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


I.—Topography and Natural History.

Name.—Some suppose Tarves to be compounded of two Gaelic words, signifying respectively fertile and plain. The designation of the parish would thus be a tolerable description of its appearance, compared with that of more hilly districts.

Situation and Extent.—Tarves is situated in that part of Aberdeenshire called Formartine, [Formartine gives the title of Viscount to the Earl of Aberdeen.] with the exception of a small section which lies on the north side of the river Ythan, and is therefore reckoned in the Buchan district of the same county. It is bounded on the north, by Fyvie, Methlick, and New Deer ; on the east, by Ellon; on the south-east and south, by Udny; on the south-west, by Bourtie; and on the west, by Meldrum. The . church is distant from Newburgh, the nearest sea-port, ten, and from Aberdeen the county town, seventeen miles. In its greatest length, Tarves may be about 12 miles, and in its greatest breadth about 8 miles. It contains upwards of 12,000 Scotch acres, of which 11,000 are arable, 1000 woodland, and the residue moss and muir.

Geology and Hydrography.—The appearance of the parish is of an undulating character, the land sometimes rising into sloping acclivities, and sometimes stretching out into levels of considerable extent. The acclivities are of various altitudes, and commonly in the form of ridges, sloping most frequently to the south-west and north-east. The lower grounds are intersected by numerous small rivulets, vernacularly called burns, which carry off the drainage to the river Ythan. This stream divides the parish into two very unequal parts, the greater being on the southern and the lesser on the northern bank. The rocks are all of the primitive order, and, with the exception of some limestone, consist entirely of gneiss and granite alternating with each other. These rocks are, in some places, buried to a great depth beneath diluvial deposits, in others they rise above the surface. Immense boulders of blue sienite were, at one period, scattered over the soil. The farmers, who, at a great expense of labour and gunpowder, have removed most of those that obstructed the plough, term them heathens, probably from the incessant contest they and their forefathers have waged with them from time immemorial. A bed of mountain limestone traverses the east end of the parish. It makes its first appearance on the south bank of the Ythan, in a precipice high above the river, where it was formerly worked, and passes in a southerly direction through the lands of Auchedly, the farms of the Ythsies, &c. into the adjoining parish of Udny, near the church of which it is at present worked with considerable success. [Limestone is also found at Acquhorthies in this parish, about two and half miles west of the church.]

Soil and Subsoil.—The soil is a brown loam of various depths, but generally of good quality, resting on a diluvial deposit of stony clay, unless where the subjacent rocks find their way to the surface. The bottom lands, of a heavier and more tenacious character, are interspersed here and there with patches of peat moss. The streams are bordered with stripes of alluvial soil of various breadths, which, when drained and protected from floods, produce heavy crops. Most of the land is sufficiently friable for the growth of turnip; and the rocky spots, where the plough can work at all, are often eminently fertile.

II.— Civil History.

Heritors, &c—The Earl of Aberdeen and Alexander Forbes Irvine, Esq. are the only heritors. The former possesses all the lands in the parish south of the river Ythan. The estate of Schivas, situated on the northern bank, and comprising about one-eighth of the whole parish, is the property of Mr Irvine, who is the only resident heritor.

Antiquities.—Tarves, at a very early period, was erected into a Regality in favour of the Abbot of Arbroath, and an instance is recorded, in 1299, of his claiming a culprit, as feudal superior of this parish, from the King's Justiceayre at Aberdeen. About the time of the Reformation, the Regality passed to James Gordon of Haddo, ancestor of the Earl of Aberdeen, one of whose titles at present is Baron of Tarves.

Not many years ago, there existed, on the farms of North and South Ythsie, several large cairns, of whose origin tradition gave no account, and at the bottom of which, when the stones composing them were carried away for the purpose of building fences, there was found a quantity of gigantic human bones. They were, in all probability, the work of an era prior to the introduction of Christianity.

The Castle of Tolquhon, now in a very ruinous condition, with the exception of a part of it called "the auld tower," was built between 1584 and 1589 by William Forbes, laird of Tolquhon, Woodland, Knaperna, &c. It is of considerable extent, being of a quadrangular form, and enclosing a large court-yard, the arched gateway of which is defended by two towers, with loop-holes to enable those within to use fire-arms or arrows against assailants. Great part of it is now roofless, and its walls are fast sinking into shapeless heaps of stones and rubbish. It is nearly surrounded with wood, part of which, especially some fine yews, seems to be coeval with the building itself. The family of Forbes, to whom this castle and the valuable property annexed to it belonged, was among the most ancient and honourable of that surname—the first laird of Tolquhon having been the son of Sir John Forbes of that Ilk, and a brother of the first Lord Forbes. He acquired the estate of Tolquhon, in 1420, by his marriage with Marjorie Preston, daughter of Henry Preston, Lord of Formartine. In the church-yard of Tarves there remains, in good preservation, a part of an aisle, added to the former church by the same William Forbes who built the castle. It bears the inscriptions "W. F. 1589, dochter to Lesmore, E. G.;" and the motto of the family, viz. "Salus per Christum."

