Peter Anson sculpture, Macduff

Peter Anson came to this area in 1936, staying at 2 Braeheads Banff.  Two years later he bought and moved into 2 Low Street Macduff, known locally as ‘Harbour Head’.  Over the course of his lifetime (1889-1975) he published over thirty books, many dealing with the sea and its ships, and others focusing on his other love, the Catholic religion.  Of all his books only one could be described as a best seller, How to Draw Ships (1940).  He also produced many drawings related to the sea, some of which are on display in Banff’s Museum.

Peter Anson was born Frederick Charles Anson in Southsea on 22 August 1889, to prosperous parents. He converted to Roman Catholicism in 1913 and was received into the Third Order of the Franciscans in 1922, adopting the name Peter.  While living in Macduff he turned the loft of Harbour Head into a small sacristy, where visiting monks would say mass for visiting mariners: Peter was no longer a member of the Order. The area of the sacristy was minute and containing as it did an altar table and other religious equipment had little space for church goers, not that there were ever many. Despite the lack of church goers, Peter took satisfaction from having it known that Macduff was the only port in Scotland with a Catholic chapel set apart for mariners.

During his time in Macduff (1937-1952) Peter was acquainted with notables, such as Neil M. Gunn and Compton Mackenzie, and became involved in the early activities of Scottish nationalism.  Indeed, the Scottish Nationalist Party invited him to write a pamphlet which appeared with the title, The Scottish Fisheries: Are they Doomed? (1939). 

Peter had a great personality and had empathy for fisher folk and they for him.  There are not many public memorials in Macduff, but it comes as no surprise to find there is a sculpture in memory of Peter Anson. 

C W Cosser plans for Library and Museum Banff

While completing the paperwork to enable the Museum of Banff to be involved in this year’s Doors Open Day, the name of the architect of the Banff Library and Museum emerged, one C. W. Cosser, and, as it is an unusual name for Banff, I sensed a story.

Charles Walter Cossar, or more often Cosser, was indeed the architect based in Banff who designed the Banff Library building.

Charles Cosser was born in Southampton and is listed as a Bugler with the Royal Engineers in 1861. He first arrived in Banff as an engineer with the Royal Engineers in 1866, when they carried out a survey of the district. Later he retired from the army and married a local butcher’s daughter, Mary Ann Bartlett Scott, in 1870. They had four children. Unfortunately his wife died in 1874.

He was responsible for a number of projects in the local area such as adding the tower to Portsoy Parish Church in Seafield Street in 1876.

C.W. Cosser also designed alterations for Craigston Castle in 1876, alterations to the Royal Oak hotel in the 1890s, and planned the extension to Marnoch Churchyard in 1902. He also built Doctor Barclay’s house in Castle Street. He was praised for his work as an engineer in 1888 as he was responsible for planning a clean water supply for Ladysbridge, bringing it from springs on the farms of Wardend and Inchdrewer.

As well as being an architect and surveyor Charles had other roles: he was Inspector of the Poor, and people could book passages on board ships to worldwide destinations from his offices at 1 Carmelite Street.

Charles also held the role of Clerk to the Parish Council and he rented out several properties around Banff.

In his spare time, we know that he kept a garden because he was a Banff Flower Show winner in the amateur section for dessert apples – truly a man o’ pairts.

Charles Walter Cosser died in Banff in 1915, aged 70.

The famous aviation brothers were known around the world but we had our own Wright Brothers in the North East, not famous for flying but for making Threshing Mills.

William Wright trained as a millwright at Alehouseburn and aged just 23 was already making all kinds of agricultural machinery in his own business. By 1870 he had designed a traction engine which was used to power threshing machines and toured the area.

By 1888, he was producing turnip-sowing machines, manure spreaders and threshing machines.

Timber for the many machines was bought from the Cullen House annual wood sale and the business continued to grow.

In 1889 William moved his business to the Boyne Mills, outside Portsoy. This had previously been a woollen and tweed mill owned by William Walker and Co who, from 1881, sold their goods from the old U.P. church in Carmelite Street, Banff.  William Wright continued to build agricultural machinery as well as carrying out general joinery. Some of the local projects included working on the new United Free Church at Cullen and at the Hay Memorial Hall in Cornhill.

