PRESBYTERY OF ELLON, SYNOD OF ABERDEEN.
THE REV. FRANCIS KNOX, MINISTER.
I.Topography and Natural History.
Soil and Subsoil.The soil is a brown loam of
various depths, but generally of good quality, resting on a diluvial
deposit of stony clay, unless where the subjacent rocks find their way to
the surface. The bottom lands, of a heavier and more tenacious character,
are interspersed here and there with patches of peat moss. The streams are
bordered with stripes of alluvial soil of various breadths, which, when
drained and protected from floods, produce heavy crops. Most of the land
is sufficiently friable for the growth of turnip; and the rocky spots,
where the plough can work at all, are often eminently fertile.
II. Civil History.
Heritors, &cThe Earl of Aberdeen and Alexander
Forbes Irvine, Esq. are the only heritors. The former possesses all the
lands in the parish south of the river Ythan. The estate of Schivas,
situated on the northern bank, and comprising about one-eighth of the
whole parish, is the property of Mr Irvine, who is the only resident
Antiquities.Tarves, at a very early period, was
erected into a Regality in favour of the Abbot of Arbroath, and an
instance is recorded, in 1299, of his claiming a culprit, as feudal
superior of this parish, from the King's Justiceayre at Aberdeen. About
the time of the Reformation, the Regality passed to James Gordon of Haddo,
ancestor of the Earl of Aberdeen, one of whose titles at present is Baron
Not many years ago, there existed, on the farms of
North and South Ythsie, several large cairns, of whose origin tradition
gave no account, and at the bottom of which, when the stones composing
them were carried away for the purpose of building fences, there was found
a quantity of gigantic human bones. They were, in all probability, the
work of an era prior to the introduction of Christianity.
The Castle of Tolquhon, now in a very ruinous
condition, with the exception of a part of it called "the auld tower," was
built between 1584 and 1589 by William Forbes, laird of Tolquhon,
Woodland, Knaperna, &c. It is of considerable extent, being of a
quadrangular form, and enclosing a large court-yard, the arched gateway of
which is defended by two towers, with loop-holes to enable those within to
use fire-arms or arrows against assailants. Great part of it is now
roofless, and its walls are fast sinking into shapeless heaps of stones
and rubbish. It is nearly surrounded with wood, part of which, especially
some fine yews, seems to be coeval with the building itself. The family of
Forbes, to whom this castle and the valuable property annexed to it
belonged, was among the most ancient and honourable of that surnamethe
first laird of Tolquhon having been the son of Sir John Forbes of that
Ilk, and a brother of the first Lord Forbes. He acquired the estate of
Tolquhon, in 1420, by his marriage with Marjorie Preston, daughter of
Henry Preston, Lord of Formartine. In the church-yard of Tarves there
remains, in good preservation, a part of an aisle, added to the former
church by the same William Forbes who built the castle. It bears the
inscriptions "W. F. 1589, dochter to Lesmore, E. G.;" and the motto of the
family, viz. "Salus per Christum."
The mansion-house of Schivas was built, about 200 years
ago, by a gentleman of the name of Gray, descended from a younger branch
of the noble family of Kinfauns. In its immediate vicinity, are some
remarkably fine beeches; and there is a large and beautiful plane, which,
according to tradition, was planted by a daughter of the Gray family. It
passes among the people in the neighbourhood by the name of Mary Gray. In
the house there is an old oak cabinet bearing the inscription G. G. of
Schivas, and the date 1697. The Grays were of the Roman Catholic
persuasion, and what is now the dining-room of the mansion had been their
private chapel. It contains a recess where the altar had formerly stood,
and where the cross still remains, with the motto "I. H. S. Jesus hominum
salvator." There is also a small recess in which the elements of the
eucharist and the holy water had been kept.
The date of the communion cups is 1618, of tokens,
Of the population in 1841, 1191 were males and 1206
females. The number of families in the parish is 463, of which 364 belong
to the Established Church; 92 are Seceders; 5 Episcopalians; 1 belongs to
the Independent; and 1 to the Methodist persuasion.
