Until recently, very little was known of the history of Blackford beyond the early Roman period. However, recent excavations just outside the village of Blackford have revealed a considerable Bronze/Iron Age settlement and work will continue over the next few years on the analysis and interpretation of the finds.
Traditionally, the area between Kinbuck Bridge near Dunblane and the foot of Gleneagles through which the Allan River flows was thought to be one large expanse of water varying from 1 to 3 miles in breadth. This loch was supposedly a favourite resort of the ancient Caledonian monarchs. A fording place was established at the east end and, according to local legend, “The Fair Queen Helen”, wife of King Magnus was accidentally drowned here. This “black ford”, as it was dubbed then perpetuated in the name of the village.
Blackford is situated less than five miles from the major Roman camp at Ardoch, part of the Gask Ridge Frontier system that established a network of camps and watchtowers in the 70’s AD. There were three outposts for the Ardoch camp in the vicinity of the village of Blackford.
Between the Roman and Medieval periods there is limited information about Blackford although it is said that William Wallace defeated a small English force as they crossed the ford on the Allan Water around 1296 and it is known that Sir David Murray founded a Collegiate Church at nearby Tullibardine in 1445.
The abundance of water in and around Blackford has had a strong influence on the development of the area. One of the earliest breweries in Scotland was established in Blackford in the 15th century. The official chronicles of the period state that James IV, on his return from his coronation in Scone in 1488, paid 12 Scots shillings for a barrel of ale from Blackford.
Maps of the late 18th century only show farms and mills in the area and little evidence for a village at Blackford. However, it is clear that a sizeable community had been established at the turn of the 18th century but had been destroyed by Jacobite forces in 1716. Three months after the Battle of Sherrifmuir, the communities of Blackford, Auchterarder, Dunning, Muthill and Crieff were all burnt to the ground under the orders of the Earl of Mar to deny food and shelter to the troops of the Duke of Argyll.
Flax was widely grown and sheep sourced a woollen industry. The people of the village were employed as farm labourers, mechanics and especially the women as hand loom weavers. Blackford, with Auchterarder had c.200 weavers by 1778 and an annual fair was scheduled for 1797. A woollen carding mill was built in 1802 and enlarged into a blanket factory in 1825.
Blackford Old Parish Church was built in 1738, and following its destruction by fire, was rebuilt in the same year and could accommodate a congregation of 500.
The “First” or “Old” Statistical Account of Scotland, published in 1799, provides a snapshot of Blackford Parish at the end of the 18th century. The population of the parish at the time was 1,360, “all of whom reside in the country as there are no towns or villages in the parish”. The people “have nothing remarkable in their size, strength or features; they are of the middle size, of a dusky complexion, have a serious turn and are very zealous in religious matters.”
The soil and climate in the parish are described as not good. “A great part is soaked in water which issues from numberless springs….”, “ we are exposed to continual rain and to heavy and deep falls of snow…which render the country impassable” and “….the effects of the cold are sensibly felt in retarding and marring the growth of vegetables.”
The Reverend Mr John Stevenson who compiled the account goes on to say that “While the country is so noxious to plants, it cannot be favourable to the bodies of animals” and lists the many diseases suffered by the people including scurvy, pulmonary complaints and rheums. The main crops grown include barley and “gray oats” along with good quality potatoes and turnips and very good quality flax being in abundance.
At the very end of the 18th century, the village was set out in feus. Original title deeds for older properties in Stirling Street highlight that a dwelling house had to be built within a year of the feu being granted…
“The said Colonel Charles Moray gave and granted and in feu form disponed to and in favour of the said James Stirling and his heirs and assignees whomsoever heritably and irredeemably all and whole part and portion of his lands and Estate of Blackford presently in the course of being erected into a village lyint in the Parish of Blackford and shire of Perth on the south side of the great road leading from Perth to Stirling measuring four hundred square ells Scots measure and marked number sixty eight on a plan of said village together with all rights title and interest which the said Colonel Charles Moray had to the foresaid ground thereby feued in all time coming declaring that the said feu right was granted under the express burden that they should within a year of their entry build a sufficient dwelling house upon the ground thereby feued to the value of twenty pounds sterling and in the case of their failure in performance of this condition then and in that event the said feu right with all that had followed thereupon should become void and null reserving to the said Colonel Charles Moray his heirs and successors all stone quarries coal limestone and other minerals of whatever denomination within the bounds of the grounds thereby feued.....”
The industrial revolution brought with it such significant changes to Scotland that a second or “New” Statistical Account of Scotland, was undertaken between 1834 and 1845. The record for the parish of Blackford was compiled by the Reverend John Clark who, interestingly, attributes the name of Blackford to the Gothic word “fort” signifying a road or passage.
