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Forfar

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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Forfar, a royal and parliamentary burgh, the seat of a presbytery, and the capital of Forfarshire or Angus, is situated in the centre of the southern portion of the county. By road it is 12¾ miles SW of Brechin, 14 NNE of Dundee, and 54 NNE of Edinburgh; whilst, as the junction of the Dundee and Forfar branch (1870) of the Caledonian with its 'through' line to Aberdeen (1839-50), it is 15½ miles WSW of Bridge of Dun Junction, 57¼ SSW of Aberdeen, 17¼ N by W of Broughty Ferry, 63¾ NNE of Edinburgh, 32½ NE of Perth, and 95 NE of Glasgow. The country round is undulating; and the town stands, 200 feet above sea-level, in a kind of basin formed by the surrounding slopes. It is a burgh .of great antiquity, having been a royal residence in the time of Malcolm Ceannmor, whose castle was situated on the Castlehill, a conical mound at the NE end of the town. This is alleged by Boece and Buchanan to have been the meeting-place of the parliament held in 1057, at which surnames and titles were first conferred on the Scottish nobility. The castle, from remains in existence at the beginning of this century, is supposed to have been very extensive, and the ruins furnished building material for the old steeple and the W entrance of the old church, as well as for many houses in the town. A figure of the castle appears in the common seal of the burgh as well as on the market-cross of 1684, which was removed a good many years ago by the magistrates to the site of the old castle. Malcolm's queen, St Margaret, had also a residence on the Inch in Forfar Loch, a sheet of water which, lying in Glamis parish, but immediately W of the town, at an altitude of 171 feet, has been reduced by draining operations to an utmost length and breadth of 9 and 2 furlongs. The Inch, reduced now to a peninsula, was for many years regarded as wholly artificial, a 'crannog' in fact or lake-dwelling; but recent researches shew that it is 'the highest part of a narrow ridge of natural gravel which runs into the loch, and the so-called causeway is a continuation of this ridge as it dips into the deep water' (Ancient Scottish Lake Dwellings, Edinb. 1882). This causeway, which was supposed to run the whole length of the island, was said by tradition to have been used in former days as a means of pa sing from the island. Tradition, too, associates some weapons found in the loch in 1770 with the murderers of Malcolm H., who, after committing the crime in Glamis Castle, tried to cross Forfar Loch on the ice, and were drowned. Besides these scraps of questionable history, memorials of royal residence survive in the designations of such localities as the King's Muir, the Queen's Well, the Queen's Manor, the Palace Dykes, and so on. An annual fête in honour of Queen Margaret, held on the Inch, was long a vestige of the royal connection with Forfar. The charter elevating the town to the dignity of aroyal burgh was granted by David I. (1124-53), and the records of the parliaments of Scotland show that assemblies were held there by William the Lyon, by Alexander II., and by Robert II. The town was almost totally destroyed by accidental fire in 1244. In 1291 King Edward I. of England was refused admission to the castle by Gilbert de Umfraville; but it was occupied by him and his suite from the 3d till the 6th of July 1296. In 1308, when ' stuffit all with Inglismen,' this castle was captured by Bruce and Philip, the forester of Plater, who, making an escalade under cover of night, slew all the garrison, and ' brek doun the wall.' It was never rebuilt. In the Great Rebellion Forfar adhered to the King, so, after the English had taken Dundee, Colonel Ocky marched thence to Forfar with a considerable body of dragoons, and not only liberated an imprisoned spy, but pillaged and harassed the town. In 1665 a charter of confirmation of its early privileges was granted by Charles II. in requital of this plundering and of the protest of ex-Provost Strang in 1647 against tae proposal to hand over Charles I. to the tender mercies of the English rebels. In 1684 the market-cross was erected at the expense of the Crown, and stood in its original position for a century and a half, till removed as before noted. In connection with Provost Strang, or rather with his posterity, a curious story is told. Two of this family had settled at Stockholm, where they prospered. About the end of the 17th century they sent home a fine-toned bell for the parish church steeple. When the gift arrived at Dundee, the magistrates of that place claimed it on the ground that it was too good for Forfar. A struggle took place, in the course of which the tongue of the bell, said to have been of silver, was wrenched out and thrown into the river. After a time the Forfar folk got possession of their property, but the Dundee magistrates refused to let it be conveyed away unless the town of Forfar bought all the ground it would pass over between the quay and the boundary of Dundee. A large sum had to be paid, and the road is known still as Forfar Loan. The townsfolk of Forfar turned out in holiday costume to welcome the gift on its arrival. A new tongue was not supplied for a century, and even now the clapper in use is regarded as insufficient to bring out the full tones of the bell. Dundee was not the only town with which Forfar got at loggerheads. The sutors of Forfar and the weavers of Kirriemuir had a longstanding feud, which often used to result in blows. Drummond of Hawthornden relates that, when he visited Forfar in 1648, he was refused shelter because he was a poet and a royalist. He passed on to Kirriemuir, where they equally abhorred these two 'crimes;' but, anxious to differ from the Forfarians, they made him heartily welcome. In return he wrote a quatrain, in which Kirriemuir was praised and Forfar satirised. A body of William of Orange's forces, stationed at Forfar in 1689, ate and destroyed all kinds of victual to the value of £8000, forced horses, carts, and free quarters to the extent of £2000 more, and left the tolbooth and schoolhouse in a state of ruin. Another reminiscence of the 'good old times' is centred in a specimen of the 'branks' called the witches' bridle, which, long preserved in the old steeple, is now in the public library. It consists of a collar in four sections, hinged so as to enclose the neck. Behind is a short chain, and in front a prong, like the rowel of a spur, projects inwards, and was fixed in the mouth to act as a gag at the executions. The victims were led by the chain to the Witches' Howe, a small hollow N of the town, where the stake was erected. The bridle was picked up from the ashes after the execution. nine women were burned at Forfar between l650 and 1662; and 'Johne Kinked, pricker of the witches in Trenent,' being brought to Forfar, was made a freeman of the burgh just ten days after that honour had been conferred on a cadet of the noble family of Keith-Marischal. A highwayman hanged on Balmashanner Hill in 1785 was the last person executed in Scotland by sentence of a sheriff. Patrick Abercrombie, physician and historian, was born at Forfar in 1656; and John Jamieson, D.D. (1759-1839), of 0 Scottish Dictionary 'fame, was minister of the Secession congregation from 1780 till 1797. Archibald Douglas, son of the second Marquis of Douglas, was in 1661 created Earl of Forfar, a title which devolved on the Duke of Douglas at the death of the second Earl from seventeen wounds received at Sheriffmuir (1715), and with the Duke it expired (1761). One curious thing in connection with Forfar is the fact that, down to 1593, its market-day was Sunday.

