Strathard Heritage Archive

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Mill of Chon – a short history

By James Kennedy

Introduction: The purpose of this document is to offer a short history of the Mill of Chon, in Kinlochard. It is based upon research undertaken at various points over a 20 year period drawing primarily from local and national sources.

Mill of Chon is located between Loch Chon and Loch Ard on the Water of Chon near the small village of Kinlochard in West Perthshire.

Maps provide the initial basis of information.

Early maps have been reviewed including Timothy Pont’s Map of Scotland which was developed between 1583 and 1614. In his map (Figure 1) Pont does make some indication using an “X” to show something near Loch Ard—(called Aird). However it’s not clear what this is, possibly a crossing point or the location of Gartnerenrich which is reputed to be the earliest settlement in the area?

Figure 1: Pont’s Map of Perthshire 1583-1614.

General Roy’s Military map was published 1747-1755 and being a military map means that its level of detail is primarily for military reasons and this does not give any indication of a significant dwelling in the immediate area. 

Figure 2: Stobie’s map of Perthshire 1783

The first record of Mill of Chon is in James Stobie’s map of Perthshire published in 1783 (Figure 2). Stobie’s map seems to provide an accurate representation of the area. At that time the main form of activity was sheep farming albeit that according to the Statistical Accounts the area was experiencing a falling population. In 1775 the Aberfoyle Parish population was 895, falling to 790 in 1791 and by 1834 it was 549.

A sense of the volume of water which can flow on the Water of Chon is evident from the photograph below.

Figure 3: Falls of Chon Valentine Series 1882

James Valentine (12 June 1815 – 19 June 1879 was a Scottish photographer. Valentine who was based in Dundee produced Scottish topographical views from the 1860s, and later became internationally famous as the producer of picture postcards.

Figure 4: 1st Edition Ordinance Survey Map 1863

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The first edition of the Ordinance Survey map of 1863(Figure 4) is very clear and shows that there was a lade at the Mill of Chon—labelled as “lead” on the map. The track of the lade remains evident as does the section of the current Water of Chon where a section of the river was diverted from. It shows the lade passing under the road beside the bridge and coming to the end of the house. The return channel after the mill known as the tail race as well as the channel to divert water back to the river before the wheel are also very clear

Subsequent maps show the growth and development of Kinlochard over the following 150 years including the development of a property called Mill of Chon Farmhouse as well as the school in 1870 and the school teacher’s house.  At Mill of Chon a 2nd outhouse had been built. In the late 1930s the property called Dalveagh became a hotel and is now where the McDonald Hotels and Timeshare facilities are located. After the 2ND World War developments included the building of 24 Forestry Commission Houses nearby and the opening of a small village shop and village hall in the early 1950s. The arrival of the Forestry Commission houses has been probably one of the most significant in modern times as it brought property, families and employment to the area.

Figure 5: Aerial Image of Loch Ard from early 1950s.

Books also provide some source material as follows:

Mill of Chon as a working mill is referenced in W.H.Murray’s book, Rob Roy MacGregor:

“When fully ripe the corn was reaped by sickle, but if unripened it was uprooted by hand to allow the grain to fill out after the corn had been stoked. This work was for women and children. When dried out, the bound sheaves were carried to the houses and the stacks built close by, thatched, and roped with stone weights to stand to the storms of winter. Threshing and winnowing followed at more leisure, and flour could be milled in bulk at Inversnaid or at the Mill of Chon at Loch Ard.” How accurate this statement is debatable as this was unusual in Scottish mills which usually processed oats.

In his book Local Past, Peter Joynson refers to the presence of water-mills as follows: “As to water-mills, there were at least four in the parish at one time or another—Mill of Chon, Ledard, the Milton and Achray.” His book is an excellent reference source for other information about the area.

Estate Papers of the Graham Family, Dukes of Montrose known as the Montrose Muniments refer on 22nd July 1752 to an estimate for building a mill on the water of Cone. In the document reference is made to an old mill and removal of rubble and material. This would suggest that a mill may have been at this site prior to this period. The quotation was from John Burmon or Burnam and Alexander Proven and including the building of a house with walls at 7 feet high and 2 feet thick. Lime was to be supplied from Campsie. These papers are part of a bundle which includes estimates for the building of mills at Archie, Inversnaid, Fintry and repair of a mill at Buchanan. It was clearly a period of significant development of mills by the Duke of Montrose.

