Old County of Aberdeenshire

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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1834-45: Aberdeen

Aberdeenshire, a maritime county, forming the extreme NE of Scotland, lies between 56° 52' and 57° 42' N lat., and between 1° 48' and 3° 46° W long. It is bounded N and E by the German Ocean, S by the counties of Kincardine, Forfar, and Perth, and W by those of Inverness and Banff. Its outline is very irregular: but roughly describes an oblong extending from NE to SW, broadest near the middle and narrowing towards the SW. The greatest length, from Cairnbulg Head, on the E side of Fraserburgh Bay, to Cairn Ealer, at the meeting-point with Perth and Inverness shires, is 85½ miles: the greatest breadth, from the mouth of the river Dee to the head-springs of the river Don, is 47 miles: and the circuit line measures some 280 miles, 62 of which are sea-coast. Fifth in size of the Scottish counties, Aberdeenshire has an area of 1970 square miles or 1,260,625 acres. It was anciently divided into Buchan in the N, Formartine, Strathbogie, and Garioch in the middle, and Mar in the SW: it is now divided into the districts of Deer, Turriff, Huntly, Garioch, Alford, Ellon, Aberdeen, and Kincardine O'Neil.

The surface, in a general view, consists largely of tame levels or uninteresting tumulations, but includes the long splendid valleys of the Don and Dee, and ascends to the grand Grampian knot of the Cairngorm Mountains. The coast is mostly bold and rugged, occasionally rising into precipices, 100 to 150 feet high, and pierced with extensive caverns, but in the southern part, adjacent to Aberdeen, sinks into broad sandy flats. About two-thirds of the entire surface are either moss, moor, hill, or mountain. Much of the scenery is bleak and cheerless, but around some of the larger towns, and along the courses of the principal rivers, it abounds with features of beauty or grandeur. In the SW the Cairngorm and the Grampian Mountains combine, with corries, glens, and valleys among or near them, to form magnificent landscapes: throughout the shire, from N to S, and crosswise from W to E, the following are the chief summits, those marked with asterisks culminating on the boundary:-Hill of Fishrie (749 feet), Mormond Hill (769), Hill of Shenwall (957), *Meikle Balloch (1199), Clashmach Hill (1229), Corsegight (619), Dudwick (572), Top of Noth (1851), Hill of Foudland (1509), Core Hill (804), Buck of Cabrach (2368), *Carn Mor (2636), Correen Hills (1699), Caillievar (1747), Bennachie (1698), Hill of Fare (1545), Brimmond Hill (870), Brown Cow Hill (2721), Morven Hill (2862), *Ben Avon (3843), *Braeriach (4248), Cairntoul (4241), Ben Macdhui (4296), Beinn Bhrotain (3795), *An Sgarsoch (3300), *Beinn a' Chaoruinn (3553), *Beinn a' Bhuird (3924), Carn Eas (3556), *Beinn Iutharn Mhor (3424), *Cairn na Glasha (3484), Lochnagar (3786), Mount Keen (3077), and Cock Cairn (2387). The principal rivers are the Deveron, rising in the north-west and soon passing into Banffshire: the Bogie, running to the Deveron, about ¼ mile below Huntly: the Ugie, running south -eastward to the sea, about a mile N of Peterhead: the Cruden, running eastward to the sea at Cruden Bay: the Ythan, running 33½ miles north-eastward and south-eastward to the sea, a little below Newburgh: the Urie, going south-eastward to the Don, at Inverurie: the Don, rising at an altitude of 1900 feet, adjacent to the county's western boundary, and making a sinuous run eastward of about 71 miles, all within the county, to the sea in the vicinity of Old Aberdeen: and the Dee, rising on Ben Macdhui, at 4060 feet above sea-level, and making a sinuous run of about 96 miles, partly through Braemar, partly through the Aberdeen portions of Deeside, and partly along the boundary with Kincardineshire to the sea at Aberdeen. The chief lakes are Lochs Dhu, Muick, Callater, Brothacan, KinOrd, Drum, and Strathbeg, but are all small. Granite is the prevailing rock: occurs of various kinds or qualities: forms the great mass of the mountains together with extensive traets eastward to the sea: has, for about 300 years, been extensively worked: and in recent times, up to 1881, has been in rapidly increasing demand as an article of export. The quantities shipped at Aberdeen alone are remarkably great. The quarries of it at Kemnay employ about 250 workmen, with the aid of steam power, all the year round, and since 1858, have raised Kemnay from the status of a rural hamlet to that of a small town. Other notable quarries are those of Rubislaw, Sclattie, Dancing Cairn, Persley, Cairngall, and Stirling-Hill, near Peterhead. The Kemnay granite has a light colour and a close texture, and owes to these properties its high acceptance in the market. The Rubislaw granite is of a fine dark-blue colour, and was the material used in the construction of great part of Union Street in Aberdeen. The Cairngall granite is small grained, of fine texture, and admirably suited for polishing and for ornamental work: it furnished the sarcophagus for the remains of the late Prince Consort. The Stirling-Hill or Peterhead granite is of a red colour, and of much larger grain than the other granites: it is much used for mural tablets, monumental stones, and ornate pillar shafts. The granites are sometimes associated with gneiss, with Silurian rocks, or with greenstone, basalt, or other traps: and, viewed in connection with these, they form fully eight-ninths of the substrata of the entire county. Devonian rocks occur in the north, underlie the wide level moors and mosses of Buchan, and have yielded millstones in the parish of Aberdour. Blue slate, two beds of limestone, and a large vein of ironstone occur in Culsalmond parish, forming parts of strata which have been much tilted and deranged: and both the slate and the limestone have been worked. Limestone abounds also in other localities: but, owing to the scarcity of coal, except near a seaport, it cannot be advantageously worked. Beautiful green serpentine, with white and grey spots, occurs in Leslie parish, and is easily wrought into snuff-boxes and ornamental objects. Plumbago and indications of metallic ores have been found in Huntly parish. Gold, in small quantities, has been found in Braemar, and on parts of the coast near Aberdeen. Amethysts, beryls, emeralds, and other precious stones, particularly the species of rock crystal called cairngorms, are found in the mountains of Braemar. Agates, of a file polish and beautiful variety, have been got on the shore near Peterhead. Asbestos, talc, syenite, and mica also have been found. Mineral springs of celebrated character are at Peterhead and Pannanich.

