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


I.—Topography and Natural History.

Name.—The name of this parish was derived from the estate of Lord Pitsligo, of whose lands it was originally composed, and signifies in Gaelic "Hollow Shell."

Extent, &c.—This parish contains about 9 square miles, is of the figure of a trapezoid, and one of the most compact in Buchan. The extent of coast is about 4 miles. The shore on the eastern half, extending from the burgh of Rosehearty to the confines of the parish of Fraserburgh, is partly sand and partly rock, loose and flat; the western half, extending from Rosehearty to the confines of the parish of Aberdour, consists of high and bold rocks, full of fissures of great extent and depth.

The parish is bounded on the north by the Moray Frith for a distance of four miles. It abounds in springs of the best quality, and also in mineral springs highly impregnated with iron.

II.—Civil History.

Eminent Men.—The only individuals of any note connected with this parish, were the celebrated Andrew Cant, and the last Lord Pitsligo. The former was tutor, it would appear, in the family of the first Lord Pitsligo about 1630-33, and was the first minister of this parish after its formation in 1634. He was afterwards translated in 1639, to the parish of Newbattle, and thence to the West Church in Aberdeen, in 1641,—which cure he served till his death in 1663. His tombstone is to be seen in the west side of that churchyard. Mr Cant must have been a man of some consequence during his incumbency at Pitsligo, as the church still retains his name, being called "Cant's Kirk" by the fishermen. He was distinguished as a defender of the Covenant, and was said to be "a mortal enemy to the bishops."

Although there are neither session nor presbytery records of this date, it is more than probable that Cant was succeeded by Mr Duncan Forbes, of whom mention is made in the presbytery records of date 8th November 1649; a person held in high esteem; and, in August 1650, he was unanimously "nominated" minister of Fraserburgh, by "the whole elders and other gentlemen and honest men present;" but the synod refused his "transplantation." In November of the same year he was desired to accept a charge in Aberdeen ; but this matter seems to have been afterwards dropped. "In 1651, at a visitation of Deer, this same Mr Duncan Forbes having preached on Mat. ii. verses 7, 8, 9, is approven by all as having preached powerfully to the conscience, and pertinently to the times."

Wodrow, in his Church History, Vol. i. p. 329, (Burns's edition,) states, that the same Mr Duncan Forbes was one of the seven in this presbytery who were tyrannically cast out of their parishes after the Restoration of Charles II. The kirk-session record of 26th May 1665 states, "the which day Mr Alexander Swan was ordained minister in this parish." The presbytery record of date 1701 alludes to a' Mr William Swan as being incumbent in Pitsligo; but as both parochial and presbyterial records are very defective about this period, nothing farther can be ascertained than that they were brothers, and Episcopal clergymen; the latter of whom was deposed in 1716, with several others, for their nonjuring principles and irregular conduct.

The last Lord Pitsligo wrote a small work entitled "Thoughts concerning Man's Duties in this Life, and his Hopes in the world to come;" prefixed to a late edition of which is an interesting biographical sketch of his Lordship by Lord Medwyn. Alexander, fourth Lord Forbes of Pitsligo, the only son, succeeded his father in 1691, took the oaths and his seat in Parliament 24th May 1700 ; adhered to the Duke of Athole's protest against the Union, 25th December 1705; and did not attend the Parliament in 1706-7, when that treaty was settled. He engaged in the Rebellion in 1715; but no notice seems to have been taken of his defection. He published, in 1734, essays, moral and philosophical; engaged in the Rebellion 1745, after the battle of Preston, and, being considered by his neighbours as a very prudent man, his example drew many into the same course. He was attainted by the title of Lord Pit-sligo, and his honours and estate were forfeited. He claimed his estate before the Court of Session on account of the misnomer, his true title being Lord Forbes of Pitsligo, and that court gave judgment in his favour, 16th November 1749. But on an appeal it was reversed by the House of Lords, on 1st February 1750. He died at Auchiries, in Aberdeenshire, on 21st December 1762.

Land-owners.— The only heritors are, Sir John Stuart Forbes, Bart.; John Duff Dingwall, Esq. of Brucklaw and Corsindae; and Lord Saltoun.

Parochial Registers.—The earliest date of the parochial register is 1676: it contains an account of session matters only. From 1720 the entries are more regular. No register of deaths was ever kept, and that of births is very irregularly kept.

Antiquities.—The only ruins of any note in this parish are the Castles of Pitsligo and Pittulie, both situated on the property of Sir John S. Forbes, and overlooking the sea. The former had evidently been a strongly built castle, the walls being from six to seven feet thick, and probably reared nearly three centuries ago. The ground around is planted with young wood, and the garden still yields some of the finest fruit to be found in the county. The latter castle, it is supposed, must have been built by the Saltoun family, as their coat of arms, carved in stone, is still legible on the original part of the building: it was, however, afterwards enlarged by the Cummings, in whose possession the property long was.


