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The New Statistical Account of Scotland (1845)
Volume XII - Aberdeen
Parish of Dyce



I.—Topography and Natural History.

Situation, &c.— The parish of Dyce lies from five to eight miles north-west of Aberdeen. The origin of its name is unknown. Various suggestions have been proposed on this subject, but none of them sufficiently probable to deserve notice. [It is said in a former Statistical Account of the neighbouring parish of Kintore, that "Dyce was in the earliest times called the chapel of St Fergus, near Moss Fœtach." The authority for this statement is not given. There is, however, a marsh in the neighbourhood, called Moss Fœtach, and there can be no doubt that Dyce, as well as several adjoining parishes, were in Catholic times chapels or vicarages connected with the Cathedral of Old Machar.] It is bounded by Newhills on the south and south-west; Kinellar on the north-west; Fintray on the north; New Machar and Old Machar on the east. Its length is about six, its greatest breadth about three miles.

The figure of the parish is nearly oval, slightly curved at the narrower extremity, and lying from north-west to south-east. The north-west or broader end of the oval is formed by a low-hill, called Tyrebagger, which extends downwards to the south-east nearly three miles, or half the extreme length of the parish, after which, rapidly descending, it merges in the adjacent plain.

Climate.—The climate is salubrious, though variable, which probably, in some measure, accounts for the prevalence of rheumatic complaints. Scarlet and typhus fever also, occasionally prevail, but can generally be traced to infection.

Hydrography.—The river Don bounds the parish on the north and east. It rises in Strathdon, and, after a course of about sixty miles in a south-easterly direction, falls into the German ocean two miles east of Aberdeen. The haughs or low grounds along the banks of this river are exceedingly valuable. They are rich alluvial deposit, and grow crops of remarkable luxuriance. It may also be noticed, that the Don is much more apt to be flooded than formerly, in consequence of the rapidity with which the rain water flows into its channel by means of those multitudes of drains which of late years have been cut in every direction.

Geology.—Granite is the only species of stone found in considerable quantities through this parish, of which, however, the rocks seem almost inexhaustible, extending over a greater proportion of the hill of Tyrebagger.

[The writer has been informed by a very intelligent individual, who worked for several years in these quarries, that, besides being used for crib, pavement, and causeway stones, and for house-building, the stones from Tyrebagger have been employed in raising the following works: the Bell-rock Lighthouse; Sheerness Quay wall; Deptford Quay-wall; West India Docks; and Sheerness Docks. Stones from the same quarry were formed into pillars for the groins of the London Custom House, and were dressed for the long steps and coping of St Catherine's Docks; and for the most prominent parts of the new Bridge of Don. They were likewise used in building the new London Bridge, and from the same place was that fine block of granite selected which encloses certain urns and other memorials of the present age, and forms the foundation stone of that magnificent structure. In these quarries also a few specimens of dolomite have been found.]

A quarry of it has been opened on the south-east corner of that hill, in which direction also lies the dip of the strata. Quartz chiefly preponderates in this granite. It is considered of fine quality, and a large quantity has been exported to London for the erection of public buildings. Other granite quarries have at different times been opened on the same hill, but hitherto unprofitably, chiefly in consequence of their difficulty of access, and comparative distance from Aberdeen. In consequence of the very limited demand for stone in the London market, however, few of the quarries in this neighbourhood have been worked to any extent, for a very considerable period of time.

Zoology.-—There are a few roe-deer and blackcock in the plantations of Tyrebagger, with plenty of woodcock, which are occasionally found to hatch there. Before these barren hills were planted, there were some grouse, which have now nearly disappeared. There are hares, partridges, snipe, wild-duck, and rabbits in the low grounds. Trout-fishing is excellent during March and April.

II.—Civil History.

Land-owners.—There are six land-owners, viz. Dr Henderson of Caskieben, author of a well known and ingenious work on wines ; Mr Gordon of Pitlurg; Mr Bannerman of Kirkhill; Sir John Forbes, Bart. of Fintray; Mr Elmslie of Pitmedden's family; and Mr Tower of Kinaldie. Each of these gentlemen has a larger rental in this parish than L. 50 per annum. Sir John Forbes and Mr Gordon reside within a few hundred yards of the parish, and by their zeal in promoting the improvement of their estates, as well as the general prosperity of the district, amply prove the benefits resulting from personal residence of proprietors. [See note to Miscellaneous Observations.]

