Blairgowrie

   BLAIRGOWRIE, a burgh, market-town, and parish, in the county of Perth, 58 miles (N. by W.) from Edinburgh; containing 3700 inhabitants, of whom 2600 are in the town. The term Blair is of doubtful etymology, by some supposed to be derived from a Gaelic root signifying a mossy locality, and by others thought to come from a word denoting the scene of a battle or of war: Gowrie was the ancient denomination of the district in which the parish is situated, and has been used as an affix to distinguish it from several other places of the name of Blair. The town stands not far from the eastern boundary of the county, bordering on Forfarshire, and on a pleasant eminence on the western bank of the river Ericht, forming the first step of the acclivity of the hill of Blair. From its secluded and remote neighbourhood, it has been free from the collisions of the great political and religious tumults which have been felt so frequently and extensively throughout the country, the only historical recollection noted of this kind being the passage of the celebrated Montrose through the place, in one of his hostile descents into the valley of Strathmore. But what, at the commencement of the present century, was a small, quiet, and inconsiderable village, has since grown into a bustling manufacturing and market town; and not only the inhabitants of this spot, but those of the parish generally, have exchanged their rural for a commercial character, and the peasantry have given place to artizans, partly through the breaking up of the cottar system, by the consolidation of small farms, but chiefly through the extensive introduction of manufactures. About forty years since, the village consisted of small, unsightly thatched houses, collected in the vicinity of the church; but it now contains some good streets, well lighted with gas, supplied by a joint-stock company established in 1834; and its new and attractive character has, for some time, been gradually drawing, from the other parts of the parish, a considerable portion of the people to take up their residence here. It is approached by several good roads from different quarters; but the most considerable is the great north road from Perth to Fort-George, which enters the parish at the southern boundary, about two miles distant, and crosses the Ericht a little way from the town, by the bridge of Blairgowrie. This river, forming the eastern boundary of the parish for ten miles, is, in connexion with its bridges and roads, a lively and interesting feature in the strikingly beautiful scenery which is commanded by the well-cultivated hill of Blair; it has its course through diversified and romantic combinations of woods and rocks, and falls into the Isla at Cupar-Grange. The hill of Blair, immediately behind the town, is ornamented with the church, and skirted by a deep well-wooded ravine stretching down abruptly nearly to the river. From the churchyard, a view of the first order is obtained, embracing the whole valley of Strathmore, in the northern portion of which part of the parish lies, and terminated on the east by the Hunter hill of Glammis, and on the south by the picturesque chain of the Sidlaws. Near the town, are the mansions of Newton and Ardblair, large structures in the castellated style, the former commanding beautiful and extensive prospects over Strathmore, and being itself seen as a conspicuous object from several parts; and not far distant, is Blairgowrie House, a large edifice, situated on the low grounds to the south of the town, the whole of the vicinity of which partakes of that varied and rich scenery characteristic of the lower or southern division of the parish, the northern district exhibiting the features of a highland locality.
   The spinning-wheel, formerly so much in use here, has been entirely superseded by machinery; and there are at present in operation, worked by water-power, five mills, employing about 200 hands, who are engaged in the spinning of flax and tow into yarn. The flax used is imported into Dundee from the Baltic, and, after being spun, is either taken to the former places for sale, or disposed of to manufacturers in the neighbourhood, and in Alyth and Cupar-Angus. The value of flax annually consumed at three mills near the town, is from £20,000 to £26,000 per annum, and the value of yarn spun at the same mills, from £33,000 to £36,000. About 350 persons are occupied in weaving yarn, by hand-looms, into cloth of different fabrics, consisting of fine dowlas and drill, but especially Osnaburghs and coarse sheetings; and these are sold at Dundee, though sometimes shipped, on the part of the manufacturer, direct to North and South America and France. The only other branch of trade carried on is that of salmon-fishing, which, however, is in a very low state, the rental for the whole course of the Ericht, from the Keith to the boundary of the parish, being only £21. 12. per annum. This change from its former extent, which was very considerable, is owing partly to the circumstance of there being fisheries on the Tay and Isla, and partly to the erection of the numerous mills on the river, which in summer drain off nearly the whole of the water. A general post-office is established in the town; and besides the road from Perth to Fort-George, already noticed, there is a road from Blairgowrie to Cupar-Angus, made turnpike in 1832, which quits the parish about two miles south of the town; and the line of road from Kirriemuir, Forfar, and other places, to Dunkeld, passes through the town, in crossing the parish from east to west. A market, which is well attended, is held on Wednesday, in alternate weeks, during winter and spring, for cattle and grain; and there are annual fairs in the town, on the third Wednesday in March; the 26th of May, if it fall on Wednesday, if not, the first Wednesday after; the 23rd July; the first Wednesday in Nov.; the 22nd Nov., or first Tuesday after; and the Wednesday before Falkirk tryst. Blairgowrie was erected into a burgh of barony by charter from Charles I., dated 9th July, 1634, in favour of George Drummond, then proprietor of the estate; and in the year 1809, the town was created a free burgh of barony by a charter from Colonel McPherson, the superior, and the burgesses were empowered to elect a bailie and four councillors for the management of the affairs of the burgh. The bailie, and two of the councillors, vacate their offices every two years; and their places are filled up by the burgesses. The police is in accordance with the general police act, and under the controul of the chief magistrate and four commissioners, the latter being annually elected by the £10 householders; but the provisions of the act respecting watching and paving have not been adopted, the householders being bound by their charter to take the watching by turns, themselves personally, or to provide substitutes. There are two cells in the lower story of the town-house, used as a prison, for the punishment of offenders within the jurisdiction of the burgh magistrate. The town is one of the seats of the quarterly sheriff-court, under the Small Debt act, and a polling-place for the county parliamentary elections.
