Coupar Angus is a small town at the centre of the rich agriculturally heartland of Strathmore, situated on the southern side of the River Isla, some 14 miles north east of Perth and 12 miles north west of Dundee. The Grampian Mountains are a short drive to the north; while to the south lie the Sidlaw Hills. The town was known as the Queen of Strathmore at the height of its success reflecting both it’s thriving economy and the quality of its architecture and setting.
The earliest evidence of human settlement in Coupar Angus is cist burials from the Bronze Age period. Archaeological fieldwork in the 1990s indicated that the Strathmore area supported a sizeable Iron Age population, but knowledge of activities during the Roman occupation of Strathmore is limited. There are recordings of a temporary Roman camp at Lintrose, south of Coupar Angus.
While no firm evidence is available in relation to settlement in the Coupar Angus area in the early 12th century, there was a royal manor by at least the reign of King David I (1124-53). This suggests some form of settlement, the area already being known around that time as Coupar – ‘a confluence’.
The Cistercian Abbey
In 1159, King Malcolm IV (1156-65) allocated land for the foundation of a Cistercian monastery at Coupar Angus, on the advice of his uncle, Waltheof, abbot of Melrose.
The Abbey at Coupar Angus was built in 1233 and would have consisted of the normal conventional buildings : church, cloister, residence for the abbot, sleeping accommodation for the monks, refectory, guesthouse and sundry offices. It seems likely that the Abbey complex at Coupar Angus also included a range of further buildings, such as stables, brew-houses, bake-houses and metal-working premises.
The Cistercian monks were famous for their ability to reclaim and improve land : a legacy that provides the basis for the fertile agricultural land of Strathmore to this day. Under their industrious occupation both the Abbey and surrounding countryside became rich. Gifts of further land were made to the monks and by the early 14th century the Abbey owned 8000 acres. By the time of the Reformation, Coupar Angus was said to be the wealthiest Cistercian Abbey in Scotland.
Townships grew up next to Cistercian Abbeys. A small medieval settlement was situated by the Coupar Burn and in Abbey times a market was held every Friday at the Market Cross. The market cross was a focus marking the centre of the Burgh of Barony.
Coupar Angus seems to have been a significant market town, situated as it was at the intersection of important thoroughfares from Perth, Dundee and from the north via a ferry- boat crossing or fording point across the Isla.
The majority of Scottish medieval towns and early modern towns have an axial main street with back lanes running parallel and plots set in a herring-bone pattern from the main street. The radial pattern of Coupar Angus streets from the market cross was therefore unusual, although not unique.
The Abbey buildings were partially destroyed in 1559 during the Reformation and the Abbey was dissolved in 1607 during the reign of the Protestant King James VI and I.
Today there is little remaining on site other than a small wall fragment and gateway arch : on the southern edge of the town adjoining the A923 road to Dundee. The stone having been used by local folk in the construction of many other buildings in the town including the present church immediately to the north of the former Abbey site. The characteristic red sandstone used in the buildings was quarried locally from the extensive Devonian old red sandstones.
The 17th century saw the ongoing evolution of the town with records relating to the construction of churches and the growth of trades. A number of streets led or stood near the market cross, these being referred to as ‘causeys’ – causeways or cobbled streets.
The Georgian Era
Significant building and development in the 18th century include the Cumberland Barracks which, while its date of construction is unclear, was in use at the time of the 1745 campaign by Government forces against the Jacobites. Coupar Angus seems to have been an important stopping off point for troops on the route north or south.
Building work in the town during this century, however, attests to more generally peaceful times and growing prosperity. A number of buildings still standing are reminders of this era. The former Royal Hotel in the centre of the town (recently converted into flats) was originally called the Defiance Inn. It took its first name from the stage-coach that stopped there daily on the Edinburgh-Perth-Aberdeen run. The White House or White Horse Inn, aka the Strathmore Hotel, was also a hostelry for travellers. Sadly it has lain empty and boarded-up for 10 years.
The Steeple, or tolbooth tower, was built by public subscription in 1762 and completed in 1769. The Steeple was to serve as a gaol on the ground floor and as a meeting house for local courts on the upper floors.
Visitors to Coupar Angus from the north found their journey much improved after 1766 with the construction of the Couttie Bridge across the Isla.