The ancient state of the population cannot be accurately traced.

The increase may be ascribed, in a great measure, to the more extensive prosecution of the fishing trade, especially the herring-fishing, which, until thirty years ago, had never been attempted on this coast. In the landward part of the parish, the population for some time back has rather decreased, in consequence of many crofts and small farms, on which large families often resided, having been thrown into more extensive ones.

Rosehearty is a burgh of barony, created by Royal charter, of date 13th July 1681; of which John Duff Dingwall, Esq. of Brucklaw and Gorsindae is superior. It contains about 600 souls. It has a weekly market on Saturday, with a regular post-office and daily runner to Fraserburgh. The revenue of its harbour amounts to about L. 70 per annum.

There is erecting at Sandhaven, the most easterly point of the parish, by Sir John S. Forbes, Bart. of Pitsligo, and the Fishery Board, a new fishing harbour, which, it is considered, will be of great benefit to this coast. The fishing village of Pittulie, on the property of Sir John S. Forbes, Bart., lies a quarter of a mile north-west of Sandhaven. It contains about 200 souls.


Agriculture.—The agriculture of this parish stood long in a backward state, compared with the husbandry of the south of Scotland; but since the conclusion of the American war in 1782, improvement has proceeded with singular rapidity; and while the rent-rolls of proprietors have been much augmented, the circumstances of the tenantry have been ameliorated in a proportional degree. Almost the whole of this parish is enclosed by substantial stone dikes, and there is ample material for enclosing the remainder, which is progressing rapidly.

The late Sir William Forbes, grandfather to the present Sir John S. Forbes, set the first example in this respect, not only by enclosing many fields on his own estate at his own expense, but by introducing a clause in the general articles of his estate,—"that all his tenants should be entitled to payment of sixpence per ell of stone dike as soon as an enclosure was completed, the remainder of the value to be paid at the expiry of the lease." The consequence is, that nearly the whole of his valuable property in this parish is now well fenced.

The other proprietors in the parish soon followed the example, and gave liberal encouragement to their tenants in regard to enclosing and building houses.

The commons were divided about twenty-five years ago.

Planting.—The parish is very destitute of wood, having only about eighteen acres of planting, chiefly belonging to Sir John S. Forbes. The late Sir William planted most of it. Ash, elm, and larch seem to be the only wood congenial to this soil and climate. The first great difficulty in rearing of wood in this part of Buchan, is to get a barrier against the prevailing northerly gales, which have a blighting, withering influence; that difficulty once overcome, neither the climate nor soil seems to be adverse to the growth of hard-wood.

Of the eighteen acres of planting alluded to, eight only are worthy of notice, the other eight being scattered, neglected, and exposed to the storms. The eight thriving acres are in one enclosure, not far from the church, and every attention is paid yearly to thinning, pruning, &c.

Rent.—The average rent of the arable land is about 19s. 6d. per acre; while the pasture or unimproved land is scarcely worth any thing in its present state, which can only be reclaimed by draining and trenching, at an expense of not less than from L.8 to L. 12 per acre.

The great obstacles to the improvement of low-lying land is the want of leading water runs, particularly in marshes, or wherever there is a strong current; an improvement which ought to be effected at the proprietor's expense. It would enable the farmer to drain and prevent damage from inundation.

Wages.—The winter wages of good ploughmen are from L.5 to L.6, 10s.; foremen and very superior servants realize a little more; boys and other supernumeraries, from L.1, 10s. to L.4. In the summer half-year, men's wages generally advance from 5s. to 10s., and again retrograde in the winter half-year. Women's wages range from L. 2 to L. 3 in the summer half-year, and from L. 1, 10s. to L. 2 in the winter half-vear, according to their character in the country. Labourers get 1s. per day in summer with victuals, and 1s. 6d. without victuals. In winter, labourers' wages may be stated at from 8d. to 10d., with two meals per day; but they are generally very ill employed during the winter months. Square wrights, who work by the day, charge 1s. 6d. with victuals; masons, 2s. 6d. to 3s. per day without victuals; slaters the same.

Live-Stock.—What is called the pure Aberdeenshire breed of cattle has been propagated in this parish from time immemorial. About five years ago, a few farmers joined and introduced a short-horned bull. The crosses with the Buchan cows have given every satisfaction. The cross breeds, which have been fed at the same stall from the birth with Buchan stock, have generally realized more money at the end of the third year. The pure Hereford cattle were introduced to this parish two years ago. The yearling crosses promise well, but nothing decided can as yet be said about them. The farmer's object now is to procure a breed of cattle, uniting early maturity with propensity to fatten.

