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Cullen, Banffshire

Historical Description

CULLEN, a burgh, seaport, and parish, in the county of BANFF, 5 miles (W. by N.) from the town of Portsoy, and 170 (N. by E.) from Edinburgh; containing 1564 inhabitants, of whom 712 are in the town of Cullen, 711 in the Sea-town of Cullen, and 141 in the rural district. This place, the origin of the name of which is altogether uncertain, was originally called Inverculan, being bounded on the north and west by the water of Cullen, which falls into the sea on the western side of the parish. In ancient times it formed part of the parish of Fordyce. Its early history is for the most part involved in obscurity; but there appears to be no reason to doubt the truth of the tradition, that a severe conflict took place here between the Danes and the Scots under Indulfus, in the year 960. The Scottish king was killed by an arrow at the head of his troops; but the enemy were completely routed, and this battle is supposed to have been among the last fought with the Danes before their expulsion from the kingdom in the beginning of the eleventh century. It is known by the name of "the battle of the Baads", on account of the field of action (which was the moor of Rannachie) being called the Bands of Cullen; tumuli abound in every direction, and the decayed bones and fragments of arms contained in them are concluded to be deposits of the remains of the defeated army. The lands have from a remote period been the property of the ancestors of the Earl of Senfield, the present proprietor, who traces his descent from Gilchrist Ogilvie, created Earl of Angus by King Malcolm Canmore. A bede-house was erected, most probably by one of this family, and endowed for the support of eight decayed farmers and eight farmers' widows; but the hospital system was abolished about sixty or seventy years since, and the funds are now applied by the Earl of Seafield, who has the management, in the distribution of meal to poor families belonging to his estates in the parishes of Cullen, Rathven, Deskford, and Fordyce. The church of Cullen, originally dedicated to St. Mary, was founded by Robert I., whose queen, Elizabeth, is supposed to have been buried in it, and who appointed a chaplain, with an endowment, to offer up prayers for her soul. It had a provost, six prebendaries, and two singing boys, whose offices were founded in 1543, by one of the Ogilvies, aided by several eminent persons of both the clergy and laity: the foundation was endowed with considerable property and many privileges, and was subsequently confirmed by William, Bishop of Aberdeen, and John, Archbishop of St. Andrew's. The town was much exposed in turbulent times to the violence of party commotions. It was repeatedly plundered by the Marquess of Montrose; on one occasion, in May 1645, he sent troops to the place, who first plundered it of every thing valuable, and then burnt it to the ground.

The TOWN is situated on the coast of the Moray Firth, and consists of two parts, entirely separated, called respectively the New-town and the Sea or Fish town. The former of these received its distinguishing appellation from its recent erection in place of the old town, which was meanly built, and entirely demolished about the year 1822 to make room for the improvements of Cullen House. It stands nearer to the sea than the old town, being close to the eastern extremity of the Seatown, and is on a much higher site. There are many good houses, regularly and tastefully disposed; and it has altogether a neat and interesting appearance, forming a striking contrast to the miscellaneous collection of fishermen's tenements below, constituting the Seatown. All the buildings contemplated in the plan are not yet completed; but the favourable situation of the place for fishing and agricultural occupations, and the agreeable character of the surrounding district, afford every promise of future advancement. Its contiguity to the beautiful bay of Cullen, and the picturesque grounds of Cullen House, with the traffic of the post-road from Banff to Fochabers, which runs through it, invest the immediate locality with a livery and pleasing aspect; while the highly diversified scenery around, comprising hill and dale, wood and water, with well cultivated fields, and the precipitous and majestic rocks along the shore, unite to render the environs attractive. Some of the eminences command fine views of the sea, enlivened with trading-vessels and fishing-boats, with the lofty headland of Scarnose at the western extremity of the bay, and the Castle hill, the site of an old fortification, overhanging the Sea-town; and over the Firth, in the distance, are seen the sable mountains of Sutherland and Caithness. The Bin hill, bordering upon the parish, and rising 1076 feet above the sea, and which is planted with trees of various kinds, is also a prominent object in the surrounding scenery, and affords an excellent landmark to mariners. The town contains numerous good shops, and has every convenience calculated to render it a desirable place of residence: many of the houses are lighted with gas, supplied by a company established in 1841 with a capital of £1000. Among the public buildings the most conspicuous is the hotel, erected in 1822, at a cost of £3000, by the Earl of Seafield. It is situated in the public square, and has attached to it an elegant ball room, forty-three feet long and twenty-three broad; a spacious room in which the sheriff and justice-of-peace courts are held; and the council-room of the burgh, an elegant circular apartment, twenty-three feet in diameter and sixteen feet high.

