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No Contributor Year: 179172 1791 Statistical Account Strathdon
1791 Statistical Account Strathdon
From Reids of Rinmore site
PARISH OF STRATHDON
(County and Synod of Aberdeen, Presbytery of Alford)
By the Rev. Mr John Gordon
Situation, Extent, Name, Rivers, Surface and Soil
Strathdon is the most westerly parish in the presbytery, Synod and county, to which it belongs. The kirk is 40, and the most remote parts of the parish upwards of 50 English miles distant from the county town; the united parishes of Crathie and Braemar perhaps excepted. It is by far the most extensive parish in the Synod and county where it lies, being about 20 English miles long, from W to E including about half a mile of the parish of Glenbucket, by which it is intersected; and in some places from 7 to 8 broad, from N to S.
The modern name, Strathdon, is descriptive of its situation; the greatest part of the arable land lying in a extended valley, along the banks of the river Don, which takes its rise among the hills in the head of the county, and runs through the parish from W to E dividing it nearly into 2 equal parts. This parish formerly went by the name of Invernochtie. It was so called, from the kirk's being built near to the place where the small river Nochtie ralls into Don. Besides these, there are 5 or 6 lesser rivers or burns, which flow from the surrounding mountains in different directions and fall into Don in its course through the parish. These are separated from each other by considerable hills; most of them run through deep hollows or glens. The ground on both sides of these rivulets, in general, as well as on each side of Don, where there are also some considerable haughs, rises gradually towards the hills; and for some distance from their banks, a considerable part of it is arable, about 2 miles up from the places where they respectively join with Don. All these rivers and burns abound in excellent trout, salmon also are very frequently found in Don, towards the lower end of the parish.
The general appearance of the country is hilly. The hills are mostly covered with heath. They afford very wholesome pasture for sheep, and most of them abound in game. The hills of Corgarff in particular are famous for this production, and in the season, are generally resorted to by sportsmen from various parts of the Kingdom. The soil, as may be supposed, in so large a tract of country, is various. The greater part of it is light and sharp, and when properly managed, is fertile enough. In the highest parts of the parish, it is spongy, of a blackish colour, inclined to moss.
The ordinary crops are bear and oats, some rye, with a mixture of oats, and a few pease. When the weather will permit, (which has not been the case for some years past), the feed-time is begun about the 20th of March, and finished about Whitsunday. Harvest is begun towards the end of August, and is generally over by the middle of October. In the upper parts of the parish, the seasons, both for sewing and reaping, are rather later, on account of the difference both of soil and climate. There, the ground is more chilled by the longer continuance of snow in the spring, and by more frequent showers in summer. The tenants in those parts, however, endeavour to obviate these local disadvantages, by sewing their bear immediately after their oats, without any interval; and by using a species of oats, called birley. This grain, (which is also white), is distinguished from the common white oats, in its appearance, chiefly by its shortness: It does not produce quite so good meal, nor so much fodder; neither is it so hardy in bearing stress of weather; it has also a greater tendency to impoverish the ground; but it is considerably earlier, and ripens nearly as fast in the higher parts of the country, as the common white oats does farmer down, where both the soil and climate are more favourable.
Besides the above crops of grain, a good many potatoes are raised. Turnips are generally sewn by the proprietors, and answer well. They also lay out their fields with artificial grasses, from which excellent crops are produced, both for hay and pasture. The tenants are not insensible of the advantages of cleaning and meliorating their fields by green crops, but are prevented from trying it by their inability to lay out the necessary expense, by the want of enclosures, and of long leases. Another bar on improvements in farming, is a number of services which the tenants are obliged to perform to the proprietors, such as casting, winning, and leading their peats and turfs in summer; harrowing in feed-time; reaping in harvest; long carriages from Aberdeen and other places. Some of the heritors indeed have converted these services into money, but others still exact them in kind; and even where they are converted, the rents are thereby so much raised, that the cure is almost as bad as the disease.
