Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Fowlis Castle and Kirk


   The parish of Fowlis lies on the Braes of the Carse of Gowrie, part of the southern slopes of the Sidlaw Hills, several miles north-west of Dundee. Fowlis joined to the neighbouring parish of Lundie to the north in 1618 and is notable for its castle, kirk and the beauty spot called the Den o' Fowlis. 

   There has been confusion as to whether the parish was part of  Angus or Perthshire. It has been in Angus since late 19th century boundary changes, but was historically a part of Perthshire. (However, the barony of Fowlis included part of neighbouring Liff which has always been in Angus and the parish was also represented in the Synod of Angus and the Mearns.)

   Like many places the name of Fowlis is unclear and there are two in central Scotland, our example (sometimes called Fowlis Easter) and Fowlis Wester in Perthshire. One older theory states that the place-name derives from a Norman knight  - the Knight of Feuilles - who migrated from Kent who was granted the land by King Malcolm Canmore in the 11th century. Another suggestion says it gets its name from a Gaelic word signifying 'deep valley', referring to the narrow Den in the vicinity. David Dorward derives the name from fo ghlais, meaning 'sub stream' or 'tributary'.

   There are no very early dates regarding the ownership of the lands before the dubious Norman association but we know that King David I granted Fowlis along with other lands to William Maule following the Battle of the Standard in 1138. The Maules of course loom large as prominent gentry throughout the county through the centuries. One of Maule's daughters married Roger Mortimer, Sheriff of Perthshire, and Fowlis passed through this family for several centuries until the end of the 14th century when the heiress named Janet married Sir Andrew Gray, seventh baron of Broxmouth, who founded the line of the Grays of Fowlis. 

Fowlis Kirk

   The kirk may originally have been built in the 12th century, but the present building may be on the site of a 14th century foundation  by Sir Andrew Gray, later Lord Grey, in the 15th century.  This was done in 1453. Renovation was carried out in the late Victorian era. There is a record of an earlier kirk of Fowlis  in 1180, when William of Maule made a gift of the church and the titles of certain lands to his nephew, Thomas of Maule, out of which he was bound to pay a merk yearly to the Canons of St Andrews. 

   The kirk, dedicated to St Marnoch, is reckoned to be the finest surviving small medieval place of worship in Scotland. It was a collegiate establishment, served by a group of ecclesiastics (provost and prebends) rather than a single priest or establishment. This arrangement allowed the founder and sponsoring family to have an ongoing spiritual body on site employed to look after their everlasting souls.  The building has a sumptuous and surprisingly ornate interior which probably survived the wrath of the Reformation mobs of Dundee and Perth (who destroyed Coupar Angus Abbey among ot her ecclesiastical sites) due to the place's association with Lord Gray who was a staunch Protestant. There was an order by the Synod of Fife on 6th May 1612 to destroy the religious decoration:

Item, it is statute and ordained that the paintrie quhilk is upon the pulpitt and ruid-laft, being monumentes of idolatrie, sal be obliterate be laying it over with grein colour. The minister with diligens to see the same exped.

   Thankfully, there are surviving later medieval decorations still left in the kirk. There are many ancient features inside the building. Most significant perhaps is the oak panel painting of the Crucifixion. It details a crowd of figures (including St John, Salome, the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene), plus horses,  and measures 13 feet by 5 foot 3 inches. A centurion points to a scroll which reads, 'Truly this was the Son of God.' There is also the figure of a High Priest (or possibly Herod) and the souls of the two condemned thieves issuing through their mouths, with the trees and hills of Jesusalem in the background. The painting  has been dated to around 1480 and show the influence of Bohemian and Cologne schools.

   There is another panel painting which may originally have been the altarpiece. It portrays Christ with St Catherine on the left; John the Baptist on the right. Below is the scene of the body of Christ being lowered into the tomb. The centre of the painting has been damaged. Other panels include one which probably originally decorated the rood loft and portrays a number of saints and apostles. 

 Further treasures include the 15th century oak doors, which were part of the rood screen, plus the rood loft which would have accommodated musicians. There is also a German bronze alms dish (dated 1487) which shows a scene of the Garden of Eden, with a German inscription reading 'I bide the time in quietness.'  Rather less elegant are the jougs, the neck collar used to confine miscreants, hanging on the wall by the north door. There is also the aumbry, or sacrament house, where the sacred vessels were stored. This is one of the finest ancient examples in Scotland. It portrays Christ holding the cross and a globe, an angel with a cross, plus several other angels.



Fowlis Castle and the Gray Family

   Fowlis Castle stands at the south of the village, near the head of the Den of Fowlis.It was the principal residence of the Grays until 1452 when they moved to Castle Huntly several miles away in the Case of Gowrie. After several centuries of dereliction it was allegedly used as a tavern and then utilised to house farm labourers in the 19th century and more recently has been fully restored as a private residence. There is a date stone of 1862 in the building, commemorating rebuilding by Sir Patrick Keith Murray in the Victorian period. It was largely constructed in its present form in the 17th century and was abandoned when the owners constructed the nearby House of Gray. There is a tradition that the castle was used by the English invader General Monck in the 17th century as stables for a cavalry force. The Grays sold the estate in 1669 to Sir William Murray of Ochtertyre and the Murrays removed to Ochtertyre House, Perthshire, in 1780. The castle was occupied by Jacobite forces in both 1715 and 1745. The Grahams of Fintry are supposed to have tenanted the building for some time also.

   The existing structure is called the Lady's Tower and is four storeys in height. The surviving building may represent most of the ancient south-west portion of the castle.  The more modern wing is on the north side. It was evidently a forerunner of this stronghold which hosted King James IV in 1497N(when he paid 14 shillings to a harpar there) and his ancestor James I in 1448. The brother of Queen Anna, the Duke of Holstein, dined here with Lord Gray in May 1598. 

   Although the Gray family had a sometimes tumultuous history, there are no recorded violent events associated with the castle except for one local tradition attached to the winding staircase of the stronghold. This staircase in the tower was supposedly the site of a murder in the 13th century when the Mortimer owner dispatched his own mother there. The tale seems to have been founded on a corruption of the surname, or a play on it: Morte du Mere.

The House of Gray

   The House of Gray stands rather forlornly several miles away from Fowlis Castle, in the parish of Benvie, where the Grays purchased land in 1713. It has been boarded up and semi-derelict for many decades. Plans to turn it into a hotel and various other things have been drawn up over the years, without result, though there is a current scheme to divide them building into dwellings. The mansion was built on the plans of Alexander McGill by John, 12th Lord Gray (b. 1716. Another source states it was begun by the 10th Lord Gray.). The principal dwelling of the family transferred to Kinfauns Castle at the western end of the Carse of Gowrie, which was built by Francis, 15th Lord Gray. 

   Invergowrie House, not far off, was the home of a son of the main Gray family. The new Dykes of Gray village has been built on the estate of the House of Gray.
   The estate was sold to John Ogilvie at the end of the First World War and he lived there until he died in 1936. The large house seems to have served as an orphanage for a short period subsequently before being left vacant. By the mid 1970s it was being used to house raspberries and cans associated with fruit growing.

