TALK ON ABERLOUR Prepared by Dr. B.M. Sellar
Originally the inhabitants of this district hailed from Western Spain, France and the Mediterranean. They settled about the Clyde Valley area and along Pentland Firth - and landed in Banffshire and Aberdeenshire about 2000 BC.
These were the chamber cairn folk and they erected the upright stones and stone circles so common in NE of Scotland. There are several of these cairns about Hatton Farm and Gownie. According to the Society of Antiquaries these cairns have been investigated and show signs of disturbance. Many of the slabs had been removed - also bits of pottery and tools of the Stone Age type.
The Pagan Church was followed by the primitive Christian Church then came the Roman era.
Some historians make out that there is evidence that on the site of the present Aberlour Distillery there was a Roman Catholic Monastery and that the alder trees along the burn were planted and used by the secular monks for making shoes and clogs (Sandy Jamieson tells me that there is something peculiar about the land between the distillery and the office. Repeatedly he has dumped surface rubbish there and it sinks into the ground - suggesting a peculiar formation of that part of the ground.)
The Gordons of Aberlour who lived in Aberlour House for many generations were staunch Roman Catholics later engaged in the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715. In the old house of Aberlour on the Craigellachie side of the present house a letter was found addressed to the
Laird of Aberlour written by the young Chevalier in August 1715:
"My dear Gordon, I am to be at ...... and trust to see you there with as many men as you can raise to rally round the Royal Standard - I am yours faithfully Ch. Ed. Stuart."
(There was a Distillery in this area - built by the last Gordon Laird destroyed by fire.)
At the present house of Kinermony there are remains of a religious house occupied by the Knights Templars. These were religious knights established at Jerusalem about 1118 whose vow was "to defend the Temple and entertain pilgrims and strangers." In 1312 The Pope decreed that all Knights Templars should be suppressed and it is said that they were all massacred in one night - including those at Kinermony.
The Parish of Aberlour is called "Skirdustan" named after its Patron Saint - DROSTAN. The "Skir" being Gaelic for divide - i.e. Drostan's division or parish. The local branch of the Oddfellows is called "Skirdustan Lodge."
The village was founded by Mr. Charles Grant of Elchies in 1812 - with the name of Charlestown of Aberlour after his son Charles. Feus with 4 acres of land attached were granted in liberal terms and were soon in great demand. The original houses were built mainly of stones taken from the bed of the Spey, often pushed up in barrows by the frugal feuars and their wives.
There was a long wide straggling street - a road all covered with grass. It ran from the old church in the graveyard - along where Wellfield and Broomfield now are - to the Square and a road led to the old ferry across the Spey just above the present Victoria Bridge.
In the wide ugly gaps between the houses lay stagnant pools of water and midden rubbish. There was a pump for water in the Square and a big stone stance nearby used for washing carts and gigs. Most of the women did washing at the riverside. The ground to the South of the Square was an expanse of heather, broom and whins. Later on houses were built there. An open ditch crossed the street running into the Spey where the Creepie now is. It was not covered till 1870. Altogether Aberlour could not have been a very attractive or salubrious little place. Many of the inhabitants died of smallpox or tuberculosis. It is interesting to go over the old tombstones and notice the number of deaths of young people - on the other hand those who weathered the perils of youth seemed to live on to a very ripe old age.
An account written in 1792 by James Thomson might well make us envious of the good old days. "Beef formerly at 1½d per lb. is now 3d or 4d; Eggs formerly 1d for 14 now cost 1½d for 12; Fish formerly 5d per dozen now cost 1/-. A load of peats cost l/6d to 2/3d." He says "wages have nearly doubled since 20 years ago. A day labourer gets his victuals and 6d a day at any season in harvest l0d and 1/-. A manservant who can only drive a horse and cart is allowed £4 yearly but he who can plough and sow gets £5 or £6. A woman servant gets £2 per year.
