Doune’s Past

Doune’s Past (post-Roman era)

[The earliest years of habitation in the Doune area are covered in the Early History page of the Heritage section.]

Old Kilmadock

The Old Kilmadock cemetery lies just off the A84 to the north west of Doune.  It is thought to have been in use from around 700AD, which is the guesstimate for the age of a Pictish-influenced cross that was found there by the Rescuers of Old Kilmadock (ROOK) team. The cemetery may have been associated with one or more monastic cells, in which case it is likely that some form of church existed at that time. 

Old Kilmadock Cemetary

Centuries later, the last small church (or kirk as they were more commonly known until recently) was built there, and served as the church for the parish until the mid 1750’s, when the congregation made the decision to worship in Doune. At that time the parish manse was near the old church, and there was also other habitation nearby, but, as was the norm in much of Scotland, the main village was distant from the kirk and its graveyard. The parish is named Kilmadock to this day, covering Doune, Deanston, Buchany and various neighbouring settlements. Unfortunately, the church at Old Kilmadock is now completely ruined.

The Castle              

It is not known exactly how long there has been a castle on the current site.  However, the castle as it currently stands was built around 1370, by Robert Duke of Albany, taking four to five years to complete.

The early Doune habitation grew up around the Castle, possibly as early as the 11th century AD.  Being at the confluence of the River Teith and the smaller Ardoch would have given access to the hinterland for trade and also a degree of protection, due to the difficulty of crossing the Teith unless a ferryman was available.  The castle, of course, both provided protection from the outside world and work opportunities.


[FileScotland-2016-Aerial-Doune Castle (and Castle keeper’s cottage).jpg by Godot13 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0]

Doune Castle from the Air

The Move

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the centre of the village migrated towards its present location. The move was gradual, and was possibly caused partly by there being less need for the protection of the castle.  However a more important factor was that the new centre of the village was at the intersection of important trade routes, also used for the droving (driving on foot) of cattle from the Highlands to the central market in Falkirk and beyond to England.

Houses in the village at that time were mostly “Wee Thack Hooses” – basic, single storey and thatched, often with a byre attached for animals and with the place of work in the house itself or alongside.  Many households would have owned chickens, and if they were lucky the odd pig or cow to supplement their food.

As time went on, there was a corn mill, across the Ardoch from the castle, basic inns to put up travellers, and a surprising number of drinking places (also extremely basic), used by travellers and no doubt locals as well.  Much of the drink sold would likely be illegal whisky, which was produced by small stills all over the Highlands and elsewhere.  Various small farms grew up in the area, often employing labour.

Other trades would have been required in Doune, probably including, as in most villages:

  • blacksmiths,
  • stone masons and thatchers,
  • carpenter,
  • butcher, baker,
  • carters for transporting goods both within the village, and to surrounding villages or further afield to Stirling, Falkirk or even Edinburgh,
  • cartwright, to make and repair carts.

Another important job before the original bridge over the Teith was built in 1535 was that of the ferryman, to take travellers, livestock and other goods across the river.

Women’s tasks would include looking after animals, spinning, sewing and possibly weaving (though this was more commonly a man’s responsibility).  All this, along with cooking, childcare, carrying water, collecting wood or peat etc, would have made life very hard in those days.

Merkat Cross modern

Fayres (Fairs/Markets)                   

The Mercat (market) Cross now marks the centre of the village. A simpler cross originally stood at the site of the Kilmadock East Church in the Main Street.  The current cross was constructed around 1620.  This would have been where people gathered to exchange gossip, and to trade.  Doune obtained a Royal Charter from James VI in 1611, giving the Earl of Moray the right to hold markets.  For about 200 years, these were held up to six times a year, and the tradition still lives on with our Christmas Fayre.


left Mercat Cross            right “Gold” or “Trysting” Stone


Deil's Heid

In Doune, by the 1600s, a weekly Fayre was held on a Friday and this would have been the main point of sale for traders, setting up booths around the Mercat Cross to sell their products.  There were also other larger seasonal fayres or trysts:

