Francois Thurot

From 1702 until 1815, the French and British were involved in six wars. In the wars, merchant ships suffered heavy losses off of the North East coast. The merchant ships were attacked by privateers of mainly French origin, although privateers of American and Dutch origin were active too.

Privateers were privately owned ships, commissioned by governments to attack the merchant shipping of enemy countries and disrupt their trade. The fate of ships captured by privateers varied – their cargoes and the ships themselves could be sold, refitted or burnt. Often their crews were allowed to return home. The Moray Firth was a busy shipping route at this time as ships would sail around the top of Britain to avoid trouble in the English Channel.

The most noted incident was in 1757. On the 5th of October, Francois Thurot, in command of the frigate Marischal de Belleisle and several other ships, appeared in Banff Bay, much to the distress of the people of Banff. The plan seemed to be to invade Banff, plunder and destroy it with a force of 1100 men. The people of Banff were saved though, by a storm, a gale which forced the ships to cut their cables and flee.

In 1777 the Tartar of Boston, an American privateer, captured Lord Fife’s ship – the Anne of Banff – (amongst others). Lord Fife feared he would not be safe living at Duff House “We shall be burnt and plundered”

By 1781, in response to the threat, a very fine battery of 9 eighteen pounders were erected at Banff above the high ground above Banff harbour. This is where the name Battery Green comes from. As well as this soldiers were stationed along the Moray Firth coast.

Ultimately, the focus of transport shifted from the sea to overland routes and led to the building of the first bridge at Banff.

Turnpike Trusts were established in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as a way of creating and maintaining a decent road network. The individual Trusts were established by Acts of Parliament. Turnpikes or Toll bars were points on the roads where people had to pay to use the road. The first Scottish Turnpike Act was in 1713 but it was the end of the century before turnpikes were built in Aberdeenshire and Banffshire.

There was a case for more roads. In the late 1700s, cargo ships from the Moray Firth were often attacked and captured by French privateers. For example in 1781 the “Anne” of Banff was taken by a Dunkirk privateer and Lord Fife lost many possessions. As the seas were so dangerous there was a great need for an alternative and safer travel route.

Also agriculture and industry saw considerable developments during this period so roads were needed to transport goods being produced.

In 1796, the road from Aberdeen was surveyed and planned, allowing an estimate to be drawn up. In 1800 a general meeting was held in Banff because the road from Turriff to Banff was so bad that no one would carry the mail on the road without extra payments being made to them. The great Provost George Robinson obtained the necessary permissions to have the road built and in 1801, Thomas Shier was appointed as the road overseer as he had surveyed the route.

It all took time. In 1802 the first eleven miles of turnpike road between Banff and Turriff was complete. In 1804 the Head Court of Banff “authorize[d] the Magistrates to subscribe £500 to the construction of a turnpike road from the Harbour of Banff southward to Huntly by Inverkeithny and Marnoch.”

In 1804 “the Provost is authorized to subscribe a sum not exceeding £300 towards making a direct communication to Keith by a turnpike road from Cott-town of Ordens to the place where it will join the Portsoy turnpike, near the Kirk of Ordiquhill.”

Four turnpike roads led out from Banff – to Boyndie, Turriff, Buchan and Marnoch. Many of the toll houses can still be seen around the area, normally altered to suit the needs of today. The nearest example to Banff is the Toll house just South of the Gellymill. The first toll house was built in 1802 “where the Turriff turnpike intersects the Macduff road below Myrehouse”. It was made of turf and the keeper, John Morrison, was paid 1/- for each day. This was replaced by the permanent house “immediately below the Gellymill”.

By 1808 the system of toll roads inland from Banff was complete. Everyone was to pay the tolls except for soldiers and their carriages ‘on the King’s business’ who would be exempt.

By 1809 the demand by the military for a decent road through Banff to Fort George from Aberdeen reduced as other, shorter routes from Fort George south had opened up and the route along the Moray Firth coast was no longer so well used.


Part of a map from Taylor and Skinner’s Atlas – 1776

Aberdeenshire council fills 31.000 potholes in three years. On reading Dr James McIntosh’s thesis “Roads in the Vale of Deveron from 1750 to 1850” I realised that the state of the roads has always been an issue.

As early as 1555, the need for road maintenance was recognised – highways connecting market towns and ports should be “observit and keepit”. In 1718 early Road Acts identified seaports, market towns, parish kirks, noblemen’s houses and bridges as important points to keep well connected. In this area Banff and Portsoy were the main ports for general cargoes and Down (later Macduff) and Gardenstown were well established fishing villages.