Parochial Registers.—The parochial registers commence with August 1645, and are regularly kept up to January 1676, with the exception of eight months previous to December 1646. After 1676 there is a hiatus of fifty years. From January 1726, they are regularly kept up to the present time. From the most ancient of these records, a considerable amount of information might be obtained in reference to the then existing state of society. Indeed, the facts which they contain render it highly probable, that a collation of such session records (commencing with a. d. 1638,) as are still preserved throughout the kingdom, would materially tend to illustrate a most important portion of our ecclesiastical history, which at present chiefly depends for its authority on the conflicting narratives of persons whom we know to have been avowed partizans of opposite and inveterate factions.

Antiquities.—On a gentle acclivity at the south side of Tyre-bagger, and commanding a beautiful view of the sea-coast and adjacent lowlands, is found a Druidical temple, formed by ten rough granite stones, arranged in the figure of a circle. They are about eight feet distant from each other, the highest of them measuring ten, the lowest five feet above the surface of the ground. One of these stones, fronting due south, is of much greater breadth and depth than the others, and now appears crushing through the low and decayed pediment on which it had been originally raised. Probably it was the site of an altar, or station of the presiding priest.

In the church-yard, and forming a part of its wall, stands a large oblong stone curiously carved. Some have believed it to be a Runic monument, but the cross (which can still be distinctly traced,) pervading that mass of varied sculpture with which it is inscribed, seems to render this suggestion inadmissible. In all probability it must have constituted an ornament of some former church, subsisting during the times of Catholicism.

The Gouch or Gouk Stone is a large shapeless block of granite, on the north-east of Caskieben, erected (as is said in the last Statistical Account,) to commemorate the death of a general of that name who was slain near it. The tradition in respect to this stone is now forgotten, and it was even with some little difficulty that its site could be ascertained. The Quaich Stone, built into a low wall near the same place, has no particular marks by which it might be distinguished, and the origin of its name is entirely unknown.

There are tumuli in various places throughout the parish, usually on small eminences. Bones have been found in some of them, (inclosed in urns of pipe-clay, nearly resembling common flowerpots in shape,) but no tradition has retained a single trace of their history.


From the records of baptisms, marriages, and burials for some time subsequent to 1646, it would appear that the population of Dyce then must have been not less numerous than at the present day, and double its amount when the last Statistical Account was published, 150 years afterwards. This curious fact cannot be assigned to any merely accidental or temporary cause, since these records, for nearly twenty years in the seventeenth century, are preserved ; during which time there does not appear any one year to have been a material diminution of the births and marriages. The burials are not quite so accurately recorded. From the limited number of places where births and marriages are mentioned as having occurred, there seems some reason to conjecture that several small villages had then existed in the parish. Probably these villages were mostly in the neighbourhood of farm-buildings, where the servants and others resided for the sake of convenience and mutual protection. This would account for farm-steadings being always called " towns" in this district of Scotland. Some of them, as Kirkton, Bedlieston, &c. still retain the syllable in their proper names, after every vestige of a "town" in their neighbourhood has disapeared. After the year 1677, there are no data by which we could form even a probable conjecture as to the population of this parish, till the return made to Dr Webster, 1755, which gives it at that time 383. By the last Statistical Account, 1795, we find the population still on the decrease, being then stated at 352, at which time, however, it would appear to have sunk to its minimum, having since rapidly and steadily increased, till, in 1831, it had reached 620. During the last ten year's, however, it may be remarked, that the population in this parish has been perpetually fluctuating, in proportion to the demand for quarriers. It has not been uncommon to find an increase or diminution of 50 or 60 in the course of a few weeks. The permanent population, which appears to have steadily increased (as has been mentioned) up to 1831, (when it probably amounted to something more than 500,) may now be considered as diminishing. This is chiefly owing to the gradual removal of crofters from the more highly cultivated portions of the parish, either to Aberdeen, where they are employed by the manufacturers, or to some other country district, the barren patches which these persons have improved being (as their leases expire) incorporated with the adjoining farms.

There are no towns or villages in the parish.

Number of illegitimate births in the parish within the last three years, 2.

By a very accurate census taken in 1833, the population of this parish was found to have decreased to 485 persons, chiefly in consequence of the -proprietors having ceased working the quarries. Of these, 178 were under fifteen years of age. By a census taken in 1839, the population was found farther decreased to 416.

