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Victorian Pitlochry

Pitlochry rose to its present size and elegance in the
nineteenth century, and it still proclaims silently the
refinement and splendour of that unique, era. It is a place of large houses, neatly built and arranged tastefully on the slope that leads upwards to Ben-y-Vrackie. Constructed of whinstone and with typical dormer windows they have a snug and yet dignified appearance. The rapid growth of wealth, following the Industrial Revolution, and the greater facilities for travel, together with Scott’s glorification of the highland scenery, created a brisk demand for houses in the select and attractive Vale of Atholl. So Moulin was allowed to continue its quiet and even tenor, while the village below expanded and flourished with travellers, traders, and sightseers.

But the event of note at the beginning of the century
was neither artistic nor commercial but religious and strictly spiritual. James Haldane of Airthrey was a layman and an evangelical preacher who travelled well the Perthshire roads to bring the Gospel to the people by tract and by word of mouth. He met Charles Simeon of Cambridge in 1796, and together they determined to rouse the religious torpor of the Highlands. By what seemed a divine chance, instead of riding south for Glasgow from Dunkeld, they rode northward to the
Pass of Killiecrankie and called on the way at the Manse of Moulin. It was a fateful day for Alexander Stewart, who as a result of that soul-stirring conference became an anxious and sincere evangelical preacher. Within four years there was a genuine revival in Pitlochry, which affected among others James Duff and his young wife at Auchnahyle Farm, so that when Alexander was born there on 25th April, 1806, he was a dedicated child. Soon they moved to a cottage above Balnakeilly House, where the boy absorbed all the grandeur and beauty of the highland scenery around him. Fifty years later, sweltering in the heat of Calcutta, Duff saw vividly in memory the unforgettable panorama of that splendour.

Such a child of living, experienced Christianity was
bound to seek to serve. His father, fed on the old divines and the Word of God, guided his son to the Gospel truths and on to the needs of India. Once the lad was almost drowned in a nearby burn, and once also in 1819 on the way home from Kirkmichael he and a schoolmate were lost in a snowdrift and saved only by the far-away lights of salmon poachers on the Tummel. Suffice it to say that Duff went to St Andrews University, studying under the spell of the mighty Thomas Chalmers, and in 1829 he went out to India to lay the foundations of Christian education there. His policy was to evangelise by education, and he attacked Hinduism on its intellectual side. He sponsored the English language as the only effective means of higher education in India, winning the approval of H.M. Government and converting even his
own General Assembly. In 1834 he was invalided home to
Edradour and all his boyhood haunts. When he preached
in 1839 in the old church at Moulin, so filled for him with
precious memories, he spoke in both Gaelic and English, and the packed congregation departed in tears. One of the splendours of the Victorian Age was oratory, and Duff was a supreme orator. Even newspaper reporters in America forgot their notes, so overpowering was his gift of speech. Although he sided with Chalmers in the Disruption issue, he later headed a movement for re-union, so broad and wise was Alexander Duff. He died in 1878, crowned with honours and friendships both noble and plebeian. It speaks much for this son of Pitlochry that eleven years after he died Sir William Muir and other friends erected that imposing lona Cross that stands to-day as in blessing over the centre of the burgh, and Sir Henry Yule wrote the eloquent words of the inscription. Of all the sons of the parish Duff was easily and
far-away the most eloquent and the most famous.

A new church was built in 1830-31 by the heritors,
led by Lord Glenlyon, the patron of the parish. The
unimposing tower and exceedingly small windows reflect little credit on the architect, but in fact it was both comfortable and intimate, sufficient to accommodate the 600 members, although it is worth noting that only 200 of these were endowed with the power of vetoing the call to a new minister.

Other building went on apace. A new stone bridge was built across the Tummel about a mile to the west of
the village of Pitlochry, to be called the Clunie Bridge and
destined to survive until the new Hydro-Electric Scheme
demolished it. Local opinion disapproved of the position of
this new bridge, for many hoped for a substantial bridge at Portnacraig, which would make a link with a turnpike road to be made over Fonab Hill to Strathtay. It was, and still is, unfortunately, a mere dream.

