The name for Historical Blairgowrie is uncertain. It may mean "Plain of the Goats" or" The Battlefield" , but other origins have been suggested. The name Rattray means "The Fort of the Hunter" which alludes to the ancient fort on a mound to the east of Rattray. The original settlement, claimed by some to be much older than historical Blairgowrie, had Old Rattray Kirk, established in 1170, as its centre. New Rattray grew up round the top of the Boat Brae after the Brig o' Blair was built in 1777 and as the new turnpike roads were coming into use.
Historical Blairgowrie grew from its 18th century village of 400 to be a busy industrial town of 4000 during the 19th century. This growth was due to the textile mills which were built along the banks of the Ericht to harness its strong flow, providing the power to drive the spinning machines and looms to process flax (once grown abundantly in the district), and later jute. The mills have all gone now, as has any sizeable industrial enterprise.
During the first visit to Scotland of Charles I, he granted a charter dated July 9th 1634 to George Drummond of Blair, creating the Barony of Blairgowrie. This historical Blairgowrie document measures nearly 10 feet in length, 10 inches in width and written throughout in Latin, is preserved in the Register House, Edinburgh. The granting of the charter empowered the Baron to hold courts"for the trial of thieves and other characters disgraceful to Society". A Barony Court was established, the site according to tradition being in the manse grounds of the parish church. The place of execution was the "Gallows Knowe" - now called Gallowbank, where miscreants who had been condemned at the Barony Court were brought here to be hanged.
There is a the tale of a local man Donald Cargill, the son of a bonnet laird who owned the small estate of the Hatton. He became a minister gratefully admired for his preaching, but he refused to accept the laws which Charles II had promulgated on his return to the Throne in 1660. Donald became one of the leaders of the Covenanters who refused to accept bishops in the Scottish Presbyterian Church. He was outlawed and spent years preaching at conventicles - illegal kirk services held in the open air - with a price on his head before he was betrayed and martyred in Edinburgh. The scene of his daring escape is a beauty spot on one of the platforms where visitors can wonder at his feat and read information boards relating the story.
Historical Blairgowrie has always been blessed with rich, fertile land so it is not surprising that this area drew the eye of many a Highland caterans (cattle rustler)in years gone by. Raids from the north to steal cattle were not uncommon! One such raid was led by Duncan Stewart, the youngest of five illegitimate sons of Alexander Stewart, the Wolf of Badenoch and third son of King Robert II. The raid resulted in a running battle which started just to the north of the town at Glasclune. It was this fighting which led to the great Battle of the Clans on the North Inch in Perth before King Robert II in 1386.
One of the incidents in the fight at Glasclune was "appropriated" by Sir Walter Scott used in his epic poem "The Lay of the Last Minstral". This was the fight between Sir David Lindsay and a Highlander who was pinned to the ground by Sir David's spear, but managed to reach up and strike such a blow that the rider's leg was severed.
Sir Walter Scott was a guest at Craighall Castle just outside Rattray, where he was so taken with its situation,perched on a 100 metre high cliff above the Ericht, that he used it as a basis for his description of the mansion of Tullyveolan in his first novel, "Waverley".
The castle is the seat of the chief of Clan Rattray and was built on the cliff edge shortly after the family lost their original castle, which stood on a great mound east of Rattray. The chief of that time was killed at the "Battle of Flodden". The Earl of Athole took advantage of the fact that the heir was a child, so he captured the castle and its inmates and had his relatives marry the daughters. However, Lady Rattray and her son were absent so she was later able to win redress in the courts. Thus the fortunes of the family were restored and the new castle built where the present mansion now stands.
If you thought neighbourly disputes are a 20th century phenomina, read on! In the valley of the Lornty stood two castles, Drumlochy and Glasclune, owned by rival families the Chalmers and the Herons who persued a blood feud. Finally the Herons purchased a cannon and blew down Drumlochy! An earlier story tells of how George Drummond, who owned Blairgowrie Estate and who lived in Newton Castle (to the north of the town), was murdered with his son William by a gang of eighty neighbouring lairds recruited by the Herons. This outrage took place on June 3rd 1554 at the Mercate Gait of Blair where the Hill Kirk now stands. At the Gait was a kind of bowling green where a game very similar to French "boule" was played. The fracas resulted in a trial at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, when several of the perpetrators were "put to the horn" (outlawed) and at least two others were executed. One, William Chalmers of Drumlochy, had to enter into a "Bond of Manrent" in which he engaged himself and his heirs to serve and follow the heirs of George Drummond in any enterprise, short of illegal activities!
Whilst in historical Blairgowrie, make time to visit the Kirkyaird, where you will see some interesting headstones - the oldest dated 1662. To the left of the two cedars, east of the church, lies the family stone of the Baxters, dated 1692. In May 1993, an important sculptured stone depicting Abraham preparing to sacrifice Issac was re-discovered beside the Baxter stone. Broken in two, it had been buried.
Only two or three generations ago Gaelic was the universal language of the Glens. The last native speakers of Strathardle Gaelic moved down to Blairgowrie only a few years ago. Some of the many traditions and stories which once were told and re-told round the firesides have been preserved in a book entitled "The Ghaist o' Mause" by Maurice Fleming, are good examples of historical Blairgowrie.