Descriptive Gazetteer Entry for Banffshire

Banffshire, a maritime county in the NE of Scotland. It is bounded N by the Moray Firth, E and S by Aberdeenshire, W by Inverness and Elgin shires. The river Deveron, first for about 3 miles down to Edinglassie, next for 1½ mile at Rothiemay, next for 11½ miles down to the vicinity of Banff, traces the boundary with Aberdeenshire; a series of mountain watersheds, in the southern district, forms much of the rest of the Aberdeenshire border; the rivulet Ailnach, for about 5 miles to within 2¾ miles of its influx to the Aven, forms the boundary with Inverness and Elgin shires; the Spey, first for about 11 miles downward from the south-western vicinity of the Aven's confluence to the vicinity of Ben Aigan, next for about 3½ miles from the vicinity of Gordon Castle to the sea, forms the boundary with Elginshire; and merely artificial lines form most other parts of the landward boundaries. The parish of St Fergus, part of Old Deer, about half of Gartly, and the estate of Straloch in New Machar, lie far apart from the rest of the county, within separate environments of Aberdeenshire; and, in what relates to judicial administration, are under the jurisdiction of the sheriff of Aberdeen. Even the main body of the county has an exceedingly irregular outline, and is all but cut into detached sections. Gamrie parish wants little more than ½ mile of being entirely detached; and, even over that ½ mile or so, is separated from Banff parish by the river Deveron. Twelve other parishes, and parts of three more, form nearly an oblong of about 23 miles from E to W, by about 12 from N to S; and bounded N by the Moray Firth. Keith parish, partly included in that oblong, becomes for about 5 miles the only part of the main body of the county; and, at the narrowest part of these 5 miles, is only 3¾ miles wide. The rest of the county extends south-south-westward from the W side of the great oblong; increases from a breadth of 5 miles at the S end of Keith parish to a breadth of 15 miles at a line 9 miles further S; contracts to a breadth of only 3½ miles at a line 14 miles still further S; and forms thence a proximately triangular tract of 6½, 13, and 9 miles, with the apex to the SW. The greatest length of the whole county, exclusive of entirely detached districts, is 59 miles south-westward from the mouth of the Deveron to the south-western apex; the greatest breadth is 31 miles east-north-eastward, along the coast, from the Spey in the vicinity of Gordon Castle to the NE extremity of Gamrie; and the total area, inclusive of the detached districts, is 686 square miles or 439,219 acres. The old divisions of country comprehended in it are Boyne, Euzie, Strathdeveron, Strathisla, Balvenie, Strathaven, and parts of Buchan and Moray.

The surface, in a general view, is very uneven, yet ranges from alluvial flat to alpine mountain. Strips of low land lie on parts of the coast, and along some of the banks of the rivers, but are of no great aggregate extent. Undulations, hills, and plateaux occupy the greater part of the area even in the vicinity of the coast, and specially throughout the centre. Ranges and masses of mountain fill most of the SW, extend to the great Grampian knot of the Cairngorms, and leave little space for valley bottoms or any kind of arable grounds. From N to S, and crosswise from W to E, the highest or more conspicuous summits are the Hill of Stonyslacks (948 feet above sea-level), the Hill of Mand (900), the Bin of Cullen (1050), Durn Hill (651), the Hill of Culbirnie (512), the Hill of Alvah (578), Troup Hill (652), Millstone Hill (987), Lug Hill (1028), Knock Hill (1409), Meikle Balloch (1199), the Hill of Towie (1108), Ben Aigan (1544), Meikle Conval (1867), Ben Rinnes (2755), the *Hills of Cromdale (2316), *Carn Mor (2636), *Cairngorm (4084), *Ben Macdhui (4296), and *Beinn a Bhuird (3860), where the asterisks mark those summits that culminate on the border of the shire. The chief rivers, besides the Deveron and the Spey, are the Isla, running to the Deveron; the Aven and the Fiddich, running to the Spey; the Ailnach and the Livet, running to the Aven; and the Boyne, Cullen, and Tynet burns, running to the sea. The only considerable lake is Loch Aven, embosomed among the Cairngorm Mountains. Granite rock prevails in the SW; metamorphic rocks prevail in the vicinity of the granite, and occur in other quarters; Silurian and Devonian rocks occur in the coast district; limestone, though not in one continuous bed, is found in most districts, passes into marble in Keith, Mortlach, and Fordyce parishes, and is associated with serpentine at Portsoy; and patches or traces of both the lias and the chalk formations are on some parts of the coast. Building-stones are quarried from several kinds of rock; slates are quarried in Boharm, Keith, and Banff parishes; marble was long worked into monuments, mantelpieces, and toys at Portsoy; laminated marble, found in the bed of the Fiddich, is formed into whetstones and hones; lias clay is worked into bricks and tiles; and rock-crystals and topazes are gathered on the Cairngorms. The climate varies in the different districts, being good along the coast, somewhat late on the uplands.