In Banffshire, in common with other areas, prior to the 1700s the roads were narrow tracks, along which most people walked and only the well-to-do rode on horseback. The Inverness to Aberdeen road which came through Banff was referred to as a currach road, one suitable for horses laden with creels or currachs.

In the mid-1700s, the roads were in a terrible state, most of them turning to mud when it rained. Cumberland’s troops had difficulties on the way to Culloden, “getting cannon and heavier accoutrements across the Howe of Castleton”. One of the common complaints was that tenants with arable land on both sides of a road would plough right across the road.

Road repairs were undertaken by parishioners who in Banffshire were required to work on the roads for six days per year from 6am to 6pm, with two hours recess in the middle of the day. In 1769, all men aged from 15 to 70 had to take part. Notices telling people when they were needed were issued by the Sheriff and Justices who met in May and decided on the repairs and improvements needed and a District Convener organised the work – in the Banff District this role was carried out, from 1774 to 1795, by William Rose, factor to Lord Fife. The announcements of where and when people were required were read out at the Kirk on a Sunday. If people refused they were ordered to pay 18d a day and if they didn’t pay, a Constable with a warrant would go to their homes and remove objects up to the value of the money they owed.

After Culloden, the need for decent roads grew, for ease of the military moving around the country and also for the growing trade taking place, for example the linen manufacture around Banff.

In 1776, G. Taylor and A. Skinner created Scotland’s first road atlas. This was designed for the growing number of travellers and could be folded to make it easy to carry. These show the main roads around Scotland in narrow strips, three to a page. The road we are interested in is the one from Edinburgh to Inverness via Banff. https://maps.nls.uk/view/74400384

This is one of my favourite places. It is beautiful of course and it has seen so many wondrous, historically important and sometimes terrible things. There are stone circles and Bronze Age cairns dotted around the countryside. There have been people here for a very long time indeed.

The Celtic Mormaers, it is thought, ruled this land for centuries from here, the principal seat. Bede Cruithnech, the Pict, the first Buchan man mentioned in history, lived here, and listened to St Drostan’s words about 520 AD. It is a formidable defensive location ideal for a castle, and so enter the Norman barons, the Comyns. Like so many other Norman nobles, the St Clairs or Sinclairs, Meldrums and Cheynes were invited to settle in the North East of Scotland by King David I. The King was enamoured with the feudal system and wanted to subjugate the Celtic folk.

Margaret, the only child of Fergus, the last Mormaer of Buchan, married William Comyn who became the first Scoto-Norman Earl of Buchan and he built a Norman keep right there in the 12th century.

The Comyns ruled Buchan from here for more than 100 years and played a very important role in the history of Scotland. After the death of the Maid of Norway, John Comyn and his cousin the Lord of Badenoch, the Black Comyn, were among the thirteen barons who could lay some possible claim to the throne of Scotland. But King Edward I of England had a desire to make Scotland a part of England. The Black Comyn died and his son the Red Comyn took over his claim.

Lots of battles and events preceded this but Edward invaded Scotland in 1296 and on July the 23rd 1296 King Edward I of England and his entire northern army came from Turriff to King Edward Castle to be entertained by John Comyn before moving on to Banff.

Edward invaded Scotland again in 1303 and marched through Buchan from Aberdeen and arrived in Banff on the 4th of September. The son of the Red Comyn who was one of the chosen Regents of Scotland fought a guerrilla war against Edward I of England, alongside William Wallace and Simon Fraser. He was famously slain by Robert the Bruce after a quarrel before the high altar of the church of the Minorite Friars in Dumfries. Bruce stabbed his rival because he believed Comyn had passed secrets to Edward.

John Comyn, the Earl of Buchan, and cousin to the Red Comyn, was now one of Robert the Bruce’s most deadly enemies and the most powerful noble of his time. He held court here in Kynedor Castle.

Bruce fled to Norway and came back to Scotland in the spring of 1307 and then the tide of battle turned in his favour. Bruce, a general of consummate ability, gained victory after victory in decisive battles, several of them near here, such as at Aikey Brae, Bruce Hill, Slains and the battle of Barra in the parish of Bourtie less than a mile from Oldmeldrum.