William Wright died in 1902, but the business was carried on by his family. They continued to supply threshing mills all over the country, from Perthshire northwards. Farms where the threshing mills were installed included Mains of Skeith, and Fiskaidly locally. When the threshing mill was installed at Fiskaidly a large company of friends and neighbours were invited to inspect the new buildings and machinery. This was followed by supper and dancing with songs sung in the intervals.

In 1909, “an interested company met at the Home Farm of Sir George Abercromby of Forglen, to witness the installation of a threshing plant of the most improved type” (a Wright Brothers installation)

By the mid 1950s the demand for threshing mills had declined and the business disappeared over time.

Wright Brothers’ threshing mills can still be seen at agricultural shows.

The Banff aisle, in the old kirkyard of Banff

For centuries the Ogilvies were the top local family round Banff. We have Airlie Gardens, because the head of the Ogilvie family is the Earl of Airlie. The Ogilvies of Dunlugas, which is a little way up the Deveron, were cousins to the earl, and they dominated the town. Walter Ogilvie, and his son George, were Provosts of Banff for life. George married a daughter of Lord Seton. Mary, another of the Seton girls, was a lady-in-waiting to Mary Queen of Scots, one of the Queen’s four Maries.  His son Walter married an Urquhart of Cromarty (that’s the family at Craigston Castle) and was the first to call himself Ogilvie of Banff, instead of Ogilvie of Dunlugas. And we are talking about his eldest son George, first Lord Banff.

George Ogilvie was something of a thug. At the entrance to the old graveyard of Banff you can see the monument to Provost Douglas. In 1627 George was ‘put to the horn’ for threatening Douglas, and it is not terribly surprising that when Provost Douglas was actually murdered years later, the murderer was never found.  In 1628 somehow George got off with a fine for the confessed murder of his cousin James Ogilvie. In 1629 he was committed to Edinburgh Castle for brawling in Edinburgh, and he definitely had a hand in the terrible burning of the castle at Frendraught. (There is a famous ballad about this crime). What a record for a Provost of Banff!

Then came war between Royalists and Covenanters, and George, by now elderly, fought on the King’s side. In consequence General Monro, on the other side, sacked Banff. He destroyed George Ogilvie’s house, the Palace of Banff. In those days in Scotland the word ‘palace’ was used for a big house. It was the grandest house for many miles around, and stood on the corner of Low Street and Carmelite Street, where the Town House is now. All the trees in the orchard were chopped down. As King Charles I said “It was a cruel thing to fall upon the garden … it had neither done evil nor could hurt them.”  Apparently the people of Banff joined heartily in the looting of the Palace. Of course a few years later there came the Restoration in 1660, and George Ogilvie was compensated for his losses with a peerage, the first Lord Banff. He died in 1663. There used once to be a portrait of him in Cullen House: “an old Lord Banff, aged 90, with a long white square beard, who is said to have incurred the censure of the Church, at that age, for his gallantries!”  One source says he lived to be 105.

It is a real achievement to raise a regiment. We all remember how the Duchess Jean raised the Gordons by giving a kiss to each recruit, with the king’s shilling between her teeth. Here is the story of a native of Banff who raised a regiment. His name was Sir John Bury Gordon (1781-1835) and the regiment he raised was the 30th Royal Lancers (Gordon’s Horse).

Sir John was a hereditary baronet, a Gordon of Park. The fine Castle of Park is still there, beside Cornhill, a few miles inland from Banff. The family had long links with Banff. His grandfather Sir William was made a Burgess of Banff in 1730, but then he was out in the 1745 Jacobite Rising, fought at Culloden, and was very nearly captured skulking near Banff. The government troops reported that a man identified as him had galloped off up a hill, and those pursuing him got bogged down, and he got away because he knew the country and they didn’t.

