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


I.—Topography and Natural History.

Name.—The name of this parish is said to be derived from two Gaelic words, which signify vale of honey. The oldest spellings are Methelak, Methlayky, Mythlik, Methlik. The parish was dedicated to St Devenick, who, according to Dempster, flourished toward the end of the ninth century. An altar in honour of him was founded in the cathedral church of Aberdeen, and the office used in his day may be seep in that rare work, the Breviary of Aberdeen, printed in 1509.

Extent, &c.—This is a landward parish, and contains upwards of 20 square miles. It is situate wholly in the county of Aberdeen, the two-thirds which lie on the north side of the Ythan being in the district of Buchan, and the remaining third on the south side of the river being in that of Formartine, It is bounded by Tarves on the south; by New Deer on the north; by Fyvie and Monquhitter on the west; and by Ellon on the east.

A pendicle of Methlick, which lies to the extreme east, is disjoined altogether from the main part of the parish by a tongue of land belonging to Tarves. This pendicle is called Little Drum-quhindle, or Inverebrie, from its being situate at the junction of the brook Ebrie with the Ythan, and the Six Ploughs, from its extent as measured in olden times by so many ploughs.

The length of the parish from north to south is about 8 miles, and its breadth from west to east, exclusive of the insulated part above-mentioned, about 5 miles. It is of an irregular form, and becomes narrower toward both extremities, especially northward. It is traversed from west to east by the river Ythan, the banks of which are mostly clothed with wood, the greater part of it having been planted, between thirty and forty years ago, by the present proprietor. The south-east division of Methlick is wholly occupied by the policies of Haddo House, remarkable for their extent and beauty. Every advantage has been taken of the undulating nature of the ground, which is tastefully interspersed with wood, and lawn, and water. In a northerly direction, there is a considerable tract of barren land,—the hills of Balquhindachy, Belnagoak, and Skilmoney, being to a great extent covered with heath.

If one may judge from the hale old age which not a few reach in this parish, the climate may be said to be salubrious.

Hydrography.—The Ythan is not navigable here ; but it affords salmon, and abundance of trout of various kinds. At one time, it was more famous for its pearl fishery than it is at present, although there is still no want of shells in the river. It is a favourite amusement of the schoolboys to fish for pearls when the water is low, especially during summer; and occasionally they succeed, although there are hundreds of blanks for one prize. The instrument used for griping the shell is very simple, consisting of a long stick, with two small pieces of plate steel at one end.

A rivulet called the water of Gight, or the black water, or the little water, separates the parish of Methlick on the west from Fyvie and Monquhitter and New Deer. Within the short space of a mile and a half on this brook, are to be found two points, at which three different parishes meet; at that nearest to the Ythan, Fyvie, Monquhitter, and Methlick,—and at the other, New Deer, Monquhitter, and Methlick. The Ebrie, above-mentioned, divides Methlick on the east from the parish of Ellon.

Another burn, called the water of Kelly, from its running through the land, and near the House of Kelly or Haddo House, is said, at its junction with the Ythan in this parish, to have produced a pearl of great value. According to a tradition which can be traced to the end of the seventeenth century, one of the crown jewels is reported to have been found at the mouth of the water of Kelly. It was presented to King James VI. in 1620, by Sir Thomas Menzies of Cults, and in the language of Skene, in his succinct view of Aberdeen, published in 1685, appears to have been, "for beauty and bigness, the best that was at any time found in Scotland."

There are two lakes within the policies of Haddo House, called the upper and the lower lakes, of which the latter is wholly in the parish of Methlick, while one half of the former is in that of Tarves. Each is beautifully embosomed in wood. The lower one, in its formation by the present proprietor, required only a very small embankment, and is almost altogether natural. Together they contain nearly 40 acres. They are enlivened by the presence of swans, Canadian geese, and native water-fowls of various descriptions, and in great numbers. About two years ago, a wild swan having been taken on the lower lake, and pinioned, now associates with the tame ones.

