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The History of Fettercairn
Chapter VII.—History from 1698 to 1747


LESS than a quarter of a century ago there stood, on what is now a vacant piece of ground near the N.E. side of the kirkyard, an ancient-looking clay-built and thatched biggin', whose quaintly finished timbers, patched up from time to time, finally collapsed under the ravages of natural decay. It had served its day and generation; first, as the hostelry or principal inn of the village; next, as an ordinary dwelling house; and, last of all, as the cooperage of a thriving pork-curing establishment (which ceased to be when the owner, the late lamented Mr Dakers, went the way of all flesh). It was said to have afforded a night's lodging to the "Bonnie Prince Charlie"; but as he never came by way of the Mearns, his name must have been through time confounded with that of his father, the old Pretender, or James VIII., who landed at Peterhead on the 22nd December, 1715, arrived at Fetteresso on the 24th, and staying there a week with the Earl Marischal, left for Brechin and the south, either on the 1st or 2nd of January, 1716. If on the 1st, as some state, he took two days to reach Brechin, and lodged for the night at Fetter-cairn. That he did is supported only by tradition; and the probability is that, in course of time, the story of the night's lodging, as already noticed, of the Earl of Errol and his retinue on their way to the coronation of Charles II. came to be told in connection with Charles the Pretender.

A knoll in a field east of Fettercairn village has for the last century and a half borne the name of "Sandal's Knap." The hillock with its name, to succeeding generations of youngsters in the village, has been more or less a source of fear; but on one day of the year, one of joy, for the rolling of their Easter eggs down its steep sides. Of fear, because of the weird tale, that upon it Randal was hanged. What name it bore before that event nobody knows. Probably the Mod or Court-hill and the heading-hill of the barony in the olden time. Eandal Courtney, an Irish soldier, residing in Luthermuir, broke into the "stane hoose o' Cadam," [George Keith's, who built the bridge of Caldbame, in 1744, and left a sum of money for its upkeep and for the poor of Marykirk.] and stole a watch and other articles. He was caught in a weaving cellar, which is still to the fore, at the "Townhead" of Fettercairn, tried before the Justiciary Court on 6th August, 1743, and sentenced to be hanged at Fettercairn on the 21st September following. The-Scots Magazine gives this account of the trial:

"That the fact as deponed to by his accomplice, Robert Sutor, for whom a remission was obtained in order to his being made an evidence, and whose testimony was supported by Mr Keith's man, maidservants, and other evidences, was, that Courtney had for some months before invited him (Sutor) to take part in searching for a sum of money that lay hid in the Muir near Fettercairn; that having the night of 7th April last been prevailed on to accompany Courtney, they went together till they came near the house of Mr Keith of Caldham, where Courtney then told him the money lay; that Courtney, having made a rope of straw, got upon the garden dyke, from thence upon the brewhouse, and ascending the mansion house, fixed his rope to the chimney and got down into the kitchen, and opened the door let in the deponent; that after fastening the doors of the bed where the two maidservants lay, they bound the manservant, and throwing him into the bed behind his master, ordered the gentleman to deliver what money, &c. he had; that the gentleman gave Courtney what gold he had in his breeches ; but Courtney, not content, ordered the deponent to go and heat the tongs, in order to put the gentleman's ears into them and extort the rest of his money from him ; that the gentleman thereupon gave them the keys of his repositories and assisted them to open the same ; that Courtney carried off what money and gold was therein, and locking the gentleman and servant up, went down stairs and plundered the house of bed and table-linen, and that the deponent's dividend of the spulzie was only 18 sterling. Sic Subscribitur—Robert Sutor."

The wright that made Randal's gallows was a worthy man, Alexander Croll, tenant of Kirkhill, alias "Kirky Croll"; but the popular odium, incurred by his doing this piece of work, won for him and his son after him the nickname of "Pin the Wuddie"—the wuddie being the withe or wand in place of a rope. The watch which Randal stole was a remarkable piece of mechanism. It was duly restored to the laird of Caldhame, and became afterwards the property of the Rev. James Beattie, minister of Maryton, from whom it was also stolen, and was again the means of identifying the thief. It now belongs to Mr David Watson in Ireland, brother of the late John Watson, Banker, Laurencekirk.

In March, 1746, the Duke of Cumberland despatched 300 of his troops, under the command of a refugee French Officer, to occupy Edzell Castle and burn the houses and homesteads of all who had gone to join the Pretender, as well as to disarm all rebels left in Glenesk and the other glens of Forfarshire. The Fettercairn people were generally loyal to the House of Hanover and gave no occasion for such a visitation. This will be seen from one or two subsequent incidents which fall to be narrated. After the defeat of the rebels at Culloden, not a few of them fled in the direction of the Mearns, coming down over the Cairn o* Mount and molesting the peacefully disposed inhabitants of Fettercairn. A number of the latter, acting in accordance with a proclamation of the Duke of Cumberland, and on the authority of the sheriff of the county, armed themselves as a guard to watch day and night, especially the Cairn road, and prevent the destruction of life and property. In the exercise of this duty, they wepe accused by Sir Alex. Ramsay and other Justices of the Peace in a meeting at Druralithie, of too mucb zeal in the discharge of their duty, of complicity in a murder and a robbery that had been committed, but of which they did not directly accuse the guard. The Justices, however, sent an order against night watching under arms, to be read from the pulpits of Fettercairn and Fordoun Parish Churches. All this, like many other movements in troublous times, would not now be heard of but for a petition and complaint, of date 11th June, 1716, presented to the Presbytery of Fordoun. It was composed and written in rather quaint terms by James Bate, schoolmaster, and signed by him and others of the parties accused. The Presbytery received the Petition, approved of the loyalty and diligence of the complainers, and agreed to ask the Earl of Ancrum to present said petition to the Duke of Cumberland, and request him to take his own method of securing these hill passes and the peace of this corner of the country.

On the afternoon of the 12th of February, 1747, a gang of armed men from Brechin, five or six in number, made a raid upon the village of Fettercairn. Their leader was a desperate fellow of the name of Davidson, a keen Jacobite, evidently bent on revenge as well as robbery and plunder. Their first attack was made upon the house of the Rev. Anthony Dow, the minister, partly because he had acted a prominent part against the rebellion of 1745, and partly because he was no doubt the first man in the place worth robbing. The story bears that Mr Dow and his manservant very bravely defended themselves and their property; that, aided by some others, they took Davidson prisoner; but that he was soon rescued by his men, who did the good Mr Dow "a deal of mischief." Their next attack was upon the schoolhouse, which then stood on the ground, now a garden, behind the farm steading of Kirkhill; but whether the schoolmaster (Mr James Bate) defended as bravely as the minister, is not known. It is however well known that, in the skirmish, the schoolhouse was burnt down, but whether accidentally or by design of the assailants, cannot now be determined. According to one account they wanted to get at the names and birth entries of certain individuals in the Kirk Session Records kept by the schoolmaster. According to another account they wanted the very opposite, viz., to burn the house and destroy the records. If this was their purpose they succeeded, inasmuch as the books of the forty years from 1682 to 1722 are now amissing; while portions of subsequent volumes, now bound together, but with the leaves half consumed, show that they were plucked out of the burning. Shortly after this event the same lawless band committed a similar offence at Durris by breaking into the manse and carrying off" some valuable effects. But in the following year Davidson, their chief, was taken and brought to trial, executed, and hung in chains at Aberdeen.


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