The Book of Deer page showing "ap banb" on line 14.
Book of Deer – ‘ap . banb’

King David I of Scotland, who reigned from 1124 to 1153, once held court in Banff. The monks of the Pictish abbey of Deer, over in Buchan, copied a charter from the king into the Book of Deer, and the charter says that the monks had made their case before the king at Banff. The Book of Deer still exists, so here, in 12C hand-writing, is clear evidence of a 12C king holding court in Banff.

David I was the son of King Malcolm Canmore and his wife St Margaret of Scotland. When he was nine he went to England with his sister, who married King Henry I of England. David became Earl of Huntingdon in England. Two of his older brothers were kings of Scotland before him, so we had three “sons of Margaret” on the throne. David brought Norman barons back to Scotland with him, including the families of Balliol, Bruce, and FitzAlan (later Stewart), all of whom became the royal families of Scotland in turn. King David built many monasteries, which led his descendant King James VI to call him “a sair sanct for the croun” (a sore saint for the crown). He was in fact, a good king, remembered as St David of Scotland, and his feast day is May 24. Few kings since have been considered saints.  

The picture shows King David with his grandson and successor, King Malcolm IV, and comes from a 12C charter of Kelso Abbey, which he founded. Early medieval art was not very skilled at catching a likeness. We can tell them apart because the young king Malcolm the Maiden was beardless.

We should show you the evidence that the king was in Banff. It was a royal castle. Kings would go round their castles, and they and their retainers would eat up all the food in store, and then move on to another. Other kings came here later for the same reason.

Look where the handwriting changes in the page, with a big D for David at the start of a line. Four lines down can you see ‘ap. banb’? That is ‘at Banff’.

So there we are.

The Book of Deer will be on display in Aberdeen in the summer of 2022, so you can go and see for yourself.

Agnes was a grand-daughter of King William IV, and married James Duff in 1846 while he was serving there as part of the Diplomatic Service.  She was born in 1829, and most unfortunately died in 1869 as a result of falling out of her carriage while in London.

A quote from one of the poems written after her death, demonstrates how well liked she was:

“Beloved by all, like springtide’s flowers,

Her presence did a joy impart;

In and around her princely bowers,

Her presence was a joy of heart.”

James became the fifth Earl Fife in 1857 on the death of his uncle.  During his marriage to Agnes they had six children, the last who died in infancy.  Their eldest son, Alexander, became the sixth Earl Fife, and on marrying the Princess Royal became the first Duke of Fife.

Agnes and James were quite often at Duff House.  Agnes masterminded a major decorative overhaul of Duff House, and today a room is entitled her boudoir, just off the first floor Vestibule.  Her body was brought back to Duff House where it lay in state.  The Banffshire Journal of the time says “the ceiling and wall of the room were entirely draped in black, the only relief being a wreath of white roses in the centre of the ceiling.”  Apparently “as usual”, there were three coffins; the inner being mahogany richly lined in white satin, then a lead coffin, and outside it was encased again in mahogany.  During the funeral Agnes was taken to the Mausoleum and lowered into the crypt, the “whole of the top of the coffin was covered in white camelias”. There are a number of art works of Agnes.  The newspaper reports that a beautiful bust of her was in it’s usual place in the Vestibule.  From an old low resolution photo it seems this sat alongside one of her husband, now in the Aberdeen Art Gallery; both believed to have been done by the renowned sculptor Alexander Brodie.

One of the best known paintings of Agnes was initially believed to have been done by Sir Francis Grant, but is now attributed “after” him, ie in his style.  A small photo of it hangs in the Lady Agnes Boudoir today.  One interesting aspect of this picture is the dog at her feet, believed to be Barkis.  The painting was presented to Agnes by a grateful tenant in 1863, and Barkis was born that year.  The dog is commemorated on the gravestone in Wrack Woods.

James and Agnes youngest daughter, also called Agnes, did gain some notoriety in her time.  She eloped in 1861 aged just 19, married and had a child, but was soon divorced.  Her second marriage, also by elopement, lasted four years.  Shunned by much of polite society, the younger Agnes then went to work in a London hospital, and met the eminent surgeon Sir Alfred Cooper.  One of his medical interests was venereal diseases, and a scurrilous remark that arose is reported as “Together they knew more about the private parts of the British aristocracy than any other couple in the country”!   They had four children, and they and other descendants became quite prominent in society.  The best known most recently being David Cameron, Prime Minister 2010 to 2016.

