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Forfar, Forfarshire

Historical Description

FORFAR, a royal burgh, the county town, a parish, and the seat of a presbytery, in the county of Forfar, 70 miles (N. by E.) from Edinburgh; containing 9620 inhabitants, of whom 8362 are within the burgh. This place, in some ancient documents, is noticed under the designation of Forfar-Restenneth; while in others Forfar and Restenneth are separately mentioned as distinct parishes, the union of which, though extremely probable, has not been proved by any authentic evidence. In the latter part of the seventh century, a priory was founded at Restenneth, which became subordinate to the abbey of Jedburgh, and of which there are still some remains on the west side of the loch of Restenneth. In this establishment Alexander I. deposited the public records that had been placed by King Fergus in the abbey of lona, or Icolmkill, which was difficult of access. In 1296, Robert, then prior, took the oath of fealty to Edward I. of England. The priory appears to have been well endowed, and to have had considerable possessions in the neighbourhood; it flourished till about the year 1652, when the right of patronage of the church was purchased from the prior by the magistrates and council of the burgh.

Forfar seems to have been a royal residence at a very early period of history. Malcolm Canmore is said to have held parliaments in the castle, situated on an eminence to the north of the town, where he resided with his court; and his queen, Margaret, had a palace on a small island in the loch of Forfar, called the Inch, on which, for many years, the inhabitants of the burgh were in the habit of celebrating an annual festival in honour of her memory. In 1307, Robert Bruce, on his route from Aberdeen to Angus, assaulted the castle of Forfar, at that time strongly garrisoned by the English; and, taking it by escalade, put the whole of the garrison to the sword, and ordered the fortifications to be levelled with the ground. In 1647, the burgesses opposed the surrender of the person of Charles I. into the hands of the republican party, and, through their provost, entered a warm protest against that measure in parliament. When the city of Dundee was taken by the army of General Monk, a detachment of English forces was sent to Forfar, who plundered the town, and destroyed all the charters and public records of the burgh. In consideration of the loyalty of the inhabitants, Charles II., in 1665, by charter renewed and confirmed the ancient rights of the burgh. Towards the close of the seventeenth century, frequent trials and executions for witchcraft occurred here, the last of which was in 1682: the place of execution, a small hollow to the north of the town, still retains the name of the "Witches' Howe", and the iron bridle that was fastened round the head of the victims on these occasions is yet preserved.

The TOWN is situated on the road from Aberdeen to Perth. It consists of two principal and several smaller streets, in which are numerous well-built houses, many of them of handsome appearance; and within the last half century very great improvements have taken place. The streets are lighted with gas, and the inhabitants are supplied with water from wells sunk by subscription of individuals, aided by grants for the purpose by the magistrates of the burgh. A subscription library is supported: there are a newsroom and a mechanics' reading-room, both containing a good collection of books; and a horticultural society has been established. The inhabitants are chiefly employed in the linen manufacture, the principal articles being sheetings, Osnaburghs, and dowlas, in the weaving of which about 3000 persons are regularly employed in their own dwellings: the quantity of linen annually woven is about 14,000,000 yards, and the average value £300,000. A great part of this manufacture is exported to the West Indies and South America by the manufacturers themselves, and Lancashire is largely supplied with the sheetings. There are ale and beer breweries, and various shops for the supply of the vicinity with different articles of merchandise. A vast increase of general traffic took place after the opening of the railway between Forfar and Arbroath, for the conveyance of goods and passengers, on the 3rd of January, 1839: the line is fifteen miles in length, with a rise upon the whole distance of about '2'20 feet. Further facilities of communication were afforded by the opening of the Scottish Midland Junction railway, from Forfar to Perth, in August 1847: the line is thirty-two miles and a half in length. Among the roads is an excellent one from Forfar to Kirriemuir, opening a communication with a large Highland district. The principal market is on Wednesday; and there is a market, well supplied with provisions of all kinds, on Saturday. Fairs are held on the last Wednesday in February, the second in April, and the first in May, for cattle and horses; on the day after Dunsmuir fair, in June, for cattle; on the first Tuesday in July for sheep, on the Wednesday following for cattle, and on Thursday for horses; on the first Wednesday in August, for cattle; the last Wednesday in September, for horses and cattle; and the third Wednesday in October and the first in November, for cattle. Being in the very centre of the county, Forfar is remarkable for the e.\tent of its cattle markets. From the beginning of November until the end of March, the Wednesday weekly market is a large fair; and the other fairs enumerated are frequented by dealers from the southern counties and from England.

