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


I.—Topography and Natural History.

Name.—In the earlier registers, the parish is called the Upper Parochine of St Machar; and in those of later date, Upper Ma-char. The modern name is New Machar, in contradistinction, no doubt, to the name of the adjoining parish of Old Machar, of which it originally formed a part.

Extent.—The length of the parish from north-west to southeast may be 10 miles; average breadth about 2½ miles.

Boundaries, &c.—It is bounded on the north and north-east, by the parish of Udny; on the east, by the parish of Belhelvie; on the south, by Old Machar and the river Don; and on the west, by the parishes of Fintray and Keith Hall. The greater part of the parish is situated between gently sloping hills of moderate elevation, inclining from north-west to south-east, and is considerably diversified by small hills, cultivated or under wood.

It may be noticed, that certain lands in the parish, called the lands of Straloch, though surrounded on all sides by the county of Aberdeen, are yet in the county of Banff; and farther, that these lands, though forming part of the parish, are yet disjoined from it, by a section of the parish of Udny uniting itself to the parish of Fintray. This portion of the parish of Udny, however, consisting of the lands of Torryleith, has, for a good many years, by a decree of the Synod, been attached, quoad sacra, to the parish of New Machar, and the lands of Straloch are now rated and politically attached to the county of Aberdeen.

Meteorology.—No barometrical observations have, so far as the writer has been able to discover, been kept in the parish. It would appear, however, that both the temperature and salubrity of the atmosphere have greatly improved since the date of the former Statistical Account. For this we are mainly indebted to the very extensive improvements in draining and cultivating marshy land which have been made in the parish of late years. There is an observable difference between the climate of the upper and that of the lower parts of the parish, the climate of the former being colder than that of the latter—owing partly to the difference of elevation, and partly to the difference of soil. The north-west wind is perhaps the most prevalent.

Hydrography.— Copious springs are to be found in many parts of the parish. In the former Statistical Account, four mineral springs are named, one in particular as having been much used at that period, and found beneficial in scorbutic complaints. Now, they are seldom if at all spoken of, and certainly not used for medicinal purposes.

Lochs.—There are two lochs in the south-east end of the parish, the one remarkable for the rugged nature of the district around, and the other for its having been the scene of the residence of the Bishops of Aberdeen before the chantry was erected. Of this residence, which was situated on a small island within the loch, mention is made in a "View of the Diocese of Aberdeen," MS. Advocates' Library, supposed to be written by Sir Samuel Forbes of Foveran, about 1720. "It looks liker a hermit's cell," observes the writer of the MS., "than a Bishop's Palace, and yet a great man lived and died there,—I mean Bishop Benham." The site of the palace may still be traced, as also part of a ditch connected with the drawbridge. The loch itself, now known by the name of the Bishop's Loch, (anciently Loch Goul), is beautifully situated, well-wooded, and of considerable extent.

Rivers.—The Don, as has already been mentioned, forms one of the boundaries of the parish. It flows along the southern extremity, in the direction of south-east, for the distance of about two miles, and then enters the parish of Old Machar, five miles above where it falls into the sea.

The only other stream worthy of notice is a considerable rivulet, which, rising about a mile above the north end of the parish) runs through it southward, and, after supplying in its course several corn-mills with water, falls into the Don, a little above the bridge of Dyce.

Geology and Mineralogy—Granite abounds in the south end of the parish. Limestone is to be found in the estate of North Kinmundy, but not in sufficient quantity to repay the labour of quarrying and burning, &c. There is evidence of its having been burnt there at a former period; but not, I am told, for the last fifty years.

The parish presents a variety of soils. In the southern part near the Don. the soil is a gravelly loam; in the middle part, good loam ; in the northern part, patches of good loam, with a large proportion of inferior various land on a bottom of clay—the most valuable portions being those lately reclaimed by modern husbandry, by deepening the principal burn that runs through the parish, and by judicious draining.

There are no large forests in the parish. The most extensive woods are those on the estate of Parkhill. The estates of Stra-loch and Elrick are also well-wooded. On another of the estates in the parish, the estate of Rainnieshills and Kingseat, there has been a good deal planted, within the last ten years. With a few exceptions, the young plantations are thriving well.

