Parish of Brechin

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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1791-99: Brechin
1834-45: Brechin

Brechin, a royal and parliamentary burgh and a parish of E Forfarshire. The town stands on the left or northern bank of the South Esk, here spanned by an ancient two-arched bridge, and by road is 8½ miles WNW of Montrose and 12¾ NE of Forfar, whilst, as terminus of a branch of the Caledonian, it is 4 miles W by N of Bridge of Dun Junction, 9¾ WNW of Montrose, 45¾ SSW of Aberdeen, 19½ NE of Forfar, 51¾ NE of Perth, 102¾ NNE of Edinburgh, and 111 NE of Glasgow. ` As an old Episcopal seat, Brechin ' (to quote from Dr Guthrie's Memoir), 'is entitled by courtesy to the designation of a "city," but, apart from its memorials of the past, the interior aspect of the place has little to distinguish it from any other Scotch burgh of its size. With Brechin, as with more important places, it is distance that lends enchantment to the view. Seen from the neighbouring heights, owing to its remarkable situation, it is picturesquely distinctive, almost unique. A very steep,* winding street, a mile in length, conducts the visitor from the higher portion of the town to the river South Esk; and when he has crossed the bridge, and ascended some way the opposite bank, let him turn round, and he can scarce fail to be struck by the scene before him. The town seems to hang upon the sunny slope of a fertile wooded valley; the river, widening above the bridge into a broad expanse of deep still water, reflects in its upper reaches the ancient trees which fringe the precipitous rock on which Brechin Castle stands, fit home for a feudal baron; while immediately to the right of the castle, and on a still higher elevation, rise the grey spires of the Cathedral and the adjoining Round Tower. The middle distance is occupied by the town itself, descending, roof below roof, to the green meadow which borders the stream; and, for background, some 10 miles to the N, rises the long blue range of the Grampians.'

Brechin appears first early in the reign of Kenneth Mac Malcolm (971-95), who ` gave the great city to the Lord,' founding a church here dedicated to the Holy Trinity-a monastery seemingly after the Irish model, combined with a Culdee college. We hear of it next in two charters of David I. to the church of Deer, the first one witnessed in 1032 by Leot, abbot, and the second in 1053 by Samson, bishop, of Brechin, so that between these dates-most probably about 1050-the abbot appears to have become the bishop, the abbacy passing to lay hereditary abbots, and the Culdees being first conjoined with, next (1218) distinguished from, and lastly (1248) entirely superseded by, the chapter.- Skene's Celtic Scotland, vol. ii. (1877), pp. 332,400. The annals of the see are uneventful; in those of the town one striking episode is the three weeks' defence of the castle against Edward I. in 1303 by Sir Thomas Maule, whose death from a missile was followed by the garrison's surrender. In the ` Battle of Brechin ' (18 May 1452), fought near the Hare Cairn in Logiepert parish, 2½ miles NNE of the town, the Earl of Huntly defeated Crawford's rebellion against James II.; at the town itself, on 5 July 1572, Sir Adam Gordon of Auchindonn, Queen Mary's partisan, surprised a party of her son's adherents. The bishop, in 1637, resolved to read Land's Service book, so ` one Sunday,' by Baillie's account, ` when other feeble cowards couched, he went to the pulpit with his pistols, his servants, and, as the report goes, his wife with weapons. He closed the doors and read his service. But when he was done, he could scarce get to his house-all flocked about him; and had he not fled, he might have been killed. Since, he durst never try that play over again.' In 1645 the place was plundered by Montrose, who burned about sixty houses; in 1715, James VIII. was proclaimed at it by James, fourth Earl of Panmure and Baron Maule of Brechin and Navar. The forfeited Panmure estates, including Brechin Castle, were bought back in 1764 by Wm. Maule, Earl of Panmure and Forth; and on his death in 1782 they passed to his nephew, Geo. Ramsay, eighth Earl of Dalhousie, whose great-grandson, Jn. Wm. Ramsay (b. 1847), succeeded as thirteenth Earl in 1880. The list of its worthies is long for Brechin's size, including-Thos. Dempster (1579-1625), Latinist and historian; doubtfully, Gawin Douglas (1474-1522), the poetbishop of Dunkeld; Jn. Gillies, LL.D. (1747-1836), historian of Ancient Greece; Thos. Guthrie, D.D. (180373), philanthropist and preacher; Wm. Guthrie (170170), compiler of histories; David Low (1768-1855), Bishop of Ross, and last of the Jacobite clergy; Wm. Maitland (1693-1757), historian of London and Edinburgh; Prof. Jn. Pringle Nichol (1804-59), astronomer; Geo. Rose (1744-1818), statesman; Colvin Smith, R.S.A. (1795-1875), portrait painter; Jas. Tytler (1747-1803), hack-writer and editor of the Encyc. Britanniea; his brother, Hy. Wm. Tytler, M.D. (1752-1808), translator of Callimachus; and David Watson (1710-56), translator of Horace. At Brechin, too, died Wm. Guthrie (162065), Covenanting confessor, and author of the Trial of a Saving -Interest in Christ, who lies within the old Cathedral church; and the Rev. Geo. Gilfillan (1813-78), author and lecturer. Two of its ministers were Jn. Willison (1680-1750), author of Sacramental Meditations, and Jas. Fordyce (1720-96), poet and author of Sermons to Young Women; among its bishops was Alexander Penrose Forbes (1817-75).