The springs in this parish are numerous and perennial, and the water thereof is of excellent quality. About two miles in a northeasterly direction from the church, there is a strong spring, which was some years ago in great vogue, and frequented by many from distant parts of the country, in consequence of the supposed salubrity of its waters, which were applied both externally and internally with alleged success, especially in cutaneous diseases. The water has been frequently subjected to chemical analysis; but it has not been found to possess saline impregnations of any importance. It is very pure spring water.

Geology, Soil, &c.—There is nothing remarkable in the geological appearance of the parish. Gneiss and syenite are the rocks which prevail. Some years ago, a limestone quarry was wrought at Inverebrie, and a considerable quantity of lime procured from it; but it is now shut.

The best land may be said to lie within one mile and a ha either side of the river. It is a yellow loam on a bottom of rock and gravel. As you ascend on both sides from the valley, the soil becomes poorer, and is principally a light black mould on a band pan, which eats away the improvement. A subsoil of clay is not common. There is a great extent of peat moss in the parish, which, however, is being annually reduced, and brought into a state of cultivation.

Botany, Zoology, Ornithology, &c—Some of the less common plants are,

The plants most commonly met with are those which have found their way into the vernacular tongue, such as the gowan, or the daisy; the horse-gowan, or dandelion; the tansy, or ragwort; blue bells, or common bell flower; dead man's bells, or foxglove ; chickenwort, or chickweed; dockens, or dock; arnut, or earth-nut; sit sikker, or creeping crowfoot; sooraks, or sheep's sorrel; &c. &c.

The Scotch fir and the common spruce agree well with the soil and climate. A great variety of foreign pines have been planted in the immediate neighbourhood of his mansion, by the noble proprietor, with various success. The Pinus Cembra appears to thrive very well in the policies, and to have become in a manner naturalized in the country. A very fine specimen of the Pinus Clanbrassiliana was lately discovered in the midst of the wood near Haddo House, being the produce of promiscuous planting. It measures 36 inches in height, and is nearly thirty-six years old.

In gardens, the raspberry, the gooseberry, the currant, and the strawberry, are produced in abundance, and of excellent quality ; but neither the soil nor the climate appears to favour the production of apples or pears, or even cherries.

Zoology.—The following is a list of the wild animals which are round in the parish, so far as I have been able to ascertain their existence.


II.—Civil History.

Eminent Men.—Associated with this parish are the names of the ancient family of the Earl of Aberdeen, among whom may be mentioned the famous Chancellor of Scotland in the time of Charles II, and Sir John Gordon of Haddo, who distinguished himself during the former reign.

Dr George Cheyne, an eminent physician, was born at Auchencruive, in this parish, in 1671, and died at Bath in 1742. He was the author of a treatise on the "Philosophical Principles of Natural Religion," and various other works.

Dr Charles Maitland, who was the first to introduce inoculation into Britain, and was sent to Hanover by George II. to inoculate Frederick, Prince of Wales, was born and buried here. In 1748, the year of his death, he mortified L.333, 6s. 8d. for behoof of the poor.

Land-owners.—The whole parish belongs to one heritor, the Right Honourable the Earl of Aberdeen, presently her Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. The first property of the family was the barony of Methlick, whereof Haddo was a part. His Lordship derives three of his titles from this parish, namely, Baron Methlick, Haddo, and Kellie.

Parochial Registers.—The oldest register of church discipline and accounts of the poor's funds commences in 1683, and, with the exception of the years from 1689 to 1703, and from 1726 to 1729, is complete till the present day. The earliest date of the baptismal record is 1663; but it has not been regularly kept, owing to the neglect of parents in not attending to the registration of the births of their children. The marriages have been registered for many years.

Modern Buildings.—Towards the end of the sixteenth century, the designation of the family of Methlick seems to have been restricted to that of Haddo, probably from the mansion-house having been situated there. Early in the seventeenth century, the residence was transferred to Kelly, which gradually acquired the name that had been given to the former mansion, namely, the House of Haddo, or Haddo House. It stood a siege of three days in 1644, by the Marquis of Argyle and the covenanting army, by whom it was taken on the 8th of May 1644, and reduced to ruins. The writer of a View of the Diocese of Aberdeen in 1726 says, "Here is now a castle begun in the last age by two of the lairds of Haddo, but never finished, and in the low buildings hard by it, their representative, the Earl of Aberdeen, lives." The present mansion was built mainly from the designs of John Baxter, Esq,, architect in Edinburgh, who executed several buildings in the north of Scotland in the beginning of the last century. The Palladian was his favourite style, of which Haddo House is a specimen. In its immediate vicinity are some old ashes and beautiful limes, and a very picturesque larch, planted more than a hundred years ago.

