Thornhill is an attractive historic village located 14 miles from Stirling, close to the beautiful Trossachs and the popular tourist attraction of Loch Lomond. The Lion & Unicorn is one of Thornhill’s oldest and most famous pubs, dating back to 1635 and once called The Commercial Hotel. It became the Lion and the Unicorn again in 1951 and the old bas-reliefs of a lion and a unicorn still exist on the front.
Information on Thornhill’s history sourced from Thornhill Community Trust (Susan Duke and Willie Dawson 2006).
In the 19th century the village was much the same size as it is today but it was much more self-contained. There were two butcheries and the animals would have been slaughtered on the spot. There were two tanneries for the making of leather, and a cobbler. On the Aberfoyle road there was a row of cottages called Weavers’ Row where cloth was woven. There were two schools, the church school and the public school, and two churches each with its own Minister. One was the Church of Scotland and the other held services in what is now the Church Hall and was the Free Church of Scotland.
By the early 20th century the tanners had gone and the weavers of Weavers’ Row no longer weaved. There was, however, a cobbler where the current telephone exchange is, a tailor (Mr. Ogilvie) at 24 Main Street and two butchers, one at 44 Main Street, and one in Gray’s Loan. There was a paper shop and a post office and morning and evening papers were delivered by bus to the village. The village, therefore, was no isolated backwater, and people kept up to date with what was happening in the world. Mrs Craig remembered a naval officer guest sitting on the bench outside The Commercial Hotel and reading the newspaper which gave the news of the outbreak of the First World War. She remembered her parents and their guest discussing it and the naval officer saying “This is very serious!” She must have been nine at the time.
The small businesses were the commercial heart of the village and along with the farmers, provided employment. Mrs Ashton said that when her father was running the blacksmith shop he employed an apprentice and a journeyman (journeyman was the name of a qualified man who had completed his apprenticeship).
Many of the men of the village worked on the farms surrounding the village and farming was probably the biggest employer. A farm like Mains of Boquhapple would have employed at least seven men and the work would have centred round the use of horses. Mrs Macfarlane’s father was skilled with his plough and the horses that pulled it. As well as working on Braendam he entered many competitions and Jessie MacFarlane remembered her father coming back from work one day to find his children in the barn having taken his five clocks to pieces – all of which he had won 5 in ploughing competitions. He was evidently not only an exceptional ploughman but a man of exceptional self-control because she said he did not lose his temper even then!
As well as having small businesses and jobs, some of the villagers had crofting rights on The Acres to the north of the North Common. Here the villagers grew crops and the thresher would come every harvest time and thresh the corn which was then taken to the Mill at Cessintully. The villagers also had grazing rights on the North Common and the right to lift turfs provided the area was re-seeded. The animals had to be herded because there were no fences. When the Blair Drummond Estate was sold to the new owner, Sir Kay Muir, he did not wish to keep the surrounding farms and they were sold. It was then that the crofters lost their rights to the Acres. However the grazing rights on the North Common remained.
Fun and Games
In the early years of the last century Thornhill had better leisure facilities that it has now. Mr. Ferguson of The Commercial Hotel made a bowling green with his own hands for the villagers and his guests. There was also a putting green where the houses of Norrieston Place now stand, and there was a nine hole golf course between McCreaston and Hill Head, called Garnumpy. In the winter there was also curling and “sliding on the lug” as Jessie MacFarlane put it. The North Common was often called the Lug, and it was here that a shallow pond was flooded by the Curling Club and allowed to freeze so that the adults could curl. The children loved playing on the frozen pond and Annie Ashton, Jessie MacFarlane and Mrs Craig all remembered racing out of school to slide on the lug in frosty weather.
The village school stood where it does today, and the church school was where the car park is. The village children walked to school and Mrs Craig remembered well being taken to school by her cousin for her first day in 1909. Mrs Macfarlane and her brothers and sisters had to walk from Braendam or “we usually ran because we were always late”. They brought their lunch with them or sometimes their father would give each of them a penny and they would buy a plate of hot soup. Sometimes they spent their penny on tablet or sweets instead and were then very hungry by the time they got home.
