20th Century

The Roaring 20's & NOT so Roaring 30's

And so the years slowly moved on and away from the carnage and into the ‘Roaring Twenties. It was a time of re-adjustment. Many found that they had been evicted from their homes because they could not pay the rent; others found that their jobs had been taken over by other people, and the class system continued to thrive, despite everything. A story was relayed throughout Perthshire about a man in Glen Lyon who was working with a group repairing a road when her ladyship passed in her Rolls Royce. The man had worked on the estate for many years before the War and had been called to the colours where he served for four years. He had been decorated with medals for bravery during this time. As the car passed all the other workmen doffed their caps, however he did not. The car stopped further up the road and the chauffeur got out. He walked back to the road gang party and sought out the foreman. A quiet conversation occurred and the chauffeur returned to the Rolls and got in and drove off. When the car had disappeared the foreman called the man over and fired him on the spot. He was given twenty four hours to leave! Obviously he had forgotten the rules!

In those days, as now, people were dispensible, and recently I was told that all the children in families in tied houses, or who worked for the large estates had to kow-tow to those who owned the estates. It was inculcated into them. One lady insisted on being saluted at every moment and would invariably call the culprit who forgot for a moment their place, to heel!

In Comrie those that could, returned to work, or found work, on the railway, or in the forestry. Others worked on the land as labourers and skilled men continued with their trades. But for quite a lot of them unemployment was rife, and they were forced to move from the area. Hunger, oddly enough, was not an issue as the local farmers looked after the disadvantaged by offering them a bag of potatoes or carrots, or whatever they had, however poverty was just around every corner. There was also the beating for grouse or pheasants to be had around August and December, as well as seasonal work at planting and harvesting time. This was still when the horse and plough ruled the farm. The Churches, as they had for many years, did whatever they could to alleviate the suffering and all attended faithfully just as they had done since Noah lived there!

An appalling accident occurred in St. Fillans on the third of October, 1921. A shipment of sheep was being sent from Oban by train on the down line to Crieff and just outside St. Fillans on a bend it was derailed. Out of the 1800 sheep on it some 400 were killed and 18 carriages were smashed. It was thought that the train had been put on to a siding at the station but that its brakes had not taken, causing it to continue on to a bend and couping over.

St Fillans Railway Station

The great strike of 1926 again emphasized the class division with the entrenchment of the upper classes set against all the perceived machinations of the lower classes.

In 1927 Comrie was inundated with flood waters with most of Dalginross under a foot of water. The problem still exists today. In this flood the whole of the Glebe was flooded, and, as with all floods, it was accompanied by attendant hardship. One house which was flooded stood close to the War Memorial Institute and apparently rose several feet above the floor level and the home owner said that he had caught a salmon in the doorway between the kitchen and the backroom! In the same flood a breadboard floated through the window of another house and, as no-one claimed it, the home-owner kept it and she still uses it to this day. There is also a classic photograph of a horse pulling the doctor’s car along Dalginross at this time.

During these years the author’s father was growing up and had attended Comrie School becoming Head Boy. Afterwards he went to Morrison’s Academy where he was cheated out of being dux (the fellow who got it played rugby and his father was a great friend of the headmaster). He then went on to St. Andrew’s University where he took a Bronze medal in history in the early thirties. His parents had no money, but were rich in everything else. During his holidays he would return to Comrie in July and August. For small money he worked on farms and went beating for grouse and pheasants. He did this all over Highland Strathearn – at Achinner in Glen Artney, Aberuchill, Ardvorlich, Innergeldie, and high above Loch Earnside.

The going rate throughout the land for beating grouse was a paltry six shillings a day and on one occasion the “pot boiled over.” He, along with many of the local lads, was beating at the Innergeldie Estate in Glen Lednock. The run had been taken out by Colonel Courage whose name adorned many public houses throughout the land. He sold booze in these pubs. It had been a good shoot and all were happy with the many brace that had been shot. At the end of the day the Colonel suggested that the rate be dropped to 4 shillings a day and that all the beaters should offer to do an extra beat for free. My father, a most inoffensive person, suggested that this was unfair, and for the lads to down tools. The Colonel made some comment about the riff raff and that probably most of the beaters were unemployed or unemployable. My father mentioned that seven of the fifteen boys were undergraduate students doing this work to get money for their families. There was high tension as the sides paired off. The beaters not beating, and the toffs mumbling under their breaths, and to each other. One can imagine the comments! Eventually the Colonel called over the game keeper and said that this was quite unacceptable, however, he told the game keeper to pay the regular rate, but with one more beat. The upshot of all of this was that the game keeper never spoke to my father again - he was too frightened that he would lose his job! On a later occasion the good Colonel was invited to a shoot at Aberuchill where he shot everything that crossed his path. Declaring that it had been an excellent day, he left… and was never invited back! There are some things that are done, and others that are not!

The Wall Street Crash of 1929 had occurred and had taken a deep bite into the British economy and the great depression was beginning. It had brought Britain to its knees. So much for good old Yankee ingenuity! They seem to be doing it again in 2009! It will be interesting to see how they cope with a 20% unemployment rate, soaring inflation, no savings, no housing …and still compete with the Chinese, Russians and Indians on the international playing fields!