Within the policies, there is an obelisk of granite erected by the present Earl to the memory of his gallant brother, Sir Alexander Gordon, who fell in the van at Waterloo, acting as aide-de-camp to the Duke of Wellington.

III.— Population.

At the last census in 1841, there were 871 males and 865 females. Ninety-two were found to reside in the village and kirk-town of Methlick, and 1645 in the other parts of the parish. The number of houses inhabited was 354.

There are 2 blind persons in the parish, 1 fatuous, and none deaf and dumb.

Habitual intemperance is rarely met with in the parish; and the average number of illegitimate births in the parish within the three years previous to 1840 was 11, of which 7 were ante nuptial cases. The attendance on the ordinances of religion is exemplary.


Agriculture.—According to a survey made in 1803, the extent of the parish was ascertained to be, exclusive of that part of the policies around Haddo House, which belongs to Methlick, about 11,217 Scotch acres.

Since 1803, not fewer than 2000 acres Scots have been brought under the plough and into a state of regular cultivation; and nearly 2000 acres have been planted.

The extension of the policies about Haddo House, during the present century, is a remarkable feature in the appearance of the parish. In 1803, they comprehended only 701 acres Scots, or about 885 imperial acres, of which 186½ acres Scots, or 237 acres imperial, were planted. Now, the extent of land within the policies is upwards of 1960 imperial acres, of which about 1080 are planted.

The present rental may be stated at L.3600, fully three times the rental in 1803. In mentioning this great rise of rent, it is not to be forgotten that, in 1803, the demand for farms was comparatively small, and especially, that it was very common for the proprietor at that time to receive a part of his rent in the form of a sum of money paid at entry, and called a grassum,—a mode of payment which is now wholly done away.

The infield, or best quality of land, may be reckoned to range from L.1 to L.1, 10s. per Scotch acre; and the average rent per Scotch acre of the whole arable lands at the commencement of the subsisting leases may be said to be from 10s. to 12s. 6d. The number of tenants paying rents to the proprietor is 206; of whom 60 pay L.5 and under; 62 above L.5 and under L.10; 31 above L.10 and under L.20; 35 above L.20 and under L.50; 13 above L.50 and under L.l00; and 5 L.100 and upwards.

Besides a number of small crofts, sufficient to keep a cow, and partially to supply the day-labourer's family with meal and potatoes, there are possessions from 12 to 30 acres, occupied by tenants who very often yoke an ox and a horse together, and labour with their own hands. The farms vary in size, from two horses' labour to that of six horses. This subdivision of land is found to exert a wholesome influence on the population.

Since the breaking out of the French Revolution, agriculture has progressed rapidly in this parish. The better quality of the soil has been brought into a state of cultivation, while the traces of former husbandry are in many places to be seen in the shape of curved ridges, which, because of their poverty, have been allowed to revert to a state of nature.

All the good land is now enclosed by stone dikes, besides a great deal of indifferent quality; and we have many specimens of the charm which bones, as a manure, have wrought on the poorer soils. Nitrate of soda as well as bones dissolved in sulphuric acid and water, according to the proportions recommended by Liebig, have been tried on a limited scale; but it is believed that this year the new manures will have a fair trial here and throughout the district.

In cropping, the seven-shift is by far the most common in the parish, but some of the more intelligent of the farmers are beginning to give the preference to the six-shift, where three grasses are taken in succession, then a grain crop, then turnips and potatoes, and then another grain crop. Several farms are wrought on the five-shift; but it is more common to find this mode of cropping among those who have small crofts of good quality.

The duration of leases is nineteen years. The leases are always renewed except in a case of arrears of rent, which is not common. A small part of the rents is payable in meal at the fiar prices. The farm-houses are mostly of one floor and slated, while the dwellings of the crofters are thatch-roofed.

