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

[Drawn up by the Rev. Alexander Cushny, Minister of Rayne, son of the late Incumbent.]

I.—Topography and Natural History.

Name.—The name of this parish is, in some old papers, written Oyen, but now generally Oyne, and is pronounced Een. Its origin is doubtful, but it is thought by some to be derived from the same Celtic word as Inch, and to denote a place having a resemblance to an island or a peninsula, an opinion which is very plausible, as the parish is bounded by the river Don on the southern side, and in the northern part alone has three fresh water streams which mark its boundaries, namely, the Shevock, dividing it from Insch on the north-west; the Ury, separating it from Rayne on the north; and the smaller stream Gady, running from the west, and falling into Ury at the eastern extremity, where Chapel of Garioch begins; and these general features of the peninsula are distinctly seen from Ardoyne, which signifies the top or height of Oyne, and is the highest ground in the northern section of the parish.

Extent and Boundaries.— Its extent, according to the latest county map, is 11,000 imperial acres, or 17 square miles, which is probably not overrated, as three-fourths of a considerable inland mountain are surrounded by cultivated grounds and inhabited houses belonging to this parish, and must therefore, in any general survey, be reckoned within its bounds. The extent from south to north, or from Don to Ury, is nearly 6 miles; from east to west, about 3 miles; but the form is irregular.

The chief mountain already referred to, and which is a conspicuous object in the district, is Benochee, a name which in Gaelic signifies the Hill of Paps, and is very applicable to the round tops or summits of this mountain, which are six in number, and known among the country people by various names; the highest and largest of the whole, on the south-east, being called the Mither Tap (Mother Top). It is 1677 feet above the level of the sea, and nearly 1400 feet from its base. The summits or crags are formed of masses of red granite of considerable size, the largest being about 50 feet in height, and of proportional length, but narrower on the top. The whole mountain extends from east to west about five miles; from north to south, about three-and-a-half miles.

The Don, which takes its rise in the mountains above Strath-don, runs along the south side of this parish for about three miles, separating it from Monymusk; it is joined by the Ury about six miles eastward, and falls into the sea a little to the north of Old Aberdeen. But this river, though a boundary of the parish, is secluded from the most populous and cultivated part of it, and is accessible only to the occupants of one property lying on the south side of Benochee.

The chief mineral in this parish is granite, which is of a red colour. It is found in very large masses under ground, and could be cut into blocks of the greatest size required for use, as was done about eighteen years ago, for the docks at Sheerness, from quarries on the south side of Benochee. It is also seen in great rocks above ground, as in the tops or crags above referred to, of which the seams or fissures are oblique; and likewise in numberless outlayers or blocks of various dimensions, from two to ten cubic feet, lying over the whole surface of the hill, and which are much used for building through the neighbouring districts, being easily formed and transported. Rock crystals of considerable size, and having a yellowish tint, are found imbedded in some of these outlayers; and specimens of Scots topaz, felspar, shorl, and jasper, are got in the same mountain. But on descending to its northern base, these, with the granite, disappear,—and whinstone alone prevails, of a deep blue colour, and hard texture, but much used for building field dikes, and ordinary walls.

The chief alluvial deposit is peat-moss, found on the ridge of the mountain in long flats between the crags, and covering the granite rocks to a considerable depth. From this moss the inhabitants of Oyne, and several neighbouring parishes, are chiefly supplied with peat fuel, of durable quality, but which is prepared and carried at an expense above its real value. The soil in general is open and fertile; the lands near the church, and along the banks of the Gady, having much of the freeness and other qualities of garden ground, are particularly rich and early, and bring the crops to maturity about ten days sooner than in several adjoining parishes. On the sides of the mountain, the ground is more or less mixed with granite sand, but it is likewise productive and not late.

