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History of Montrose
Chapter VIII. - Montrose as a Town


THE dwelling-houses of Montrose are much older in the southern part of the town, adjoining the harbour, than in the northern portion, beyond the New Wynd. The present spacious High Street owes its width to the removal of a street in 1748 that ran up its centre, from the Town-Hall to the North Port, and at that time the proprietors of the houses forming the east and west sides of the present High Street were allowed to bring their houses 14 feet nearer the street. The following merry ballad was written on tfce pulling down of the middle row of houses.

Auld Willy Grubb gied round the town,
And rang his merry bell;
And cried, “Ilk man and mither’s son
Take heed to what I tell.”

“Come a* ye masons, wi’ your pikes,
Your hammers and your shools ;
And a' ye wrights, wi' files and saws,
And sic mischievous tools.

“Let Maidie Pert, wha keeps the change,
Upon her lot bethink,
And toom her house o' whisky stoups,
And eke o’ a' the drink.

“And Tam, that keeps the barber's shop,
It’s time that he were ready
To carry off his curling wigs
And his fine tucky lady.

“Let wabsters bear awa' their looms,
And grocers take their guids,
And them that deals in bravity
Remove their silken dnds.

“For I proclaim the Rotten Raw,
I’ the middle of the town,
Is ordered by the magistrates
This day to be cafd down.”

Sae Willy spake, and ilka wight
Cam’ ruinin' forth to see;
I trow it was a merrier day
Than ever yet may be.

Wi’ pike and shool, wi’ axe and saw,
Wi' swinging rope and hammer,
The wrights and masons struck the Raw,
Until the jeasts did stammer.

The roofs were made o’ auld stob thack,
The wa's o’ plastered fir;
So down they came, wi’ mony a whack,
That ruddied wi’ the virr.

The tenants a’ stood round about,
To keep their guids frae skaith;
Though Jamie Spence, the merchant man,
Lost mony a wob o’ claith.

The loons did gather up the strae,
Ilk broken door and rafter,
Though at their heels Rob Davison,
The town’s-keeper, ran after.

And they kindled at the Market Cross
The rubbish in a blaze,
And round the fire they danced and sang,
And roared wi’ blythe hurras.

A greater mob was never seen
Upon a Rood-fair-day;
Nor was there mair o’ fun and sport,
O’ daffin’ noise and play.

Nor when the stalwart Earl o' Marr
Rode to the Sherra Muir;
Sic bonfires on the Murray Street
Were never seen before.

And never on the King’s birth-day
Was witnessed sic a sight,
For round the fires they danced a’ day,
And whisky drank a* night,

A house at the top of Bridge Street, belonging to Mrs Erskine, has the date of 1688 over a window. In this house, low down, the members of the Scottish Episcopal Church had wont to hold their meetings. Only a small number were allowed by law at that time to meet in one room, but it was so planned that the rooms all opened into one another, and all that came could divide themselves among the several apartments, so that no more than the legal number were in one, and, at the same time, all could hear. A Mr. Brown was then their minister, whose son became the greatest botanist in Europe. After this restriction was removed they met in a hall in the Review Office Close, and had for their minister the Kev. Patrick Cushnie, who is still alive, and so regular in his walks to the country for two or three hours, sometimes every day, when the weather permits, that you would scarcely ever fail to meet him, either going or returning, between twelve and three.

Another old house, opposite St. Paul's Church, has a Latin inscription over one of its windows, Dominus providelt. A third house, between Craigo Street and the Shore Wynd, has the date 1682, and initials A. S. L. W., on a stone over one of its windows. An oak lintel, with I 16 T 77 P, was taken out of an old house in the same property, pulled down last year, 1864. Another, very much older to appearance, at least more than twice as old, with a roof and joists of oak, was pulled down at the same time; its walls were three feet thick, and the doors and windows and other openings all arched with semicircular arches of freestone.

The Pretender, “Prince Charlie," made his escape from a house where the Earl of Mar was lodged, on the east side of Castle Street—it is the second house from Luckie's Wynd, -now Lower Craigo Street—he went down the close at the back of the house, and aboard of a boat in the river to a vessel in the bay.

Bailie Scott, who gave me the information about these houses, was acquainted with two old ladies, Magdalene and Elizabeth Stuart, who often boasted of having, when girls, danced with Prince Charlie when in Montrose. Their father was Captain of a vessel, and made twenty one voyages to Virginia—there was a Company called the Virginia Company which carried on the slave trade at this port—and their mother got a present of a golden guinea each voyage from the owners. A jolly old man, John Halket, by trade a mason, when a boy, along with other two boys, drank “Charlie’s” health from a pool of water with a mussel shell, for which they were whipped at every well in the town, and their parents had to hold them while lashed; this was done by order of the Duke of Cumberland. John Halket was of the same age as George III., and bore a striking resemblance to the likeness of the King on the coins of the realm. Gemlo was the other boy’s name, and the name of the third was no less than that of Mr. Coutts, the eminent London banker, who left two millions of money. Mr. Coutts was so affronted that he would never visit the town again, nor do anything for it. John Halket did come back, and lived to above 100. Gemlo, also, did not forsake the town.

