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Reminiscences of Dollar, Tillicoultry and other Districts adjoining the Ochils
Chapter IV - Meal Mill and Big Wheel below Castle Campbell Wood

ABOUT seventy years ago there stood, a little below the foot of Castle Campbell Wood, on the east side of the burn, a dwelling-house and meal mill, which were occupied by a Mr. William M'Leish (father of the Rev. John M'Leish, Free Church minister of Methven). I have no recollection of the mill, but remember the dwelling-house very well, and it was in it that the Rev. John M'Leish was born. The course of the old lade for this mill can still be distinctly traced up to near the Black Linn. At a little distance below the mill (and right above the stream, which runs from the Bog Well), Mr. Tait erected a very large wheel (some 30 feet high), which in my young days was a very conspicuous object in the landscape. Why he put it there, no one seems now to know; but he had had it previously erected on Kelly Burn, with the view of pumping the water from the various coal-pits around. Mr. M'Whannel, however, the proprietor of Westertown, objected to the scheme, and raised an action in the Court of Session against Mr. Tait, to prohibit its being used; and, being successful in the suit, the wheel had to be removed, and Mr. Tait re-erected it, as already stated, a little way below the meal mill. He must have had some object in view in putting it there, but had evidently changed his mind regarding it, as I believe he only saw it go round once. It rested on a strongly-built, raised-up arc, and must have cost a large sum of money to put it there. It was broken up and removed in the year 1836, and not a vestige of it now remains.

Mr. Tait seems to have contemplated making Dollar an important manufacturing town, and, with this object in view, had the ground surveyed from the Bank Burn down to the foot of Dollar Banks, and got plans prepared (which are still in existence) of the number of waterfalls that might be made available for a series of mills. Fortunately, however, for Dollar (as a place of education) he had rather an extravagant idea of the value of water power, and none of the falls were ever taken off; and hence this scheme fell to the ground.

Another instance of the public spirit of the worthy proprietor of Harviestoun, and his wish to benefit Dollar, was the erection of a very large building, nearly opposite the old Toll-house, which he intended for an hotel; but it was never occupied as such. Being under the impression that Dollar would very rapidly increase after the opening of the Academy, he built this hotel in anticipation of its requirements, but it unfortunately turned out a very bad speculation, as it never found a tenant A stray room or two of it was now and again let to separate families, but the bulk of it continued unoccupied; and, finally, it was removed to make room for Freshfield Villas, which now occupy its site. It went always by the name of the 'Big Toll-house,' and was a very conspicuous object on entering Dollar. It was on the side of this building that the hustings were erected, on nomination days, for members of Parliament; and here it was that the Tory candidates used to get every species of abuse hurled at them Dollar being then, as now, 'Liberal' to the core.

There was one public undertaking carried out through the influence of Mr. Tait, and the extra cost of which was, I understand, borne by him, that the inhabitants of the locality are still enjoying the pleasure of,—and that was the making of the new turnpike road between Dollar and Tillicoultry, in its winding, picturesque form, instead of (as between Alva and Tillicoultry) in an almost straight line. This road has added very much to the beauty of the district, and a lovelier drive than between Dollar and Tillicoultry, through Harviestoun estate, with the fine range of the Ochil Hills rising abruptly, and to a great height, in the immediate background, could not be found anywhere. Harviestoun Castle itself is a noble building, and the situation in which it stands is one of the finest, perhaps, in Scotland. The clear-winding Devon, passing through the grounds, adds greatly to the beauty of the magnificent scenery. It was while on a visit to the Tait family at Harviestoun Castle that Burns wrote the following verse, regarding Miss Charlotte Hamilton, a visitor at the time along with himself:-

"How pleasant the banks of the clear-winding Devon,
With green-spreading bushes, and flowers blooming fair,
But the bonniest flower on the banks of the Devon
Was once a sweet bud on the braes of the Ayr.'"

When referring to the poet Burns, it may not be out of place here, in passing, to give a few lines I saw somewhere, written on the anniversary of the poet's birth. He was born on the 25th of January 1759, and died on July 22nd 1796, aged only thirty-seven years and six months.

'Sax score o' years and three the nicht,
Ha'e skelpit on wi' a' their micht,
Since Scotland's Poet saw the licht,
'Mid storms and tears:
They na'er tak time their feet tae dicht-
Thae madcap years.'