Wood.—There are several valuable plantations of wood on the respective properties; as those of Tillyfour, on the south side of Benochee, consisting of coppices of oak, birch, &c. covering a large extent of hill, and yielding a considerable annual revenue for bark, and plantations of Scotch fir of good quality, and size, fit for all ordinary purposes; the woods of Pittodrie on the east side of the same hill, containing Scotch fir of the finest grain, and almost equal to oak in durability, with larch and various kinds of hard wood; and in the northern section of the parish, the woods of Westhall, consisting of fine old trees of beech, ash, elm, plane, lime, geen and holly, planted in the seventeenth century, and many of them of large dimensions. These, with sundry plantations of Scotch fir and larch, made within the last thirty years, occupy altogether a space of 2000 acres under wood.

II.—Civil History.

Eminent Men.—Among persons of eminence connected with the parish may be mentioned John Leslie, Bishop of Ross, who had been educated in France, and was made priest of Oyne, and an official of the diocese of Aberdeen about the middle of the sixteenth century; but in 1565, he was promoted to the bishoprick of Ross, and became the friend and counsellor of Queen Mary, and continued so during her long imprisonment and last trials. This John Leslie appears to have been a natural son of the minister of Kingussie, who was himself an illegitimate descendant of the Leslies of Bal-quhaine, an ancient and powerful family in this district; so that the epithet of "Priest's brat," given by John Knox to the Bishop of Ross, though harsh was not unjust. Sir John Runciman was also one of the Priests of Oyne, and an official of the diocese, being "Rome raiker," or messenger to Rome. And that the Pro-testant established church may not appear altogether isolated from the honourable families in the land, it may be added that Mr Alexander Turing, who was minister at Oyne from 1729 to 1782, had a hereditary claim to the baronetcy of Turing of Foveran, a title which was claimed and enjoyed by his son, Sir Robert Turing, Baronet, who died at Banff Castle within the last ten years; and which has fallen to his cousin, Sir James Turing in Rotterdam.

Land-owners.— About the middle of the seventeenth century, there were above twelve different proprietors in the parish, every considerable farm forming a separate lairdship or land; but afterwards, these fell into fewer hands, and there are now only four heritors in Oyne; viz. Sir Robert Dalrymple Horn Elphinstone, Bart. of Logie and Westhall; Colonel William Howe Knight Erskine of Pittodrie; John Gordon of Newton and Ardoyne, Esq.; and Robert Grant of Tillyfour, Esq.

Parochial Registers.—The session records commence in 1663, and consist of three volumes, containing accounts of the poor's funds, church discipline, baptisms and marriages, which last are now regularly registered. In the Scotman's Library, published by Mr Mitchell, various excerpts are given, professedly from ancient registers of the parish of Oyne; but the originals of these are not among the books now in the keeping of the kirk-session, which, however, are not continuous from 1663 to the present time.

Antiquities.—These are neither very numerous, nor remarkable; but the following appear to be worthy of notice; viz. three upright blue stones, about four feet high, having figures rudely cut in them, of crescents crossed with triangles, and single and double circles joined by lines, the middle one having also a Runic elephant on it, very similar to one cut in the "maiden stone;" an ancient granite column, nine feet high, and about two miles southward, in the parish of Chapel of Garioch. These stones were formerly laid horizontally on the moor of Carden, at a little distance apart, and designed probably to mark the scene of some family feud or quarrel, of which all other record is lost; but on this moor being planted with fir about thirty years ago, these stones were set upright in the west dike of the plantation, on the side of the turnpike road from Inverury to Huntly, and may be seen by the traveller about half-way betwixt the twenty-third and twenty-fourth mile stone. On the north side of Benochee, and near its base, there is a ruinous old building called the Castle of Harthill, formerly belonging to M. Leith, a cadet of the family of Leith of Edingarioch, now Leithhall. The last possessor was a noted "reiver" or freebooter, who harassed his neighbours, and was generally in feud with them; and tradition says, that, seeing many of these united against him as a common adversary, he set fire to his Castle of Harthill, and left the country, and at length ended his days in the King's Bench, London. The walls of the castle bear evident marks of fire, being rent in several places from top to bottom; yet, after having stood for ages without a roof, they are perfectly erect, and very strong, being about five feet thick, and forty feet high, with round towers, bartisans, loop-holes, an arched gateway and turret, and chimney vents above ten feet wide.

