J. G McPherson.

Strathmore: past and present, being topographical, ecclesiastical, and historical sketches of the parishes in the centre of Strathmore; with particular notices of the Abbey of Cupar and the Priory of Rostinoth online

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Online LibraryJ. G McPhersonStrathmore: past and present, being topographical, ecclesiastical, and historical sketches of the parishes in the centre of Strathmore; with particular notices of the Abbey of Cupar and the Priory of Rostinoth → online text (page 8 of 20)
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vacancy, sustained the presentation. But just before
this, the General Assembly, thinking that they had the
power, passed a Veto Act, by which, after the presentee
had officiated before the congregation, a majority, if dis-
satisfied, could object to his being inducted to the charge.
Accordingly, after Mr. Clark's trials, the parishioners,
having changed their minds, set him aside by a bare
majority. The Assembly, on appeal, confirmed the veto.
Soon after the old minister died, and a second presenta-
tion was issued by the Crown in favour of Mr. Kessen.
The Presbytery sustained the presentation, and inti-
mated his trials. Mr. Clark thereupon obtained an inter-
dict from the Court of Session prohibiting the Presbytery
from proceeding further. At next General Assembly it
was resolved that, as admission to the pastoral charge of
a parish was entirely an ecclesiastical act, the Presbytery
must proceed to the induction of Mr. Kessen upon the
call, and not upon the presentation. The Presbytery
were in a dilemma : if they proceeded to the induction
they might be imprisoned by the Court of Session for
breaking the interdict ; if they delayed, they might be
deposed for not obeying their ecclesiastical superiors.
To make things easier, however, it was resolved by the
Assembly to prepare a libel against Mr. Clark for the
violation of his vows to obey the Assembly's orders. As
soon as possible afterwards, the Presbytery ordained and
inducted Mr. Kessen to the charge, thus bringing the
Church and the Civil Court into mortal combat. On
this Mr. Clark complained to the Court, who summoned
the Presbytery before them as criminals at the bar.
There was a long defence ; and, after taking the matter to
avizandum for four days, the judges announced that the
sentence was for the first offence the solemn censure of the
Court. Mr. Clark was libelled by the Presbytery ; but


he declined its authority on account of the illegal char-
acter of its composition, being partly formed of quoad
sacra ministers. The Assembly of 1842 dismissed this
objection and deprived him of his licence ; Dr. William
Cunningham remarking with characteristic audacity,
that " the Church discharged its whole duty towards the
interdicts of the Court of Session by despising them and
trampling them under its feet." The next Assembly de-
clared this null and void, having proceeded on incom-
petent grounds, and in the excess of its jurisdiction. In
1845, he was served with another libel ; and two charges
of drunkenness being found proven, he was finally de-
prived of licence in 1846. Now things are changed ; the
people have received a Veto Act from Parliament which
goes far beyond what the Church desired ; for they have
the absolute power of presentation, as of rejection, con-
ferred upon them. Had the Church's Veto Act been
sanctioned by the State, there would have been no Dis-
ruption, and fewer squabbles and bitternesses in the
election of ministers in both the Established and Free
Churches. For, even in proportion to their usual peace-
ableness, when people in agricultural districts are roused
up by religious differences, the turmoil and bitterness
become the keener and more deadly :

" Arouse thee, youth ! it is no human call,
God's Church is leaguered haste to man the wall ;
Haste where the red-cross banners wave on high,
Signal of honour'd death or victory 1 "


This parish the metropolitan of the Presbytery is
situated in the centre of Strath more and the east of
Perthshire. It is bounded on the north and north-west
by the Dean and Isla ; on the east and south by Eassie
and Nevay and Newtyle ; on the west and south-west by
Cupar and Kettins. Its length is about five miles, and
its breadth two miles. The two Statistical Accounts of
the parish were written by shrewd and carefully observ-
ing men, viz., Dr. James Playfair and Dr. Mitchell. The
latter considers that the name of the parish was derived
from its local situation Midgill, or between the " gills "
or marshes; the Church and Manse being built on a plain
between two marshes. But Jervise supposes that it
comes from Migdel, " the plain with the dales." The name
has various ways of spelling Miggil, Megill, Migell ; in
an old map of 1C40 Migle, with a large shaded part for
Migle Moss ; and in the return of Presbyteries to the
General Assembly of 1593, Migel. The Dean is a sluggish,
deep river, issuing from Forfar Loch, twelve miles distant ;
and is particularly noted for its excellent trout, generally
very heavy, red-fleshed, and flavoured to meet the taste
of the most fastidious gourmand. It flows into the Isla
about half a mile from the village of Meigle. This river,
in floodtime especially, is far more rapid ; occasionally,
after melting snows or a spate, it overflows its banks, and
with resistless force sweeps away whole harvests, irre-
trievably destroying

"The well-earned treasures of the labouring year."