Throughout this time in our area unemployment was rife. The only estate that really cared for the disadvantaged and unemployed was that of Dunira. It was owned by Gilchrist MacBeth. The mansion house was magnificent by any standards, and he had been gifted it by his father who was an extraordinarily wealthy shipbuilder in Glasgow. Gilchrist was very much a philanthropist and lived well. He owned four white Rolls Royce motor cars, but that did not stop him from mingling with the common man. As a result of massive local unemployment in our area Dunira offered work to many on the estate. He did not have to do that and it was the saving of many. He must have lost a tremendous amount of money in the Crash of 1929 but still he employed the local people as best he could. No other local estate helped to the degree offered by him. He is not forgotten even to this day for his kindness and generosity.

During the thirties many changes occurred particularly on the farms. Mechanized tractors were slowly being introduced (Massey Fergusons and Fordson Majors being amongst the most popular) and the need for horse power began to recede. This had a direct effect on farriers and blacksmiths who made their livelihoods with horses. A rather rapid decline occurred, and no longer were the wee Garron ponies brought down from the glens to be shod. These professions staggered on till after the war and then ceased altogether. Stone masons also had a lean time of it as no-one wanted their skills in the building of estate walls and lines of demarcation. Fencing was becoming more readily available. It was cheaper, easy to install and efficiently kept the animals in the fields.

Buses were running in competition to the trains between Comrie and Lochearnhead and Comrie and Crieff. Old timers will recall fondly “Stourie Aggie” This was a bus that ran from the village to Crieff and stirred up a lot of stour on its journey. No doubt also a fair amount of black soot blasted out of its exhaust system.

Old Blue Bird Bus at Comrie Square

Young men and women of academic promise, as in all of Perthshire, continued to take the roads to the outside world as they had no wish to be tenant farmers or forestry workers. Sadly this exodus continues to this day…and we are diminished.

Whilst poverty began to become a thing of the past there were a lot of poor folk trying to keep abreast of costs while for many there was only seasonal employment, some odd jobbing such as beating for grouse or pheasants, and only a few good paying jobs. In fact getting a secure job was miraculous in and of itself. Many bright people were to find they were underemployed in their line of work opportunities, and many others, just unemployed. This was symptomatic of the society at large and continues, particularly in farming, to this day! However, as my father once said “we were rich in everything, bar money!”

War clouds were seen on the horizon with the bellowing of Adolf Hitler with his goose stepping uniformed thugs. He was seen mainly in newsreels in the cinema or sometimes on the radio – if one had a radio. He also was spoken about at the Great Wall of Comrie. As all Comrie people of all ranks were great readers local newspapers such as the Strathearn Herald, the Perthshire Advertiser, and others which reported his activities, as well as other news of the day, were much valued.

The church which had been active for about 1400 years continued to offer a social life to just about everyone. As my Glasgow grandmother used to say “aye, it’s no a dull thing to be a Christian.” The singing of Moody and Sankey songs were very popular. One of my favourites was “Jesus wants me for a Sunbeam” He eventually will get me too!

Sales of Work and Jumble sales were common place, and as today, it seems as every Saturday was a Flag Day! Sunday school picnics were eagerly anticipated in the summertime. My father always thought the Congregationalists had the better of the deal because they went to St. Fillans on a hay filled wagon as opposed to a tractor and bogie. Some even attended séances in private homes as they were a real draw for many. Many hoped to contact long-dead relatives or even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, himself. Even today I still know people who commune with the departed but it’s normally after a heavy night at one of the hotels!

Fishing in the rivers Ruchill, Earn and Lednock, was a given. Salmon, Sea Trout, Brown speckled Trout and even eels all played their part in the high drama. Who has not netted minnows? Tales abound about the one that was caught (it always grew in size and weight) or the one that got away (it also grew in size and weight).

Target shooting at the Crag o’ Drummond, continued as before the First World War, at Bennybeg, near Muthill, was very popular as well. My friend Jimmie Mitchell represented Scotland in 1938 at Bisley. All these activities generated eons of tales of derring do and adventure.

Smiddy at Benny Beg

Walking on the Sabbath was permitted, but any form of sport decidedly not. Even to kick a stone was frowned upon. The Sabbath was a day of rest, period! Nature in all its glory was highly regarded and the discovery of nests bursting with eggs in the hedge rows introduced children and adults alike to the wonders of our area. Couple this to the arrival of white Snowdrops with their fairy bells in late January/early February added to the fabulous charm of the countryside. In March spring came with its lambing season. Daffodils appeared accompanied by Yellow and Blue Croci, and later Bluebells, Daisies, and the beautiful, but dangerous, purple Foxglove. What joy and colour all around. Barley was planted followed by potatoes. Here itinerant workers and tinkers played their part helping the farmers to plant and later in the year to further assist in reaping the harvest. Towards June, black currents and blueberries appeared as did the first budding of rose hips and haws, strawberries and raspberries. By then corn, rapeseed with their glorious yellow colouring, and golden wheat had been sown. Other vegetables such as carrots, turnips (neeps), cauliflower, cabbage and parsley were grown to supplement the dinner plate. For meat there were rabbits (poaching was illegal and became an art form in Strathearn), cattle (coos), ewes and lambs and on the odd occasion venison, pheasant and grouse – all were made into steaks and stews. In the later summertime bracken turned to a rich russet colour, and heather took on its magnificent purple hue on the hillsides. The winter brought its high winds, sleet and snow and the countryside became pristine white and so the cycle of life continued.

Dalginross in the Snow

Camp Road, Dalginross

Old Parish Church, Comrie in Winter