Let us take another look out of the manse window, a
nice, new manse, just built in 1820 for the Reverend Duncan Campbell. It is 1839 and you are looking on a different scene now. More people are moving around, for 300 have been added to the population. The people look fit and free from pock-marks. In the Howe of Moulin, proudly termed “ The Garden of Atholl,” the grain is growing with double yield. The cuckoo sings in his season and even Alpine birds appear. The minister writes in his study: “ The parish is beautifully studded with modern buildings. Most of the proprietors have added greatly to the beauty of its natural scenery by their own elegant mansions and the neat, comfortable dwellings with which they have accommodated their tenantry.” Gaelic as the native speech is giving way to English, and not alone in language is the menace of the South felt, for the dress of the younger people is now so extravagant that the clerical observer adjures them to deposit their money in the Pitlochry Savings Bank rather than waste it on foolish fashions. Tea, snuff and tobacco have now become necessities for all except the very poor. The people
still read solid literature, not neglecting the Bible commen-tators and even Doddridge’s books of devotion, which they exchange with one another. This helps to make them a sociable, contented, God-fearing people. Poaching is on the decline and soul-withering infidelity makes little progress. Wages have risen to £16 a year, a suit of clothes costs £6, beef has risen to sixpence per pound, eggs to sixpence a dozen, and hens to is 3d per bird. Four-year rotation of crops is now universal and bonemeal is used as fertiliser. Potatoes and turnips give good yields. Seven distilleries are working to produce 90,000 gallons of whiskey, some of which is sold on the London market.

Down in the valley the minister sees the village of
Pitlochry outstripping, its older sister of Moulin. Trade is
thriving there, for the new road brings people and merchants past their doors. One shop glories in gaslight, the envy of all the others. In 1836 the Commercial Bank and the Central Bank of Scotland opened branches. Mr Butter in 1845 established an excellent inn for visitors, the precursor of those attractive hotels and boarding-houses that now flourish in the burgh. On a still morning Mr Campbell might hear the arrival of the Royal Mail, which since 1836 now ran every day from Perth to Inverness.

But the parish minister was a little too much “ at ease
in Sion,” for he boasted in 1839 that “ there seemed no disposition on the part of the people to secede from the
Established Church.” In point of fact, the Free Church was launched on a wave of enthusiasm within four years and soon a rival Church and Manse was overlooking his own from Kinnaird. Campbell himself attended the first meeting in a barn at Auchlatt and tried to dissuade them from anything rash,” but they “ went out “ and flourished. From Kinnaird they descended in 1863 to a fine, new church in Oakfield, and oral tradition says that through the enthusiastic Victorian days the church was filled to capacity, members travelling from as far afield as Fincastle and Bonskeid, Campbell shows his dislike of beggars, of whom indeed he had more than his fair share, for each day nearly a dozen would knock at his door. “To use a homely phrase,” he writes, “ we are perfectly ate up with beggars,” whom he goes on to blame for the spreading of disease and infection. Let every parish, he cries, care for its own beggars. There is no prison in the parish, and, he affirms proudly, there is no need for one, for the gaoler would have nothing to do. His only worry was fuel. Peat was becoming scarcer and dearer, and he pinned his hope to the proposed railway to Dunkeld as the solution of the problem of cheaper fuel.

Progress had been made in these fifty years. Looking
from the Manse window no runrig system of agriculture was visible, the old wooden plough had gone and five threshing machines now saved human sweat. Live stock had risen doubly in value to £19,900. Bakers, butchers, and bankers now flourished and the Victorian spirit of progress and prosperity appears to have intoxicated even the sedate cleric. To us it seems very strange that the Sacrament of Holy Communion was dispensed only once in the year, on the third Sunday of June.

