The Flemish of Glenshee, Part One

Amy Eberlin
Friday 25 April 2014

This is the third of a series of blog postings that examine the Flemish footprint in different parts of Scotland.  This one — prepared mainly by John Ballantine — focuses on Glenshee, an area that is situated in Perthshire in the foothills of the Highlands. On the face of it Glenshee seems an unlikely place to find a settlement of late medieval/early modern Flemish.

Most of the Flemish immigrants that have been traced so far as part of the Scotland and the Flemish People project have been found in the border areas with England, the larger Scottish cities, and the east facing coastal towns.  Identifying a group of Flemish in one of the Perthshire glens is therefore a matter of some intrigue.

There appears to have been a good number of people of Flemish origin in Glenshee from early in the 17th century until the industrial revolution took hold. In Scotland this began in late 18th century and early 19th century, and created an incentive for people to move from the rural areas such as Glenshee to cities like Dundee that could offer better employment opportunities.

If the local oral tradition is correct, the Flemish have also left a quite significant footprint on the slopes of the glen. Specifically, there is the remnant of a settlement, at Easter Bleaton in the south of Glenshee, that local people believe to have been occupied by the Flemish, possibly in the 17th and 18th centuries.  This settlement, and its possible Flemish links, will be the subject of Part 2 of this blog, which will be posted shortly.

Evidence of a Flemish Presence

It is difficult to find documentary evidence of a Flemish presence in Glenshee before the 17th century, although an interesting essay by Tod[[1]] points to Flemings in areas bordering the glen from the 16th century onwards. However during the 17th and 18th centuries there is much evidence of a Flemish presence in Glenshee, especially in the vicinity of Easter Bleaton.

For instance, there is a record of a Fleming and a Spalding paying rent for land around Easter Bleaton during the 1640s[[3]].  Later there is reference to a David Fleming’s testament registered in 1738 and another David Fleming’s testament in 1779. Both were from Easter Bleaton.[[1]]

Also J. Arnold Fleming[[4]] tells us: “Robert Fleming owned Glenshee, Bletoun, in the parish of Rattray.  There is a bond in his name dated 3rd June, 1600, and mentioned in P.C. Reg. vol. 649.  Sasine of Moness was granted to Alexander Fleming whom failing to Robert Fleming of Bletoun.  David Fleming was laird of Easter Bleaton on 6th July 1738.”

Looking more broadly at the area, there is a history of the Baron Robertsons of Straloch in Strathmore that tells of a Fleming with a wadset (mortgage) on the Baron’s Mains of Inverchrosky in Strathardle—which is close to Glenshee— giving unwelcome financial advice to the Baron in the early years of the 17th century.[[2]]
Then, in 1706, The Duke of Atholl had a list made of men able to bear firearms and other weapons. The list included six Flemings from the Glenshee area.[[5]]
There are more records for the Glenshee – Strathardle area during the 18th and early 19th centuries, including parish records and the 1841 census that shed light on the presence of Flemings. They appear at various locations around Glenshee, including Westertown in Blacklunans, Easter Bleaton, Dalrulzion, and Soilzarie. Interestingly, many of the Fleming families found in the glen during the 18th century are believed to be unrelated.

One family of Flemings from the area—that of Robert Fleming, the financier — see box below — went on to have a significant local and indeed global impact.

A Local Fleming Family of Note

One account suggests that Donald Fleming, who came from the Blair Athol area, was one of Lord George Murray’s Athollmen who fought on the side of Prince Charles Edward Stuart in the Jacobite uprising of 1745-46. After defeat at the Battle of Culloden, and the cleansing that followed, he may have sought the safety of Glenshee, where he had relatives. Another version of events is that Donald was born in the Dulruzion area of Glenshee to one of the Fleming families living there in the 1720s.[[6]] Donald subsequently farmed the area for a number of years. His son John took over the farm some time before 1841 and his other son, Robert, also farmed in the area.

