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Dunkeld

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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Dunkeld (Celt. dun-ealden, `fort of the Keledei' or Culdees), a small but very interesting town of Strathtay, Perthshire, partly in the parish of Caputh, partly in that of Dunkeld and Dowally. A burgh of barony, it stands 216 feet above sea-level, on the left bank of the Tay, which here receives the Bran, and here is spanned by a magnificent bridge, leading 1 mile south-south-eastward to Birnam village and Dunkeld station on the Highland railway (1856-63), this being 801/4 miles S by E of Grantown, 8½ NW of Stanley Junction, 15¾ NNW of Perth, 61¼ NNW of Edinburgh, and 77¾ NE by N of Glasgow. The town lies low, deep sunk among wooded heights - behind it, Newtyle (996 feet) and Craigiebarns (900); and opposite, with the broad deep river between, Craig Vinean (1247) and Birnam Hill (1324). Gray, in describing the approach to it, speaks of the rapid Tay, seeming to issue out of woods thick and tall, that rise upon either hand; above them, to the W, the tops of higher mountains; down by the river-side under the thickest shades, the town; in its midst a ruined cathedral, the tower and shell still entire; and a little beyond, the Duke of Athole's mansion. Dunkeld is, indeed, the portal of the Grampian barrier; and its environs offer an exquisite blending of all that is most admired in the Highlands with one of the richest margins of the Lowlands.

About 815, or nine years after the slaughter of the monks of Iona by Vikings, Constantin, King of the Picts, founded the Culdee church of Dunkeld, as seat of the Columban supremacy in Scotland; which church was either completed or refounded by Kenneth ac Alpin, who in 850 translated to it a portion of St Columba's relics. So richly does Kenneth seem to have endowed this church, that, prior to 860 its wealth exposed it to pillage by the Danes, under the leadership of Ragnar Lodbroc. The first of its bishops was also first bishop of the Pictish kingdom, the Bishop of Fortrenn; but at his death in 865 the primacy was transferred to Abernethy, since the second abbot is styled merely `princeps' or superior, and may have been either a cleric or a layman. Lay abbots certainly, and probably hereditary, were Duncan, who fell in battle at Drumcrub (965), and Crinan, who was son-in-law to Malcolm II. of Scotia, and father of the `gracious Duncan,' and who, says Dr Skene, `was in reality a great secular chief, occupying a position in power and influence not inferior to that of any of the native Mormaers.' During his time the abbey itself appears to have come to an end, for in 1027 Dunkeld was `entirely burnt.' The bishopric was revived in 1107 by Alexander I.; among its thirtyseven holders were Bruce's ` own bishop, ' William Sinclair (ob. 1338), and Gawin Douglas (1474-1522), the translator of Virgil's Aeneid. Once and once only Dunkeld has figured markedly in history, when on 21 Aug. 1689, twenty-five days after Killiecrankie, the cathedral, Dunkeld House, and the walls of its park were successfully held against 5000 Highlanders by the new-formed Cameronian regiment, 1200 strong, under Lieut. -Col. William Cleland, the same young poet Covenanter by whom, ten years before, Drumclog had been mainly won He now fell early in the siege, which was maintained from early morn till close on midnight; but his men withstood stubbornly every wild onslaught of the mountaineers, and, being galled by musketry from the town, sent out a party with blazing faggots, fastened to long pikes. They fired the dry thatch, and burned every house save three; nay, some of the zealots with calm ferocity turned the keys in the locks, and left the unhappy marksmen to their doom. At length, worn out, the Highlanders retreated, whereon the Cameronians 'gave a great shout and threw their caps in the air, and then all joined in offering up praises to God for so miraculous a victory. 'So ended this conflict between the 'Hillmen' and the Mountaineers, which, trifling as it may see, had all the effect of a decisive battle crushing the hopes of James VII.'s Scottish adherents (vii. 385-390 of Hill Burton's Hist. Scotl., ed. 1876). In olden times Dunkeld received any a visit from royalty, on its way to hunt in Glen Tilt-from William the Lyon in the latter half of the 12th century, from James V. in 1529, and from Queen Mary in 1564. And Queen Victoria, three times at any rate, has driven through the town. First, with Prince Albert, on 7 Sept. 1842, when 500 Athole men escorted her from the triumphal arch to the luncheon tent in the midst of an encampment of 1000 Highlanders. There she was welcomed by the late Duke of Athole (then Lord Glenlyon), who, through over-fatigue, had suddenly become quite blind; and there she beheld a sword-dance. Next, with Prince Albert still, on 11 Sept. 1844, when they` got out at an inn, which was small, but very clean, to let Vicky have some broth; and Vicky stood and bowed to the people out of the window.' Thirdly, incognita, with the Dowager Duchess of Athole, on 3 Oct. 1865. Nor have other illustrious visitors been rare-the poet Gray (1766), Robert Burns (1787), Wordsworth (1803), etc., etc., etc.

