The Newport, Wormit & Forgan Archive

The 'Old' Statistical Account of Scotland: Vol. XVI, Forgan Parish (1793)

pages 88 - 99


By the Rev. Mr JAMES BURN, Minister.

Origin of the Name FORGAN, alias ST PHILLANS, is the name of the parish. On the communion cups, made in the year 1652, it is spelled Forgon. The derivation of the name is uncertain. From some old charters it would seem to signify Fore Ground. Indeed, a good part of it has a gentle descent towards the south. The name, however, is not uncommon. In Angus-shire, there is a parish named Long-Forgan; in the county of Perth, there is another called Forgan-Denny. The other name, St Phillans, seems to have been derived from a Popish saint of that name, of some renown in the days of antiquity. About an English mile west from the manse is the seat of Robert Stewart, Esq; which bears the name of St Fort. This was probably in ancient times the dwelling of the saint. It stands upon a rising ground, and might perhaps be then considered as a place of strength. There is also towards the east of St Fort, the Upper and Nether Friartown, which, no doubt, were formerly inhabited by Popish friars.

Extent, Soil and Climate This parish is about 4 English miles in length, but not above 2 in breadth. A part of it is a strath from E. to W. the ground rising gently on each side. Much of it is of a southern exposure. Another part of it lies bending towards the N. on the side of the river Tay. The soil is for the most part light, but is rendered fertile by the use of lime. Some of it is black; other parts of a mixed nature. There is little clay soil in the parish. The climate is healthy; few epidemic distempers prevail much here, except the fever, which now and then proves fatal to many. Some are now alive betwixt 80 and 90 years of age. One is said to be above 90. He lives on the ground of St Fort *.

* Colonel Lindsay, brother to Mr Lindsay, who was then proprietor of that estate, one day having met this old man, asked him, how many Lairds of St Fort he had seen? he answered, he had seen six, and hoped he might live to see the seventh. What, said the Colonel, do you wish to see a change of the Laird? I suppose, said the old man, you will have no objection against the coming home of the young Laird. The proprietor was at that time lately married. The Colonel was so much pleased with the good humour of the old man, that he gave him half a crown, which made him very happy, as it is more than probable he had seldom before been possessed of so large a sum at one time. This man has lived to see another, who is the seventh proprietor of the estate of St Fort.

River, Ferries, Coast, Harbours, Fish, &c. The river Tay runs along the northern side of the parish. On the opposite side of the river, which is about 2 miles in breadth, stands the populous and flourishing town of Dundee. There are two ferries on this side of the river, Woodhaven and Newport, both of which are in this parish. There is a number of boats employed, some of a larger, others of a lesser size, some of which, when the weather permits, cross at all tides. The tide is about half an hour later here than at Leith. These ferries were much more frequented before the bridge was built over the Tay at Perth, than they have been since. Some of the ferrymen are sober and discreet; others of them borrow the language and behaviour of those who frequent the passage, especially of such whom they look on as their superiors in rank and station. How much is it to be regretted, that from so many of these they often learn to be rude and profane. The coast extends along the north side of the parish. It is for the most part rocky. The harbours at Woodhaven and Newport are very inconsiderable, fit only for their boats, and a few sloops which are sometimes employed in importing coals, and exporting corn. On the banks of the river there are several salmon fishings *, some of which have of late increased, in value. They are for the most part carried on by means of what is called a Yair. But by some, the long net with a boat is made use of. The salmon are sometimes disposed of at the rate of 4d. and even 6d. per lb. to the people of Perth, who export them to London, and sell them at high prices. By others they are sent to the neighbouring towns of Dundee and Cupar in Fife, distant about 6 computed miles.

*A process before the Court of Session was lately commenced respecting one of these, and most keenly agitated on both sides. Several hundred pounds were expended by each of the contending parties, one of whom, the Rev. Dr Dalgleish of Scotscraig, not only prevailed, but obtained his expences.