Robert’s grandson, also a Robert Fleming, went on to become one of the shrewdest investors of his generation. His advice was sought by companies and financial institutions in Britain and abroad. He was instrumental in the formation of the first investment trust in Scotland. He became a financier of international renown, founding an international investment bank that bore his name for over a century.

Robert’s brother, John, became Provost of Aberdeen and its MP. He was subsequently Knighted. Robert, in turn, was grandfather to Peter Fleming, a renowned explorer, and Ian Fleming, the author of James Bond.

Glenshee was a special place for the Fleming family even after the later generations had moved away. It became a place of welcome refuge from town life. [[7]]

Another Flemish origin family that occupied these areas was the Spaldings.

One notable Glenshee-Strathardle member of this family was Colonel David Spalding who in 1576 took an army to fight in Flanders for the King of Spain. After seven years he returned with his plunder and built Ashintully Castle in the parish of Kirkmichael. In the early 1700s the family followed the Jacobite cause, lost its lands and dispersed (footnote A).

By 1841 many of the Glenshee-Strathardle Flemings and Spaldings had left the area. Remaining in the area were eleven Fleming families and four Spalding families. Between 1700 and 1799 in the parishes of Alyth and Kirkmichael there were 95 bans and marriages for Flemings and 51 for Spaldings.[[7]]

At the time of the 1841 census, these people were involved primarily in farming and related activities.

From Whence They Came

It seems unlikely that people came directly from Flanders and settled in Glenshee. One possibility is that they were descendants of the prominent Aberfeldy family, the Flemings of Moness or of their tenants or servants who may have adopted the family name. The Flemings of Moness were probably, in turn, a branch of the Flemings of Biggar family that later moved to Cumbernauld and built a castle there. Moness is some 30 miles from Glenshee.

A further possibility is that the Glenshee Flemish were immigrant weavers who originally settled in or near Perth, Dundee, or Aberdeen, and they or their descendants subsequently migrated to Glenshee. These three towns have good access to the sea and would have had a trading link with Flanders (see also blog dated the 21st of February 2014). The oral tradition of the area is that the Easter Bleaton settlement (see upcoming blog posting) comprised Flemish people who were fleeing religious persecution in Flanders.

The Spaldings were originally Flemish/Frisian settlers in Lincolnshire. They arrived during the period of Anglo Saxon settlements of eastern England. It is known that some of the Spaldings moved by sea to Scotland. A Spalding is recorded in 1294 as a magistrate in Aberdeen. Other family groups are known to have moved south from the Dee valley into Glenshee and perhaps a number of Spaldings did likewise.

But what would have been the attraction of Glenshee to the incoming Flemish people? The south end of the glen, where most of the Flemish appear to have settled, has gentle rolling hills and a fertile valley that would have been ideal for farming of various types, especially sheep. There is also a plentiful supply of fresh water.  Some of the earliest Flemish settlers would likely have been sheep farmers.  They may also have brought their aptitude for weaving into play in the glen.

John Ballantine and Alex Fleming
April 2014

John Ballantine is a local genealogist with a special interest in the families of the Blacklunans area in the south of Glenshee.

[1] Tod, Donald A. The Flemings of Athol and Glenshee.  An essay held in Dundee University Library. 1927
[2] Robertson, Rev. James. “The Barons Reid-Robertson of Straloch”. 1887
[4] Fleming, J. Arnold. Flemish Influence in Britain (vol 2, p.378), Jackson, Wylie & Co. (1930)
[5] The Athol Archive. Blair Castle. Perthshire.
[6] Smith, Bill. Robert Fleming 1845 – 1933.  Whittingehame House Publishers, 2000
[7] Stout, George A. Robert Fleming and the Dundee Merchants.  Friends of Dundee City Archives. Publication No. 1. 1999


[A] Flemish families were not the only ones that moved into Glenshee.  The glen appears to have been settled by new clans and families throughout the medieval period. One clan who moved from Deeside in the north was the Chattan Shaw – Farquharson clan . Members of this family became prominent landowners in Glenshee. Some like the Rattrays came from the south, whilst others, like the McGregors, came from the west.