However, there were two key limitations to economic development in Forfar: a lack of sustainable fresh water sources for domestic and business use; and a lack of basic fuel.
Eventually in 1881 the water problem was solved with the Den of Ogil reservoir. Several local lochs (e.g. Forfar, Restenneth, Rescobie) had been drained over the years to provide peat moss for fuel and marle as a fertilizer, but until coal started to arrive by train from the coast fuel was a continuing problem.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT (18th & 19th century)
From its small beginnings home weaving grew into a great trade, bringing an amazing increase in Forfar’s population and wealth.
By 1750 Forfar 140 looms, by 1799 over 400/500 looms and by the late 1880’s over 3,000 inhabitants were involved in weaving.
This new wealth brought substantial improvement of everything in town: appearance of the streets and buildings; and the dress and manners of its inhabitants. Houses were built at an unprecedented rate; so much so that the Town Council brought in a ruling that no houses were to be built before plans had been submitted to them and approved. By 1840 the Forfar population had grown to some 9,000 inhabitants.
Gradually, however, there was a consolidation and centralization across the weaving industry, with loom sheds and trading companies (see the Don Brothers story opposite). In the mid 1800’s power looms, the steam engine, and large factories in central Scotland began to bring an end to this cottage industry. The Incorporation of weavers was abolished by an Act of Parliament to remove their restrictive practices and bring improvement to the linen trade.
During the late 18th century important changes were also taking place in the surrounding countryside and agricultural practices were changing fast. The traditional runrig system of subsistence farming was abolished by the beginning of the 19th century and money began to be invested in agricultural development.
In the late 18th century turnpike roads were constructed between Forfar and Dundee and to Perth, and contributed to opening up the whole area for the movement of people and goods, and increased commercial activity. In 1839 the Arbroath and Forfar Railway pioneered rail travel and goods transport in the north-east of Scotland. It took stone from the Forfar quarries and woven linen goods to the coast and brought-in essential coal and lime (as fertilizer). This railway was followed by rail connections with Aberdeen and Perth, and later in the 1800’s by rail connections to the south (Edinburgh & Glasgow) and to England.
Gas, water & sewage
In the latter part of the 19th century a number of important civic improvements took place (lead in some cases by John Adam Whyte, as Town Councilor and Lord Provost). With coal from the coast a Burgh Gas Corporation was established (1879) and public lighting introduced. Sewage works were implemented and finally a supply of gravitation piped water was introduced in 1881, sourced from a reservoir created in the Den of Ogil (1878).