He describes the land in the parish belonging mainly to James Moray, Esq. of Abercairney and to Lords Strathallan and Camperdown. In 1831, the population was 1892 and of these “674 inhabitants reside in the village where they are employed as weavers, day-labourers and mechanics”. Those who do not reside in the village are chiefly employed in agriculture pursuits and it is noted that “Within the last fifteen years, the industry and skill of the people, especially in agriculture, have rapidly improved.”
The schoolmaster has the “highest legal salary” and the “usual branches of education are taught, and taught so cheap as to render education attainable by all.”
Clark also states that “There have been many and great improvements in the parish within the last twenty years. One of the main improvements was the formation of good quality roads, improving communication across the area. Along with the improvement of the soil, Clark concludes that the people “have become more industrious, more temperate, more alive to the comforts and conveniences of life…”.
The improvements in drainage, farming techniques, agricultural machinery and communications continued to improve the prosperity of Blackford throughout the 19th and early 20th century. The main road connecting Perth and Stirling became Stirling Street as it passed through the village, with hump back bridges at each end.
The Scottish Central Railway opened its line between Stirling and Perth, including a station at Blackford, in 1848. This work involved extensive realignment of the River Allan and drainage of the surrounding ground and was carried out by some 2,500 Irish navvies brought in to build the railway. A station was also opened in 1851 for curling matches in the nearby loch at Carsebreck – this was used 25 times and eventually closed in 1935, the final match attracting some 2,576 competitors.
By 1863 road traffic also required improvement to avoid the two humpback bridges. A new street was laid out, Moray Street, named after the laird, Moray of Abercairney. The laird was a generous benefactor who later gave the site and contributed to the cost of building a village hall - The Moray Institute, opened in 1888.
By now, the village could boast of two breweries, tanneries, three boot makers, rope works and a gas works. In addition, the village benefited from amenities such as two churches, a school, post office, blacksmiths and a bowling green. The churches in the village were new. The foundation stone for the St. Andrews Free Church was laid on 1 March 1844 and completed by Christmas 1844. Blackford Parish Church was opened on 30 October 1859 to replace the Old Kirk on the hill. A new parish school along with school house was built in 1870 at the east end of the village.
The long brewing tradition at Blackford was largely due to the ready availability of excellent water for brewing coupled with a plentiful supply of good quality, locally produced malting barley. By the beginning of the 19th century brewing was a thriving industry. The oldest brewery, dating back to James IV, came into the hands of the Sharp family in 1790. Sharp’s Brewery, on Stirling Street, was featured in Arthur Barnard’s book “Noted Breweries of Britain and Ireland” in 1890. William Eadie founded another small brewhouse in the early 19th century as part of a posting hotel and livery stables complex on Moray Street. James Eadie, one of William Eadie’s 14 children went south to Burton on Trent in 1842 where, after serving a few years as a maltster, he opened his own brewery, the Cross Street Brewery and established a highly successful brewing tradition. Later, in 1912, James Thomson Eadie moved to Edinburgh to eventually become a director of William McEwan & Co. Ltd and he, and his son Gregor, became established figures in the Edinburgh brewing industry.
In 1896 William Thomson built a large new brewery on a site to the north of Moray Street. This brewery also acquired the Blackford Hotel and added substantial maltings, Gleneagles Maltings, along with an aerated water factory. Sharp’s was the only brewery to survive World War I, and the firm eventually went into liquidation in 1927. Although the buildings were demolished, the brewery offices fronting Stirling Street survive as a private residence.
The village was also renowned for the manufacture of boots with three boot making factories in the early 19th century, all on Stirling Street. A small rope works was also established behind the Mill of Ogilvie, though little is known of its operation.
The famous Blackford Highland Games were first held in 1870 on the park, an area of land leased to community by the landowner. The land was also used in the 19th century for the grazing of animals – many villagers kept a cow and had a byre behind their houses. A condition of the lease is that the Highland Games are held there annually in May.
The plentiful supply of water meant that the villagers drew their water from wells or springs in the village. Following an outbreak of typhoid in 1870, a Water Association was formed and new waterworks built. Charges were levied to the villagers and businesses to help repay the finance used for construction. Water was also supplied to Scottish Central Railways for the steam trains with the income helping to repay the loan and generating a surplus that was given to the Street Gas Light Company.
At the turn of the 20th century, industrialisation and mechanisation meant that small rural areas could not compete and began to decline rapidly. A lot of manufacturing activity in Blackford had to be abandoned and many people were forced to leave the rural community to seek employment elsewhere.