The Seamy Side of Life in an Old Scots Town.
Turriff in Ancient Times
Sidelights from the Barony Court Book
Recorded by James Leatham
The minute book of the Barony court of Turriff, the existence of which was known to few till recent years, covers the period from 1734 till the abolition of Heritable Jurisdictions in 1748. The proceedings of each Court are usually prefaced by some such entry as the following:
Court of the Lands and Barronrie of Turreff, Delgaty and idoch, pertaining heritably to a noble and potent Countess, Mary Countess of Errol, Great-Constable of Scotland, and the honourable Mr Alexander Hay of Delgaty, her Ladyship’s husband, for his interest, holden at Turreff, the 7th day of December 1734, years, by My John Henderson, their Chamberlain Bailaie, specially constitute by hi Bailierie, George Urquhart in Turreff, procurator fiscal, and Mr William Hacket, Schoolmaster of Turreff, Clerk p.a. (The ordinary clerk was Sylvester Keith, Town Clerk of Turriff.’) Gilbert Bagrie, officer and (blank) Dempster.
The officials remained practically unchanged during all those fourteen years. About four or five Courts were usually held in the course of the year, and the number of cases at each Court was generally small.
The Erroll family had a long connection with Turriff. They are said to have been superiors of the burgh from 1412 to 1762. In 1446 William Hay of Erroll obtained the patronage of the Church of Turriff for that of Erroll, of which his grandfather had been deprived, and this grand was confirmed by James II, in 1450. The Church of Turriff belonged to the Abbey of Arbroath, to which it was gifted by Marjory, Countess of Buchan in 1210. James IV, with the consent of the Earl of Errol, granted to Thomas Dickson Prebendary of Turriff, a charter in 1512 erecting the whole churc lands, the town, and the glebe into a burgh of barony, and constituting the prebendery superior of the burgh and titular of the teind with power to the burgesses to elect bailies and other officers, with a right to have a market cross and to hold a weekly market on Saturday at the cross and public fairs at the feast of St Peter, called Lammas, and at the feast of St Congan on 13th October. The charter granted to the inhabitants the freedom to buy and sell wine, wax, leather, woollen and linen, broad and narrow, and all other merchandise, and to have in the burgh, bakers, brewers, butchers, etc. The customs of the markets were subsequently conveyed to the Earl of Erroll by Andrew Skene, prebendary, on condition the Earl pay £100 Scots as salary to the schoolmaster.
Lady Mary’s Well.
Mary, Countess of Errol, succeeded her brother Charles, 12th earl, on his death in 1717. Burke’s ‘Peerage’ and Anderson’s ‘Scottish Nation’ do not refer to her marriage with Alexander hay of Delgaty, merely mentioning that she married in 1681 Alexander Falconer, second son of Sir David Falconer of Newton, Lord President of the Court of Session. She died without issue in 1758. The Lady Mary’s Well, still pointed out below the castle quarry in the grounds of Delgaty Castle, may have received its name from this lady. Delgaty Castle was purchased from the Earl of Erroll in 1763 by Peter Garden, Esq. of Troup, and sold by his son Francis in 1798 to Earl Fife. The Earls of Erroll formerly lived at Delgaty Castle. They had also a lodging in Turriff (now occupied as a solicitor’s office.)
Many families in the north of Scotland lost their estates through their adherence to the Stuart line in the risings of the eighteenth century and it was his devotion to the Brunswick line, it is said, that led to James, 13th Earl of Erroll, parting with his possessions in the Turriff district, he having been appointed to conduct Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg, the bride of George III, to England, and the magnificence he displayed on that occasion proved beyond his means.
The great market at Turriff has long been called Porter Fair; but in ‘Aberdeen’s New Prognostication’ for 1708 appears under a list of fairs for October,’ ‘Cowan Fair at Turriff.’ It is interesting to find the following advertisement in the ‘Prognostication’ of the same year:-
These are to give notice that there are two New yearly Fairs granted by Act of Parliament to the Right Honorable the Earl of Erroll, Lord High constable of Scotland, to be holden at the town of Turreff, in the shire of Aberdeen One of them (called St John’s Fair) is to begin the first Tuesday of December yearly, and to continue (at the said place) for three days. The said Tuesday being for all sorts of cloath and stockings, vendable goods and merchant wares; and Wednesday and Thursday for all sorts of malt, cattle and horses. The other (called St Ann’s Fair) to be holden at the said place, also is to begin yearly upon the last Tuesday of march, and to continue for three days, the said Tuesday for all sorts of cloath and stockings, vendible goods and merchant wares, and Wednesday and Thursday for all sorts of cattle and sheep. And both the said Mercats to be three years custom free.