Agriculture. Seventy years ago, agriculture in
this parish, as generally throughout the county of Aberdeen, was in a
truly wretched condition. The stagnation of water on the low grounds
utterly precluded tillage; while the arable lands were overrun with
noxious weeds, and chilled from November to May by innumerable land
springs. The cultivated ground was divided into what was called infield
and outfield. The former received all the manure of the farm, and was
perpetually in crop. The latter consisted of "rig and baulk," that
is, of arable ridges, between every two of which there was an interjacent
space, termed a "baulk," which the plough never disturbed. The arable part
was cropped with oats five years in succession, and then permitted to lie
in pasture for the same number of years, in order to recruit its exhausted
powers of production. Green-crops, with the exception of a few potatoes
and coleworts in the gardens of the farmers and peasantry, were unknown.
The implements of husbandry and the mode of using them were equally rude.
Two men with ten or twelve oxen yoked in a team barely accomplished the
work which one man with two horses in a plough can at present perform
without difficulty. The horses employed in agriculture were diminutive in
size, and used merely for burden, never for draught. They carried out
manure, and home peats, in paniers or creels, and the meal to be sold was
conveyed to market in sacks laid across the horses' backs. Carts and
wheel-carriages were only to be found in the possession of landed
The improvements introduced by the land-owners towards
the conclusion of the last century were at first but slowly adopted by the
tenantry. Depressed by bad seasons, and deficient in capital, they had
neither the courage nor the means to attempt expensive innovations. The
rise, however, in the price of agricultural produce which succeeded the
breaking out of the war between this country and revolutionary France, by
increasing the capital of the farmers, enabled them to take advantage of
the more decided and valuable improvements. Draining, inclosing, a better
system of cropping, superior agricultural implements, and the application
of the great stimulant, lime, became general, and from this period the
progress of improvement was extremely rapid. Besides the profits realized
by the new system of husbandry, an additional stimulus was given to the
exertions of the tenantry by the abolition of thirlage to particular
mills, and of the pernicious practice of taking grassums on the renewal of
leases, and by the letting of farms for periods of nineteen years on
favourable terms for the occupiers. Through the industry of the tenantry,
and the encouragement afforded by the landlords, the parish is now in a
highly cultivated and productive state. The extent of arable land is at
present at least double, and the amount of produce more than tenfold, what
they were a few years before the former Account of this parish was drawn
The rotation of crops is adapted to that species of
soil in which turnips can be most profitably raised. The land according to
its quality is worked on a five, six, or seven years course. In the five
years course, the crops succeed each other as follows: 1. Turnips; 2.
bear, barley, or oats, with grass seeds; 3. pasture or hay; 4. pasture; 5.
oats. In the six course, the land is pastured three years; and in the
seven, two crops of oats are taken after three of pasture. The crofts and
small possessions are generally worked on the five course, the more
extensive farms on the six or seven. The six appears now to be most
The sowing of turnips, mostly of the yellow kinds, with
a portion of Swedes, commences in the end of May or very early in June,
and by the 20th of the latter month is usually completed. From one-fifth
to one-seventh of the arable land is under turnips annually, deducting a
comparatively insignificant extent for potatoes, which are raised almost
solely for the consumption of the inhabitants. The drill husbandry is
universally employed. The manure consists of farm-yard-dung, with from ten
to twelve bushels of crushed bones, per acre, applied in the drills along
with it. The dung operates first, and quickly brings forward the young
plants, while the bones maintain them in a vigorous state during the
latter stages of their growth. The turnips are carted off the ground, and
consumed in the stalls of the farm-steads. The practice of eating off a
portion on the lighter soils with sheep has been adopted by a few of the
farmers, but has little chance of being carried to a great extent in this
quarter, while the remuneration derived from the feeding of cattle
continues so ample as it has been for some years. As the turnips are
cleared off, the land is ploughed, if possible in dry weather, and in the
following spring is sown chiefly with oats, though a portion of the best
of it is commonly reserved for barley or bear, the latter being in most
cases preferred on account of its superior earliness. Little more hay is
cut than is necessary for the horses kept on the farms. The grain produced
is of excellent quality, bear and barley weighing in good seasons from 52
pounds to 56 pounds, and oats from 40 pounds to 45 pounds per imperial
bushel. Most of the pasture is rich, white or Dutch clover being
indigenous on the drier soils. The grain crops are cut with the scythe, [A
scythe handle of a peculiar form, termed a cradle, is universally used
here, and generally over the county. The implement is known by the name of
the Aberdeenshire scythe, and performs more work, with greater ease to
the labourer, than the common one.] which performs the
operation of reaping much more economically and expeditiously than the
sickle. It also takes more straw off the ground, and the produce is sooner
ready for the stackyard, than when the last-mentioned instrument is
employed. Thrashing-machines have long been in general use on the
principal farms, some of them being moved by water, and some by horses.
