Part 1 of 2

James Duff – the future 4th Earl Fife – was born in Aberdeen on 6th October 1776 to Alexander, younger brother to James Duff 2nd Earl Fife, and Mary Skene of Skene.  The older James, at this stage, realised he probably wouldn’t have a direct heir, and was also somewhat critical of his brother as being “weak”; also his sister-in-law had been described as having “moral laxity and emotional instability”  So from the age of 6 our future hero was brought up in Duff House under the care of his uncle, to be groomed as the future Earl Fife.  He went to the renowned Dr Chapman’s school at Inchdrewer, and then in 1789 to Westminster School, before going in 1794 to Christchurch, Oxford.  However he soon became a student at Lincoln’s Inn and received legal training for three years, which would stand him in good stead in later life.

By 1793 his uncle had described “Jamie” as much “improved”, with “really good principles, and temper, with every prospect of application and good parts”.  He had an aptitude for languages, learnt Latin and Greek, and frequently visited the Houses of Lords and Commons.  He learnt the style and manner of great public speaking.  In 1794 Jamie abandoned his legal studies in London and joined the Allied army on the Continent, fighting against the French Republic.  He was present at the Congress of Rastatt, trying to resolve the French occupation of the left bank of the Rhine – until the French resumed fighting in 1799.

Jamie returned to London and on 9th Sept 1799 married Maria Caroline Manners.  This was most definitely a love match; the couple enjoyed society living in London and Edinburgh while also spending some time at Duff House.  He was appointed to the command of the Banff and Inverness Militia, and he reportedly much improved their discipline.

During a stay in Edinburgh on his militia duties, his wife was scratched on the nose by her pet Newfoundland dog.  Not much notice was taken of this incident, perhaps because rabies was only just starting to become known; not even when the dog became bad tempered and bit a groom; the dog was then put down.  Within a month however Maria became ill, and although the physicians realised the nature of the malady, it was too late to save her and she died on 20th December 1805 of “undoubted hydrophobia”.  She was described as “so well known and so universally esteemed” and was much mourned.

Although James was overwhelmed with grief it was several aspects of his life to date that led to the events that made him a true here.  He went back to Europe, joining a combined force of British, Swedish and Prussians, anticipating an inevitable war with Napoleon.   Looking for action he shifted to Vienna and joined the Austrian army under Archduke Charles, fighting in battles at Wertignen, Ulm, Munich and others.  Even though the French were victorious, James learnt much of military tactics.  On hearing of the disturbances in Spain he sailed from Trieste to Cadiz to assist the Spaniards against the French.   He learnt Spanish and fought with several of the Junta, but later uniting with an army under Lord Wellesley, later the 1st Duke of Wellington.

He fought at the  battle of  Talavera in which he was instrumental in moving some guns that then inflicted much damage on the French, and although wounded by a sabre cut to the neck during a counter-attack, still saved the life of a Spanish officer and led a harrying force on the fleeing enemy.

With reinforcements the French soon attacked outposts around Cadiz, and during the battle of Ocana, James was badly wounded while going to the successful aid of a beleaguered fort.  The Madrid Gazette said “Lord Macduff and Colonel Roche are the active and indefatigable agents of England with the Spanish armies.”  James received much praise and recognition, even if his name was pronounced “Maucdoov” !  He soon recovered and took an active part in many other battles. 

Meanwhile, in 1811 his father had died and James had become the 4th Earl Fife, and he prepared to head back to Scotland. Lord Wellesley presented him with a magnificent Damascus sword, ornamented with precious stones on a ground of solid gold, to mark his meritorious services.

4th Earl Fife medal as Knight of the Order of St Ferdinand (hanging on the red ribbon in the painting in Duff House)

The Cortes Generales, the Spanish Parliament, not only made him a General but also a Knight of the Order of St Ferdinand, Spain’s highest gallantry award – their equivalent to our later Victoria Cross.  On paintings of him after 1813 he is wearing this medal.

James later life and the good deeds he did around Banff and Shire are in Part 2 of his story to follow.

William Charles Dawes (1865 – 1920): there is tantalizingly little that can be said with surety about this man. Born in Surbiton, Surrey as the eldest son of four boys to Sir Edwin Sandy Dawes, a ship owner knighted for his contributions to the shipping industry and founder of the ‘Dawes Dynasty’, he will no doubt have had a privileged upbringing and enjoyed the fruits of his father’s labors. Foremost being life at Mount Ephraim, which are now ten-acre gardens open to the public.  Picture, if you will, what a delightful childhood that must have been. Consider your own, and the times in which you found yourself playing in your garden, and then transport your younger self into acres of private land characterized by their topiary, arboretum, water and rose gardens. One must wonder at the adventures these four lads undertook on hot summer days and the joy it brought them. 

Why did he dedicate a bridge so far north? To proffer a concrete answer would be speculative, but one fact that bears pointing out is that he was married to a woman called Jane Margaret Dawes nee Simpson, and that she was born 1st of september 1869 in Inverboyndie Banff. 

It may be a forgivable leap, especially for romantics among us, to suggest it was for his wife’s sake. Anything more than that with so little information on the man available and we would be venturing into conjecture, however. Perhaps the most important thing we can say about him that is not conjectural, is that he was of a noble spirit, as clearly demonstrated by his willingness to pay for the construction of a bridge at Inverboyndie at all.  