Agricultural and stock statistics are reserved for the Introduction, but it may here be stated that the proportion of cultivated land to the total area is about 37 per cent., while the proportion of cultivated land in all Scotland is only about 22 per cent. The arable soil, in a general view, may be described as of three kinds. That of the low flat lands on the banks of waters, where not mixed with alluvial sand, is a stiff deep clay; that on the sides of valleys, or the skirts of hills, is commonly a deep black loam incumbent on rock; and that on the acclivities of hills, on plateaux, or on other comparatively high parts, is either a deep black loam incumbent on rock, or a mixture of moss and gravel on a red, tilly, retentive bottom. A large aggregate of previously waste land was reclaimed for cultivation in the years from 1854 till 1881. The reclamation was effected chiefly in the parishes of Alvah, Boyndie, Fordyce, Rathven, Botriphnie, Boharm, Aberlour, and Inveraven. Wheat grows best in the Enzie district, but is not suited to most parts of the county; barley grows well in both the lower and the central parishes; oats (the chief crop) are best suited to the glens of the upper districts; and turnips grow well in all parts. Oats sometimes do not reach maturity in the higher districts; and, in their best state there, they give an yield often under 40 lbs. per bushel, and sometimes as low as 30 lbs.; but in the other localities, in ordinary seasons, they yield from 42 to 47 lbs. per bushel. Turnips are sometimes reluctant to braid on some of the heavier soils; and they give an yield, on the best fields, of from 20 to 25, or occasionally even 30 tons per acre. Considerable improvements have of late years been made in the courses of rotation, in the use of implements, in the selection and application of manures, and in the mutual adaptation of the arable and pastoral husbandries, but drainage is still defective.

Attention is given more to live stock than to cropping. The great majority of all the cattle, and about eighttenths of the cows, are cross-breeds. The Aberdeenshire, the Galloway, and the Ayrshire breeds, together with some individuals of the English breeds, were introduced at early periods of the era of agricultural improvement; but they have rarely been preserved in a pure or uncrossed state. Three fine herds of pure shorthorns, however, and also three fine herds of pure very fine polled cattle, are within the county, and have produced several first-prize specimens at the Highland and Agricultural Society's great annual shows. The farmers usually seek improvement of their own stocks by crossing with imported breeds; and some of them give main attention to the dairy, others to feeding and fattening for exportation. Sheep command comparatively far less attention than cattle. Southdowns are reared at Gordon Castle, but are elsewhere almost unknown. Leicesters form several good flocks in the lower districts. Cheviots occur in some places, but do not form any large breeding flocks. The native black-faced breed is the most common; and it forms large flocks in the uplands, particularly in Glenlivet and Strathaven. Formerly a somewhat inferior breed, they now are very considerably improved. Most of the breeding mares are crosses, while many of the stallions are Clydesdale; and the results are animals more weighty, spirited, and enduring than those which formerly prevailed. The breed of pigs also was much improved during the last 35 or 40 years.

