The Dufftown Speirin's online


 BANFFSHIRE JOURNAL, TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 1917

 

DUFFTOWN

 

A CENTENARY YEAR

 

Even amid the stress and the turmoil of a war that is testing to its foundations the staying power of every belligerent, it would not be fitting to pass over the fact, let the reference be as cursory as it may, that this year the flourishing burgh of Dufftown celebrates its centenary as a place of settled residence. Did ordinary conditions prevail, one can well envisage the scene

of enthusiasm with which the members of the enterprising municipality and their leal-hearted constituents would have celebrated an event of the kind. But ordinary conditions do not prevail, and the celebration of the centenary of Dufftown has necessarily to be delayed. Sure we are of this that "when the boys come back" - and Dufftown has in this respect an altogether wonderful record for the number in its population. In respect we mean of its young manhood at the front - the happy and auspicious event in the history of their beloved town by the storied and romantic waters of the Fiddich and the Dullan will have a celebration worthy not only of the local incidence of the year, but made the more happy and the more hearty since days will have come again when the Angel of Peace exercises his beneficent sway. What may take place after the present war in the sphere of the establishment of townships it would be an idle inquiry to pursue, but it is a historical fact that in the county of Banff there are now settled communities that as such have their earliest dates associated with years immediately following on wars and warlike upheavals. The last battle fought on British soil was followed almost immediately by the foundation of what is now the burgh of Aberchirder. The years that immediately followed the Peace of 1815 saw the establishment in the county of what are now substantial and thriving townships. One of them is Cornhill of Park, about which we wrote a few weeks ago. Another, beyond the Balloch, was in its infant years actually known as Waterloo! And yet another, perhaps the most flourishing of all, a delight to everyone who sees it and enjoys its natural beauties in just such a summer season as that which is leaving us, is Dufftown, called by the family name of its founder. Associated in many ways with the House of Fife, and still having a venerated connection with pleasant "Laichie" down by the venerable church of the parish, in which and in the lovely Kirk-yard below it, there are to be gathered by the seeing eye and the understanding mind some items of the high traditions in many spheres of human activity that to this day are characteristic of the aspirations of the brae-set burgh that looks out upon the heather-clad expanses of the Convals.


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The founder of Dufftown was James Duff, fourth Earl Fife. He was called "the Good Earl", and although he died so long ago as 1857 we put it on record as sober fact that an elderly gentleman in Dufftown last week, happening to refer to him, still spoke of him as "The Good Yerl". His lordship had a great military career, and in Spain received a wound that had life–long physical effects; when he left the Peninsula, Wellington presented him with a jewelled sword, which he himself had received in India, and the Spanish Cortes conferred on him the rank of General. For the last twenty years of his life, he lived continuously at Duff House. Among the villages he founded was Dufftown. It took place just 100 years ago. All accounts agree with the date. In the New Statistical Account, published over 60 years ago, the date of the foundation of Dufftown is given as 1817. The estate books, most authoritative of all, give particulars of how preparations for the formation of a village were made in 1816, and. they mention that the first feus were given off in June 1817. Dufftown is, therefore, just 100 years and three months old. On 10th June 1817 there was a gathering, held at Mether Cluny, at the house of the district factor, Mr Watt, and then the conditions of feuing were read out. For a little time the infant town was called by the locally historic name of Balvenie. Very soon, however, it came to be known as Dufftown, and as Dufftown, it has been known during all the intervening years. It must have been an interesting event in the life of the founder Earl to have established the nucleus of the future burgh in a district that was the cradle of the family. And he may have seen perhaps something of the potentiality of the site of a community that has in these days blossomed out into one of the most popular inland health and holiday resorts in the North of Scotland. As there were brave men before Agamemnon, so there were far–seeing, prescient men of the future of old Laichie, for more than one hundred and twenty years and a writer said of the site of the future Dufftown what may, in all truth be said of it today – "The appearance of the country is very fine. Variegated with hill and dale, wood and water, growing corns and pasture covered with flocks, it looks both beautiful and rich, and even in winter the trees by the river banks with their snowy foliage and the lofty mountains all in white exhibit a diversity of view abundantly pleasing and grotesque. Fiddichside is one of the loveliest straths to be seen in any country. There are some landscapes, especially in Glenfiddich, and about Pittyvaich, Tininver, and Kininvie that anyone who has a taste for such things will not grudge a day’s ride or two to go and see. They are a mixture of the sweet and the wild, and furnish a great deal of picturesque and very rural scenery. If a Thomson or an Allan Ramsay had lived here, they would have been famous in song". Thus the writer of more than a century ago. He goes on to say that "There is neither town nor village in all the parish.


