Hillock Kirk – a Very Local History Account

This information was handed in to the House of Memories and has been produced here as it was written. We would welcome any additional information or  pictures to make this piece more interesting especially as the kirk is now a family residence.

My Aunt, Miss Cecilia Sim, now resident at Duneaves, Broughty Ferry, passed on to me your account of the “Hillock Kirk: 1843-1979” which I have read with the greatest interest, and I do congratulate you on a very fine piece of local historical research. As one with a very long connection with and affection for The Hillock, I am sending you some reminiscences of events and personalities of yesteryear which may be of some interest.

Hillock Kirk c1910

Hillock Kirk c1910

My family connections with the district go back to 1883 when my great grandfather, Francis Sim, moved from Knapp Mill, Inchture, to Omachie Mill, with his eldest son, James Adam Sim my grandfather, as partner. Francis died in 1900. Of my grandfather’s six children the eldest, Helen Sim, was my mother. My father came to the district about 1905/6 after regular army service and was the postman on the Kingennie Station – Baldovie – Kellas – Wellbank – Lovehall beat. In due course he married the miller’s daughter and I was born in 1908 at Omachie Mill which remained my home for the most part until I went to university in 1925. My grandfather died in 1917 and his eldest son, Frank, carried on until 1921, but by then a country mill with a small attached farm was no longer an economic proposition and he followed another line. However, the family continued to live at The Mill until my Grandmother’s death in 1927 when they moved to Broughty Ferry. My Aunt Cecilia at Duneaves is the last survivor of the family.

The family connection with Hillock Kirk is slightly curious. Grandfather James Sim was staunch “Auld Kirk” and a faithful elder of Monifieth Parish (St. Rule’s) under Rev. D.D. MacLaren, if not indeed under Rev. Dr. Young. The girls of the family started to attend The Hillock, presumably as a matter of convenience and remained adherents throughout “Micky” Wiseman’s ministry, ” lifting their lines” only after Rev D.C. Wiseman came in 1921.

My own memory naturally cannot go back to the days of the founding fathers of The Hillock but I can claim the “I knew a man who knew a man etc” and heard a great deal of the early tradition at second or third remove. It was interesting to note in your extracts from the records the wide area from which the original members were drawn. Balhungie, for instance, is a long way from The Hillock but I remember being told of early members who came every Sunday on horseback from Happas and that is a very long ride over Carrot, down to Bucklerheads, the Kellas, Baldovie and up the Lammerton.

When one thinks of The Hillock as the original Free Kirk of Monifieth, the site seems decidedly remote. There is a story behind the choice which I do not remember precisely but you can find reference to it in a book, “The Parish of Monifieth in Ancient and modern Times” (1st edition 1910) by John Malcolm, for many years headmaster of Monifieth Public School. Unfortunately my own copy has disappeared, but I know that there is one available in the local history reference section in Broughty Ferry Public Library.

You raise the query “Where did Alex. Baird, junior, the salmon fisher find salmon?” Well certainly not in the Dighty, polluted by all the effluent from the bleachfields, but I offer the theory that he may have been a seasonal worker who went to the salmon-netting stations up the Tay between Perth and Port Allen (Errol) and perhaps found casual employment out of season nearer home. “Miss Mudie and her four serving maids” from Omachie were quite new to me. This must have been what was called “Old Omachie”. (Omachie Farm House proper was occupied by John Miller, so long the Session Clerk) Some rather tough characters lived for a time in the old house but when I first remember it was a miserable ruin approached by a dreadful cart-road, ankle-deep and more in glaur in winter. It was restored c. 1920/1 for Laws gamekeepers and later properly refurbished when Adam Robb moved in from Laws Home Farm cottages. It was then re-named Firview!   (Incidentally, it is of interest that a seventeenth century charter refers to the place as Umoquhy, a form still reflected in local pronunciation. The scribe also excelled himself at another place in the document by producing Umquhoquhy! These were the days when the Durhams held sway in the district.

My very earliest recollection of the district is watching, with the rest of the family from the back windows of the mill, the departure of John Miller’s horse-drawn funeral. After his death, Omachie Farm became incorporated in the big farming syndicate of F.M. & G. Batchelor (Gotterstone) and the house was thereafter occupied by the grieve, Alex Dorward (“Sandy Dorrit”)

My own introduction to the Hillock Kirk will amuse you. Apparently the family thought that a restless laddie needed some preliminary training to sit through one of Micky’s sermons. I can remember being set down on a chair in front of the kitchen fire and told to watch the clock on the mantlepiece for ten minutes without moving. For consolation I was given the cat to nurse. Having survived that test, I had to sit tight (with cat) for fifteen, then twenty, and finally twenty five minutes, reckoned to be the average length of one of Micky’s sermons. After that spell of discipline, I was ultimately allowed to attend the kirk (without cat!)

You mention David Anderson as becoming organist in 1911 but seem to have missed his predecessor James Elder. At some time during their periods of office the little harmonium was superseded by that rather fine Mason & Hamlin American organ of sixteen stops. Jim Elder seems to have been successful with his church choir and under him the Sim “girls” began their long association with the church music. I have a vague memory of a choral society at Wellbank conducted by him or, more accurately, of hearing mention of the society in other people’s conversation. Jim Elder emigrated to Albany, New York but I myself remember meeting him when he was “home” on a visit in the early 1920’s.

My next recollection of the kirk is oddly enough a funeral service, more precisely a memorial service for one of the elders, Andrew Reid, shoemaker at Wellbank. That day Micky went on at great length, -though I suppose he delivered a long obituary after a long sermon. I do not recall the content of course, but I do remember vividly David Anderson playing the “Dead March in Saul” while the congregation stood.