Brechin's chief relics of antiquity are its Round Tower and Cathedral. The latter, founded about 1150, and added to at various periods, was once a plain cruciform structure, comprising an aisleless choir (841/3 feet long), pure early First Pointed in style, N and S transepts, and an aisled, five-bayed nave (114 x 58 feet), in late First Pointed mixed with Second Pointed, thereto belonging the NW tower and the large four-light window-almost Flamboyant in character-over the W arched doorway. The `improvements ' of 1806-8 reduced the choir to 305/8 feet, demolished the transepts, and rebuilt the aisles, roofing them flush with the nave, so that little is left now of the original building but the octagonal and clustered piers, the W front, corbie-gabled, and the broad, square, five-storied tower, which, with a NE belfry-turret, and a low, octagonal, dormer-windowed spire, has a total height of 128 feet, and was built by Bishop Patrick (1351-73). Attached to the SW angle of the Cathedral stands the Round Tower, like but superior to that of Abernethy. From a round, square-edged plinth, it rises to a height of 86¾, or, including the later conical stone roof, 101¾, feet; and it is perfectly circular throughout, tapering regularly from an internal diameter of 72/3 feet at the base to one of 67/8 feet at the top, whilst the wall's thickness also diminishes from 41/6 to 25/6 feet. It is built, in sixty irregular courses, of blocks of reddish-grey sandstone, dressed to the curve, but squared at neither top nor bottom; within, stringcourses divide it into seven stories, the topmost lighted by four largish apertures facing the cardinal points. A western doorway, 62/3 feet from the ground, has inclined jambs and a semicircular head, all three hewn from single blocks, and the arch being rudely sculptured with a crucifix, each jamb with a bishop bearing a pastoral staff, and each corner of the sill with a nondescript crouching animal. The ` handsome bells,' that Pennant found here in 1772, were two most likely of the three now hung in the neighbouring steeple. Such is this graceful tower, dating presumably from Kenneth's reign (971-95), and so a memorial of Brechin's early connection with Ireland. (See Abernethy, and the authorities there cited.) A hospital, the Maison Dieu, was founded in 1264 by William de Brechin in connection with the Cathedral; and its chapel is a pure First Pointed fragment, consisting of the S elevation and a small portion of the E wall, with a good doorway and three single-light, finely-moulded lancets. No scrap remains of the ancient city wall and ports; and the primitive features of the Castle have nearly all been absorbed in reconstructions, which make it appear an irregular mansion of the 17th century, with a fine square tower and two round angle ones. Its library contains Burns' correspondence with George Thompson, the Chartularies of Brechin, St Andrews, etc.; the gem of its paintings is Honhorst's original portrait of the great Marquis of Montrose. The Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh stayed here in Aug. 1881.