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The whole is country. The Kirktown of Mortlach (the ancient Laichie) is only two or three houses on the glebe or about the church". The garrulity that characterises the author's writings is one of the charms of the Old Statistical Account as a whole. "The writer of this”, the goes on to say, "was minister of Mortlach, being the fourth from the Revolution, when he was translated to St Nicholas, Aberdeen: he is married and has four sons. He was succeeded by a bachelor. As to his predecessors, Mr Shaw's History of the Province of Moray will inform those who have the curiosity to know". Peace to the ashes of the worthy clergyman, of his four sons, of his bachelor successor, and of his unmentioned predecessors!

The progress and development of Dufftown during the hundred years of its history have been as a matter of fact of a very pleasing and substantial kind. In material affairs it has prospered greatly. Its yearly valuation today is within a few units of £6000. Not including the lotted lands, which have throughout its history been a most valuable asset, the burgh entries in the valuation roll number 543 rateable subjects. At the last census it had a population of 1626, and that represents a decrease from the period of the previous decennium when the staple business enterprise of the place flourished greatly. And that staple business consists in the manufacture of malt whisky on a scale so great that Dufftown has become one of the headquarters of the industry in the North of Scotland. Whatever be the reason of it, the making of whisky, legally or illegally, enters in a very direct way into the social history of the whole district around. A century ago a writer deplored that what he called "illegal distilleries", but what were more commonly known as "bothies", "were carried on to a great extent in this parish". Today there are seven large distilleries in the parish, all closely adjacent to Dufftown, some indeed within the boundaries of the burgh, and all of them contributing in no small measure to the material resources of those whose homes are in the town. There are seven of them - Mortlach, Parkmore, Glen Fiddich, Balvenie, Pittyvaich, Convalmore, and Glen Dullan, representing in the bulk a great localised industry, the business fortunes or vicissitudes of which are directly reflected on the well-being of the community at large. Close by the burgh, too, runs a rich vein of limestone. It has been worked for many years and the reputation of the product, still turned out on a large scale, continues to be high. Dufftown is as well the natural market centre for a large surrounding area. Its connection with the agriculture of the district is wide and intimate, and many of the feuars are themselves interested in agricultural pursuits. For attached to each of the old feus there is an allotment of three Scotch acres of land, a possession that has been a great boon and has been a material help in the development of the town. When originally given off, each plot consisted of one and a half acres of infield and one and a half acres of outfield. The latter being probably rough pasture for the most part, but it is long since the whole has been converted into infield, with the result that on every side Dufftown is surrounded by fertile areas that by good husbandry have been made to blossom as the rose.


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Farther afield, giving a greatly added charm to the physical outlook, are the everlasting hills, now ablaze with bright and fragrant heather - Ben Aigen, Corriehabbie, the Convals, Ben Rinnes, Jock's Hill, and the hill of Glenmarkie, representing a circling sweep of heights refreshing alike to mind and sense.