The general system of farming here is alternate cropping, either upon a five or seven-shift. The fifth shift is adhered to in small possessions, while the seven shift is more common on the large farms. The fifth shift is", 1. turnips or potatoes; 2. barley or oats with grass seeds; 3. hay; 4. grass; 5. oats. The seventh shift is, 1. turnips or potatoes; 2. barley or oats with grass seeds; 3. hay; 4. pasture; 5. pasture; 6. oats; 7. oats.

Soils.—The parish has a diversity of soils, viz. clay or loam, light black soil and moss: these are so interspersed, that almost every farm has a share of each, the light soils being at least in the proportion of four to one.

Manure.—The farmers on the sea coast have the advantage of the drift sea-ware, which enables them not only to top-dress their leas, but to have a crop of barley instead of oats, on what is here provincially called yavil, or the second crop after grass. Farmers two or three miles from the sea shore have a substitute for sea-ware in the article of herring refuse, which is to be found at Fraserburgh and Rosehearty. It is mixed up with earth, and has a wonderful effect. As much may be had for L. 1 as will completely top-dress an acre. Farmers still farther removed from the coast make use of bone-dust for the additional manure they require.

Leases.—The common duration of leases is nineteen years. Farmers complain that proprietors do not inform them, two years before the lease expires, whether or not they will renew it. This is of more consequence to the tenants than the proprietors are aware of.

Practical farmers agree that the average crop of the whole parish does not exceed three and a half quarters per acre of oats and barley. Wheat husbandry does not suit the climate. As near as can be ascertained, the quantity of ground planted with potatoes in this parish is 120 acres. The crop is supposed to average twenty bolls of 5 cwt. per acre; perhaps from 1000 to 1200 bolls are annually exported to Yorkshire for seed. Reds are principally planted. Kidneys have gone into disuse.

Manufactures.—The only article manufactured in the parish is kelp; which, however, of late years, has been little attended to. A little is still made on the property of Sir John S, Forbes, more for the purpose of giving people employment than for realizing a profit. Twenty or thirty years ago, it was an article of considerable importance, giving employment to upwards of seventy people. The quantity made in 1838 was only twenty tons. Twenty or thirty years ago, the quantity made was generally about 140 tons. When the duty was taken off Spanish barilla, a severe blow was inflicted upon the labouring classes throughout Scotland, engaged in the kelp manufacture.

Machinery is superseding manual labour, wherever it can be introduced with propriety. Fourteen thrashing-mills are now in this parish; six are propelled by water; seven by horses; and one by wind. A sowing machine has also been tried this season, and much approved of.

Fisheries.—This parish has two good fishing stations, viz. Rose-hearty, which has a very good harbour for vessels not exceeding 70 tons burden; and Pittulie. At Rosehearty a considerable herring fishery is carried on, commencing about the middle of July, and ending about the first of September. In 1838, forty boats here prosecuted the herring-fishing with success equal to that of any other place in the Moray Frith; each boat manned with five men or four men and a boy, and seven vessels were constantly employed attending the fishing. Three vessels belong to this port. The fish caught at Rosehearty and Pittulie are cod, ling, haddocks, skate, and small black fish, commonly called cole, saith, and poddlies. The surplus is generally exported to London, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. Several of the Rosehearty herring-boats set out about the first of March, to prosecute the cod and ling fishing off the Island of Tyree: they carry the produce of their fishing to Glasgow, and return home before the commencement of the herring-fishing, bringing along with them a cargo of coals.

The rocky shore of Pitsligo does not supply the whole quantity of bait required by the fishermen; but the deficiency is made up by what is procured from Tain, Dundee, or elsewhere along the coast. The fishermen in Rosehearty pay the superior of the burgh, John Duff Dingwall, Esq. of Brucklaw and Corsindae, L. 1 per man for the privilege of landing their fish, gathering bait and bedding their muscles. At Pittulie the fishermen pay L. 1, 5s. for the same privileges.

V.—Parochial Economy.

Means of Communication.— The parish is intersected in the centre by the Old Banff road and the Strichen road, the former running from east to west from Fraserburgh to Banff, the latter from north to south, leading from Rosehearty to Strichen, which divide the parish into four nearly equal parts. The parish is otherwise well accommodated with roads; and a turnpike line leading from Fraserburgh to Banff winds its way through the southeast corner, skirting as it were about two miles and a half of its boundary, and is of great importance to that side of the parish.

Ecclesiastical State.-—The parish church stands in the very centre of the parish, where the Strichen and old Banff roads intersect each other. It was built in the year 1634, and is at present in good repair, having been lately tastefully embellished. The church spire, and the carved work in the aisle, are much admired.

