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Parish Of Gamrie

By The Rev. Mr. Wilson

Origin of the Name.
It has long been a general report, and the prevailing tradition in this country, that, some time before the year 1004, in which the church of Gamrie is said to have been built, (and there is at this day the date 1004 on the steeple), that the Thane of Buchan pursued the Danes to the precipice or brow of the hill above the church, and there defeated them with great slaughter. Several of their skulls (most likely of their chiefs who had fallen in battle) were built into the church wall, where they remain entire: From hence it came to be called by some the Kirk of Sculls. In the Gaelic language, the word Kemri, from which, probably, Gamrie is derived, signifies running step, or running leap. And this derivation seems a natural one; because, from the situation of the hill, which is one of the highest on this part of the coast, and very steep on one side, it must have been a running skirmish, and very fatal to the vanquished. In some old registers, the name of the parish is written Ghaemrie. On the said eminence, above the kirk of Gamrie, at the east end of one of the most level and extensive plains in Buchan, are a number of vestiges of encampments, which at this day are called by the name of bloody pots, or bloody pits

Situation, Extent, & c.
The church and manse of Gamrie are built in a very extraordinary and romantic situation, on a sloping piece of ground in the middle of a hill, and not a mile from the town and harbour of Gardenstown. By two headlands, called Gamrie and Troup head, which project a considerable way into the sea, a beautiful bay is formed, where there is fine anchoring ground, and vessels can ride in safety. At high water, a person could fling a stone into the sea from the church; and looking out of it, it has the appearance, to a stranger, as if the sea washed its foundations. The church is built, after the manner of some very old edifices, with unslacked lime, and with very thick walls; and, although it has already stood for upwards of 700 years, it may, if the roof be kept in proper repair, last for hundreds of years to come. The north side of Gamrie parish is bounded by that part of the German Ocean called the Moray Firth; on the east by the parish of Aberdour; on the south by the parishes of Monwhitter and King Edward; and on the west by the river Dovern, which separates the parish of Gamrie from Banff. The parish stretches 9 1/2 miles along the sea-coast, which is a very bold one. It is almost a continued chain of stupendous rocks, in many places perpendicular, and 200 yards above the sea. It is between 3 and 4 miles broad. Gamrie parish lies in the county of Banff, presbytery of Turriff, and synod of Aberdeen. The soil, in many places, is very fertile, and in others as barren; and, though much has been done of late years, there is still great scope for improvement. The hilly ground is in general covered with heath, and in some places with a coarse kind of grass, on which sheep and young cattle are fed. Sheep, indeed, are very much banished from the parish. When Mr. Wilson fist came to the parish, there was scarcely a farmer who had not a flock; but now there are only two or three that have any at all. This is in a great measure owing to the introduction of sown grass, and the difficulty there is in winter herding, unless the practice was general.

Sea Coast, and Fisheries.
On this coast a variety of different kinds of fish are caught, viz. Ling, cod haddocks, whitings, turbot, skate, & c. with which this country used to be remarkably well supplied, and a considerable quantity of them, when dried, were carried to the Firth of Forth, and sold there. From the best information, it appears that the fishermen in this parish have sometimes received for their salt fish L. 250 annually. Of late years, the fishing has been so remarkably poor, (to what cause it is perhaps difficult to say, but most likely one principal reason is, the immense quantities of seadogs, a kind of shark, with which this coast has been infested), that there has hardly been fish sufficient to supply the markets at home. Of consequence, it is supposed they have risen much in value. Long after the present minister was settled in the parish, he could have purchased haddocks at one penny and three half-pence a dozen, which now cost a shilling to eighteen pence; and in proportion for other kinds of fish, and every other article of food. On this coast, great quantities of sea weed, called ware, are thrown up on the shore, which the farmers lay on the ground, and find very profitable in raising crops of barley. In this parish, it is laid on with a very sparing hand, owing to the steepness of the coast, and the bad access to the shore. Considerable quantities also of this sea-weed are cut off from the rocks, for the purpose of making kelp. At an average, about 30 tons are made annually, which sell from L. 3 to L. 5 a ton. On the river Dovern, which separates the parishes of Banff and Gamrie, is an exceeding good salmon fishery, the property of Lord Fife, which lets for L. 1000 per annum. The salmon are all cured in the town of Macduff. The pickled fish are all sent to the London market, and what are salted are generally exported to France and Spain.

