Banffshire, pp.105-108.

[Gazetteer of Scotland Contents]

   BANFFSHIRE, one of the north-east counties of Scotland; bounded on the north by the Moray frith or the German ocean [North sea]; on the east and south by Aberdeenshire; and on the west by the shires of Inverness and Elgin. This county, according to Mr. Souter in his ‘Agricultural Survey of Banffshire,’ published in 1812 – which we principally follow in this article – might be comprehended in an isosceles triangle, on a base of 30 miles along the coast from Troup-head, on the border of Aberdeenshire, to the influx of the Spey, on the confines of Moray; its height being 64 miles inland from the shore. Measured on the latest and most accurate maps, the distance in a direct line between the two extreme points on the coast, is 34 miles; and from Troup, in a direct line running south-west to Ben Macdhu, or to Cairngorm, both in the south-west corner of the county, at the head of Glen-Aven, 67 miles. At the average distance of 12 miles from the coast, however, it is contracted by the county of Aberdeen on the east, and by part of Moray on the west, in the parish of Keith, to a breadth of only 4 miles; so that, in its general form, it has been thought to bear some resemblance to an hour-glass. Making the proper deduction on this account, its surface is, according to Mr. Souter, 622 square miles, or 315,600 acres Scots computation. By another admeasurement its superficies is estimated at 647 square miles, or 412,800 English acres. The course of the Deveron, in general, is accounted the boundary of Banffshire with Aberdeenshire; yet the parish of Gamrie, on the shore, and part of the parish of Inverkeithnie, which is in the interior of the county, are on the Aberdeenshire side of that river; while the greater part of the parishes of Cairney, Glass, and Cabrach, politically in the county of Aberdeen, are on the Banffshire side. Kirkmichael, the most upland district of the county, is bounded by the mountains which rise on the southern sides of Glenbucket and Strathdon. Similar to the Deveron on the east, the river Spey may, with little impropriety, be deemed the general boundary on the west; although the county of Moray also extends in various places across that river into the parishes of Bellie, Keith, Boharm, and Inveraven. The principal rivers are the DEVERON, the SPEY, the AVEN, and the FIDDICH. See these articles. The principal lochs are LOCH AVEN and LOCH BUILG: which also see. The great mountain-knot in the south-west corner of this county, at the point where the counties of Inverness, Banff, and Aberdeen meet, and composed of Cairngorm, Ben Buinac, Ben Macdhu, and Ben Aven, all surrounding Loch Aven, belongs to the Northern Grampians, and forms the highest land in Great Britain. Of these Ben Macdhu, on the south side of Loch Aven, in N. lat. 57° 6′, and W. long. 3° 37′, is in Aberdeenshire, and its altitude, according to a recent admeasurement, is 4,390 feet, being 17 feet higher than Ben Nevis. Cairngorm, which is common to Inverness-shire and Banffshire, has an elevation of 4,095 feet, and Ben Aven, common to Aberdeenshire and Banffshire, has an elevation of 3,967 feet. Among the detached summits of the Grampians which entirely belong to Banffshire, are, 

Ben Rinnes, 15 miles S.W. by W. of Keith,2,747 feet.
Corryhabbies, S.E. of Ben Rinnes,2,558 —
Knock-hill, 12 miles S.W. of Banff,2,500 —

   This county along the coast has, from remote antiquity, been divided into two districts. Between the towns of Banff and Cullen, the Boyne is the general name borne by the district; the tract between Cullen and the environs of Gordon castle is distinguished by the appellation of the Enzie.1 The parish of St. Fergus, part of Old Deer, half of Gartly, and the estate of Straloch in New Machar, appertain to the county of Banff, although in distant and unconnected quarters of Aberdeenshire. These detached pertinents, in what relates to civil justice, are, by a particular provision of the legislature, under the jurisdiction of the sheriff of Aberdeen. 

   “From the nature of the soil,” says the first agricultural reporter, “as well as from its generally exposed situation, and the great height of many of the mountains, this district is often subjected to all the evils of a cold and rainy climate. The harvests, which are precarious and often interrupted, are rarely completed before the end of October. The crops, in the more upland parts of the county, are for the most part damaged by rains, which about that season often set in for weeks together, and are frequently succeeded, without any interval of good weather, by frosts and deep falls of snow, which often suspend the operations of husbandry for many of the winter-months.” In the years 1782 and 1787 the harvest was scarcely completed in less than three months; and in some parts of the interior the crop lay uncut during the whole winter. It is, however, a curious fact, that in 1782 the parish of Rathven, in the Enzie, had the good fortune to escape the general calamity: scarcely had they ever a better crop, or more grain to spare. 

