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!

Sandi Thom

Alexandria Thom, better known as ‘Sandi Thom’, born and raised in Banff, became widely known in 2006 after her debut single, “I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker (With Flowers in My Hair)”, topped the UK Singles Chart in June of that year.  Surely you remember?

I was born too late into a world that doesn’t care
Oh, I wish I was a punk rocker with flowers in my hair

In 2004, Thom moved to London, initially, to pursue a song writing career, that soon turned into a performing one.  She signed a record contract with the record label Viking Legacy, where her mother was director.  The label released her début single, “I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker (With Flowers in My Hair)” in late 2005, but it did not attract attention.

In early 2006, Sandi Thom decided, instead of endlessly driving to small venues around the country, she would publicise herself via a series of 21 shows to be performed every other night from the basement of her Tooting flat in South London. Being a small flat, the audience was in single figures.  The trick was to video the half-hour shows and broadcast them free of charge via her website.  By the middle of the second week, she had a peak audience of 70,000 online, had become an internet sensation, was given a major record deal and soon after topped the charts with her 2005 single.

People were amazed to think that there could have been punks in Banff.  Nonetheless a few had been spotted, but none with flowers in their hair. 

Since then the sun has set on Sandi’s UK chart career, but the star has risen to a performing career far from Banff.  Where, you ask, would a Banffer replicate Banff’s resplendent sea and sand.  Would you believe Bahrain?

Before 1849 there were no public holidays in Banff, but one day in the year was certainly different.  The 6th of October was the Earl Fife’s birthday – I mean James, the fourth Earl. The festivities usually began by the arrival of the different coaches running to and from the burgh in Low Street, gaily decorated with flowers, like dahlias, hollyhocks and asters. The Aberdeen and Elgin coaches, in particular, vied with each other which would be most artistic. Imagine one with an iron-work foundation, rising into a crown on top, all a mass of colours. (As an aside, the poor passengers were rather bothered by earwigs).  After discharging their passengers the coaches were driven down to Duff House for inspection by the Earl, who appeared on the balcony, and would tip the drivers and the guards. The loons of Banff went along too, for the schoolboys always got a holiday upon the 6th of October. No sooner had the coaches cleared off from before the house than the Earl called the boys to the front, and, telling them to look out, showered amongst them handfuls of silver, great and small. The old man, in his flowered blue silk dressing-gown reaching his feet, and in his velvet skull-cap, used to laugh heartily over the squirming mass of humanity rolling and clutching at the cash.

The next part of the day’s proceedings caused criticism as Scotland became more Victorian. At one o’clock in the afternoon large casks of porter were set up under the care of his lordship’s servants at different points in the burgh—notably the Battery Green, North Castle Street, the Gallowhill, the Greystone, the Back Path, Low Street, Low Shore, and the Green Banks or Old Market Place. You can imagine the clamouring, thirsty crowd hovering about with mugs, jugs, and vessels of all shapes and sizes, eagerly waiting their turn at the tap.

At one o’clock in the afternoon within the Hotel a goodly number of the professional men, farmers in the neighbourhood, and master tradesmen of the burgh assembled to eat an excellent dinner and drink long life to the noble Earl. There also his lordship’s kindly thought came in, for he invariably sent to the Hotel a quantity of game and an ample supply of port and sherry from his own cellar for the use of the company.

The day’s proceedings were wound up with a mighty bonfire on the top of the Hill of Doune, a ball in the County Hall, to which the Earl also sent an unstinted supply of wines, including champagne, not so common then as it was later, while another ball for the benefit of his servants and work-people was held at the barnyards, within the demesne.

This story comes, almost word for word, from Mr Hossack’s memories fifty years later, as he recounted it to the Banffshire Field Club in 1900.

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.

Portrait of George Robinson

In 1817 George Robinson, the greatest of Banff’s Provosts, after 34 years of running the town’s affairs, presented the Head Court with a statement of what had been achieved in that time. It was an impressive list, and what was more, everything was costed, and the town was still solvent. 

Not everything had been plain sailing. His first move in 1785 had been to arrange for Banff to have its own Customs House, because until then every boat had to send an officer overland to Aberdeen to get the paperwork signed (that meant an overnight stay in those days). This excellent move was thwarted because Banff had two rival earls, each of whom wanted the right to appoint the local exciseman, and we had to wait till these two earls were dead in 1807 to find a compromise, and get our own Customs House. 

Other reforms came more easily. There was a new east quay at the harbour, a grand new parish church, new meal houses in the (Old) Market Place, and a new town house and jail. There were new turnpike roads, and the new entry to the town along Bridge Street. There was a new water supply for Banff. They put a new upper storey on the Academy, doubling its size. After the high tides of 1807, which washed away the shingle bar across the river mouth (it came back) there were new sea defences on Low Shore. Also money was laid out to bribe fishermen with boats and free houses, so that they would settle in Banff, hence the Seatown, as Banff became a fishing port. By matching funding, the Council had got a major public grant to enlarge the harbour further.   

Almost all of this had gone through on the nod. The Deacons of the Incorporated Trades would sometimes look at the accounts, hoping to save public money. Provost Robinson had found himself again and again defending the meagre pay given to the schoolteachers. As he said in his statement, “To that system which prevails in Scotland, and by which even the most indigent may receive the benefit of a classical education, is to be ascribed the pre-eminent success of our countrymen in all parts of the world.” He was right, and he had been a very effective Provost. At the north end of Low Street is the arch built for the entrance to the New Market, with his name on it.