The surface of the mountains for the most part is either bare rock or such thin poor soil as admits of little or no profitable improvement even for the purposes of hill pasture: that of the moorlands a1d the mosses comprises many tracts which might be thoroughly reclaimed, and not a few which have, in recent times, been greatly improved: and that of the lowland districts has a very various soil,-most of it naturally poor or churlish, a great deal now transmuted by judicious cultivation into fine fertile mould, and some naturally good diluvium or rich alluvium, now in very productive arable condition. Spongy humus and coarse stiff clays are common in the higher districts: and light sands and finer clays prevail in the valleys and on the seaboard. So great an area as nearly 200,000 acres in Braemar and Crathie is incapable of tillage. Only about 5000 acres in Strathdon parish, containing 47,737 acres, are arable. Nearly 16,000 acres, in a tract of about 40,000 acres between the Dee and the Don, midway between the sources and the mouths of these rivers, are under the plough. The principal arable lands lie between the Don and the Ythan, in Formartine and Garioch, in Strathbogie, and between the Ugie and the sea. Much improvement arose early from the impulse given by the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland: and has been vigorously carried forward under impulse of the Garioch Farmer Club (instituted 1808), the Buchan Agricultural Society (1829), the Formartine Agricultural Association (1829), the Vale of Alford Agricultural Association (1831), the Ythanside Farmer Club (1841), the Royal Northern Agricultural Society (1843), the Mar Agricultural Association, the Inverurie Agricultural Association, and many of the greater landed proprietors, and of the most enterprising of the farmers. The recent improvements have comprised, not only extensive reclamation of waste lands, but also more economical methods of cropping, better tillage, better implements, better manuring, better farmyard management, better outhouse treatment of livestock, and extensive sub-soil draining: and they have resulted in such vast increase of produce from both arable lands and pastures as has changed the county from a condition of constant loss in the balance of agricultural imports and exports, to a condition of constant considerable gain.