The parish lias very little variation of surface, the soil in


some places being sandy, in others clayey, but generally
of a rich black loam, and all is well cultivated.

There are many remains of antiquity, but we are left
very much to tradition for any explanation, which is
certainly very meagre and unsatisfactory. The tales and
stories which have been handed down through successive
generations are far too wild and extravagant for this
matter-of-fact and utilitarian age. Abandoning, there-
fore, the most improbable, we shall examine the more
remarkable monuments of antiquity in the parish, taking
notice of the most plausible accounts which have come
down to us concerning them. A little south of the village
is situated Belmont Castle, once the seat of Lord Wharn-
cliffe, an elegant modern quadrangular pile, agglomerated
.with the old tower of a former mansion. It is situated
on the highest eminence in the parish, 204 feet above the
level of the sea, and commands an extensive view of the
plain. By a most unexpected accident it was, a year
ago, almost entirely burned down to the ground, destroy-
ing some elegantly built and furnished apartments.
Before this unfortunate fire this Castle, with its nice
gardens and fine enclosures, beautiful lawn, and very old
stately trees, rendered it the most delightful residence in
Strathmore. Dr. Robertson of Callendar, in his " Agri-
culture of Perthshire " (1799), mentions it as a " magnifi-
cent place, and next to Glamis the ornament of Strath-
more." The Castle, policy, and two adjoining farms have
been recently sold to the Right Hon. H. Campbell-
Bannerman, M.P., the Chief Secretary for Ireland, for
52,000. In Roman Catholic times it was the residence
of the Bishops of Dunkeld, under the name Kirkhill
which it retained till about a hundred years ago. To
show the connection of the parish with the Abbey of
Dunkeld, the greater part of the stipend of Dunkeld is



still paid out of Meigle ; and to implement the last aug-
mentation granted by the Court of Teinds to the minister
of Meigle, it was found necessary to take so much off the
stipend of the minister of Dunkeld. Some of the most
majestic beeches ever we saw are in the policies of
Belmont Castle, the solid wood of one being calculated,
below the offset of the branches, to measure 276 cubic
feet. Taken as a whole, the ornamental timber in the
park is unequalled in Scotland for size and beauty. In
the enclosures of the castle there is a tumulus called
Belliduff, which tradition gives as the spot where, in
1056, Macbeth was killed in battle by Macduff. Taking
the most reliable facts out of the mass of fiction, we see
that Macbeth, after murdering King Duncan, was crowned
King ; but this soon roused up the revengeful ire of
Malcolm, Duncan's son, who was heartily assisted by the
English King, Edward the Confessor. The English forces
marched as far north as Dunsinane, one of the Sidlaws,
where they had a furious hand-to-hand conflict with
Macbeth, who commanded his troops in person. After
many displays of courage Macbeth was obliged to retreat;
and tradition fixes Belliduff as a likely place where
Macduff, Thane of Fife, to gratify personal revenge, slew
the King in single combat. "We are glad to see that the
learned historian, Burton, has thin assigned Macbeth a
higher place than many others give him : " The deeds
which raised Macbeth and his wife to power were not in
appearance much worse than others of their day, done
for similar ends. However, he may have gained his
power, he exercised it with good repute, according to the
reports nearest to his time." We know that Macbeth is
the first king who appears in the ecclesiastical records as
a benefactor of the Church ; for, according to the Register
of the Priory of St. Andrews, he granted some lands to

M El OLE. 99

the Monastery of Loch Leven About a mile distant
from Belliduff stands, almost erect, a large whin-stone
block of twenty tons in weight, to commemorate the
death of some military commander, and is called by
tradition " Siward's or Macbeth's Stone."