Character of the People.—The people, in general, possess a great degree of sound sense, and perhaps even something of that sarcastic shrewdness which has sometimes been ascribed as a characteristic to the natives of Aberdeenshire. At the same time, they rarely interfere with subjects unconnected with their own private interests and domestic duties.

That they are a religious people is most satisfactorily ascertained by the moral respectability of their private conduct. Crimes cognizable by the civil authorities are unknown. Drunkenness is rare. Charges of bastardy may at present be averaged at three in about two years, and these are not unusually cases of relapse on the part of the females,—a striking contrast to former times. During the short space of eleven weeks at the end of the year 1645, (about the very date which some have been pleased to esteem the golden era of Scotland's religious history,) we find from the parish records more crimes of a licentious character, occasionally accompanied by heavy aggravations, charged before the kirk-session, and admitted by the parties, than have occurred during the last three years! The contrast is little less striking when we compare the state of crime at the present time with that in any other portion of our parish history during the course of the seventeenth century. The superstitions which, from the same authority, we find to have then infected both clergy and people, are now generally ridiculed. If any trace of superstition still remain, it is rather practical than speculative, as in observing festival days, or concealing a child's name until the baptism, and seems rather the result of habit than of any religious prepossession.

Poaching in game prevails to a considerable extent, but much more among quarriers and manufacturers than the permanent inhabitants of the district. There is no poaching on the salmon-fisheries, which in this parish are of very little value.


Agriculture.—There are 2910 acres, standard imperial measure, of cultivated land in the parish; 581 acres of waste land, of which perhaps 237 or thereby might, with a profitable application of capital, be added to the cultivated land. There are 1176 acres under wood, amounting to rather more than a third of the whole parish. Indeed, the hill of Tyrebagger, (with the exception of a narrow rim round its edge,) is unfit for any other purpose. The plantations are wholly Scotch fir and larch. In some places they are thriving; but on the extensive level forming the top of the hill, they have hitherto made but little progress, chiefly in consequence of the poverty of the soil, and their exposure to the sea blast.

Rent of Land.—The average rent of arable land is L. 1 Sterling per imperial acre. The average rent of grazing is at the rate of L. 2, 10s. Sterling per ox or cow, grazed during the summer season. Turnips during winter amount to about the same sum.

Wages and Rates of Labour.—Ploughmen get about L. 10 per annum; women from L. 2 to L. 4; day-labourers, with victuals, from 10d. to 1s.; harvest men from L. 1, 10s. to L. 2, 5s.; harvest women from L. 1, 5s. to L. 15s.; carpenters and masons from 1s. 3d. to 1s. 6d. per day, with victuals; a smith receives for all the iron-work on a farm of two horse labour (price of iron included) L. 4, 10s. Sterling per annum. Smiths are never employed here by the day.

Prices.—A double horse cart costs from L. 8 to L. 10 Sterling; plough for two horses L. 2, 10s. to L. 3 Sterling; harrows 12s. each; mason-work from L. 1, 5s. to L. 2 per rood; best park timber from 8d. to 10d. per cubic foot.

Husbandry.—Thirty years ago there were several flocks of sheep in the parish, although there are now only a few kept by private families for home consumption. This change is to be attributed partly to the extent of land which has of late years been reclaimed from waste and pasture, and partly to the multiplication of plantations and enclosures. It is the general opinion, that the old Aberdeenshire breed of cattle is best adapted for a greater proportion of the soils in this parish. Some have occasionally tried the short-horned, but it seems now universally admitted that these can only be profitable on land of superior quality, and in a high state of cultivation. From a fashion of crossing these breeds, which now extensively prevails, there is some reason to dread that the pure Aberdeenshire will gradually diminish, or even may wholly disappear. Should this really occur, it is the opinion of some superior judges, that (considering the quality of a large proportion of the soil) a most serious blow would be given to the prosperity of agriculture in this county. It appears, at any rate, a subject worthy the attention of land-owners and agricultural associations, were it only from the great respectability and skill of the individuals with whom, in this district, the above opinion is understood to have originated.