Cultivation The improvement of the ground has, of late years, made considerable progress, chiefly from the use of lime, which, on our light and dry soil, has the most happy effects. The lime is driven in carts from the distance of 8 or 10 computed miles; some of the tenants bring it from Northumberland by sea. Their crops are by it enriched when the season is not too dry. Some lands that are marshy have of late been greatly meliorated by draining. Robert Stewart, Esq; of St Fort, who is very active and industrious, besides other improvements which he has made, has drained a piece of ground, which, during the winter, was almost covered with water. It was fit for nothing but feeding a few young cattle in summer; and, though consisting of 52 acres, was sometimes let for about L. 5 or L. 6. It is more than probable, that in a few years it will set for upwards of L. 50 Sterling. What a blessing is it to the country, when proprietors of land, instead of debauching their neighbours by examples of intemperance, set them patterns of activity and honest industry! How is the blessing enhanced, when, by their example, the people under them are led to fear God, and to reverence his sanctuary! The neglect of this seldom fails to ruin the morals of the people, and to destroy their industry.

Produce The farmers raise a pretty large quantity of wheat, although it is reckoned to scourge the ground; but they are tempted to prefer this crop by the high prices, which are generally from L. 1 to L. 1, 5s. per boll. It is measured with the small firlot, which is a great deal less than that used for oats and barley. They commonly have good crops of barley, and generally get a good price, from 15s. to 18s. Sterling per boll. They have also tolerable crops of oats and pease. The oats sell at from 12s. to 14s. per boll. Pease are by no means a lucrative crop, but they serve to meliorate the ground when the crop is rank, and the straw is excellent fodder for horses. It is chiefly on these accounts that the farmers continue to sow them, for the price of pease is generally low, and their returns very inconsiderable. The soil is very much adapted to the culture of turnips; of these they raise good crops, with which, during the winter, they feed their cows and cattle, some of which they fatten for slaughter, and for which they sometimes draw good prices. They have also good crops of potatoes, from the light and dry soil. These yield a salutary support to the poor people, when they do not use them to excess. To this, however, they are strongly tempted, when the meal is high priced. On such occasions they feed upon them thrice a day, by which their health is sometimes hurt. With the refuse, and the smaller potatoes, they commonly feed swine, which they salt up for winter provision. This practice is become so common of late, that the price of a young pig of a few weeks old is generally 7s.

Rents Their rents are from L. 100 to L. 400 per annum, and upwards. The tenants are all in easy circumstances, and some of them are opulent. All of them are sober, active, and industrious. Those of them that have lately got new tacks pay double, and some almost triple their old rents. Several of the tenants have subset some acres of their ground, lying at a distance from the farm houses. They who enjoy these small possessions are called Pendiclers. Some of them have 10 or 11 acres, some more, some less. The valued rent of the parish in Scotch money is L. 5145 5s. 7d. The real rent, in Sterling, is supposed to be L. 2873 0s. 0d.

Black Cattle Of these a considerable number is annually reared. Till of late years, they were employed in drawing the plough, but they are now seldom or never used. Instead of two horses and two oxen in the plough, which required a man servant and a boy to drive them, two horses only are used, and one man manages both them and the plough at the same time. This is a considerable saving to the farmer, now when the wages are so high ; and as the horse plough moves quicker, more ground is ploughed in the same time. It is the new plough that is used in this part of the country.

Sheep Several flocks of these were formerly in the parish; now there is but one. The tenants found the sheep very hurtful to their sown grass, which, in the winter, they tore up by the roots. Their Sheep Walks are now, by means of lime, turned into good corn-fields, which they find to be more profitable. They may, however, at length be compelled to return to their former practice of feeding flocks of sheep, to meliorate those fields which are at too great a distance for driving dung to them ; when the strength of the lime is spent, and they become unfit for producing crops of corn, the tedding of the sheep may be found necessary to recruit these fields.