Ownership and occupancy

The late 18th and 19th century

As to the people living and working at the Mill of Chon, Joynson says:


Figure 6: Poem The Miller of Chon

“The Mill of Chon seems to have been in the hands of a family of the name of Graham between 1768 and 1834. One of the millers was Duncan Graham, who, judging from the words of a song written about him, was a particularly jovial miller who had, in turn, four gaucy (plump) wives. The last miller of the family had only one leg and, when he died about the middle of the nineteenth century, the mill closed down”.

The poem the Miller of Chon offers a perspective not entirely positive about the Miller of Chon. This version is taken from the Glen collection archive of 18th and 19th century Scottish music, including Scottish songs. It’s from a collection of John Glen (1833-1904).

According to the first Statistical Account “the arable ground in Aberfoyle bears but an inconsiderable proportion to that which is employed in pasture. Of this proportion, however, no precise estimate can now be offered. The fields are employed in raising oats, barley, pease and potatoes.” 

The system of thirlage meant that tenants had a form of bondage to a specific mill and were required to pay fixed proportion of the grain to the miller. Tenants could be sued if they took their grain elsewhere. This meant that the miller was by no means popular as he often had a level of knowledge about local income which made him the focus of suspicion. The Thirlage Act 1799 mean that some changes to this arrangement began to happen albeit rather slowly.

Further research uses the ScotlandsPeople web site which includes access to census and valuation rolls. The first census was produced in 1841 and is the starting point.

By the 1841 census the house was occupied by:

  • John Graham, age 40—miller
  • Peter Graham, age 30 -grocer
  • Anne Graham, age 40-sister to John and Peter.
  • Mary McCallum, age 17—daughter of Anne.
  • John McCallum, age 16—son of Anne Graham.

Anne Graham had married Malcolm McCallum in Aberfoyle on 17th June 1823

The adult Grahams were children of Dougald (or possibly Dougal) Graham and Mary Graham (nee Graham) who were married on 28th December 1783. Dougald was at that point residing at Drumlean and Mary was living at Gartnerenrich which was a few miles away both in Aberfoyle parish. Their son John was also born there on 1st November 1789 as was Anne on 10th May 1792. Their third child was named Dougald and he was born on 13th July 1784 at Gartnerenrich. He subsequently died at Mill of Chon on 17th December 1804. Peter was christened Patrick and he was born on 28th July 1803 at Mill of Chon. This would suggest that sometime between 1792 and 1803 their father became the miller at Mill of Chon. 

By the 1851 census the 3 Graham siblings were still living at Mill of Chon and likewise in 1861. In 1861 John continued to be the miller and Peter the grocer. Their sister Anne was noted as the housekeeper and also living there was Ann McGregor age 15 and described as a domestic servant.

In the 1871 census John, Peter and Anne were still living at Mill of Chon as was 13 year old Elizabeth Barber, described as a servant.

Things had begun to change when we next look at the 1881 census. John McCallum is the head of the house and a farmer and age 49. His uncle Peter is described as a servant and also living there are Kate McMaster age 35, a widow and house keeper. In addition David Fraser age 21 and described as a farm servant is also in residence.

The Valuation Rolls for the same period show that the property was owned by the Duke of Montrose and this continued until the late 1920s when significant land was sold for the payment of death duties.

 It was during 1873/4 that John McCallum took over the tenancy. He held this for about 10 years until 1884/5 when it was taken over by James Blair hotel keeper in Aberfoyle.

By 1891 James McKeich was living at Mill of Chon. Age 34 and born at Port of Menteith his occupation was as a post boy. By this time there was a Post office in Kinlochard. Also living there was his wife Agnes and 3 children William, Margaret, Peter and James. The property was described as consisting of 4 rooms with more than 1 window.

The 20th Century:

During the early 20th Century occupancy of the property continued to change in each census. John McBeth described as a farmer and his wife were living there in 1901 and in 1911 it was Helena Cambell age 24 who was the head of the house with her son Irvin George.

The story of tenancies and occupancy during this period are further traced using the Valuation Rolls, Property Deeds and material from the National records of Scotland.

Figure 7: Sale Notice of Montrose Estates 1930.

The next major change of ownership was on the 22nd February 1930. This had been preceded by the death in 1925 of the 5th Duke of Montrose.  

Figure 7 is a sales notice for some other properties of the same period and was found in the Mill of Chon papers in the National Records Office although Mill of Chon is not specifically mentioned. In order to pay death duties the Dowager, Duchess of Montrose sold significant land holdings in the parish of Aberfoyle and Port of Menteith until which time much of the land in the area had been leased by the Joynson family. 

However in the case of the Mill of Chon John Kerr a farmer from Kippen was the tenant and William McEwan the occupier.