The pretty village of Birnam, which has been separately noticed, is connected with the town by Telford's noble stone bridge erected in 1805-9 at a cost of £33, 978, of which £7027 was advanced by the commissioners of Highland roads, £18, 000 borrowed on the security of the tolls, and the rest defrayed by the Duke of Athole. Measuring 685 feet in length, 26½ in width, and 54 in height, it has seven arches -- the middle one 90, two others each 84, two others each 74, and the two land-arches each 20, feet in span. The pontage was abolished in 1879. The town is laid out in the form of a cross; and, as approached from the right side of the Tay, is not seen in its full extent till one reaches the middle of the bridge. The street leading from the bridge was commenced in 1808, along a new reach of the Great North Road, from Perth to Inverness, by way of the bridge, and was designed to be a sort of new town, more elegant than the old; at the lower or bridge end stand the Athole Arms and the Free church, at the upper the Royal Hotel and the City Hall. The street at right angles to it comprises most of the old town, as reconstructed after the siege of 1689, and with a single exception consists of houses later than that date. The one exception is the ancient deanery, standing not far from the choir of the cathedral, and characterised by great thickness of wall.

The cathedral stands by the river side, at the -W end of the old street, a little apart from the town, and on one side is shaded by trees, on the other bordered by a flower garden. It comprises a seven-bayed nave (140665), 122 feet long by 38 feet wide, and 40 high to the spring of the roof, with side aisles 12 feet wide, a four-bayed aisleless choir (1318-1400), 104 by 27 feet; a rectangular chapter-house (1457-65), on the N side of the choir; and a massive north-western tower (1469-1501), 24 feet square, and 96 feet high. All are Second Pointed in style, except the choir, which retains some scanty portions of First Pointed work, and is the only part not ruinous. Not long had the belfry been finished, when, on 12 Aug. 1560, Argyll and Ruthven required the Lairds of Airntully and Kinvaid ` to pass incontinent to the Kirk of Dunkeld, and tak doun the haill images thereof, and bring furth to the kirkyard, and burn them openly. And siclyke cast doun the altars, and purge the kirk of all kinds of monuments of idolatry; and this ye fail not to do, as ye will do us singular empleasure, and so commits to the protection of God. Fail not but ye tak good heid that neither the desks, windocks, nor doors be onyways hurt or broken, either glassin work or iron work.' The tenderness of the closing injunction would seem to have been neglected, since the roofs were included in the demolition; and not until 1600 was the choir re-roofed to serve as the parish church. Such it is still, and Dorothy Wordsworth describes the ruin in 1803 as `greatly injured by being made the nest of a modern Scotch kirk with sash windows, very incongruous with the noble antique tower;' but in 1815 Government gave £990 and the Duke of Athole £4410 towards its renovation, and it now contains 655 sittings. In the nave may be noticed abundant features of the French Flamboyant. The great W window, for instance, so far as can be judged from the remaining fragments of its tracery, appears to have been designed on a peculiarly florid pattern, and so deflects from the vertical line of the gable, as to give space for a smaller circular window with double spiral mullions, above which is a foliated cross, still quite entire. The windows of the side aisles are very beautiful, and present no fewer than eight distinct patterns of tracery. The massive round piers dividing the side aisles from the nave are 10 feet high to the capital and 13½ in circumference, and out of Scotland might almost be taken for Romanesque. The arches between them, however, are unmistakably Second Pointed, with fluted soffits. The triforium consists of plain semicircular arches, divided by mullions into two lights, with a trefoil between; and the clerestory likewise consists of two-light windows, with trefoil heads and quatrefoil interval. Buttresses project between the windows, and are surmounted in the choir portion by crocketed pinnacles. An octangular turret, resembling a watch tower, at the south-western angle of the nave, terminates in a small parapeted gallery, supported on a rose carved moulding, and takes up a staircase, communicating by an ambulatory with the main tower, in which hang four bells. An elaborately sculptured monument of Bishop Robert Cardeny (1436), comprising a statue of him in his robes, beneath a crocketed canopy, is in the S aisle of the nave; a statue of Bishop William Sinclair (1338) is in the N aisle; a gigantic stone effigy of Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan, the `Wolf of Badenoch' (1394), arrayed in panoply of mail, is in the spacious vestibule of the choir, where also a Gothic mural tablet was erected in 1872 to the memory of the officers and men of the 420 Highlanders who fell in the Crimean War and Indian Mutiny. The upper part of it contains a sculptured group, in high relief, representing a scene on a battlefield, all in pure white marble from the chisel of Sir John Steell, of Edinburgh. The chapter-house, adjoining the N side of the choir, is still entire; is lighted by four tall lancet windows, with trefoil heads, and, serving as the burying place of the ducal line, contains a fine marble statue of the fourth Duke of Athole (1833), with monuments of other members of the family.

