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The New Statistical Account of Scotland (1845)
Volume XII - Aberdeen
Parish of Belhelvie


I.—Topography and Natural History.

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 the parish.

Extent, Boundaries.—This 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.

Topographical 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.

Hydrography.—There is 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.

Geology and 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.

II.—Civil History.

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.—The 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 antiquity.


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 suppressed.


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 than cattle.

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 agricultural classes.

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.

V.—Parochial Economy.

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. 600.

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 poor's roll.

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.

January 1840.

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