II.—Civil History.

There is no separate account of the history of the parish; but several interesting particulars connected with its history are to be found in the chartulary of Aberdeen, in the library of King's College, and in the "View of the Diocese of Aberdeen," MS., already referred to. There is in the possession of the Straloch and Pitlurg families a large collection of papers, which are of interest and importance, not only as regards this parish, but as regards this county. Many of these have lately been published by the Spalding Club (see Miscellany of the Spalding Club, Vol. i.) The original painting of the celebrated Robert Gordon of Straloch, by Jamieson, is in the mansion-house of Parkhill, in this parish.

Eminent Characters.Robert Gordon.—This eminent geographer and antiquary was born at Kinmundy in this parish on the 14th September 1580. He was the second son of Sir John Gordon of Pitlurg, a gentleman who long stood high in the favour of his sovereign, James VI. Mr Gordon has the merit of being the first who applied actual mensuration in topographical surveys to Scotland. At the request and earnest solicitation of King Charles he undertook, in 1641, the preparation of an atlas of Scotland, which was published in 1648, and soon afterwards went through a second and third editions. It was his diligence and accuracy in the science of geography, then in an extremely rude state, that first obtained for him the celebrity which he afterwards enjoyed.

Dr Thomas Reid.—This distinguished metaphysician and moral philosopher was settled minister of this parish May 12, 1737, and continued in that office till June 21, 1752.

With respect to the two eminent individuals above-mentioned, it is not thought necessary here to detail the various particulars of their life, attainments, or writings; all that is known with certainty of them being already before the public.

Land-owners.— The lands of the parish are divided among si proprietors,—Parkhill, Rosehall, and Goval, the property of Job Gordon dimming Skene, Esq. of Dyce and Pitlurg, valued rent, L.927, 9s. 4d.; Straloch, John Ramsay, Esq. of Barra, L.800; Elrick and Swailend, Peter Burnett, Esq., L.653, 3s. 4d.; Rainnieshills, Boddom, and Kingseat, Alexander Thomson, Esq. of Banchory, L.506, 13s. 4d.; North Kinmundy, Earl of Aberdeen, L. 183, 6s. 8d.; South Kinmundy, George Morrison, D.D., minister of Nether Banchory, &c. L. 183, 6s. 8d. Total rental, L.3254.

Parochial Registers.—The oldest register extant commences November 1641, and ends 1650, in very bad condition; the second commencing July 30, 1676, and ending about 1700, contains, along with a record of the session's discipline, a register of baptisms and marriages. The register of discipline, however, in this book, comes up only to July 1688, when a third register was begun, wherein are recorded the cases of discipline, together with an account of the management of the poor's funds up to March 10, 1706. The registers which follow are in better preservation, and have, on the whole, been well and accurately kept. The only blank which occurs in the registers after 1676 is sufficiently singular in its way to be deserving of notice. The first 160 pages of the register are occupied with sessional matters during the incumbency of Mr Bisset. At the bottom of the page, recording his translation in 1728, there is an attestation to the examination of the register by the presbytery. The next entry, on the opposite page, mentions the admission of Mr (afterwards Dr) Reid in 1737. No leaves are cut out. This blank of nine years is accounted for by the joint testimony of history and tradition. History tells us that Mr Bisset's successor was settled by a riding committee, contrary to the will of the people or presbytery; and tradition says, the incumbent, whose name it is not necessary to mention, absconded for some open immorality.

