Tuesday, March 12, 2013

In which nobody wants my blood...

Today I went down to the Community Campus to give blood, but I am sorry to say that after three different haemoglobin tests they told me I couldn't donate today, and sent me away clutching a leaflet about red meat and leafy green vegetables. This was faintly annoying because i) I am now covered in plasters, ii) I lost some working time, and iii) I had to walk back past the queue of donors, with the uncomfortable feeling that they were all wondering why I wasn't donating ("I bet it's leprosy"). 
However, the afternoon was not entirely wasted because since I was down at the Campus I thought I would pop into the library and have a quick look at the local history section. 
As you may have gathered if you've read some of my earlier blog posts, I have a completely irrational passion for old churches (the older the better - I tend to agree with P.G.Wodehouse that "Whatever may be said in favour of the Victorians, it is pretty generally admitted that few of them were to be trusted within reach of a trowel and a pile of bricks") and indeed old graveyards, ruined castles and anything else with a whiff of the Gothic about it. 
My nearest and dearest have learned to humour me on this, especially since it has been a creatively fruitful interest; my books have featured a castle (The Glass Demon), a ruined house (Wish me dead) and a church belfry (in the upcoming Silent Saturday). Indeed, sometimes they come back from their more hearty, healthy passtimes (running, mountain biking) with news of a new cemetery spotted in some remote place, or a ruined church as yet unvisited; they know this will alway be greeted with enthusiasm! 
Thus I recently visited the mausoleum of the Murrays at Ochtertyre (pictured left), which is supposedly built on the site of an earlier parish church in which members of the Murray family were burnt alive by the rival Drummonds in the 1500s. It was my daughter who alerted me to this site, having zoomed past it with the running club. A week or two later my husband informed me that whilst out cycling he had noticed a graveyard at the side of the road between Crieff and Comrie. Very naturally, I said, "Can we go there now?" (I must say I still think it was deeply illogical of him to spend hours biking over the hills of Perthshire in the freezing cold and then complain that it was too chilly to go visiting graveyards; however, kind-heartedly, he agreed anyway.) 
The graveyard turned out to be at a tiny spot called Quoig. I was not surprised I had never noticed the place before; although you can see some of the memorials from the road, they are not terribly obvious, and normally when I drive along that stretch of the A85 I am looking at the road ahead, and not the hedges at the sides. Anyway, we parked and went into the graveyard. In it, we found this:

Yes, dear reader, it is a wall. Well, a bit of a wall. But what wall? That is the question. It seemed pretty obvious that it was all that remained of a church, chapel or perhaps mausoleum. Apart from anything else, there was a heap of memorials at the foot of it:

I freely admit that many people would at this point be thinking, so what? If there was a church here, it probably wasn't a significant church, like, say, the church of St.John the Baptist where John Knox preached his fiery sermon. All the same, if there is one thing I really cannot stand, it is not knowing
I started ferreting around amongst books and maps, consulted the librarian at Innerpeffray, and exchanged tweets with fellow denizens of Perthshire. I know what this building wasn't. It wasn't the old parish church of Monzievaird, which was supposedly on the same spot as the mausoleum. Nor was it the church of Strowan, which still exists in a ruined state. The ordnance survey map for 1886 (thank you David McCallum for the tip-off) has it marked as "church" but gives no name. 
One of the memorials pictured above is dedicated to the Rev. the Hon. Arthur Gordon, so I have been pursuing some lines of enquiry about him too. I daresay at some point the mystery will be solved and in the meantime I am having a great deal of fun investigating! We make our own fun in Perthshire, you know...
Anyway, to return to the library: I had a quick peep at the local history books but none of them listed "Quoig" in the index, although I did find some other, interesting material (of which more later). I then turned my attention to the library's collection of back numbers of the Strathearn Herald, a publication that has been running since the 1800s and is still published today. I remembered that the Rev. Gordon had died in 1919 and on the assumption that this would have been recorded in the local paper, with perhaps some mention of the church he belonged to, I fetched the enormous binder for 1919 and began to go through it. 
Unfortunately, although I could remember the year of the Rev. Gordon's death, I could not remember the month at all, so I had to start at January and work my way through. I must say it made very interesting reading - the murders, the fires, the railway accidents and the occasional mauling by a wild animal (though those didn't normally take place in Crieff)!
In the end I ran out of time, having got no further than March 1919; when I got home and checked the memorial, it turned out that the Rev. Gordon died on June 11th, so I shall go back as soon as I get a chance and check the issues for that month. If I discover anything fascinating, I shall post it on my blog!  Actually I think the entire contents of the binder are fascinating. It is a peep into a vanished age. 
Anyhow, to return to the other material I mentioned: whilst perusing the local history books, I found two volumes listing all the memorials of North and South Perthshire. I wasn't particularly hopeful that they would contain anything about Quoig but I looked anyway (they didn't). What the South Perthshire volume did have, however, was a list of all the memorials that used to stand in the graveyard of the old parish church in Crieff, and even better, a plan of all their locations. 
The old parish church of St. Michael (below) is another of my minor obsessions. It was built in the 1700s to replace an older church, later used as a parish hall, and is now closed altogether. Friends who have lived in Crieff a good deal longer than I have (which is just about everybody, really) tell me that the inside of the church is really not that interesting at all. As it was used as a parish hall, it has no church fittings inside. Still, the mere fact that the church is closed and you can't get in gives it an irresistible attraction in my eyes. 

There are rumours of this or that person who may or may not have a key, so perhaps one of these days I shall be able to satisfy my curiosity. In the meantime, I have spent several happy half-hours in the churchyard admiring the exterior of the church and the gravestones (hmmm, okay, I admit that does sound a little strange). 
The gravestones were at some point in the past removed from their locations and lined up in a row parallel to the churchyard wall, presumably to make life easier for whoever has to mow the lawn. 

However, someone (I forget who) told me that the graves themselves were not moved. So all the bodies are still dotted about under the turf somewhere. It has often given me an odd frisson to wander about on the grass wondering whose remains might be lurking underneath it. Well, now I know. 

It would appear that when I recently stood before the church door examining the metal door-handle with its date and initials, I was standing directly above William Graham, farmer of Hosh and Crieff, died 1854, and his wife Euphemia, died 1862. As my grandmother might have said, it makes you think, doesn't it?
I am not sure whether there is any point to such adventures (well, I consider them adventures). Still, I am often asked "where do you get your ideas?" and I suppose the answer is, "in places like these." A snippet of history, a local legend, anything that piques the interest, can lead to all sorts of ideas. As I have mentioned before, the entire idea for my new trilogy set in Flanders grew from the story my Dutch teacher told me, about the church bells falling silent on the day after Good Friday - "Silent Saturday." Such things are the weird seeds from which ideas grow! 
And now, having creeped myself out slightly, I am going to have a cup of tea...

Addendum: I went back to the library this evening (13th March) and looked through the whole of June and July 1919 without finding any reference to the death of the Rev. Gordon. On my next visit I shall try the years of his becoming parish priest and later leaving the position, and see if anything about him is mentioned. 

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