   The parish consists of a principal portion, about seven miles long, and one and a half mile in average breadth, and of two detached parts. One of these, lying north-west of the large division, and separated by branches of the parishes of Kinloch and Bendochy, contains a tract on each side of the river Ardle, consisting of the estates of Blackcraig, Wester-Cally, and Whitehouse, and part of the district of the forest of Cluny, covering altogether about four square miles; the other, called Creuchies, situated to the north-east, and separated by the parish of Rattray, contains about two square miles. The total number of acres in the parish is estimated at about 16,000 or 17,000, of which about 10,000 are, or have been, cultivated, 5000 are waste and pasture, and the remainder wood and plantations, comprising alder, birch, hazel, mountain-ash, larch to a considerable extent, and Scotch fir, though none of the trees attain to very great size, from the nature of the soil. The parish comprehends the two divisions called highland and lowland, separated from each other by a branch of the Grampian range; the former is hilly, and is the northern boundary of the vale of Strathmore, but the surface of the latter, which belongs to that vale, is tolerably equal, and replete with that beautiful and richly-diversified scenery for which the whole sweep of country is so highly celebrated. The Ardle and Blackwater streams, partly skirting the northern division, unite near the bridge of Cally, and form the principal river, the Ericht, which, in the vicinity of Craighall, passes through some of the most wildly romantic portions of the district, the beauties of which supplied the author of Waverley with some of the principal features in the description of Tully-Veolan. The parish is partly bounded on the south by the Lunan; and the Lornty, after flowing for some distance, falls into the Ericht about half a mile above the town. These streams abound with trout; pike, perch, and eels are plentiful in all the lochs, six in number, and the loch of Stormont is also frequented, in summer, by swarms of sea-gulls, which build among the reeds and rushes, and supply large quantities of eggs.
   The southern and most cultivated division, stretching southward from the hill of Blair, for four miles, to the middle of the valley of Strathmore, exhibits great diversity of soil, comprising stiff clay, moss, rich loam near the town, and alluvial earth, the last, on the bank of the river, being the most fertile. In this division, is the muir of Blair, a tract comprehending about 1000 acres, chiefly covered with thick plantations of Scotch fir, beyond which, to the south, the soil, though thin and light, is mostly under cultivation. All kinds of grain and green crops are raised, and a considerable revenue is derived from pastures and the thinning of woods; the sheep kept here are not bred in the parish, but are purchased in autumn, and fattened with turnips eaten off the ground in winter, for sale in the following spring. Much improvement has taken place in the stock of cattle, by crossing the native cows with the shorthorned bulls, and large quantities are annually fed for the Glasgow and Falkirk markets. The husbandry is of a superior kind, all the modern usages having been introduced, and draining and inclosing have been practised to a great extent. The rateable annual value of the parish is £9291. The rocks consist chiefly of greywacke, greenstone, and sandstone; the last, which is a coarse red conglomerate, is extensively quarried in the vicinity of the town, and there are several other quarries in different parts, including one of clay-slates, not now in operation. The parish is in the presbytery of Meigle and synod of Angus and Mearns, and in the alternate patronage of William McPherson, Esq., of Blairgowrie, and James Blair Oliphant, Esq., of Gask and Ardblair. The minister's stipend is £222. 18., with a manse, rebuilt in 1838, with the offices, at a cost of upwards of £500, and the glebe comprises 9¼ acres, valued at £20 per annum. The church, built in 1824, on the site of the old edifice, on an eminence close to the town, contains 1000 sittings, a few of which are free. A chapel, accommodating 600 persons, in connexion with the Established Church, and situated in Brown's-street, was purchased for the sum of £400, of the Burgher congregation who had before used it, and was opened in 1837. The money for the purchase, with the exception of £100 granted by the Church-extension Committee, was raised by subscription, and the minister's salary, amounting to above £140, is derived from seat-rents and collections. There are also a Roman Catholic chapel, and places of worship for members of the Free Church and Independents; and a handsome edifice has been just erected in the early English style, consisting of a nave and chancel, for the use of a congregation in connexion with the Episcopal church; it is named St. Catharine's, and was founded at the expense of the pastor, the Rev. John Marshall, who has ornamented the chancel with an elegant window of stained glass. Attached to it, is a library containing many works of science and general literature, for the use of all denominations. The parochial school affords instruction in the usual branches; the master has a salary of £34. 4., and £60 fees. The late Mr. George Barty, tobacconist at Perth, and a native of this place, who died in 1838, bequeathed £1400 for the education of poor children belonging to this parish, and those of Rattray, Bendochy, and Kinloch, in the parochial school of Blairgowrie. The antiquities comprise several ancient cairns, and the ruins of the castle of Glasclune, formerly the property of the Blairs, and of that of Drumlochy, the seat of the Herons; the buildings are near each other, and between the possessors a feud once raged, ending in the ruin of the latter. A chalybeate spring, called the "Heugh well," situated in a cliff, is found of great benefit in cutaneous and dyspeptic complaints.

A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. . 1856.

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