  • In February the Candlemas Fayre, for grain and general business.
  • In May the May Fayre, for cows and grazing cattle.
  • In July the ‘Grosset’ (gooseberry) Fayre for hiring shearers to cut the harvests of corn using hooks. There were of course no scythes or machines then.
  • On the first Tuesday in November there was the Latter Fayre, for sheep, and then on the following day people gathered again to trade cattle, horses, farm hands and servants.
  • The Martinmas Fayre was on 26 November, again for cattle, horses, sheep and grain, getting ready for the winter.
  • Last but not least, the Yule or Snowy Fayre was held on 26th December for the selling of ‘fat’ cattle, grain and general business.

These fayres were held at the flat open area (now wooded) beyond the current Doune Ponds.  Here there was plenty of space, which was certainly needed for the many traders and for grazing the huge numbers of cattle being traded or just passing through.  The cattle were similar to today’s Highland cows, though probably somewhat smaller, and black rather than the now more familiar ginger shade.  A standing stone, known as the “Gold” or “Trysting” Stone was where the money traditionally changed hands – gold in exchange for cattle.  This standing stone, sometimes also known as the Deil’s Heid, has been moved at least twice since that time and is now located at the entrance to the Doune Ponds.  For an article on Cattle Droving and the Doune Fayres, see HERE.

New Work Opportunities and Trade

From the mid 1600’s the village became an important centre for pistol making  and also leather work – dressing the skins and making shoes and sporrans – and many men took up these trades. For over a century, these items would have been the main Doune “exports”. They were sent for sale far and wide, especially the pistols, which became much sought after by Highlanders and also the gentry.  The wealthier classes would pay a small fortune for the most highly decorated pistols, and this must have been a very valuable source of income for the more skilled craftsmen in the village.

After the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, the subsequent Disarmament Act and restrictions on Highland Dress, meant that the traditional trades in Doune declined.  However, the building of the cotton mill in Deanston in 1785, greatly boosted work opportunities for residents of Doune for at least the next century.  Doune was also recognised for its excellent slaters.

After the decision by the parish congregation to move their worship to Doune in the mid 1750’s, they used one or more temporary buildings, until the grand Kilmadock East church was built on Doune Main Street in 1822, where it stands to this day, complete still, but now in a sad state of disrepair.  In those days most people attended church, and as is so common with people there were differing beliefs, so other churches of different denominations were built – the West Church (now houses), the Scottish Episcopal Church of St.Madocs, the Sts Fillan and Alphonsus Roman Catholic (built in 1875 and funded by Mrs Campbell of Inverardoch) and the United Free Church by the Bridge of Teith.

St Modocs
RC Church
Kilmadock East Church

St Modoc’s Episcopal Church                                                                       St Ninian’s RC Church                                                                     Former Kilmadock Parish Church 

In the mid 1700’s, many of the houses in Doune were still thatched, the last thatched houses being in Balkerach Street.  From then and through the 1800’s, prosperity grew due to increased trade and work opportunities.  This enabled the building of much of the current Main Street of Doune with stone-built houses,  though in surrounding streets, including Balkerach, housing was mostly still single story thatched. As the buildings in those days had incredibly thick walls, upper storeys were added to many houses over the years. Many of the large houses on Main Street and nearby streets had several families living in them, which continues to this day.

Most of today’s stone-built buildings in the area date from the 1800’s and 1900’s, but they are likely to outlast much modern housing!

There were also a few very large houses in the area belonging to people of importance or wealth, but these were not within the village; the gentry preferring to be separate from the general populace.

Historically the population of Doune was at its peak in the mid 1800’s (1,500 in 1841) but had fallen to around 1,000 by 1881.   It is a still a small town, having a population of just over 1,600 in 2014, around 300 of these living in the conservation area.  This has since risen again to over 2000, most of the increase living in the new modern estates.

Thanks to Karen Ross’s “Around Doune and Deanston”, Moray Mackay’s “Doune Historical Notes”, (both books available from the Doune Information Centre), Doune Conservation Area Appraisal – July 2015,  also Peter Herbert (Rook) and other sources.