Blog by Alexa Martin, October 2017.
In 2016 I was asked to join the Carse of Gowrie Sustainability Group, a group that I didn’t know much about but as a local who had a degree in Geography and studying a masters in Spatial Planning, it sounded like a group I should have been a part of, and so I said yes. I had no idea that I had signed up to be part of such a dedicated and ambitious group. I also had no idea I would learn so much about a Carse man Patrick Matthew, more about him here. At the time of me joining the group they had been working hard to secure Heritage Lottery funding to plan an event to celebrate the life of Patrick Matthew. This celebratory event is what led me to be standing in the grounds of Megginch Castle on a drizzly Sunday in October 2017 clad in wellies and waterproofs guiding members of the public and descendants of Patrick Matthew around the stunning castle grounds.
With the Heritage Lottery Funding we had been able to plan and deliver the Patrick Matthew Memorial Weekend which saw a whole host of events taking place across the Carse. If you missed it you can see what we got up to here and if you would like to learn more about Patrick Matthew you can follow our trail around the Carse.
Since 1661, Megginch has been home to the Drummond family whom Patrick Matthew enjoyed a close relationship with. Matthew was a contemporary of John Murray Drummond (1803-1889) and they were friends and neighbours with common interests in forestry and orchards and so by holding one of the Patrick Matthew Festival events at Megginch we could walk in Matthew’s footsteps in the wooded castle grounds and the ancient orchard.
Megginch is home to seven of the Carse’s Giant Redwood trees which are two of the first to be grown and planted from seed in Britain. Planted in 1853 they really are now giant! As the star attraction, they were the first stop on the guided tour and were a big hit with those who joined us. The Drummond family are keen to carry on the connection between Megginch and Patrick Matthew, so earlier this summer, with the help of the Junior Carsonians, a ‘baby’ Redwood was planted in the grounds of Megginch. This will continue the legacy of Patrick Matthew and also gives new generations the opportunity to experience first-hand the skills that are required to grow one of these magnificent trees.
Particularly pleased to see the Megginch Redwoods and the newly planted Redwood sapling were the descendants of Patrick Matthew who had travelled from Germany, the Netherlands and America to celebrate his life. It was wonderful to witness the pleasure they all got from seeing the results of Matthews pioneering work and to see how thrilled they were to see that his legacy was being continued with the propagating and planting of new Redwoods in the Carse.
Patrick Matthews influence at Megginch didn’t stop with the Redwoods though so the next stop on the tour was the Castle Orchard. The orchard is home to over 380 cider apple varieties and 40 Scottish apple and pear varieties. October was the perfect time to visit as we could sample some of the bountiful crop of delicious apples and pears! Everyone was particularly keen to try the Bloody Ploughman. This is a Scottish variety which Catherine Drummond-Herdman told us is so called as it arose as a seedling near the grave of a ploughman who had been shot by a gamekeeper for stealing apples. A delicious apple with knobbly skin and white flesh with red staining throughout.
After a wonderful morning spent learning and exploring it was time to continue the festivities in another of the Carse’s wonderful locations, Errol Park estate where lucky festival participants were treated to an afternoon tea after a tour of the estates Redwoods. The Megginch event was a highlight of the weekend for me but the whole weekend was a wonderful celebration of Patrick Matthew that was enjoyed by everyone involved.
At the start of the summer I was completely unaware of a very special man – a man who has become a big part of my life. I saw an advert from the Carse of Gowrie Sustainability Group, looking to recruit a project officer to help deliver a festival weekend celebrating the life of a local man from the 19th Century… a certain Patrick Matthew. My intrigue was piqued. Who was this man? Why did I not know more about him?
An initial bit of research saw me on the first step of quite a learning journey.
Patrick Matthew was from the Carse of Gowrie – the beautiful stretch of countryside lying along the River Tay between Perth and Dundee. He was relatively unknown locally, until his descendants and experts made contact with the Carse of Gowrie Sustainability Group, asking to help create a memorial project.
Digging below the surface, Patrick Matthew’s story is as puzzling as it is fascinating. He lived in Gourdiehill House, in what is now Grange near Errol. He was a landowner, fruit farmer, forester and social justice campaigner. At the time, his orchard of 10,000 trees was the largest in Scotland. From his observations of his own orchards, he wrote of the basic concept of natural selection in his book On Naval Timber and Arboriculture in 1831. He has recently been credited with being the first person to bring giant redwood seeds to the UK in 1853 and there are now many examples of these trees across the Carse, including some he grew himself. Matthew’s sons set up orchards and nurseries in Matakana, New Zealand, using seedstock from the Carse. Patrick Matthew predicted the Tay Rail bridge disaster of 1879, but his warnings went unheeded. He wrote and travelled widely, and was particularly interested in the rights of tenants and technology.
In short, he was quite a character.
But why was he not more widely-credited with these ideas at the time? Why do we not know of him more widely, or even locally?
