ALVA, a parish, in the county of STIRLING, 7 miles (N. E. by E.) from Stirling; containing 2216 inhabitants, of whom 2092 are in the village. The name of this place, the orthography of which has successively passed through the different forms of Alueth, and Alvath or Alveth, to that of Alva, is of Gaelic origin, and is supposed to be derived from the term Ailbheach, signifying "rocky": it was probably applied to this spot as descriptive of the general character of its hills. The parish is locally situated in Clackmannanshire, and formerly belonged to that county, by which it is bounded on all sides except the north, where it touches Perthshire. After the beginning of the seventeenth century, it was annexed to the county of Stirling, though four miles distant from its nearest point, and to that county it has since been united in all respects, till associated for political purposes, under the Reform act, to its ancient shire. It comprises about 4120 acres, of which 867 are arable, 3072 natural pasture, including 140 or 150 acres of cultivated grass, and 181 are wood. The lands, on the north, consist principally of the Alva hills, which constitute the most interesting and beautiful portion of the Ochil range, forming here a rich mineral district, traversed in all directions by large flocks of sheep, and ornamented with numerous cascades. At the base of these lofty elevations commences a valley, a part of which, stretching towards the south, covers the rest of the parish, and is replete with richly diversified and highly picturesque scenery, embracing the river Devon, which runs along the boundary of the parish in this direction, and, like most of the burns, contains abundance of excellent trout. The most lofty of the Ochils, Bencloch or Beucleugh, rises 2420 feet above the Devon, and is situated at the north-eastern extremity of the parish, commanding from its summit, not only fine views of local scenery, but, in the distant prospect, the whole Grampian range, with part of thirteen counties, and their villages and towns.
The SOIL has several varieties. That in the vicinity of the Devon, which overflows its banks two or three times in the year, is a rich, sandy, alluvial earth of great depth, forming what is termed haugh land. Next to this, northward, is a strong clay, after which follows a tract of moss, from 50 to 100 yards broad, and in some parts seven feet deep; and the remaining portion of the arable ground, extending to the hills, is a rich hazel mould, mixed occasionally with gravel and small stones. The system of agriculture is in a highly improved state; the crops consist of wheat, oats, barley, peas, beans, clover, potatoes, and turnips, and a small portion of ground is annually planted with woad for dyeing. The hills belong to the trap formation, and contain heavy spar, onyx, and, among many other pebbles, that called the Ochil eye, which is said to be peculiar to this range. The chief celebrity of the parish, however, as a mineralogical district, has arisen from its treasure of silver ore, which was discovered and worked between the years 1710 and 1715 by Sir John Erskine, who is said to have derived from it £4000 per week, and an aggregate of £40,000 or £50,000, the material being so pure as to afford 12 oz. of silver from 14 oz. of ore. Attempts to obtain the precious metal were afterwards renewed, in 1759, by a branch of the same family, who had purchased the barony. Veins were then discovered of lead, copper, iron, and cobalt; but the silver was found in such small portions, that the pursuit was abandoned, whilst the cobalt, being so plentiful, and of such good quality, was worked extensively, and has since proved a source of considerable wealth to the different proprietors.
The woods and plantations are extensive and beautiful; they form a prominent feature in the scenery, and invest this place with a peculiar sylvan appearance, especially when contrasted with the surrounding country. Woodhill, elevated 1620 feet above the lowest ground, is shrouded with almost every description of rich foliage, for more than two-thirds of the ascent; the plantations around the base comprising oak, elm, ash, beech, and larch, with various species of pine, planted by Sir John Erskine. The plantations on the east and west sides of the hill were planted by Lord Alva, and subsequent proprietors of the mansion of Alva, which stands on a projecting part of the eminence, and commands very extensive prospects. The old mansion of the Stirlings of Calder in Clydesdale, who possessed originally these estates, and afterwards of the Erskines, was enlarged and modernised in 1820; it is surrounded by elegantly laid-out grounds, interspersed with stately ash-trees and several venerable oaks, and the road to the village church, about a mile distant, is through an avenue of richly verdant foliage.
The village, which is of considerable extent, and of very irregular form, having been built at different periods, and increased by cottages and houses erected on ground leased under Sir John Erskine and Lord Alva, has been doubled in size within the last fifty or sixty years. It has been known for its manufacture of serges ever since the latter part of the seventeenth century. A woollen-mill was first established in 1801: the number of mills has now increased to eight, besides many smaller works, and the present articles wrought are, plaidings, blanketings, and coarse stuffs; those of chequered cassimeres, carpets, shawls, and trowser-cloths having more recently been added. The quantity of wool annually consumed is about 480,000 pounds, chiefly from the Cheviot sheep; and in the manufacture of these articles, which are sold at Stirling, Perth, and Edinburgh, but chiefly at Glasgow, about 560 persons are employed. The annual value of real property in the parish is £4853. Alva is in the presbytery of Stirling, synod of Perth and Stirling, and in the patronage of James Johnstone, Esq.; the minister's stipend is £157. 5. 4., with a manse, and a glebe, valued at £27 per annum. The church was formerly mensal, and belonged to the bishopric of Dunkeld; the present edifice was built in 1632, by Alexander Bruce, then proprietor of Alva, and was entirely rebuilt in 1815, at the expense of James Raymond Johnstone, Esq., with seats for 586 persons. The cups for the communion service were made from the silver found in the parish, and presented by Lord Alva, in 1767. The parochial school is situated in the village; the master has a salary of £29. 18. 10., and £28 fees. The only antiquities are several large stones supposed to be Druidical. The hawk used formerly in sporting, of the species falco peregrinus, is a native of this parish, and has nestled, from time immemorial, in a lofty perpendicular rock called Craigleith: from this place, Mary, Queen of Scots, procured falcons, after her arrival from France; and a short time since, a pair of these birds were sent by the proprietor of Alva to the Duke of St. Alban's, king's falconer in England.
Online maps of Alva are available from a number of sites:
- Bing (Current Ordnance Survey maps).
- Google Streetview.
- National Library of Scotland. (Old maps)
- old-maps.co.uk (Old Ordnance Survey maps to buy).
- Streetmap.co.uk (Current Ordnance Survey maps).
- A Vision of Britain through Time. (Old maps)