The cases that came before the Barony court were varied in character, breaches of the peace and of mill and moss regulations being the most frequent. The sanction of the Court had to be given to regulation tending to the advancement of husbandry, the improvement of dwelling-houses and the reformation of the manners of the inhabitants by suppressing swearing and Sunday trading. More serious cases occasionally appeared as stealing and murder, but during those years the extreme penalty of the law seems never to have been carried out; in fact, it was only during extremes that Barony Courts, unlike Courts of Regality, had the full power ‘to [unclear] pit and gallows,’ such power being latterly exercised only when the [unclear] was taken red-handed, or the thief in fang within the bounds of the [unclear]
Riding the Stang
One case in the Court Book covering the period 1734-48 is incompletely recorded, but appears to have been one of ‘riding the stang.’ The barony found that the pursuer had received no wounds, but had been carried in a shameful manner through the town of Turriff, and thereafter that he had been ‘carried on a tree,’ a mob accompanying. The accused number, were ordained to acknowledge their sorrow for breach of the peace, and to pay £10 Scots to the pursuer and to remain in the Countess of Erroll’s prison in Turriff during the bailie’s pleasure. They were liberated however, the same day on payment of one shilling stg. Each as dues of court and jailer’s fees, and on Alexander Rhind, mason, Banff, and others becoming security for their good behaviour in future.
Harbouring ‘Extraneous Persons.’
The bailie had no scruple in banishing undesirables from the bounds of the barony. David law was decerned in 1736 to remove himself, his wife and family, from the town of Turriff, and furth and frae any part of the Countess of Erroll’s jurisdiction as being a person unfit for society. He had been complained against for harbouring ‘vagabonds and other extraneous persons’ on market days, also for carrying off peats from the Black and Green Mosses, and for keeping a horse and pasturing it on the tenant’s lands. His spouse, Janet Taylor, was also brought to Court from prison, to which she had been committed for using threatening words to some of the inhabitants of Turriff, and enacted to remove herself from the town of Turriff all the days of her life. On his petition David law was liberated for eight days in order that he might dispose of his effects before removing himself from Turriff.
In 1741, as appears from the Barony Court Book, Patrick Gerrard was banished from Turriff and other lands belonging to the Countess of Erroll in the parishes of Turriff, Monquhitter, and Auchterless for stealing a pan full of ale. In June of the same year, Margaret Joass was charged with stealing hards from a stand on the market day, but the case could not be proved till the bailie ordered her to prison, there to remain on three quarters of bread and three chopins of water a-day till next Court Day. On reappearing in Court two days after she confessed the theft, but meanwhile two persons reported having lost their purses in the market, and the purses being found in Margaret’s custody when she was apprehended, with money amounting to £40 2s Scots, the bailie pronounced sentence of banishment, never to return under pain of a month’s imprisonment and burning on the cheek, and that she remain in prison till Monday at twelve of the clock and then to be dismissed in a graceful manner by beat of drum to the Den of Balmellie; and the bailie ordered the officer to mount two of my Lady Erro’s halberts to prevent her doing her the least abuse by the mob.
‘No Visible Way of Subsisting.’
On 2nd April, 1742, the bailie found that Patrick Thomson had no visible way of subsisting, and that although he should offer himself to work to the inhabitants, none of them incline to employ him, and, further, he was represented as bankrupt and not worth the King’s unlaw. The bailie ordained him to remove himself, his wife, and children, at Whitsunday and prohibited the hail inhabitants from buying, lending or selling with him after Whitsunday, under penalty of £3 Scots.
‘Not Proper Inhabitants.’
Robert Massie, Margart Cormack, and John Ross were also dismissed as ‘not being proper inhabitants.’ The last case of banishing was that of Ann Baxter on 27th June, 1747, who was also expelled for theft.
Peats, turfs and mosses gave the Court much trouble. In 1744 the bailie granted to each possessor of an oxgate to have two spades’ casting yearly, and the half-oxgate people in proportion, and each tenant paying 100 merks Scots rent to have three spades casting. Several persons in Turriff who had no land nor warrant to cast peats came to the Countess of Erroll’s mosses with horses and creels and back creels, and carried off peats and turfs. The bailie authorised the moss grieves and the officer of Court to cause such persons pay a fine of £10 Scots each, or if they fail to do so, to seize their creels or packets or any other machines for carriage for the first fault… and for the third fault to seize the horse or mare to the gate of the mansion house of Delgaty or the cross of Turriff and expose the same for sale after two hours’ previous intimation.
Even the minister complained that they stole his peats in the moss. In 1739 William Woodman, in Nether Smiddieseat, was charged with selling his portion of the moss of Greeness to James Watson, Mill of Gask, who left his peats on the bankhead all winter in rickles. The bailie fined him £50 Scots, but as he acknowledged his fault, the fine was modified to 10shgs stg. And on this the bailie gave him back a crown.
