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St. Fergus, Banffshire

Historical Description

FERGUS, ST, a parish, in the county of Banff, 5 miles (N. N. W.) from Peterhead; containing 1391 inhabitants. This parish, which is locally situated in Aberdeenshire, was formerly called Langley. It took its present name, in honour of its patron saint, in the year 1616, when the church was removed from its ancient site, the downs called the Links of St. Fergus, where it had been erected as a vicarage by the abbot of Aberbrothock. The lands formed part of the great earldom of Buchan till its forfeiture by the Cumyns in 1308; they afterwards came into the possession of the ancient family of Cheyne, who built the castle of Inverugie, and who, being heritable sheriffs of Banff, wished this property to be placed under their own jurisdiction, for which purpose they obtained an act of the legislature. The Carmelite friary in Aberdeen was founded and endowed by one of this family, Reginald le Cheyne, who secured to it, by deed, £2 annually out of the lauds of Blackwater, in this parish. His son, Sir Reginald Cheyne, was lord chamberlain of Scotland in 1267; and another son, named Henry, was bishop of Aberdeen in 1281. Sir Reginald was succeeded in his property by a son of the same name, who was made prisoner at the battle of Halidon Hill in 1333, and who died about 1350, leaving two daughters, Mary and Mariot, by the marriage of the latter of whom with John de Keith, of Raven's-Craig, the parish of St. Fergus passed into the family of Keith. John de Keith was second son of Sir Edward Keith, marischal of Scotland; and the issue of his marriage with Mariot Cheyne continued to be a separate branch of the Keiths until, in 1538, the families became united by the marriage of William, fourth earl-marischal, with the heiress of Sir William Keith of Inverugie. The property escheated to the crown in 1715, by the attainder of the then earl, and was sold by the crown to the York Buildings' Company. It was purchased, however, from the trustees of the company by George, son of the attainted earl, in 1761; and in 1764 the family disposed of it to James Ferguson, Esq., one of the senators of the College of Justice, with whose descendants it has since remained.

The PARISH is five and a half miles in extreme length, and its greatest breadth is three and a half miles. It contains 7878 acres, and is bounded on the south by the river Ugie, and on the east by the German Ocean. The shore is marked only by one point of any note, called Scotstown Craig; the beach being generally low and sandy. At a small distance from the coast there are a number of hills, covered with a thick bed of drifted sand overgrown with grass, and which divide the shore from the interior land, and form a natural and efficient rampart against the drifting of the sands into the country by the violence of the east wind. These hills, varying in breadth, form the fine pasture land known as the Links of St. Fergus, and afford, perhaps, the finest grazing for sheep and young cattle of any downs in Scotland. In the lower part of the parish, to the extent of a mile from the shore, the ground is flat and uniform; but afterwards it rises towards the western extremity in a succession of graceful undulations, exhibiting the pleasing aspect of a well-cultivated surface. The only high land approximating to the character of an eminence is the Castle hill, in the vicinity of Inverugie Castle. The climate, on account of the exposure to the sea, is cold, and the impervious character of the subsoil renders it damp; yet it is not found to be unhealthy. There are some good springs in the lower lands which yield a constant supply of water; but in the upper part a drought sometimes occurs, especially in the hot summer months. Near the shore the soil is a sandy loam mixed with moss, requiring but little labour for cultivation; it produces turnips, potatoes, and heavy crops of grain, which, however, is not so fine in quality as that grown on the stronger lands. The middle portion of the parish is a tenacious clay, yielding excellent grain. In the western district the soil is not so good, being chiefly clay and moss, and having not very long ago been a moor. The larger part of the land is arable, scarcely more than a sixth of the parish consisting of pasture, moss, and plantations. The Aberdeenshire and Buchan cattle, which, with their several crosses, formerly prevailed here, have within these few years yielded to a great extent to the Teeswater. The unfitness of the soil generally for the growth of turnips rather discourages the breeding of cattle; but the easy communication lately opened up by steamer with the London market has stimulated the attempts to overcome this natural obstacle, and the number of oxen, cows, and sheep is now very considerable. Many improvements have taken place by the formation of main drains and ditches, the planting of hedges, and the construction of various kinds offences; the farm-buildings, also, are much better than formerly, and the houses on the best farms are generally slated, and the offices tiled. The annual value of real property in the parish is £6172. The rocks comprise granite, trap, gneiss, greywacke, and quartz, which are to be seen in all kinds of combinations: limestone is also found, frequently mixed with gneiss and granite. There are some tracts of peat-moss, in which remains of oak, hazel, and birch are embedded; the antlers of full-grown stags have been found, and large quantities of marine testacea.

In the parish are three mills, at one of which, called Stone mill, there were produced in a recent year 1508 sacks of meal, of two and a half hundred-weight each, sent to the London market, 314 forwarded to Shetland, and 200 for home consumption; 613 sacks of flour, and 100 sacks of barley, also, were prepared for domestic use. There is a salmon-fishery on the Ugie, but it has been much injured by a sand-bank thrown up by the sea at the mouth of the river, and which prevents the fish from entering, unless the bank happens to be driven back by the force of a land flood. Considerable numbers of black-trout, and the pearl muscle, are found in the river; but the pearls are of no great value, being dingy and opaque. The neighbouring seas, also, abound' with fine fish, consisting of turbot, sole, ling, dog-fish, whiting, herring, plaice, flounder, cod, and halibut, the most valuable of which, however, are seldom taken, as the fishermen have no nets suitable for the purpose. There is a small village, independently of the kirktown; but the larger part of the population is scattered throughout the rural districts. The turnpike-road from Fraserburgh to Peterhead intersects the parish from north to south; and over the Ugie is a bridge for it, built in the latter part of the seventeenth century, and connecting St. Fergus with the parish of Peterhead.

Ecclesiastically the parish is within the bounds of the presbytery of Deer, synod of Aberdeen; patron, the Crown: the stipend of the minister is £217, with a manse, and a glebe valued at £18 per annum. St. Fergus church, erected in 1763, is a convenient structure, tastefully decorated in the interior, and having three galleries; it contains 610 sittings. There is a small meeting-house belonging to the Baptists; and a parochial school is supported, in which Latin, mathematics, and the usual branches of education are taught, the master receiving a salary of £34 per annum, with about £20 fees. A good parish library was founded in 1829, and a savings' bank in 1824. The chief relic of antiquity is the ruin of Inverugie Castle, formerly the residence of the earls-marischal of Scotland, and the birthplace of Field-Marshal Keith, who fell at the battle of Hochkirchen in 1758: one of the towers, of great antiquity, is called Cheyne's, but the greater part of the fabric is said to have been erected by the earl who founded Marischal College, Aberdeen. The churchyard, on the coast, is a very ancient cemetery, and of such singular interest, partly on account of the loneliness of its situation, that the late Dr. Beattie often expressed a wish to have his remains deposited here.

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