This trail has been quite some work in the making. We have been lucky enough to work with many local landowners and groups, learning about who Patrick Matthews was, and seeking permission to erect the QR stakes. We have made great acquaintances and formed firm partnerships along the way.
We are going to launch the weekend in traditional Scottish style at The Inchture Hotel (http://www.inchture-hotel.co.uk/). The event will include a keynote speech from Patrick Matthew’s 3rd Great Grandson, Howard Minnick, as well as informative talks from Linsay Duncan of Speak Scotland (www.speakscotland.co.uk), Scottish Country dancing from The Angus Kitties, and piping from John Robertson. Please email us at email@example.com if you would like to come along to this free event.
Errol Hall will be Headquarters for the weekend and displaying the very impressive work carried out by our Junior Carsonians. The JCs are pupils from all 6 local Primary Schools within the Carse, who have worked over the last two years with the Carse of Gowrie Sustainability Group to understand more about Patrick Matthew – who he was, where he lived and the trees he grew. I have seen some of the work the children have carried out already and I can’t wait to see their final exhibition. They are a wealth of knowledge about all kinds of areas of Patrick’s life, as well as the local area, and I think the display is going to be amazing.
From the Hall on the Saturday, we will be blazing the Patrick Matthew Trail by bike! Leaving from Errol Hall on at noon, we will be taking in a number of the key locations, exploring Matthew’s life and legacy along the way. I can’t wait for this event - the Carse is one of my favourite local cycle locations (not just because it’s fairly flat!) – finding out more about Giant Redwoods and Patrick Matthew along the way will be amazing. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to book on this fantastic event.
We also have some academic inputs over the weekend - AK Bell library in Perth (http://www.culturepk.org.uk/your-local-library/ak-bell-library/) will play host to the research around Patrick Matthew on the Saturday morning – hosting some of his papers and letters which will be available to look at; and Alibob Café (http://alibobatcairnomohr.co.uk/) will host Dr. Sutton, who will be discussing his book Nullius in Verba about Matthew’s legacy. Book here for Dr. Sutton’s event. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/dr-mike-sutton-discusses-his-book-nullius-in-verba-patrick-matthews-legacy-tickets-37773191633?aff=erelpanelorg
On Sunday we will be hosting events at Megginch Castle and Errol Park House and Gardens – both of which have redwood trees so loved by Matthew. Book here for the Errol Park and Gardens event https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/31-redwoods-and-afternoon-tea-at-errol-park-house-tickets-37773325032?aff=erelpanelorg Megginch Castle is an open event – walk in Patrick Matthew’s footsteps! Volunteers will meet you with plans for a self-guided tour through the grounds and orchards.
In short, it’s going to be an amazingly fun and fascinating weekend. I feel privileged to be part of it, and can’t wait for it all to start. In the meanwhile… just one or two things to be organising! See you there!
Please see http://www.carsesus.org/pm-weekend---whats-on.html for more details and how to book.
Rail Bridge Disaster
The Tay Rail Bridge, built in the Firth of Tay at Dundee, officially opened in May 1878. The River Tay is the longest in Scotland, and the bridge was an important crossing point across to Fife from Dundee and down to Edinburgh. The Prime Minister at the time of building was Sir John Gladstone. He had received a strong letter of appeal against the Tay Rail Bridge by Patrick Matthew in 1869. But who was this man and what were his concerns?
Patrick Matthew was a man local to the Carse of Gowrie - a landowner, farmer, orchard-grower, anthropologist, explorer and social justice campaigner. He was a man of great knowledge but little power. Patrick Matthew was told that the plans on the bridge were far too advanced and things could not be changed.
If only Gladstone, Thomas Bouch – designer of the bridge – and those who were exposed to Patrick Matthew’s letters of appeal had taken his words more seriously. The date of 28th December 1879 would not be so auspicious. We would have been saved the tragedy of the bridge’s central navigation spans collapsing. We would have been saved the fall of 6 carriages. 75 people would have been spared their fate.
Well that’s enough information given away! Patrick Matthew’s pleas against the Tay Rail Bridge will be brought to life this September, as we take to the River Tay in a unique experience celebrating the life and works of this influential and educated man. To hear more, we have Linsay Duncan on board, telling those who venture on the Tay the history of Patrick Matthews and explaining what happened on that fateful night.
The Carse of Gowrie Sustainability Group are running three sailing trips aboard the Taymara boat, from Broughty Ferry down to Mugdrum Island, where Matthew suggested the bridge ought to have been built.
Trips are running Friday 29th September 9am, Saturday 30th September 10am, and Sunday 1st October (11am) and cost £30 per person. Tours will last approximately three hours. Places are limited.
Please message us at email@example.com to book your space! We envisage there will be a high demand for spaces, so please book early to avoid disappointment.
For more information, follow us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/PMFestivalWeekend/ and Twitter @PMFestWeekend