To come to the town itself, Brechin has a post office, with money order, savings' bank, and insurance departments, a railway telegraph office, branches of the Bank of Scotland and the British Linen Co., Clydesdale, National, Royal, and Union banks, the Tenements' and a National Security savings' bank, thirty insurance agencies, gas-works, nine principal inns, a public-washinghouse, an infirmary (1869; cost, £1900), bowling, curling, and quoit clubs, a Young Men's Christian Association, temperance, Bible, musical, horticultural, and two literary societies, and a Tuesday paper, the Advertiser (1848). The town-hall, mainly rebuilt in 1789, is a respectable edifice; the Episcopal diocesan library, founded by Bishop Forbes, contains an extensive and valuable collection of books; but the chief modern building is the Mechanics' Institute, a Tudor pile, with a central clock-tower 80 or 90 feet high, a lecture room seating 450 persons, and a library of 4000 volumes. It was erected in 1838 at the sole cost of Lord Panmure, who further endowed it with £40 per annum, and gave to it several interesting portraits. A public park of 8½ acres was opened near the town in 1867; and Trinity Muir, a mile to the N, forms a capital recreation ground. The water supply, provided in 1871 by the paper-mill company, for a stipulated payment of £280 a-year, proved insufficient; so, in 1874, a fresh supply was introduced from the Grampians, at a cost of £15,000, estimated to afford 40 gallons per head of the population per day. This paper-mill, 2 flax-mills, and 5 linen factories employ a large number of hands, the manufacture of osnaburgs, brown linen, and sailcloth, having long been largely carried on. The quantity of linen stamped here annually exceeded 500.000 yards at the beginning of last century; by 1818 it had reached 750,000 yards. Now, though employing fewer persons than forty years since, the manufacture yields a much larger produce, thanks to improved machinery, the weaving, that lately all was done by hand, being now mostly done by powerlooms in factories. The East Mill, large to start with, is described to-day as ` monstrous in its magnitude; ' there are also 2 extensive bleachfields, 2 distilleries, a brewery, 2 saw-mills, 2 nurseries, and the Denburn machine works. The seat of a presbytery, Brechin possesses two Established churches-the Cathedral (1511 sittings; stipend, £495) and East or City Road Church (860 sittings; stipend, £485). The latter, a cruciform building, with a spire 80 feet high, was erected for £1500 in 1836, and, after belonging to the Free Church from the Disruption to 1856, was made a quoad sacra parochial church in 1874. Other places of worship are 2 Free churches, East and West; 3 U.P. churches, City Road, Maisondieu Lane, and Bank Street (1876; 650 sittings; cost, £4000); an Evangelical Union chapel; and St Andrew's Episcopal church (300 sittings), which, founded in 1809, and thrice enlarged, was made by the last alteration ` as like a Christian church as such a building can ever be.' Five public schools, under the burgh board, are Bank Street, the Infants', Damacre Road, the Tenements, and the High School, the last erected in 1876 at a cost of £2519. With total accommodation for 1780 children, these 5 had (1879) an average attendance of 1374, and grants amounting to £1135, 1s. 6d.

Brechin, created a royal burgh by charter of Charles I. (1641), adopted the General Police and Improvement Act prior to 1871, and is governed by a provost, 2 bailies, a dean of guild, a treasurer, a hospital master, and 7 councillors, and by a body of police commissioners, whilst, with Montrose, Arbroath, Forfar, and Bervie, it returns one member to parliament. There are 6 incorporated trades (hammermen, glovers, bakers, shoemakers, weavers, and tailors) and a guildry incorporation. Police courts sit every Wednesday, justice of peace small debt courts on the first Wednesday of every month, and sheriff small debt courts on the third Tuesday of Jan., March, May, July, Sept., and Nov. The police force, 7 strong, cost £531,5s. 8d. in 1878; and of 254 persons tried at the instance of the police in 1879,5 were committed for trial and 231 convicted. Tuesday is marketday; and sheep, cattle, and horse fairs are held upon Trinity Muir on the third Wednesday of April, the second Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of June (this being one of the largest fairs in Scotland), the second Thursday of August, and the Tuesday before the last Wednesday of September. Burgh valuation (1861) £10,506, (1881) £26,517, 7s. 4d. Corporation revenue (1880) £1838Parliamentary and municipal constituency (1881) 1107. Pop. of royal burgh (1841) 3951, (1871) 5083; of parliamentary burgh (1831) 6508, (1851) 6638, (1861) 7179, (1871) 7959, (1881) 9031.

