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


I.—Topography and Natural History.

Name.—The name Clatt, or, as it was formerly written, Clet or Clett, is obviously derived from the Gaelic word Cleith, pronounced Cleit, which signifies concealed. This etymology of the word is in strict accordance with the locality of the parish. It is concealed from the view on every side.

Situation.— This parish is situated in the western extremity of Garioch,—one of the five divisions or districts of the county of Aberdeen.

Extent.—It is about 4 English miles in length, and varies from 2 to 3 English miles in breadth, comprehending a space of nearly 9 square miles.

Boundary.—It is bounded on the west by the parish of Au-chindoir, in the lower district of Marr; on the north, by the Water of Bogie, which separates it from the parish of Rhynie; on the east, by the parishes of Kennethmont and Leslie; and on the south, by the Suie and Coreen Hills, forming part of a mountain, range that extends from east to west upwards of twenty miles. With the exception of those parts which lie on the declivity of the southern boundary, and some rising grounds on the north-west, the parish of Clatt forms an uninterrupted plain; and, from the centre, the spectator has a distinct view of nearly its whole extent.

Climate.—As the parish lies at an elevation of upwards of 600 feet, and in the northern vicinity of a mountain of at least 1300 feet above the level of the sea, the climate is colder than in the lower parishes of the county. In consequence, however, of an extensive and efficient draining of moss and marshy ground, the climate has, within the last twenty years, undergone a decidedly favourable change. There are no diseases peculiar to the parish. Many of the inhabitants wear a green old age, and, during the incumbency of the writer, several have died upwards of ninety years of age, and two, with unimpaired faculties, completed a century.

Springs.—The parish is copiously supplied with the purest water from perennial springs, which issue from the sides of the hills and every smaller eminence. Though no river of any note flows through the parish, the union of several streamlets forms the Gady, famed in song,* which, in its meandering course, turns twelve threshing-mills and a meal-mill in this parish, within the short distance of two miles, and, after passing through a highly cultivated district, joins the Urie on its way to discharge itself into the Don at Inverury.

Mineral Springs.—In several places, there are sulphureous and chalybeate springs, to which some virtue is attached as diuretics; but they have never been generally frequented for medicinal purposes. The strongest chalybeate spring rises near the summit of Coreen, out of an irregular mass of broken rock, richly imbedded with ironstone. The water has been analyzed, and found to contain nearly the same ingredients as the celebrated mineral waters of Peterhead.

Minerals.—This parish, though limited in extent, is not devoid of interest to the mineralogical inquirer. In many parts, rocks of granite and whinstone, with irregular inclinations, are found almost immediately below the surface of the ground. From the abundant supply of outlying stones, there exists little necessity of opening quarries for erecting buildings and enclosures; and only one quarry of composite rock, of hornblende, quartz, and felspar, is occasionally worked. Near the mansion-house of Knockespoch, veins of a species of variegated marble have been discovered. It is, however, of too splintry a nature to admit of its application to

* "I wish I were whare Gadie rins,
'Mang fragrant heath and yellow whins;
Or crawlin down the boskie linns
At the back o' Bennachie."—&c. &c.

any useful purpose, and of too soft contexture to receive the requisite polish.

Vitrification.—On an eminence in the northerly division of the parish, stones in a vitrified state are thickly scattered over an extent of about six acres. They are of various dimensions, though, in general, not exceeding a few inches diameter; but no mass of vitrified matter has been discovered near the spot. Their existence in such a situation furnishes an interesting subject of antiquarian research; but it is apprehended that the best directed inquiries will lead to no satisfactory result. The stones bear evident marks of having been in a state of high ignition, and, when broken, disclose small globules filled with a white pulverized deposit, of a slightly sulphureous smell. There is no appearance of a crater that might connect the vitrified matter with volcanic remains, nor are the least vestiges discovered of a vitrified fort. At a distance of about four miles is situated the mountain of Noath, with a valley intervening. On the summit of this mountain, at an elevation of nearly 1800 feet above the level of the sea, are the remains of a volcano or vitrified fort, and it is only on the side of the eminence in the parish of Clatt, opposite to Noath, that the vitrified stones are found. The writer mentions this singular coincidence without venturing to deduce from it any inference affecting the merits of the inquiry. He would merely remark, that the vitrified matter at both places appears to be nearly of the same consistency, and that, at a similar distance from Noath, in an easterly direction, stones of the same description are found over a limited extent.

