PRESBYTERY OF ABERDEEN,
SYNOD OF ABERDEEN.
THE REV. A. FORSYTH, LL.D. MINISTER.
I.—Topography and Natural
Name.—The name of this
parish is said to signify in Gaelic the mouths of the rivulets; and,
accordingly, there are seven small rivulets that rise within the bounds of
parish is nearly a right-angled parallelogram, 6 miles long, by 5 miles
broad, and contains 30 square miles. The church is eight miles north from
Aberdeen; the south extremity four miles, and the north extremity ten
miles from Aberdeen.
It is bounded on the south
by the parish of Old Machar; on the west, by New Machar; on the north, by
Foveran; and on the east, by the German Ocean.
Appearances.—There are a number of small low hills in this parish that run
in two ridges from south to north, the hills themselves and the ground
between them gradually rising as they depart farther from the sea. The
western boundary of the parish is one continued ridge of high land, about
800 feet above the level of the sea.
The whole of the sea coast
is a beach of fine sand, bounded by sand-hills, covered with bent. Next to
that is a narrow stripe of sand, covered with a sweet short grass, kept
always for pasture. This stripe is so level that the engineers appointed
by Government to measure Scotland, selected it as the levellest place they
could find for measuring a base line of 5 miles and 100 feet. The south
end of this line begins on the top of a small hill called Tarbathy, on the
south boundary of the parish, and terminates on a rising ground at Leyton,
on the estate of Menie, near a barrack, where a coast guard is at present
stationed. Colonel Colby superintended the measurement of the line. Next
to this stripe of sandy soil, there commences an alluvial deposit,
consisting of water-worn stones of every variety of quality and size,
partly covered with vegetable mould, moss, sand, and clay. Advancing
farther from the sea, the soil becomes a deep rich clay mould, mixed in
many places with peat moss. There is no rock or quarry within two miles of
the sea, but beyond that distance there is a great quantity of rock, both
in the small hills and the flats between them.
abundance of springs of excellent water in the parish. There are also a
considerable number of strong chalybeate springs, and a few impregnated
with sulphur and sulphate or sulphuret of iron. None of these have as yet
been ap-plied to any great extent to medical purposes.
Mineralogy.—There is nothing deserving of notice in the geology or
mineralogy of the parish of Belhelvie, except that there is a seam of
trap, which makes its appearance about half a mile from the sea, at the
south-east corner of the parish, and proceeds in nearly a straight line
for seven miles to the north-west corner; after which, it takes a more
westerly direction, and extends about thirty miles inland to a mountain,
called top of Noth, where it divides into several branches. This seam of
trap in Belhelvie is from one-half to three-quarters of a mile in breadth,
and one of the small rivulets has cut its course along the middle of it.
In some places, small hills of trap rise to a considerable height, perhaps
several hundred feet, above the level of the rivulet. The trap contains in
it all the variety of minerals usually found in similar seams. On the
south-west side of the trap seam, the rocks and outlayers of stone are
almost entirely of granite. On the northeast side almost no granite rocks,
not even outlayers or water-rolled pieces of granite, are to be found.
They are all of the coarsest varieties of rock, scarcely fit for any
useful purpose, except for building dry stone dikes. There are no quarries
or mines wrought, nor fossil organic remains or ores, in any noticeable
quantity, found in the parish. The alluvial deposits are a rich clay loam
and clay, mixed with rolled blocks of stones of all sizes, from the size
of a walnut, to that which weighs several tons, gravel and fine sea or
river sand. It is probable that in many places, especially in a line from
north to south, about a mile from the sea, these alluvial deposits are
very deep, for no rock or solid strata have been found even where pits
have been sunk to a considerable depth.
There is a great quantity
of peat moss in the parish. Some of it near the coast is considerably
under the level of the sea, and is covered to the depth of 10 or 12 feet
by sea sand. It is probable that this moss extends a considerable length
out to sea, and that there is a submarine forest somewhere in this bay at
no great distance. For on Christmas 1799, when there was perhaps the most
dreadful tempest that any person remembered to have seen on this part of
the coast, several cubical blocks of peat moss were cast by the sea upon
the sandy beach, some of them containing upwards of 1700 cubic feet.
Pieces of wood, like branches of oak trees, apparently converted to a
consistence like moss, passed through these blocks in every direction.
Both moss and wood were perforated by a number of Auger worms of a large
size, and . most of them were alive in their holes. The moss was of a much
harder consistence than any found in this part of the country. Such large
blocks could not have been carried to the sea by any of the neighbouring
rivers, for they were not swelled at that time, but were all firmly bound
up with ice. In general, when any thing like a tempest occurs at sea, a
considerable quantity of peat moss of the same kind is cast upon this
sandy beach; but no person remembers to have seen it in so large masses as
at Christmas 1799.