It was in this period that the hydropathic treatment of
convalescence was advocated by the medical profession. Dr Philp launched such institutions at Rothesay and Dunblane and Dr Meikle at Crieff. Bridge of Allan opened a spa with an artesian well. At Pitlochry a hydro was built on a sacred site, probably druidical and then early Christian, the stones of which had been seized to build the house at Balnadrum Farm. Fisher’s Hotel was built right in the centre of the town, with ample stables for the many coaches that rumbled up the north road. The old mill dam was converted into a garden, which is now one of the sights of the district for its beautiful display of flowers. New and handsome business premises were built at Alba Place, but this blocked the glorious view of Ben-y-Vrackie for the hotel patrons and legend says that Mr Fisher built out a wing of bedrooms between the main street and his lovely gardens, with the retort “ If you won’t let me see Ben-y-Vrackie, then I won’t let you see my gardens.”

But the noblest and most imposing structure of all was built in the seventies by a company of promoters in Pitlochry, the imposing Scots baronial Atholl Palace Hotel. It cost something like £90,000 to erect, so that it is not surprising that the company went bankrupt. It is reported that it was sold for £45,000, but even this proved
uneconomic and the selling price sank as low as £25,000.
It is now a modern establishment, retains all the marks of
Victorian splendour, and never fails to impress by its
symmetry, its mass and its dominating position.

Thus the erstwhile highland village was now able to
receive worthily the wealthiest in the land and they duly
arrived. William Ewart Gladstone in 1864 came and saw and conquered. He returned in 1887, and Stewart of Edradour being a keen Liberal gave his workers a day’s holiday from the harvest in order that they might go down to hear the Grand Old Man speak at Fisher’s Hotel. In September 1844 Queen Victoria entered Pitlochry on her royal route to Blair Castle. She visited the famous Pass and stood enamoured with the Queen’s View of the Falls of Tummel. “ Dear Albert “ was disappointed in his hopes of shooting a deer in Glen Tilt, and by the first of October the Queen and her entourage were clattering merrily southward through the village to the hurras of a hundred highland throats. Although she built a castle at Balmoral in 1855 and loved her Deeside, she still retained her love for Atholl, for in 1861 “the splendid Pass of Killiecrankie “ saw her once more and she logged that “ it looked very beautiful.’’ Two years later she was back to see the frail and dying Duke of Atholl, and again in
1865 she posted north to Croftinloan, making through
Edradour to Glen Briarachan and Strathardle. But the
Queen’s most memorable visit was in 1866, when she travelled from Tummel Bridge and saw the October colours from the Queen’s View in Loch Tummel, “ called after me,” she writes, “though I had not been there in 1844.” John Brown’s efforts to make tea were a signal failure, and in the gathering darkness they dashed through Pitlochry to change horses at Ballinluig, where the natives proffered Atholl Brose and raised a cheer for their Queen. And well they might, for she never came that way again. A hundred years have not dimmed the memory of her royal visits to beautiful Pitlochry.

One of the early admirers of the Atholl district was
Principal J. G. Forbes of St Andrews University, who in the sixties of last century came to spend the summers in Dysart Cottage. After his death, his wife stayed there again in 1869, and her letter from the cottage to Professor Lewis Campbell is a fine piece of womanly courage and wisdom. That link of the Forbes family held for nearly eighty years, for his son, the distinguished astronomer Professor George Forbes, F.R.S., built his spacious hut in the Fairies’ Dell and each summer retreated to it. He lectured to Pitlochry audiences on the stars and published a fascinating work on astronomy in 1926 entitled “ The Wonder and the Glory of the Stars “ (Benn, 8s 6d). In his last years he prepared a delightful novel conveying his philosophy of life, and this I had the pleasure of reading and discussing with him in 1928, but it never was published.

Miss Molyneux lived in Tomnamonachan House (now
the Pine Trees Hotel), and devoted herself to good works. She led with the project to have a Cottage Hospital to serve the Vale of Atholl and urged the happy idea of making it a memorial for Dr Irvine, the much-beloved medical practitioner of the district. The idea was realised in 1901. She wrote a short account of it, which is now a rarity. She invited Professor Lewis Campbell to stay at her house, and while theie the pundit in Greek wrote sonnets around the names of Benjamin Jowett, J. C. Shairp, James Stuart Blackie, and James D. Forbes
Three spirits hold the region ; one whose lot
Led him to muse by yonder banks of Tay
One ever restless heart, that to this spot
Returned at eve from roaming far by day
And one, revered and loved, whose earnest thought
On Tummel’s side dreamed of life’s noblest way.