Although knew the name I do not consciously recall the Fentons of South Kingennie and it was news to me that “himself” was involved in the change from “port” to “Lebanon” for sacramental wine. The story behind the change I do not know. The beadle, Will Henderson was one of three surfacemen based at Kingennie who maintained the railway line between Barnhill and Monikie. He was a big man, with a huge bushy beard, nicknamed Kruger from a supposed resemblance to Paul Kruger, the Boer War leader. His wife, who cleaned the kirk, was a formidable character. They lived in a state of intermittent discord in the first of the Linlathen cottages almost opposite Hillock Farm. On one occasion the pair of them got gloriously “fou” on the communion port and legend had it that they were found “blotto” in the boiler house on the sacrament Sunday morning.

David Anderson went to the army and, after Mrs. Anderson’s brief period in his place, Edward (“Teddy”)Easson became organist for a number of years. He had business – a ladies’ corset shop of all things! – in the Wellgate, Dundee and came to and from the kirk by bicycle. I do not know whether he was himself Episcopalian but his son David Easson most certainly was and became the Lord Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney, no less. Edward Easson himself later died tragically on the organ bench in a Dundee church.

The Sacrament was celebrated at the Hillock twice yearly – second Sunday in May, second Sunday In November. By my time the Thursday fast day had disappeared, as had also the old Free Kirk tradition of assisting ministers for the “occasion”. There was a Friday evening “preparatory service” and a “thanksgiving service” post communion on the Sunday evening. These were, latterly at least, held in the hall. I am not sure whether these had to be temporarily suspended in the later years of World War 1 because of blackout regulations which did come into force though not so strictly as World War 2. I have no recollection of any “young communicants” being admitted by Micky but perhaps as a child I was not taken to the preparatory service

On Communion Sunday the table was immediately under the book-board of the high pulpit within the railed area occupied by the wee choir on other Sundays. The centre area pews were covered with white linen cloths and communicants not originally seated there moved to the side area during the singing of the traditional communion Paraphrase. Non- communicants, including juveniles like myself, remained in the side pews. The elements, bread and common cup, were distributed by the elders. I cannot be absolutely sure but I think that, after a considerable sermon from the high pulpit, Micky gave a second address from the table. Membership did not warrant a second table.

In the same period there was a monthly evening service in the hall. Musical accompaniment was provided by Mrs. J.M. Wilson, South Kingennie, on the little harmonium. There was some co-operation between the kirks in providing Sunday afternoon services in Mattock School. If I remember correctly, Hillock was responsible for the first Sunday of each month, Monifieth Parish for the third Sunday, and Newbigging for the last Sunday. The sacrament was celebrated under Parish Kirk auspices at the Mattocks on the third Sundays of May and November.

My childhood memories, of course, include the war years 1914-1918 which had their impact on the district as elsewhere. I can recall the dreadful lists of “killed, wounded, or missing” in the newspaper but actually military casualties in the Hillock area were few, though there were quite a number round Wellbank as the village memorial testifies. The agricultural community did not suffer undue hardship when food rationing was introduced, having their own produce of farm and garden to hand.

One night in 1916 stands out vividly in my memory. The pheasants in the woods made a tremendous disturbance for several hours. In traditional country lore that meant something badly amiss somewhere. . Coincidence or not, we later learned that that was the time of a Zeppelin bombing raid on Edinburgh and also the time when another Zeppelin, apparently off course, was spotted over the Tay estuary by various people, including the parish doctor, the late John Richardson of Monifieth. There was a seaplane base at Stannergate, where the oil tanks now are, and after dark searchlights, sweeping the western sky were a familiar sight. On one occasion, again 1916 I think, a biplane came down with mechanical trouble on Omachie land. The pilot and co-pilot were entertained in our house while waiting for assistance. Being at school I did not meet them and naturally thought I had missed something! They must have got away fairly quickly, possibly to Montrose.

The impact of war on the Hillock Kirk made numbers fewer and the old stalwarts were fading away. The once flourishing choir was reduced to three – my two aunts, Mary, a superb though untrained soprano, Cecilia, the present survivor, a good alto and

“Nell Bu-ocks”, more correctly Miss Helen Buick, the daughter of James Buick the gardener at Kingennie House, who was infant mistress at Mattocks school. I believe she was an excellent infant teacher, though most people were of the opinion that she was not quite “all there”. The less said of her singing the better. She ultimately married, to the surprise of many, Will Sturrock, a Wellbank joiner, whose father had been a Hillock deacon. Alas, in the end, the mind gave way completely and she died in pathetic squalor at Pitkerro Mill.

About 1914/15, or possibly earlier, Hillock farm house had a new role. The land I suppose was incorporated in East Pitkerro while the house became a kind of holiday home in the summer month for “deprived” or “convalescent” from Dundee in charge of a Nurse Swann. They sometimes appeared in the kirk. Later in the war years a Skyeman, Donald Mackinnon, an egg-merchant in Dundee bought the house and became one of our elders. After David Smith’s tenancy of Murroes Farm came that of Thomas(?) Glen who moved from Grange Farm, Burntisland . He used to appear at least occasionally in the kirk. After the war the farm was expropriated by government and divided into smallholdings, some of which probably still survive.

You have one little inaccuracy in your account when you mention the collection of fruit, vegetables,etc,for the troops being organised by Mrs. Sandeman of the Laws. This cannot be correct, since the Sandemans did not come to the Laws until 1919. I am quite sure of this as my late aunt Emily Sim (d.1978) was one of Miss Neish’s staff there and left with two others, precisely in 1919 to accompany Miss Neish to her new home in Colinton (Edinburgh). Another smal point is that the Hillock Hall was used as a polling station for General Elections of 1924 onwards, possibly even earlier.

After the Fentons left Kingennie the new tenant was John Morton Wilson (“Big Jock”). He ultimately became Session Clerk and taught the bigger boys in Sunday School. Micky himself acted as superintendent, Charlie Fenwick of Laws smiddy having demitted the office, though still continuing to teach a class of girls. Charlie himself was very “strait-laced” with no sense of humour whatever. His somewhat oppressive religiosity had a tragic sequel, for his only son rebelled and went completely to the devil. I recall one very funny description of Charlie: “There he was comin’ alang Drumsturdy wi’ yon SAVED look on his face”.!