The parish of Brechin contains also the villages of Trinity and Little Brechin, 1¼ mile N by E, and 2¼ miles NNW, of the town. Rudely resembling a spread eagle in outline, it is bounded N and NE by Stracathro, E by Dun, SE and S by Farnell, SW by Aberlemno, W by Careston, and NW by Menmuir. Its length from E to W varies between 11/8 and 6¾ miles, its breadth from N to S between 2 and 4½ miles; and its land area is 14,313 acres. The South Esk here winds 7¼ miles eastward-first 1¼ along the Careston and Aberlemno boundary, next 3¾ through the interior, then 1¾ on the Farnell border-and descends in this course from about 130 to 20 feet above sea-level, flowing partly between high rocky banks, partly through low and often flooded flats. From it the surface rises gently northward to 419 feet at Craigend of Careston, 370 near Killiebair Stone, 200 near Kintrockat House, 316 and 290 on Trinity Muir, 266 at Leuchland, and 330 at Leightonhill-southward, more steeply, to 318 feet near Auldbar Castle and 407 on Burghill, opposite the town. The prevailing rock is Old Red sandstone; and sandstone is quarried, and limestone calcined, the latter containing veins of calcareous spar, with occasional crystals of sulphate of barytes. The soil is fertile on most of the arable lands, these comprising about three-fifths of the entire area, and plantations covering nearly one-fifth more. The principal mansions with owners, and the extent and yearly value of their estates within the shire, are-Brechin Castle (Earl of Dalhousie, 136, 602acres, £55,602); Ardovie House, 3 miles S by W of the town (Hy. Speid, 1005 acres, £1291); and Keithock House, 3 miles N (Francis Aberdein, 645 acres, £1304). In all, 9 proprietors hold each an annual value of £500 and upwards, 17 of between £100 and £500,33 of from £50 to £100, and 93 of from £20 to £50. Three public schools, under the landward board, Little Brechin, Auldbar, and Arrat, with respective accommodation for 100, 53, and 55 children, had (1879) an average attendance of 82, 54, and 24, and grants of £74, 18s. 3d., £28, 14s. 2d., and £27, 1s. 6d. Valuation of landward portion (1881) £20,854, 18s. 4d., of which £1289 was for the railway. Pop., with burgh, (1755) 3181, (1801) 5466, (1811) 5559, (1831) 6508, (1851) 8210, (1871) 9514, (1881) 10,499.—Ord. Sur., sh. 57,1868.

The presbytery of Brechin comprehends Brechin and East Church (q. s.), Careston, Craig, Dun, Edzell, Farnell, Fearn, Hillside (q. s.), Lethnot-Navar, Lochlee, Logiepert, Maryton, Melville (q. s.), Menmuir, Montrose, and Stracathro. Pop (1871) 34,030, of whom, according to a parliamentary return (1 May 1879), 8510 were communicants of the Church of Scotland in 1878, the sums raised by the above 17 congregations amounting in that year to £4507. The Free Church has another presbytery of Brechin, with 11 churches-2 at Brechin, Craig, Edzell, Lochlee, Logiepert, Maryton, Menmuir, and 3 at Montrose; and these together had 3474 communicants in 1880. The Episcopal Church, too, has a diocese of Brechin, with 20 churches or chapels -Arbroath, Brechin, Broughty Ferry, Carnoustie, Catterline, Cove, Drumlithie, 4 at Dundee (the Bishop's residence), Fasque, Glencarse, Inchture, Laurencekirk, Lochee, Lochlee, Montrose, Muchalls, and Stonehaven. See D. Black's History of Breehin (1839,2d ed. 1867); Billings' Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland (1852); the Registrum Episcopatus de Brechin (Bannatyne Club, 1856); the Autobiography and Memoir of Thomas Guthrie (1874); and Dr Wm. Marshall's Historic Scenes in Forfarshire (1875).

* The rise from the south-eastern to the northern outskirts of the town, a distance of 21/8 miles, is 222 feet, viz., from 94 to 316 feet above sea-level.

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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