A Village History – Killin

8 years ago Articles

Introduction of Home Industries

The Second Earl did much to try to improve the lot of his tenants. He brought workers in flax and wool from England and even from the Continent to teach their crafts to the people. About a mile and a half from the village on the North bank of the River Dochart can be seen a little huddle of ruined houses known as “Ard-nan-Gall” or “Hill of the Strangers” so called because here lived a community of Flemish weavers brought to Scotland by the 2nd Earl. This good work was continued by the 3rd Earl, and spinning and weaving became quite a thriving industry in the district. Thomas Pennant, the traveler and historian, writing about Breadalbane in 1769 tells that “the country manufactures a great deal of thread. They spin with “rocks” which they do as they watch their cattle on the hills, and £1,600 worth of yarn was sold out of Breadalbane at Fairs* during the year, the yarn is bought by buyers from towns of the South for manufacture into cloth”. In 1770, 954 stones of Flax were dressed in the lint-mill at Killin. Dr. Gillies, in his book “In Famed Breadalbane”, tells us that these “scutching mills” were first built in the Highlands by Ewen Cameron, a native of Breadalbane, who was the first to teach the use of the spinning-wheel and jack-reel. The woolen yarn required for home use was woven into cloth by local weavers of whom there were many in the district. (1) *Fairs held in Killin (other than St. Fillan’s Day were:- 5th May – St. George’s Fair (old calendar). 12th May – The Little Fair. The Friday before 1st Wednesday in November known as the “Little Hallowmas Fair”. Tuesday before 11th November – Killin Martinmas Fair. The Statistical Account for 1793 states that in the Parish of Killin there were:- 63 Weavers, 38 Tailors, 36 Wrights, 26 Shoemakers, 20 Flax Dressers, 10 Smiths, 9 Masons, 8 Coopers, 4 Hosiers and 1 Dyer. It must be remembered that the “Parish of Killin” includes Tyndrum, Crianlarich and several other smaller settlements.

Improved Method of Agriculture

The more settled state of the country in the latter half of the 18th century led to a large increase in population, and the antiquated system of agriculture meant that the land carried a heavier burden than it could well sustain, both of men and animals. The 3rd and 4th Earls did much to relieve pressures on the over-burdened land. They built roads and bridges to open up the country and facilitate transport. Some of the sons of farmers were sent to England to learn new methods of farming. Gradually the old in-field and out-field system was done away with. Compact farms were laid out, rotation of crops established, with enclosed fields for the growing of turnips and potatoes, so that improved winter keep resulted in a vast improvement in the quality of the stock. Previously in bad winters the people had sometimes to resort to bleeding the cattle to eke out their meager supply of meal to feed themselves and their children. The introduction of the potato made a vast difference to both man and beast; Dr. Gillies remarks that by the end of the 18th century “the people were in easy and affluent circumstances” – but we imagine that “affluent” is a comparative term, judged from the standards of today! Actually the people possessed little in the way of worldly wealth and lived largely on a system of exchange and barter. The rents, however, had to be paid in cash and to make a little extra they sometimes resorted to smuggling – the distilling of illicit whisky – a practice which continued in isolated instances till the end of the last century, and there are many stories told of the stratagems employed to foil to hated “Gaugers”. Their farms supplied all they required in the way of food – milk, butter, cheese and meat, mostly salted. Porridge and oat and barley bannocks were made from grain grown at home and ground in the local Mill. Such luxuries as tea, sugar and baker’s bread were unknown. Blankets and clothes were made from wool spun and dyed at home. One of our older members can recollect as a child gathering “crotal” the grey crisp lichen which grows on rocks and stones for dyeing. The wool was the boiled along with the crotal in a huge pot over a fire in the open air. This produced a ruddy brown colour, and the cloth always had a distinctive fragrance. Heather roots and oak and birch bark were also used for dyeing. Household linen was made from home-grown flax; when engaging a maid it was part of the agreement that she should be prepared to spin 12 hanks of flax per day. This was dressed at the local Mill and spun at home. Many samples of home-spun linen sheets etc., can still be displayed, the results of the industry of a many-times-great grandmother. Candles were made from tallow rendered down when a beast was killed, and for fuel they burned peat. Like the shielings, each community had its own peat-banks allotted to it. The peats were cut with a special kind of spade in the early summer, between lambing and hay-making, then left to dry and brought home later to be built into the peat-stack which stood at the gable-end of every house. The peat fire was laid on a raised hearthstone with an overhanging chimney piece, and was never allowed to go out, being “smoored” or covered with ashes at night. It was considered bad luck if the fire went out, and if by evil chance that should happen it must be relit from a live peat brought from another fire even though it might have to be carried for miles! The fireside was in a very real sense the heart of the household, and in the evenings the family would gather round the hearth; the mother at her wheel and the girls with their knitting, while the men might be carving walking sticks or other articles from horn, weaving creels or baskets from willow wands or busking flies for fishing. When neighbours dropped in for a ceilidh the old songs would be sung and the old tales told, news exchanged and perhaps a months-old newspaper read aloud and it contents discussed. It may have been a hard life and a simple one, but it could maybe teach us much in the way of contentment and peace of mind which are hard to achieve in what we are pleased to call a more enlightened age.