The episcopal palace, a little SW of the cathedral, consisted of several long two-story houses, with thatched roofs, till in 1408 it was superseded by a strong castle, rendered necessary by frequent annoyance from Highland caterans; and, though now long extinct, has bequeathed to its site the name of Castle Close. The bishops made a great figure in their day. They had four palaces, at Dunkeld, Clunie, Perth, and Edinburgh, and got their lands S of the Forth erected into the barony of Aberlady, and those in the N into the barony of Dunkeld, which latter extended, it only around the town but continuously, with considerable breadth, for a distance of 7 miles to the palace of Clunie. A hill on which the bishops hanged any a freebooter rises close to the second lodge of the ducal grounds, and to the rear is a hollow in which any persons accused of witchcraft were burned at the stake. An ancient chapel, on ground now occupied by Athole Street, was built about 1420 by Bishop Cardeny, who endowed it with the rents of the lands of Mucklarie, eventually transferred to the rector of the grammar school. Another ancient chapel stood on Hillhead to the E of the town; was erected principally for the inhabitants of Fungarth; is now represented by only an enclosure wall around its site; and, having been dedicated to St Jerome, has bequeathed to the people of Fungarth the ludicrous nickname of `Jorums.'

Dunkeld House, the modest seat of the Dukes of Athole, is a plain square mansion of the 17th century, behind the cathedral. A new palace, a little to the W, beside the Tay, was founded by the fourth Duke, who left it unfinished at his death in 1830. Planned on a sumptuous scale, this promised to form a magnificent Gothic edifice; but the site did not please the next Duke, so two stories only were nearly finished, with a gallery 96 feet long, a private chapel, a spacious staircase, and many fine mullioned windows. The whole, after Hopper's designs, would have cost £200, 000, of which £30, 000 was actually expended. The grounds connected with Dunkeld House are of great extent, and, highly improved by the sixth Duke of Athole, who died in 1864, are surpassingly rich in features of natural and artificial beauty, including a home-farm, extensive gardens with vineries and greenhouses, an `American garden,' 50 miles of walks and terraces, 30 miles of carriage-drives, the Rumbling-Bridge, the Falls of Bran, Ossian's Hall, etc. Plantations alone cover 18, 500 acres, of larch principally, which is commonly said to have here been introduced to Scotland-a claim disputed, under date 1725, by Dawick in Peeblesshire. Anyhow, `it was in 1738 that Mr Menzies of Meggernie brought small plants of the tree from London, and left five at Dunkeld and eleven at Blair, as presents to the Duke of Athole. These sixteen plants no doubt formed the source whence sprang the great proportion of the larch plantations throughout Scotland during last and the early part of the present century. . . . The entire area under larch in the Athole forest is stated at 10,324 acres, and the trees originally planted on it at 14,096,719. . . . Of the five planted in 1738, two were cut in 1809; one of them contained 147, and the other 168, cubic feet of timber; and they were sold at 3s. per cubic foot. . . . The two remaining ones of the five are still in a growing condition, and though they have begun to show signs of decay, they might yet survive many years. In 1831 their girth at 4 feet from the ground was 12 and 11 feet; in 1867, 165/6 and 145/6' ('Larch Forests,' in Trans. Highl. and Ag. Soc., 1869). Besides these` Mother Larches,' there are two oaks, two beeches, and a sycamore, whose huge dimensions are recorded in the same Transactions for 1880-81.

