Blackford

What do we know about the village of Blackford before it became so well-known for promoting the first Games in the Highland Games circuit and calendar?
The Allan River sourced in the hills to the South and the low lying surrounding land was continually soaked by typically wet weather and water from the multitude of springs. A fording place at the East end came into use and legend tells us that one King Magnus lost his wife, Queen Helen, in a storm whilst fording the river. The drowned Queen was buried at the scene of the tragedy. The grave was covered by a small hillock known as Deaf Knowe and clearly visible between the railway and Mains of Panholes. Deaf because a word spoken on one side of the Knowe cannot be heard on the opposite side.


The roadway connecting Perth and Stirling became Stirling Street - still with its hump bridges at either end. Blackford became a popular stopping place, perhaps because of the availability of brewed refreshment from the first ever public brewery in Scotland. In 1688 King James IV of Scotland halted his journey to sample the excellent Blackford ales.


Improvement in drainage and farming technique and machinery promoted an improving degree of prosperity in the 19th century when Blackford could boast of two breweries, tanneries, bootmakers and a rope works. Flax was widely grown and sheep sourced a woollen industry. The people of the village were employed as farm labourers, mechanics and especially the women as hand loom weavers.
The healthier economy demanded better transport facilities for produce and the public. Scottish Central Railway extended its service from Stirling to Perth in 1848 and Blackford Station was built soon after. To popularise rail travel a special excursion fare of 5/3d (26p) return from Perth to Glasgow was on offer.

Road traffic too required improvement to avoid the hump back bridges at either end of Blackford village. In 1863 Moray Street was laid out, named after the laird - Moray of Abercairney - a generous benefactor who later gave the site and contributed to the cost of building a village hall - The Moray Institute, opened in 1888.


At the turn of the century it was becoming clear that industrialisation and mechanisation were forces to be reckoned with at the expense of small rural industries, including farming, which was becoming less labour intensive. Soon much manufacturing activity in Blackford had to be abandoned and many people were forced to leave the rural community to seek employment elsewhere.

It was not all bad news as Blackford village entered the 20th century. The Caledonian Company, successors to Scottish Central Railway, embarked on an ambitious plan to create an hotel and golf complex at Gleneagles in the parish of Blackford. Building commenced in 1917 but was interrupted by the First World War so the hotel was not finally opened until 1924.
James Braid laid out the golf courses - now world famous. The whole complex continues to be a considerable source of employment for the people of Blackford.

The distraction of the War deprived the village of credit due as the home of the inventive mechanic David Kay and his work on the invention and production of the Gyroplane - the precursor of the helicopter. Due to lack of financial backing, the outbreak of war and his subsequent call-up to the R.A.F., David's patent lapsed only to be progressed subsequently by others. David Kay built three gyroplanes, one of which may be seen in the Glasgow Transport Museum.


The abundance of good spring and well water in the area - once a liability in soaking the countryside and causing the legendary drowning of a Queen - had been put to good use by the brewers. Now it was to be used in the distilling of whisky on the site of Sharp's brewery by Brodie Hepburn & Co.


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