Apart from the shared afternoon services at The Mattocks, the only co-operation between neighbouring ministers I can recall was an annual interchange of pulpits by Micky and Rev. James Conochie, Newbigging and a similar interchange with the Rev. Crawford Smith of Monifieth South U.F.C.. For these occasions a horse-drawn cab was hired from David Stewart, North Kingennie (“Davie Border”) for ministerial transport.

In the autumn of 1918 the country was devastated by the great, indeed world-wide influenza epidemic when people died in thousands. As far as I recall, the impact on our district was not severe though I did happen to be myself a minor victim. Schools had been closed for nearly a month and were due to reopen on a certain Monday in November. The day before I was due to go back, I “went down with the Flu” as the phrase was and I remember being in bed, sorry for myself, when the news of the armistice was announced. My flu was mild and I was out again in a week.

Micky retired in June 1920, but though I must surely have been in the kirk I have no recollection of the occasion.

Let me conclude this part of my reminiscences with a story tenuously connected with the Hillock. All the Sim family had their schooling at the Mattocks under James Coldwell (“Jeemie Coddles”) who died in 1908. (The youngest of the family had two years with his successor Alex Inglis). James Coldwell was a Hillock member, but not, that I ever hard, an office bearer. He was, to put it mildly, not exactly teetotal. It seems that on a Monday morning the Sim girls would be asked “Was Jeemie at the kirk yesterday?” If the answer was “No”, the reaction was: “Oh, that’s fine. He’ll be in a guid mood the day.” The implication was that the dominie had had a week-end with the bottle and by school-time Monday would be quite mellow.

Since you will be compiling your account of Newbigging for the bicentenary of the kirk I shall offer you some recollections of that area. The village was established, I am told about 1760, as a planned quarry village and the kirk opened in 1781. It would become U.P. of course in 1867 but was it originally Secession, Anti-Burgher, Relief or what?

My acquaintance with the village goes back a long time since I started school there when Samuel Low was headmaster and his assistant a Miss Christie who arrived daily from Carnoustie on a motor bike -very “advanced” conduct for a lady in 1914/15 “Sammy” as everyone knew him, had been the last headmaster at Bankhead school, now a pathetic ruin half way along the “mile Roadie” between Fairneystripe and the summit of the road over Carrot, He had been the sole teacher and his sister “Missie Low” kept house.

There can never have been a very large population up there and possibly the school died for lack of pupils. (Even so the nearest schools for the area, Monikie, Mattocks, and Holemill would mean a mighty long walk for small children, even by rural standards). The inscription M.S.B. (i.e. Monikie School Board) 1888 on the south gable of Monikie (old) school gives the date of foundation but when Sammy became headmaster I have no idea. He was also registrar for Monikie-Newbigging being in that civil parish, and kept the office for a time after he retired (c.1920?) when he bought Elmlea (or is it Elmhurst?) from the Petrie family.

The school had no bell and pupils were summoned to classes by the dominie’s whistle, known to us urchins as “Wheepie” (Onomatopoetic!!) “Rin lads, there’s Wheepie” was a familiar cry if we had lingered rather on the way to school or wandered during the dinner hour. At the school we had our games at the intervals (“Meenits”) and in the dinner hour. Only lassies “played at the ba”. We boys had, in our opinion, more manly diversions. A favourite was called “Hoist the Flag” for some reason, a sort of hide and seek and chasing game round the village. As sons of farming we played at farming. Each of us had a little “field by the playground dykeside where we used to go through the ritual of the farm year by pretending to plough, harrow, roll, sow and reap. It must have been a messy process playing in the stour, but what laddie ever worried unduly about dirty hands? Another ploy was to “spung the couples” which meant to swing monkey-like hand over hand across the rafters of the play shed. For some reason Sammy frowned severely on the game -maybe the rafters had seen better days and were not altogether safe,-But his wrath really exploded if he happened to head some of the earthy language, in which, be it confessed, we could be quite fluent.

The great boys’ accolade was “to ha’e ha’en a Haud”, which being interpreted, means that some friendly ploughman had discretely allowed you to hold the stilts of his plough and drive his team along the furrow. It was no easy matter for a small boy to hold the plough steady and control two mighty Clydesdales, gentle giants though they mostly were. If you had “Ha’en a haud o’ the ploo” you were made.

For a brief season we played “at the bools” i.e. marbles but the season was short and we were back to our “fields”. The lassies had their own brief season of skipping ropes but soon went back to the “ba” Both sexes periodically took to “High Spy” i.e. Hide- and- Seek but it never lasted long. (I suppose our term HighSpy for the game was a mere speech corruption of I Spy)

I can picture quite clearly the two rooms of the school in these days, known to us as the “Missies end” and the “Maister’s end”. In the Missie’s room were three classes, first and second infants and Standard I; in the master’s end the other classes Standards II, III, IV, and V (the Qualifying). Through with some effort I might conjure up some odd details, in truth I have little recollection of the actual content of the curriculum, to use the modern jargon. Religious instruction was, to say the least perfunctory. The whole school assembled at 9.30 in the master’s room, we sang(?) a hymn, (with monotonous frequency “The wise may bring their learning”,) muttered the Lord’s Prayer, in chorus and then dispersed to our seats. I have no idea what Sammy’s church connections were, if any. Even as a child, I had a very vague idea that he was agnostic, although I would not know the word! I did not complete my primary education at Newbigging School for by my time, Sammy was, as they say, “losing the place a bit”. Anyhow, the family thought my schooling was rather below standard and in August 1917 I moved to the primary department of Grove Academy, Broughty Ferry, travelling daily by train, and then had my full six years in the secondary school 1919-1925.