There had been a considerable increase in the population of the town during the 18th century, largely as a result of linen manufacture. From a parish population of 1,491 in 1755, the figure rose to 2,076 by 1793.
Coupar’s contacts with the rest of Scotland were much easier after the opening of the railway in 1837. The railway was to have an impact not only on the life of residents, but also on the townscape. The line cut straight across the top of the High Street, where level crossing gates operated.
The 18th century restored church was replaced by the present Victorian church in 1859, built to the design of local architect John Carver. By 1886, there were a number of other churches, including the Free Church, United Presbyterian, Evangelical Union, Original Session and the Episcopalians. A new school had also been built in 1886-87 with accommodation for 502 children. In 1887, the Town Hall, a symbol of civic pride, was built at a cost of £4,000, to celebrate Queen Victoria’s jubilee.
By 1900 the railway had stimulated trade with 85 shops, two bake-houses, three linen works, a tannery, farina works (production of flour from dried potatoes), a brewery and steam sawmills. In 1835 William Culross Printing business was established to make use of the recently built sawmill. There were weekly grain markets on Thursdays, which brought in the local farming population, and cattle fairs in September and October. Coupar was renowned for its annual horse fair held in March. Although it began to peter out after the 1920s it continued well into the second half of the 20th century and was recalled for years in the gingerbread horses made by local bakers.
The Red House Hotel on the A94 was formerly called the Station Hotel and was built beside the old railway station in 1849 by banker David Anderson. It served residents and visitors until the railway closure in 1967 when the last train pulled out of town. The hotel was been altered and extended, with the modern work seeking to emulate the red stone character of the original.
Blairgowrie Road marks the start of a Victorian expansion of many fine residential buildings that testify to the wealth of some of Coupar Angus’ 19th century community.
During the 20th century the linen trade declined. One of the manufactories, the Strathmore Linen Works, was a quality building, demolished as recently as 1984. The home of the owners, the McFarlanes, built in 1875, still stands, although much altered and extended as Enverdale House Hotel.
The area around Coupar Angus is famous for its berry growing. The Preserve Works at the end of George Street was where local grown soft fruit was made into jam. The ‘Jellyworks’ as they were known in Coupar Angus operated until the 1960’s. The area remains one of the UK’s most important soft fruit production areas, though most is now sold fresh through the supermarkets. The 2 Sisters factory site at the western end of the town continues the large-scale industrial presence established during the Victorian period by the preserve works and linen works. Food processing businesses, such as Denrosa Apiaries, still, however, flourish in the town.
With the demise of the railway, the motor car became the pre-eminent means of transport, reflected in the A94 relief road that follows the former line of the railway through the town.
On the eastern edge of the town, Larghan Park, once known as Larghan Victory Park, was opened shortly after the Second World War. Larghan provides a welcome and peaceful oasis and recreation area for walkers, children and sports enthusiasts. Plans are being laid to regenerate the Park to include a range of adventure play equipment, new paths and a variety of planting schemes to attract wildlife.
Today, the town has a population of just over 2000. While residents still find local employment, many folk now commute to the nearby towns, including Perth, Dundee and Blairgowrie. A recent influx of young people from East Europe has brought a new mix and vitality.
The architectural and historic importance of Coupar Angus was recognised in 1989 through the designation of a Conservation Area. This covered many of the fine buildings of the Georgian and Victorian eras at the Cross and adjoining streets. Several town centre buildings have been renovated following the successful Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI) grant award including Cumberland Barracks, The Royal Hotel and former Co-op building on George Street.
Following the THI initiative, Perth and Kinross Council extended the Conservation Area, incorporating a small area on both sides of George Street west of The Cross and a much larger area south of Burnside Road. This brings the Tolbooth Tower, Strathmore Hotel, north side of Abbey Road, the Abbey Church itself, its graveyard and the scheduled monument area of the Cistercian Abbey within the Conservation Area.
The Coupar Angus and District Historic Association has an office at 8 George Street in the town with a wealth of information and exhibits on the town and its surrounding area. A beautifully illustrated, historic town walk brochure ‘Jewels of Stone’ produced by Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust is available for sale from the office.
A more detailed history of the town can be found in ‘Historic Coupar Angus’ by E Patricia Dennison and Russel Coleman, that forms part of the Scottish burgh survey published by Historic Scotland in association with Scottish Cultural Press. Information on the history of the town and activities can also be obtained from the Library in the Town Hall.