The House of Gray

Monday, 10 May 2021

Return to the Ball of Kirriemuir


   This short piece is just a postscript to my previously published article on that most scurrilous of all songs 'The Ball o' Kirriemuir' (which can be found here). In that post I carefully skirted around the obscene content of the various versions of that ballad (and skirted is probably a good word to use in that context). The mystery surrounding the composition is multi faceted:  who composed it? is there an original version still to find? was it based on an actual, real life orgy? why so many different versions of it in circulation? 

   While reading a book by A.D. Hope which examines William Dunbar's poetic themes (A Midsummer Eve's Theme, Canberra, 1970), I stumbled across the following  quote which gives a possible origin story about The Ball. It was taken from an essay prefixed to the 1959 edition of Robert Burns' The Merry Muses of Caledonia. The essay was called 'Pornography and Bawdry in Literature and Society,' and the author is James Burke. 

This ballad-song developed from a twenty-verse work celebrating an actual event . . . Some thirty years ago [c. 1930] a local historian, in the Kirriemuir district, gave me this story of its origin. Around the 1880s a barn dance (harvest home or Kirn dance) was held in the barn of a neighbouring farm. On this occasion the young fellows gathered rose hips and removed the tiny yellow hirsute seeds. These were scattered on the earthen floor of the barn. The girls danced barefooted. Female drawers were not in general use but, where worn, were of the open crotch or 'free trade’ pattern. In the stour of the dance the small hip seeds lodged around the pudendal hair and set up a pubic and vaginal itch. In other words they constituted a powerful external aphrodisiac. In addition to this, some wag had added a modicum of Spanish fly to the punch bowl. A final touch was the placing of a divot, or sod of grass, in the well of the hanging kerosene lamp. This shortened the life of the illumination to coincide roughly with the time the internal and external aphrodisiacs became effective. The upshot was an orgy of major proportions and it was this orgy that was celebrated in the original Ball o’ Kirriemuir.

Is the theory true?  Who knows... answers on a postcard perhaps.

Monday, 3 May 2021

Forgotten Sons of Angus: Sir Peter Young, Tutor to The King

 Scholar and Tutor to James VI

Most people who know about the rather barren early years of King James VI of Scotland associate his teaching with the eminent but fearsome scholar George Buchanan. He was a man with little time for royalty and indeed he hated the king's mother Queen Mary. There was little warmth but much effective learning from Buchanan, even if the king ruefully remembered later in life that he had been forced to learn Latin almost before he could speak Scots. The rigid influence of Buchanan was mitigated to some extent by the secondary teacher, Peter Young of Dundee, who was a more sympathetic tutor to the orphaned monarch.

   Peter Young was born at Dundee on 15th August 1544, son of John Young, a burgess in both Dundee and Edinburgh. The family claimed descent from the Young family of Ochterlony. One of this family was William Young who lost his life at the battle of Glasclune in Strathmore in 1392. His mother Margaret belonged to the Scrymgeour family who were the hereditary constables of the burgh. Young was gifted academically and was encouraged in his studies by his parents.  He was sent abroad at the age of 18 and studied in Geneva under the renowned Theodore Beza, an associate of the reformer Calvin. Young's maternal uncle Henry Scrymgeour was also teaching at the University of Geneva.

   At the beginning of 1569 Young was appointed as secondary tutor to the young king by the regent the earl of Moray. By all accounts Young was highly regarded by the old and irascible Buchanan, despite the difference in their ages and temperaments. The duties in the royal castle of Stirling were evidently not onerous because Young is recorded as saying that he regarded his position of tutor as being more like a hobby than a job. He does not seem to have needed the job for financial reward since he had inherited land in Fife, Perth and Elgin. Young's first wife Elizabeth Gibb was a daughter or grand-daughter of Robert Gib, court jester of King James V. They married in 1577.

   As well as being the king's almoner until his death, Young was employed on various embassies and was involved in education.  He was also a member of the Privy Council. Young purchased the estate of Easter Seaton, part of the lands formerly owned by Arbroath Abbey, where the mansion house was built in 1583. The following decade he bought the nearby estate of Kinblethmont. Peter's youngest brother Alexander was doorkeeper of the inner bedchamber of King James VI. He died in Dundee soon after Christmas 1603.

  Some sources state that Young was sycophantic towards the king, but this is uncertain. In comparison with the nobles and great favourites at court, Young was not lavishly rewarded. One of the greatest payments to him was in September 1580 when the king gave him £2,000 , 'to buy sum pece of land and to plenishe the same to be a resting place to him hiswyff and bairnis in consideration of his lang trew and thankfull service'. Young played a conspicuous part in the embassy to Denmark to arrange for the king's marriage to Princess Anna. There is one negative incident associated with this venture, for the tutor wished to travel with the Earl Marischal, but the latter refused to go with him,  being 'perswaded,and it is true, that the sayd Peter will robbe him of all his honour, beinge an ambycyowse fellow, and aqaynted there, and specyally by his pryvy instruccyons'. There is some hint that the nobility resented him because of his relative lowly birth.  But King James remained grateful to Young throughout his life and regarded him with considerable fondness. He was knighted by the king at Whitehall in February 1605 and was given an annual pension of £300. Elizabeth Gibb died at Leith in 1595 and Young afterwards married Janet Murray, Lady Torphichen. Unfortunately she died in the same year. His third wife was Marjory Mavine.

Later Years as an Angus Laird. 

The Fight Against the Burgh of Forfar

  Although a wealthy man who was well-known and respected throughout Scotland and England, Young did have local troubles in his native region, particularly a long-standing feud with the authorities of Forfar which seems to have been caused by a dispute about the use of the forest of Mortreathmont, part of which Young had received as an inheritance from his father. There is a record of this dispute in the records of the Privy Council under the year 1607 of a complaint by Peter Young of Seton, that, upon 16th June last, the Provost and Baillie of Forfar had convocated the whole inhabitants of the said burgh to the number of 300 persons, who, all armed with corslets, jacks, steel bonnets, spears, halberts, lances, swords,  and other weapons, came 'with sound of drum' to that part of the common muir of [Montreathmont] which had been peaceably possessed by the complainer's predecessors past memory of man, and there, with spades and swords, 'cuttit and destroyit the haill turves and dovallis then cassin and win,' and chased Young's servants away. The provost Walter Lindsay and baillies were named and gave evidence. But the decision went against Young because the delegation from Forfar  stated they had merely gathered to ride and restore the historic marches or boundaries of the land belonging to the burgh. The quarrel continued however and in the following year the provost and baillies were bound over to keep the peace and not to harm Sir Peter Young, under the penalty of 500 marks each or 4000 marks collectively.

   Peter Young died at Easter Seaton on 7th January, 1528, and he was interred at St Vigeans.


Sir Peter Young aged 79


Sir James Young was knighted and acquired land in Ulster. The third son, Peter, became a Gentleman of the Bedchamber to King Charles I and accompanied earl Spencer on a diplomatic mission to Sweden. He died aged 48 in 1631. Peter's twin brother Robert died even earlier, aged 37. He had been a tutor to a nobleman and had journeyed to the Holy Land. Patrick Young (d. 1652) was a distinguished scholar and became a rector and librarian to royalty. John Young became Dean of Winchester and chaplain to King James I. He acquired properties in Fife. Sir Peter also had four daughters, three of whom survived into adulthood. One of them remained in Angus after her wedding: Euphemia Young married Sir David Ogilvy of Clova.

