Comrie: Scotland’s Earthquake Village - or Shaky Toun

Comrie, in Perthshire.
Comrie, in Perthshire.
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THE picturesque and unassuming Perthshire village of Comrie holds a few rather curious secrets.

Also known as the Shaky Toun (or “Am Baile Critheanach” in Gaelic), Comrie lies close to the Highland Boundary Fault and has suffered more earthquakes than anywhere else in Scotland.

Comrie  in Perthshire.

Comrie in Perthshire.

Despite the country not being generally associated with earthquakes or tremors, Scotland actually housed the world’s first seismometer, which was built and installed in Comrie - one of the most geologically active areas in the United Kingdom.

The first earthquake in Comrie was recorded as far back as 1788, and an early seismometer installed in the village in 1840.

Built on a rocky outcrop (so it directly experiences any tremors), in a field to the west of the village, Comrie is also home to Earthquake House, one of Europe’s smallest listed buildings.

It was once a centre for seismology, recording tremors that were common to the area in the 19th century.

Comrie - Perthshire.

Comrie - Perthshire.

Built in 1869, it was the first purpose-built earthquake observation centre in the world - just a shame it was built a few decades too late, as seismic activity had declined in the area by the time it was built.

Comrie was once a hotbed of geological action

It is said that during the 1830s, 7,300 earth tremors were recorded in the area.

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Earthquake House in Perthshire fell into disrepair but in 1988 was being renovated and later opened to the public.

Earthquake House in Perthshire fell into disrepair but in 1988 was being renovated and later opened to the public.

In 1816 an earthquake took place, so fierce, it was felt over much of Scotland.

Lasting six minutes, an Inverness sailor claimed he was “tossed on his bed, as he had never been tossed out at sea, for five full minutes.”

In 1839. measuring an estimated 4.8 on the Richter scale, another powerful quake was felt across the country.

Many houses in Comrie were damaged and the impact caused a dam near Stirling to fail.

Known as the Great Earthquake of 1839, the action prompted postmaster Peter Macfarlane and shoemaker James Drummond, known as the ‘Comrie Pioneers’, to set up an instrument to measure earthquakes and began keeping formal records.

Earthquake House

Earthquake House is one of Europe’s smallest listed buildings.

Built in 1869, it was the first purpose-built earthquake observation centre in the world.

Unfortunately it was built a few decades too late - by the time engineers at the house were able to read tremors more accurately, they became much less frequent.

In 1869 a fresh set of tremors momentarily renewed interest in earthquakes.

But by 1911 technology had moved on, and the building became redundant.

The building was refurbished in 1988 after falling into neglect, and remains active - a modern seismograph, and a model of an early wooden seismoscope invented by Robert Mallett are installed at the house.

Although the original has now been replaced with more modern equipment, a replica is still on show. It is so sensitive that it managed to pick up the tsunami on Boxing Day 2004 in Indonesia.

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