Live-Stock.—The cattle reared are numerous, and about equally divided between the Aberdeenshire breed, and the cross of it with the Teeswater. Within the last thirty or forty years, the country breeds have been much improved by superior keep, and in those parts of the parish which are less favoured in point of soil, they are still reared exclusively; but there is scarcely a good farm of any size where the short-horn is not preferred as crossed with the Aberdeenshire.

The number of sheep reared throughout the parish is very small; but within the policies of Haddo House, there are generally kept about 1000, principally of the Cheviot and black-faced breeds.

Produce.—At a rough calculation, the number of quarters of grain may be estimated at 10,000 and upwards, and the number of acres annually in turnips and potatoes, the latter of which are raised only in small quantities, at 1000. The number of horses used for husbandry, kept as pleasure ponies, and bred for sale and use, is about 250 ; and the number of cattle above 1600. The average value of a quarter of oats is L.l ; of an acre of turnips, L.3, 15s.; of an acre of potatoes, L.4, 10s.; of an acre of new grass, L.l, 15s. ; and of an acre of second and third year's grass, 18s. 6d.

Cheese is made for the most part from skim-milk, and is sold at 3s. 6d. per imperial stone. Butter of good quality is made on the large farms, and on crofts where there is little else of produce to spare for the market, and is bought by the country merchants on an average at 8d. per pound, and sent to Aberdeen.

The mode of cutting down the crop with the scythe has supplanted the sickle universally. All farms of two horses' labour and upwards, with scarcely a single exception, have threshing-mills driven by water or horses. According to the last Account, there were six meal-mills in the parish, and now there is only one. This is to be accounted for partly by the improvement of machinery, and the consequent expedition with which the work is accomplished, but more particularly by the fact, that grain and not meal is now exported to Newburgh, Inverury, and Aberdeen. Thirlage is abolished, and sixpence is paid for drying and grinding a boll. Formerly, the thirteenth, or even the eleventh peck in some instances, was payable to the miller. There is a saw-mill in the parish driven by water. The crops usually cultivated are sown grasses, oats, bear or big in very limited quantity, turnips, potatoes, and, to a small extent, there may be added tares, principally for the purpose of supplying the cows with food when the grass season is over, and before they are put on turnips. The species of oats most; commonly sown are Scotch barley, sandy oats, and early Angus.

There is an Association for the encouragement of agricultural enterprise and improvement, which is called the Methlick Agricultural Association.

Manufactures,—The knitting of stockings with wires was, at one time, a common and lucrative employment for women, and also for old and infirm men. 2s. and even 3s. were paid for spinning the wool and knitting a pair of stockings, and now 3½. or 4d. is the paltry sum which a poor old woman receives for knitting a pair of them. Formerly, the rents were, in a great measure, paid by the money which was earned by spinning and knitting. V.—Parochial Economy.

Market-Town.—There is no market-town within the parish. The grain exported is delivered at Inverury, Newburgh, and Aberdeen. From the two places first named, each fully twelve miles distant from Methlick, bones and English lime are imported for manure. Scotch lime here made use of by some farmers, more especially to be applied to newly trenched ground, is brought from the three following kilns, according to their nearness to the different corners of the parish,—Udny, Aquhorthies, and Barrack.

Means of Communication.—A mail-gig runs between Aberdeen and Methlick daily,—a convenience which is highly appreciated by all living in this neighbourhood. Formerly, there was no post-town nearer than Old Meldrum, which is more than seven miles distant from Methlick. No turnpike passes through this parish; but there are good commutation roads to New Deer, Fyvie, Ellon, Old Meldrum, and Tarves; and, from the four places last mentioned, there is a turnpike to Aberdeen. A carrier leaves Methlick at least every fortnight for Aberdeen; but there is no stage-coach nearer than Tarves.

Ecclesiastical State.—Methlick was a prebendary in the cathedral of Aberdeen, having been added to the bishop's chapter in 1362. The rector or parson, who drew the great teinds, resided in the canonry of Aberdeen, and officiated in the cathedral,—the duties of the cure being discharged by a perpetual vicar who lived at Methlick, and drew the vicarage or small teinds.

