Historical description of Forfarshire, Scotland

FORFARSHIRE, a maritime county in the east of Scotland, bounded on the north by the counties of Aberdeen and Kincardine; on the east, by the German Ocean; on the south, by the Firth of Tay; and on the west, by Perthshire. It lies between 56° 27' and 57° (N. Lat.) and 2° 28' and 3° 22' (W.Long.), and is about 38½ miles in length, and 37½ in extreme breadth, comprising an area of 840 square miles, or 537,600 acres; 38,255 houses, of which 36,184 are inhabited; and containing a population of 170,520, of whom 79,375 are males and 91,145 females. This district, which was formerly called Angus, is said to have received that name from Angus, brother of Kenneth II., to whom it was granted by the king, after his victory over the Picts; and it continued for many generations to be governed by a succession of thanes, of whom Macbeth, the associate of Macduff, Thane of Fife, in the murder of Duncan, was the last. The county was subsequently governed by earls, of whom Gilchrist, the first earl, flourished in the reign of Malcolm III., and was succeeded by his son, the second earl, who attended David I. at the battle of the Standard, in 1138. The earldom was conferred by Robert II. on the Douglas family; and at present the shire gives the inferior title of Earl to the Duke of Hamilton. Prior to the abolition of episcopacy, the county was included in the diocese of Brechin; it is now in the synod of Angus and Mearns, comprises several presbyteries, and about fifty-five parishes. For civil purposes it is divided into the districts of Forfar and Dundee, in each of which towns is a resident sheriff-substitute. It contains the royal burghs of Forfar, which is the county town, Dundee, Arbroath, Montrose, and Brechin, and the market-towns of Kirriemuir and Glammis, with several smaller towns and villages. Under the act of the 2nd of William IV., the county returns one member to the imperial parliament.

The SURFACE is boldly varied. Towards the north it forms part of the Grampian range, here called the Binchennin hills, of which Catlaw, the highest, has an elevation of 2264 feet above the level of the sea: this portion of the county, known as the Braes of Angus, is a wild pastoral district. Nearly parallel with these heights are the Sidlaw hills, apparently a continuation of the Ochil range, and which are of less height than the Binchennin, few of them attaining more than 1400 feet above the sea. Between the two ridges is the beautiful and fertile valley of Strathmore, popularly called the Howe of Angus, extending nearly thirty-three miles in length, and varying from six to eight miles in breadth, diversified with gentle eminences, fruitful fields, pleasing villages, and handsome seats surrounded with flourishing plantations. The district between the Sidlaw hills and the coast is a level tract of great fertility, from three to eight miles in breadth, and in the highest state of cultivation. The principal valleys are Glenisla, Glenprosen, Glenesk, Lethnot, and Clova, all of which are watered by streams descending from the mountains. The chief rivers are the North and South Esk, which have their sources on the northern confines of the county. Of these streams, the former, issuing from Lochlee, receives the waters of the Unich, which in its course forms numerous picturesque cascades; the North Esk then flows through the vale of Glenesk, between banks crowned with trees of birch, into the county of Kincardine, and falls into the sea about three miles to the north of Montrose. Its tributaries are the Luther, the Cruick, the West Water, the Tarf, and the Mark. The South Esk has its rise near that of the North Esk, and running through the centre of the county, receives the Noran, the Lemno, the Carity, and the Prosen, and joins the sea at Montrose. The river Isla rises to the west of the sources of the Esks, and after being fed by the waters of the Meigle, the Dean, the Carbet, and the burn of Glammis, flows westward into the Tay at Kinclaven. The Dighty and the Lunan are of inferior character: the former issues from some small lakes in the parish of Lundie, and runs into the river Tay to the east of Broughty-Ferry; whilst the latter, having its source in the lakes of Rescobie and Balgives, flows into the sea at Lunan bay. Most of the rivers abound with trout and salmon, and the Lunan with eels. There are also numerous lakes in the county, but few of them are more than a mile in circumference; the principal are Lochlee, Loch Brandy, Loch Forfar, Loch Rescobie, and Loch Balgives.

About three-fifths of the land are under cultivation; 20,000 acres are woodland and plantations, and the remainder mountain pasture and waste. On the hills the soil is heathy moor, but in the valleys rich and fertile. The lands have been greatly benefited by draining, and abundant crops of every kind are raised: wheat, which formerly was little cultivated, is now grown in large quantities, and of excellent quality; the various improvements in husbandry have been generally adopted, and the system of agriculture is in a very advanced state. Considerable attention is paid to live stock; the Angusshire breed of cattle is well known: numbers of sheep of various breeds are pastured on the Grampian and the Sidlaw hills, and on the former is reared a small breed of horses called Garrons. The plantations consist of oak, beech, birch, and other trees, which have nearly superseded the larch; and the improvement of the soil has adapted it to the growth of timber of all kinds. In this county the principal substrata are limestone, freestone, and sandstone of good quality for flags. The limestone is extensively wrought in several places, but its use in farming has in some degree been diminished by the introduction of bone-dust, of which great quantities are prepared at Arbroath and Dundee, and shell-marl is found in the lakes, some of which have been drained in order to procure it. Lead-ore was formerly obtained in the upper part of the parish of Lochlee, and copper-ore has been found in the Sidlaw range. The seats are Glammis Castle, Cortachy and Airlie Castles, Camperdown House, Lindertis, Isla Bank, Grey, Careston, Balnamoon, Brechin Castle, Panmure House, Kinnaird, Dun, Rossie, Ethie, Guthrie, Dunnichen, Isla, Craigo, Langley Park, and various others. The principal manufactures are, the spinning of flax; the weaving of linen and the coarser fabrics, as huckaback, canvass, dowlas, sheeting, and sacking, of which great quantities are exported; the manufacture of fine coloured thread; and the bleaching of linen, for which there are extensive grounds on the banks of streams. There are large tanneries, breweries, distilleries, and other works; and ship-building is pursued at the ports of Dundee, Arbroath, and Montrose. Valuable fisheries are carried on along the coast, and salmon-fisheries in the Firth of Tay. Facility of communication is afforded by good roads in various directions, and by railways, of which the Dundee and Newtyle railway was the first constructed in the county; the Arbroath and Forfar railway was opened in 1839, and the Dundee and Arbroath railway, nearly one continued level along the coast, in 1840. More recently have been opened the Dundee and Perth line, the Forfar and Perth line, and the Aberdeen line, of each of which there is a part within the county of Forfar. The annual value of real property in the county is £502,841, of which £312,201 are returned for lands, £180,496 for houses, £5408 for railway communication, £2389 for fisheries, £1385 for quarries, and the remainder for other kinds of real property. There are some remains of the cathedral of Brechin, and near them a round tower supposed to be of Pictish origin; the county contains the ruins of numerous ancient castles, of the abbey of Arbroath and similar religious establishments, tumuli, cairns, Druidical altars, and various other remains of antiquity, which are described in the articles on the parishes.

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