Another ancient seat, about a mile northward from this, is West-hall, of which the earliest date is uncertain; but it is mentioned by Buchanan as a seat belonging to the church and diocese of Aberdeen, as early as the thirteenth century; and it probably continued in the possession of the church till after the Reformation. It came into the hands of the family of Horn after the Revolution, and was much improved and beautified by John Horn, Esq. Advocate in Edinburgh, (grandfather of David Dalrymple, Lord Westhall,) who enlarged the house, and planted fine avenues, orchard, and garden, adorned, according to the taste of the age, with statues, yew and holly hedges, fruit and forest trees, and flowering shrubs intermingled. Of these, many fine trees remain, and the old house of Westhall having been again lately repaired and enlarged by Captain James Elphinstone Dalrymple, son of Sir Robert D. Horn Elphinstone, and great-great-grandson of said John Horn, forms a spacious and suitable mansion. The walls of the oldest part are about five feet thick, and very strong and dry.

The House of Pittodrie, on the east side of Benochee, is the seat of Colonel Knight Erskine, the patron of the church and parish, and the representative of the ancient family of Erskine of Balhagerdy, known in the history of the civil wars. It stands in a very commanding situation, being fully 500 feet above the level of the sea; but as it is surrounded with wood of different ages, and well sheltered from the north wind, it is a pleasant residence both in summer and winter.

On the south side of the mountain is Tilly four, an old slated house, not now inhabited by the proprietor. This place once belonged to the Ear! of Marr, but afterwards came into the possession of Sir Archibald Grant of Monymusk, great-grandfather of the present owner, and whose doings as an extensive improver and ornamental planter were the admiration of his time.

Ecclesiastical State.—The church was built in 1807, at an expense of L.400, and contains above 500 sitters. It stands on a little hill in the east end of the parish, and is a conspicuous object to travellers on the Huntly road. The manse was built for the last incumbent in 1796, for about L.230 Sterling, and the present school-house was erected in the same year, affording room for only sixty scholars, with three small apartments above for the teacher.

Formerly, there were four meal-mills in the parish, it being thought an advantage to every property that had a fall of water, to have a mill for the tenantry; now, there is only one mill strictly within the bounds of the parish, slated, and having a public kiln; but there are three others of the same kind, very near to it, in the adjoining parishes, and in which the tenants are accommodated on the same terms as others. Thrashing-mills, or machines, are now so generally used, that there is scarcely a farm above thirty acres that has not one, driven either by horses or by water.


The cause of the temporary decrease was the letting of the lands in larger farms, and discouraging the croft system, in the end of the last century: but those farms having been again reduced and subdivided, and numerous crofts set apart for labourers and tradesmen, the population has increased, and is increasing. There are no villages in the parish, nor any hamlet containing more than twelve dwelling-houses.

Two gentlemen of family and competent fortune reside in the parish, at he respective seats of Pittodrie and Westhall, already mentioned.

IV. —Industry

Of these last, the young are employed from fifteen years and upwards, as house-servants and in field labours, and the elder females who are unable for such work earn a little by knitting and spinning; but both these branches of industry are reduced in value, in proportion to the increased and increasing use of machinery.


