When the last man left the lost village of Pitmiddle

James Gillies was the last resident to leave the village of Pitmiddle. In January 1938, he closed the door to his cottage for the last time and walked away through the deep snow.

Wednesday, 12th September 2018, 9:29 pm
Updated Wednesday, 12th September 2018, 9:35 pm
The village of Pitmiddle near Kinnaird in Perthshire was abandoned in 1938. PIC: Courtesy of Abernyte Heritage Group.
The village of Pitmiddle near Kinnaird in Perthshire was abandoned in 1938. PIC: Courtesy of Abernyte Heritage Group.

It was the final act in the slow decay of the village that sat high on a hill near Kinnaird in Perthshire.

For generations, the Gillies family called Pitmiddle home and he hung on while his neighbours disappeared round about him.

In the end, it was time to go. The winter storms cancelled the sale of his farm but there was to be no more hanging on. Gillies upped and left behind the life he had always known.

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View from the abandoned site of the village over the Carse of Gowrie to the River Tay. PIC: www.geograph.org.uk

Pitmiddle once thrived with a community of weavers, a blacksmith, two joiners, a tailor, a butcher and a public house with Sandy the village shoemaker also schooling the village children.

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By the end of the 1800s, a far sadder scene of empty cottages, leaking thatched roofs and diminishing farm land was on offer.

Two reporters from The Dundee Courier were dispatched to investigate living conditions at Pitmeddle in December 1896 - more than four decades before Mr Gillies’ departure - after reports reached the office of clearance-style conditions up on the hill.

In his story, the reporter noted how the grievances of crofters in the Highlands were “not easily understood by the dwellers in populous cities.”

But, it added: “Rumours of evictions and clearances in the Carse of Gowrie reached us, and stirred our lethargic sympathies into an eager desire to know the truth and the foundation for these reports.”

The reporters left Dundee for Pitmiddle and approach the “quite picturesque” village on a cart track dogged by holes that held two feet of clay-coloured water.

The reporter added: “Picking our way along this muddy lane, at last we reached the outskirts of the village, and paused to reconnoitre.

“Not a soul was to be seen, and silence and desolation reigned around. Many of the cottages were dilapidated and tenantless.”

The reporters approached a white-washed cottage with a small flower plot, the growth indicating the house was still occupied.

A Mrs Gray came to the door and invited them in.

The reporter said: “The outside old and mean, but everything within that cot(tage) was wondrous neat and clean.

“The worthy dame told us her sad story. She had not been actually warned to remove, but the laird had taken her bit land from her at Martinmas, and how could she live- without the land?

“She could sit in the cottage for another year, but for the cottage and garden she was asked to pay a rent not much less than what she had paid for the croft of which she was now deprived.”

She kept a cow, and made her money by raising calves and keeping a pig and poultry. Her croft consisted of two acres of green corn, potatoes and turnips to help feed her beasts and pay her rent.

Of the prospect of leaving her animals, Mrs Gray said: “That’s like to break my very heart, it’s juist like pairtin’ wi’ my bairns.”

Ms Gray, a widow of 14 years, lived in the house for three decades and raised four children at the cottage. They had all no left home.

Of her cottage, she said: “They winna repair it for me. The thatch is worn on the roof, an’ look hoo the water comes in on me in my bed; ay, and at the fireside, too.

“I would need to put up an umbrella when I’m sitting at my am fireside on a rainy nicht. But what can we do?”

The demise of Pitmiddle, where a well provided water, was attributed to changes in agricultural work which had forced people to leave their homes to look for new opportunities.

Industrial-scale weaving in Dundee also depleted income in the village, where every home had a loom with a communal building also holding seven or eight shared pieces of machinery.

Some Pitmiddle residents went to the “great cities of the United Kingdom, to America and even more distant countries,” the account added.

In 1691 Pitmiddle, around 250 people lived in the village along with the hamlet of Craigdallie at the bottom of the hill, according to research published by Abernyte Heritage Group.

In 1841, the population had fallen to 99 people living in 26 households.

By 1896, there were no more than seven families in the village. Mostly older people remained with only two or three men left.

As crofters died out, their crofts were taken back by the landowner, from Blairgowrie, and added on to neighbouring fields.

The reporter also visited Maidie Mitchell and her sister, two “very old ladies” who had spent their entire lives in Pitmiddle.

Their house had been in the family for several generations. They believed they were allowed to stay in their home, and were grateful for that.

“They remembered the time when Pitmiddle was a busy, happy place. The people were all friends and courted and married amongst each other,” the report said.

The sisters remembered how townsfolk would take summer lodgings in the village.

“Though it was far out of the way, it was wonderful how many people would find their way over the braes,” they said.

Now, a few walls are now all that remain of the village with the outlines of the buildings still visible in the winter when the weeds abate.

The gardens where people such as James Gillies, Mrs Gray and the Mitchell sisters once stood can also be seen, the gooseberry and red currant bushes still bringing life into this now abandoned place.