The Clearances

The death of the 4th Earl and 1st Marquis of Breadalbane heralded a time of great hardship and sorrow for many of his humble tenants. His son, the 2nd Marquis, took little to do with the management of the Estate, being occupied with schemes for developing the mineral resources he was sure existed in the district; he left the Estate to the care of his Factor, a Mr. James Wyllie, a name long remembered with dread in Breadalbane. He cleared the tenants from several parts of the Estate to make room for the formation of large sheep farms, often using means of great cruelty and injustice, in order to make more profit for the Landlord. In this, it is true, the district shared the fate of many another part of the Highlands, and today the ruins of the homes from which the people were driven can still be seen scattered around the countryside mute witness to a shameful page in our Village’s history. Many emigrated overseas – an irreparable loss to the country they left behind – but providing a splendid foundation for the building up of new lands in which they made their homes. The change to sheep farming brought an infusion of new blood into the district, as in many cases new farmers from the South came to take up tenancy of the newly-created farms, and local men had to learn the art of shepherding. Before the introduction of antiseptics and sheep dips, the sheep had to be smeared with a mixture of melted tar and butter to prevent parasites. Gangs of men, mostly from the North and from Skye, used to travel the Highlands and down into the Lowlands to take part in this work, and the smearing-sheds were often famous places for the exchange of song and story. It was hard, dirty and unpleasant work as the stuff had to be rubbed into the wool, and often resulted in painful and mis-shapen hands.


Although the 2nd Marquis spent much money and a great deal of time and effort in trying to exploit the minerals on his estates, all his schemes had to be abandoned. Lead had been mined at Tyndrum before his time, but the mines were closed down after his death. Copper was mined for a time on the South side of Loch Tay, chrome at Corrycharmaig in Glen Lochay and there are old iron-workings at Tullich also in Glenlochay, but the remoteness of the district made all these projects uneconomic.

Local Crafts

There was a very famous Smithy in Killin in the 17th century, where Andrea Ferrara broadswords were made. It stood beside a stream still known as Allt-na-ceardaich or the Smithy Burn. These smithies were established where a supply of birch wood was available, as birch was considered the best fuel for smelting; when the supply of birch was exhausted the smithy was moved to the next suitable site. About 40 years ago an old man named Callum McLaren died. He was the last survivor of a family who in former days were bow makers to the Clan Macnab. He used to make bows and arrows for the boys of the village which proved such lethal weapons that they were invariably confiscated by parents, schoolmasters, or anyone in authority!! A pool in the River Dochart to the West of the War Memorial is known as “Linne-an-targaid” or the Target Pool, from the fact that near it was the Range where the Macnab warriors used to practice archery. Another family who held a hereditary office from the Clan Macnab was one named McAlpine. They were the harpers or minstrels to the Clan and their musical skill descended to later generations, who were well known fiddlers reckoned to be second only to Neil Gow himself, and it was a member of this family who composed the famous tune of the Reel of Tulloch. A family named McGibbon were for generations silversmiths in the Village (the last descendant was killed in the first World War), and samples of their craft are still treasured in local families. It was the custom for a young man to present his sweetheart with a silver brooch as a betrothal gift, and silver spoons and sometimes coins were given to the craftsman for this purpose. On Craigchailleach, one of the peaks of the Tarmachan Range, many fine examples of the Cairngorm stone have been found, which were used in making jewellery, as were some beautifully coloured pebbles found in the bed of one or two hill-burns in Glenlochay. The River Dochart was at one time famous for its pearls which were of fine quality and much sought after, but no pearl fishing has been done for many years.