Farms are generally let on leases of 19 years; and none are now open to public competition, by advertisement or otherwise, except when tenants become incompetent or retire. The practice of turning several small farms into one was frequent till 1850, but had ceased for several years prior to 1871. The farms in 1870, each not exceeding 5 acres in extent, were 1045; each from 5 to 20 acres, 1325; each from 20 to 50 acres, 731; each from 50 to 100 acres, 518; each above 100 acres, 463; rents range from 5s. to 50s. per acre. The manufactures are of comparatively small amount, and chiefly for home consumption. The manufacture of linen yarn and linen cloth was at one time very considerable in Banff, Cullen, Keith, and Portsoy; and that of stocking-thread, for export to Nottingham and Leicester, was extensively carried on at Banff and Portsoy; but these manufactures dwindled away into either insignificance or extinction, and have not been followed by any others of similar character or of equal importance. Foundry-work, tanning, rope-making, and some other industries employ a good many hands- Nine distilleries were at work in 1871; and two or three others had then been relinquished. Salmon fishing in the Spey and in the Deveron is conducted on yearly rentals of about £50,000. Herring fishing and deep-sea fishing, as indicated in our statistics of the Banff and Buckie fishery districts, are very productive, and employ large numbers of persons- Commerce is carried on from Banff, Macduff, Gardenstown, Portsoy, Cullen, Buckie, and Port-Gordon- The railways are the main line of the Great North of Scotland system, along Strathisla, past Keith; a branch from that line coming from Inveramsay and going to Macduff; another branch from it at Grange, with two forks to respectively Banff and Portsoy; another from Keith, past Dufftown, to the Craigellachie Junction: and another is (1881) projected from Portsoy to Cullen, Buckie, and Port-Gordon.

The royal burghs are Banff and Cullen; police burghs are Macduff and Dufftown; and other towns and chief villages are Buckie, Keith, Portsoy, Aberchirder, Portknockie, Gardenstown, Charlestown of Aberlour, Port Gordon, Portessie, Findochty, Whitehills, Fetterangus, Fordyce, Newmills, and Tomintoul. The principal mansions are Gordon Castle, Duff House, Eden House, Rothiemay House, Auchintoul, Cullen House, Forglen, Arndilly, Letterfourie, Edingight, Troup House, Mayen House, Mountblairy House, Auchlunkart, Cairnfield House, Drummuir Castle, Park House, Kininvie House, Aberlour House, Lesmurdie, Netherdale, Cobairdy, Dunlugas House, Ballindalloch Castle, Carnousie, Glassaugh, Orton, and Blairshinnoch. According to Miscellaneous Statistics of the United Kingdom (1879), 405,501 acres, with total gross estimated rental of £227,025, were divided among 4025 landowners; one holding 159,592 acres (rental, £23,842), one 72,032 (£36,380), one 48,946 (£34,268), three together 38,121 (£20,481), four 29,824 (£19,390), fourteen 44,806 (£30,064), three 5229 (£4456), five 3395 (£2839), twelve 3550 (£13,099), etc.

The county is governed (1881) by a lord-lieutenant, a vice-lieutenant, 33 deputy-lieutenants, a sheriff, a sheriff-substitute, 2 honorary sheriff-substitutes, and 271 magistrates. The sheriff court is held at Banff in two sessions, from 1 May till 31 July, and from 1 Oct. till March, and the court days are every Wednesday for ordinary business, and Thursday for proofs- Sheriff small debt courts are held at Banff ever Tuesday during session, and once in winter, twice in summer, vacation; at Buckie, Keith, and Dufftown, every three months; and at Tomintoul, twice a year. The police force, in 1880, exclusive of that in Banff burgh, comprised 23 men, and the salary of the chief constable was £200The number of persons tried at the instance of the police in 1879 was 252; of those convicted, 251; of those not dealt with, 141; and of those committed for trial, 0. The committals for crime, in theyearlyaverageof1841-45, were 29; of 1846-50,16; of 1851-55,21; of 1856-60, 23; 1861-65,22; of 1864-68,21; of 1869-73,32; of 1870-74,29; of 1875-79,18. A small prison at Keith was discontinued in 1871, and another at Banff in 1878, this latter being legalised in 1880 for the detention of prisoners only for 14 days, and Elgin being otherwise the Banffshire prison. The annual value of real property, assessed at £88,942 in 1815, was £116,968 in 1843, and £239,298 in 1881, including £14,711 for railways. The county, exclusive of the burghs, returns a member (always a Liberal since 1837) to parliament; its constituency was 2646 in 1881. Pop- (1801) 37,216, (1821) 43,663, (1841) 49,679, (1861) 59,215, (1871) 62,023, (1881) 62,731, of whom 32,948 were females. Houses (1881) 12,565 inhabited, 606 vacant, 72 building.