   The whole of Banffshire, except the tract along the sea-shore, may be described as a hilly mountainous country, interspersed with fertile valleys well adapted to the cultivation of corn and grass. The hills, either covered with heath or moss, afford little pasture; while, from their bleak and barren aspect, they have a very gloomy and unpleasant appearance. The arable land – which bears but a small proportion to the waste – lies on the sides and towards the bottoms of the higher hills, or on the sides of those valleys through which the waters have their courses. In several of these valleys, where cultivation has hitherto been found impracticable, there is abundance of fine healthy pasture, on which young cattle are raised to great advantage, the grounds being in general well-sheltered with natural woods. Taking a general view of the whole district, the arable soil may be described as of three qualities. That of the plains on the banks of the waters, where it has not been mixed with the sand by the washings of the streams, is a stiff deep clay; on the sides of the valleys it is a deep black loam on a bed of rock, generally limestone; on the sides of the hills, and in the higher parts of the country, where cultivation has taken place, the soil is either of the same quality as that last described, or a mixture of moss and gravel on a red tilly bottom, and – as may be supposed – very retentive of water. Along the whole coast, consisting of the parishes of Gamrie, Banff, Boyndie, Fordyce, Cullen, Rathven, and Bellie, the soil consists for the greater part of sand and loam, the latter by far the more predominant; and in general lies upon a freer bottom. The aggregate rental of the county, presuming that the average rent of the arable acre did not, on the whole, exceed £1, limited the number of arable acres, in 1811, to 80,000: thus leaving an amount of uncultivated surface equal to 236,000 acres. The quantity of arable land now, however, greatly exceeds that in 1811. It is probable that at least 120,000 acres are now under cultivation, and that not above 80,000 are incapable of cultivation.2 

   In a general view the county of Banff may be denominated a land of limestone, which, although it is not found in one continuous bed, over any extensive tract in the county, yet may be easily traced in almost every quarter of it. This fossil is extended through the district of Strathspey, where the counties of Inverness and Moray meet with Banff; and being also found in Badenoch, farther up the course of the Spey, may perhaps extend onwards even to the western shore. It may be also traced southwards through the higher district of the county of Aberdeen, in the adjoining parishes of Cabrach, Glenbucket, Auchindoir, and Tullynessle. At Portsoy it passes into marble, or serpentine, which composes almost entirely the hill of Durn. Marble is also found in the parishes of Keith and Mortlach. When first quarried at Portsoy it was exported to France, where for some time, it became fashionable; but the market being overstocked, a ship-load of it long lay neglected on the banks of the Seine. It is still wrought into monuments, chimney-pieces, and toys. In the Enzie district the calcareous matter, probably from a tinge of iron-ore, is in the form of stone marl, of a dark red colour. In the upper extremity of the county, in the parishes of Kirkmichael and Inveraven, there are extensive beds of pure white marl. In Kirkmichael it appears in a white cliff, 40 or 50 feet high, on the bank of the Aven. Except the red stone of the Enzie already mentioned, there is no free-stone in this county; but it is in general well furnished with stone for building. Slate is found near Letterfourie, in the parish of Rathven; near the Boat-of-Bridge, in the parish of Boharm; and in several other places. Flints have been found along the shore of Boyndie bay. “Some years ago,” says Professor Jamieson, “while examining the geognosy of the vicinity of Peterhead, our attention was directed to the chalk-flints found in that neighbourhood, by previous information. We traced them extending over several miles of country, and frequently imbedded in a reddish clay, resting on the granite of the district. These flints contain sponges, alcyonia, echini, and other fossils of the chalk-flint, thus proving them to belong to the chalk formation, which itself will probably be found in some of the hollows in this part of Scotland.” In the course of the Fiddich a laminated marble is found which may be formed into whetstones and hones. Scotch topazes, or what are commonly called Cairngorm stones, are found in the mountains in the south-western extremity of Banffshire, bordering with those in Aberdeen and Inverness-shires; and also on several other adjoining mountains, in the forest of Mar. The stones are found near the top of these mountains.3