Antiquities.—There is a stone in the court-yard of a farm in the parish, on which tradition says that one of the early Kings of Scotland (Malcolm Canmore) seated himself, being in these parts with his army. Weary with marching, and overpowered with thirst, he had water brought to him from a well in the immediate neighbourhood, which proved so grateful and refreshing to the exhausted energies of the monarch, that he pronounced nature's beverage to be better than ale, or better than ill ale. From these circumstances, the property on which this farm is, is called King-seat, and the said well, the Betteral Well, i. e. the Better Ale Well, to this day. At one time there were as many as four chapels in this parish,—St Colm's at Monykebbock; Virgin Mary's at Clubsgoval; Virgin Mary's at Straloch, supposed to be built by the Cheynes of Straloch; Virgin Mary's at Bishop's Manor, in Loch Goul. The first of these, St Colm's, is at least 586 years old, as appears from the Chartulary of Aberdeen, where, among the other constitutions of Bishop Peter Ramsay (dated apud Aberdon, 14 Kal. Maii 1256), it is ordered that the Dean, being parson of Kirkton, or Old Aberdeen, is obliged to maintain a chaplain and clerk at Monycabock, as well as Kirkton. Connected with this chapel, was a church-yard, which is still used as a place of interment. The site of the chapel at Straloch is near to the present mansion-house, and is marked out by numerous fragments of the building, by pieces of tomb-stones, of which the inscriptions are in part legible, also by a well close by, called the Chapel Well.

Church.— The church was erected in 1791, and is sufficiently-neat, comfortable, and commodious.

Mansion-Houses.—The chief of these is Parkhill, the residence of the principal heritor, who has also large properties in the adjoining parishes of Dyce and Old Machar. It is a commodious handsome house, beautifully situated, and well sheltered by extensive ornamental and valuable plantations. The lawn is extensive, and finely diversified with wood and water; and the prospect up the valley of the Don, terminated by the picturesque mountain of Bennochie, is but rarely surpassed.

The next in importance is Straloch, the seat of Mr Ramsay of Barra, once the property and residence of the well-known Gordon of Straloch, so celebrated as a geographer and a man of science. This residence has also many attractions, and, improving upon a naturally fine situation, the late Mr Ramsay and his father have done much by planting and otherwise, to render Straloch one of the finest places in the country.

The only other mansion-house is that of Elrick. It is a comfortable residence, suited to the size of the estate, and well sheltered by thriving plantations. The proprietor, Mr Burnett, from the state of his health, usually resides in Italy.


There are 2 fatuous persons in the parish, both males; and 2 blind, both females.

Character of the People.—The people are, for the most part, sober, industrious, and intelligent. They are not inferior, it is believed, to the parishes around, either in the knowledge or practice of the Gospel,—are most regular in their attendance on the services of the sanctuary,—are liberal, to a degree, in their contributions for the support of the poor,—and, of late, have shown themselves ready to attend on ministrations of a more private kind on week days. On the part of the young, especially, an uncommon and growing desire is manifested for instruction, both in the things that pertain to the life that now is, and in the things that pertain to the life which is to come.


The inhabitants of this parish, with comparatively few exceptions, are employed in agriculture.

Agriculture.—The superficial extent of the parish may be estimated at about 8390 imperial acres, of which about 5570 are arable, 958 in pasture, and about 810 under plantation, consisting chiefly of larch and fir, with a considerable intermixture of hard wood. Of the remaining acres, from 300 to 400 might be ad-vantageously cultivated.

Rental.-—The average rate of land per acre has not been accurately ascertained ; but may be stated in round numbers at L.1 per imperial acre. The valued rent of the whole parish is L.3254. Wages.—Farm-servants receive about L.12 per annum, exclusive of board. The period of engagement is usually six months. The system of feeing markets prevails in this part of the country; but efforts are being made to establish district register offices, which have for their object to improve the respectability and efficiency of that numerous and hitherto much-neglected class of society, by rendering certificates of character essential to success. The wages of labourers are 2s. per day in summer, and 1s. 6d. in winter. The wages of artisans are proportionally higher.

Produce.— The principal crops raised in the parish are barley, bear, corn, turnips, and potatoes. The price of provisions much the same as in the neighbouring parishes.

Husbandly—The mode of rotation followed in this parish is either a five or a seven-shift,—the former being, 1. green crop or fallow; 2. oats or barley sown out with grass seeds; 3. hay; 4. pasture; 5. oats;—the latter, the same as the former, with this difference, that the land is allowed to lie three years in grass instead of two, and afterwards is made to carry two white crops instead of one. Modifications of either system are sometimes practised, according to increased facilities of procuring manure and other determining circumstances.