The tenants were often in Court for disregard of mill regulations. Thus William Murray, in Mill of Ashogle, decerned to pay to James Wilson, in Hilltown, a firlot of meal as damages for losing half a boll through insufficient grinding of three bolls of meal.
In 1738 Mr Thomas Hay, at Mill of Turriff, complains upon George Allardyce, tacksman upon half an oxgate in Turriff, that he had clandestinely withdrawn the mixtures of the grain thirled to the Mill of Turriff and gone to the Mill of Gask therewith oft and divers times. Going to the Mill of Gask, he found a boll of malt belonging to George Allardyce being ground by James Watson, tacksman of the Mill of Gask, and he apprehended the said George Allardyce on the Street of Turriff, bringing home the said malt, and he seized the horse and the said malt and deposited the same in the hands of George Urquhart, procurator-fiscal, where it remains. The bailie decrees the said boll of malt and sack belong to Thomas Hay, tacksman of the Miln of Turriff. The horse to be returned on payment of 10s stg. (The fines are mostly stiff, even if the pound Scots was but 20d stg.
Actions of lawburrows figure largely in old Scottish Court books, and we have several instances here. Breaches of peace were common, especially at markets. James Fowlie, in Bartle Chaple, and John Fowlie in Black-stocks, acknowledged that they struck John Fordyce of Gask on the face with a hazel rod in the common market of Turriff on 7th December, 1737 to the effusion of blood. They were fined £50 Scots each. The bailie, for certain reasons known to himself, compounded the fines for £18 Scots which they paid. John Fordyce acknowledges he struck John Fowlie over the head with a cane after receiving opprobrious and provoking language, and was fined £50 Scots. The bailie is to grant modification as he sees fit.
In 1738 John Gillespie, slater, was fined £50 Scots for beating Mary Panton, servant to Sylvester Keith, town clerk. Mary Panton was fined £50 Scots for striking John Gillespie with a stone, but in respect of being a woman and that no blood or bruises appeared on the body of John Gillespie, the fine is also modified to 10s stg. John Gillespie’s fine is modified to 10s stg.
John Arthur, gardener in Turriff, was charged with beating and bruising Isabell Smith when shearing upon the Fald of Darrow, but not compearing he was fined £10 Scots for contumacy.
The fines were occasionally more moderate. In 1741 William Smart in Hillhead, was fined 9d stg damages to James Innes, merchant in Turriff, for riding away one of his workhorses in a clandestine manner.
A Rowdy Town Clerk.
Sylvester Keith, the town clerk of Turriff and the ordinary clerk of this Court, was charged with having, in the house of George Urquhart, procurator fiscal, beat and bruised William Fordyce, Esq. of Culsh, in publick company, contrar to all law, good manners, and Christian way of behaviour. He was fined £50 Scots.
No reference is made in the Court Book to the Rebellion of 1745-6 but reference is sometimes made to soldiers. On 28th July 1743, several persons in a mob were accused of attacking William Elder, sergeant, and William Berry, corporal, in the Hon Major-General James St Clair’s Regiment of Foot, as they were returning home from their quarters from their duty in the market of Turriff for beating up for Volunteers to serve His Majesty.
On 23rd June 1747, compeared before the Court, Lord Adam Gordon, Captain of His Majesty’s Regiment of Foot, commanded by General John Mordant, and represented that his sergeant informed him that George Tennant assaulted one of his men when on duty in recruiting for His Majesty’s service, and rescued a young man out of his hands who had consented to serve His Majesty. George Tennant is committed to prison till he present the recruit. Tennant was afterwards liberated on payment of three guineas to Lord Adam Gordon and the jailer’s fees.
How a man confined to prison was to produce a recruit, and the ethic of Lord Adam Gordon’s perquisite of three guineas, are matters not disclosed.
Cure and Assythment.
On 9th October, 1740, John Young, soldier in Colonel Symon Dimcourie’s Regiment of Foot, was charged with drawing his shable and cutting James Skene, farmer’s son, to the effusion of blood, as the latter was going to the Castlehill on the first day (7th) of the Cowan Fair. He was fined 3s being the least that Dr John Gatherer alleges can cure his wounds, also £3, Scots in the name of assythment, also £6 Scots as a fine for his transgression, or be carried back to prison. John Young declared he was not able to pay the fines, and was willing to return to prison, when the said doctor declared he would cure the boy gratis, and James Skene’s father passed from the assythment, and the bailie discharged his fine upon condition of John Young’s good behaviour in time to come and passed the dues of Courts, except 2s stg, which John Young paid down at the bar.
No Common Fowl.