His young wife Janet (we have a picture of her in the Museum of Banff) was a daughter of Lord Braco, who became first Earl Fife. One story says the two of them eloped. A Jacobite son-in-law was rather an embarrassment in 1746, but Sir William escaped to the continent, and we find he was recognised as nobility in the peerage of Hungary. He had handed over his castle to his half-brother, Captain Gordon of the Marines, so it was not forfeited, but however, as Sir William’s children were born overseas – the brave Janet joined him – they were not entitled to inherit a Scottish estate ‘as natural subjects of the French king’. In any case, Captain Gordon was determined not to give it back. Our Sir John was born in Banff because the other side of the family kept the castle. His father was a professional soldier, an excellent man except when drunk, and was killed fighting in India a few months before our Sir John was born. There was a surge of sympathy for the young widow with her fatherless child, and money was found. And when he was 14 Earl Fife, who was after all related, got him an ensigncy in the Coldstream Guards, and the rest of his life he was a soldier.

Sir John spent the last 23 years of his life at Madras, and there he raised his regiment. It was in fact part of the private army of the fabulously rich Nizam of Hyderabad, but there was status involved in being a British regiment, raised by a British officer.

Sir John was the last of the hereditary baronets of Park. He married the daughter of an Anglican cathedral dean, but she fell in love with another man, and Sir John divorced her. Her son by her new husband became Speaker of the House of Commons. Sir John remarried, but there were no children.

The 30th Royal Lancers (Gordon’s Horse) fought in the First World War. There is a picture of the Lancers’ last charge – perhaps not these particular Lancers – but there was no real call for cavalry in the trenches. 

Black and white image of a colour painting of a sitting lady holding some flowers

At the eastern end of the Mausoleum in Wrack Woods is a memorial to William Duff and his second wife, Jean (or sometimes Jane) Grant, his “Datie”, who he married in 1723 when she was just eighteen.  His first wife, Lady Janet Ogilvie, unfortunately had died aged just 25 on Christmas Day 1720 after just a year of marriage (her memorial is also in the Mausoleum).  William and Jean were originally buried at Rothiemay but were later re-interred by the 2nd Earl.

As below, their fourteen children experienced mixed fortunes:

Their first son was born in 1724 (when William was 27 years old and Jean was 19), and, as was tradition, he was also called William.  From the evidence of several letters the younger William was mostly always “unhappy”, prone to “drinking and idleness”.  He had Jacobite sympathies and lived in London with the support of his parents; he seems to have had no profession and never took part in public life.  He died in ill-health in 1753.

Two daughters followed, Anne in 1725 and Janet in 1727.  At the ages of 14 and 12 respectively while ‘passing the season’ with their father in Edinburgh both caught smallpox quite badly.   Anne, although scarred, married her cousin, Alexander Duff of Hatton and lived until she was 80.  Janet was described by her father as a “very thoughtless and imprudent girl”, perhaps because she married a Jacobite and then followed him into exile in north-eastern France.  After her husband’s death she seems to have been forgiven by her parents, and had five years of happy married life with George Hay from Mountblairy (between Banff and Turriff), passing away in 1758 from general ill health.

James was born in 1729, later becoming the 2nd Earl Fife; followed two years later by Alexander, later the 3rd Earl Fife.

The sixth child, Jane, came next in 1732.  The Aberdeen Journal says she was “an agreeable young lady”.  She married William Urquhart of Meldrum at age 21, but died relatively early in 1776.

The fourth son, George, was born in 1736 and was well educated in St Andrews, but had to hastily marry in 1756; they lived in London.  Unfortunately it seems George’s first son, James, was placed in a private asylum under a false name, which only came to light more than 60 years later.  George’s brothers complained about his want of friendliness and sociability!  George died in 1818.

Five more children followed annually thereafter: Lewis in 1737, then Patrick, Helen, Sophia and Catherine.  Lewis was initially in the army, serving in Canada and America but disliked it even though his long-suffering wife travelled with him.  He later built what is now known as Blervie House near Forres.  Patrick died shortly after birth.  Helen married Admiral Robert Duff but died in Gibraltar when only 39.  Sophia lived until she was 77, as the third wife of Thomas Wharton, Commissioner of Excise, who her mother describes as having “so many whims of his own, without considering Sophia”!  Catherine seemingly didn’t marry and hardly left home, dying in ill health at just 24.

The seventh and youngest son was Arthur who came along in 1740.  He seems to have been everyone’s favourite, of an exceptionally sweet nature, with his father perpetually calling him “my Attie”.  He became an advocate and reportedly a very diligent MP in London.  He lived until 1805; not all available lists have him as buried in the Duff Mausoleum.