Abbey Craig

To any one who wishes to see the lovely valley of the Devon in all its beauty, let him take a bird's-eye view of it, as I did this summer, and he will be amply rewarded for his trouble. Starting from Dollar one fine evening, I went up to the top of Dollarbauk Hill, and then walked straight along to Tillicoultry on the top of the front hills; and the grandeur of the scene was beyond anything I had ever conceived of, and I wondered very much I had been so long in witnessing it. Standing on the top of one of the front peaks, a little to the east of Harviestoun Castle (which, by the way, I will now take the liberty of naming the Archbishop of Canterbury Peak, from his father's beautiful mansion below being so long the home of his youth), the fine building seems almost at your feet; and the beautifully - wooded grounds of the estate, with the clear-winding Devon—like a streak of silver—meandering through them, forms one of the finest panoramas, I believe, that can be seen anywhere in Britain. The hills rise so abruptly, you have quite the feeling of looking down on the lovely scene from a tower of at least a thousand feet high. Then the view from this peak (which stands out in front of the range) in the distance is very fine, embracing, as it does, the towns of Stirling, Alloa, Clackmannan, Saline, Menstrie, Alva, Tilhicoultry, Dollar, Kinross, with the river Forth, Loch Leven, and all the finely-wooded country for thirty miles around.

The burn that passes Mr. Miller's lodge, and which divides Tillicoultry parish from that of Dollar, rises behind this peak, and passes close to the east side of it. The peak, therefore, is in Tilhicoultry parish, and at the very eastern extremity of it.

A few years ago I walked from Tilhicoultry to Dollar —by way of Helen's Muir, and over the top of the King's Seat (the second highest hill of the Ochils), and the view from the latter is very extensive and grand; but for real beauty and loveliness, the lower front peaks of the range are much to be preferred.


Although Harviestoun estate has long since passed out of the hands of the Tait family, there is one small sacred spot that still belongs to them—the family burying-place—situated about half-way between Dollar and Tillicoultry, and close to the Devon. It was enclosed with a high wall by the late Mr. Tait; and in it he and a number of his family are buried, including our late worthy sheriff—John Tait, Esq.—and his wife.

This burying-ground, as is well known, is called Tait's Tomb, and in dark nights was an object of great terror (and will still be, I believe) to the young folks, and very few could summon up courage to pass it. It was not only because of stories about ghosts in connection with it (that we used to hear so much of in my young days) that made us afraid, but because of its being situated in a densely-wooded thicket, and even in ordinary dark nights is extremely dark. From a tombstone in this burying-ground, I find that Craufurd Tait was not the first of the Tait family who was proprietor of Harviestoun estate (as I had always understood), but that his father, John Tait, had been in possession of it before him. This stone was erected by his grandsons, and part of the inscription on it is as follows :-

In memory of
JOHN TAIT, Esqr. of Harviestoun,
and of Curnioden in Argyleshire,
Writer to the Signet.
Born in 1727. Died in 1800.

Craufurd Tait (son of the above, to whom I have so often referred) died in May 1832, aged sixty-seven. On the stone to his memory the following eulogium is recorded: 'His taste adorned this lovely valley, in the bosom of which he lies. His genius.---in advance of the age in which he lived—originated, in a great measure, the improvement of the district, and pointed the way to much throughout the country destined to be accomplished by a future generation.'

Mrs. Craufurd Tait died 3rd January 1814.

From the inscription on the stone erected to the memory of our late worthy sheriff, I find he had acted for the long period of forty-four years in that capacity. It is as follows :-

In memory of
Eldest son of Craufurd Tait,
And for 36 years Sheriff of Clackmannan and Kinross,
And 5 years Sheriff of Perth.
Born 11th February 1796. Died 22nd May 1877.

Mrs. Sheriff Tait died 29th January 1845, so that the sheriff had been a widower for the long period of thirty-two years.

The deaths of other members of the family are recorded, but it is not quite clear whether they are buried there or not.

One of the memorial stones records the fact that this burying-ground was 'consecrated' by Archibald Campbell Tait, Archbishop of Canterbury (then Bishop of London), in 1862. On it is the following inscription, followed by some suitable verses from the Bible: 'He desires here, amongst the graves of his kindred, to commemorate his wife, Catherine Tait, and his son, the Rev. Craufurd Tait, M.A., who were both buried at Addington in 1878. Also his five daughters, buried at Stanwix, near Carlisle, in 1756.'

I recollect well the deep sympathy felt for the Archbishop (then Dean of Carlisle) throughout the length and breadth of the land, when the overwhelming bereavement came upon him, in the death of five of his daughters at one time, from that terrible disease—scarlet fever; and how much, it was said, the highest lady in the land—our worthy Queen—sympathized with him under the unparalleled blow.


