Statistical Accounts of Menmuir

The Old or First Statistical Account of the parish of Menmuir is dated 1793 whilst the New Account is dated 1843.


(County of Forfar.) 

By the Rev. Mr John Waugh.

Origin of the Name.

    If Men or Mun in the Celtic, as has been said, means a moss or bog, then Menmore will signify the great moss, which etymology receives considerable credit from the face of the parish to the south, and the remains of marshy grounds in that quarter.

    The name was anciently Menmure and Menmore, the last syllable of which is well known to be a common termination to names of places in this kingdom, such as Strathmore, the great valley, Kenimore, the great head, and Benmore, the great hill. It should seem, not only from legendary report, but from a fine spring which still goes by his name, that in the times of Popery, the church here had been dedicated to St Aidan, which appellation was also given sometimes to the parish itself. This holy man was British; his name appears in some of our kalendars; he flourished in the 7th century, and is said to have been Bishop of Lindisfarne before that fee was transferred to Durham. Under the auspices of Oswald, king of Northumberland, he converted his subjects to the Christian faith. That he was in deserved esteem in that country, along with Bede and St Cuthbert, there is no doubt.

    Situation, Extent, Surface and Soil.—This parish is situated in the shire of Forfar, in the presbytery of Brechin, and Synod of Angus and Mearns. It is rather more than 5 English miles in length, and about 2, at a medium, in breadth. The general appearance of the country is flat, especially to the south and east, except the northern division of the parish, which is hilly and covered with heath. The rest of the grounds, particularly on the slopes, are very fertile: The soil seems to be a sandy clay, not very deep, and towards the water side sharper, with less loam and more gravel intermixed.


    Climate and Distempers.—The air may be called healthy, though, from the vicinity of the hills, it is cold, and very often in the summer evenings after sun-set, there is a chilly breeze from that quarter. In the low lands it is rather marshy, and the air is moister, which, with the nature of the food, may encourage the scurvy and King's evil. This latter complaint, with the flow inflammatory fever, are the prevailing distempers. The disease called Sibbins, and described some years ago by Dr Gilchrist, has made its appearance once or twice in this parish; and this distemper, called, in the account of a neighbouring parish, the louping gout, was first noticed here.

    Mineral Spring.—On a farm called Bathall there was a mineral well, which was in considerable repute some years ago; but is now very little resorted to. It is of the chalybeate kind, and good for stomachic complaints. But the poor people in those diseases, for which Spa waters are recommended, commonly prefer that of Panana or Arbroath.

    Population.—The number of people in this parish, according to Dr Webster's statement, amounts to 743. By a very correct list taken last spring, (1791,) there were 900 souls, viz. 432 males and 468 females, which makes an increase of 157; although, from examining the register of baptisms for a considerable time back, it appears, that the population is rather on the decline. The births are, at an annual average, nearly 27, deaths 22, marriages 8. Of the two latter no exact records are kept, and consequently the calculations may not be so perfectly correct. The number of farmers is 36; of manufacturers, the weavers, who are the only people of that description that are here, 12. The different sectaries or dissenters, are about 60, viz. 2 Roman Catholics, who do not properly belong to the parish, but come from the north; 10 Seceders, who attend a meeting in Brechin; and 48 Episcopalians.