The last child was Margaret, born 1745, eloped in 1767 with an almost penniless Brodie of Brodie.  She died in 1787 when her nightdress was caught light from the fire.

The father, William Duff, made Earl Fife in 1759, died in 1763.  Jean Grant remarkably lived until she was 83, dying in 1788, quite some feat having given birth to 14 children!

Black and white image of part of a plan of Duff House showing one of the proposed - but unbuilt - wings.

There are at least two meanings of the word “Library”.  The first meaning is a room where books are kept.  At Duff House there were very grand plans for what would have been a truly wonderful library space.  The East wing, part of the original William Adam design, was to have it’s whole top floor, 80 feet by 60 feet, designated as the Library.  Of course this was never built due to the dispute between William Adam and his client, William Duff, who later became the 1st Earl Fife – who never lived at Duff House anyway!

The 2nd Earl Fife, James, was however clearly – from references in his letters many of which still exist – a very well read gentleman, and he designated what we know today as the Long Gallery in Duff House to be his Library.  He certainly tried to look after his book collection and, for example, in February 1789 he instructed that the windows and bookcases be thrown open, and his large books of prints laid out for airing.  The 4th Earl was an equally avid book collector and by the end of the 19th century the Duff House Library held 15,000 volumes.

Today, the designated “Library” is two rooms on the second floor, which contains a number of glass fronted bookcases with a very fine collection within them – but not the original Duff Library!  This is because the 1st Duke of Fife gave Duff House and it’s estate to the people of Banff and Macduff in 1907 and the collection of books was taken out of the House.  When the restoration, completed in 1995, was being planned Duff House was very fortunate to get permission from the Dunimarle Trustees to allow it’s collection of furniture, artefacts and books to be installed.

The Dunimarle Library – now stored in various places in Duff House – has over 4,500 volumes collected by members of the Erskine family from Torrie House in Fife.  The Erskines thrived at much the same time as the Duffs and shared many parallels; this even extended to their names, such as William and James!  Both families were avid collectors, of artefacts, paintings and books.  The subjects covered by the Dunimarle Library are similar to those known to have been in the original Duff House Library, classics, history, geography, news, law, economics, heraldry, travel; typical subjects for serious libraries of the 18th and 19th centuries to include.  One clear – and interesting – difference was that the original Duff House Library included many Spanish books – because of the 4th Earl Fife’s travel there; and the Dunimarle family library instead has a major section on India and the far east because of John the 4th Baronet of Torrie.

Some of the key books were, perhaps not unexpectedly, the same in both Libraries.  A 17th century Bible, Hume’s 1786 History of England, 18th century works of Shakespeare, Bartolozzi engravings.  While enquiries continue for a complete list of the original Duff House collection, the Friends of Duff House many years ago completed a full catalogue of the Dunimarle Library – which can be viewed in the Study inside the House (once it re-opens) and which it is hoped will go on-line in the future.  Meanwhile all 929 Dunimarle Library books published in the British Isles before 1801 are listed on the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC). 

Land Yacht Wanderer

It is only a small exaggeration to say the Banff’s caravan parks owe their existence to one Dr William Gordon Stables, born in 1837 at nearby Aberchirder, or Foggie as it is called locally. Dr Stables had a career as a surgeon in the Royal Navy and when retired wrote over 100 books, mainly tales of imperial derring-do for children, to supplement his pension.

A fortuitous encounter with a gypsy encampment changed his dream of owning an ocean-going yacht into commissioning a Land Yacht.  And what a yacht it turned out to be – the world’s first purpose-built leisure caravan?  Measuring some 18 feet long, 6 feet 7 inches wide and a maximum of 10 feet 8 inches high, the Land Yacht Wanderer, built of mahogany, weighed about two tons.  It was pulled by two large horses and came with all mod-cons for the time: a valet, coachman, dog, cockatoo, and a china cabinet.  The caravan’s security system consisted of Dr Stables’ ‘Navy cutlass and a good revolver’.

