A SHORT HISTORY OF PITMIDDLE
The area around the Tay estuary has been settled since prehistoric times. This district – Gowrie – still bares the name of the Pictish sub-kingdom that existed here for some 600 years between the 3rd and the 9th century AD. (The Picts – the name means ‘painted people’ - were the descendants of native Iron Age tribes who ultimately resisted the Romans.)
Although the name ‘Pitmiddle’ is of Pictish origin, the first historical reference is dated to 1172 in a Charter of King William the Lyon that grants to Ralph Rufus ‘Kinnaird in its right divisions, except Petmeodhel belonging to Richard my Clerk’. ‘Pet’ or ‘Pit’ represents a share, division or piece of land. ‘Meodhal’ is possibly a personal name, making it ‘Moedhal’s share’. Alternatively, it may be a corruption of ‘meadhon’, which represents ‘middle’ – the ‘middle share’. The site of the village fits perfectly the criteria favoured by the Picts for their settlements: good, well-drained soil on a sheltered south-facing slope between 15 and 200 metres above sea level.
Pitmiddle was from the first a farming settlement. It never had either a church or a manor house. When the Barony of Inchmartine was created in the mediaeval period, Pitmiddle formed an important part. Little natural woodland would have remained by this time and the cattle and sheep belonging to the villagers grazed the hill pasture. A herd boy was employed to look after these. (In 1647 one of the tenants, Edmund Jackson, was fined 10s by the kirk session for striking the ‘common herd’ on the Sabbath.) On the lower slopes where the farms of Outfield and Guardswell are today, oats and bere (a kind of barley, from which beer was brewed) were grown, and also some flax for the weaving of linen. The system of cultivation operated was called ‘infield / outfield’. The ‘infield’ land was nearest to the village and it was kept in permanent cultivation. The ‘outfield’ land was further away. This was cropped for perhaps three years; livestock were then kept on the ground for the next few years until the soil’s fertility returned, when it would again be cropped. Outfield Farm, therefore, was originally part of the ‘outfield’ of the Pitmiddle settlement. In 1691 Pitmiddle, together with Craigdallie at the foot of the hill, probably supported as many as 55 households with a population in the region of 250. The villagers attended the church and school in Kinnaird.
In the eighteenth century the method of farming was changed as the Industrial Revolution drew people away from the countryside to work in the towns. Food production had to be increased to feed the growing urban populations. At Pitmiddle, the best arable land was enclosed in fields centred around two large new farms – Guardswell (originally called ‘Bank’ and later ‘Grasswell’) and Outfield – so that grain could be produced more efficiently. At the same time much of the poorer ground on the hill was planted with trees. The township of Pitmiddle, therefore, lost most of the land that had traditionally been farmed by its inhabitants. A number of smallholdings or crofts (called pendicles) remained. The rigs on which the crops were grown can still be seen on the slope to the north of the village above Outfield. Around 1820 the old earth houses were rebuilt in stone, quarried just to the west of the village. The settlement however was in decline.
The 1841 census shows that the population of Pitmiddle, including Guardswell and Outfield, had fallen to 99 in 26 households. The smallholdings did not provide sufficient income to support a family and other work had to be found. By 1891 only five crofters remained. The trees on the hill were cut during the First World War; a large proportion of this ground has since been re-planted.
By the beginning of the twentieth century Pitmiddle was no longer viable as a farming community and, with poor access, it was too isolated to attract other industry. The last inhabitant, James Gillies, left in January 1938. A snowstorm caused his farm sale to be abandoned. A few walls are now all that remain, although the
outlines of many buildings can still be traced. Gooseberry and red currant bushes show where there were gardens. A settlement that thrived for more than a thousand years is all but gone.