Live-Stock.—The cattle reared are either the Aberdeenshire horned and dodded, or crosses with the short-horn and Hereford breeds. The policy of corrupting the native breeds of the country is still a quastio vexata, which time and more experience only can solve. It is universally found in the Smith field market, that pure Aberdeenshire bring a much higher price than the shorthorn or even the finest cross, while, on the other hand, the latter attain a larger size, and are in general ready for the market a year sooner.

Improvements.-—-In no parish, perhaps, within the last ten years, have improvements in agriculture been more vigorously and successfully carried on than in this. By draining, liming, and other applications, not only has a large addition been made to the extent of arable land in the parish, but the soil in previous cultivation has been rendered much more productive.

Size of Farms.—The farms vary in extent from 45 to 200 acres, or thereby.

Leases.— The duration of leases is nineteen years, and the conditions generally favourable to the occupier. But we have heard not a few farmers complain that proprietors neglect to inform them, till within the last year or so, of the expiry of their lease, whether it is to be renewed or not.

Farm-houses and Steadings.-—These are for the most part commodious, and adapted to the size of the farms. They have been greatly improved of late years ; but in many cases their condition is susceptible of farther improvement.

With regard to the erection of farm-steadings, the following system has been adopted by the proprietor of Rainnieshills, &c. and has been found to answer well. After the plan and size have been agreed upon, the tenant erects the whole at his own expense, but is repaid his whole outlay except carriages, in the five subsequent years, by ten equal half-yearly deductions from his rent. If it were not invidious to single out a particular individual, where so many have signalized themselves in the various departments of agriculture, it might be mentioned that the greatest improvements which have been recently made in this parish have been effected by Mr William Harvey, the spirited and skilful tenant of Monykebbock.

V.—Parochial Economy.

Market-Towns.—The nearest market-towns are Aberdeen and Old Meldrum, the former distant from the parish church ten: and the latter eight miles. There is no village in the parish.

Means of Communication.— There is a post-office lately established about midway between the church and manse, close by the turnpike road. The Aberdeen and Banff turnpike runs through the parish, a distance of seven miles, intersecting it in the direction of north and south. The old Aberdeen turnpike, commencing at the church, gradually diverges from the new eastward, until it joins the Peterhead turnpike, near to the old bridge of Don. It is still in very tolerable repair, and is the mean of communication with Aberdeen to the inhabitants in the south-east end of the parish. [There are, moreover, numerous excellent statute labour roads crossing the parish in all directions.] Carriers pass almost daily. A stage-coach from Aberdeen to Banff passes and repasses along the new turnpike daily, also a gig carrying a second mail.

The most important bridge connected with the parish is that which spans the Don on the line of the public road. It consists of one wide arch,—is built entirely of wood,—is much admired for its elegant as well as scientific construction,—but is now considered frail and unsafe for heavy carriages, and is about to be replaced by one of stone a little higher up the river.

Ecclesiastical State.—The parish church is situated exactly opposite the tenth mile stone, a few hundred yards to the eastward, and is nearly equidistant from the extremities of the parish. It was built in 1791, and can accommodate between 600 and 700 hearers. All the sittings are the property of the heritors, and are allocated according to their valued rent.

The manse was built in 1781, and underwent a very thorough repair after the settlement of the present incumbent in 1840.

The glebe, according to a recent survey, contains 21 acres, 3 roods, 18 polls imperial, and may be valued at L. 17 per annum. The stipend, including communion elements, amounts to L. 66, 2s. 2d. in money, 98 bolls, 4 stones, 4 lbs. white meal,—19 bolls 7 stones, 1 lb. farm meal,—15 quarters, 4 bushels, 1 peck bear, 1 bushel,—3 pecks, 1 gallon, oats,—27 quarters, 5 bushels, 1 peck, 1 gallon, 1 quart barley.

There is no other place of worship, whether chapel of ease, or Dissenting, within the parish, besides the parish church.

The number of families in the parish belonging to the Established Church is 251. The number of Dissenting families is 4, and these occasionally attend the parish church. Divine service is remarkably well attended. The average number of communicants is about 600.

There is a Parochial Society for Religious and Missionary Purposes in the parish, which is in a very flourishing state. The amount of last year's contributions exceeded L.20. The sum collected is divided among the Home and Foreign Missions of the Assembly, the London Tract, Bible, and other missionary societies.