Old names linger in the, nomenclature of the town. To the old residenter, the modern Fife Street is still Crachie Street, the way to the delightful little hamlet at the wool mills. Balvenie Street may be called Castle Street, the way to the rugged and still stately old pile of Balvenie Castle. To some, Conval Street is known as Queen Street, for by that way, through Glenrinnes, came Queen Victoria in the autumn of 1867, just fifty years ago this month, when Her Majesty drove across from the Deeside hills at Balmoral to visit the Duke of Richmond at Glen Fiddich Lodge. And to not a few Church Street is still known as Kirktown Street the way to ancient Laichie. And the way to the venerable Kirk of the parish, with all its hoary memories and traditions, and with, too, its story of how Malcolm the Second, in the misty days of a long past age full-filled a vow by adding three spear lengths to the fabric of the Kirk. Here still is the Kirk of the parish, venerable even in its modern dressing, and interesting to all by the monuments and figures that it contains. Around and below the Kirk is the cherished churchyard in which in these days of war and the tumults of war one looks with renewed interest to the many memorials of men, natives of the district, who rose to positions of eminence in the Army. The task of these is accomplished and done, and whose names are emblazoned in local rolls of honour. Near at hand is the U.F. Church, where. Sir William Robertson Nicoll began his ministerial career. In other parts of the town are the pretty Episcopal and Roman Catholic churches. In the matter of halls, too, the community are well provided. The town hall built by the late Provost Symon, a man of abounding energy and of unexcelled local patriotism, is now the property of the East of Scotland Public House Trust. The St James' Lodge of Freemason have a fine place of meeting of their own, and the commodious hall of the Parish Church is in the same block of buildings as the Reading Room, an institution that has long proved its abiding value and which continues to be well supported, the number taking out annual tickets of member-ship being about 250. With the Fife Arms and Commercial Hotels, both of them comfortable and well appointed Dufftown is in a position to offer a hearty welcome to the temporary sojourner within its gates. A plethora of amusements have been provided by enterprising bodies, including bowling, tennis, and golf, while the angler may whip the waters of the Fiddich or the Dullan, or get pleasantly suntanned by the banks of numerous hill burns. On every hand there are attractive walks. The heights of Ben Rinnes invite the mountaineer; the lesser Convals make their appeal to those not so ambitious. There is the walk to the Giant's Chair up one side of the Dullan and down the other, by way of Pittyvaich, presenting in these days of early autumn a scene of keen physical delight.

 


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The whole town's wood and Tomnamuidh wood are intersected with walks, right to the old pile of Balvenie Castle. The Master's Walk is another favourite. Here, below the old Schoolhouse, is the Master's Well, where the schoolmaster drew his water supply before the introduction of a public system, and here is an old stone, bearing the date 1816, which used to form the top of an old well on what is now the Square of Dufftown. The old cattle markets have disappeared, but so far as regards the amount of business transacted their place has been more than taken by a branch of the Elgin Market Green Auction Co., ably represented on the spot by Mr. Alex. Farquharson. In Friendly Societies, Dufftown is strong, and the Free Masons, the Oddfellows and the Shepherds all do useful and valued work. Quite early in its history, Dufftown was provided with a public supply of gas, and when the works were acquired a good few years ago for the extension of Mortlach distillery buildings a scheme of electric lighting was influentially discussed. It was thought that motive power could be had from some of the streams that pass the burgh, and although it has not yet fructified, it has not been lost sight of as one of the possibilities of the future. In the interval a good few private instalments have been made of acetylene and petrol gas, but in the main dependence is still had on the paraffin lamp. Alive throughout all its history to the value of education, Dufftown maintains well its high record in a sphere that every North countryman regards as important, and the fine block of school buildings, with their roll of over 400 pupils, is sufficient attestation of the place educational effort holds in the outlook of the community. The joint labours of nature and human effort have given the burgh a distinctive place as a favoured holiday resort and one was interested to learn that the passing season has been in this respect one of the brightest and most successful experienced for a number of years.