Of course, the mode of farming has undergone little variation here, except among the gentlemen; excepting on some farms where there is outfield, the tenants generally go over all their arable land with dung once in three years. In many places, especially in the upper parts of the parish, dung is laid on the furrow for bear, and harrowed in with the feed. In other parts, it is laid on the white land, either in autumn, or early in the spring, and covered with a break-furrow; and after lying some tine in this state, is clean ploughed for the feed: This is followed by two succeeding crops of oats; after which, the ground is dunged again, and the same rotation of crops observed as before, and thus, the greatest part of the arable land here has been treated, time immemorial, without rest, or any other cleaning, than throwing off some of the weeds raised by the harrow in a dry season. Very good crops, however, both of bear and oats, are raised in this way.
Few of the estates or farms here have been measured, excepting on some of the largest farms where there is outfield ground. The tenants in general pay nearly at the rate of L1 Sterling for every boll's sewing of arable land they possess; and as the soil is generally thin, and not in great order, it is believed that a Scotch acre will require almost a boll of oats for feed. Along with this, however, every tenant has some meadow-ground for grass, and a right of pasturage in the adjacent hills or glens. Though the land in general is little improved, the rents have been doubled, and in some places tripled within these 40 years past. This circumstance, together with the great advance in the wages of servants, makes the situation of our farmers rather uncomfortable. Accordingly, the tenantry in general are supposed to be much poorer than they were 30 or 40 years ago. At that time, many of the tenants had a full stocking or cover on their possessions, besides some money out at interest. Now there are very few of that description, but on the contrary, many of them in arrears to their landlords. The tenantry at Corgarff, (a district in the upper part of the parish, about 8 or 9 English miles in length), are rather in a more thriving condition, and pay their rents more punctually than the generality of those who live in the other parts of the parish.
Their possessions are as highly rented in proportion to the arable land on them, but they have more extensive pasturages They depend wholly on cattle for the payment of their rents, and for procuring those necessaries which their farms do not produce, so that they can the more easily bear a bad crop now and then; and as cattle have sold high for some years past, they have suffered less from the late unfavourable seasons, that the farmers in the lower parts of the country, who depend partly on cattle, and partly on victual. Their possessions too are mostly small, and they require fewer servants.
The farms throughout the whole parish in general are not extensive, renting for the most part from L5 to L20 Sterling. A few, however, are rented higher; two or three from L40 to L60 Sterling; and one farmed by the proprietor, that would fetch about the same rent. In good years, the parish produces more victual than is sufficient to supply the inhabitants, and affords a considerable surplus of butter, cheese, black cattle and sheep. The butter and cheese are generally carried to market at Tarland, a village of about 9 English miles from the kirk of Strathdon. The cattle are sold to Aberdeen butchers, or South country drovers.
Forty years ago, there was scarcely a cart in the parish. Creels only were used for carrying both dung and peats. This practice is still continued by almost all the tenants above the kirk, where two thirds of the parish, as to extent, are situated: In the lower parts of it, however, there are now upwards of 50 carts. One of the gentlemen keeps a carriage. In the whole parish, there are about 170 ploughs; some of them are drawn by 8, some by 10, and some by 12 cattle; some by cattle and horses before them, and a great many by horses alone. the gentlemen put generally 2 horses only in a plough, without a driver. all the tenants in Corgarff, and some in other parts of the parish, yoke 4 horses a-breast. The driver, who holds the halters in his hand, to regulate their motions, walks before the horses after his back. In the parish, are 552 horses, 2286 black cattle, and 8543 sheep, mostly what are called here half-brooked. The other quadrupeds, and the birds, both native and migratory, are such as are common in Aberdeenshire.
According to Dr Webster's report, (1755), number of souls then was 1750. The population has decreased more than a 100 within these 10 or 11 years past, owing to decayed farmers and others having removed to manufacturing towns, and servants going to the south country in quest of higher wages. By an accurate list taken since this year began, the number of parishioners amounted to 1524; males 736, females 788, under 8 years of age 306. There are 2 Episcopalians, upwards of 100 Roman Catholics, mostly residing in Corgarff, which is regularly visited by a priest of that persuasion, who resides in the neighbouring parish of Glengairden; all the other parishioners are of the Established Church*.