    Farming and Produce, &c.—There are 55 ploughs in the parish and 100 carts. The old Scots plough is commonly used. On 2 farms they still use oxen. In some places the small plough is introduced. The parish supplies itself with provisions, excepting butcher meat and small groceries, which people in a country situation need from market towns; but in return for these they send in fat cattle, and export pretty large quantities of grain, especially oats and rough or Chester bear. On some of the larger farms, where they have a greater proportion of pasture, a good deal of cheese and butter is made and sold at Brechin or Kirrymuir. The soil, in several places, seems peculiarly favourable for raising flax. Four or five persons have lately obtained premiums for this article; and this summer, with the assistance of the Board of Trustees, a mill for dressing lint has been erected on the water Cruick, which, it is to be hoped, will meet with encouragement. Peas and oats are sown here as soon after Candlemas as the weather will permit, though, in some late seasons, they are hardly finished by the middle or even the end of April. Flax is sown about the beginning of that month, and through the whole of it. When it is a dry spring, the farmers wish to get their bear earlier sown, than in more southern or in less exposed situations, as the cold nights and frosty air of October have frequently injured this grain of late years. Barley is little cultivated, though rather coming in; both it and the Chester bear will sometimes answer very well, when the summer is warm, though not sown till near Whitsunday. Turnips begin to be sown after that is over, which thrive very well here, seldom misgive, on account of the fly and flugg, as they do in England, and are universally sown with the hand or a machine in drills, and afterwards cleaned repeatedly with the common plough. A good many potatoes, red cabbage, boricole, and some yams for horses, are cultivated with success in the same way: These are reckoned a profitable crop, besides preparing the ground for oats. By this intermediate produce, and the succeeding one, with the help of manure, being very plentiful, the farmers reckon themselves greater gainers than those who raise wheat at the expence of exhausting their land, and losing a crop by fallow.

    Disadvantages.—The improvements in agriculture, and the parish in general, lie under certain disadvantages, which deserve to be mentioned. There is neither lime nor marl in the parish, and it is a great labour, and occupies a good deal of the summer's work to bring them from pits or hills at 4, 6, and even at 12 miles distance. Another hindrance to improvement, and a great disadvantage to the parish, is the kind of fuel and the manner of obtaining it. There are few peats; turf is the principal firing. These are none of the best, tedious in casting, winning and leading, in wet seasons very difficult to dry; and by the cultivation of waste lands, the whins, divot and broom, are almost worn out. Thus, the poor householder, after all his fatigue, has sometimes nothing but his labour for his pains, and is obliged to buy coals from the ports of Arbroath and Montrose, the first 15, the other 10 miles from Menmuir. These coals, to such as have them to purchase, will come to 12s. and 13s. the cart-load. If they go to Arbroath, the distance is very great; if to Montrose, they are 1s. 6d. or 2s. the boll dearer, from the heavy duty that is exacted whenever sea coal passes a little promontory called Redhead. So heavy is this burden, that it is found to be more frugal to burn small coal from Newcastle, than what comes from the Frith of Forth. This grievance, which hurts the poor, and checks very much all spirit of enterprise and manufacture, might be removed by a new tax on some less needful commodity, or by an equalization of the duty; perhaps an additional halfpenny levied in general on Fife and Lothian coal might answer the end.

    Heritors and Rent.—There are 6 heritors, only two of whom reside in the parish. The valued rent is L.283: 3 : 11 Sterling. The real rent is L.1599 a-year. The average rent of farms may be L.50. The general rent of the best arable land is about 12s. the acre. The farmers are convinced of the advantages of inclosures, although they are as yet but rare. In several new tacks the tenants have bound themselves to inclose with dry stone-dikes, for which they are to receive 10s. a rood at the expiration of their lease. The victual raised annually amounts to 5704 bolls. There are 218 horses; 1030 black cattle, and 1447 sheep.

    Wages.—A  stout day-labourer may be hired for 8d. with victuals. In winter wages are less. In harvest a man's wages are 1s. a-day, and a woman's 10d. Day-labourers, when industrious, can bring up their families without difficulty. The wages of domestic servants, at a medium, are L.6 for a man, and L.3 for a woman. The wages of artisans vary much: Some carpenters will be got for 8d. a-day, others can hardly be hired for 1s. 6d. The case is similar with regard to tailors. Some of them only demand 4d. and others 8d. a-day, just as they happen to be dextrous at their trade, or much employed.

    Poor.—There are 10 at present on the funds. The annual amount of contributions for their support is, at an average, L.14; besides which, L.6, 10s. arises from funds lying in the heritors hands, at the interest of 5 and 45 per cent.

