Our first village shop

With supermarkets, convenience stores & now the emergence of internet shopping it is almost impossible to imagine what village life revolved around in Bridge of Allan during the early Victorian years. Here follows then a short account of our first village shop.

To do so we have to kaleidoscope back more than 150 years. Bridge of Allan was then emerging as a village in its own right, forming from a coalescence of small hamlets – principally from Lecropt, Inverallan and Keirfield. A sentinel date in this amalgam was 1843. That year saw the end of the 322 year old ‘narrow and hog-backed bridge’ – this, the first bridge, had served well but was by then in poor repair and was not even wide enough for a cart to pass over!

1843 was also the year that the Gas-works & railway came to Bridge of Allan serving a mighty boost to the village’s principal industry – the Bleachworks at Keirfield (now United Plastics). The manager their, for the full span of the previous 50 years, was David Rutherfoord, a man described by Ella McLean “as the village’s most remarkable man.”

The youngest son of David Rutherfoord was our shopkeeper. He opened his shop in the decade before 1843 and it quickly became central to the village. Advertisments survive depicting its function, and might surprise the reader to realize just how far-back the ‘convenience-store ideology’ goes – for despite the opening remarks this was not a modern introduction.

At the shop you could buy all sorts: from food & vegetables, stamps, steam-boat tickets (the main form of transport, at that time, apart from carriage, was by packet-steam boat up & down the Forth), fishing tackle and stationary. The proprietor, Charles Neil Rutherfoord, was also an Apothecary and was later to instruct Gilbert Farie who a decade on opened the Strathallan Pharmacy in Inverallan. This pharmacy survives to this day under the good auspice of Ken Gray. That 1843 shop also served the village in another, perhaps unexpected way – as its first library. Yes convenience could come no easier than that!

Charles-N.-Rutherfoord

So then where in the village was the shop and what of its fate? Well, as you can see from the transposed image it was sited upon the corner of Union street and Henderson Street, facing onto the Westerton Arms. As a shop it apparently survived up until the building of Penzance House by Oswald Robertson in the 1880’s.

Charles Neil, the shop-keeper had a brother called John Stewart. Both were to be fore-runners in the village: Charles, as described, the first shop-keeper and John the first doctor. The Glasgow Constitutional published an article in 1843 praising the village’s amenities “the medical gentleman the village, Dr. Rutherfoord has a high character in the place for attention and skill and we believe this is richly deserved.”

1843 though brought with it a deadly fear that was to be sadly realized. Dr Rutherfoord described this ‘Nebuchadnezzar’ in a letter of that exact date: “The terror of Cholera, being so near as Blawlowan, I suppose is the cause of fewer strangers visiting the wells than has been usual at this time of year, and the weather so fine. I believe the disease has entirely cursed its savages about Stirling”

This cholera epidemic ravaged the village, and sadly called on far too many doors. Poor Dr Rutherfoord was kept very busy, but tragically succumbed to the disease himself.Rutherfoord was characteristically assiduous in his attention to the sufferers, but contracted the terrible, disease himself. He recovered, but his health was so injured that he was never quite the same man again.”

Whilst still recovering, Dr Rutherford was very publicly declared bankrupt – with an advert to his creditors appearing on the front page of the Stirling Observer. Well regarded, the village and church responded to the ailing Dr Rutherford, and from 1846 he received £2. 10s every six months from the Parochial Board of Lecropt for medical relief of the poor, and he was also instructed by them to give his orders to Mr. Charles Rutherford, his brother, for medicines.

Within the space of three short years, David Rutherfoord and his only two children were dead. Cholera had reaped widely. A tombstone was raised in Old Lecropt by the distraught doctor’s wife, Annie Fortune. What a tragic irony then that she carried the family name Fortune, for she could not have had less.

So it was that Charles Neil’s shop served busily during those terrible cholera years, with medicines administered by an ailing doctor and procured by his younger brother the apothecary.

A decade on Charles Neil was called as the very first witness for the High Court Murder Trial of Madelaine Smith. The reader may know this now infamous story:

On the 9th July 1857, a 22 year old girl left the High Court in Edinburgh by the side door and a myth was born. The charge had been murder, the verdict – not proven. Since that day, the case of the ‘enigmatic’ Miss Madeleine Smith has provided an easy storyline for many a writer: Arsenic in the cocoa – the cold, callous girl who had poisoned her French lover.

Charles Neil Rutherfoord was called to stand as a witness for the prosecution, and testified regarding the presence of Pierre Emile L’Angier (the French lover) in Bridge of Allan just days before L’Angiers sudden illness and death: “I was postmaster at Bridge of Allan in the beginning of this year.  The envelope shown me is stamped at my office. It must have come on the 22nd of March. A gentleman of the name of L’Angelier left his card at my office about the 20th. I gave the letter to him when he called.”

Given that Charles was an Apothecary, it does seem disappointing that no counsel was sought from him on the nature of the arsenic poisoning. However it is not hard for the reader to imagine the scene around Charles Neil’s village shop in those early summer months of 1857 – for the talk would surely have been vivid and the gossip rife and all entirely to do with the murder trial.

With the coming of Gilbert Farie and Oswald Robertson to the village, it would be seemingly impossible to imagine that the village could have demand for three ‘Apothecary’s.’ Likely then the reason why in January 1862 Charles Neil was served by a bond of caution and just days later declared bankrupt. His shop, the first in the village had served well under his stewardship for 25 years, but now a broken man, and publicly declared bankrupt (like his doctor brother before) Charles Neil fled with family to Glasgow and never returned to his village home.

So next time you pass by the head of Union Street, let your thoughts drift back to the days of that first shop, and recall the times of an apothecary, store-keeper and his brother.

Bridge of Allan's first shop

C.N. RUTHERFOORD
Post Office, Bridge of Allan
Apothecary and Druggist
Established 1836.

In addition to a constant supply of fresh and genuine medicines, C.N.R has always on hand a select stock of plain and fancy stationary, guide books, railway guides, fishing tackle of every description including reels, lines, rods, fishing baskets etc by the best makers. Physician’s prescriptions and family recipes carefully prepared. From the Circulating Library of the Village, which is kept in the establishment, Books are lent to visitors on reasonable terms. Furnished Lodgings

T.D.L.