Heritors and Rent
The heritors of this parish, are the Earl of Fife, Messrs Forbesses of Bellabeg, Skellater, Inverearnan, and Achernach, Mr Leith of GlenKindy, Mr Anderson of Candacraig, and Mr Farquarson of Allergue. The Earl of Fife has only a small property in the parish but is superior of the whole, excepting the estate of Glenkindy, which holds of the Crown; only Mr Leith and Mr Forbes of Achernach reside in the parish. the mansion houses of Skellater, Inverearnan, and Candacraig, are situated in the detached corner of Tarland parish above described. The valued rent of this parish is L3039:1:6 Scots, the real rent about L1600 Sterling.
Stipend, School, Poor
The King is patron. The old stipend is only L46:6:8, all in money, with some peats and other services paid by the parishioners, and 20 merks Scots for communion-elements. A considerable augmentation in victual was lately awarded, but by a subsequent interlocutor that judgment has been altered; and as the last decree thereanent is not yet final, still farther alterations may be made; so that nothing certain can be said as to the stipend. The glebe, so far as I know, has never been measured; but from the quantity of grain it requires for feed, is supposed to be only about 2 acres arable, exclusive of the manse and garden. The minister has L20 Scots for grass. The kirk was rebuilt in 1757, but is at present much in need of repairs. It is spacious enough, but most irregularly seated, and, therefore, does not properly accommodate the parishioners* *.
There is a parochial school, and schoolmaster, with a salary of 110 merks Scots; he is generally session-clerk, for which he receives L12 Sterling.* * * There are about 40 persons on the poors roll, all of whom receive a trifling supply twice in the year; the most necessitous get as often as their exigencies require, and the state of the funds will admit. The only funds for their support, and for paying the session-clerk and officer, are the weekly collections, which are very small; together with what arises from penalties, the use of a mortcloths, the rent of a small loft in the church, and the interest of 1000 merks Scots of mortified money; all which for these 9 or 10 years past, have amounted to L16 or L17 Sterling yearly, at an average.
Climate, Diseases &c.
The people in general are healthy, but there are few instances of longevity. Some years ago, a woman in the parish died at the age of 100. There are a few persons still living about 80. The most common distempers are the hooping cough, measles, and small pox; fevers sometimes make their appearance, consumptions very rarely; among old men, stone and gravel are very prevalent. Inoculation for the small pox has not yet become general throughout the parish. In one corner, (on Kindyside), it has at different times been practiced with great success, owing chiefly to the influences and attention of the proprietor. the parishioners at large do not seem to entertain any prejudice against inoculation, if they could afford the expense. There is a chalybeate spring at Glenconry; but it is little attended to, though it is said to be nothing inferior to some elsewhere, that are in good repute.
Minerals, Plantations &c.
There is an abundance of granite and limestone, and slate of a coarse quality. Little use is made of the granite and slate, and not much of the lime, though the soil in general is well adapted to it. there are no natural woods of consequence in the parish, but several thriving plantations of fir. the late Mr Forbes of Bellabeg was the first in this part of the country who began to plant. His improvements, considering the smallness of his property, are worthy of notice. He possessed only one farm of L100 Scots of yearly rent, and a mill. He began his plantation in 1745, which he afterward extended over upwards of 100 acres. He built a commodious mansion house and offices; he improved some moor-ground, straightened his fields, sewed them out with artificial grasses, and enclosed a great part of them with stone fences and belts of hard wood; and so much did he raise the value of his small estate, that, besides a considerable sum arising annually from the sale of wood, the farm is let for the ensuing year at L49: 15s Sterling.