   It does not appear, that previous to the year 1748, any material improvements in agriculture were introduced into this district. In those days the mode of management was the same here as was then universally practised over all the north of Scotland. The arable lands on every farm were divided into what was called outfield and infield. To the infield – which consisted of that part of the farm nearest to the farm-houses – the whole manure was regularly applied. The only crops cultivated on the infield land were oats, beer, and pease; the lands were kept under tillage as long as they would produce two or three returns of the seed sown; and when a field became so reduced and so full of weeds as not to yield this return, it was allowed to lie in natural pasture for a few years, after which, it was again brought under cultivation, and treated in the manner before-mentioned. The outfield lands were wasted by a succession of oats after oats as long as the crops would pay for seed and labour; they were then allowed to remain in a state of absolute sterility, producing little else than thistles and other weeds; till, after having rested in this state for some years, the farmer thought proper to bring them again under cultivation, when, from the mode of management before described, a few scanty crops were obtained. About this time, it was a common practice for the farmers to lime their outfield-ground substantially after this kind of rest, and then to crop it as long as it would bear, oats after oats, without any intermission. Only oxen ploughs were used; and when the seed-time was over, the cattle were either sold to dealers, or sent to the high lands, where they were grazed for three or four months at the rate of 1s. or 1s. 6d. each. During this period the plough was laid aside, and the farm-servants and horses were employed in providing the necessary stock of fuel, and collecting earth to be mixed with the dung produced by the cattle during the preceding winter. About the year 1754, the earl of Findlater, then Lord Deskford, came to reside in the neighbourhood of Banff; and having taken one of his farms into his own possession, set about cultivating it in the most approved manner then known in England; and, for that purpose, engaged three experienced overseers from that kingdom. His lordship also selected some of the most intelligent, active, and substantial tenants in the country, to whom he granted leases on reasonable terms, for two nineteen years, and a lifetime, of farms formerly occupied by three or four tenants. By these leases each tenant became bound to enclose and subdivide a certain portion of his farm with stone-fences, or ditch and hedge, during the first nineteen years of the lease, and, in the course of the second nineteen years, to enclose the remainder. They were also bound to summer fallow and sow grass-seeds on a certain number of acres within the first five years of the lease. His lordship was also the first that introduced the turnip-husbandry, and by his example, as well as precept, during his frequent excursions among his tenants, was the means of bringing the cultivation of that crop, as well as other green crops, by degrees, into general practice. Agriculture is now conducted on the best principles in Banffshire. A regular rotation of cropping is followed; wheat is extensively grown in the lower districts; and the cattle and stock are of the most approved breeds. The average rent of land is 22s. per acre. In 1667, the rent-roll of the county of Banff amounted to £80,468 of Scots currency, equal to £6,705 13s. 4d. sterling. This amount, upon the average, is now apparently increased about twenty-fold. The value of real property in this county, as assessed in 1815, was £88,942; the present rental is about £120,000. The ancient rent-roll, called ‘the valued rent,’ was, in 1811, shared among 39 proprietors, in the following proportions: 

3 of whom possess from £17,989 2s. 6d. to £11,565 13s. 4d., amounting to£46,159 13 1
Which amount may be at present estimated about£46,160 ster.
5 possess from £3,699 17s. 10d. to £2,163 4s. 2d. amounting to13,800 16 8
Which amount may be at present estimated about14,000
10 possess from £1,700 to £1,060, amounting to13,544 8 4
Which amount may be at present estimated about13,400
14 possess from £800 to £200, amounting to6,277 17 1
Which amount may be at present estimated about6,200
7 possess from £140 to £61 4s. 6d., amounting to685 5 9
Which amount may be at present estimated about700
39£80,460£80,468 0 11

The lowest denomination of land in Banffshire is the fall, consisting of 36 square yards. Previous to the late equalization of weights and measures, the firlot contained 31 pints, each 6 per cent above the standard. A quarter of grain by the Banffshire old wheat-firlot is nearly 3 pecks more than a quarter by the Winchester bushel. The boll of barley was 17 stones, or 17½ stones; and of potatoes, 36 stones. The potato-peck was 32 lbs. Four gills, or two English pints, make a Banffshire choppin; and two Banffshire pints are about one-tenth part less than an English gallon. Wool was sold in market by the Banffshire pound, which was eight ounces more than the English pound. Butter, cheese, and hay, were also sold by the same pound weight of 24 ounces; but meal and butcher’s meat were sold by a pound which was only one and a half ounce more than the English pound. In the higher part of the district, about Keith, a stone of wool was two pounds more than about the town of Banff and along the coast. 

