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History of the Parish of Banchory-Devenick
Portlethen Church


The history of Portlethen Church dates from the year 1649, at which time “the Presbytery of Aberdeen, taking into account the fact of the people dwelling in the ‘remottest pairtis of the parochines of fetresio and nether-banchie fare distant frome their owne paroche kirkis That it is almost impossible to thame, Especiallie in the winter tyme, to repair to their owne paroche kirks for the worship of god and educatioune of their soules The way being deip and almost impossible,’” supplicated Parliament to take into consideration the propriety of erecting a place of worship here. It was stated that the number of communicants amounted at that time to “about 8 or 9 hundredth soules,” and the matter was referred to the Committee for “ the Plantation of Kirks.” Nothing practical, however, resulted from this application, but the Roman Catholic Chapel of Portlethen, which had been erected by Robert Buchan, proprietor of the estate, about 1635, having fallen into disuse, gradually came to be utilised as a presbyterian place of worship. In the beginning of last century, the parish ministers of Banchory-Devenick held services in the chapel, usually on Sunday afternoons. Regular entries of these preachings were made in the minute books of Session, and although it is stated in Macfarlane’s Geographical Collections M.S., written in 1725, that “this present minister preaches once in the fifteen days in the afternoon in the summer time, and once in the twenty days in the winter time,” there can be no doubt considerable attention was devoted to the spiritual requirements of the district. On Sunday forenoons the residenters were in the habit of attending at the parish church, where in 1711 a special space was set apart for their accommodation. This system continued for many years, and so jealously had the clerical interests been then guarded, that in 1742, when a Muchalls’ clergyman obtruded by preaching in the chapel, the parish minister resolved “to have him prosecuted for so doing.”

About two years later, however, a formal arrangement was entered into with Mr. Wilkins, a licentiate of the Church of Scotland, under which he undertook to preach each alternate Sunday here and at the Sod Kirk of Fetteresso, distant about three miles. This “ sod kirk ” was built in the northern part of Fetteresso. It was for long a wretched erection, but in 1816 exertions were made to procure a better and larger building ; and a chapel capable of accommodating 400 sitters was erected at Cookney on the property of Muchalls. 11 having in time become insufficient for its object, fresh exertions were made, which resulted in the construction of a church, in which 700 are properly accommodated. The district is now converted into the quoad sacra parish of Cookney, and thereare at present upwards of 530 communicants on the roll. The Rev. James Taylor, M.A., who was ordained in 1867, is the minister. When the preaching was held at the latter place the people were warned to attend at Banchory. Regarding INIr. Wilkins we are informed that, by means of very low-priced and ill-paid seat rents and poor collections (his only source of income), he obtained the mere necessaries oflife in the meanest grade of living. The worthy man had, at the frequent peril of his life, been extremely useful to the royal army in the Jacobite rebellion of 1745-46. For these valuable services the only reward that could be obtained for him from the Government was the offer of what is described in the Session Records as an “ Itinerantry in a remote part of the Highlands.” But Mr. Wilkins was too conscientious to accept of this, as he did not understand the Gaelic language—preferring poverty and usefulness in this unoccupied field for his ministrations.

After his death the two chapels were practically closed, with the exception of Portlethen Church, which was sometimes occupied by the parish minister, and both occasionally were taken possession of by any strolling and self-licensed preacher; most frequently by a fish-cadger of the name of Carse, who came to the coast in the way of his principal employment.2 From 1785, the year that Dr. Morison came to the parish, a duly licensed minister officiated in it. In the end of last century Mr. Scorgie was the officiating clergyman. A Mr. Pirie also acted as minister for a considerable period, but on his death, in 1827, Mr. William Law, schoolmaster of Maryculter, was appointed to preach in the church each Sunday. His salary was at first ^o> per annum, but in 1832 it was at Dr. Morison’s instigation increased to 35, and a pony was presented to him-so that he might ride over from Maryculter each Sunday. In December, 1834, it was reported to the Presbytery “ that the Church having recently undergone extensive additions and alterations, is now seated for the accommodation of about 540 people, and the average amount of seat rents ^51 5s. per annum. The average collection for the year is ^28 10s.” In 1840 Mr. Law was formally ordained minister of Portlethen as a chapel of ease, when a manse and more adequate salary were provided. He then demitted office as schoolmaster of Maryculter, and betook himself exclusively to the work of the ministry. Sixteen years later, he got the whole of the parish of Banchory-Devenick on the south side of the Dee, with the exception of the estates of Banchory and Ardoe, erected into the quoad sacra church and parish of Portlethen. Twelve years subsequently, on account of increasing years and failing strength, he was obliged to apply for an assistant and successor. This having been granted by the church courts, he handed over the ministerial charge of the district to the assistant, He died suddenly of apoplexy on the morning of nth January, 1870, in the 73rd year of his age.

William Bruce, M.A., who had been appointed assistant and successor in 1868, now succeeded to the full charge. He was a native of Sauchentree, in the parish of New Aberdour, where his father for long carried on the business of an ironfounder, and thereafter of a farmer. Previous to his appointment at Portlethen, Mr. Bruce had for many years acted as schoolmaster of Finzean. As a minister he became very popular with the fishing community, to whom he discharged almost the whole functions of a doctor. He also took a keen interest in the educational and parochial matters connected with the parish ; but unfortunately his career was blighted through the church courts having to take cognizance of certain indiscretions he had committed, and for which he was for a time placed under suspension. Shortly after he was seized by a paralytic affection, from which he never regained his wonted strength. In the autumn of 1882 the illness assumed an acute form, and he died somewhat suddenly on the 28th November of that year, aged about 45 years. His remains were interred in the burying-ground of Portlethen, where a handsome tombstone has been erected to his memory. He was a widower, but left no family.

The present incumbent is the Reverend Alexander Robertson Grant, M.A., son of Mr. Grant who was long a hotel-keeper in Abernethy, Inverness-shire. He received his early education at the school of Tomintoul, from whence he removed to Aberdeen for the purpose of prosecuting his studies. Matriculating at King’s College in 1874, he graduated in 1878 ; and subsequently passing through the divinity course, was licensed by the Presbytery of Aberdeen in the spring of 1881. Being elected minister of Portlethen, he was ordained in the church in 1883. The communion roll exceeds 650 members, and the duties of minister in such a large and divided fishing district are of a delicate and trying character.


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