At a little distance from the church, on the opposite (north) side of the river Don, stands the Doun of Invernochtie, a beautiful earthen mount, evidently artificial, and some time a place of considerable strength. It has been defended on the top by a wall, which is now mostly fallen; part of it, however, on each side the gate, is still to be seen. Its base is surrounded by a ditch, which has been filled with water by a small stream (Bardock) that comes from the adjacent hill. This stream, entering the ditch at the north-west quarter, divides into two parts; and, purling along each side of the Doun, joins at the eastern extremity, and falls into Don, some yards below it. This mount is on an oval form; its surface on the top measures about half an acre; at the base it is more extensive. Its height from the bottom of the ditch, may be 60 feet; the depth of the ditch, below the surface of the adjacent ground, about 16 feet. There is no history or tradition respecting this remnant of antiquity* * * *.
The most ancient building in the parish still entire is the castle of Corgarff. It is supposed to have been built by some of the Earls of Marr for a hunting seat. During the feuds between the Gordons and Forbesses, it was burnt in 1571 by Adam Gordon of Auchindoun, or some of his officers, and in it Alexander Forbes of Towie's lady, Margaret Campbell, daughter to Campbell of Calder, then big with child, together with her children and servants, 27 in number, were cruelly burnt to death. Having been afterward rebuilt, it was purchased by Government in 1746, from Mr Forbes of Skellater, and for several years thereafter, 15 or 20 men were stationed in it, for some years past, the garrison has consisted of 2 or 3 invalids
The women in this parish, 20 or 30 years ago, were chiefly employed in knitting stockings, that species of manufacture has now given place to spinning coarse lint, which is mostly brought for that purpose by our country shopkeepers, from manufacturers in Aberdeen and other places, for there is not much flax raised in the parish. This, though a more severe and more exhausting employment on account of the great quantity if saliva requisite, is deemed more profitable. The women here use all two-handed wheels, as they call them; they are in general capital spinners, and bring a deal of money into the parish. Their common stint is from 20 to 40 cuts a-day; but some of them on a stretch, it is said, will spin double that quantity: For every spindle, or four 12 cut hanks spun, they receive commonly about 1s Sterling.
The men are mostly employed in husbandry. There are as many tradesmen as supply the exigencies of the parish, excepting shoemakers and masons; to these last little employment is given, except by the proprietors; almost all of them indeed have commodious houses substantially built, and pleasantly situated; but the tenants houses in general have a very mean appearance, which gives strangers a strong impression of the poverty of the country. There are few places where decent farm-houses could be erected at less expense than in this parish, for it has within itself almost all the materials requisite; plenty of stones, clay, lime, fir timber, and even slate; but, notwithstanding these advantages, little reformation in this way can be expected, till the proprietors give more encouragement to their tenants than they have hitherto done.
The language spoken is English, or rather broad Scotch, excepting in Corgarff. The people there, especially in the upper part of that district, speak also a kind of Gaelic; but that language among them is much on the decline* * * * *.
The ancient inhabitants of this parish, as tradition relates, were exceedingly rough and uncivilized in their manners. The proprietors, who were very numerous, appear at least some of them, (for there were exceptions in the worst of times), to have been haughty, resentful, and cruel; nor were they at a loss for assistants in executing their most mischievous projects; as their example was followed, and their commands implicitly obeyed by their tenants and dependants. They had their feuds and family-quarrels, which they prosecuted in the most violent manner, without regard to time or place. Even the church-yard on a Sunday was sometimes the scene of action, where two hostile lairds, with their respective adherents, rushed upon one another with their durks and their shabbles. The ministers in particular felt the effects of their savage barbarity. One minister (Mr Baxter), at a very remote period indeed, had his had cut off at the manse door with a Lochaber axe, by a laird in his neighbourhood. Another, (Mr Macsween), towards the beginning of the present century, after repeated insults was attempted, it is said, to be smothered with a wet canvas, on an evening when at family prayers; but being a man of considerable bodily strength, he extricated himself from the toil; and some others met not always with the respect due to their character and function.