   The principal productions of this county are cattle, corn, and fish. The cattle are bought up by the dealers, from the 1st of May to the end of November, and sent off in droves to the southern districts. The corn and fish are exported by sea. There were 55,000 quarters of grain exported for the London market from this county in 1831. There are in this county ten fishing-towns, which employ from 100 to 120 boats. The fish which visit the shores are cod, ling, haddock, skate, whitings, holybut, dog-fish, and occasionally turbot and mackerel. The herrings caught on this coast, in 1826, produced about £100,000. The salmon-fishery on the Spey, for the distance of 8 miles from the mouth of the river, has been acquired by the family of Gordon; and as the fishing-quarters are now established on the Banffshire side of the river, the whole of the duke of Gordon’s salmon-fishery, now let at the yearly rent of £8,000, may be stated as among the produce of this county. The salmon-fishing on the Deveron, of which the earl of Fife is the principal proprietor, his right extending from the sea about 3½ miles up the river, is now let at a yearly rent of about £2,000 sterling. There are from 160 to 190 men usually employed by the tacksmen of these fishings in the different departments of the work. The staple manufactures of this county are those of linen-yarn and linen-cloth, which at one time were carried on to a very considerable extent at Banff, Cullen, Keith, and Portsoy, and gave employment to a great number of men and women in the different operations of heckling, spinning, weaving, and bleaching. There were likewise at Banff and Portsoy very extensive manufactures of stocking-threads, which were chiefly sent to Nottingham and Leicester. There are several tan-works and some extensive distilleries in the county. The principal proprietors are the duke of Gordon, the earl of Seafield, and the earl of Fife. The population, in 1755, was 37,574; in 1801, 35,807; and in 1831, 48,604. The number of families, in 1831, was 10,855; of inhabited houses, 9,814. Of families engaged in agriculture, 4,264; of families engaged in trade, manufactures, handicraft, 2,456. The number of hands employed in retail trade, or in handicraft, in 1831, was 2,643; of whom 401 were shoemakers; 391 carpenters; 320 masons; 197 blacksmiths; 181 tailors; and 131 coopers. The parliamentary constituency, in 1839, was 717. – Banff is the county-town; small debt courts, under the new act, are held at Keith, Cullen, and Dufftown. – There are 24 parishes in Banffshire. The number of parochial schools, in 1834, was 25, under 29 instructors, and attended by 1,774 pupils. The number of schools not parochial was 125, under 131 instructors, and attended by 3,913 children. James Dick, Esq. of London, at his death in 1827, bequeathed £130,000 to the parochial schoolmasters in the counties of Banff, Elgin, and Aberdeen. The interest of this fund, it is expected, will afford an average of £25 per annum to all the members of this most useful body in these three counties. 

1  Though the z has always maintained its place in the orthography of this word, it has in the pronunciation obtained the sound of ng. – Souter. [I think he just means the archaic letter “yogh” (ʒ) which is often replaced by a “z” – in the same way the archaic letter “thorn” (þ) is replaced by a “y”, e.g., “ye olde” = “the old” – see Glossary.] 

2  By another, but evidently most erroneous admeasurement, Banffshire is represented as “containing 900 square miles, or 458,100 acres; of which the arable land in cultivation may be about 69,900; ditto in ley and summer fallow, 35,000; pasture, 40,000; plantations and natural woods, 15,000; hill, muir, and moss 298,200.” – Webster’s Gazetteer

3  “Till within these few years, they were considered of so trifling value as to be little sought after, the digging for them now affords employment for a considerable number of people, whose families, during the summer-months, reside day and night in these mountains; and as all the stones of any value that were to be found above ground, or near the surface, are long since picked up, they now dig to the depth of from one to four feet. In many places several acres are ransacked in quest of them. In some places they are found growing out of the rocks, where the access is so difficult that the searchers can only come at them suspended in ropes from the top of the mountains. Sometimes they dig for several days without finding any; but at other times find an ample recompense for that loss of labour, by finding them to the value of from £20 to £50, nay, sometimes to the value of £200 in one day. Last summer it was computed that not less than £2,000 worth had been found in these mountains. Some go as far as Edinburgh, and even London, to sell them; and lapidaries from these cities come to the country in summer for the purpose of purchasing, some of whom hire labourers to dig for them at the rate of from 5s. to 10s. per day. The stones are all hexagonal. One end is like a diamond; the other end is, or has been, fastened to the granite rock, from which they seem to have been disjoined by some convulsion in Nature; as some of them are found broken, the one half several yards distant from the other, and, what is more remarkable, three or four feet deeper in the rock, and corresponding so exactly that no doubt can be entertained of their having been united at some former period.” – Agricultural Report of 1812.