When the property was sold to Mrs Violet Russell or Smith, she was described as a widow residing at nearby Blairhullichan. She was the widow of Allan Ramsay Smith former Headmaster of Loretto School. The purchase of the Mill of Chon and associated land was part of an extensive purchase including Blairhullichan and the farms at Frenich and Comer. In the title deeds it was noted that the lands and associated farms would be known by the general name of the Estate of Blairhullichan. 

Following the death of Mrs. Russell/Smith on 1st April 1931 the property was manged for several years on behalf of Mrs. Smith’s Trustees by Solicitors Strathern and Blair based in Edinburgh.

Repair and Reconstruction  A significant amount of repair and reconstruction was undertaken in 1932/33 including re-roofing, increasing the height of the 2 attic rooms, renewal of the stairs and the inclusion of a water supply to the house. The work was commissioned from Messrs E. Simpson, Mc Michael & Davidson Architects based in Stirling. The proposal finished by saying:

“These repairs and renovations would provide practically a new house”.

Figure 8: Front Elevation 1932/33.

The work was completed by June 1933 and was undertaken by several contractors from nearby Aberfoyle and Gartmore as well as Stirling, Buchlyvie and Doune. The completed job cost £768.18s.8p. Figure 9 below shows the property after these major renovations and is the earliest available photographic image of the property.

Figure 9: Mill of Chon early 1940s from Dorothy Thomson.

Figure 10: Sheep gathering at nearby Ledard.

Knowledge as to the nature of farming activity at that time is gained from a Tenancy Agreement from March 1935. The agreement mentioned:

“The tenant will take over from the proprietors as in occupation (i.e. occupiers) the usual and regular hill sheep stock of the farm, being 1200 ewes and 350 hoggs”. Other conditions included the cultivation of 15 acres of arable land and the provision of grazing for the cows of the Estate Gamekeeper if called upon.

 The Watson Investment Company headed by Richard Watson took over ownership later in 1935. During this time William Thomson became the tenant farmer. Research included checking the British Newspaper Archive and the main points of note relate to the conviction of Thomson on two occasions. In 1939 he was convicted of assault following a domestic incident and jailed for 14 days. In 1941 he appeared in court for having neither a front or rear lighting on his cycle and was fined 30 shillings at Dunblane Sheriff Court.

The land and associated buildings appear to have remained in this ownership until 2nd November 1945 when they were acquired by the Forestry Commission. Duncan MacDiarmid had become the tenant by 1941 and remained living at Mill of Chon with his family for a number of years.

Figure 11: Group at Mill of Chon early 1950s including Netta More, Greta Hawthorne, Gregor McGregor, Mrs More, Chrissie McDiarmid and Harry More (at the front).

Tenancy transferred to Duncan Smith during the period 1966/7. Duncan Campbell Smith is recorded as having purchased the property and associated lands on 24th March 1982.The lands consisted of 22 hectares/54 acres. On the same day the majority of the land was sold to John Northcote whilst Duncan Smith retained mineral rights and rights of access to a lochside boathouse. During this time, probably in 1983 some further repairs and renovations were undertaken to the property.

Figure 12: Jenny Harrow, Duncan & Hettie Smith approx. 1980.

Jenny Harrow was the longstanding postmistress in Kinlochard.

Figure 13: Aerial Image of Mill of Chon August 1970.

Figure 14: Mill of Chon 1980s.

Figure 15: Annex to Title Deeds Mill of Chon 1994

The property was sold to James Kennedy and Gillian Lester on 18th February 1994 by Hettie Helen Brodie (or Smith) who was the widow of Duncan Smith. Duncan Smith had died at Mill of Chon in 1989 at the age of 69. By this time the extent of the surrounding land had reduced significantly which can be seen in Figure 15.

Figure 16: Mill of Chon 2014.

Externally the property has not changed in any significant fashion since 1994. The new roof and windows as well as other external improvements have been completed whilst aiming to retain the original character of the Mill of Chon. As far as the Water of Chon goes its ability to be in full spate remains a regular experience….

Figure 17: Water of Chon 2014.

Mill of Chon in Kinlochard has had many changes of ownership and function over some 250-300 years. Starting as a mill it retains that name “The Mill”. All I need to say is the words and people know where I live. Its position by the Water of Chon, the absence of flooding in living memory and the evidence of the original bedrock drawn from a local quarry especially at the back of the property is a tribute to those who made the original decision to build on this site.

 

This research has not found everything about the property so this material should be read as “work in progress”.

James Kennedy, May 2020.