The manners of the present generation here, however, are in these respects changed greatly to the better. The gentlemen are well bred, social, hospitable, and humane. The country people are industrious, civil and obliging. The last minister, who served the cure upwards of 40 years, was respected and beloved by his people of all ranks; and the present incumbent, though unfortunately engaged for years in law-suits with the heritors, about his manse and stipend, has always met with the greatest civility from his parishioners of every denomination.
The roads are not in the best order. The statute-labour is commonly performed in kind; it is commuted with any person who inclines, at the rate of 1s 6d a-year. There are in the parish two stone bridges on Don, the one, half an English mile to the westward of the church, the other at the castle of Corgarff, on the King's road from Edinburgh to Fort George.
There is not a decent inn or public house in the whole parish, where any person above the common rank could get a bed, or a comfortable meal. There are only two licensed alehouses; in these whisky only is for the most part to be got, which is also sold occasionally in several other houses throughout the parish* * * * * *.
* No register of burials has ever been kept here, nor can the annual number of births and marriages be exactly ascertained. The Roman Catholics never enter in the parish register; and the Protestants in Corgarff, who are generally married, and their children baptized by the missionary minister in that district, have been shewn equal backwardness to this useful measure, especially since the trifling tax was imposed on these registrations. From the best information I can obtain on this subject, I suppose that the average of births for several years past, has been about 40; of marriages 10. This parish, I imagine, has been greatly more populous in the last century than it is now. The register both of births and marriages, from 1674 to 1710, are still pretty entire, and appear to have been very exactly kept. And in most years, during that space, both births and marriages were double their present number.
Part of the parish of Tarland.- There is situated in Strathdon, a detached corner of the parish of Tarland, quite unconnected with the rest of that parish, being separated from it by part of the parish of Coldstone, the parish of Migvie, now annexed to Tarland, and the parish of Strathdon; and some parts of it are 15 English miles distant from its parish church. The district begins about an English mile above the parish of Strathdon, and extends five or six to the westward, on the north side of the river Don. There are in it 188 people, old and young of whom about 20 are Roman Catholics, the rest of the Established Church, - 72 horses, 277 black cattle, 1126 sheep. it is the property of 4 gentlemen, who reside either constantly or occasionally; all of whom, however, (except Mr Houston of Edinglassie), are heritors in this parish, as will be after mentioned. I do not know the valued rent of that corner, nor can I speak with certainty of the real rent, as the greater part of it is farmer by the proprietors, but I suppose it to be worth from L250 to L300 Sterling. The people in that quarter were formerly under the inspection of the minister of Strathdon, for which he had a small allowance from the minister of Tarland. Since a missionary minister has been stationed in Corgarff, they make part of his charge, but they all communicate at Strathdon, and the greater part of them attend public worship there, as they are nearer to this kirk than to the place of worship in Corgarff. Thus much I thought proper to observe, with regard to this part of Tarland parish, as it lies in the country of Strathdon; and though not locally in this parish, is closely connected with it.
* * For several years, the manse and offices were almost ruinous. After a process of 2 or 3 years dependence before the Court of Session, the Presbytery's decrees, for new houses received their lordship's sanction, and they were all rebuilt in 1791; however, been very insufficiently executed. The walls of the manse draw water, and part of the offices are already unroofed, and if not repaired soon, will go to wreck. Unfortunately for any public work in this parish, the heritors are seldom unanimous, and of course require compulsion to make them execute any measure of the kind, which turns out in the issue to be much against their own interest, as a few shillings timeously applied in this way, would sometimes save a pound. For upwards of 50 years past, an itinerant or missionary minister has been stationed in the upper part of the parish, called Corgarff. He has a salary of L28 Sterling yearly, from the Royal bounty, with a house. He has the immediate charge of 462 people, old and young, belonging to Strathdon, and of the people in the detached corner of Tarland parish above mentioned, amounting to 188; but the people in both these districts communicate as the parish-church of Strathdon. The missionary is of signal advantage to the interests of religion in that remote corner. The place of worship is about 7 or 8 English miles distant from the parish-church, and the habitable part of the country extends 4 or 5 farther to the westward.