In 1845 Rev. A. Wilson - in new Statistical Account says "People of Aberlour are sober and industrious in their habits. Animal food is rarely eaten and diet consists of milk and vegetables from their own produce. They are neat and clean in their persons and temperate in their diet. They are not behind their neighbours in shrewdness and intelligence. Wages of farm servants 1st man £6 half yearly. Ploughman £4.10, maid servants 30/- and £2 inclusive (Little change in 50 years.)"
It is difficult to picture life in these early days with no good roads as we know them and no public transport. The main toll road from Craigellachie to Carron was only made in 1817. Old Mr. Stuart, one of the veterans of our village, told me that he remembers how the first mail depot was at Hamewith (now the Antique Shop). An open gig went from Daldaleith to Grantown and back daily. One passenger could sit beside the driver in front and the mail was piled behind. Mr. Stuart's grandmother used to be postwoman for Edinvillie district before roads existed there - tramping over the Rinnachat and Ballinteem moss over rough footpaths or sheep trails.
The Kirk in the old days was the social and civic as well as the religious centre of village life. The old Kirk of Skirdustan whose gable is all that remains today in the kirkyard was in existence in 1226. In the 16th century came the Reformation and the first protestant minister of the Presbytery of Aberlour is recorded as being a Mr. Wm. Peterkin in 1569. In the churchyard today there are many interesting inscriptions of prominent local people of that time dating back to 1664.
The old "font" is a basin for holy water where the monks washed their hands before sacrament and which has an opening at the bottom of it. It was through this that the wine left over after communion was poured onto the earth. It is called a piscina and was found lying about the burnside. The late Prof. Cooper insisted on its being placed in the churchyard for preservation although my mother used to tell us that Canon Jupp was keen on its being taken to the grounds of the Episcopal Church. There is a tale about the old "font" reported in James Thomson's "Recollection of a Speyside Parish." A man attempted to drown himself in the Spey but was rescued and locked in the Kirk for safety. Next morning they discovered with horror that he had kept his head in the water in the font long enough to achieve his object.
In its original state it was thackit with heather and every parishioner was bound to bring a yearly "bew" or bundle of heather to repair the "thack."
Several homes adjoined the churchyard at all times. In one of them lived an old couple who spent anything but a happy married life. The wife was quiet and industrious, the man sullen and lazy. On one occasion she was busy at her spinning wheel and he sat smoking his pipe. On looking out of the window the wife saw the gravedigger digging a grave and remarked "Aye, aye I see Saunders busy in his garden again," to which the husband replied gruffly - "I widna care if I'd seen Saunders had you for a plant."
The old Brig below the present road bridge was probably built in the 13th century to allow the folks to cross to the Kirk. It is not a Wade bridge but nevertheless a valuable old relic of the village worth preserving. According to Sandy Jamieson, a road ran from the Dowans Brae along the top of the football pitch close to the boundary wall of the Keils house and crossed the burn above the railway line - where there is now a ford of the Speyside Way.
The first recorded Aberlour minister was a Mr. John Stuart 1624-1634. Rev. George Speed - minister in 1640. He provided that his body should be buried in the churchyard and not below the pulpit as had long been the practice where a minister was concerned - quaintly remarking that if his remains were laid there "the rest of the Aberlour folk at the last day wad be ower the hill 0' Tominurie afore he got oot o' the Kirk."
The Manse there stood beside the old Kirk.
Many tales are told about the Rev. Wm. Wilson - a bachelor who was looked after by his old housekeeper Annie Dey and two servant girls (one of whom was Mr. Wm. Stuart's mother.) Wilson was a character and so was Annie. They were a model household of domestic economy. Annie even blackened the minister's shoes with the soot from the bottom of the kale pot. His appearance on the street never failed to attract attention clad, as he always was, in a low crowned, broad brimmed hat, a long tailed black coat and flapped waistcoat and his nether limbs enveloped in velveteen knee breeches. White worsted stockings and low shoes of a dusty hue completed the everlasting toilet of the minister of Aberlour. At the manse they lived on their own produce from their tattie and kale patch, their hens and a cow. A tale is told of how a young lad had once been given permission by Mr. Wilson to fill the pulpit at Aberlour. Mr. Wilson was dubious of young preachers. "Young chiels" he said "mak ower muckle use o' their neives an' my pulpit winna stan' their duntin'.
