THIRD STATISTICAL ACCOUNT
THE PARISH OF COMRIE - 1951
By James Stalker
Physical Basis. The parish of Comrie extends from the Lednock Burn on the east to Auchraw near the west end of Loch Earn and from the summit of Ben Chonzie on the north to the southern watershed of the river Ruchill. Although some minor alterations were made in the parish boundaries by the inclusion of outlying portions of the neighbouring parishes of Muthill and Monzievaird and Strowan by the Boundary Commissioners, the parish is still irregular in shape, and is bounded by the parish of Kenmore on the north, by Killin and Balquhidder on the west, Callander and Muthill on the south, and Muthill and Monzievaird and Strowan on the east. The whole parish forms part of the basin of the river Earn with its main tributaries, the Ruchill and the Lednock, and consists of the narrow straths through which these rivers flow. Loch Earn lies almost wholly within the parish which on the whole must be considered mountainous, with Ben Vorlich, 3,224 feet and Ben Chonzie 3,048 feet, as the highest peaks. Although much timber has been cut during the two great wars, replanting has been carried out and the district may still be classed as being heavily wooded. Conifers predominate, but there are many clumps of deciduous trees including oak, ash and elm. The district is noted for the natural beauty of its scenery. Among the most outstanding of the beauty spots may be listed the Deil’s Cauldron and Spout Rollo on the Lednock, the view from the Melville Monument on Dunmore Hill, the views of Comrie village from Cowden Braes and from Meiggar in Glenartney, the village of St. Fillans by many considered the prettiest of all Scottish villages, the Banks of Loch Earn and the wide panorama from the summit of Ben Vorlich. References to earthquakes in previous Statistical Accounts have been confirmed, and the writer has experienced several shocks, although mostly of a minor nature. For some years a seismograph was in use at Dunira and the tremors were clearly recorded. Damage has always been negligible, the more severe shocks causing a tremor accompanied by considerable rumblings. The older inhabitants speak of earthquake weather, this being close sultry weather during a prolongued period of rainfall.
Population. Like most rural districts, Comrie parish shows a decrease in the number of inhabitants. In 1851, the census showed a population of 2,463 which fell to 1,539 in 1891. By 1901, the figure was 2,068, falling to 1,745 in 1911 and rising to 2,208 in 1921. These are rather striking, first as showing the great drop which occurred up to and including 1891, and secondly, the partial recovery made in the following decade, a recovery which has been greatly maintained until the present time. The original decline would be accounted for by the decline of all forms of industrial activity, by the disappearance of many crofts merged in larger farming units, and by a considerable amount of emigration. Most of the people are centred in the three villages: Comrie, St. Fillans and part of Lochearnhead. Comrie stands at the extreme eastern side of the parish, where two of the larger glens, Glenartney and Glenlednock, open on to the strath, here at its broadest so far as the parish is concerned. The village now includes not only that part lying along the main road, but also the former adjoining hamlets of Dalginross and the Ross. The whole may be regarded as one unit. Although the old names are still retained in local use, St. Fillans standing at the eastern end of Loch Earn stretches along the main road with only a few houses on small side streets. Lochearnhead lies at the extreme western end of Loch Earn, and is a straggling community mainly composed of crofter type houses along the main road, with several well-built houses standing back from the road and clustering loosely round the school. The population of Comrie village in 1881 numbered 1,038, and in 1951, 1,196 which together with St. Fillans and Lochearnhead would reach a total of 1,400 out of a parish population of 1,837. The 1961 census showed little change at 1,811. This emphasises the main factor in the population returns, that the decrease marks very distinctly the decline in the number of inhabitants in the glens which form so large a proportion of the parish. Glenartney and Glenlednock being best suited for sheep farming show large decreases as sheep-farming can be carried out in the large units.
Housing. The majority of the people dwell in stone-built houses, varying in size from two-roomed cottages to mansion houses. With the exception of six tenement houses in Comrie village all houses are either self-contained or semi-detached, and in practically every case there is garden ground along with the dwelling house. Most of the older houses have been reconditioned and modernised and electricity and gas have been largely introduced. In the whole parish there are over 600 inhabitable of which 430 are in the village of Comrie, 68 in St. Fillans and 30 in the Comrie portion of the hamlet of Lochearnhead, leaving about 122 dwellings for landed proprietors= houses, farm houses, farm cottages and estate cottages. Since 1918 over 70 council houses have been built in Comrie village and 5 more are in course of erection. Overcrowding is almost non-existent and most of the people are housed under good conditions with water and modern conveniences. In some of the farm cottages conditions are not quite so good although the homes are well built and comfortable. On all farms of any size there are tied cottages for married workers and occasionally a bothy for single men. Most of the tied cottages have been modernised.
