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Old Deer, Aberdeenshire

Historical Description

DEER, OLD, a parish, 10 miles (W.) from Peterhead; partly in the district of Deer, county of Aberdeen, including the villages of Stuartfield and Old Deer; and partly in the county of Banff, including the village of Fetterangus; the whole containing 4453 inhabitants. The name appears to be derived from a Gaelic word signifying the worship of God, perhaps applied on account of the first Christian church in Buchan having been erected here. The remains of antiquity in the parish throw considerable light upon its primitive history; vestiges of four or five Druidical temples are still visible, and numerous others were removed at no very remote period, in order to facilitate the extended operations of agriculture. On the north side of the hill of Parkhouse there were until lately the remains of a small village, supposed to have been occupied by the Druids, but usually called "the Picts' houses" by the neighbouring peasantry. Upon the summit of Bruxie steep, and at Den of Howie, near Fetterangus, are traces of fortifications and encampments, affording evident proof of military operations in ancient times; and in the vicinity of Aikey-Brae are several tumuli said to have been the burying-places of warriors who fell in a sanguinary conflict between Edward, brother of Robert Bruce, and Cumyn, Earl of Buchan. Deer is also remarkable as the site of a distinguished abbey, founded about the beginning of the thirteenth century by the then Earl of Buchan, and first held by a company of Cistercian monks from the abbey of Kinloss in Moray. This establishment was suppressed at the time of the proscription of religious houses, and erected into a temporal lordship in favour of Robert, the earl-marischal's second son, created Lord Altrie; but that nobleman dying without issue, the title became extinct, and the estate passed into the hands of the head of the family. A very considerable demesne was attached to the abbey, and its revenue amounted to £572. 8. 6. in money, with sixty-five chalders, seven bolls, one firlot, and three pecks of meal, fourteen bolls of wheat, and fourteen chalders and ten bolls of bear.

The parish, or rather the main portion of it, in Aberdeenshire, measures in mean length about nine miles and a half, and about four miles and a half in breadth, containing upwards of 25,000 acres, of which about three-fourths are under tillage or in pasture, 2000 acres are occupied by growing wood, and the remainder is peat-moss, moor, and waste. It is bounded on the west by the parish of New Deer. The surface is altogether undulated, being marked by a succession of hills and valleys of various extent and form, many of which are clothed with verdure, or ornamented with clumps of wood. Deer, wild geese occasionally in spring, ducks, partridges, woodcocks, and snipes, and large numbers of rabbits are to be met with in different parts. The chief streams are two tributaries of the Ugie, which form a confluence in the parish of Longside, and fall into the sea about a mile north-west of Peterhead; the black trout with which they abound supply abundant sport to the lovers of angling. The soil differs to a considerable extent; the crops consist chiefly of oats and turnips. Large tracts of pasture are occupied by herds of cattle; there are very few sheep kept, the only flock of any consequence being on the Pitfour estate, where from two to four hundred of various breeds are generally pastured. The cattle are mostly the native black, rather above the middle size, with which the Teeswater has been crossed during the last few years; they are fattened upon turnips, and many of them are sent for sale to the London market. Husbandry is well understood in the parish, and considerable improvements have been made by laying out land for pasture, by draining, and inclosing. The annual value of real property in the parish is £13,165. The prevailing rocks are granite and limestone, the latter of which is frequently found with veins and blocks of gneiss, and often so loaded with magnesian earth as to render it more useful for building than for agricultural purposes. Near the lime-quarry on the lands of Annochie are blocks of pure white quartz, and in other parts of the parish varieties of siliceous stone occur. Particles of granite, felspar, quartz, and mica are found in gravel-pits. The large tracts of peat-moss formerly to be seen are for the most part exhausted by the continual demand upon them for supplies of fuel, and very little peat-moss is now to be found. The chief seat is the Mansion-House of Pitfour, the character of which may be conjectured from the fact, that the expenses incurred by the proprietor in erecting and furnishing the house, and improving the contiguous grounds, have amounted to nearly £80,000: it has fine gardens and plantations. On the Kenmundy and Aden estates are also elegant and commodious mansions with good gardens and well laid-out plantations. Upon the estate of Dens is a plantation of about eighty acres, consisting chiefly of Scotch fir and larch. Fair specimens may be seen in different places of ash, elm, silver-fir, larch, and pine; but beech and spruce-fir appear to be the kinds more particularly adapted to the soil and climate.

The inhabitants of the villages are to a considerable extent engaged in some branch of manufacture. In Stuartfield about thirty persons are employed in weaving linen-yarn for the Aberdeen houses, and at Millbrake and Aden some sorts of woollen-cloth are made. There are also two flax-mills in the parish, and to the larger of the two woollen-mills a dye-house and a fulling-mill are attached. Six fairs are held in the course of the year, of which Aikey fair on the Wednesday after the 19th of July, and St. Dunstan's on the corresponding day of December, are chiefly for the sale of cattle, sheep, and horses. Another is held on the Thursday after the 25th of January, one on the Thursday after the 18th of March, one (lately established) on the Monday after the 17th of September, and one about the beginning of November. Several others formerly held have been discontinued, and the four last mentioned are of inferior note. The turnpike-road from Fraserburgh to Aberdeen runs in a direction north and south, and that from Peterhead to Banff east and west, through the parish.

For ECCLESIASTICAL purposes the parish is within the bounds of the presbytery of Deer and synod of Aberdeen; patron, the Crown. The minister's stipend is £219, and there is a manse, built in 1823, with a glebe worth between £40 and £50 per annum. The church, which was built in 1788, and repaired a few years since, contains 1200 sittings. There is an episcopal chapel; and the members of the Free Church, the Original Secession, the United Presbyterian Synod, and the Independents have places of worship. Three parochial schools are supported: the master of the chief establishment, situated at Old Deer, and in which, besides the usual instruction, Greek and mathematics are taught, has a salary of £31, with a house, and about £30 from fees; the other masters have a moderate salary each, with fees, and all of them have a considerable allowance from the Dick bequest. The principal remains of antiquity are the ruins of the abbey, surrounded by the high wall belonging to the fruit and kitchen garden of Pitfour. The larger part of the ruins has been taken, at different times, for the purpose of forming stone dykes and erecting dwelling-houses; but what now remains is carefully preserved by the proprietor of the estate. A church of cruciform design once stood on the north side; its length from east to west was 150 feet, the breadth ninety feet, and the nave, which was thirty-eight feet and a half wide, was supported by a row of pillars, whose bases may yet be seen, about seventeen feet distant from each other. The most interesting Druidical temple is that on the top of Parkhouse Hill, the chief stone of which, called the Altar Stone, is fourteen and a half feet long and five and a half broad; the stones are placed about fourteen feet asunder, and inclose a circle forty-eight feet in diameter. There are several chalybeate springs in the parish.

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