The mansion-house of Schivas was built, about 200 years ago, by a gentleman of the name of Gray, descended from a younger branch of the noble family of Kinfauns. In its immediate vicinity, are some remarkably fine beeches; and there is a large and beautiful plane, which, according to tradition, was planted by a daughter of the Gray family. It passes among the people in the neighbourhood by the name of Mary Gray. In the house there is an old oak cabinet bearing the inscription G. G. of Schivas, and the date 1697. The Grays were of the Roman Catholic persuasion, and what is now the dining-room of the mansion had been their private chapel. It contains a recess where the altar had formerly stood, and where the cross still remains, with the motto "I. H. S. Jesus hominum salvator." There is also a small recess in which the elements of the eucharist and the holy water had been kept.

The date of the communion cups is 1618, of tokens, 1622.


Of the population in 1841, 1191 were males and 1206 females. The number of families in the parish is 463, of which 364 belong to the Established Church; 92 are Seceders; 5 Episcopalians; 1 belongs to the Independent; and 1 to the Methodist persuasion.


Agriculture.— Seventy years ago, agriculture in this parish, as generally throughout the county of Aberdeen, was in a truly wretched condition. The stagnation of water on the low grounds utterly precluded tillage; while the arable lands were overrun with noxious weeds, and chilled from November to May by innumerable land springs. The cultivated ground was divided into what was called infield and outfield. The former received all the manure of the farm, and was perpetually in crop. The latter consisted of "rig and baulk," that is, of arable ridges, between every two of which there was an interjacent space, termed a "baulk," which the plough never disturbed. The arable part was cropped with oats five years in succession, and then permitted to lie in pasture for the same number of years, in order to recruit its exhausted powers of production. Green-crops, with the exception of a few potatoes and coleworts in the gardens of the farmers and peasantry, were unknown. The implements of husbandry and the mode of using them were equally rude. Two men with ten or twelve oxen yoked in a team barely accomplished the work which one man with two horses in a plough can at present perform without difficulty. The horses employed in agriculture were diminutive in size, and used merely for burden, never for draught. They carried out manure, and home peats, in paniers or creels, and the meal to be sold was conveyed to market in sacks laid across the horses' backs. Carts and wheel-carriages were only to be found in the possession of landed proprietors.

The improvements introduced by the land-owners towards the conclusion of the last century were at first but slowly adopted by the tenantry. Depressed by bad seasons, and deficient in capital, they had neither the courage nor the means to attempt expensive innovations. The rise, however, in the price of agricultural produce which succeeded the breaking out of the war between this country and revolutionary France, by increasing the capital of the farmers, enabled them to take advantage of the more decided and valuable improvements. Draining, inclosing, a better system of cropping, superior agricultural implements, and the application of the great stimulant, lime, became general, and from this period the progress of improvement was extremely rapid. Besides the profits realized by the new system of husbandry, an additional stimulus was given to the exertions of the tenantry by the abolition of thirlage to particular mills, and of the pernicious practice of taking grassums on the renewal of leases, and by the letting of farms for periods of nineteen years on favourable terms for the occupiers. Through the industry of the tenantry, and the encouragement afforded by the landlords, the parish is now in a highly cultivated and productive state. The extent of arable land is at present at least double, and the amount of produce more than tenfold, what they were a few years before the former Account of this parish was drawn up.

The rotation of crops is adapted to that species of soil in which turnips can be most profitably raised. The land according to its quality is worked on a five, six, or seven years course. In the five years course, the crops succeed each other as follows: 1. Turnips; 2. bear, barley, or oats, with grass seeds; 3. pasture or hay; 4. pasture; 5. oats. In the six course, the land is pastured three years; and in the seven, two crops of oats are taken after three of pasture. The crofts and small possessions are generally worked on the five course, the more extensive farms on the six or seven. The six appears now to be most approved.