Let me describe the village as I first knew it. At the corner by the Toll was Templehall, occupied by David Gray (“Dowpie”) who was a joiner in a small way. The slope down to the Buddon Burn was always known as Dowpie’s Brae. At the end of the path leading to Templelands stood a ruined cottage – “Postie Shiach’s Hoose” but I know nothing at all of the man. At the south end of the village stood a road sign announcing a speed limit – 10 M.P.H. Changed days! (There was a similar sign at the north end of the village) Overlooking the burn on the west side of the road was a row of cottages in one of which lived the Wilson, the most impoverished family for miles around. David Wilson had a small saddler’s shop farther up the village. Unfortunately he had an acute drink problem and the considerable family lived in dreadful conditions, the only people in the village who were literally dirty

Across the road stands Raigmore where, I believe, Mrs Keillor still lives. I knew her as Charlotte Birrell, a young woman just starting her career of something like sixty years as a church organist. Her father, James Birrell, had a Painter/Decorater’s business in Dundee and was responsible for adding the rather exotic upper story to the original house. The local wits dubbed it ‘The Crystal Palace” or “Herald’s Showrooms”, Herald’s being in those days a house furnishers in Arbroath. Both nicknames will be long forgotten.

Behind the cottages lived the Fyfe family. Rachel Fyfe (“Tucky”), who died not so long ago, was one of the considerable number of Dundee teachers in the area. Next came the lane leading to Elmlea, where Samy Low lived ultimately, sometimes known as “Quality Street” or more prosaically, “Dogs’ Close.” Somewhere in that area lived Miss Jane Kydd, a gifted pianist much in demand in her time for social functions. Opposite was the little post-office run by the Kinnear family. I just remember their maternal grandfather “Auld Willie Leitch”, a patriarchal white-bearded figure who had at one time been the village boot-maker, I think, although I may be mistaken. Still in the Kinnear’s time, (c.1922/3?) the first Newbigging telephone exchange was opened at the post-office with about twelve subscribers. Much later the post office was in charge of Lizzie Haxton ex-Drumsturdy but later moved not very conveniently to the Toll.

Again on the west side was the local shop, run by Mrs. Leonard Bowden. “Len” himself was beadle for a number of years and earned some sort of living doing odd jobs, including sweeping chimneys. Beyond David Wilson’s saddler’s shop stood two cottages, one occupied by Will Cochrane, “Len’s” predecessor as beadle. His daughter, Belle was still another Dundee teacher. Next came the kirk with the manse behind, then the school and the schoolhouse, in these days the last buildings on the west side. Opposite the kirk, at the end of a long garden, stood the cottage occupied by Lizzie Smith who cleaned both kirk and school (after her own fashion). One odd memory lingers with me. We were out on the floor in the school, toes to the horseshoe chalk-line, with Sammy seated in the middle. Directly opposite me, one of the Rennie girls from Templelands (Cora, later Mrs Peter Crowe, Laws Smiddy) was violently sick. Lizzie Smith was hastily summoned with sawdust, bucket and besom to clear up. Such are the trivia of childish memories.

The last habitation on the east side was Jimmy Nairn’s croft. The rather deformed Jimmy made a small living as a market gardener, driving a little spring -cart to Monifieth with his produce. His sister “Cis” Nairn you would know as Mrs. David (“Daidle”) Sanderson. Daidle was in his time a fine fiddler in demand like his erstwhile “girl-friend” Janey Kydd for social functions.

You’ll love this little tale: Some years ago, maybe eight or so, I was in the Monikie area one afternoon. Coming east from Affleck, I was just in time to the bus disappear down the hill. A friendly local man gave me a lift to Monifieth and, as we approached Newbigging, I asked if Daidle was still alive. The answer I got was; “Ay, but Daidle’s juist busy deem’ ‘e noo”. Sure enough, Daidle died two days later. By my reckoning he must have been 89 or 90 years old.

There were others in and around the village like Tattie Fyffe BobNfeoll, Geordie Low (Pitairlie Smiddy) -but I barely knew them. Of the ministers of Newbigging I knew Ittle, though I did meet Rev. George Wylie Howie during my Edinburgh student days. He was then U.F. minister in Penicuik and acted as superintendent of evening classes in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew at New College where I taught for one winter session, or possibly two. In the later 19th and early 20^ centuries the ‘Temperance Movement” was quite strong, and of course the Free Kirk and the U.F Kirk were very pro-temperance. There was a “Good Templar” lodge at Wellbank to which Mr. Howie was chaplain. It lingered on into the 1920’s. There were no licensed premises for miles around, though Granny Reid’s shebeen at Wellbank was well enough known to the faithful.

I do not remember Rev. J.U. Ogilvie at all, although I know he went to Hamilton. I do remember Rev. James Conochie, whom we saw once a year at the Hillock. He had a family of three, Mary, Ruth and Alex (Nicknamed The Bullock for some unknown reason) Alex was just a little older than I and travelled to school in Dundee. He died young, I believe of tuberculosis. The two girls were bright young things – in a perfectly good sense- but father tended to take an austere view of people who enjoyed themselves. It was said that they had a rope discretely fixed to a tree outside their bedroom window at the manse, and after father was asleep, slid down the said rope when heading for a dance in the Monikie Memorial Hall or elsewhere. Mr. Conochie left in 1920 for Bridge of Cally and one of the daughters (Mary, I think,) married a Glenshee farmer. I recall travelling in the post-bus in 1942 from Blairgowrie to the Spital when Mr Conochie, by then a very old man, came on board at Bridge of Cally and travelled up the glen to a farm near Dalrunzion, probably his daughter’s home.

One of the other odd things about Newbigging was the strong connection with Wellbank. There were some enormous families there – Keillers, Sutties, Sturrocks, Stewarts, Alexanders, Ramsays etc., many of whose members found their way to Newbigging kirk. A short-cut (not so short!), known as the “Kirk Roadie” came along from Mattock, past the top of Apple Hill, along the Shank boundary north of Old Omachie, over the march dyke and then across the fields to the south of Cunmont Hill to join the road somewhere below Pitairlie Brae. I expect that the “Roadie” has by now vanished without trace.