When the Knight Templars were in pomp (from the
foundation of the order of military monks in 1118), they
had considerable interest in Meigle, several lands in the
parish being still known as the Temple Lands. We pre-
fer this derivation to the common one of templum, any
religious house. The earliest recorded lords of Meigle
belonged to a family who assumed it for their surname.
They had their lands from William the Lion ; in his
time (1180), Simon de Miggil was Lord of the Manor.
The last notice of the surname is that of Rogier de
Miggel, who along with the Perthshire barons swore
fealty to Edward I. in 1296. The first Earl of Crawford,
in founding the choirs of our Lady of Victory and St.
George at Dundee (in 1398), gave an annual of 12 merks
out of the lands of Balmy le. Meigle was for some time
part of the lordship of Crawford, from which the scape-
grace, Lord Lindsay, over-ran and up-lifted the rents in
the time of his father, the Duke of Montrose, who was com-
pelled to crave Parliament, in 14-89, to protect him ; in
answer to which the offender was ordained to remedy all
the evils which the lands of " Megill and Rothuen " had

Drumkilbo, a mile east of the village, is a fine mansion
embosomed in wood. Kinloch, the residence of Sir John
Kinloch, is pleasantly situated a mile and a half west of
the village. When Mr. Murray of Simprim lived at Meigle
House, Sir Walter Scott was more than once his guest.
And near Simprim, at Cardean, there are still the
vestiges of a camp.


But it is the antique and curious monuments in the
churchyard which have most of all attracted the public
eye to the parish. The accounts of antiquarians so
stirred up the enthusiasm of the community, that a few
years ago the late Sir George Kinloch, the Superior of
Meigle, thought it advisable to protect them from the
ravages of the weather and the hammering tourist.
Accordingly, without consulting the Kirk-Session or
Presbytery (the custodiers of all pre-reformation remains
in the churchyard or church), he, by mistake, removed
some to the old school, which at a very high figure he
had purchased for the purpose of forming a parish
museum. Decided action was taken by the Presbj^tery,
and a compromise was at last come to between the two
conflicting parties, by which the sculptured stones, that
had already been removed, would not be ordered to be
returned to the churchyard, as Sir George had agreed to
enclose the old school within the churchyard, with free
admission to any parishioner. In the churchyard (for
the stones in the old school are now also in the church-
yard), are the remains of the grand sepulchral monument
of Guinevere, the wife of King Arthur, who flourished in
the sixth century, but whose history is involved in fable.
Before desci ibing the remains in these remarkable stones,
we will mention a few points brought out so beautifully
by the Poet Laureate, Lord Tennyson, in his " Holy
Grail " and " The Idylls of the King." It happened that

" Leodogran, the King of Camcliard,
Had one fair daughter, and none other child ;
And she waa fairest of all flesh on earth,
Guinevere, and in her his one delight. "

Till Arthur came near, the country was in a very wild
fitnte, where the " beast was ever more and more ; but man
was less and less." Passing by the Castle walls, a strange
sensation posse.ssed Arthur ; for though he looked down, he


" Felt the light of her eyes into his life
Smite on the sudden ; "

and in deep and charmed meditation, he resolved to be
" join'd with her, that reigning with one will in every-
thing, they might have power to lighten all the land."
After some negotiating, Arthur's chief knight, Sir
Launcelot, was sent for Guinevere to make her Queen.
Happy for a short time only did they live, for strangely
had she given Launcelot her love, in spite of the " dear
face of the guileless King." Meeting by arrangement to
sin and part, " passion pale they greeted ; hands in hands,
and eye to eye, they sat stammering and staring low on
the border of her couch." It was a madness of farewell,
for in guilt she exclaimed "Would God, that thou
could'st hide me from myself ! Mine is the shame, for I
was wife, and thou unwedded." They parted ; and she
went to a nunnery, unknown among them, till one day
the cry, " The King ! " startled her, and so great was her
misery that

" There with her milk-white arms and shadowy hair
She made her face a darkness from the King."

Arthur met her, and in pity and broken love addressed
her with pathetic appeals to penitence ; he loved her, yet
he could not restore her altogether. Bitterly he must

" Thou hast not made my life so sweet to me,
That I, the King, should greatly care to live :
For thou hast spoilt the purpose of my life.
I hold that man the worst of public foes
AVho, either for his own or children's sake,
To save his blood from scandal, lets the wife
Whom he knows false, abide and rule the house."

According to the tradition, Guinevere was put in captivity
on Barryhill, in Alyth, and ultimately torn to pieces by
wild beasts ; though Tennyson, throwing back on heathen
times the Christian spirit, does not adopt any so cruel
denouement for his series of beautiful idyls. One thing is