Annie and the minister held a conclave as to the resources of the household and as to whether he'd be likely to stay for dinner. It was decided that 2 chickens should be killed but if he didn't stay only one was to be cooked. The lad arrived "Ye'll bide and tak a bite o' dinner after the Kirk comes oot?" The young man was doubtful - he had to preach in Rothes in the evening. The minister, seeing he was not likely to accept his suggestion, pressed his hospitality more warmly till the young man unfortunately consented. The minister left the room and called to Annie in the kitchen. "Annie, are you there woman? Pit the ither cockie in the pot - he's bidin' yet."
It was Mr. Wilson who one day in the pulpit announced that he was sorry that mice had got at his sermon and he would just begin where the mice left off.
He had 2 famous sermons. On one occasion he was setting off on his gig with Willie Smith his manservant, to preach at Inveravon. Just as he moved off he suddenly stopped and told William to run in to Annie Dey to say that he'd forgotten his sermon. Willie ran back and brought it out. One glance at it and he cried "Na, na, tell Annie that's the wrong ane. I've hanged Nahum twice already in the Kirk O' Inveravon. Tell her to look for the Selling O' Joseph." Every word of both sermons was as familiar to his hearers as the 23rd Psalm.
The women's Sunday best these days were made of linsey Woolsey, home spun cloth warm and wearable. Older women generally went to church in a long grey or red cloak with a hood which they pulled over their starched mutch if the rain came on. The common garb of the men were home spun shirts and knee breeches like the ministers.
In church they sat on stools and, with solemn and expressive faces, sat through the long sermons while the men broke the monotony by frequent resort to the snuff mull handed round during the sermon.
The bellman, Jimmy More, was seen at his best on Sunday morning carrying the books and bible from the manse to Kirk. When the Kirk skailed the congregation followed him to the square to hear "the cries." If they listened to the sermon with sleepy attention, every voice was now hushed and every ear agog to hear his startling utterances. One Sunday he gave advice that "Nelly Grant at the heid o' the toon has killed twa o' her pigs and is selling them at saxpence a pun ready money. And "Notice. Twa yowes, a blackfaced ram have been either stolen or strayed frae Blairnain. The ram was marked wi' keel at the reet i' the tail and the yowes upon their shoulders. Anybody bringing them tae Blairnain will be weel rewardit."
The present Parish Church was built and in use in 1812. (The old Kirk in the graveyard was in a poor state, and closed when one lady fell through the floor of the gallery.) The new Kirk was destroyed by fire about New Year 1861 except for the tower and belfry. It was renovated and partly rebuilt in 1934 and evidence of the fire is still visible in the blackened stones in the walls of the church today. Rev. Dr. Sellar was minister at the time of the fire and had for bellman James McWilliam who was also postman. A great crowd had gathered in the Square. The tower was still not alight and standing when Dr. Sellar said "Up you go to the tower James and help to put out the fire from there." "Up ye go yersel, Sir said James. "For years ye1ve prayed for a wall o' fire around yer Zion and ye've gotten it this night."
It was the same Dr. Sellar who made a great furore at the railway line being built close behind the Parish Kirk in 1862.
The United Free Church was built in 1847 - described as a fine Gothic building costing £290.3/-.
The earliest school in Aberlour was the Dames School in the cottage at Burnside where Canon Jupp later founded the Orphanage by bringing up 4 orphan boys. Near this site there was also an Inn (or pub). Another well-known pub on the Craigellachie road near the monument to General Gordon at Aberlour House called The Mavis Rest (according to Mrs.
Godall, late of Rose Cottage, mother-in-law of Alex Boatie.)
The First Episcopal School was at Tower Villa.
The First village school and schoolhouse was on the site of the old Glenmorag Hotel (now The Old Pantry) and later where the Drill House now is. (1st schoolmaster recorded 1720 - Patrick Gordon). The railway had not been built and the playground extended from the school right down to the Spey.