* * * Excepting in a mild winter, the school is seldom throng, owing to the situation of the parish. It abounds in hills and rivers or burns, so that children at a distance cannot attend in frost and snow; and owing to the scarcity and dearth of servants, of all descriptions, the generality of the tenants employ their children in herding, as soon as they are fit for it. The parish has had the benefit of a schoolmaster, paid by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, for these 40 years past. He has been generally stationed in Corgarff, on Nochty side and Kindy side by turns, there being the most distant parts of the parish from the parochial school; in all which places he has been highly useful. The Society have, with great propriety, appointed another of their schoolmasters to be stationed in Corgarff, where it is hoped he will be continued, as the children in that extensive district are not only at a great distance from their own parochial school, but are quite out of the reach of every other school, at any season; and though their turn of the other schoolmaster was of great consequence to them, it was by no means adequate to their necessities. If the schoolmaster's settlement in Corgarff is made permanent and the schoolmaster just now on Kindy side shall be stationed there, and on Nochty side, 3 or 4 years alternately, which the interests of religion do indeed require, all the children in the parish, notwithstanding its extensive and scattered situation, will, if their parents are not very faulty, be blessed with an opportunity of learning to read and write, and of being instructed in the principles of the Christian religion.
* * * * In some neighbouring parishes, there are eminences something like this, but it is the largest and most complete of any thing of the kind in this country. In its neighbourhood are to be seen, some inconsiderable ruins of houses close by one another, as the same place, and also in another part of the parish, are what the country people call cira bouses. These are below ground, and some of them said to extend a great way. The sides of these subterraneous mansions are faced up with dry stones, to the height of about 3 feet, they are between 3 and 4 feet wide, and covered above with large stones laid across. They may have been, either receptacles for plunder, or places of shelter from the inclemency of the weather, before houses were built, or of concealment from an enemy.
* * * * * The names of almost all the towns, fields, hills, and rivers are, I am told, derived from the Gaelic; as Bellabeg, the little town; Tolshespick, the bishop's hollow, Dhalachlinch, the clerk's haugh; Don or Dhoin, deep, because the river of that name, for some distance from its source, runs through deep marshy level ground; Nochtie, or Nuaclide, the cold water, which takes its rise in the N W quarter of the parish, Binnew, the holy hill, so called perhaps from a stone on its summit with a cavity or hallow in it, wherein, from the frequent rains and damps on that hill, water was generally seen, and in the times of superstition, this water was believed to spring out of the stone, and to possess a virtue of healing various diseases; Minnagowan, which is said derives its name from the smith, who survived the battle, fought at the inch of Perth, between an equal number of clan Chattan and clan Kai. This son of Vulcan, being fortunate enough to escape the dreadful slaughter of that day, directed his course northward, and it is said, settled for some time at the foot of the Laight, a hill which separates this parish from Kirkmichael or Strathaven; but he afterward removed to Carvie-side, about a mile to the S W of the kirk of Strathdon, where he continued till his death. The place of his residence is still known by the name of the Smith's town, and the hill where he cust his peats is called Minnagowan or the Smith's moss. The fuel used here is peat, turf, and hath. The last is commonly made use of for drying the corns.
* * * * * * The prices of provisions are generally 15s the boll of meal at 9 stone; sometimes about the term of Martinmas, it is sold lower by tenants, who cannot otherwise raise money to pay their rents, but at other times of the year, it very often fetches more. From 16s to L1 the boll of bear, butter from 10s to 12s, a cheese from 5s to 6s the stone of 28 pound averdupoise, a hen 6d; a dozen of eggs 1½d. There is no market for butcher meat within our reach. A man servant's wages are from L4 to L6 Sterling yearly, with victuals; a woman servant's from L2 to L3. The great advance in the the rent of land, which has considerably exceeded the progress of improvements; the services formerly mentioned, together with the scarcity and high wages, and in many instances, carelessness of servants, and inattention to their master's interest, are the principle grievances of which the tenants in this parish do not without reason complain.
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