Botany.—Among the Plantae rariores of the district, the following list, furnished by the Rev. John Minto, parochial schoolmaster, an accurate botanist, may not be deemed unworthy of notice: Plantago maritima, Drosera longifolia, Epilobium angustifolium, Arenaria verna, Cerastium arvense, Habenaria viridis, Listera cordata, Goodyera repens, Carduus nutans.

Soil.—This parish exhibits a considerable diversity of soil. The land, which has been immemorially in a state of cultivation, consists of a rich, deep, loamy soil, formed by the repeated application of manure, and the existence of decomposed vegetables, lying on sand or broken rock, which readily absorbs the moisture. The basis of a large proportion of the richest soil is clay, which, by the application of stimulants and manure, has been converted into a heavy loam. In those grounds, reclaimed by draining or trenching, the soil is partly alluvial, with a mixture of sand, clay, or peat-moss on a gravelly bottom ; and, in the more elevated parts of the parish, the soil is of a light and sandy character on a rocky bed. The remainder of the surface consists of moorish ground covered with heath, or of peat-moss of considerable depth.

Plantations.—While the soil in the cultivated parts of the parish is capable of producing luxuriant crops of grain, the want of sufficient shelter from the stormy winds presents a powerful obstacle to the progress of agricultural improvement. From the extent of peat-moss, and the discovery of large fragments of oak, alder, and fir trees at a considerable depth below the surface of the ground, there is just reason for inferring, that this parish, at a remote period, exhibited an entire contrast to its present appearance. Plantations of larch and Scotch fir have been recently formed on the hills in the southern boundary. Towards the summit, the trees are much stunted by the injury which they sustain from the withering winds and superincumbent snows ; but, in more sheltered situations, they are progressively thriving, and have attained to considerable size. The aspect of the parish, otherwise monotonous, is pleasantly diversified by a few aged trees of ash, elm, and plane, around almost every farm-steading; and the village of Clatt is studded by upwards of 100 ash and plane trees of large dimensions, that have weathered the storms of 100 winters; and, to the eye of the unexpecting traveller, impart to it in summer, the rich umbrageous appearance of an English village.

II.— Civil History.

The history of this parish at a remote period is involved in much obscurity. It appears, however, by the privileges conferred upon the town and village of Clatt by one of our Scottish Kings, that it was not deemed unworthy of the exercise of the royal prerogative. By letters of gift and donation from King James IV. of Scotland, "the village of Clatt was erected into a free burgh of barony, with all the rights and privileges thereof; with power to the proprietor at that time, and in all time thereafter, to constitute and appoint bailies and other officers necessary for guiding, governing, and ruling the said burgh; and to have, hold, and keep therein a cross and market upon Tuesday every week, and public fairs and markets every year, for the space of eight days, with the liberties, profits, duties, and commodities thereof, in terms of the foresaid grant and donation." In virtue of this royal grant, letters of publication have been issued at different times by warrant of the Lords of Council and Session in Scotland ; and the powers thereby conferred have been exercised by successive proprietors for the improvement of the burgh. Of the nature and extent of some of the baron's powers in the maintenance of his jurisdiction, there still exist distinct vestiges. On the summit of a rising ground contiguous to the village, there is pointed out the site on which the gallows stood, at the period when justice was summarily executed; and the eminence still bears the name of the Gallows Knoll.

Proprietors.—The whole parish of Clatt belongs to two landowners ; James Adam Gordon, Esq. of Knockespoch, who has a family seat in the parish, but whose principal residence is in England, where his extensive estates are situated; and Sir Andrew Leith Hay of Rannes, whose mansion-house is in the neighbouring parish of Kennethmont. There is no plan of the whole parish extant, but correct surveys, by professional men, have been made at different times, for the private use of the landed proprietors.