According to Miscellaneous Statistics of the United Kingdom (1879), 1,255,138 acres, with total gross estimated rental of £1,118,849, were divided among 7472 landowners: one holding 139,829 acres (rental, £17,740), four together 300,827 (£86,296), five 120,882 (£35,959), fourteen 186,302 (£113,927), twenty - five 179,083 (£123,251), forty-six 158,214 (£131,751), sixty 87,466 (£109,805), fifty-eight 42,037 (£45,992), one hundred and twenty - six 30,441 (£69,691), thirty - eight 2658 (£18,880), one hundred and eighty-two 3822 (£37,745), four hundred and twenty-one 1333 (£50,662), and 6492 holding 2274 acres (£277,150).

Tenantry-at-will is now almost entirely unknown. Tenant-tenure is usually by lease for from 15 to 19 years. The tenant, in the management of his land, was formerly restricted to a 5 years' and a 7 years' course of rotation, but is now generally allowed the option also of a 6 years' course: and he is usually allowed 3 years, after entering on his farm, to determine which of the courses he shall adopt. The 7 years' course commonly gives 1 year to turnips, the next year to barley or oats with grass seeds, the next 3 years to grass fallow or pasture, and the last 2 years to successive crops of oats. That course and the 5 years' one are still the most commonly practised: but the 6 years' course has come into extensive and increasing favour, and is generally regarded as both the most suitable to the nature of the prevaili1g soil, and the most consonant with the principles of correct husbandry. Arable farms generally rent from 15s. to 30s. per acre: but some near Aberdeen, Peterhead, and Inverurie, rent much higher. The acres under corn crops were 206,577 in 1866, 214,676 in 1873, and 212,767 in 1880: under green crops -102,744 in 1866,106,003 in 1874, and 104,203 in 1880. Of the total 603,226 acres under crops and grass in 1880, 16,564 were oats, 114 wheat, 92,972 turnips, 259,645 clover, sanfoin, and grasses under rotation, 25,861 permanent pasture, etc. The number of cattle was 133,451 in 1866,169,625 in 1875, and 152,106 in 1880. The cattle are of various breeds, and have on the whole been highly improved. The small Highland breed was formerly in much request, but has latterly dwindled to comparative insignificance. A few Ayrshire cows have been imported for dairy purposes: but no Ayrshires, and scarcely any Galloways, are bred in the county. One Hereford herd here is the only one in Scotland. The polled Angus or Aberdeen breed has had great attention from Mr M'Combie of Tillyfour: has won him 8 splendid cups, 20 gold medals, 50 silver medals, 7 bronze medals, and upwards of £2500 in money: and has produced some animals of such high qualities as to bring each from 100 to 200 guineas. The same breed was largely kept by Colonel Fraser of Castle Fraser (d. 1871), who won a prize for it in 1868 over Mr M'Combie, besides a remarkable number of other prizes. Other great breeders of it have been the late Mr Rt. Walker of Portlethen, Mr Geo. Brown of Westertown, Mr Jas. Skinner of Drumin, and Mr Al. Paterson of Mulben, who have found successors in Mr A. Bowie of Mains of Kelly, Sir Geo. Macpherson Grant of Ballindalloch, Mr Jas. Scott of Easter Tulloch, Mr Wm. Skinner of Drumin, etc. (Trans. Highl. and Ag. Soc.,1877, p. 299). The shorthorned breed is raised more numerously in Aberdeenshire than in any other Scottish county: was introduced about 1830, but did not obtain much attention till after 1850: comprises nine celebrated herds (the Sittyton, Kinellar, Kinaldie, Cairnbrogie, etc.), besides many smaller ones: and has sent off to the market, annually for several years, nearly 400 bull calves and about half as many young heifers. The number of sheep was 112,684 in 1856, 158,220 in 1869, 144,882 in 1873, 157,105 in 1874 and 137,693 in 1880. The breeding of sheep is carried on most extensively in the upland districts: and the feeding of them, in the middle and lower districts. The upland flocks move to the lowlands of Aberdeenshire and the adjoining counties about November, and do not return till April. Blackfaced wethers, 2,3, and even 4 years old, are, on some farms on the lower districts, fed with grass in summer, and with turnips and straw in winter. Blackfaced sheep constitute more than one-half of all the sheep in the uplands: and also are extensively bred in the inland districts of Braemar, Strathdon, Glenbucket, Corgarff, Cromar, Cabrach, and Rhynie, but not in the lower districts. Cross-breeds are not so numerous as the Blackfaced, yet form extensive flocks, and are fed for the slaughter-market. Leicesters have, for a number of years, been extensively bred, and they form fine flocks at Pitmedden, Fornot-Skene, Gowner, Old Meldrum, Strichen Mains, and some other places. There are no pure Cheviots, and few Southdowns. The number of horses was 22,274 in 1855, 24,458 in 1869, 23,202 in 1873, and 26,851 in 1880, of which 6506 were kept solely for breeding. They are partly Clydesdales, Lincolns, and crosses: and though not very heavy, may, for the most part, stand comparison with the average of horses throughout the best part of Scotland. The number of pigs was 14,763 in 1866, 7773 in 1869,10,565 in 1874, and 7240 in 1880. The accommodation for farm servants is better than it was, but still not so good as could be desired. The farm-house kitchens are still the abodes of the majority of the servants: and homes for the families of the married men cannot, in ma1y i1stances, be found nearer than 8,10, and even 20 miles. Handsome cottages for servants have been built by the Duke of Richmond on several of his larger farms in the Strathbogie districts: and these, it is hoped, may serve as models for similar buildings on other estates. Farm servants' wages are about double what they were 40 years before. Feeing markets, believed to have an injurious effect on the morals of the agricultural labourers, are being superseded by a well-organised system of local registration offices.