Public Services. Since the last account many of the services necessary for the life of a community have come under the control of the county council. To this body the parish elects one representative, and another to the central district committee. These two members, together with suitable persons co-opted by the county council also act as special district committees for Comrie village and for St. Fillans. These latter sub-committees have powers of recommendation on all matters of local interest. The village of Comrie has a plentiful water supply from Glenlednock where water filters and reservoirs have been constructed and water is laid on to every house. The supply is plentiful in quantity and excellent in quality. The streets of both Comrie and St. Fillans are lit by electricity, being connected with the Grampian scheme, now absorbed in the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board. For many years the streets of Comrie were lit by gas supplied by the Comrie Gas Company. Gas was also used in most homes for lighting and in some for cooking. Not only has electricity superseded gas in the street lighting but this is also true for house lighting although only partly true for cooking. The local gas company has now been taken over by the Gas Board, and gas is supplied from Perth. Both villages have sewage systems and also village officers for scavenging purposes. The local cemetery, formerly in charge of the parish council, is now under the care of the county council and the Old Parish Church graveyard has been closed for internments, a new cemetery having been provided on the southern outskirts of the village. The churchyard at Tullichettle has been completely out of use for some years. There is a cemetery at Dundurn still partly in use. The health service falls partly under the National Health Scheme and partly under the county council medical department. Two doctors reside in the village of Comrie, where a district nurse is also stationed. The children attending school are all regularly inspected by the county medical staff, and in addition regular orthopedic clinics are held in Comrie school. Taken all over the people are healthy and the average length of life is long.
The railway suggested in the New Statistical Account materialised when a branch line was opened at Comrie in 1893, extended to St. Fillans in 1901 and to Lochearnhead and Balquhidder in 1904, thus connecting with the direct line to Oban. There are stations at Comrie, built in the parish of Monzievaird and Strowan and at St. Fillans with a platform halt at Dalchonzie, midway between these stations. This was the first means of opening up the district. This branch line has now been closed for all services beyond Comrie station, mainly because of competition from road services. About three years ago the bridges beyond Comrie were removed and the lines uplifted. There is an hourly bus service between Crieff and Comrie with about ten buses a day to St. Fillans, of which two or three continue to Lochearnhead and Callander. The majority of residents prefer the bus service for local travel as being not only cheaper but also more frequent and more accessible. There is one carrier in the village of Comrie who conveys goods between Perth, Crieff, Comrie and St. Fillans. For many years a small pleasure steamer plied daily on Loch Earn during the summer months, but the war saw it’s laying up and it has never been recommissioned. The roads in the parish are maintained in good condition by the County council. The only first class road runs through the whole length of the parish from east to west and forms part of the main highway from Perth and Crieff to Oban. This road carries a very large amount of traffic, including heavy transport vehicles and many touring buses from large towns in Scotland and from many English centres. There are several second class roads stretching up the glens but none of these are through roads although they are continued by footpaths to Callander and Loch Tay side. Other second class roads run along the south bank of Loch Earn, and from Comrie village by the south bank of the Earn to join the main road at Dalchonzie, while another second class road serves as a link between Comrie and the Crieff-Stirling main road which it joins near Braco in the parish of Ardoch. A new development is the initiation of a hydro-electric supply scheme, which involves a large catchment area at the head of Glenlednock with tunnels leading the water to a power house in the neighbourhood of St. Fillans and a subsidiary power house near Tullybannocher farm. It has taken due account of the natural beauties of the district and these have not been lessened in any way.