The street, or row of houses above referred to, one house of which, adjoining the Town-Hall, still remains, terminated about where Sir R. Peel’s monument now stands. The Jail stood there; the Council- House was on its north end, with the Montrose Coat of Arms cut on its north gable, from which a stranger, a sculptor, copied the same, to be seen on the top of the west side of the Town-Hall. A private house, lately removed, belonging to the late Miss Hill, was on the south end of the Jail, at the termination of the street. The New Jail was erected in 1832, and shortly afterwards the old one was removed. A breach was made in the side of it by a prisoner, who made his escape, more than 50 years ago. Mr. Bayne had his dancing-school there regularly for many years, after which Mr. William Beattie had it for a writing-school, when he first came to the town. The Misses Dougal were Mr. Bayne's best dancers in those days. I think Miss Eliza was the very best. A dancing-school ball was at that time, we thought, the grandest display in the world—the ladies all in white dresses, bespangled and glittering with beads.

After 1748, when the old street was taken down, it was proposed to extend the High Street in a straight line to the river. This noble idea was unfortunately opposed, to the great detriment of the town. The street on the west side of the middle row was called Murray Street, that on the east, High Street. The site of Montrose is on an immense mound of water-worn boulders, mixed with sand, forming a natural dam-dyke, extending from the Inch Bridge, across the Island of Inch bray ock, then from the south end of Bridge Street, along Castle Street, the east side of High Street, along the Mall,1 and through the woods of Charleton to the Northesk. The kirk and steeple are placed on the highest portion of this mound; and the gradual rise of the houses from each end of the town to the centre, as seen from a distance on the northwest side of Ihe town, has a fine effect.

Montrose has been much improved of late years, particularly since the Aberdeen, now the Scottish North Eastern, Bail way began, and the Bervie line will also add much to the trade of the port. The contractors, belonging to the town, have all got well on, every one of whom has made large additions to its streets and buildings. In the first place, the late Mr. Armit built a row of excellent houses in Ferry Street, called Armit’s Buildings. He also made out a ship-building yard where the Whale Fishing Company's boil-houses used to be, long used by Duthie and Cochar, and now by B. Millar & Son, for a wood-yard. Some few years afterwards, Mr. David Mitchell, contractor, erected a large block of elegant buildings south from the steeple, where the old Post Office was formerly, and Mr. Trail's house, and Mr. Mudie’b, a very retired gloomy house, more like a convent than anything else. Then Mr. Charles Brand has recently built some fine houses beside the Clydesdale Bank, as well as others near his own work. Mr. Scott has also improved the appearance of Craigo Street by building a new house there, in which he resides, as well as others in Castle Street, where a dismal old dungeon protruded into the street; and it is to be hoped that all the old saut backets in Castle Street will give place to more substantial buildings, and better arranged; and this will take place when the condition of the people becomes more elevated by the appliances brought to bear upon them. They say a church improves the very locality in its neighbourhood, both as to buildings and the habits of the people. A good many years ago the Messrs Japp erected these very genteel houses in Panmure Terrace, as well as the first row in Union Place, the other to the north of it having been built by the late Bailie Smith sometime afterwards. The Bailie also built those very genteel houses on the south side of Union Street, as well as the large house opposite to them, in which he resided himself for many years.

The Town-Hall was built in 1763, and had another storey put upon it in 1819, of which John Balfour was builder, besides that addition made to the back, above the dumb overarched spaces where the letters are put in, and the stair to the reading-room and library goes up. The Court-Room was the largest room in the first building, now there is one as large above it, where the Town Council meet, and where is bung a large full-length portrait of Sir James Duke, in his robes of office .as Lord Mayor of London, and presented by himself, being a native of the town; also a portrait of Provost Charles Barclay, a very popular provost in his time, and a man of a kind and genial disposition; and one of Provost Burnes, the best public speaker that Montrose ever produced in his line, and to whom the town is much indebted; another of Joseph Hume, the champion of reform and retrenchment. There is also a Reading-room, a Library with 13,000 volumes, a chamber used on the day of election of Councillors, and a most elegant and handsome Guild-Hall.

Without being too particular in noticing the new buildings by which the town has been adorned, it may be mentioned that the High Street has been much improved of late years by the erection of several new houses, built by some of the banks. The one belonging to the British Linen Company many years ago was thought to be the finest in the town at the time. The Bank of Scotland has a large and commodious house at the corner of John Street, fronting that street and High Street. The Royal Bank of Scotland built a beautiful house in 1864, and the National Bank another, which was finished last year, of a very unique and genteel appearance, especially when the sun casts its rays on the green Venetian blinds; and it is said the Northern Bank is about to erect another on the west side of the High Street, which it is to be presumed will not be behind any of the others in architectural beauty, and most likely will be built of granite. These superb banking houses, without anything else, show the truth of what is advanced in the chapter about banks, that these promote industry, activity, and skill as regards the architects, the builders, and tradesmen employed about them. One other house, the property of Mr. John Reid, druggist, the building of which has just been finished, is a perfect model in its way, as it has nothing heavy about it, and yet lofty and substantial. The shops below are of a new and improved construction, besides being large and spacious, and having in connection with them rooms and places behind adapted for carrying on a large and extensive trade. The metal pillars below are a great improvement, and give the shop windows a large frontage, and a light and elegant appearance to the whole. Another shop on the west side has also got metal pillars. It were much to be desired that other proprietors would follow such an example, and remove those ugly old houses, which are a disgrace to modern civilization, and place in their stead nice and airy buildings, which would bring them in more rent, especially as there is such a demand just now for house accommodation. In taking down the gable-end of the old house where it joined to Mr. Young, saddler’s, the stones fell down upon one of the contractors, Mr. David Balfour, and killed him on the spot. A stranger, returning to Montrose after a long absence, would be apt to say—

“This is no my ain town, 
I ken by the biggin’ ot.”

The town being now brilliantly illuminated with gas, the shops in the High Street at night present the appearance of one extensive bazaar.


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