To make certain there would never be opposition again from such a powerful baron, Robert the Bruce wreaked a terrible vengeance on the people of Buchan. All Buchan was devastated including Kynedor Castle. Robert the Bruce is known by a few names but the Scottish hero is also called ‘the Bane of Buchan’.

My personal favourite character and hero for me is Isabella, the sister of Duncan, the Earl of Fife of the old line of Macduff, who was married to the Earl of Buchan, John Comyn. The right of crowning the Scottish Kings being hereditary to the family of Macduff, Isabella claimed this right. She, along with a body of retainers mounted on her husband’s war horses, arrived two days late for the ceremony at Scone. Because of her loyalty she was given the opportunity of again placing the Crown on Bruce’s head. Isabella was captured by the English and imprisoned, on orders from King Edward, in a wicker cage at Berwick Castle where she languished for 7 years, known as the ‘caged lady of Buchan’.

It is hard to imagine what King Edward would look like today if the events I have just described had turned out differently. At the height of their power there were no fewer than three earls, Buchan, Menteith and Athol and one great feudal baron, Comyn Lord of Strathbogie, with 30 knights owning land.

There remains no memorial for the Comyns in the land save the orisons of the monks of Deer, and places names such as Cuminestown.

There is not much of Kynedor Castle left just the stories. The masoned stones were used in the building of the Castleton Bridges in the 18th and 19th centuries and now span the burn instead of a drawbridge, but it looks affy bony. You can park at the picnic area and walk down a really good path to the old 18th century bridge, but watch yourself crossing the busy A947.

by Mark Findlater

Greyscale image of U-boat, taken from starboard bow

It’s 30th June 1940.  Captain Heinz Scheringer had taken his vessel out to the southwest of Ireland, looking for cargo vessels to torpedo.  It had been quite a successful patrol – they had sunk three allied ships already.  That evening they sighted a convoy, and overtook it to set up a night attack.

At 01.18 on 1st July the U-26 fired a torpedo at, and hit, the Zarian; one of the ships in the convoy.

What Captain Scheringer hadn’t known was that he had been sighted the evening before, and HMS Gladiolus, the escort corvette, was already on full alert.  Just ten minutes later and the Gladiolus was dropping depth charges based on an Asdic contact – the U-26 at 80 metres depth.  The U-boat was badly damaged; one of the aft ballast tanks flooded uncontrollably and she sunk by the stern to 230m (it’s maximum rated depth was just 200m!).  6 hours later she was forced to the surface – but it was dark and luck was temporarily with the U-boat as she managed to avoid notice from the corvette.

At 08.15 a Royal Australian Air Force flying boat spotted the U-26 and forced it back to the surface by dropping some bombs.  HMS Rochester had joined the search and was quickly on the scene.  The U-26 was now out of luck; with his boat too damaged to dive Captain Scheringer ordered the crew into rafts, and scuttled his submarine.  All 48 of the crew on board were picked up by HMS Rochester and taken prisoner.

The official report is that the U-boat Chief Engineer was the last to leave as it sank by the stern.  However decades later one of the crew admitted that the British had boarded the submarine – creating speculation as to whether an Enigma machine had been obtained by the British several months before the official records of March 1941 !

And the link to Banff and Macduff ?   Well, except for the Captain, all 47 crew were sent by train to Banff Bridge Station, and marched across the river to Prisoner of War Camp Number 5 – Duff House.

“Our accommodation at Banff Scotland turned out to be to a small castle type building that had been converted into a POW camp.  There was one big wire fence.  I would say it was eight feet high.  Everything was so green: grass, pastures and so on.  A wonderful location.  There was nothing at all for us to there.  Our days consisted of a roll call in the morning followed by mutton for breakfast, lunch and supper (with lots of tea but hardly any bread) and a roll call in the evening.” 

Words by Karl Mengelberg, Electrician, U-26.

The tranquility of POW Camp No5 however only lasted another couple of weeks – when it was bombed on 22nd July 1940.   Hence the Memorial at Duff House sited close to where one of the bombs landed.

A book – “Out of the Blue” – with all known facts and photos about the bombing is available at Duff House, Banff Tourist Hub and on Ebay.

Black and white text
Colour photo showing the re-created corner of the now demolished Duff House east wing showing a bronze plaque and a poppy and forget-me-not wreath

It’s Monday morning, 22nd July 1940 – 79 years ago. The day is just getting going, just after nine o’clock in the morning – another great summer morning. A lone Heinkel bomber disturbs the peace….