I think the kirk’s connection with Wellbank would be due to the quarry. The quarrymasters were George and Robert Galloway (“Barkin’ Bobbie”) and, of course, many men of commerce and industry throughout the country were of U.P.. allegiance. Maybe loyalty to the bosses or just plain discretion encouraged the quarries to follow the U.P. line and others followed. Is there any lingering relic of the connection still?

Newbigging Kirk drew a few members from Drumsturdy, the farthest west being the Bowden family at Laws Lodge (who had formerly lived in the village) and the Smiths at Laws Cottage opposite. Herbert Bowden, estate worker on The Laws, and Peter Smith, porter-signalman at Kingennie, were both elders. Along the Road, at Laws Smiddy, was David Nicoll (“Auld Hymn-Books”) who ran the Sunday School. Just before the road begins to slope towards the Toll there was a cottage occupied by the Gleig family. Granny Gleig had a little shop there, which I can just remember. She had two daughters, the eccentric Amelia, who kept house, and the formidable Alice, for many years a teacher in Ann Street School, Dundee. She was a staunch member at Newbigging, if not universally popular, to put it as tactfully as possible.

Farther east was, and is, Templelands, where the Rennie family have been in business for generations. They must be the family with the longest continuous residence in the district. In fact there is a stone in Monifieth Parish kirkyard recording the death of one of them (at Omachie Mill, strangely) in the 1850’s aged 100. The most outlying to my knowledge, apart from the Wellbank members, connected with the kirk was the Macintyre family at Denfind. As a matter of incidental interest a later farmer at Denfind, Mr. Steve Graham, is still very active in the farming world here, at Queenstonbank, three miles west of North Berwick. Not all of the people I have mentioned were Newbigging members. Some may have sat under Andrew Armit at Monikie, while maybe most had only the most slender kirk connection anywhere

To return to the period of church history in which I was involved in a boyish way:- when the two kirks fell vacant in 1920 the long overdue linkage took place but no kirk union ever was harmonious. Some Hillock folk felt that they had been swallowed whole and that Newbigging dictated all policy. However we were very lucky in getting as first minister of the united charge David Chalmers Wiseman who, I am sure, is remembered by the older folk with great affection. He was a native of Gamrie, Banffshire and had been U.F. minister at Kirkurd, Peeblesshire. He had outstanding pulpit gifts which drew and held- large congregations. Even the ploughmen not generally kirk-greedy, came out in considerable force. Being at school, I was not at the actual induction service in Newbigging but I do remember the great “welcome social at the Hillock. The kirk was packed and refreshments served in the pews. Tea and buns in the kirk! – what would Micky have thought?!

There is a very human footnote, so to speak, to that social. It was a dark February night in 1921 and, though we thought nothing of long walks in the dark in these days, it was a natural ploy for the young lads to “see the girls home”. (I was just too young then to be involved in the game) Jack Bowden, later a much respected elder, escorted Mary (“May”) Cook home to Baldovie that night and that was the start of a juvenile romance which endured. Jack and May were married in the Hillock Kirk in 1932, the first wedding there for many years. Their daughter Jane, who you will know as Mrs. Bob Peggie, was born in Prestwich (Manchester) in 1940. Jack and May were intimate friends of mine for many years.

The kirk arrangements were alternating- morning service in Hillock, evening in Newbigging one Sunday, arrangements reversed the following Sunday. The Sunday schools met at 10-30 or 5 o’clock as appropriate. The sessions amalgamated Big Jock Wilson becoming session-clerk and John Wilson, Pitairlie, treasurer, I think. The choirs amalgamated to give church music a new lease of life. Charlotte Birrell continued as organist at Newbigging and, after Edward Easson left, we got Bruce Robertson from Provost Road, Dundee as organist at the Hillock. “Brucie”, as he became known was a harum-scarum youth at first but matured and served the kirk for many years. In retirement he became a little eccentric and died not so long ago. I seem to have heard that Brucie actually remembered the kirk in his will.

It was during Mr Wiseman’s time that the new choir area was built -by Peter Rennie , of course! – at the Hillock but the pulpit was not lowered until much later. It was originally approached by a flight of six steps to preaching level. I can still picture the beadle coming through the hall door with the books, mounting the steps with stately tread, “showing in” the minister and then “snibbing him in”.

In Micky’s time there was the old Free Kirk tradition of apparently never ending retiring collections for this, that, and the other fund (Sustentation, Aged and Infirm Ministers & &.). It said a lot for the power of Mr D.C. Wiseman’s influence that, quite early in his ministry, probably 1922, Free Will Offering envelopes were introduced with a minimum of debate, and that is surprising against a normally conservative rural background. The idea was that all retiring collections would be abolished, except the annual and generously supported collection for Dundee Royal Infirmary.

Another innovation in the Hillock Sunday School, probably inspired by Mr Wiseman, was the institution of a beginners’ group. The “wee” pupils were hived off the vestry. Margaret Wilson, daughter of the session clerk, was in charge, Ena Cook, Baldovie, assisted and I became organist, more accurately, harmoniumist. It is just possible that this quite casual occurrence set me off on a life-time’s association with the music of the church. (For the last seven years I have been organist and choirmaster of Dirleton Parish Kirk, East Lothian. My lovely two-manual-pedal pipe organ is a long way from Micky’s harmonium!). Margaret Wilson used to play for the opening and closing of the main Sunday School and it was a great joy to me when I had the occasional chance to play the “big” organ.

In 1924 Mr. Wiseman had a young communicants’ class, consisting of Mary and Ena Cook, Baldovie and myself. Not long ago I came across my certificate of admission to full membership signed by D.C.W. in 1924 -56 years ago! Phew!- Ena and and I must be among the senior surviving “young communicants” of the Hillock

Newbigging had, I think, the U.P. tradition of quarterly communion and under the new regime the sacrament was celebrated there in February and August, at the Hillock as traditional in May and November. I think, too, though I may be mistaken, that Newbigging had had individual cups for some time.