Education. All schools in the parish come under the jurisdiction of the county council. The largest is situated in Comrie village and comprises two distinct buildings, the old parochial school, and the new school opened in 1909, together with two pre-fabricated buildings acting as classrooms and as a dining centre. The whole of the buildings make up the fabric of Comrie School which is a junior secondary centre providing technical and domestic courses for pupils from the age of 12 years to the age of 15. In order that all may have opportunity to benefit, transport facilities are arranged from out-lying parts of the parish. There is a total roll of 178, 120 being in the primary department and 58 in the secondary. In addition to the headmaster there are 7 assistant teachers on the permanent staff and 7 visiting teachers covering all practical subjects. There is a two-teacher school at Lochearnhead, serving not only the western end of the parish but also part of the parish of Balquhidder. This school has a headmistress and an assistant teacher and has a roll of about 40. One-teacher schools are to be found at St. Fillans, Glenartney and Glenlednock with roll of 14, 8 and 7 respectively. For senior secondary education all pupils who reach the prescribed standard are granted full and free facilities to attend Morrison’s Academy in Crieff, while others who wish can attend on payment of the school fees as prescribed by the governing body of that school. Comrie, St. Fillans, Glenartney and Glenlednock schools along with those at Monzievaird, in the parish of Monzievaird and Strowan and Blairnroar, in the parish of Muthill, are supervised by Comrie District Local Advisory Committee on which are representatives of teachers in these schools and of parents of children attending them. Lochearnhead still comes under the Callander Committee as children from that area who desire secondary education attend the McLaren High School, Callander.
There are several educational endowments connected with the parish, the most important being the Robertson Trust for which there is annual competition. This trust offers lower and higher bursaries as well as special grants. The lower bursaries may be held by pupils in the higher forms of secondary education, the higher bursaries are tenable at a university, while the grants are for the benefit of those entering on training or apprenticeship. The Robertson Trust covers pupils who are resident in the parish of Comrie, although a separate fund under the same trust applies to the parish of Monzievaird and Strowan. Many promising scholars have been able to proceed to higher secondary and university education through the assistance received from this fund. The McLaren-Stewart (Ardvorlich) Trust deals with those who are not necessarily proceeding to higher education and is open to children resident in the parish and attending schools therein, and a grant is awarded as a result of an examination but is not paid until the winner has left school and is ready to enter a trade. The Robertson trust in under trustees definitely nominated in the Deed of Trust, while the others are in the control of the county council as being the education authority for the county. For all these bursaries and grants there is usually keen competition, which would point to a certain interest taken by the parents in providing good opportunity for their children. Not only so but the number who prefer to pay fees at Morrison’s Academy is tending to increase. One unfortunate feature is that the large number travelling by bus to Crieff has the effect of producing deterioration in the behaviour of these children, especially those between the ages of 12 and 15 years. Some form of supervision during transport would be beneficial.
Closely connected with education are the libraries provided by the county. There is a branch of the county library in each school, providing a varied supply of reading material for all tastes and ages. In addition the Dundas Library, descendant of the parochial library, is carried on in a special building in Drummond Street. It is now partly under the control of the county library authority which provides a large stock of reading matter, changed at frequent intervals, and also provides money to pay a librarian and cleaning. The local Dundas Library Committee is responsible for the running of the library and for the maintenance of the building. There is also a small county library in the hall at St. Fillans. Considerable advantage is taken of the facilities provided.
Cultybraggan is a large hutted camp which was built originally as a prisoner of war camp during the Second World War. The numbers housed at one time reached the neighbourhood of 5000. Italians were the first occupants, followed by Germans captured in North Africa and including many of the famous Africa Korps. On the repatriation of the prisoners the camp was utilised for training purposes by regular army and territorial units and by ‘Z’ reservists. The camp now caters mainly for cadets and is reckoned one of the finest equipped and situated camp sites in the country.
Agriculture. A notable feature in recent years has been the tendency towards a break-up of the larger estates; in particular Dunira, which played an important part in local life, has been reduced in size. Following the destruction of the mansion house by fire while being used as an auxiliary hospital during the recent war, the estate changed hands and has been sold in varying lots while many of the houses have passed into the hands of the owner-occupiers. A large number of houses in the village have become owner-occupied and there is a distinct tendency for those which come on the market to be purchased by retired persons of independent means. Many of the original buildings have been completely re-conditioned and modernised and electricity which was brought to the village in 1937 has been introduced into most of the houses. After the Second World War St. Fillans was linked up to the electric supply and gradually electric power is being introduced to many of the farms along the route of the poles. This has brought to the farmer the use of electric power not only for lighting, indoors and out, but also for power to drive some of the farm machinery. Farming implements generally are of the most modern type, and the tractor has largely supplanted the horse. This accounts for the fact that only one smithy now exists and here, much of the work consists of maintenance and repair of mechanically driven implements. The potato-digger is universally used for lifting the potato crop. For grain the binder is the ordinary means of harvesting, but in some of the larger farms the combine is hired for cutting and threshing the crop in the field. The use of artificial manure is now ordinary farm practice. The encroachment of bracken on hill pasture is becoming a serious menace and this presents a problem which requires urgent attention.