Land-owners.—There are 15
land-owners in the parish: The rental of the principal land-owner is about
L. 900, the least L. 80.
parochial registers begin in 1623; They are not voluminous, but appear to
have been very regularly kept.
Antiquities.—There were two
or three of what are called Druid-ical circles on the moor lands of this
parish, about thirty years ago. One of them was large and very entire. The
moor is now cultivated, and not a vestige of any of them remains. On the
same moor, a very destructive battle seems to have been fought; but when
or by whom neither history nor tradition give any information. A great
number of barrows or tumuli commence about a quarter of a mile from the
sea, near a small hill called Tarbathy, and, keeping nearly a mile in
breadth, extend about twelve miles inland. In some places they were very
numerous, especially where there were circular enclosures of stones, with
a ditch outside, containing about a quarter of an acre or less ground. On
the outside, all around these enclosures, tumuli are very numerous. In the
small tumuli nothing is found; but those that are larger frequently
contain coarse earthen urns, containing in them what appears to be ashes
and pieces of burnt bones. I have never heard of any pieces of armour
being found in the tumuli or on the moot ground; but on the alluvial soil
near the sea there is a bed of yellow flints, in which a number of very
well formed arrow-heads are frequently found. The whole of this moor will
soon be cultivated, and all traces of such a battle having been fought
will then be lost Some gold ornaments, not very pure, and of very rude
manufacture, but of considerable value, owing to the quantity of gold
contained in them, have been found near this moor.
There were four places of
worship in this parish when the Roman Catholic religion was the
established religion of this country. All remains of two of them are gone.
The ruins of one, and the burial-ground around it, are yet to be seen, and
the east wall of the present parochial church probably is part of the wall
of a Roman Catholic church. When the foundation of one of these churches
and burial-grounds, which have now disappeared, was cleared out, several
small silver coins were found, but none of them of much value or great
In the first and middle
part of last century, the population seems to have been stationary or
rather decreasing; but from 1791 to 1836, it has increased from 1318 to
1640, equal to 322 in forty-five years. This increase of the population
was entirely owing to improvements in agriculture and agricultural
industry, for the quantity of land in this parish at present under
cultivation is fully one-third more than in 1791, and the whole is much
better cultivated. There are no towns or villages in this parish. The
population is nearly equally dispersed over its whole surface, residing
upon their respective farms. No trade or manufacture is carried on, except
what is immediately connected with agriculture.
There are 2 blind persons,
1 insane, and 4 fatuous, in this parish.
The number of illegitimate
births in the course of the last three years is 6.
Character of the
People.—The people may be said to be intellectual, sober, moral, and
religious. There can hardly be said to be poaching of any kind practised
among them, and smuggling, both foreign and domestic, is completely
Agriculture.— Owing to the
irregularity of the boundaries of this parish, it cannot be said to
contain more than 19,000 standard acres. Of these 5000 are in waste land,
sea-beach, peat-bog, and wood ; 14,000 are cultivated, of which 9000 have
been under cultivation for a long time, and 5000 have been lately
reclaimed from moor ground.
There is also a small piece
of undivided common in the northwest corner of the parish.
Almost all the growing
timber in this parish has been planted lately, and generally in
hedge-rows, so that the number of acres cannot easily be ascertained, but
they certainly are not many. The kinds of trees that thrive best are the
ash, plane, elm, alder, and willow.
Rent of Land.— The rent of
the old cultivated land averages L 2; second quality, L. 1; lately
improved from the moorland, from 10s. to 5s. Sterling. There are no
permanent pastures; but grass laid out for summer pasture lets at from
L.2, 10s. to L.2 per standard acre.
Live-Stock.—Very few sheep
are kept in this parish, and they are mostly of the black-faced kind. A
great many cattle are bred and fed in this parish for the London market.
They are principally of the improved Aberdeenshire breed. Their bones are
small, they carry a great deal of flesh, are easily fed, and are soon fit
for the market. The farmers, in general, depend more upon raising grain
A great deal of waste land
has been reclaimed of late, and much draining has been required, which has
been executed successfully, and on good principles.
Leases are generally for a
term of nineteen years.