For a time there was a not too successful Band of Hope at both places but the Sunday School flourished. Their annual picnics, usually to Panmure, were great occasions. Farm carts were loaded with forms from the Hillock Hall, the horse decorated as for a show. I remember how, when we reached the stiff climbs of Pitairlie and Denfind braes, we had to get off the carts and walk, out of consideration for the beasts. They were happy days of unsophisticated fun.

There was one odd occurrence, probably about 1923, when a couple of fiery evangelists with revivalist hymn-books descended on us. They held services Monday to Wednesday in Newbigging School, Thursday to Saturday in Hillock Hall. It was a novelty, and as such drew fair attendances. I learned later from Mr. Wiseman on one of his visits to the Mill that he was very suspicious of the bona-fide these characters. As a gesture, he entertained them in the manse after one of the school meetings but, trying to discover under whose services they were supposed to be operating, found them unpleasantly evasive. Anyhow, they vanished – they were gone as if they never had been and the place knew them no more.

In the 1920’s we were in the later years of literal horse-power. The more substantial members acquired their first cars and drove to the kirk. Davie Border’s ancient cab vanished from the scene, although he continued to drive the occasional passenger from the station in a small “gig”. James Johnston, Cunmont, having acquired a car, always thereafter drove Mr. Wiseman to the Hillock. All this was the background to the famous sale of work in l922 which raised the astounding sum for these days of £400+ to provide the garage at the Hillock. Another later sale of work 1924 or maybe early 1925 raised a respectable sum for Foreign Missions.

On one occasion the local farmers and others, stimulated doubtless by Mr. Wiseman, laid on a convoy of cars to take the choir on a famous outing to Loch lee at the head of Glen Esk as a sort of “thank you” for their services. That was quite an adventure for many who never moved very far from home and even motoring itself at that epoch could be quite adventurous.

Socially, we had the “Club”. This body had been in being for some time as a purely secular venture called the “Newbigging Social Club” In Mr. Wiseman’s time it became the “Newbigging and Hillock” Social Club, not without some grumbling from the Newbigging originals, and was very much part of our local life for some years. The Hillock branch was not particularly successful, at least in my time, whatever may have happened later.

There were two well-remembered occasions in Club history- a performance of “Trial by Jury” and a kind of Black- and- White Minstrel Show, no doubt very raw productions, but what matter? We enjoyed them. To Charlie Fenwick, good man as he may have been after his own lights, enjoyment tended to be viewed as sin (although he actually attended a performance!) Imagine his horror when the leading light of the minstrel show was big Jock Wilson the Session Clerk, duly made- up, cavorting round the makeshift stage banging a paraffin drum. Charlie never quite got over that episode.

In Mr. Wiseman’s time there was a little co-operation with neighbouring U.F. ministers. He would exchange pulpits occasionally with Rev. T.S. Crighton of Craigton and with Mr. Gilfillan of Monifieth Panmure and with Mr. Cameron, a literal giant of a man, from Ladyloan, Arbroath. It was interesting to see in your account reference to a distant connection with Ladyloan, even in 1843.

It was a matter of universal regret when Mr. Wiseman accepted the call to Inverbrothock in 1925. After his farewell sermon, as he shook hands with us at the kirk door, many people wept unashamedly, dour unemotional rural folk as we mostly were. It was the end of a remarkable era. For me too it was the end of the road in another sense for schooldays finished in June 1925 and I went off to University in October. I still came “home” to the Mill on holiday during the remaining two years of my grandmother’s life and then, when the family moved to Broughty Ferry all direct connection ceased. On these visits I encountered Rev. Cecil J. Davidson once or twice. (He was nick-named “Hairy taes” – goodness knows why!!) He had a very difficult task succeeding an outstanding minister. My last meeting with him was in July 1927 when he conducted my grandmother’s funeral at the Mill. I think it is fair to say that he did not make the same impact on the district though he was well enough liked as a man. It is never easy to work in any profession under the shadow of a great predecessor.

As a supplement to these reminiscences, I am appending some random recollections of events and personalities of my youth which may interest you, although few of them have any specific connection with the kirks.

At the Murroes, Rev. James Nicol had a very long ministry, 1878 -19211 believe. He was scholarly and I recall my father’s occasional moans about heavy parcels of books for Murroes Manse which was on his round. Mr. Nicol himself used to travel by train with us to Dundee during the First World War when he taught Classics temporarily in the High School in place of someone absent on service. He was succeeded in 1922 by an extraordinary character, Rev. William Augustus Forbes, who came from a charge in the remote Orkney island of North Ronaldsay, although he was actually the son of a former Classics Master in Morgan Academy. The family seemed to have something odd about them. His brother, Mr. Alex. R. Forbes, a shipping clerk with the Dundee Perth and London Company lived in Broughty Ferry and reputedly never spoke to his wife for twenty-five years!.

A.R.F. had one son, Norman, a bit ahead of me at school, who embarked on a career in the church but became very much “sticket” and never made the grade. A sister, Daisy, the bonniest girl in the school, was my exact contemporary. She did graduate at St. Andrews and after her marriage went to live in the west of Scotland. For Murroes, Willie Forbes was a complete disaster. He successfully emptied the kirk. Oddly, David Anderson, ex-Hillock became organist at Murroes. I should think the attraction was the rather fine pipe-organ. It could never have been Willie’s preaching.

Murroes maintained in my time the old tradition of the “first bell”. At 10 a.m. on Sunday the beadle tolled for five minutes to remind the rural community of the day. The service was, I think, at the old traditional rural time of 12 noon. I wonder if this “first bell” is still rung.

