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Alvah, Banffshire

Historical Description

ALVAH, a parish, in the county of BANFF, 3 miles (W. S. W.) from Banff; containing 1407 inhabitants. The origin of the name of this place, which in different records is variously spelled, is altogether involved in obscurity; but authentic sources of information still remain, throwing light on the apportionment of its lands, in early times, to several distinguished families. In 1314, a charter was granted by Marjory, relict of John, Earl of Atholl and Lord Strath-Alveth, conveying the patronage of the kirk, with considerable property here, to the abbot of Cupar. This parish, from which that of Forglen was disjoined prior to the middle of the seventeenth century, is situated near the north-eastern extremity of the county, separated from the Moray Firth by only a small intervening portion of the parish of Banff, and bounded on the east by the shire of Aberdeen, where the line of division is very nearly formed by the course of the river Doveron. It comprises 1 1,133 acres, of which 6955 are cultivated, 3428 waste and pasture, and 750 wood. The parish exhibits throughout an uneven and rugged surface, occasionally marked by lofty elevations, among which the Hills of Alvah and Maunderlea are the most conspicuous, the former rising 578, and the latter 733, feet above the sea. The scenery in the western and south-western portions is wild and dreary, taking its character chiefly from the numerous eminences connected with the Hill of Maunderlea, which stretches in a northern direction from the parish of Marnoch. In the other parts it possesses great picturesque beauty, being ornamented by the silvery meanderings of the Doveron, and by the lofty and majestic Hill of Alvah, which, rising from the midst of rich and well cultivated lands surrounding its base, displays a profusion of sylvan beauty on its sloping sides, and from its tabular summit commands diversified views in several directions. The Doveron, being in one place impeded by a rocky barrier stretching from east to west, takes a curve for about a mile, when, meeting with an outlet through a chasm, whose precipitous sides are united by a massive arch erected in 1772 by the late Earl of Fife, it resumes its former direction, and passes through some very bold and romantic scenery. The sides of the rocky chasm, after expanding themselves, form a lofty acclivity on each side of the intermediate basin, and, rising like the walls of a majestic amphitheatre about 100 feet above the stream, exhibit a grotesque and imposing assemblage of shrubs, trees, and mosses.

The SOIL in the eastern part of the parish, through which the river takes its course, consists of an alluvial loam of considerable depth, incumbent upon blue clay containing admixtures of clay-slate. In the remaining portion of the lower grounds, the earth rests upon a coarse diluvial clay, mixed in some places with ferruginous sand, shingles, and occasionally boulders. On the higher grounds, the soil has a subsoil frequently of a very sandy nature, much interspersed with shingles, and pieces of greywacke slate and other rocks. The average value of the produce is £19,800 per annum, of which upwards of £10,000 are derived from oats, and the remainder from turnips, potatoes, hay, and pasture, and a small quantity of bear and barley. The cattle are of the Aberdeenshire breed, or approximating very closely to it; but within the last few years, the Teeswater, or short-horned, have been introduced upon several of the best farms, where they thrive well, and are often used for a cross with the native cow. Within the present century, considerably more than 2000 acres of waste have been improved, a large portion of which was covered with furze and heath; and fenny or boggy grounds have also been reclaimed to a great extent, by draining. Lime is employed as a stimulant for the land, and bone-dust manure has been recently applied in soils adapted to it, with great advantage. The rocks consist principally of clay-slate and greywacke. Of these the latter is succumbent, and interlined with thin veins of quartz: the line of bearing, with a trifling variation, is from north-east to south-west, dipping to the north-west. The angle of elevation of the clay-slate varies, increasing from the low grounds, where the rock is almost horizontal, till it arrives at nearly a perpendicular towards the top of the Hill of Alvah. The plantations, including about 300 acres formed in the course of the present century, for the most part consist of Scotch fir and larch, among which are trees of beech, ash, oak, elm, plane, &c. The annual value of real property in the parish is £4870.

The chief mansion is the House of Montblairy, built in 1791, and since repaired and considerably enlarged: it is situated on the west side of the Doveron, on a sloping bank, in the midst of thriving and beautiful plantations; and contains a fine gallery of portraits of illustrious persons. Dunlugas, about half a mile distant, on the opposite bank of the river, was erected in 1793, and is a spacious structure, ornamented with a lawn in front, stretching to the margin of the river, and embellished with several lofty trees; the background, with its thriving plantations of sable firs, furnishing a striking contrast to the surrounding scenery. In the parish of Alvah are six meal-mills, a malt-mill, a lint-mill, and thirty-one threshing-mills, the last of which have all been erected during the last thirty or forty years. A distillery, built about twenty years since, on the estate of Montblairy, at an expense of £4000, was in full operation, and capable of producing 40,000 gallons of spirits annually; but the speculation having become unprofitable, it was given up a few years ago. Ecclesiastically the parish is in the presbytery of Turriff, synod of Aberdeen, and in the patronage of Sir Robert Abercromby, Bart.; the stipend of the minister is about £180, and there is a manse, built in 1764, and repaired in 1815, with a glebe containing between six and seven acres, valued at about £25 per annum. The church is a plain edifice, erected in 1792. There is a parochial school, the master of which gives instruction in Latin, occasionally in Greek and French, and in all the ordinary branches of education; he has a salary of £30, in addition to the fees, with a house, and a portion of the Dick bequest.

The antiquities are few and unimportant, consisting chiefly of several cairns and Druidical circles, not of sufficient consideration to merit notice. The ruins of the ancient castle, which stood near Montblairy, and is supposed to have been built by one of the Stewarts, Earls of Buchan, are no longer visible; and those of the old chapel near the same spot, have been removed of late years. On the estate of Sandlaw, and in several other places, large trees have been found, at a great depth below the surface; and memorials of the ancient cultivation of the soil may be traced over about 1000 acres of land, at present the poorest in the district. Alvah is celebrated for its fine springs, the principal of which, called Comes-well, and mentioned by that name in a charter more than 500 years ago, discharges twenty-seven gallons per minute of water almost as clear as that produced by distillation. There are also several chalybeates, the most famed of which are, the Red Gill well at Brownside Hill, and a spring on the hill-head of Montblairy. Dr. George Chapman, author of a treatise on education, was born here in 1723; and Major-Gen. Andrew Hay, who fell at Bayonne, in the fifty-second year of his age, on the 14th of April, 1814, and to whose memory a monument was erected in St. Paul's Cathedral at the public expense, was at one time resident proprietor of the estate of Montblairy, in the parish.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851 by Samuel Lewis