The playground and the South Common was roughish common land on which the tinkers camped. The children played chuckies and Mrs Craig can remember playing 7 rounders out on the road with the headmaster, Mr. Horn, in the lunch hour. There were two classes of about thirty or forty each and fairly strict discipline was enforced with the tawse. But the memories of all three women were of happy school days where they felt they had had a sound education.
When Mrs Craig had finished at Thornhill school, she went on to MacLaren High School in Callander which she “thoroughly enjoyed”. During the winter she and her brother weekly boarded with a family in Callander, coming home at weekends. The school rule for those boarding was that they were not allowed out on to the streets after five o’clock. If a teacher saw them out on the streets after five, there would be trouble. In the summer term they bicycled in to Doune from Thornhill each day and caught the train. The children all wore uniform – gymslips and white blouses. Jessie MacFarlane remembered that all the girls of her family wore navy blue pleated skirts with navy blue jerseys with buttons on the shoulder in winter, and the same skirts but with white blouses in the summer. She said they all had shoes and boots but often went barefoot in the summer because they preferred it.
Willie Ritchie said he had been awarded the first scholarship to McLaren High School for any child from Thornhill. The scholarship consisted of either his rail fares being paid from Doune to Callander, or a new bicycle. He took the bicycle and from then on he would get up in the morning and pump the bellows to get the fire going in the forge, jump on his bicycle and pedal over to school. He said that there was a Physical Education master at the school who would give a penny to the first boy to get to the top of the ropes during the gym lesson. Willie Ritchie said he always won the penny as his arms were strong from pumping the bellows and his legs were strong after bicycling over the hill and back each day!
The Commercial Hotel
Thornhill at the beginning of the 19th century was a tourist area. People came from Glasgow, Edinburgh and England to stay at the Commercial Hotel in order to shoot wildfowl and to fish, as well as to visit the Trossachs. When Mrs Craig’s family first bought the Commercial Hotel most of the guests were commercial travellers selling clothes and other goods, but gradually it became a place for people to come and spend their holidays. One visitor suggested that the name of the hotel should be changed to The Hunters Inn. Mr. Ferguson was a keen shot and indeed injured his elbow in a shooting accident when crossing a fence. Mrs Ferguson was a good cook and expanded the catering side of the business. Mrs Craig remembered Henry Morley (1869 – 1937) staying and ‘paying’ for his stay with oil paintings of the village.
Before Mrs Craig’s father, Mr. Ferguson, bought the hotel, he ran horse buses from Port of Menteith House in partnership with the Crown Hotel. Mrs Craig remembered that when King Edward VII came to Dunblane to open the Queen Victoria School, her father drove a four-in-hand in the procession from the railway station to the school.
Having bought the hotel, Mr. Ferguson continued to run his horse bus business alongside his hotel business. The area that is now the Lion and Unicorn car park, was then stables and sheds for horses, traps and carriages. He also had a hire business and customers could hire traps, or a hearse or even a sleigh – all horse drawn. Jessie MacFarlane said that when she married in the early twenties, she and her fiancée hired a landau to bring them to the manse at Norrieston (by Norrieston farm) and they were married in the minister’s study. She told us that only “toffs” were married in church at that time!
By the hotel, the wall on the road side of the stable yard was high with large sliding doors, so that it could be shut off from the road. There was a weighing machine beside the gate to the yard where farmers would come and weigh their carts full of hay, paying the hotel landlord a small fee. The farmers knew the weight of their cart and were, therefore, able to get an accurate measurement of the load before buying or selling it.
