Crossroads and Characters
DUNNING AT THE CROSSROADS
Dunning is a small Scots village nestled below the northern slopes of the Ochil Hills in the rolling green valley called Strathearn in Perthshire. It is fortunately situated, a Lowland village with the Highlands in its eyes.
A few years ago, an Edinburgh art gallery owner described Dunning as the prettiest village in Scotland, a description which realistically must be denied. Yet its charms and long history have often been overlooked.
That more people don't know about it is not a question of accessibility, for among other things Dunning is a village distinguished by crossroads: six well-maintained roads converge there from around the compass. It is true that none are now main roads and true too that the railway station has long been closed.
At about 1,000, Dunning's population is less than half the size it was years ago when handloom weaving was at its busiest, and today there is no local industry. This does not imply stagnation. The village centre is an officially-protected conservation area but the whole village has the air of a lively growing community, constantly renewing itself. Its people and its buildings are a healthy mix of old and young. The population includes commuters, local workers, retired people, the self employed, and seasonal residents. There is even a nice balance of natives and incomers - the latter defined as anyone not born here, or even anyone who was but who has had the bad judgement to move away for a while.
DUNNING'S LONG HISTORY
Dunning is an ancient settlement, its origins dating perhaps to the Iron Age. Its distant past is spiced with legend, like that of the dragon slain by St. Serf, and tantalising conjectures such as whether a Celtic chapel stood where St. Serf's Church stands today. But there are also concretely provable facts just as fascinating. Recent evidence confirms that the Romans camped at Dunning 1,900 years ago and that, likely even earlier than the Romans, there were native forts on at least two local hills, The Dun Knock and Rossie Law.
The steeple of St. Serf's which is so much a symbol of Dunning, was completed in the Norman style around 1200, and remains largely intact although the church itself has been rebuilt.
The higgledy-piggledy pattern of the village centre reflects what Dunning was like in medieval times, when almost all the buildings would have been one-storey and thatched and squatting on the west side of Dunning Burn. A stone-paved ford crossed the Burn close to where a. stone bridge was built in 1777.
For several centuries, Dunning lay on a main route between Perth and Stirling, a circumstance which brought it both prosperity and trouble. The road passed from Bridge of Earn to Dunning and on to Auchterarder, with a secondary route running directly south of Dunning across the Ochils. Coaches, drovers and herds, carters, and visiting dignitaries as well as marauding armies, highwaymen and other thieves passed through Dunning which, according to records of the mid-eighteenth century, was bigger than either Crieff or Auchterarder.
Dunning owed its pre-eminence to the fact the stone bridge at Bridge of Earn with which the Dunning road connected had been built in Robert the Bruce's time, the 1300's. It wasn't until a bridge was built over the River Earn near Dalreoch in 1767 to replace a ferry crossing that the route through Dunning was bypassed.
Even then, Dunning's population continued to expand. Linen had become Scotland's biggest manufacture in the eighteenth century, with the work spread widely across the country, and Dunning like many others had become a village of handloom weavers. The access roads built up earlier and converging on it made it also a natural market centre. The prosperity continued well into the nineteenth century. The period covered by this book begins as that era ends.
DUNNING: ITS CHARACTERS
A village is probably no more conducive than a city to nourishing the strong individuals we call characters. Yet in a village, characters seem to stand out more.
Nowadays you'll hear stories of free spirits like the villager called The Greengrocer, notorious for selling things which didn't belong to him. One night, a variation of the story goes, he was skint (broke) at a local pub. Producing out of his bag a splendid cabbage, he grandly gave it away and was offered in thanks a couple of drinks. Shortly after, he disappeared from the pub, and so did the cabbage. He was seen a few minutes later drinking at another pub, having given away the same cabbage. He completed the evening with a repeat performance at a third pub, and went home with the cabbage.
A little further back in time, Dunning talked in awe about another local, The Bear, who lived in Newton of Pitcairns and who terrorised the village with his violent temper and his mighty bearhug. He was finally cowed by an ex-policeman whom he made the mistake of attacking with a knife.
And even earlier historically, a famous village figure was the heroic minister William Reid who, his fellow minister faltering, bravely stepped in to preach at Auchterarder surrounded by the Jacobite troops he detested, a pair of pistols hanging around his neck. Not long after, hours before the Jacobites set Dunning ablaze, Reid died and his body was hurriedly buried in a secret grave so the troops would not defile it.
In this book you will hear of some of the other characters, notables and other individuals who have helped give Dunning history its special flavour. What follows covers the period of village history from late Victorian times up to the Great Depression, with an emphasis on the Edwardian era.