The story so far . . .
We are researching the history of Murthly, village and parish, with a view to publishing our findings.
It’s an interesting area, this. Much admired by Queen Victoria for its wooded policies; famed for its Buffalo Park (American bison brought over by Sir William Drummond Stewart following his adventures across the Great Plains and over the Rockies); and much loved by sportsmen for the quality of the salmon fishing along Murthly Water on the Tay (although the British record, rod caught fish, at 64lbs, was landed there by a female angler, Miss Georgina Ballantine in 1922).
Murthly was home to some of Perthshire's finest, most interesting and storied buildings: the New Castle, a magnificent palace designed by Gillespie Graham; Rohallion Lodge, where Alfred Jacob Miller worked up his sketches of Sir William’s travels into some of the most important paintings of the American West (with this Scottish laird at the centre of most of them); Dalpowie House, Sir John Everett Millais’ favourite holiday retreat; and the Malakoff Arch, a triumphal monument to a hero of the Crimean War and early winner of the Victoria Cross.
The village itself was born of steam fever and madness. From the frenzied rush to connect everywhere by rail (and make fortunes for investors) that brought the Perth & Dunkeld Railway Company and with it Murthly Station. And out of the decision to site Perthshire’s new, state-of-the-art ‘Asylum for Pauper Lunatics’ nearby.
Surprisingly, Murthly has no published record, barring a pamphlet produced by the enterprising pupils of the local primary school to mark the Millennium. They drew upon an earlier, unpublished manuscript written by Mrs Anne Wilks in the early1960s for the SWRI. It was finding a dog-eared, coffee stained samizdat copy, barely 30 pages long, that set the ball rolling, that prompted the formation of Murthly History Group. Another very helpful piece of early research was the folder, mainly on the Asylum and Druid's Park, put together by the late Stanley Trelease. We are also indebted to Leslie Fraser of West Stormont Historical Society for his advice, support, and access to his files.
Initially, all we intended was to flesh out and update Mrs Wilks’ work and see it published. However. There are considerably more sources of information available now than in the Sixties. Chief among these is the archive at Murthly Castle. More accurately, will-one-day-be-an-archive. For we are cataloguing the documents, letters, ledgers, leases and maps as we go; untangling Murthly from Airntully, Strathbraan and Grantully estate records. (Generously made available by Thomas Steuart Fothringham.) But the Castle holds only part of the estate story; much of the early material – pre 1871 – was loaned to the National Records of Scotland (NRS) in Edinburgh. The Minute Book and letters of the Perth & Dunkeld Railway Company, the opening of which in 1856 put Murthly, or at least its station, on the map, are in the local archive in the AK Bell Library in Perth. Material relating to the Perth & District Asylum for Pauper Lunatics, aka The Institute, for over a century the most prominent feature of daily life as the village grew, is now held in the Wellcome Trust archive in Dundee University.
This is truly the age of the Bus Pass researcher. What would Anne Wilks have made of that?
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