Parochial Registers.—The parochial registers are by no means in a perfect state. The register of baptisms only commences in 1725, and, with slight intermissions, is brought down to the present time. Previously to 1820, when the present incumbent was appointed, there is no register of marriages, with the exception of the short interval between 1784 and 1798, and no record whatsoever of deaths is in existence.

Feudal Rencontre.— The only historical incident in this parish, deserving of notice, was a rencontre, in 1572, between the two rival clans of Forbes and Gordon. To revenge an insult offered by the Master of Forbes, in repudiating his wife, daughter of the Earl of Huntly, the Gordons, under the command of two of the Earl's brothers, attacked their hereditary enemies, the Forbesses, within their rude entrenchment, on the White Hill of Tillyangus, in the south-west extremity of this parish, and, after a sanguinary contest, still visibly marked by a number of graves or cairns, the Gordons carried the encampment of their opponents, slew Arthur Forbes, son of Lord Forbes, commonly called Black Arthur, from his dark complexion, and continued the pursuit to the gates of Castle Forbes, (now Druminnor), the family seat of the numerous clan Forbes. This skirmish is the subject of traditionary notice by the aged chroniclers of the parish, and is recorded in a manuscript memoir of the house of Forbes, now in the possession of the Honourable Lord Forbes.

Druidical Monuments and Tumuli.— At a period of very remote antiquity, this parish appears to have been one of the favoured seats of the Druids. Until within the last thirty years, there existed in the northern division of the parish, the distinct remains of a Druidical temple, of which only the supposed altar-stone, and a few of the upright stones, which were placed in the circumference, now remain. The stone supposed to have formed the sacrificial altar in the centre, was of large dimensions, consisting of 10 feet in length, 9 feet in breadth, and 4 feet in thickness. It was placed at an angle of about 45° with the dip in the direction of the meridian. At each extremity, longitudinally, there stood a perpendicular stone of about 6 feet in height, vulgarly styled "the Horns of the Altar," and in the line of the circle, of about 25 yards diameter, there were placed, at equal distances, seven upright stones, from 5 to 6 feet in height. The whole space within the circumference was rudely paved with stones to the depth of about three feet. Within the precincts of this heathen temple, no relic of the olden time has been discovered; but at a distance of about a quarter of a mile, in different directions, several tumuli have been opened, some of which contained ornamented earthen jars full of bones in a calcined state. A few years ago, upwards of twenty of these tumuli, that had escaped observation from a thick covering of heath and furze, were discovered in the progress of improving some moorish ground. To each of the tumuli was allotted a detached circular space of about six yards diameter. In the line of the circle, there was placed a continued series of upright stones, which distinctly marked the circular spot, and in the centre of each, a grave had been dug of the usual dimensions. Some of them had been cut out of the solid rock to the depth of about five feet. On opening some of them, small pieces of burnt bones were found, and, in others, the sides at the bottom were lined in the form of a coffin with detached blocks of sandstone. On the period to which these sepulchral monuments refer, tradition is entirely silent. From their contiguity to the remains of the supposed Druidical temple, there is ground for conjecture that these formed the cemeteries of the priests of the Druids, and in a line leading from the site of the temple to some of these tumuli that were opened a few years ago, there could be distinctly traced a rude causeway of stone. At a short distance from these tumuli, there was recently dug up, at the depth of about six feet, a smooth stone, 4 feet long by 2 feet in breadth, on which is represented the figure of a salmon above a distinctly described arch. As the salmon was held sacred by the Druids, it is highly probable that this emblematical representation was connected with the ceremonies of their worship. A broad smooth stone, of about 5 feet in length and 3 in breadth, likewise formed part of the old wall of the burying-ground at Clatt, on which are engraven several single and concentric circles, and other figures representing barbed arrows. This stone is similar to many in different parts of the county, on which are described circles and hieroglyphic characters, which are generally believed to refer to the ages of Druidism.


There exist no data by which the population of this parish at an early period can be fixed with accuracy. Were we, however, to form an estimate from the average number of births at two corresponding periods of the last and present century, we should be led to conclude that the population is considerably on the decrease.