As there have been no actual measurements of the surface of Benochee, which is reckoned a royal forest or commonty, with certain rights, granted by charters to neighbouring properties, the above must be held as only an approximation to the superficial contents of the parish. The valued rent is L. 2300, 13s. 4d. Scots, the real rental not less than L. 3000 Sterling, consisting chiefly of money, with small proportions of farm meal, bear, and oats, by the county fiars, or payable in kind, as minister's stipend, &c. &c. There are five farms let at more than L. 100 of yearly rent, sixteen farms above L.50 yearly, and the rest from L. 20 to L.40 yearly, besides numerous crofts of a few acres, under L. 10. The rate for outfield land varies from 10s. to L. 1 per acre, imperial ; that for old infield or croft land is about L.2 per acre, and some of it above L.3 yearly; and the latter having been enriched (under the old system of tillage), for many years in succession, with the whole manure produced on the farm, is found cheaper than much of the outfield, though let at double or even triple the rent; there being a much greater surplus of produce left for other uses, after paying the higher rent, than from the poor field lands after deducting the lower rent, with seed and labour. The grazing of cattle is rarely charged by the head, but when it is, the expense may be reckoned at 15s. for a year old beast; L. 1, 10s. for a two year old; and L.2, 10s. for a three year old stot, during the five months from June to October inclusive. Grass parks are let principally by the proprietors in the district, who keep many of their fields in perennial grass, which bring from L.3 to L.4 per acre.

Live-Stock.—The number of black-cattle kept in the parish may be rated at about 1200; horses of all kinds and ages, 200. But the number of sheep is much diminished since the last Statistical Account was given; for at that time most of the wearing apparel and bed-clothes used in the country was of native grown wool, and home manufacture,—coarse in the fabric but very durable ; hence almost every farmer and tenant kept a small flock of sheep, pastured in the hill, which was common to all; and though the flesh of these brought them little gain, the pasture was cheap, and the aggregate fleeces were valuable. But now, very little home-made cloth is used, excepting coarse blankets; and proportionally few sheep are kept in the hill,—not above 400 in all, with perhaps 100 of a larger kind, kept on tether, in the fields, of finer wool, and for better purposes; though the mutton of the latter is much inferior to the former when equally fed.

The oxen now reared are chiefly for sale to the butcher, and are generally fed and parted with in their third or fourth year ; whereas formerly they were kept for ploughing, ten of them being yoked in pairs by bows around the necks, and dragging by a long iron chain, (called the soum,) a heavy and clumsy wooden plough, with unequal stilts. These were larger of their kind than the horses, and more liberally fed; but, being kept for eight years and upwards, and inured to labour, their flesh was not so rich and nourishing as that of the cattle now reared and fed in the country.

Few sheep comparatively are now kept, and these are of the black-faced kind on the hill, and of a larger and mixed breed on the low grounds, for the sake of lambs and wool. The breed of swine has been much improved; for, instead of the high-backed, long-nosed, and strong-bristled animals, formerly known as "mill swine," the pigs are now a short-legged cross from the continental breeds, feeding to six, eight, or ten stones in the first year, and sold at that age for the London market.