The second wool mill of Dollar was built by Mr. William Drysdale, of Alva, who carried it on for a very long time; and after his death, his son Robert continued in it for a great many years. The water for the wheel of this mill was brought, in a raised-up wooden trough, from the weir previously mentioned, and stood right above where the Castle walk now is. When not required for the wheel, the water was discharged into the burn by a large spout immediately behind the mill. A long row of stenters, for drying their goods, stood on the opposite side of the burn, to the north of Cissy and Annie Sinclair's garden.

After Mr. Robert Drysdale's death, Mr. Peter Stalker bought this mill, and afterwards sold it to Sir Andrew Orr; and it is now the property of his brother, Mr. James Orr. It has now been turned into a comfortable hail for religious meetings, and must be a great acquisition to the old town of Dollar.

 Immediately below the upper bridge, on the east side of the burn, there was a long row of one-storied houses in those days, with two houses at the upper end, facing the north (many of the inhabitants of which I remember well), but of which not the slightest vestige now remains.

The next two-storied house to these—nearer the old town—was Mrs. Burns' house (the first Mrs. Peter Stalker's mother), and whose husband was one of the original partners of the first wool mill. I might thus go over almost every house in Dollar (the inhabitants of which were nearly all known to me), but will only refer to a few who were in any way in a public position, and to those with whom we came more immediately in contact, and whose friendship and intercourse we enjoyed.

Below the old church the parish schoolhouse stood, as at present; two one-storied houses, opposite Mr. Robertson's, and three or four one-storied houses, named the Kirk Style (where the present Established Church now is), were all the houses on the east side of the burn below the middle bridge; while those houses above this bridge have all been recently built. With the exception of a few houses where the post-office now is, and on the Rack Mill and Lower Mains roads, there were no houses to the south of Bridge Street, and only one between the Station Road and the Big Toll-house. The introduction of the railway, however, in 1869, gave quite an impetus to the prosperity of Dollar, and there is now a good-sized town between Bridge Street and the railway, while beautiful villas have sprung up in all directions.

The Upper Mains has since those days got, in addition to the gasworks, one or two new houses; but the old ones (including Laird Izat's and the Upper Mains House) remain as of yore. The latter, however, instead of being almost hid from view by a dense shrubbery, is now quite exposed, and surrounded by public roads on all sides. The pillars of the entrance gate alone now remain to show where the approach to the house was.

At the entrance to the road to Gateside, on the right- hand side, the ruins of a house still remain, that was as well known to all the children of Dollar as any house in it; and many a spare penny found its way there, the decent old body who lived in it (Kirsty Mitchell) being quite famous as a maker of 'black man,' and did a 'roaring trade' in it.

About a couple of hundred yards west from Kirsty's house, and on the right-hand side of this road (the old highway to Stirling) going west, the very old house of Gateside stood, which was the principal inn of the village in days of old, but was in my young days the dwelling-house of the farm. This house was to me like a second home, and some of the happiest days of my youth are linked up with it.

No more worthy couple than Mr. and Mrs. Robert Wright—the heads of the family who lived in it—could be found anywhere, and their home was a model of domestic happiness and bliss.

A very antique bed stood in one of the rooms of this, house, in which, it was said, the Duke of Argyle slept on one of his visits to Dollar—very probably after the destruction of his castle by the Duke of Montrose. The stables in connection with it alone now remain, at the west end of which it stood.

Being the principal companions of my youth, I will here give the names of this family: Robert, John, William, Ann, and James.

Robert established an excellent business as a writer in Greenock, but died a good many years ago, leaving his widow (Miss Catherine Kirk, of Park House, Dollar) and a numerous family to mourn his early death. The business is being successfully carried on by some members of his family.

John has been the much respected minister of the Free Church of Kinross for nearly forty years, having been inducted to this charge shortly after the Disruption.

William commenced business as a writer in Edinburgh, but died when quite a young man, leaving a widow and two or three of a family. He was 'best man' at my marriage.

Ann and James are both married, and comfortably settled in the neighbourhood of Kirkintilloch, where their mother lived for a great many years. She died only last year, being close on a hundred years old; while her husband died about thirty years ago, in Dollar. Mrs. Wright was a sister of Mr. Gentle, so long parish teacher of Fossoway. Of this family, therefore, which was so well known and so much respected for a very long period in Dollar, there is not one of them now remaining in it.

A brewery was carried on at one time at Gateside, but had ceased operations just before my day. I remember well of the building, and of the water running into it, from the well above, for the brewing operations. It stood at right angles to the road, the north end of it being close to where the present dwelling-house now is. It was carried on by old Mr. Wright's father, and it would be from him that the bit of tableland above Gateside got the name of 'The Brewer's Knowe.'

