined plans to connect Perth , at the head of the Tay navigation system , with towns both east and west . Canals were to be constructed through both Strathmore and Strathearn . It had been discussed since the middle of the 18th century and indeed Stevenson himself had reported on a Strathmore canal in 1817. Here he shows why the country would be suitable either for canal or railway, before coming down in favour of horse-drawn edge railways, describing the advantage of such a system over both canals and roads.
Things however were changing rapidly and after the economic depression following the Napoleonic Wars , things improved dramatically . Bumper crops in 1842 and 1843 heralded an improving affluence in the country . The stock market was awash with spare cash ripe for investment and the prospect of good returns from investment in the newly invented railway system was proving popular . In 1844 there were some 66 proposed railway construction bills before Parliament . Local persons of influence felt that Perth and Strathearn , to the west , should be part of this rapidly expanding network which was gradually spreading out its lines throughout these isles . The ground had been surveyed in 1841 and by 1844 a Committee for the Railway from Perth by Stirling to the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway had been duly formed under the chairmanship of Charles Sidey , Lord Provost of Perth . The number of influential landowners in the area who became involved was substantial . Amongst them were Laurence Oliphant of Condie , a former MP for Perth City . , HL Colquhoun of Clathic and Archibald Turnbull of Bellwood . The initial meeting heard a proposal from John Campbell , 2nd Marquis of Breadalbane urging that a prospectus be issued for the construction of a railway from Perth to a junction with the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway near Falkirk . Indeed this followed on soon afterwards on the 15th of March as a result of a high powered gathering in Edinburgh attended by , amongst others , the Marquis and Lord Kinnaird , joint promoters of the adjoining Dundee and Perth Railway , Sir Patrick Murray Threipland of the Carse of Gowrie and Sir John Stirling of Kippendavie near Dunblane . Without much ado a provisional committee was set up and things began to move .
Named the Scottish Central Railway , the subscribers initiated a detailed engineering survey together with an estimate of cost . This was carried out by the Mitchell family from Inverness who had a well established pedigree in railway and canal construction. After much consideration as to the actual route to be followed , the Company came down in favour of the route by tunnel through Moncrieff Hill and on into Perth . The alternative choice before them was to swing north from Auchterarder towards Crieff and thence follow the line of the Pow Burn eastwards towards the Fair City . Undoubtedly if this choice had been followed , it would have had great economic benefits for Crieff as the proposal would have virtually by passed Perth to link up with the Strathmore line to the north . Perth would have ended up at the end of a branch line , something its worthy citizens would not have welcomed !
Proposals followed , that a branch line would be formed to connect Crieff to the main SCR line at Greenloaning . Unfortunately financial constraints put paid to that scheme which had suggested initially that when the main line opened in 1848 , the Crieff connection would also have been completed . Some five years later , things had moved on a pace and the Crieff Junction Railway Bill received Parliamentary and Royal Assent on the 15th of August 1853 . The engineer appointed by the Company to be responsible for all aspects of design and construction was a man who had established a reputation for building cheap railways throughout Scotland . This man was Thomas Bouche . Bouche ( later Sir Thomas Bouche ) was the person whom designed and took responsibility for the ill- fated Tay Rail Bridge .That disaster in 1879 virtually killed the man who had at the time been working on his Forth Rail Bridge project .
The Crieff scheme suffered dreadful delays and set backs despite an optimistic opening date given to the directors by the contactor , James Gowans . On reflection many of the reasons for the delays lay with Bouche whom had taken on too many other projects and failed to devote the necessary time and consideration to the job in hand . The intentions were that the SCR would actually operate the smaller Crieff Junction Railway providing the necessary locomotives and carriages . Staff employed by the Crieff Junction Railway for the proposed opening had to be paid off when it became clear that completion of the line could not meet the deadline date set . As many of those had been in the previous employ of the larger company , feelings between the two were not good . The opening date of the 13th of March 1856 proved yet another disappointment as the Central refused to permit its locomotives to pass over the track work at Crieff Junction Station ( later to be called Gleneagles ) as it was deemed to be unsatisfactory . After consultation between Gowans and the Central ‘s engineer , modifications were carried out to the track and , a day later , the line opened . There appears to have been considerable bad feeling between the two Companies and it was only some nine years later that this ceased when the two amalgamated .
