Forfar in 1450
EVOLUTION OF FORFAR
The town was first granted its Royal Charter from David I (1124-1153) – because of its royal connections. The Forfarshire Sheriffdom was created in 1162, bringing an established system of law and order to the whole area (Angus and Dundee). Everything that came into a Burgh came through the “ports” and ‘tolls’ were paid on these goods (except by the Burgesses). Unfortunately, Forfar’s records and original Burgh Charter were lost (circa 1295).
The town was at this time was still a very small place - dirty, smelly and unpleasant. All rubbish was tipped into middens in the earthen streets for pigs, dogs and hens to feed from. You can imagine the state of the streets after a heavy downpour. The people lived in small wooden houses thatched with reeds from the lochside and the town was several times burned to the ground. In 1244 the castle was said to be only building remained standing. Latterly it was common for ladders to be left propped against buildings so that people could fight rooftop fires more quickly.
The Reformation gripped Scotland after 1560 with a new religion - Protestantism - and strict church and civil laws. People lived in constant fear of God, forced to attend church and facing a beating for taking the name of the Lord in vain. Witch hunts, burning at the stake, and hangings were a common feature of Burgh life – based on a 1573 Law (only repealed in 1736).
In Forfar 42 people were suspected of being witches and 9 were burned (3 men) – the ‘pricker’ of these witches was later made a Freeman of Forfar. The Luckenbooths were behind the Forfar Town and County Hall, and poor unfortunates would be kept there until their execution. Many were hanged from the upper window of the east side of the Town and County Hall (the window is still visible). The last hanging at The Cross was of Margaret Wishart in 1827. Other prisoners would be driven on an open horse-drawn cart from the Cross up West High Street, in full public view. Other punishments included nailing an offender’s ears to the Tron for simple offences. The local museum holds well-known relics (witches bridle) of these events.
Loyal to the King
During the Scottish civil wars, while her neighboring towns took up arms against the King, Forfar remained loyal to the crown and suffered harshly for these ideals. In 1625 Charles I succeeded James VI and tried to unite the Scottish and English churches. Many Scots resisted this situation and signed a petition against such a merger (which came to be known as the National Covenant). Forfar again remained loyal to the King (Charles I) and became a meeting place for those who resisted the Covenant. As a result of this, Cromwell’s troops (under General Monck) in 1651 burned the town, pillaged, looted, freed prisoners and destroyed the Burgh Charter. This period of Civil War led to low wages, high unemployment and highly priced goods that stifled any progress.
Charles II eventually reconfirmed the Royal Charter in 1665 , in thanks for the plundering and recognition of Forfar’s support for Charles I. The title Earl of Forfar was given to the (Red) Douglas family in 1661, but lasted only 3 generations before expiring in 1761. The majority of Forfarians were staunch Jacobites and many joined the Earl of Mar’s rebel army in 1715, along with the Earl of Strathmore (killed at Sherrifmuir). However, this enthusiasm apparently cooled for economic reasons and fewer went off to follow Bonnie Prince Charlie in the 1745 rising. After 1745 many church and Burgh records (like Forfar’s) were destroyed in retribution.
A County Market Town
While Forfar’s royal/political role had disappeared, its role as a ‘market town’ developed considerably. It became the county town of Angus (known at one time as the Shire of Forfar or Forfarshire). In the 17th century Forfar was a typical small Scottish burgh and county market town, with around 1000 people. Each man built his house as he chose, and the town was irregular, crowded, dirty and smelly - there was no clean running water or sanitation. The contents of the chamber pot, animal dung and household rubbish were all dumped into middens, either private or on the street. It was a small town where everyone knew everyone else’s business and grudges were often held for generations.