Mr. Thomson describes the school as it was in 1826 when Mr. Gillan was dominie. The one adornment of the one schoolroom was a map of the world - yellow with age - hanging on the wall - as yellow as a duck's foot and an outline of the eastern hemisphere was dimly visible. On the desk lay the 'little tag' small in size but sharp in the bite. Within the desk was the 'muckle tag' for use on special occasions - a dreadful instrument or torture fully 2' in length of ponderous leather, cut into fingers at one end and singed in the fire to harden the points. It lay like a serpent coiled in a pigeon hole of the dominies desk.
Behind the door was a large wooden box like a coffin without a lid and in winter each child was expected to bring one peat and throw it into the box as he entered. It was only when the peat stack at home was very low that anyone would dare to bring only half a peat because it was a grave slur to be a "half peat loon". It was a dry monotonous system of teaching in these days. Mr. Thomson says the very name of the Shorter Catechism brought a feeling of depression.
Mr. Charles Grant was one of the best known of all the long race of schoolmasters. He was affectionately known as "schooley Grant" - born in Strondhu, Knockando 1807. He started in Aberlour in 1844 and taught, much of the time single handed, for the next 30 years. (Logbook 1874 - 87 pupils, 1 principle teacher - C. Grant AM.)
He was a man of varied accomplishments - a classical scholar (loved Horace) a musician - famed for his skill in composing fiddle music, Highland reels and Strathspeys. (His daughter had a private collection of his Strathspey and Reels some of which are incorporated in the books of the Scottish Country Dancing Society). He lived at the Schoolhouse (Glenmorag) and had a lovely garden which extended down to the school - now Victoria Terrace. He was a first class shot - good fisherman and knew every pool of the run of the Spey. He had a high reputation as a teacher and young men from other parishes came to finish under his able tuition. His daughter - wife of Dr. McPherson of Banff died 1957 - came frequently back to Aberlour and she had his fiddle music printed in book form (Grant's Strathspey & Reels).
My mother used to tell a tale about him. His idea of educating the boys was wide and not limited to the 3 R's. On a hot day he would leave lessons and take them down for a swim in the Spey. On one occasion His Majesty's Inspector arrived to inspect the pupils' work and they had put up a bad show. After a good dinner at the schoolhouse it was a hot summers day - the dominie invited the Inspector to come for a swim in the Spey. Mr. Grant was an expert swimmer - the Inspector was not - and he was led to a great deep hole (?Polshean) in the river and as the Inspector realised his danger he cried out to Mr. Grant to come to his rescue. Scholastic Grant called out "If ye promise tae pit in a good report on my school I'll come and help ye". "Aye, aye, I'll dae that" gasped the Inspector, whereupon Mr. Grant fished him out safely to dry land.
It was during Dr. McPherson's time in 1882 that the village school was raised in status and reputation. The old building at the Drill Hall was condemned as insanitary and insufficient and the railway had been built through the playground. On January 5th 1897 the pupils met for the last time in the old school where they formed into a procession and marched to the new school on the hill where the bell in the tower rang out a merry peal. It was opened by Mr. John R. Findlay then Laird of Aberlour (then owner of the Scotsman).
In spite of the wretched conditions that Dr. McPherson had to contend with in the old building when he came in 1882, the records during his years of teaching are amazing. Latin, Greek, Maths, French and German had been taught. Sixteen pupils had gained college bursaries to the aggregate value of £647 and went straight to College without intermediate coaching. Six graduated at Aberdeen - 2 with honours.
No chronicle of Aberlour would be complete without mentioning the "Muckle Spate" of 1829. (Through all the changes of the centuries the Spey flows on. Had it a voice what a legend it could unfold - from the lazy almost warm currents of mid-summer to the fierce raging torrents of spring spates - that make the river awful and terrible to watch). The name "Spey" by the way is derived from the Gaelic "Spe" meaning sputum from the frothy foam of its current.
