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Brechin, Forfarshire

Historical Description

BRECHIN, a burgh, market-town, and parish, in the county of FORFAR, 8 miles (W. by N.) from Montrose, and 66 (N. N. E.) from Edinburgh; containing, with the villages of Trinity-Muir and Little Brechin, 7560 inhabitants, of whom 2986 were in the late East quoad sacra parish. This place derives its name, of Gaelic origin, from its situation on an acclivity rising from the banks of the river South Esk. It is of very considerable antiquity, and was formerly the seat of a diocese, the cathedral of which is now the church of the parish. During the wars between the Scots and the English, in the reign of Edward I., Sir Thomas Maule, lord of Brechin Castle, defended it for some time against the assaults of the English whom that monarch had sent to reduce it, till, being killed by a stone slung from an engine by the besiegers, the garrison capitulated and surrendered the castle to the English. A battle took place in the immediate vicinity in 1452, between the forces of the Earl of Huntly and those of the Earl of Crawford, in which the latter were defeated, and which, from the proximity of the spot whereon it was fought, has been invariably called the battle of Brechin. In 1573, Sir Andrew Gordon, an adherent of the unfortunate Mary, Queen of Scots, and who was then besieging the castle of Glenbervie, hearing that a party of the king's friends were assembled at this place, attacked them early in the morning, and surprised and cut off the whole of the force. The castle of Brechin, a place of great strength, and, from its situation on the summit of an abrupt precipice, regarded, before the use of artillery, as impregnable, was long the baronial seat of the family of Maule, afterwards created Earls of Panmure: this title was forfeited on the rebellion of 1715, but the nobility of the family was revived by William IV., at his coronation, when he granted the title of Baron of Panmure to their descendant. The building is of various dates and styles of architecture, and the demesne abounds with romantic and beautiful scenery, commanding a fine view of the river.

BRECHIN is situated on the rising banks of the South Esk river, over which, at the southern extremity of the town, is a bridge of stone, supposed to be the most ancient structure of the kind in the kingdom. The town is neatly built, consisting of several well-formed streets, and a spacious market-place nearly in the centre. A handsome building in the Elizabethan style, with a tower eighty feet high, has been erected at the west entrance of Brechin, by Lord Panmure, for the use of a literary and scientific institution; it contains a lecture-room and library, and many valuable paintings presented by his lordship. The streets of the town are macadamized, and the approaches have been levelled to render the place easier of access. The trade arises principally from weaving, and the several handicraft trades requisite for the supply of the neighbourhood. There are two mills for spinning flax, in which about 300 persons are engaged; and from 1200 to 1500 of the inhabitants are employed in weaving coarse linens: about sixty are employed in heckling, and from seventy to eighty in bleaching. Two distilleries for making whisky from malt have been erected in the vicinity, which are conducted on an extensive scale, and are in full operation. There are two fishing stations on the South Esk, within the parish, where salmon are taken in considerable numbers. The post-office has a good delivery, and facility of intercourse is afforded by various roads; a bridge has been built at Stannachy ford to continue a new road from Arbroath to Dundee, and there is now a branch to the town of the Aberdeen railway. The market, which is abundantly supplied with corn and other agricultural produce, and numerously attended by the farmers of a widely-extended district, is held weekly on Tuesday; and there are weekly marts for horses and cattle, from the last Tuesday in February till the last Tuesday in March. Fairs are held at Trinity-Muir, about a mile from the town, four times in the year: one of these, on the second Wednesday in June, for cattle, horses, and sheep, continues three days, and is among the chief fairs in the county.

From time immemorial the town has been a ROYAL BURGH, and the government is vested in a provost, two bailies, a dean of guild, a treasurer, and a council of eight burgesses, assisted by a town-clerk and other officers. There are six incorporated trades, viz., the hammermen, glovers, bakers, shoe-makers, weavers, and tailors, all of whom, except the weavers, have the exclusive privilege of carrying on trade within the burgh. The provost, bailies, and dean of guild are magistrates by virtue of their office, and their jurisdiction extends over the whole of the royalty; they hold a bailie-court every Wednesday for the determination of civil pleas to any amount, and also for the trial of criminal cases, in which they are assisted by the town-clerk, who acts as assessor. Brechin is associated with Arbroath, Bervie, Forfar, and Montrose, in returning a member to the imperial parliament. The franchise, previously vested in the corporation, was extended by the act of the 2nd and 3rd of William IV. to resident £10 householders. The provost is the returning officer. The town-hall, situated nearly in the centre of the town, was built in the year 1789; it is a neat structure, containing, on the first story, a good hall, with smaller apartments for the meetings of the council, and below them a court-room and a prison.