The benefice does not seem to have*been of great value, as in Bagimont's Roll, which exhibits the amount of the tenth part of each benefice in the reign of James V., it is rated at L.6, 13s. 4d. In 1644, it was valued at L.4026. Some of the rectors of Methlick, before the Reformation, occupy prominent places in the records of the diocese of Aberdeen. The last Romanist Principal of King's College was parson of Methlick. His name was Alexander Anderson. He was a person of some note, and held this living in 1560. In 1541, Duncan Burnet, rector of Methlick, as appears from volume first of the Spalding Club Miscellany, lately published, bequeathed to the chaplains of the choir of the cathedral of Aberdeen an annual rent of 26s. 8d. for the celebration of an obit on behalf of his own soul, and the souls of all his successors.

At the Reformation, a large part of the north of Scotland was left in a state of great spiritual destitution; and, in the register of ministers, 1567, we find Methlick, together with the three neighbouring parishes, Tarves, Ellon, and Fyvie, superintended by only one clergyman. His name was Mr Alexander Ogilvie, and his stipend six score merks. Readers were provided in each of the four parishes above-mentioned ; and the name of the person who then held that ancient ecclesiastical office at Methlick was Nycoll Smyth.

The ministers of Methlick since the Reformation have been Mr John Mercer, Mr Adam Reid, Mr William Seaton, Mr William Strachan, Mr Robert Ogilvy, Mr George Anderson, Mr Alexander Clerk, Mr John Mulligine, Mr Alexander Howe, Mr Andrew Moir, Mr Alexander Knolls, Mr Robert Adam, Mr Ludovick Grant.

Besides the parish church, there was, before the Reformation, a chapel at a place called Chapeltown, the name of which remains unchanged; and there was another chapel at Andet, dedicated to St Ninian. That last mentioned must have stood near a farm-house now called Chapel-park, where there is a good spring that still goes under the name of the Chapel Well, and where, until recently, traces of a church-yard were distinctly visible,—they having disappeared, about fifty years ago, under the plough.

The present church and manse are situate upon the south bank of the Ythan, about five miles from the northern, five and a-half from the eastern, three from the southern, and two from the western boundary of the parish. The church was rebuilt in 1780, repaired in 1840, and may contain about 600 persons. The sittings are all free, and are apportioned among the several tenants. One gal-lery is occupied by the family seat of the Earl of Aberdeen, who is sole proprietor and patron of the parish ; and adjoining to the church is the burying-place of that Noble family.

The manse was rebuilt in 1806, and repaired in 1840, when a wing was added to the offices.

The gift of the kirk land in this parish may be traced as far back as the reign of Robert II., who, by a charter dated the 16th June 1373, confirms a charter by Walter de Menteith de Pedina-calan to the Virgin Mary and the parish church of St Devenick of Methlick, and the vicar of the same, of a piece of land called the Haulch, bounded on the one side by the water of Ethyon, stretching, on one hand, from the ford of the burn of Melok to the ford which is called Cloy or Clochy on the other. It is probable that the present glebe is very nearly the piece of land referred to in the charter just quoted. For it is bounded, on the one side, by the river Ythan ; at one extremity of it, there is the burn of Methlick, at the entrance of which, into the Ythan, there was formerly a ford, now superseded by a bridge, and a little below the other extremity there is another ford, which is now called Golyford or Cloverickford, evidently corruptions of Cloy or Clochyford, the name mentioned in the foresaid ancient charter. This haugh or parson's croft was transferred by the chapter of the cathedral of Aberdeen along with the parish church, to King's College in 1586, at the instance of Principal Walter Stewart; and they remained in the hands of that institution till they were conveyed, along with the patronage, to the Earl of Aberdeen, in the middle of last century.

The present glebe, inclusive of the garden and site of the manse and offices, measures 6| acres imperial, and is worth L.7 or L.8 annually.

The stipend is L.80 in money, 64 bolls of meal, and 64 bolls of bear, the meal and bear being payable at the fiar prices of the year. There is no Episcopalian, Catholic, Seceding, or other Dissenting chapel in the parish; but there are twelve Dissenting and three Episcopalian families that go to meeting-houses in the neighbouring parishes, and all the other families, amounting to 342, attend the parish church; at which the average number of the congregation is about 600, and that of the communicants is 650.