Previous Posts on Forgotten Sons and Daughters of Angus

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Further Information On Fairs and Markets

 The old fairs and markets is a topic which I have returned to repeatedly (a bit like witchcraft, which I have also covered in many articles) as new information comes to my attention. Much of the information is fragmentary or otherwise incomplete, but it's all still interesting. Those who want to know more about the subject are advised to follow the links to previous posts at the bottom of this article.

   One of Dundee's principal fairs was Lady Mary's Fair.  George Martin in Dundee Worthies (1934, p. 163) describes this in the late 19th century as being 'A very miscellaneous collection of stalls...erected round the square [in the High Street] and in adjoining streets on which were displayed all sorts of wares.' Among the stall were many of the tinker variety, including the 'Umbrella Man' whose stall was beneath an enormous umbrella and who orated the virtue and economic value of all his wares: 'You may take it or leave it or go home without it, I won't take the ninety-ninth part of a farthing less than 2s. d.'

   Martin's 83 year old correspondent remembered the excitement of the Greemarket fair in the mid 19th century:

I sometimes visited the Greenmarket when I was a boy and I well remember the Lemon and Kali man who sold it at the prince of a ha'penny the tumbler 'or you can have it in the powder a penny an ounce, or two ounces for three ha'pence and a teaspoonful l makes a large tumbler. It's called the real American Lemonade and Kalie because it was first imported from America.'

   Among the side shows were test your strength machines, boxing booths, a boxing kangaroo, plus various physically disadvantaged adults advertised as 'freak shows'. There was also:

'Professor' Cottrill who performed marvellous aquatic feats among which was eating, smoking and sleeping under the water and the outstanding item of 60 or 70 shillings being thrown into the tank which the 'Professor' retrieved with his mouth. On one occasion he disgorged over £3 in shillings after he came to the surface.

   The fair seems to have declined around 1906 when local shopkeepers outbid stallholders and thus outbid their competition. The roots of Lady Mary's Fair are century old and was likely first held on 15th August, Old Style. A later fair, the Latter Mary Fair was brought it and held  on 8th September, Old Style. The original fair survived until the 1930s.

Picture of Lady Mary Fair, 1908, by W Borrie

   As a tail piece to this article I'm giving the words to the traditional song 'Rare's Hill', a ballad performed by Mark Black and others. The lyrics relate, of course, to Rere's Hill in Broughty Ferry and to the Lady Fair of Dundee:

Last year at Lady Mary's fair when I was in Dundee
I fell in with an old sweetheart, and he being on a spree
His company I did accept and with him I did go
But to my sad misfortune it proved my overthrow
We wandered east, we wandered west, we wandered through the lawn
He said he'd see me home that night, but home I never saw
He kept beside me all the while resolved to have his will
And by and by we lost our way at the back of Rare's Hill

And when we got to Rare's Hill, the laddie said to me
"We can't go home tonight, my dear, it's far too late, you'll see
But the night is warm and in my pouch, I've got another gill
So we can lie down here content at the back of Rare's Hill

For then he poured a nip a piece to quiet all alarm
When I awoke in the morning, we were locked in each other's arms
He handed me the bottle another glass to fill
And I drank his health in store o' wealth at the back of Rare's Hill

And then the lad, he said to me, "Oh lassie, do not mourn
For while I draw the breath of life, from you I'll never turn
If you will come to yonder town, my wedded wife to be
We'll be the happiest couple yet 'twas ever in Dundee"
Well, it's may I never prosper and may I never thrive
In anything I take in hand as long as I'm alive
If e'er I say I rue the day my laddie had his will
Success to Lady Mary's fair and the back of Rare's Hill

   (The ballad is also known as 'The Jilted Lover'. Notes on different modern renditions can be found in the following link: here.)

Previous Posts on Markets and Fairs

Friday, 9 April 2021

The Battle of Camperdown and Admiral Duncan


  The Battle of Camperdown looms large as one of the most significant military events connected with Angus, though of course it happened a considerable distance from Angus. The naval encounter in the North Sea between the British and Dutch fleets took place in 1797 and was an overwhelming victory for Admiral Adam Duncan over Dutch forces commanded by Jan de Winter. The British hero of the battle was an Angus man from the Sidlaws surrounded parish of Lundie to the north-west of Dundee. The second son of Alexander Duncan (d. 1777) and Helen Haldane, he was born on 1st July 1731 in the building which had been the mansion of the Stewarts of Grandtully in Dundee, adjacent to St Paul's Episcopal Cathedral. Duncan's family had been connected with the burgh of Dundee since the 16th century.  William Duncan, a surgeon, was dean of the guild of Dundee and died in 1608. The Duncans purchased the estate of Lundie in 1682 from Colin Campbell. Adam's father was a burgess and provost of the burgh. The family were firmly Hanoverian in sympathy and had been linked with the mercantile class of Dundee for generations. Provost Alexander Duncan, who died in 1696, was one of the most prominent members of the family.

Portrait of Admiral Duncan by Henri-Pierre Danloux

  Duncan joined the navy as a midshipman in 1746 and served aboard the frigate Shoreham for several years. He saw action at various engagements in the 1750s.  His service took him to North America, the Caribbean and also Africa. In 1777 he had married Henrietta, daughter of Robert Dundas of Arniston, Lord President of the Court of Session. They had two sons and five daughters.He commanded HMS Valiant, then returned home and there was a lull in  active service until 1778, when he was took over HMS Suffolk. By 1782 he was First Lord of the Admiralty, and in 1795, was made a full admiral and appointed commander -in-chief in the North Sea. His decisive win over the Dutch happened on 11 October 11, 1797. Even accounting for patriotic propaganda spread after the Battle of Camperdown, Duncan was admired both for his physical stature and his bravery. Standing at six foot four, he was allegedly handsome with it and even as a young lieutenant would attract crowds of admirers as he strolled through Chatham. His imposing bearing and personal courage assisted him to quell mutiny among sailors in 1797.

The Engagement at  Camperdown

   The campaign of the British fleet against the Dutch was really a proxy was against the French forces, since the Dutch state was a puppet power set up by France. As Commander-In-Chief of the North Seas, Duncan was ordered to blockade the Dutch fleet which was under the command of Admiral de Winter. After keeping the enemy penned in for eighteen weeks, Duncan had to return to Britain for refits and restocking provisions in his own vessels.  This gave the Dutch the opportunity to break out into open water, Duncan went to challenge him and met the Dutch about seven miles off the coast between the villages of Egmont and Camperdown. Duncan attacked with the fleet in two sections, led by himself and Vice Admiral Richard Onslow. The battle lasted for five hours until the large number of Dutch losses compelled de Winter to surrender and give up his sword of command to Duncan aboard his flag ship, the 'Venerable'. A measure of the ferocity of the engagement can be seen in the fact that the flag ship was hit by around 45 shots and was so badly damaged that she was almost unmanageable. Nine Dutch shops were sunk, others fled, and most were badly damaged. 

Rewards and Fame

   For his great victory, he was awarded a pension of £2,000 and created Baron Duncan of Lundie and    Viscount Duncan of Camperdown in October 1797.  He was given the freedom of the city of London and granted a large annual pension by the government. A thanksgiving service was held in St. Pauls Cathedral on 10th December, 1797, attended by royalty.  a statue of him was later installed in the cathedral. Lord Duncan carried in the procession the Dutch Admiral's flag, which he had won at Camperdown. Duncan was made freeman of the principal crafts of Dundee in January 1798, with the burgh of Dundee the previous year gifted him a piece of plate with the value of 100 guineas as a mark of esteem for his glorious naval victory of the previous year. Duncan was also awarded the Large Naval Gold Medal and given an annual pension of £3,000. He was created Viscount Duncan and Baron Lundie, a fact that caused his aunt to write to the Secretary of State for War, Henry Dundas, querying why he was not given the greater honour of an English earldom. That greater honour fell to the admiral's son Robert who was created Earl of Camperdown in 1831. (He died in 1859.) 

