Colour image of a painting showing a distinguished grey haired man.

The Banffshire Journal was founded in 1845 but it’s first Editor, James Thomson, lasted only little more than a year.  For the next six decades Alexander Ramsay was the Editor, initially appointed when he was just 25.  He had served an apprenticeship in Edinburgh – since the age of 13 – then worked in London, before coming to Banff in early 1847.

50 years into his job he told friends at his Jubilee, “Since the day I first entered the Town, I have never ceased to take a lively interest in its affairs.  On nearing the east end of the Bridge, and looking out of the window of the coach, I saw the fair prospect of the Town resting on the slope of the hill, the river in the foreground, the sea to the right, the valley of the Deveron stretching southwards. I felt that I could live in this place.  I have been so engrossed I work ever since that I had no time to think of a change.”

He started the regime of printing on Mondays for distribution on Tuesdays, and also appointed a correspondent in every parish, who weekly reported their local news to him.  He made sure the paper covered not just local subjects, but everything he could think of interest to his readers.  His political editorials tried to be balanced, which must have resulted in some discussion since his controlling shareholders were two Tories, the Earl of Fife and the Earl of Seafield!

He had many interests outside of the Journal itself.  He purchased the copyright of the Polled Cattle Herd Book (“polled cattle” are those cattle breeds that naturally have no horns, such as Angus and Galloway) and published many editions, remaining it’s editor until 1901.  At times he was also a Town Councillor, was Provost for two years, Chairman of the Parish Church Musical Association, and an Elder of the Church.  Other posts he held were on the Banff School Board and Chair of the Banffshire Field Club.

There was a large gathering for his Jubilee in 1897; at least 150 polled cattle farmers and many friends gathered in the Banff Council Chambers.  One of the things he was presented with was his portrait, painted by Marjorie Evans, herself a grand-daughter of a Provost of Banff.

Dr Ramsay passed away in 1909.

Thomas Edward gravestone
General view of Banff Cemetery

There are two graveyards in Banff, the old one down by the sea, and the new one up on the hill. St Mary’s Kirkyard, round the ruins of the old parish church, is very historic, and the Banff Preservation and Heritage Society has brought out books listing and describing the graves. But for a long time now, the people of Banff have been buried in Banff Cemetery up on the hill.

The old kirkyard was overfull. There were too many visible bones. In Victorian Scotland it was clear that cemeteries should be spacious, well-drained, preferably windswept, outside the town, and discreetly expressing a well-ordered society. Along the avenues would be the conspicuous tombs of the great and the good, and in behind rows of smaller gravestones, and away in a corner somewhere for those who didn’t have gravestones at all. Banff got the whole package. “It is more than 5 acres in extent, and is laid out with great taste. The cost of the whole has been about £2700”. The newspaper had a plan of the layout, but admitted that in order to fit in with the shape of newspaper columns, they had made the triangle to the north a rectangle, and that might be misleading.

The first interment in the new cemetery was on 24th July 1862. That did not mean the old kirkyard was closed. After all widows might expect to be buried with their husbands, and so on. After the novelty wore off, rather too many preferred the old familiar place. There was a worry that the old kirkyard would become a slum, like some of the buildings around it, and in 1867 Miss Strachan of Cortes gave £50 for new railings for the old kirkyard. She herself was buried there, in one of the grandest Victorian monuments in the old kirkyard. The Victorians were really willing to spend money on graveyard monuments, and the new cemetery has some very fine stones.

Kirkyards, as the name tells us, used to be around churches. Cemeteries are not. Scotland was divided religiously, and no one church had a right to the cemetery. When in 1862, the Bishop of Aberdeen instituted a new Rector in St Andrew’s Church in Banff, he and the other clergy present went up the hill and consecrated the new cemetery. Episcopalians like blessing buildings and places. Probably most people thought it could do no harm, but the Free Church was very annoyed. The grave of Thomas Edward, the Banff Naturalist is in Banff Cemetery, and so are the Commonwealth War Graves from the Second World War.