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The Blackhalls of that Ilk and Barra
Chapter II. — The Blackhalls of that Ilk and Barra


THE early history of the Garioch may be divided into (1) the Celtic period, which terminated with the creation of the Earldom of the Garioch, under David, Earl of Huntingdon; (2) from that time till the battle of Barra, in 1307, when Robert Bruce finally overthrew the power of the Comyns; (3) from the date of the battle of Barra to that of the battle of Harlavv, when victory declared for the South against the North in 1411.

Of the families which held land and office in the Garioch prior to the battle of Harlaw, the Blackhalls of that Ilk were one. How long before that date they were domiciled in this district, it is difficult to determine. Material for the early history even of powerful families, whose descendants still continue in possession of their ancestral acres, is frequently scanty. The troublous times in the history of their county and country, through which many such houses have passed, have caused the loss or destruction of charters, which would be invaluable for historical purposes. These difficulties are increased tenfold when an attempt is made to write the history of families, long after they have lost touch with their lands ; while statutes of limitation under these circumstances only require the preservation of such deeds as are necessary for the transmission of lands to new proprietors, who may, and frequently do, succeed one another at comparatively short intervals. The Blackhalls appear, indeed, at one time to have been a sufficiently powerful county family, with a reasonable expectation of future greatness, but a division of their estates, which seems to have taken place at an early period, also divided their power, and since that time they do not seem to have produced any member sufficiently distinguished to reach a public position of power and influence. They appear, on the whole, to have been a law-abiding ;iml steady race, who had, generation after generation, fulfilled the duties of their position as a recognised, though minor, county family, and suffered, as will be told, undeserved spoliation, at the hands of those in whose service they sacrificed both wealth and life. A circumstance fortunate for the genealogist, but annoying, and doubtless expensive to the Blackhalls, at: a time when they could little afford it, was the action for reduction brought against them in 1634 by the Earl of Mar, to which reference will again be made. Owing to this action, however, the purport of many charters, dealing with the history of the family, has been preserved, which would, in all probability, have otherwise been lost.

It is generally agreed that surnames first began to be used, in Scotland at all events, in the reign of David I., and the most ancient surnames are those which have been taken from lands. It may also be, that in some instances, lands have been named after their owners, and ancient landmarks removed, as is at times observed even in the present day. Blackhall itself, for example, and some other old properties in the Garioch, are now included in the estate of Manar, so called from the Straits of Manar, where the grandfather of the present proprietor amassed money!

As a place-name, Blackhall, or its equivalent, is pre-Norman. It is met with in various forms, and in different parts of the country, in Domesday Book. Thus Blacheshale, in Somersetshire, belonged, after the Conquest, to Roger de Corcelli, and Blachenhale and Blachehol, in Cheshire, to Count Hugo (Earl Hugh). In 1278-79, Walter de Wigton held the manor of Blachale, in Cumberland, and Lower, in his Pntronymica Brittanica, derives the surname Blackhall from Blackhall in Cumberland. Lower, however, regards Blackhall as a place-name as a corruption of Blackwell, but the reverse is the fact. Blackhall, now the property of Musgrave of Edenhall, immortalised by Hufeland and Longfellow, is the ancient Blachale, in Cumberland, already mentioned. The earliest instance I have met with of the use of Blackhall, or its equivalent, as a surname by one presumably an Englishman, is that of Simon de Blakeshale, who was constable of Roxburgh Castle for Edward the First in 1306-7 (Col. of Doc. relating to Scotland, Vol. II., p. 502). Whether in that period of fluctuating political allegiance, he had any conncction with the Garioch Blackhalls, who appear to have espoused the cause of Bruce, does not transpire. As a surname, Blackhall is also met with in England in the form of Blackewhall, Blackhall, Blackhaller and Blackall. One of the Bishops of Exeter, in the 17th century, was Offspring Blackall. He was born in London. His father probably came to town as a “Blackhall,” and discontinued the use of, or “dropped the h” in the Metropolis (Diet, of National Biography). The Bishop had a son, Theophilus, who was a Prebendary of Exeter, and the father of two sons, John and Samuel, of whom the former became a distinguished physician, and the author of a work on Dropsies and Angina Pectoris, which is still valuable; while the latter was a somewhat pugnacious ecclesiastic, who became rector of Loughborough (Diet, of National Biography). From a search made for me by Portcullis Herald, at the English College of Arms, it would appear that documentary evidence of the name bearing arms does not exist in the repositories there prior to 1533.