The BURGH, by charter of Charles II., is governed by a provost, two bailies, a treasurer, and a town council of fifteen members. There are five incorporated companies, the glovers, shoemakers, tailors, weavers, and hammermen, the terms of admission to which vary considerably. The fee paid on admission as a burgess is, for a stranger £2, and for the son of a freeman, the husband of a freeman's daughter, or an apprentice, £1. The jurisdiction of the burgh extends over the whole royalty, which is about two miles and a half in length and half a mile in breadth, and also over the liberties. The bailies hold a court for the determination of civil pleas to any amount, in which they are assisted by an assessor, and also a criminal court, chiefly for the trial of petty offences (though by charter their jurisdiction extends to capital crimes); but from the conducting of causes by written pleas, the expenses of process tend greatly to diminish the number of suits in the latter court. As the county town, the sessions are held here, as well as the election of the representative for the shire in parliament. A handsome building has been erected at an expense of £5000, containing a sheriffs court, with offices for the sheriff's clerk, and rooms for the juries and for the records. The town and county hall, situated in the centre of the town, is a neat edifice, comprising halls for the transaction of public business, and courts for holding the sessions. In the same building is the old gaol, now converted into an excellent market-place, as, from its inadequacy as a gaol, ground was lately purchased to the north of the town, on which a more spacious and better arranged prison was erected. Forfar, with Montrose, Arbroath, Brechin, and Bervie, returns one member to the imperial parliament: the elective franchise, under the Reform act, is vested in the resident £10 householders of the burgh; and the number of these is 250.

The PARISH is situated on the south side of the valley of Strathmore, and is about six miles in length from north to south, and five miles in breadth. Its surface, though generally level, is varied by the hill of Balmashinar, near the town, and by the hill of Lower, at the southern extremity of the parish, the former of which commands an extensive and richly-diversified prospect. The rivers are the Lunan and the Venny, which, though abounding in trout, are in their course through the parish but very inconsiderable streamlets. There were formerly three large lakes, Restenneth, Fithie, and the loch of Forfar; but the two first have been drained for marl, and the last, though still a fine sheet of water, has been much reduced in extent. The soil, with the exception of a tract of wet clay in the south, is generally light and dry, producing excellent crops of oats and barley, turnips, and various other green crops. The lands are in a good state of cultivation; the use of shell-marl found in the lakes has been almost superseded by the use of lime, and the system of husbandry has greatly advanced. The annual value of real property, in the parish is £12,015. In the south-west, and also in the eastern parts of the parish, freestone of good quality for building is extensively wrought. From the quarries here, has been taken the stone of which most of the houses in the town, and the steeple of the church, are built; and large quantities of flags for pavement, and of thin sandstone for roofing, are sent by railroad to the ports of Arbroath and Dundee, whence they are shipped to various parts of the kingdom. The only mansion-house is that of Lower, built by a former Earl of Northesk, and still the property of his descendants, the family of Carnegie, Earls of Northesk.

For ECCLESIASTICAL purposes the parish is within the bounds of the presbytery of Forfar, synod of Angus and Mearns. The minister's stipend is about £300, with a manse, a handsome modern building, and a glebe valued at £20 per annum; patrons, the Town Council. Forfar church, originally built in 1791, and partly rebuilt, and made more commodious, in 1836, is a plain substantial edifice, with a steeple erected in 1814, in which are three old bells, the gift of Mr. Strang, a native of the town, and a merchant of Stockholm: the interior contains about 1800 sittings. St. James' church was erected in 1836, at an expense of £1200, raised by subscription; and a portion of the parish, comprising an area about a quarter of a mile long, and of nearly equal breadth, and containing a population of 2236, was assigned to it as an ecclesiastical district. It is a neat structure, containing 1134 sittings; and the stipend of the minister, derived from seat-rents, is £80 per annum, to be advanced to £100 when the funds will permit: patrons, the Male Seat-holders, being Communicants. An episcopal chapel was built in 1824; it has 380 sittings, and is under the superintendence of the Bishop of St. Andrew's, Dunkeld, and Dunblane. There are also places of worship for members of the Free Church, the United Presbyterian Synod, and Independents; and an old house has been purchased, and fitted up as a Roman Catholic chapel, in which service is occasionally performed. The parochial school affords instruction to about eighty children; the master has a salary of £34, with an allowance of £8. 15. in lieu of a house and garden, and the fees average £2.5 per annum. There are likewise three burgh schools, the master of one of which has a salary of £40; the other masters have each a schoolroom rent free, but are not in receipt of any salary. Within the last few years, the magistrates have built two handsome and commodious schoolrooms, where education for the working classes is afforded at a cheap rate: these schools are numerously attended. A considerable income arises from land purchased with a bequest of Mr. Strang's, in 16.50, for distribution among the poor. In the vicinity are the remains of two Roman camps, between which a causeway was continued for some way through this parish: and nearly at an equal distance from each are remains of a Pictish camp of large extent, of which the rampart and fosse, extending from Loch Forfar to Loch Restenneth, are said to have been formed by the Picts under Feredith, to protect their camp from the Scots under Alpin, prior to the battle of Restenneth.

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