The farmers' houses are now
much improved, and comfortable. The fields in general are enclosed with
dry stone dikes or sunk fences. All these improvements have been executed
by the people generally, and not by a few individuals. The principal, if
not the only bar to greater improvements is want of capital among the
Fishing.—Salmon is the only
kind of fishery, and it is carried on entirely by stake-nets. The success
has been so various, that it is impossible to say how much rent is drawn
annually for the six miles of sea coast occupied by a very great number of
stake-nets; but the rent must be very considerable.
This parish contains about
19,000 acres, 5000 of these are not yet cultivated; 14,000 are under
cultivation, of which probably 4000, good or bad, are in grain crop;
10,000 in turnip, potatoes, hay, pasture grass, &c. The average produce of
grain on the good and bad soils, perhaps, may be 3˝ quarters per acre, or
in whole 15,000 quarters. But though considerable pains have been bestowed
to ascertain the quantity and value of the whole agricultural produce of
the parish, the reports given by different persons are so various and so
discordant, that it is thought best to say nothing on the subject.
Means of Communication.—Two
turnpike roads pass through the parish, each about six miles long. On
each, the mail is carried daily through the parish; but there is no
post-office in the parish. Three public coaches pass and repass daily on
these two roads.
Ecclesiastical State.— The
parish church is situated on the east side of the parish, about one mile
from the sea, and nearly in the middle between its south and north
extremities. About fifty years ago, its situation may have been the most
convenient for the largest proportion of the inhabitants, because the
western side of the parish was little cultivated and thinly inhabited; but
at present, the eastern side is let in large farms, and thinly inhabited,
while the western is let in small farms, and contains a great many
inhabitants, so that a considerable number of the parishioners live at
five miles distance from the church. The church is in good repair at
present. The church contains 519 sitting-rooms, giving the legal measure
to each; but it is often or commonly packed to contain between 600 and
700. The seats were divided among the heritors by the Sheriff of Aberdeen
in the year 1790, and the heritors have again divided them among their
tenants, and some of the heritors receive from 1s. to 2s. for each
sitting-room. There are no free sitting-rooms; and many say they would
regularly attend at church if they had a seat. The manse was built in
1768, and is in a good state of repair at present. The glebe contains 5
acres of good land, which may be valued at L3 per acre. The stipend is L.
53, 11s. 2d. money; 106 bolls of oatmeal, at 8 stones per boll, old
weight, equal to nearly 10 stones per boll, imperial weight; and 42 2/5
quarters of bear.
There is one chapel in the
parish belonging to the United Associate Secession Church. The minister's
stipend is paid by subscriptions and seat-rents, and amounts to L.70
annually. The whole number of Dissenters of every denomination in the
parish is about 200; consequently, those who belong to the Established
Church amount to 1400. The average number of communicants for several
years past has been 550. The average amount of collections for behoof of
the poor at the church has been L. 57 per annum.
Education.—There are four
schools in this parish. 1. The parochial school, where the teacher
receives all the legal emoluments. The amount of his school fees may be L.
12, 10s. per annum: and he has L.25 a year from Dick's Trustees. His
salary-payable by the heritors is L. 27 per annum. The branches taught
are, Greek, Latin, geography, mathematics, navigation, arithmetic,
writing, reading, English. There is one school endowed with a few acres of
land; and two schools, the teachers of which depend entirely upon the
school-fees. There are about 120 scholars attending these four schools.
Very few persons between the age of six and fifteen cannot read, and many
of them can write. All above fifteen years of age can both read and write.
Savings' Bank.—There is one
savings' bank in the parish, the stock belonging to which amounts to L.
Poor and Parochial
Funds.—The average number of persons receiving parochial aid is 30; of
these few receive more than L.2, and few less than L. 1, 12s. per annum.
The annual contributions at the church for the relief of the poor amount
to L. 57; rent of land bequeathed for behoof of the poor, L. 13; interest
of money bequeathed to the poor, L. 14; the whole, L. 84. Out of this sum
are annually paid L. 15, for keeping a patient in the Lunatic Asylum in
Aberdeen; L. 4 to the Infirmary in Aberdeen; also session-clerk and kirk
officer's salaries, and occasional charity to persons not regularly on the
poor's roll. The poor in general are unwilling at first to be put upon the
Fairs.—Three fairs are held
in this parish, one in spring, one in summer, and one in autumn. They are
almost exclusively for the sale of cattle, and many very excellent cattle
are sold in them.
Inns and Alehouses.— There
are seven inns or alehouses in this parish, all of them on the side of the
turnpike roads, and used principally by travellers. They are not much
frequented by the parishioners.
Fuel.— There is a great
quantity of peat moss in the parish. It is principally used for fuel by
the poorest class of the people; the more opulent burn coals, which they
bring from Aberdeen or the sea-port at Newburgh.