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


I.—Topography and Natural History.

Name.—The name of this parish is supposed to be Gaelic, and to signify the fair bank or boundary of the river.

Extent, &c.—The parish is situated in that district of the county of Aberdeen which is called Formartin, and extends from five to six miles in length along the north bank of the river Don, and from three to four in breadth—containing about fifteen square miles.

Boundaries, &c.—It is bounded on the south by the river Don, which separates it from the parishes of Dyce, Kinellar, and Kin-tore; by the parish of Keith-hall, on the north and west; and by New Machar, on the east. Its shape has some resemblance to that of an Irish harp, with the broad end turned to the east.

The ground rises gradually from the river towards the north to the height of perhaps 300 feet; but there is nothing in this parish that deserves the name of a hill. It sinks again towards the north boundary of the parish.

Climate. —The climate, in general, is dry, early, and healthy; and from the extent of ditches, drains, and other improvements which are carried on,—partly by the heritors and partly by the tenants,—the climate will be much improved.

Hydrography.— The only river connected with this parish is the Don, already mentioned, which runs from west to east, and falls into the sea near Old Aberdeen. There are three burns also, which supply as many meal and barley mills, with a kiln attached to each of them.

Geology.—The parish abounds with granite of excellent quality; and there is also some limestone; but, owing to the scarcity of fuel, it is not converted into lime. The soil is various. Along the bank of the river it consists of deep, rich, haugh land. Further removed from the river the land consists chiefly of light early soil of good quality. In the middle or elevated district the soil is very much inferior, consisting partly of peat-moss, and partly of moor, interspersed with considerable and yearly increasing patches of arable land. In the north district of the parish, the soil is much better, and there are several well cultivated farms.

Live-Stock.—A great number of cattle (chiefly of the Aberdeenshire breed) are reared and fed in this parish, many of which grow to a very considerable size. There are also some fine horses reared. Searcely any sheep are reared ; and few are fed, except on the lawns of Fintray House and Disblair.

Zoology.—Formerly the river Don abounded with salmon and very fine trout; but the cruives and dam-dikes, erected by manufacturing companies in the parishes of Old Machar and Newhills, have almost ruined the fishings; and have given rise to many disputes between the upper heritors and manufacturing companies. Hares and partridges are in abundance ; but no rare species of animals are found.

Wood.—Upwards of 600 acres of the surface of the parish are covered with wood, of various ages and kinds, and all in a thriving condition.

II.— Civil History.

Heritors. —The principal heritor of this parish is Sir John Forbes, Bart, of Craigievar, who is patron of the parish, proprietor of somewhat more than the half of it, and the only residing heritor. The other heritors are, the Earl of Fife; Mr Ramsay of Barra; and the Rev. Dr Morison of Disblair,—who have lands of considerable extent and value; also General Benjamin Forbes of Balbithan; and William Gordon Cumming Skene, Esq. of Pit-lurg and Dyce, who have small properties in this parish. The rental of the parish is supposed to be nearly L. 5000 Sterling. The valued rent is L. 3007, 8s. 4d. Scots.

Antiquities.—There are two cairns in the parish, but their origin is unknown. The present minister when improving his glebe dug up the foundations of some buildings, supposed to have belonged to the Abbacy of Lindores, in Fife; a branch of which is said to have stood where the principal burying ground of this parish now is; in which burying ground, a vault of extraordinary strength was built a few years ago by the parishioners, to secure dead bodies from resurrectionists; from whence, after remaining perhaps three months or more, the bodies are removed and regularly interred. The proprietor of the lands of Fintray collects and pays to the Exchequer the feu-duties which belonged to the Abbacy of Lindores—several of the landed estates in this part of the country holding of said Abbacy, and paying feu-duty thereto.

The buildings (denominated the Northern Abbey) are supposed to have been erected about the year 1386, from a stone bearing that date having been observed many years ago in the dike of the burying ground, which had probably been composed of fragments of the demolished abbey, whereof no vestige now remains above the surface of the ground; but foundations of its walls occasionally interrupt the digging of graves.

The minister has in his possession a silver cup belonging to the parish, bearing date 1632, which tradition says was formed from a silver head of St Meddan, the tutelar saint of the parish; which, in the days of Popish superstition, was wont to be carried through the parish in procession, for the purpose of bringing down rain, or clearing up the weather, as circumstances might require.