When the Fergusons bought the hotel the ground floor had stone flags which caused a lot of work and were very difficult to keep clean, so the first thing that was done was to lift these flags. A hundred tons of sand was taken out of the floor so that the present wooden floor could be laid. The Fergusons also laid out a beautiful garden. The next thing was to get water into the hotel but the Estate Overseer refused permission for water to be taken from the street pump into the house. Mr. Ferguson was not to be thwarted however, and one night he and some friends worked all through the night to dig a trench in the road and to lay a pipe through to the hotel. By morning the job was done and the Commercial Hotel had internal running water. Hot water was heated in a coal fired boiler in the kitchen and then pumped upstairs with a hand pump, and the cold water tank in the roof was kept full also by pumping with a hand pump in the kitchen.
The hotel was the first building in the village to get electricity. Mrs Craig remembered standing in the village street in about 1919 or 1920 and waiting to see the lights of the hotel turned on for the first time. The wiring was done “rather crudely” by an electrician from an ice factory in Glasgow and a generator was installed. The generator charged a number of big glass batteries which were kept in one of the sheds and so electric light flooded into Thornhill village street for the first time.
Thornhill at that time lay between two railway lines, one that went past Gargunnock and through Kippen Station to the south and the other which went from Stirling to Callander via Doune and on up in to the Highlands. Mrs Craig remembered the beautiful station in Doune with a large area in which the carriages could turn and the station being full of flowers and hanging baskets. Mr. Ferguson ran the horse bus every day to Doune and there was another run by Mr. Hay of Kippen which took people to Kippen Station. On the night that the First World War broke out, Mrs Craig said 10 she and her family were woken in the night. It was the authorities who had come to commandeer all the horses for the army. She said how very sad it had been to see their old friends taken away. Not long after that a battalion of Territorials came and camped in the field next to the hotel – marching on again the next day. She thought that few of those young men survived.
Bicycles were often used and to bicycle over to Doune was common. Indeed the doctor was called by bicycle and would visit his patients by bicycle. Mrs MacFarlane remembered burning herself quite seriously and someone was persuaded to cycle to Kippen to fetch the doctor, who then cycled back to visit the child in her own home at Braendam. Predictably Mr. Ferguson was the first person in the village to get a motor car.
Jessie MacFarlane related how her mother tragically contracted tuberculosis while still in her thirties. For a lot of her illness she stayed at home on Braendam Farm with her husband Mr. McGowan and her seven children, but when she became too ill to continue at home, she was taken to the hospital in Perth where she later died. Mrs MacFarlane remembered when the telegram arrived to say her mother was very weak and Mr. MacGowan bicycled to Callander and took the train to Perth, sadly he was too late and his wife had died before he got there. Jessie MacFarlane was thirteen at the time and after that did her best to look after her brother and sisters. She did not think she did it very well but she did her best. She did not remember any financial hardship caused by the cost of medical treatment for her mother and said the doctor visited every week, bicycling to Braendam from Kippen. The factor at Braendam and his wife, Mr. and Mrs Pagon, ensured that the family had a hot meal every Sunday and helped out with hand-me-down clothes. Mrs MacFalane got up at five each morning and milked four cows and was allowed as much milk as the family of eight wanted.
William Ritchie’s earliest memories were coloured by witnessing the hardship people were experiencing during the First World War. He said at that time quite a lot of the houses in the Main Street were empty and many were fairly basic dwellings with beaten earth floors. He related the story of a small family, a couple and their infant, squatting in one of the houses for some time, and when they left, out of curiosity, he went in to the house. He said there was nothing in it, and the young couple had cut every other beam out of the ceiling for firewood. He presumed they had moved on when they considered any further cutting would make the roof unsafe.
He also spoke of a travelling woman he quite often saw walking past the blacksmith’s shop, barefoot winter and summer, pushing her belongings in a pram. Quite often the travellers and tinkers would come in to the smithy and ask to heat water on the forge fire which was always allowed, and on one occasion the same woman came in and while her water was heating, she asked Willie Ritchie if he could read. When he said he could she pulled a letter from her dress and asked him to read it. The letter was from the Government saying that she would be paid a pension because four of her sons had been killed in France. She thanked the young Ritchie and asked him not to tell any other travelling folk – this regular money was obviously something she wished to keep to herself.