The usual system of cropping is by a rotation of five, six, and seven years, viz. for a five-shift, grain after lea; turnips; [It is a singular fact that turnips are, every rotation, diminishing in size on rich old infield land, scarcely equalling those raised on land newly reclaimed. Turnips raised on land long cultivated have also, since 1819, been frequently visited by mildew in this county, although (notwithstanding that the leaves all wither and fall off) without any appearance of an evil result, The writer takes this opportunity of acknowledging the able assistance of his parishioner, Mr Hervey of Bedlieston, in drawing up these statistics of Husbandry.] bear and sometimes oats laid down with clover and rye grass; hay or pasture; pasture. For a six years shift, the same, with an additional year of pasture. For a seven years shift, two grain crops before turnips; in other respects the same as the former. The greater proportion of land in this parish is best adapted for a rotation of six years instead of five, (which is by far the most common system,) although the farmers, in general, cannot afford, under the present depressed prices, to sacrifice a direct and immediate profit for the sake of a probable ultimate advantage.

Leases.—The usual duration of leases is nineteen years. On an improving farm, however, this term is by much too short. The tenant can have no sufficient time to recover his capital and the interest sunk upon it, still less to gain a fair remuneration for his risk and labour. On an improved farm (especially where the soil is of unequal quality) leases should be granted not arbitrarily, but to correspond with a suitable rotation of cropping.

Farm-Buildings.—The farm houses are in general substantial, and several on the estates of Caskieben and Dyce are built in a very ornamental style, usually that of the cottage ornée. The steadings attached to these are very complete, arranged in the figure of a square, slated, and with thrashing-mills attached. Most of the farms in this parish are inclosed, and several of them thoroughly and substantially, with stone walls four feet high. The expense of these inclosures is from 4d. to 6d. an ell, excluding the materials. At the same time, there are considerable exceptions to these favourable statements. In some parts of the parish farm-buildings and inclosures are very indifferent, in a few instances, even little less wretched than they are in general found commodious and substantial. It need hardly be mentioned, that the latter description applies chiefly to small farms where the soil is of very inferior quality. It is only fair to add, that even in these cases there seems at present a decided tendency towards improvement.

Improvements.—Little, comparatively speaking, remains to be done in the way of reclaiming waste land. During the last twenty years, six or seven hundred acres of barren soil have been improved. On the north and west all that can be done has already been accomplished, and if the extensive improvements now in progress through other parts of the parish be carried into effect with the same energy and perseverance as they have hitherto been pursued, all the barren land which has the smallest chance of being cultivated with success will be reclaimed in the course of a very few years. Mr Hervey, who holds the farm of Bedlieston from William Gordon, C. S., Esq. has raised a very extensive embankment for the protection of his valuable haugh land against the inundations of the river Don. It has hitherto proved effectual, with the exception of a few cases when the river has risen to a very unusual extent, as in August 1829. [Within the last three years, however, several of these high floods have occurred. There can be no doubt this is owing to the multiplication of drains. As both spring and surface draining is still continuing to progress, it will probably soon become necessary to throw a great proportion of haugh land permanently into grass.] There are no obstacles to improvement in any way peculiar to this parish. The low price of grain, high rents, short leases, bad roads, and incessant agitation of the corn laws, are of course severely felt here as in other places. The payment of miln multures, which seems to have been considered a serious grievance when the former Statistical Account was written, is now falling gradually into disuse.

Produce.—The average gross amount of raw produce raised in the parish on an average of the last seven years, so far as it can be ascertained, is as follows:—

The value of the quarries cannot be ascertained.

V.—Parochial Economy.

Market-Town.—Aberdeen, distant from six to eight miles, is the nearest market-town.

Means of Communication,—The turnpike from Aberdeen to Inverness, or great north road, forms the boundary of the parish on the west for a distance of two miles. The turnpike from Aberdeen to Banff crosses it near the other extremity, where it is scarcely a mile in breadth. [The Bridge of Dyce, on the road from Aberdeen to Banff, was erected by Mr Burn of Haddington. It is a wooden arch, of above 100 feet span, resting upon two abutments or land-breasts of good masonry. The framing, as seen in the intrados of the arch, display sound judgment, united to great mechanical skill. The architect (it may be remarked) preferred for the workmanship of this bridge, the natural wood of Braemar, in this county, to Baltic timber. Its light and elegant outline adds greatly to the effect of the fine river scenery.] The canal from Aberdeen to Inverury also passes through this parish. This canal is believed to be a very indifferent speculation in respect to profit, but is found exceedingly convenient by those living near it, for the conveyance of coals and lime at a reasonable rate. Passage boats also ply from Aberdeen to Inverury twice a-day during the summer.