Modern Buildings.— The principal building in the parish is Fintray House, a large, elegant, and commodious mansion in the Tudor style, lately erected by Sir John Forbes, Bart. There is also a neat and commodious house on the lands of Disblair, built in the cottage style, and of a size suited to the extent and value of the property attached.

Historical Occurrences.—The most remarkable events in this parish, within the memory of the present generation, are the floods of the river Don, which were till of late years a very serious bar to agricultural improvements. The first great flood on record happened in the year 1768, which carried away the greater part of the crop from the haughs and level lands, at the period between reaping and stacking. A similar inundation took place in August 1799, which carried off considerable quantities of hay, and destroyed, in a great measure, the grain crop, the whole of which stood, at that time, on the ground uncut. A similar, but still higher flood, happened on 4th August 1829, when the river rose about fourteen feet above its ordinary level, and nearly eighteen inches higher than any flood of that river in the memory of the oldest person alive, and extending (where the river was not confined by elevated lands or embankments) to from half to three-fourths of a mile in breadth. This extraordinary flood occasioned very serious losses to many individuals; and had it not been for strong embankments, which had been erected a few years before, (some of which withstood, while others yielded to the impetuosity of the torrent,) the whole crop on the most valuable lands in the parish must have been completely destroyed. A great part of the haugh-land is now protected by embankments, on the lands of Fintray and Wester Fintray, extending to upwards of 6000 ells in length, and protecting from 200 to 300 Scotch acres of very fine rich land, from the river floods.

Parochial Registers.—The oldest record belonging to the kirk-session begins on 25th May 1662 ; but only fragments thereof remain, scarcely legible, and all in loose sheets. With the exception of the register of baptisms, which appears to be pretty complete since the year 1728, the registers of this parish are rather defective. Minutes appear to have been kept, but seldom entered in a bound book, previously to the year 1795—since which time regular records have been kept.

III — Population

The decrease between 1790 and 1811 seems to have been owing to two or more small farms having been occasionally thrown into one.

The average number of births in this parish for the last seven years is 26 per annum ; of deaths, 13; of marriages, 13. The number of families, by census of 1831 was 225 ; inhabited houses, 215; fatuous persons, 2.

Number of illegitimate births during the last three years 6.

Character, &c. of the People.—The people, in general, are active and industrious, and, with a very few exceptions, they are temperate. They enjoy, in a moderate degree, the comforts and advantages of society.


Produce.—More than three-fourths of the population depend for employment and subsistence on agricultural concerns. The chief productions of the parish are oats, bear (sometimes barley), pease, hay, potates, and turnip, of which latter crop a very considerable breadth is sown annually, the soil being particularly adapted to turnip husbandry.

Rents.—Arable land rents from 15s. to L. 2, 15s. per acre, according to its quality;—average about L. 1, 5s. per acre.

There is a very considerable extent of barren ground in the lands both of Fintray and Wester Fintray, which might be rendered useful by being either cultivated or planted. And the judicious improvements of draining and inclosing, which Sir John Forbes has introduced on his lands, and which are being carried on, partly by himself and partly by his tenants, will, it is to be hoped, cause the barren district of the parish to present a more cheering aspect at no distant period. For, notwithstanding the clamours of agricultural distress, improvements were never carried on here with greater spirit than at present.

Farm-houses and offices have been greatly improved in appearance within the last forty years, and the occupants are much better clothed, and fed, and lodged.

Leases.—The general duration of leases is nineteen years—a space too short for encouraging an enterprising tenant to lay out his capital on improvements, with any reasonable prospect of advantage.

Next to the agricultural population may be mentioned tradesmen of various crafts, who reside in the parish, such as 4 blacksmiths; 4 masons; 8 carpenters; 4 tailors; 6 shoemakers; 3 millers; 2 sawyers; 1 watchmaker or mechanic, and 4 shopkeepers: amounting in all to about 36, independently of their families.