The argument from heraldry, to establish a connection between the English name and that of the family of the Garioch, is less convincing in the case of the latter than in that of some other families in Aberdeenshire, such as the Bissets and Burnetts, whose southern origin can be demonstrated.

In consequence of a destruction of the Lyon Registers, between 1542 and 1672, an Act of the Scottish Parliament was passed in the latter year, ordaining those entitled to bear arms in Scotland to register the same in the books of the Lord Lyon. The arms of the Blackhalls were not registered. Some twenty years prior to 1672, both the Blackhalls of that Ilk and the Blackhalls of Barra, as represented by cadets of that family—the Blackhalls of Finnersie—had parted with their estates, and, prior to 1655, John Blackhall of that Ilk, the last male in the direct line of the Barra family who possessed Blackhall and the offices, had died without issue. Although there were at that time descendants of the original Blackhalls of that Ilk in the City of Aberdeen, as will be shown later, one of these contented himself with a birth-brief affirmation, but took no other steps. The signatures to charters show, however, that the Blackhalls used their “proper seals” on these occasions, and some particulars of their arms have been preserved by James Pont in his “ Alphabet of Arms of the Nobility and Gentry of Scotland,” written in 1624. Font’s manuscript is now at Uupplin Castle, but was formerly in the Lynn office in Edinburgh, when two generations of the Earls of Kinnoul held the office of Lord Lyon. Copies of the manuscript are still preserved in the Lyon office. In one of these, which I have examined, the Blackhall arms are given as “Gules, a hooded falcon sitting on a hand and glove, or; on a chief argent, three mullets, gules.” Iri another copy, known as Hume’s manuscript, the arms are given as “ Gules, a dexter hand couped fessways, and thereon a hooded falcon perched, or; on a chief argent, three mullets of the first.”

There must, however, be yet another version, as Burke gives the more complete arms of Blackhall of that Ilk as, “Gules, a hand issuing out of the sinister flank, and thereon a falcon perching, and hooded, or; on a chief argent, three mullets, azure; Crest, an annulet, or, stoned vert.” ( General Armoury, 1878, p. 87.) Finally, Nisbet, giving as his authority Font’s manuscript, states as the arms of “the name of Blackhall, gules, a hand issuing out of the sinister flank, and thereupon a falcon perching, and hooded, or; and on a chief argent, three mullets azure.” (System of Heraldry, Vol. I., p. 346.) The difference in the tincture of the mullets, recorded by these authorities, is probably due to their having been azure in the case of one of the chief families of this name, and gules in that of the other. At the time when Pont made his collection, moreover, it must be remembered that the head of the house of Barra had acquired the honours of the Blackhalls of that Ilk, and this fusion of the chieftainship may in a measure be accountable for confusion in the heraldic detail in question. These insignia seem very appropriate to the hereditary Coroners and Foresters of the Garioch, and this impression is not diminished when we know, as we do, that the feudal reddendo for Blackhall, duly paid into the Royal Exchequer in 1462 and again in 1465, was twelve hunting dog collars (columbaria leporariorum) (Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, Vol. VIII). It is rarely that the herald and feudal lord in conjunction succeed in producing so appropriate and eloquent a combination. As regards the antiquity of the arms, Mr. William F. Macdonald, an expert authority on seals, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Edinburgh, is of opinion that their very eloquence argues that they cannot be older than the sixteenth century. It is possible that the original arms were simpler, and showed the mullets on the chief as the principal charge, but we know that the offices were held at the commencement of the fifteenth century, and I have shown that the sporting reddendo was paid during the same period.

There is also a certain interest in considering a possible southern origin of the Blackballs from the mullets charged on the chief, for the Devonshire Blackhalls also bear a chief, but charged with bezants. Thus, there is in the College of Arms, in London, a pedigree of a few generations of Blackhalls of Cowick, in Devon, beginning with a burgess named John Blackhall, in 1538,and also of Blackhalls of Totnes, in Devon, commencing in 1555. These families bore: paly of six, or and sable, and on a chief gules, three bezants. The arms of Blackenhall, in Warwickshire, were also registered in the College in 1533. They are: party per pale or and azure, an eagle displayed, counter-changed, charged with a mullet of the first. Here we have, curiously enough, the chief on the shield of the Scottish Blackhalls, with bezants instead of mullets, and an eagle displayed instead of a falcon perching, and charged with a mullet (possibly a mark of difference) in the arms of Warwickshire Blackenhalls. It is evident, however, that from these faint resemblances no reliable conclusion as to a common origin can be drawn. The Blackhalls were therefore, possibly, like many others in the colonisation of the Garioch, of Norman or Saxon origin, or they may have been Normanised Celts of a later period. The point must, in the meantime, be left undecided, until accident or research produce trustworthy evidence to settle the question. There is, however, one point which should be mentioned before leaving this subject.