Dufftown's most famous son has been the most bountiful benefactor of his native place. Of Lord Mount Stephen's wise schemes of benefactions there is much to remind one. Here, for instance, is the beautiful Stephen Cottage Hospital, built and endowed by him, and. opened seven and twenty years ago by the lord of the manor. It has been an untold blessing to Dufftown and the entire district around. It has for some time provided accommodation, amid surroundings of' an ideal kind for fourteen wounded soldiers. Their convalescence is completed under conditions that could not be excelled. His lordship's generous pension scheme by which a sum of £16 is given annually to 50 old persons in his native parish has helped to keep the wolf from many a humble door and to add comforts to life that otherwise would have been quite unattainable. A fine illuminated window put into the Free Church when it was rebuilt was his lordship's gift, and in many manses farther afield the yearly yield of his beneficent scheme of endowment has come as a welcome addition to individual stipends. The house in which Lord Mount Stephen was born has been rebuilt, but its site and buildings representing it are still and will ever be regarded as cherished connections of the town with one whose life and deeds will in Dufftown to all time be held in high regard and proud gratitude.


6

 

From some of the old "toon's bairns" stories of ancient memories may be gathered, and from none better than perhaps from Bailie M’Kay, who, born in Dufftown, can look back placidly on many years spent in the service of the community. The Bailie can recall his father telling him how about the year 1818 there were only three "reekin' lums" in what is now Dufftown, one of them being "Bauby Law's" in Fife Street and he can show you a house in Conval Street in which on a weather beaten stone there is the date 1820. He can point to houses still slated from the quarries of Auchindoune. James Milne had the slate quarries there, living in a hut in which he made his food. James was precentor also in the Auld Kirk, and the story is told of how on one occasion he in his secluded fastness only knew that it was a Sunday when he heard the eleven o'clock bell ring. Speed of foot soon brought him over the hill, and borrowing a black coat from some one near the church, he performed his duties in the lateran with all his accustomed coolness. The Bailie can tell stories of the building of the Tower, the most prominent feature of all the town, how some drove sand and some stones, and in the end the factor had to take up the unfinished work. The basement was let first as a druggist's shop, leading contents of which were castor oil and senna leaves. He himself, 70 years ago, saw the clock being unpacked by "Watchie Gordon", and he can recall the days of the old town hall, built by the Free Masons, and now used as an ironmonger's warehouse. The houses were for the most part roofed with thatch, and the kitchen floor was almost always made of clay, renewed once a year from a clay hole on the-Market Green and beaten into shape by barefit laddies. The Bailie can recall Lewie Fraser, who, more rogue than fool perhaps, once when taken before his superiors on a charge of stealing a sheep, made the plea that he had found a bit of string, "an' there was a sheep at the en' o't". It was Lewie, too, who fell asleep one day in his cart. Some wags removed the horse from the vehicle, and when the astonished man awakened from his sleep, he was fain to exclaim that "If I'm Lewie Fraser, I've lost a horse, an' if I'm nae Lewie Fraser, I've stolen a cairt". Another town's character was Hugh Robertson, who dressed usually in old Scotch garb, and decorated himself like a modern Montenegron with pistols, dirks and daggers in quite a picturesquely awesome fashion. His long hair he kept in plaits, but when in full dress it was taken down. He was a thatcher to trade, an occupation that has quite disappeared, and for many a year he led the annual walk of the Juvenile Society, whose meetings form the rallying ground of natives of the town far and near. One severe winter the supply of tobacco in Dufftown went done. When the storm broke up somewhat, John Dawson rode to Keith on horseback, but could get only a single roll, tobacco being scarce there as well. It was taken to Dufftown and sold at 3d. the half ounce, and, said Bailie McKay, there was a crowd round the door as though a roup were going on. According to Hugh Robertson that was the "terriblest winter he ever saw, for a lot of old folks de'ed in Dufftown then that he never saw deein' afore".