Gravestone of Alexander Irvine Ross in Portsoy
Gravestone of Alexander Irvine Ross in Portsoy

In the Museum of Banff there is a new exhibit, a map of Banff in 1826. This is a coloured map with great details of the town shown, including who owned parts of the town, at the time. Large areas of Banff were owned by the Earl of Seafield but areas were owned by organisations such as the “Gardeners Society” and “St John’s Lodge” At this time Banff is almost two separate towns – the Sea town, the area from St. Catherine Street North and the rest of the town, covering Low Street, High Street and the surrounding area. It stops short of Duff House and its grounds. This can be compared in the museum with a 1756 plan of the town and an 1823 map, by John Wood. These maps were produced by independent map makers or land surveyors, before the days of the Ordnance Survey.

The 1826 map was created by Alexander Irvine Ross, a land surveyor from Mains of Tyrie. He was involved in the production of a series of maps created by James Robertson (1783 – 1879) of the shires of Aberdeenshire, Banff and Kincardine in 1822. James Robertson was referred to as “the Shetlander who mapped Jamaica and Aberdeenshire”. Alexander Irvine Ross also produced a four sheet map covering Aberdeenshire and Banff in 1826, mentioned in the New Statistical Account, written by the Reverend Francis William Grant in 1845. This possibly refers to the maps which were published in John Thomson’s Atlas of Scotland, 1832.

The map came in to the possession of the late Bob Carter who donated it to Banff Preservation and Heritage Society. It was in poor condition and in need of conservation work. The map was cleaned and relined by the High Life Highland Conservation Service, with a grant from the Area Initiatives Fund. This meant that a unique and valuable part of Banff’s history has been preserved for future generations. The map is best viewed in person at the museum but if that’s not possible it can be seen on our website – https://www.bphsmob.org.uk/collection/various_items/1724_1826_Map.html

Mary Duff of Hatton

Mary Duff’s House, High Street, Banff

The great poet Lord Byron spent part of his childhood in Banff. His mother’s family lived here. His great-grandmother, Lady Gight, lived in rather an ugly house where the Sheriff Court now stands on Low Street. His first sweet-heart was Mary Duff, who lived on the High Street. There was a public outcry in the 1960s when that house, a really historic 17C tower house, was demolished and replaced by what is now McColl’s. It was because of that philistine decision by our local councillors that the Banff Preservation Society was founded.

Mary was a Duff of Hatton, a very prolific Duff family, cousins of the Earl Fife, and a distant cousin of Byron. She was a few months older than he was, both born in 1788, and they met at a dancing class in Aberdeen. The little boy was lame from birth, so dancing was probably purgatory. But he loved sitting billing and cooing with his pretty cousin.

We know about this because some years later, after inheriting a peerage and going to Harrow, the great English public school, Byron heard that Mary was married. He was a teenager, with his first proper girlfriend (though he said he’d had fifty) and his first proper falling-out with his girl-friend, and he felt totally betrayed. There was his childhood sweetheart, his first love, abandoning him too! It is all in his journal.  It did not help matters that his mother then told everyone she met about George’s star-crossed love with Mary Duff.  

Here is the story from Byron’s own journal. “I have been thinking lately a good deal of Mary Duff. How very odd that I should have been so utterly, devotedly fond of that girl, at an age when I could neither feel passion, nor know the meaning of the word. And the effect! My mother used always to rally me about this childish amour; and, at last, many years after, when I was sixteen, she told me one day, “Oh, Byron, I have had a letter from Edinburgh, from Miss Abercromby, and your old sweetheart Mary Duff is married to a Mr Co’e.” And what was my answer? I really cannot explain or account for my feelings at that moment; but they nearly threw me into convulsions, and alarmed my mother so much, that after I grew better, she generally avoided the subject—to me—and contented herself with telling it to all her acquaintance. Now, what could this be? I had never seen her since her mother’s faux pas at Aberdeen had been the cause of her removal to her grandmother’s at Banff; we were both the merest children. I had and have been attached fifty times since that period; yet I recollect all we said to each other, all our caresses, her features, my restlessness, sleeplessness, my tormenting my mother’s maid to write for me to her, which she at last did, to quiet me. Poor Nancy thought I was wild, and, as I could not write for myself, became my secretary. I remember, too, our walks, and the happiness of sitting by Mary, in the children’s apartment, at their house not far from the Plain-stanes at Aberdeen, while her lesser sister Helen played with the doll, and we sat gravely making love, in our way.  How the deuce did all this occur so early? where could it originate? I certainly had no sexual ideas for years afterwards; and yet my misery, my love for that girl were so violent, that I sometimes doubt if I have ever been really attached since.”

The Mr Co’e was a Robert Cockburn, from a rich family of wine-merchants in Edinburgh – yes, it’s Cockburn’s port. Mary had a happy life, and she outlived Byron by 30-odd years, to die in 1858. She comes into one of Byron’s poems too.