Before considering the present condition of Forfar, it is interesting to look at some details of its peculiarities given in the Old Statistical Account. The minister of the parish, writing there in 1793, tells that before 1745 there were not above seven tea-kettles and the same number of watches and pairs of bellows in the burgh; while in his time every house had a kettle and bellows, and 'almost every menial must have his watch.' In the middle of last century, a Forfarian who bought a shilling's worth of butcher meat or an ounce of tea would hide the fact from his neighbours as if he had committed a crime. One ox, valued at forty shillings, supplied the flesh market for a fortnight, and indeed a carcase was seldom killed unless most of it were bespoken. Each man built his house as he chose, and the town was both irregular and dirty. The dirtiness of the burgh was the cause of a murder on 9 May 1728. Charles, sixth Earl of Strathmore, was returning from a funeral entertainment with a party of gentlemen, when Carnegie of Finhaven was jostled by Lyon of Brigton into a kennel in Spout Street. He rose covered with mud, and, making a thrust at Brigton, ran the Earl through the body, for which he was tried, but acquitted through the ability of his counsel, Robert Dundas of Arniston.

On his progress to London in 1603, James VI., runs the story, was entertained with great magnificence by the mayor of one of the English burghs; and some of the English courtiers hinted that such open-handedness would be rare in Scotland. 'Fient a bit o' that,' said canny James, 'the Provost o' my burgh o' Forfar, whilk is by no means the largest town in Scotland, keeps open house a' the year round, and aye the mae that comes the welcomer.' The provost kept an alehouse. It was in Forfar that a neighbour's cow drunk up the browst which a brewster's wife had set to the door to cool. The alewife raised an action against her neighbour, who was assoilzied, since, by immemorial custom, nothing was ever charged for a standing drink or stirrup-cup. And it was Forfar Loch that an Earl of Strathmore proposed to drain, by tumbling a few hogsheads o whisky into it, and setting the 'drucken writers of Forfar' to drink it dry.