    Church.—The church was built in 1767. The stipend varies with the price of victual. It consists of 6 chalders, viz. 32 bolls of bear and 64 of oats, with L.25 Sterling, in which it is chiefly paid. Including the glebe, which is scarcely 6 acres, but very good ground, the ecclesiastical benefice is, communibus annis, rather above L.90 a-year. The patron is John Erskine, Esq; of Dun.

    School.—There is but one school in this parish, and that but ill attended. There are hardly 10 scholars in summer, and in winter the greatest number never exceed 30. The encouragement given to the master is extremely poor. A paltry house, about 100 merks of salary, and the emoluments not above L.2.

    Antiquities.—On the top of a hill called Caterthun, there are the remains of a very remarkable fortress. It consists of an immense quantity of loose stones, ranged round the summit of the mountain in an elliptic form. Whether these are the ruins of a stupenduous wall, or whether they were at first only heaped together, does not certainly appear; though, from their present state, one should imagine the latter was the case. It is supposed by antiquarians,  that this was a Danish or a Pictish camp; and what puts this hypothesis beyond doubt, first, plain indications of a fosse or ravin all around ; and, 2dly, on the next hill, a fortification of the same figure, but of less note, being composed of earth; whereas, in Caterthun, the great curiosity is the vast number of stones. Whether we consider the size of some of these, the whole mass in cumulo, the height to which they have been conveyed, the distance from which 'tis likely they were brought, there being no quarry or rock in the adjacent moors; or, in fine, whether the curious rest on one, or on all these circumstances, this structure, rude as it is, may well excite wonder, and affords much subject for research. Some travellers, who have narrowly examined these stones, tell us, that on some of them they discovered coarse outlines of birds, beasts, &c. Within the ring or oval circumference, the earth is covered with soft grass and bent; whereas, without the ing, the heath and moss is very luxuriant over the hill. The space inclosed by the stones may be near two acres. Among these stones some herbs appear, but the Digitalis or foxglove is most conspicuous. There are up and down slight eminences, or small tufty hillocks, underneath some of which, 'tis not improbable, lie concealed arms, bones, urns, or some notitix of the original formation of these remarkable ramparts. But there is another object visible at first glance, which must be mentioned. It cannot be better described than by borrowing some of the words of a writer, who observes, when speaking of the appearances on the top of Craigphadrick,