In 1864 , the Crieff and Methven Junction Railway was established and after a meeting held in the Drummond Arms in Crieff , work was sanctioned . Once again delays followed and eventually it opened to the public in 1866 . The following poem quoted in Porteous in his History of Crieff and written by one John C Fisher , a native of Crieff , sums up the opening of the line in a most apposite manner . As a song it was sung to the tune of “ Bonnie Dundee “ .
We hae gotten a start in the richt way at last
For commerce and railways are multiplin’ fast
And soon from our home in the North we can ride
To the banks of the Tay , the Forth and the Clyde
The gude folks o’ Crieff deserve noo a sang
For a nice thriving place they’ll mak’ it ere lang
Wi’ railways , and Baillies , a Provost and a’ –
Us Crieff folks , ye see , are getting “ fu “ braw
Since the Crieff and Methven line’s first turf is cut
There’s gladness in many a hamlet and hut , -
And many anxious bit wish for the day
When an engine shall puff on the Methven Railway
The lady we thank here , who opened this line
And all who who joined the procession so fine
Our Provost , the Masons , and Crieff Volunteers ,
Let’s gie them dear friends , three loud ringin ‘ cheers.
On the opening day , the 21st of March 1866, it was declared a holiday in Crieff . Three trains departed that morning with an incredible crowd on board of nearly 1 000 passengers .
The development in a westerly direction out of Crieff was somewhat slow in happening . Efforts fronted by Comrie proprietor Colonel Williamson of Lawers came to little . Opposition came from Crieff Town Council when it was revealed that this would cut through the Town Green known as the Meadow . This area , a former public bleaching field had been the subject of earlier discussion when an ownership issue arose . The site of this controversy is currently occupied by the Somerfield Supermarket and car park . At long last Comrie was joined to Crieff when the first train puffed out westwards on the 1st of June 1893 at 6.30 am .
The final link in the chain was connecting Comrie to Lochearnhead . This most scenic of routes traversed the north side of Loch Earn finally entering Lochearnhead and the dipping southwards to Balquhidder Junction where it joined up with the Callander and Oban railway .The line was authorised in 1897 and opened shortly after this . The Balquhidder end had a single timber shed with a 60’ turntable . The Lochearnhead station is now a Boy Scout Centre and was located to the rear of the former Lochearnhead Hotel . The lines were absorbed by the Caledonian Railway in 1902 .
Railways were an important part of local for more than 100 years . In Strathearn , Dr Beeching’s savage cuts in the 1960s saw the demise of what had been a way of life . The railways in Strathearn were major employees . Analysis of figures in the census enumeration books of the late 19th century shows that the railways were at one time the second largest employers in the area . The axe fell and it was no more .
The complexity of the Crieff railway set up is best appreciated by examination of the ordnance survey map of 1902 . Two lines approached Crieff from the east . The areas above Duchlage Farm compromised cattle pens , a saw mill( where Duchlage Court now
stands ) , a timber yard , an engine shed , sidings and a water tank . The line then passed under Duchlage road and split into numerous sidings , peripheral to the main station . Apart from coal depots , there were three sawmills , a timber yard and various small buildings . The station had two platforms with glass canopies . An attempt to run rail” busses “ which allowed you to flag down a “ bus “ at certain spots proved a failure . The line closed in 1964 and the land lay derelict for many years . Until developed in the early 2000s , the old yard was shrouded in small shrubs and bushes . The platforms were clearly discernible and the ground had a high ash content a tangible reminder of the by gone steam age . For a while a bike track utilised the space once occupied by bustling holiday makers and Crieff businessmen heading for opportunistic offices of Stirling and Perth . Now the site comprises sheltered housing ( Duchlage ) , a small industrial estate , the new cottage hospital , the new ( 2000 ) Crieff Health Centre and its redundant predecessor . Further westwards the the embankment over Morrison’s playing field s at Dallerie has been excavated away to provide up fill for the new roads to the many new houses now occupied by Strathearn’s latest arrivals . The bridge over the Turret has gone . The line of the railway as it makes its tortuous way westwards is obscured with newly sprouted greenery and its undergrowth provides nature with a more acceptable habitat . Have things really changed in the reclaimed countryside ?