Minerals There is abundance of rock, some of a more hard, some of a softer nature. The first is very proper for common buildings, the latter for the making of roads; to improve which there is such an uncommon spirit now happily prevailing in this part of the nation. There is also much channel, well adapted to the same purpose. But there is no free stone; this is brought from the other side of the Tay in boats, from a noted quarry in Angus-shire, commonly known by the name of Millfield Quarry.

Fuel There were formerly some peats dug out of the mosses in the parish ; but the proprietors have prohibited this practice for many years past. There are some muirs that abound with whins; from these the poor people get a part of their fuel. Coals are both scarce and high priced. The land coal is driven from the distance of 8 or 10 computed miles. A quantity such as two horses can conveniently draw, costs about 7s. 6d.; an equal quantity, or rather larger, but of a much better quality, brought from Alloa and other places by sea, will cost 12s. weighing about 112 stone weight. This makes the fuel costly to the poor, many of whom, during the cold of winter, aggravated to them by their meagre diet, are not a little injured by the want of it. But amidst all their straits, it is truly pleasant to see them possessing that cheerfulness and contentment which Christianity is so much fitted to inspire.

Population The population is on the increase. Several feus have been made on the banks of the river Tay, and several new buildings have been of late erected on them.
The number of examinable persons in the parish at present (1793) is about 700
Allowing the usual proportion of 1/4 for children, 175
The total number of souls may be stated at 875
The return to Dr Webster, in 1755, was only 751
The increase since that period is therefore not less than 124.
A List of MARRIAGES, BAPTISMS, and BURIALS, for 10 years, extracted from the Parish Records of Forgan.


Prolific Births In the space of 4 or 5 years, twins have been born at four several births. Since I came to the parish, one of the boatmen's wives was at one birth delivered of three fine children. They all lived till they were weaned, and two of them arrived at manhood.

No. of Heritors, resident, 7
Ditto non-resident, 4
Minister, 1
school-master, 1
tenants, 9
pendiclers, or sub-tenants, 16
No. of tailors, 6
shoe-makers, 3
wrights, 3
masons, 4
weavers, 14
poor on the roll, 6

Villages, Occupations of Women, etc. There are several villages in the parish. The female inhabitants are generally employed in spinning coarse yarn, of which a kind of cloth is made that gets the name of Osnaburgh. Of this the merchants in Dundee export large quantities; but in this, as in most other manufactures, there is a very great stagnation since the commencement of the present war. They got 1s. 6d. for spinning a spindle of this yarn; but since the war it has been so low as 1s. and sometimes 10d. While the encouragement for spinning was high, it was sometimes difficult for the tenants, and others, to get maid servants. But though their gain was considerable, yet the constant sitting at the wheel, and the immoderate waste of saliva, was by no means favourable to their health. Many of these people are employed in cutting down the corns in harvest. During this season they are uncommonly cheerful and healthy; but as this exercise in the field is an extreme entirely opposite to the sedentary life they generally lead through the rest of the year, disagreeable effects are sometimes felt after the harvest; however, the danger of this is not a little abated by their present manner of living during this season, which is upon oat bread and ale, which, when fresh and good, is a most wholesome diet. How much preferable to that which was used some years ago, viz. salt meat and salt broth, and sometimes, it is said, milk and salt herring? This, with their excessive labour, could not fail to excite a most painful thirst; to quench which, as soon as they came to the Land's End, as they call it, they went in quest of cold water; of which, when within their reach, having taken a plentiful share, they sat down to rest, without reflecting on the danger they were in, which it is said, has in some instances proved fatal.