Our only public transport was the railway – the Old Dundee and Forfar Direct, incorporated in the Caledonian Railway long before my time. James Henderson succeeded Donald Beaton as stationmaster at Kingennie and remained a long time. By the standards of the day he had a little gold-mine for he was stationmaster, postmaster, newsagent, coal agent and oil agent. It was said that he was repeatedly offered promotion by the railway company and repeatedly declined, although he did eventually complete his service as stationmaster at Blair Atholl. Ours was very busy station both for passengers and goods. We had no less than six trains each way daily, plus the Saturday night late train from Dundee, nicknamed “The Scoundrel. (It carried the drunks!) Our school train in the morning was packed, more than packed on Tuesdays (Market days) The Newbigging contingent of teachers came by bicycle and parked their machines in a special cycle shed at the station. One incident impressed itself indelibly on my juvenile memory. David Watson, the youngest of the Watsons of Downieken, was a pupil of Harris Academy. I can still picture him mounting his bicycle just at the entrance to the station yard to start for home. He fell off into a pile of horse-droppings. A few weeks later he had died of tetanus, presumably originating in a scratch infected by contact with the droppings. We were all, adults and juveniles alike very shaken. A great number of passengers came down from the Wellbank area, the most distant being a journalist, Willie McWhannel, who lived at” Midgie Ha'” (i.e. the Quarry Cottages on the way to Lovehall). It was a lasting mystery to us why a station was never opened at Gagie. Ultimately, indeed, a makeshift passenger halt was made there, but forty years too late. By that time buses had stolen the considerable traffic. Many of us had nostalgic regrets when “the line” was finally closed. It was very much part of our rural life in its day.

One of the local worthies was Wiliam Sherriff, otherwise Mick Shirra, one of the three local railway surfacemen. One Saturday night Mick had got fu in Dundee but when the late train stopped at Kingennie he was fast asleep. As the train chugged slowly up the slope towards Gagie he “came to” and, in his fuddled state, opened the carriage door and fell out on to the embankment. Someone stopped the train by pulling the cord and a runner took a message to the station. Mick, however, had fallen comfortably into a bush and, jolted into some sort of sobriety, proceeded down the line. He greeted the rescue party with the calm remark “It’s no often the corp comes to meet the bearers”. For a while Mick took to attending the Hillock Kirk, which I suppose could be regarded as the most unusual of all tributes to D.C. Wiseman’s ministry.

Another worthy was John Simpson (“Jock Snob”), a cousin of my grandfather. He had at one time had a flourishing business in Longforgan as a country bootmaker with several apprentices.! The trade declined but Jock did not help things by his intemperate habits. He arrived one night out of the blue at the mill and stayed with us until his death six years later! My grandfather had taken pity on him and set him up with a kit of shoemaker’s tools in our then disused bothy. He managed to build up quite a good connection for boot repairs in the district.

I must be one of the now extant who can claim to have their school-boots “made to measure” by a country snob. On one occasion at the Mill, Jock in a mildly mellow state was reminiscing to my grandmother about some girl-friend of his youth. She said to him: You never thought of marrying her, John?” to which he replied “No, no— she told me a lie, mistress” The irony of the remark was that our Jock Snob was about the biggest liar imaginable.

The “oldest inhabitant” in my young days was Mrs.Duke (nee Caroline Buick), for decades the local midwife and layer-out, attending at every birth and death over a wide area. She lived (latterly) in the Drumsturdy cottage just outside the Laws policies where the P.O. letter box is. She lived to a venerable age, being in her nineties when she died in Arbroath. It has often struck me as astounding that I, in the later 20th century, should have known quite well a lady born in the reign of William IV, possibly even of George IV, as her Christian name Caroline might suggest. I am told that she had very high standards of hygiene, remarkable for her time.

A very different character was old Margot Roger, who also lived to a great age. She had once lived in the cottage opposite Laws Smiddy but in my time it was farther east opposite the Gleigs.. To be quite honest, she was a dirty old harridan who used to go the rounds of the farms scrounging what produce she could get. On such expeditions she naturally approached by the back doors.. After Tom Cambell, farmer at Laws, died there was a displenish sale, and Margot could never miss a roup. Laws had been one of her regular “ports” of call. At the sale she informed the company that for all these years her only access had been by the back door and that she was determined to go out by the front, She did, triumphantly chanting

“High is the rank we now possess, But higher we shall rise”

The episode passed into local folklore but will be forgotten by now. Margot had a deadly tongue and was somewhat feared. In an earlier century she could easily have been suspected of witchcraft.

At the top of Omachie Road (“The Miller’s Brae”) stands a substantial house with date 1859 on the east gable. It was a kind of venture school in the days before the Education Act of 1872 and probably died out when board schools were opened at Newbigging and Mattocks. (See John Malcolm’s book) In my childhood it was used as a holiday house by Baillie Mathers (of the former Mathers’ Hotel, Dundee) and his family. After they gave up, there was a succession of tenants – Robs, Findlays, Malcolms… Perhaps your present organist, Mrs. Malcolm, still lives there.

Directly opposite, in one of the now demolished cottages, lived a very odd being, Captain?) James Valentine, who had gone to the Arctic whaling in the old sailing ships put of Dundee. I suspect that the captaincy existed only in his own fertile imagination. We naughty boys used to egg him on to spin us yarns of his “seafaring days” – and what yarns they were. Rural opinion summed him up neatly enough by supplying his nickname; “Auld Bunkum”.

A little way east stood the “Bobby’s Hoose”, occupied by P.C. John (Jeck) Murray. He ruled his parish very discreetly, knowing well how to turn a blind eye to trivial misdemeanours. He was promoted to Sergeant at Liff and we got an absolute horror, P.C. Ross, who positively looked for trouble. When he departed, unlamented, we got Jeck Murray back. He could not abide the extra paper work of his promoted status at Liff, and in police parlance, “threw in his stripes”. He retired from Drumsturdy to Barry. His daughter Connie, slightly my senior, became a teacher. Mention of her provoked a trivial reminiscence. On 29th February 1924 there was some function in Newbigging School. It was a starry but moonless night and a violent gale blew up. I remember battling home against the storm with Connie hanging grimly on to my arm. I cannot say whether I was embarrassed or flattered or both. Our neighbouring bobby was P.C. Leslie, whose house was opposite the then Monikie station. He was just a little officious. His son Tom was a friend of mine, a year ahead at school, and the best student of Spanish we ever had. He had a successful business career and became General Manager for D.C. Thomson. He died about ten years ago, aged only 63.