Husbandry.—The state of husbandry in this parish, and throughout the district of Garioch and the county generally, must be reckoned good, when the peculiarities of the soil, climate, and markets are duly estimated, insomuch that very few tenants, who have come from more favoured counties to farm here, have been able to effect, with advantage to themselves, any material improvements of the system. The cultivation of waste lands has been carried on successfully during the last thirty years, being done piece-meal by individual tenants more than in large tracts by heritors or capitalists; so that the low grounds, which had once been covered with natural brush-wood and furze, and, thence changed into turf-bogs, are now under regular tillage for grain and green crops, and they generally yield an abundant remuneration to the hand of industry. The means and instruments of husbandry, as well as the modes of cultivation, have been completely changed, even within the recollection of the writer. The number of carts in 1793 was stated at 50, and that number was comparatively of little use in the narrow, steep, and rugged roads, which were then general; so that the crop, dung, fuel, and meal were mainly carried on horseback, whereas back-loads are now entirely disused; and the number of carts of various kinds, for crop and dung, wood, fuel, and long carriages is greater than that of the horses. The plough formerly in use was a lumbering wooden implement, of rude workmanship, and not unfrequently made at home by the ploughman in the course of a day or two. Large and clumsy in all its parts, and drawn at a slow pace by ten powerful oxen yoked in pairs, it made furrows of gigantic dimensions, not less than sixteen inches broad, and sometimes of equal depth; and the ground being never cleaned by fallows or drilled crops, the noise occasioned by the tearing up and breaking asunder the strong mass of growing weeds was heard at a distance like the sound of burn-ino- furze or underwood. The whole manure collected and mixed was laid on the infield or home-fields, which were required in return to give yearly crops of grain (oats, bear, or pease), without fallow, cleansing, grazing, turnips, or potatoes; but, by the successive additions of manure, there was accumulated a deep bed of vegetable mould, requiring only to be thoroughly cleared of weeds in order to produce luxuriant crops; whereas the outfield or distant lands received no dung, except what dropped from the cattle, penned in folds during the night and part of the day,—were occasionally ploughed for corn crops, and cropped for two or three years in succession, and allowed to return to pasture of the indigenous grasses, there being then no sown grasses for either hay or grazing. Of this system of culture, which had its advantages in the existing state of the roads and markets, a remnant was to be seen in the parish so late as the beginning of the present century; but it has since been completely eradicated, and has given place to the turnip husbandry, which is everywhere followed with more or less success, and with a rotation of five, seven, or six years' shift,—the last being undoubtedly the best where it can be adopted, as it requires three-sixths of the farm to be in grass of one, two, and three years old; one-sixth in turnips for succulent food in winter and spring; and two-sixths in corn, the straw of which, with the hay, yields a sufficiency of dry food during the same period. And such has been the effect of the drill and cleaning tillage, that two pairs of horses will now perform the whole work of ploughing, carting, and distant carriages on a farm, which, in the last century, required ten strong oxen and four or six horses to do the work, for much less produce, in proportion to the land cultivated. The chief distinction between the old infield and the best outfield lands does not exceed a quarter of oats per acre, with longer and coarser straw on the former than on the latter, but the grain not quite so heavy. Iron ploughs are now much used.

Leases are granted, not as formerly during one or more lives, but for nineteen years and crops.

Produce.—The gross produce of grain (oats and bear) cannot be reckoned in ordinary seasons, much above or below 5920 quarters, of which there may be required as seed for two-fifths of the ground in tillage, 1020 quarters; for victual to the inhabitants at 30 stone, or 1½ sack of meal per head, 1900 quarters; leaving for rent, horse corn, malt, and all other purposes, 3000 quarters.

The raw grain is sold chiefly for milling or exportation, and carried to Port Elphinstone at the canal, Inverury. When milled, the meal is sold to Aberdeen, Huntly, or other towns. The next resource of income to the farmer is black-cattle, of which about 200 of the native breed, or cross breeds now reared, are annually sold, at three year's old, bringing each, about L.9, L.1800; the revenue from young horses, sheep, and pigs is comparatively small, L.300; but that arising from butter, cheese, and eggs, as in all the inland parishes of Aberdeenshire, is equal to at least half the return from cattle sold, L.900.

V.—Parochial Economy.

Market-Town.—There is no market-town here,— the nearest being Inverury, already mentioned, about seven miles to the south-east, and accessible by a good turnpike road, of which two branches pass through the parish, one by Pitmachie towards Huntly, and the other by Insch to the same. On these there are two daily coaches passing to Inverness and backward, the mail and the Defiance; and one coach to Huntly and backward, each alternate day; and the post-office is at Oldrain, two miles north of the church.

Ecclesiastical State.—The church, built thirty-two years ago, is situated on a small hill in the east end of the parish, and is sufficiently convenient for seven-eighths of the inhabitants who dwell on the north side of Benochee; but those on the south side of the mountain, nearly 100 in number (of all ages), are secluded from their parish church during the winter storms, and are not much nearer to any other parish church. But a new church has now been erected, by subscription, at Blairdaff, in Chapel of Garioch, which, from its local position, may be more convenient for this detached quarter,—if happily an endowment can be got for it, so as to secure public worship regularly in winter and summer.

