The Family of Birnie
THE NEW STATISTICAL ACCOUNT OF SCOTLAND
THE MINISTERS OF THE RESPECTIVE PARISHES, UNDER THE SUPERINTENDENCE OF A COMMITTEE OF THE SOCIETY FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF THE CLERGY.
Vol. XIII BANFF -
I. TOPOGRAPHY AND NATURAL HISTORY
Name, &c. -
Extent and Boundaries. The outline of parish of Birnie approaches oblong: with its narrower extremity on the north, and within 2 ½ miles of the burgh of Elgin, it runs due south for 7 miles averaging 1 ¾ in breadth. It is bounded on the east, north and the west, by the parish of Elgin, and is separated from the parish of Knockando on the south by the junction of the parishes of Dallas and Rothes. Birnie lies on the north side of the high ground, which rises between the Spey and the flat of Moray. From its highest elevation, at the Manoch-
Climate. The superiority of the climate of the lower districts of the province of Moray over that of some more southern counties, may in great measure be accounted for by the little elevation at which lies these districts stand above the level of the sea, -
Rivers, &c. The small river Lossie, rising in the parish of Edinkillie, enters the parish of Dallas, the lower part of which, Kellas, is evidently the bed of an old and extensive lake . The river, leaving this ancient bed, runs in a deep and lengthened channel, cut through the solid rock, which formerly had been the barrier of the lake. In this water warn channel, several of the peculiar characters of the rock (gneiss) and its quartzose veins are to be met with. The Lossie forms the western boundary of the parish of Birnie for about 2 miles, the enters the ancient bed of another lake, which had extended from Birnie to Aldroughty, and after a course of about 25 miles, excluding windings, joins the moray Firth at Stotfield-
Geology, Soils, &c. The Grampian range, both on the north and the south sides, and its subordinate chains of primitive mountains, are flanked by the rocks of the old red sandstone formation. Within The province of Moray, these secondary rocks dip into what is geologically called the basin of the Moray Firth. They form both banks of the Spey for several miles above its influx. Thence they may be traced in a westerly direction through the parish of Birnie, in the northern half of which they form the underlying rocks. The southern half lies on gneiss, destitute alike of such metallic veins and calcareous beds as this rock in many other places is found to contain. The lowest beds of the old red sandstone here present a very hard, compact and flinty appearance, very different from the overlying conglomerates, which are comparatively easily disintegrated by the weather, and cut into deep ravines by the smallest rivulets. With the exception of a few patches of lias, which are met with between the town of Elgin and the firth, the old red sandstone formation (including some rather unusual subordinate strata of cornstone and yellowish gray sandstone, destitute of fossils) comprehends all the secondary rocks of the lower part of Elginshire, so that, notwithstanding the traditional and long cherished hope, the true coal measures need not be looked for in it, Neither the gneiss nor harder strata of the sandstone have been quarried in this parish, the outliers or boulder stones being abundant enough for all building required. The softer conglomerates and upper beds are unsuitable for this purpose.
Over the rocks that lie in situ, there is generally such a depth of sand, gravel, and other alluvial matter, that they have little or no influence on the soil. However, when the softer varieties of the conglomerate approach the surface, the soil partakes much of the component parts of the rock, and thereby becomes one of the most fertile and productive. The productiveness of the soils here seems to depend much, if not more, upon the character of the sub-
Several large granitic boulder stones are to be met with here, as in other places, far from their parent rocks, and are lasting monuments of the impetuosity with which floods and currents of water, in a bygone period, have swept the surface of the globe. Peat of good quality, with imbedded trunks and roots of fir and other trees, is found near the top of Manoch-
Botany. Juncus balticus, Lapsana pusilla, Potamogeton, heterophyllus, Hieracium, denticulatum, Listera cordata, Pyrola media, Rhinanthus major, and Aspdium foemina may be enumerated among the rarer Scottish phaenogamous plants found in this parish. The water lily (Nymphea alba) noticed in the last Account, has disappeared, the lake having been drained many years ago. Until lately, there were no plantations of any description within the parish, which could only shew a few straggling alders and willows by the sides of rivulets, or the still rarer ashes which served to mark the narrow confines of what was once the kail-
II CIVIL HISTORY
Parochial Registers. The parish registers do not reach beyond the last century. At the first meeting of the kirk-
Antiquities. The Bishops Church was first at Birnie, afterwards at Keneddar, then at Spynie. And last of all at Elgin. About forty years ago, the foundations of an extensive building were dug up in the corner of a field, which had formerly the name of Castlehill . On this site likely stood the ancient Episcopal residence.