The emerald ring as the crest of the Blackhalls may merely be symbolical of their coronership, as the annulet in heraldry was sometimes associated with an official position, but it is interesting in this connection to recall the fact that James, Lord Douglas, held “all his lands as ane free regality, and be putting on ane ring and ane emrod on the Earle and his successor’s fingers the day he should take sasine, by the King” ('Robertson's Missing Charters, p. 10). It will be remembered that the first Earl of Douglas, and his son, the hero of Ottcrburn, were both Earls of Mar and Lords of the Garioch, while the Blackhalls of that Ilk were Coroners of the Garioch certainly in the time of Earl James Douglas’s sister, the Countess Isabel, and probably earlier. The emerald ring of the Douglases and Blackhalls may therefore be a mere coincidence, or the Garioch coroners’ crest may have been suggested by the feudal ceremonial ring of their overlords. From the possession, at an early date, by the Blackhalls, of the estate of Barra, the scene of Bruce’s overthrow of Comyn, their early official status in the Garioch, together with the interestingly suggestive similarity between their charges on the chief and their crest, and some of the charges in the Douglas arms, and the emerald ring ceremonial of those early overlords of the Garioch, I am inclined to believe that the Blackhalls belonged to the Bruce and Douglas faction in the War of Independence, and probably found their way to the Garioch from the south of Scotland, and as probably went thither from Cumberland. This is, I admit, merely surmise, but it has a reasonable probability.

As a place-name, Blackhall is met with in all parts of the kingdom, and occurs plentifully in Scotland. In the indices of the published volumes of the Great Seal Register it occurs no less than fifteen times, and in many parts of the country. Thus it is met with in Aberdeen, Dumfries, Edinburgh, Elgin, Fife, Perth, Renfrew, Kincardine, Kilwinning, Haddington, Dirleton, Ewisdale, Forfar, Lanark and Stirling. So widespread a name could not, of course* be associated with possession by a similar surname. Moreover, many of these places must have existed before surnames came into use, and had they given a name to persons, these would form a very numerous clan. The Blackhalls, on the other hand, have never been a numerous people, and the chief families of the name in Scotland are now, so far as documentary evidence goes, extinct in the male line. The term Blackhall was then, in all probability, originally used to denote the seat of some widespread office.

Etymologically regarded, there are places with the qualifying prefix “black” which may be derived from the Norse “blakka,” meaning white or bleached, or bleak, rather than the Anglo-Saxon “blac” or “blaec.” Thus Isaac Taylor, in his Words and Places (3rd Ed., p. 324), suggests that such names as Blackheath and Blackmore are quite as probably Bleakheath and Bleakmore, but in association with “hall” in its many forms, the Anglo-Saxon “blac” is evidently most appropriate, although the genius of Dickens wound a story of human interest round a “Bleak House.”

Murray (New English Dictionary) gives as the various forms of “hall” — heall, heal, halle, alle, hal, haule, hale, awle, hawlle, haull, the old English heall and the old Norman holl, or hall. He might have added the Lowland Scottish haw, the form in which Blackhall is met with in one document (Reg. Mag. Sig., Vol. II., p. 6G8). The hall or manor house was, we know, anciently a local court of justice. Shakespeare’s Justice Shallow has emphasised this point. The qualification of the term in this sense by the adjective black seems to suggest not only a court of justice, but of condemnation and imprisonment, a hall, in short, where a prisoner could not only be tried, but condemned and immured, if deemed advisable. The ‘J Blackhall” might, in short, lead to the “blackhole,” and although dictionaries are silent as to such a derivation of the latter term, it seems quite a reasonable transition. According to Murray (op. cit., p. 894) the punishment cell, or lock-up in a barracks, the guardroom of to-day, was, until 1868, officially termed the black-hole.