In 1526 Boece speaks of Forfar as 'having in time past been a notable citie, though now it is brought to little more than a countrie village, replenished with simple cottages;' down to the middle of last century its 'sinuous and ill-compacted streets consisted chiefly of old thatched houses;' but the Forfar of to-day is a comfortable and well-built town with several good public buildings. The High Street, with West Port, extends irregularly, from W to NE, to a length of about 1200 yards. Castle Street branches off to the northward, and contains the sheriff-court houses, built in 1869-71. They consist of a centre of two stories with wings and attics, and comprise a principal court. room 50 feet long, 33 broad, and 26 high; and a smaller court-room 21 by 24 feet. The old county buildings were near these courts, and were built about 1830 at a cost of nearly £5000. In 1869, after the opening of the sheriff-court houses, they were condemned as unsuited to their purposes, and a difficulty arose as to what should be done with them. Ultimately they were pulled down, and new county buildings, designed by Mr Wardrop, erected in their stead. They cost £4000, and include a county hall 65 by 35 feet, and other apartments, one of them a strong-room for records. In the hall are portraits of the hero of Camperdown by Opie, of Henry Dundas, Lord Melville, by Raeburn, and others. The town-hall is close to the court-houses, and affords accommodation to the free library, which, opened on 7 Jan. 1871, contains 4450 volumes. The county police station stands at the E corner of the county buildings, with which it communicates on both stories. In 1869 a hall for public meetings was erected by Mr Peter Reid, of 'Forfar Rock' celebrity, at a cost of £5000. Mr Reid afterwards spent £1000 in furnishing and adorning the hall. During his lifetime he was to draw the revenues of the hall, keeping it in good repair, and in June 1874 he made a disposition by which it and all its contents should go to the town on his death. In Nov. 1870 a public meeting resolved to place a marble bust of Mr Reid in the hall, and this resolution was carried into effect, Mr J. Hutchison, R. S.A., being the sculptor. The county prison, which stands a little to the northward of the town, was erected in 1843, legalised in 1852, and closed by order of the Home Office in 1882.

The Priory church of Restenneth served for the parish church till 1591, when a church was built at the town. The present parish church was built in 1791, and, as altered in 1836, contains 1800 sittings. Its handsome spire, 150 feet high, was added in 1814; and an organ was introduced in 188l. St James's quoad sacra church, seating 1100 people, was built in 1836 at a cost of £1200. Of two Free churches-Forfar and East-the former is a fine new edifice of 1880-81, built in West High Street at a cost of £5000, and containing 1000 sittings. The handsome United Presbyterian church, with 500 sittings, was built in 1854; and the Independent chapel, with 460, was built in i836 at a cost of about £650. The Episcopal church of St John the Evangelist, in East High Street, is in the Early English style, and was erected in 1879-81, at a cost of £12,000, from designs by Mr R. R. Anderson. It consists of a nave (90 feet by 31), with a N aisle (74 x 18¾ feet) and a chancel (42¾ x 211/8 feet). The spire at the extremity is incomplete, 40 feet only of the projected 163 having been constructed. The height of the church to the apex of the nave is 42 feet, and the building is seated for 600. The organ, by Conagher, stands in a chamber 24 by 12 feet, and the case, like the pulpit and choir stalls, is of carved oak. This is the third Episcopal church in Forfar since 1775. At the Revolution of 1688 the Episcopalians were not ejected from the parish church, but remained till the beginning of the 18th century, and communion was administered there by them at Christmas and Easter till 1721. After that, service was uninterruptedly held in the old Priory church of Restenneth, and after 1745 in houses in secret till 1775, when a church was built. This building still stands, but it was only occupied by the Episcopal congregation till 1822, when Dean Skinner built the church that was pulled down in 1879 to make room for the present one. A Baptist chapel in Manor Street is an Early Gothic edifice, built in 1876 at a cost of £1700, and containing 400 sittings. In 1881 the following were the six schools under the burgh school-board, with accommodation, average attendance, and Government grant:-Academy (534, 238, £199, 13s.), East (300, 296, £259), Forfar (273, 186, £155), Industrial (184, 94, £63, 7s.), North (300, 300, £262, 6s.), Wellbraehead (280, 250, £177, 7s.), and West (300, 269, £229, 2s. 6d.).