The present church is probably the oldest place of worship now used in the country. Like those of the more dignified structures of Roman Catholic times, the walls are built inside as well as on the outside with square cut ashlar work of freestone, and to this day stand perpendicular as they did hundreds of years ago. In 1734, this ancient structure seems to have been shortened by a few feet: and the west gable, though then renewed with the same materials, does not exhibit the skill and workmanship of the older walls. It is situated on the top of a small rising ground, similar to stations sometimes occupied by the stone circles that have hitherto deemed of Druidical, but are now thought to be of Scandinavian origin. And this was probably the site of one of these circles, may be inferred from several large granitic stones (some of them with figures resembling parallelograms, rudely drawn on them) being built into the surrounding churchyard wall, and which are not likely to have been carried thither for any recent purpose. The first preachers of the gospel may thus have taken advantage of the natural awe with which the native regarded the place where their religious rites were performed, and would thereby gain attention, at least, to the new doctrines which were also to be delivered there. It is perhaps to this heathenish awe, as well as to the circumstance of this place being one of the mother churches, or one of the earliest consecrated grounds of the Roman hierarchy in the north of Scotland, that we are to trace that superstitious feeling with which this particular church and burial ground are even still regarded by some. The stone baptistry and old bell, noticed in the last account, are still preserved in the church. A sketch of the latter antique curiosity has been given by Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, in his very interesting account of the Moray floods. The remaining antiquities comprehend the bible stone, the cairn of Kilforman, rectangular trenches, or as some say, a Roman castra at the Foths, and a Danish encampment at the Shougle. The last having hitherto escaped the ploughshare is still "to be traced on a well-
In 1745 the population was 525.
In 1811 the population was 357
1781. . . . . . .460
1821. . . . . . .384
1791. . . . . . .402
1831. . . . . . .408
1801. . . . . . .366
Of the 405 individuals within this parish in April last,
32 4/8 8/1 percent, were under 15 years of age
24 1/8 6/1 betwixt 15 and 30
25 7/8 5/1 betwixt 30 and 50
12 6/8 8/1 betwixt 50 and 70
4 3/8 6/1 upwards of 70
The following table contrasts the present state of the parish with that shew in the last Statistical Account (in 1795).
Average number of births for eight preceding years 9 -
" marriages " " 2 -
Married persons within the parish 128 -
Widowers 10 -
Widows 12 -
Average number of births from each marriage 5 -
Of children alive in each family 3 1/3
Number of inhabitants under 10 years of age 101 -
20 85 -
50 113 -
70 85 -
90 16 -
100 2 -
Number of Teachers 1 -
Young persons at school 20 -
Members of established church 400 -
Seceders and dissenters 2 -
Males employed chiefly as farm-
Females " " 17 -
Day labourers 2 -
Weavers 8 -
Employed as masters or apprentices of other trades 14 -
Inhabited houses 85 -
Farms of and above L.50 yearly rent 2.8
Under L.50 40.38
Arable acres (Scots)8501600
Imperial acres in plantations 0 -
Real rent in Sterling money (in 1791) L.375 -
Had such a table as the above been constructed a year ago, the population would have been found to have exceeded the Government census of 1831. A few have emigrated to America or removed otherwise from the parish: but the decrease within so short a period has been chiefly owing to scarlet fever, which for several months has been frequent and fatal in this neighborhood. The mistaken but still practised friendship of visiting and crowding the sick-
Character, &c. of the People Improved in the cleanliness of their habits, and in the quality and neatness of their Sabbath day attire, diligent in their various callings, and attentive to their religious and moral duties in public and private, there are perhaps few rural communities that, "upon the whole, enjoy a higher degree the comforts and advantages of society, or are mare contented with their situation and circumstances". For these comforts, they are indebted chiefly to the liberal system of management which has been adopted in this part of the Seafield property, where an allowance (of L.5) is given to the tenant for every acre that he takes from waste ground, improves and adds to the arable land of his farm. The enterprising tenant has thus been enabled to lime his field, and to reap such returns as no other application could secure.