In the monastery of Kilwinning there was a chamber known as the Blackhall, and called also the tolbooth for the administration of justice. In a charted agreement between Alexander, the Commendator of Kilwinning, and Hugh, Earl of Eglinton, dated April 23rd, 1582 (Reg. Mag. Sig.), it is provided that “lie Blakhall nuncupand. lie tolbuith pro justicia administranda,” is to be placed at the disposal of the latter as bailie “suo domum,” together with other places for incarcerating criminals, erecting gallows, or for general political purposes. In Berwick Castle there was also a hall, called “le Blackhalle,” which, with its kitchen and two holes (foramina), are directed to be repaired (Col. of Doc. relating to Scotland, Vol. IV). “Nicholas of the Blackhall” occurs as the designation of an individual in the Close Rolls (tempore Richard II.), and probably denoted some attendant or official in the Blackhall of a monastery. (Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames, by C. W. Bardsley, London, 1901.)

It is evident, therefore, that the Blackhall was a local court of justice in ancient times, and, as the term is Anglo-Saxon, probably dated from that period. Hence the wide-spread occurrence of the name all over the Kingdom. Its frequent occurrence in Scotland is probably due to the incursion of the Saxons into that Kingdom about the time of Malcolm Canmore, whose saintly Queen was the sister of Edgar Atheling. The Norman conquest of England is also known to have driven many Saxons into the neighbouring kingdom, and the present North of England was, we know, in ancient times, as much Scottish as English.

In endeavouring to decide whether the Blackhalls of Blackhall, in the Garioch, gave their name to their lands, or took :t from the latter, vve are met with this additional difficulty, that, from a remote but undetermined period, they were the Coroners of the district, and exercised their jurisdiction as such at that place. The occurrence of the name as a place-name in the district must date from the time of the southern colonisation of the Garioch, somewhat on the lines of the more recent Plantation of Ulster. “The origin of the Blackhalls of that Ilk,” Dr. Davidson remarks, “is not known, nor that of the dignity they enjoyed of hereditary Foresters and Coroners of the Garioch” (Inverurie and the Earldom of the Garioch, p. 228). So far as documentary evidence goes, they appear to have been Coroners before they were Foresters, as will presently be shown.

The antiquity of the designation “of that Ilk,” “de eodem,” “ejusdem” and “de eadem” is great, and the term is not altogether limited to Scotland. Thus, the name of “Robertus de Stokes de eadem” occurs in a charter of Edward I. in 1297 (Rymer’s Foedera). In Scottish history the designation begins to occur most frequently in the reign of David II (1331-1370). Prior to that it was more usual to find the name of the owner associated with that of his lands mentioned separately. Thus there is a charter of the lands of Thornton, in the Mearns, to Valens de Thornton, but nowhere among Robertson’s missing charters of the reign of Robert the Bruce do I find the style “of that Ilk,” “de eodem” or “ejusdem,” while these terms are constantly met with in the reign of his son.

On the whole, the opinion seems to be well founded that in the case of the minor aristocracy, to which a large proportion of those using the style “of that Ilk” belonged, the owners took their names from lands already so-called, and did not confer their names on the latter. The writer of the Memorials of the Kilravock Family (Spalding Club: Intro., p. 11) states that such “surnames had ever the word ‘De' prefixed to them,” and that to within “little more than an age” prior to his writing, which was in 1683-84.

The first documentary evidence of the occurrence of Blackhall as a surname in the Garioch is in 1398, when it occurs with this prefix as “de Blakhall,” On the 10th of August in that year, Willelmus de Blakhall sat on an inquest to retour William de Tulideff (destined to fall at Harlaw), heir to his father, John of Tulidefif. This William de Blackhall may or may not have been the William Blackhall of that Ilk whom vve meet with a few years later, because one of his companions on this inquest is designated “Johannes de Abercrumby, dominus de Petmalky,” and another “Jacobus de Malavilla (Melville)” (Reg. Episcop. Aberd., I., 202). He was probably at least 21 years of age when he served on this inquest, and his father probably bure the name before him, which would take us back to the reign of David II., when, as I have said, the style of that Ilk, or its Latin equivalent, is of frequent occurrence.

If a Blackhall of that Ilk existed at that time, as is most probable, his memory and his name have perished, but the fact of a family of the name holding place and power in the Garioch so soon after the date of the battle of Barra (1307), would argue that the Blackhalls must have belonged to the Bruce faction in the internecine struggle of the period, as I have already suggested.