The Parish comprises about 15,840 acres, of which 9840 are arable, 3260 woodland and plantations, and 2740 rough pasture and waste. Its surface is generally level, rising in some parts into gentle undulations, and the only eminence that deserves the name of a hill is that of Burghill, to the south of the town. The prevailing scenery is agreeably diversified, and enlivened with numerous thriving plantations: from several points of view, the Grampian hills form a conspicuous feature in the distant landscape. Though various, the soil is mostly fertile; the chief crops are oats, barley, wheat, potatoes, and turnips. The lands are well drained, and every recent improvement in husbandry has been adopted, under the auspices of the Eastern Forfarshire Farming Association. This society was established here in 1814 with the patronage of Lord Panmure, and has its meetings in spring and autumn, when cattle-shows are held on Trinity-Muir, and prizes are awarded to the most successful competitors. The utmost attention is paid to live stock: the sheep are of the black-faced breed, but a very small number is kept; the cattle are of the Angus breed generally, with, of late, an occasional intermixture of the short-horned or Teeswater. The annual value of real property in the parish is £21,563, including £7960 for the burgh. In the vicinity of the town are three nurseries, comprising together about twenty-five acres, well stocked with forest-trees for supplying the plantations of the district, and with fruit-trees of various kinds, and ornamental shrubs and evergreens. There are also several orchards. The substrata are chiefly the old red sandstone, with limestone, and also sandstone of a greyish colour, of good quality for building, and susceptible of a high polish: of this stone the tower and spire of the old cathedral were built. The limestone is extensively quarried for burning into lime for agricultural purposes, and there are at present three lime-works in operation; also several quarries of freestone.

In an ecclesiastical point of view the parish is the seat of the presbytery of Brechin, in the synod of Angus and Mearns. The church has two ministers, respectively of the first and second charges. The stipend of the first charge is about £280, and the minister resides in a house erected about fifty or sixty years since, in lieu of the episcopal palace, by the exchequer, and to which is attached about an acre of garden ground: the stipend of the second charge is about £270, with a manse, and a glebe valued at £30 per annum. The church is the nave of the ancient cathedral; it is in good repair, and adapted for a congregation of 1500 persons. A church containing 864 sittings was erected under an act of the General Assembly, in 1836, for a district of the parish called East-Church; and the minister derived his income, £150, from seat-rents and collections: since the recent secession from the Church of Scotland, the church has ceased to be used in connexion with the Establishment. There are congregations of members of the Free Church, the United Presbyterian Synod, and Antiburghers, An Episcopal chapel, erected about twenty or thirty years since, has been lately enlarged and beautified, and is a handsome edifice; the western gable is surmounted by a cross, and flanked at the angles with minarets. There are parochial and burgh schools, and a grammar school; the parochial teacher has a salary of £34. 4. 4., with fees, and £10 paid by the magistrates from the burgh funds in lieu of a house and garden. The rector of the grammar school is appointed by the corporation, and is also preceptor of the hospital of Maison Dieu, of which he enjoys the revenue, amounting to £50 per annum. There is a parochial library, containing about 600 volumes; and circulating libraries are kept by the booksellers in the town. The above hospital, formerly attached to the cathedral establishment, affords weekly a small allowance to the poor; there is a society of ladies for the relief of indigent females, and a dispensary was established some years since, with the proceeds of a bequest by Mrs. Speid of Ardovie.

Some remains yet exist of the ancient chapel called Maison Dieu, and a round tower nearly adjoining the cathedral, and supposed to be of Pictish origin, is still entire, and an object of much interest. It is a lofty slender column of very ancient character, and in high easterly winds is observed to vibrate. The remains of the cathedral consists chiefly of the nave and tower; the western entrance is of beautiful design, and the interior is lighted by a spacious window above the doorway, and the roof supported by a range uf clustered columns and pointed arches: the choir was destroyed at the Reformation. At the eastern extremity of the parish is a cemetery, which is still called St. Magdalen 's Chapel, the memorial, perhaps, of an edifice of that name. Mr. Guthrie, author of the Historical and Geographical Grammar, Maitland, the laborious historian of London and of Edinburgh; Dr. John Gillies, historiographer for Scotland to His Majesty; and his brother, the Honourable Adam Gillies, one of the senators of the College of Justice, were all natives of Brechin.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851 by Samuel Lewis