The amount of collections made in the church during the by-past year, for religious and charitable purposes, amounted to between L.90 and L.100.

Education.—There are at present three schools in the parish; one parochial school, and two on teachers' own adventure. The parish school is situated beside the church, and under the same roof with the master's own accommodation. The branches taught are, reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, and English grammar. The schoolmaster's salary is L.30 per annum, including the value of a garden. The probable amount of fees may be somewhere between L.10 and L.12. The unendowed schools are taught by individuals in humble circumstances and of limited education, but who are assiduous in their endeavours to promote the spiritual as well as intellectual improvement of the children placed un-pf their care. In an extended parish like this, with a scattered Population, two side-schools are indispensable, one towards either extremity; and it is much to be regretted that there exist not the means of giving to the teachers a larger share of that comfort and encouragement to which the important duties they discharge so justly entitle them.

There are three Sabbath schools in the parish. They are attended in all by about 120 children under fourteen years of age. All the children in the three schools learn the same lessons, and come up to the church on the last Sabbath of every month, when they are examined on the whole month's lessons by the minister after divine service. A syllabus of lessons is prepared, printed, and a copy sent to each family in the parish. A class, called the Bible class, for young persons of both sexes above fourteen years of age, is taught by the minister in the church on alternate Sabbaths. This class is attended by between 60 and 70 scholars. Here, also, a syllabus of lessons is used. Great advantages- have been found to attend this system of religious instruction; 1. It has alt the advantages of regularity, and of unity of design. Not only are the distractions consequent on a multiplicity of tasks and different stages of progress in the school avoided, but occasional absence from a bad day or sickness need not prevent any from preparing all the exercises against the monthly revisal. 2. It brings the young of the parish completely under the eye of the minister, and gives an impulse to the zeal and diligence both of teachers and taught. 3. By means of the syllabus, those parents who are opposed to Sabbath school teaching, or are prevented by circumstances from availing themselves of it, have an opportunity of instructing their children in the same lessons at home; and this done, of sending them up to church on the last Sabbath of the month, to be examined along with the other children. The lessons prescribed to the Bible class are drawn up with the twofold view of preparing young communicants, and of promoting the spiritual improvement of the more advanced among the young.

Literature.—There are two libraries in the parish. The one, for the use of the people generally, was instituted in 1816, and now comprises about 470 volumes on history, biography, travels, &c. with a large proportion of religious books; [A small annual contribution is required of readers.] the other, which was instituted last year, chiefly on the foundation of a church collection, is strictly a religious library, destined for the use of the Sabbath scholars. No payment is required for the use of it. The books were selected with care, and, through the children, not un-frequently find their way into the hands of the parents.

Charitable and other Institutions.—A savings bank was establish-ed in the parish in 1832. Amount of deposits up to June 5th 1841, was L.886; amount invested during year previous to that date, L. 129; amount withdrawn during same period, L.62.

Poor and Parochial Funds.—The average number of persons receiving parochial aid is about 32; the average sum allotted to each about L. 2, 12s. annually. Besides the ordinary poor, as many as five or six or more poor householders require occasional relief. The yearly amount of church collections, on an average of the last four years, is L. 58, 3s.; interest of poor's fund lent, donations, legacies, and other casual supplies, L.26, 1s. In cases of continual sickness or other domestic distress in a poor family, it is no uncommon thing to raise a subscription for their relief. This has been done oftener than once during the last year, and very considerable sums have been raised. On the part of some, that true feeling of independence is still manifested by a reluctance to fall upon the poor's funds; but on the part of many, little or no such feeling is exhibited; and the desire of parties, once received upon the fund, seems to be to get all they cam

Fairs.—It has been attempted, within the last few years, to establish a fair in the parish for the sale of cattle, but hitherto the business transacted has been on a very limited scale.

Inns, Ale-houses, &c.—There are 3 inns in the parish, on the line of turnpike road.

Fuel.—The fuel in general use is peat and turf, procured from one or other of the mosses in the parish. But the use of coal is rapidly on the increase; and though it has to be driven from Aberdeen, it is in most cases now found to be nearly as economical.

August 1842.

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