    “Within this inner space, there are other marks of artificial operation, viz. a portion of ground, separated from the rest, near the west side. This is in the shape of a parallelogram, the dike and ditch of the inclosure easily to be discerned. But what has been the intention of this piece set apart, 'tis difficult to determine. It might perhaps have marked the residence of those of high rank, or been a place appropriated to religious use.” As Caterthun, at a little distance, appears to be of a conic shape, and has a range of stones about its summit like a crater, some travellers imagine it to have been formerly a volcano. This may be the case with some other hills in the north of Scotland; but the structure in question is plainly a work of art, and not of nature. There is nothing like lava which might point out the operation of internal fire; nothing like the vitrification of these Highland castles formed by artificial fusion, neither is there any mark of masonry; so that it must rank with Duneval and Dunjardel in Inverness and Nairnshire, and other fortifications of dry stone. With regard to the main object, the time when, and the people by whom this strong hold was first erected, history is silent, and consequently recourse must be had to the most probable conjecture. Little need be said on this head after the suppositions of Messrs Pinkerton and Pennant, whose writings with those of others may easily be consulted. The last of these authors has given, in one of his first tours in Scotland, a view of Caterthun, with its dimensions. Some people in this country would trace the origin of Caterthun no higher than what in the Celtic its name implies, “the Thieves-hill” but this seems to fix it to an æra much too recent. That the northern freebooters, or Catterin, as they are vulgarly called, availed themselves in their expeditions southward, of this and other places of strength, there is no doubt. On this account also it might receive its present name; but it has been clearly a strong camp before the period of their incursions, probably in the Danish or Caledonian wars. Some suppose Tacitus speaks of this place in his history, and 'tis also said, that in later days the celebrated Marquis of Montrose and his army signed the Solemn League and Covenant on the top of this mountain. (Some travellers pretend to have found on its summit several figured stones with hieroglyphic characters, and likewise a piece of a broken statue. One, in particular (Vide Ruddiman’s Magazine, August 31. 1775.), makes mention of certain gold coins with inscriptions, in the possession of some gentleman in Angus, which were got on Caterthun. If the gentleman, in whose custody these curious pieces are, would lay them before the Antiquarian Society, it might tend to remove the obscurity in which the history of this mountain is involved.) There is a cluster of burrows, about a mile to the north of the church, which were believed, by the common people, to be graves of Picts or Danes killed in battle; but as, upon one of them being opened, bones were found very entire, one mould imagine they belonged to a later transaction. A little rivulet hard by has two passes, called the Scotch and Englishman's ford, which seems to confirm this opinion, and to fix their date about the reigns of Charles I or II when there were frequent skirmishes in this country between the Presbyterian and Royal forces. There is one burrow detached from the rest, which is called Beattie's Cairn, and the place the 'Mansworn Rigg,' i. e. the perjured land. There is a tradition which agrees with this appellation, and affords a striking picture of the spirit of ancient times. Two lairds quarrelled about their marches, and witnesses were brought to swear to the old boundaries. One of these chieftains, provoked to hear his opponent's servant declare on oath, that he then stood on his master's ground, pulled a pistol from his belt, and shot him dead on the spot. It was found, that to save his conscience, he had earth in his shoes brought from his laird's land. The person who punished such prevarication, in so summary a manner, was proprietor of Balhall. Before the Carnegies bought the principal estate here, these lands were possessed by a family named Collace or Colessy. Their funeral vault is in the church yard. One of them distinguished himself as follows in the battle of Brechin. When the Earl of Crawford fought in this engagement, to revenge Lord Douglas's murder by James II there was in his army one Collace of Balnamoon. This man being affronted at not receiving a promise of the lands of Fern from Crawford, on their eventual victory, left him, while the combat was yet doubtful, and brought over to Huntly and the loyalists the best part of his commander's forces, consisting of battle-ax, long spear, and broad sword men. This turned the fortune of the day, and forms a very important fact in the history of that time, as several writers acknowledge it was a most critical event to James, and established the Crown, which, till that decisive engagement, had only tottered on his head.

    Miscellaneous Observations.—The inhabitants of this parish are disposed to industry and economy. The women, in particular, spin a great deal of lint into coarse yarn for the duck or sail-cloth factory. They spin with both hands, a practice little known in the south of Scotland, which enables them to earn 3s. a-week. This makes it sometimes difficult to get domestic servants, seeing they can make their bread easily at home. There are three persons in this place who take in the flax undressed; one of these keeps constantly two hecklers employed, to prepare the lint for spinning; which, on being returned in yarn, is carried to Montrose, as the few manufacturers who reside here are principally employed in making coarse plaidings and linen of a finer quality for home consumption. The roads are improving. They are still made and repaired by the statute labour, which is not commuted. There are no tolls, and the general idea is that they would be oppressive. There are 2 bridges over the water called Cruick, on the great road to Brechin. One of these was built 3 years ago, for which purpose L.30 was obtained from the county, and L.40 raised by subscription. There are 5 corn mills on Cruick water, and a fulling mill on a small rivulet to the north. At one of these mills about 400 bolls of pot-barley are annually made for the London market. There is only 1 licensed ale-house in the parish, and it is rather a convenience than a nuisance. Cottagers are here almost universally employed in labour. Several farmers think that they are both cheaper and more steady labourers than hired servants. Many of the cottagers live very comfortably.





(From Notes furnished by Mr David Laing, parochial schoolmaster of Menmuir.)


   Name.—The name is said to be a compound of two Gaelic words signifying the great moss.

    Extent, &c.—The parish is about 5 English miles in length, and averages about 2 in breadth. It is bounded on the north, by Strickathrow and Lethnot; on the south, by Brechin, and Carraldstone; on the west, by Fearn; and on the east, by Brechin and Strickathrow.