Byron as a boy, engraving from a painting by Kay

There are eighteen Commonwealth War Graves from the Second World War in Banff.  These are only a few of the airmen killed serving at the Boyndie base. Only those whose planes crashed in Scotland are buried in Banff. If you were shot down over the sea or over Norway there will be no grave. One of the Canadians and one of the Australians had brothers who were shot down over Europe.

One is of an unknown airman, so that is where, if we have a wreath, we lay it. Four were from England, seven from Canada, four from Australia, and two from New Zealand. One, called William Reid, was from Britain, but we don’t know where.

Of the British airmen, one was a doctor’s son from Surrey, one the son of a warden at Parkhurst prison on the Isle of Wight, and another came from Bethnal Green in London.

Two of the Australians came from neighbouring suburbs of Sydney, and one from just outside Perth in Western Australia. The other came from the outback in Queensland, a small place called Winton, where they have an annual festival because ‘Waltzing Matilda’ was first performed there.

The New Zealanders came from in or near Auckland, in the North Island, but the Canadians came from all over, from Edmonton, and Ottawa, and Saskatoon, and two from small places in the prairies. The one from Ottawa had three Christian names, Louis Eber Eldred, but apparently answered to ‘Tony’. The man from Saskatoon was not only married but had two small children, and this may explain why this is the only grave that has recent mementos from the family on it.

And then there was Ernest Raymond Davey, who came from London, Ontario, in Canada. (I think people called him ‘Bus’.) He wrote a poem, found after his death, called Extinction: the Airman’s Prayer which was put into a book. It is a serious Christian poem; at home, he was a loyal member of the Anglican Church of Canada. It is easy for us to imagine how we would like to face our death when it comes. It is different for someone who is actually facing it.

Here it is, from Soldier Poetry of the Second World War: An Anthology, ed. Jane and Walter Morgan, Presented with the permission of the Department of National Defence, Government of Canada. Oakville: Mosaic Press, 1990: 45. RPO

Almighty and all present power

Short is the prayer I make to thee;

I do not ask in battle hour

For any shield to cover me.

The vast unalterable way,

From which the stars do not depart,

May not be turned aside to stay

The bullet flying through my heart.

I ask no help to strike my foe;

I seek no petty victory here;

The enemy I hate, I know

To thee is dear.

But this I pray, be at my side,

When death is drawing through the sky;

Almighty Lord, who also died

Teach me the way that I should die.

A portrait of Cetshwayo ka Mpande by Alexander Bassano in 1882.
Cetshwayo ka Mpande by Alexander Bassano

King Cetshwayo was the last Zulu King. At the time British people spelt the name Cetewayo, but nowadays it is more likely to be Cetshwayo, closer to the actual pronunciation. After a long and brave fight by the Zulu army, the King was captured after the battle of Ulundi in 1879 by Major Richard J.C. Marter of the Kings Dragoon Guards. Colonel Harford described the moment King Cetewayo gave himself up – “the King …strode in with the aid of his long stick, with a proud and dignified air and grace, looking a magnificent specimen of his race and every inch a warrior in his grand umutcha of leopard skin and tails, with lion’s teeth and claw charms round his neck”.

Was this the same stick which was taken from him? In 1882, Mr F.C. Lucy took a collection of these valuable items back to Britain after a trip to South Africa. The list was long and included Cetewayo’s stick, 13 throwing and stabbing assagais (light spears), 3 knobkerries (clubs), clothing with bead work, 2 Kaffir pipes and 2 Zulu pipes, as well as a number of natural history objects.

These were donated to the Banff Museum by Mr Lucy of London, via his mother-in-law Mrs Ewing, who lived in St Catherine Street. The walking stick is listed as being in the museum in 1919 (Banff and District by A. Edward Mahood). After this it is difficult to track what happened to Cetewayo’s stick until it turns up in the British Museum in 1963. It is there listed as being previously owned by Cetshwayo kaMpande, Banff Museum, and from the collection of Captain A.W.F. Fuller.

Captain Fuller was referred to as “an armchair anthropologist”. He was born in Sussex and trained as a solicitor but at the outbreak of the First World War he signed up with the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and became a captain. He built up a vast collection and he refused to sell anything until shortly before his death when 6,800 items from the Pacific were sold to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. The rest of his collection was dispersed by his widow. The clue as to how Cetewayo’s stick went from the Banff Museum to Captain Fuller comes from newspaper articles which state that in 1938, the then town council, brought in Mr Kerr of the Royal Scottish Museum to assess their collection and he recommended that a large number of items from the museum should be disposed of as they were not local to Banff. Could it be that Cetewayo’s stick was sold then?

Peter Anson sculpture, Macduff (Photo/image with kind permission of Duncan Harley)

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.