The great Benjamin Jowett, Master of Balliol, was no doubt advised by Queen Victoria to see Atholl, for he holidayed in Pitlochry in 1864 and 1867 ; then he discovered the peaceful inn at Tummel Bridge, run by Mrs Menzies, and there he spent several summers working on his famous book on Plato. One evening in 1871 Robert Browning and Algernon Swinburne met Jowett at dinner at Altaine House by the foot of Loch Tummel, and what a night they had together Swinburne with his rapier wit provided constant amusement and made the night memorable. In 1870 the mail-coach arrived from Pitlochry with the “ London Times” bearing the news of the Franco-Prussian War, a theme large enough for the
whole night’s chat.

It is clear from Campbell’s Sonnets that James Stuart
Blackie was one of the brilliant Victorian galaxy of talent
and some are still living who recall the figure with the silvery locks and black hat, the tartan plaid, and the long shepherd’s crook striding with Celtic fire across Craigower, or through the Pass, or down the main thoroughfare of the busy village. Gladstone considered him the most outstanding of living Scotsmen and doubtless met him at Fisher’s Hotel more than once. Blackie was dynamic. “He carried a breeze with him,” as Barrie declares, and the stories about him are witty
and many. For twenty-five years he made Pitlochry his
summer residence He took the house at Baihoulan for
several years, then the cottage at Kinnaird, and finally, in
1894, the Cottage of Tomnamonachan He loved his bath
each morning at six, but as there was no bath at Kinnaird he stepped up the burn and splashed about in the pure water that came down from Ben-y-Vrackie. He wrote a poem about that burn, one verse of which may be enough:

Come plunge with me into the wave like liquid topaz fair,
And to the waters give your hack that spout down bravely there,
Then flat upon the swirling flood and like a glancing trout
Plash about and lash about and make a lively rout.
And to the gracious sun display the glory of your skin
As you dash about and splash about in the foaming, bubbling linn.

On his eighty-fifth birthday Miss Molyneux presented
him with eighty-five roses from her garden. He more than
anyone established the Chair of Celtic in Edinburgh Univer-sity and his original character was as welcome in Pitlochry as among the literati of the Capital. He died in 1895.

But, long before this, Robert Louis Stevenson had
followed in his footsteps to Kinnaird Cottage and had fallen under the spell of that delightful spot. His father had arranged to take the house that summer for Louis and his newly-wed wife Fanny. At first he lived in Fisher’s Hotel till the cottage was prepared, which was not until June. He improved in health, despite the wind, hail and cold which drove him close to the fire. He soon dropped his line of research on Jean Cavalier, the Frenchman, and, under the influence of Celtic superstition, mediated through his landlady Mrs Sim, he and Fanny launched out on a series of crawlers.’’ The result was ‘‘ Thrawn Janet,’’ ‘‘ The Body-Snatchers,” and “The Merry Men.”

In desperation he sent for a copy of Law’s Memorials and the story-writing proceeded. Sir Leslie Stephen of the “ Cornhill “ accepted Thrawn Janet “ by return of post, which set Louis working at the rate of four pages every day with more stories. Soon he had devised a title for the collected stories, if they were to be published in book form, ” Tales for Winter Nights.” Thus the wet days were filled up and the dishes pled high on the lunch-table while the pens covered page after page of foolscap. It must have been such a day when the carriage from Bonskeid drew up at the wicket-gate and who should descend but Dr Alexander Whyte of Free St George’s Church
and his good lady, a Barbour. Stevenson had invited his
help to secure the Chair of Constitutional Law and History
then vacant in Edinburgh, and indeed the kindly cleric did
use his influence, though without success. The meeting was cordial and happy, for had not Whyte pled with old Mr Stevenson already to deal gently with the promising but difficult Louis? He saw more deeply into Stevenson than his own father, or indeed than Stevenson saw into Whyte, or else we should have had an inimitable pen-portrait from him of that noblest and most friendly of preachers, On the way home to Bonskeid Whyte had a caustic word to pass on the dishes still left unwashed on the lunch-table, but he saw even then that Louis had genius.