He died 20th of July, 1920 (19 days after his brother, second youngest, Col. Bethel Martyn Dawes) and is buried in the churchyard of St Michael, Hernhill, Kent, England; thirty-three years later, at the age of 84, his wife was reunited with him in eternal rest.

Low Street, Banff.  The first mention of a hotel on Low Street is 1773, when Samuel Johnson and James Boswell visited, hoping to meet with the Earl Fife, but he was not at home.  Apart from Samuel Johnson’s many literary works, it was in his Journey to the Hebrides that he recounted a story of his stay at the Black Bull Inn, and how the practice of not being able to hold windows open seemed to get him riled up!  This map of 1775 shows the layout of Low St as it must have been when Boswell and Johnson visited.

Banff 1775 excerpt

But in 1845 the Black Bull Inn was no more.  The Duffs had built a new building between 1843 and 1845 for the purpose of providing more space for visitors to Duff House; operating it as a commercial – and very successful – hotel: The Fife Arms Hotel.  This is the building that we see today – including it’s stables, but the gardens behind have since been built over.

The hotel was slowly equipped to be one of the leading hotels in the area “affording ample accommodation for all classes of travellers”.  The trade became so busy that in 1858 Mr Marshall the manager, invested in “a large number of first-class horses and new vehicles” including “Carriages, Broughams, Omnibus, Dog-Carts and Gigs” that “is not surpassed in the North”.  The cellar was stocked with first class wines and liquers of every description.  The hotel itself ran coaches to the rail stations at Huntly, Elgin, Aberdeen and Peterhead from 1858 (the Banff station didn’t open until 1859, and Banff Bridge – Macduff – 1860).  There were 39 bedrooms with a permanent staff of 16, rising in the summer to about 25.

We know the Lord Fife’s used the Fife Arms hotel from time to time, not least from a diary written and published by Elizabeth Pennell, an American authoress, who stayed there in 1888 (see separate Heritage Story).

There were gardens behind the original hotel but these were the Kitchen Gardens for Duff House.  The 1873 Gardener’s Diary makes several mentions of interaction between the gardeners and the maids at the back of the hotel!  This postcard excerpt, sent in 1913, shows some of the layout of the Duff House Kitchen Gardens behind the hotel.

Postcard sent 1913 from St Andrews steeple looking east

These gardens do not appear to have been part of the gift to the towns by the 1st Duke of Fife in 1906; the 2 acres, including a greenhouse, remained in the ownership of the hotel, and were re-laid out in 1916.   In 1919 the hotel was taken over by Trust Houses – later Trust House Forte – adding an extension at the back in 1920.  A Mrs Simpson was manager from 1923 until at least the late 1950s.  One of it’s selling points was that it also owned a stretch of the River Deveron for private fishing, much advertised in newspaper adverts around the whole of the UK.  

The gardens grew virtually all the vegetables needed by the popular hotel, as well as a flower garden, where guests could take a stroll or have wedding pictures taken.  Alexander Duncan, more commonly known as Dougan, had started work there in 1936, becoming head gardener, with his nephew as his apprentice, from 1946, taking over from Alexander Craib.  Dougan turned the garden into a prize-winning one – reported as 60 prizes in 1957; not considered bad for the most northerly garden of the Trust House network!   This photo shows the Fife Arms Hotel garden in 1957.

Fife Arms Hotel garden 1957

The hotel was closed on 29th October 1966 due to the cost it would have taken to upgrade its fittings to match modern standards.  It did open again as a hotel under private ownership, from 1968 to the early 80’s, after which from 1982 it was owned by Deveronvale Football Club to be run as their social club.  This only lasted to the mid-80s when it was sold again and was converted into flats in 1988.  The hotel gardens in 1985 became what is today mostly Airlie Gardens housing.


Connected with the above story, we thank Sonia Packer for information about her uncle Dougan:

Mentioned above as Head Gardener at the Fife Arms from 1946, is Alexander Duncan, born 1920 in Alvah, generally known as “Dougan”.  His story shows a stalwart of the town.  He started work in the gardens of the Fife Arms aged just 15 and learnt his skill from Alexander Craib who had laid out the garden for the hotel, and from whom he took over in 1946.  For at least part of the war he was in the RAF on operations on Lancasters.  This photo is Dougan in 1957 while Head Gardener at the Fife Arms Hotel.  He left in 1965 when the Hotel was destined for closure.

Alexander (Dougan) Duncan in 1957

Dougan was also a player for Deveronvale and later was the much praised groundsman at Princess Royal Park; he was awarded two testimonial matches, 1986 and 2002.  Football was not his only sport, and both he and his wife Mary (married 1950) were keen badminton players.  For his retirement in 1985 he was given a set of golf clubs by Aberdeenshire Council.  Having joined them in 1965 being responsible for all the parks and gardens in Banff, ten years later when the Council re-organised he was appointed area supervisor with the Leisure and Recreations Dept covering the area from Sandend to Rothienorman, Fyvie and Gardenstown.  He also served for 21 years as a fireman, rising to sub-officer with the Banff team, retiring in 1981 with a good conduct medal.

After he was widowed Dougan lived at Airlie Gardens – the land he used to tend – until he died in 2007 at the age of 86.

Thanks and acknowledgements for this Story go to:

Sonia Packer for her input about her uncle Dougan;

The British Newspaper Archive and D C Thomson & Co;

National Records of Scotland.