Mineral Springs, Quarries, & c.
Near the sea-coast, and in the neighbourhood of Macduff, is a pretty good mineral spring, called the Well of Farlair, which has been useful in gravellish complaints. Of late years it has come into considerable repute, and a number of people resort to it annually. In this parish, upon the estate of Melrose, now the property of Lord Fife, is a very good slate-quarry. The quantity annually made has been various, depending on demand, and the number of hands employed. The slates are of a good quality, of a beautiful blue colour, not inferior to the Easdale slate, only thicker, larger, and make a heavier roof. Quarriers are commonly paid by the piece, which is certainly the best way for themselves and their employers. Common day-labourers usually receive from 7 d. to 9 d. a day in winter, and from 9 d. to 1 s. in summer.

Natural Curiosities.
Near the east end of the parish, and not far from the house of Troup, are three great natural curiosities. 1. A perpendicular rock of very great extent, full of shelves, and possessed by thousands of birds called Kittyweaks. These arrive in the beginning of spring, and leave it again towards the end of August, after they have brought forth their young. Some people are fond of eating the young Kitty's; but the shooting of them is a favourite diversion every year. The season for this is commonly the last week of July. Whither these birds go in winter is not known; most probably it is to some place upon the coast of Norway. 2dly, a cave, or rather den, about 50 feet deep, 60 long, and 40 broad, from which there is a subterraneous passage to the sea, about 80 yards long, through which the waves are driven with great violence in a northerly storm, and occasion a smoke to ascend from the den. Hence it has got the name of Hell's Lumb, i. e. Hell's Chimney. 3. Another subterraneous passage, through a peninsula of about 150 yards long from sea to sea, through which a man can with difficulty creep. At the north end of this narrow passage is a cave about 20 feet high, 30 broad, and 150 long, containing not less than 90,000 cubic feet. The whole is supported by immense columns of rock, is exceedingly grand, and has a wonderfully fine effect, after a person has crept through the narrow passage. This place has got the name of the Needle's Eye. There are in the parish several tumuli. Not many years ago, one of them, in the neighbourhood of Macduff, was opened' and there was found in it an urn, containing a considerable number of small human bones.

The population of the parish is nearly double since the year 1732. At the above period the parish contained 1600 souls, and now nearly 3000. About the years 1704 and 1705, it appears by the Registers that the number of births annually, at an average, were then 45; and, for several years past, they have not been under 60. The number of deaths cannot be ascertained so far back. About 30 years ago they were from 10 to 12, and for 7 years past nearly 20 annually. About 30 years ago there were from 12 to 14 marriages annually, and, for 7 years past, not less than 26.

In this parish, many instances of longevity might be mentioned. It is only a few years since a fisherman in Macduff died at the age of 109; and there are living at present several persons 90 years old and upwards. Mr. Wilson is in his 97th year; and last autumn, at the conclusion of the harvest, the age of him, and the two servants that assisted in taking in his crop, amounted in all to 257; and it is worthy remarking that one of these has been his servant 50 years. Mr. Wilson was the first that introduced turnips and potatoes into the parish. He had a few of them in his garden, which the people in coming to the church used to look at as a great curiosity; and it was thought, at that time, that none but a gardener could raise them. It was long before the method of hoeing come to be thought of. Being sown thick, and handweeded, they came to no size. Another singularity deserves notice, viz. that, when he came to Gamrie, there was not a watch in church except the laird's and the minister's.

The minister's living is, communibus annis, L. 100 Sterling; the crown patron. The present incumbent was settled in the year 1732. He has been a widower for ten years past; has had 14 children; ten of whom (five sons and five daughters) he has lived to see well settled in the world.

In such a popular parish, it is to be supposed there will be several poor, and accordingly between 50 and 60 receive charity out of parish funds; and of these the year 1782 added several to the list. The weekly collection at Gamrie and Macduff is at an average 14 s. L. 450, which is at interest, belongs to the poor of this parish.

The valued rent of the parish is L. 5489: 6: 8 Scots. The present real rent, exclusive of fisheries, is nearly L. 1680 Sterling.

Town, Villages, and Miscellaneous Observations.
The principal causes of the increase of population are, the number of fishing towns on the coast, the breaking of large farms into smaller ones, the encouragement given by the heritors to improve waste ground, and their endeavouring to introduce a better mode of culture. The principal town in the parish is Macduff, the property of Lord Fife. In 1732 there were only a few fishermen's houses in Macduff, but now there are several well laid out streets, and 1000 souls in the town. The harbour, on which his Lordship has already laid out upwards of L. 5000, will, when finished, be one of the best in the Moray Firth. There are ten vessels from 60 to 120 tons burden, and 6 fishing boats, belonging to Macduff. Three of them are in the London trade, two in the east country trade, and the others trade most commonly to the Firth of Forth.