In 1885 The Wanderer embarked on a 1300-mile journey around Britain subsequently written up and published in 1886 as, The Cruise of the Land Yacht ‘Wanderer’ – the first caravan holiday guide book?  It must have been quite the spectacle trundling through towns and villages, particularly as Dr Stables cut such a fine figure of a man in his Highland dress. His fame was such that in 1907 he was elected Vice President of the Caravan Club despite not being a member or ever attending a meeting.

There is no doubt that Dr Stables would have delighted in any one of Banff’s caravan sites.  On a visit here he commented, ‘I have discovered Banff … it is by far and away the most delightful town on the coast. … the scenery all around would delight the eyes of poet or artist.’  Fine praise indeed from our gentleman gypsy.

Portrait of James Grant, 1789 - 1858

James Grant, (1789-1858), born at Banff made a name for himself as a soldier, administrator and historian in India with the East India Company.  He first arrived in India as a cadet at the age of sixteen. Graduating from the cadet academy he distinguished himself in many military campaigns while also mastering the Marathi, Urdu, and Persian languages. In 1818 he was appointed to the important office of Resident of Satara State.

In office, a great deal of Grant’s time was spent in adjudicating the claims of his officers for booty during battles and prize claims in the aftermath of battles.  As can be imagined there was fierce competition among officers for prize as, Henry Dundas Robertson, his fellow administrator and Scot wrote, ‘Treasure-hunting does indeed make men keen.’  To distinguish between actual looting and suspected booty Grant constantly consulted Maratha manuscripts. From his research in the primary materials, it was but a short step to historical scholarship.

In 1820 he began work on the first volume of his History of the Marattas, which eventually went to three volumes.  Grant’s history feels quite modern in its use of primary documents (state papers, family and temple archives, and personal contacts with the Maratha chiefs) and its appreciation of the material culture of the Maratha, particularly that of their weaponry. The complete history was published in 1826.

He left India in 1825, married and soon after he succeeded to the estate of Eden and with it to the Duff name. He spent his time there improving the property and helping in the development of short horned cattle. In 1850 his wife, Jane Catharine, succeeded to an estate in Fifeshire belonging to her mother’s family, and James became James Grant Duff Cuninghame. 

Black and white photo of the Duke in uniform and the Princess Louise

The sixth Earl Fife, Alexander, by 1883 was the third largest landholder in Scotland.  The 1880s was the time of the Great Depression of British agriculture, following a fall in grain prices with the opening up of the American prairies after their civil war, and the development of cheap shipping on the new steam driven ships.  Alexander treated his tenants with every consideration, and started a policy of selling small holdings to the occupying tenants.  At a meeting in Banff in 1890 he explained his theory:

“there should be a considerable number of small estates side by side with larger ones, which will not only tend to create an element of greater stability in the country, but also do away with the idea which once prevailed, that land is the peculiar appanage of one class, instead of being, as it should be, a purchasable commodity within the reach of all”.

And so he lived up to his theory.  He sold numerous smallholdings generally to their existing tenants, but also sold off some of the larger estates.  A few – certainly not all – of these are listed below; places many people will know or at least heard of:

Skene – the gatehouse and House you see as you drive west from Westhill – leased then sold to the Hamilton family;

Innes – the House and estate between Spey Bay and Lossiemouth, now a wedding venue, sold to the Tennant family who’s fifth generation still own and care for it;

Rothiemay – to the Forbes, who made many improvements; but after several sales the house cum castle was demolished in 1964;

Auchintoul – near Aberchirder – originally owned by Alexander Gordon who founded the town as Foggieloan;

Glenbuchat Castle and Estate – to the Barclays.  The Castle itself is now in Historic Scotland care and some of the estate is owned by a foreign company;

Eden – south of Banff on the east side of River Deveron; a ruined castle with the estate sold off in parts;

Glenrinnes – southwest of Dufftown – now with a successful distillery;

Aberlour – again in the heart of whisky country;

Blairmore – near Glass west of Huntly; the House used to be a private school, now home to a Christian organisation.

And locally of course, the 6th Earl Fife, who was made the 1st Duke of Fife, stuck to his stated theory when in 1907 he left the Duff House estate to the people of Banff and Macduff, and hence as part of the Common Good, now in the care of Aberdeenshire Council!