   Duncan was made Admiral of the White on 14 February, 1799 and remained as Commander-in-Chief in the North Seas until 1800. Military conflict ceased until 1804. Duncan went to London to offer his services again but on the way he had an attack of apoplexy and turned back home. On the return journey he had a second, fatal attack and died at Cornhill, Berwickshire, of 4 August 1804. He was buried in the kirkyard of Lundie. Henrietta and some of her children were buried in the Greyfriars, Edinburgh. There were commemorations of Duncan all around the world. An island in the Galapagos bore his name (though it is now called Pinzon Island) and Duncan's Cove in Canada remembers him. 

   Duncan was of course treated as a national British hero, but Scotland particularly honoured him. The word Camperdown became a mellifluous buzzword for a while. It became attached to everyday commodities. In Edinburgh (where Duncan had a town house in George Square) peddlers would cry in the street, 'Wha'll buy Camperdown salt?'  The estate of Lundie was renamed Camperdown  (which is now Camperdown Park) and part of the Dundee harbour was renamed Camperdown Dock half a century after his death. The other major local landmark to be named after the battle was the massive jute mill at Lochee, several miles east of the estate, and owned by the Cox Brothers, named Camperdown Works. In 1802, local dignitary George Dempster renamed St Causnan's Well at Dunnichen  as Camperdown Well. A statue of the admiral was erected in the High Street of Dundee on the 200th anniversary of the battle. Duncan did not spend many years on his own estates, either at Lundie or in Gleneagles. But he was well remembered personally in Angus for taking a close, benevolent interest in the nascent industrial village of Lochee, not far to the east of Lundie. He was remembered decades later by older people there for his nautical attire and his dignified courtesy.

Camperdown House and Previous Family Homes

   Camperdown House was built by Admiral Duncan's son Robert Duncan, designed by the Edinburgh architect William Burn, between the years 1824 and 1828. It replaced the previous family seat several miles away in Lundie. Lundie House, which dated from around 1540, and was built by Sir John Campbell (treasurer of King James V), was demolished. (The admiral's second son Henry died as a captain in the Royal Navy in 1835.) There is confusion in some sources about the identity and locations of Lundie Castle and Lundie House respectively. The former stood in the village and parish of that name some miles to the north-west of the later Camperdown House. Lundie House was located near Camperdown House. The family quit the old castle during the 18th century and moved to a more modern property, at first called Gourdie House, which was later named Lundie House.  This was only a little way west of its replacement, Camperdown House. Some remains of the castle were evident as late as 1830. The lion rampant figurehead of de Winter's ship the 'Vryheid' used to be displayed outdoors in an enclosure near Camperdown House.

  The park at Camperdown was designed by David Taylor, a forester. He and his son planted most of the trees there between 1805 and 1859. The third earl, also Robert, was the last member of the family to live in the mansion. His younger brother George  succeeded as 4th earl when he was 73 and died childless. The last member of the family who owned the house was a cousin, Georgiana Wilhelmina, Dowager Countess of Buckinghamshire, who died in the March 1937. The contents of the mansion were auctioned in 1941 and the house and estate was purchased by Dundee Corporation immediately after World War Two.

Friday, 1 January 2021

The Goors o' Gowrie - Devil's Work or Ancient Tribal Meeting Place?

    At Invergowrie, west of Dundee, there were two stones sitting in the shallows of Invergowrie Bay known as the Goors or Gows of Invergowrie. Some say that they were called by other names and others say that there was only one stone which fell into the river when the Devil threw his burden from the opposite shore in Fife. Either way the object or objects have a peculiar power and are said to have been creeping slowly back to land. And when they reached the shore it would herald the end of the world.

   The legends of these stones on the Perthshire-Angus border give clues about the early history and significance of the local area and call out for detailed study. The folklore here may in fact be the most important of any which are associated with Angus. I have theorised widely about these objects in this article due to their importance. The folklore was first published in the 19th century and there has been much written about the stones since that date. If a lot of this is repetition or contrary information, this is no different from many other popular tales which mutate over the course of time.

   The story of these stones had first come to widespread attention in the 1826 first edition of Robert Chambers' classic folklore compilation The Popular Rhymes of Scotland and included in all subsequent editions:


When the Yowes o' Gowrie come to land,
The day o' judgment 's near at hand.

   A prophecy prevalent in the Carse of Gowrie and in Forfarshire. The Ewes of Gowrie are two large blocks of stone, situated within high-water mark, on the northern shore of the Firth of Tay, at the small village of Invergowrie. The prophecy obtains universal credit among the country-people. In consequence of the deposition of silt on that shore of the Firth, the stones are gradually approaching the land, and there is no doubt will ultimately be beyond flood-mark. It is the popular belief that they move an inch nearer to the shore every year. The expected fulfilment of the prophecy has deprived many an old woman of her sleep; and it is a common practice among the weavers and bonnet-makers of Dundee to walk out to Invergowrie on Sunday afternoons, simply to see what progress the Yowes are making! (Chambers 1870, pp. 256-7) 
   A slightly later account of the stones was written by the eminent Angus antiquarian Andrew Jervise. He states of the stones - 'the most popular antiquities of the district' - known to him as the Goors of Gowrie: 'These are two unembellished boulders, each about two tons weight, which lie upon the shore of the Tay, immediately to the east of the kirkyard of Invergowrie.' (Jervise 1855, pp. 444-5).

   He then gives a version of a rhyme which was current in the locality about the stones:

   When the Goors o' Gowry come to land,
   The warld's end is near at hand.
   The rhyme was believed to be the work of the late 13th century seer True Thomas of Erceldoune and involved the belief that the stones in the river would one day return to dry land and when that happened it would signal the end of the world. It is interesting that Chambers neither attributes the verse to Thomas nor attempts to give an explanation about how the stones first came to be deposited in the River Tay. Later writers tapped into a common folklore motif which stated that Satan was furious that a Christian Church was being built north of the Tay. Standing near the Fife shore he hurled three massive boulders at the building. Two of these fell short and fell into the river. A third stone was also wayward, flew way past the kirk and landed almost a mile to the north, where it still rests. Tales of this type are common throughout the British Isles, used to explain prominent monoliths, regarded as being somehow uncanny in the landscape, and the agent responsible is usually Satan, though sometimes a flying witch or an angry giant is blamed. (Tales of Satan taking aim at Christian edifices are also not uncommon. He threw stones at one church from the peak of Bennachie in Aberdeenshire.)

   The Satan story at Invergowrie is usually repeated without further geographical detail. In some printed versions of the tale only one stone lands in the Tay, not two. The Rev Philip (1895, p. 48) suggests that there was an associated legend when the Devil was afterwards travelling from Kirkcaldy to the Carse of Gowrie carrying a load of stones he meant to place as stepping stones in the Tay. But he stumbled as he passed over Benarty Hill in Kinross, which explains the boulders strewn about that place.