In 1879 orchards covered 29 acres, market gardens 439, nursery grounds 182: and in 1872 there were 93,339 acres of woods within the shire. About 175,000 acres are disposed in deer forests. A great deal of land in the upper part of the Dee Valley, previously under the plough, or used as sheep pasture, was converted, during the 40 years ending in 1881, into deer forest. Large portions of Braemar, Glentanner, and Mortlach are still covered with natural wood. ' The mountains there seem to be divided by a dark sea of firs, whose uniformity of hue and appearance affords inexpressible solemnity to the scene, and carries back the mind to those primeval ages, when the axe had not invaded the boundless region of the forest. ' The Scotch pine is very generally distributed, and flourishes up to 1500 feet above sea-level, as also does the larch. Birch, alder, poplar, and other trees likewise abound (Trans. Highl. and Ag. Soc., 1874, pp. 264-303). Grouse, black game, the hedgehog, the otter, the badger, the stoat, the polecat, and the wild-cat are indigenous. Salmon used to be very plentiful in the Dee and the Don, but, of late years, have greatly decreased. About 20,000 salmon and 40,000 grilses, inclusive of those taken by stake nets, and at the beach adjacent to the river's mouth, are still in an average season captured in the Dee. The yellow trout of the Dee are both few and small. A small variety of salmon is got in Loch Callater, and excellent red trout in Loch Brothacan. So many as 3000 salmon and grilses were caught in a single week of July 1849 at the mouth of the river Don. Salmon, sea-trout, yellow trout, and a few pike are got in the Don. Pearls are found in the Ythan: and the large pearl in the crown of Scotland is believed to have been found at the influx of Kelly Water to the Ythan. Salmon, sea-trout, and finnocks, in considerable numbers, ascend the Ythan. Salmon ascend also the Ugie: finnocks abound near that river's mouth: and burntrout are plentiful in its upper reaches and affluents. Tench, carp, and Loch Leven trout are in an artificial lake of about 50 acres at Pitfour. Red trout, yellow trout, and some perch are in Loch Strathbeg. Herrings, cod, ling, hake, whiting, haddock, hallibut, turbot, sole, and skate abound in the sea along the coast: and are caught in great quantities by fishermen at and near the stations of Aberdeen, Peterhead, and Fraserburgh.