The farms in the parish number about 36 with about a dozen smaller places. Several of what were formerly small crofts have been joined to neighbouring farms. Of the larger farms approximately ten are owner-occupied, the remainder being held by tenant farmers. There is a tendency in recent years as leases expire for the landowner to take over and put a grieve in charge. On the lower ground dairy farming, potato growing and pig breeding are the main types, while one farm has been developed as a fruit farm and some of the small places are run as market gardens. On the higher ground sheep-farming is chiefly followed.
Industry and Commerce. All the industries noted on the New Statistical Account: distilling, cotton and woollen weaving, have entirely disappeared and no others have taken their places. The village is mainly the centre for the agricultural community, although the former market days have passed and it depends largely for a livelihood on the trades necessary for the life of any community. In addition, there is the work afforded in the upkeep of the houses in the district so that a number are employed in the building, carpentry and painting business. The letting of accommodation for summer visitors also provides a considerable amount of employment. Quite a number are employed in Crieff and Perth and travel daily. The local demand for domestic help is larger than the supply available. The shops in the parish are centred largely in the village of Comrie and are many and varied for the size of the community so that the needs of the inhabitants are fully met. There are in all about 30 shops in Comrie village covering a wide range of necessities. It is noteworthy that there are now two electrical shops in the village and several which cater for souvenirs and the other needs of visitors and tourists. Most of the bakers, grocers and butchers have vans which cover the whole parish and even beyond. The Co-operative has a shop in the village. There is one general store in St. Fillans in which the post office is carried on, while in Comrie the post office is under a Sub-Postmaster. At both these offices all postal facilities are available. In the village there are now two banks: the National Commercial, which in addition gives weekly attendances at St. Fillans, and the Clydesdale&North of Scotland. As a holiday centre the parish is well supplied with hotels, there being three licensed hotels in Comrie, one in St. Fillans and one in Auchraw, near the western boundary of the parish. These are the only licensed places in the parish, with the exception of the two licensed grocers in the village, and all hotels are of a very good class. In addition there are several boarding houses, particularly in Comrie and St. Fillans, while during the season boarders are taken into many private houses.
Social Life. A great variety of voluntary bodies caters for all ages and conditions. The Boy Scouts and Girl Guide movements deal with the younger generation, and both are flourishing. The S.W.R.I. has branches in Comrie village and in St. Fillans, while Glenartney is covered by the branch at Blairnroar, in the parish of Muthill. Comrie branch has a membership of over 100 and has its own hall for a meeting place, while at St. Fillans there is a membership of 50. There is a strong branch of the British Legion while the War Memorial Institute provides facilities for various indoor games, billiards, carpet-bowling, dominoes, cards and chess and is also used as a youth centre. There is an active branch of the Red Cross Society with a membership of about 30. Outdoor sports are strongly represented; cricket, curling, golf, angling and tennis all have fully constituted clubs, while bowling is open to all on a green which the club has laid down. A recent feature has been the revival of interest in Scottish country dancing, there being a club in Comrie affiliated to the Scottish Society. A strong dramatic society exists and has given some remarkable performances, being very favourably commented upon at dramatic festivals. The Horticultural and Industrial Society is thriving and its annual show is extremely well supported from all parts of the parish by exhibits which include not only flowers, fruit and vegetables, but baking, preserves, honey, needlework, knitting and arts and crafts, as well as a children’s section for writing and collections of wild flowers, fruits and grasses. The public hall in Comrie village is suitable in size for the needs of the village, although lacking in modern equipment and could be considerably improved. Dances are held weekly and are supported not only by local people but by a considerable number from Crieff and other surrounding districts. There is also a small hall at St. Fillans. No cinema exists in the parish, although occasional film shows are given at St. Fillans. It has become a very common custom for frequent, in some cases twice-weekly, visits to be paid to the cinemas in Crieff. It can be said that the inhabitants take a very fair share in finding occupation for their own leisure hours, provided such occupations are either practical or entertaining. There have been several attempts to form literary associations, but these have usually been short-lived.