   Can we attempt to find a meaning behind the story of the stones here? Seeking definitive 'truth' from folklore is probably a fool's errand. But various suppositions can be made. If we discount a natural process which stranded the stones in the River Tay it would be tempting to say that the stones ended up in the water because someone placed them there on purpose. Might we suggest that agents of the first Christian church removed pagan objects of local veneration and that the story of them returning to dry land reflects a fear that the old religion might one day return, signalling the end of the world, at least to devout Christians?

   Various other stones in Britain are reputed to be either humans or animals petrified. If we suppose that Yowes = Ewes as one of the traditional names of the stones, we can look elsewhere for standing stones associated with sheep. There are not many. The Strathclyde saint Kentigern had a ram which was turned into a stone and there was a stone in Devon which was worshipped with the daily sacrifice of a sheep. There are several accounts of stones which move. Stones which slowly move closer to land from a watery position almost seems unique to Invergowrie. True Thomas also reputedly visited Fyvie Castle in Aberdeenshire where he threw several stones in the River Ythan. If they every returned to the castle, it would spell misfortune.

   Analysis of traditional tales can obviously lead to connections being seen everywhere, even when the evidence is thin. There is some supposition later on in this article which hopefully does not stray too far from reason. But consider the following as a cautionary example. Very close by the site of the ancient church at Invergowrie was a supposed Roman marching camp which was known locally as Catter Milley. This is supposed by some to be a corruption of Cathair Melin, the 'Fort of Melin'. We find the name of the hero Melin in the Highlands at Loch Broom where he is remembered for throwing a great stone across that loch. It landed at a place afterwards called Leckmelm, the 'Stone of Melin' . Is there a connection with the Devil throwing the stones at Invergowrie? Probably not.

The Third Stone

   The stone which flew past the church and came to rest about about half a mile to the north and was called by various names, including the Paddock Stane and the Deil's or Devil's Stane. It is described by the First Report by the Committee on Boulders as a 'mica schist boulder, 8 x 6 x 4 feet'. The boulder stands in the perimeter of the mansion which was once named after it, Greystone House. D. M. Watson, the owner of the estate in the 19th century, was also the proprietor of nearby Bullionfield Paper Works and he had the boulder enclosed in an iron railing so that people could see it from outside. The great house was later turned into a hotel, formerly The Greystane Hotel, The Swallow Hotel, and now The Landmark Hotel. (The map reference for the stone is NO346310.) The claim on the current Wikepedia page about Invergowrie (which can be read here) that the stone by the mansion is called the Deil's Stane and that the Paddock Stone (or Fairy Stone) is another monolith on Waterside Road, Invergowrie is not substantiated in any other source I can find.

  There may be some traditional significance in groups of three rocks in ancient times. The Tripartite Life of St Patrick mentions an enormous stone which stood in the path of the saint. When he spat on it, the stone was split into three parts.

The Deil's Stane

Deil's Stane

   The stone has an enduring reputation for being uncanny. During my early childhood in the early 1970s I visited the stone with a friend and mocked his remark that you had to spit on the stone to prevent Satan appearing there and then. He did so, but I held off until I was some way up the road, then shamefully and fearfully returned to complete the act. This probably says more about myself than the particular power of folklore at this site. If I were to hazard a guess at the origin of this 'tradition' I might be inclined to believe it was linked to the custom, attested at other stones, of placing offerings there to appease whatever otherworldly force was resident therein. Tradition states that each morning at cock crow the stone spins around three times. Exactly the same thing is said about another Angus stone, The Cauld Stane of Carmyllie which sat on the boundary of the parishes of St Vigeans and Carmyllie. It was also dropped by the Devil (or a flying witch).

   The stone's setting is undoubtedly significant. I discuss below the ancient significance of stones on boundaries, but even in the modern age they were used to mark important local borders. The Paddock Stone is said to have sat at the intersection of three roads before the building of Greystane House. In Angus the famous Girdle Stane of Dunnichen is significant in this respect. A huge, marked boulder, it sits on the meeting place of the parishes of Dunnichen and Rescobie and also at the intersection of the lands of Dunnichen and Ochterlony. It was said to have been dropped into its location by a witch flying overhead (Warden 1882, p. 190). Close by the boulder stone coffins, containing rude clay urns and human bones have been recovered.

Other Stones and the Ritual Landscape

    There is a tradition that another was hurled by Satan and that this one also missed its target. Alexander Hutcheson insists that there was only one enormous stone and that it exploded in mid-air, dividing itself into four separate boulders (Hutcheson 1927, p. 12). Whatever the truth of it, this other stone landed on the high ground some distance to the east of Invergowrie, on the high ground now covered by the housing estate on the western side of Dundee named Menzieshill. When the land was open country this stone, set on a mound, was surrounded by a knoll of trees known locally as The Dark Stane Roundie. The name was either reference to the reputation or the spot or because of the dark Scots fir trees clustered there. The anonymous author of A Series of Excursions (p. 113) noted that the top of this standing stone had been 'shivered off by lightning' and the broken piece was lying nearby. Hutcheson also confirms this and states that the site was destroyed in 1884. The Roundie was used as a weekend resort by card playing gangs of roughs, so the tree were grubbed up and the ancient monument was smashed into pieces which were used in the construction of nearby roads. The site was then ploughed over (Hutcheson 1927, p. 12. Elliot 1911, p. 206, says the stone was broken up in 1888 and some bones were found on the site.) . Eighty yards south-east of the Roundie is Invergowrie House, possibly on the site of an earlier baronial power centre, though another clump of trees in the locality was also identified as the earlier site (Myles 1850, p. 113).

Some distance to the north-east of the Paddock Stone is the remains of a stone circle at Balgarthno. It is nothing to look at now and sits forlornly at the western fringe of the Dundee suburb of Charlestown near Myrekirk Road. It was described as comprising of 9 large and 4 small stones in the mid 20th century (Melville 1975, p. 178). A more recent description states that the circle was about 20 feet in diameter and consists of 9 stones, only one of which was still upright (Coutts 1970, p. 18). The map reference is NO 353316.) These prehistoric monuments may all be related to each other as part of an ancient ritual landscape. Another stone which should be noted is the 16 feet upright stone which served as a slab bridge over the burn near the Dargie Kirk. It was re-erected in modern times, although its ancient position is unknown (Hutcheson 1927, p. 2).

Alexander Hutcheson writes of another important large ancient monument in the vicinity. He states this is 'practically within the area of the Goors,' but does not directly identify the site. He describes the Stone Circle of Invergowrie as follows:

The Invergowrie Circle measures about 40 feet in diameter. It consists of nine stones, with a tenth one not set up in the circle with the others; it may be the sole survivor of a inner circle, or it may have been moved out of place in 1856, when the circle was explored. Only one stone remains upright, and that is about 5 feet high. One of the recumbent stones has a hollow on its upper surface, and is known as 'The Deil's Cradle'. (Hutcheson 1927, p. 13).
   This circle is obviously not identical with the Balgarthno one, but seems to refer to a site at Mylefield (NO334301). This lies south-west of the Paddock Stane and west of the Dargie Kirk and near the current Dundee-Perth road, just inside Perthshire. It is also significantly close to the supposed Roman marching camp in the area. Unfortunately the site no longer exists. Strangely a modern archaeological evaluation of the vicinity of Mylnefield House (Cachart 2009) has not found any ancient remains. Yet there is corroboration published in 1911 that the stone circle here did exist, albeit with a different count of the stones there: 'The location at Mylnefield was eliptical in form, and consisted of six large boulders—three at the east, three at the west, with a gap between capable of containing an equal number of stones' (Elliot 1911, p. 204). What happened to this large archaeological site remains a mystery.