The manse is pleasantly situated, and, though not so large as some manses more recently built, may, by the necessary repairs, be made a commodious and comfortable house. The glebe contains eight acres of rich early soil, easily wrought, and productive.

The stipend was modified in 1809, when all the teinds then valued were decerned, being in money L.99, 1s. 11 2/12d.; in meal, at 10 stone or 140 lb. per boll, 68 bolls, 1 firlot, 1/5 lippie; in bear, Aberdeen measure, or four-fifths of a quarter, 15 bolls, 1 peck, 1 lippie. The victual is payable in kind, and, at the average of 16s. per boll of meal, and L. 1 per boll of bear, would make a stipend of L. 170, including communion element money. The unexhausted teinds, if legally valued, are inconsiderable. There are no chapels of ease, Government churches, missionaries, or catechists in the parish, nor any Dissenting meeting-house near to it, the whole number of Dissenters of all sects being under 20. The average number of the congregation is about 350.

Education.—There is one parochial school, in which, besides the ordinary branches of education, Latin and mathematics are taught when required; the teacher being a graduate of King's College, Aberdeen, and a preacher of the Gospel,—as the great majority of the parochial schoolmasters in this Presbytery are. His salary is about L.30, session-clerk's fees, L.3, with an enclosed garden, and a house containing three small apartments. Being conveniently situated, the school is full during the winter months; but the accommodation is too limited for the present population, and would not contain above one-twelfth of the whole. Two females teach about thirty young girls to sew, and to read very imperfectly.
Poor and Parochial Funds.— The poor's funds consist of L.90 of lent money, with the weekly collections in the church, averaging 5s., and those at the communion, amounting to L.3, 15s. There are of extraordinary collections one yearly for the Aberdeen Infirmary; one for the Presbytery's Lunatic fund; and collections for the General Assembly's Schemes, amounting in whole to above L.7 annually. Besides the parochial collections, there are frequent subscriptions made from house to house in behalf of poor persons, who, from accidents or sickness, are brought into great distress; and a very considerable amount of alms, in meal, meat, drink, and money, is daily bestowed on wandering beggars, who are most numerous and importunate, coming chiefly from the manufacturing cities, towns, and villages.

The average number of poor on the roll is 12; and the amount distributed annually, L.30, 10s., in sums from 8s. to 15s., divided five times in the year, according to their several necessities. The Mount of church collections annually, including those at the communion, is L.16, 10s.; interest of money lent, L.4; donations from heritors and casual revenue, L.10 = L.30, 10s.

Fairs.—There are no great fairs held within the bounds; but half yearly markets for engaging servants kept at Pitmachie, a few days before the respective terms of Whitsunday and Martinmas, old style.

Inns and Alehouses.—There are four resident merchants, and also four licensed ale-houses in the bounds.

[Since the above statement was written, an excellent addition has been made to the manse. It is now one of the most commodious in the neighbourhood. New offices have also been built. The old school-house having been found too small and uncomfortable, a new one has been erected, capable of containing between eighty and ninety scholars: also a very neat dwelling-house for the schoolmaster. The people, in general, are alive to the benefits of education,—few, if any, being unable to read. Two Sabbath classes are taught by the present incumbent, one before sermon for children between ten and fifteen years of age, the other after, for intending communicants. Public worship is uncommonly well attended, so much so, that the church in summer is found to be rather too small, and additional seats have been erected in the passages for children, and those who have no right to sittings. There are only two families of Dissenters, consisting of six individuals, in the parish. One of these belongs to the Episcopal persuasion, the other to the United Secession church. The parochial collections have been rather on the increase; the average being now between 8s. and 9s. During the last three years about L. 30 has been transmitted to the General Assembly's Schemes; and nearly the same amount to other charitable institutions. Intemperance appears to be on the decrease, and a marked change to the better has been observable of late years among the parishioners. It is rather remarkable that the population has neither increased nor diminished during the last ten years, being the very same by the census for 1831, and that of 1841.]

March 1839.
Revised May 1842.

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