The decrease of population since the commencement of the last century may be ascribed to the removal of several families into the manufacturing districts during the period of commercial prosperity, and the consolidation of crofts into farms of moderate extent. Where clusters of cottages at one time flourished, there scarcely now remain any vestiges to point to their former site. By the present arrangement of the size of farms, the population has settled into a deficient state, which does not correspond with the exigencies of the parish, and upwards of eighty servants from other districts are annually required to supply the deficiency, and to carry on the cultivation of the soil. The village of Clatt contains about 90 inhabitants, or above one-sixth of the whole population of the parish.

There are only two land-owners of the parish, each of whose property exceeds L.50 Sterling of yearly value, and the only resident of independent fortune is James Adam Gordon, Esq. of Knockespoch, principal heritor.


The active and enterprising spirit of the farmers has shed a benignant influence over the external aspect of the parish, and nothing but the contour of the surrounding hills, and other permanent landmarks, could identify it with the subject of the Statistical Account in 1792. During a period of forty years, agriculture has passed progressively through the various intervening stages between infancy and matured improvement, and comparatively little is now left to be achieved by future enterprise. Within the short period of the last twenty years, upwards of 300 acres have been reclaimed from their natural state of moss and moor, and rendered comparatively productive, and neither the aspect of the times, nor the calculations of a profitable return, could justify the application of any additional capital in the recovery of the small residue of about 80 improvable acres within the whole extent of the parish.

Live-Stock.—As the rearing of cattle forms an essential branch of profitable husbandry, the attention of the farmer has been deservedly turned to the improvement of the breed of cattle. After successive trials, the true native, crossed with the short-horned or Durham breed, has been found productive of the most approved and profitable stock. The size and symmetry of the cattle have kept pace with the improvement in agriculture.

Husbandry.—The husbandry now almost universally adopted is of the most approved description, and many of the obstacles that formerly obstructed the progress of agriculture have yielded to the combined influence of skill, industry, and capital. The abolition of run-rig, or intermixed allotments of ground occupied by different tenants; the conversion of crooked and highly raised, into straight and moderately low riggs; the exclusion of surface water from low-lying fields; the efficient draining of marshy ground ; the removal of large surface stones, which were alike unseemly in appearance as detrimental to productiveness; the application of lime to reclaimed ground, or to dormant soil, which deep ploughings had brought into contact with manure; the introduction of early seed from the more genial southerly counties; the substitution of an improved breed of horses, for the puny and powerless animals, the native breed of the county; the exchange of the cumbrous and wasteful machinery of a twelve oxen plough, for the two horse plough, of a lighter construction; the general prevalence of drill-turnip husbandry; the adoption of the rotation of cropping best adapted for the respective soils ; the abolition of servitudes and mill-multures; these, under the auspices of practical knowledge, and of moderate capital, have conspired, in bringing the husbandry of the parish into no distant competition with the boasted agriculture of the finest counties. It is indeed impossible to subdue the obstacles arising from climate and local situation, and any attempt to raise wheat and barley often proves abortive, but the crops of bear and oats are not, in favourable seasons, exceeded very much in quantity or in weight in almost any part of Scotland. Enclosures are still much wanted, to enable the farmer to turn his fields to the best possible advantage. Very few farms have as yet the benefit of enclosures, though quarries for the purpose might be opened on almost every farm; and the tedious operation of the entail act of 10th Geo. III. presents an almost insuperable obstacle to this desirable species of improvement. To release property from the fetters of entail would be an act worthy of an enlightened legislature, or were its restrictions modified, liberal-minded landlords, without incurring the risk of personal responsibility, yet with permanent advantage to the property, could render meliorations for improvements, a burden upon succeeding heirs. It is, however, very gratifying to remark, that, though both estates in this parish are held under strict entail, the progress of agriculture has not, as yet, been retarded by its paralyzing influence. Every reasonable encouragement and accommodation are given by the respective proprietors, and the farm-buildings are neat and commodious, constructed of durable materials, agreeably to plans sanctioned by the proprietors. The expense of erecting farm-steadings and enclosures, is, in general, defrayed exclusively by the tenant, and he is entitled to remuneration only at the expiration of his lease. The duration of leases is for the usual period of nineteen years. Though this period may be happily chosen to meet a change of circumstances, it is by no means sufficient to afford any adequate remuneration for capital invested in extensive improvements.