pretty certain from all accounts, she was buried at
Meigle, and a monument was erected to perpetuate her
sin. This memorial originally consisted of many stones
artfully joined, and decorated with a variety of sym-
bolical characters, strangely monstrous in their nature,
and representative of revengeful violence on a woman.
" On one stone are three small crosses, with many
animals above and below. On another is a cross adorned
with various flowers, and the rude representations of
fishes, beasts, and men on horseback. On a third is an
open chariot drawn by two horses, and some persons in
it ; behind is a wild beast devouring a human form lying
prostrate on the earth. On a fourth is an animal some-
what resembling an elephant. On another, eight feet
long; and three feet three inches broad, standing upright
in a socket, there is a cross. In the middle are several
figures with the bodies of horses, or camels, and the
heads of serpents ; on each side of which are wild beasts
and reptiles considerably impaired. On the reverse is the
figure of a woman, attacked on all sides by dogs and other
furious animals. Above are several persons on horseback,
with hounds engaged in the chase. Below is a centaur,
and a serpent of enormous size fastened on the mouth of
a bull." Such is the description given b} 1 Dr. Playfair,
minister of the parish in 1790, and afterwards Principal
of the University of St. Andrews. Pennant in his " Tour,"
Jervise in his " Sculptured Stones," but especially Dr.
Stewart in his very costly volumes, give accurate draw-
ings of these stones. However, there seems no satis-
factory accounting for the strange hieroglyphics ; many
guesses have been made by antiquarians and historians
but there is none sufficiently consistent for insertion here.
Superstition went the length of saying, according to the
fabulous Boece, that, if a young woman walked over the


grave of Guinevere, she would entail on herself perpetual
sterility : " All wemen that stampis on this sepulture shall
be ay barrant, but ony fruit of their womb sichlike as Gua-
nora was." Certainly there is no such superstition now ! A
property adjoining Meigle, called Arthurstone, contains
some strange monoliths suggestive of the legendary connec-
tion of Arthur with the district. It took its name from
one enormous block or outlier of sandstone of such dimen-
sions that a cottage was built out of it. Dr. Robertson
says of this mansion, that "by the time the proprietor has
had time to ornament his fields in the same style as in the
architecture of his dwelling, it will be esteemed by pos-
terity as a specimen of the elegant taste displayed in the
end of the eighteenth century." More than half a century
ago, when the body of the old church was taken down, a
font for holy water, of very hard stone, was dug out of
the rubbish. Its form is octagonal, each side bearing
some emblem of the crucifixion upon it, as the " mock
robe," the " spear and sponge," &c. For some time Dr.
Mitchell kept this on a pedestal in the manse garden.
But about thirty years ago it was granted for the baptism
of one of the Kinloch family, and is now in the Episcopal
Chapel at Meigle.

The church, originally dedicated to St. Peter the Apostle,
along with its pertinents, was in 1177 given to the Prior
of St. Andrews by Simon of Miggil, lord of the district.
From the Register of the Priory of St. Andrews (written
in very contracted Latin), we have been able to ascertain
that, in 1183, Pope Lucius confirmed this grant of " the
church of Miggil with the chapel belonging to it, and the
ecclesiastical seat and the returns which Simon, lord of
the manor, and his ancestors were annually accustomed to
receive." Pope Gregory VIII. in 1187, Clement in the same
year, Innocent III. in 120G, Honorius in 1216, and Inno-


cent IV. in 1246, renewed this confirmation of the grant
to the Priory of St. Andrews. The chapel belonging to
the church, and dedicated to the blessed Virgin, stood one
mile west. About twenty years ago the ruins, ivy-clad,
still remained on the ground called Chapelton ; but in its
place was then built a handsome Mausoleum for Kin loch
of Kinloch. The two the Church of St. Peter and the
Chapel of St. Mary were in the Ta.rath of 1275 rated at
20 merles.

In 1238, Galfridus, Bishop of Dunkeld, settled the
church lands of Megill, having with Fulco, lord of Megill,
made a personal inspection. In 12GO Michael of Migell
bestowed the Moss in his property on the Abbey of
Cupar. In 1443, the lands of Balmy le, which belonged
to the Abbey of Cupar, were leased for thirteen chalders
of barley and flour with other due services to the Abbey.
In 1495, David, Duke of Montrose, mortified lands for the
soul of his benefactor, James III., in the Church of Meiirle.

* * O

In 1500, James and Andrew Hering of Clonv held the


lordship of Megill for five years. According to Alexander
Myln, who wrote the lives of the bishops of Dunkeld in
1515, John Locock, vicar of Megill, was Prebend of
Capeth, in his time, " a most faithful man, who, though he
did not abound in many emoluments of the benefices, yet
cherished a sufficiently large family of friends ; banqueting
at his table with merry countenance; built his manse
from the foundation ; increased by twent} r shillings an-
nually the endowment of the church of St. Peter, which
had been endowed by his paternal uncle Chancellor James
Locock." At the Reformation it was styled, " ane of the
common kirks of Dunkeld." In 1574, David Ramsay
was minister of all the four parishes of Meigle, Ruthven,
Alyth and Glcnisla. But in 1585, James Nicolson was
minister of Meiglo and had for his stipend the " haill