   Beyond the prehistoric and Roman periods, this vicinity remained significant into the Early Medieval era. In a previous article I wrote about the significance of the location of the Dargie kirk at Invergowrie. The ancient church is reputed to stand on the site of a foundation made by a saint possibly called Curetán or Boniface who was associated with the 8th century Northumbrian Roman mission to the land of the Picts. (That original post can be read here.) There was a Roman camp nearby and also possibly a Pictish power centre. Invergowrie stands on the border of the modern counties of Angus and Perthshire, and more precisely the districts of Gowrie and Angus. The church was on the left hand of the Invergowrie Burn, Gowrie side, and the later settlement of Invergowrie was within Angus on the east side of the burn. It is likely that this represents the ancient frontier between two Pictish provinces. Borders were places of some significance to ancient peoples in these islands. Treaties were often agreed at the intersection of tribal zones and there may have been a ritual significance to such places.

   There were Pictish stones erected at Dargie/Invergowrie itself and also prominently at Benvie, the Angus parish to the north-west. The Invergowrie area has also shown evidence of souterrains and there is early medieval archaeology persent in the shape of square barrow crop marks and long cist burials.

The Names of the Stones

   There is no definitive agreement about what the Invergowrie Bay stones are called. The following phonetically similar terms are used: The Goors, Gows, Yowes, Ewes. The latter two names, Scots and English synonyms, may suggest that there was a belief that the two river stones were transformed animals and this may also be linked with the notion that the boulders were capable of movement. The words goor and gow are less easy to comprehend. Goor has connotations of slime or dirt according to the Dictionary of The Scottish Language (, which may accord with their location in the shallows of Invergowrie Bay. None of the various meanings of gow would seem remotely applicable to a large boulder. There is a possibility that the name mundanely comes from the Scots version of the word gull because the rocks were frequented by those seabirds (First Report by the Committee on Boulders,1871-72, p. 17), but this seems rather unsatisfactory.

Alexander Hutcheson noted the occurrence of gow in a piece of 15th century Scottish prophetic poetry: 'In a Gow of Gowrie, by a gray stane, he shall tulzie wi the Tod' (Hutcheson 1927, p. 4), though the meaning is not clear. Hutcheson (c. 1842-1917), a native of Broughty Ferry on the other side of Dundee, was an architect, antiquarian and expert in ancient song. He is the most important source of information about the stones in the 20th century. Some of his conjectures may be wide of the mark, though they remain interesting. From the quoted verse he wondered whether it referred to a fight with Satan in the guise of some strange beast in the vicinity. 'Tod' is the Scots for fox - so we might have the Goors and/or Paddock Stone being either seagulls, foxes or sheep! Hutcheson also pondered whether the original defeated Satanic beast was a dragon as there is a prominent legend of a dragon affixed to a Pictish stone at Strathmartine, not many miles to the north-east. Using oral information from older residents at Invergowie who could remember as far back as the beginning of the 19th century, Hutcheson remarks on the correct names for the Tay stones:

...the general consensus [of] the name given to the stones was 'goors'...None had ever heard the name 'yowes' applied to the stones. A few had heard the name 'gows.' but still agreed that the correct term was 'goors.' That the form 'gow' did, however, exist, we have the evidence of [Thomas's] prophecy... (Hutcheson 1927, p. 20).

   The Gows was the name given to a nearby house in Invergowrie, In the late 19th century this house was owned by Mr James Henderson (Philip, 1895, p. 62). The site of the large house, a mid 19th century edifice, is now incorporated in Invergowrie Technology Park, some distance north-east of the Dargie Kirk and the Tay shoreline. Its Victorian origins suggest that the house was named after the famous and legendary stones in the river just as Greystane House was named after the other monolith.

Detail from map of James Knox, published in 1831. Angus/Perthshire border marked in pink/yellow. Invergowrie marked as Dergo (for Dargie). Note the Roman camp of Cater Milley seems to be misplaced. The marked location approximates Menzieshill, site of the fourth stone.

Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland,

What Happened to the Stones?

   Where where the stones in the 19th century when writers first noticed them and where are they now? The answers are no clear cut. Andrew Jervise noted in his day (1855, p. 445) that the stones were nearer to the land at Invergowrie than they previously been and inferred that this was because the railway line from Perth to Dundee was built here on reclaimed land. The anonymous compiler of A Series of Excursions Around Dundee (p. 45) noted in 1900 that, 'A footpath on the left-hand side of the road and skirting the east side of the [Invergowrie] burn leads to the kirkyard and the ruins, and between the [Dargie] kirkyard and the railway are the " Gows"...'

   The consensus of writers seems to be either that the stones were situated within the floodmark or that they were displaced by the railway works. Gershom Cumming (1843, p. 3) states that they lay immediately in front of the church, and within the flood-mark. This was confirmed too by Myles in 1850 (p. 112). William Marshall stated that in his time (1875, p. 47), 'The making of the Dundee and Perth Railway has rather rudely discredited the prophecy. That line runs some distance outside of the "Goors," and has brought them to land...' The liminal area between high and low water marks is a recognised spiritual no man's land, being neither fully land no water, where strange things where sometimes reckoned to occur.

   There was uncertainty in 20th century reports about the fate of the stones. The Dundee Courier reported on 23rd January, 1929, that a rubbish dump had developed near the shore on the Angus-Perthshire border near the burn and at least one of the stones was buried beneath this. Domestic refuse 'on a spectacular scale' was being brought in from Dundee. But, although the details are vague, the article hints that something was visible regarding the stones:

About two months ago a couple of visitors arrived at Invergowrie Station with the express intention of seeing the historical stones. They left by the earliest possible train, but what they did see impressed them greatly. 
   Further reporting in 1950 seems to confirm that one boulder at least was buried in the landfill or rubbish dump near the shore. The Ordnance Survey inspected the site in April 1958 noted briefly that the stones had disappeared and their site was occupied by a scrapyard. Intrepid antiquarians who like a challenge might do worse than search out the Goors and the large missing stone circle at Mylnfield.

Invergowrie from the north, with the Devil haunted slopes of Fife in the background.

Further Theories 

      It would not be amiss to begin the theories about the stones with an observation which may indeed be valid. The Paddock Stone, with its aura of awe and importance, may have served as a boundary stone quite far back in time and another theoretical function may have been as a place of judgement. We know of other standing stones which were employed by local barons as meeting places where justice could be dispensed and proclamations issued. At Little Dunkeld in Perthshire there is Clach a mhoid, and in Ayrshire there is a boulder at Killochan named The Stone of Judgement. Many other examples of baronial meetings at solitary monoliths or stone circles in Scotland could be given.

   In the Welsh poem The Gododdin, which details the doomed heroics of a band of British elite in the late 6th century, there is mention of a Pictish hero Llif son of Cian who came from a place termed Maen Gwyngwnthe Stone of the Venicones. (A mischievous writer might suggest that there is a connection between the name of this hero and the Angus parish of Liff, immediately north of Invergowrie. However, the name of Liff most likely relates to the local topography (according to Dorward 2004, p. 81.) The historian Andrew Breeze states that the proto-Pictish tribe of the Venicones resided north of the Tay. If that is the case, their prominent tribal stone may still be in situ, unidentified in its landscape. I am not stating that it is the Paddock Stone, but there is a fair case to be made that it may be.