Ecclesiastical State.— The church is situated at the northern extremity of the parish, on a rocky promontory formed by a winding of the river Don, and commanding a view of the rich valley of that river for upwards of twenty miles, until its course be lost among the range of hills that rise in the Highland district of Al-ford. It is an ancient building, and from its iron cross still left on the east end, and its carved stone work on the gables, we may suppose it to have been built a considerable time prior to the Reformation. It has frequently been altered and repaired, but is still in a very insufficient state, and hardly adequate for the accommodation of the increased population of the parish.

The manse and offices were rebuilt about ten years ago, and the work was executed in a very substantial manner. The glebe measures a little more than 5 acres, and may be of the yearly value of L. 10 Sterling.

The teinds amount to L. 113 Sterling per annum, and the balance of stipend is supplied from the Exchequer allowance.

Notwithstanding the nearness of this parish to Aberdeen, by which it is placed completely within its vortex of agitation, not a single Seceder is to be found in it, and only three Dissenters of any description,—one female who is a Roman Catholic, and an aged pair who are Episcopalians, but occasionally attend the parish church.

The average number of communicants is 230. The average amount of church collections for all purposes is about L. 32.

Education.—The parochial is the only school in the parish. The branches there taught are, reading, writing, English grammar, arithmetic, and Latin. All the pupils are daily examined on the principles of religious truth. The schoolmaster's salary is L. 26 Sterling, and the school-fees average about L. 8 Sterling per annum. The schoolmasters of this district are, however, now receiving a large addition to their salaries from a fund left for that purpose by the late Mr Dick, a gentleman from Morayshire. The school-fees are, reading, 2s.; reading and writing, 2s. 6d.; reading, writing, and arithmetic, 3s.; mathematics, 6s.; Latin, 4s. per quarter; they are, on the whole, regularly paid.

The people in general are fully alive to the benefits of education, and there are extremely few in this parish who cannot read, and do not avail themselves of the opportunities they enjoy for educating their families. The west and north-west districts of the parish are from three to four miles distant from school. Various attempts have been made to remedy this inconvenience, but hitherto unsuccessfully. The population of these districts is very considerable.

Poor and Parochial Funds.—The average number of persons receiving parochial aid is 16. The average sum allotted to each is 1s. 2d. per week, or L. 3, 1s. 11d. per annum.

Annual amount of contributions for the poor: Collections, L. 29, 19s. 3d.; interest of money, L. 6; Wilson's mortification for aged females, L. 7, 2s.; legacies, donations, &c. L. 7; total, L. 50, 1s. 3d. The above is the whole sum annually distributed, although there is little probability of its continuing adequate to meet the demands of an increasing number of claimants. Until lately, there has ever been a marked reluctance amongst the poor to apply for sessional relief, but it is to be regretted that this feeling is in some instances beginning to diminish. The causes of this change, although extremely important, and sufficiently obvious, are too multiplied, and too much involved in the general history of the country to admit of being detailed here. We may only remark in general, from consequences already observable to a limited extent, that, if this honourable feeling of independence among the poorer classes continue to decrease or altogether disappear, a legal assessment (so much dreaded by some) will be one of the most trivial evils to be apprehended.

Inns.—There is only one inn in the parish, which, lying on the high road, is chiefly frequented by strangers.

Fuel.— Coals are almost the only fuel used. The poorest class occasionally use broom and whin bushes for fuel during the winter. The price of English coals in Aberdeen varies from 3s. 2d. to 4s. 6d. per boll, a third larger than the imperial boll. They may be conveyed to this parish by a canal boat, for 7d. or 8d. additional.

Miscellaneous Observations. Nearly a third of the whole arable land in the parish has been reclaimed within the last thirty years, so that, making allowance for the difficulties to be encountered from poverty of soil and other causes, there are few parishes within the county which can rival Dyce in the extent of improvement which has taken place since the last Statistical Account was published. The estate of Caskieben rented at that time L. 212, it is now worth L. 1000 per annum. Dyce rented L. 350, it is now worth nearly L. 1100 per annum, and the extensive improvements still in progress on this estate must, in a few years, greatly enhance its value. [These improvements have been, in a great measure, suspended (since the above was written,) in consequence of the lamented death of Mr Gordon of Pitlurg, the proprietor. His heir being a minor, many years must elapse before the result anticipated in the above passage is ever likely to be realized. So uncertain are (what appear to be) the best founded expectations of human beings!] Upwards of three-fourths of the wood in this parish has been planted within the last twelve years.

January 1840.

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