fruits/' paying the minister of Alyth out of it. He was a
member of fifteen Assemblies, and was elected Moderator
in 1595 and 1606. In 1607, he became Bishop of Dun-
keld, purchased for him by the King from the former in-
cumbent; but this he did not live to enjoy, as he died in
seven months. In 1639, a petition was presented to
Parliament, craving to have the parish dissolved from
Dunkeld; and this was referred to the Commissioners for the
Planting of Kirks. But in 1677, William Lindsay,
Bishop of Dunkeld still held Meigle in his charge. His
successor, Bishop John Hamilton, possessed the same
privilege ; but he, as well as his helper in Meigle, was de-
prived by the Privy Council in 1689, for not reading the
proclamation of the Estates, and not praying for their
majesties in terms thereof, but " praying for King James,
and that God would give him the necks of his enemies."
In 1800, Dr. Playfair left Meigle to be Principal of the
United College, St. Andrews ; and, in 180 9, Daniel Robert-
son left to be Professor of Hebrew in the same University.
In 1808, a Committee of Presbytery reported that two
acres of ground had been set apart for " minister's grass "
for two cows and one horse.

Meigle is now the seat of the Presbytery of the same
name. In 1581, the General Assembly proposed to call it
the Presbytery of Kethenis, but changed it to Meigle be-
fore 1593 ; when it included, besides the present parishes,
Kirriemuir, Kinnettles, Cortachy, Rattray, and Glamis.
The Presbytery Records begin on the 8th November,
1659, and continue till 15th March, 1687; when the
Presbytery of Cupar- Angus was erected by the Bishop
and Synod of Dunkeld, and continued for two years. But
on the change of church government, the old arrange-
ment was restored. The Presbytery for a time formed
part of Angus and Mearns; but was afterwards joined to


Dundee and Forfar, until 2*st April 1703. The Records
of the Presbytery of Meigle as at present constituted,
commenced 19th October 1704, and are contained in
twelve volumes ; the two volumes up to 1C59 being un-
fortunately lost. Dr. Robertson in his " Agriculture of
Perthshire," states that the Fiars of the county in 1780,
were : Bear first sort, 11s. 6d. per boll, and meal 13s. 4d.;
in 1788, 12s. and lls. 6d. respectively ; and in 1795, 22.s.
Gd. and 22s. 8d. respectively. The present fluctuation of
stipends had therefore a corresponding change at the end
of last century. The Clerk of Presbytery (The Rev. Dr.
Chree of Lintrathen) has very kindly gone through a
considerable part of their Records for important informa-
tion ; but he has not found much to reward his labour.

The estate of Kinloch, though quoad sacra in Meigle, is
temporal iter in Cupar- Angus. There is no vestige of a
Roman highway in the neighbourhood of Meigle. A very
old bridge over the Dean connected Meigle and Airlie ; but
a more commodious one has been built in its stead. Un-
til about fifty years ago, the Isla had to be crossed, on the
road from Dundee to Alyth, by a ferry-boat. Several at-
tempts were made to have a bridge built there ; but these
were frustrated by the Societies which were peculiarly in-
terested in their success. At length, however, the fine
bridge of three arches at Crathie was built. Though of
high span (apparently need lesslyhigh in ordinary weather),
yet by sudden meltings of snow on the hills, or by heavy
rains, the Isla has not been able to get sufficient room for
its impetuous current, and has burst out upon the road.

The valued rental of the parish is 350 ; the real
rent is now above 8,000. The population a century
ago was 1148 ; now it is DOG. The decrease is owing to
the enlargement of the farms, the stoppage of hand-
loom weaving, and the closing of the work-mill for dyeing


and dressing cloths for umbrellas. Before the '45 Re-
bellion the state of the country was rude beyond descrip-
tion. The bulk of the inhabitants was only semi-civilized.
The common people lived in despicable huts with their
cattle. The indolence of the farmers was astonishing.
When seed time was finished, the plough and harrow
were laid aside till the autumn ; digging and carrying peat
for winter fuel being the summer's work. The rent of good
ground in Meigle, before 1745, was from 8 to 14 shillings
per acre; of outlying ground from 2 to 5 shillings. The
wages of a male servant were 1 10s. ; of a female 12s.

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Online LibraryJ. G McPhersonStrathmore: past and present, being topographical, ecclesiastical, and historical sketches of the parishes in the centre of Strathmore; with particular notices of the Abbey of Cupar and the Priory of Rostinoth → online text (page 8 of 20)