The sowing of turnips, mostly of the yellow kinds, with a portion of Swedes, commences in the end of May or very early in June, and by the 20th of the latter month is usually completed. From one-fifth to one-seventh of the arable land is under turnips annually, deducting a comparatively insignificant extent for potatoes, which are raised almost solely for the consumption of the inhabitants. The drill husbandry is universally employed. The manure consists of farm-yard-dung, with from ten to twelve bushels of crushed bones, per acre, applied in the drills along with it. The dung operates first, and quickly brings forward the young plants, while the bones maintain them in a vigorous state during the latter stages of their growth. The turnips are carted off the ground, and consumed in the stalls of the farm-steads. The practice of eating off a portion on the lighter soils with sheep has been adopted by a few of the farmers, but has little chance of being carried to a great extent in this quarter, while the remuneration derived from the feeding of cattle continues so ample as it has been for some years. As the turnips are cleared off, the land is ploughed, if possible in dry weather, and in the following spring is sown chiefly with oats, though a portion of the best of it is commonly reserved for barley or bear, the latter being in most cases preferred on account of its superior earliness. Little more hay is cut than is necessary for the horses kept on the farms. The grain produced is of excellent quality, bear and barley weighing in good seasons from 52 pounds to 56 pounds, and oats from 40 pounds to 45 pounds per imperial bushel. Most of the pasture is rich, white or Dutch clover being indigenous on the drier soils. The grain crops are cut with the scythe, [A scythe handle of a peculiar form, termed a cradle, is universally used here, and generally over the county. The implement is known by the name of the Aberdeenshire scythe, and performs more work, with greater ease to the labourer, than the common one.] which performs the operation of reaping much more economically and expeditiously than the sickle. It also takes more straw off the ground, and the produce is sooner ready for the stackyard, than when the last-mentioned instrument is employed. Thrashing-machines have long been in general use on the principal farms, some of them being moved by water, and some by horses. Indeed, where water can conveniently be obtained, they are now to be seen here on possessions of as small extent as thirty acres. Some years ago, Mr Hay erected one on his farm of Shethin, of which steam is the moving power, and it continues to answer his utmost expectation.

Bones were first used as a manure in this parish in 1827. They have added much to the fertility of the soil. From 8000 to 10,000 bushels are now laid on annually. The latest improvement introduced is furrow-draining, which promises to effect as great an amelioration on the heavy land as bones have done on the lighter soils.

Live-Stock.—Formerly the cattle were of the long-horned Aberdeenshire breed. These were succeeded by the polled breed of the district of Buchan, which were latterly crossed by importations from Galloway. About fourteen years ago, the late Mr Hay, Shethin, bought a short-horned bull from Mr Rennie of Phantassie, with which he crossed his native cows. This experiment turned out extremely well, and his example was soon followed by others; so that the great proportion of the cattle at present bred in the parish are crossed by the Teeswaters. If properly kept, they are ready for the market when three years old, and bring at that age from L.20 to L.25 a head, and upwards, much more than the former breed fetched when a year older. They are either sold to the fleshers in Aberdeen, or conveyed to the Smithfield market by the steamers and sailing-vessels from that port. Cattle three years and three-quarters old, from this parish, brought L,42 in Smithfield last Christmas; and an ox, being a cross between a Hereford and a Teeswater breed, and fed here, obtained a premium from the Smithfield Club at their annual show in 1840. In rearing the calves, it is the practice of several farmers to have them suckled by their mothers. After weaning they are fed on turnips, grass, and oat-straw, seldom any thing else being given. The land is principally worked by horses, of which there are many excellent teams in the parish. In plough and harrow they are yoked in pairs, but in carts for the most part singly. Very few sheep are kept, except on the Earl of Aberdeen's home-farm, part of which is situated in Tarves. Some swine are reared, but the number is insignificant. They are regarded as advantageous by our farmers merely for eating up garbage which would otherwise be lost. The usual sorts of domestic poultry are to be found in our barnyards; but they are reared for the supply of the home-larder, and never for sale.

Dairy Produce.—A great cattle-breeding district cannot appear to advantage in this department, calves being a kind of monopolists in milk. As much butter and cheese is, however, made as abundantly serves for home consumption. The butter is excellent, and the cheese, for Aberdeenshire, not bad.

Buildings, Fences, &c.—Most of the farm-houses and steadings on the Earl of Aberdeen's estates have lately been substantially rebuilt with stone and lime, and covered with slate. The slates, and some assistance in wood, are afforded by the proprietor; the rest is done at the expense of the tenants,—stones, however, being everywhere so plentiful, that they are to be had for the quarrying and carriage. The principal farms are enclosed with stone- I dikes, the materials in most places being found in abundance upon the land. There are some thriving thorn hedges, and had it not been for the superfluity of stones, such enclosures would have been far more common than they are, and would have added much to the shelter and beauty of the district. Indeed we can suggest no greater improvement for the appearance of the parish than their extension. There are clumps of old ash trees about many of the farm-steads. Around the seat of Mr Forbes Irvine of Schivas, and the old castle of Tolquhon, are some very fine trees. There are also several thriving young plantations, but of no great extent. On the whole, Tarves is slenderly wooded, which is to be regretted, as respects both utility and beauty.