Indeed, where water can conveniently be obtained, they are now to be seen
here on possessions of as small extent as thirty acres. Some years ago, Mr
Hay erected one on his farm of Shethin, of which steam is the moving
power, and it continues to answer his utmost expectation.
Bones were first used as a manure in this parish in
1827. They have added much to the fertility of the soil. From 8000 to
10,000 bushels are now laid on annually. The latest improvement introduced
is furrow-draining, which promises to effect as great an amelioration on
the heavy land as bones have done on the lighter soils.
Live-Stock.Formerly the cattle were of the
long-horned Aberdeenshire breed. These were succeeded by the polled breed
of the district of Buchan, which were latterly crossed by importations
from Galloway. About fourteen years ago, the late Mr Hay, Shethin, bought
a short-horned bull from Mr Rennie of Phantassie, with which he crossed
his native cows. This experiment turned out extremely well, and his
example was soon followed by others; so that the great proportion of the
cattle at present bred in the parish are crossed by the Teeswaters. If
properly kept, they are ready for the market when three years old, and
bring at that age from L.20 to L.25 a head, and upwards, much more than
the former breed fetched when a year older. They are either sold to the
fleshers in Aberdeen, or conveyed to the Smithfield market by the steamers
and sailing-vessels from that port. Cattle three years and three-quarters
old, from this parish, brought L,42 in Smithfield last Christmas; and an
ox, being a cross between a Hereford and a Teeswater breed, and fed here,
obtained a premium from the Smithfield Club at their annual show in 1840.
In rearing the calves, it is the practice of several farmers to have them
suckled by their mothers. After weaning they are fed on turnips, grass,
and oat-straw, seldom any thing else being given. The land is principally
worked by horses, of which there are many excellent teams in the parish.
In plough and harrow they are yoked in pairs, but in carts for the most
part singly. Very few sheep are kept, except on the Earl of Aberdeen's
home-farm, part of which is situated in Tarves. Some swine are reared, but
the number is insignificant. They are regarded as advantageous by our
farmers merely for eating up garbage which would otherwise be lost. The
usual sorts of domestic poultry are to be found in our barnyards; but they
are reared for the supply of the home-larder, and never for sale.
Dairy Produce.A great cattle-breeding district
cannot appear to advantage in this department, calves being a kind of
monopolists in milk. As much butter and cheese is, however, made as
abundantly serves for home consumption. The butter is excellent, and the
cheese, for Aberdeenshire, not bad.
Buildings, Fences, &c.Most of the farm-houses and
steadings on the Earl of Aberdeen's estates have lately been substantially
rebuilt with stone and lime, and covered with slate. The slates, and some
assistance in wood, are afforded by the proprietor; the rest is done at
the expense of the tenants,stones, however, being everywhere so
plentiful, that they are to be had for the quarrying and carriage. The
principal farms are enclosed with stone- I dikes, the materials in most
places being found in abundance upon the land. There are some thriving
thorn hedges, and had it not been for the superfluity of stones, such
enclosures would have been far more common than they are, and would have
added much to the shelter and beauty of the district. Indeed we can
suggest no greater improvement for the appearance of the parish than their
extension. There are clumps of old ash trees about many of the farm-steads.
Around the seat of Mr Forbes Irvine of Schivas, and the old castle of
Tolquhon, are some very fine trees. There are also several thriving young
plantations, but of no great extent. On the whole, Tarves is slenderly
wooded, which is to be regretted, as respects both utility and beauty.
Leases, Rents, &c.The leases are all for nineteen
years, and are mostly held for a fixed money rent, though some are valued
partly in meal, the agreement in some cases being that the article itself
shall not be exacted by the landlord, but the price of it ac-cording to
the fiars of the year. Leases are generally renewed by private bargain
before expiry; and such is the good understanding between proprietor and
tenant, that for a long period no farm has been valued or put up to a
competition of bidders, nor have any instances of the removal of tenants
occurred. The highest rents paid in the parish are for the lands adjoining
the village, which are let for L.3 per Scotch acre; but the average rent
per acre of the whole parish falls rather below one-third of that sum.
The valued rent of the parish is L.4880 Scotch. The
real rental at present amounts to nearly L.8000 Sterling.