Beyond the ”Bobby’s Hoose” was the now vanished Omachie Croft, tenanted by David Doig (“Jees”) he had very little land but actually kept a donkey, probably a pet for I never saw him “yoked”. We children loved Neddy, of course. David earned a doubtless small living as a county roadman, often knapping stone for road-metal at the wayside dumps. His name Jees came from his constant use of the syllable as his one and only expletive. (a truncated blasphemy, I suppose)

By my time the period of “big house” was on the wane. The Laws was built c. 1857, by the Neish family, Dundee jute barons. Willie Neish, the “laird” to my mother’s generation, died about 1910/11 but his sister Miss Jane Neish kept on the estate until leaving for Edinburgh in 1919. It was bought by Frank Stewart Sandeman. Mrs. Sandeman was quite an influence for good in the area and used to attend the Hillock kirk often, though I do not think she was actually on the roll. Her great contribution was the establishment, with the minister’s encouragement, of the District Nursing Association, maintained in these days by voluntary subscription. Our first nurse was the much loved Nurse Moir, a Morayshire girl, I think, who had a flat in the village at Bob Nicoll’s. Later Mrs. Sandeman was responsible for the nurse’s cottage on “Gleig’s Brae.” After her death, her ashes were interred somewhere up by the Shank. The Laws house then had varying fortunes and was finally demolished.

Kingennie House belonged to the Scrymgeour-Wedderburn family, whose principal seat was and is at Birkhill, near Balmerino in Fife. Mrs. Wedderburn was much respected and at one time had a branch of the “Scottish Girls’ Friendly Society” at the big house. My mother was for a time a member. After I was born, Mrs. Wedderburn came over to the Mill to see one of her “old Girls” and brought her small daughter Janet to see the new baby. To amuse the child, she asked “Would you like to take the baby home, Janet?” to which the answer was “No!- I’d rather have a real live monkey” That inevitably was retailed for my benefit for a long time. I remember a fearful tragedy, probably about 1928. Mrs. Wedderburn and Janet climbing in West Perthshire, were caught in a violent thunderstorm on top of Stob-in-ian. Janet was killed at her mother’s side by a stroke of lightning. I remember the funeral was at St. Ninian’s Cathedral, Perth. Being Episcopalians, the Wedderburns had no immediate connection with our local kirks.

In the course of these ramblings I have several times referred to intemperance. In doing so, I may be just a little unfair to my contemporaries and those slightly older. Apart from a few surviving hard cases among the older men, (rarely the women) my generation and those immediately before were a remarkably sober lot. There was very little drunkenness. The farm hands and others used to go to the town on a Saturday afternoon, often to the football match at Dens Park or Tannadice, but very rarely came home loaded. It had been a very different scene earlier in the century according to local tradition.

It is a little sad to think of our Hillock Kirk reduced to such part-time functioning. Might it pick up again with the growing population to the west? On the other hand, who wants to see that lovely corner of Angus swamped by bungaloid growth from Dundee or, still worse, high-rise flats? Think of what has happened to Whitfield and Fintry.

Such then are some random recollections of olden days and a picture, to some extent, of a vanished way of life. I hope they may be of some interest and perhaps even of some use to you.

(Cecil James Sim Addison) Formerly of Omachie Mill)



Monifieth North United Free Church (formerly Monifieth Free Church)

This church, popularly refrrred to as “The Hillock” Church, was built in this way out part of Monifieth Parish, as after the disruption of 1843, the Superior would not grant a site in the immediate neighbourhood of Monifieth .for four years, from 18th June 1843. The congregation worshipped in a wooden `tent`, which had seating accommodation for 600 persons, until the  Church was erected on a site granted by the proprietor of Ethiebeaton Estate. It was opened on 20th June 1847.

Ministers : Rev Samuel Miller   1843 – 1844

Rev Edward Cross, M.A. 1845   Died 2nd November  1892

Rev Alex Wiseman,  appointed colleague and successor in 1890.

(Older Part of South Church Hall. High Street)

In 1858, the Deacons` Court of Monifieth Free Church (Hillock), for the religious and educational benefit of members of the Free Church residing in the village of Monifieth. . For some time after it`s erection , services were held on Sunday evenings by the Rev Edward Cross and other ministers of the Presbytery.

In 1891 it was purchased by the South Free Church; A new hall was added that seated 400 people in 1909, which with other improvements made upon the `old ` premises cost £1100.

Addition – November 7th 2016 from James Anderson

“After David Smith’s tenancy of Murroes Farm came that of Thomas(?) Glen who moved from Grange Farm, Burntisland” .

In fact, in the 1920 valuation role, Alan Glen was the farmer at Murroes and the farm had gone from the ownership of John Douglal Maude Guthrie (Gagie estate) to The Board of Agriculture for Scotland. (Small Holdings were created in 1923)





5 responses to “Hillock Kirk – a Very Local History Account

  1. “After David Smith’s tenancy of Murroes Farm came that of Thomas(?) Glen who moved from Grange Farm, Burntisland” .

    In fact, in the 1920 valuation role, Alan Glen was the farmer at Murroes and the farm had gone from the ownership of John Douglal Maude Guthrie (Gagie estate) to The Board of Agriculture for Scotland. (Small Holdings were created in 1923)

  2. I like this post, enjoyed this one thanks for putting up.

  3. Thanks for the great info! Looking forward to more updates on this.

  4. Have read through the information on Hillock church and can relate to some of the people spoken about.
    My mother was Elizabeth Keillor the youngest of 11 children referred to in the list of large families.. She married James Lindsay who lived in Drumsturdy Road. He had 3 brothers Charles and Will both killed in the first world war And Dave. Charlotte Birrel was my aunt married Andrew Keillor and Violet Rennie also my aunt married Will K and lived at Kirkview.

  5. A relative of mine Keay was a shoemaker at Shank of Omachie I think he was my great grandfather .would need to look at my information. Trudy Whyte.xx

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