The registration county takes in parts of Keith and Inveraven parishes from Elginshire; gives off parts of Bellie and Rothes parishes to Elginshire, of Cairney, Gartly, Glass, New Machar, and Old Deer parishes to Aberdeenshire; comprises 23 entire parishes; and had, in 1881, a population of 59,777. All the parishes are assessed for the poor. The number of registered poor, in the year ending 14 May 1880, was 1582; of dependants on these, 793; of casual poor, 312; of dependants on these, 239. The receipts for the poor, in that year, were £16,540,2s. 6d.; and the expenditure was £16,997, 19s. 8d. The percentage of illegitimate births was 16.4 in 1872,15.3 in 1873,17 -4 in 1879.

The civil county is divided politically into 19 quoad civilia parishes, and parts of 11 others, and divided ecclesiastically into 21 old and 7 quoad sacra parishes, with parts of others, and 2 chapelries. Of these 28 parishes 11 are in the presbytery of Fordyce and synod of Aberdeen, 6 in the presbytery of Strathbogie and synod of Moray, and the rest are distributed among the presbyteries of Aberlour, Turriff, Deer, and Alford. The United Presbyterians have a presbytery of Banffshire, whose 10 churches had 1324 members in 1879. In the year ending 30 Sept. 1880 the county had 91 schools (74 of them public), which, with accommodation for 14,619 scholars, had 11,594 on the registers, and 8553 in average attendance, whilst the certificated, assistant, and pupil teachers numbered 126,8, and 24.

The territory now constituting Banffshire belonged anciently to the Caledonian Vacomagi, who had towns near Boharm and at Burghead. Numerous cairns, standing stones, and other relics of the ancient Caledonians are in various parts. It has been thought that a Roman road traversed the northern main body of the county, and that Roman stations were formed at Deskford and on or near the site of Gordon Castle. The Danes made repeated descents on the teiritory, suffered, according to tradition, great defeats at Rathven and Mortlach, and have left some vestiges. The chief historic event, however, with which this county is certainly connected, was the battle of Glenlivet (1594). Mediæval castles, either fairly entire, or represented only by small remains, are at Balvenie, Auchindoun, Findlater, Boharm, and Banff. An ancient church, claiming to have been once a cathedral, is in Mortlach; and another old church, with old historic associations, in Gamrie. See papers on ` The Agriculture of Aberdeen and Banff Shires,' by Jas. Black and Jn. Milne, in Trans. Highl. and Ag. Soc. for 1870 and 1871; G. J. Walker's Royal Commission Report on the same (1881); Jos. Robertson's Collections for a History of the Shires of Aberdeen and Banff (5 vols., Spalding Club, 1847-69); Sam. Smiles, Life of a Scotch -Naturalist (1876); and J. G. Phillips' Wanderings in the Highlands of Banff and Aberdeen Shires (1881).

(F.H. Groome, Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1882-4); © 2004 Gazetteer for Scotland)

Linked entities:
Feature Description: "a maritime county"   (ADL Feature Type: "countries, 2nd order divisions")
Administrative units: Banffshire ScoCnty
Place: Banffshire

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