Manufactures.—The only manufacture of this parish is that of fine woollen cloth, by the Messrs Crombie, at Cothal Mills, which was begun about the year 1798, under a different firm, and has been carried on since that period without intermission. Mr John Crombie has conducted it since 1806. It produces, on an average, from 7500 to 8000 yards per annum, of the value of from 14s. to 24s. per yard. This branch of business, principally owing to the number of complicated and variable processes, through which the material must pass before it be brought out in a finished state, is attended with several difficulties, and is almost confined to three or four counties in the west of England and Yorkshire. These difficulties have been overcome here, by encouraging English operatives to settle in this country; and the business is now managed by an English foreman over each different department, having under his inspection Scotch and English labourers, who perform the operative parts. The advantages which attend the manufacture of cloths here, are a plentiful supply of excellent water, and a powerful waterfall, which saves the expenses of steam-power. Wages are also lower here than in manufacturing districts where provisions are high. Considerable encouragement has been given to this manufactory by the Board of Trustees for the Encouragement of Manufactures in Scotland, who have annually given considerable premiums, in the gaining of which the Messrs Crombie have been very successful.

Since the year 1836, a branch of manufacture has sprung up in the south of Scotland, which has had the effect of considerably decreasing the consumpt of fine cloths throughout the kingdom. The article alluded to is plaid, or what is now more usually denominated "tweed." The managers at Cothal Mills, finding that their clothing machines were particularly well adapted to the manufacture of this article, by working finer wools than were generally used for these goods, soon produced stuffs that found a ready market in London as well as in Scotland. The consequence has been, that, from the steady demand, they have been enabled to double their production, and of course the number of hands' has been increased.

V.—Parochial Economy.

Market-Town, &c.—Fintray is distant from Aberdeen, the nearest market-town, from eight to thirteen miles; from six to seven of which miles are turnpike, and the rest good commutation roads. The road from Keith-hall to Aberdeen divides the parish into nearly two equal parts.

Ecclesiastical State.—The present church of Fintray was built in 1821, and is neat, substantial, and commodious. It is the only place of worship in the parish. It is about equally distant from the east and west boundaries of the parish, but much nearer to the south boundary than the north. It would accommodate nearly 800 persons, having been purposely built large, to meet an increase of population. It is divided among the heritors in the proportion of their valued rents; the heritors subdivide it among their tenants, and no seat-rents are demanded or paid. The average number of communicants is about 450. The congregation, on an ordinary Sabbath and favourable day, may be reckoned a full half of the gross population. There are only a few Dissenters in the parish, and not one of these is a native of the parish; almost the whole of them belong to the Cothal Mills' Manufactory.

The present manse was built in 1804. The glebe measures nearly 6 acres, about two of which were reclaimed by the present incumbent from barren ground ; and the greater part of the glebe (both old and new) is land of inferior value.

The stipend consists of sixteen chalders of victual, the one-half meal, the other half barley, payable by the fiar prices of the county, together with L. 8, 6s. 8d. for communion elements.

Schools.—There are two schools in the parish, besides two Sabbath schools, one of them conducted by the minister, viz. the parochial, which is well situated for the southern (the more popoulous) district of the parish; and a school, built and endowed by the proprietor of Disblair, for the accommodation of the northern district. The parochial teacher enjoys a school-house, with two small rooms for his own accommodation, a salary of L. 28 Sterling, and a quarter of an acre of garden ground. Average number of scholars from 60 to 70, and school-fees may amount to L. 20 per annum. The teacher of the other school receives as salary, the interest of L. 200, mortified for that purpose by the Rev. Dr Morison, proprietor of Disblair, together with a school-house, dwelling-house, and garden, for a nominal rent of 5s. per annum. Number of scholars from 40 to 50. School-fees may, perhaps, amount to L.15 or L.16 per annum. The teacher officiates as precentor, and receives L. 3 per annum.

The branches usually taught in the parochial school are, reading, writing, arithmetic, Latin, (now seldom required.) English grammar, geography, mensuration, mathematics, and sometimes book-keeping. Most of the above branches are also taught at the school at Disblair. School-fees vary from 2s. 6d. to 5s. per quarter, according to the branches taught, but they are often not regularly paid. The Dick bequest to the parochial schoolmasters in Aberdeen, Banff, and Murrayshires, now makes their situation comfortable.

There are exceedingly few persons (if any) in this parish who cannot read; and it is believed that (with a few exceptions among the aged) all of them have more or less knowledge of writing.

