Morvern Lines – 24.12.20

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Continued from last week

George Herbert Strutt of Kingairloch (1854-1928) who bought the estate in 1902, is commemorated in a finely carved double granite seat near the graveyard. He belonged to an old Derbyshire family and was a descendent of Jedediah Strutt (1726-1797) cotton spinner, inventor of the Derby Rib, and who, along with Sir Richard Arkwright, founded the cotton manufacturing industry. This helped make Britain, and the Strutts, very wealthy.

Mr George Herbert Strutt who made the Strutt family and Great Britain very rich. Photograph supplied by Iain Thornber.

Strutt was born in Belper, Derbyshire on 21 April 1854 and died of pneumonia on 17 May 1928 at the Invercauld Arms Hotel, Ballater while on a fishing expedition. During his ownership of Kingairloch he demolished part of the old Forbes mansion-house replacing it with a large three-storey building in the Scottish Baronial style. At the same time he also built a corrugated-iron ballroom beside the main house, a new gardener’s cottage, post office and dairy; made many miles of pony paths to assist with the deer stalking and a huge concrete dam in Glengalmadale to improve the salmon fishing.

Arthur Strutt (1908-) who is commemorated on a small granite block set in a dry stone cairn by the graveyard, was the second son of George Herbert Strutt and his second wife Emily. He inherited Kingairloch following the death of his mother in 1949. Educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge, he married Patricia, youngest daughter of Cecil Kebell of Te Hoe, New Zealand and died 27 June 2000. They had two sons and a daughter. In 1965 he demolished most of his father’s 1903 additions to Kingairloch House reducing the building to its present bland size and shape. On 21 September 1977, Arthur Strutt mysteriously disappeared while on holiday at Kingairloch. Despite many intensive searches by the police and the Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team and their highly trained search dogs, he was not seen again until his remains were discovered by some foresters five years later in a plantation less than half a mile from Kingairloch House. His ashes are scattered beside his memorial cairn.

Barbara Peddie died 1880. Mother-in-law of Robert MacGregor, estate gamekeeper born in 1799 at Logiealmond. Perthshire. The McGregor family came to Kingairloch sometime between 1861 and 71. By 1881 Robert combined his duties of gamekeeper with that of postmaster – the Kingairloch post office had been opened in 1834.
One of the last funerals to take place at Kingairloch carried out in the old style was that of Mrs Christina Cochran, nee Blacklock, who died in Fort William on Christmas Day 1924. As the Blacklock family had tenanted the farm of South Corrie for more than 100 years it was only natural that Mrs Cochran should be laid to rest among her forebears in the local graveyard. Her 80-year-old grandson, the Rev Henry Dyall, recorded the event in his personal diary which is unusual in that there are not many accounts of Lochaber funerals of that period.

Modern memorial cairns to the Strutt family, Kingairloch. Photograph: Iain Thornber.

‘I was too young to go to the funeral but I have heard vivid accounts from my father and a cousin who did. I don’t know what the capacity of the Corran Ferry was in these days but it was inadequate for the number of mourners who were going to attend. So the coffin and the ladies who were going to see to the refreshments went that way leaving the main party, who were awakened before dawn, to travel to Kingairloch by charabanc [car]. The party left Fort William in the pitch dark and went by the ‘Road to the Isles’ to Kinlocheil. By then it was daylight. It was understood that no similar vehicle had done the journey by Garvan and Trislaig to Ardgour. I walked it just before the Second World War and it was a gravel road then even although it calls itself the A861 now, and it was worse in 1924.

‘Expecting difficulty (the weather was atrocious) the party travelled with axe and saw which were needed on more than one occasion to clear the way of fallen trees. The road from Ardgour to Glen Tarbert was not too bad as far as the surface went, but the stretch from Inversanda to Camusnacroise was considered the worst. In the church at Camusnacroise there was a full funeral service after which the procession to the graveyard formed up. It was led by a piper playing laments followed by the coffin, not carried shoulder high but waist high on wooden staves.. It had been augmented by Blacklocks and those locally who had known my grandmother, not so many because she had been gone from Kingairloch for more than 20 years.

‘The procession, all male, was very orderly, two and two, moved out on to the main road, over the spur of the hill and down to the Kingairloch graveyard and the laments continued. In the procession you gradually found yourself propelled to the front. When you reached the coffin the form was to insinuate yourself between the coffin and the stave holder until you took his place only to be edged out in your turn. In this way everyone took a part in carrying the deceased to her last resting-place.

‘There was a committal service at the graveside. My Father had a cord. Then the procession reformed and went back to Camusnacroise, but now the piper did not play laments, he played the dance tune, “Happy we’ve been all the gither”. At the schoolroom there was a meal. By that time the short winter day was over. The return journey had to be made in the dark over those bad roads lit only by charabanc kerosene lamps. After many alarms and excursions they made Kinlocheil and, sometime later Fort William, where divesting themselves of their wet clothing they fell exhausted into bed in the wee sma’ hours.’

The Blacklocks featured large in the history of Kingairloch not because they lived there for a long time but by the manner in which, as Lowlanders, they integrated with the local Gaelic culture and kept interesting records. James Forbes, the estate proprietor, wanted to try a new type of farming and estate management and parachuted in Adam Blacklock, an experienced sheep manager from near Moffat, and Robert Valder, a stone-mason of Dutch extraction from Banff, who were to be responsible for supervising the building and repairing houses, field walls, sheep fanks and other structures necessary for his new agricultural policy. South Corry had been a public house but not during Adam’s time as the family were teetotal. The Rev Henry Dyall’s mother told him that when the shepherds and other estate workers wanted a dram they walked over the hills to Strontian. Quite an undertaking. She also said that whatever state they were in when they left Strontian they were dead sober by the time they got back to Kingairloch!