Church. As a result of the number of unions that have taken place, the most recent being that of the Old Parish Church and St. Kessog’s in Comrie in 1957 there are now only two congregations in the parish: Dundurn and St. Fillans, and the Old and St. Kessog’s at Comrie. The latter congregation, after a period of five years in which services were held alternately in the two buildings, finally decided to worship only in St. Kessog’s. The spire of the Old Parish Church has become dangerous. An attempt is now being made to preserve the building as an interesting architectural feature of the village. A reconditioned organ with a wonderful tone has recently been installed in St. Kessog’s. The church, erected in 1881 in its own lovely grounds on the banks of the Earn, is an imposing building. It has adequate halls for all its many activities and organisations. The parish has three preaching stations, one in Glenartney, where the Earl of Ancaster has provided a little chapel set on a promontory overlooking the Ruchill, one in Glenlednock in the school and one in the hall at Blairnroar. The first two are maintained all the year round and the latter for six months, each on one Sunday of the month. In addition the parish minister conducts early morning services at the Cadet Camp at Cultybraggan. There are branches of the Woman’s Guild in the glens and children who are unable to come to church and Sunday school in Comrie are sent the Home Departments leaflets every month. Church membership stands at about 700. The manse of the Old Parish Church serves as the manse for the united congregation. The congregation holds considerable endowed funds to benefit needy cases and administers these through the Kirk Session. Dundurn Church in St. Fillans is a beautiful little building amply suitable for the needs of the area which it serves. It has a membership of about 100. The inhabitants of the western end of Loch Earn are attached to the parish church at Balquhidder.
There is a small Episcopalian Church in Comrie with a branch congregation in St. Fillans. The rector resides in Comrie, where the larger proportion of the members attend the recently reconstructed church called the Church of Fillan, just across the Lednock water in the parish of Monzievaird and Strowan. The only other place of worship in the parish is a small Roman Catholic chapel close by the Lednock. Here services are conducted by visiting priests from Crieff.
Way of Life. - Since the New Statistical Account was written a period of 100 years has elapsed. During this time the age of steam grew and waned, to be replaced with an era of petrol and electricity, which in its turn seems about to be superseded by an age of atomic energy. Changes during such a period have, of necessity been continuous, but three outstanding features have had great influence on the life of the community as a whole. The parish council as the authority for local affairs disappeared and has been replaced by the county council. Housing, roads, police, street lighting, water, sanitation, and to a certain extent health all come within the scope of the county council. There is a fairly widespread feeling that much of the interest in local affairs has been lost through the passing of the parish council, but this has been replaced by a greater interest in matters national and international, which has been helped by the increased availability of up-to-date news and by a higher standard of education. The parish enjoys the benefits of being part of a larger unit and the spirit of narrow parochialism has given way to a far more intelligent outlook towards the problems of the world. Yet most of the inhabitants take considerable pride in their district and are willing to assist acting in the running of the various organisations. The village is regarded as the centre of the social life of the district and as the meeting place for social intercourse and so at all meetings there is an attendance representation not of the village only but of the purely rural districts. The popularity of the cycle or motor has helped this and has brought the possibility of a fuller participation in community life.
This leads to the second great change in mode of life through the greater abilities for travel within the parish as well as to and from the district. This leads to advantage and dis-advantage. The feeling of isolation has been removed and the narrow parochial spirit has been lost. Increased transport allows people to move freely to and from large centres of population. It has brought an increase of visitors, and allows residents to get easily to main shopping centres and also to visit more varied forms of entertainment. It opens up to residents an opportunity to find work in Crieff, and to return home at night, and the number thus employed and travelling daily to and from work is ever increasing. This tends to arrest the decline in population, as were this travel not available many would have to reside out with the parish. On the other hand it tends to encourage a spirit of restlessness, and to a feeling that one must go out of the parish for the good things of life. This is especially true in the case of the youth who tend to spend too much leisure time in Crieff, although this tendency disappears to a great extent, with the coming of mature years.
The break-up of some of the estates has brought a re-awakening of the spirit of independence as many of the houses and farms are owner-occupied and the pride of ownership has fostered a greater interest in such matters as affect the good of the district. The fine responsibility which the laird had for his dependents, and the feeling of respect for the laird as the head of the community have been replaced by a keener and more understanding interest in district affairs, an interest which if rightly guided can only lead to the fuller welfare of the parish.
Revised September, 1962