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The Bailie recalls a time when there were almost thirty licensed places of one kind or another in Dufftown. There was Murray's Inn where the Fife Arms now is, the Fife Arms was on Balvenie Street, next the Bank and Beaton's Inn was in the corner where the Bank now is, all three practically adjoining one another. In the Bailie's present house of Morven, one of the Cantlies of Keithmore had a shop, right next to it was a baker named Annie Mackie, the only baker then in the town. She put a woman out in the morning with rolls, Jeannie Gatherer by name, and she has passed into local song
        "Is Jeannie Gatherer aye ‘steppin’ weel
         wi' Annie's het rolls in her creel?"

A public house in Conval Street became later the Star Inn, and on the same street Sandy Milne from Craighead had the license which is now held by Mr James Geddie, who occupies therefore one of the oldest licensed premises in the town". The first town hall, built by the Free Masons, and tenanted then by Wm. Shand from Glenrinnes, had a license attached to it, and as if that were not sufficient below the hall there was a licensed shop, occupied by Mrs. Moir. The White Horse, now the Commercial Hotel, was always one of the leading places of entertainment in the town. In Fife Street, Wm. Gordon, son of Mr Gordon, the distiller, had the licensed shop where Mr Sheed now is; Lucky Craib's public house a little farther down; Warrack's Inn was beside, the chapel; the Bull Inn was kept by George Taylor; the Plough Inn - a lady occupant, "Bell o' the Plough," is still remembered - was where Messrs Watt Brothers now are, and at the corner of the street yet another license was held by James Smith. Not only were there numerous inns and places of the kind, but also in those days there were no restrictions of any kind. Before the Forbes Mackenzie era it was not an unheard of thing for a party to be held with the shutters on, and never know that the light of another day was shining until the shutters were taken down at the close of the merrymaking. Of such were the "good." old days. In the pre-railway days, there was a coach from Keith to Dufftown and to get the Speyside coach to Elgin the traveller had to go to Craigellachie. John Peterkin was the carrier between Dufftown and Aberdeen, making the journey once a fortnight "weather permitting", and John Grant was the carrier from Aberdeen to Glenlivet and Tomintoul, passing, of course, through Dufftown, sometimes in charge of three heavily laden carts. Deacon Ragg was the first postmaster that Bailie M’Kay recollects. One of the name of Ramsay carried the mails, and when he arrived in the town he market his progress by the lusty blowing of a horn, so that the folks might know to go to the Post Office for their letters. Truth to tell these were sometimes few in number, and on at least one occasion the whole mail consisted of a letter to the clerk of the Richmond lime works. One of the periodical markets then held was a wool market which took place in Shand's Hall, and a regular frequenter of all the markets was one Proctor, from the Betshauch, whose sole wares consisted of brose caups.


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The Bailie has heard stories, too, of the market fights between the Gaulds of Glass and the M'Connachies of Glenrinnes when the cracks of lusty staves on hard heads resounded on the street, when the Gaulds, if strong enough, would chase the M'Connachies up the Glenrinnes road, and, if the tables were turned the M'Connachies would chase the Gaulds across the bridge of Crachie. There are so many "sma’ stills", throughout the district, illicit of course, that the man who repaired them went by the name of, "Coppery" and it is recalled that the water at one of the best known of these "bothies", up in the Convals, was years ago introduced into the burgh water supply. To get up a raffle or a tea drinking for any poor person was a common occurrence, and the Bailie declares that on the occasion of a wedding the amount of shooting that was engaged in might have done credit to the bombardment at the Somme. Newspapers were scarce and. dear. The history of a copy of the "Banffshire Journal" was given thus - it began on Conval Street with Eyval the Merchant, went across to Davie Craib's, then to Melvin's, across the, street again to Willie Gauld, a shoemaker, then to John Ellis, a shoemaker, and to John Shand, a cartwright, and on the Monday it reached the Conval crofts, where being about a week old, a read of it was cheaper.

And so, along what has been on the whole a pleasant road, Dufftown has reached its centenary year. It can look back on its past with satisfaction and anticipate its future with hope, and nothing better can be said either of individual or of community. That Dufftown may long flourish will be the warm wish of the numerous folks whom it has made its friends.

 

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