Documents giving the date at which the Blackhalls first possessed Barra, where the battle was fought, are missing, but it cannot have been later than the commencement of the fifteenth century, and was quite possibly in the fourteenth.

The family to whom Bourtie in the vicinity of Barra belonged, at a very early period, were the Lambertons (History of Aberdeen and Banff\ by William Watt, p. 49). When and how the latter lost possession, I have not discovered

Although the period at which the Blackhalls acquired the estate longest in the family cannot be precisely’fixed, there can be no doubt that they owned the lands of Blackhall, from which they took their name, before they possessed any others.

From one or other of their holdings, the Blackhalls of that Ilk, Unlike many other old families, also possessed the right of pit and allows. When John Seton of Auquhorties received a charter in 1610 for Minnies (Reg. Mag. Sig.), shortly afterwards (1614; erected into a free barOny (Reg. Mag. Sig.), the grant was made “cum privilegio de infang thief, outfang thief, sok, salt, thole/ thame, pitt and gallows,” Those who resigned these lands and rights when John Seton acquired them from the King, were William Udny, Senior, of that Ilk ; William Udny, Junior, feudatory of the same; Robert Udny of Tulliquhortie; Alexander Udny, son of the said William Udny, Senior, William Seton of Mimy, and Alexander

Blackhall of that Ilk. Minnies is in the parish of Foveran, and nearer.

Barra than Blackhall We shall learn later that the Alexander.

Blackhall, here termed of that Ilk, was the forfeited Alexander.

Blackhall of Barra, who acquired Blackhall and the offices from a distant kinsman in 1590. It is interesting to note, in this connection, that Alexander Blackhall, although at this date unconfirmed in the possession of Blackhall, is nevertheless given his titular distinction “of that Ilk” as a legal factor.

The Blackhalls, as we shall learn in due course, possessed other lands besides Blackhall and Barra, such as Fola, Finnersie and Cocklaw, and held wadsets over portions of the Balquhain estate, but Blackhall and Barra must be regarded as their original seats in the Garioch, and a short account of the present condition of these places may be given before proceeding further.

Of the manor house of Blackhall no trace remains. All that bears the name now is the farm of Blackhall—the Mains of Blackhall and Nether Blackhall. Usually the native places the accent on the last syllable, an echo of Black haw. It lies north-east of the principal part of the town of Inverurie, at a distance of about two miles from the latter, and is approached by a good road, which is named the Blackhall Road. A small stone building roofed with tiles, and used as a smith’s workshop or smiddy, represents the old farm house of the Mains of Blackhall. These particulars arc all that can now be given of that Blackhall which was, certainly from the commencement of the fifteenth to the middle of the seventeenth century, and probably for a still longer period, the seat of the hereditary Coroners and Foresters of the Garioch.

In the immediate vicinity of Blackhall, and lying west of it, is the estate of Balquhain, pronounced Balwhyne, still owned by the Leslies (who have assumed the name and descend through heiresses), whose ancestor, John Leslie, the tenth laird or baron, intentionally or otherwise, as will be shown, brought much misfortune on the Blackhalls.

Barra, on the other hand, situated about three miles north-east of Inverurie, is still marked by a well preserved and interesting example of the sixteenth or early seventeenth century fortalice, which is fully inhabited by a substantial farmer at the present day. Barra, after the forfeiture of the Blackhalls, and their co-portioners, the Kings, passed into the possession of George Seton, a member of the Meldrum family, and some dates on the building indicate that it may have been altered, repaired, or rebuilt during his tenure, or that of his immediate successors. Portions of the building, however, seem very old; exactly how old cannot be determined. There is a tradition, indeed, that Robert the Bruce once slept in some portion of it, but this cannot be regarded as having historical value. (Appendix.)

The castle, as it at present stands, forms three sides of a shallow oblong, has a crowstep gable in parts and round towers at the angles capped by sharply conical roofs, and shows corbelling at one point. The oblong or courtyard is closed in front by a simple and pretty facade, ornamented by carved stone urns, and still more so by the moss and houseleek which grow abundantly in the crevices of the masonry. To the south lies a terraced garden with time-worn and moss-grown flights of steps, and near the house there is an ancient dove cot reminiscent of the seigneurial droit colombier. Altogether, it is a beautiful old place, and well worthy of being, as it was in the time of the Setons, the seat of a free barony.


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