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History of the Parish of Banchory-Devenick
Estate of Findon

In 1281, this estate was owned by “Philip de Fyndon,” and on 13th April of that year, he appeared before a Justiciary Court, held on the moor of Nigg, for the settlement of a dispute as to the marches of Nigg and Findon, which had arisen between him and the Monks of Arbroath, superiors of the lands of Nigg, and Thomas, the son of the Thane of Cowie. Alexander Cumyn, Earl of Buchan, acted as president, and there were also present Hugo, Bishop of Aberdeen, Sir Reginald le Chen, the Father, besides several other knights and landed proprietors. The boundaries were defined, and the dispute amicably arranged. Philip, who seems to have favoured the English party during the struggle which took place under Wallace, did homage to Edward I. at Berwick in 1296.

On the accession of Robert the Bruce to the throne, the estate had doubtless been confiscated, for, in 1319, the crown conferred an annual annuity arising from its rents, upon John Crab, a Flemish engineer, who had distinguished himself through his skill and prowess at the siege of Berwick during that year. Tytler says “Crab seems to have been a mercenary, who engaged in the service of any one who cared to employ him.” In 1313, Edward II. “complained of depredations which had been committed by him on some English merchants,” but, in 1333 after the loss of Berwick to Scotland, he obtained a pardon from the English, and thereupon entered their service. His descendants owned extensive property around Aberdeen. The large stone still standing in Hardgate at the back of West Craibstone Street, and known as the Crab Stone, formed one of the boundary marks of the estate of Rubislaw, which was at one time in his possession.

Findon was converted into a Barony at an early period, and in 1359 William of Keith, Sheriff of Kincardineshire took credit for the payment of $ out of the lands. In 1390 they belonged to William de Camera or Chalmers, who was a burgess of Aberdeen, and several times provost between 1392 and 1404. Various theories have been propounded as to the origin of this name, but possibly that of Smibert carries most weight. He says “the name of ‘Chambers’ appears to be derived from ‘de la Chambre ’ which some prominent attendant on a prince, or peer might have left to his posterity—a John ‘of the Chambers’ for instance—the French ‘Chambres’ being merely in the Scottish form of ‘ Chalmers.’ ‘ De Camera’ or ‘ Camerarius ’ is a word with the same meaning, and arising from an office of ‘ Chamberlain.’ Chalmers was of the family of Balnacraig in Aboyne, and by a charter dated at Perth on 2nd March, 1392, he secured the annuity which had been held by Paul Crab, burgess of Aberdeen, a descendant of John Crab. Kennedy states that he was the founder of the Chantry of Saint Katharine, “ to which he presented a silver gilt chalice, and vestments for the chaplains, with the image of the saint placed over the altar.” He was witness to a charter by Hugh Fraser of Lovet and Kynnel, dated at Kynnel on 30th of March, 1407. Chalmers was succeeded in the proprietorship of Findon by his son William, who in 1420, sold to Sir Alexander of Forbes, lord of that Ilk, his right to the ward of the heir of the deceased Adam of Balkarne.

In 1441 Richard Vaus, a grandson of Chalmers, is designed as proprietor ; and in 1459 he granted from the lands of Balquharn an annual annuity of forty shillings to Lawrence Pyot, archdeacon of Aberdeen. He owned extensive property in and about Aberdeen, including the lands of Menie in Belhelvie. In 1469 he granted to the Franciscan, or Grey Friars, the property belonging to him situated on the east side of Gallowgate, as a site for the erection of their Monastery. Keith says that the building was “ a fabrick of a great length, having a little steeple the bell in which was constantly rung for conveening the scholars to all publick lessons in the college.” At the Reformation it came into the possession of the burgh, and by virtue of the deed of gift it was set in heritable feu, except as much as was necessary for the use and sustenance of the poor.

Shortly afterwards Findon was acquired by the Menzies of Pitfodels, and remained the property of that family for many generations. It would appear that in these times a species of falcon—probably the peregrine falcon, a pair of which still haunt the rocks—built their nests upon the rocks or craigs on the coast, and in 1580 Alexander Menzies, son of the Provost of Aberdeen, was charged with the preservation of a nest for the service of James VI., who, as is well known, was passionately fond of hawking. Advantage was taken of Menzies’ visits to the falconry to lay an ambush for his life. On the morning of 9th May of that year, William Forbes of Monymusk and Portlethen, whose cause of animosity is now unknown, concealed himself with some followers behind the Cairn of Loirston, in the parish of Nigg, and on the path leading from Aberdeen. After waiting several hours they perceived their victim approaching unattended. By placing their culverins on rests, they were able to take a steady and sure aim, and at the first discharge he fell, pierced through the heart by two bullets. The assassins instantly rushed forward, and inflicting no fewer than nine stabs on the body, robbed it of sword hanger, and cloak. Thirty years elapsed before the perpetrators of this barbarous deed were brought to trial and sentenced, which was rendered nugatory, however, by a royal pardon. From Spalding we learn that the feud was unstaunched at the distance of more than half-a-century from the date of this atrocity, and that in 1640 it led to a combat between the grand-nephew of Menzies, and the son of his murderer, in which the blood of the latter was drawn.

In the Autumn of 1654, “Sir Gilbert Menzies of Pitfodels, Knight, Heritable Proprietor of the half Barony Lands of Torrie, Barony of Findon, Lands of Cookston, and Badentoy, on the first part, Sir John Forbes of Monymusk, Heritable Proprietor of the other half of the Barony of Torry, with consent of Robert Forbes of Barns his Tutor, of the second part, and John Forbes, Elder, and William Forbes, Younger of Leslie, Heritors of the Lands of Banchory, considering that there had been controversy and debate anent their meiths and marches, which had occasioned ‘many unnecessary jarrs, discontents and troubles to their great hurt and prejudice,’ and to settle all former unhappy differences, by advice and pains of their worthy friends chosen and taken to that effect,” entered into a formal deed defining the meiths and marches of said lands for all time coming.