Prices of Labour and Provisions A mason commonly gets 1s. a day ; a carpenter, or common wright, the same, sometimes rather more; a tailor, 8d.; a weaver gets so much a yard, sometimes more, sometimes less. A common labourer, when he works by the piece, will sometimes earn 1s. 6d. or 1s. 8d. a-day ; maid servants get about L. 3 Sterling a-year; men servants get from L. 6 to L. 10 Sterling; the men shearing in harvest get 1s. per day; the women 10d.: but the generality of them are hired for a certain sum during the harvest; the men from L. 1, 1s. to L. 1, 5s. and a lippie of lintseed; the women 16 s. or 17s. and a lippie of ditto, sometimes half a peck. The best beef is for the most part 4d. per lb. (16 ounces); the mutton sells usually at the same rate; the veal, early in the season, sells at 6d. per lb., when plenty at 4d. sometimes at 3d.; a hen 1s.; a goose at 3s.; eggs 4d. per dozen; rabbits, when skinned, sell at 5d. per pair; their skins sell from 7s. to 9s. or 10s. per dozen; cheese at 5 s. per stone; pigeons at 5d. the pair. Within these 20 years, or even less, provisions are almost doubled in their price.

Church The King is the patron. The present incumbent, Mr James Burn*, is said to have been the first presentee in Scotland of his present Majesty King George the III. having been admitted to this parish in May 1761. He has a stipend, communibus annis, about L. 80 Sterling, besides a manse and glebe of about 6 acres. An augmentation of stipend is in process. The church and manse were repaired in 1771.

* His predecessors were Messrs Wedderburn, Nairn, Russell, Gellatly, and Beat: and it is remarkable, that they were all ministers of this parish for much the same space of time, about 13 or 14 years, and that all of them, save one, were translated to other parishes. The present incumbent had it in his choice oftener than once to have followed their example, but preferred his present situation.

Religious Sects There are not many Dissenters in the parish only two Episcopalians, and a few Antiburgher Seceders, most of whom had left the Established Church before the present incumbent was settled here. Some of them left the Secession, and came to the parish church; but when the new mode of singing without reading the line was introduced, they again withdrew, and carried two or three individuals along with them. They are sober and industrious, not at all so bigotted as are many of that sect; they are very useful members of society.

Poor There are no begging poor belonging to the parish, but many such from Perth and other places. By these, and travelling tinkers, this part of the country is not a little oppressed. It is much to be regretted that each parish does not take care of its own poor, and hinder them from travelling abroad to other parishes. Besides the number of pensioners on the poors roll, which sometimes does not exceed 4, there are not a few who obtain a temporary supply of 10s., 15s. or L. 1, at a time when sickness is in the family, or the head of it unable to work. Parents who are not able to pay for the education of their children, have them educated upon the poors funds, which are made up from the weekly collections on Sabbath, to which the seafaring people, of all others, contribute most liberally. The annual amount of the collections is above L. 14 Sterling. A farmer in the parish, at his death, some few years ago, left a legacy of L. 20 Sterling. This made a considerable addition to the fund, which has been more than doubled within these 30 years. It is managed by the kirk-session with care and attention, without the least expense to the fund.

Character They are generally sober and industrious. A few years ago a spirit of smuggling too much prevailed in this corner, than which nothing is more ruinous to the health and morals of those who are addicted to it *. There is reason to believe that little or no gain was made by that most mischievous traffic, of the effects of which the minister, from time to time, did not fail to remind them from the pulpit. This ruinous traffic is now nearly annihilated among us; and happy were it for the nation that the temptations to it were less frequent and powerful than they sometimes are. None of the people of this parish have been the subject of a criminal process, nor have any of them emigrated.

* One young man, a tenant in the parish, was most unhappily addicted to it; in a few years he hurt many others, and ruined himself The last time be called at the manse, he expressed his wish that he had followed the advice the minister had often given him. Had he done this, he had probably succeeded as a tenant, and escaped those miseries which, by smuggling, he unhappily brought upon himself. He lay in a prison for several months, reduced to great indigence. This is mentioned as a warning to others, who by smuggling hope to be made rich, but are far more likely to become ruined, and to entail misery and mischief on themselves and others.


Original at The Statistical Accounts of Scotland and Google Books


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