But on a fine day the convalescing writer would slip
out of the side-gate and tread his way up the burn. From
there he could view the majestic peak of the Ben behind him and the incomparable valley of the Tummel far below.
On his return from such a walk he sat down and wrote to
Sydney Colvin : “We have a lovely spot here, a little green glen with a burn, a wonderful burn, gold and green and snow-white, singing loud and low in different steps of his career, now flowing over miniature crags, now fretting itself to death in a maze of rocky stairs and pots, never was so sweet a little river. Behind, great purple moorlands reach to Ben Vrackie. Hunger lives here alone with larks and sheep. Sweet spot, sweet spot.”

In the same letter he confesses “ Thrawn Janet
frightened me to death.” This is confirmed by the landlady’s daughter, who, in a letter to the present writer, asserts that after reading the story of Mrs Sim, Louis and Fanny were unable through sheer fear to climb the stairs to bed. Another interest, however, cut right across the project of the “ crawlers,” the chance of a university chair. Two hundred and fifty pounds a year for three months’ lecturing on Law seemed easy money to a sick writer striving for a living. True, Louis was no expert on the subject ; indeed, he had consistently dodged the class during his own curriculum and with shame he had to confess it when approaching Aneas Mackay. But he boldly sent in his application, and, though he got only nine votes out of a hundred, it should be noted that three of his supporters became Lord Kyllachy, Lord
Guthrie, and Lord Shaw. As for Louis, all he got out of his
desperate journey to Edinburgh in the rain was a brutal
cold, not perhaps very wisely treated ; lots of blood, for me, I mean.” We know what a haemorrhage meant for that weak physique. Added to this was his difference with W. E. Henley on the literary quality of his crawlers, the first appearance of the rift in the lute of their meteoric friendship.

But these drawbacks were offset by the visits of his
friends. For a man of thirty-one he was rich in his friend-
ships. One of the first was Dr. Robert Irvine, nephew of
Dr. W. S. Irvine, the medical practitioner of the parish, an
old college companion who dropped in many times for afternoon tea and once was prevailed on to lunch with them. Another was James Cunningham of Dundee, a man not only of executive business ability but of wide literary and cultural tastes. They sat in the sun by the side of the burn and the minutes flew quickly by. At the week-ends Mr Stevenson travelled north with a bag of fresh Newhaven fish, and both parents were mollified to see the happiness and cameraderie that was developing between Louis and Fanny. Now their concern was to try another highland air for their sick son, and on the second or maybe the third of August 1881 they mounted the carriage and trotted up through Gatehouse and on into Strathardle, making good time on the road to Braemar. It was while the horses trotted across the lovely purple moor that Louis gathered, all unwittingly, the back-
ground for the duel srene in his later novel entitled “ The
Master of Ballantrae.’’

It seemed but common justice that note should be
taken of Stevenson’s visit, and by public lecturing and writing the present writer succeeded in stirring public interest and in erecting a fitting bronze plaque at the Cottage in Kinnaird which Professor A. Blyth Webster unveiled dn 1928. It is good to record that Sir James M. Barrie was one of many that contributed to the cost.
Another literary personality of that period made her
appearance in the Pitlochry district. Marie Corelli was a
best-seller in the market. Her “ Mighty Atom “ tuned in
with the more serious and orthodox public and sold by the hundred thonsand. She stayed first at Coille Brochan Cottage, that perfectly thatched house of the Factor of Bonskeid Estate just beyond the Carry Bridge. While there in 1893 her little pet dog Max died. She had a grave dug for him in the bracken opposite the door of the Cottage and erected a dignified little headstone with the inscription Max. 1893. Not the course of all the centuries yet to come, nor yet the infinite resource of nature can ever quite repeat the past or just thy little self restore.
In subsequent years she lived at Killiecrankie Cottage, and while there, among other novels, she penned “ The Sorrows of Satan “, a contrasting theme to the exquisite natural beauty around her.

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