   A Roman list from the 3rd-4th century names eight British loca, which were meeting-places of tribes under Roman protection and possibly places for trade. Some of these places are unidentified, but we can confidently claim that Maponi is probably the boulder known as the Clochmabenstane near the Solway. Mavani is likely Clackmannan, another iconic stone. There was another named Taba which is related to the Tay. A strong contender for this site would be the monument known as Macduff's Cross which stone on the border between Perthshire and Fife. It was a place of sanctuary strongly linked with the wider kindred of Macduff, Earl of Fife, and may have been a place of ancient importance also. I would hazard a guess that it was Taba. If this is the case, then the Invergowrie stone may have been another tribal place of importance whose earlier name has been forgotten, unless it is indeed Maen Gwyngwn.


  Other Angus Stones Associated with Satan

   There are several tales of large stones being dropped into conspicuous places in the Angus landscape. Most of these were the result of actions by witches or giants. One stone sits in a watery situation which may be pertinent to note for this enquiry. This is The Devil's Stone at Cortachy. In the bed of the river South Esk in this village the stone lies. It landed here after Satan vengefully threw a stone at the kirk from a distance of 8 miles after the minister broke up one of his gatherings (Newman, pp. 17-18). Luckily the minister touched the boulder with a cross as it left the Devil's hand and this was enough to divert the stone away from the church and into the water. We can compare the tale also with another further south, from Fife. Standing on the Isle of May in the Firth of Forth, Satan threw a stone at the kirk of Crail. The boulder split as it flew at one part fell short of the church, while the other flew past and landed at Balcomie Sands. The half near the kirk is known as The Blue Stone of Crail.

Modern Verse on the Stones

    The following verse was stumbled across in the New Zealand newspaper The Otago Witness (Issue 2631, 17 August 1904, p. 71). Its author was probably a Scottish exile, though unfortunately I can't make out the name at the bottom.

Works Consulted

Anonymous, First Report by the Committee on Boulders appointed by the Royal Society of Edinburgh in April 1871, from the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Vol VII (1871-72).

Anonymous, A Series of Excursions by Road and Rail, for Twenty Miles Around Dundee (Dundee, 1900).

Cachart, R. (2009). Mylnefield House, Invergowrie. Scottish Urban Archaeological Trust Ltd.

Robert Chambers, The Popular Rhymes of Scotland (4th ed., Edinburgh, 1870).

Herbert Coutts, Ancient Monuments of Tayside (Dundee, 1970).

Gershom Cumming, Forfarshire Illustrated (Dundee, 1843).

The Dundee Courier, 'Judgement Day Prophecy. Thomas the Rhymer's Hint to Invergowrie. Rubbish Dump Swallows Up Noted Landmark' (23rd January, 1929).

David Dorward, The Sidlaw Hills (Balgavies, 2004).

Alexander Elliot, Lochee As It Was and Is (Dundee, 1911).

Geoff Holder, Paranormal Dundee (Stroud, 2010).

Alexander Hutcheson, Old Stories in Stones and Other Papers (Dundee, 1927).

Andrew Jervise, 'Notices descriptive of the localities of certain Sculptured Stone Monuments in Forfarshire, viz., - Benvie, and Invergowrie; Strathmartin, and Balutheran; Monifieth; Cross of Camus, and Arbirlot. Part III', Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 2 (3) (1855), pp. 442-450.

William Marshall, Historic Scenes in Forfarshire (Edinburgh, 1875).

Lawrence Melville, The Fair Land of Gowrie (1939, reprinted Coupar Angus, 1975).

James Myles, Rambles in Forfarshire, or Sketches in Town and Country (Edinburgh, 1850).

Patrick Newman, 'The Devil's Stone,' in Glen Folk, Celebrating Life in Angus Glens (2000), pp. 17-18.

Rev. Adam Philip, Songs and Sayings of Gowrie (Edinburgh and London, 1901).

Rev. Adam Philip, The Parish of Longforgan (Edinburgh, 1895).

James Stuart, Historical Sketches of the Church and Parish of Fowlis Easter (Dundee, 1865).

Alexander J. Warden, Angus or Forfarshire (volume 3, Dundee, 1882).

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Forfar - King Malcolm and Queen Margaret and the Castle

   Forfar's royal castle (or is it castles, plural?) have not been a physical presence in the town for many centuries, but the association of the burgh with royalty and power is a tangible and enduring part of its identity. What is known about the castle was summarised by the astute Angus historian Andrew Jervise, as follows:

The Castle Hill of Forfar is on the north side of the town, within the old boundary of the loch, and was surrounded by water. Malcolm and his 'good Queen Margaret' lived there occasionally, and a rising ground, about half a mile west of the Castle, still washed by the waters of the lake, in called Margaret's Inch, in honour of the queen, who is said to have had a chapel there.
   The 'facts' about the royal stronghold and the association with this particular king and queen is somewhat more vague than many sources would admit. Malcolm III of Scotland ruled from 1058 to 1093 and was a pivotal figure in Scottish history. Known by the Gaelic epithet ceann mòr, 'Canmore = Big Head', he was faced with an aggressive, newly Norman England and adapted his kingdom accordingly. The legend is that he deferred greatly to his saintly queen Margaret, a scion of the displaced Anglo-Saxon royal house, whose displaced family had been exiled in Hungary, among other places. Margaret is lauded/condemned for introducing modern reforms to the form of the Irish Church and religion as it was practised in Scotland. But the truth about the couple and their effect on Scotland is of course more complex.

   Although local historians and antiquaries link the royal couple to Forfar the evidence is quite thin. It is the same with the 'proof' that Forfar was a favoured and longstanding seat of royalty. The author of the Old Statistical Account of the parish in the late 18th century was The Rev. John Bruce. To give him his due, he did state that Forfar was only an occasional residence of this royal couple. But he pointed out, less securely, the significant English place-names in the vicinity which he believed were proofs of Forfar being a royal centre of some significance. These included the King's Muir, Queen's Well, Queen's Manor, Battle Dykes, etc. Another memory, particularly of Margaret, was the fair formerly held annually on the 16th of June, 'kept as an anniversary in honour of St Margaret'.  Bruce also noted that:

Tradition celebrates [Margaret's] attention to the good instruction of the young women in Forfar, and it is said it was the law of her table, that none should drink after dinner who did not wait the giving of thanks, and hence the phrase through Scotland of the grace drink.

   The Rev. J. G. McPherson elaborated about the commemoration of the queen in Forfar, stating that, on 19th June, 'the young females frequently went on the 19th of June in solemn procession to her Inch'. The 19th June supposedly marked the day of the queen's internment at Dunfermline Abbey. Several 19th century sources remark on the procession of barefoot girls going to the Inch to place garlands there in memory of the saintly queen. 