Education.—In the parochial school, Latin, Greek, and mathematics are taught when required, in addition to the ordinary branches of reading, writing, and arithmetic. The teacher has a salary of L.28, besides an annual gratuity of L.5 from the Earl of Aberdeen; school-fees and other dues, L.40; allowance from Mr Dick's Trustees, at an average L.35; from Moir's Mortification, for teaching ten poor children, L.8; total L.l16; also a house with the legal accommodation, and an enclosed garden.

Besides the parochial school, there are three adventure or un-endowed schools, where the ordinary branches of education are taught. At Cairnorie, about three miles distant from the parochial school, the Earl of Aberdeen has just erected a neat and commodious school, which it is intended to place on the establishment. This institution will prove a welcome boon to the inhabitants of the district, while one of the adventure schools in its immediate neighbourhood will be superseded. At Inverebrie, on the very verge of the parish, and nearly six miles distant from the church, there is another school, the teacher of which receives an annual gratuity from the Noble proprietor.

In 1841, a parish library was instituted for the purpose of affording instructive and religious reading to the parishioners. There are about 80 subscribers, and nearly 400 volumes.

There is one Sabbath school in the parish, which is superintended by the teacher of the school at Throopmuir; and a Bible class, numerously attended, is taught by the minister in the church every Sabbath day.

Friendly Societies.—The only Friendly Society which exists here, and which remodelled its rules agreeably to the Act of Parliament, is called the Methlick Wright's Friendly Society. In its membership, it is not confined to wrights, but admits all tradesmen and others who wish, by paying a small sum quarterly, to share in the advantages which it holds forth.

Savings Bank.—A District Savings' Bank, on the security of the National funds, was opened in Ellon at Martinmas 1839, and the industrious classes in this and the other parishes of the Presbytery, with the exception of Cruden, already supplied with an institution of a similar description, have gladly availed themselves of the means of providing for the wants of age. At Methlick, the deposits from 25th November 1839 to 20th November 1840 amounted to L.353; the sum withdrawn between these dates was L.1; and the interest payable at 20th November 1840 was L.6, 3s. The deposits from 20th November 1840 to 20th November 1841 amounted to L.381; the sum withdrawn during that period was L.53, 12s. 8d.; and the interest payable at 20th November 1841 was L.18, 13s. 3d. At 20th November 1841, there were at Methlick fifty depositors, and the sum deposited was L. 684.

It may be mentioned, that the deposits from all the parishes of the Presbytery, with the above exception, amounted in November 1840 to L.1584, 9s. 6d., and in November 1841 to L.2915, 11s. 8d.; and that the number of depositors was 160 in November 1840, and 257 in 1841.

Poor and Parochial Funds.— Of poor persons on the roll, the average number is 45, of whom 20 receive a permanent, and 25 an occasional allowance. The yearly amount of church collections is L.45, 7s. 1d.; interest of poor's funds lent, L.31, 4s., besides L.8 paid to the schoolmaster for teaching ten poor children, as mentioned above; proclamations and other casual supplies, L.10, 6s. 6d. The average sum received annually by the occasional poor is 18s., and by the permanent poor L.l, 18s. 6d. The session makes a weekly allowance to some of the most indigent from 1s. to 2s. 6d. These sums for the support of the poor are supplemented by the kindly and charitable dispositions of their neighbours, and by other seasonable supplies in the shape of clothing, meal, and fuel. The application for relief is at first made with a reluctance which nothing but the pressure of want is in most instances able to overcome.

Fairs.— The only fairs in the parish are, one which happens early in May, and Dennick's fair, of great antiquity, and held toward the end of November, which, allowance being made for the difference of styles, will be found to correspond to the day of St Devenick, the saint to whom the parish was dedicated. Both are useful, especially as feeing-markets for servants; but at neither are many cattle brought forward for sale.

Alehouses.—There are at present 4 alehouses, and 3 spirit shops in the parish.

Fuel.—The fuel most used is peat, dug from bogs or mosses in this parish and in Fyvie about Whitsunday.

August 1842.

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