Poor and Parochial Funds.—There is not a beggar belonging to the parish. Only one person of that description has resided in the parish in the course of the last forty years; and, as that person begged more from avarice than necessity, the kirk-session gave him the choice of desisting from public begging, or of allowing his name to be expunged from the pauper roll. By the advice of his wife, who had practised the begging trade in Aberdeen before her marriage, he preferred the latter. The average number of persons receiving parochial relief, may vary from 20 to 25, receiving from L. 1 to L. 3, 10s. per annum. The annual amount of funds under the management of the kirk-session may be reckoned from L. 60 to L. 65 per annum, (burdened with the expense of the session, precentor, beadle, &c. in all about L. 5,) arising from weekly collections in the church, (L. 40 to L. 45,) interest of L. 220; donations from non-residing heritors, pall-dues and other casualties. Besides the weekly collections for the ordinary poor, annual collections, of very considerable amount, are made for the Infirmary and Lunatic Asylum at Aberdeen; and a collection was lately made in aid of the Indian mission.

The poor of this parish owe a large debt of gratitude to Sir John and the Honourable Lady Forbes of Craigievar, who, of late years, have given several donations; among which may be mentioned one of L. 20, and another of L. 10, for the immediate relief of the poor, besides their very liberal collections in the church on ordinary Sundays: and well-judged supplies of clothing, coal, meal, and other things, to the more necessitous, during the inclement season of the year.

It is but justice to the poor of this parish, to say, that few apply for parochial aid, before they stand in actual need of it; and in some cases, it has been necessary to press it urgently and repeatedly before it was accepted. At the same time, it cannot be denied, that some few have been found of a contrary disposition. Subscriptions are sometimes successfully made for an individual, or family, who have met with any misfortune.

A blacksmith, who died in this parish some years ago, bequeathed to the kirk-session, L. 70 Sterling; the interest of L.40 to be applied to the education of poor children; and the interest of L. 30, towards the clothing of aged and indigent females belonging to and residing in the parish. These small funds are useful at the present time. And another blacksmith, in like manner, disponed to the kirk-session, feu-duties to the annual value of L.10 13s. 6d., for charitable purposes in this parish; to take effect, under the eye of the kirk-session, upon the death of certain persons named in the disposition. Poor rates are happily unknown and unnecessary here.

In this parish there are neither markets, saving banks, nor circulating libraries.

Inns.—There are at present two inns or alehouses, one of which would suffice. One of them has been lately erected, and is an excellent and substantial building, with good accommodation— possessing many attractions for such as prefer rural pleasures to the gaieties of a town during the summer and autumnal months.

Fuel.— The fuel hitherto most commonly used was peat and turf, from a moss in the parish, but that moss being now in a great measure exhausted, coals, brought from Aberdeen, begin to be generally used.

Miscellaneous Observations.

Northern Abbey of Lindores.—When the Abbacy of Lindores was suppressed at the Reformation, it was erected into a temporal lordship, in favour of Leslie, Lord Lindores, who acquired from the Crown an heritable right to collect the feu-duties formerly paid by the vassals of that Abbacy, and to account for the same to the Crown. That part of the Abbacy's rights which lay north of the Tay was afterwards acquired from the Lindores family by the family of Craigievar, who, as heritable collectors, have ever since uplifted these feu-duties, accounted and paid them to the Exchequer, and received for that trouble an annual allowance of L. 5 Sterling. The sum thus paid to the Exchequer is L. 73, 13s. 1 4/12d.

Rents.—The highest rent paid for a farm in this parish at present is L. 400 per annum,—the lowest 1s. Sterling.

Cropping.—Some of the very deep haugh land has been worked, for some time past, on a four years' shift, viz. oats, turnip, bear, hay ; but a five years shift (including one year of hay and another of pasture grass,) is by most farmers deemed preferable. On the infield or medium lands, a six or seven years' shift is generally adopted, and on the outfield or inferior soils, a shift of not less than seven years,—three or more of which they are in grass.

Reaping.—About the year 1810, William Anderson, a farmer in Hatton of Fintray, began to cut down his crop with a scythe instead of a sickle. But this mode of reaping, which is now universally practised in Aberdeenshire, did not become general till two or three years after.

The process of reaping is more expeditiously carried on by four scythes than by any other number, viz. four cutters, four gatherers, four binders, two stookers, and one raker, the binders making the bands. These fifteen persons may be supposed to finish about six acres per day.

January 1840.

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