KIRRIEMUIR (surveyed in 1861)
Kirriemuir lies between the Strathmore valley and the foothills of the Grampian mountains in the county of Angus, about sixteen miles north of Dundee and five miles north-west of Forfar. It has been known variously as 'Kellymoore' and 'Killymure', and the name is believed to mean 'the great quarter', deriving from Scots Gaelic ceathramh, an area of land measuring about 48 acres, and mor, Scots Gaelic for 'great' or 'big'. It is believed that the first streets in Kirriemuir may have been planned in the twelfth or thirteenth centuries, although the town was not granted a charter, as a burgh of barony, until 1459. By 1589 there were records of a school in Kirriemuir, and a post office was opened in 1715. In 1861 the town's population was measured at 4,686.
The urban geography of Kirriemuir deviates slightly from the model of a long high street, bisected at the marketplace by secondary streets, that was common among early Scottish burgh foundations. Instead, the heart of Kirriemuir is a short high street ending in a public square in front of the town house (sheet XXXI.16.), with braes and side streets converging on this compact centre from various directions. The parish church, typically of Scottish burghs, was built near to the heart of the town, east of the town house, and has remained on this site. There does not appear to have been a castle within the bounds of the burgh.
The economy of Kirriemuir in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was massively dependent on the local linen industry. In 1841 there were over 2,000 weavers in the parish, out of a total population of about 7,000, and by the late 1860s it has been estimated that 8.2 million metres of cloth were produced annually in Kirriemuir. The town developed a modest jute industry, but brown linen remained the trademark of Kirriemuir weavers, and most weaving continued to be done on hand looms despite the opening of two power loom factories in the nineteenth century. Kirriemuir was also a market town for the surrounding rural areas, and in addition to weekly produce markets and fortnightly cattle markets, agricultural fairs were held four times a year.
Much of the land around Kirriemuir was, by the 1850s, 'cultivated up to apparently its highest capabilities of improvement' (Wilson, 1857). The highest yielding crops in the area were oats, barley and turnips, and cattle and sheep were the most common livestock. According to the Statistical Account of 1845, the average duration of a tenant-farmer's lease around Kirriemuir was nineteen years.
Kirriemuir has long had the reputation of a very devout town, thanks mainly to the best-selling stories of the Kirriemuir-born author J.M. Barrie (1860-1937), whose thinly-fictionalised version of Kirriemuir, 'Thrums', was a stronghold of 'Auld Licht' theology. The 'Auld Lichts' were fundamentalist Calvinists, most of whom seceded from the established Church of Scotland to join the Free Church at the Disruption of 1843. Wilson (1857) suggests that Kirriemuir did have an unusually high proportion of secession or dissenting churches compared to other Scottish burghs. Wilson lists two Free Church buildings, two United Presbyterian churches, a United Original Secession church and an Episcopalian chapel, in addition to the Established parish church and chapel of ease.
In the mid nineteenth century Kirriemuir had one parochial school, funded by the parish, and two endowed schools. In addition, there were twelve non-parochial schools in the parish, which were probably funded by school fees. The principal non-educational institutions in Kirriemuir were the post office, branches of the National, British Linen and City of Glasgow banks, and nine insurance companies. In 1861, the year the town was surveyed, rail came to Kirriemuir, in the form of a branch line linking the town to Forfar.
In 1815 Kirriemuir's Trades Hall was opened as a venue where societies could meet. Among the societies that existed in the town in the nineteenth century were an education society, a horticultural society, a gardeners' society and various friendly and religious societies. A subscription library also operated in the town, along with two other public libraries. At the time of the survey in 1861 Kirriemuir was not known for its famous sons, but since then, two or three cultural figures of international repute have apparently been born in the town: the aforementioned J.M. Barrie, and the original singer with the rock band AC/DC, Bon Scott (1946-80) were undoubtedly native to Kirriemuir, and although other sources dispute the claim, the town has also frequently been cited as the birthplace of the actor and author David Niven (1909-83).