Draining.—In estimating the relative importance of the improvements which have taken place in this parish during the last twenty years, it will readily be admitted that draining has been one of the most efficient. On each of several farms, of 100 to 150 acres of total surface, from 4000 to 8000 ells of drains and ditches have been cut, at the average depth of six feet. Large tracts of moss and marshy ground, fit only for the wild fowls to nestle on, have thus been reclaimed at the personal expense of the tenant; and in many parts of the parish, where neither the foot of man nor of beast could tread, there,

"In gay luxuriance Ores now is seen,
To crown the valleys with eternal green."

From these improvements, the value of property will be greatly enhanced to the present and future proprietor; but from the depressed state of agriculture, there is much reason to fear, that the chief, if not the only, compensation which the tenant will reap for the funds which he has irrecoverably sunk, will be the patriotic reflection, that he has "made corn grow where corn ne'er grew before."

Obstacles.—In effecting beneficial changes in the agriculture of the parish, the farmer has had to contend with many disadvantages. The distance to Aberdeen, the principal grain market, cannot be accomplished in less than three days, and the actual expense of the delivery of grain, independently of tear and wear, and loss of time, is at present one-tenth to one-twelfth of the whole value. The state of the roads is another barrier to the progress of agricultural improvement. While most parishes enjoy the benefit of turnpike roads, no provision has been made to facilitate the intercourse with this parish, besides the scanty pittance of the road assessment. A turnpike road through the parish, in continuation of the turnpike road, to Premnay onwards to Rhynie, would be of incalculable advantage to this parish and surrounding district, and, besides, would furnish a very profitable investment to the money-lender; and for the toll-duty, the farmer would receive a more than adequate compensation in the comparative ease to his horses, and the additional quantity of grain, lime, &c. which they could convey.

V.—Parochial Economy.

Market-Town.— In virtue of the privileges conferred upon the town and village of Clatt, as a burgh of barony, markets were formerly held on the Tuesday of every week, and many of the inhabitants have a distinct recollection of the market cross. The weekly markets have, for many years, fallen into desuetude, and have been substituted by two annual fairs, one in the month of May for the sale of sheep and cattle, and for engaging servants, and the other in November, which' is chiefly frequented as a grain and feeing market. Huntly, at a distance of nine miles, is the nearest market-town, but the village contains within itself the requisite tradesmen, and furnishes a supply of the usual mercantile commodities. Though the population of the village does not exceed 90, yet in that limited number are comprehended, 4 carpenters, 4 blacksmiths, 1 flesher, 1 shoemaker, 1 turner, 1 merchant, 1 tailor, 1 harness-maker, 1 carrier, 1 miller, and 4 weavers.

Means of Communication.-—The parish has not, as yet, the advantage of a regular post office, but there is a post runner daily, from Rhynie to Clatt. The parish is intersected by two patent roads, the one called "the North and South Road," forming part of the military line of road from Edinburgh to Huntly, &c, and the other a continuation of the public road from Aberdeen to Rhynie, Cabrach, &c. Both roads meet at a comfortable inn, Ford of Clatt, established for the accommodation of travellers, and, after passing through the village northwards, diverge into different directions. In travelling the military line from Edinburgh there is a saving of nearly thirty miles; but, from the intervention of the mountainous district of the Grampians, the line of road by Aberdeen is generally preferred by travellers.

Ecclesiastical State.— The parish church is centrically situated, at a distance of not more than three miles from the most remote parts of the parish. The fabric of the church is co-existent with Roman Catholic worship, and several Popish relics have been discovered in the progress of repairing the church. In 1828, the church was substantially repaired and reseated. It affords accommodation for 290 persons, or more than one-half of the whole population, besides 52 additional sittings in a gallery erected by the kirk-session for the benefit of the poor. The manse was built in 1725, and in 1820 it underwent considerable repair, and received additional accommodation. In 1828, the offices were rebuilt on an enlarged plan, and in the same year, the church-yard was enclosed with a substantial stone and lime wall. The glebe and garden consist of nearly 5 Scotch acres, without the statutory accompaniment of a grass glebe. The teinds were valued and exhausted in 1812, and the stipend is the legal minimum, besides the usual allowance for communion elements. There are 20 Dissenters in the parish, and the average number of communicants at the Established Church is about 230. Church collections are annually made for the Aberdeen Infirmary, and occasionally for the Presbyterial Lunatic Fund ; and, during the last seven years, there has existed a parochial association for Christian purposes, embracing especially the General Assembly's Shemes,—the funds of the association amounting from L.10 to L.13 per annum.