The manufactures of Aberdeenshire figure principally in Aberdeen and its immediate neighbourhood, but are shared by some other towns and by numerous villages. The woollen trade, in the various departments of tweeds, carpets, winceys, and shawls, has either risen, or is rising to great prominence: but is seated principally in Aberdeen and its near vicinity, and has been noticed in our article on Aberdeen. The linen trade, as to both yarn and cloth, has figured largely in the county since about 1745: and is seated chiefly at Aberdeen, Peterhead, and Huntly. The cotton trade employed 1448 hands in 1841, but has declined. Paper-making is carried on more extensively in Aberdeenshire than in any other Scottish county excepting that of Edinburgh. One firm alone has a very large mill for writing-paper at Stoneywood, another mill for envelopes at what is called the U1ion Paper-works, a third mill for coarse papers at Woodside: employ upwards of 2000 persons: and turn out between 60 and 70 tons of paper, cards, and cardboard, and about 6,000,000 envelopes every week. Rope-making, comb-making, boot and shoe making, iron-founding, machine-making, shipbuilding, and various other crafts, likewise employ very many hands. The leather trade proper makes little figure within the county, but elsewhere is largely upheld by constant supplies of hides to the Aberdeen market. The number of cattle killed for export of dead meat from Aberdeen is so great, that the hides sold annually there, taking the year 1867 for an average, amount to no fewer than 41,600. The commerce of the county is given under its two head ports, Aberdeen and Peter head. The tolls were abolished at Whitsunday 1866; the roads have since been managed by 8 trusts, in 1881 being kept in repair by means of an assessment of 6d. per pound. The railways are the Caledonian and the Great North of Scotland: and, with the sections of the latter, the Aberdeen and Banff, the Inverurie and Old Meldrum, the Alford Valley, the Formartine and Buchan, and the Deeside, they are separately noticed.

The royal burghs are Aberdeen, Inverurie, and Kintore: a principal town and parliamentary burgh is Peterhead: and other towns and principal villages are-Huntly, Fraserburgh, Turriff, Old Meldrum, Old Deer, Tarland, Stewartfield, St Combs, Boddam, Rosehearty, Inverallochy, Cairnbulg, Ellon, Newburgh, Colliston, New Pitsligo, Banchory, Aboyne, Ballater, Castleton of Braemar, Cuminestown, Newbyth, Fyvie, Insch, Rhynie, Lumsden, Alford, Kemnay, Auchmill, Bankhead, Burnhaven, Buchanhaven, Broadsea, Woodside, Garmond, Gordon Place, Longside, Mintlaw, Aberdour, New Deer Strichen, and Woodend. The chief seats are-Balmoral Castle, Abergeldie Castle, Huntly Lodge, Aboyne Castle, Slains Castle, Keith Hall, Mar Lodge, Skene House, Dalgety Castle, Dunecht House, Haddo House, Philorth Castle, Castle-Forbes, Logie-Elphinstone, Westhall, Crimonmogate, Newe, Edinglassie, Fintray House, Craigievar Castle, Monymusk, Hatton House, Pitmedden House, Finzean, Invercauld, Ballogie, Castle Fraser, Countesswells, Clunie, Learney, Drum, Grandholm, Haughton, Ward House, White Haugh, Leith Hall, Mount-Stuart, Rothie, Fyvie House, Rayne, Manar, Freefield, Warthill, Pitcaple, Meldrum, Auchnacoy, Ellon House, Brucklay Castle, Tillyfour, and Pitlurg.