Leases, Rents, &c.—The leases are all for nineteen years, and are mostly held for a fixed money rent, though some are valued partly in meal, the agreement in some cases being that the article itself shall not be exacted by the landlord, but the price of it ac-cording to the fiars of the year. Leases are generally renewed by private bargain before expiry; and such is the good understanding between proprietor and tenant, that for a long period no farm has been valued or put up to a competition of bidders, nor have any instances of the removal of tenants occurred. The highest rents paid in the parish are for the lands adjoining the village, which are let for L.3 per Scotch acre; but the average rent per acre of the whole parish falls rather below one-third of that sum.

The valued rent of the parish is L.4880 Scotch. The real rental at present amounts to nearly L.8000 Sterling.

Wages and Condition of Servants, &c.—Servants are engaged by the half year at stated feeing-markets, and mostly live in the farmers' houses. Ploughmen get from L.6 to L.8, boys and men of all work from L.3 to L.6 for the six months, exclusive of board. Some of the married men get houses from the farmers, and a cow's keep, or 1½ pint of milk per day, with a spot of ground to grow vegetables, the rest of their wages being paid in money, meal, and potatoes. Many of the jobbers, ditchers, and day-la- bourers rent small crofts from the proprietor, and when the weather will permit are always in full employment, at from 10s. to 12s. a week. Masons, carpenters, and other artisans earn from 2s. 6d. to 3s. a day. Work is frequently more plentiful than workmen, especially in the seasons of turnip-hoeing and of havest, when many come from a distance, and more would often be acceptable than can be procured. Women engaged by the half year receive, besides board, from L.1, 10s. to L.2 in winter; and in summer from L.3 to L.3, 10s. In turnip time, they earn 8d. a day, besides victuals, and about L.2 in whole during harvest. The crop at that interesting season is all gathered from the swathe and put into the bandages by the females. The bread of the farm-servants and day-labourers is oat-cakes, and their other food consists of various preparations of dairy produce, oatmeal, cabbages, coleworts, turnips, and potatoes. Beer is allowed them in harvest and at other times when the work is severe. Our servants and labourers are as expert in their respective departments, and will perform as much work, and to as good purpose, as those of any other district in Scotland.

V.—Parochial Economy.

Roads and Markets.—The church of Tarves is distant from Aberdeen seventeen miles, and ten miles from the sea-port of Newburgh. To both of these places, where there is always a ready market for all kinds of farm produce, there is easy access by good turnpike roads. English lime, of which a great quantity is annually used, can be had within six miles of Tarves, at a place called Waterton, to which it is brought up the Ythan in lighters from the port of Newburgh. It costs half-a-crown per boll of four bushels. Good roads have been laid off and completed within the parish itself, and are now kept in excellent repair. Tarves has, within its own boundaries, six ancient markets or fairs for horses, cattle, and grain. They are generally well attended, though many of the best cattle bred in the parish are sold at home to the dealers who export them to Smithfield. These dealers are all native farmers.

Ecclesiastical State.—The church was built in 1798, and underwent considerable improvements about seventeen years ago. It is a commodious and comfortable building, and in perfect repair. It was originally seated to accommodate 900 persons, but the improvements alluded to curtailed about thirty sittings, so that at present it will not contain more than 870 individuals when not over-crowded. The number of communicants averages rather more than 800.

There is a Seceder meeting house at Craigdam, in this parish, situated rather more than a mile to the westward of the church.

The manse was built in 1766, and, though still inhabited, is in a very crazy condition, and fast hastening to decay. The items which make up the minister's stipend are, L.80 in money, 122½ bolls of meal, and 21½ bolls of bear. There is an allowance of L.8, 6s. 8d. for communion elements. The glebe consists of four Scotch acres, including the garden and the ground on which the manse and office-houses stand.

Education.—The parochial school and schoolhouse were erected in ] 837, on a very liberal scale, and are extremely neat and substantial, as well as commodious buildings. The schoolmaster's salary amounts, including the Dick Bequest, to upwards of L.60. The fees average about L.30 annually.

There is a school at Craigdam, endowed by a benevolent individual of the name of Barron, with a salary of L.18 per annum from a bequest of L.600 in the three per cents. The trustees' are, the minister and two of the elders of the Seceder church at Craigdam.

There is a third school, at Barthol Chapel, in this parish, the teacher of which has a house and croft provided for him by the Earl of Aberdeen. There are three other schools whose teachers have no endowment, but depend for a poor and precarious livelihood solely upon the fees paid by their pupils.

The total number of scholars attending all these seminaries is, on an average, from 300 to 350.

There are also several Sabbath schools in the parish, and the' minister gives instruction in the principles of Christian knowledge, every Lord's day before sermon, to a numerously attended class consisting of young people.

The number of poor on the roll is 60, among whom upwards of L. 100 is annually divided,—L. 80 of which is supplied by collections in church, the remainder by occasional donations, and a small fund, which, from the demands necessarily made upon it during the last few years, has been rapidly diminishing.

May 1842.

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