Wages and Condition of Servants, &c.Servants are
engaged by the half year at stated feeing-markets, and mostly live in the
farmers' houses. Ploughmen get from L.6 to L.8, boys and men of all work
from L.3 to L.6 for the six months, exclusive of board. Some of the
married men get houses from the farmers, and a cow's keep, or 1½ pint of
milk per day, with a spot of ground to grow vegetables, the rest of their
wages being paid in money, meal, and potatoes. Many of the jobbers,
ditchers, and day-la- bourers rent small crofts from the proprietor, and
when the weather will permit are always in full employment, at from 10s.
to 12s. a week. Masons, carpenters, and other artisans earn from 2s. 6d.
to 3s. a day. Work is frequently more plentiful than workmen, especially
in the seasons of turnip-hoeing and of havest, when many come from a
distance, and more would often be acceptable than can be procured. Women
engaged by the half year receive, besides board, from L.1, 10s. to L.2 in
winter; and in summer from L.3 to L.3, 10s. In turnip time, they earn 8d.
a day, besides victuals, and about L.2 in whole during harvest. The crop
at that interesting season is all gathered from the swathe and put into
the bandages by the females. The bread of the farm-servants and day-labourers
is oat-cakes, and their other food consists of various preparations of
dairy produce, oatmeal, cabbages, coleworts, turnips, and potatoes. Beer
is allowed them in harvest and at other times when the work is severe. Our
servants and labourers are as expert in their respective departments, and
will perform as much work, and to as good purpose, as those of any other
district in Scotland.
Roads and Markets.The church of Tarves is distant
from Aberdeen seventeen miles, and ten miles from the sea-port of
Newburgh. To both of these places, where there is always a ready market
for all kinds of farm produce, there is easy access by good turnpike
roads. English lime, of which a great quantity is annually used, can be
had within six miles of Tarves, at a place called Waterton, to which it is
brought up the Ythan in lighters from the port of Newburgh. It costs
half-a-crown per boll of four bushels. Good roads have been laid off and
completed within the parish itself, and are now kept in excellent repair.
Tarves has, within its own boundaries, six ancient markets or fairs for
horses, cattle, and grain. They are generally well attended, though many
of the best cattle bred in the parish are sold at home to the dealers who
export them to Smithfield. These dealers are all native farmers.
Ecclesiastical State.The church was built in 1798,
and underwent considerable improvements about seventeen years ago. It is a
commodious and comfortable building, and in perfect repair. It was
originally seated to accommodate 900 persons, but the improvements alluded
to curtailed about thirty sittings, so that at present it will not contain
more than 870 individuals when not over-crowded. The number of
communicants averages rather more than 800.
There is a Seceder meeting house at Craigdam, in this
parish, situated rather more than a mile to the westward of the church.
The manse was built in 1766, and, though still
inhabited, is in a very crazy condition, and fast hastening to decay. The
items which make up the minister's stipend are, L.80 in money, 122½ bolls
of meal, and 21½ bolls of bear. There is an allowance of L.8, 6s. 8d. for
communion elements. The glebe consists of four Scotch acres, including the
garden and the ground on which the manse and office-houses stand.
Education.The parochial school and schoolhouse
were erected in ] 837, on a very liberal scale, and are extremely neat and
substantial, as well as commodious buildings. The schoolmaster's salary
amounts, including the Dick Bequest, to upwards of L.60. The fees average
about L.30 annually.
There is a school at Craigdam, endowed by a benevolent
individual of the name of Barron, with a salary of L.18 per annum from a
bequest of L.600 in the three per cents. The trustees' are, the minister
and two of the elders of the Seceder church at Craigdam.
There is a third school, at Barthol Chapel, in this
parish, the teacher of which has a house and croft provided for him by the
Earl of Aberdeen. There are three other schools whose teachers have no
endowment, but depend for a poor and precarious livelihood solely upon the
fees paid by their pupils.
The total number of scholars attending all these
seminaries is, on an average, from 300 to 350.
There are also several Sabbath schools in the parish,
and the' minister gives instruction in the principles of Christian
knowledge, every Lord's day before sermon, to a numerously attended class
consisting of young people.
The number of poor on the roll is 60, among whom
upwards of L. 100 is annually divided,L. 80 of which is supplied by
collections in church, the remainder by occasional donations, and a small
fund, which, from the demands necessarily made upon it during the last few
years, has been rapidly diminishing.