Illustration from Alan Reid's Royal Burgh of Forfar

Location of the Castle

   Where was Forfar Castle supposed to have been located? The Rev Bruce again states that it was on a hill beside a piece of ground called the Manor, adjacent to Forfar Loch. The site, a mound around 50 feet high, lies in to the east of the loch boundary today and, although no vestige of the building remains, Castle Street remembers the site. The CANMORE website run by Historic Environment Scotland firmly states the castle was surrounded by water. Local historian Alan Reid stated that two prominent islands, the Manor and Castle Hill, were located formerly in Forfar Loch.  

Two Castles or One?

The tradition that Forfar boasted two royal castles can be traced back at least to the 16th century Scottish historian Hector Boece. Albeit he was an Angus man who may have been privy to local knowledge, Boece is unfortunately tarnished with a reputation for unreliability. In his work he states that Forfar was strengthened with 'two roiall castles, as the ruins doo yet declare'.
   While it is not unusual to find medieval strongholds within fairly short distances of each other it would be highly unusual, if not unique, to have two royal castles constructed within the same burgh. It seems that the two castles story is most likely a legend. Possibly older writers were confused by remains on the other island on the loch. Yet the religious buildings associated with St Margaret certainly persisted into the 16th century, so may not easily have been misunderstood as a castle. Was there another fortification elsewhere? King William the Lion  granted Robert de Quinci, a leading Anglo -Norman baron, a plot in the old castle of Forfar in lieu of a toft (according to the Register of the Priory of St Andrews). De Quinci made it over to Roger de Argenten for £1 annually. The location of this 'old castle' must remain an open question. The Rev. McPherson ups the ante by postulating that Forfar had, in fact, three royal castles.

   In 1327 King Robert Bruce granted the lands of Fullerton to Jeoffrey his fowler and the record states that the man would also receive entertainment for himself, his servants and horses within the king's house at Forfar when the king himself resided there. This royal residence, wherever it was, does not seem to have been as grand as a castle.

The Castle After Malcolm

  Malcolm III's brother Donal Bane, who temporarily gained the kingship and was styled by some sources as a usurper, was thought to have been imprisoned at Forfar after he was deposed. Some say that he was blinded there. Subsequent royal activity is attested in the 12th and 13th centuries in the reigns of William the Lion (1165-1214) and Alexander II (1214-1249). William's widow, Queen Ermengarde, the founder of Balmerino Abbey in Fife, had a special attachment to Forfar Castle and resided for a time there. William held an assembly there in 1202. The English captured the castle in the 1290s and in 1306 is was burned and damaged. Following rebuilding it was destroyed finally in 1313 and never again restored. Remains of the building were visible into the 17th century.

   The actual sequence of occupation and destruction during the Wars of Independence are not absolutely clear. Gilbert d'Umphraville was an English nobleman, styled Earl of Angus through the right of his wife, and he delivered Forfar to the English. King Edward I of England himself visited the castle for three days in July 1296, receiving the submission of the Abbot of Arbroath and assorted local nobles from Angus there. A governor named Brian Fitzalan was installed. He had wider responsibilities and was also in charge of the castles of Dundee, Roxburgh and Jedburgh. One tradition maintains that William Wallace burned the royal castle. Alexander de Abernethy told King Edward I  that he found the stronghold burned and destroyed, and the wall about it much dispersed, though he gave the opinion that he thought he could hold it until relief came. Some repairs may have been undertaken. John of Weston, Constable of the Castle of Forfar, is mentioned in the records towards the latter part of English occupation. The fall of the castle to Robert Bruce is attributed to Robert the Forester of the forest of Platane who scaled the walls and opened the entrance, allowing the Scots to enter and slaughter the garrison.

   There were evidently remains of some ancient building visible into early modern times at Forfar, though whether they were indeed the last remnants of the royal castle is debatable. Alan Reid quotes an anonymous 16th century source:

I saw tua durs cheiks (door cheeks) with ane mid trie betuene the durris maid verray clenely and verray substantiolls, quharin the constabill of Forfair Castell duelt in the tyme of King Malcolme Kanmore; thay ar of blak aik, and appeirandlie as thai war not maid V. Zeir of eild. [The Royal Burgh of Forfar, p. 22.]
   The 17th century notices of remains include the local historian Ochterlonie and Monipenie. The latter briefly states of Forfar in 1612: ' The towne of Forfare, with an old castle, with a loch and an isle therein, with a tower.'  

   The octagonal cross of the Market Tower now sits on Castle Hill.  


The Market Cross Carving

   There is a tradition that the top of the old demolished Market Cross of the burgh of Forfar showed a carving which represented the old castle of Forfar. The Rev. Bruce wrote that, 'A figure of the castle, cut in stone, remains upon the manse and the market cross, and forms the device of the common seal of the burgh...' The ancient Market Cross of Forfar was demolished in 1683 and a new one commissioned by the town the following year. The latter was also demolished at some stage and the likeness of the old castle was said to have been carved on the top section of the latter cross. Andrew Jervise for one doubted the tradition. He stated that the carved finial of the stone was found in a property at Forfar in the early 19th century by Dr  Smith of Damside, Aberlemno. A few years after the discovery Dr Smith presented it to the town and it was placed at the base of the tower built on Castle Hill. However, it was damaged by vandalism and removed for safety to the Burgh buildings. 

The Chapel on St Margaret's Inch

   The Rev Bruce noted, before Forfar Loch was partially drained, near the north side there was:

an artificial island composed of large piles of oak and loose stones, with a stratum of earth above, on which are planted some aspen and sloe trees, supposed to have been a place of religious retirement for St Margaret. This now forms a very curious peninsula. The vestiges of a building, probably a place of worship, are still to be seen. And it is likely that there might be some accommodation too for the occasional residence of the priest of this place, as the remains of an oven were discernible not many years ago, and also something of the furniture of a pleasure garden.

   Some writers state that the Inch was latterly a peninsula, though it was originally an island. The tradition of the chapel here is based on fact. In a charter of king Alexander II dated 1234 the  monastery of Coupar Angus was bestowed with £10 yearly from the lands of Glenisla. Out of this annual revenue, 10 merks was devoted to the sustenance of two Cistercian monks who were perpetually charged with celebrating mass in the chapel of the Holy Trinity in the island in Forfar Loch. in 1508 the abbot of Coupar Angus granted the chaplainry to Sir Alexander Turnbull for life on condition that he maintained the fabric of the chapel and planted trees on the island. 

   Whatever the sequence of religious activities on the Inch, and irrespective of whether indeed it was an island or a small promontory, we can question whether if was originally a crannog rather than a natural geographical. If it was man made it would be a rarity in Angus as the nearest such structures are found in Highland Perthshire. It would also throw back the settlement date on the site at least into the Early Medieval period. Many crannogs, in Scotland and in Ireland, have their origins every earlier, in the Iron Age.  Forfar Loch has associations (albeit late associations) with a St Triduana who allegedly settled there in the Pictish period. We should also recall that the probably similar and very significant religious site of Restenneth was also on a promontory or island only a few miles from St Margaret's Inch.


The Cross on Castle Hill

Some Sources

Andrew Jervise, 'Notes regarding Historical and Antiquarian peculiarities of the Districts in Forfarshire, where the various relics now presented to the Museum of the Society were found,' Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, volume 2 (1855-56), pp 64-70.

James Murray Mackinlay, Ancient Church Dedications in Scotland, Scriptural Dedications (Edinburgh, 1900).

Rev. J. G. McPherson, Strathmore, Past and Present (Perth, 1885).

Alan Reid, The Royal Burgh of Forfar (Paisley, 1902).