The Parish Church

The origin of the name of our Village tells that there has been a church there since the dawn of history. A rounded green knoll behind the village, which is now surmounted by a single beautiful larch tree, and known as “Cnoc-nan-aingeal” or Knoll of the Angels, is believed to be the site of the first Celtic Church in the district, but at a later time successive churches occupied a site in the old churchyard not far from the present Parish Church. This was built in 1744 but has been greatly improved and the interior renovated throughout the years. It is a plain, unpretentious, whitewashed building with a rather unusual and pleasing interior in the form of an eight-sided apse. A beautiful stained-glass window was inserted after the last War, which incorporates in its design a replica of the memorial of the former War. The ancient stone baptismal font is of great interest. It is seven sided and was recovered from the ruins of the old Church, and is believed to be the only one of its kind in Scotland. The Bell is also believed to be one of the oldest in use in the country, it was cast in 1632 and was presented by one of the Lairds of Finlarig. The present church was built during the Ministry of the Reverend James Stuart, who ministered to the Parish for fifty-two years and during his ministry he made the first translation of the Bible into Gaelic, a service which contributed largely to a revival of religion in the Highlands, and also fostered an interest in the Gaelic language and literature. He was succeeded by his son, the Reverend Patrick Stuart, who was responsible for the publishing of his father’s work. An obelisk which stands in front of the church commemorates Mr. Stuart’s service to Gaeldom. In the Disruption of 1843, which split the Church of Scotland, a large section of the congregation broke away, but the Free Church in Breadalbane fared better than in the majority of places in Scotland as the 2nd Marquis, being in sympathy with the dissenting party throughout his estates, granted them land to build new churches as well as material assistance. The Free Church, later the United Free, stood for over 100 years in the centre of the village, but after the Churches re-united in 1929 it became obsolete and reverted to the Breadalbane Estate. A few years ago it was demolished to make room for the building of the new School. The Church played a major part in the life of the people in the late 18th and the 19th centuries, and the Minister was looked up to as a sort of minor deity, while fear of “the Session” and its powers acted as a strong deterrent to potential evil doers. The faith of the people was simple and sincere. They would travel long distances on foot in all weathers to attend Communion Services. It must have been a very moving experience to take part in one of these Services, which in summer were held in the open air, with a tent to shelter the Preacher or preachers from the sun and rain, while the people in their hundreds sat around on the grass. They were conducted mostly in Gaelic with the precentor “giving out the line” of the old, well-loved psalm tunes.


The first Schools in Breadalbane were Church Schools, the 1st Schoolmaster in Killin, of whom there is a record was a Mungo Malcolm who was appointed by the Presbytery of Dunkeld in 1727. It is not known where his school was situated, but it is thought to have been in the “ben end” of a cottage on the Main Street, and his school books would consist mainly of the Bible and the Shorter Catechism. A Parish School and Schoolhouse were erected in 1797 on a site to the South of the village, which has now been converted into a dwelling house. Towards the latter half of last century a new school was built behind the United Free Church. Smaller country schools were gradually built in the outlying districts through the good offices of the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge. At first the teachers in these schools can be traced the beginning of a decline of the Gaelic in Breadalbane, as most of the “dominies” were non-Gaelic speaking the pupils were forbidden, on pain of dire punishment, to utter a word of their native tongue within the bounds of the playground. Our present School, which stands on the site of the old United Free Church, is a modern Junior Secondary School opened in 1959, which provides every comfort and facility to make learning easy and attractive. As the population of the outlying areas dwindled the country schools were gradually closed down, and now the children are conveyed to Killin by bus, while the older children receive their higher education at the McLaren High School in Callander, 20 miles away, where since the closure of the Railway in 1965, they reside in Hostels during the week.

Growth of the Tourist Industry

The opening of the Railway, a branch of the Callander and Oban Line, in 1888 made a great change in the way of life in the village and brought a new industry – what we now call “tourism” – but which was then called “summer visitors”. Gradually many of the little white cottages came down to make way for larger villa-type houses, substantially built of local stone and suitable for letting in the summer. Others let rooms with attendance, but in recent years these practices have been superseded by “Bed & Breakfast”. At one time Killin was a favourite haunt of artists, who flocked from near and far to commit our lovely scenery to canvas, and the results of their labours adorn the walls of many a home in faraway spots of the globe. The closure of the branch Line of the Railway in October 1965 has been a severe blow to the people of Killin. Although a bus service has now taken its place, and the schoolchildren are brought from neighbouring areas to school in Killin by bus, those attending the McLaren High School in Callander for their Higher Education Courses are obliged to stay in the Hostel all week, where before they were able to travel home each night, even in the depths of winter the snow only once in many years prevented the trains from getting through, when often Glenoglehead was impassable by road. The local shopkeepers also miss the large excursion parties that came in by train several days a week during the “season”. With the growth of our “affluent society” and more and more people owning their own private cars, the railway proved uneconomic. Another attraction has always been the fishing on Loch Tay, which open annually on 15 January and brings many devotees from distant parts. Tay salmon are famed all over Britain to the sportsman and gourmet alike. Two Killin men have made their names well-known to anglers everywhere – the late Peter Ross, a local barber who gave his name to the fishing fly which has lured many an unwary fish to its doom; and the late Henry Horwood, postmaster, watchmaker and fishing-tackle expert, who first experimented and later patented the 3-ply wire trace, known as the Killin Trace used wherever the “King of Fish” is sought after. The hills which surround us on all sides provide many attractions to the Tourist. The Tarmachan and Lawers Ranges are famous for their alpine plants. On Ben Lawers, which is now the property of the National Trust for Scotland, many specimens of alpines are found which are not known anywhere else in Britain, and consequently our hills are happy hunting grounds for botanists as well as for those who love “the wilderness and the solitary place” for their own sake. Skiers also find some good sport in winter on the slopes of Ben Glas where a car park and ski hut offer facilities, though as yet there is no ski tow.

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