The county is governed (1881) by a lord-lieutenant, a vice-lieutenant, 58 deputy-lieutenants, a sheriff, 2 sheriffs-substitute, 3 honorary sheriffs-substitute, and 334 magistrates: and is divided, for administration, into the districts of Braemar, Deeside, Aberdeen, Alford, Huntly, Turriff, Garioch, Ellon, Deer, and New Machar. Besides the courts held at Aberdeen, a sheriff court is held at Peterhead on every Friday, and sheriff small debt circuit courts are held at Aboyne, Inverurie, Huntly, Turriff, and Fraserburgh, once every 3 months- The prisons are the East Prison of Aberdeen, and the police cells of Peterhead, Huntly, and Fraserburgh, all three legalised in 1874 for periods not exceeding 3 days. The criminals, in the annual average of 1841-45, were 93: of 1846-50, 117: of 1851-55, 104: of 1856-60, 89: of 1861-65, 87: of 1864-68, 73: of 1869-73, 60: of 1875-79, 52. The police force in 1880, exclusive of that for Aberdeen burgh, comprised 70 men: and the salary of the chief constable was £350. The number of persons in 1879, exclusive of those in Aberdeen burgh, tried at the instance of the police, was 1450: the number of these convicted, 1395: the number committed for trial, 16: the number charged but not dealt with, 283. The annual value of real property in 1815 was £325,218: in 1843, £605, 802: in 1881, £919,203, including £52,387 for railways, etc. The county, exclusive of the burghs, sent 1 member to parliament prior to the Reform Act of 1867: but by that Act, it was constituted into 2 divisions, eastern and western, each sending 1 member. The constituency in 1881, of the eastern division, was 4721: of the western division, 4139. The population in 1801 was 121,065: in 1811, 133,871: in 1821, 155,049: in 1831, 177,657: in 1841, 192,387: in 1851, 212,032: in 1861, 223,344: in 1871, 244,603: in 1881, 267,963, of whom 139,985 were women. The registration county gives off parts of Banchory-Devenick and Banchory-Ternan parishes to Kincardineshire, takes in part of Drumoak from Kincardineshire, and parts of Cairney, Gartly, Glass, New Machar, and Old Deer from Banffshire: comprises 82 entire parishes: and had in 1861 a population of 223,344, in 1881 of 269,014. Five of the parishes in 1880 were unassessed for the poor: two, Aberdeen-St Nicholas and Old Machar, had each a poorhouse and a poor law administration for itself: and 10 forming Buchan combination, had a poorhouse dating from 1869. The number of registered poor in the year ending 14 May 1880, was 5616: of dependants on these, 3494: of unregistered or casual poor, 1474: of dependants on these, 1431. The receipts for the poor in that year were £61,882, 14s. 2d.: and the expenditure was £60,618,8s. 1¼d. The number of pauper lunatics was 704: and the expenditure on their account, £13,144, 4s. 11d. The percentage of illegitimate births was 145 in 1876, 13.3 in 1877, and 13.7 in 1879. The climate is far from unhealthy, and, while varying much in different parts, is on the whole mild. The temperature of the mountainous parts, indeed, is about the lowest in Scotland: and the rainfall in the aggregate of the entire area is rather above the mean. The winters are not so cold as in the southern counties, and the summers are not so warm or long. The mean temperature, noted from 13 years' observation, is 467 at Aberdeen, and 436 at Braemar, 1114 feet above sea-level.

Religions statistics have been already given under Aberdeen, p. 19: in 1879 the county had 236 public schools (accommodation, 35,848), 70 non-public but State-aided schools (10,046), 51 other efficient elementary schools (4151), 1 higher-class public school (600), and 44 higherclass non-public schools (3532)-in all, 402 schools, with accommodation for 54,177 children.

The territory now forming Aberdeenshire was anciently inhabited by the Caledonian Taexali. Many cairns and other antiquities, commonly assigned to the Caledonian times, are in the upland districts. A so-called Pict's house is at Aboyne: vitrified forts are at Insch and Rhynie: and a notable standing-stone, the Maiden Stone, is in Chapel-of-Garioch. Old castles are at Abergeldie, Boddam, Corgarff, Coul, Dundargue, Dunideer, Fedderate, Lesmore, Slains, and other places. Chief septs, in times down almost to the present day, have been the Farquharsons, the Forbeses, and the Gordons. Principal events were the defeat of Comyn by Bruce, at the ' herschip of Buchan,' near Barrahill: the defeat of Donald of the Isles by the Earl of Mar, in 1411, at Harlaw: the lesser conflicts of Corrichie, Alford, and the Craibstone: and other incidents noticed under Aberdeen. See Jos. Robertson's Collections for a History of the Shires of Aberdeen and Banff (5 vols., Spalding Club, 1847-69), and Al. Smith's New History of Aberdeenshire (2 vols., 1875).

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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