Since the great increase of population in this part of the parish, his Lordship has erected a Chapel of Ease in Macduff, for the accommodation of the inhabitants, who are nearly six mile from their parish church, and gives a salary to a qualified clergyman to preach and dispense the ordinances of religion among them.

On the east end of this parish, there are very near to one another two other small towns, Gardenston and Crovie, both the property of Lord Gardenston, and not far from his house at Troup. The town of Gardenston contains nearly 300 souls, and Crovie 100. In these two places are the same number of vessels and fishing-boats as in Macduff, only the vessels are of a smaller size. Lords Fife and Gardenston are the only heritors. Lord Fife does not reside in the parish, but one of his principal seats (Duff House) is very near it, being only about an English mile from Macduff. His Lordship has paid the greatest attention to the improvement of his estates, and the good of the country, by encouraging inclosing, binding his tenants to have yearly a certain quantity of their ground laid down in grass seeds. These regulations were highly proper and necessary some years ago, because people are led in chains by habit; and it is by slow degrees, and well digested plans, they are made to depart from established customs: But, now that the propriety of these regulations are seen, it would be difficult to make the farmers have such small quantities of turnip & c. as it was necessary at first to restrict them to. Lord Fife has also converted the whole customs and services (usually called bonnage) at a modern rate. This is of the utmost importance to the tenants. Not many years ago, many of them paid nearly one-half of their rent in fowls, eggs, sheep, & c. delivered in kind, and the labour of themselves, their servants, horses, in feed-time and harvest, carriage of peats, and many other works in the different seasons throughout the year, when called for; by which means they were often obliged to plough, dung, and harrow their landlord's ground, and lose the season for their own. Planting is a mode of improvement in which no person in this country has been more successful than the Earl of Fife. His Lordship has planted not less than from 7000 to 8000 acres on his different estates, which he continues yearly to increase; and at this moment the whole is in a very thriving state. An account of the various kinds of trees, and the method taken to rear them, will be seen in Young's Annals of Agriculture, and the Minutes of the Society of Arts and Commerce. The most considerable plantation in this parish is what is called the Tore of Troup. There are upwards of 600 acres planted with trees of various kinds, in a thriving state. These were reared chiefly by the direction of the late Mr. Garden of Troup, and begun by his grandfather. Mr. Garden, who is now succeeded by his brother Lord Gardenston, was unanimously elected member of parliament for the county of Aberdeen, during three succeeding sessions of parliament; he constantly resided at Troup, in this parish, excepting the time he attended parliamentary business, and paid great attention to the improvement of his estate, and the good of his country. He never gave a shorter lease than for a life; and to several of his tenants he gave very long leases, viz. a life, two nineteen years, and a life. He was not like many others, who, when they saw a tenant thriving, though he had too good a bargain, and would demand a very high rent at the next letting. It was his joy to see his tenants carrying on their improvements, and prospering by their honest industry. Nor, when any of his leases fell vacant, was it ever known that he did not prefer the tenant's own son, and continue him in the possession, if he was disposed to follow the same occupation with his father. And it may be safely said, that, owing to the encouragement given by Lord Fife and Mr. Garden, there are few tenants in the north of Scotland more thriving than in the parish of Gamrie. In the year 1782, when many others were not able to pay their rents, scarcity was not much felt except by the poorest class.

The language spoken in this parish is the Scottish, with an accent peculiar to the north country. There is no Erse.

The fuel used in the parish is partly coals and partly peats. The latter has of late years become very scarce; and coals are every day much more commonly used; which, owing to a partial and oppressive tax, cost very dear, and is a very great hindrance to improvement in this part of the country. It is certainly very unfair, and highly absurd, that this necessary article, which at any rate must be considerably higher in price to consumers in the North, from the expence of carriage, than it is to those on the other side of the Redhead, should also be loaded with a tax from which the southern inhabitants are exempted: And it is to be hoped the wisdom and justice of the legislature will soon provide a remedy, either by a total repeal, or by making the tax payable at the pit, which would thereby become general, and be much less partially felt.

The Statistical Account of Scotland 1791-1799 Edited by Sir John Sinclair Volume XVI Banffshire, Moray and Nairnshire

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[Last updated: 17th May 2000, 18:34 BST - Brian Pears]