The road from the brewery into Dollar went by the name of the 'Nappy Gate,' from the folks, I suppose, getting rather 'nappy' or 'hearty,' after paying a visit to the brewery.

One of the stipulations, tradition says, in the charter of the land in connection with this old brewery, and on the fulfilment of which alone, it is said, it could be retained, was, that when the king passed, the brewer should be able to present him with five gallons of old brewed ale, five gallons of new, and five from what was in process of brewing.


Sir Henry Wardlaw, Bait's, maternal great-grandfather—Mr. Guild, of Craiginnan hill farm—was the last one who lived in the house up at the hill (this hill is frequently called 'The White Wisp,' and 'The Saddle Hill'), and after leaving it he took up his residence in Dollar. He went always by the name of 'Old Craigie' (from Craiginnan); and the steep brae in the north street of the old town where he lived got the name of 'Craigie's Brae.' His house was situated at the foot of the steepest part of it. He had passed away before my day, but he used to be often referred to in my young days. That he was in the farm in 1799, I have learned on undoubted authority, but in what year he left it I have not been able to find out. In that year (long remembered in these islands as the year of 'the great dearth') Mrs. Guild had been fortunate in having had a good stock of meal laid in, and was very kind to the inhabitants of Dollar; for as long as her stock lasted, she kindly gave a supply to all who applied for it; and many were the applicants she had from the village. Mr. James Christie's father used to tell them of his going up to Craiginnan, when a little boy, along with the rest, for a supply of meal.

In our days of free trade, and when we have the world for our granary, we can scarcely form any conception of the great straits the people were put to in those days, and the state of semi-starvation the greater portion of them were often reduced to; but when it is stated that the hazel nuts (which were plentiful that year) were pounded into a sort of meal, and baked into cakes, and were largely resorted to by the people, some idea of the dreadful state of matters may be formed. And yet this is a state of things that might have existed at the present day if our Tory legislators had had their will; but thanks to Cobden and Bright, and the noble band of coadjutors of the Anti-Corn Law League, who so stirred up the whole country to the crying iniquity of the Corn Laws, that our legislators were compelled to abolish them. (I had the pleasure of hearing Messrs. Cobden and Bright in the City Hall of Glasgow when on their first grand tour of agitation throughout the country.)

One of Mr. Guild's shepherds, John Christie, had been much in advance of his day (and, indeed, of our own day), for he was possessed of a library of nearly 400 volumes, in various departments of literature; which shows him to have been a man of a very literary turn of mind, and 'one among a thousand.' Few, indeed, in much higher walks of life, can at the present time boast of such a library. When we think, too, of the much greater cost of books in those days than now, the acquisition of such a library by a humble shepherd seems all the more astonishing. What a pity such a unique collection of books had not been preserved; but such, it seems, had not been the case, for at John's death they were sold by auction at the end of the old town bridge, and are scattered abroad, no one knows where. He was born in 1712, and baptized on the 12th of October.

Mr. James Wardlaw, ironmonger (descended from the Wardlaws of Pitreavie, and cousin of the present Baronet), is one of the very few old natives of Dollar who are left in it, and was one of my most intimate school companions. His brother Alexander succeeded to my father's business when he died, in 1846, and carried it on successfully for a long period.

There was one most energetic, pushing business lady in the old town, to whom, and her husband and family, I will now briefly refer—Mrs. Tod (sister of Mr. Mein, of Mein's Hotel, Trongate, Glasgow, one of the great hotels of the city in the 'coaching days'). She carried on a most extensive baking business, and supplied the country for miles around with bread—her carts going regularly as far as Oakley, Saline, etc. Mr. David Tod, her husband, was of a quiet, retiring disposition, and superintended some small farming operations which they carried on as well. They had only two of a family, George and Agnes, who were amongst the most cherished companions, of my youth; but who were both cut off at an early age, and when full of promise. Agnes died on 21st September 1844, aged twenty-two, and there was one sadly torn heart amongst the teachers of Dollar Academy when she was laid in her grave.

Mr. Tod died on the 14th of January 1845. After his death Mrs. Tod retired from business, and lived for some years in the new town. She died on the 7th of June 1850. George (a very excellent young man) was in a writer's office in Edinburgh, and was cut off at the early age of thirty, on the 6th of December 1852. Four little shrubs mark the spot where they now lie, near the north-east corner of the old churchyard.

Their premises in the old town now go by the name of 'The Lorne Tavern.'


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