The inhabitants were formerly much engaged in manufactures. In 1748 the Earl of Findlater and Seafield intruduced the manufacture of linen, and subsequently sixty-five looms were constantly at work, some of them for weaving damask, besides seven stocking-looms. In addition to this, a great number of webs were given out to be woven by country-people in their own houses; but these sources of employment have now all ceased, and the inhabitants are almost exclusively occupied in agriculture and fishing. There are about thirty boats belonging to the place which are engaged in fishing for cod, skate, ling, and haddocks: the herring-fishery, on account of some recent failures in the quantity of fish, has been given up, and the men and their boats are hired every season by the curers at Wick, Macduff, Fraserburgh, and Peterhead. The average annual value of the several fisheries carried on in the bay is £7543, including £750 for the salmon-fishery. About twenty persons are employed in boat-building, and complete above forty boats each year; and recently, five vessels varying in burthen from 40 to 110 tons have been built here in three years. The harbour, which is small but convenient, was constructed by the Earl of Seafield in 1817, and enlarged in 1834 with an additional quay, the cost of the whole work amounting to more than £10,000; the water at neap tides is eight feet and a half deep, and at spring titles twelve feet. There are four vessels belonging to the port of from 40 to 100 tons each, the aggregate burthen being 270 tons. Coal, salt, staves, and barley for distillation, constitute the chief imports; and the exports are herrings, dried-fish, timber, oats, and potatoes. A distillery was erected in 1824, and considerably enlarged in 1828; it produces upwards of 25,000 gallons of proof spirits annually, and on the water of Cullen are a lint-mill, a saw-mill, and a meal-mill. Steam-boats plying between Inverness and Leith visit the bay. A weekly market is held during the spring months for the sale of grain; and there are fairs, principally for the hiring of servants, on the third Friday in May, the second Friday in November, and the 7th of January.

Cullen is a ROYAL BURGH of considerable antiquity, as appears from a charter of James I., dated 1455, ratifying one of Robert I., by which the usual liberties and privileges had been granted. It was at one time a constabulary, of which the Earl of Findlater was hereditary constable, by virtue of an ancient right; but the council now consists of a provost, three bailies, a dean of guild, treasurer, and thirteen others, the jurisdiction extending over a district of about three miles from east to west and two from north to south. The parliamentary boundaries are much less extensive than those of the royalty: the burgh is united with Elgin, Banff, Inverury, Peterhead, and Kintore, in sending a member, and of the constituency of the whole about thirty-eight belong to Cullen. A sheriff small-debt court, for sums not exceeding £8. 6. 8., is held on the second Thursday in February, June, and October; and a justice-of-peace court on the first Tuesday in every month, for sums not exceeding £5. A lock-up house containing three apartments is used for the punishment of delinquents, and for the custody of persons to be afterwards sent to the county gaol.

The PARISH is about a mile and a half in length from north to south, and one mile in breadth. It comprises an area of 684 acres, of which 34 are occupied as the site of the town, 425 are arable, 110 park-ground belonging to Cullen House, and the remainder waste pasturage and moor, along the sea-shore. The land in general is of superior quality, consisting of a rich loam incumbent on clay or gravel, and yielding crops of wheat, barley, oats, potatoes, and turnips; the soil on the higher grounds is thin, resting on gravel, but tolerably productive, and most of the land owes its abundant returns, in a great measure, to the profusion of fish-refuse applied as manure. About 200 acres of land are let to the inhabitants of the town in small allotments, each being sufficient for the support of a cow. The towns-people usually keep Banffshire cows; the cattle on the farms are mostly a cross between the Banffshire and the Teeswater: the sheep are chiefly of the Cheviot kind. The annual value of real property in the parish is £2243. Cullen House, situated at a small distance from the town, is an ancient structure with many splendid apartments elegantly furnished. It is embosomed in plantations covering about thirty acres, and comprising all the trees, both useful and ornamental, found in the country. At the base of the rock on which the mansion stands flows the water of Cullen, here crossed by a stone bridge of one arch, and the numerous winding walks and drives also contribute to the beautifully picturesque appearance of the pleasure-grounds. Ecclesiastically the parish is in the presbytery of Fordyce, synod of Aberdeen, and in the patronage of the Earl of Seafield. The minister's stipend is £156, of which about a fourth is received from the exchcquer, with a manse, and a glebe valued at £27 per annum. Cullen church, accommodating 800 persons, is a cruciform structure of great antiquity, but still in very good condition. It is situated in the centre of the old burying-ground, nearly encompassed by the lands of Cullen House; and the interior contains many elegant monuments to members of the Findlater and Seafield family who were buried here. A portion of the parish of Ruthven has long been attached to Cullen quoad sacra, and a church was erected in that district in 1839, chiefly by the assistance of the Earl of Seafield. A place of worship has been erected in connexion with the Free Church. The parochial or grammar school affords instruction in the usual branches; the master has a salary of £36, with a house and garden, between £10 and £15 fees, and a share in the Dick bequest. A parochial library was established in 1830. Of the eminent characters connected with this parish may be mentioned, James, fourth Earl of Findlater and first Earl of Seafield, the distinguished lawyer and statesman, who died in 1730; and James, sixth Earl of Findlater and third Earl of Seafield, who introduced into the north of Scotland those improvements in agriculture and manufactures which raised it so considerably in civilization: he died at Cullen House in 1770. Sir James Clark, Bart., first physician in ordinary to Her Majesty, was born in the parish in 1788.

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