The habits, the comforts, and the morals of the peasantry of the north of Scotland experienced a beneficial change when illicit distillation was suppressed: and this was the case in few districts to a greater degree than in the upper parts of Moray, where night was turned into day, the farm and family neglected, and all credit and character perilled in this demoralizing manufacture and traffic. All, however, now allow that the well filled stack-
In this parish, the good effects of the entire absence of the spirit-
Agriculture. The parish of Birnie contains, by measurement, 5784 Scots acres; of which 829 were in cultivation in 1784, the rest in pasture, moor, moss, and waste ground. At the present there are about 1600 Scots acres arable, 304 imperial acres under wood, and, of the remainder, 400 acres might, with a profitable application, be reclaimed and added to the cultivated ground.
Rent of the Land. The average rent for arable land is 15s per Scots acre: and the duration of leases generally nineteen years.
Husbandry. The farms are usually managed under a six-
Cattle, &c. The cattle are mostly a cross breed between the low country cows of Moray with West Highland bulls; and by considerable care and attention on the part of breeders, the stock have been much improved of late years. The houses are small, but very active, and admirably adapted to ploughing the light land, of which this parish is chiefly composed. The old breed of sheep (which were small, with reddish-
Produce. The following is an approximation to the annual value of raw produce raised in the parish:
Grain of all kinds, L.3100
Potatoes, turnips, &c. 830
Land in pasture for cattle at L.1 per head, and at 2s.6d for sheep 890
Means of communication. The success of agriculture and the condition of farms have not inaptly been said to depend upon good roads, as the comfort and health of the animal frame depend upon the soundness of the blood-
By act of Parliament, the statute labour of Birnie has been converted, and yields only L.14, a sum quite inadequate to keep the old in repair, and of course unfit for the construction of new roads; so that the parish roads have become almost proverbially bad. Much reliance, however, is placed on the liberality of the Hounourable Colonel Grant of Grant, and his long experienced attention to the wishes of the Seafield tenantry; and it is confidently expected, that the making and repair of roads in this district will keep pace with his other territorial improvements. An earnest of this is afforded in his having lately ordered a survey of the main line, upon a plan which, when completed, will secure to the parish of Birnie a properly conducted and well-
Ecclesiastical State. The church, the only place of public worship within the parish, is not centrically placed for the population, being six miles distant from the southern boundary. There is no tradition as to the time when it was erected; its interior was repaired in 1817, and affords legal accommodation for 253 persons. The whole of the seats, except a gallery, erected by the kirk-
The average number of communicants is 90; of whom 39 are the male heads of families. There is no missionary or catechist; and the parishioners are seldom called upon to contribute to religious or charitable purposes carried on beyond their own immediate sphere. There are 5 individuals in the parish, Dissenters.
Education. There are two schools, the parochial, and a female school. The parochial schoolmaster has the legal accommodation and L.26 of salary, with about L.4 for school fees. The school expenses of the pupils for the year may run from 6s to 8s. There are some parts of the parish so distant from the parochial school that young children residing there cannot attend; but this has of late been in some measure obviated by the endeavours of the school-
Poor and Parochial Funds. For the last seven years, the average number of poor who have received parochial relief is 10; and the average sum yearly given to each in the same period is L.1,5s. The parish funds arise from the ordinary collections at the church, amounting to L.8 per annum, one-
There is at present the same number of inhabitants in this parish as at the date of last Statistical Account, forty years ago; but in this interval they seem to have first decreased by one-
The more marked differences that have taken place ion that time besides those already noticed are, 1st, The extensive and valuable additions which have been made to the arable land, which since 1784 has almost doubled; 2nd, The improved management of farms, cattle and farm produce; and 3rd, The consequent increase of comfort of diet, clothing, and dwelling of the people. Within the last twenty years, many fences and several sheltering plantations have been reared; but there is still much room left for such enclosures.
In conclusion, it may be safely stated, that there a few, if any, districts in the north of Scotland, where, in despite of the wretched state of the roads, greater agricultural improvements have of late been made in the parish of Birnie. These improvements have been accomplished, by the exertions of an active tenantry, directed by the judicious suggestions and management of the gentleman who has the charge of this portion of the noble proprietor's extensive domains.