In the olden days, before the volume of water was controlled by the River Board, the river, when in spate, found a second channel where the railway and station now stand. For several years a stream from the lower end of the Boatpool passed the back of the Church joining the river again at the Creepie - so the little haugh so cut off was named "The Isle". At one time it was actually an island until bulwarks were built and the railway embankment built up. It was no uncommon thing for salmon to be caught in the pools left behind here after a flood.
In August 1829 the year of the "Muckle Spate" there was phenomenal rain and wind which persisted unceasingly for 2 whole days and affected the Nairn, the Findhorn, the Lossie and the Spey. The very air seemed to be descending in one mass of water.
The Spey rose rapidly and the terrible flood rose sweeping all over the glebe land, much of which was never reclaimed, right up almost to the level of the street. An old stone remained for many years in the old schoolhouse garden (Victoria Terrace) to mark the level of the flood. All the outhouses of the Boat House were swept away - the haugh completely washed away, leaving behind 2 feet deep of sand and gravel. The Manse was inundated and in the confusion it is said that the cellars were drained in more ways than one by officious helpers.
Charles Cruikshank, the Innkeeper, great grandfather of Hamish Cruikshank, went down the burn in his float to rescue some wood at the mouth of the burn. James Stewart and James McKerron who went with him to help managed to swim ashore before it was too late but Mr. Cruikshank was determined to get his wood and the float was swept down the Lour Burn. Just before it reached the main current of the river he leapt on to one of the trees in the water. All attempts to throw ropes from a boat were useless. Darkness came down and only his shouts for help, becoming more and more pitiful, were heard through the darkness of the torrential storm. Next morning the tree on which he had taken refuge had gone and his body was found washed up at Dandaleith. Even in his desperate plight he had followed his usual custom of winding up his watch for it was found fully wound up and had stopped at quarter past eleven when the tree had given away.
Next morning when the men who had attempted to rescue him were talking over the tragedy, the reputed village idiot remarked "I'm thinkin' I could hae ta'en him oot." A remark received with general contempt. "I'd hae tied an empty cask tae the end o' a lang, lang tow and I wid hae floated it off frae near aboot whar the raft was ta'en first awa, and syne ye see, as the burn tuik the raft tae the tree, maybe she w'd hae ta'en the cask there tee and if Charlie had aince gotten a had o' the tow" - he would have finished but his audience was gone - one man muttering some things about "wisdom coming out of the mouths of fools."
I wish I had time to recall many other interesting things in the old history of our village - incidents that led to the Laird of Elchies at last allowing the present Victoria Bridge to be built, the money for which had been gifted by Mr. Fleming, the banker and distiller who in the 1900's built the Fleming Hall and Hospital. The history of the ups and downs of Aberlour House with the romantic story of the boy - a penniless lad serving at Elchies who came back from India a millionaire and bought Aberlour House - Mr. Grant - ; leaving the house and estate to a niece Miss McPherson of Garbity who adopted the name of Macpherson Grant and whose picture hangs in the Fleming Hall. How she financed the Mission Church in Craigellachie, originally as an Episcopal School and also gave £2000 towards the building of the beautiful church of St. Margaret's at the orphanage.
The development of the village water supply in 1865 - the street lighting the following year - inaugurated by Major McGowan, the banker who built the "Major's Briggie" over the Lour near the Spey, whose nephew James McGowan - auctioneer from Craigellachie was drowned in 1897 in the tragic ferry boat accident - when James Newlands, late of Craggan and now in Dufftown, was born; of the vast modern improvements in the farms that we owe to Mr. John Findlay, Laird of Aberlour and grandfather of Sir Edmund - one time Member of Parliament for Banffshire; of the Cherrybyle brothers of Dickens from the Haugh of Elchies - of the 3 Garrow brothers from Birkenbush:
? Vicar wrote Mr. Garrow - he wanted to write a history of the parish.
So we come back to where I started - "the wells we have not digged - the forests we have not planted - the houses and halls we have not built" in fact, the goodly heritage built up by our forefathers of Aberlour - which we are privileged to enjoy today.
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