The old town cross, about 20 feet high, with four iron jougs attached to it, was removed about the beginning of the present century; in 1866 a fountain was erected by public subscription on its site to the memory of the sixth Duke. In 1877 a substantial City Hall was built at a cost of £1500; and Dunkeld has besides a post office, with money order, savings' bank, insurance, and telegraph departments, branches of the Bank of Scotland and the Union Bank, a local savings' bank, 5 insurance agencies, 2 hotels and 2 inns, a public library, gas-works (1851), a good water-supply (1866), 2 masonic lodges, a Good Templars' lodge, curling and cricket clubs, a horticultural and poultry association (1869), a rose association (1873), a young men's Christian association, etc. Saturday is market-day; and fairs are held on 13 Feb., 5 April, 20 June (St Columba's), and the second Tuesday in November (cattle and horses), but they have dwindled greatly in importance. Nor are there any manufactures, the linen industry having been long extinct. Places of worship, other than the Cathedral, are an Independent chapel (1800; 310 sittings) and the new Free church (1874-75; 1000 sittings). The latter, which cost above £3000, presents a large gable frontage, with a tower upon either side, of which the western terminates in a slated spire, 85 feet high. The interior is adorned with a stained-glass memorial window to Fox-Maule Ramsay, eleventh Earl of Dalhousie, who laid the foundation stone. The royal grammar school was founded in 1567, the Duchess of Athole's girls' industrial school in 1853. St George's Hospital, endowed by Bishop George Brown in 1510 for seven old bedesmen, was succeeded by small cottages after the siege of 1689, and, through the loss of its charter, was stripped of most of its property about 1825. The town is governed by a baron bailie, under the Duke of Athole, having never availed itself of Queen Anne's charter of 1704 erecting it into a royal burgh. Pop. (1831) 1471, (1841) 1094, (1851) 1104, (1861) 929, (1871), 783, (1881) 768.—Ord. Sur., shs. 48, 47, 1868-69.

Dunkeld is the seat of a presbytery in the synod of Perth and Stirling, which meets on the last Tuesday of every second month, and comprises the old parishes of Auchtergaven, Blair Athole, Caputh, Cargill, Clunie, Dunkeld and Dowally, Little Dunkeld, Kinclaven, Kirkmichael, Lethendy and Kinloch, Moulin, and Rattray, with the quoad sacra parishes of Glenshee and Tenandry. Pop. (1871) 17,750, (1881) 17,030, of whom 3825 were communicants of the Church of Scotland in 1878. - There is also a Free Church presbytery of Dunkeld, with churches of Auchtergaven, Blair Athole, Burrelton, Cargill, Clunie, Dalguise and Strathbran, Dunkeld, Kirkmichael, Lethendy, Moulin, and Struan, which together had 1548 communicants in 1881.

See Canon Alexander Myln's Vitoe -Dunkeldensis Ecclesiœ Episcoporum (edited for Bannatyne Club by T. Thomson, 1823-31); vol. ii. of Billings' Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland (1852); Dunkeld, its Straths and Glens (new ed., Dunkeld, 1879); and pp. 149-162 of Dr William Marshall's Historic Scenes in Perthshire (1880).

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer


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