The land north of the church slopes to the sea, in a fall of about 300 feet, from which circumstance the church is seen at a great distance, and hence it is sometimes called "The Visible Kirk," as well as "Cant's Kirk," from the distinguished individual of that name who was the first minister, and whose likeness, carved in stone, with his initials, is seen on the east end, outside. The church is said to be seated for 504, but it will hold, including the aisle, when crowded closely together, fully 600. The number of communicants on the parish roll is 550, and at all times the church is well attended. The manse was built about seventy years ago, and was last repaired in 1836. The glebe extends to about 10 acres, exclusive of the garden and ground in front of the manse, and if let would rent probably about L. 18 per annum, being enclosed. The stipend is paid partly in money, and partly in kind, viz. in money, L. 170, with 21 bolls of barley, and 38 bolls of meal. The Crown is patron.

There is only one Dissenting chapel in this parish which is in connection with the United Associate Synod. The stipend is paid from seat-rents, collections, and partly from the Congregational Union Fund, and amounts to about L. 80 per annum. The number of Dissenters in the parish is 205, viz. 169 Seceders and Independents, 34 Episcopalians, 1 Baptist, and 1 Roman Catholic.

On the 19th February 1717, Mr John Forbes was ordained Presbyterian clergyman at Pitsligo, first after the Revolution; but two years afterwards, he was translated to Old Deer. On the 22d September 1720, Mr William Mercer was ordained minister. On the 4th May 1768, Mr David Stephenson was ordained minister: he died in January 1786. On September 21, 1786, Mr James Greig was ordained : he died on 15th October 1803. On the 13th June 1804, Mr Alexander Farquhar was admitted: he died 26th March 1834; and on 25th September 1834, the present incumbent was admitted.

Education.-—The school-house lately underwent a thorough repair, and the school-room, erected last year, at an expense of no less a sum than L. 300, is of excellent workmanship, and much admired. It is seated to hold about 120 scholars, and it can be enlarged without inconvenience to hold 150. The design was furnished by Mr Smith, architect in Aberdeen.

There are six schools in this parish besides the parochial,— five of which are taught by females : two of the females have small salaries from the proprietors on whose properties they are situated. The pupils attending each of these six schools average about 30. The branches taught, are English reading and writing.

The branches taught at the parochial school are, English reading and grammar, writing, arithmetic, book-keeping, practical mathematics, (by which term is meant mensuration of surfaces and solids, &c.) geography;—Latin and Greek when called for, which, however, seldom happens,—together with the elements of religious knowledge. The salary amounts to L. 34, 4s. 4½d. with an allowance of L. 2 for a garden. Amount of fees in 1835-6, paid and unpaid included, L. 35, 2s. 2d. The teacher has the legal accommodation.

There are few, if any persons, in the parish who cannot read and write. None of the families are too distant from the parish school; and no child capable of going to school need be absent from it, for those not on the gratis list of the parish schoolmaster, have their fees paid by the kirk-session.

Literature.—There is a library connected with the parish school, which was established about two years ago, and now contains 100 volumes. With a view to promote and encourage a taste for reading, the rate of subscription was made upon the lowest possible scale,—so low, indeed, as to be altogether inadequate for the purchase of such a stock of books as is required to keep pace with the growing desire for information among the juvenile and even among the grown-up portion of the community.

Friendly Societies.—There are several Friendly Societies in this parish, viz. Masons, Wrights, Shoemakers, Gardeners, and Fishers, many of them of long standing, and distributing large sums annually to widows and aged indigent members. That of the Masons, entitled the Forbes Lodge of Masons, was instituted in 1775, and pays to sick and superannuated members, with widows and orphans, annually, no less a sum than L. 70. The others distribute in all about L. 30.

Poor and Parochial Funds.—The following tables show the state of the poor, the number of them relieved, collections and distributions, &c. for the years 1835-36-37, as rendered to the Church Commissioners:

The above expenditure does not include the session-clerk's fee of L. 3 per annum, nor that of the church officer of L. 2, nor postages, stamps, &c.

The average sum given to the poor on the roll is 19s. 2d; to those occasionally relieved, 10s. 6d. The lowest sum given per quarter is 5s.; the highest, at present, is 3s. per week.

It may be added, that numerous donations and legacies have been paid to the session of Pitsligo, for behoof of the poor, since the commencement of the present century.

The late James Brown, Esq. M. D., son of the late Mr Brown, Boghead, left a sum of L. 100, the interest of which is to be laid out in keeping the family tomb in repair; and the surplus to be given to poor persons who had been servants or cottars in Boghead. The trustees are the minister and schoolmaster of Pitsligo, and the farmer in Boghead for the time being.

October 1840.

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