Findon proper, which included Wester Cookston, Badentoy, Redmyre, etc., and extended to about 1,500 acres, belonged in the end of last century to Dr. William Nicol of Stonehaven, who gave great encouragement to the tenants to reclaim and cultivate the waste land. Full particulars of the method of working followed, and the results of the transformation effected are given in the Agrictiltural Survey of Kincardineshire. The lands were afterwards divided into separate lots, and sold to the highest offerers.

The village of Seaton of Findon stands in a bleak, exposed position, on the ridge of cliffs that are very precipitous at this part of the coast. In striking contrast to this exposed situation, is the sheltered little harbour, some way from the village, which is reached by a long winding footpath. The village has made its name known all over the world, by the excellence of its cured haddocks. Since the time of Dr. Johnson, the “ Finnan ” haddock has been celebrated in history. Its excellence seems to have arisen from the mode of curing adopted. Whether the special process was instituted in this village or not, is a moot point; but certain it is, that a smoked yellow haddock will always be known as a “Finnan haddie ”. “A Finnan haddock,” wrote Sir Walter Scott, whose knowledge of the geography of the village, like most people’s, was not quite exact, “ has a relish of a very peculiar and delicate flavour, inimitable on any other coast than that of Aberdeenshire. Some of our Edinburgh philosophers tried to produce their equal in vain.

I was one of a party at dinner where the philosophical haddocks were placed in competition with the genuine Finnan fish. These were served round without distinction whence they came; but only one gentleman, out of twelve present, espoused the cause of philosophy.” Philosophy has hardly been more successful to-day; for, though “Finnan” no longer holds a monopoly of the article, the process originally adopted there has proved the best, and the modern method of smoking the fish is as unsatisfactory as the “philosophical haddocks” turned out to be at the Edinburgh dinner party. To the great mass of people this minor industry is the most remarkable thing about Findon.

It is a singular coincidence that precisely the same number of hands is now engaged at the fishing as was in 1792. There were then two fishing boats, requiring six hands each, and three yawls, wrought by four men each. There are now four boats, employing twenty-four hands, fishing from the village.

In the end of last century, when less attention was paid to the subject of agriculture than now, it was no unusual circumstance for the crofters around the village to secure a yield of eighty bushels of bere off the English acre in one season. And what may appear more incredible, is the fact that the same land, in some cases, yielded the same crop, without intermission, for several generations.3 Of course this arose from the plentiful supply, and specially favourable quality of manure the crofters were able to give the ground.

The Earn or Eagles-heugh, on the coast, is remarkable as having been the landing place of seven students from Saint Andrews, who had been drifted about the sea in an open boat for the space of six days. The sad story was commemorated by the father of one of the survivors in a painting and engraving. A copy of the latter (24" by 17") is preserved in the library room of Marischal College, Aberdeen. It represents the landing of the boys; and a portrait of one of them seated, and pointing to the scene, exhibits much ingenuity in its conception. At the foot is a description in Latin of the melancholy occurrence, accompanied by the following translation :—

“On the 19th of August, 1710, this young gentleman, David Bruce, aged 15 years, with six others about the same age, in company (David Rankilour, John Wilson, James Martin, Alexander Mitchell, James Thomson, and James Watson,) went out from the harbour of St. Andrews in a little boat, with a design to recreate themselves. But it happened in their attempt to return they lost one of their oars, and were driven into the ocean. ’Twas late before their parents missed them, and therefore not in their power to afford them any relief till morning, that they despatched some boats in quest of them, but all in vain. Whereupon every body gave them up for lost. Meantime the boys were tossed up and down, without being able by all their endeavours to make any shore, though every day within sight of it. At length by the good providence of God, the wind turning easterly, after six days and six nights continued fasting and labour, they got to shore alive under a steep rock commonly called Hern-heugh (Earn-heugh) four miles south of Aberdeen, and fifty north of Saint Andrews, which two of them climbed up by the direction of an old fisherman who chanced to be near the place. And making known their distress to an honest countryman, John Shepherd, he kindly received them into his house hard by, notifying at the same time so extraordinary and moving an accident to the Magistrates of Aberdeen, who forthwith despatched their Dean of Guild, with Dr. Gregory a physician, and William Gordon a surgeon to attend them, by whose means, under God, all of them were preserved excepting only the two youngest John Wilson, and James Martin, who died some time after they came ashore, and were honourably interred in Aberdeen by the care of the Magistrates. In thankful commemoration of this wonderful event Robert Bruce, goldsmith in Edinburgh, father to the above David, caused this copper plate to be engraved. Soli Deo Gloria."

Kennedy states that a copy of the engraving was presented to the Magistrates of Aberdeen, and that it hung in the council room until “removed by order of one of the baillies, to give place to a catchpenny engraving of one of the heroes in the late war.” The engraving in Marischal College is doubtless the one here referred to.

Mr. Bruce presented John Shepherd, with a piece of silver plate in the shape of a boat, now in the possession of his grandson, also named John Shepherd, farmer in Cairnrobin. It is oval-shaped, about four inches long, and thus inscribed :—

“This silver boat is gifted to John Shepherd by Robert Bruce, goldsmith, for the kindness he showed to his son David Bruce and others, after they were six days and six nights at sea without meat or drink, and by Providence, thrown in at Earn-heugh, near his house, on the 25 th August, 1710.”

Seal of William de Camera of Findon. (Mar Charters, 1404.

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