    Parochial Registers.—The oldest parochial register of Menmuir commences on the 15th September 1622. The weekly transactions of the kirk-session are regularly detailed in it. From this register it appears that, for some years before and after its commencement, much disorder and poverty prevailed in the parish; but Presbyterian principles began to gain the ascendency, a salutary discipline was introduced, and Christian philanthropy kept pace with reformation in morals. On the 6th May 1638, the following fact is recorded: "This day the Confessioune of Faith and covenant with our God openlie read, subscryvet, and sworne vnto, be the haill congregatioune of this paroche of Menmuir." Shortly previous to this date, the weekly collection for the poor rose rapidly from 3d. to 3s. and upwards. But the civil wars which ensued, blasted the growing prosperity, increased the number of indigent, and dried up their sources of relief. In the register there are frequent allusions to incidents connected with these wars and with the disturbed state of the church. It appears also, that, during a part of the time of these troubles, the plague raged so alarmingly in this neighbourhood, that there was no assembling for public worship in the parish church, from the beginning of April to the end of September 1647.

    These calamities, and the troubled state of the country afterwards, account for the fact that, at the Restoration, the collections for the poor averaged only 1s. a week; at the Revolution they had risen to about 2s; but by the time of the Union, they had fallen to 10d. a week.

    Then came the rebellions of 1715 and 1745, followed by their disastrous effects, so that it was not till after the accession of George III that the collections averaged more than 1s. 3d. per week. At the close of the American war, the average was 3s. 2d., and they continued gradually to improve until 1812, when they reached about 11s. per week.

    Many instances occur of baptisms being recorded in the old register of the transactions of the kirk-session; but it was not until 1711, that baptisms were regularly recorded. Part of the baptismal register (from 1733 to 1758) is wanting: it may have either been lost or destroyed. With this exception, the record is complete, and the baptisms seem to have been duly registered until about 1827. Since that time, the number of baptisms registered has continued to decrease, so that now it is rarely that either the birth or baptism of a child is recorded.

    Land-owners.—These, with their valuations, are as follows:  

    Mansion-House.—The only one in the parish is Balnamoon House, built by the present proprietor.

   Antiquities.—On the top of a hill called Caterthun, there are the remains of a remarkable fortress, particularly noticed in the old Account. It is supposed to have belonged to the Danes or Picts. There is also a cluster of burrows about a mile to the north of the church, believed, by the common people, to be the graves of Danes or Picts killed in battle.

    Lately, when the old dike of the church-yard was pulled down, there were found in it two sculptured stones of rude workmanship; —on the one are carved two equestrian figures armed with spears and round shields; behind, is the figure of a man on foot, holding what resembles a pole with a circle or cincture on the top of it. There are two figures on another part of this stone; the one seems that of a quadruped, and the other the figure of a fowl. The other stone contains one equestrian figure.


    Amount of Population in

     1801               949

     1811               915

     1821               889     

     1831               871

     1841               731

    Number of illegitimate births during last three years, 6.


    Rent.—The average rent of land in the parish may be stated at L.1, 5s. per acre. Valued rent, L.283, 3s. 11d. Sterling. Real rent about L.5500.

    The more recent improvements in the agriculture of the parish have been reaping with the scythe and furrow-draining.


    Ecclesiastical State.—There are 108 male heads of families in communion with the church. There are six Dissenting families, and one Episcopalian. Amount of stipend, about L.156. Glebe, about six acres in extent. Value, L.9. The manse consists of two large houses joined; one built in 1798, the other in 1826. A large excellent parish church was built last summer.

    Education.—Besides the parish school, there is a side school close to it. Parochial schoolmaster's salary, L.34, 4s.; fees, L.16. There is about one-tenth of the population (732) always under instruction.

   Poor.—The number of enrolled poor during the reign of Charles II averaged sixteen, besides eight or ten different families of children. Number of poor at present, 21. Average yearly amount for their relief, L.56; whereof from church collections, L.25.

March 1843.