- Nineteenth-century Gothic
fashion for things Scottish and Highland which had been begun
by the novels and poems of Sir Walter Scott and continued by
the Prince Regent’s patronage of Edinburgh was revived
again by Queen Victoria, and in Birnam we have a perfect example
of nineteenth-century Gothic. The village sprang up with the
placing of the railway station at Birnarn in 1856. For a few
years Birnam was the terminus of the railway, and though this
only lasted for seven years it was long enough to make it a
fashionable holiday centre. Queen Victoria’s first visit
to Dunkeld was in 1842, when triumphal arches were reared along
the road between Perth and Dunkeld, and thousands of people
crowded into the town to see the
Queen passing through to her picnic on the site of Dunkeld House.
By that time Dunkeld had something of its present lay-out. In
1809 Telford’s bridge had been flung across the Tay, and
the new Bridge Street crossed the ancient road that ran from
the West Ferry just beyond the Cathedral, half-way up the brae
and down past the powder magazine to the road by East Ferry.
In 1842 the bridge still had its white toligates, which were
beginning to be something of a grievance to the inhabitants.
When the railway came to Birnam the feeling was heightened.
Everyone going to or from the station had to pay toll. Still
more exasperating was it for the Free Kirk members in Birnam
to have to pay away part of their collection before they could
get to church at all.
1860 people had forgotten the days when they had to cross the
Tay by ferry; they argued that the toll had more than paid the
Duke of Atholl for the cost of building
the bridge and that it was time that it was thrown open. The
bridge riots began, and rose to such a height that in 1868 a
detachment of the Royal Highianders was sent to Dunkeld to keep
the peace. They were so hospitably received that they reported
the inhabitants to be peaceable, law- abiding people, and after
that the struggle was chiefly pressed on by litigation. The
principal spokesman of public opinion was the chief of the Dundonochy
Robertsons, a descendant of that William McPatrick McAllister
McRobert McDonoquhy who was such a thorn in the side of Bishop
Brown. In 1879 his point was gained, and the bridge was taken
over by the country, but he was almost ruined in the process.
the meantime Birnam was making the most of its opportunity.
Before the time of the railway there had been no village of
Birnam. The name belonged to Birnam Wood, Hill and Glen. Little
Dunkeld was a parish of considerable antiquity. The Celtic bell
which it now possesses may well have been there since the Augustinians
dispossessed the Culdees at the Cathedral. Before Bishop Brown’s
day the parish had been eighteen
miles long and nearly as broad, lying on both sides of the Tay.
At the end of the eighteenth century it stretched from Caputh
and Kinclaven at one end to Amulree and Grantully at the other,
with only a chapel of ease at
Lagganalachie. The church was described in the Statistical Account
as ‘mean, uncomfortable and ruinous’. There were
some houses near the church, there were Easter, Wester and Middle
Inchewen, a hamlet at
Torwood and a larger one at Inver, already famous for its musical
tradition, but Birnam proper is a true piece of Victorian Gothic,
solidly constructed in good stone, but in the curiously elongated,
pinnacled style of the period. St. Mary’s Towers, built
by Lord John Maners, and now in ruins, was a perfect example
of it. Birnam Hotel was on the same style, but it was burnt
down in 1911, and replaced by something rather less ornate though
equally solid and comfortable. Birnam Institute is an example
of the social planning of the period, though its date is a little
later than that of the City Hall and old reading room in Dunkeld.
it continues to play a useful part in the life of Birnam.
nineteenth century was the florid age of Scottish architecture.
The passion for building which surged over eighteenth-century
England spread to Scotland nearly a century later. The Duke
of Atholl, Sir John Stewart of Murthly and the Marquis of Breadalbane
vied together as to which should produce the most magnificent
castle. The only survivor of the rivalry is now Taymouth Castle,
at one time a hotel and now unoccupied. The stones of the Duke’s
unfinished building went to build the City Hall and the Bridge
Street houses in Dunkeld. New Murthly Castle, a magnificent
pompous conception in the Italianate style, long stood unfinished
and unglazed for lack of funds, and was blown up in 1950 for
the value of the lead on its roof. Sir John Stewart had intended
to pull down the old Castle as soon as the new was completed,
and since the new was designed rather for magnificence than
comfort his heirs may well be glad that the money to finish
it ran short. Sir William Stewart, Sir John’s brother
and heir, was a man of equally lavish notions. He ran green
drives through the six miles of his Murthly
estate, planted lavishly, and imported buffaloes from America,
who every now and then escaped from the Buffalo Park and held
up the stage coach on its way to Dunkeld.
was a picturesque time. The Duchess of Atholl inhabited St.
Adamnam’s Cottage, said to be on the site of St. Adamnam’s
cell, between the Cathedral and the river. The river bank was
gay with rhododendrons and azaleas, and every morning the visitors
at the hotels hastened out to the bridge to hear the Duchess’s
piper, George Macpherson, playing his morning air, as he paced
outside her dining-room window. It was a second era of the picturesque.
The Hermitage was re-furbished and a wild garden planted on
Craigiebarns. But the Duchess took a pratical interest in agriculture
as well. She had a model farm at Newtyle, where Queen Victoria
was once entertained to tea, and later built Rotmel, overlooking
the Tay Valley looking more like an Italian convent than a farm.
She had a magnificent herd of Ayrshires. The access to their
dairy was by one of the wynds to the north of the Cross, and
the inhabitants of Dunkeld were welcome to fetch an almost unlimited
supply of milk at a nominal price.
Dunkeld was dwindling in size, the markets, steadily declining
in importance, continued till the end of the century. The number
of considerable houses around still brought trade to the town.
The drapers both in Dunkeld and Birnam were able to keep both
men and women steadily at work making liveries for the menservants
and dresses for the maidservants of the local gentry. National
events made their mark on the
place. Mr. Gladstone was an occasional visitor to the neighbourhood.
The last descendant of Prince Charles Edward, General Stuart
Count Roehenstart, is buried in the Cathedral grounds. He died
in Dunkeld in 1854 from a coach accident. One of the nine people
rescued by Grace
Darling and her father from the Forfarshire was Thomas Buchanan
of Dunkeld. The Dunkeld minister, John Robb, who perished in
the wreck, is buried in the Cathedral.
By the beginning of this century the closely packed wynds and
squeezed- in houses between the Square and the river were little
better than a slum, and a clearance revealed many strange things.
The days of the old
‘characters’ were not yet past. In one house, not
demolished but opened up, there lived a mad woman who had kept
her daughter in one room for fifteen years, telling her that
she might meet ‘blue thunder’ if she went out.
To The History of Dunkeld