There are in the burgh, an infirmary, a choral union, a subscription library (founded 1795), a mechanics' reading-room, horticultural, building, debating, golf, angling, cricket, bowling, and other societies and clubs, including two good templar lodges. A fine cemetery, 11 acres in extent, to the southward of the town, was opened in 1850, and contains a monument, erected in 1852 by subscription, to Sir Robert Peel. The figure stands upon a large pedestal, and is surmounted by a dome upborne on eight pillars. The architect was Mr James Maclaren of Dundee, and the sculptor Mr Wm. Anderson of Perth. The gas-works are managed by the corporation; and a first-class supply of gravitation water was introduced into the town in 1881. As regards manufactures Forfar makes a small show compared with other towns in the county. Coarse linen and jute manufacture, tanning, and one or two minor industries practically exhaust the catalogue. In old days Forfar was famous for the manufacture of wooden soled shoes or brogues, from which arises the appellation 'the sutors of Forfar,' above alluded to. There are three incorporated trades - glovers, shoemakers, and tailors, that of the shoemakers being the most ancient. The incorporation of weavers was abolished by an Act of Parliament for the improvement of the linen trade. Forfar has a post office, with money order, savings' bank, insurance, and telegraph departments, branches of the Bank of Scotland and of the Royal, British Linen, National, Union, and Commercial Banks, a National Security savings' bank, 26 insurance agencies, 5 hotels, and a Friday Liberal paper, the Forfar Herald (l878). The burgh is governed by a provost, 3 bailies, a treasurer, and 10 councillors, who also act as police commissioners. The regular courts are the burgh or bailie courts, and the burgh police court. Forfar unites with Montrose, Arbroath, Brecjin, and Bervie to return a member to parliament, its parliamentary and municipal constituency being 1452 in 1882. The corporation revenue was £3094 in 1881. Annual value of real property (1866) £17, 434, (1876) £28, 255, (1882) £34, 080, 15s. 3d., plus £1919 for railways. Pop. of royal burgh (1881) 13, 579; of parliamentary burgh (1841) 8362, (1851) 9311, (1861) 9258, (1871) 11, 031, (1881) 12, 8l7, of whom 5686 were males, and 7131 females. Houses (1881) 2868 inhabited, 69 vacant, 15 building.

The parish of Forfar, containing also Lunanhead, Carseburn, and Kingsmuir hamlets, 1½ mile NE, 1½ NNE, and 1¾ SE of the town, is bounded N by Rescobie, E by Rescobie and Dunnichen, S by Inverarity, SW by Kinnettles, W by Kinnettles and Glamis, and NW by Kirriemuir. Its utmost length, from N to S, is 45/8 miles; its breadth, from E to W, varies between 2¼ and 4¼ miles; and its area is 8379¼ acres, of which 26¼ are water. Loch Fithie (3½ ½ furl.), 2 miles ENE of the town, is a pretty little sheet of water, with wooded rising banks; Restenneth Loch, near Lunanhead, was drained many years ago for its marl. Streams there are none of any consequence; but the drainage is partly carried eastward to the Lunan, and partly westward to Dean Water. The surface, all part of Strathmore or the Howe of Angus, is flat to the N of the town, sinking little below, and little exceeding, 200 feet above sea-level, but rises southwards to 572 feet at Balmashanner Hill and 761 near Lour. The rocks are Devonian, lower or Forfarshire flagstones; and the soil is mainly a fertile loam. There are traces of a 'Pictish camp' at Restenneth, and of a 'Roman camp' a little more than ½ mile NE of the town, the latter 'capable of holding upwards of 26, 000 men;' but Restenneth Priory is the chief antiquity. This is noticed separately, as also is the only mansion, Lour House. Eight proprietors hold each an annual value of £500 and upwards, 28 of between £100 and £500, 37 of from £50 to £100, and 128 of from £20 to £50. The seat of a presbytery in the synod of Angus and Mearns, this parish is ecclesiastically divided into Forfar proper and St James's quoad sacra parish, the former a living worth £540. Two landward public schools, Kingsmuir and Lunanhead, with respective accommodation for 80 and 120 children, had (1881) an average attendance of 69 and 89, and grants of £58, 17s. and £77, 8s. 6d. Valuation (1857) £7955, (1882) £12, 346, 15s. 11d., plus £3701 for railways. Pop. (1801) 5167, (1831) 7049, (1861) 10,838, (1871) 12, 585, (1881) 14,470, of whom 3882 were in St James's, and 10, 588 in Forfar ecclesiastical parish.—Ord. Sur., sh. 57, 1868.

The presbytery of Forfar comprehends the quoad civilia parishes of Forfar, Aberlemno, Cortachy, Dunnichen, Glamis, Inverarity, Kinnettles, Kirriemuir, Oathlaw, Rescobie, and Tannadice, the quoad sacra parishes of Clova, Forfar St James, Kirriemuir-South, and Glenprosen. Pop. (1871) 27,694, (1881) 35, 201, of whom 8429 were communicants of the Church of Scotland in 1878.-The Free Church also has a presbytery of Forfar, with 2 churches in Forfar, 2 in Kirriemuir, and 4 in respectively Aberlemno, Dunnichen, Kinnettles, and Memus, which eight had together 2140 communicants in 1881.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

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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