On 17th May, 1738, John Arthur, gardener, was charged with shooting a cock belonging to Slyvester Keith, town clerk, which he found in his yard throwing up some green bear. The said cock was of an uncommon kind, not an ordinary fowl. He was fined £10 Scots. He was also fined £50 Scots for bearing firearms without warrant from the Countess of Erroll.
The Bailie had sometimes to deal with more serious offences. In 1742 William Davidson was found in possession of a horse suspected to have been stolen. After public intimation was made throughout the kingdom, as also at seven or eight nearest adjacent parish churches, the horse was sold by public roup for £29 Scots. Davidson was put in the stocks in the Tolbooth, but escaped.
Margaret Noble, feuar in Turriff, being accused of child murder, and being secured in her house and put under guard, because it was not convenient to carry her to prison, considering she was but a few days brought to bed, and she having made her escape at the change of a new guard by opening the door of the house with a false key, she is declared fugitive.
An Epidemic of Wickedness.
About the year 1741, Turriff seems to have been in such a bad way that the feuars felt called upon to enter into a Bond of Association that on pain of forfeiting their feus they would let no houses to any person that could not produce certificates of moral character and show an honest way of living. The object of this course was to retrieve the hon0ur of the town and the good character of the feuars, seeing that the judgement of God which seemed to be impending, may be prevented, for the voice of Providence may be sensibly noticed by any thinking person, when two inhuman murders happened in the place within the space of ten or twelve weeks. The Bond is entered in the Court Book, in which twelve feuars have their names signed, they making their initials only, as they cannot write. The feuars are Robert Skene, Alexander Gray, George Duffus, James Innes, George Urquhart, Alexander Fyfe, John Piri, Alexander Thomson, Alexander Fenton, etc.
The bailie also prohibited the hail tenants and feuars from setting any of their houses to single unmarried women unles in the same house there is a female of good report and honest character.
A few years later, for reformation of the manners of the inhabitants, the bailie determines to put in execution the Act of Parliament against swearing, that no person whatever shall swear an oath from and after the date of these presents. The bailie is likewise informed of the common practice of the merchants of Turriff selling and retailing goods on the Saboth day, which practice ought to be supprest in a Christian land. Therefore the bailie prohibits all the merchants retailing any sorts of goods except to the sick and in case of necessity, when the military is passing or repassing, under the pain of £10, etc. Not the least important duties of the Barony Court were in passing Estate Regulations.
In 1737 encouragement was given by the Barony court to the tenants to substitute stone and lime for faill walls to their dwelling houses, enacting that the tenants at removal shall have the benefit of meliorations on certain conditions. Encouragement was also given to them to fence their fields.
No person was allowed to keep horses unless they had land to support them, except some persons that were useful in providing fish, etc for the town.
The Town’s Herd.
Several regulations were made regarding herding and to prevent cattle straying on sown land. There was a town’s herd, George Anderson, by name, and his fee was paid proportionally by the twenty-four oxgates. It amounted to £7 Scots a-year or a piece of grass in the Fear (Feuar) Ward of that value, which grass in 1739 was in the hands of the possessors of eight oxgates, who thus paid to the herd 17s 6d Scots each. The grounds of the outfields being overrun with whins and heather, especially the Upper Hill Ward, the proprietor resolved to take that ward out of the township hands, but a friend of the township interposing, it was ordained by the bailie that a cow-fold be put up yearly by each plough upon the most barran of the outfields, that the heather and whins be razed by burning, and that the said field sow four bolls of oats at least, under the penalty of 10s if any persons possessing the plough that is to put up the fold that year.
The hail inhabitants in Turriff complained in 1757 against Wiliam Brands for not ringing the bell at five o’clock in the morning and nine at night. He answered that he had had no salary for two years although formerly he had the custom of the Saturday’s market and something from the town besides. The bailie finds the said custom of ringing the bell at the said hours for the profit of the inhabitants and orders that it be revived and continued in all time coming, and fix William Brand’s salary at 15s stg yearly, to be levied of the hail inhabitants.
In 1741 the bailie passed an Act anent the weight of butter. Being informed that it had been for some time past the common practice in Turriff to sell butter, cheese, and tallow 10 ounces to the pound, or 10 pounds to the stone avoir, weight, to the great loss of the inhabitants, the bailie ordains that henceforth they be sold at a rate of 14 ounces to the pound and 14 pounds to the stone, conform to the weight lately regulated by the Dean of Guild of Aberdeen.
No Room in the Kirk
The last entry in the book is of date 30th January 1748, where, on the complaint of Sylvester Keith, tacksman of the Mill of Ashogle, and others, that they had no room within the choir of the kirk of Turriff, which properly belongs to the Countess of Erroll, but which is possessed in a great measure by those that have no right, the bailie apportions seats to the complainers and ordains those having no right to remove their desks against Whitsunday, with certification if they are not then removed that the bailie will order to turn them out of the choir.
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