Education.—A very handsome and commodious school-room, fully adequate to the educational wants of the parish, has been erected this season. No other school exists, or is required. The branches of education usually taught are, English reading, writing, arithmetic, and Latin, and book-keeping, and the higher branches of mathematics when required. The salary of the schoolmaster is L.25, 13s. 4d., with the legal accommodation; and the amount of the school-fees, including the interest of L.40, minus legacy duty, mortified by the Rev. Robert. Findlay, for the education of children of poor householders, may be stated at from L.12 to L.18 per annum. The teacher also shares in the Dick Bequest. The rate of school-fees per quarter, after deduction for harvest vacation, is as follows : English reading, 2s.; reading and writing, 3s.; arithmetic's.; mensuration, 5s.; Latin, 5s.; and book-keeping, 10s. 6d. per set. From the facilities of education there are few or none from six to fifteen years of age who cannot read, but a considerable number who cannot write. There may be from twelve to twenty persons upwards of fifteen years of age who cannot write ; and none who cannot read. To the inestimable benefits of education the inhabitants are in general zealously alive. The parent who has felt the disadvantages of ignorance is anxious to remove this obstruction from his children's future path; and he willingly subjects himself to much labour, and many privations, in furnishing them with the means of refining their taste, forming their intellectual character and forwarding their advancement in society. If he enjoys the benefits of a well-informed mind, he is fired with the nobler ambition of cultivating their mental faculties, and thus putting them in possession of the principle of their future advancement, than in amassing for them treasures of which they might not know the legitimate use. The diffusion of the means of education has been productive of its natural effects, increased intelligence, and exemplary moral deportment. To great simplicity of manners, which has for ages existed in the parish, there have been superadded habits of reading; a willingness to relinquish established prejudices, and to adopt acknowledged improvements; a higher tone of intellectual character; and an increasing regard to the concerns of religion.

Poor and Parochial Funds.—The provision for the poor is comparatively ample; and the Rev. Robert Findlay, writer of the last Statistical Account of this parish, is held in permanent remembrance by his liberal mortification to the industrious poor. He bequeathed the sum of L.300, less legacy duty, for the benefit of aged persons in reduced circumstances, and the annual interest, in suitable proportions, is distributed by the kirk-session among the intended objects of Mr Findlay's bounty. Of these, three only receive regular parochial aid; but the supply to the others is not more acceptable than seasonable. In directing the application of this annual provision the founder evinced much discrimination. There are many necessitous persons who thankfully receive supply from this source who would rather submit to severe privations than have their names enrolled in the list of the regular poor. The funds for the ordinary poor are as follows : Church collections, proclamations, &c. L.l7; interest of accumulated funds, L.8; seat rents, L.2, 10s.; total L.27, 10s., which, after deduction of L.3 per annum as salary to precentor and kirk-officer, leaves a balance of about L.25 Sterling to be distributed among eight regular poor. The benefit of parochial aid is a matter not of choice, but of the most urgent necessity. The spirit of Scottish independence still exists in all its vigour, and many in a state of indigence have been known to decline the proffered support, until they were assured that it proceeded from the mortified fund.

Fuel.— The scarcity of fuel bears hard upon the comforts of the poor. From extensive draining in the low mossy ground, a once fertile source of fuel is now nearly dried up, and the scanty supply of sandy and scarcely inflammable turf from the hilly ground, accessible only by very bad roads, scarcely repays the expense and labour of its preparation and delivery. The use of coal as a substitute for turf has now become very general, though this luxury can only be obtained by a large pecuniary sacrifice, as the expense of carriage is not less than the price of the coal at Aberdeen.

August 1842.

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